The story so far

Regine Cabato (The Philippine Star) - May 23, 2014 - 12:00am

Fictionists Veronica Rossi, Tahereh Mafi and Ransom Riggs dropped by Manila to discuss how their books relate to young lives.

MANILA, Philippines - Whoever thinks Filipinos aren’t a reading audience hasn’t been paying attention. Young Adult fictionists Veronica Rossi, Tahereh Mafi, and Ransom Riggs were in town last April 26 to promote their novels, which were released earlier this year. Over a thousand fans went to the Glorietta book signing sponsored by National Book Store.

After getting back from Cebu, I found myself facing the three New York Times bestselling authors at a place in Raffles Hotel called the Writers Bar.

“You’ll find a lot of rich detail in people’s personal histories — diaries and journals and things of the era,” said Riggs, whose novel Hollow City, the World War II-set sequel to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, was released last January. The stories follow Jacob Portman, who meets the peculiar children in his quest to unravel the mystery of his grandfather’s death.

He sits next to his wife, Mafi, who closed the Shatter Me trilogy with Ignite Me a month later. “Juliette appeared to me fully formed,” Mafi says of the girl with the lethal touch. When she first occurred to Mafi, she knew only that she was locked up for a crime she didn’t intend to commit. “I feel… with the series (ending), I’ve closed the book on that chapter of my life. Forgive the pun,” she adds. “I feel like I grew so much over the course of a four-year period.”

Rossi took roughly the same time with her series, beginning with a fish-out-of-water concept. Her work, the Under the Never Sky trilogy, begins when Aria is exiled from her enclosed city to an outside world of storms, cannibals and survival of the fittest. “I wanted to have two completely opposite societies, and I wanted them to be within very close proximity to each other,” she says. “I love the coming-of-age story, and I always have.”

While the Young Adult genre covers the coming of age, Mafi and Riggs add that there is no formula for its success. “What initially happens is that a great book is written,” she explains, citing The Hunger Games as an example. When this became a hit, many publishers were quick to declare dystopian novels as the next big thing. “Actually, if you go back to it, it’s not just dystopian fiction that people wanted. It was that they wanted a great book… I think what happens is that a great book rises to the top, as it always will, and people clamor for it… so it doesn’t quite matter which genre.”

Despite the fact that all their novels are set in alternate worlds, writers stick to rules of thumb in keeping fantasy grounded in reality. Riggs focuses on an emotional reality, maintaining that a “character who feels real” can be put in the most fantastic setting, but that audiences would follow him there.

Under the Never Sky is set “some 300 years in the future, but humans are still humans. They still make mistakes, they still love, they still… betray each other,” Rossi says, adding that these relationships helped fuel her writing.

Mafi’s Juliette, on the other hand, struggles with discovering herself in a world that tries to impose identities on her. “It’s like an identity crisis that a lot of young people go through, that a lot of older people go through,” says Mafi. “I feel like it’s something all of us battle… at various points in our lives.”

From Rossi’s primitive hunting tribes to Riggs’ alternate histories and Mafi’s barren dystopia, Young Adult fiction has imagined worlds that are not exclusive to its array of teenage protagonists or its teenage readers. Young Adult fiction is fiction for all ages.

“I guess I’m on a journey, too,” says Riggs of the writing life. “It doesn’t involve monsters and death, but it’s very exciting.”

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