For April, we featured Filipina writers over on Instagram for our #FilipinaFriday series. Here's a roundup on Felisa Batacan, Conchitina Cruz, Brij Bautista, Jessica Zafra, and the amazing work they all do. Plus, we interviewed Brij Bautista and asked her: "What advice would you give to aspiring Filipina writers?"
Felisa Batacan, also known as FH Batacan, is a Filipina journalist and crime and mystery fiction writer. She is the author of Smaller and Smaller Circles which won the prestigious Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for a Novel in English in 1999. The novel also won the Manila Critics’ National Book Award in 2002 and the Madrigal-Gonzales Best First Book Award in 2003.
Smaller and Smaller Circles is about Gus Saenz and Jerome Lucero, two Jesuit priests who are also forensic anthropologists and detectives. They investigate the murders of young boys in Payatas, a poor area in the National Capital Region of the Philippines where people mostly survive by scouting landfills for recyclable trash that they can then sell to junk shops. As the priests analyze the murders of the boys and try to find their killer, they deal with systemic corruption in the government and the church. Exploring poverty in the Philippines, Batacan is able to create a thought-provoking story, challenging the elitist system in the country that continues to oppress the poor. Her award-winning debut novel was adapted into film by director Raya Martin and writers Raymond Lee and Ria Limjap in the 2017 Cinemalaya Film Festival.
Conchitina “Chingbee” Cruz is a two-time Palanca awardee for her poems Second Skin (1996) and The Shortest Distance (2001). A fellow Iska, Chingbee started out as an INTARMED student, then shifted to Creative Writing in the University of the Philippines Diliman to follow her passion. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh and went back to UP Diliman as an assistant professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature.
Initially published by the University of the Philippines Press, her book Dark Hours won the 2006 National Book Award for Poetry. In 2014, Chingbee decided to self-publish a second edition to have more artistic freedom and hands-on approach on the distribution. Her other works include elsewhere held and lingered (2008) and There is no emergency (2015) published by High Chair and Youth & Beauty Brigade, respectively.
Brigitte "Brij" Bautista is the author of Don’t Tell My Mother, an LGBTQ+ coming-of-age novel about 19-year-old Sam. Sam grew up in a Christian neighborhood that has prevented her from expressing her true self. But when she befriends the widow next door named Clara, she finds the courage to come to terms with her identity and begins to escape the oppressive upbringing that she’s struggled with her whole life.
In a mostly Catholic country like the Philippines, a novel like Don’t Tell My Mother lends a strong voice to the LGBTQ+ community. It can also be a haven for those who struggle to find acceptance from the people around them. We can’t say how important Brigitte’s novel is to Filipinx LGBTQ+ folks in the country.
Jessica Zafra was previously a columnist for Manila Standard Today and InterAksyon.com as well as a TV and radio host. She also hosted The Flip Trip, a CNN Philipines travel show, with Pepe Diokno. Genres of her more recent work include fiction and essays. Her books have the catchiest titles like 500 People You Meet in Hell, Chicken Pox for the Soul, and Womenagerie and Other Tales from the Front.
Not only is Jessica Zafra versatile as a writer and host, she also proves to be great at what she does. She won the Palanca Award for short stories Portents (1991) and Black (1993) and her essay Bad Boy, Robin, Baad, Baad Boy (1993).
Felisa Batacan, Conchitina Cruz, Brigitte Bautista, and Jessica Zafra make us feel #ProudlyPinay! If you love written works as much as we do, check out their links below:
Smaller and Smaller Circles by Felisa Batacan:
Don't Tell My Mother by Brigitte Bautista
You, Me, US by Brigitte Bautista (Kindle): https://amzn.to/2J3tQ51
The Stories So Far by Jessica Zafra
An interview with Brigitte "Brij" Bautista, author of Don't Tell My Mother
TFFs: Did you always want to be a writer?
Brij: I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I wrote stories to kill time, or when I was struck with an idea that just wouldn’t let me go. I wrote about my drama on LJ, Tumblr, Multiply (thank heavens it got nuked hahaha) But it was only until around 5 years ago that I seriously made an effort to get published. I answered almost every call for submission or contest online. Nothing panned out until I chanced on Anvil Publishing’s #SparkNA writing workshop. I applied, and finished Don’t Tell My Mother during the class, and the rest was history.
TFFs: It's great that you're able to give LGBTQ+ folks representation in the work that you do. What other LGBTQ+ content, work, or film inspired you to pursue this genre?
Brij: Oh my gosh. There’s a lot to draw from. Top of my mind, probably Jeanette Winterson and Sarah Waters’s works drew me in: Written On The Body. Tipping The Velvet. Fingersmith. TV series, I got hooked on The L Word. I watched Lost and Delirious, and Imagine Me And You. What I realized the more I consumed LGBTQ+ media, especially lesbian-centric stuff, is that they rarely ended happily. Sometimes, queer people get killed (#BuryYourGays trope, ugh) or used as plot devices. In local media alone, LGBTQ+ people are underrepresented in books, music, TV and movies. And what’s more infuriating is that most of the representation we get tend to play into harmful stereotypes.
While writing Don’t Tell My Mother, I had this dilemma of whether or not to give the characters a happy ending. After giving it a lot of thought, I decided in the end that, in this story at least, the lesbian gets the girl. Nobody dies. They get their happy ending. Yep, a happy ending. That’s pretty much my non-negotiable writing thing now.
Since Don’t Tell My Mother, I’ve immersed myself in LGBTQ+ romance because that’s really the genre that requires you to give characters a happy ending. It’s so easy to get recs on social media, so I try to pick up at least 1 LGBTQ+ book every month for my Kindle. I’m also part of #romanceclass, a community of Filipino readers and writers of romance, and my constant interactions with the group have opened this whole new world of diverse reads to me. It’s amazing. They have inspired me to write more and write better.
TFFs: What's the most rewarding thing about being a storyteller?
Brij: To me, writing is like solving a puzzle or going through a maze. You start out with only a destination and a vague idea of what you’re going to do. Through the course of writing a project, you get to resolve problems, handle frustrations, throw out a draft halfway through to start all over again. You lose sleep thinking up the next scene or dialogue. Writing a story is a maddening, grueling and exhausting journey. I love it, the highs and lows, everything. And, when you reach the end, it’s the best and most exciting feeling ever.
TFFs: Any upcoming book soon? Can you tell us more about it?
Brij: Thanks for asking. I just self-published my second novel, “You, Me, U.S.”. It’s now available on Amazon Kindle and in print (Check out the buylinks and order form below). “You, Me, U.S.” is set in Manila, and follows the story of best friends Jo and Liza. Jo is a sex worker who has a laidback approach towards life. Liza is quite the opposite. She’s the planner, and no plan is bigger than migrating to the U.S. Everything is going well in this yin-yang friendship of theirs until an almost-kiss, a sex dare, and Liza’s engagement to her American boyfriend unveil feelings they never thought they had. Deciding between staying together or drifting apart is ruining both their lives and best-laid plans.
Go check out the Goodreads reviews, and grab a copy if friends-to-lovers romance is your jam.
TFFs: What advice would you give to aspiring Filipina writers?
Brij: Here are some things I’ve learned in the past few years that I’ve been writing:
Examine the world around you. Stories don’t exist in a bubble, so observe how the world works and paint this into your stories. Pay attention to how the content you consume portrays and represents you, and then make the decision to subvert or perpetuate that portrayal. It’s good to reflect reality in your stories. But it’s also good and brave to project the reality you want to see. Support your fellow creatives especially when they’re pursuing the same goals as you. Storytelling is not a competition; we’re all in this to build a universe of diverse narratives and representations and experiences.
Most importantly, never forget to dream of better things and happy endings. For yourself. For your friends. For everyone. Hope in the heart is a wonderful and powerful thing, and if your story can impart that gift to readers, that’s magic right there.
Don’t Tell My Mother : https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B071H6JHF8
You, Me, U.S. : https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07PNJ8H8Q
Start Here : https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B078V9PSN3
If you want to order print versions of the books above, you can go to this Google Form:
Please check out the romanceclass website and catalogue at https://romanceclassbooks.com/.