Hi, friends! 💖
It’s been more than a year since I last did an author interview. I have invited some authors – and even started to draft my questions for them, over the past year, but I wasn’t able to turn those into reality for so many reasons. That is why, now, I am so excited and proud that we finally were able to make this interview possible! *throws confetti to myself*
The author that I had the pleasure of interviewing is one of my new favorites – who wrote one of the most important YA books of 2019 (that’s a fact!!!). He is no other than… Randy Ribay!!!
His latest YA novel is entitled Patron Saints of Nothing and is published by Kokila. To know more about this book and what I think about it, visit my review here as part of the blog tour hosted by Bookworms’ Unite PH.
This might be a little long for you. But I am so glad that I was able to ask all the questions that I have been wanting to ask and talk about with Randy. So, grab your popcorn and favorite drinks. And let’s get to know Randy Ribay and his YA novel, Patron Saints of Nothing!
KARINA: Hi, Randy! Welcome to Afire Pages! I am so glad to have you here. Would you like to personally introduce yourself to our readers and share some random stuffs about yourself first?
RANDY RIBAY: Thanks for inviting me to do the interview! As you’ve already said, I’m Randy Ribay, author of Patron Saints of Nothing. Some random stuff, eh? My favorite video game of all time is Final Fantasy VII. I’m a morning person. When I was high school, some friends and I ran a backyard “professional” wrestling league.
Let’s first talk about your journey into becoming an author. When did you first realize that you want to write? And what is your first published work? Can you tell us about it?
RANDY RIBAY: I’ve always loved stories in any medium and I remember writing a lot when I was young. But I stopped writing for fun as I got older and got more into sports and music. In college, I started writing poetry, then a few years after I graduated, I started writing fiction. The first short story I ever had published was called “Mason, On His Way Home,” in an anthology called Reading Glasses put out by a local writers’ group, about a boy walking home after he gets beat up, and then emotionally processing his parents’ divorce.
What do you love most about being an author?
RANDY RIBAY: Creating something out of nothing but words.
What is the hardest obstacle you had ever faced in the publishing industry and how did you overcome it?
RANDY RIBAY: Rejection. There’s a lot of it in the publishing industry. It took me four manuscripts and about five years before an agent first offered to represent my work. And then even after you’ve been published, each project after that is still subject to rejection from editors (or, potentially, your agent!). For me, overcoming it is just a matter of knowing that it’s part of the process, and that there’s a lot of subjectivity when it comes to people connecting with your work. Even Patron Saints of Nothing, which went on to be a finalist for the National Book Award, was rejected by several editors at first. So, the most you can really do is keep working on your craft and writing what interests you.
Who are the authors you look up to and why?
RANDY RIBAY: Ah, so many. Jean Toomer. James Baldwin. Toni Morrison. Jose Rizal. Carlos Bulosan. Walter Dean Myers. Lucile Clifton. Haruki Murakami. Sandra Cisneros. Patrick Rosal. Jacqueline Woodson. Jason Reynolds. Mindy McGinnis. I think they all write so beautifully and passionately.
Your books An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes (Merit Press/Simon & Schuster, 2015), After the Shot Drops (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) and Patron Saints of Nothing (Kokila/Penguin, 2019) are all YA. Is there any chance for you to try writing books under different age categories and other genres? If yes, under what age category and which genre/s would you like to explore?
RANDY RIBAY: No current plans. At the moment, I’m just really fascinated by YA because of the way it deals with those years in which I think our identity really forms as we try to figure out who we are on our own, outside of our families. But you never know.
Being a high school English teacher, what books would you recommend for other high school teachers to make as required reading/s for their students and why?
RANDY RIBAY: Mostly I’d like to see YA used in more classrooms. Not just as independent reading options, but as part of the actual curriculum. There are so many amazing books out there since the category has exploded in the last 10-15 years.
As a reader, when did you realize the lack of diversity and the importance of addressing it in literature?
RANDY RIBAY: Probably not until college. That’s when I really learned to think about literature critically, which then allowed me to reflect on my own reading life and realize I had never read a book by or about a Filipino or Filipino American person.
What do you think and feel about the publishing industry right now, in terms of diversity? And what do you think we should start or stop doing?
RANDY RIBAY: There’s certainly been progress, but there’s still a long way to go. I think the biggest thing we need to focus on is diversifying the entire industry. Beyond the books and authors, we also need teachers, librarians, agents, editors, marketing professionals, art designers, awards judges, bloggers, reviewers, etc. to reflect the diverse reality of our world. At the end of the day, the system will reproduce itself, so if we’re not happy with what it’s currently producing, we need to change the system.
Now, let’s talk about your latest YA novel, Patron Saints of Nothing. This is one of my latest favorite books. I really admire your bravery and initiative in talking about the topic it covers in a much wider audience, given that Patron Saints of Nothing is internationally published. It talks about the extrajudicial killings that is happening in our country, the Philippines, under the current administration – which the government still denies. What made you want to talk about this topic and how did the idea of writing Patron Saints of Nothing come?
RANDY RIBAY: I kept reading about the Drug War and couldn’t get it out of my mind. Being a writer for young adults, I naturally thought about Filipino American teens growing up today trying to process this news. From there, that connected with a question I’ve wanted to explore for a long time: As a Filipino American, what right do I have to speak about what’s happening in the Philippines?
The first scene of Patron Saints of Nothing involves an animal death. Where did that come from?
RANDY RIBAY: That’s based on an actual experience I had while visiting the Philippines when I was younger.
What inspired you to write Jay Reguero? Why did you decide for him to be a Fil-Am and not a pure Filipino? And what do you think is the importance of having a Filipino-American who lived most of his life in America, be the main character in a book that talks about current Philippine issues?
RANDY RIBAY: As much as this is a story of the Drug War, to me, it’s even more a story about how we respond to/process injustice. Specifically, how a Filipino American responds to injustices occurring in the Philippines, a country with which he has a connection and family that’s affected, but a country of which he’s not a citizen himself. It’s a position many of us Filipino Americans find ourselves in today, so I wanted to explore that. Obviously, it’s essential that Filipinos also think about how they’ll respond/process all of this as citizens, and I hope this story can help them do that—but this is not a story primarily about that. I hope someone writes/is writing that story, but as a Filipino American, I don’t think I can.
Let’s talk about Jun – who is one of my favorites! What inspired you to make his character the way he is? And what message for him would you like to give?
RANDY RIBAY: To me, Jun is the personification of someone who has a strong sense of justice and—unlike many people, for whatever reason—actually tries to act in a way that aligns with that.
What inspired you to write Tito Maning’s character? And what did you like and dislike most about him?
RANDY RIBAY: Tito Maning is kind of a mash-up of Duterte, Bato, and all those who unabashedly defend the extrajudicial killings (or deny that they are extrajudicial). He’s also the voice of many of my own insecurities.
How about Mia? What inspired you to write her character?
RANDY RIBAY: Mia started out as a practical function of plot. I needed someone who could help Jay access people/places that he wouldn’t otherwise be able to access on his own, given that he’s Filipino American. As I worked on revising the story, she became more and more interesting to me, so I continued to flesh out her character and her own story.
How about Jay’s titos and tita? Tita Ines and Tita Chato are my favorite! Where did you get the inspirations in writing them the way they are from?
RANDY RIBAY: Basically, I wanted someone in the family who presented a different perspective from Tito Maning.
How did your research for this book went? Can you walk us through the process? Like, what are your reading resources and what exactly did you research about?
RANDY RIBAY: I read whatever I could find about the Drug War online. The best of those resources are listed in the recommended readings section at the end of the book. Beyond that, I also traveled to the Philippines a couple times and spoke with different people about their views on the Drug War.
Based on the news, we can say that most of the families of the drug war victims are poor. Why did you choose for Jun’s family to be in the middle class instead of being poor?
RANDY RIBAY: A lot of Americans have a stereotypical view of the Philippines as only comprised of poor people, so I wanted to show that it’s not as one-dimensional as that. Also, I wanted to tell a story about a family who might otherwise be able to ignore the Drug War because of their socioeconomic privilege being forced to confront it.
If you’ll sing a song in a Karaoke to celebrate Patron Saints of Nothing, what song/s will you sing and why?
RANDY RIBAY: Probably “My Shot” from Hamilton. I love the sing and I feel like there’s a lot of connections between what Hamilton is expressing in that moment and how I feel as a writer.
Now that Patron Saints of Nothing is out in the world, how do you feel? Do you have some proud dad moments you can share with us? How about some worries and regrets, do you have them as well?
RANDY RIBAY: Whenever a book is released, it feels to me like a bird flying from the nest. It’s out on its own now, and it’s going to do whatever it’s going to do. I hope people continue to find it and connect with it, and I hope when they do read it, they’re not the same afterwards.
What can we expect from you in the near future? Any new novel in the works? Can we expect more books about the Philippines?
RANDY RIBAY: I don’t have anything else under contract at the moment, but I’m working on a couple different projects right now. I don’t know what’s in store exactly for what I write in the future, but my stories will always have Filipino Americans and/or Filipinos!
When you are not in the Philippines, what do you miss most about it?
RANDY RIBAY: Family.
Lastly, what would you like to say to the 15-year old Randy?
RANDY RIBAY: Write more. Don’t wait.
That’s it! Thank you so much for sharing your time with us and answering these questions, Randy. I am so looking forward for more of your works! And I hope you’ll keep on writing. ❤
RANDY RIBAY: Thanks, Karina!
Randy Ribay is the author of the contemporary YA novels PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING (Kokila/Penguin 2019), AFTER THE SHOT DROPS (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) and AN INFINITE NUMBER OF PARALLEL UNIVERSES (Merit Press/Simon & Schuster, 2015). He’s also a high school English teacher, reader, gamer, watcher of great TV, husband, and father of two dog-children. He can probably be found somewhere making lightsaber sound effects with his mouth.
Randy Ribay’s books:
Have you read Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay? What song would you like or enjoy singing in the karaoke? Did you enjoy reading the interview? Share your thoughts below!