The rise of the Filipino romance in English | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022


THE NEXT seismic shift in the story of the Filipino romance in English happened in 2008, when Mina Esguerra began writing her own stories after being inspired by the Summit books.

“I thought that I wanted to experience a local author and a Filipino character the same way I experienced a foreign author,” she remembers.

In 2009, Summit published Esguerra’s “My Imaginary Ex.”

Since then, Esguerra has led the charge for the romance in English, publishing her books across different platforms and in different countries, championing the e-book as well as providing print copies to those who wanted them.

Aside from the mere act of producing books, Esguerra became the exponential multiplier factor when she started teaching others how to write romance.

“So few of us were writing contemporary romances at the time that when one of us decides not to do it, we didn’t have a new book to read that year,” she recalls.

Daring women

In between projects, Esguerra decided to share one of her book outlines and dispensed advice to like-minded writers.

“Let’s do this: Let’s create a group,” she remembers. “Let’s communicate online, try to meet monthly, talk about progress and check where we are in six months.”

That group—identified as the #romanceclass—collected 100 members on its Facebook group. Sixteen novels would come out from that initial class.

Since then, Esguerra has mentored literally hundreds of aspiring romance novelists and has even gone on to teach classes in other genres. The romance class alone has 50 or more participants at any given time.

Agay Llanera is a very good example of those women daring to write the romance in English.

“I wrote in English because I started reading in English,” she says. “I wanted to write YA [Young Adult] but I grew to love writing romances.”

Chrissie Peria, a 36-year-old mother of a 3-year-old, was the first one in that group to self-publish.

Jay E. Tria, a relative newbie to the group as she only joined #romanceclass six months ago, already has two self-published romances, including “Songs of Our Breakup.”

Challenges of writing

Tria points out one of the challenges of writing the romance in English: “There’s a debate in my head whether I should put Tagalog words in there because in reality no one speaks in complete English, but in the end, that sounded like it would just be a translation of a normal Filipino conversation, so I chose English because it flowed more naturally for me.”

Llanera admits there’s “a bit of a loss in translation because the nuances in Filipino don’t translate well in English,” pointing out the occasional incongruity of tricycle and jeepney drivers speaking in straight English.

Esguerra herself believes this isn’t a problem at all: “When it sounds good, it doesn’t sound inauthentic when people are talking in English with young people growing up exposed to the Internet. It’s entirely natural to hear people talk entirely in English.” Llanera adds: “I don’t think it’s limiting, I think it’s a chance to be more aware of being read by other nationalities.”

According to Esguerra, the current challenge to the romance in English is something else: “The difficulty is still with sex, with how to describe sexual situations, how to frame a scene where people have to react to sexual situations in a certain way. When written with Filipino characters, these books have certain stereotypes that don’t apply to foreign characters.”

Not unique

It should be noted that this is not a unique problem. Romances in Filipino never depict their characters in sexual situations, leading to a chaste fairy-tale orientation.

Esguerra knows what she speaks of, as she’s written several books with sexual situations, but only features Filipino characters.

Peria is the only other author who has a sex scene in her book (“The Kitchen When It Sizzles”) and uses her real name on the cover. Several others features sex scenes but do so under a pseudonym.

“There was a long discussion about whether I should use a pseudonym or my real name, but in the end, after talking to my friends, they said, you’re a grown-up, you have a child, you’re married, it’s all right for you to write these things. In the end, I liked how it turned out and it’s good enough for me to put my name on it.”

Peria admits that if she weren’t married, she probably wouldn’t have gone ahead with it. Esguerra says that more sex in romance novels would be more reflective of reality.

To be concluded

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