Yvette Tan’s Poetics

What I Write, How and Why

Before Words

I was not always a writer. Growing up, I thought I would become an artist, or perhaps a fashion designer. I loved reading but wasn’t fond of fiction, preferring to peruse the Disney Encyclopedias that my parents bought for me. Of course, I was drawn to the volume on myths and legends, that told of Greek, Roman and Norse mythology. But that’s history, not fiction, right? I also liked reading non-fiction books about espionage and detective work, as well about dogs and, for some reason, mushrooms.

My first books were what today would be called graphic novels. Me and my best friend would, after watching the latest Maricel Soriano comedy, draw scenes from the movie and imagine ourselves as Maria. My first “written” book would be a manual on self defense, written when I was in grade four and bound with wrapping paper. I was terribly shy, and still am, and so didn’t show it to anybody. Unfortunately, one of my classmates found it and leafed through it and instead of making fun of it like I feared she would, looked rather impressed as she handed it back to me.

I remember the first time I decided I wanted to be a freelance writer. It was in grade five, after realizing that “freelance” meant “no boss.” That being a freelance writer meant actually writing did not enter my mind at all.

The reason I started writing fiction was, in one word, boys. In high school, my friends and I were big fans of the New Kids on the Block, something that we will swear up and down never happened and if it did, it was during a moment of insanity. My friends would make me write stories that had them and their favorite New Kid as protagonists. Later, a friend introduced me to fantasy books and I would write high fantasy stories, the Western kind that had wizards and whatnot.

None of this has anything to do with what I write now.

What I Write

I am a freelance writer by trade. I like to tell people that I can write about anything except politics. I’ve written about music and books, fashion and finance. I particularly like doing personality profiles, as well as writing about food and travel.

The range of my non-fiction writing is directly opposite to the range of my fiction which, try as I might to do otherwise, seems to always be on the dark side. Most people call me a horror writer. I personally disagree with this label but since that’s what everyone is comfortable with, let’s stick to that for now.

As to why I write what I write, I was never sure of that. The stories that people like the most are the ones that speak of darkness, a strange thing since my childhood was fairly happy (my being depressed all throughout is my fault entirely), and I am very very scared of the supernatural. I always tell people that if I had my way, I wouldn’t be writing about horror because it doesn’t sell, and because growing up, it got me nothing but weird looks and whispers behind my back, especially at church. I’m not sure why I write what I do but I’m glad that there are people out there who like it, and who want me to read more.

How I Write

There isn’t any real process to how I write. Once I find a hook for a story, I let it sit in my head, sometimes for years, until I find the words to express it properly. This is the entirety of it. All the little details that go into my stories arrive as I am putting words to paper, little connections that my mind makes as it goes along. This is why it takes me so long to write a story.

Why

I write for only one reason: If I didn’t, I would go crazy.

My Next Collection

My next collection of short fiction is tentatively titled Siquijor and Other Stories. The title takes its name from my story “Seek Ye Whore,” which was published in Rogue magazine in 2008 and whose name I am changing to “Siquijor.” It is a story about an American who orders a Filipina bride off the internet and gets her in pieces that he has to assemble.

What I realized about my stories is that they focus on places and history. In my previous collection, stories revolved around areas like Quiapo and the San Juanico Strait, playing with urban legends and monsters that were popular during my youth, such as the tiyanak. My affinity for places and how things originated will show itself more in the stories that will appear in my next book.

Aside from “Siquijor,” it will also include “Her Room is Her Temple,” about a man’s obsession over a prostitute published in the Philippines Free Press and “Fold Up Boy,” a Filipino-Chinese ghost story that is set to come out in an anthology about time. “Her Room” is set in  an unknown bar in the Burgos area of Makati, the area’s red light district. Part of “Fold Up” is set in Binondo. I also have a story in the works that I am adapting from a comic script I wrote for a magazine. The artist made his sister read the fished product, which made her gag. This, I think, is a good thing. I’m still wondering whether I should include it as a comic or rewrite it as a short story.

“Stars,” the story which I have submitted for workshopping, is set in Balicasag island near Panglao in Bohol. It is, I think, the most “Western” of my stories in terms of concept. I generally try to infuse being Filipino into my stories, even if they involve Western things like zombies. Here, I merge a sea monster and what is essentially faith healing crossed with spirit questing. My reason for writing “Stars” is the same reason I’ve written stories in the past, and will be the same reason for writing stories in the future: it is a tale that I’ve always wanted to tell. I’ve always wanted to write a sea monster story, and a visit to Balicasag provided the inspiration.

Another theme that seems to run through the stories in this collection is eating. The protagonist in “Siquijor” is a gourmand. The prostitute in “Her Room is Her Temple” has strange appetites and “Stars” has a monster that eats people. This, I think, is tied to my love for food. But more than that, I think that the need for sustenance and the use of food as a luxury is one of the basest human traits, and one of the most fun ones to indulge in, too.

Basically, I want my next collection to be a fun read. My first collection had some elements of drama in it. I want this one to be strange and visceral but ultimately enjoyable, like a big, messy meal that you eat with your hands, the kind that makes you want to lick your fingers after.

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