Marikit Mail
Dear gentlefolk,

When this story reaches you, I pray that you are safe and dry and cozy, tucked in a chair, or had your favorite song on. Maybe you’re on your way somewhere. Maybe you’re stuck at home. Maybe you are walking in between those distances. You’re gonna get there. I hope this letter keeps you company

The world has twirled around the sun again, this time in a slow, dragging motion. But danced, it did. It pushed its legs and sprang up, stretched its arms as wide as it could, to spin and spin, bringing us our mornings and evenings and seasons – the beautiful and the ugly. Of course, it was not all bad. Ah! We owe it to this big, old Friend that we have hours to count. We, too, must dance. The wind blows, the storm pours, but we’ll learn how to bend our bodies and fold when needed. It will not be forever.

The important thing is, not to break in half.

There’s a bamboo grove in front of our house, one that used to be so thick and lush, with poles that rose to the sky. Sometimes, I’d imagine them falling under the pressure of rain, straight into the roof of our house. Several storms passed, but it only shook and bent and swayed.

I was six years old when we moved to our home. From the big, sliding glass window, I’d look out to see the grove staring down at me. It held so many secrets. At dusk, I’d imagine something big and sinister peering down from the stalks, its large fingers pulling away thin poles like a curtain. I was afraid of it. The adults would tell stories of Engkantos, particularly Kapres – hairy giant men hiding in large trees, lurking to steal kids. I thought a Kapre was behind the bamboo grove.

One morning, I, a young totter on a pink tricycle, decided to be brave. I approached the bamboo grove curiously, pressing on the pedal with my stumpy legs as the wheels squeak underneath. It shouldn’t be scary, I remember thinking. It’s daytime. And hadn’t my young neighbors played around it? Children would magically run out of the grove as if they magically appeared there.

Closer and closer I got. And then, I stopped. There was nothing but the lush, long bars of green stalks enveloped in blade-shaped leaves. I went closer. Closer. Closer. And then, I stopped.

There was a sound.

It was the sound of laughing. The sound of talking. Voices buzzing, all behind the dense bamboo grove. My heart shook! I pedaled back home as fast as I could, flinging the gate open, shaking, and screaming with a loud, “Ma!” I never went near the bamboo groves ever again.

The bamboo groves, presently
It was only when I was older that I learned the bamboo groves’ secret: there was an entire community behind it. Families, human ones, living in wood and hollow-block houses, accessing this spot from a field, lounging by the trees at daylight, sleeping by the hammocks on breezy afternoons. They were the ones I heard.

They were not engkantos.

Now, decades later, the bamboo grove has thinned. The poles that stood majestically high had drooped to the sides. The people who lived behind it had shaped a rode on both sides of the grove so their cars and motorbikes and tricycles could pass. Children would walk out in the morning to wait for the Magtataho. Mothers would make the pilgrimage to buy at the sari-sari store nearby. Fathers would ride their tricycles to serve passengers waiting for a ride.

As it turned out, there was nothing to fear about the bamboo grove in front of our house. But I kept thinking about it – the secrets, the Engkantos, what would have happened if there were really magicfolk behind it. Wouldn’t it be fun, to discover a magical secret behind something so common, so mundane?

This, I wrote in MARIKIT AND THE OCEAN OF STARS, my middle-grade fantasy debut inspired by Filipino folklore. It’s set to land on bookshelves this Fall 2022, but I’m not alone – next year is the year of Filipino author debuts, and here are the titles you must watch out for:

Rachell Abalos, OUR NIPA HUT (Working Title) (Picture Book)
Faced with a storm, a family must work together to keep their nipa hut, their beloved home, safe and standing

Tracy Badua, FREDDIE VS THE FAMILY CURSE (Middle Grade)
A spunky Fil-Am hero about to unravel a mystery regarding his family, and a very curious anting-anting that may hold the answer to it all.

Riss M. Neilson, DEEP IN PROVIDENCE (Young Adult)
Four girls in Providence, Rhode Island reveled in practicing spells, as taught to them by Milliani’s Filipino grandfather. But when one of them is killed by a drunk driver, the world that they knew starts to change, especially when they tried to resurrect her.

Kaye Rockwell, GLAD YOU EXIST (Young Adult Contemporary)
Tragedy after tragedy has caused Liz to keep herself from the world, seeing a little light at the end of the tunnel, her friend Brad, who has long been in-love with her.

Elisa A. Bonnin, DAUNTLESS (Young Adult Fantasy)
A breathtaking sapphic fantasy with traces of Filipino culture, led by a young hero that emanates what being truly brave is like.

Elisa A. Bonnin, STOLEN CITY (Young Adult Fantasy)
Now relishing in her freedom, a magical heist pushes Crow back to her past, but it’s more than stealing an object.

Victor Manibo, THE SLEEPLESS (Sci-fi)

A strange pandemic has caused half of the world to lose their sleep, but Jamie Vega’s case is different – he biohacked himself for a reason he started to forget, and it may be the answer to end this nightmare.

What nice things to look forward to – for if there’s anything that has kept us going, it’s to hope for new things. Beautiful things. Things that inspire. And it is my greatest hope that our books bring you joy, wash you with warmth, fill you with a newfound courage to face this dimly-lit world.

I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for staying with me as we wait for MARIKIT’s arrival. Many of you have preordered, and I am so grateful for your enthusiasm and support. The Kindle version of MARIKIT has been under Amazon’s New Releases in Children's Asian & Asian American Books, New Releases in Children's Asia & Asia America Stories (there, surprisingly, was a difference), and New Releases in Children's Paranormal, Occult & Supernatural Books since its information has been uploaded this October. Thank you for these small wins.

This is my last Marikit Mail for this year, and I must say adieu. But I wish you the bright warmth of this season’s thrill, and please carry this year’s lessons in your pocket – pockets, as one bright friend said to Marikit, are the best way to travel. And then, when 2022 rings in, open your hands and let them be empty. New things are coming. New things will come for you.

When Marikit Mail returns, we will finally see MARIKIT AND THE OCEAN OF STARS’ full cover, all in its ocean-y glory.

See you next year!
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