Myth and Imagination: Author Interview with Eliza Victoria

Myth and Imagination: Author Interview with Eliza Victoria

In honor of Women's History Month, we are featuring articles from some of our amazing women authors. This week we interview Eliza Victoria, author of the upcoming books Wounded Little Gods (May 2022) After Lambana (June 2022).

Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind the magical world you created in After Lambana?

The magical world of After Lambana is wholly invented and not drawn from any specific Filipino narrative, but in creating it I’ve drawn from several inspirations: the stories about the Sirena that I heard growing up, the Prohibition Era, folk healers that prescribe solutions to otherworldly ailments, and the social and political problems of the Philippines.

Could you talk about the connection between your works and the places where they are set?

I always set my stories in the Philippines or people them with Filipino characters. I’m not sure if this always comes through, but the beauty of the graphic novel is [that] we can represent places without having the visual representation go through the tedium of description. Thanks to Mervin’s amazing talent, you can certainly feel the texture of the Manila we know blended with the dreamlike quality of the Manila we invented.

Did the Covid-19 pandemic change how you conceptualize the “spontaneous” diseases in After Lambana?

We didn’t change anything in the story in this re-issue, but it is slightly depressing to see that the problems that affect the characters of After Lambana – greed, corruption, the poor state of our healthcare system – continue to affect the country. Bear in mind that this was first published in 2016, which means I wrote the story years before that. And yet the same problems plague us.

For your graphic novel, what is your relationship with the illustrator like? What’s your favorite part of this kind of collaboration, and what does that process look like?

I am a big fan of Mervin ever since reading Tabi Po, which mixes Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere with the aswang of Filipino lore. We primarily spoke through emails and chat as we both had day jobs and were too busy to meet in person regularly. I pitched my story first through chat to see if he’d like to work with me, and after he said yes I sent through my full script right away. My script, as Mervin liked to describe it, was written like a film script and was extremely detailed: camera angles, panel numbers, the works. But I have indicated to Mervin that he was free to change any detail. My favorite part was getting the illustrated pages back and slowly seeing my words come to life! It’s an exceptional thrill for a writer who only ever had words to work with.

You have experience with both short stories and traditional novels. How was working on a graphic novel different?

When I was writing the comic book script I had to keep reminding myself that there were parts in this script that readers would never see, like the stage directions in the script of a play. So my instructions to Mervin could actually be short and direct and not be too, for lack of a better word, literary! In the short story or traditional novel, you only have words to paint a scene.

With the graphic novel, you can hide things in the background – Mervin has put quite a lot of Easter eggs here that refer to things that are meaningful to him – whereas in the short story or traditional novel to describe whatever is hiding in the shadows is to actually put it in the spotlight.

What do you hope that readers take away from After Lambana?

Ultimately it is a story of redemption, so I hope they can join the characters in their sadness and in their joy.

Wounded Little Gods blends mythology with a sci-fi thriller plot. What draws you to these genres?

I love blending genres and challenging myself to come up with stories I haven’t seen in our local literature. I love mystery in any genre – there’s a question in the beginning that will be answered in the end, and if the story is written well, you are a collaborator taken along for a fun ride.

Tell us about your decision to create Regina, a strong female protagonist, to lead Wounded Little Gods. What is your favorite aspect of her character? What can women reading this story learn from her?

I like that she is practical, no-nonsense, and thinks ten steps ahead so she can find her way out of sticky predicaments. But she is also compassionate and doesn’t waver in her values. I absolutely love stories featuring complex women – women who fail, women who break down, but women who keep going. I’m not sure what women can learn from her that they don’t already know from their real life: that one can be soft and hard at the same time.

After Lambana and Wounded Little Gods were originally published in the Philippines in 2016. What is it like to be releasing these for a second time, to an even broader audience? Do you think readers’ takeaways will be different in light of the past two years?

In 2020, the original publisher of these titles closed their doors and I thought then that that was the end of my life as a writer. That sounds overly dramatic but it was also the year the pandemic started, so it felt like the beginning of the end of so many things. This re-release feels like a new beginning to me, and I’m excited to have these books be discovered by new readers.

In the spirit of Women’s History Month, what work by female graphic novelists can you recommend?

Filipino titles can be hard to access, but I highly recommend Dead Balagtas Tomo 1: Sayaw ng mga Dagat at Lupa by Emilian Kampilan. I also enjoy the dry humor and jadedness of UGH by Hulyen. Tepai Pascual ran Duty Ka Ba? online to deal with the pandemic; this comic series revolves around the lives (and love lives) of doctors, nurses, and patients.

I have recently read Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke which I also highly recommend. 

Eliza Victoria is the author of several books including the Philippine National Book Award-winning Dwellers. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in several online and print publications including LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, The Dark Magazine, and The Apex Book of World SF, among others. Her work has received top Philippine literary awards, including the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature.

After Lambana and Wounded Little Gods are available for pre-order now, as well as the upcoming Tuttle release of Dwellers, coming August 2022.