PGS 2023 Q&A: Christine V. Lao

Philippine Genre Stories published Christine V. Lao’s  A Girl’s Guide To Love In The Big City in November, 2011. And the  story became a part of her chapbook Musical Chairs: Stories which was a Finalist in the 19th Madrigal-Gonzalez Best First Book Award in 2019.

Philippine Genre Stories was dormant for a long time and it was Tin Lao’s idea to provide fresh content for genre readers through the works of her creative writing students, serving as Guest Editor in 2022.  Tin returns to grace the commencement of Philippine Genre Stories 2023 with her story HONEST REVIEWS, and here we have the chance to catch up with her.

Where did the story idea for  HONEST REVIEWS come from?

I had just come back from Negros when I began drafting the story. I’d spent time outside Manila thinking about a lot of the things that found their way into the story– trolls, truth-telling, social media performance and rhetoric, social exclusion, silencing, local politics, what passes for development, and kapres.

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

Revising it. Mia Tijam’s observations about the earliest draft were spot on. She made it easier for me to troubleshoot and make the narrative come through more clearly.

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

Finding the form that would allow me to write the story I didn’t know I needed to write.

I’ve been wanting to write a kapre story ever since I read Rin Chupeco’s “Kapre: A Love Story” in PGS’s May 2011 issue. I’d made quick sketches of narratives about a kapre wedding and of  a female working class kapre, but could not sustain my interest in developing either text into a conventional narrative.

It turns out I was more concerned about telling a story about the milieu in which they lived. But it was only after I leaned into writing fake travel and product reviews that I found out what my story was about , and where it needed to go. Writing is incredibly mysterious and absorbing. I love it.

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

  • Aim to write something that you would enjoy reading, and set a fixed time to do this every day. Don’t let anyone, including yourself, take the joy out of your daily writing practice.
  • Finish the stories you’ve begun to write. Learn about, then consider, whether plot and story structure (example: scene and sequel), or thinking about your character, might help you finish writing your stories whenever it seems impossible to do so.
  • Just because you have written a story doesn’t mean you need to have it published. Write first. Think about the necessity and impact of publishing it after the work has been completed. This second step is just as important as writing and completing your story. Sometimes, after thinking about your desire and motives for publication and the effect this might have on your context and community, you may feel the need to edit the completed draft further, for clarity or effect, among other things.

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

If you found “Honest Reviews” interesting, you might find something to like in “Musical Chairs: Stories.” You can find the ebook version here.

And finally, as the serving Guest Editor for Philippine Genre Stories in 2022, please share with us some of your editorial principles?

It takes a great deal of generosity to read other people’s stories as though it were one’s own, and then work with them to figure out the best possible ways for the story to unfold.  I’ve been extremely lucky to have worked with the best editors, the most generous human beings I’ve met. Here are some of the things that I learned from them:

  • Consider the writer’s intention and style before you suggest edits to their work. It’s their work, not yours.
  • When you discuss the work with the writer, begin by celebrating its strengths.
  • Identify problems and issues clearly, kindly, and respectfully. Focused suggestions make the work easier for everyone. Comments that lack clarity or which are  thoughtlessly deployed can confuse and distract the writer, causing delay.
  • Identify possible solutions for every problem or issue flagged.
  • End every discussion by reiterating the strengths of the work, perhaps mentioning the parts that especially moved you.

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