If the crowd that gathered at the National Book Store at Glorietta 1 is anything to go by, then it’s probably safe to assume that the 25-year-old Tahereh Mafi is a favorite among Filipino readers.
The American author was in town recently to meet and greet Filipino fans of her young adult (YA) dystopian novels “Shatter Me” and “Unravel Me”. Aside from an intimate meet-up with local book bloggers at the Powerbooks in Greenbelt 4, Mafi was also welcomed by a crowd of hundreds at the signing held at National Book Store’s new flagship store.
Mafi says that the warm welcome she’s received since coming here was certainly something that she couldn’t have prepared herself for.
“I don’t know that you can ever expect something to be amazing. You could never know. But it was really wonderful. I had been in contact with a lot of readers from the Philippines for a year and a half now, since my first book’s been out. I’ve been communicating with maybe 20. But not like 300!” she exclaims.
To hear her say it, it seems that becoming an author was something that Mafi didn’t expect she would ever do either. While a voracious reader growing up, actually venturing into writing was something that she only did recently.
“I had never, ever wanted to be a writer. I never thought I could be. It seemed like a really difficult task, to write a book. But I’m a lifelong reader,” she recalls. “It wasn’t until after I graduated from college and started rereading YA literature that I quickly fell in love with that. It was the first time that I really thought about writing a book.”
Once bitten by the writing bug, though, Mafi says that it was something that she couldn’t let go off. She would churn out five other manuscripts before coming up with “Shatter Me,” and she believes those five previous works definitely paved the way for her current success.
“I wrote five manuscripts before I wrote ‘Shatter Me’. I tried to get each one of them published. There were hundreds of rejections and constantly studying and learning about the industry,” she says. “For every manuscript that I failed to publish, I learned to write a book that could be published. It was an opportunity each time and I just had to focus on that, as well as forgiving myself for failing.”
In fact, the idea that would finally get her on the road towards publication was something that she first thought off while working through all her previous rejections.
“It was just one of those days when I was sitting down on my desk to work and then I was just struck by this image of a girl locked into a dark corner, curled into herself, terrified, and isolated for a crime she didn’t intend to commit,” she reveals. “All I knew about her was that she was guilty but her intentions were good. And somehow her voice was compelling enough that I tried to capture it on paper. I just opened up a new Word document and started writing.”
Compelling as the story may have been to her, the book’s unconventional writing style -- it is littered with strikethroughs and unusual syntax and grammar -- proved to be a little problematic when it came to getting herself published.
“When I was looking for an agent, I remember her asking me to send the manuscript to read it, and she emailed back saying that I probably sent her the unedited version of the book because it still has strikethroughs in it,” she says with a laugh. “It felt like it was the kind of thing that you needed to understand. I was very lucky that I was able to find an agent and an editor at a publishing house that really got it.”
‘NEVER GIVE UP’
As much success as the books have now achieved -- “Shatter Me” recently broke into the New York Times Bestseller lists -- Mafi continues to be amazed with how much attention her writing has received.
“I don’t think that there’s any way that you can really know for certain that a book is going to be a success. All I really knew was that my publisher was really supportive,” she says. “I still don’t feel like I’m a successful writer. I feel kind of lucky that I can call myself a full-time writer, and that’s pretty wonderful.”
For other aspiring writers looking to break into publishing, Mafi says that the advice she can give is best summed up in three words: Never give up.
“I always say never give up, especially when you want to give up. It’s during those moments when you need to push the hardest. I’ve had so many of those moments, and I don’t know if it’s stupid stubborness or determination, but there was something in me. You just have to trust that every time it seems like a failure, it’s actually an opportunity to learn,” she says.