As a Filipino American child of the 80s, I didn’t grow up reading any books written by Filipino Americans, heck I didn’t own any books about Filipinos period. It’s not that I didn’t want to read them, I just couldn’t find any! Fast forward to 2017 when I first discovered Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly. I was in awe that there was a novel about the experiences of a Filipino American girl from a small town in Louisiana. Representation matters and seeing characters that looked and felt like me was really therapeutic. I wondered if this book had been around when I was a self-conscious pre-teen, would it have made me stronger? Since then I have read all of Erin’s novels including The Forgotten Girls, Hello Universe, You Go First, and the recent release Lalani of the Distant Sea.
My son has just reached the level of reading skills required for middle grade novels, so I jumped at the chance to have Erin visit his school for her book tour. The school visit was organized by The Book Stall, an independent book store here in Illinois. I’m grateful that they are inspiring a new generation of writers, by bringing authors to schools across Chicagoland. The students were very interested in Erin’s writing process and they asked a lot of great questions. I had some questions of my own, so here it goes.
As a child, did you dream of living in other places outside of Louisiana?
Yes, all the time. I dreamed of living in big cities. I wondered what it would be like to live in the Philippines. I dreamed of living in the mountains. I had many dreams as a child.
Were you inspired by relatives in your life that told great stories?
My mother. She has always been a wonderful storyteller.
What was your inspiration for writing Lalani of the Distant Sea?
I wanted to write a story about an ordinary girl who goes on a great adventure so young people could see themselves going on adventures, too. I want children — and adults — to understand that you don’t need to have the loudest voice or the biggest ego to change the world around you.
What is your favorite mythical creature from Philippine folklore?
It’s difficult to choose, but my instinct is to say that the tianak is my favorite. There is a version of the tianak in Lalani of the Distant Sea. A little different, but the same concept: A deceptive shapeshifter that takes on the form of an innocent creature to lure wayward travelers.
Which creature from Philippine folklore do you find the most scary?
To be honest, they’re all quite scary!
What current/future projects are you working on?
I have another book coming out in May called We Dream of Space, and I’m working on a chapter book series about a Filipino girl called Marisol, which I’m also illustrating!
What was your initial reaction when you found out about Netflix picking up Hello Universe?
My initial reactions were — and still are — shock and joy.
What are your thoughts on the current status of Filipinx American representation in book and movies?
When I was a child, I never encountered any books with Filipinx American characters. Today, there are several incredible Filipinx voices in young adult literature. Randy Ribay’s Patron Saints of Nothing was just long-listed for the National Book Award. Marie Miranda Cruz’s Everlasting Nora and Gail Villanueva’s My Fate According to the Butterfly have been very well-received, and they are both set in the Philippines. Filipino author Candy Gourlay is a longtime favorite of mine. Things are changing, which makes me incredibly happy, but there’s always room for more.
What advice do you have for Filipinx aspiring writers?
Read widely, value your personal experiences, and understand that you don’t have to speak for the entire community — you just have to speak your truths.
Line-dancing or Kareoke?
; ) I love karaoke — of course. My go-to karaoke song is “Kiss” by Prince.
And last but not least, what is your favorite Filipino food?
Pancit Canton! (A stir-fried noodle dish with veggies and meat).
You can find out more about Erin and her upcoming projects at www.erinentradakelly.com.
Also check out my book review for Erin’s recent release Lalani of the Distant Sea.