Dreaming of Books
By Jane Kingsu-Cheng
What do you do if you were rejected 72 times? This was how much author Gail Villanueva was turned down in the two years she was pitching her now internationally available My Fate According to the Butterfly book to publishers. This didn’t stop her from working even harder to get her book out though. She believed in her self-worth, and she knew that “as long as I have ideas, I can still write, I can write as many books as I can.”
An artist and a reader
Growing up in a house filled with artists, it was no surprise that Gail loved to draw. Her lola (grandmother), who was a retired teacher, taught the young girl how to read. She was fortunate to have her lola around in those fundamental years. Her lola observed that Gail was into visuals, and told her mom that the traditional way of teaching her how to read wasn’t effective. “She helped me associate words with images. May scene tapos babasahin niya sa akin ‘yun. (There’s a scene and she will describe it to me.) She taught me (to read) and the moment I learned how (to read), I became obsessed with reading,” she proudly shared.
Her parents continued to nurture this passion of hers, buying her favorite books which include The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High series. They also gave her art materials to supplement her love for both reading and drawing. She composed her very first graphic novel at the age of seven or eight, “It was about a bookworm, which was basically a worm who lives in a book. This bookworm needs to learn how to socialize with people. There’s a world outside the book. I showed it to my parents and submitted it for art class and I got a perfect score.”
Time well spent bonding
Visits to the bookstore was a regular activity for Gail and her mom. They would go every two weeks and her mom would let her pick a book to read over the weekend. Her mom read it afterwards, and the two would hang out and discuss Gail’s chosen book. It’s something she looked forward to. “As a kid, mas lalo ka ma-encouraged, kasi (you will be encouraged even more, because) it gives you time with mommy,” she added. Gail also reiterated that parents shouldn’t just give the books for children to read on their own. They should spend time with them and bond over the books together.
Proud to be a Filipino
Gail frequented her lola’s library to find books to read. Most of them are international and foreign ones that left her wondering why there aren’t much Philippine published books then. “One day, I’m going to write about a Filipino girl from the point of view of a Filipino girl, because I’m a Filipino. It’s one of those instances that actually pushed me to make sure that I’m going to get published with a book about a Filipino girl,” shared Gail.
Her debut book took one and a half months to finish. This was actually fast, as some writers take years to finish their manuscripts. She was inspired, because this book is based on her only sister who is five years younger and has schizophrenia. Gail further revealed, “I have to take care of her. I was also inspired by the idea na (of) how would my sister will feel when I’m already gone. I was thinking (about) the idea of mortality, I was toying with the idea of ano kaya ang iniisip ng sister ko (what my sister is thinking).” She also added that her sister ended up teary-eyed in all four times that she has read this book. It’s a light read ideal for third to seventh grade students, and unknowingly brings the reader deeper into the Filipino culture. Family, relationships, superstitions, and socio-economic and cultural issues are woven seamlessly, introducing the readers to the realities of living in Manila.
Gail and her husband travels a lot, even opting for far-flung places in the Philippines. She shared her adventures through her blog back then. In her next book, she combines her love for reading, writing, and travelling, set in a fictional island in Bulusan, Bicol. She also disclosed that her upcoming book will tackle gayuma (talismans and spells), consent, economical privilege, and love in all forms. Her lips are sealed when asked for further details, “It’s going to be kind of interesting. This one is going to have a twist.”