The making of Paper Cuts
This isn’t a story about a book that was published. This is a story about a dream that came true.
I grew up surrounded by books. They were all over my house, under my pillow, inside my bag, in front of my nose. I could spend days just reading in my room. National Book Store was my favorite place in the world. I could spend hours and hours there just searching for new titles to read. Forget toys, I was happy to receive books for Christmas and my birthday.
Like any other kid, I grew up reading Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, Enid Blyton. I wasn’t allowed to read Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High so I got my fill of Nancy Drew, The Babysitters Club, Camp Sunnyside and Sweet Valley Twins. Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine rocked my world. I wished Anastasia Krupnik was real.
But even as a kid, I started wondering why I was always reading about American kids, about homecoming dances or summer camp, things I really couldn’t relate to. And while I appreciate that reading is about living vicariously and getting to experience things you normally wouldn’t through someone else’s words, I also wanted something a little more homegrown.
Once, I read in a Babysitters Club book that Claudia made accessories out of Necco wrappers. What the hell were Neccos? I thought. Since this was before the age of Google, all I could do was wonder. An uncle who was leaving for the US asked me for a wish list and because I was dying of curiosity, I asked him to bring home some Neccos.
He didn’t, he couldn’t find them.
It was at that point, before I turned ten years old, that I realized what I wanted to do – I wanted to write books, books that people in my own country can relate to.
And I wanted to walk into a book store and see my name on the shelves.
I started writing and I never stopped. But I didn’t write books. I wrote poems and essays and stories. Poems that make me sick when I read them now. Essays I still like. Stories where people always die.
In fifth grade, our class gave out paper medals, just cut out from pieces of construction paper with the awards written by hand. No one else took it seriously but I did. Because my medal read “Future Writer.” I glued it to my diary and kept it for years.
I was a freshman in college when the opportunity to write for Inquirer came in the form of a newspaper ad. I answered, I was given my first assignment (a survey on virginity) and that started my love affair with journalism.
At 19, I started closing newspaper pages. I was just a kid in my school uniform in a sea of experienced adults but that didn’t stop me from working my ass off. It’s been 13 years and over a thousand articles but I know I am nowhere near done.
But while I am in love with newspaper work, and while I realize that I am lucky I get to do what I love every day, there was still that dream I couldn’t let go of. I can let go of my hopes of being a lawyer (I did when I switched majors from Political Science to Journalism), I can let go of my desire to be a forensic pathologist (I suck at science, I’ll stick to watching CSI), I can let go of my fantasies of being a teacher (I don’t think I’ll be allowed to cuss in class anyway) but I couldn’t let go of my dreams of writing a book.
When my Aunt Marie (who has written books herself) visited from the US many years back, she asked me when I’d like to have my first book published.
“I’ll have it out by the time I’m 28,” I said confidently, knowing I still had some years left.
“Anytime before 30 is remarkable,” she said.
But 28 came and I still didn’t have a book.
I was almost 29 when it hit me that if I wanted my book out by the time I was 30, I was going to have to get off my ass and start working on it. I was witnessing how turning 30 drove some friends crazy. I didn’t want to dread my 30th birthday and I thought the book would make it something to look forward to.
It was in August of 2009, two months before my 29th birthday, when I first submitted my sample chapters to Anvil.
I have loved Anvil for years. I have a lot of their books on my shelves – from Jessica Zafra’s Twisted series to Danton Remoto’s Ladlad and Eros Pinoy. I was hoping they would like my manuscript.
Two months later, a week after my 29th birthday, I was asked to submit the entire manuscript.
I didn’t hear from Anvil for a long time. I started wondering if I should have a plan B.
Fast forward to April 2010. I was in Singapore on vacation and one morning, I woke up to this e-mail:
“Thanks a lot for submitting a sample of your writing to us for possible publication under Anvil Publishing’s trade line. We’re very much interested in your manuscript…”
I couldn’t scream. It was very early and Jaggy was still asleep on the other bed. I had to settle for knocking on the bathroom door where Jill was showering. She opened the door two inches, I told her about the e-mail and we started jumping in excitement – she behind the door, all sudsy and dripping, me on the other side completely jolted awake by that very short e-mail.
Back in Manila days later, I started preparing the hard copy of my manuscript. It was not easy. I was in the middle of printing the 200-page document when the electricity died.
When the lights finally came back on, I continued printing, only to realize that the printer had run out of ink and it was too late to go out and get more.
I was glad that I’m not superstitious because I probably would have freaked out.
The next day, rain poured as friends and I made our way to the Anvil office in Mandaluyong to deliver the manuscript.
Because it was raining so hard, I had to walk through a little flood to get to the Anvil office. I didn’t have an umbrella but I didn’t care. I just made sure I shielded the manuscript from the rain. My feet were soaked and I got wet but it didn’t matter – because my manuscript copies were safe.
In June, my biggest challenge was coming up with a subtitle. I remember spending a crazy night in a Boracay bar with my brother and my notebook, listing possible subtitles. What ended up as my subtitle wasn’t part of that first list.
Do I doodle? Anvil wanted to know. Yes, but not well. They wanted to see some doodles for possible use in the book so I sent them some.
Some ended up in the book.
June 8, I was in Australia to watch Cats and interview the cast. I got a message from Anvil asking if I could make a cover sample. I had previously talked about wanting to use letter cutouts from magazines. A week later, I sent them variations of this:
But we ended up scrapping this entirely because the concept was too simple.
I also sent a couple of collages that they can use for the cover and back cover.
I’m happy they were able to use both.
I signed the book contract sometime in July and even then, it still didn’t feel real.
I spent the next weeks and months working on the book – looking at cover studies, looking at more cover studies, choosing a cover, editing, checking the proofs, rechecking the proofs. And it still didn’t feel real. I was sent the final cover and it still didn’t feel real.
It started to feel real in December, when Anvil sent the first ten copies of Paper Cuts to me.
There is something crazy about holding your book for the first time. I wouldn’t compare it to holding your first child (I wouldn’t know), I wouldn’t compare it to sex (Grandma, what are you doing online?). It was pure joy. There was nothing I could do but grin. And resist the urge to start screaming and running around in circles like the giddy little bookworm in me wanted to do.
Instead, I celebrated with a pint of Chunky Monkey.
It was days before copies started trickling their way to book store shelves. People kept asking me if the book was out so at one point, I made the attempt to call a National Book Store branch.
“Hello? Meron na kayong stocks ng Paper Cuts?”
It was two weekends ago when I found out that the book was already available. I was in the kitchen and neck-deep in meatballs and Korean fried chicken and all the other things we had to cook for our Christmas dinner when J‘s sister texted to say she bought copies of the book and wanted them signed.
And because the past days have been crazy, it was only yesterday that I finally saw the books on the shelves of National Book Store in Shangri-La.
I also went to Powerbooks and was told that they had copies but they were all gone. Sold out. Holy crap. That’s crazy. I hope that doesn’t mean only two books were delivered there.
Paper Cuts has been out for a little over a week and I love seeing people post pictures of the book.
I also love getting messages from people who say they’ve read the book and enjoyed it, including my grandma who said I gave her gas. Now that’s a compliment, thankyouverymuch.
“What’s your book about?” a lot of people have asked.
I don’t think I’ve given anyone a sufficient answer.
It is about me. And my crazy family. And my friends. And my job. And travel. And occasionally getting drunk. And strangers who are really strange.
Paper Cuts isn’t just a book. It’s a dream come true. And maybe one day I can make an American girl go, “What the hell is Akyat-Bahay Gang?”
Paper Cuts is available at National Book Store and Powerbooks.