Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Novelist Named Keila


Earlier today I was FB hopping and I chanced upon the page of Keila Ochoa Harris, a young novelist from Mexico.

All her posts are in Spanish so I understand only 5%, or less (despite my 21 units of Spanish in UP).

Once, she was my roommate in Thailand when we were both invited as coaches in a writers' conference.


“I couldn't have chosen a better roommate," I told her, meaning it.

She laughed and said something which I totally missed because I was listening to her accent more than to her words. She sounded like Selma Hayek or Penelope Cruz, two of my favorite Hispanic actresses. Keila's speech pattern had their same musical lilt. And I told her so.

"Penelope Cruz is from Spain; Selma is the one from Mexico," she clarified, laughing.

I couldn’t tell the difference. Just as I mistake Aussies for Brits by the way they ignore their final r's.

Keila is at least, uh, a century younger than I am. And already she has five published novels! Written in her native tongue, these books are internationally distributed in Spanish-speaking countries. When she reaches my age, at her writing speed, her books would fill a bookstore.
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Keila is as passionate about writing as teaching. “I’ve been a teacher all my life,” she replied when I asked how she felt about being a writing coach in the conference's novel track. If I weren't assigned another group to coach, I’d have attended her sessions.

(Just an aside: in my salad days, when I was daring and reckless, I wrote a romance novel and let my aging aunt read the manuscript. She began at 9 in the morning and missed lunch. She stirred only at around 3 PM after finishing the last page. She had a wide smile on her face. I was ecstatic. I knew I had a bestseller in the making. So I sent it to a big international publisher, and the reply I got totally devastated me. It was a rejection slip . . . “don't attempt to rewrite it.” Dejected, I hid my draft in the store room. When I found it again, after gaining wisdom from countless missteps, I turned redder than a steamed crab. It was dreadful. Immediately, I dumped it in the trash can. Gone.)

Apart from love for writing, Keila and I had something in common: love for sleep. As soon as we got back to our room from a tiring day, we both hit the hay. Then we were up early in the morning. “The grace of sleep,” we called it.

"I can't function without enough sleep," she said. Those words could have well been mine.

I have not kept in touch with Keila, but I remember her fondly after a good night's rest, or each time I attempt a novel and—fail.

So I read someone's novel instead, savor it, and forever wonder how on earth did he/she do it?

2 comments:

Marlene Legaspi-Munar said...

Oh, no, Ate Grace! You should not have thrown your novel. It was just one publisher's opinion. Could you write another one? I wrote one for OMF 10 years ago but it's now out of print.

I attended one of Keila's session on fiction writing in Littworld Brazil. She's a great teacher!

Grace D. Chong said...

That's exactly what my son keeps teasing me about. "Where's your award-winning novel, mom?" But I was rash and utterly disappointed. I am writing another one, yes, and this time I am going to give it my all. LOL