Short fiction by Erin Cormier, writing under E.K. Entrada, has appeared in numerous print and online journals, including Keyhole Magazine, Kyoto Journal, Asians in America Magazine, and the Audience Literary Journal. She recently had a piece of flash fiction selected for an anthology published by Green Lantern Press and was a top 40 finalist for the 2009 Eric Hoffer Fiction Prize. A Filipina American, she has been published in print journals throughout Asia, in cities such as Manila, Hong Kong, and Kyoto, Japan.
Let’s start with an easy question – as hard as it is to get published today and as much work goes into being an indie-publisher (if that’s your mode of publication), why do you keep coming back to the WORD, to the writing?
All of us are born to do something. For some, it can require a lot of digging and self-exploration before that “something” is revealed. Fortunately for me, I knew right away that I was born to write. Writing is as much a part of me as anything else. Being published is an honor, but I consider it a benefit to writing, not the reason for doing it. I wouldn’t know how to act if I couldn’t write.
The first story I can remember writing is “The Two Orphans,” which I wrote in second or third grade. When I asked my dad if I could publish it, he said yes, took it to his office, and taped the pages between two pieces of cardboard. It’s my only hardcover to date.
What three writers have influenced your writing and how?
As a young adult writer, Gennifer Choldenko has been my greatest influence. Adolescence is full of challenges and tragedies, and it can be difficult to convey the fullness of them through the eyes of a young adult protagonist, but Choldenko makes it look easy. Ernest Gaines is another author who has influenced me greatly. In my opinion, every writer should read “A Gathering of Old Men” to learn about voice, word choice, and word economy. Finally, Judy Blume, for obvious reasons.
How do your beliefs, values, and cultural awareness reflect themselves in your writing?
My ultimate goal as a writer is to convey universality through characters that are generally considered outsiders. My stories are meant to embrace diversity, which is central to my beliefs, values and cultural awareness.
What are some of the themes you find yourself circling back to in your writing?
Loneliness is a common theme in most of my fiction. Sometimes it’s subtle, but it’s there. My protagonists often struggle with feelings of being an “other,” which is probably why YA fiction appeals to me so much.
I selected you as an October feature because your “writer’s heart” connects with me. When I read your works, I sense your passion for writing and for conveying images, sounds, emotions, feelings to your reader. If you could, describe what “the heart of a writer” means to you.
A writer is constantly surrounded by unwritten short stories and novels. A few examples: I once read a newspaper story about the mistreatment that road workers face at the hands of frustrated motorists. That eventually became “Morris Sees a Furrier” [link]. An uneventful episode of Wheel of Fortune became “Susanna Buys a Vowel” [link]. A ride on a ferry in the Philippines developed into “The Saint of Difficult Situations” (Audience Literary Journal, Fall 2008), a simple anthill became “Owen and the Colony” (Fiction at Work and Green Lantern Press, Winter 2010), and a college class that required an oral presentation became “The Naming of Cats” (The Philippines Free Press, February 2009). If you recognize big stories in small events, you have the heart of a writer. Whether or not you write them is up to you.
Yes, writers “feel” the need to write, but we have to be realistic, too: writers WANT to get published. Talk a bit about your publication journey and some of the important things you’ve learned while on that journey.
In 2006, my main goal was to publish a short story in a print journal, but when it actually happened, it was anticlimactic. I was overjoyed at first, but it faded quickly. I decided that to truly feel a sense of accomplishment I had to publish in Keyhole, one of my favorite literary journals. When that happened, I decided that I needed to get into a top 100 market. When that happened, I had the same reaction: Hooray! … Now what? If you were to ask me what would make me happy today, I’d tell you that I’ll never feel accomplished until one of my novels is picked up by a publisher.
I guess the most important lesson that I still need to learn is to enjoy the ride and stop thinking about what’s next. That goes for writing and life in general.
Writers are more than writers today; they are publicists, marketers, brands, a whole product aside from the book itself. What are you doing, as a writer with many hats, to market/promote yourself and get your works into the right hands?
For whatever reason (probably a lack of self-confidence that plagues a lot of writers), I’m often embarrassed when people ask about my fiction and I’m equally embarrassed to discuss it. But I’ve learned that to rise above other writers who are equally talented – and in many cases, more so – you have to be willing to draw attention to yourself. I started a Web site and maintain Facebook and Twitter accounts. I seek out authors, editors, agents, and publishers that I respect and ask them for insight. I send out my short stories and novels to anyone who wants to read them. I’m constantly researching new short story markets, as well as established and emerging publishing houses, that fit my writing aesthetic. My writing brain never stops.
Just about every writer today writes under the cloak of at least one pseudonym. Some do it because of the various genres in which they write in. Some do it to honor someone close to them, someone who has been an encourager of their work. Some never use their real name and cloak their entire writer identity under a pseudonym for anonymity’s sake. Why do you use E. K. Entrada as your pseudonym?
Entrada is my mother’s maiden name. Most of my fiction has been influenced by her family tales, or by my own experiences as a Filipina American. I feel it more accurately reflects my writing aesthetic and I want to give as much recognition to my heritage as possible. Asians are largely excluded from Western literature, despite its rich literary tradition. “E.K.” isn’t actually a pseudonym — it’s my first two initials.
What are you working on next?
I’m nearly finished with the first draft of a YA novel, “The Apple Watson Songbook.” It’s about a 12-year-old girl who can’t stop singing. The novel was inspired by my own daughter, who has sung at least one song every day since 1999 (by my estimations). Parts of the novel were also drawn from my personal experiences as one of the only Asian students in a small southern school – a challenge that also faces young Apple.
1 Being Named After a Fruit
In America, it’s not easy being named after a fruit. Americans have very clever things to say about it, like “Do you have a brother named Orange?” or “Does your family come in a bushel?” Some just scrunch their nose and ask “What kind of name is that? Is it short for something?” And I tell them it’s what Filipino mothers do. Filipinos love nicknames, and I don’t mean American nicknames like Bob, Jack, or Beth. I’m talking about nicknames that have nothing to do with your real name. Take me, for instance. My legal name is Perla Rizalia Watson. But to my family, I am Apple.
“Because of your head,” my mother says. She’s told me the story a million times – about how when I was born no one could believe how big my head was, and how my father said it looked like a fruit, and how I was only Perla for about two hours before I became Apple. Then she cocks her head to the side and says, “Your head still looks like apple.”
That’s the thing about my mother. She loves to tell the truth. When she first came to the States, she asked a red-haired neighbor if all her hair was red, or just the hair on her head. And she asked the man who lived downstairs if he was upset that his wife was so homely.
I’ve watched a lot of American mothers. They pour sugar on the truth, but my mother loads it on a plate, slices it up in broken English, and raises it right to my nose.
I’m not sure which is better.
I believe that every person on Earth has at least three interesting facts about them. Take my mother Josie, for instance. The first thing is, she is the most honest person I know – for better or worse. The second interesting thing about my mother is that when she was 10 years old, she slammed her head against a fishing boat in the Philippines and ever since then, she’s had short-term memory loss. It takes a few hours for thoughts to stay in her head. Just about every day when I come home from school, she asks me what I have for homework. “Four pages of math,” I’ll say, and she’ll nod and leave the room as I open my books on the kitchen table. Six minutes later she’ll come back and ask what I’m working on, and two minutes after that, she’ll ask what I have for homework. It gets exhausting, but my stepfather Quincy says I have to live with it because we all have our moments.
The third interesting thing is the fact that she agreed to marry Quincy and move to Chapel Spring, Louisiana, USA, after knowing him for only three days. I was three years old and my real father had died of a brain aneurysm. She was a waitress on a resort island called Bohol and he was vacationing alone when they met.
“Weren’t you worried he was a serial killer or something?” I asked once.
“No, because I don’t know what that means, serial killer. We have no serial killers in the Philippines. Everyone’s being too busy trying to find food and have fun,” she said. “If you ask me what a serial killer is when I first come to America, I would say someone who murders the Cheerios.” She laughed for a long time at that.
It’s no wonder that my mom married Quincy right away, though. Everyone loves him. He’s even a national hero. When he was in the Army, he received a medal from the president of the United States for something heroic he did in Operation Desert Storm. My mother says you should never ask a veteran about war, so I don’t know what he did to win the medal, but I like to imagine that he saved a soldier from a burning building or pulled his best friend out of the raging waters of the sea. That seems like something he would do.
The second interesting thing about Quincy is that he can spin a basketball on his middle finger for thirty full minutes. It’s true. He says it’s a trick he learned when he played college basketball. I’ve tried it a million times, but the basketball always gets away from me and knocks something over, like the flower pot in the backyard or the lamp in the den. (After I broke the lamp, my mother was furious, so I cleaned it up as fast as I could, hoping she would forget. She didn’t.)
The third interesting thing is that he can fall asleep right away. I read somewhere that it takes an average of seven minutes for people to fall asleep, but Quincy gets knocked out right away. He’ll say that he’s going to sleep and as soon as he hits the pillow, he’s snoring. It’s amazing to me, because I have a great deal of trouble falling asleep. My mind wakes up at night and starts spouting out all the thoughts it locked up during the day, even silly thoughts, like I wonder where Julia Conner got those Converse sneakers or The carrots served at lunch tasted funny. Sometimes, though, my thoughts aren’t silly at all. Like I wonder what kind of man my father was, or How come I can’t make friends at school?
I have some ideas about that last question, and I’ve decided that my own three interesting facts have made me an outcast:
- My name is Apple.
- I was born in a country that no one – at least no one in Chapel Spring, Louisiana – knows anything about.
- I have a weird habit.
My habit isn’t normal-weird, like chewing the erasers off my pencils or biting my toenails. No, that would be too easy. Instead, I sing. Not just in the shower or when a catchy song comes on the radio. That’s normal. I’m not – at least not according to my mom.
Right now I’m singing “Hey There Delilah” by the Plain White Ts. I love to sing and my voice is okay, but you can’t go through life singing. They do it in movies like “Grease” and “Hairspray,” but unfortunately, real life doesn’t work that way.
The big problem with my singing is that I do it at inappropriate times, like during math class or when I’m in line at McDonald’s. My mother says it’s a nervous habit, which is funny, since I don’t feel nervous at all when I’m doing it. It really annoys her. She’ll say, “Stopping the singing!” and tweak my nose between her knuckles. My mom speaks English well enough that you can understand her, but sometimes she gets her verb tenses messed up, or she forgets one word and substitutes another, but basically, she wants me to stop singing.
“I can’t help it,” I reply. “I don’t even realize I’m doing it.”
“Of course not. Because it’s nervous habit.”
“But I’m not nervous.”
She rolls her eyes like I’m trying to be difficult, even though I’m not.
Last week, just as I started humming “This Land is Your Land,” she announced that she had figured out a way to stop the singing. We were in the kitchen, washing snap peas before dinner.
“It’s no wonder no boys sending you Valentines,” she said, because it was the week after Valentine’s Day. “You are going to see the school counselor so she can get to the tops of things.” What she means is, get to the bottom of things. “She is a nice lady, and she knows all about your crazy singing.”
Everyone at school knows about my crazy singing, because I sing in the hall, in class, at my locker, and after school. Most of the time I sing quietly. Other times I just hum. And then there are days when I don’t sing at all – I mean, no one can really sing every minute of the day, right? My teachers are used to it now. The only one who makes a big deal out of it is Miss Lattis. She makes me sit in the back of the room, in the desk next to the fish tank, so I won’t disturb anyone. She thinks I need medication, like Ritalin, which is supposed to be for kids who can’t sit still and can’t pay attention. But I have no trouble at all paying attention and I never move from my seat.
“Why do I have to see a counselor? That’s only for crazy people,” I said.
My mother sighed. “I have good adult reasonings.” That was the phrase she used whenever I disagreed with her: good adult reasonings. I have no idea what it means.
The evening before my first scheduled session, my mother told Quincy about her plan to get to the tops of things. We were sitting together on the couch – she in one corner and me in the other.
“I scheduled Apple to see the school counselor,” she said. “What do you think? Good idea?”
Quincy leaned back in his massive recliner and flipped the channels until he found an old rerun.
“She doesn’t need a counselor,” Quincy said. “She just needs something to occupy her brain. She needs to make friends.”
“How can she make friends when she is all the time singing?” my mother said.
I sighed. “I don’t wanna make friends at that school anyway. The kids are weird.”
“You’re all weird at that age,” Quincy said. “Not quite children, not quite adults.”
“They’re not quite human,” I said.
Quincy laughed. His laugh is loud and booming. It’s one of the best sounds in the world, because when you hear it, you have to smile. This time, however, my mother didn’t.
“Don’t encourage her, Quincy,” she said.
The old rerun continued on for the next five minutes, but Quincy was the only one who thought it was funny. My mother and I watched it in silence. When a commercial came on, she turned to him and said, “I scheduled Apple to see the school counselor. What do you think? Good idea?”