10 Questions on 10 Stories: Yvette Tan

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On September - 11 - 2009

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Yvette Tan’s fiction and non-fiction has appeared in so many venues online and offline that I truly believe she could put together an entire magazine all by her self. Her stories have been recognized by the Palanca Awards, the Philippine Graphic Fiction Awards and the 2008 Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror Anthology. Her first short story collection, “Waking the Dead,” was released just last month to stellar reviews, and when she agreed to this interview, I decided to ask her one question for each of the stories.

The Child Abandoned: Have you ever attended the Feast of the Black Nazarene?

[Note: You can see a flash photo-essay of the Feast (with audio) at the GMA News website.]

The nearest I’ve gotten to the feast is watching it on TV. There’s something raw about it, something that transcends time. Sure, the celebrants are all wearing t-shirts and pants and have cellphones (which, for their sake, I hope they left at home), but you get the feeling that they could be wearing pelts. They have that sort of energy. People have gotten killed during the festival and yet it endures, as glorious as ever. Right now, I don’t think I want to attend the festival for real (mostly because my mom would have a conniption if she found out) but should I get a chance to do so, I would not say no.

The Bridge: You’ve met quite a few celebrities haven’t you? Which meeting left you the most star struck?

It’s tough to choose just one because I’ve interviewed so many interesting people. If my high school self saw me now, she would be squealing with delight. Here are the first 3 that comes to mind:

Pilita Corrales - One of the most amazing people I have met. She used to be a big star, and still is in some parts of the world. Did you know they named a street after her in Sidney? An interview consists of you sitting down and her telling you about her life story in fascinating detail.

Gary Barlow - One of the guys from the now defunct Take That. He called me at my house. I took the call in my parents room like a giggly teenager. He was very nice. Answered all questions about himself, his music, his family. Knows how to make fun of himself, too. The thing with a lot of foreign artists is that they take themselves too seriously, refuse to answer questions that don’t have to do with whatever it is they’re promoting at the time. Gary wasn’t like that.

Imelda Marcos - I didn’t really interview her but I got the chance to interact with her for the Terno episode of the first season of Project Runway Philippines. What a fascinating woman! She revolutionized the terno, taking it from a bulky three-piece into the streamlined one piece that is our national costume today. She my not have come off as nice in “The Bridge” but really, the story is more a tribute than anything else. If I like you enough, I’m going to make you a monster.

Delivering the Goods: What’s the strangest job/errand you’ve ever had to accomplish?

On my second day at work for a chemical company, I had to show up in court, then tail the people the company was suing to where they worked. This resulted in a movie-worthy car chase all over the Pasig Kapitolyo area.

Boss, Ex: When I saw the title, I have to admit, I cursed out loud, having hung out at the old Virra Mall long enough that reading those words has an automatic audio accompaniment in my brain. How’d you come up with the idea?

My guy friends would tell me stories about how they would get accosted by salesmen saying “Boss, X” and I thought it sounded like “Boss, Ex,” ans in ex girlfriend. That’s where the idea started. I had to set the story in the future to make it work. The scanning parts, you’ll notice, come from tales of what the end times will be like – you won’t be able to go anywhere without a microchip in your forehead or right hand. That story is located in a time that’s near the end of the world.

Waking the Dead: When you wrote this particular story, did you already know it would be the title story of your anthology?

No. The anthology was supposed to be called Sidhi and other stories but the publisher wanted something that would signal the “horror” content more, so I suggested Waking the Dead. It’s also the shortest story in the book. I used to think that it was a straightforward raising the dead story but we had the guys in Bilibid maximum [Ed. Note: A maximum security prison in the Philippines] read it and they came up with all sorts of conclusions – things I had never thought about.

Stella for Star: What’s the strangest gift you’ve ever received?

Can’t think of any. My favorite gift though is always money. :D

Kulog: Are you “sensitive” to the unseen in the way many of your characters are?

No, and for that, I am extremely thankful. I’ve always been fascinated by sensitives, which is why I write about them. I know or have heard of people who take these things in stride because they’ve been seeing ghosts ever since they were born and I’ve always wondered what that would be like. I don’t think I could do it though. I’m too much of a fraidy-cat. If I had an open third eye, I would have it shut.

Fade to Nothing: How easy (or difficult) is it for you to write from a male point of view?

Weirdly enough, I find it easier to write from the male point of view if only because most of the stories I read are from that point of view. Also, growing up, I could find no female characters I could relate with, since they were either shallow, nerdy or frigid, and none of them could wield a long bow. A big reason I’m having trouble writing fiction now is that I’m trying to write more from the woman’s point of view and that’s hard work.

Daddy: This was by far the story which had the most impact on me. I feel compelled to ask: how much of the story is real, and how much is fiction?

I never put anything of myself in my stories, and this is the only exception. All of the elements there are real, just jumbled up. The only thing that’s fiction is the phone call itself. Although someone came up to me during the launch and said that she knew someone who really did get a phone call from a dead parent, except this was on a landline.

Sidhi: You bookend the anthology with two stories set in a fictional Quiapo. Have you lived there yourself? What is it about Quiapo you find most fascinating?

I have a love-hate relationship with Quiapo. I hate going there but I love being there. I love the history that simmers beneath it, how it used to be the heart of Manila. It’s like a beauty queen who’s lost her looks. There’s so much to see there, a beauty that everyone dismisses because of its exterior. Incidentally, someone pointed out recently that the apartment in “Sidhi” looks a lot like a real apartment building somewhere in Malate, which I had not seen until last year but that I had always imagined living in since I heard about it in high school. When I finally saw the place, I had to agree, and I also understood why it called out to me all those years ago, decades before I would set foot in it.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions Yvette!

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