THE ROMANCES in English bear other differences from their Filipino brethren. In a sense, the books are more upscale, with the novels featuring very modern career women here and abroad.
Esguerra says that “romances in English and Filipino start off in the same place, which is wish fulfillment. There are specific wishes that the writers of Filipino romances are fulfilling and those inform the love interests and the characters. We work the same way but there are some things that are given with the titles that are out now. We can say most of the characters have a college-level education. They live in the city or as transplants from the province living in the city. If you read them all, you will see a pattern and that’s because of our background.”
Tria says “they’re about career women and a lot of them are working on their careers and their lives. The middle-class characters reflect how we know our own lives. We could be reading about someone who is in the cubicle next to ours.” This explains why the romances hew closer to a workaday rhythm and realistic meet-cutes.
Based on what she knows, Sering speculates that “most of the stories feel a bit telenovela-esque, with complicated plot twists and wild premises. So I suppose there’s a stronger element of fantasy and aspiration.”
Esguerra helped spur the continued progression when she helped start Spark Books, Anvil Publishing’s romance imprint. Anvil had wanted to work with Esguerra and her group and the result is a new line of books that includes Llanera’s volleyball-themed “Once Upon a Player” and Peria’s “The Kitchen When It Sizzles.” Other publishers such as Visprint, Inc., are also publishing romances in English such as Llanera’s “Vintage Love.”
While it is true that there are more romances in English available to the Filipino now than ever before, the romances in English remain dwarfed by their Filipino counterparts on the shelves. While Esguerra and company hope to have 30 new books out this year, Precious Pages Corporation, the largest and most successful of the Filipino romance publishers, releases over 50 titles in a month.
Sales are important, but that’s not why the #romanceclass people are doing what they’re doing. There is a subversive quality to what they’re doing, as they are teaching the Filipino reader that “romance” doesn’t automatically refer to the romances in Filipino. For example, they’re fighting for their books to be shelved alongside the other foreign romance books instead of the “Philippine Publications” aisle.
In the future, Llanera wants more experimentation, with books veering away from younger characters to depict protagonists in their thirties and forties. “I think it’s time to shatter the idea that romance is only for the young, especially here in the Philippines.” Peria simply wants more shelf space for their books. “Many of our readers are looking for print books and we can’t really reach all of them in the farflung areas unless they order directly from us.” Tria says “we can’t help but be informed by the movies we watch and the books we read. When we grow tired of those themes, we’ll go out of the box and explore more.” Esguerra would like to see books about “people recovering from separation, second chance romances, LGBT and more historical time periods.”
Writing in English has allowed more Filipino romance writers to find new readers outside the country especially through the e-book. Esguerra remains bullish about this and constantly encourages her wards to self-publish as well as go online. There’s easily a chance that these writers might conquer the world before they conquer the Philippines.
Looking at the publishing scene now, Sering can’t help but be wowed. “The landscape has changed so much and at such a remarkable pace,” she says. For one thing, technology and social media have been added to the mix, and now you have stories generated online, some great and some not so great, which then get published in hard copy. Kind of like the reverse process. Modes of production aside, I hope to see more books with more memorable characters.”
For Esguerra and the #romanceclass, the Filipino romance in English has proven to be a viable literary form ready to go beyond any limitation placed on it. “What we want is to be considered ‘romance,’ the way we read romances by American, British and Australian authors,” Esguerra states. “If you read their books, you can read ours. It’s starting to happen. I want us to be considered romance writers without an asterisk.”