Pulp fiction, pop lit?
MANILA, Philippines - At my all-girl high school way back in the 80s, students would swoon over tales of romance from popular paperback series such as Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High.
For the more “advanced readers,” Mills & Boon and Harlequin Romance, along with the occasional Barbara Cartland, were the paperbacks of choice even if they were supposed to cater to more mature audiences because of their explicit content.
One thing in common about these pulp romances is they were all written in English by American and British authors.
Fast forward to the present. Browsing at the romance novel section of any bookstore in Metro Manila, you'll see right away that our authors' works — whether in Filipino or Taglish at that — have matched and even overtaken the popularity of foreign-authored romances.
Pinoy romance pocketbooks are prominently displayed on the shelves. Most feature original stories. But the translations are just as interesting, such as the Filipino version of Fifty Shades of Grey, which has elicited fascination and derision in equal measure.
TV producers are, of course, aware of the growing popularity of Filipino romance pocketbooks. For some years now, ABS-CBN has been airing programs adapted from the Precious Hearts Romances series of the Precious Pages publishing house.
I'm an avid viewer of these afternoon teleseryes because of their highly entertaining kilig factor. (How to explain "kilig" is the subject of this pop dissertation from The Guidon.)
The "Bud Brothers" serye of 2009, based on Rose Tan's pulp series of the same title, introduced several love teams — among the most popular being, the on-screen (now also off-screen) pair of actress Kaye Abad and singer-actor Guji Lorenzana. Known as the KayJies, they practically have a cult following in cyberspace.
Here's an episode of "Bud Brothers" with Kaye and Guji:
My curiosity piqued by the TV show, I read the 8 books that made up the Bud Brothers series.
Usually, romance stories are told from the heroine's point of view, so it was quite refreshing to discover this story having a male voice. I moved on to other Filipino romance novels and you can say I was hooked.
The pop romance follows a tried and tested formula. Boy meets girl. They hate each other's guts. Passion ignites and is consummated. Then the guilt issues. But they resolve their inner conflicts and admit their undying love for each other. They live happily ever after – because the happy conclusion we read or watch becomes a lapidary image in our memory.
The formula still works its magic among readers of Pinoy romances, because it seems that every month, a new novel comes out for mass consumption.
Even the community of romance writers is growing – and getting younger. Princess Joy Palo is a 19-year-old college student who writes under the pen name Cady Lorenzana for Precious Hearts Romances.
She adopted the name Cady from the Lindsay Lohan character in Mean Girls, a film that now has its niche in the candy-colored halls of pop culture. Lorenzana, of course, came from Guji Lorenzana, the writer's big crush.
At 17, Cady published her first rom-com novel, Happily Ever After in His Arms. The book sold well and was quickly followed by 4 other Precious Hearts titles.
The prolific teener has lined up many projects, including a Filipino translation of a Harlequin Romance title, a sequel to her third novel, and two more books for a developing trilogy.
What accounts for the growing popularity of these pop romances? Lorenzana attributes this partly to demographics. "Most readers are young women. I believe we're born romantic, that's why."
She cites the romantic-comedy theme as the most marketable. "Filipinos are a happy people. We always want to have a good laugh."
Above all, the novels make for light, breezy reading. Only 10 chapters or so make up each novel, written in Filipino or Taglish with a very contemporary flavor. It's a grand diversion yet also cheap, because a romance pocketbook costs only about P40. Yet beneath this easy entertainment is a complex extension of our society's collective impulses.
Love is an enduring theme, especially for the Pinoy. And our brand of love is unique – unabashed, self-effacing, selfless, heroic. You read that right away in Noli Me Tangere and in much of everything offered by our literature. - Rappler.com
Jennifer Sta. Ana Pajarillo is a lawyer, like her husband, Paul, a mother of 3 boys, and a pop culture enthusiast.