Writing Romance in Southeast Asia (thoughts after Tiny Lit Fest)

December 10, 2019 - - No comments


The description of our session, according to @thetinylitfest: Who loves Love? How does local culture, background, language, nationality influence the ways we express this universal emotion? Who better to answer these questions than romance novelists? ⁣

This event will see local halal romance writer Aisha Malik in conversation with invited author Mina V Esguerra, the winner of the Filipino Readers’ Choice Awards for Chick Lit in 2012 and 2013. The conversation will be hosted by the brilliant Sarah Ahmad Ghazali. ⁣

After meeting Dr. Kathrina Mohd Daud at IASPR in Sydney, and then Huwaida Ishaaq of Heartwrite Publishing when she visited Manila, we stayed in touch, exchanged books, and then this! Kat and Huwaida organized the Tiny Lit Fest in Brunei, and included panels on romance writing. I was excited to be part of this session, and I wanted to talk about everything. (Now that it’s over I can say that we managed to cover a lot of topics, but not absolutely everything! We only had 2 hours, after all.)

The session was also the launch of the new edition of Aisha Malik’s royal romance Jewel, about the prince of fictional Southeast Asian country Mekar, and the Mekaran-American “commoner” he falls in love with while at university. It’s told in two POVs, and is a great introduction to the way that the recognizable romance genre form can be adapted to make us (us in this case = southeast Asians) feel more comfortable writing it. It requires a calibration of whatever setting your mind is in when you read romance, at least that’s how I think of it–the main characters are almost but not quite what you expect from a romance book. And when I do see what’s different, I want to respect that difference. And I want to see what other authors from Brunei get to do with that space to make their own thing.

I brought a bunch of #RomanceClass books to display and talk about, because #RomanceClass authors deciding to write about what they care about has expanded our contributions to the genre beyond what anyone can plan. One person can’t be writing all the things…all readers benefit when many writers get to write the things.

The session was moderated by Dr. Sarah Ahmad Ghazali and if we managed to cover a lot of topics it was because she planned such a substantial menu for the session. From how we started as authors, to publishing possibilities, how we make it close to home, how we write intimacy, on pen names and anonymity, how much to explain, which words to use (even when writing in English). For the last two, I shared my position as of recently, that I’ve begun to write more comfortably integrating places, food, names, and other things that are specific to my setting, which tends to be Manila in my books.

I told them about Jennifer Hallock’s paper on the Regency chronotope of historical romance, and explained that writing with #RomanceClass has helped make it easier for each author to write a Philippines that requires less explaining, less centering of the foreign reader. Because our audience tends to read across several authors, and that means the “burden” of explaining is shared, and reduced. And, to be honest, really freaking cool, when you see the landscape of where you live and who you are being built in a genre, book by book.

I would love for more romance to be written reflecting life and culture in our region. The conversations during and after this session, and throughout Tiny Lit Fest, showed me that we here have a lot to say. We need to assure authors that writing the books is possible (and then show them how), and if anyone cares to read them (and the answer is us, that we will read them).

What I know from experience is that we get more books when we have authors reading, recommending, and supporting each other. Here are Aisha’s books, a great place to start! Thank you, Kat, Huwaida, Sarah, Aisha, everyone at Tiny Lit Fest.

There will be another way to read/support #RomanceClass while in Brunei–by looking for our books at Nollybook! All the books are on Amazon as well, links here:


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Another way to thank me (if you found any of this helpful)


About Mina

Mina V. Esguerra writes and publishes romance novels. She founded #RomanceClass, a community of Filipino authors of romance in English.
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