Monday, December 11, 2023

Interview of Author Cecilia Brainard by Lennie Jean Panugaling


Interview of Cecilia Brainard by Lennie Jean Panugaling from Carcar City College

Language Research Subject “The Heart of Cecilia Manguerra’s Masterpieces”

Stories studied: A Very Short Story, Flying a Kite, My Mother Is Dying

Hello Lennie Jean,

Thank you for the interview. I recommend that you also do research about my work aside from the three short shorts. Recommended links:   (Check out interviews and sources) (On the side are “Cecilia Brainard Fiction” for more stories that you can read, including novel excerpts)  (The Cebuana in the World: Cecilia Manguerra Brainard Writing Out of Cebu. Watch documentary, and please “Like” on Youtube. Thank you.)

Interviewer: Yesterday, our panelists were excited to find out that you responded to me on Facebook, leaving them intrigued about the prevalence of heartbreak in your stories. As you navigate the creative process, what influences or thoughts guide you to infuse your narratives with poignant emotions? Are personal painful memories a significant source of inspiration for you?

Cecilia Brainard:  You have chosen three of my stories referred to as Fast Fiction or Short Shorts, meaning each story is under a thousand words long. Stories this short are written in a precise way, with each word having relevance in the story. In some ways, they are almost like poetry.

Why do my stories deal with poignant emotions? Are personal painful memories a significant source of inspiration for me?

 Two important elements of story telling are “character” and “conflict”. If you analyze good stories, you will find that there is a main character who has some kind of conflict or problem. The story revolves around how the character deals with the conflict. Stories will involve the emotions of the characters. There are other elements in storytelling like plot, dialogue, voice, and so on, but I’m focusing on these two elements in order to answer your question. If you write of a character who doesn’t have conflict, who is perfectly happy for instance, you will not have a story. A character without conflict or a problem will have no challenges; he/she will not be motivated to do anything; your written work will be static or will meander and boring.

            This is why when I work with my characters, when I am figuring out their stories, I have to find out what their conflicts/problems are. And I have to find out how my characters will respond to these conflicts (or stresses). The decisions they make in response to their conflicts constitute what we call plot. Their emotional reactions and changes are called character development (or character arc); and this is what makes the piece feel like a story.

            To answer your second question about whether personal painful memories are a significant source of inspiration for me: I don’t rely solely on my memories for inspiration, but draw from history, from folklore, from personal observation of the people I have come across. For instance, my first novel When the Rainbow Goddess is about World War Two in the Philippines. I used many stories I heard from my parents in this novel. I have many stories that have been inspired by my childhood in Cebu, and these stories integrate memories of the people I knew or had seen and my own personal life.

 Check out the documentary about me The Cebuana in the World: Cecilia Manguerra Brainard Writing Out of Cebu – see link above. The documentary will give you an idea of the various stories I tell and where they come from.

  Interviewer:  What inspires you to write these stories? Is it based on your experience or purely based on imagination and observation?

   Cecilia Brainard: The documentary The Cebuana in the World will have a better idea of where the inspiration comes from my stories. Inspiration can come from anywhere really. I may see a person or animal that interests me; or I may witness something happening that will intrigue me; or I may read something in the newspaper that catches my attention; or a memory may surface in my mind. But regardless of where the inspiration came from, I still have to use my imagination to create characters, to be able to see the scenes or where their stories are happening. At the same time, I have to apply what I know about story telling. I have to make sure the characters are well-fleshed out and believable. I have to render scenes that are visual so my readers can “see” what is going on in their heads.  I have to make sure the dialogue is good, that the lines move the story forward, that the lines reveal the character of who is saying them. So yes, I use my imagination and draw from my observations and from what I have read or now. I work to make my stories visual, credible, entertaining, and also educational I apply many factors into telling my stories.

Interviewer:  How do you approach character development to ensure that readers empathize with the emotional journeys of your protagonists in their moments of heartbreak?

  Cecilia BrainardWhat is important is to create characters that are believable, that seem real, or fleshed out. There is a lot of energy that goes into fleshing out a character. Fictional characters are not just good or bad, but they should be like us, both good and bad. When the characters feel like real people, the readers can identify with them and should be able to empathize with the characters’ journey. Characters have to change in stories. The character in the beginning will be different from the character in the end. This character change or development has to be believable. To simplify, you can have a sweet and nice character in the beginning of your story, who because of what happens in the story becomes vengeful (or vice-versa). But the transformation has to be credible.

Interviewer: In 'A Very Short Story,' why does the narrative seem to dangle in suspense? Is there a specific reason why the wife only left in muted sorrow and anger? If you were in the position of the wife in the story, would you react similarly? What message do you intend to convey to your audience?

Cecilia Brainard: First of all, it is not the wife who is left in muted sorrow and anger but the main character, the “you” in the story, the man.  Beyond the mention of the man lying to the wife, she is not part of this tightly constructed story.  This short fiction is all about the man who has lost his sense of decency and knows only how to sneak around and lie to people. He lies to his wife, to the people in his office, even to himself, just for self-gratification.  The story is a rebuke of the double-standard of morality prevalent in the Philippines. Philippine society has long tolerated men having girlfriends or queridas. Philippine society (the office people, the man at the Hilton, even the wife) sort of plays along with the man’s lies; and meantime, the lying, the sneaking around chips away at the man’s soul so he is left in “muted sorrow and anger.”

Interviewer:  What is the secret behind your success as a writer? What advice do you have for individuals aspiring to write stories as well?

Cecilia Brainard: It is actually very difficult to be a writer. It takes a lot of energy, or bullheadedness to believe in oneself, one’s stories, to persist in writing, in rewriting and rewriting the stories until they are just right, in submitting stories for submission, in persisting despite rejections. I am not sure what secret there is to be successful except for being bullheaded and not give up. You have to learn all you can about writing; and this learning doesn’t stop. You have to believe in yourself, but at the same time you have to be humble to listen to critiquing in order to fix your work; you have to draw quite a lot of courage to do all these. But what I find, not just with myself but with other writers, is that the writing will choose the writers. I don’t know if this makes sense but some stories, or some characters will haunt the writer and demand to be written. The writer is almost like a conduit. There are writers who will spend many years writing about something they want to give form to so badly.

My advice to aspiring writers is to read, read, and read. Read good literature, then read the kind of work that you would like to produce. If you want to be a poet, read good poems; if you want to be a novelist, read fine novels.  At some point, you will need creative writing classes or workshops.

My other advice is to keep a daily journal; this will serve as writing exercises. Here are some related blog posts. 

Thanks again and good luck to you and your classmates:

Tags: Cebuano writers, Cebuano literture, Cebuano books, Cebu writers, Cebu books 

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