Hollywood News Source got the chance to chat with author Mina Esguerra who had penned countless books such as Spotlight New Adult, Interim Goddess of Love, Chic Manila. We also invited Six de los Reyes who wrote Just for The Record, and Beginner’s Guide. They discuss their writing habits, upcoming projects, identity, and more. Here’s what they had to say during our interview:
Hollywood News Source: Your book titled ‘Iris After the Incident’ recently came out, it’s about a breach of privacy. It’s about a woman who becomes the target of cyber bullying. I think this story has a lot of truths in it. It’s more relevant than ever. How did you decide this is the next story that I’m going to write?
Mina Esguerra: Thank you so much! It was a bit darker than what I usually choose to write about, so any kind of encouragement or positive response just makes me so happy. Iris is about the way women here (or maybe elsewhere) are judged so harshly, and it’s taken me years to find the right way to do it. When I come up with an idea for a book I try to drop everything and do that, so I don’t lose it. But for Iris, I probably wrote three or four books while quietly outlining this one, and it took so long because I didn’t think I was ready to write it. At the time I was working on a series of books with American characters, and I told myself that when I wrote characters in the Philippines again, I’d make them the “difficult” ones.
HNS: You already have two books under your belt Just for the Record, and Beginner’s Guide: Love and Other Chemical Reactions. The main characters of each book are the polar opposites of each other, but they are cut from the same cloth. Unyielding and brave in their own way. What inspired you to write a musician and scientist for protagonists?
Six de los Reyes: When you start out, the advice always is to write what you know. Science and music are two of many aspects of my life that, for me, are integral to who I am as a person and, in effect, me as a writer. When the characters for Just for the Record came to me, I just knew I’d be creating this universe of musicians doing what they love the most. I am so in love with the creative process that I can’t help but write about it, about the behind the scenes and everything else in between.
Honestly, I hadn’t meant to write about scientists when I started out. I felt as if the academe wasn’t a place for fictional worlds to explore especially romance, but this might also be because I didn’t see scientists at all through my reading history. Then I was asked “Why not?” Why shouldn’t I write about scientists falling in love? They’re human too, and they need to love and be loved perhaps more than others perceive. I realized that if anyone were to write about science people, then it should be me. So I set out writing Beginner’s Guide with the pooled experiences (and desires) of all the graduate student researchers I’ve come across. As it turns out, their feelings are universal and everyone at some point has felt the way they have.
What’s your favorite thing about being a writer?
Mina: Finishing a book, and deciding to start a new one. It’s so fun, like planning to take a trip.
Now that I’ve been doing this for years, one of my new favorite things is going back to an older book of mine and still liking it. I’ve been doing that to check for continuity because I’ve been expanding character arcs lately, but then I’ll stick around for more chapters and feel so relieved that I’m happy with the book.
Six: Everything! I love that I can explore worlds and feelings, that I can daydream all day long and still call it a productive working day. I love having written. To see the thoughts in my mind become concrete on paper, it’s definitely one of those feelings of accomplishment you can’t find anywhere else. Writing gives me a sense of purpose, a sense of being, of being fully human and sentient in a world where it’s so easy to feel so alone and disconnected. Through it, I’ve met the best people in my life and continue to meet so many more awesome people. Really, the list of favorite things could go on and on.
HNS: I noticed one of the notable themes of your books are women embracing their sexuality; us being independent and supporting each other. That’s exceptionally revolutionary. How important is this positive portrayal for you?
Mina: On females being supportive of each other: Yes! It’s very important to me and it’s always been. I was recently asked by another writer if there were early writing decisions I regretted, and I said I had one—in my first published book, my villain was another female, a rival for the Love Interest’s affections. It couldn’t be helped, that was the way the story was set up to be. There were great female friendships in there regardless, and in my head I had a complete story for the “villainess” that I thought would be material for a later book. Still, I noticed that there were readers who hated her, and I felt bad about that! I did come around to writing her book, to “make it up to her.” Since then I’ve tried to be more obvious about women supporting women, being their own characters, being friends and not rivals. Or being rivals but worthy rivals, if that makes sense. If they both want something I’d need for their motivations to make sense to me, and not be reduced to villainy for the sake of it.
On embracing sexuality: I feel like I need to write about this because it took me too long to come to terms with it, and I feel that I would have let go of so many things sooner. It’s not just sexuality but everything that my brain connected it to—the guilt, accepting how our bodies look, how people look at us, how to feel about all of this. I’m fortunate to have met awesome Filipino women who are very positive and responsible about this. I wish I’d asked more questions before, or at least met them when I was younger, but we do what we can. It’s still an ongoing process for me but I’m trying to be there for others too.
As a Filipino writer, how does your culture and identity shape your writing?
Mina: There’s so much to this question and I’m not sure I can go through all my feelings, but here’s an attempt: Only now am I starting to figure out my own identity, as a person, and as an author, and where I belong in the grand scheme of things for both of those identities. As a reader I’ve felt that my own experiences were not represented in local lit, so I went ahead and tried writing it. But even with all the books I’ve been writing, and encouraging other authors to write…I feel it’s like we haven’t caught up yet? There are too many experiences and ways to live in this culture that we haven’t captured. Sometimes I feel like sitting down and making sure I write as many sides to this experience as possible. Sometimes I feel that means I have to write things that will make people go “I didn’t realize that happened here – are you sure this is authentic?” and I want to be able to say, “Hell yeah, you didn’t know?”
Six: My experience is uniquely mine, and I think that is what drives my writing into spaces only my voice can truly express. Culture and Identity, I think, are elements that appear in my writing without my having to consciously think about or write in. These are details that come as a matter of fact with no need to explain or justify because these are aspects of everyday life we live with. Everyone has a story apart from the shared experiences within an immediate subset of an individual’s universe. Some narratives are less explored, but it doesn’t mean they are any less valid or irrelevant.
As a reader and a writer, what more would you like to see in the books you consume?
Mina: Many Filipinos have a “US story.” I was “aged out” of a family-based immigration application, because when it was approved 20 years later I was already an employed adult, and couldn’t immigrate with them as their “dependent child.” So my parents and sister went ahead and moved to Texas without me when I was 23, and that changed my life. Does it sound strange? Because it’s totally a normal thing to do, when you’re a Filipino. We accept that we follow the approved immigration papers, even if a family member doesn’t get to go, and then you figure out how to have her join you later. It’s sad for some, not so much for others. I’m not sad about it personally, but many immigrant families have that story, and it’s a lot of phone conversations, milestones missed and recapped over Skype and stuff.
I mean, imagine “coming of age” because your entire family moved somewhere, and you didn’t. That’s like the opposite of how these YA/NA stories go. That’s my story and of so many others like me, and I never really read that in books. Since then I’ve become more aware of all these different situations, these “US stories” and they’re happy, sad, everything in between. I just want more of them? All of them?
Six: Growing up, it was rare that I’d find young adult or contemporary books that had characters who were Filipino (in the Philippines or elsewhere). Furthermore, local literature had been such a chore to read for school—it just wasn’t light and fun the way international YA and romance books that were readily available to me were. But at the same time, what I read in those books did not reflect the environment I was growing up in. In a way, it made me feel as if the only way I could write and be read is if I were to write about someone else. So I never really took writing seriously until a couple of years ago.
I’m so happy that #romanceclass exists now, for both readers and writers. We’ve really only just begun exploring the diversity of experiences within the Philippines, and I think we’re doing good so far. Exceeding expectations, even. There’s so much more to read and write about, and I love the organic growth of the community.
For everything else in fiction, I would definitely love to read about Filipinos excelling in their chosen fields. Whether it’s in the Arts or Sciences and the love in between every fictional world imaginable, I would love to read about all the experiences, all the narratives of Filipinos (Filipinas!) going after what they want and getting it.
HNS: You’re one of the pillars of the Filipino reading community. You also founded romanceclassbooks.com which specifically promotes self-published Filipino authors. I think that’s ingenious! It helps a lot of people to find new books to read. Does it ever get overwhelming for you? And, did you ever expect the warm response to it?
Mina: Thank you for mentioning the website! We started out as a community of Filipinos who read and write romance, and the site was an extension of the way we’d experimented with selling books together at book fairs. It made sense for us to share a table at a fair because we all could expect that we had a similar audience. Then it made sense for us to maintain the website as a catalogue of all the books, so we’re still helping each other out. The positive and warm response has been so exciting for us.
All the projects can get a little overwhelming but I’m not doing this on my own! Someone in the community is likely in charge of something, or they started it (for the benefit of the other authors and readers) because it’s something they enjoy doing. This isn’t a full-time job for any of us, so all the things have to be fun somehow.
HNS: After Beginner’s Guide, what’s next for Six de los Reyes? Are you currently working on a novel?
Six: Yes! I have something coming out later this October (or maybe November? Hopefully before the year ends!). It’s called Sounds Like Summer. It’s a contemporary NA romance and the main character is a microbiologist, who after a less than pleasant lab week, decides to hang out at a weekend-long music festival at a beach. This is a very important book for me as it explores certain themes that should be talked about especially in the academic setting.
Currently, I’m writing the as-of-yet untitled prequel to Just for the Record. The second book in the Talking Nerdy series (Field Guide: Love and Other Natural Catastrophes) is lined up after this. I’m so excited for both!
Lastly, what are the current books you read that you would recommend to anyone in a heartbeat?
Mina: The Infamous Miss Rodriguez by Lydia San Andres, Perv by Dakota Gray, Pairing Off by Elizabeth Harmon, Hamilton the Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, and anything on romanceclassbooks.com.
Six: I’ve just finished reading Mina V. Esguerra’s Iris After the Incident and the third book in Jay E Tria’s Playlist series, Songs to Make You Stay. It has ALL THE FEELINGS and everyone should read these books. #romanceclass is ever growing, and every month it seems that’s there’s a new book coming out. This month alone, there are at least 15 new books out. Something to look forward to!