'The Mango Bride' author on finding success and movie adaptation starring Sharon Cuneta 10 years later
The Mango Bride author Marivi Soliven found sweet vindication when her award-winning debut novel—which initially saw limited success in terms of book sales—got a second chance a decade later through a big-screen film adaptation top-billed by Megastar Sharon Cuneta.
The Palanca grand prize winner revolves around two Pinays named Amparo and Beverly, “who migrate to California and discover hidden truths as their stories meet and intertwine.”
Soliven's book was certainly good enough to win the 2011 Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature. It was also good enough to be picked up by leading publishing house Penguin Books for release in 2013.
"I didn't have a creative or business strategy for my novel. I just wanted to get it published. Fortunately, the publisher who took me on was among the five biggest ones around. That certainly helped open doors with regard to getting the Filipino and Spanish editions published. National Bookstore was kind enough to fly me home when The Mango Bride was first released. They flew me home again when the Filipino edition, translated by my dear friend, the phenomenal Danton Remoto, was published a couple of years later," Soliven tells PhilSTAR L!fe.
However, just like any conventional story, it had its own share of setbacks to complement its victories.
Now, I own all the rights to 'The Mango Bride' and the film adaptation is in process. That's what I call vindication, not revenge—sweeter, but not as b*tchy.
Specifically, despite the award-winning author's best efforts, her novel just didn't sell well enough to justify a second printing. Consequently, her publisher made a business decision "not to throw more good money after bad." Penguin eventually reverted all rights for the book, which was out of print, to Soliven, who no longer had a literary agent.
"I was trying to find another literary agent to represent me for the second novel. I thought my dreams were dead in the water," Soliven recalls.
One day, she got an email from a producer of global media company 108 Media.
"Micah Tadena emailed my former literary agent Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, asking about optioning the book for a film adaptation. By then, Jill and I had parted ways, but she was kind enough to forward the email to me. I was initially skeptical because over the years, I'd been approached by several other producers whose plans had never come to fruition. But Micah was persistent and after a couple of Zoom meetings during which we discussed 108 Media's vision for the adaptation, I realized she was legit," Soliven narrates.
The company would send the novelist a contract, which prompted her to quickly find an intellectual property (IP) lawyer to consult. At the time, she was still short of a literary agent to provide industry wisdom. Fortunately, she found a trusty IP lawyer to educate her about the film business, among other relevant legalese.
From there, she would get to know the other 108 Media producers and execs, and of course, Sharon Cuneta herself.
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Living the dream
Soliven sees her slow-burn tale of inspiration as one of vindication rather than vengeance.
"If I'd burned the bridge with my first agent, Jill may not have forwarded Micah's email to me. So now, I own all the rights to The Mango Bride, and the film adaptation is in process. That's what I call vindication, not revenge—sweeter, but not as b*tchy," she explains.
In her narrative, the writer regards her experience as more of practice, not the more traditional hero's journey that we are accustomed to. It involves practicing writing on a daily basis. Just as important, she makes a note to read, and to read well.
"I hesitate to give advice to other writers. What worked for me was to read widely—everything from pulp fiction to in-depth investigative articles. After a while, you begin to discern good writing from bad, and effective storytelling techniques. I don't have an MFA in creative writing, but I've nevertheless learned so much about writing well from reading the work of good writers," Soliven says.
Her journalism education background at the UP College of Mass Communication certainly helps, because "Louie Beltran pushed us to step out of our comfort zone and really get into the weeds of a story. I have him to thank for sending me to the Western Police District in Manila and look over the police blotter. Gnarly."
"Also working many years in advertising as a copywriter taught me how to revise constantly and not fall apart when your best ideas are shot down," she said.
I hesitate to give advice to other writers. What worked for me was to read widely—everything from pulp fiction to in-depth investigative articles. After a while, you begin to discern good writing from bad, and effective storytelling techniques.
There's no rush, as seen in her experience of waiting for the book to get the audience it deserves. And even before that, she ensured quality over speed as she breathed life into her literary baby.
"I wrote a quick draft of the novel during NaNoWriMo 2008, then spent two years revising the draft with the help of a writing group led by Judy Reeves. We met every Wednesday evening and offered feedback on our works in progress. Of the six writers in that group, at least three of us published our stories—two novels and one memoir."