by KB Meniado
Most authors I’ve had the privilege to meet tell me it had been their dream to write and publish a book since they were young—and often because they were a reader first. Here, author Betsy Gacutan-Ochosa talks about the same, including what inspired her novella Twenty Years in Between… The Love Story of Lizzie and Joseph. Read on to find out what she thinks about sustaining long-distance relationships, giving second chances and believing in the meant-to-be.
Betsy Gacutan-Ochosa is a freelance writer whose works have appeared in Good Housekeeping, Action and Fitness, Mommy Academy and Female Network. She is also a regular contributor to the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf’s Brew Your Best Year website, and has won essay writing contests sponsored by National Bookstore and Philippine Star, both published on national broadsheets. Her love story novella, Twenty Years in Between… The Love Story of Lizzie and Joseph is available in bookstores nationwide.
Hi, Betsy! Thank you for making time for Bookbed. Since this is your first interview with us, would you mind telling us first how you got into writing? Has it always been part of your life?
I have always loved writing. I have had diaries and journals since I was 12 years old. I wrote poems, essays, letters… I chronicled my everyday life, I told stories.
And I love to read. When I was a teenager, I would spend my Saturday afternoons at a bookstore, and I would always go home with a couple of new books in tow. I liked being lost in the stories. There were books that touched and moved me, made me feel something. I knew back then that I would want to be able to tell stories that would do the same to others. I distinctly remember writing in my diary: Someday, I will write and publish my own book. It will be a love story that will make readers smile and feel.
And is that how Twenty Years in Between came about? What inspired this long-distance relationship, coupled with letter writing?
My best cousin, Mae—I call her my person—lives in Los Angeles in California. Her family moved there when we were very young. But we have always been close, so we tried to sustain our friendship through letters. We practically grew up writing each other letters sent via snail mail. Yes, we had to wait for a month to get a reply. To make the most of the wait, we would write really long letters. As a young girl, the feeling I had every time a mail arrives was simply inexplicable. It gave my young heart pure joy. Those handwritten letters sustained our friendship.
With the advent of modern technology, communication became easier. Now we just text and send emails. Suddenly, the physical distance didn’t seem to matter much. We get updated about each other’s affairs in real time, almost as soon as they happen.
But sometime several years back, my cousin surprised me with a handwritten letter. You couldn’t imagine the thrill I felt! I was a young girl all over again. This was also during that time that I felt I was ready to write something longer than an essay. And so I found the perfect theme for my first book: long-distance relationships.
I set Twenty Years in Between in the 90s to somehow give the younger readers a glimpse of how things were back then. It’s interesting to note that couples then and now encounter the same issues Lizzie and Joseph do in the book. We just have more tools or resources now that can help make things easier… or so we think.
Speaking of making things easier—or at least, making things—can you tell us about your writing process? Which parts are your most and least favorite parts?
For my writing process: I normally start with an outline. I make a timeline of the story. Before I write my thoughts down, I imagine scenes in my head. I always need to have a piece to paper with me because I don’t know when inspiration strikes.
Sometimes I write nonstop, other times I spend a good part of an hour just staring into space, running the dialogues or lines in my head. I write best when I am alone or when it’s really late at night.
A bit of trivia: I thought of the very last line of my book while I was in the shower. Seriously. Also, the original draft did not have that line. I told my editor and layout artist to add it before the final layout. I think it worked, though. Someone told me that last line gave her goosebumps! (Get a copy of Twenty Years in Between from the Bookbed Store.)
Anyway, I am a shy writer and I am my worst critic, so it took a while before I finally mustered the courage to share the draft with anyone. I felt the project was too ambitious. Only my two best cousins knew that I was writing a book.
Through it all, I learned that finishing a project really entails determination, commitment and patience. You cannot be too self-conscious nor sensitive. People will always have varying opinions on your work so always keep your end goal in mind. Mine was to tell a good story and to have my own published book—a book I can touch, hold, feel and bring around. That kept me going. I was also blessed to find an excellent editor and a talented cover design artist.
And congratulations! Now, your story touches on the concept of second chances. Why do you think should we believe in it?
I believe in forgiveness. To me, it doesn’t necessarily mean giving a relationship another chance, but we forgive because we want to free ourselves from bitterness or whatever emotional attachment we may have with another person.
I also believe that what’s important is you give your best in each relationship so you won’t have any regrets in the future. If a relationship is meant to last, it will.
What’s meant to happen will happen, and all that! Just like your dream to publish and now we’re here. Before we go, can you share any piece of advice for aspiring Filipino authors?
Keep writing. Hone your skills. Love your craft. Find people who can mentor you, help you improve.
Write to touch other people’s lives. Write to inspire and to make your readers feel. Leave something good behind. There will be critics, but there will be fans, too. Allow the former to challenge you, and the latter to inspire you to do even better. Everybody has a story to tell; don’t be afraid to tell yours. ☁️