I’ve always liked puzzles. I love the challenge of unraveling a mystery and finding an answer. It was probably why Math was my favorite subject as a child and I was very good at it. But as I grew older, that love transitioned to love for stories that made me think, stories that made me want to find a solution, along with the protagonist. It started with Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. At that time, I wanted to grow up to be a detective. As the years went by, my taste in books and stories evolved as I invaded my mother’s library of Perry Mason titles. Then I moved on to an older brother’s Robert Ludlum collection. But then, another older brother introduced a new kind of story to me. As he was a Psychologist, majoring in Abnormal Psychology, he had a lot of books that explored the topic, and I was intrigued by deeper mysteries of the psyche, and the fact that there was no solid answer to any of the psychological questions. I then had my second dream: I wanted to be a psychologist.
So, I loved mysteries, crime stories, courtroom dramas, espionage and psychology. I found myself being drawn to stories with more of the why in it than the how and the what. I got intrigued by the psychological explanations for people committing crimes, and the psychological implications of crime to everyone around it: the perpetrator, the victim, the witnesses, the solver and the people who surround them.
When the call for the #HeistClub crime fiction writing workshop came, I knew this was what I was waiting for. It was a challenge I took on with glee. I learned a lot from the lessons and I got to read more crime stories (due to required reading). One, Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan, was actually set in the Philippines. After being inundated by international stories, I realized a local crime story was just as powerful, if written the right way.
The challenge for the workshop was to write a crime story set in the Philippines, following all rules of man (no paranormal or sci-fi component). I had so many ideas in my head—four crime stories that I wanted to tell. I couldn’t pick, so I decided to tell them all. The result is The Retreat, a story of a “too-good-to-be-true” but “questionable” writers’ retreat that four authors joined. They had individual stories to tell with their manuscripts, but I explored instead, the impact the stories had on these four authors and how they interacted with each other and the organizers of the retreat.
The four stories bordered on the very dark: (1) a crime involving the serial killing of rock band front men set in the local Manila rock resurgence in the nineties; (2) a rape of a minor; (3) an akyat-bahay gang or heist team targeting residential houses; (4) a massacre and multiple personality disorder. While The Retreat focused more on the authors, their respective manuscripts all related to their own stories, so even though I was only writing one novella, I had to outline and almost write all the other four separate stories.
I was pleasantly surprised at the responses of the readers to the novella. They pinpointed favorite characters who I loved to write, all for different reasons, and the readers all wanted more. Enter my part two—a collection or compilation of the full four stories by the four authors. What was unique about writing these four stories was that I needed to inhabit the persona of the individual authors so that my voice would be different for each.
“3B4U” is the story written by Simon Nunez, a senior ex-detective who was writing about the case he never really solved. Set in the 90s, I was able to infuse my love for grunge music, as well as the thriving Manila rock scene. I was also able to inhabit new characters who write songs, who write journals, who love music, who love each other. The story has a lot of poetry and song snippets, supposedly written by the main characters.
“Lost” is the story written by Maggie Bautista, a romance writer, about her own experience being a victim of child rape. It explored the legal proceedings following the crime, and more importantly, it follows the psychological impact of the crime on the characters in Maggie’s story and how they were able to move forward (or not).
“Climb” is the story written by Philip Aseron. Philip was an IT consultant by day, an erotic writer in secret, and the information broker for a notorious akyat-bahay gang. This was the story I enjoyed writing the most. I conceptualized it during the time that there was a series of break-ins in the subdivision I lived in. I enjoyed this because I had to think like Philip and consider how he would get all of his information to plan the heists, and sadly, it was so easy—with social media and the myriad of people we all let into our homes without question. Oh, and this story is steamy as hell too—since Phillip was both an erotic writer and a bit of a player.
“Breathe” is the story written by Rodney Legaspi. This must be my favorite story of all. Again, the premise is dark: a family massacre, a lone survivor, an underaged boy accused of the crime, and police brutality. But at its heart, this story is about a beautiful friendship between three kids, and how the circumstances and the people around them shaped their destinies.
I had a lot of help to finalize the stories above: lawyers who helped me with the legalities, psychologists who kept me honest with the portrayals and real people who have been victims who shared their stories and even beta read to ensure I told their stories in a sensitive and realistic way. There were also readers and fellow authors who chimed in, in terms of what they liked and didn’t like about the stories.
If you’ve read The Retreat and wanted more details, then this new collection of novellas would be your answer. Not all of the stories would be easy to read, I assure you, with the exception of “Climb” which would be a smooth, easy and engaging (and steamy) read. But all four stories were written from the heart.
I graduated with an Accounting degree and now work in business and IT. But deep inside me, I am still that child with a dream to be a detective. I am still that teenager who was a frustrated psychologist. Add those to the writer I have finally become and you’ve got this #HeistClub series of mine. ☁