PGS 2023 Q&A: Celestine Trinidad

Celestine Trinidad is a pathologist who writes fiction of various genres in her spare time, including speculative fiction, romance, crime, young adult, and children’s short stories. Her other stories have been published in various print and online venues such as Philippine Speculative Fiction, Philippines Free Press, Philippines Graphic, and Insignia. She won the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature in 2008 for her short story for children “The Storyteller and the Giant”.

Her first official published work was in Philippine Genre Stories Issue 2 with the story “Beneath the Acacia”, based on the legend of Maria Sinukuan and her suitor Tikbalang, back when she was just in her first year in med school. She was published again in Philippine Genre Stories 2012 for her story Under A Mound Of Earth (Part 1) and Under A Mound Of Earth (Part 2). Celestine returns to Philippine Genre Stories 2023 with her story “THE ONES WHO LINGER”.

Where did the story idea for THE ONES WHO LINGER” come from?

The story was mainly inspired by all the ghost stories and urban legends I have heard through the years, so some of the spirits described here would probably be familiar to readers. The scenes in the hospital also come from my own experiences, not just from taking care of patients but also my family members as well.

I first started writing this for an anthology of Asian ghost stories, and while I was brainstorming a concept for a story I came up with this question: “What if it’s not the dead who have unfinished business? What if it’s the living?” And then the story flowed from there.

The first version of the manuscript didn’t fit the needs of the anthology I originally wrote it for, but I still liked the idea enough so when the call for submissions for PGS this year was announced, I took the story from my archive and rewrote some parts and submitted it for consideration. I’m grateful that the story found a home here, in the first publication that had ever published my work, so this does feel like coming back home, too.

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

Writing about the scenes with ghosts was fun, actually! I know that sounds strange because those scenes are creepy (and I did intend them to be, haha) but it’s because I had grown up hearing these tales, and I enjoyed putting a new spin on them in the context of the main conflict.

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

As with most stories I write, I usually know the beginning and the end, but it’s how I get from one point to another that’s hard for me. I often get writer’s block in the middle of a story because of it.

What I do now is I start by writing the beginning and the end first, since it’s clearer to me how I want to write them, and then go back and outline how I can progress through these two parts. Then I start filling in my outline with actual paragraphs of the story.

I don’t always follow the outline, though! But it’s there to give me a structure I can follow as I write, and also to serve as a reminder that my story is going somewhere. I just have to keep going.

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

First of all, read, read, read! Most importantly, read in the genre that you want to write, and unironically, not forcing yourself to read it just because you want to write something that’s “not like your usual horror story”, or something. Because believe me, readers know when you’re writing in a genre that you’re actually not familiar with, and even more so when it’s one that you personally look down on. There is a lot you can learn from reading other stories, and you can have fun too while learning.

(Additionally, read other Filipino authors! And actually seek them out! You’ll be surprised that there’s a lot of good material out there among your own peers.)

Second, find people (or better yet, a community) who will support you in your journey as a writer. I honestly could not keep writing all these years without the help of other writers who give honest feedback and constructive criticism on how to improve my writing, as well as readers who are kind enough to show their appreciation of my work. (Many thanks to Mia Tijam for making this story so much better!) You don’t have to go through it alone. 🙂

And lastly, don’t give up! Just keep writing. As I mentioned, this story has been rejected before. Rejection is something I often still encounter, even if I have already been writing for sometime now. Sometimes, there’s just the right time and place for your story, and you just have to keep going (and rewriting and editing if needed) until you find it.

Someone out there needs to read your story. Keep writing for that person. 

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

I’m a cat person, hehe! 😸

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