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WORKSHOPMagazine Writers behind books and bylines

ISSUE 1 | 2011

My Literary Home: Davao A Fresh Palanca Win Writing the First Draft Markets for Writers

SAMANTHA SOTTO The Day Random House called

Miguel Syjuco On Gaining International Acclaim

Tweet Sering

On the Joy of Self-Publishing

Pam Pastor

On Getting Published Before 30


This is the only line you need to cross to be a published author.


WORKSHOP Writers behind books and bylines


For First-time Author, The World Is Her Reader Samantha Sotto retells the fairy tale beginning of her debut novel and how she stepped through the doors of a major publisher in New York.

The Original Astigirl In taking the unconventional route for her book, Tweet Sering discovers the joy of selfpublishing

ISSUE 1 | 2011



Editor’s Note


Frontispiece E V E RY T H I N G F I R S T


Writing Life AT H O M E I N DAVA O

A Manila-based writer finds out that living in Davao is the “write” place to be

By Ida Anita del Mundo

By Vida Mia S. Valverde


The Journalist’s Birthday Book



The Markets

The Madrigal-Gonzalez First Book Award, first time Palanca winner, in memoriam

By Carlomar Arcangel Daoana




A major broadsheet’s youngest editor ever, Pam Pastor, juggles writing, blogging and debuting her first book, Paper Cuts.


“Imagination is the only place that a Filipino doesn’t need a visa. Let’s take


advantage of

By Cathy Paras Lara


By Jenny B. Orillos

38 24

Back Page

The Illustration of Ilustrado


Man Asia Prize winner Miguel Syjuco discourses on writing his first novel

A reader recalls how the Harper Lee classic made a lifetime reader out of her.

By Carlomar Arcangel Daoana

By Julie Ann Ensomo

–Samantha Sotto









Spotlight on Writers Celebrities have magazines, why not writers? After all, they play an important role in the shaping of culture. They contribute to the literary tradition through books and publications. They create copy that fills our daily lives—from magazine and newspapers to websites and even advertisements. Whether writers write for literary acclaim or just to put food on the table, we want to present the people (and their creative process) behind the written word. That they are ordinary folks holding down jobs and households, worrying about money or if they had already walked the dog. They just happen to have taken their writing dreams and talents more seriously, by planting butt to desk and typing their imaginations on the page, like craftsmen in their workshops. This capturing of the writer was largely inspired by Edilberto N. Alegre and Doreen G. Fernandez’s The Writer and His Milieu (De La Salle University Press, 1984) but executed in the vein of a lifestyle magazine, the budget and guts of a guerrilla publication, and hopefully the reach of new media. In our maiden issue, we feature first time authors led by Samantha Sotto whose debut novel Before Ever After was successfully launched this year. We also interview Ilustrado’s Miguel Syjuco and Paper Cut’s Pam Pastor. Plus Tweet Sering’s daring move to selfpublish her non-fiction book Astigirl. We hope they inspire you as much as they have inspired us in creating this magazine you’re now reading on your screen. This is for you, dear reader, as much as it is for the writer in all of us.


WORKSHOP Magazine (ISSN 22439544) is published bimonthly online by Designed by Words Co. Address all correspondence to Workshop Magazine, Designed by Words Co., P.O. Box EA42 Ermita Post Office, Malate, Manila, Philippines 1004. No part of this periodical may be reproduced without the consent of Workshop Magazine. Copyright (c) 2011, Designed by Words Co. Published in the Philippines. All rights reserved.

C o n t a c t Wo r k s h o p M a g a z i n e Email We b s i t e w w w. w o r k s h o p . p h


- The Editors -


The Madrigal-Gonzalez First Book Award Should they win the coveted Madrigal-Gonzalez First Book Award, Filipino authors launching their literary debuts could smoothly follow up with their second book. The annual award “aims to encourage writers who have published a first work in English or Filipino to continue in the pursuit of excellence in the literary art by providing a degree of relief from financial pressures in order that he or she might focus on the next literary project.” Run by the University of the Philippines (U.P.) Institute of Creative Writing since February 2001, the First Book Award is supported by the Madrigal-Gonzalez family in memory of Gonzalo W. Gonzalez, a former president of U.P. The awardee receives P50,000 and a special commemorative plaque. Nominations for the Award comes from publishing houses and university presses, creative writing centers, writers’ organizations, and other lovers of literature. The Award alternates from year to year between works in English and works in Filipino and covers all literary genres in creative writing. Source:

List of Winners of the Madrigal-Gonzalez First Book Award 2010 Lualhati M. Abreu, Agaw Dilim, Agaw Liwanag (memoir) 2009 Adam David, The El Bimbo Variations (poetry) 2008 Zosimo Quibilan, Jr., Pagluwas (fiction) 2007 Rica Bolipata Santos, Love, Desire, Children, Etc.: Reflections of a Young Wife (essays) 2006 Kristian Sendon Cordero, Mga Tulang Tulalang: Piling Tula sa Filipino, Bikol at Rinconada (poetry) 2005 Vicente Groyon, The Sky Over Dimas (novel) 2004 Luna Sicat-Cleto, Makinilyang Altar (novel) 2003 Ma. Felisa H. Batacan, Smaller and Smaller Circles (novel) 2002 Ellen L. Sicat, Paghuhunos (novel) 2001 Angelo R. Lacuesta, Life after X and Other Stories (fiction)

Fresh Palanca Win

A first time Palanca awardee paints a picture of the prestigious literary award Visual artist and grade school teacher Georgianna R. de Vera bagged the second prize for the Short Story for Children at the 61st Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature this year. Her story “Tatay, Through Wind and Waves” captured the imagination of Palanca judges this year, installing Ina’s name in the roster of winners. A first time awardee, de Vera shares her experience in joining, and succeeding in, this year’s Palanca. What inspired you to join this year? It was a who: Chari Lucero [author of Feast and Famine and Herstory, herself placing third place at the Palanca for Essay in English for her piece “The Stain of Blackberries” -ed.]. During her memoir workshop, she posted our entries up on a huge screen with all her comments and criticisms in red font. When I saw my work up there, it was marked with red all over the page. Then I joined again. She pulled up my work on the screen with only one comment on the top: “What more can I say? Palanca, Palanca.” It’s a good thing I took her seriously. The other who’s include members of the SCBWI [Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators], whose book talks I began attending early this year. Beaulah Taguiwalo invited a Palanca awardee, May Tobias Papa, who joined both the Palanca and PBBY and won both that year. When she told me that this was what started her career as an author-illustrator, I knew that I had to try. I missed the deadline for PBBY, but I found other contests which I joined too. How did you prepare your prize-winning story? How long did it take you to write your piece? What were the challenges you encountered throughout the writing, if any? I was writing for a contest called GIG, which promotes literature for children of seafaring families. I didn’t know anything about that, so I exchanged e-mails with an old friend who used to work on a ship. He took me through his experience of loneliness and longing to be with family and friends, and I wondered what it was like for the loved ones he left behind. I imagined for him a wife, and child, and wrote from there. I did the writing in one sitting. But I went back to it everyday for two weeks. I showed the draft to family and friends for feedback. Then I edited it to a pulp. Even so, I couldn’t make the word count go down to 750 without ruining the story. By that time, I was proud of the piece and frustrated that it wasn’t making the cut. At the same time, I was writing an essay for the Palanca whose minimum limit I was finding impossible to reach. I clicked on the requirements for short story for children. The

limit was 10 pages. That’s how the GIG story ended up as a Palanca entry!

Shaun Tan’s, where you are invited to look at a page for hours because of all the crazy details.

You’re a teacher by profession. You also have illustrated children’s books as part of your college thesis before. How did it influence you in writing a children’s story?

The plot or characters need to be real, in the sense that the reader can identify a part of himself in it.

I am influenced by what I read, and I read a lot of children’s books for work, at work, at bedtime for my kids.

Just do it! The process of writing for the Palanca, and writing to win, is an exhausting and exhilarating experience. To join is an accomplishment in itself. To win is a big, fat, furry reward.

As an artist, I think in pictures. Words paint pictures. The challenge was to write the text for a non-picture-thinker. In an ideal situation, I would write and illustrate a story so that the words would support the pictures, and the pictures would continue to say what words can’t. What do you think was your winning strategy that helped you nail this story? Writing from experience. I had none on this topic. So I had to get some. Interviewing, reading, and viewing pictures gave me a perspective to write from. The story is also about a mother and a child. That I know a lot about, so it was easy to imagine how I, and my 3 year old son, would react if my husband were away at sea for such a long time. What do you love most about writing stories? That I get to create an entire universe, characters and situations, that didn’t exist before. It’s like painting in 4D. Characters move, breathe, think in whatever way you imagine for them. What is your creative process like. Any quirky ritual or favorite writing instrument that you need to be using? I need to write on clean, lined sheets with the margin on the side. I don’t know I need to write on clean, lined sheets with the margin on the side. I don’t know why that is! Since I work on a computer for nearly everything, I found an app with lined yellow pad, also with a margin on the side. I typed my entire story on that.

What’s your advice to beginning writers wanting to join the Palanca?

Winners of the 61st Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature Filipino Division MAIKLING KUWENTO 1st prize - Walang Nanalo 2nd prize - Walang Nanalo 3rd prize - Michael S. Bernaldez, “Metro Gwapo” MAIKLING KUWENTONG PAMBATA 1st prize - Segundo Matias, “Alamat ng Duhat” 2nd prize - Joachim Emilio B. Antonio, “Sa Tapat ng Tindahan ni Mang Teban” 3rd prize - Christian Tordecillas, “Si Inda, Ang Manok at ang mga Lamang-Lupa” SANAYSAY 1st prize - Bernadette V. Neri, “Ang Pag-uwi ng Alibughang Anak ng Lupa” 2nd prize - Rosario Torres-Yu, “Nagbibihis na ang Nanay” 3rd prize - Nancy Kimuell-Gabriel, “Kubeta” TULA

What and who are your favorite children’s books and authors?

1st prize - Enrique S. Villasis, “Agua”

As an aspiring author-illustrator, I love: Chris Van Allsburg for Jumanji, The Z was Zapped, The Stranger; Shaun Tan for The Arrival; David Weisner for The Three Pigs, Tuesday and Flotsam.

3rd prize - Christopher B. Nuyles, “Ilang Tala Hinggil sa Daangbakal at iba pang tula”

As a mom who reads aloud the same books over and over on demand, I love Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, Eric Carle books, Knuffle Bunny books by Mo Willems.

2nd prize - Rosmon M. Tuazon, “Mga Nakaw na Linya”

TULANG PAMBATA 1st prize - Marcel L. Milliam, “Ako ang Bida” 2nd prize - Eugene Y. Evasco, “Isang Mabalahibong Bugtong”

What for you makes a good children’s story?

3rd prize - John Enrico C. Torralba, “Manghuhuli Ako ng Sinag ng Araw”

Spectacular illustrations. It can be simple, but thought provoking, funny and a story in itself. It can be complex, like



1st prize - Remi Karen M. Velasco, “Ondoy: Ang Buhay sa Bubong”

FRONTISPIECE 2nd prize - Layeta P. Bucoy, “El Galeon De Simeon”

3rd prize - Johannes L. Chua, “Prodigal”

3rd prize - Bernardo O. Aguay, Jr., “Posporo”



1st prize - Georgina Veronica G. Alfar, “Tom Yum”

1st prize - Rodolfo Vera, “Paalam Señor Soledad”

2nd prize - Georgianna R. de Vera, “Tatay, Through Wind and Waves”

2nd prize - Liza Magtoto, “Tamala”

3rd prize - Benjamin Pimentel, “Gagamba, the Spider from the Islands”

3rd prize - Joshua L. Lim So, “Panahon ng Sampung Libong Ilong”



1st prize - Jennifer Rebecca L. Ortuoste, “The Turn for Home: Memories of Santa Ana Park”

1st prize - Lemuel E. Garcellano, “Tru Lab” 2nd prize - T-Jay K. Medina, “Huling Isang Taon” 3rd prize - Helen V. Lasquite, “Emmanuel” KABATAAN SANAYSAY 1st prize - Mary Amie Gelina E. Dumatol, “Ang Makulit, ang Mapagtanong, at ang Mundo ng Kasagutan” 2nd prize - Abegail Joy Y. Lee, “Nang Maging Mendiola ko ang Internet Dahil kay Mama” 3rd prize - Ma. Bettina Clare N. Camacho, “Isang Pindot sa Kamalayan” NOBELA Grand Prize - Allan Alberto N. Derain, Ang Banal na Aklat ng mga Kumag

Regional Division SHORT STORY – CEBUANO 1st prize - Richel G. Dorotan, “Ang Tawo sa Punoan ng Nangka sa Hinablayan” 2nd prize - Errol A. Merquita, “Isla Verde” 3rd prize - Macario D. Tiu, “Black Pearl” SHORT STORY – HILIGAYNON 1st prize - Peter Solis Nery, “Donato Bugtot” 2nd prize - Alice Tan Gonzales, “Kahapunanon sa Laguerta ni Alberto” 3rd prize - Kizza Grace F. Gardoce, “Pabalon” SHORT STORY - ILUKO 1st prize - Ariel S. Tabag, “Saddam” 2nd prize - Juan A. Asuncion, “Ayuno” 3rd prize - Norberto D. Bumanglag, Jr., “Ti Agdamdamili”

2nd prize - Jeena Rani Marquez-Manaois, “The River of Gold” 3rd prize - Rosario Cruz-Lucero, “The Stain of Blackberries” POETRY 1st prize - Eliza A. Victoria, “Maps” 2nd prize - Lourdes Marie S. La Viña, “Stones and Other Poems” 3rd prize - Simeon P. Dumdum, Jr., “Maguindanao” POETRY WRITTEN FOR CHILDREN 1st prize - Cynthia Baculi-Condez, “The Universe and Other Poems” 2nd prize - Peter Solis Nery, “The Shape of Happiness” 3rd prize - Kris Lanot Lacaba, “The Shaggy Brown Chicken and Other Poems for Children (and for chickens of all ages)” ONE-ACT PLAY 1st prize - Floy C. Quintos, “Evening at the Opera” 2nd prize - No Prize Awarded 3rd prize - No Prize Awarded FULL-LENGTH PLAY 1st prize - Joshua L. Lim So, “A Return Home” 2nd prize - Peter Solis Nery, “If The Shoe Fits” 3rd prize - Jonathan R. Guillermo, “Freshmen” KABATAAN ESSAY 1st prize - Mariah Christelle F. Reodica, “The Golden Mean” 2nd prize - Scott Lee Chua, “Of Pixels and Power” 3rd prize - Leo Francis F. Abot, “Gods of the Internet” NOVEL Grand Prize - Maria Victoria Soliven Blanco, In the Service of Secrets

English Division SHORT STORY 1st prize - Asterio Enrico N. Gutierrez, “The Big Man” 2nd prize - Alexis A.L. Abola, “Disappearances”

In memoriam Ophelia Alcantara Dimalanta Kerima Polotan Tuvera Edith Tiempo

Sotto enlisted the help of family and friends to help create her author’s platform—from the book’s trailer found on her website to this portrait of Sotto that appears on the back cover, taken by renowned photographer Toto Labrador



For first-time author, the world is her reader Samantha Sotto retells the fairy tale beginning of her debut novel and how she stepped through the doors of a major book publisher in New York By Carlomar Arcangel Daoana • Photographs courtesy of Samantha Sotto

Who among writers doesn’t dream of that fairy tale ending where, after months—even years—of the laborious, thankless task, she is finally blessed by the gods to have a blockbuster of a book, her name being spoken in television or as a topic of conversation among friends in a café. If only the rise to this kind of overnight fame were easy. Usually for the writer attempting to publish her book for the first time, the odds are against her: with no previous title to her name, she has to compete with other earnest scribblers like herself for a slot in the heart of a literary agent who will champion the work to a publisher who in turn will release it for the world to see. An accumulation of rejected manuscripts is called a slush pile. By that name alone, you get an idea where those works are headed. But it’s not impossible for a work to transcend the slush pile, get an editor to read and consider it a manuscript only a notch below Moby Dick and a publisher willing to invest money—and trees—in its hundreds of thousands of reproductions. Jobless and single mother J.K. Rowling and stay-at-home mom Stephenie Meyer are two of the golden examples. With no previous connections to the literary world and bereft of any marketing savvy to peddle their works, they beat those odds. Now Harry Potter and the Twilight series grace bookstores from Manhattan to Milan to Mumbai to Manila. A day after their first books were published, they were not to be anonymous again. Closer to home, we have Samantha Sotto whose first book, Before Ever After, was picked up by Crown Publishing which is an imprint of Random House,

one of the biggest publishers in the world. Last August, she became the toast of the town, appearing regularly in newspapers and, rare for someone who is not a showbiz personality, in television. Her story has that magical arc that begins with her writing the book in Starbucks for a year while waiting for her son’s class dismissal and ends with her giving readings and book signings here and in New York City. That she did the pre-publication madness here (writing her query letters, finding an agent and fine-tuning the book) makes her story all the more astonishing. Sotto, just like Rowling and Meyer, wasn’t aware or didn’t subscribe to what others might consider as necessary preambles to a book publication— releasing your work in literary journals, joining writing contests and taking an MFA in Creative Writing. She just wanted to make productive use of her spare time. This arguably helped her to focus on simply finishing the manuscript and only later did she think about aspiring for the biggest market of readers (the United States and, inevitably, the world). Had she been more specific on how the work should come out and accommodating of other people’s opinions as to its shape while it was still being written, all the while eyeing for an international release, Before Ever After wouldn’t probably be here. The book—a mix-bag of romance, history and a dollop of magic realism—evokes three parallel time lines: the present where Shelley (the female lead) travels to the Philippines in search of Max (her husband) whom she thought she had lost in a

“The fact that people are interested is that it hasn’t been done that often, I suppose, and it’s opening the minds of people that it can be done.” London explosion; the recent past which traces the couple’s journey, together with other interesting characters, through off-the-beaten destinations in Europe and how they eventually fall in love; embedded in the recent past is the historical past, redolent with age-old castles, revolts and Pompeii’s volcanic explosion. These strands of narrative move inexorably forward to deconstruct the nature of Max—in his various incarnations as a French rebel, an Austrian abbot, a Swiss mercenary soldier, among others—as an immortal. (No need for a spoiler alert: the book delivers this important detail early on in the book.) In a nutshell, Before Ever After is a sweeping testament to the enduring power of love. Whatever shortcomings the novel may have, it more than makes up with its mesmerizing, evocative description. Sotto has an uncanny ability to transport the reader into remembrances of time past, with the deft and mature combination of physical rendition and historical detail. In the book’s ‘Storming of the Bastille’ episode, Sotto writes: “The shout grew loud enough to be heard in Adrien’s cell. They demanded that the fortress surrender and give up its cache of gunpowder and arms . . . Would the people see him as a prisoner or as a man of privilege, a symbol of all that they despised? Or did it even matter as long as they could find limbs and grab them apart? Blood, like wine, was intoxicating.” A day after her launch at National Bookstore Glorietta 1, Sotto sat with Workshop Magazine for an interview. The craziness of the previous day did not seem to make an imprint on her. (Long queues of people patiently waited for her to have their books signed despite the fact that it was stormy outside.) Makeup10 WORKSHOP

less and totting a Todd’s hand bag, Sotto looked like she was about to have lunch with her girlfriends. We met her at Starbucks at Ayala Town Center (not the one she wrote her novel in which was Starbucks Katipunan) and promptly took her place in the plush velveteen blue couch. Despite the fact that she had no writing background except for a stint in a college newspaper (though she has the writing gene, being related to Vicente Sotto I, a respected publisher and fictionist in Cebu in the turn of the century), Sotto began by saying that she was able to arrive at the pace of her book’s plot by paying careful attention on how television mini-series unfolded. “Readers are the same people who watch TV, who watch movies,” she said. “Nowadays, everything is so fast-paced . . . The writing that I like to read as a reader should be more or less in line with that. I have been trained to expect these kinds of input— how they create episodes that leave you wanting more . . . Same applies to the reader . . . I was aspiring for the book to feel like a TV show, like a TV series.” Apart from being aware that her novel should be at least a page-turner, the rest of the writing process, Sotto maintained, was largely intuitive. “I guess that the experience of writing is universal, whether you’re coming from an uninformed background like myself,” she said. “But intuitively as a reader, you kind of get the sense (where the writing is headed). Maybe you don’t know what the terms are, but you’d know if the story is working for you or when it’s not, when it’s speaking, when there’s momentum. Every act should heighten the conflict.” She chose to abstain from reading other books lest she “picked up other people’s stuff . . . Since I was new at this, I wanted

it to be on the safe side, figure out my own voice, think of my own ideas.” It was the chapter that is set against France that Sotto felt emboldened to finish the book—a metaphorical hurdle that, when overcome, means the rest of the journey will not be as fraught. Every day for a year, in the same corner of Starbucks, Sotto wrote and wrote. The first draft, expectedly, wasn’t yet a winner. It was “full of adverbs,” “full of adjectives,” full of “every possible metaphor,” “over-written.” The editing process was another roiling river to be crossed. She paid attention to the book’s tone—which had a jerky register at the onset—and “settled into a voice that was comfortable, that felt natural to me.” In the summer of this year, Sotto visited the office of Random House in Manhattan—the world’s publishing capital—and sat with her agent, editors and book designer to discuss the book’s final look and the marketing efforts that would attend its release. Before Sotto got to this point, it took two years of rejection letters, the travails of finding an agent, editing the manuscript “to death.” It would not have turned out the way it was had it not been for an auspicious visit to a bookstore in Baguio during a family vacation. “I went to Booksale in Baguio; we were just wandering around,” she said. “I wasn’t even looking for a particular book. Lying on this table was the Idiot’s Guide to Publishing. All of the books were stuck in the shelf. It was the only one that was pulled out. I guess somebody had read it and just left it. I believe in signs. (I thought), ‘It’s a sign!’ I bought it and then I read it.” It was through this book that she


Samantha Sotto’s

five golden rules

SHE DREAMT BIG “If I’m gonna try my luck, I might as well go to the biggest market and the story can be read by the most number of people because I know that some Filipinos will get to read it through that way. If I pursued the other way (publishing here)—it’s cut-off immediately. It’s not gonna leave the Philippines. It would be a harder climb if I did it the reverse. The fact that people are interested is that it hasn’t been done that often, I suppose, and it’s opening the minds of people that it can be done.”

SHE KNEW HER INSPIRATION. “I did it for the kids. I wanted to show them that “You know, your dreams—they don’t have limits.’ They’re not limited by your geography. They’re not limited by your nationality, your citizenship, your visa on your passport. Imagination is the only place that a Filipino doesn’t need a visa. Let’s take advantage of that.”

SHE WROTE IN A LANGUAGE SHE WAS COMFORTABLE WITH. “If you write in English, you are less Filipino? I don’t think so. I don’t think the language that you are comfortable writing in defines how Filipino you are because certainly, there are people who speak Filipino who behave less as a Filipino.”

SHE WROTE SOMETHING SHE KNEW. “Other people are more expert in that (sociopolitical subjects) and they write really well. I’m not gonna pretend that I will write it as well as them. I’m not as knowledgeable. I read the newspapers and I’m aware of what’s going on in the Philippines but it’s not what is closest to my heart as a writer. Every writer has a different calling. It’s a taste. We don’t like the same type of food. Otherwise, we’d all be cookie-cutter people.”

SHE FOLLOWED HER HEART. “As a writer, follow your heart. Do something what you feel as authentic to you. Wherever that story is set, whoever the characters in your story are, tell your story.You shouldn’t be limited by what other people tell that you should write. Because, why?”

“When you type ‘The End,’ that’s not really the end. You need to go back and fix what you wrote. Clarity over cleverness became my rule.”

Sotto flew to New York to personally meet her agent Stephanie Rostan and the rest of the editorial team.

discovered the nuts and bolts on how to get published. The key, it told her, was finding the right literary agent. “There are many people who need an agent,” she said. “They are the gate-keepers. You cannot go to the publisher directly because of the sheer number of people who want to get published in the US. So the agent chooses you. “ To introduce oneself to an agent, one has to send her a well-crafted letter that would “reflect the voice of your book” because “sometimes, that’s all an agent will ever see.” Sotto suggested that the first paragraph of the letter should express why you are selecting the agent among many others (so research the agent beforehand); the second should be about the nature of the book and why do you think people will be interested to read it; the third, the concluding paragraph, should tell “why you are the best person to write that book. You have to sell yourself.” Sotto queried about 30 agents; the first email that she received was a rejection letter. An agent wrote back to her, telling her that what the book needed was intense revision. From 120,000 words, Ever After Happily (the original title of the manuscript), got trimmed to 85,000 words. She found a willing editor in her mother Mary Locke who “dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s” and a sharp critic 12 WORKSHOP

in her husband Joseph who provided feedback on the structure. Sotto also solicited comments from her friends. “I encourage people to have other people read their stuff before they send it out,” she said. “Don’t be so hot to query. When you type ‘The End,’ that’s not really the end. You need to go back and fix what you wrote. (In my case), clarity over cleverness became my rule.” The revision was apparently working: agents began asking for a full copy of her manuscript. When about five of them were simultaneously reading the novel, Sotto felt that it was time to send it to Stephanie Rostan. She regarded the agent differently due to serendipitous parallelisms: her middle name is Kip (a Dutch word for “chicken,” a recurring motif of the book) and her father is a professor of etymology, a branch of knowledge which Max, the central character in the book, loves. Sotto broke one too many rules: she skipped signing a form in Rostan’s website, sent her a direct query letter and attached 15 pages of the manuscript (something that you do only when the agent has specifically asked for it). Rostan replied, asking to read the entire book. “Well, this hasn’t happened in a long while,” Rostan wrote her. “I couldn’t stop reading until I finished it that night.” In December 23, 2009, Sotto (who was

then vacationing in Hong Kong with her family) received a call from Rostan at four o’clock in the morning who told her that the book was bought by Random House. “It was the best Christmas ever.” Had you searched for the name Samantha Sotto in Facebook two years ago, you wouldn’t find her. Social networking just didn’t appeal to her. Now a public figure, she half-heartedly gave in, set up a blog and joined Facebook and Twitter in which she had thousands of followers almost overnight. It was her publisher who encouraged her to join the social media, giving her an author’s tool kit to kick start her online presence. “The first two weeks of my blog, I thought I was going to drive my husband nuts because I felt I was going to have a nervous breakdown,” she said. “It was hard. I was so afraid of it. If you’re a Filipino aspiring to make it there (New York publication), you better be prepared to do that. That’s the minimum requirement because you’re far away and that’s the only way you can really interact with your readers there.” Her earlier discomfort notwithstanding, Sotto said that she became accustomed to the demands of promoting her book through social media. It may be something new but “it’s important to network and to get word about your book out there because the publisher


expects that of you. You have to be as invested in your book as they are. How do you expect them to champion your book if you think your job is finished after submitting it? The best champion for your book is yourself and that takes a lot of time so you have to be willing to do that.” Part of networking is letting up a bit of one’s privacy. Now that she is accessible online, readers, bloggers and aspiring authors are getting in touch with her, asking for an interview or advice. “I don’t want to ignore anybody,” Sotto explained. “Sometimes, there’s a delay because I‘m not always on Twitter and I purposely don’t have a Blackberry. When I’m not at the computer, I’m not at the computer. When I’m writing, I’m writing.” She has devised a method in which she replies per platform: “Twitter first, and then Facebook, and then blogs, in order of immediacy.” A mother to Nico and Cai, Sotto said that it takes a fine balancing act in getting involved in social media and attending to domestic life. “I’m a mom first. I have two kids. I have a household to run,” she said.

“I haven’t balanced it for sure, but I’m trying to . . . All those tweets, all those emails—it’s embarrassing not to respond to them. They took the time to write you. It’s an effort on their part. They don’t have to write you. There’s nothing in it for them. They’re doing it out of the kindness of their heart. The least you could do is to write back.” By the time this article is published, Sotto has returned from the United States from a flurry of book readings and signings, events where the author becomes a polar opposite of who she is: a public persona. She is probably doing the finishing touches of her second book which will still be represented by Rostan, who has become Sotto’s friend. Her New York publication success had made people to comment how Sotto has opened the door for local would-be authors. “What door?” Sotto would reply to them. “It’s already open. You just have to step through.” Despite the book’s warm reception and its landing in the Top 10 best-selling

fiction books in Kindle, Sotto is not naïve to the fact that not all people who will get to read Before Ever After will love it. “I have seen bad reviews and I’ve seen good reviews. It’s part of it. And any writer who wants to do this, just be prepared,” she said. “Rejection doesn’t stop at the query stage, or even at the submission stage. Every reader that you give it to, it’s like (asking him for a response) . . . You can still be rejected even at that level. You should be okay with that . . . You have to respect what they have to say about it— whether they like it or not. It shouldn’t invalidate you. It’s their opinion, they’re entitled to it.” What she wants people to take away from her experience is that they be encouraged to bring out the book that is lying in wait within them. “I hope people can be happy for our country that we’re able to do something like this,” she said. “I might have started doing it for myself in Starbucks, writing it as a story for myself. Now that it’s gaining momentum, I’m happy to inspire whoever I can, through whatever way, and I hope people can see the positive side in that.”

The Original Astigirl In taking the unconventional route for her book, Tweet Sering discovers the joy of self-publishing By Ida Anita del Mundo • Photographs by Paul Mondok

With a clear vision of exactly what her dream book is, Tweet Sering decided to take on the challenge herself and venture into the unknown realm of selfpublishing. Launching her book Astigirl: A Grown Girl Living On Her Own Terms this year sees Sering’s vision come into fruition. “It was a very natural thing,” says Sering of how she got into writing. “It’s one of those things you don’t think about,” she adds, sharing that she had always loved reading and writing. “I was never pushed to read or write… that’s why I love it.” It was in high school that she realized that not everyone was into writing. “Hindi naman ako confident sa writing ko before,” she admits. Even when she got


a job as a copy writer, she only realized that she was actually a writer when the Philippine Daily Inquirer printed an article she wrote, complete with byline, which is not usual for PR materials and press releases. “That made it legitimate,” Sering says. Her article—for the firm’s client, a dermatological clinic—was about tattoo removal, referencing Claudine Baretto and Mark Anthony Fernandez, the most talked-about showbiz breakup at that time. Seeing her name in print was a turning point for Sering, giving her confidence in her writing. However, Sering eventually realized she was done with advertising. “There was a disconnect. I didn’t want to feed the

machine anymore,” she says. “There was no sense of fulfillment, I was bored out of my wits!” As a creative writer, Sering went on to win a Palanca for one-act play and wrote the novel Wander Girl, published by Summit Media in 2004 . She also became a freelance writer for various lifestyle magazines. But, ultimately, this became also monotonous, not matching the values and experiences that she had. “There was no publication that I know of that would run my stuff… the articles I wanted to write.” Sering adds, “The magazines didn’t resonate with me. It was all the same, just offering the same things… The real




things weren’t addressed.” Realizing that, Sering decided to start her own blog, Astigirl. “I had a lot of things on my mind and I needed a venue.” It was 2007, “When everyone had blogged and moved on,” Sering quips, considering herself a “late blogger.” “I don’t surf,” Sering says, “That’s why it took me so long.” She adds that if she had read blogs before starting her own, her own entries might have been a lot shorter. Indeed, Sering’s blog definitely does not sound like many of the blogs out there. “I rant in my journal… My blog is like a column, my own magazine” she says. “If you want to put your stuff out there, be considerate, be responsible.”

Astigirl was a concept that Sering had been developing for a while. “What it means to be an Astigirl… I was obsessed about it,” she shares. Her very first entry was a letter to Angelina Jolie, one of her personal Astigirls. Other Astigirls on her list include Oprah and J.K. Rowling – “People who define who they are... People who can’t be labeled.”

wrote the blog like a book,” she says. “I don’t upload when I’m emotional. I take a step back. Don’t pollute the space.” She adds, “I think about what I say—I know how strong words are.”

Sering kept on writing in her blog, not following a strict schedule, about her views, experiences, and insights. A few years later, she didn’t have anything else to upload and knew that it was time to turn Astigirl into a book.

Once she decided to publish her book, everything started to fall into place. “It all happened so fast,” Sering says. She found the editor she wanted, got a friend to do the cover art, and started negotiating with the printer. “I really believed the universe wanted me to do it that way,” she says on self-publishing. “I didn’t trust anybody to do it that way I wanted to do it… I wanted full creative control.”

The leap from blog to print was not too much of a stretch in Sering’s case. “I

Sering started her self-publishing undertaking mid-December 2010 and

“...I wanted full creative control.” was set on launching her book in March the following year. One of the interesting things Sering decided to do was to enjoin her family and friends to become co-publishers. When friends started supporting the project, she realized, “If they believe in me and the project, there will be others.” As the funds came trickling in, she also found herself at the point of no return— she really had to see the project through. “It humbles you,” she says of the support she has received. “It’s not just about you anymore.”

another aspect of Sering’s concept. Learning about different influential women in different fields, Sering says “I wish other people could hear about them too… We don’t have enough role models.”

Sering invited six potential role models to talk at her event: Neva Kares Talladen, founder of the Leyende organic beauty product company; Krie Lopez, founder of Messy Bessy; Dolores Cheng, founder of the Center for Possibilities; Rose Yenko, founder of the Carl Jung Circle Center; Binky Mendoza of The Yoga Center; and With the universe conspiring to bring the Ana Santos, founder of sex&sensibilities. project into completion, Sering launched com. “They were already passionate Astigirl right on schedule—on March about their causes, I just gave them a 8, 2011 [which was also International venue to talk about them.” Women’s Day—ed.]. The launch was Since the launch, “It’s been selling itself,” the first of a series of Astigirl Talks, yet

Sering reports on the book. Many friends have helped support the book and have featured Sering’s project. Despite having to sell the book at a higher price than other local books, Sering believes that if you have a good product, people are willing to invest in it and that they will be proud to have a Filipino-made book of such good quality. Sering highly recommends self-publishing, especially in the Philippines. “I believe we have good writers that need to be read worldwide,” she says. “If you know you have a beautiful product, you should present it just as beautifully.” “You have to be able to throw yourself into the furnace,” Sering says of taking the leap of faith into self-publishing. “Don’t play safe. Too many Filipinos play safe. There’s too much of that already.”

Ida Anita del Mundo is a student of MFA in Creative Writing at the De La Salle University-Manila where she also teaches. Ida is also a violinist and publicity manager for of the Manila Symphony Orchestra. 18 WORKSHOP


HOW TO BE AN ASTIG PUBLISHER Tweet Sering says we need more “Astig Publishers” in the Philippines. Here are some of her tried-and-tested self-publishing tips: Have a strong constitution

“Be sure of what you want,” says Sering. “Have a clear objective.” Know why you are going into self-publishing and how important it is to you to produce the book in the way you imagined it. Manage your expectations based on this.

Consider taking pre-orders

Demand good printing

To raise enough money for printing Astigirl, Sering took pre-orders from her family and friends, making them co-publishers. If others start backing the project, it will not only give you motivation and funds, but it will also make you commit to seeing the project through.

Sering brought her favorite books to the printers so that they would have an idea of what she was aiming for, especially high quality book paper that was seldom lavished on locally printed hard covers. She also went back and forth to the printers until they got it right.

Work with people who share the same goals.

Make an excellent product

It takes a team—co-publishers, editors, layout artists, graphic designers—to produce a book. Sering says when it comes to choosing your team, it’s all about attitude over talent, because in the end, you should work with likeminded individuals who share the same values. “They all believe in it,” she says of those who supported the project.

A throwback to Sering’s days in advertising, she believes, “If you have a good product, it will sell itself.” She adds, “Don’t underestimate people’s desire for good things.” And most of all, “Don’t shortchange yourself.”

The Illustration of Ilustrado Man Asia Prize winner Miguel Syjuco discourses on writing his first novel By Carlomar Arcangel Daoana • Photographs by Marcos Townsend



Ilustrado won critical acclaim before it was ever published. Author Miguel Syjuco’s manuscript won the Grand Prize for the Novel in English at the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature in 2008. That same year, Syjuco was awarded the prestigious Man Asian Literary Prize. The latter landed Syjuco a publishing contract with Farrar, Straus and Giroux which released the book in 2010. A reprint edition was published by Picador in May 2011. Syjuco is one of the few Filipino writers who found success in the international publishing scene. He is currently based in Montreal, Canada. Our editor Carlomar Arcangel Daoana got in touch with him back in 2008, fresh from his win at the Man Asian Literary Prize. Here, they discuss the genesis of Syjucos’ first novel. How long did it take you to finish “Illustrado”? What form of research did you do? Interviews? Browsing through history books in a library? Was a huge part of it came from or brought about by personal experience? It took me a little under three years to finish Ilustrado, though that was on and off. I also had a regular and many irregular jobs, plus I wrote short stories and wrote a second novel and started a third one. I find it helps to take time away from one work so that you can return to it with fresh eyes. So Ilustrado took a long time, but it wasn’t really just constant—I’d get cabin fever if I was so close to a book for that long. Research came from my wide reading—I read magazines and fiction

and history; I also watch a lot of documentaries. My college education, and the enduring interest my history teachers imparted on me, familiarized me with the excitement and pathos of our history. But from there, after finding what I found interesting, I go into the library or onto the internet to explore deeper into history. Because Ilustrado is a strange mixture of forms, I also drew from elements of reality I saw around me to create my own alternate reality of fiction. Please describe the creative process. Did you have a regular writing schedule or was the writing intermittent? How many pages did you accomplish in a given day? I write regularly, as if it is my job. The job I do for money is what I do for money. But writing is the job that promises me a career, a future, and a life. So I prioritize that above everything else. On free days, I’d write from 10am usually until 5pm. Sometimes I’d write from 10am to midnight, depending on how it was going, what needed to be accomplished, or what other obligations I had to attend to that day. But one must really discard the myth of writer’s block and of inspiration. Writing is a daily vocation, and inspiration comes when one writes well, but one must never wait for inspiration. Writer’s block is just a mental issue—selfdoubt, laziness, or even just pure lack of ambition. Though, I’m young yet, so we’ll see if I revise my thinking on that. But I’m a strong believer that if you work at something enough, eventually you’ll reap the reward. Has living and working in a foreign country enabled you to squarely confront the issues you are tackling in your book? Were these old issues you carried or

did they just spring up when you moved and decided to settle in Canada?

and understanding of my native country that is largely out of touch with actual circumstances at home.

Living in a foreign country has largely been merely a twist of fate. I went to New York to study, then I found there were good opportunities to work in magazines there; then I met a girl who was from Australia and I lived with her there; then she had a chance to study for her final year as an undergrad exchange student in Canada, and so I went. I don’t intend to settle in Canada; the Philippines is my home. Living abroad has been accidental; but it did certainly give me space and perspective for my writing. When one is far from home, one savours nostalgia in order to remember the things we have at home that made us happy; when one is a writer living far from home, one reconstructs home in the best way he or she can—through their craft, through their art. But yes, living away from Manila also does allow me the freedom of not having to pander to either my fellow writers or my potential readers; but the danger is that I will lose touch with where I’ve come from, even if I visit often—or, even worse, I’ll create my own perspective

What is your relationship with the Philippines? How does she fuel your art?


I don’t mean to indirectly compare myself to Rizal, but in many ways I see my writing as he saw his novels—an attempt to show the social cancers, because I am desirous of my country’s welfare, and I have sought, in the centres of modern civilization, to call it repeatedly to mind. As he says in his dedication in the Noli. In a sense, my books try to expose the problems, but also try to find a remedy—I’m not able yet, or mature enough, or enlightened enough, to propose a remedy, but I hope through a career of trying to find truth and articulate the Filipino condition, one day, years from now, I may be able to posit a few. My writing, therefore, is political in its own way—because writing has the moral responsibility to be more than just pretty writing or entertaining plots. My writing is my action, my patriotism, my political career. And therefore, the Philippines fuels this directly. But I still

have an intimate relationship with my home—I’m just an OFW whose training and trade is writing. I always yearn for home, though I live abroad because I have an opportunity to remit something back one day. And I hope what I do remit will be something useful for my extended family, my kababayans. Coming from a country where there is a lukewarm regard towards literature, what do you think is the function of the novel in contemporary society? This is a very complicated question, one which requires an PhD thesis or a series of literature conventions to answer. But I think that the lukewarm regard for literature at home is partly because the reading public of books in English is limited. But the odd thing is that even despite that, many international books by foreign authors will brutally outsell books by our local writers. It may well be a question of the writing itself—I all to often find that we Filipino writers get caught up in Marcos’s 70s, or Cory’s 80s, or we exoticize ourselves because we hope we’ll be published by Westerners and read by Westerners. I think Filipinos


“Remember that writing is a craft, which must be developed over the course of a lifetime, and every story and book you write is just one exercise on the way to becoming good enough to maybe one day write a masterpiece. Be a writer who happens to be Filipino, not a writer who is trying to show how Filipino they are.” see that inauthenticity, and we shun it. Until Filipino writers can get past that— and we’re seeing that happen more and more—then we’ll forever just be ersatz magical realists vainly (in both senses of the word) telling the world that we were doing magical realism before the Latin Americans. I also believe that if Filipino writers can write with unabashed authenticity, then more people in the West will want to read us; the problem is also that we have such a small literary community at home, and we publish and read each other—so the competition is not as fierce, the editing process not as prolonged or arduous, and the payoff for investing years of our lives into a book that may never sell more than 3000 copies in 5 years is, frankly, not enticing enough. There’s also this strange colonial mentality that readers have—they’ll read a book by a Filipino published abroad far more readily than they would a Filipino published at home, despite the fact that the latter may be better. So it’s a very complicated situation, and perhaps one best not tackled directly by authors—who should just be trying to write books with good stories and well-formed characters about issues that are both comic and tragic and ugly and beautiful. That being said, though, I’m far from successful in accomplishing that, and Ilustrado is the fruit of my trying to hurdle those aforementioned problems facing a Filipino author. Though I have been adamant, in negotiating a publishing contract with a local publisher, that I will only give it to them for free if they agree to simultaneously publish the book in Tagalog as well.

How has your win at the Man Asian changed your priorities? My winning the Man Asian prize has not changed my priorities at all. It and the Palanca Grand Prize have maybe strengthened my resolve to keep at it. I’m still the same person and writer I was before winning either prize. But the prizes have been bestowed upon me by judges who saw the promise in my writing. So therefore, I in turn make a promise to work my hardest to live up to that, to maybe one day be deserving of all that faith and generosity. Your win has inspired so many aspiring writers in the country. What is your advice to them? Read voraciously from both Philippine and non-Philippine literary traditions. Study our history, but don’t get stuck on it. Treat writing like a job. Listen to criticism; don’t take it personally, but do take it to heart. Believe in your vision, but take your teachers seriously; but also look beyond them and into the lessons you find in books written by writers of the world who’ve come before us. Remember that writing is a craft, which must be developed over the course of a lifetime, and every story and book you write is just one exercise on the way to becoming good enough to maybe one day write a masterpiece. Be a writer who happens to be Filipino, not a writer who is trying to show how Filipino they are. Any immediate plans of coming back to the country?

I always make plans to return. But opportunities arise and delay such plans. I really want to return home one day, but I find that I don’t like the person I become when I’m home and I don’t know if I have fortitude many Manilenos have to not let themselves become corrupted or disheartened or turned cynical by the septic influences of politics, religion and consumerism that are troubling our country. I stay away because I’m a weaker man than those who stay, but I hope one day I’ll have the strength to return, and hopefully when I do I’ll have something good to offer my country.



A Journalist’s Birthday Book A major broadsheet’s youngest editor ever, Pam Pastor, shares how she juggled writing, blogging and debuting her first book, Paper Cuts. By Jenny B. Orillos • Photographs by Carlomar A. Daoana

Everyday is a deadline for journalist and writer Pam Pastor, 30. She crunches through them in her trademark candycolored Doc Martens, her nail polished fingers flying as fast as the rising stack of press invites and releases on the lifestyle section’s news desk. She has been at it since she was 17, when she answered an ad for a student correspondent for a major daily. After completing her very first assignment (a survey on virginity), she has not stopped writing and pitching her own stories. “It reached a point that I wouldn’t even take notes in class, I’d be writing articles [instead],” says Pastor. Soon, she was invited to the newspaper office for an unofficial internship where she experienced first hand how the staff produced their section each day. A stint at the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s 2BU, a lifestyle section for the youth, helped change her mind about political science, Pastor’s first major at the University of Santo Tomas (UST). She stopped for a year to work full time at the daily, then went back to UST to pursue journalism.At 19, while her classmates were dissecting the sections of local newspapers for their assignment, Pastor would surreptitiously be writing her own feature articles, to be published a few days later. Rushing back to the Inquirer, she would be closing the pages on her own while still in her school uniform. Readers of the Inquirer may not have

noticed it but this girl has literally grown up right under their morning paper. “I got a lot of encouragement from people, like the editor in chief, Letty JimenezMagsanoc. Back then, my editor was Thelma San Juan. Some of my pieces that were supposedly for 2BU would come out on a Sunday. She liked it enough to put it on a Sunday,” says Pastor. “I love that the environment here is really nurturing and they really appreciate people who are super passionate about writing and journalism and what they do. It’s become a home to me.” Through the years, she has worked with other lifestyle editors at the paper, such as Chelo Banal Formoso, as well as Lito Zulueta who was also her professor in college. From them she learned the value of having an editor polish one’s work. “The best thing young writers can do is look at what you submitted and look at what finally comes out. Because you see the changes the editors make.” Now, she is the subsection editor of Super!, the daily’s Saturday special that features stories on pop culture, entertainment, and style. She has covered everything from food and fashion to movie and TV show premieres to concerts and album launches. A few months back, she even got to interview the Chippendales, “which was kinda insane—they were topless. I wasn’t taught how to deal with a topless subject. It was cool,” says Pastor, laughing.

“I didn’t want to dread turning 30. So that was my goal. When I turn 30, I’ll celebrate by coming out with a book.” “I enjoy that part of journalism, that you never know what’s coming, who’s coming, what you’re doing next. I think my editor likes that about me, I rarely say no to assignments, whatever it is. I handle my section but she gives me assignments for Lifestyle. And I like being surprised with the stuff that they give me.”

“It’s so funny, because sometimes you’re supposed to be writing about someone else pero di ba, you see that happening a lot—people still keep trying to inject themselves into the piece. When I was young I used to do that and then I realized I think we have the blogs to thank for that.”

one point she felt she had to blog first before she could write her articles as a way to purge and clear her head. “Now I blog not as much as before and not as insanely personal as before. But I’d do it. You need that outlet. You can’t write lang for work. You had to do it for yourself. It gives you peace of mind.”

One of her most memorable stories was covering the Macworld Expo in San Francisco, California in 2007, which she considered a big responsibility as the only journalist from the Philippines. She wanted to be as accurate and thorough in her reporting so as not to earn the ire of Mac fanatics. “I was really, really careful about that. I did so much research and really worked my ass off. I stayed in the office overnight working on my article. But that was so much fun. Because I was there, I was like, ‘Please don’t let them launch another computer chip. That’s gonna be hard to write about.’ And then it was [the Apple] iPhone. So I was ‘Okay, good.’ It was historic.”

Since 2000, she has maintained a blog which she regularly and feverishly updated to the point that even the most personal accounts of her life appeared on the site. As a result, she felt that it became an unhealthy outlet for her later on, so the blog crashed and burned in

Another thing she’d been wanting to do for the longest time also came with a deadline: publish her first book by age 30. Her blogs and her work as a journalist found its way into her book by merging traditional with new media. Early this year, Anvil Publishing released Paper Cuts, a collection of Pam’s personal stories as a young journalist and a hodgepodge of characters (mostly from her household) that populate her “crazy life.” Her serious, almost intimidating mug shot posted under the Management Team page at the Inquirer website is a far cry from the refreshing and funny voice in Paper Cuts. Pastor has earned quite a following on her blogs, most of whom flooded her book launch and enjoyed the cupcakes and beer served on the premises of the bookstore. She shares with us her journey on the making of Paper Cuts.

Ever the intrepid journalist, she gets ideas for features even when she travels for vacation. “Even if I say, ‘Okay, I’m gonna go to the States for a break.’ But I end up covering stuff there as well. I just can’t switch it off. I don’t have pure [nonworking] vacations. Like even if I say ‘Ma, I’m gonna go for two weeks’ and then I come back, I have so many stories. It’s still like work pa rin,” says Pastor. When she does take a break from journalism, Pastor turns to blogging. “I had that as an outlet for everything I wanted to write. So for the paper, it’s really for the readers.” To her, blogs are a way for a person to write about herself all the time, something that journalists were trained not to do. “When you’re a young writer, I notice this tendency to always include yourself in the story,” says Pastor.


How did Paper Cuts come about?

2007 when she stopped writing for a while. Pastor returned to blogging again occasionally in 2008. She also created two new blogs—devoted entirely to cupcakes (for her occasional cupcake business with friends) and nail polish (her colorful obsession). Pastor considers this new media platform as one of her writer’s tools, although at

Growing up I never dreamed na, “O, one day I wanna work for a newspaper.” My mom would have funny stories: when I was two years old, I was [already] looking at newspapers. My cousins and I would make family newspapers which was bond paper and Pentel. But I really wanted to write books. I had an aunt in the States—she’s a psychologist and she writes books—and then she visited one time and said, “O, when are you gonna come out with your first book?” And I said, “When I’m 28.” And then I realized,


“Oh my God, I’m 28 and I haven’t done anything yet.” So I said “Okay, by the time I’m 30, I didn’t want to dread turning 30.” So that was my goal. When I turn 30, I’ll celebrate by coming out with a book. I was about to turn 29 and I haven’t started working on it yet. By 2009, I started working on it and submitted my manuscript. What was the concept behind your book? Was it mostly personal stories or a collection of your best pieces in the Inquirer? Inquirer has been a part of my life for 13 years. I wanted the book to be separate from that. I wanted it to be completely different. I wanted to offer people who would buy the book something they haven’t read in the newspaper—although I might do that in the future. Some people have read some of the stuff here because they read my blog. But I wanted it to be a different thing. The idea was really to take just snippets from my life and then put them together. Snippets that never came out in the newspaper. This is what goes on in my life when I’m not roughing my deadlines. One of your biggest challenges was coming up with a subtitle.


How important was the subtitle for your book? The funny thing was that I didn’t even know I needed a sub-title. But then I realized [I needed one] because [I] forgot nobody would know what it was about. I was coming up with dorks and drinking. And I said “No, it has to be when [readers] read it, they’ll know what it was about.” My brother and I were in Boracay then and we were just in a bar and we’re just listing stuff. And finally they chose “Dodging deadlines, celebrity runins and other stories I told the internet.” But I gave a list of ten. They chose that and I’m happy with it. How was the process in approaching your publisher? That was actually the easier part. The hardest part was putting everything together because imagine I had to go through everything I’ve written from mga late ‘90s. That took weeks and weeks. My notebook, my blogs, my Multiply. I just sent my sample chapters first to Anvil. And then it took a while before they replied. So I was worried. I was like “Should I approach someone else na? No, I wanna wait, I wanna wait.” And when they replied, they said “We want to see

the whole manuscript.” It took a lot of months before I heard from them. I heard from them, it was morning, I was reviewing a Blackberry. I got an email on the Blackberry. It said “We’re interested in your manuscript, can you send the actual manuscript to the office?” I was in Singapore and I was travelling with friends and there was a kid sleeping in the room and I couldn’t scream. When I went back, I immediately started working on it. There were so many funny stories pa. I was printing the manuscript, nagbrownout. And when the lights went back on, naubusan ng ink. Baha pa when I brought it. Talagang hilarious. Looking back, it was cool. And I was unfazed. Normally, people would go like, “Malas yata ito.” I was like, “Sige lang, go.” What kind of revisions did you do? I submitted a really thick one and then they said, “Let’s divide it into two.” They were looking at a smaller volume. So I divided the manuscript in two, then submitted that. And then they said “No, let’s put it back together.” It took months and months. And then they also kind of changed the chronological order of the


“It’s not really the writing but the process that comes after it. Your writing style shouldn’t change to conform to [anyone].”

pieces. Now it makes perfect sense to me. Some pieces they really wanted it bite-sized. Some had to be shortened. It was really painless. It was just long. But I didn’t think it was gonna be that painless. Well I guess, over the years in the newspapers you get used to being edited. Because a lot of writers, [especially] the new ones, they hate that. You won’t survive if you refused to be edited. So I think, ‘yun na ‘yung training. I was so used to, “We don’t need that part? Okay lang, no problem.” I’m not too attached to it. What were the things you learned in writing a book? It’s not really the writing but the process that comes after it. Your writing style shouldn’t change to conform to [anyone]. When I was growing up, my whole idea was, I wanted a book and a bookstore. That’s it. I didn’t think of you had to plan a book launch and you have to think, “Is the book selling?” You have to check on the book in the bookstores. They were teasing me nga para daw akong nagpeprepare for my 18th birthday when I was planning the launch. I wanted it to be really fun. But I didn’t think of those things originally. Akala ko tapos na once the book is there. As in I didn’t realize what do I answer people from abroad?

They’re asking if they wanna buy it, how do they do that? There are so many things. It doesn’t stop there. Akala ko once it’s in the bookstore it has a life of its own and it sells itself. No. The first week it came out and people started posting photos of their copies. You have a fan base. It’s so amazing. I feel like it’s a part of me and it’s in their home. It’s in their bag. And they bring it with them. And they share it with their friends. I love that so much. I’m so lucky that I came out with a book in the time of Twitter and Facebook. And it’s so easy for them to show me, “Hey, I have it and I like this part.” Kasi before you just wait for the newspapers to write about it. That’s it. Unless people really make a point to reach out to you. But now it’s so easy to see, wow it’s there na, and it’s part of your life. As a writer, do you feel that social networking and all these technology helped you? Absolutely. A lot of people thinks it’s istorbo. Yeah, okay sometimes it’s hard to write when the Twitter feed keeps on popping up. But you have to learn

when to turn it off. But sometimes, it’s like a treasure chest of ideas. You know what’s in people’s heads and what’s everyone’s talking about now. It’s made things so much easier. Like even for us in the newspaper. I mean some people think you’re competing with that. I’m not really scared of new media. Because in the same way that people were saying that photographs will kill paintings. We shouldn’t underestimate the capacity of people to absorb different kinds of media. Because they can enjoy their internet but they can also read their newspaper. They can get their eBooks but they can also buy a book. I love technology. I’m not afraid of it at all. What advice do you have for new writers? Don’t stop writing. That’s it. And even if you tried for a publication and they say no, there are so many other publications out there. Keep reading. Kasi here, sometimes people say, “I don’t want to read because I don’t want to be influenced.” But that’s crap. I think most writers start writing because of their love for words. How do you nurture that love? By reading.

At Home




A writer based in Manila finds out that living in Davao is the “write” place By Vida Mia S. Valverde Photographs courtesy of the author

As I grow older, the more I realize that I was not named Vida Mia for nothing. Vida mia is Spanish for “my life” and I have always embraced life and everything that comes along with it. Love, loss, transitions, nuances, beauty, and pain are all par for the course. My move back to Davao City after over a decade of glorying in the rat race of Manila is a prime example of all my driving principles. If it is enriching for love and family, service and time, then off I go. So it is with my writing. It is about loving the experiences of life no matter the result and then immortalizing them in the written word. I reaffirm novelist and short story writer, Anais Nin, when she said that we write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection. As I organize my thoughts and reflect back on the whys of my move to Davao City, I once again relive what I went through to get to this decision and endeavor to share with you its ramifications on my writing. Theoretically, being in Davao City is supposed to give me more time to focus on writing. But other pressing concerns


always come in and I get derailed. However, because I am now constantly immersed in activities I freely choose to do with people I love or like, I am more appreciative of life. This in turn results in a constant urge to commit experiences and gleaned insights to writing. It is as if I always want to retain something of the experience, be it just nuanced flavors or full-blown graphic retelling. Sometimes, a portion of reality jumpstarts the creation of another totally different reality or more aptly, unreality. Creativity flows freely now that I am not as pressured to earn as when I was in Manila. With the comfort and support given by family and our established business, it is easier for me to have time to ponder and write. But as with so many fledgling writers, I am plagued with the lack of discipline to set aside time churning out meaningful words. When I am not able to produce anything worthwhile, I always justify that this is not my main source of income anyway or the more common copout that I am not just inspired. I was thus struck when I

read at the Designed by Words website that writing is not just being about talent but having the discipline to actually and concretely craft words even if we do not feel like it. It does not matter if there are seemingly worthwhile ideas percolating in one’s head. If they do not get translated to the written word, then they are not worth much after all. Being in the roster of writers of the Davao Writers Guild is wonderful in that I have found a writers’ home in my hometown. I spent my whole professional life in Manila and I realized I could be a writer fairly recently. It seemed very fitting that when I chose to make a big leap of faith and act on love, my words seemed to take on more flow and relevance. (I am getting married at the end of this year and my move is actually in preparation for this new chapter in my life.) I penned a poem entitled “Mosaic” which spoke of shattered glass that searched for wholeness. I submitted it for publication in the Guild’s Dagmay, the literary page of the local paper. I was immensely pleased


“The local literary scene is always very cognizant of the Mindanao heritage and culture. There is a richness from which meaningful material is spawned.” when it was published. I felt there was hope for my writing, that it was not just misguided, delusional talent. After all, the Davao Writers Guild accepted it. It was an approval stamp of sorts and it came at a time when I was apprehensive about my re-rooting in Davao. The writer part of me found residence where I initially thought I could not belong. I was then encouraged to write more. I took on small writing jobs that allowed me to practice discipline. Never mind that they are not the highly creative stuff that aspiring writers dream of; at least they pay. I cranked out words on dry technical topics on set deadlines. It was good practice. I could write even without the much vaunted muse. After the poem, I wrote “Remembering Lola Juanita,” an essay immortalizing my grandmother who passed away. My third submission to Dagmay was a short story entitled “So Real” which chronicled an illicit relationship that did not end rosily. Upon its publication, I was up in arms about how it was edited. There were glaring syntax and content errors that would not have been there if my piece was published as is. Much as I understand the power and discretion of the editor, I really thought that an injustice was done and I made myself heard. Justifications were made but I was not appeased. I actually went through the previous works of the editor to check if she had the necessary credibility. I felt worse when a friend I seldom hear from called me up to confirm if I was indeed the writer of the piece because the byline showed a mangled version of my name and it was poorly edited. He minced no words in saying that I should inform the editor-inchief, who is his good friend, about the mistakes. I cannot anymore establish who was right or wrong but compromise came by way of the piece rectified in the online version. I was then told by the responsible editor that at least the work

elicited dialogue. Talk about looking at the brighter side. My last published work was another short story. In the short description about the author that comes at the bottom page, it stated that I was the aunt to mischievous Jacy who loves chasing my Persian blue cat named Pedro. When my nephew saw this in the paper, he was ecstatic and immediately gave me a big hug. Later on, he boasted to friends that his Tita Vida writes for a newspaper and that his name can be also found in it. Indeed, writing has its attendant pains and perks. I write best when I am home alone. To be more accurate, I write best when I am home alone with my cat, Pedro. Pedro is the one distraction that does not make me feel guilty. I turn away from my laptop and play with him and still no nagging thoughts surface. When he jumps on the table and nonchalantly walks on the keyboard, or worse, plops down his chunky body on it, I am essentially doomed to a missed deadline. When I look into his big bright inquiring eyes, I wonder what he is thinking and my own train of thought gets derailed. Thus, I have found that it works to my advantage if I just incorporate Pedro or some cat character into the piece and build on what is lazily staring at me. Apart from Pedro, I am usually alone when I write. I like mulling things over and writing in a natural environment. Soaking the sun in our garden or lazing on the beach of nearby Samal Island gets my brain cells happy and working. The only time I was ever a part of a writing class or workshop was when I joined the “Writing Better Descriptions” class of Designed by Words in Manila. Though this class was only for half a day, it has markedly improved my writing. I fantasize about being in a Creative Writing course but this is a luxury I cannot afford. It is enough that I took Philosophy for my undergraduate and graduate studies.

I am not yet truly part of the local writing scene. Our family has numerous established writer friends and I could only raise my hat off to them. Many of them are of the activist ilk. A few have even spent time in jail as political detainees for their inflammatory works. In the recently launched coffee table book, The Davao We Know, these writers have once again found voice extolling and reflecting on our idiosyncratic city. The local literary scene is always very cognizant of the Mindanao heritage and culture. There is a richness from which meaningful material is spawned. Moreover, there is a drive to write in the local dialects that enhances appreciation of the ethnic and the diverse. Sad to say, I do not have writing facility of the local dialects. But I have very strong pride of place and culture and seek avenues to promote it through my other socio-civic endeavors. My short story, “For the Greater Good,” was published in an anthology of works by Asian women writers experiencing cultural conflict. It spoke of how an ideology that is supposed to be for the greater good actually costs lives. I culled material from interviews with Mindanao residents and wove it into a fictional story that finally found publication in the UK published anthology, “Same Difference.” My life in Davao City is yet to get a stronger foothold. I am embracing and enjoying the journey whatever the outcome. If my lackluster discipline permits, I will write and write and write. Otherwise, chilling on the beach would still be lovely.

Vida Mia S. Valverde was a fellow for fiction at the Davao Writers Workshop 2011 hosted by the Davao Writers Guild last October 2011.


Filling the Page

On writing the first draft


By Cathy Paras Lara Photo by Jean B. Orillos

n writing the first draft of anything, there’s no foolproof formula. There may be many books, articles, and blog posts discussing how to tackle the subject, but the methods are as varied as there are writers in the field. Let me share what has actually worked for me in my most recent project—the creation of eight short stories for my graduate thesis, which I hope will be published Somewhere Important some day.

just write. As Elizabeth Gilbert said of her vows to writing, “I never promised the universe that I would write brilliantly; I only promised the universe that I would write.” Isn’t this just the most liberating nugget of wisdom you’ve ever read about the writing craft? Just promise to write. Not to write well, but to write. You can’t have a theoretical first draft—you have to start it, which means you have to start writing.

I begin by allotting myself a finite amount of time to write. On some days, I write for two hours straight, not even pausing to reply to text messages or e-mails with subjects that begin with, “URGENT, PLEASE REPLY A.S.A.P.” On other days, I am lucky if I can find ten minutes to brush my teeth and wash my face—and this is because my boss is a one-year-old toddler in diapers who speaks to me in the language of signs, cries and grunts. I write when he says I can, which means as soon as his head hits the crib mattress for an afternoon nap.

On my most uninspired days, when even reading the works of William Trevor or Butch Dalisay or Jhumpa Lahiri leaves me hankering for more, I do a bit of what Natalie Goldberg likens to “wild writing.” In its most distilled form, this wild, uncontrolled writing is really just a challenge to keep my hand moving. Or typing. When I’m in this wild state, I write from where I am. I write about how it feels to change what I think is the thousandth diaper. I write about my panic attacks and how they started after seeing images of planes crashing into the twin towers on 9/11. I write about a girl who wore knee-high socks in my third grade class in Hong Kong who ended up being a prostitute for a short while to feed a drug habit. I write about the squiggly scar that is all that remains of my mom’s left

The next step involves commitment. I commit to write: a sentence, a paragraph, or an entire story. For the first draft, length and substance are thrown out the window and I just write. I’ll say it again—I


breast, and I begin to wonder if I, too, will suffer the same one-breasted fate. I usually stop writing when my baby awakens. But on really good days, when he sleeps for another hour or so, I push myself past where I am comfortable because I have a feeling that something beautiful might just come out. And almost always, something does. We may all end up with a different story, poem, copy, or blog post. But in writing the first draft, we all begin with the same famished blank page that we must continue to nourish with our thoughts and words until we have nothing more to give. We cannot do this if our hands are not moving, if our hearts are not feeling. So keep moving. Keep feeling. Commit to write. Just write. Just write.

Cathy Paras Lara is completing her M.F.A. in creative writing at De La Salle University. She was a nonfiction fellow at the U.S.T. Writers’Workshop. She edited and co-produced with her husband the book, Everyday Warriors: The Faces and Stories of Breast Cancer Survivors, which won a National Book Award in 2010. She currently resides in the ‘burbs of San Francisco with her baby and husband.



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MARKETS Workshop Magazine provides a listing of writing markets for writers. Contact information and submission guidelines may change as of press time. Please contact the markets directly.






Magazine Publishers ABS-CBN Publishing Inc. Largest magazine distributor in the country. Contact: ABS-CBN Publishing Inc., 8/F Eugenio Lopez Communications Center, Eugenio Lopez Drive, Quezon City. (632) 415-2272 local 4667. Popular titles: Starstudio Magazine, The Buzz Magazine, K Magazine, Sharon At Home, Metro Magazine, Metro Society Magazine, Metro Home & Entertaining Magazine, Metro Weddings Magazine, Chalk Magazine, Food Magazine, Working Mom Magazine, MYX Magazine. Hinge Inquirer Publications (HIP) Magazine arm of the Inquirer Group of Companies (publisher of the Philippine Daily Inquirer). Contact: Hinge Inquirer Publications, 4/F Media Resource Plaza, Mola St. corner Pasong Tirad, Brgy. La Paz, Makati City. (632) 403-8825. Popular titles: F&B World and Baking Press, Northern Living, Southern Living,

Urban Living, Turista, Cocoon, Look, MultiSport, and Game! Manila Bulletin Corporation Produces trade magazines and magazine supplements for Manila Bulletin newspaper. Contact: Manila Bulletin, Muralla corner Recoletos Sts., Intramuros, Manila 1002. (632) 5278121. http://www. Popular titles: Sense and Style, Garage, Sports, Cruising, Animal Scene (monthly). Wedding Essentials (premiere). Liwayway, Bannawag, Bisaya, Hiligaynon (weekly regional). Panorama, Style Weekend, and Digital Generation (supplements). Mega Publishing Group Pioneer publishing company of glossy magazines. Contact: The MEGA Publishing Group, Strata 100, 18th Floor, F. Ortigas, Jr. Road, Ortigas Center, 1605 Pasig. (632) 631-2859, 631-2862 (fax). inquiry@ Popular titles include: MEGA, My Home, Condo Living, Meg, Inside Showbiz, Lifestyle Asia, Celebrity Living, Appetite, and Bluprint. Summit Media Leading magazine publisher in the Philippines. Contact: 6F & 7F Robinsons Cybergate Center Tower 3, Robinsons Pioneer Complex, Pioneer St., Mandaluyong City 1550. (632) 451-8888, 631-7788 (telefax). Popular titles: Town & Country, Cosmopolitan, Preview, Women’s Health, Candy, OK!, YES!, Good Housekeeping, Real Living, Smart Parenting, Yummy, Princess, K-Zone, Total Girl, Disney Junior, FHM, Men’s Health, Entrepreneur, Martha Stewart Weddings, Star Teacher, Top Gear, Runner’s World. Online:,, pep. ph,,,,, http://www.summitmedia.

Literary magazines Ani A quarterly literary journal. Accepts poems, short stories and essays in Filipino, English or any Philippine language with translation (or gist for prose) in Filipino or English according to theme. Contact: Mr. Hermie Beltran, Literary Arts Division, Cultural Center of the Philippines, CCP Complex, Pasay City. (632) 832-1125 locals 1706 and 1707. Manuscript: typewritten or computer-encoded in Arial 12 points, double-spaced on short bond paper (8.5” x 11”), accompanied by a sheet containing the author’s five-sentence biographical note, contact numbers and address, and tax identification number (TIN) for payment purposes. Ani37 deadline is June 30, 2012.

High Chair A bi-annual poetry journal that accepts high quality poetry and prose submissions. Contact: The Editors, High Chair, www. Kritika Kultura Refereed electronic journal of literary/ cultural and language studies. Contact: Kritika Kultura, Department of English School of Humanities, Ateneo de Manila University, Loyola Heights 1108 Quezon City. (632) 426-6001 ext. 5310 or 5311. kritikakultura@gmail. com,,

Likhaan: The Journal of Contemporary Philippine Literature Refereed literary journal that showcases the best of new and unpublished Philippine writing in English and Filipino. Accepts poetry, creative nonfiction (essays, memoirs, profiles, etc.), critical/ scholarly essays, excerpts from graphic novels, or full short graphic stories. Contact: The Editors, Likhaan Journal, UP Institute of Creative Writing, Rizal Hall, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City, 1101. likhaan.journal6@

University Presses Ateneo de Manila University Press

University of the Philippines Press

Publishes books in the humanities and social sciences focused on Philippine life and society. Also outstanding literature and textbooks by Filipino authors. Contact: Maricor E. Baytion, Director and Marketing Manager, Ateneo de Manila University Press, Bellarmine Hall, ADMU Campus, Katipunan Avenue, Loyola Heights, 1108 Quezon City. (632) 426-1238, 426-6001 ext. 4611. www.

Publishes Filipiniana titles on poetry, fiction and novel, essays, social sciences, history, and other scientific works. Contact: University of the Philippines Press, E. de los Santos Street, UP Campus Diliman, Quezon City 1101. (632) 9266642, 928-2558 loc. 106 (editorial), 9282558 loc. 102 (fax).

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UST Publishing House Produces literary, scholarly, and text Books. Contact: Cristina PantojaHidalgo, Director, University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, Beato Angelico Building, Espana, Manila. (632) 406-1611 loc. 8252 or 8278. ustpublishing@gmail. com.,

Post your editorial needs. Add your publication to our bimonthly online market listings. Contact The Editor by email:





Trade Publishers Adarna House Children’s book publisher of storybooks, young adult novels. Contact: Ani Almario, Vice-President, Adarna House, Scout Torillo corner Scout Fernandez Streets, Barangay Sacred Heart, Quezon City. Anvil Publishing, Inc. Publishes poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, popular cookbooks, and other Filipininiana titles. Contact: Cacho Hermanos Bldg. Pines cor. Union Streets, Mandaluyong City 1550. (632)4774752, 4774755 to 57 local 816 to 821 (publishing dept.). anvil.pubdept@yahoo. com, www. Central Books Publishing on demand and e-books. Contact: Marie P. Villanueva-Naval, Central Books Head Office, 927 Phoenix Building, Quezon Avenue, Quezon City 1100. (632) 372 3550 ext. 34. www.central. Flipside Digital Content Leading-edge conversion, production and publishing of e-books including academic and scholarly works and trade books with emphasis on the Philippines and Asia. Contact: Flipside Digital Content, 301-304 ICITE Bldg., 12 Orchard Road, Eastwood City Cyberpark Bagumbayan, 1110 Quezon City. (632) 257-09255. info@flipsidecontent. com. Email submissions and inquiries to publisher@ Lampara Publishing House, Inc. Publishes children’s literature in Filipino (with English translations) under its Lampara Books imprint. Sister company of Precious Pages Corporation (PPC). Contact: Lampara Publishing House, Inc., 83 Sgt. E. Rivera St., San Francisco del Monte, Brgy. Manresa 1115, Quezon City. (632) 414-6188. inquiry@lamparabooks.

Milflores Publishing, Inc. Publishes essays, biographies, fiction, references, research studies, fiction for young adults, and series on health and English language. Contact: Antonio A. Hidalgo, President and CEO, Milflores Publishing, Inc. (632) 721-6431 (telefax), 721-3748. http:// OMF Literature Inc. Christian publisher of trade books covering Christian living, family, church, career/business, leadership, evangelism and missions, devotionals, gift books, youth-oriented books and children’s Books. Hiyas is their imprint for children’s books for beginning readers to young teens, in English, or Filipino, or both. Contact: OMF Literature Inc., 776 Boni Ave. cor. Pinatubo St., 1550 Mandaluyong City. (632) 531-6635. www. Manuscript: fiction or non-fiction, written in Philippine context for Filipino—or Asian—children (4–6yrs.; 6–8yrs.; 8–12yrs.; or young teens). Precious Pages Corporation Publishes Tagalog romance novels such as the Precious Hearts Romance imprint (PHR). Contact: Precious Pages Corporation, 83 Sgt. Rivera St. Brgy. Manresa, San Francisco del Monte, Quezon City. Manuscript: double-spaced, 23,00024,000 words (100-110 pages), 10 chapters. Include resume, teaser, and first page (author’s note). Psicom Publishing Inc. Publisher of popular books ranging from children’s books, humor books, cookbooks, comics, novels, romance, chick lit and ghost stories aimed at Filipino young readers. Contact: Psicom Publishing Inc., 6 Yale St. Cubao, 1109 Quezon City. (632) 912-3085. psicom@ http://www.psicompublishing. com, http://psicompublishing.blogspot. com/. Manuscript: short story (500 to 1000 words) or 2 sample chapters with brief synopsis (novel/book) plus author

information (contact details, etc.) to (Subject: Submission: (story/novel/comics). Summit Books Publishes chick lit and graphic novels. Contact: Christine Ko, Team Publisher, Summit Books, 6F & 7F Robinsons Cybergate Center Tower 3, Robinsons Pioneer Complex Pioneer St., Mandaluyong City 1550. (632) 451-8888. Manuscript: email the first two chapters and story summary. The Antithesis Collective Independent publisher of quality books by local writers, with emphasis on new and undiscovered talents. Contact: The Antithesis Collective, Unit 3C Orient Mansions Condominium, 92 Aramismis st. Veterans Village, Project 7, 1105 Quezon City. (632) 928-9599., Visprint Inc. Publisher of the Bob Ong books as well as award-winning graphic novels. Contact: Visprint No. 2810 Alcaver Street, Barangay San Roque, 1303 Pasay City. (632) 845-2703. book_inquiry@visprint. net.,


The Book that Changed my Life (and Budget) Julie Ann Ensomo recalls how the lone Harper Lee classic made a lifetime reader out of When I was younger, I only read books for two reasons: 1.) Because it’s a requirement for an English subject 2.) Because of my grandmother. The first one I can handle as I can easily Google book reports, copy some of its notes and tweak it a little to make it as my own. The second one owns a stick that’s a constant threat to my vulnerable buttocks and also holds the key to my freedom, happiness, and the white rabbit candy jar. If I had my way, I’d read anything with the words “Sweet Valley” on it. Fortunately, I came across To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee back on my second year in high school when it practically changed the way I viewed the act of reading and my taste in books. Back then, I always thought books that didn’t have the Sweet Valley title in them and were thicker than your average Mongol pencil would be the death of me. The first serious novel that I’ve finished for an English subject was The Wuthering Heights and although it was considered a classic, it also gave me a classic, continuous migraine. I literally had to hold a dictionary in one hand while I read the headache-inducing novel in another. Literary critics might have appreciated the sentiments


of Heathcliff but for a 14 year old whose passion included the Backstreetboys and mastering all the levels of a challenging and death-defying game called jackstone, it was a completely different matter. To Kill a Mockingbird was easy on my barely working brain cells then, which was a plus in my book. I didn’t need the help of good ole’ Thesaurus nor did I feel the constant need to look up to the high heavens while mouthing “Why me?!” My grandmother was pleased that I seemed to genuinely enjoy a novel which meant everyone was happy, including my juvenile ass. As a critically acclaimed book, main issues such as racism, court trials and even murders— serious matter—were touched but what greatly appealed to me was how Harper Lee injected the novel with light moments and hilarious commentaries between the main characters and its community. I distinctly remember one of the main characters, Jem Finch, being in a haze for daze after meeting their gorgeous professor. Rising problems among a girl who can read, a father who taught her to read and a teacher who didn’t want any reading to happen was quite an amusing mess and exaggerated stories of the neighbors and the main characters themselves about an unfortunate individual also gave me the chuckles. Nonetheless, Harper Lee had a way of narrating

sensitive topics that even a 14 year old hill-billy could understand. It wasn’t just the simplicity of the words that she used but rather, the flow of the whole material that made it a compelling, naturally easy read. I knew about blacks being discriminated in general but I never thought I’d be affected when one of them loses hope and runs to his death. I knew about broken families as my relatives constantly produced those but I had no idea what the kids, who were in the middle of the messy separation or divorce, were thinking. Choosing to do the right thing versus what society perceives to be a just and fair act was something I hope to never go through, as what Atticus Finch, the father of the narrator, had experienced. And finally what easily gave my heart a pinch and my eye, a thunderstorm for a teardrop was how noble Boo Radley, the apparently weird yet misunderstood character, was and how Scout Finch, the kid narrator realized that people are not what they really seem to be until you’ve placed yourself in their shoes and in her case, saved her life. Apart from the memorable and insightful lines of Harper Lee that finally changed my taste in all things literary, did you know I lost that damn book thrice? Yes, I bought it thrice so that book also changed my budgetary allowance. And let me tell you, my grandmother was pissed as hell. Julie Ann Ensomo works at a B2B contact database in Singapore. Read more of her works at

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Workshop Magazine Issue No. 1  

Workshop Magazine is a writer's magazine, which features profiles and interviews with a theme in every issue. In our premiere issue, “If Yo...

Workshop Magazine Issue No. 1  

Workshop Magazine is a writer's magazine, which features profiles and interviews with a theme in every issue. In our premiere issue, “If Yo...