PGS 2024 Q&A: Jonah Leigh E. Ramos

Jonah Leigh E. Ramos teaches Research and English at St. Stephen’s High School. She is expecting to graduate in 2024 with a master’s degree in Literature from De La Salle University. Currently, her works focus on the everyday struggles and hopes of living in the city, with her research interests specifically finding home in urban space and contemporary literature. Recently, Leigh has been awarded the fellowship for Literature and Urban Studies in the 12th KRITIKA La Salle National Workshop on Arts and Cultural Criticism. 

Hi, Leigh! How does it feel to be published in Philippine Genre Stories? 

This is the first time I’m getting published! I’ve always written fiction but I never really had the opportunity to share my works beyond my circle of friends and strangers who ever chanced upon my blog(s). I didn’t know how to. Or maybe I just kept making excuses. 

And I wanted to change that, so when I saw the call for submissions from PGS, I immediately thought I had to send a story. I have always loved speculative fiction and I thought it an opportune time to do more than consume spec fic. PGS was definitely a perfect space for the possibilities I wanted to create. Needless to say, I am very happy that PGS gave my story a place to be read.

Thank you for answering the call and we’re very happy to have published your first story! How did the idea for “The Gospel, According to God on the 2nd Floor” come about? 

The story first occurred to me while I was playing Sims on mobile. I was busy planning the rooms to add to my house when it dawned on me that I downloaded the game precisely because I wanted a house to design. I wanted a house to begin with. I wanted a dwelling place that did not belong to a landlord. 

I remember thinking how the game operated like some sort of vehicle for my fantasies of home at a time I was so weighed down by the thought of owning one seemingly impossible now, with land increasingly privatized and salaries hardly raised. There was also the matter of making time for love. When work consumes you—your time, especially—so much so that you’re confined to the same routes every day, how do you make the time to get out of your way and meet possibilities? 

The Sims Mobile was to me a platform to realize my desires. And it was then that I thought of the game as a simulation that’s not quite a simulation? A reality detached from the original it was initially supposed to copy. 

Why would I want to escape into a world that’s just a copy of the world I’m escaping from? So there’s Baudrillard. And the story built up more from there. The scattered thoughts about being a sim, being children who are the opposite of their parents, fate and free will, names that are often prayers of becoming, oh and Saramago’s beautiful title, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ—all these built up to the story of the god on the second floor.

And what’s the next writing project that you’re working on?

I am thinking about writing another short story that’s still about land use. The story is actually still baking. I don’t even know yet how the story’s going to go, only that it starts from the POV of a certain narrator recounting—from his grandfather’s stories—how people used to live on land, and that when it ran out, people decided to occupy the sky. 

I think the subject of land use has been making its way into the things that I try to write lately because you don’t age backwards, you know. You think about all the work you do and how even if you work eight days a week, your money’s not going to be enough to buy yourself a house, not with the expenses that come with renting a life in the city, and especially not when you have a government planning our everyday life when their feet have never even been dirtied by the ground.

We look forward to reading that story! And what are you currently reading? It’s for what kind of readers? Please tell us more about it. 

I am trying to go back to Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges. I like him a lot. It’s this collection of short stories that I started reading way back, and I remember foremost the estranging experience of reading what seemed to be references to otherworldly things posed as familiar. 

Borges was one of my first tastes of surrealism in writing. An experience of fiction through language that seemed to do something about the way you imagine the written text. 

If you’re somebody who wants to dive into magic realism, specifically the interconnections of time, language, vantage points, and reality, Labyrinths is for you.

Speaking of stories being for you– in Philippine Genre Stories, which among the published stories do you like the most so far? Why?

I liked Joseph Nacino’s “Selda 34,” its setting of Philippine folklore in the space of Duterte’s tokhang. Apart from its thrilling plot progression, the idea of the police and the aswang as rivals over humans to prey upon was such a powerful image of bloodlust normalized by the drug war. 

And, SPOILER ALERT! A couple of things that really stuck to me: (1) the character of the old man who wanted to make an army of aswang so they could “gut your president like a pig,” and (2) that one line of an aswang to a policeman, I think, that went something like, “You think you own the night?”

We do hope for more action adventure stories and for these to be written by female storytellers, too. 🙂 What are your tips for the aspiring storytellers out there?

“What is your point?” I think that’s an important question to ask, especially if you do not intend to restrict the consumption of your work to yourself. You have to be clear with your purpose. 

This applies to all sorts of storytelling, be it a work where you want the readers to simply enjoy the slow pace of a linear plot, follow a character’s very rigid thought journey, appreciate a new kind of writing horror, or maybe do something after reading. How exactly do you execute it? 

I initially wrote “The Gospel, According to the God on the 2nd Floor” with verse numbers and footnotes to copy the structure of a scholarly Bible. For me, it aligned well with my intentions to position the story as a sort of scripture. My editor, Ms. Mia Tijam, commented on the way the verse numbers and the footnotes were actually distracting to the reading flow, plus how they added too much to the extent that it took away attention from the main story. Those were actually good points. Attempts at complexity can backfire if the execution compromises clarity.

Now that I think of it, let me add to my two cents on storytelling: be open to criticism, to changing your work. Readers are critics, and they offer an experience of your work that you might not have had owing to your position as the author.

Thank you again so much, Leigh, for making us a part of your journey and congratulations again!

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