When we were in high school, my sister and I wrote a letter to Tom Schulman, Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Dead Poets Society. I was about 16, my sister, 14, and it was the first fan mail we had ever written, or, indeed, felt compelled to write. We were congratulating him on his Oscar win for the film that “changed our lives”. I don’t think now that we were exaggerating or being “overly dramatic” (as we had even apologized for in the letter), considering that my sister and I have both become writers.
We had no idea how we were going to get the letter to him—we weren’t really thinking that far ahead—only that it needed to be written. And we spent an entire day constructing it, getting it perfect. When the letter was signed and sealed, we sent it to an aunt in New York, simply assuming that all Americans (we knew that much about Mr. Schulman, anyway—that he was American) who lived in the US kinda knew how to get in touch with one another. So off that fan mail went to the US and we gave it not another thought. Remember—and it was a friend who knew of that letter from high school who pointed this out recently—it was at a time when there was yet no email or Google or Facebook.
A year later, that New York-based aunt calls us early in the morning, to excitedly relay the terrific news: Tom Schulman has just sent a package for my sister and myself to my aunt’s apartment. In it was a letter…and a copy of the final draft of the screenplay of Dead Poets Society. Waaaaaaahhhhhh!!! You’d think we’d won the Grand Lotto—or the Oscar ourselves--with the way my sister and I jumped up and down, shrieking.
The back story was that my aunt lost our letter—or so she thought. Months later, as she was cleaning out her closet, she found it in one of her bags. My uncle, her American husband, read it, was apparently moved and so made it his mission to track down Tom Schulman. And he did, through the Writer’s Guild of America.
That experience has been one of the most defining and memorable in my teenage life. So that when I started working with teenagers, as their writing teacher, “Write to someone you admire” inevitably became one of the writing exercises. Go for it, I tell them. Don’t think about whether or not that person is ever going to read it or how you are going to send it, just write it. And reach for the stars.
I may have overdone the “reach for the stars” mantra because when we were compiling my students’ works at Reach International School for publishing and I was asking them whose blurb they would like on their book (entitled There’s Something You Should Know About Me), the names they threw on the table made me swallow. Hard.
J.K. Rowling. Stephenie Meyer. Lemony Snickett. Oprah. Ellen Degeneres. Haruki Murakami. And some other people whose names weren’t familiar to me but didn’t sound like they lived in Manila—Suzanne Collins, L.J. Smith, Lauren Kate. “Guys naman,” was all Teacher Tweet could manage to murmur.
I was saved by the fact that we had a very limited time to get the blurbs in before the manuscript had to be sent to the printers in time for the book launch.
Or so I thought.
Suddenly, news broke out among my girls that Lauren Kate, author of Fallen, a book some of them have been pushing me to read, was coming to Manila for a book signing in National Bookstore and Powerbooks.
“Ms. Tweet,” came the deadly request I had been dreading from one of the girls. “Can you ask her to blurb our book?”
I swallowed harder. And then I Googled Ms. Kate, found her website and, channeling all my Tom-Schulman-fan-mail-writing-energy, crafted a short note to Lauren Kate. I left my email address, inhaled and clicked “send” on the exhale, just as my yoga teacher had taught me to do. A day later—that’s right, after only one day—I received a sweet, heartfelt response from the author, essentially saying that she’s honored we thought of her and yes, please, do send her the manuscript. Waaaaaaahhhhhh!!!
The girls went mad. Plans to meet up at Powerbooks hours before the 4:00 PM book signing were hatched—they didn’t want to risk losing seats to the other fan girls. Now I wanted in on the plan—so that I may say thank you in person to the gracious author. I grabbed a copy of Fallen from the nearest National Bookstore, planning to speed-read through it before having it signed on Sunday.
When my friend Steph heard of the Lauren Kate-blurb story, she wanted in, too. Grabbing her own copy, the plan was then set: four teenage girls and two 30-plus teenage women were going to converge in Powerbooks and pounce on the now-very-familiar-to-me Ms. Kate.
She didn’t disappoint. During the Q&A just before the book signing, Lauren Kate dished out all those details fans want to hear from an author: her favorite book (F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby—“I have a thing for the doomed love story”), authors who have inspired her (Roald Dahl was an early favorite, later on it was Gabriel Garcia Marquez—“A big inspiration”), what book she’d recommend (“The Replacement. I found it spooky, dark, romantic.”), how long it takes her to finish writing a book (“Usually it takes me three months of writing everyday to complete a first draft”), where she got the idea for Fallen (“A line in Genesis” about angels giving up their place in heaven because they had fallen in love with a human. “I wanted to explore what kind of human, what kind of girl would that be.”)
When she began her research for the book, she says, “I didn’t know very well about angels.” So she consulted with a divinity scholar and immersed herself in Angeology—the history, the mythology. “I think I scared the local librarian,” she says, when she checked out 11 books, all about the devil.
A four-part book series about a human, Luce, and an angel, Daniel, falling in love (Fallen, Torment, Passion, Rapture), the first two books have, so far, already been published. The third, Passion (to be released in June 14, 2011), which the author describes as a “big departure from Fallen and Torment”, is on its second draft stage. The fourth, Rapture, is still in Lauren Kate’s head.
Because popular books inevitably end up on the big screen these days, the question about a film version naturally came up. Disney has optioned the film rights. Apparently, the news that the family entertainment company was attached to the project had already been causing some serious worry, if not all-out strife, among the US fans, especially where casting was concerned. “I assure you,” Lauren Kate quickly added, to the utter relief of the crowd, “Miley Cyrus won’t be starring in it.”
To further assure the Manila fans, she told them she’ll be sitting in as a consultant of the film, which is scheduled for release in 2012.
Finally, the many young writers in the crowd wanted to know: what advice would she give them when writing their own book?
The best advice, the author said, was from a friend of hers: “Just finish it.” It’s easy to be inspired, she says, even to get started. But when you lose interest, especially towards the end of the story—as had happened to her twice before—it’s incredibly tempting to just drop it and start a new writing project. Even if her first two novels weren’t published, she says, she was glad she completed them. With the practice provided by those first two efforts, finishing Fallen became easier. “I had already done it before.”
My students, whose book was by now at the printers, and I wanted to know something else, too: has Ms. Kate read the manuscript I emailed her? We were beginning to worry her blurb wouldn’t arrive in time for the printing. “I’m sorry,” she said, sounding truly apologetic, when I asked about it as she was signing my book, “I’ve been traveling so much that I haven’t really been able to check my mai—“
“I brought a hard copy,” I said, quickly producing the thick manuscript from the plastic bag I had been lugging. My students and my friend stared. So that’s what was in the plastic bag. I explained to her that she could just quickly scan through it, then leave it in her hotel room when she was done. I said I hated having to harass her like this, but I’m a teacher, see, and those wide-eyed kiddos over there (she looked to where they were seated, they grinned wide and waved energetically at her)…well, it’s their first book…I kinda said some things about nothing being impossible, reaching for the stars, blah, blah…She laughed, lifting the manuscript from my hands, and said, yes, of course. I wanted to hug her, but the impulse, I think, was much stronger in my student Yani, who was shaking and teary-eyed beside me with excitement, so I let her go for it. And, then, of course, we all had our photo taken.
That's Yani going for it.
Renzo, Juliet, Owie, Bettina, Yani, Lauren (but, yes, first name basis dapat) and me.
Two days later, I opened my email and there was a message from Lauren Kate: “Hi Tweet, running to catch the plane home, but I wanted to send along this quote…”
All together now: Waaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!
Lauren Kate and her new fan.