Once there was a girl, who at the age of 13 began writing stories on anything she could get her hands on. Be it in spiral notebooks or on school pad papers, she was always eager to share the scribbles of her vivid imaginings with friends and classmates, who in turn, would pass them on to other teenaged readers.
One day, technology churned out the Internet, and allowed Little Miss Writer to post her stories and fan fictions (i.e. stories made by fans of a certain movie or byproducts of pop culture) online via community forums and sites, granting her a larger readership.
Soon enough, her stories became a hit with no less than 12 million reads on the online fiction blogsite Wattpad, and today she is a duly published fiction writer, with one of her paperbacks all set for a movie adaptation.
Known only by her username HaveYouSeenThisGirL when her stories went viral on the World Wide Web, The Sunday Times Magazine happily met the 19-year-old bestselling author of Diary ng Panget, whose life story is also one for the books.
A writer’s passion
Just call her “Denny.” And when the bright-eyed young lady sat down for this interview, she had just finished a very successful book signing session at National Bookstore in TriNoma, Quezon City. She flew into Manila to meet her fans on this special day and took a short break from her studies in Italy where she attends Scuola Superiore I.P.C. Strocchi, a technical institute high school.
Denny candidly told The Sunday Times Magazine that she never expected to be published since she only wrote stories as a hobby.
“I didn’t have lots of readers at first. I started with one to three read
ers, and I was already happy with that,” the humble young lady laughed. “I don’t know when people started noticing my stories but I’m overwhelmed by their support. From less than 10 readers, I suddenly had more than 100,000 readers!”
Her large fan base, she emphasized, did not grow overnight. In fact, she even encountered “difficult fans” on the Internet, ergo a lot of heartache.
“I’d receive lots of demands from my readers telling me to update my stories as soon as possible. It’s flattering and annoying at the same time—flattering because I know they’re demanding for an update because they really liked the story and they’re just excited; but it’s also annoying when they ask me to update my story a minute after I posted the story.
“I love writing but it’s not my life. I have school and other things to attend to and it is really annoying when they demand an update like I’m their slave. There was even a time I hated writing, I was always pressured by those demands and for me— it felt like it wasn’t the same thing anymore.
“I wanted to quit because I missed the times I could write without stress or anything. I missed those times when I wrote to kill my boredom, and not to write because someone is demanding me to write.”
Despite these bumps along the way, Denny decided to ignore her critics and embrace her passion all over again. She resumed her writing for herself.
“Ginusto ko man mag-quit, hindi ko talaga kinayang iwan ang pagsusulat, I love writing just like how I love eating. That is why I took a short pause from writing to breathe because those demands were actually suffocating me. After that short pause, I decided to ignore all the demands and to start writing again for myself.
My readers are actually my inspiration. Every time they tell me they liked my story and I made them smile through my stories, I feel so happy and inspired to write again.”
Back in Italy, Denny may come across as any regular student taking up Graphic Advertising in her fourth year. But little do her classmates know that back home, she has a 130-page novel that is loaded with Pinoy humor, which topped National Bookstores’ bestselling Filipiniana titles within a week’s release. At one point, every branch of the country’s biggest bookstore chain had ran out of stocks of what is now a serialized novel, with fans lining up to reserve and reorder copies. The same demand can also be said from her Filipino fans overseas.
Written in a colloquial combination of Filipino and English, the first Diary ng Panget came out in May, with the second book quickly following in June, and a third installment just out this week. A fourth book is due for release at the 34th Manila International Bookfair, which will run from September 11 to 15.
Diary ng Panget’s heroine is Reah “Eya” Rodriguez, a regular, poor and “ugly” but intelligent girl who becomes a scholar at Willford Academy, a school for the rich and famous. To make ends meet, she finds work as the personal maid of Cross Sandford, the most popular—and arrogant—guy in school. In the most comical and unexpected twist of events, the unlikely pair become friends and eventually fall in love, as Eya writes in her diary.
According to Rico dela Cruz, sales circulation supervisor of PsiCom Publishing Inc., the Diary ng Panget books 1, 2 and 3 have sold 140,000 copies nationwide as of August 2013. The company’s president Arnel Gabriel, proudly added, that the title is officially PsiCom’s top-selling book to date, surpassing the sales of another PsiCom title, Ramon Bautista’s Bakit Di Ka Crush ng Crush Mo, which was just adapted into film by Star Cinema.
Very soon, the publishing firm also announced that paperback copies of Denny’s two-part series on Wattpad, Voiceless, will be printed, as well as the title She Died, which, which will be out as a manga adaptation.
With her huge fan base, Wattpad has officially named Denny “Wattpad Ambassador to the Philippines” as well.
While Denny has given the contemporary and experimental romance-comedy genre of fiction in the country a huge boost, she is happy to note that there are other young writers who are also churning successful novels in the field.
Bianca Bernardino, writer of the best-selling She’s Dating the Gangster, has also contributed to the sudden and heightened demand for local teen lit novelties.
Interviewed by The Sunday Times Magazine on a separate occasion, the author confessed she was not even a voracious reader before she started to write.
“Honestly, I never liked to read! I just started reading because of the Twilight Saga [by American novelist Stephanie Meyer]” said Bianca, a.k.a. SGWannabe on the Internet.
“But suddenly, everything just fell into place, and I started throwing ‘what’ ifs’ about a story with a friend, and ended up writing She’s Dating the Gangster.”
The book follows the story of Athena Dizon who transfers to a new high school and finds herself pretending to be the girlfriend campus bad boy and “gangster” Kenji delos Reyes. Kenji forces her into the situation to make his ex-girlfriend, whose name is also Athena, jealous. As they go about the plan, the two develop strong feelings for each other, but with a love story that has a bittersweet ending.
Bianca’s Taglish title was first posted in Summit Publishing’s teen Candy magazine’s online creative section in 2006. From there, a reader copied and posted the story on Wattpad, which immediately garnered hundreds of reads and votes from the online community. Eventually, the story was edited and translated in pure English, and published by Summit Books in March.
Besides Denny and Bianca, other teen lit books that are getting the youth to hold on to something other than their cell phones and tablets include: Alesana Marie’s Talk Back and You’re Dead and Aril Daine’s Sadistic Lover, both released under PsiCom Publishing; and Alyloony’s full novel, Operation: Break the Cassanova’s Heart, which will be published sometime this month under Summit Books.
Movies and beyond
Diary ng Panget fans who trooped to Denny’s book signing were thrilled to find out that Viva Films has already bought the rights to the title and will release a Valentine’s movie adaptation in February 2014.
The announcement was made by no less than the film company’s head honcho, Vic del Rosario, who told The Sunday Times Magazine that they are already in the process of writing the screenplay, as well deciding on the cast and director.
Asked what makes such books click in this day and age of technology, PsiCom president Arnel Gabriel believes it all starts with a good title.
“Diary ng Panget is a very catchy title so it immediately earned such a huge number of hits,” he elaborated. More importantly, he said the story is very contemporary and entertaining, thus enabling its young readers to relate and to laugh along with the plot.
“Usually, teens today would just busy themselves on their computer and with their gadgets, but now we are proud that they are going back to reading books because of the works of equally young writers,” Gabriel added.
As for PsiCom Publishing’s newest star—the teen generation’s new rom-com heroine—Denny has yet to wrap her head around her unexpected success in the world of publishing.
“I now really want writing to be my profession,” she mused. “My goal before was to publish a book but with PsiCom doing that, I haven’t set a new goal yet.” Pausing briefly, she said again, “Maybe to write I story someday that I could call a masterpiece.”