Tag Archives: aswang

The Next Big Thing


Thank you to Vickie Vertiz, Melissa Sipin-Gabon and Iris Law for tagging and inviting me to be a part of this blog project.  It’s awesome to hear what folks are up to.  Be sure to check out their blogs/websites for their responses!

What is the title of your book?

The Gossip Tree or The Aswang’s Particular Thirst.  I’ve been going back and forth…

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The aswang witch meets Imelda Marcos meets a young girl from Hayward, CA, and they talk (or refuse to talk) about beauty pageants, motherhood/daughterhood, haunted suburbia, familial violence, shoes, shape-shifting and celebrities over blueberry pancakes.

What genre does your book fall under?


Where did the idea come from for the book?

I started writing about the aswang witch back in 2005-2006.  I found it difficult to write poems from my personal “I” and the persona form helped a lot.  The aswang helped me access and confront my body in ways I previously couldn’t.  

My mother told me the story of the aswang witch when I was a child, and she’s haunted me since.  The aswang, who appears in many manifestations (weredog, vampira, ghoul, viscera-sucker), is best known for her appetite for human fetuses.  When I first started writing about the aswang, I was interested in this notion of shape-shifting that the aswang inhabits; everyone seems to have a different story about her.  During my research on the aswang, I came upon Carolyn Brewer’s book, Shamanism, Catholicism, and Gender Relations in the Philippines, 1521-1685, and  discovered that during Spanish colonialism in the Philippines, the Catholic Church dismantled many women community leaders (also known as babaylans), deeming them brujas, unfit to rule their villages.  I intuited this history as I wrote about the aswang prior to my research, but it was affirming to realize that my hunch was right.

What does it mean for a woman to exercise her power?  How does this power become terrifying?  When it confronts patriarchy?  What does it mean to both challenge and affirm patriarchy?

Imelda Marcos appears in the book as well, and I was interested in her monstrosity and her similarities to the aswang.  She shifts shape and personality depending on her audience.  She demands to be heard, despite what banal and ridiculous shit comes out of her mouth.  

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

About six years.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Imelda Marcos, the aswang, Nicki Minaj, Jack in the Box tacos, Hayward (the “Heart of the Bay”), Philippine history, babaylans, my mother, sister and cousins, mythology,the Book of Symbols, surrealism, Louise Bourgeois, Ana Mendieta, Cindy Sherman, Jennifer Tamayo, Barbara Jane Reyes, Sylvia Sukop…

Who will publish your book?

Dancing Girl Press published my chapbook Self Portrait as Rumor and Blood, which contains some of these poems.  I’m still submitting my full-length manuscript.

What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?

In his review of my chapbook and Jane Wong’s Dendrochronology, Henry Leung makes reference to Diane di Prima’s Loba.  I’d say Barbara Jane Reyes’ Diwata, Arlene Kim’s What have you done to our ears to make us hear echos?, Jennifer Tamyo’s Red Missed Aches Read Missed Aches Red Mistakes Read Mistakes, Kate Durbin’s The Ravenous Audience, and Kim Hyesoon’s All the Garbage in the World Unite!

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Oh, I have no idea.  Imelda Marcos would play herself.  Perhaps a collective of Pinay actors could play the aswang.  Maybe a puppet would do.  Oooh, like a lion-dragon size puppet for the aswang.  That would be incredible.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Poems are delicious, and you should eat them for a well-balanced diet.

Five writers I’m tagging:

Sylvia Sukop

Kamala Puligandla

Angel Garcia

Dan Lau

Mehnaz Sahibzada

& one more:

Marissa Tinloy-Eisengart

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Curious, If True

Just a quick update.  I’m heading to the University of Victoria in British Columbia for “Curious, If True: The Fantastic in Literature” Conference.  I’ll be on the “Family, Childbirth and Death” creative writing panel, presenting my poetry on the aswang and reading poems from the manuscript.  I’m excited.  This will be the first time sharing my work at a conference, and many of the other panels look fascinating.

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Cacti & Other Updates

Four brand-new cacti gracing my window sill

I think I’m settled in now.  I have about a gazillion books checked out from the UC Riverside Library; I made tatertot casserole and apple pie for new friends in my MFA program; I take the bus for free; new friends and I have a “table” at the local Pho place.  It feels good to be writing lots and lots.  Even though the lots and lots turn out to be mostly crap, it’s good practice, plus it’s fun.  And as it turns out, I’m challenged everyday by new friends, professors, the writers/poets I’ve been reading.  I’ve written my first fiction piece (ahh!), and I remembered how nice it is to have that beginner’s mindset.  There’s tons of risk involved, and you don’t know if it’s good or not but you just keep writing to see what happens.  I sometimes miss that in poetry.  Occasionally when I start a new poem, I have a lot of expectations of what should be on the page.   So, it’s refreshing to not have that in prose.

Okay, here are a list of work/poetry things I’ve been thinking about recently (I apologize — this might be more for me than for you, reader, though maybe you can answer some of my questions):

*ASWANG PROJECT.  Is it appropriate to workshop poems from a larger series of poems?  I understand that poems should stand alone, but must EVERY poem need to summarize or define what the aswang is or detail the world in which the poem is set?

*MANUSCRIPT?  I’ve just re-read Barbara Jane Reyes’s post on the “doneness” of poetry manuscripts on her blog here, which she wrote in response to a question I had.  I’ve sent out a manuscript to a dear Kundiman friend and am planning to send it out to others.  I had originally planned on writing an entire book on the aswang, but now I’m not so sure.  Maybe I’ve been sitting on these poems for too long?  Some of the poems I’ve lightly revised, but now I feel like they’re too dusty to even touch.  I’ve been writing a lot of non-aswang poems and wonder where these poems will go.  Lots of questions on this.

*THE BLOOD-JET.  I’ve put the radio show on hold, since I’m back in school, but I’ve now finally found some time to broadcast it.  I’m excited to talk to Aimee Suzara, writer and performer, about her new play, A History of the Body.  She’ll be on the show this Wednesday morning.  Check it out.  I’m still planning the Fall/Winter schedule, and it’ll be fun to get into the full swing of things again.

*BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS.  I’m taking a craft of fiction class, and I often feel like I know nothing, which is good because this means I need to read more.

Here’s my short list:

-THE ENGLISH PATIENT by Michael Ondaatje

-THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy


-INTERPRETER OF MALADIES by Jhumpa Lahiri (I’m re-reading this)

-Both books by Junot Diaz (re-reading)

-SAG HARBOR by Colson Whitehead (Thanks to Rio)


*AND, YAY.  I’ve just signed up for winter quarter classes, and wow, the time just zips by.  I realize how lucky I am to be writing full-time.  Most people don’t get to do this.  I hear it all the time — the two years in grad school go by quickly– and I want to take full advantage of it.

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Monster Mash

I’ve been inundated with books/stories/poems about witches, demons, imaginary beings lately.  Partake in my nerd-dom (where I’m the queen), and read this list:

Book of Imaginary Beings By Jorge Luis Borges

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Conde (a book I was supposed to read freshman year of college, but didn’t.  Actually, got away with this discussion comment: “Tituba becomes empowered in this book.  Look at the title. I, TITUBA.”

Vice by Ai (for persona poem studying)

Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson (for the long poem aspect.  and the mythic stuff.)

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I’ve been told to watch Elephant Man dir. by David Lynch as well.  Are there any other good or classic monster movies that I need to watch?

I’ve been writing myself to exhaustion lately.  I don’t know if what I’m writing is any good, or if it even ties in with what I’m trying to do.  But it shouldn’t be my business to judge yet, huh?  As I’ve been writing these aswang persona poems, I’ve been trying to control the language, as well as develop her voice.  The hard part comes when I find myself switching back and forth to the other personas that I’m working on. Focus.

Yesterday, I attended a great workshop at UCLA Writer’s Extension called “The Writer’s Banquet,” which was about using food in writing.  One of my favorite exercises was eating different flavored Jelly Bellys and writing automatically for five minutes about the memory that’s triggered from the flavor.  The majority of the fellows were present, and we were able to represent and cause a raucous in class.

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