Writers, for many, are the people who provide us with adventures that shape our imagination and help us think of new possibilities. For others, they are people who give information and glimpses into real life situations that we never knew existed.
We think of people like Jane Austin, the Bronte sisters, Shakespeare and more as masters of their art. People who crafted worlds of wonder, love and sorrow. They are the creators of today’s classics — novels that some people would consider worth more than gold.
But, what about the writers of tomorrow?
People who live today who could be future bestsellers? Future masters whose works could stand the test of time and last throughout the ages.
What drives them? What are they working on now? What could be the future generations’ example of literary works of art?
“Writers of Tomorrow” is a Slice of Culture series where we will strive to highlight our writers of tomorrow — people who will be the Jane Austins, Shakespeares, Bronte sisters and Harper Lees of the future.
First up is 22-year-old Edsel Engalla from Jersey City, who is working on a coming of age story that centers around Filipino culture.
According to Good Reads, a coming-of-age story is a genre of literature that focuses on the growth of a protagonist from youth to adulthood.
My first question for Engalla was simple.
Can you tell us what you’re working on now?
“I’m working on what I’m just calling a ‘story’ for right now and I’m slowly chipping away at it. I don’t want to give it any labels because you never know what a project can turn into.“
While I could understand Engalla’s initial reluctance, I was very interested in hearing about his story, and I wasn’t so easily swayed. I tried to learn more during my next question, and I was not disappointed with what I learned.
How do you come up with your characters, and is there nothing you can tell us about this story? Perhaps a gist of what it is at the moment?
“It’s a coming of age story about a group of young Filipino Americans: Ricky, Mel, Teo, and Dom, attempting to navigate their lives after the Filipino convenience store they all work at closes down.
They’re forced to confront parts of themselves that they had been neglecting. There are so many moving parts because it’s not following a singular narrative. Their friendship and the store’s closure serves as the commonality and the catalyst to everything else that occurs.
It’s about digging into family history, representing a Filipino-American experience, questioning the promise of the American Dream, generational trauma, kinship, but most importantly about friendship.
Coming up with these characters was a process of asking a lot of questions and observing: Speaking to my father, who grew up here; speaking to my mother, who came here in her early 20s; talking to my friends and listening to the lived experiences of Filipinos across the nation.
But you also want to challenge the preconceived ideas readers have about us. And that’s where the challenge begins because I have to tip toe on the line of creating characters that represent Filipinos while also making them unique enough to both stand on their own and not turn into a character that is unrecognizable to a Filipino experience.“
Engalla said the final product of his “story” is to be determined, but for now, he’s showcasing the process of his writing on Instagram.
Next, I wanted to find out more behind his writing process. What are the roots of his work and — if any — causes of destruction?
How did you get into writing?
“I think there are multiple ways writing has shown up in my life.
The first instance — that I don’t think many of my friends know about — was that my older brother used to write poetry in his school notebooks. My older brother was who I looked up to.
I wanted to emulate him.“
Writers are driven by many things. Some, like Engalla, are driven by family members who are also writers of some kind. Others are motivated by different reasons.
There are too many to name.
But when it comes to writing it isn’t just smooth sailing. Writers experience trouble with their craft just like every other artist, so I asked him:
What challenges do you face when writing?
“Breaking into the flow of it.
Your first few paragraphs, pages, chapters — that’s all of you submerging yourself into your thoughts and spirit.
You have to keep swimming into it until you FINALLY start to write the words and convey the experience you intend to.
You have to possess the vulnerability to be patient with yourself. And it’s difficult for me because I guess when it comes tending to myself, I’m impatient.“
During my research, I found that when writers are having trouble conveying what they are trying to build, they deal with it in many ways.
Some read over their work, some take a break from writing and come back to it later or some may seek out inspiration. Inspiration comes to writers in many ways, sights, sounds and smells.
What inspires you to write?
“For me, inspirations are always changing.
If you ask any artist, let alone a writer, their answers are going to transform. It’s almost as hard of a question as asking a writer why they write.
But I think at this moment in time, I’m inspired by the experiences of fellow Filipino-Americans and how the stories of my people trace back to the Philippines and how they’re moving forward here, in the U.S.“
Now, being a writer, sometimes you are surrounded by support while other times you’re clouded by doubt.
Do you feel as though your family and friends support your writing?
“I think my friends do — they read and critique as much as they can and I’m grateful to them. Honestly, having the time to read is a privilege so to take time out of the day to read a friend’s poem or story or thoughts means a lot.
I don’t have a lot of friends that write, so they never have too much to criticize but I always try to get the most out of them while I have their attention.
When it comes to my family, I can’t say for sure what that support looks like, but I will say it’s mostly silent.“
Engalla’s work has already gained some recognition.
In September, his flash fiction piece, “The Language of the River Dwellers,” was featured in Volume One of Here-After Magazine, an online zine for Filipinx art and writing.
Stay tuned for our next “Writers of Tomorrow” piece to see what the next writer is working on. Maybe it’ll be your next favorite novel.