“I want my readers to think about their humanity and how they could better themselves first before they decide to change the world.”Robin Angelo Yankin
Robin Angelo Yankin (pseudonym. Toshiro Hiroshi) is a twenty-year-old writer from Iloilo City, Iloilo, Philippines. He once wrote for his high school alma mater’s student publication before writing fiction at 17 and counting. His work revolves around the subjects of social injustice, historical commentary, loss, loneliness, conspiracy, and surrealism, with occasional asides on love and its irony. He delights in writing about life’s big questions with much fancy and absurdism, no matter how bleak or hopeless it would read to anyone. In this regard, he is a writer who is uncompromising and unapologetic in his portrayal of humanity’s best and worst sides. Authors such as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Joseph Heller, George Orwell, Haruki Murakami, Don DeLillo, James Joyce, Kazuo Ishiguro, Thomas Pynchon, Mark Z. Danielewski, and David Mitchell, among a plethora of other classic and contemporary greats have inspired him.He won Champion and Second Runner Up for the Short Story and Poetry categories of the March Round of Life UPdates headed by Likhaan: University of the Philippines Institute of Creative Writing.
9-5 is a magical realism novel set in Japan. In three interconnected sequences, it tells of the lives of a young, washed-up CEO, a depressed salaryman, and a former executive who has lost his life’s purpose. It is at a love story, an existential nightmare, a wartime account, a grand conspiracy of tragicomedy, and more. 9-5 constitutes the author’s satirical takes on love at first sight, depression, suicide, overwork, late-stage capitalism, and nuclear war. This is a book for those on the verge of losing faith in the world.
ABOUT ABSOLUTELY ON THE PANDEMIC
Absolutely on the Pandemic is a collection of ten stories about the COVID-19 health crisis reframed as out-of-body experiences, interviews, letters in bottles, disturbing journal entries, hallucinatory riffs, imaginary memories, gut-wrenching confessionals, screwball time travel antics, and memes. It is a book that transcends boundaries as it attempts to capture the chaotic consciousness of a world hinging on isolation and the absurdity of a static existence. Absolutely on the Pandemic is the author’s alternate history of COVID-19. In it, he blends the surreal and the ordinary to dazzling effect. It is a book that distills various events between 2020 and 2021, then reimagined as allegories.
ABOUT CONVERSATIONS WITH A RAT
Conversations With A Rat is a postmodern experimental novel inspired by Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style, OULIPO, and constrained writing techniques. It is a book concerning an unnamed novelist attempting to decipher a vision about a working-class nobody and a white rat that had ended up on his doorstep. The narrative is occasionally interrupted by shifting discourses between two floating heads suspended deep within the subconsciousness. Conversations With A Rat is a book meant to be read and interpreted in any way one wishes. It is a book that expands outward and continues unraveling even after the last sentence has ended.
Q: What kind of child were you?
Growing up, I always knew I was different. Even if I had spent most of my childhood in Molo, my mind wandered outside of it constantly. I dreamed of the faraway places I’ve seen in flags, maps, and atlases. I dreamed of prehistory and how the universe was before the advent of people. As a child, I lived as if I were in a Federico Fellini movie – where things that seemed ordinary and constant to me appeared illogical and surreal to others. The geography where I lived in Molo was flat and monotonous. But by some stretch of the imagination, I pulled through because I invented my way out of life’s monotony.
Q: What do you read as a child?
I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I remember, even today. I read nonfiction like encyclopedias, history books, atlases, and general information supplemented by Encarta, an early digital learning program. Of fiction, I have fond memories of reading Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series as a child and more complex works like Les Misérables, Don Quixote, and Catch-22 in my teens. In a way, these books laid the groundwork for my self-education in writing. Nonfiction allowed me to zero in on crucial details and connect them to my characters and their lived experiences. Fiction helped me find and subsequently develop the offbeat musical turns of prose I have used to express myself.
Q: Do you enjoy writing then?
The first time I’ve ever enjoyed writing was when I worked on 9-5 nearly three years ago. I had next to no experience then, but even so, I dived headfirst into the project with much enthusiasm. I did what I could with sparse sentences, ellipses, and semicolons until I had pieced together a complex story set in a distant land I had only imagined out of maps, guides, and history books. After six months, I ended up with a novel of roughly 60K words. It might not have been much, but it spurred me to keep writing, and here I am today.
Q: When did you first realize you wanted to write? When did you first think of yourself as a writer?
I realized that I wanted to write when I wanted to escape the idea of wanting to be normal – I wanted to be memorable, weird, eccentric. As for the last question, I was in Grade Five when I wrote a novella. But it wasn’t until I turned 17 that I considered myself a writer, as that was when I had the first start.
Q: Once you began to write, what future did you imagine for yourself? What was your dream?
Ever since I began my writing journey, I only dreamed of one thing (and that one thing remains the same) – that whoever read my works came away either enlightened, frustrated, disturbed (or all of the above) by the world as it existed now. I want my readers to think about their humanity and how they could better themselves first before they decide to change the world.
Q: Were you reading poetry books by other writers for inspiration?
Not really. I’ve only ever read novels and short stories, not so much on poetry collections (but I would like to rectify that the soonest I can).
Q: What do you do when you get stuck? When you don’t know what to write next?
Usually, when I get stuck on a book, I write myself out of a corner (i.e., I play around with the text, warp storylines, break the fourth wall, introduce writing constraints, etc.) and go anywhere from there and eventually, I get the book done. As for the last question, I have a constant stream of ideas, so I always know what to write next.
Q: How did you get started with “9-5, Absolutely on the Pandemic, and Conversations With A Rat”? What gave you the idea?
As of now, I have published three books – 9-5, Absolutely on the Pandemic, and Conversations With A Rat.
Here are their respective origin stories.
The idea for 9-5 came to me in segments. The first was during a classroom creative writing exercise in October 2019, after I remembered a song, Plastic Love by Mariya Takeuchi, that I had discovered months prior in February 2019, as I had imagined a pair of dysfunctional Tokyoite lovers. The second came after I had written the first segment, in which I imagined a salaryman on the verge of madness. Then the final part came after I returned to a book about the nuclear bombings entitled Hiroshima Nagasaki by Paul Ham.
Absolutely on the Pandemic was born out of a need to leave a playful record of how I imagined the mysterious workings of the COVID-19 crisis and because I wanted to create a project I could submit to the upcoming Iloilo Mega Book Fair 2020. (Well, well, well, how the times fly.)
Lastly, Conversations With A Rat came to be after a good friend of mine told me about how bored she was during lockdown – so bored that to pass the time, she talked to a rat that found its way inside her bedroom. And it wasn’t until I had heard about Raymond Queneau, OULIPO, and constrained writing techniques that the project came to fruition.
Q: Have you had to do research for your book?
Yes, many times. I considered it an integral part of the writing experience as it informed and influenced how my books would turn out. For this reason, I consider myself a method writer. By saying so, I mean that before I started writing even so much as a sentence, I researched whatever topic I needed to know. Then I gave myself time to immerse, reflect, and internalize the information and release it through my stories. For instance, before I wrote 9-5, I had had to internalize the city guides and maps of Tokyo and Japan, the country’s pop culture and music, and even the histories and scholarly articles on the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki before the first line appeared to me. As Vladimir Nabokov once said, A writer should have the precision of a poet and the imagination of a scientist.
Q: Tell me more how you revise a book?
Usually, after I completed the first draft, I almost always ran through it two to three times. In the first two times, I developed storylines even further, enhanced the worldbuilding, revised dialogue, fact-checked, and paid attention to the turns of phrase. I approached the first two run-throughs as if I were a composer setting down a symphony on a score sheet, as I made sure not a single note was out of place. In my mind, I would think, No, I am not writing a book. I am writing music. Then when I am satisfied, I would proofread my manuscript down to the last period during the final run-through.
Q: How do you know when a book is done?
This might seem counterintuitive, but for me, a book is done when it hasn’t finished what it wants to say. A book is done when it continues to unravel even after the last sentence. No matter how polished or finished any author would think their book would be, it would ultimately be better had the author left their work as open to interpretation as possible. People of different lived experiences are bound to come across any author’s works and come away with an altogether different vision of what the author is trying to convey. Hence, I would prefer to leave the readers to the sleuthing and decrypting. To me, that made reading a memorable experience.
Q: How did you go about getting your first book published?
Technically, my story collection Absolutely on the Pandemic was the first I ever published sometime in 2020. (Although, for posterity’s sake, I still postmarked 9-5 and Conversations With A Rat as published in 2020 even after I released them in 2021, as I had completed their manuscripts the same year as the collection.)
The process behind it was tedious yet exciting. I must have gone through two reams worth of bond paper for the text alone, which I printed at home. Then, once I had the text printed, I sent them off to a copy shop for bookbinding. The result was twelve rough copies. Thank you to those who bought that edition at the Iloilo Mega Book Fair 2020. Consider your copies as collector’s items. That limited edition contained nine stories (now ten in the new edition). It also came with slight typos (now corrected, which is a relief).
Q: What do you like best about being a writer?
Apart from the close relationships that I gained and the recognition I received, I liked the subversion of being a writer. I could mock those in high places, turn the taboo in on itself, kill sacred cows, and tread waters other people would have avoided at the first chance because of personal risk. In short, I liked being a writer because I am in a position wherein I could make people think or feel specific ways about systems and society as a whole and see them for the problematic aspects of life that they are.
Q: Many young people who want to write think they have to go to indie publishing. Do you think so too?
It would depend on the situation. The writer could go indie if they want complete control over the publishing process or if they have an unconventional work/s they feel would not fit the traditional mold. (For the latter, though, there have been outliers. For example, Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves is an experimental absurdist horror novel that was once self-published and then traditionally published to critical acclaim.)
Q: What do you tell young people who want to write?
I do have a few pointers:
1. If you have an idea, any idea – no matter how bad you think it is – write it anyway. You’d still fix things after the first draft. (Especially if you’re brave enough to pursue an idea that might prove controversial.)
2. Instead of forcing the story, go with the flow and let the story guide you. The story will tell you how to write it. You never know how great it would read after you’ve finished.
3. Read, read, read some more, back it up with research, then immerse yourself in your story before writing it.
4. Do not be offended by constructive criticism. Use it to improve your skillset.
5. Finally, try to maintain a routine. Even if you write 200, 100, or even 50 words a day, it’s better than having written nothing at all.
The Coming of A New Breed of Ilonggo Writers is a series of conversations with Ilonggo young writers on how to cultivate a creative mindset during quarantine. Compiled and edited by Noel Galon de Leon of Kasingkasing Press.
Portrait of Robin Angelo Yankin by Daryne Judy Chua