Yvette Tan's first horror short story anthology Waking the Dead and other stories
Yvette loves monsters as every dyed-in-the-wool, horror writer. She has been quoted saying that if she likes you, she turns you into a monster story. She admitted having a big crush on Ian Veneracion on TV as a teenager so now, he is her choice to portray the hero role in the Pinoy indie horror film, Ilawod. Ilawod means "downstream" in archaic Tagalog, a coined nombre for the female-form, water elemental which stalks and possesses people in the movie.
Like the Eastern European undine, an elemental that prowls marshes, lakes and the sea for men to feed on, or desolate women to exchange bodies with, the Pinoy version of the water elemental has been a known supernatural folkloric entity in local waterways where drownings are a regular occurrence.
Yvette adapted the lore along with other Pinoy supernatural myths--don't disturb the dwelling of an engkanto or it will curse you--and wove it into a possession story for the screenplay of Ilawod, the horror indie film now showing this January week.
Image Credit: Quantum Films ( Fair Use ) Indie Horror Movie of Pinay Scribe, Yvette Tan
Partnering with longtime friend Dan Villegas, who is renowned for his romantic comedies, the two figured out how to put a possession story together without getting the curse, possession ghost movies are known to afflict their creators and actors--Amityville, Poltergeist, Lovingly Yours, Helen: all according to urban legend may have caused their actors to encounter bad luck. Heather O'Rourke of Poltergeist died after a flu, in the middle of shooting the third movie, after an infection aggravated her affliction with Crohn's disease. Julie Vega, a Pinay child actress, was supposedly cursed, and died of a very strange affliction that caused her to deteriorate from bronchopneumonia to a cardiac arrest. She portrayed a demon possession victim in one of her movies.
So Yvette coined an Ilawod water elemental as the supernatural beguiler in her first screenplay. We talk to Yvette about her journey asan accomplished writer on the go and her love for writing horror.
REACH: Hello Yvette, you've been successfully writing horror (getting published) for some time now and the culmination of all that love for the genre may be your current project, Ilawod. What makes horror as a genre as compelling to you as a female scribe?
Yvette Tan: I have no idea! I actually scare very easily, which is why I don’t have a ready answer for when people ask why I write horror. All I’ve been doing is writing the stories that I want to tell, which people categorize as horror. You could say that I love the language and imagery of it.
REACH: Do you go for setting up the suspense and having the yikes come out of nowhere or do you like gore and monstery slitherings as much as writers who are guys?
Yvette Tan: What I put on paper depends on what the story needs. I don’t have a specific preference. A lot of my fiction has gory imagery. It’s a joy to write.
REACH: Was the concern not to get the Boogeyman after you guys and the actors really that big? (asking if you are superstitious)
Yvette Tan: I’m not superstitious per se, but I’ll go along with other people’s superstitions just because it makes them feel better.
REACH:Is the malevolence of the water elemental its own natural state or was it disturbed (a common old-wives warning to children) and decides to punish the family? (spoiler alert for readers)
Yvette Tan: I took the common folk belief that certain bodies of water claim lives as tribute every so often and ran with it. That’s how we came up with the ilawod.
REACH: Horror as a genre is rich in fetish subcategories, and we've observed your writing (from short stories to flash fiction) explore all sorts of tropes and monsters. If you could make a living writing horror in the same manner that Pinay pulp romance writers make a living out of writing a wide range of romance subgenres would you commit time and ideas for that kind of focused, feeding frenzy, writing work?
Yvette Tan: Of course!
Video Credit: Quantum Films (fair use)
REACH: What subgenre of horror would you choose to work on if you could run a successful series (cult following aka bestseller) of it? Supernatural horror? Psychological horror? Slasher kitsch?
Yvette Tan: Like I said, I have no preference. In the end, I don’t know if I could commit to just one subgenre because I write the stories I want to tell. If I force myself to write about something I’m not interested in, it comes out substandard.
REACH: DIY writers today are getting plenty of mileage from going the self-publishing route. From actually hitting big markets to being successful in small but profitable niche genres like say men's action adventure. We know horror used to drive the pulp comics and movie industry in the Philippines during the 80s and 90s and made millions for those who invested heavily mining the genre, no matter how cheesy the output. Is self-publishing horror stories something you would do if you could live off it and still write stuff you like? Not just for horror, but for other writing you do--food reviews and travel blogging. Or do you still prefer the traditional publsihing house work that most writers aspire for their literary resume? Would you risk or take a shot at becoming a horror brand book publisher if you could be one?
Yvette Tan: I plan to try self-publishing my second English collection. The challenge really is if I’m organized enough to see it through.
REACH: Horror movies nowadays are way different today, maybe because special effects are better, and absurdist situations seem to work for those who dare use them as story tropes ( Japanese horror films seems to pull off Bizarro elements effortlessly and still be cult classics). As a horror movie storyteller, what stuff would you like to work on for future projects and how would you do: A slasher yuckfest? Found-footage supernatural? A Pinoy legend retold as horror? An erotic Japanese-inspired bizarro apocalypse?
Yvette Tan: Again, I really can’t tell. It’ll depend on the team behind it. But I’m certainly open to opportunities. I’d actually like to try my hand at writing non-horror. I’d love to do a romcom or a comedy. I’ve always wanted to do comedy.
REACH: You are Filipina-Chinese, and I assume that you may have seen the Wu Xia horror-fantasy films like Chinese Ghost Story 2, Journey to the West, Painted Skin, or League of Gods. Chinese horror movies always seem to have an element of action-adventure (demon-hunting monks) and romantic tragedy (only fantasy romances that end with girl or guy dying in their lover's arms at then end as a good thing). Wu Xia as a writer's horror genre or a screenplay writer's playground make for epic romances and if someone paid you to run an epic romance in the same vein as a Wu Xia film but using Pinoy folklore and myth elements, what would be your first romantic plot idea? (Hoping someone would get you to write and help make it for them too--a film company)
Yvette Tan: I can’t think of any at the moment, but I’d be super game to write it!
REACH: Speaking as a horror fan interested in Bizarro horror as a pulp genre, may I ask if you find Bizarro fiction a workable horror genre for you as a fiction writer or is it too extremely convoluted (rude and explicit) even in its most benign stories? Bizarro ranges from just wacko themes (say Gogol's Viy and The Nose) to really, offensive stories that still pull off themselves as intelligent writing. Michael Cisco comes to mind as one absurdist writer who does critically acclaimed stuff and of course there is the other end of the pulp spectrum that is rather too lurid for sensitive readers to digest. Does absurdist Bizarro horror appeal to you as a writing challenge, and if you could pull it off for readers who like the stuff, would you write an absurdist horror book? How far would you take an absurdist collection of horror stories--from a range of: Wacko to WTF to Disgusting?
Yvette Tan: I don’t think I can pull it off as my imagination doesn’t run that way. I know my limits, Haha. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to try my hand at it in the future. All I need is the proper mindset. It’s the getting there that takes a while, which is why my books take so long..
Image Credit: Yvette Tan Yvette's workspace snapshot: Her iPad mini plus keyboard, Moleskine journal and a coffee.
REACH: You are a freelance writer who works on the go. Do you still do actual longhand writing for any projects then transcribe them when you get to your digital work tools? Do you also keep a personal library--writer's references as well as your favorite books to inspire you?
Yvette Tan: I have a tiny ‘office’ that I carry everywhere. It’s composed of an iPad Mini with a snazzy keyboard, a notebook, a pen with a stylus tip, my phone, earbuds, a power bank, a plug, and cords. I’ve set up the phone and iPad so that they work together and I can get a lot of work done on them. I can work anywhere with this setup.
I also do a lot of work on my phone. On the set, everyone assumes that if I’m on my phone, I’m writing something, which also means that they must think that I don’t have a lot of friends, Haha. I wrote most of the script on my phone.
Image Credit: Yvette Tan Yvette's workspace snapshot: A tea break, iPad mini and her favorite fountain pen.
REACH: Novice writer fans may be inspired by your resume and work experience, and would want to know more about your craft--Do you write story outlines for any big project or do you write on-the-fly and let the writing take you where it goes?
Yvette Tan: I write on the fly, though I know that having an outline would help me work faster. I guess I like the element of surprise.
REACH: If kids want to get into horror writing (since not everyone wants to write Diary ng Panget or romantic comedies) what books or movies would you recommend them to marathon over a weekend to get up to snuff--For plot? For monsters? For style? For character? Are you a prose stylist writer with fiction?
Yvette Tan: I like the movies Yanggaw, The Others, and Kissed for plot and directing style.
REACH:Would you write a romance novel if a brand publisher offered you a supernatural book series--do you even read or like that stuff--romance stories with supernatural settings or characters?
Yvette Tan: I’d love to, but I don’t think I have the talent for it.
REACH: Would you write in Tagalog any novella or short story collection if you had to choose between the vernacular and English?
Yvette Tan: My second book, Kaba, is written in Tagalog.
REACH: How many books do you read every month and what were the last three genre books you've read? What are the non-horror books that you've recently read? Do you like audiobooks and if you do listen to them, what books do you recommend?
Yvette Tan: I read a lot of articles online, so I don’t read as much books as I used to. I also read a lot of non-fiction. Nowadays, I’m reading a lot on food policy because I think it’s something that the Philippines lacks.
REACH: What is Yvette Tan's favorite comfort munchies and drink while working an all-nighter story or blog post? (except for steak)
Yvette Tan: Coffee and milk tea. I live on buttered toast and fried eggs. I also love soup. Soup is the best!
REACH: Thank you Yvette for giving us a chance to interview you about your craft, the Ilawod movie and we hope you can write more screenplays and anthologies for all of us horror aficionados in the country.
Yvette Tan: Thank you for this opportunity. Let me know if you have other questions.