by Michael Jude Tumamac
Susan Anne Quirante’s short story, Si Misay sa Aming Bahay, is one of the three awardees of this year’s PBBY-Salanga Honorable Mention. An Education graduate from the University of the Philippines, she is currently an Economics and English teacher in a public secondary school in her hometown, Dumaguete City. As a blogger, she manages Istoryang Binisaya, Titser! Titser!, and The Nightly Dump.
Quirante gladly shared to Kalatas her process of writing her winning story.
Kalatas: How was “Si Misay sa Aming Bahay” conceived?
Quirante: I drew inspiration for Misay from my childhood. Despite being a family of asthmatics and allergic-rhinitis sufferers, we have always kept lots of pets in the house. Inevitably, one of my earliest run-ins with mortality has been the death of a pet. The first was probably when our pet bird died. I remember my brother made an epitaph while my sister and I gathered wild flowers, unbeknownst to the adults at home that we had come to know loss and learned, as if by instinct, to use ritual as a means of coping. This memory was the central image in my mind when I set about establishing the plot.
Then, I did a lot of tweaking with the characterization because I was consciously avoiding the weak child-strong adult or ignorant child-learned adult binary used in some stories for young people. I wanted to write about a child who had the capacity to understand, and an adult who was not immune to feeling. I kept returning to the draft and revising because of this. I’m just so lucky I have friends and family who were quite supportive. They were my first readers and they gave me lots of feedback. I don’t think I would have been able to submit Misay without their help.
Kalatas: What were the challenges you faced in writing your entry?
Quirante: My first draft for the Salanga Prize was not about Misay at all. Last year, just out of the blue, I started thinking about how most children’s coloring books were very utilitarian. Coloring books that double as story books are rare, especially in the Philippine market. At the same time I was toying with the idea of writing a story that could justify its form. So I started writing about the Makulayanon, a colorful people who would slowly turn white after allowing men from a distant land into their community. I was excited by the symbolic implication that the act of coloring the story would set up.
Unfortunately, I am not skilled enough as a writer to do this story justice yet. I also need to do lots of research on the conception of whiteness in indigenous culture. So after losing about a month trying to make the story work, I had to face facts and accept my shortcomings. I found myself back at the drawing board again with the deadline looming close. I decided to fall back on what I knew well – my own childhood. After that, the idea for Misay sort of just fell on my lap.
The next challenge I faced was the story’s language. Writing creatively in Filipino isn’t really my strong suit. I don’t have the training for it. In fact, Misay is the first story I’ve ever completed writing in Filipino. I really struggled with the cadence and rhyme scheme. I was tempted many times to switch to English, but I knew in my gut it would ruin the story. I needed the cadence and rhyme of Filipino to lift the story’s psychological weight even for just a bit. I know the language is still flawed but I had to stop myself from going back and revising again at some point or I never would have submitted the draft on time!
Kalatas: Can you tell us the books or writers who influenced you as a writer?
Quirante: I read across genres so it’s hard to pin down specific influences but if I had to name one author I have admired from childhood to this day, it would have to be Ursula Le Guin. As for books from the local children’s literary scene, I like Sir Genaro Gojo’s stories the most. My two favorites are Anluwagi and Ang Aking Pamilya. His stories can sometimes be deceptively simple but are actually subtly rich in social milieu.
Kalatas: What’s next after “Si Misay sa Aming Bahay”?
Quirante: Right now, writing has sort of taken a back seat since I started teaching last month. But I continue to jot ideas down in my writing journal. The first I’d really like to work on are Cebuano early literacy materials as my show of support for MTB-MLE.
Michael Jude Tumamac is a member of Kuwentista ng mga Tsikiting (KUTING) and Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika, at Anyo (LIRA). Visit his blog xizuqsnook.blog.com for book reviews on children’s literature.