marcelo san­tos III

The man be­hind Para Sa Hope­less Ro­man­tic proves that one can be suc­cess­ful be­ing, uh, a pro­fes­sional hope­less ro­man­tic


THE VERY MEN­TION of the name Marcelo San­tos III on some public fo­rum, I’ve no­ticed, will re­veal three dif­fer­ent types of peo­ple in the Philip­pines. First, the di­chotomy: those who love him and his work against those who loathe him and ev­ery­thing he stands for. And then, of course, we have those who—for one rea­son or another—don’t care about him.

For the mem­bers of the third party ask­ing who he is (and why you should pay at­ten­tion), it’s sim­ple. You’ve ei­ther seen graph­ics go­ing around on Face­book or Twit­ter of ran­dom, mean­ing­ful quotes about love and heart­break and re­la­tion­ships and life and #hugot. Or you’ve been to a book­store lately and caught a glimpse of one of his books as you passed by the Philip­pine literature sec­tion (that you weren’t go­ing to buy from any­way).

To one-half of you, Marcelo is a word­smith who can ar­tic­u­late all your deep­est, rawest feel­ings in a man­ner you never thought was pos­si­ble, us­ing Filipino words you never thought could go to­gether that way un­til you read the things he wrote. To the other half, he is a hack who’s be­come a hit touch­ing on tropes that are pretty much layups with the masses. Love? Kilig? Hugot? Filipinos love all the cheesy stuff, and some of you nd it too silly, to the point that some online per­son­al­i­ties have par­o­died Marcelo’s sig­na­ture graphic style.

I’ll be hon­est: I nd his work cheesy. While that’s not nec­es­sar­ily al­ways a bad thing, it’s in­ter­est­ing that one’s body of work can con­sis­tently re­volve all around love, and the pur­suit thereof. Are there not other things to worry about? Like em­ploy­ment, taxes, ba­sic needs? I won­dered, what drives a man to make a liv­ing out of chis­elling and cut­ting and shap­ing and pre­sent­ing love, in many dif­fer­ent forms, for the lovesick world to see and con­sume and be awed by?

I won­dered, so I asked him. “We Filipinos are emo­tional. We like love sto­ries, and love sto­ries are ful lling when you do them,” Marcelo tells me in Filipino. We met up for this in­ter­view at the Mrs. Fields in Tri­noma, af­ter days of try­ing to wran­gle him on a day he would be free. Marcelo is an unas­sum­ing, soft-spo­ken boy who prefers to speak and write in Ta­ga­log, and he re­ally just wants to write about love. And he re­ally just wants to write, pe­riod. And at only 24 years old, he’s a busy man who has to be ev­ery­where, just hav­ing launched his third book. His rst book

Para Sa Hope­less Ro­man­tic just got a movie adap­ta­tion star­ring James Reid and Na­dine Lus­tre, among oth­ers, ear­lier this year.

“When I was in high school, I don’t know why, but my friends al­ways ap­proached me, ask­ing help with their love prob­lems. They’d share, and I’d give ad­vice,” he con­tin­ues. He would end up mak­ing “love sto­ries on video,” where his sto­ries would be read aloud in a, well, video that would be up­loaded to YouTube. These love sto­ries on video would go vi­ral in 2010. Soon af­ter, he would write and make short lms, but noth­ing would come out of them. Af­ter com­pil­ing a cou­ple of the sto­ries he had writ­ten, he self-pub­lished

Para Sa Hope­less Ro­man­tic to lit­tle fanfare. The only way he was able to sell the book was through mee­tups and dis­play­ing them in shops owned by friends. This went on un­til one day, a pub­lisher no­ticed the book. Marcelo was work­ing then for Star Cin­ema. The pub­lisher of­fered to mass pro­duce his work and sell it all over the Philip­pines. It was a gam­ble at the time, but it paid off.

On a quick read­ing of the book, it’s not hard to see why. Marcelo’s style is rem­i­nis­cent of Lual­hati Bautista, au­thor of Philip­pine clas­sics such as

Dekada ’70 and Bata, Bata, Paano Ka Gi­nawa? His writ­ing, like Bautista’s, is light and uid, walk­ing briskly on col­lo­quial Taglish and touch­ing on feel­ings peo­ple have felt at least once in their lives. There is no forc­ing of the ab­surd in his sto­ries, no bizarre high school gang­sters or kids with wild hair col­ors. In one word: re­lat­able.

The num­bers don’t lie: Hope­less Ro­man­tic de­buted at num­ber two on Na­tional Book­store’s best­selling Philip­pine publi­ca­tions back in 2013— los­ing only to a book called Ev­ery­thing I Need To Know

About Love I Learned From Papa Jack. The pub­lisher had to rush a sec­ond print run just to meet de­mand. This sum­mer’s movie adap­ta­tion earned at least P8 mil­lion on its open­ing day alone, and that isn’t even con­sid­ered a huge hit; the pre­vi­ous two JaDine movies,

Di­ary ng Panget and Talk Back And You’re Dead (while the­mat­i­cally sim­i­lar, they’re based on Wattpad nov­els and not any­thing Marcelo wrote), earned P120.9 mil­lion and P80.1 mil­lion re­spec­tively.

“I think that they are speak­ing to a speci c au­di­ence, with a speci c set of wants,” says Carljoe Javier, cre­ative writ­ing pro­fes­sor at UP Dil­i­man and au­thor of books such as The Kobayashi Maru of Love and The Geek Shall

In­herit the Earth. “It’s been ob­vi­ous for a long time that our literary out­put in the Philip­pines doesn’t ex­actly ad­dress a large au­di­ence. In fact, it’s a very spe­cial­ized au­di­ence that reads po­etry, literary ction, and the like. What

[the suc­cess of books such as Marcelo’s and Wattpad nov­els re­veals, though, is there is a read­er­ship, and there are things they would like to read. And now there is a medium that is help­ing them to get that con­tent.” “It’s prob­a­bly be­cause my writ­ing is sim­ple,” Marcelo sug­gests. “How I speak, how I tell sto­ries, that is how I am in my writ­ing. I’ve read re­views that say my writ­ing is easy to read, so it’s re­lat­able. They say it’s like they’re talk­ing to some­one in­stead of read­ing a book.” Ev­ery suc­cess spawns a new brood of crit­ics and haters, and Marcelo’s work is no dif­fer­ent. (And be­cause of the stuff he writes, es­pe­cially Marcelo.)

How­ever, the strange thing is they’re not ac­tu­ally judg­ing him for the books he’s writ­ten or the love sto­ries on video—in fact, he’s never re­ceived any scathing crit­i­cisms for his books. Peo­ple are hat­ing on the reg­u­lar quotes he posts on so­cial media. These are the graph­ics he comes up with, pack­ag­ing love ad­vice and/or bit­ter sen­ti­ments in a pretty and sim­ple lit­tle im­age, branded with his trade­mark car­toon avatar. (He’s rather shy, choos­ing to avoid show­ing his face as much as he can.) The style and the car­toon com­prise a clever brand­ing move that has inspired mul­ti­ple copy­cats that ei­ther pay homage or par­ody them to twist their spirit.

“Be­fore I started post­ing on Face­book, I was re­ally proli c on Twit­ter,” Marcelo ex­plains. “I thought, since my Twit­ter fol­low­ers were grow­ing, why not post on Face­book? I started post­ing quotes on Face­book. Maybe some peo­ple don’t like read­ing ad­vice; not ev­ery­one takes it. But my ad­vice is my per­spec­tive. So I know not ev­ery­one would agree with it, not ev­ery­one is in fa­vor of it.” He adds quickly, “Mostly be­cause they don’t read my books.” He was af­fected in the be­gin­ning, but now he’s learned to ig­nore and not let it get to him. “I never got used to the fact that there are vi­o­lent and neg­a­tive peo­ple. It was hard at rst, but even­tu­ally, I learned how to deal with it.”

The more bizarre thing is that peo­ple have been set­ting up fake Marcelo San­tos III ac­counts on Face­book that pla­gia­rize, or worse, make ter­ri­ble state­ments that he wouldn’t say. “There are quotes I post that come from what I see on Twit­ter, but I credit them,” he says. “But the things they say about my steal­ing quo­ta­tions, that isn’t true. They even posted some­thing, a quote by Mitch Al­bom, but my name was on it. That wasn’t me. Re­ally, they made it up.

“And then there was this in­ci­dent in a literary fes­ti­val last year where a writer dis­played a screen­cap from one of the fake ac­counts pos­ing as me. I ap­par­ently said, ‘Those of you who don’t read, don’t bother read­ing’— some­thing like that. The peo­ple never saw the source be­cause it was just a screen­cap, so they thought that was me. A lot of peo­ple crit­i­cized me over it.” It must be tough to have ar­dent haters, but Marcelo chooses to re­main pos­i­tive. There are four main char­ac­ters in Hope­less Ro­man­tic, each rep­re­sent­ing a cer­tain state of love that he’s been through, and he chooses to em­body the op­ti­mistic as­pect, even if peo­ple would nd it na ve.

“It’s prob­a­bly be­cause I got through a point in my life where I was so down,” he says when I ask him why he’s so op­ti­mistic. “We’re not rich. My par­ents didn’t send me to school; my tita did, and I had to study. I had to be a helper around the house just to get money for tu­ition and al­lowance. So many peo­ple tried to bring me down, have told me in high school and col­lege that I wouldn’t get any­where. And when I got here, I thought to my­self, this is it. This is my dream. Now I have to be pos­i­tive in life, be­cause I’m the only one who could raise my­self up.”

Now, Marcelo’s try­ing to ex­pand his tar­get au­di­ence. He wants to write deeper sto­ries. He wants to try writ­ing fan­tasy and hor­ror, even if he can’t help toss­ing a love story into it. He wants to make more short lms, and a quick trip to his YouTube page re­veals that he’s been pretty proli c in that re­gard. It’s look­ing pretty good for him, no mat­ter what you might be think­ing of him and his work.

And for those of you who do frown upon him, whether it’s be­cause he’s cheesy and corny or be­cause you think life and love aren’t re­ally how he tries to paint them in his work, here’s his best ad­vice:

“There’s still some­thing in store for all of us. If it isn’t happy, it isn’t the end­ing yet. I want to tell them that we’re the writ­ers of our lives. We’re the ones who have the so­lu­tions to our own prob­lems, and we’re the ones who can write the twists in our sto­ries. We have power over our lives.”

And since it’s vintage Marcelo—his take on life—you’re free to ei­ther take it or leave it.

Marcelo San­tos III is on Twit­ter @akoposi­marcelo. His new book, Ma­hal Mo Siya, Ma­hal Ka Ba? is out in book­stores now.

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