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.