You have attended a few speculative fiction workshops, according to your website. If you could take one piece of advice and offer it to your audience about the importance of speculative fiction, what would it be?
Last year, Adrienne Maree Brown came to Amsterdam and talked to us about Visionary writing. If there is one thing that I believe encapsulates the importance of speculative fiction, it’s this. Envisioning and imagining possible futures. What speculative fiction gives us is the room to explore possible solutions or possible outcomes should society continue on in the path that it chooses to follow.
I believe that speculative fiction is not only about ideas or about technology, but is how society and people interact with ideas and with technology. Advancements in science change us, movements in society change and transform existing structures, conflict arises from these changes; how do we deal with these things? Do we become tougher? Do we become harder? How do we continue to hold fast to human connections in a world that dehumanizes so many of us?
In embracing ideas and possibilities, we sometimes forget that human lives are involved, and I think this is what writers need to remember — your cool concept will not move the reader if there is no humanity in it.
You were born in the Philippines and now reside in the Netherlands. How do you think these two geographically unique locations have shaped your writing? Has it changed your perspective on “Breaking the Spell”?
When I was in the Philippines, I wrote and published a good amount of poetry and creative nonfiction. I had leanings towards the fantastic because the fantastic was always present in the place I grew up in. However, it wasn’t until I moved to the Netherlands that I fully embraced writing speculative fiction. I developed this heightened sense of awareness that the other half of the world is going to sleep when I am waking up. Being a migrant also means that in a certain sense, you live in the interstices. For years, I felt as if I were living life in the cracks, and this feeling often found its way into my work.
Someone once said to me that leaving the country, leaving your safe place, is a necessity if you are to embark on a journey of understanding. What living in this country has taught me is that human beings are so complex that we can never stick a label on someone and lump that person together with an entire group. I’ve learned to be wary of labels and generalizations.
Being away from home has also made me appreciate more keenly the struggles of migrant workers and the struggle of women in a mixed relationship. I understand how youth makes us angry and frustrated, how the -isms that we face in society can frustrate us. But my involvement in community and diversity work has also made me see that anger needs to be utilized properly — if all you’re doing is knocking the system, you’re not helping. We need to work together in order to change the system.
“Breaking the Spell” is like that conversation you have with yourself sometimes. It’s the past narrative and the present awareness talking to each other. There is just as much potency in a woman’s touch as is ascribed to a man’s touch — perhaps even more. And a woman’s kiss holds the power to ignite and to awaken in ways that a man’s touch cannot. Living abroad has certainly freed me from the constricting notion that women can only love men and if you love other women you need to be cured or have the devil driven out of you. It is a relief not to have to hide being attracted to other women too.
What would you say is the appeal of writing in the second-person POV? What is the most difficult?
I have written quite a number of stories using the second-person POV. None of this was calculated or planned and the point of view just came to me naturally. I tend to think a long time about a story before finally writing it, so by the time I sat down to write “Breaking the Spell,” it came very quickly. I see the second-person point of view as me, the author, in conversation with my character. I want to understand my character more and so I look at the character from this point of view and interrogate them in that way.
In some ways, I also see the “you” point of view as me addressing myself. This is what I want to say to myself. This are the things I want my self to look at and recognize.
I think that the important thing about using the second-person POV is to remember that you aren’t lecturing the reader. I also think that the sparsity of the language makes it easier to maintain a certain distance because the “you” form can be quite alienating to the reader.
What do you most identify with in “Breaking the Spell”?
I identify the most with the second-person POV character. I wanted to question the stereotype of the prince rescuing the maiden and in my mind, I’ve often rebelled against that. In the society I grew up in, there was this underlying narrative — not spoken out loud, but implied — that a woman who was unable to attract a man or who could not find a man was deficient in some way. “Breaking the Spell” is my rebellion against that narrative. It isn’t necessary for me to be with a man in order to be fully myself. I don’t need a man to rescue me. And women can and will go on their own adventures and do the rescuing.
What might we be seeing from you in the near future?
Bahamut Journal will be coming out with a story from me in June. This is probably one of the stories that I’m most excited about, as it represents what I call writing from the body. I started this piece based on the idea that our history is buried in our DNA and that we carry cultural memory in our subconscious. Using key words from Ilocano (a language I spoke as a child), I sought to awaken those narratives and bring them to the page. I think that the experiment was fairly successful and I’m pretty pleased with the outcome.
Right now, I’m working on a novella version of “The Song of the Body Cartographer.” This takes place after the short story (from Philippine Genre Stories). I’ve been dreaming about this novella for a long time and I’ve written so many bits and pieces, so many versions and stories set in that world and now it’s finally coming together. I just finished the first half of the novella and I’m excited because it’s almost exactly as I see it in my head.
I’m also working on what I call the EN novel. My brother says this sounds like a more traditional science fiction novel as it deals with alien life forms. But this is a novel that I really want to complete. It deals with the age-old question of what makes us human. But it also investigates the issues of sexuality and gender. It’s set in an alternate Earth and the world is more or less fully formed, so I’m really looking forward to finishing work on it. Sometime later this year, the VanderMeers will be releasing The Bestiary, which also contains one of my stories, “Of the Liwat’ang Yawa and the Litok-Litok,” which was first published on The New Weird site.
I’d also really like to finish working on another story set in the world of the Alternates. All in all, 2015 is shaping up to be a full writing year.
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