How YA romance series ‘Flicker’ champions Filipino writers and readers alike

How YA romance series ‘Flicker’ champions Filipino writers and readers alike

“We’d like to offer Filipino readers a chance to see their own city, situation, friendships, interests reflected in YA too.”

Serial romances were a big part of my childhood. My aunts had Wildfire in the ‘80s and my older cousins had Love Stories in the ‘90s, but as a pre-teen in the 2000s, I had Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies.

With chic illustrated covers and tongue-in-cheek titles, they had a certain edge and attitude that their frilly, saccharine older sisters never had, the Sassy to their Seventeen. My favorite was A Novel Idea, about a “Brooklyn hipster” (the back cover actually said that) who starts a book club and develops a crush on one of the members.

These days, romance anthology series for teens are all but extinct, so imagine my delight when I heard about Flicker, a series of Filipino standalone novels released under the same branding. They have cover models and colorful, consistent design — a nostalgic package reminiscent of classic serials. It’s an offshoot of #romanceclass, a local online community of romance readers and writers who mostly self-publish.

“Periodically I organize classes on writing contemporary romance, and if a participating author manages to finish a book during that class, great!” says founder Mina V. Esguerra. #romanceclass writers typically have to source their own editors and designers, but Mina and romance advocate Kat Mayo came up with a project that would give them access to a single editorial and design team: an adult contemporary romance series called Flair, which Mina describes as “like a publisher’s imprint but not.” Flicker became its younger counterpart, with writers Ines Bautista-Yao and Agay Llanera taking charge of editorial matters.

The first batch of Flicker books was the result of a three-month online class: lessons from Ines and Agay were sent via email, and participants submitted assignments and a completed first draft of a novella by the end of class. Now, writers who dream of authoring a Flicker book of their own may not need to join a class — they’re considering accepting submissions, with guidelines.

“I had a lot of fun participating in [the class], especially since my classmates and the rest of the community had been so supportive throughout the whole writing process,” says Angeli E. Dumatol, whose Heartstruck became Flicker’s launch title. In her book, a young woman rediscovers her love of arnis when she crosses paths with her old arnis buddy and first love. The next two books, meanwhile, explore showbiz rivalries and filmmaking as well as comic books and fandom.

Through Flicker, Mina explains, “We’d like to offer [Filipino readers] a chance to see their own city, situation, friendships, interests reflected in YA too. Even just characters with familiar nicknames and last names.”

In this interview, Mina and Angeli discuss what it means to create authentic Filipino YA, the secret to a well-written romance, and the importance of options and diversity for readers.

 

Young STAR: What kinds of stories are you hoping to tell through it, and which aspects of the lives of Filipino teens do you aim to highlight?

Mina Esguerra: The class that launched Flicker asked for a “Filipino thing you haven’t seen in YA before, or don’t see enough of.” And it was awesome to see the stories getting pitched. Arnis, science, performing, identity, stories set in specific towns and cities — over 20 manuscripts that are in some stage of rewriting and revision right now. I think authors came in writing the book they wish they had as a teen, and that’s what the books will be about, ultimately.

Angeli Dumatol: I think Flicker aims to highlight the unique experiences of Filipino teens when it comes to family, friendship, and self-growth and discovery. I certainly did my best to include all these aspects in weaving [Heartstruck]. You’ll see the close family dynamics between Alexa and the uncle and aunt she’s learned to think of as parents. You’ll see the ups and downs Alexa encounters about barkada life. You’ll see how Alexa attempts to balance the things she learns about herself with the relationships she builds amongst her family and peers.

Angeli, how did you go about conceptualizing Heartstruck?

Angeli: I’m a sucker for stories about childhood friends, so it was a no-brainer that I wanted my main characters to have that kind of relationship, blooming into something more as the story progressed. I was inspired to write a story about Filipino martial arts after taking arnis for P.E. back in college. I took the class just to fill up my free time slot and to stick with my block mates, but I ended up really appreciating the sport despite clearly not having much talent for it. [laughs] I did a lot of research through online resources as well as interviews with arnisadors.

 

Growing up, when I tried to write original stories, they still had a kind of Western voice to them because I was used to reading American young adult novels. For you, how do we write authentic Filipino YA that we can really claim as ours?

Mina: I don’t know if we have this figured out yet. What we’ve done is take a form that we recognize as Western and made very specific alterations to it, so it feels more comfortable. This isn’t just a Flicker thing, but I’ve seen reactions to #romanceclass books, and sometimes an author can get an experience from a Pinoy high school, or community, or family so exactly right that the reader’s own experience feels like, “Yes, that happens to other people too.” Maybe we start with that.

Angeli: This is a difficult question to answer primarily because there is currently a gap for YA existing in Philippine literature, a gap we’re trying very hard to fill. With so little references, how then can we establish what Filipino YA is, let alone what is authentic and what is not? Personally, I’ve always found the young adult genre to be so dynamic and exciting. It’s so full of potential in that a writer can explore so many aspects in the life of a teenager — the volatile emotions, the first-time experiences, the validity and truth behind the journey of growing up and finding one’s identity. I’ve always wondered how these aspects can be depicted using the Filipino culture, so I took on the challenge of writing a YA novel that featured such. It took a lot of research, but I found my best resources in the very people I’m writing for: the Filipino youth.

 

Ultimately, what do you hope to accomplish through the series?

Mina: Options for everyone. Options for readers, options for authors, and opportunities for the editors, artists, printers, photographers, cover models, stylists, makeup artists who become part of the process.

Angeli: The work #romanceclass does in championing diversity and variety in [Filipino literature] is truly astounding, and I consider myself very lucky to have found the community and joined it when I did. The books explore a whole spectrum of themes and characters, and this wide range is important because of representation. It means so much to a reader to be able to see a reflection of themselves in stories. It makes them realize that they are not alone in their struggle. That there is someone out there who understands. That, in spite of whatever problems they’re currently facing, they too can find their “happily ever after” in the end.

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