PGS 2023 Q&A: Franz Austin V. De Mesa

Franz Austin V. De Mesa is a fiction writer with an unnatural appetite for horror, fantasy, and dystopian sci-fi stories. A certified anime and gaming enthusiast, he writes to explore the dark parts of humanity and indulge in his fascinations with the macabre, alternate timelines, and other what-if scenarios lurking in our world. He is currently a Fourth-Year student of BA Creative Writing at the University of Santo Tomas. Here he talks about some of his process in writing the featured story for May,  IN(DE)CISION.

Where did the story idea for  IN(DE)CISION come from?

The idea for the story came from my experience as a young boy who had to undergo circumcision, who grew up with the notion that it was a rite of passage that every young boy must go through in order to be called a man. And it wasn’t until I was older that I realized how horribly grotesque such a tradition was. I imagine how repulsive it must sound if we didn’t have a name for such a practice and if we always had to describe it in detail. That is, for a child to become a man, his most sensitive organ must be mutilated, cut open, skin peeled at the sides, cleaned from all the blood and impurities, and stitched with a needle and thread, all the while the child trembles with excruciating pain. It is completely barbaric and insane, to force a child to undergo such a thing when they aren’t even old enough to consent to it, yet the sad thing is, everyone in this country seems to be fine with it. Some are even proud of it. I remember some of my classmates bragging that their own tuli didn’t have anesthesia. I even remember my own father being proud of the fact that he was circumcised with only primitive tools—a chisel and a hammer—and instead of anesthesia, soothed merely by guava leaves. 

I suppose this is why I chose to substitute the rite of passage with the chopping of a finger, to defamiliarize the brutality of circumcision that is seemingly normalized in our country. And as to why I decided to write the story with an interactive element, I found that it was necessary to incorporate the power of choice for the individual to resign or escape his dreadful situation, given that I, as a victim of that same situation, did not even think that I had a choice. I wanted Sam to know he has a choice, and the readers to know that they have a choice—perhaps not to reverse what evil has already happened, but to prevent any further evils from happening in the future.

What came easy to you when it came to writing this story?

I think one of the easier parts of writing the story was crafting the dialogue since the back-and-forth between characters and the subtle clashing of their ideologies are often my favorite parts of a story, both to read and to write. 

What was the most challenging thing you had to overcome to complete this story, and how did you deal with that?

Perhaps the most challenging part of completing this story was writing the endings. It is already hard enough to have one, but to have two endings—and making sure both were, in some way, equally justified, well-executed, and satisfying for the reader—is a gargantuan task. When a version of this story was workshopped in my Young Adult Literature class in UST, my professor would remark about how underdeveloped the first route was, while the ending for the second was melodramatic and unrealistic. She’d ask me “Is this how you want to end your story? It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel finished,” which, of course, made me question my writing skills and my entire existence on this earth. But knowing that someone of great knowledge and experience is pushing you to create the best possible version of your idea helps an awful lot. So after wallowing in my own self-pity and shelving the work for weeks, I started thinking of various ways to revise the work. There was a lot of thinking and rewriting, a lot of failed attempts and frustrations before I was able to reach the endings that I think concludes my story on a satisfying note.

What are the top three writing tips you would like to share with all aspiring storytellers out there?

1) Everything you do can be used as material in writing. Wash the dishes, walk around the neighborhood, read a book, or play a video game—inspiration and ideas can hit you when you least expect it. Binge movies and TV series guilt-free!

2) When you do get inspiration, and suddenly have an idea or a prompt for a story, write it down in a notebook. In fact, go further and start a paragraph or two on your Google Doc. You might not finish it right away, and you might not get back to it in a month or even a year, but what you started will always be there in the back of your mind, begging to be continued. 

3) Set goals for yourself whenever you sit down to write. Try to push yourself into finishing that goal before stopping to see all the mistakes you made along the way. 

What’s the one thing not mentioned in your profile that you would like people to know about you?

I also like to draw. Often I draw as a pastime whenever listening to a lecture at class instead of taking notes, a bunch of scribbles and sketches in my notebook here and there. Other times, I draw as a form of praise to amazing characters in books, TV shows, anime, and video games. Fanart makes up the general bulk of my artworks, as one might see on my Facebook profile and art page (@rafznart on FB). But aside from this, I also draw as a sort of guide when it comes to writing. When I find it hard to conceptualize or write down details for a story, I tend to sketch them out to help me visualize characters, settings, and scenes. Like what does a morally-gray detective look like? What would the student of a magic school in the Philippines wear? How do they tie their hair? Do they wear sneakers or leather shoes? I think the best kinds of stories are the ones that compel readers to visualize. To imagine scenes that are so vivid and characters that are so visually-interesting, that they compel us to make fanart.

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