Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Interview of Cecilia Manguerra Brainard by Samantha Parker #DLSU #Philippines

When I have the time I do my best to help students and teachers. Recently some senior high school students from De La Salle University Integrated School interviewed me for a research project.  

Today I'm sharing the interview by Samantha Servino Parker, whose adviser is Mr. Engelbert C. Talunton.

The photo shows l-r: Samantha Parker, Leila Magtules, and Jihan Ferrer

 ~ Cecilia Brainard


-          I will be writing a novel on Autism Spectrum Disorder and I would like to request for your honest answers to all questions. 

I. Basic Information
1.      Novelist’s Experience

Cecilia Manguerra Brainard is the author of 10 books, editor of 4 books, co-edited 6 books, collaborated on one novel.

1.1.  How long have you been writing novels?

cb: My first novel (Song of Yvonne) was published in 1991; this was published by Dutton/Penguin in 1993 as When the Rainbow Goddess Wept. My first collection of short stories (Woman with Horns and Other Stories) was published in 1987 by New Day Publishers.

a.       How many have you written in that time?

cb: I’ve written three novels: When the Rainbow Goddess Wept; Magdalena; and The Newspaper Widow.

1.2.  What style or type of novel do you specialize in?

cb: I write literary novels, meaning they are character-driven stories.

II. Novel Writing

1.      Preparation for writing a novel

1.1.  Do you do research before writing your novels?

cb: First of all, the focus of my novels and short stories are on character and character development. Since many of them are set during important Philippine historic times, I do research.

a.       What do you research on?

cb: Mainly, I make sure the history part in my stories is sound. I also make sure the setting is correct. For my third novel, The Newspaper Widow, which is set in Ubec, Philippines in 1909, I researched such matters as the lighting in the street, building architecture, mode of transportation.  I discovered that there was a train system in Cebu during that time. (Note: my mythical Ubec is a place that’s a lot like Cebu, but it’s not exactly Cebu.)

b.      What research should I have? 

cb: I think your focus should be on your main character. You need to find out his/her motivation, what makes him/her tick. You need to find his/her story.  What is his/her character arc?  And along the way, you will need to understand autism and how this affects or means to your character.

1.2.  How do you outline your ideas?

cb: Fiction is organic to me. I cannot really outline it. I may have a plan, but that can easily change. I generally follow character and character development in fiction writing.

a.       How do you create a solid plot from this outline?

cb: See above. When my draft is complete, I will edit and shape my work, so the beginning, high point, and conclusion are in there.

b.      How do you create subplots? 

cb: Subplots in my work are generally connected to the development of characters other than the main ones. I generally do not deliberately “create subplots” but these stem from how the story is flowing.

2.    Writing a novel
1.1.  What is the general writing process like for you?

cb: Writing is in many ways magical to me. A character, a memory, an incident will intrique me and I will start playing with this. I will ask questions to myself, try to understand what makes me interested in this. I will start giving it form.

a.       Do you have bursts of motivation? 

cb: Sure, I’ll have bursts of creative energy but generally and especially for novel-writing, I have to plod along even when there is no “burst of motivation.”  I take master novel classes so I have a deadline and am “forced” to write.

b.      Do you usually stray far from the outline that you’ve made? 

cb: All the time. Any kind of outline is constantly changing.

1.2.  How do you create your characters?

1.  What is the person’s full name, age, date and place of birth?
2.  What was the person’s family life like? What were parents and siblings like?
Environment?  Schooling?
3.  How tall is this person? How heavy? Color of hair, eyes? Anything unique about
his/her looks?
4.  Whom/what does the person love? Hate?
5.  What gives this person the greatest joy?
6. What is the happiest moment of the person? Saddest? Most embarrassing?
7.  What does the person want to accomplish in life? (long term as well as short term
8.  What is the immediate tangible thing that the person wants?
9.  What is the person’s obsession?
10.  What is his/her recurring dream?
11.  What is his/her recurring memory?
12.  What is the person’s favorite pastime?
13.  What does the person do for a living? How does he/she feel about the job?
14.  Any personality quirks?

cb: Inhabit the world of your characters. “Crawl into your characters’ minds.” as said by my teacher, Leonardo Vercovicci. Become the character, inhabit their minds so I can see, smell, feel, think, imagine, as they do.
a.       How do you make your characters seem real?
b.      How capture the essence of your characters?
c.       How do you remember to keep your characters consistent whilst writing?

1.3.  How do you complete your novels?


Don’t say the woman is beautiful, show me her hair, her eyes, her teeth, the curve of her ankle perhaps, whatever it is that makes her beautiful. Use words to create these images. Write in a sensual way, that is to let your readers see, hear, feel, smell
Instead of saying there were bright flowers near the house, how about saying, an ancient bougainvillea vine dripping with carmine-colored flowers stood by the side of the house.

cb: Explosion and Drawing as Writing exercises. ‘Explode’ your writing, expand it some more.  "She went up to his flat." You could rewrite this to give more details, making your work "explode."  For instance: "She went up his modern flat."  And making it explode some more: "She slowly went up to his modern flat at 8 in the morning."  And so on. You can get bits of text and make it grow. Draw to imagine the setting better.  So in essence, you write a draft, and then you can pull out "thin" sections of the draft and expand it with more detail, more fleshing-out.

cb: Write diaries to practice writing, it teaches flow. Write about anything. Journal writing can reflect the world around us.

a.       How do you ensure a smooth flow of ideas when writing?

cb: Generally, the drafts are not really “smooth flow of ideas.” They’re very messy, and it’s the editing that smoothens the work out.

b.      How do you avoid making the novel seem draggy?

cb: There’s a reason when a work drags. It could be uninspired. It could be technically flawed. If my work drags, I have to figure out what the problem is and try and solve it.

c.       How do you avoid ‘writer’s block’? 

cb: I have now learned tricks to avoid writer’s block. The key here is to realize that creativity is flowing from the right side of the brain, while the critical/logical thinking is from the left side of the brain.  Writer’s block is when the left brain is overactive. One trick is to “not think” too hard because this interferes with creativity. Avoid being critical of one’s work. Allow yourself to “flow” when you are working on the draft.

III. Time
1.      How long does it usually take for you to complete your novels?

cb: It's important to professionals to have deadlines. Inspiration can only do so much; it can come, it can go.


cb: It is difficult to say how long it takes for me to write a book, because each book has its own demands. The novels are difficult and unpredictable.  My third novel took perhaps five years from when I committed to writing it to completion.

1.1.How long do you feel a novice writer would take to complete a full length novel?
1.2.What is the minimum amount of time that you recommend a writer should have when writing a novel?
-          Is there any additional advice or information that you would like to give to me or feel is necessary for me to know as a novice writer?

cb: Read a lot. Read the kind of work that you would like to produce. If you want to be a mystery writer, read the best mystery books there are.

Learn the fundamentals of writing before writing so you know how to create good dialogue and understand what plot, or voice, of point of view are all about.

Don’t give up, even if there are obstacles. Believe in your work and in yourself.

-          Thank you very much!

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