24 Jun Uncovering Crime Fiction (Part 3 of 3): An Interview with #HeistClub Authors
BY ALLANA LUTA AND KB MENIADO
You’ve probably seen the teasers for the upcoming film adaptation of F.H. Batacan’s Smaller and Smaller Circles, the award-winning book, also tagged as the first Filipino crime novel. You’ve probably already bought a copy, to have and to read, right before the movie comes out. And now you’re probably also wondering where you can get more of that hair-raising thrill.
Well, #HeistClub’s got your back! More crime fiction is coming your way tonight as sixteen (!) crime stories will be launched tonight at The Study by Enderun at the Podium in Mandaluyong.
We featured the authors of the Why We Run and What We Fear bundles in the past two weeks, and this time, we’re onto the third and last bundle, What We Hide. Here are Bianca Mori, Mark Manalang, Farrah F. Polestico, Porcupine (Porcey) Strongwill, Jessica E. Larsen and Arlene Manocot, talking about promoting Filipino crime fiction and smart-shaming avid readers.
#HeistClub is made up of Filipino writers challenged to write tales of dark pathways and mysterious psyches, misdemeanor and trouble, dread and doubt. Sixteen stories, divided into three bundles, will be launched on June 25. Facebook: #HeistClub: The Launch
#HeistClub: Why We Run
Bayawak’s Trail by Justine Camacho-Tajonera
The Fraud Hunter Book 1: Chasing an ATM Schemer by Racquel Sarah A. Castro
The Retreat by Yeyet Soriano
Come With Me by Michael Recto
Inertia by Sette Luis
#HeistClub: What We Fear
Till Death Do Us Apart by Irene Recio
Soul Makers by Jee Ann Guibone
Classified by Georgette S. Gonzales
High Stakes by Chris Nava
Dressed to Kill by Cassandra Javier
#HeistClub: What We Hide
Snakehead by Bianca Mori
Sampaguita by Mark Manalang
Let’s Play Murder by Farrah F. Polestico
Corpus Delicti by Porcupine Strongwill
The Flame Squad: Sly Prince by Jessica E. Larsen
The Gung Ho Lady by Arlene Manocot
WRITING CRIME FIC
What made you want to write crime fiction?
Bianca: I’m a huge fan of crime fiction, horror and suspense! When I was in high school and college, I read a lot of James Patterson and Dean Koontz mysteries, and then I progressed to true crime. Helter Skelter was a favorite, and later on I was always browsing CrimeLibrary.com. When my kid started growing up my maternal side kicked in and I couldn’t read so much true crime anymore (it would give me anxiety attacks), but I still find myself attracted to the genre conventions: the procedural, the mystery, solving the clues, etc., some of which I exercised for my romance-suspense Takedown series. When #HeistClub came a long, I jumped at the chance to write a ‘straight’ crime story.
Mark: At first, I wanted to write something different from what’s popular in the market. Then I realized there’s something about crime fiction that’s close to home, like being wary of snatchers and scams, sympathizing with a victim of abuse and wanting revenge when the law can’t reach someone who should be punished.
Farrah: When I was a kid, I liked reading a lot and my parents weren’t strict about what I read. So I started reading crime fiction very young and have loved the genre ever since. As a writer, I truly believe in the saying “write what you want to read.”
Porcey: I wrote my first crime fiction when I was 15 or 16. It was prompted by a dream of mine wherein I was kidnapped and sold to young men in an indistinguishable province. I do not know what triggered that awful dream, but it pushed me into researching about human trafficking in the Philippines. I soon wrote a short story about it, believing since that writing crime can do more than just “thrill” the reader; it can enlighten one as well, which is even more important than to entertain.
Jessica: I won’t go into details, but I grew up surrounded by crime. I’m not proud of it, but I did some mild crime myself (ahem, swindling people for their cash.) The first I heard a gunshot and saw a man killed before my eyes were before puberty. The first stories I wrote were crime fiction too (unpublished and in Filipino) but after living for years in Europe, I almost forgot how it was back then. Writing for #HeistClub was in a way a challenge and a way for me of looking back to the past.
Arlene: Honestly, it was the #HeistClub online writing workshop. I didn’t intend to write any genre in particular, but the opportunity knocked and who was I to resist?
Was it easy or difficult to write in this genre? What did you discover about your writing skills/style?
Bianca: What was difficult for me is related to what I mentioned earlier about shying away from the genre once I became more maternal: the subject matter is difficult, and writing it kicked up a lot of dark issues with me (I blog about that here). Also, the #HeistClub prompt came at a busy time at work so I found myself banging out eight chapters in one day to make the deadline. Definitely not ideal! I wish I had more leisure to really hash out the mystery in my story, Snakehead. Maybe next time!
Mark: I had a lot of room for learning on writing crime fiction. My previous job as a journalist provided me a wealth of information on crime in the Philippines. The rest involved studying the basics of novel writing, comparing notes and forming the most plausible stories I can make. Of course, I had to make sure I can write something Filipinos can relate to.
Farrah: It was a bit difficult for me because with crime fiction, you always have to keep your readers on their toes and have a fast-paced story.
Porcey: It’s definitely always difficult for me to write crime. Thriller is just not my forte. But I do strive to grow, and I guess all it takes to write anything is to be persistent in learning. Aside from the #HeistClub lessons, I bought how-to books on crime and read, read, read; and learned I can actually write a decent crime story. I can’t keep the reader at the edge of their seat (yet!), but it’s nothing practice can’t fix, right?
Jessica: It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t that hard, either. I also found out I can’t write hardcore crimes like the action movies I admired. Which is kind of sad. I really can’t stray too far from romance.
Arlene: It was difficult but with the help of F.H. Batacan, R.J. Taduran and Jennifer Hillier, at least I was able to get a glimpse of what was writing crime fiction like. It was fun writing my #HeistClub story, The Gung Ho Lady. Also, I was able to get my very first help from a beta reader, Amae, and I realized the importance of having someone to read my manuscript.
FILIPINOS AND CRIME FIC
Here in the Philippines, crime fiction seems to be most popularly depicted on television dramas and movies. How do you think is crime fiction in print form faring among Filipino readers?
Bianca: There is a perception that Filipinos won’t read crime fiction, which is weird when you consider how much of our popular culture IS obsessed with true crime—Mark mentions “Ipaglaban Mo” and “Calvento Files” below—and I’d like to add the massacre films of the 90s and even the crime-focused episodes of “Magandang Gabi, Bayan.” What this tells me is that there is an appetite for this kind of work. Why it wasn’t explored by mainstream publishers, I can’t answer, but the fact that that appetite is there means there is a lot of potential for this genre. I’m glad that F.H. Batacan’s Smaller and Smaller Circles is getting the attention it deserves (I’m so excited for the movie version!) and I hope that opens the floodgates for this genre.
Mark: Crime dramas on TV are easier to digest with the visuals and all. But it takes a vivid imagination and a sense of empathy to to immerse oneself in a crime novel. This is what this generation of readers who grew up watching TV and indulging in fantasy and romance lack.
Why were shows like “Ipaglaban Mo” and “Calvento Files,” popular back in the day? They make viewers relate with the characters and learn how they won’t befall the same fate.
As much as we aspire to write works that will open Filipinos’ eyes to crime, we need more people who read crime, who would react on the crimes we write and who would be spurred into action.
Farrah: Sadly there aren’t many crime fiction writers who are Filipino. But I do believe people want to read it, it’s just not catching on yet in mainstream publishing. But I do hope this changes because I believe that there are a lot of readers out there who would like to read this kind of books.
Porcey: Not so well, and I think this is somewhat the fault of the “big” publishers. I think they are not promoting crime well (my same view on literary pieces). Or perhaps they are not properly looking for writers who can represent the genre to the mass. I think crime can be commercially successful in the Philippine writing scene.
Arlene: F.H. Batacan is the first crime fiction Filipino writer I have heard of, if my memory serves me well. I guess it suggests that there’s really no comprehensive selection of in print crime fiction in the Philippines, but don’t fret anymore because we’re here, the 16 #HeistClub authors. Yay!
Why is it important to write and read Filipino crime fiction?
Bianca: Diversity for readers is always important. Man can’t live on bread alone, just as a reader can’t live on the same few genres publishers deem ‘sellable.’ For that reason, I think crime is important to read and be written.
Mark: Crime fiction is not just about romanticizing crime and punishment. It’s a reflection of our justice system, of the society we live in and should be careful of.
Filipino readers need something they can relate to in a setting rife with crime and danger. They need someone who is an eye-opener, someone who hurts like them, or someone who instills a sense of justice.
As writers, it’s our job to make people think more, criticize more, and feel more without the media’s spoonfeeding. We can shift the public’s values system into one that’s vigilant and caring for the safety of others.
Farrah: I do believe there is a market out there for crime fiction by Filipinos for Filipinos. Foreign crime fiction are already in the Philippine market, sure, but we need to read books that we can relate to.
Porcey: It’s important to write and read crime, especially that which is not well-known, because, as I’ve mentioned earlier, it can open the minds of both the writer and the reader—disclose a reality they were once ignorant of; perhaps even eventually paving a way to lower the recurrence of these heinous acts we not so often speak of.
Arlene: It is important ‘cause it’s a reflection of what kind of society we have in our country, and it can serve as an eye opener to some certain issues we are facing now. Hopefully, we can get solutions for these issues through writing Filipino crime fiction.
What do you think of the Philippines as a reading nation?
Bianca: The Philippines IS a reading nation! We read a lot, whether it’s over the net or our favorite genres. What I wish for Filipino readers is to be more experimental. In general, we stick to our favorite authors. Favorite genres. Paperback. It takes so much work to get someone to consider an indie writer, or a heavy reader to try ebooks. Honestly, it’s such a small commitment of time to try something new, my hope is that more people would be open to it!
Mark: We are a nation of ironic readers. We react to social media posts as if we are learned readers even if we only read the headlines. We do most of our reading over the internet, yet our insights are sort of “copy-paste”. We do read books, but our readership is limited to a few genres like romance and self-help. And then we smart-shame the avid readers.
Porcey: I think the majority of this nation’s “readers” has to read more books, physical or not (as long as not just, mind you, social posts whatsoever); and the majority of those who actually read books has to be pickier with what they read. I’m not even bashing pop fic; I write those and am an avid reader myself. But have we actually considered what kind of books our libraries are largely composed of?
Arlene: Based on my observations through the social media and in my community, there are two groups who dominate the Philippines’ reading nation: the ones who read foreign authored books and the ones who read Tagalog romance novel, both traditionally published. And here we are, the indie Filipino authors, working on to be the third one. Hwaiting!
What is your favorite book?
Bianca: How much time do you have? Haha! It depends on my mood, but my most re-read books include Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, American Gods and The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, the Harry Potter series… I could go on and on.
Jessica: I was addicted to Nancy Drew books when I was younger. I also love the The Mediator series by Meg Cabot, and the latest one: Harry Potter.
Arlene: I don’t have favorite book/s in particular, but I have stories I so much love like Ruruoni Kenshin and The Sound of Music.
Who is your favorite author?
Bianca: Neil Gaiman. J.K.Rowling (as herself and as Robert Galbraith).
Mark: I may be a crime writer, but my favorite author is Anthony Bourdain, and Kitchen Confidential is his book I like the most. I like his storytelling, plus how Bourdain makes a reader imagine he’s in the same place, eating what he eats and smelling what he smells. His stories are character-driven and ridden with scenery porn, which is what I try to emulate in my fiction writing.
Incidentally, Bourdain writes crime. I’ve read Get Jiro!, and I want to check out Bone in the Throat and his other works, too.
Arlene: No favorite/s in particular, but I look up to them, Mina V. Esguerra and Marian Tee.
Favorite reading-related quote, if any?
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”—George R.R. Martin
“We read to know that we are not alone.”—William Nicholson
“Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.” —P.J. O’Rourke
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” —Dr. Seuss
Arlene: Don’t know any reading quotes, but this is what I come up with:
“Reading is learning things and going to places without getting your ass off the couch.” —From the introvert me, Arlene Manocot