14 September 2016

Last name

Morgan and Me. It was raining.
This afternoon I had my copy of The unexpected everything signed by its author, Morgan Matson. I gave her my card so she won't misspell my name and, after reading it, she said, 'Oh your name is so beautiful'.

Before I could finish my 'Thank you', thinking she found Razel quite cute, she exclaimed, 'Even Estrella (she pronounced it Es-Tre-LA)—that means "star", right?'

No one has told me that before. Razel is quite an ice breaker, but Estrella (except for that time when our Physics teacher asked us on the first day of class, as a way of getting to know each other, the origin of our names) didn't really generate any excitement.

I always tell writer friends that I don't have a writer name. Something sonorous, something resonant. This blog was, for a long period, under the pseudonym Diwata Nakpil (good times). And I've been fantasizing about marrying someone with a last name that would, when attached to my first name, make that sound that a latch makes upon locking the door. That click. That feeling that lets you know, it fits; it's safe.

Embarrassing that, no matter how old and mature you think you are, you still need another person to be your mirror and light. Convinced by her that my name is 'so beautiful', I'll look at my byline with a kinder attitude from hereon.

Morgan Matson. That rolls off the tongue. It has lots of things going for it—alliteration, assonance, consonance. Wonderful writer name. Wonderful girl.

11 September 2016

Soaring language

Me and Paula

“The Vega Gull is peacock blue with silver wings, more splendid than any bird I’ve known…” begins the narrator, coaxing the reader to draw in his mind’s eye a feathered creature, complete with beak and claws. By the end of the sentence, however, he’ll learn that the bird being spoken of is made of steel: “…and somehow mine to fly.”

With those few words, author Paula McLain right away sets the tone of Circling the Sun. The novel — her follow-up to her best-selling debut The Paris Wife — will have adventures, twists (whether in plot or thought); and conveyed by language that soars.

This same lyrical voice manifests itself when you speak with McLain. It’s the voice that’s able to admit, “I’m never ambitious” in a gentle yet unapologetic way. “No one in my family had ever been to college. And I grew up in foster homes, and no one in those families had been to college. So no one ever said to me, ‘You should be a doctor, an astronaut, the president of the United States,’” expounded the California-born fictionist.

It wasn’t until she joined a writing program, an MFA in Poetry at the University of Michigan — where she was surrounded by other writers and professors who took notice of her talent — that McLain saw herself differently. After trying her hand at a memoir, she thought of writing from the point of view of someone who lived in history. “That was my big idea that gave me a readership,” she remarked, referring to The Paris Wife, which centers on Hadley Richardson, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway.

McLain’s work became her ticket to travel around places she wouldn’t have otherwise gone to. Last month, she was in the country for The Philippine Readers and Writers Festival, where we had the chance to meet. “We (writers) go in pretty incredible places in our imagination, but it’s also fun when we actually go into the real world and collect stories,” she said with an openness that eluded her younger self. “I was socially awkward as a kid,” she shared, “so it was easier to fall into a book and just kind of be not where I was — not on a school bus — and talk to people.” Putting up a wall made of books, McLain kept to herself and wrote poems.

She published two poetry collections at the start of her career and also penned non-fiction. Her newest opus, Circling the Sun, is another biographical novel. Here, McLain revisits the life of female aviator and racehorse trainer Beryl Markham, whom she calls “badass.” Toying with historical events sounds tricky, but McLain’s obsession with her subject and command of language make her a narrator whom you’ll trust to take you on a smooth, enjoyable ride back in time.

My copy of Circling the Sun

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