13 September 2015

Meeting the under-celebrated Marivi Soliven

Literary figures have an air of mystique about them, perhaps brought by the many worlds and lives they’ve lived — besides their own — through the stories they’ve read and written. Marivi Soliven arrived at the Writers Bar at Raffles Makati with that very air, looking every bit of a dignified author out to pen the next visceral novel. One couldn’t help but peg her as someone minding an important business. Because she was. That day Soliven stopped by two TV networks to talk about her new book before going to Raffles Hotel for one-on-one interviews with the press.

Soliven’s The Mango Bride follows Amparo Guerrero and Beverly Obejas, Filipinas who left Manila for Oakland in search of greener grass. Strangers to each other in the beginning, the two crossed paths and in the course of their encounter shared a life-changing secret. The novel in English earned the Palanca Award before it was published in 2013 by Penguin Books. It was then translated in Spanish in 2014 and this year in Filipino by professor Danton Remoto.

The mystery quickly died when I opened our conversation with a question about falling in love with fiction. “The Mango Bride is a fiction story but I would say about 95 percent of it is true,” she said, explaining that her work was a product of calls she had to take in her job as a phone interpreter in California, where she currently lives. She heard accounts of domestic violence among other immigration woes that eventually found their way in her first novel.

Her answers were straightforward, her views practical, and her tone matter-of-fact. She caught me off-guard till I figured that that’s where her charm lies: in refusing to dwell on the romanticism of literature. Because guess what, there’s real, gruelling, sometimes mundane work that goes behind it.

A photo posted by Razel Estrella (@fishpeep) on

Marivi Soliven on the young writers' bad habits

I think that because of this culture of instant gratification, I notice that with a lot of writers, their first goal is to have an audience then get published rather than to write a good story first. So I guess I’m kind of old-fashioned that way. I’d rather write a good story then have its audience find it.

Her advice to aspiring writers

I definitely am a supporter of the routine. If you make writing a part of your daily schedule, along with exercising or brushing your teeth, then it becomes something that you regularly do; instead of going, “Oh I’m gonna wait until I get inspired, then I’ll write.” Because that never happens. It sometimes happen but if you get inspired once every two weeks then you don’t really have much of a writing practice. To write good stories, like with anything else, you have to do it every day. Then you get better. And to be a writer, I think the best thing you can do is just read. Read, read, read. Read whatever catches your fancy, everything from the best stuff to the worst stuff. Eventually you’ll figure out what good stories are.

On the importance of awards

I think that they are good in terms of getting you noticed. They can get you published here in the Philippines. Even in the United States, many of the award giving bodies have prizes that include publication. So it does help. But I don’t think people should focus on winning contests as the main reason for writing.

—Full interview on GIST.PH

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