Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Lady Called Bebang Siy

by Hope Perez of DLSU Graduate School-Manila


Writers are among the toughest people to interview. For one thing, most of them value their privacy deeply. Getting a writer to grant you an interview may be considered as a success on its own. Some would consent to an electronic interview, where you’d send them your questions via e-mail, and they’d answer your questions like an essay exam. No hassle. All you’d have to do is to wait.

But Beverly Siy isn’t like most of them. She prefers the regular one-on-one where interviewer and interviewee get to see each other face to face. “Hindi talaga ako tumatanggap ng interview na email lang,” she explained, suggesting that online interviews feel detached. Unlike the former which feels more personal and intimate—very much like the person of Ms. Bevs.

Her presence is warm and welcoming. One would immediately feel like meeting a dear old friend, upon initial greetings. Not to mention her humor—which is immediately apparent—and candor. “Dati, sa UST ako, pero full time kasi ako doon,” she begins, without further ado. “Pero pag full-time ka, parang wala ka nang ibang magagawa sa buhay. Full time kasi, every day, may pasok.” Her words agree with her whole, carefree demeanor. This is a woman who demands freedom, even in her craft. When asked about whether she preferred having a full-time teaching position to a part-time one, she declared that she preferred the latter, without a second thought. “Hindi ko alam kung ADHD ba ‘yon?” she says with a laugh, “pero hindi ko kaya ‘yong isa lang ‘yong ginagawa.”

Beverly “Bebang” Siy finished her B.A. in Creative Writing (Malikhaing Pagsulat) at the University of the Philippines. She has written an assortment of short stories (published in anthologies), essays, and a novel. Her first novel, “Mingaw” was published under the pen name Frida Mujer, in 2006. “Kahit saan ako nagta-talk, lagi kong mine-mention ‘yon e,” she says, regarding the book. “Na nagsimula ako sa basura. Nagsimula ako dahil sa pera,” she adds, ending with a laugh.

It wasn’t until 2011 that she finally published under her name, Bebang Siy. Because of this, many of her readers share the misconception that “It’s a Mens World” is her first book. Regarding the use of a pen name for her first book, Ms. Bevs states that that wasn’t a conscious choice. “Gusto ko talaga, Bebang Siy, o Beverly Siy. Kaya lang ayaw ng publisher kasi parang mabantot. Parang hindi nakaka-titillate,” she says, debunking the belief of how much power writers have over their publishers.

Her humor and casual tone in writing is what endears her to her readers. “Gusto ko kasi ‘yong parang nakikipag-usap ka lang sa kaibigan,” she said when asked about her writing style. “Kasi, pag nagsusulat ka para sa isang kaibigan, walang pretension.” Because of this, many of her readers often cite her as the female version of Bob Ong. Being a fan of the elusive writer himself, this observation both flatters and worries her. When asked about what she admires most in him, she states that it is the things he has done for the Filipino writer community. “Marami siyang nagagawa na hindi nagagawa ng iba. Halimbawa, dahil sa kanya, natuto ‘yong mga high school student na gumawa ng book proposal. Kahit ‘yong mga pinakadakila nating writer, hindi nagagawa sa high school students yan, di ba? ‘Tsaka, talagang siya nag-start e, na magbasa ulit sa Filipino ‘yong mga tao.”

When she started writing back in high school, she wrote in English. But switched to Filipino once she entered college. She agrees that every writer’s real aim is to be read. And for a writer to be read, a writer must speak in a language that is understood by the majority of the masses. However, she also states that just because a story is written in the vernacular, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it would be easily understood. “Kung ang kuwento mo ay medyo mahirap i-comprehend, kahit anong wika ‘yan, kahit jologs na wika ‘yan, mahihirapan kang makakuha ng audience.” Concerning readership, she states that popular literature is a surefire way to increase a writer’s readers. “‘Yon talaga e. The only way to get to this masa, is through that. Bababa ka talaga sa level ng interes nila. Multo, love, student life, sirena… ‘yong mga ganun. Kung may gusto kang isulat sa wikang Filipino, tapos masyadong mataas para ma-comprehend, ibabalot mo siya in a very nice box with a bow and tie.”

Most of her works have a young adult kind of feel. But when asked if she sees herself as a genre writer, Ms. Bevs politely disagrees. “Sa pagsusulat, hindi ko kaya na isa lang ‘yong ginagawa ko. Kasi hindi na ako natsa- challenge.” Ms. Bevs believes that a writer should be free. And limiting one’s self to the confines of a specific genre is detrimental to the growth of a writer. After all, most of our great writers are known to have dabbled in more than one field of writing, something that Ms. Bevs applauds. “Napaka-versatile. Ang galing. Ibang level.”

On the Writing Process:
Ms. Bevs cites writer Vim Nadera as the person who ushered her into the world of writing. Other writing influences include poet Rio Alma, and Rene Villanueva. Villanueva’s collection of personal essays was among the works that inspired her to write “It’s a Mens World.” She also places high regard for fictionist Luna Sicat-Cleto and her book, “Makinilyang Altar.” “Isa pa ‘yon,” she says, “pag binabasa mo siya, parang siyang kumakanta sa utak mo. Napaka-versatile din. Kahit anong itapon mo doon, magagawa niya.”

Although she has written works of both fiction and non-fiction, she claims that aside from the label, the two are not that different. “‘Yong daloy ng kwento, pareho lang sa fiction. Kaya siya gustong-gusto ng mga tao, ang pinagkaiba lang niya, real life.” Her real life experiences serve as inspiration to her fiction as well, attesting to the writing tenet about writing only from what you know. “Kung hindi niya alam, dapat mag-research siya. Kasi kailangan, makumbinsi niya ‘yong reader niya na marunong siya tungkol doon.”

Regarding how she writes her stories, Ms. Bevs states that she is more of a plotter, following a linear system where she numbers her scenes from beginning to end. A habit she picked since she started writing stories for children. “Gumagawa ako ng skeleton, tapos ‘tsaka ko siya lalamanan. Mas madali ‘yon, kasi nga, hirap na hirap ako sa umpisa.” According to her, before even beginning to plot down a story, she already has an ending in mind; an ending which could change, depending on how the story goes, and the influx of ideas that floods her during the process. “‘Yong mga ganong aksidente, naiisip ko na lang bigla pagkasulat ng ending.”

What about that dreaded (according to some, invented) ‘writer’s block’? How does she deal with it? “Wala nga, e,” she jokes. “Ang ginagawa ko, humuhugot ako mula sa situation ko. Tapos ‘yon ‘yong sinusulat ko. Di bale na lang kung hindi maganda, basta makapag-produce ka. ‘yon ang importante.” She also encourages having a little bit of feelings of jealousy for other writers. “Kasi minsan, ‘yong inggit, puwede kang i-push na magsulat. Pero dapat, hindi mo gagamitin in a negative way. ‘Yong maninira ka ng kapwa writers mo.” More importantly, a writer shouldn’t be too hard on herself. Ms. Bevs advices against being too much of a perfectionist when it comes to writing. “Hindi lahat ng gawa ng isang artist ay perfect.”

As a holder of a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing, Ms. Bevs believes that the course isn’t as meaningless as other people suggest. Before delving deeper into the matter, she reiterates that the art of writing is not dependent on academics. “Kasi, kung nakakabit siya sa akademya, di wala nang karapatan magsulat ‘yong mga bata. Di ba? So, unfair ‘yon sa kanila.” Although it’s true that creative genius and the power of one’s imagination are both innate, she believes that a course on Creative Writing teaches the most important trait a writer should have: discipline. “It will train you to produce works in a limited time. Kung wala ka sa loob ng academe, you can take as long as you want to finish. Bigyan mo ng dalawang taon ang sarili mo, matatapos in two years. Ito kasi, limited. Tapos, the teacher will dictate what you will write. ‘Yon ‘yong training. Magke-create ka kahit ayaw mo. Magke-create ka ng hindi mo gusto.” Another important aspect of participating in a writing class is having a community of writers to peer review your works. “May nakakabasa ng gawa mo. Hindi lang ikaw.”

If given the chance to write about anybody, who would it be? Ms. Bevs bursts into a girlish giggle before replying, “Gusto ko si Eddie Garcia, ‘yong matatanda natin. Si Elizabeth Ramsey. Bakit walang sumusulat ng istorya nila?” She adds that these are just a few things that the National Commission for Culture and the Arts should consider including into their archives. These are people who’ve gone through things such as World War II, and still managed to stick to their art. “Nakakalungkot, kung sino-sino lang inilalagay nila.”

Ms. Bevs states that she primarily writes for herself. According to her, a writer who writes for herself shows the most authenticity. “Pag nagsusulat siya para sa ibang tao, ang tendency niya is to impress. Pag ganoon, iba ‘yong hagod ng words, hindi nagiging authentic.” She also writes for her friends. “You say what you want to say. You don’t pick topics. And these are the true things that come from your heart.”

In between the lines of her witticisms lies a philosophical understanding, not only on the art of writing, but on life as well. These profound insights remain evident in her works, masked with humor that never fails, and unabashed sincerity. “When you write for yourself or for your friends, walang pagkatakot. Walang pagkukunyari. Walang pagyayabang. ‘Wag kang magsusulat ng bagay na hindi mo gusto. ‘Wag kang magsusulat ng mga bagay na para lang magustuhan ng iba.”


Salamat dito, Hope! Good luck sa pagsusumite nito kay Sir! Padayon.

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