Marivi Blanco Interviewed by Kristen Fogle
Marivi Blanco, author of “The Mango Bride” and a former SDWI board member, discusses her beginnings as a writer, favorite authors, and how SDWI’s Room to Write and Wednesday Writers helped her with her novel.
KF: When did you first start writing? How did you evolve into a published novelist?
MB: I’ve been writing since grade school. First summer job was as a proofreader at Mabuhay, an in-flight magazine. My first job out of undergrad was copywriting for an ad agency. I spent 20 odd years writing autobiographical narratives, short fiction, and essays but always feared the long form. Finally, I joined Nanowrimo 2008 to force myself to write a novel. Kelly Sonnack, who taught at SDWI was one of the first literary agents I met, when I invited her to talk about Young Adult literature at a class I was teaching at UCSD. Her colleague, Taryn Fagerness, who also taught a class on query letter writing at SDWI, read my collection of short horror fiction “Spooky Mo” and wanted to represent me at the time, but couldn’t get anyone at the Sandra Djikstra Agency to agree with her. She asked me if I had a novel. At the time, in 2007, I didn’t. So I joined Nanowrimo and worked on the draft of “The Mango Bride” for two years after that. In December 2010 I contacted Taryn, said I had a novel, wrote her a query letter the way she had taught us to write it, and asked if she would like to read it. Taryn, bless her heart, actually read it over the holidays. My first email on the first working day of 2011 was from Taryn. She said she loved the novel, but since she by then had opened up her own agency and worked in foreign subsidiary rights, no longer had any good contacts in the publishing industry. But, she offered to pass the manuscript along to her colleagues. Literally minutes after I agreed, another agent emailed from the Marsal Lyon Agency. Jill Marsal read it, agreed to represent me in early February, had me revise some sections, and sent it out to multiple publishers. I signed with Penguin that April. If you want to read the full story, just go to http://marivisoliven.blogspot.com/2012/05/very-long-engagement.html . Most of the early blog entries at that site first appeared on SDWI’s website.
KF: Who are some authors you have taken inspiration from over the years?
MB: Ann Patchett, Jhumpa Lahiri, Edwidge Danticat, And Garcia Marquez, naturally.
KF: Is there a particular genre you love?
MB: For more immediate gratification, I’m fond of personal essay and flash fiction. Novels are fun too, but much more work.
KF: I’m always interested to hear about authors’ writing places. I know you wrote much of “The Mango Bride” in SDWI’s Room to Write and workshopped it in one of our workshops? Can you speak to your experiences writing a novel this way? How did you write in the past?
MB: This is not entirely correct. I went to SDWI’s Room to Write religiously every Sunday that Nanowrimo2008 was running. After that, it was two years attending Judy Reeve’s Wednesday Writers group. Her group was the best incubation space in which to develop a novel. Nearly all of us in that batch of writers finished our novels. Jim went on to win the $25,000 Reader’s Digest Flash Fiction Contest, and Sandra Younger and I landed book deals. During those two years, I also attended a bunch of classes at SDWI: Drusilla’s novel writing class; two of Lisa Shapiro’s classes (I will take any class Lisa teaches); two of Taryn’s classes; Jose Dalisay’s class on setting.
The one significant change I made in my writing habits began with Nano ’08. I trained myself to wake up at 6:30 a.m. every day and write for an hour or an hour and a half before the rest of the family got up. And every time I suffer writer’s block, I go to yoga class.
KF: Your publishing experience was very positive this time around, I believe. Do you have any advice for emerging authors about how to get there work out there? Any tips regarding how to contact literary agents or common mistakes people make in this process?
MB: Take Taryn or Kelly’s class at SDWI. Either of them will have a wide experience from which to draw. The smartest thing I did was to remain in contact with Taryn while writing the novel, so that when I finally finished, she still knew who I was.
KF: You have two very distinct characters in your novel with very different experiences immigrating to the U.S. What aspects of both women’s stories resonate with your experience of moving stateside?
MB: Hard to say. I moved here for marriage, not as a mail order bride but because my husband was doing his doctorate at Berkeley. Like Amparo, I found housework to be a major challenge at first.
KF: A film adaptation of your short story “Talunang Manok” was filmed in Manila in 2012 and is set be screened at independent film festivals in 2013, I hear. Where are you in this process?
MB: It’s slowed down a bit. The filmmaker is submitting it to various film festivals and is considering doing a second edit.
KF: Are you working on anything else currently?
MB: My second novel. And this DIY book tour.
KF: Anything else you would like to share?
MB: Just that San Diego Writers, Ink has amazing classes. Folks should invest in the workshops and attend the readings if they seriously want to improve their craft. Oh, and every time I read a good novel, I write a letter to the author and tell him/her that. Because now I know firsthand how hard it is to write one.
Marivi Soliven has taught writing workshops at UC San Diego and at the University of the Philippines. Her writing first gained recognition with silver medals for children’s fiction at Palanca Awards for literature in 1992 and 1993. In 1998 her short story Beaux Café won the Philippines Free Press Grand Prize for fiction. Another short story, Talunang Manok, was adapted for a short film in December 2011. Short stories and essays from Soliven’s 15 books have appeared in numerous anthologies and textbooks on creative writing. Her essays and stories have been featured inWhere Are You From? An Anthology of Asian American Writing and The Journal of Post Colonial Studies. She served on the Board of San Diego Writers, Ink from 2009 through 2012.
Kristen Fogle is the Programming Coordinator for SDWI. She is also a freelance editor, writer, instructor, tutor, teaching artist, and theatrical performer/director. Over the last decade she has been the Editorial Director for three national college entertainment publications (Warning, ForUs, and CLIQ). She earned a BA in Communication Studies from California State University, Northridge and a MA in Rhetoric and Writing Studies (Teaching emphasis) from San Diego State University. She also recently received a Teaching Artist training certification from Young Audiences San Diego. You can find her weekly theatre reviews at www.sdtheatrereviews.com.