I’ll be doing a series of short interviews with my Alternative Alamat contributors. Today’s author is Raissa Rivera Falgui. Raissa is a writer of fiction for both children and adults. She has won several awards, including first place for Futuristic Fiction in the 2002 Palanca Awards and second place for short story for children in the 2002 and 2006 Palancas. A member of Kuwentista ng Mga Tsikiting (Kuting), her most recent published stories are for young people, in Tahanan Books’ The Night Monkeys and UP Press’s Bagets Anthology. She graduated from UP with a degree in Art Studies and is currently working towards an MA in Creative Writing. Over the years, she has worked in various institutions, as English teacher, writer, or editor. Among the most recent jobs she has had was one that required her to write about places she has never visited, including Mt. Malindig in Marinduque. Currently her main job, which she does not plan to give up, is looking after her daughter. She is married to an Ateneo English teacher, Joel Falgui.
Without spoiling anything essential, could you tell me a bit about your story?
The story is about a sorceress, known in folklore as Maria of Malindig. I changed the name to Maryam, which is more appropriate to pre-Hispanic times, when the story is set. She is so powerful and imperious that she intimidates men, and she becomes determined to use her magic to win the man she loves.
What was your impression of the Maria Malindig myth upon first reading? How did you decide which aspects to keep and which to re-imagine in your own version?
I knew it was “the one” as soon as I read it, and I had already gone through much of Damiana Eugenio’s volume. I was fascinated by Maria of Malindig’s dominatrix quality, and intrigued by the love story. I felt it begged explaining why such a strong woman so desperately needed the love of a man to complete her. It was hardly in keeping with the image of a powerful sorceress queen. I also decided to do away with the element of religious defiance, where she curses the gods and is punished. I found that too didactic and thought her hubris actually stood out more without her falling back on gods.
What part of the story–or the writing process–was the most fun for you?
The nature of the queen’s magic is barely described in the original, so I had fun coming up with the details. Imagining how people in the past lived is always fun for me, and I actually referred to The Governor General’s Kitchen to get an idea of what they might have eaten. If encouraged I may actually produce that feast someday! And the love scenes, but they were also difficult.
What part of the story–or the writing process–was the most difficult for you?
I had some trouble with Pangkikog’s character, making him both an attractive, sympathetic man but still domineering enough to insist on his way. It was difficult getting the dynamics of the relationship between Maryam and Pangkikog just right. It was necessary that they have a power struggle while still being drawn to each other. Their dialog with all its accompanying gestures went through a lot of revisions.
How were you first exposed to Philippine mythology?
I’ve been reading myths since childhood.
Is there any myth, epic or legend that you wish would be adapted into a novel, or comic, or movie?
I’d love to see my version of the Malindig myth come to life in a movie, of course. I’d love to see a lot of myths adapted into film in the style of Jim Henson’s Storyteller series, especially the ones of the sky-maiden and of the first man and woman who came out of bamboos.
Who is your favorite character from Philippine mythology, and why?
I’ve always liked Mariang Makiling. I love strong female characters.