Whenever an issue of Usok comes out, I conduct a short interview with the authors, to give readers some insight into the creation of the stories, as well as the authors themselves. Next up is Elaine Cuyegkeng (check out her new author’s page here), whose Usok story, “The Widow and the Princess of the Dwende“, is her first to be published online. The story is illustrated by the exceptional Mark Bulahao, who we interviewed last month. Elaine is a new author, but one already hard at work on her new novel, so keep an eye on her new author’s page as she continues to build her body of work.
Tell us a bit about how you came up with the idea for your story.
The Widow and the Princess of the Dwende is actually a prequel to a NaNoWriMo project I was working on in 2009: A Brief History of the Enkanta. Both of them came about in a rather roundabout way. The vampire craze was going strong then (as it still is), and while I’m fond of vampires, I was frustrated by the current trends. The vampire was always the Romantic Male Lead, and while I think vampires are awesome when they’re not just predators, they were depicted in such a way that they weren’t frightening anymore. For me, that takes away the compelling power of the vampire archetype.
And I thought: But hey, how much more scary would the vampire be if he was in a position of institutional power? If somehow, refusing to be a vampire’s paramour, or not welcoming him into your home, was bad news for you and your family? The idea of the vampire frayle was born, and from there, the idea of various enkanta clans wrestling for agency and survival in the Spanish era.
What aspect of the story gave you the most joy?
I love delving into the back stories of characters and fictional societies. The intricacies of Filipino society under the Spanish are fascinating to me, and it was immensely fun to delve into enkanta societies, mix enkanta lore with Western myths, and explore how they would interact.
What aspect of the story gave you the most difficulty?
The problem is, when you geek out like that on the page, you need to balance all of those details with telling a story. With a short story, you need to condense, condense, condense, which I found very hard to do. But I had awesome friends and an awesome editor [Editor Pao: Naks!] . They taught me how to fix the little things that were driving me mad.
Have you ever worn a costume? What was your favorite one? What about the most ridiculous?
I was waaaaay too little to remember this. But there’s a picture of me at three in a Supergirl costume. The geeky DC Comics-loving adult I am loves it.
Does your cultural background influence how you write, or what you write?
I don’t think I could have written The Widow and the Princess of the Dwende or a Brief History of the Enkanta if I wasn’t Pinoy—if I hadn’t grown up on stories of the cruelty and romanticism of the Spanish era, or stories of the aswang lurking in the streets of Manila, or of the dangers of the various enkanta. And I think it’s partly due to my heritage that I’m particularly interested in colonial stories—stories that look at the dynamics between the powerful and the powerless, and the people caught in between.
What was the best piece of writing advice you ever read or received?
Finish everything you start. Incidentally, the best method for finishing what you start appears to be writing fast, which I still need to work on.