We have been doing a series of throwback posts of our conversations with storytellers, artists, poets, academics. These posts are found in our Behind the Books website and are being shared here now in our new home. This interview with Cyan Abad-Jugo was posted back in September 2012.
I could not help but sing a few familiar songs as I was reading Salingkit. Do share with our readers the music that inspired the making of your YA novel.
It all has to do with the passions and interests one develops while young and impressionable. When I was around twelve or thirteen, I became very shy and tongue-tied, and the best outlet I had was to listen to the songs on the radio. A lot of the songs played then were what my best friend called New Wave. I simply listened to what she listened to, and watched the music videos she watched, and pretty soon, the music was my one abiding interest. I fell in love with Depeche Mode. A lot of my time was spent writing down the lyrics of my favorite songs. My two best friends (a Duran Duran fan and a Tears For Fears fan) and I had the habit of writing “novels” about ourselves in the future, making use of the song titles and trying to make plots out of the songs.
In your Author’s Note, you mentioned that you were 14 years old when the People Power Revolution, which ousted former President Ferdinand Marcos, occurred in the Philippines. Do share with our readers some of the parallels between Kitty/Goro’s experiences and yours during that turbulent period in history.
I actually had no clue what was really going on. It just so happened I was left behind by my parents (there was a glitch somewhere about who should pick me up), and I had to spend the night at my cousins’ in UP Village. In the middle of the night my uncle shook us all awake because we were in the middle of a revolution. Everyone gathered around the radio. Like Kitty, I danced with a cousin when the announcer said Marcos had left the country (this was a false alarm). Like Kitty, I was only angry with Marcos because he took Voltes V away. Like Kitty, I went with a cousin to EDSA the next day. Like Kitty, I saw a tank with Fidel Ramos standing on top of it, surrounded by soldiers with flowers. Like Kitty, I felt that it was somehow one big celebration, rather than a revolution. We kept milling around eating sandwiches.
Is there any special reason why you chose to adopt a diary-format in your latest novel?
The novel began as a project in a Creative Writing class taught by Prof Heidi Abad in UP. I opted to write something about the eighties because I thought my own diaries would help me there. When I did refer to them, they were useless! They were just filled with weird declarations of love for Depeche Mode and whole pages of the word Shit (we were not allowed to curse out loud). I thought my project would have to be to write a more coherent diary, and so I submitted my drafts to be workshopped by month. By February, my professor said I could end the story with the EDSA Revolution. By April, my classmates were begging me to please stop it already; they could not bear more of my whiny protagonist.
So I knew I had to change the format, if I wanted to write about Kitty’s whole year. I knew I needed to write about the whole year because after EDSA 1, we didn’t live happily ever after, and I wanted to show that. But I also had to retain some pages of Kitty’s diary, otherwise it would make no sense why the novel had January to December as its chapter headings.
While Salingkit does not provide definitive closures in the end (particularly with Kit’s father remaining a desaparacido, or among the disappeared) – it has a hopeful, optimistic note about it. If Kitty/Goro were to educate the youth of today about the importance of the year 1986 in our country’s history, how would Kitty say it, or perhaps sing it?
Kitty was lucky to grow up with a cousin like Kuya Alan, who cared for his country. She was also surrounded by role models, teachers, other friends who were affected by the times. Even her most hated classmate was rather smart about keeping vigilant during the 1986 Snap Elections. I think that perhaps Kitty would just say: Look around you. Begin with the friends and the people around you, with your communities. You can help out and make a difference to others, no matter how small you are. The song would be a little bit more harsh: “I don’t care if you’re going nowhere, just take good care of the world!” That’s from Depeche Mode’s “The Landscape Is Changing.” If you look up the rest of the lyrics, it’s all about our deteriorating environment. I think the revolution for a better world has not yet ended. Kitty would tell the youth of today to join it.
Tell us about your creative process and how it differs when you are writing poetry, as opposed to a short story, and a full length YA novel.
I’m afraid I have stopped writing poetry. I can’t seem to put a whole poem together anymore. I think that perhaps I never really knew how. I just kind of put related lines together and see what happened. That’s about the same kind of thing I do when writing a story. I’d have a few ideas here and there, or a scene, or an image, and then I go from there. I think I tried to explain it in my dissertation as something like my first pet dog, who kept chasing her tail:She never got to know her tail as part of her; should she succeed in biting it and hurting herself, she would still go awhirl for it again tomorrow. As far as Popo was concerned, each time she saw her tail was a new moment of meeting some new creature. […] It is, I believe, all I really do when I attempt to write a short story. I chase my tale.First, I glimpse an idea. Then I must run after it, with it, see where it leads, follow it through the tangled woods. Sometimes the chase is successful, and after some struggle and some pain, I have something newly shampooed, rich, and furry, and new. Other times all I get is a damp, sorry-looking, over-poked rag, and we know where rags belong.In Salingkit, I knew that Arcadia’s song “Election Day” had to go in February, because I did have to follow the events of our history. I also had to do a lot of research, and thankfully the Mr and Ms magazines in the Filipiniana Section of our library gave a week by week account of 1986. This helped me with structuring the story a little more—what bits of news might have been heard by Kitty at any given month? What month might she have witnessed a coup? The other songs fell into place a little at a time and helped me figure out more of Kitty’s own personal history. I don’t think it’s a real full-length novel yet, more like a novella, because some friends have told me they read it in just one sitting (which is Poe’s definition of a short story).
You mentioned in one of our email correspondences that getting your Masters’ degree in Children’s Literature in Simmons College was one of the highest points in your life. What are some of the most significant learning experiences you’ve had during your stay in Boston? Any profound insights gained while doing graduate school in a foreign country?
I still consider studying in Boston as “The Golden Age” of my life. Most of my teachers encouraged discussion, and respected different points of view. And it helped that a lot of my classmates and dorm mates were also not from Boston—they came from as far away as California and Texas, Alaska and New Orleans, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, and Northern Ireland.
One of the most exciting courses for me was the Creative Writing course taught by the writer Nancy Bond. There we could listen to each other’s way of looking at things and describing things, our language registers were different, our life experiences were different, but also somehow, we could relate to each other’s concerns. We all had a sense that no matter how different our stories of growing up were, we all still shared some of the same dreams and ideals, the same sadness over loss or death, the same joy over friendship or family.
Who are some of your greatest influences in children’s lit and YA fiction? What made you fall in love with this genre?
My parents made sure I had some shelves of my own in the library of our first home in UP Village. They stocked it with Dr Seuss and Fairy Tales, and later on my dad bought me paperbacks—children’s novels written by Enid Blyton, Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, CS Lewis, Roald Dahl, and Madeline L’Engle. My mother enrolled me in a book club where I got my hands on Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew. They also gave me Gilda Cordero Fernando’s Horgle and the King’s Soup and Nick Joaquin’s series, Pop Stories For Groovy Kids. I remember reading all of them and clamoring for more. In college I fell in love with Ray Bradbury, Ursula Le Guin, and JRR Tolkien. I am sorry to say I finished reading The Lord of The Rings Trilogy during the December coup in 1989. While everyone else involved themselves with the news and while helicopters flew overhead, I kept my nose in the books and only surfaced for lunch and dinner. When I tried my own hand at writing, I wanted language like Ray Bradbury, I wanted depth like Ursula Le Guin, I wanted to build a world like Tolkien’s.
Our current bimonthly theme also gives much-deserved love and recognition to libraries. Tell us about the best library you have had the pleasure to visit. What are some of the things you look for in a library? Do you have any favorite libraries in the Philippines that you visit often?
The Boston Public Library was rather awesome, though I don’t think I ever went past the Children’s and YA Rooms. I also rather loved the Children’s Room of the West Orange County Library in New Jersey, where I was a summer volunteer. I got to visit the North York Library in Ontario, Canada, because one of my Simmons classmates worked there. I remember wanting to steal their poster of Sting holding a book, encouraging the youth to READ. I don’t really go to libraries outside of the Rizal Library in Ateneo, where I work, and where I try to get my hands on the books that interest me: their collections of stories and creative writing exercises, and some of the more critical readings for the classes I have to teach, like the Nineteenth Century British Novel. The best library, of course, is the library I grew up in—my dad’s. I just remember sprawling on the floor with all his books around me, struggling with my own words on a battered notebook, or poring over the books my dad had bought me, and enjoying the silence and solitude of this otherworld.