Saturday, November 10, 2007


By Jo Herrera

From what she does to borrowers who won’t return her books to her writing habits, Carlos Palanca awardee and author of the best-seller Twisted series Jessica Zafra dishes on her life, likes, and who she would trade places with.

PinoyCentric: What makes you happy nowadays?

Jessica Zafra: Small things, like an unexpectedly good movie (Sunshine) or a great find in a bargain book bin (Gerontius) or an excellent restaurant no one’s ever heard of (I’m not telling, or else I’ll never get a table).

PC: Are you the type who keeps reading materials in her bathroom? What do you have?

I used to keep magazines in the bathroom (back issues of National Geographic seem to be a favorite among friends), but my cats developed the nasty habit of knocking things into the litterbox.

PC: Which among the books that you’ve written is the most personal? What made it so?

The short story collection, I think. Manananggal Terrorizes Manila. I wrote (or started) many of those stories in college, when I knew I wanted to be a writer, but wasn’t sure anyone would read me. So writing them was like leaping into the void.

PC: How many books have you lent and were never returned? How might you have discouraged this habit of borrowers?

Dozens. I used to get annoyed, then I realized that since I’d already read the books, it didn’t matter. True, I only lend books to friends now, and since I also borrow their books, I have hostages. When I really like a book, I force it on people. Recently I practically force-fed James Salter’s Last Night to a friend.

PC: Are you working on something now? Do you mind sharing what it’s about?

I am working on the second draft of my novel. Like all first novels, it’s a thinly veiled autobiography. I don’t usually do drafts. I don’t enjoy rewrites. If it works, it works, if it doesn’t, throw it away. However, I wrote the first draft from beginning to end during a one-month period of unemployment, so I literally did not know where it was going. Now I’m trying to make sense of it, plugging up the holes in the structure and so on.

PC: Do you have any writing rituals?

It’s easier to write when I’ve spent the whole day doing nothing, or things not related to writing. If I have an early-evening deadline, I’ll go out and watch a movie first, or have a coffee with friends. If I can’t think of anything to write, I take a nap, and when I wake up I usually have something in mind.

I prefer to write longhand. I carry a bunch of notebooks around—one for ideas and bits of information, one for my novel, and one for articles, the stuff that pays the bills. When I type up the drafts, I make corrections. Then I press send and forget about them.

PC: What do you say about critics’ claim that you went commercial and, supposedly, sold out?
I’m a professional writer, meaning I write for a living. I don’t teach, work at a newspaper, or write advertising copy; I support myself entirely by selling articles. Selling! My work is by nature commercial.

I think the readers have over-romanticised my career. Maybe they expect writers to live in a garret and starve. Very charming and nineteenth century. I don’t like suffering, and I avoid it as much as I can.

PC: Is there a character that you identify the most with? Who would that be?

Nah, I contain multitudes.

PC: Would you like to meet my brother? (I’m kidding. You probably won’t, unless you like spending your free time in Vegas . . . every year.) Seriously, how does Mr. Right look to you?

What makes you think he’s not sitting in front of me rolling his eyeballs?

PC: Do you fantasize about having children?

No, I don’t like children. I have to be able to take off at a moment’s notice, and you can’t do that if there are spawn.

PC: How do you spoil your cat?

Treats and toys. The weekly dose of catnip. They’re not very cooperative. I buy them a toy from the pet store, and when they see it they plotz over the box and ignore the toy.

PC: Who was (or is) a very influential person to you?

Teodoro Locsin, Jr. (Teddyboy), my former publisher, has been a major influence. I was somewhat nicer before I started writing for Today. Also, he’s a great believer in the classics, but he’s always on the lookout for a well-written thriller.

PC: Where are the Zafras from, originally?

My parents are from Bicol. I was born and raised in Manila. There’s a town in the Extremadura in Spain called Zafra, complete with medieval castle. Never been there.

PC: What have you learned about yourself in the past few years?

That everything turns out the same whether I get worked up about it or not.

PC: What could you have said to Ewan McGregor, in person?

Fire your agent. Get better career advice.

PC: If you could trade places with anyone for a day, who would that be, and well, why?

Charles Darwin on the HMS Beagle, researching what would be the most important book ever written.

PC: What is the song of your life?

“Camelot” from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Editor’s note: Jo Herrera has written for business magazines and taught English and literature at St. Scholastica’s College and De La Salle University in Manila. She has an MA in Creative Writing from UP Diliman. Now based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Jo is doing research on contemporary Philippine culture.

Article reprinted from


florian raciel said...

loves Jessica Zafra...but i won't tell her lest i'd be bludgeoned to death with just a stare....and she probably doesn't care...she doesn't even know about the existence of such creature such as myself (or parhaps she does...wahahah..)...anyway...i still dig her books...forgive me...if i am not worthy..........

Anonymous said...

i love jessica zafra too. i buy her books even if a book costs me my whole day's latest buy, the very first twisted, was borrowed by a classmate...and never returned! she dropped out of school. >=/