I don’t remember how long ago I was first introduced to the #romanceclass community. I do know that as soon as I was, I was reading their books and chatting with the authors. A friend of mine introduced me to the books, and I fell in love quickly with the stories and the relationships written on those pages. These are romances that stay with you for a very long time.
For those who need an introduction, here you go: #romanceclass is a group of Filipino authors who write Filipino romances. You can find them on Twitter following the hashtag There, you’ll find more about their books and upcoming news. They write contemporary romances and happily ever afters, so if you’re in need of any of these two things, you can rely on #romancelass. And for even more information, you can find it at their About page.
I spoke with some authors who have published and continue to publish #romanceclass books. They were kind enough to agree to answer to a few questions.
What do you love about writing romance?
Mina V. Esguerra (author of What Kind of Day):
At first I thought it would be fun to write what I love to read… but now it’s more than that. I feel lucky that I’m able to do this, and at each stage work with people who get it. My editors, cover design team, all the way to the readers… I am constantly around people who understand why the books matter. And we try to make books that cover the topics that matter to us. It’s so cool and so inspiring.
Carla de Guzman (author of If The Dress Fits):
What’s not to love? My whole process of writing a story usually starts with ‘what do I want to read?’, and answering that question alone leads you to an exciting minefield of possibilities. I love being able to put to paper something that’s been running around in my own head. I love getting kilig when you’re writing kilig scenes. I love talking about places I love and food that I crave. You can write about worlds you wish were real, scenarios you wished you lived, to work out things that you can’t work out alone. Writing romance to me is therapy.
Dawn Lanuza (author of The Boyfriend Backtrack):
I always found writing about romance fun, although for me, it reaches to a point in a manuscript where I feel like I’m facing my own personal crisis. I do put bits of me in my stories/characters, so finishing a book for me always feels like a victory, like figuring out a part of life, even in fiction.
Clarisse David (author of Keeping the Distance):
Growing up, I saw a very limited portrayal of women in the books and TV shows I encountered. They were portrayed in almost always the same way. For example, in Philippine soap operas, the female lead is usually innocent, kind and never knows how to stand up for herself.
Romance novels changed all that for me. In romance, we can see all types of women going after what they want without needing to apologize or feel guilty about it. You can be abrasive and still get the love of your life (and your dream career). You can be interested in all sorts of strange things. You don’t have to fit into the stereotypical box of what a woman should be in romance and still find happily ever after.
Jay E. Tria (author of Second Wave Summer):
I love how it’s a space to be curious. Often when you meet people, or hear snippets of conversation, or fall in love with somebody’s music, your mind kind of asks these questions and wonders what would happen next, what if there’s a kiss or more, or if there’s a walk in the rain. Writing romance allows me to go through all those questions and to attempt to make sense of them through a narrative. It’s also a space to write about healthy relationships, and women who deserve things and get what they want, and men who support this while being cute and also having abs. I think that’s fun, and also necessary, in the world we live in.
Could you tell us a bit more about one of your books?
My new book What Kind of Day is about people who make and do good things, and care about others. It takes the form of a politician’s speechwriter and a tour guide meeting by accident, and it’s travel and food and discovering shiny things in dirt (pretty much). And kissing! I love being able to tell that kind of story, because I write romance.
If The Dress Fits was written after reading how many books/watching movies with plus-sized heroines and feeling woefully unsatisfied. I grew up in a culture where the dark girl needs lighter skin, the girl in glasses and braces needs a total makeover, the fat girl needs to drop the weight to get the guy. I wanted to write a story where, yes, the girl loves her body but can still have her moments where she wished she could walk into a store and just wear anything and have it fit (still my ultimate dream). Add to that a boy who is utterly devoted to her and helps animals for a living, If The Dress Fits was born.
My first ever book, The Boyfriend Backtrack, is about a girl who was reminded of all of her exes while getting proposed to. This made her examine the choices she made to get to her happy ever after. I wrote this after graduating from Uni so in a way, it was my love letter to the whole college experience.
My most popular book, so far, is probably Keeping the Distance. I first started writing it when I was 19, got busy with college life, and promptly forgot about it.
While cleaning up my laptop files back in 2016, I found the Word document of the manuscript. The original chapters were horrible, but they made me realize that Lance and Melissa’s story needed to be finished. Keeping the Distance features the popular guy/unpopular girl trope, but I wanted to tell it my way by setting it in Iloilo, my hometown, and with Filipino characters who feel real.
The last one I finished is Second Wave Summer, an anthology with my fellow #romanceclass authors Tara Frejas and Six delos Reyes. It’s set in the same universe of our first book together, Summer Crush, and we wrote it to celebrate its first anniversary, yay! Second Wave Summer is three short stories set in a music festival in La Union, which is a surf town north of where we live in tropical Philippines. If you’re on our side of the planet and you like sand, surf and sea, or just lazing around and pigging out on the beachfront. You should totally visit La Union.
My story is called Ask Me Nicely, which centers on Kris and Ringo from my book You Out of Nowhere. It’s about a younger corporate boy and older cookie bar boss woman on break from life and maneuvering the waves of their fresh relationship and finding their way around an important question. It’s their summer episode, an extended epilogue of sorts, and it was really fun to write about them again. Beach Ringo is so great. I missed my kid and tita.
Tara’s story is called Rushes, which is where we see indie filmmaker Datu Alvez take himself en route to earn his happily ever after. You would’ve been curious about him if you’ve read Like Nobody’s Watching (which you totally should). Six’s is called A Taste of Summer, which is Arabella bassist Michael Brian versus Mercury retrograde. If that sounds hilarious, that’s because it is.
What is your favorite book you’ve written?
This keeps changing but right now my answer is Better at Weddings Than You, because I wrote that as a change in tone after two years of writing serious things, and I feel it captured what I wanted to say and the fun that I wanted to have.
But, but how can I choose among my children? Every book is my favorite for its own particular reason and I could talk about why I love all of them for an entire day. For Chasing Mindy, I love it because I got to express every cliche I love about Paris. I got to write about it in the context of a Filipino seeing it for the first time and knowing that her time there was limited. I loved writing about the Capras family (clearly, a love letter to my own) and the kids’ shenanigans.
But my favorite thing about Chasing Mindy has to be Javier. I had a hard time pinning him down the first time I wrote this, but after one evening with the cover boy, watching him dance with the titas (aka the #romanceclass writers) and just be this sweet, responsible, younger guy, I knew he was the perfect match for Mindy.
Not to play favorites as my experiences with each book are different, but The Hometown Hazard has a special place in my heart. I struggled with it because I’ve decided to add some elements of mystery in the book, and sort of broke out of the usual type of stories that I write. It’s not a perfect book, but it taught me a lot and made me much more confident in expanding my horizons on what I think I should write, and what I could.
I know I shouldn’t have favorites when it comes to the books I’ve written, but it’s definitely Prom Queen Perfect.
I joined Mina V. Esquerra’s #buqoYA. a young adult romance writing class, back in 2015. During the class, we were assigned to write a short story or novella featuring a trope that was assigned in advance. My assigned trope was Enemies-to-Lovers. I had no idea how to get started at first, but one day, this girl named Alex who desperately wanted to be prom queen popped into my head. I didn’t get to finish Prom Queen Perfect in time for the class, because it turned out much longer than I originally planned.
In a nutshell, Prom Queen Perfect is my favorite so far for two reasons. First of all, it was such a joy to write. Most of the time, writing is a difficult process, where I have to keep stopping to deal with all my insecurities and fear. Haha. But writing Prom Queen Perfect was different. It was such a joyful experience, and I couldn’t wait to go back to it every time I stopped writing.
Lastly, I wrote Prom Queen Perfect after joining #buqoYA, so writing it led me to #romanceclass and all the wonderful people who are a part of it. I’m not as active in #romanceclass as I want to be due to my location and overall shyness, but it has changed my life. The group is a safe place where you can squeal and be as excited about romance as you want without fear of judgment.
Favorite is such a big word, haha. Each book means something different. But right now I do have extra fuzzy feelings for You Out of Nowhere. This is Kris and Ringo’s origin story. It’s younger boy out to find the One and older woman who is done believing in it. They meet for the first time in a packed metro rail train, and again on their respective solo trips to Seoul. I wrote it for #romanceclass2017 which is a workshop for steamier Filipino romance, and it’s the first book to launch under the steamy imprint #romanceclassFlair. So many milestones for me right there. But the process of creating the book is memorable all its own. It’s one of those ideas that (yeah, let me have this one) came out of nowhere and out of necessity, really. Because the first idea that I had wasn’t going to work and I had to come up with something because deadlines! And with that little kernel I churned out 10k words in one day. Haha, strong feelings.
Writing a book set in Seoul was so much fun too because it’s one of my favorite places, and I get to go there again and enjoy all the fall colors and eat all the eomuk and drink makgeolli because Kris and Ringo were there. Then there’s the entire production of turning words to finished book; working with the Flair team for revisions and photo shoots and releasing the book and getting the word out. Just people being awesome, people rooting for you. It’s a lot, and a lot of things I haven’t done before. So yeah, it’s a favorite book for many reasons.
What are themes/tropes that you think are unique to Filipino romances?
I don’t know how “unique” it is, but I’m noticing a… pattern among the #romanceclass books I’ve been reading, even when the styles and stories are so different. I love how places matter, and a change of scenery is often required for the characters (totally relatable). Food is often a thing! Family is important, and not just the one you were born into. The male main characters or love interests are just PRECIOUS. So cute and cuddly, even if they’re muscular or grumpy or hot or all of the above. That the authors can write men who are such good people, when our society rewards men who are so toxic, ugh. And in turn, female main characters who are no pushovers, and are in charge of their lives!
I think regardless of where the book is set, a Filipino romance will always have food. Food is inevitable, it’s how we mark our time in the Philippines. We say ‘kumain ka na?’ instead of ‘hello’, and it’s one of my favorite things about our culture. See — the sticky ribs and bacon in Chrissie Peria’s The Kitchen When it Sizzles, hotdogs in Bianca Mori’s One Night at the Palace Hotel. Tara, Six and Jay were flooded with champorado pictures after Second Wave Summer!
Another thing is family. Family will always play a major part in any character’s development, even the lack of. Whether its meddling titas, caring lolas, wise lolos, close pinsans or parents that make you want to hug them and scream, a Filipino will always have a family in their heart. Six de los Reyes’ Beginners Guide wouldn’t be the same without the Rubios, neither would CP Santi’s Dare to Love, with her priest Kuya and adorable twins. And hello, would our lives really be the same without Tara Frejas’ Alvez brothers? I think not.
Even when the family is the cause of strain (like Mina V Esguerra’s Iris After the Incident, Stella Torres’ Save the Cake), they still play a major role in the lives of the characters.
I also think it says a lot about Filipinos that a majority of the romance heroes we write are soft boys. Think Ringo from Jay’s You Out of Nowhere, Matteo from Miles Tan’s Finding X, Pio Alvez from Like Nobody’s Watching and Nico from Ana Tejano’s Keep the Faith. We respond to a boy who hugs us tight and feeds us good food after a long hard day, who is in touch with his feelings and calls us an endearing nickname with soft abs. It’s almost a direct opposite of the uber macho men we see in positions of authority.
I think we do really well with the friends to lovers trope, slow burn romances — Filipinos love to root for the underdogs, the beta heroes, Clark Kents over Superman. While we do enjoy the occasional fantasy of falling in love with a person that is out of our league, we do get a kick out of realising that the one we truly love has always been next to us, all along.
The most unique trope to Filipino romance is probably how we portray family relationships.
In books set in other countries, characters in their 20s and 30s already have their own apartments or houses, but that’s not always the case with Filipino romance. We’re not expected to move out after we turn 18 in the Philippines. It’s common for people in their 20s and 30s to still live with their parents and other family members.
I think this influences our lives in huge ways, especially our romantic relationships. For example, how can you ask the person you’re dating to come over if your parents are around? What does that say about your relationship? More importantly, unless one of you has an apartment of his/her own, where do you find a place to MAKE OUT?
I think we like our friends-to-lovers trope with a specific level of pining. There’s a whole spectrum and the author controls the shades and colors on this, of course, but I find that it’s often there. We like our cinnamon heroes, our soft boys, which says a lot about the kind of love interests, and men in general, that we want to see more of in real life. We don’t have enough of them around. We need them to exist, even in just words to start. You’ll also often see big groups of friends and tight-knit families in Filipino romances, and also a lot of talk about traffic and food and beaches. I realize these things as I write the words now. And although these themes and elements on their own and in general aren’t unique, taken together and woven in a narrative as how you would find them in Filipino romances, I think you’ll see something quite distinct. Adds another level that makes Filipino romances fun, interesting reads, I think 🙂
Thank you so much Mina, Carla, Dawn, Clarisse and Jay for the answers. It was a joy to interview you. And lastly don’t forget to pick up their books!
Mina V. Esguerra is the champion behind #romanceclass. She is the author of multiple books like the Chic Manila Series, What Kind of Day, the Addison Hill series, and so many more. She’s also the sweetest person ever and her Twitter feed is worth a follow.
Carla de Guzman is the author of contemporary romance books such as The Queen’s Game, If the Dress Fits, Chasing Mindy, etc. Her cute covers make me swoon and the stories inside take my heart away.
Dawn Lanuza writes prose and verse and she does it wonderfully. You can find titles like The Boyfriend Backtrack, What About Today, The Last Time I’ll Write About You, and more! Her romances are sweet and lovely, and her poetry is bittersweet but very real.
Clarisse David is the author of Prom Queen Perfect, Making it Complicated and Keeping the Distance. Her book series is the summer-y cute books you’re looking for, plus her standalone book gives us the vibes of Gossip Girl meets Jane Austen.
Jay E. Tria is the author of the Playlist series, about a rock band and their members falling in love. You Out Of Nowhere is her newest title. The romances will consume you and will keep you up late at night, not ready to say goodbye when you’re done.