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Interviewing Marivi Soliven: Spooky Mo Horror Stories

“I avoid writing stories with a message. It’s preachy and annoying.”

Spooky Mo: Horror Stories is a collection of nine short stories written by Marivi Soliven featuring women who deal with professional rivals, cheating spouses, domestic violence, and detestable neighbors. Marivi Soliven expresses the internal motivations behind each character’s actions – their dreams, fears, and desires – ultimately humanizing the people who live in her stories.

The Creation Process

Tell us more about how each story in this collection is a Filipino treatment of the Seven Deadly sins. 
I would rather have the reader go through that exercise. The Seven Deadly sins hook was something that came after the fact, when all the stories had been written. I did not start writing them with the intent to portray each of the 7 deadlies.

What was the research process for these stories like? Minimal. For “Spooky Mo” I asked a professor friend who’d done research in Tokyo about the Japayuki and asked another professor friend about common Japanese surnames. Additionally, I looked up the phenomenon of vagina dentata after watching the indie flickTeeth. I actually went to that town in the Philippines where crucifixions are re-enacted, but as a tourist, not as a writer looking for short story material.

What role does the topic of domestic violence for women play in this short story collection? 
It’s in the story about the little girl being abused by her father and in “Bangungot”. I wanted to show how eventually, abusers get what they deserve, even if it has to come from supernatural sources.

The stories in this collection have also been described as “feminist horror stories“. How do the elements of feminism intersect with those of horror in this collection? 
The fact that the aggressors were women? I don’t know who described the collection as “feminist horror stories” but I never EVER start out thinking Well today, I’m going to write a feminist story. I avoid writing stories with a message. It’s preachy and annoying.

Which elements from your life or surroundings have played a large part in the creation of your characters and their respective worlds? 
Every experience is fodder for story.

There is an emphasis on traditional comfort food, the roles of women in a patriarchal culture, and Catholicism throughout these stories. What made you decide to explore these aspects of Filipino society? 
Ever experience is fodder for story. I happen to enjoy Filipino comfort food, I was raised in a Catholic patriarchal culture, so why not write from what I know?

Were there other topics that you aimed to emphasize in these short stories? 
The fun supernatural folklore stuff.

Audience

What audience did you have in mind when creating the stories? 
I never think of an audience when I write. If I did, I would be an advertising copywriter, which I was, before I turned to fiction.

What advice would you give a reader unfamiliar with the Catholic context and Filipino culture to help with reading and understanding the themes behind your text? 
Just go with the flow and read other books if you really want to learn more about Catholics and Filipinos. I write stories, not textbooks. 

Picking Favorites

If you had to pick a favorite story in this collection, which would it be, and why? 

That’s like asking a mother to name her favorite child. 

Questions About Each Story

Below, Marivi Soliven kindly answers questions regarding each story in her collection:  

1. “Talanung Manok (The Defeated Cock)”

In “Talanung Manok”, Socorro, a woman who has cooked for her husband’s clients for years comes to suspect that he has a mistress when his appetites change. After her husband fatally crashes his car on a stormy night while speeding to his mistress, Socorro gets a young doctor to cut her a very private piece of her husband so that she could serve it to his mistress… 
I read that “Talanung Manok” means “The Defeated Cock”. Why was the title in Filipino and not in English? 
Because Talunang Manok is the name of the actual Filipino dish.

How did you think “Talanung Manok” would be received by the audience?
That’s not something I ever think about because how a reader “receives” a story is beyond my control.

2. “Child’s Play”

Lizzie, a little girl who lives with her violent father, is invited to leave him and live with the Kabaan, a mysterious doll-sized culture that lives under the tree. 

Where did the concepts for the Kibaan (tree folk) come from? 
Philippine folklore.

3. “Manananggrrrl”

In “Mananangrrrl”, witches separate their upper bodies from their lower halves when they go to feed. On the Wicca Watch talk show, a witch describes a gruesome (and hilarious) story of witchy rivalry between a slender witch and a heavyset witch. 

Was there a talk show in particular that you based this one? 
I am disappointed you didn’t recognize Oprah. 

4. “Bangungot”

Rebecca has always carried the statute of Muniya, a voluptuous goddess who sweats ample amounts of sap. Muniya sees how Esteban, Rebecca’s deadbeat husband, beats Rebecca. One night, after Esteban kicks Rebecca from the house and cuts up her green card, the goddess decides to intercept…
 
What does “bangungot” mean by definition? 
Nightmare.

The abusive husband is a common archetype used in your stories featuring domestic violence. From what sources did you draw inspiration and details for Esteban’s character?
He is an archetype but also someone I have encountered over multiple calls for the National Domestic Violence hotline.

What is “binagoongang baboy”? Google translate: “baboy” = pig, but nothing for “binagoongang”. 
Bagoong – shrimp paste. It means pork stewed in shrimp paste.

5. “Lost in Digestion”

Lola Ichay deals with an intrusive and close-minded neighbor by “killing him with kindness” in the form of her delicious traditional cooking. 
 
How does “Lost in Digestion” reflect your experiences in National City? 
It does not. It was inspired by a neighbor I detested.

6. “Penitence” 

 
Magda and Tom visit Pampanga to witness Good Friday celebrations, which include the brutal reenactments of the crucifixion of Christ. Initially, Magda regards the acts of self-flagellation with disgust, but soon she surprises herself…
 
How did your own experiences with Catholicism (or religion in general) influence the details in “Penitence”? 
The repression, the endless cycle of guilt, the actual ritual of annual crucifixion in that small town. 

7. “Migrant Life”

Eulalia, a woman unable to communicate orally as a result of a stroke, lives a dull life in front of the television while her resentful children quarrel about who has to take care of her. One day, the characters in Desperate Housewives invite her into their world…

Why did you use the set of Desperate Housewives as the source of Eulalia’s escape from her mundane, post-stroke life? 
Because I’d watched a couple of seasons and knew all the characters.

Which Deadly Sin is associated with Eulalia? 

Lust. 

8. “Consumption”

In “Consumption” Guinevere Go and her father are the co-owners of a successful company of malls. Guinevere transforms into a giant snake to feed on children a few times a year, which causes her waistline to fluctuate dramatically, causing people to become suspicious…

Where did the idea of a person-snake come from? 
There is an urban legend in Manila that the daughter of one of the richest Chinese Filipino department store owners has a snake for a twin. 

9. “Spooky Mo”

When Rhacel informs her mother that she is going to Japan to be a dancer, her mother enlists the help of a toothy friend to protect Rhacel’s dignity… 
 
What does the last line in this story, “Bilib ako sa iyo ‘Day–ang s-puky mo” mean? I see the “Spooky Mo” part in it. Is it a pun? (Google translate offers something akin to “I believe you–it’s the Spooky Mo!”) 
Yes. Spooky = puki (cunt) + spooky (scary)+ mo (your). Figure it out.

 

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