With two months left to the year, I think it’s safe to describe this one as tough. And it manifested in my reading list. Books are escape portals, and some of my favorite reads this year were lighthearted, magical realisms that whisked me away to different realities, such as The House in the Cerulean Sea and The Dead Romantics.
At one point, I stopped reading for an entire month, an unlikely feat for an annoyingly avowed bookworm like me. But when Caris Avendaño Cruz kindly sent me an advanced readers’ copy of Marikit and the Ocean of Stars, I was reminded of what I loved about books in the first place. I jump into a rabbit hole of words that brings me to curiouser and curiouser places where everyone is mad (in the best way).
Marikit and the Ocean of Stars is a heartwarming, Studio Ghibli-esque adventure; a book I wish I had when I was a kid. While categorized as a middle-grade novel, there’s so much to take away from Marikit’s fantastical journey. As she navigates the land of Engkantos, we navigate Philippine folklore and culture with her.
Cruz’s masterful and imaginative storytelling can be likened to the door to Wonderland. It pulls you, and you just want to keep getting pulled. Reality seemed to pale in comparison whenever I had to remove my eyes from the pages; my clothes were less exciting, too, compared to Marikit’s dress.
A month before Marikit and the Ocean of Stars hit the shelves, I sat down with the debut author to talk about her childhood that inspired the book and her writing journey. Bonded by our struggles as writers and mutual love for Little Women and Peter Pan, we’ve been introverted bookworm friends since then. She is just as amazing and marikit as her heroine.
YOUNG STAR: We both grew up and live here in Malolos, Bulacan, a small town. How did our hometown inspire you in setting the scene for Marikit’s hometown?
CARIS AVENDANO CRUZ: I just wanted to bring our home to the diaspora. I imagined (Marikit) in the space and time as my mom was when she was a kid. I was writing Marikit as my mom, and her mother as my grandmother. Marikit’s mother is a seamstress, just like my grandmother. It’s my tribute to these two women I so love and admire. I hope that the world remembers them. My grandmother passed away in 2010, but this is dedicated to her.
Aside from your mother and grandmother, what else from your childhood made it into the book?
Marikit’s house itself was fashioned out of my mother’s old house. The way the sewing machine is placed near the window; the sound of the wooden floors that creak whenever you walk by; the big spoon and fork they’d hang on the wall. It feels like a picture album of my time there.
When you win, you can celebrate with your people. But when you lose, you carry the entire burden on your own. (Writing) is definitely a lonely journey, but it can also be fun.
Because Inang had passed away, my mother actually inherited the sewing machine. She started mending our clothes and creating new ones. She made this one dress. It was very, very flimsy and had many, many patterns. It was so kitsch. It was a regular pambahay, but I remember it so clearly. It was that dress that inspired me, “Oh, this could be a map.”
Can you walk us through your writing process for Marikit?
Marikit came from a one-line idea, and then I started writing the first chapters. I discovered that I am a chaotic pantser; I do not outline. I think my editor knows that and probably hates me for it. Marikit was not outlined, and I took it chapter by chapter. Marikit gets from one place to another, that’s what the map is for, so I kind of got to write a mini story for each chapter.
What specifically got you to center the book around Philippine mythology and folklore?
It’s not like I’ve had enough with the Greeks and the Romans. But when you discover the wonders that we have, you could unearth those treasures and discover more about our culture.
It’s also really funny because most of the people who recorded the stories about our gods were white people. It’s very rare to find a book about these that an actual Filipino wrote. We just want to get our culture and history back. We’re thankful to those who lent us their words, but we have to keep looking for the stories that we missed. I want to appreciate what is ours.
A book I recently finished said, “Writing is a lonely journey,” and I’ve been pondering that since then. Do you believe this?
Definitely. You start dreaming and writing these stories on your own, and you don’t want to tell the next person about it because you don’t know if it’s going to be good. You’re trying to create something and you don’t know whether it will be accepted or loved or published. When you win, you can celebrate with your people. But when you lose, you carry the entire burden on your own. It is definitely a lonely journey, but it can also be fun. You discover more about yourself and about the world.
As a fellow writer, I know that the first revisions are often the most brutal. What did you learn from that experience?
People should save their first drafts. A lot of those words are so pure, and were written without second thoughts. You want to have your first draft to come back to, to be reminded of the heart of your story.
Marikit went through a lot of revision. It’s not in the shape that I originally made it to be, but it’s now more beautiful than before. I love how my editor helped me go through that process. They asked me, “What should you do with this character? Shouldn’t there be a pause in between this?” They let me discover and explore what the possibilities could be.
A debut is an exciting time for an author! Who are you most excited to read your book?
I want it to be read by kids named Marikit. There are two amazing women who messaged me on Instagram and their name is Marikit. They said, “I saw my name on your book! My friends forwarded this book to me and I immediately bought it.” Their names are really hard to pronounce for Americans, and they’re just really happy to see their name on a book. And I want younger Marikits to read it and discover the potential in them as well.
Marikit and the Ocean of Stars is out this Oct. 18, and available for preorder online on Fully Booked, National Bookstore, Barnes and Noble, Target, and Amazon.