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Continuing the Legacy: An Interview with #HeistClub Authors Part 3

by Allana Luta

In the final part of our New Blood series, we talk to seasoned #HeistClub members who participated in the creation of The Secrets That We Keep and published the sequel to their first #HeistClub crime story. Yeyet Soriano was one of the editors of Secrets, while Mark Manalang contributed a short story to the anthology. They, along with Arlene Manocot and Jessica E. Larsen, have all released the second book to their original crime story from the first #HeistClub bundle.

What was the motivation or inspiration behind your story?

Arlene: Sins of the Past is book 2 of my #HeistClub series which I named Gung Ho Series, and Book 1 is entitled The Gung Ho Lady. It is a story about elite soldiers who deal with terrorism. My motivation in writing Book 2 is the civil war in Marawi, and a bit from the teleserye Ang Probinsyano.

Jessica: I always had this strange fascination with bad guys and mafia men who go against the norm yet not really on the side of justice. This made way to the idea of writing about a vigilante group.

Mark: “Tomorrow We’ll See” is a song by Sting about a transvestite prostitute. After listening to the song and pondering on the fatalism of the character, I thought there was a story to be told. I read later on that the song was supposedly written for or about “Boys from Brazil,” a documentary produced by his wife Trudie Styler in 1993 about transvestite prostitutes.

Incidentally, I thought of setting the story in Ermita because of prostitution being an open secret and a dying trade in the district. Somehow I can feel they’re just living day by day.

Yeyet: For The Crime Circle, I had four stories, with varying reasons behind them, as follows:

  • “3B4U” is a story about the ’90’ Manila rock scene and a rock band in particular, and its lead singer-songwriter specifically. I grew up in the ’90s and I love rock, so this was a passion project for me. I let my inner frustrated rock star run loose and so this story was born. A part of it was written during that era, but I updated it. This story also had a lot of my poetry and song snippets, which I weaved into the whole story. At its core, it is a love story, twisted though it may be.
  • “Lost” is a heavy story about childhood rape and the aftermath of the said crime. It depicts how a child lives through the experience of trying to cope with the reality of the tragedy amidst the reality of a family who blamed her for their misfortunes. This was inspired initially by the real experiences of a friend of mine, Magsi, who was raped by her next door neighbor when she was a child. Her story prodded me to write the story, but it took a while before I completed it. It was hard writing this, and doubly hard trying to find an appropriate ending until I met Mildred Fragrante. Milds was raped by her father and through her experiences, I was able to find the fitting ending to the story. And though it started out as a bleak, dark look at the effects of childhood rape, it ends on a hopeful note.
  • “Climb” is the lightest and, ahem, sexiest story of all. About a local neighborhood Akyat Bahay gang and the information broker who developed a conscience, this was the easiest story to write.  It was inspired by real-life events in our subdivision a couple of years ago. I just put myself in the shoes of whoever masterminded the heists, and the story was born.
  • “Breathe” is another heavy story, but is probably my most favorite one of all. It deals with a tight bond of friendship between three children, and the tragedy that broke them apart.  This is probably the most psychological of all the stories as it deals with some psychological results of the childhood trauma. This was inspired by an idea of a nephew of mine. A family massacre, with just one survivor, an 11-year-old girl. Her father, mother, and baby brother all died. From that idea came this story.

Was Book 2 planned from the get go or did the universe you create become too large as you were writing the first story? And will you be continuing this series in the future?

Arlene: One of the requirements in joining the #HeistClub writing workshop back then was the story should be serialized. All of the pioneers had planned that there should be a Book 2 to comply with the guidelines. And yes, I will continue, but that will be the last book of my Gung Ho series.

Jessica: Both yes and no. I had planned to write a Book 2 while writing the first, but I had no clear idea about it until I finished the first book. At the moment I have already a couple of ideas for the next stories, so, yes, I’ll be continuing the series.

Mark: Before I finished Book 1, I already had this large universe to work on. Actually, everything I’ve written so far exists in the same universe. Book 2 was meant to give the reader a sneak peek of other parts of this universe, how everything is related, and where it will all lead to.

While I already have plans for a third book, what I hope to do is set up everything to lead to a bigger story. You can say I’m thinking so far ahead that if I could just keep my momentum, another series might be in the works.

Yeyet: The premise of the first #HeistClub workshop was to write Case #1, so it was always the intention to write the first in a series. In my case, the concepts for Book 2 were already planted in Book 1. The Retreat (Book 1, available on the Bookbed Store) was a story of four authors who joined a mysterious writers’ retreat which changed their lives. The authors were Simon Nunez, Maggie Bautista, Rodney Legaspi, and Philip. They joined the retreat sponsored by publishing mogul Julian Samonte and his team lawyer, Stella, and psychological profiler, Maxene Tan Mendez.

The Crime Circle (Book 2) is a collection of the four stories that were the outcome of that writers’ retreat.

It was a challenge because I had to write the four stories using four different perspectives. And in Book 2, the names were different because, again, the stories in Book 2 are the fictionalized version of the real-life experiences of the four authors. Also, in Book 1, the four authors and the three other main characters influenced each other’s lives, so their resulting stories have some similar and recurring characters.

So, an example, Simon Nunez from Book 1 appears in all the stories in Book 2, but he has different character names and personas, as follows: Solomon Dungca, the NBI Lead Investigator in “3B4U;” Magdaleno Trinidad, a private investigator in “Lost;” Rufino Soriano, a sari-sari store owner with a checkered past in “Climb;” and Reynaldo Mendoza, a retired NBI man and current crime fiction novelist in “Breathe.”

How different was it to write another crime fiction novel compared to the first time you did so? Writing is never easy but was it less challenging this time or were there new hurdles that still cropped up?

Arlene: It is still challenging. It is never easy but at least now I know where I am heading, what kind of story to write and how to end the series.

Jessica: In a way writing the second book was a bit easier, but at the same time harder. I felt more pressured with the second story compare to the first, yet more fun since I got a little more involve with the group.

Mark: It wasn’t entirely difficult to make a follow-up to the first Sampaguita book (available on the Bookbed Store), though I’m still getting the hang of developing its universe. Reading about crimes takes a lot of patience and energy too. But the toughest part was depicting Kenichi Daimon, the main character, as he spirals down to madness due to his conflicts and the double life he is now living. I would have finished Sampaguita: Stray Lamb earlier, but depression and illness hindered my progress.

Yeyet: On the one hand, doing a second book seemed easier, because I’ve done it already before. On the other hand, there was more pressure to make the second book better, more realistic, more thought-provoking than the first, so I did more work on it. While the first book took all of five weeks to write and edit, the second book took me two years to complete.

While writing the sequel, was there anything about the first book you wanted to change or wished you could have written differently? Were there aspects in the sequel that you had to adjust to keep the continuity from the first book?

Arlene: Sometimes I can think of a lot of changes I want do with book 1, but most of the times I have this thought that what was written was meant to happen as if there was a powerful being who directed me to write that way.

I changed the POV. Book 1 has first person POV, while Book 2 has third person POV. I was hesitant at first, but the editor said that there are serialized books written that way, and said it was okay so I pushed through with it.

Jessica: Yes! I have a couple of things I wanted to add (and expand scenes) in the first book, however, I already released it. I decided that the characters must live with it (for now).

There were some things I had to adjust in the second story to keep the continuity but nothing big.

Mark: The first Sampaguita book, This City is Crying, already has a second edition, which had the expansions and tweaks I needed to set the mood of the series. As for Stray Lamb, I was actually undecided as to whether it should read as a standalone or a sequel hook. I guess Book 2 just wrote itself, though it may leave questions whose answers I have to answer or muddle in Book 3. (Related: #HeistClub: Manila in the Eyes of an Outsider)

Yeyet: There were a couple. In Book 1, there was a romantic pairing that happened, that in retrospect, should not have happened. So, I rectified it in Book 2, in one of the stories, the pairing was revised to a more realistic level.

What advice can you give to first-time writers who may want to create a series of crime stories?

Arlene: Make time to write the story you want. Do research if there is uncertainty. Have a lot of patience. Keep that passion burning. Don’t give up.

Jessica: I’m so sorry, but I don’t feel qualified to be giving advice for crime stories yet, but I’m willing to answer questions base on my experience.

Mark: A crime fic is not meant to be a happy story. Your characters are at the mercy of the changing times, other characters, force majeure, and the law (or lack of it). Don’t give them daisies; drive them into a point that they’ll be pushing daisies. Drag your characters into a corner. Break them. Make them spill blood if needed. But in the process, redeem them and make them earn their happy ending.

Another thing is that you should be able to plan a series ahead in such a way that you already know how it would end. All that would be left is to write everything in between to justify that end.

Yeyet: If you have the story in you, then write it. Remember though that you have a responsibility to anyone who reads it.  So make sure it is a good story, well-researched, well-thought of, and professionally edited. Make sure you have beta readers who will be honest, who know the genre, and who will be encouraging (not discouraging). If you don’t know how to go about doing this, join workshops and get in touch with communities who are ready to help you through it. If you’re Filipino, or you’re based in Manila, contact #HeistClub, and let us help you.

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?

Arlene: A crime against humanity, the annihilation of all human kind. Something like what Hitler did, and the telling should be from his point of view. A story that would tell what made him do it, why he chose to do it, how did he do it and the repercussion of what he did.

Jessica: I think I’d like to challenge myself with assassination of a hateful politician. The politician would suspect everyone, including those closest to him, not knowing that they truly are loyal to him. They only seem suspicious because they wanted everyone to know that he isn’t the bad guy his enemies made him to be.

Mark: The JonBenet Ramsey murder case in 1996. I followed that case when I was in high school (thank you, Inside Edition). It’ll be like a walk through my own memories.

The Alabang Boys case and the multitude of high-profile rape cases in the country also piqued my interest. It makes me wonder what happens to the victims of similar crimes whose voices aren’t heard by our present justice system.

Yeyet:  I am currently binge-watching political drama series in the US like Madame Secretary, and now Designated Survivor, and will continue to search for similar series in the future. Having said this, I also loved Stephen King’s novel about a time traveler who went back in time to prevent the Kennedy assassination.

So in answer to your question, I would like to write about Ninoy Aquino’s assassination, the real reasons behind it, the perpetrators, etc. I don’t think we have been given the entire story and it would probably be such a treasure trove of information if and when I do get to research, with the assumption that I would have access at all to relevant documents and people. As always I would like to explore the psychological and emotional implications on all concerned—with Ninoy and his family, knowing he was walking into a situation that could cause him his life; with the shooter (what motivated him); with the masterminds (what made them decide to do it); with the people who were involved whether innocently or not; with the country.

Have you noticed more Filipino crime fic readers since the last #HeistClub anthology?

Mark: #HeistClub made us aware that there’s a market for police procedurals, crime drama, military fiction, and hardboiled and cozy mysteries. But I think the biggest boost we got was when Smaller and Smaller Circles showed in cinemas. I think it made people aware there is a genre that needs developing, and titles or authors for such who deserve attention. It’s still safe to say that indie crime fiction still has a long way to grow.

Yeyet: F.H. Batacan was a #HeistClub mentor, so it was really great when a movie was made out of her book.

Any crime fic recs?

Arlene: The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter is a good read, but I haven’t finished it.

Jessica: I’ve read more crime fiction but I have no recent favorites, still the same old Nancy Drew comes to mind.

Mark: When I got out of my hiatus, I decided I’d start over and read and study from the basics. Aside from reading more of the news, I started with Smaller and Smaller Circles and the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe and Maurice Leblanc.

I also happen to have a copy of the graphic novel Get Jiro by Anthony Bourdain, which helped me visualize how I should write my scenes. I wanted to recommend Bone in the Throat, another Bourdain crime story, but I couldn’t find a copy of it.

Yeyet: I’ve read the #HeistClub stories, of course, but I’ve also started looking into more crime-related books from abroad too. I’ve been following the Mr. Mercedes series by Stephen King and managed to read all three before Book 2 was completed. I’ve also followed the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith. Both series have been very satisfying reads for me.  The fact that these were also written by authors known for other genres, made it all the more interesting for me who also write in different genres.

The new anthology is entitled The Secrets That We Keep. What’s the biggest secret you’re willing to share with us?

Arlene: Probably, it would be the shocking truth that I actually used the name of a high school crush in my #HeistClub series. His name is Juan Carlo. I named two characters from his name. Juan and Carlos. Juan, the father of Margaux. Carlos, a friend of Kevin and Margaux, also an ex-ESAF member.

Jessica: I don’t know if this counts—I’m good at cheating and gambling.

Mark: In high school, I had the fortune/misfortune of falling asleep and then waking up to the sight of a female classmate stripping. I also once walked into a couple heavily making out in a classroom. They didn’t notice me. Soon after that, I ended up writing my first love scene. It sucked. Who writes about passionate embraces that couldn’t be cut by Wolverine’s claws, anyway? Had I gotten the right tools to start a career in fiction, I might be writing erotica instead of crime right now!

Yeyet: When I was a teenager, I lost someone very close to me through suicide, and it has affected my entire outlook in life. That he was afflicted by a then-not-so-understood condition known as bipolar disorder (I didn’t understand a lot of it then) didn’t minimize the pain and the guilt caused by his passing. I believe I have all this darkness inside of me because of that experience and that is what compels me to write about subjects and topics others would otherwise consider as very, very bleak. This is what makes me, I think, an effective writer of crime and the darker forms of speculative fiction.


What are some of your favorite books?

Arlene: At this very moment, it’s Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.

Jessica: That’s probably the hardest question to answer because I want to list down so many books, so I’ll just pick from my latest read and that is Missing Bodies by Celestine Trinidad.

Mark: While I’m a sucker for Anthony Bourdain’s books, my current favorite is Arsene Lupin, Gentleman Thief by Maurice Leblanc.

Yeyet: I have so many favorite books by favorite authors, so I will go with the first book that “rocked my world” and that would be It by Stephen King. I loved the scariness of it, the realistic portrayals of everyday evils, as well as the mind-blowing scenes that will never make the movie or TV series adaptations. I further loved that it was unapologetic ally frightening and gory and cringe-worthy. And no, I am not afraid of clowns!

Favorite reading-related quote?


“Lamang ang nagbabasa.”a quote I always hear from our school head


“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.”George R.R. Martin


“A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.”George R.R. Martin


“We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”—Stephen King

“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.”—Stephen King



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