1. For the readers who don’t know, could you please introduce yourself and your book?
I’m a Filipino American author based in the San Francisco Bay Area. My first novel, The Hour of Daydreams, is the imagined history of two characters in a Filipino folktale. It’s a novel about a marriage and its secrets, and the manner in which these secrets impact multiple generations of family. The novel is a reflection on how our stories get passed on, touching every person differently and changing along the way.
2. I recently read The Hour of Daydreams and thought the writing was absolutely beautiful. Could you talk about your writing process? Did the fairytale-like writing come naturally to you?
Thank you for your saying so! This novel is not linear. It zigzags in time. It takes many detours, always returning to a forward-moving narrative. However, I wrote the novel in the order it unfolds in the book. I didn’t write chapter 2 for instance, then skip ahead to write chapter 10. I wrote one chapter or scene at a time, following the story’s rhythm and cues. In general, I didn’t know what would happen next until I finished writing what came before it. There was definitely a storytelling aspect to this book from the get-go. A “once upon a time” approach that impacted my writing style. I don’t always write in this fashion.
3. Another thing that I loved was the setting – The Hour of Daydreams takes place in the Philippines. Was it important to you to set it there? How did the Philippines inspire this book? I’m especially interested in the folk tale the book is based on!
I haven’t been back to the Philippines since I left at the age of four. Writing a book based in the Philippines was my way of returning. I also found it important to write the book where the folktale is based, because part of what I was doing was offering an origin story—how did this folktale come to be told in the first place? The novel puts forth the theory that some folktales and legends are based on real people, real events.
The Filipino folktale I’ve reimagined is called The Star Maidens. It’s about a man who steals a woman’s wings at a river, so that she cannot fly away with her sisters. She stays with and marries him, then finds her wings many years later. She places them on and flies away, leaving her husband and their daughter behind.
The novel answers all the questions I had about this tale: Who were these characters, what were they like? Were they happy, in love? Did the star maiden marry the man out of obligation? I gave her character agency as an actor in her story, rather than someone who is acted upon. I found new characters along the way, grandparents, villagers, a brother, and the many people who interact with the sisters. I wove in other myths or images from other myths and stories that inspired me.
4. I’ve not read any other books set in the Philippines – do you have any suggestions for other books/authors?
Lysley Tenorio wrote one of my favorite books, Monstress, a short story collection, and Mia Alvar’s In the Country is a striking collection as well. Erin Entrada Kelly writes amazing young adult fiction, such as Blackbird Fly and Hello, Universe. I have Nick Joaquin’s The Woman Who Had Two Navels on my to-read list, as well as Kristine Ong Muslim’s work. These aren’t all set in the Philippines, but Luis Francia’s Eye of the Fish is a nonfiction read that helped me visualize the islands. Other Filipino authors I read and follow include Cecilia Brainard, Evelina Galang, Jessica Hagedorn…there are many.
5. Who are some of your favourite authors? What are you reading right now?
I’m currently reading a book on Philippine history, and just beginning the advance reader copy of The Other Alcott, written by Elise Hooper, a member of the ’17 Scribes, a group of authors with debut books in 2017. I just finished The Atlas of Forgotten Places, which I highly recommend. Favorite authors include Haruki Murakami, Toni Morrison, Marguerite Duras, Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the list goes on.
6. Are you working on anything at the moment?
I’m finishing up a speech for the 43rd Annual Outstanding Student of Filipino Ancestry Awards Ceremony, coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m honored to have been invited as the keynote speaker. I’m working on an essay inspired by parenting my two daughters, who are 10 years apart in age. I’ve got several stories-in-progress that I would love to get back to. Writing these has gotten a novel idea to sprout. It is nudging me, and I’m not sure if I will go there because I’m conducting research for a very different novel. Let’s see what happens.