Mina Esguerra is one of the Filipino authors most beloved by the blogging community, partly because she writes excellent “chick lit” stories in a Philippine context, and partly because she maintains a regular online presence. Her next romance novella is a YA book with speculative elements, so I jumped at the chance to have her on the blog for a short interview.
Tell us a bit about your new book, “Interim Goddess of Love”:
Interim Goddess of Love is my first YA romance novella, and it’s about Hannah, a sophomore scholarship student at a college just outside of Metro Manila. Her world changes pretty much overnight when her friend (and not-so-secret crush), reveals to her that he’s actually the god of the sun, and that he needs her to temporarily be the goddess of love. Because the original goddess is missing. It’s the first volume of what I’ve planned as a series. (Operative word is “planned” of course.)
In an interview last year, you mentioned how your first novel pitch was for a YA story that was not picked up. What made you decide to return to that genre now? How do you approach writing a YA novel as opposed to one that is not aimed at that market?
Before getting published that first time (My Imaginary Ex, a chick lit novella), I had only ever really written YA — stuff that was more Sweet Dreams- and Sweet Valley-ish. Writing chick lit now, I actually still take my YA concept and just age the characters by five to seven years. My books are not very “adult” or raunchy. (My mother will disagree, but anyway.) I’ve also used a lot of flashbacks to college, so I feel like I never really left that comfort zone.
I pay attention to readers mentioning my books in social media though, and I noticed that they’re young. Teenagers. Younger than I’d expected since the stories are about twenty-somethings. So I thought maybe I could work on a story and keep the characters teenagers too, instead of aging them. That’s how Interim Goddess of Love started.
This is also the first of your published novels/novellas that uses fantasy/speculative elements. Why did you choose to take this approach? Did this make the writing process any different?
It started as a personal writing challenge, because by the time I had written IGoL I had finished five chick lit novellas and wanted to push myself in another direction. The process was a bit different, mostly because I had to keep pulling myself back, toning down the fantasy parts. I decided it would be a romance first, but it’s easy to get swept up in the mythology.
Writing in the romance genre, where readers expect (if not demand) a happy ending, what do you do in order to surprise or tantalize the reader?
I always work with the happy ending as a given. (Spoiler!) I guess my version of “surprise” is I usually try to play with stereotypes or what people think are wise decisions. But I make sure everyone’s happy in the end, to varying degrees.
Tell us a bit about your writing process. Are you an outliner? Do you make use of alpha/beta reader? A writing group?
I am a fan of the outline. I can go as specific as a chapter-by-chapter treatment sometimes. I only start something when I know how it ends, so outlining makes everything easier. When I finish a draft, I share it with three people usually: my editor/s (different people depending on how the work will be published), cover designer, and my husband (who provides the male perspective on things).
You and your husband (2006 Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards winner Michael A. R. Co) are both writers. Can you describe for us what that dynamic is like? Do you critique each other’s drafts, or do you go out of your way not to “influence” each other, or is it something in between?
We always come up with stories together, for fun, but those never really get written, much less published. It’s like the act of telling each other the idea completes it, in a weird way. Which isn’t so great if we actually want to produce something.
So if I want to seriously write and finish a story, I don’t involve him at all in the early stages. I let him read the draft when it’s finished. He’ll have some comments (or a lot), of which I’ll take a few (haha) into consideration and maybe do a revision. But that’s it. The next time he gets to read my work is when it’s been published.
Let’s dig up some behind-the-scenes info for fans of your work: Looking back at (any or all of) your earlier books, can you tell us about alternative choices that you could have made that would have drastically altered the stories? Any characters who were tweaked or removed, any plot twists left on the cutting room floor?
There’s a version of Fairy Tale Fail that has Lucas and Ellie on a road trip together. But that’s also the version where Ellie’s friend Charisse had a subplot that was meant to call her intentions into question, but I trashed that because I didn’t want to complicate things given the word count I was working with. (Also I felt bad about ruining a character for the sake of more drama.)
In my next chick lit novel (accepted for publication but not yet on the shelves), I imported two characters and their entire backstory from a failed manuscript attempt. Just plugged them in there as supporting characters. I had gotten attached to them and wanted them out in the world in some form, even though I had given up on their story.
You started your blog after your first book was accepted for publication, so it seems that you knew even then that you wanted to have an online presence as an author. What have been the advantages to this decision so far? What have been the disadvantages, if any?
When I started the blog, I didn’t have any grand plans for it. I just thought I should have an “official” place, in case people wanted to get in touch with me.
Now I’m on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and a few other places, which has been great because overall, the readers who contact me have been awesome and supportive.
A potential problem with this — not that I have it, so I’ll speak hypothetically – is when an author forgets that she has to remain professional, even though these social media accounts can lead to sharing personal thoughts and info. That includes not using “author” accounts to lash out at the crazy things one sees on the internets.
As someone who has published both on her own and through a traditional publishing house, what’s your opinion of the state of Philippine publishing today? Is there any hope that someday, the Philippines will have full-time authors?
I am even more excited about publishing now – as a Filipino author, living in the Philippines, writing about Filipinos — than when I started. I appreciate the support coming from a publisher like Summit, and I can tell that many readers know of me because of my work with them. At the same time, it’s great that digital publishing has made it easier for me to reach a larger market, and that this market has taken an interest in familiar stories set in unfamiliar places.
Can the Philippines have full-time authors? YES, definitely. Last year, I decided that I would take steps to eventually become one. But I’m not really sure what a “full-time author” makes, or can make, here in the Philippines, so I’ve set my own standard. At one point I described my book earnings as “my salary in 2001” – which is cool, but not something I’ll give up my day job for just yet.
In any case, I became a mom last year, so that will still have to be my priority. The “full-time writing” will happen while my daughter naps. J
What’s next for you, short-term and long-term?
Still working on the print version of Interim Goddess of Love. Hoping to finish the manuscripts and possibly publish Interim Goddess of Love #2 and #3 within the year. Waiting for the new chick lit title to come out. And then, will start outlining a new series (romance and crime!). After planning my daughter’s first birthday! Busy busy year ahead.