by Hannah Taotjo
Think: romance literature. Done? Now, be honest—did this picture pop into your head?
If you said yes, congratulations. You are now officially outdated. You can put away your auntie’s racy paperbacks now, you won’t be needing them anymore (and those Fifty Shades copies, too).
It was my first time to attend an event like #AprilFeelsDay last April 17, and despite all the research I did on #romanceclass, I could not picture out what was going to happen. All I knew was this: It was a celebration of romance novels written by local authors.
And celebrate, we did.
At 1 p.m. on a hot Sunday in April, Mina Esguerra and her troop of lady authors crammed themselves—and 80 other people!—into Pegi Waffles, a little tea-and-breakfast place in San Juan, Metro Manila. That afternoon, I walked in and I didn’t know anyone, only armed with my love for literature in every form it takes. The first thing I saw was a table heavy with books for sale and oh, WHAT LOVELY FORMS THESE BE!
All of these beautiful books were written and self-published by local authors, most of whom were there with pens ready to sign copies. Prices ranged from PHP 180 to PHP 350, and came with various freebies like pins, fake tattoos, bookmarks, and even post-its. But best of all, the authors present were warm and friendly—ready to answer a question (or five) about their work, offer advice on how to start your own novel, or just while the afternoon away and talk about how hot the world has become.
Browsing through the spread of books before me, I noticed these are quite different from what most of us would expect from Filipino romance writers. Why do I say this? Because in all honesty, local romance novels are associated with the 20-pesos-a-pop paperbacks sold at 7-Eleven. BUT, these works are revamping the face of local romance lit—the art on the covers are clean and hip, the characters in the stories are flawed and relatable, and the authors treat their readers with enough respect by leaving some room for speculation within the plots. Sure, there could still be some cheesy kilig pages, but isn’t romance exactly that? You get kilig, you get swept off your feet?
Mina V. Esguerra, who we proudly call the Goddess of Love Stories, also gave out tips on how to start your own novel and the pros and cons of independent publishing. For me, and for the aspiring novelists who attended, this was the most important part of the event. She gave answers on what work needs to be done to get your book printed and sold out there, what sells, why publishing houses print so few books each year and more. She was quite busy (she organized the event, of course) so I didn’t have the chance to introduce myself or ask questions. Besides, what would I say if I did? “Hi, I’d like to write a novel, how do I start? Can you explain in just five minutes?” Thankfully, I hear she holds workshops for writers and publishers.
So I bought a book (Paper Planes Back Home by Tara Frejas, which Bookbed has a review of here!) and mingled a little bit. And then I thought, “What now?” I remembered that there would be poetry reading and then they’ll also read off some of the novels. Now, let me be blunt: I was worried those would bore people. But no. No, no, NO. The poetry reading was well done by Salve Villarosa and Herv Alvarez, from poems out of the Heartbreak Diaries by Pierra Calasanz-Labrador. And boy, did they hurt.
“I know exactly what I meant to you
I was a warm thing to hold
When you were cold
And your heart was broken.”
So much feels, folks. Please grab a copy of this and try not to shatter into teeny tiny pieces of crystalized tears.
Rachel Coates and Gio Gahol read off several books, and it wasn’t your typical I-volunteer-to-read-in-front-of-the-class affair. No monotonous droning there. The pair did not just read off the books, they actually BECAME the lines they were reading. They took everyone, including hard-hearted cynical me, into a world where the boy-meets-girl scenario is some form of magic, part luck, all destiny. (Later, I would read in Criselda Santos’s article that both Rachel and Gio are theater actors. Check out her article here.)
To wrap it up: If I were to invite a friend to another event like #AprilFeelsDay, it would probably go like this: There’s this group that supports and grows local literary talent, you’d be amazed to see what they’ve done so far. We can get our books signed, we can listen to great voice acting, we’ll get our hearts broken and mended all in one afternoon.
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Anything to share? :)