by Allana Luta
In June of 2016, Bookbed published a three-part interview series with crime fiction authors from the newly established #HeistClub. Their voices were fresh and exciting, introducing crime fiction with a local flair to Filipino readers. Two years on, #HeistClub is back with an anthology titled The Secrets That We Keep, featuring five short stories from new authors and three short stories from the original batch.
This interview features #HeistClub’s new blood: Liam Blunt, Amae Dechavez, I.P. Lanz, Buñag Manlapaz, and Celestine Trinidad. Here we learn what their motivations were for writing crime fiction and the secrets they’re willing to share with us.
What made you want to write crime fiction?
Liam: I wanted to try writing a story in a genre that I’m not totally familiar with.
Amae: First, my late father was a law enforcer. Second, as a writer, I want to try my hand at writing other genres aside from fantasy, horror, paranormal, YA, romance, and children’s lit.
Lanz: I love intelligent and passionate characters. It’s in crime where they shine the most whether they be the hero or the villain.
Buñag: I am the type of writer who challenges himself, and to put it up, if I’m to write a crime, how would I solve it? Then the eagerness to write about an impossible but still solvable crime was conceived.
Celestine: I grew up on detective fiction, on the adventures of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys (even the crossover/supermystery novels!), then later on, started reading and loving the classics: Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Arsene Lupin, and Father Brown. But I had always wanted our very own local detective. I was really delighted to read F.H. Batacan’s Smaller and Smaller Circles, but I wanted more. I thought the genre would be really interesting to explore, since our setting and culture provided very unique challenges to sleuthing, and the lack of facilities and technology could lead to innovative solutions to mysteries. So in the end, I decided to try my hand at writing local crime fiction, too.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing crime fiction? And the most fulfilling?
Liam: Ensuring that the story’s details were accurate and realistic is quite challenging, especially when you’re used to utilizing futuristic or supernatural elements in your previous works. On the other hand, finishing the story with everything neatly tied up was of course fulfilling.
Amae: The research part is one of the most challenging parts of writing crime fiction. This is fiction but you want the details or technicalities to be as realistic and logical as you could make it. The most fulfilling part: getting your message across. I think this is the reason why crime fiction makes for a great tool for igniting social change, if not, then at least social awareness.
Lanz: The biggest challenge is the research and then revising after realizing things were not as I imagined them to be. The most fulfilling part is thinking and imagining what the villain can do to succeed with extremely limited resources then finding a way for the hero to outsmart and catch up with the villain with equally limited resources. For me, it’s the passion and resourcefulness that make the characters lovable not their super skills or special training.
Buñag: Writing crime fiction gives you the capability to kill non-physical beings. And by killing them, you need to have purpose and how you will do it. The fulfilling part is when you learn the motives to kill and the methods to execute it flawlessly when the job is done.
Celestine: The most challenging aspect was keeping the facts in the story accurate while also providing a satisfying (and hopefully intriguing/action-packed) conclusion to the mystery. Because of my day job, I of course want to keep the medical facts straight, and this required a lot of research. (Honestly, if people saw my search history on the web, they’d probably find me very suspicious, haha.) I also had to do research on local police proceedings and methods since I didn’t have any experience on that, and the members of Heist Club were very helpful in this, especially Racquel and Georgette. Doing research of this nature was very challenging, but in the end it was the most fulfilling as well, because in the end I (hopefully) was able to achieve this goal.
What was the motivation or inspiration behind your story?
Liam: Initially, the title was supposed to be Eraser, and it was about a contract killer who takes orders in the dark web. It was inspired by the several “hitman websites” one can find on the dark web where you can hire an assassin who can make someone of your choosing deader than Elvis. Later on, I changed the story until it became Web because I realized that I liked thieves more than hitmen (and I was having difficulty writing Eraser, maybe because my brain was telling me to make the main character Robert steal instead of kill).
Two things inspired Web. First is a website in the dark web named Buttery Bootlegging, where the owner claims that he can steal things from a list of locations. Of course, like most of the “services” in the dark web, there’s no telling if it is legitimate or not, though there’s a very high probability that it is just a scam. Second is the Let’s Play videos of Pewdiepie and Jay from the Kubz Scouts (which my niece and my sister loved to watch). Then I wondered, what if someone turned crime into entertainment and profit? What if there are people out there who get a thrill in watching an actual burglary?
Amae: This is an excerpt of something I shared during the official book launch of HeistClub’s The Secrets That We Keep last March 24:
When I learned there was going to be another workshop with #HeistClub, I thought, I couldn’t pass this up as a second chance to join. So I joined. I joined and wrote my story “Where Is Sandra,” in memory of my dad, who was a police officer during his time, when he was still alive. And though my character SPO4 Gerardo Garcia, FAR resembled my father, I knew writing this was going to be the closest thing I could get to doing anything police-related. My father didn’t want any of his kids to get into this type of job, police job, or anything in close proximity to it. I know he was just being protective. Because anything crime-related IS scary.
During (the) learning and writing phase, I realized it was also scary to write crime fiction. As scary as it is to come face to face with actual crime. We deal with real issues, societal issues, even though we’re only writing them as fiction. And we all know these stories need to be written…
Lanz: I did my ROTC when I was in college. We used deactivated guns from WWII for our marching drills. It didn’t seem like it would be really hard to break into the armory and steal one. Repairing it would have been difficult back in the ’90s but nowadays, everything you need to buy and everything you need to learn is on the internet.
Buñag: I am a victim of bullying. It was my core experience. Emotions and memories revolved around those events that happened to me enabled me to have better foundation of my personality. Being bullied gives you the tendency to retaliate, but I kept it in the realm of stories.
Celestine: The turning point for me happened to me a couple of year ago, while I was sitting in a conference room with my colleagues, listening to a speech on the television. The man making the speech was speaking of the killings that were happening at the time, dismissing it as “nagda-dramahan lang tayo dito.” I was beside myself in indignation and anger, wondering how anyone can disregard human life like that for the sake of a supposed great cause. Beside me my colleagues even applauded the speech, much to my dismay. I had a lot of things to say at the time, because of everything I felt, but I couldn’t find the words at the time because I was never really good at saying things directly. So I decided then that I was going to write about it instead, in fiction. And when the call for Heist Club’s New Blood came along, I decided that this was the chance to get to write this story.
If you could write a novel based on a real life, high-profile crime, what would it be and how would you go about it?
Liam: Maybe I will write a novel based on the Jonestown Massacre. It was a notorious case of mass murder-suicide where more than 900 people drank poison willingly, or by gunpoint. They were all members of the cult named Peoples Temple led by reverend Jim Jones (who also took his life in that incident).
I always think about the “what ifs” when it comes to writing. So, what if the same incident could happen again today? What if this extremely-charismatic person utilized the power of today’s technology like social media in swaying the masses towards destruction? We all know how fast things are disseminated nowadays, and how many are easily deceived by things that are posted online.
Amae: I think this is a favorite among crime writers: kidnapping. I think I will write it in a way that it targets my children’s book readers as well (especially moms and kids) with the intention of helping them prevent this high crime in the Philippine setting.
Lanz: It would probably be about a politician. There are countries in Asia that were poor and their government filled to the brim with corruption yet their countries flourished in time and corruption dealt with and brought down to manageable levels. I believe, to a degree, that the people get the government they deserve. The problem with the Philippines is not with the politicians but with the people. I would like to write a story that exposes not the evil of the politicians, as we already know this, but the greed and selfishness of our people making us ripe for exploitation.
Buñag: Genocide. To implant a contagious lie, misinforming societies and affecting the pillars of truth, to which victims involved cause harm to one another just to find their enlightenment in someone’s death. To find the answer to this is the key to solving the crime lies.
Celestine: Missing Bodies is actually already about real life (and high-profile) crimes, and I wrote it in a way that justice is achieved through the efforts of the characters, which unfortunately, is still not a reality now. But I wrote it this way because I do hope that the people reading the story will be inspired enough somehow to keep fighting for the justice that every single one of us deserves.
The new anthology is entitled The Secrets That We Keep. What’s the biggest secret you’re willing to share with us?
Liam: Back in my childhood days, I had a posse of imaginary friends. For some reason, one of them was named “Pointman.” I also used to write snail mail addressed to them.
Amae: I’ve memorize the NATO phonetic alphabet since I was a teen. My dad (again, a police officer), would often use it at home. He would also refer to us, his kids, by a number code. I was 0-1-1-0.
Buñag: I have too many secrets but this one would not be anymore. I profile people on public. I like to observe their manners, behaviors, and how they express their thoughts in words or actions toward another individual. Their choice of fashion, words, and movements creates a series of information vital only to an observant eye.
Celestine: I may be a little bit in love with Luke Torres, haha. (Which is why I enjoy writing about him and Eva, LOL.)
Have you noticed more Filipino crime fic readers since the last #HeistClub anthology?
Amae: Yes, definitely. Filipino readers are reading more and branching out to other genres. That’s a great thing. Add the fact that more writers too are trying their hand at writing crime. More crime fiction books to read, more readers.
Lanz: I think the interest has always been there. It’s the cost of publishing that has changed which allows us to take more chances with new authors. We used to think that Filipinos didn’t like to read. We now know that to be wrong, thanks to Wattpad. It’s more economics than anything else.
What are some of your favorite books?
Liam: I have several actually: Ice Hunt by James Rollins, Dune by Frank Herbert, Sphere by Michael Crichton, Song of Kali by Dan Simmons
Amae: It’s not crime fic but Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom. Simply because it is the first memoir I’ve read and enjoyed. It took me close to the idea that real stories can be as enthralling as pure fiction, and I can apply this same logic to writing fiction. (Crime) Fiction can also be as realistic and relatable as non-fiction books.
Lanz: Noble House by James Clavell
Buñag: Mastery by Robert Green
Celestine: Ack, that’s a tough question! I have so many favorites, from different genres. The last crime book I really liked was the complete collection of the Father Brown stories by G.K. Chesterton. I really like Father Brown; he stands out from all of the other detectives in literature because he not only wants to catch criminals, but save their souls as well.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Liam: James Rollins, Steve Berry, Frank Herbert, Michael Crichton
Amae: Dan Brown and C.S. Lewis. I like that they can both write (each in their own different ways) about a topic as sensitive as religion, and still be engrossing. In writing crime fiction, we do that too. Write about sensitive issues.
Lanz: James Clavell
Buñag: Robert Greene
Celestine: As I said, tough question again! But for crime, Arthur Conan Doyle, of course, and also because he’s a doctor as well!
Favorite reading-related quote?
“A book is a dream that you hold in your hands.”―Neil Gaiman
“I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.” ―C.S. Lewis
“Eternity is in love with the creations of time”―William Blake
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”―George R.R. Martin
Anything to share? :)