• Is being a writer a childhood dream for you?
When I was very young, I wanted to be a komiks writer & illustrator. I grew up reading Liwayway and
local komiks such as Aliwan, Hiwaga, Pilipino Komiks and Tagalog Klasiks, and I’ve always been
fascinated with their ability to prolong stories and excite my imagination. So perhaps, yes, as a child,
I already dreamt of being a writer.
• What were some challenges you had to go through in publishing your works?
I was very lucky that I had real publishing opportunities when I was still in high school. When I was in second year high school, a regional newsmagazine based in San Pablo, Barkada!, went to our school and distributed free back issues. Then they invited us to submit our own works. I remember writing this soppy short story entitled “Ulan” and then went to their office to submit the story personally. I learned that the publisher was Palanca awardee Fernando Villarca-Cao, and his wife, Dr. Meo Cao, was the editor. They both told me that my story had a lot of problems, but that they also saw promise in my writing. Not only did they publish my story, they also invited me to be a staff member of Barkada! I had an authentic press ID, and they gave me my own column later on. In third year high school, I was designated as the first editor in chief of our campus newspaper. The following year, I won in the National Schools Press Conference held in Tangub City, the event that gave me my first airplane ride. These gave me credentials enough to be invited to write my own columns to two more established regional newspapers. And so when I graduated from high school and entered Ateneo, I was already eyeing Heights and Matanglawin. The only real challenge is in having the courage to write—and to submit. I learned that already when I was very young. Everything else that happens around them—writing and submitting—is mostly beyond our control.
• If you’re not a writer and teacher, what do you think is that profession that would make you fulfilled or just as happy?
Anything that would allow me to be creative. Like some characters in my novels, I want to involve myself in game design and innovation. Of course, I don’t have the necessary background for it right now, but it is something I would have worked on if I didn’t know then that I’d write. Let us just say that if I am enrolling as a college freshman this school-year, I’m most likely taking Information Design as my major, and a minor in Developmental Studies.
• What do you think is the best thing about being a writer?
The fact that I have to work by myself up until the time I am ready to show the manuscript to a friend, an editor, or a publisher.
• What do you think is the worst thing about it?
The fact that I have to work by myself up until the time I am ready to show the manuscript to a friend, an editor, or a publisher. I am not trying to be witty and confusing here; it is true that the writing life is often driven by these conflicted emotions. I had to say a lot of no’s to friends and family just because I needed to write; but whenever I am writing, it becomes one of the most rewarding moments in my life—and I get to experience it again and again.
• Have you had an interesting encounter with a fan or an amusing autograph-signing experience?
A lot! I am always grateful to readers who really invest themselves in my work. Just last June 7, we had a book signing at Fully Booked in Greenbelt 5 for Janus Sílang, and I was about to leave when I saw these two college student-looking boys who seemed hesitant to approach the table. I invited them to come closer, and enthused them over my new book. I asked them where they were from, and they told me, Quezon [Province]. And I asked what were they doing in Manila (I thought they were looking for work and just happened to pass by). And they replied, shyly, “For you, sir!” I was speechless for a few seconds! And they then brought out copies of my earlier books that they also asked me to sign after they both bought Janus. How could I ever prepare for such rewarding moments? It was very touching for me. To know that I affected readers that much for them to travel all the way to Manila just to attend my book signing is beyond what I hoped for, and I will always be thankful. I continue to write because of readers like them.
• Do you stick to a reading and writing habit every day?
When I am working on a major project—like a novel—I have to. Otherwise, it is easier to pass time doing nothing writing-related. I wrote the first draft of Janus in a month, because I had my daily target number of pages. So yes, I can be OC whenever I need to accomplish real work.
• Among all the books you’ve published, what has got to be the most challenging to write/research for?
Perhaps my second novel, Sa Kasunod ng 909, just because I also wrote it as a doctoral dissertation, and you know how the academe can be so demanding with regard to issues of sources and influences, citation and form.
• That same book won the JUAN C. LAYA PRIZE FOR BEST NOVEL IN A PHILIPPINE LANGUAGE in the National Book Awards (NBA). Could you tell us a bit more about that experience, from learning about your nomination to realizing that you’ve bagged the prize?
It was my first National Book Award, and it was exciting, of course. But instead of receiving a cash prize, I wished there was a program instead to facilitate the distribution of the awarded books to different parts of the country, especially to public school students who do not have a luxury of buying books for leisure. What is a National Book Award for if not even 0.01% of our population got to read the book?
• Everyone is talking about your latest book “Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon.” (Okay, not exactly everyone, but social media sites and the blogosphere have been abuzz with it for months.) Why do you think it’s a must-read, particularly for Filipino young adults?
I would like to brag a little and say that it is something I wish I read when I was growing up. Aren’t we writing for all the books we wish existed when we were younger? So far, yes, we are getting very positive reviews and feedback, and most of them pointed to two things: it is current and it is Filipino—the book speaks to most readers (as far as Goodreads and blog reviews go) in a way that affects them emotionally and intuitively. I hope more people will get a chance to read the book; I am really proud of what I was trying to achieve in it—a hero that attempts to represent this generation’s aspirations and weaknesses.
• One of the most powerful imageries in the first book of the series is the “dilang-karayom ng Manananggal sa puso.” Can you say that you’ve felt something close or similar to this kind of fear? If so, could you please share with us that experience?
Yes, but I would rather keep it to myself, for now, until the next book. Book 2 opens with a chapter entitled “Dilang Karayom.” So there.
• What got you hooked on Filipino folklore or mga kuwentong bayan?
Poetry. I always looked at the creatures in our folklore as characters pregnant with meanings. Even when I was working with my masteral thesis, more than ten years ago, and it was a poetry collection, I was already deep into our folklore. The opening poem of the collection, which also won Grand Prize in the Palanca in 2004, is “Kuwentong-bayan.” It is a very painful poem to write—especially because I was trying to go beyond some personal hurt; I was trying to access a more collective pain. I only ever got a glimpse of it—if ever I did at all—and it was enough to inspire me up until now.
• What hurdles did you have to overcome in researching for this series?
In a creative work, any challenge (or hurdle, as you call it) should excite the creative mind. The most dissimilar this series is to my previous novels involves the linearity and primacy of plot. If you’ve read my first novel, Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog, you would probably think that I was not a big fan of plot—of narrating a story. But no, I was just trying to accomplish some other novelistic projects with Walong Diwata, That novel was more interested in themes, and so it mostly essayed. It was essaying even when it pretends to be sharing an anecdote. With Janus Silang, I knew I needed to tell a story, first and foremost.
• What was the most fun about writing this first book (in the series)?
The myth-making! When the myth of the Tiyanak presented itself to me, I was literally shaking, and if I didn’t know I was writing, I would think I was possessed. And it was only a taste of things to come. The second book of the series will introduce Janus to the world of the baganis; it will also attempt to deconstruct a very popular folk story. I hope readers will accept what I did as necessary to the mythos of Janus.
Read more about Egay Samar and his works at http://edgarsamar.com/. He also tweets @ecsamar.