Nathalie De Los Santos: “The Philippines by then would be some sort of Atlantis beneath the sea”
The Vancouver-based creative nerds out on science-fiction, graphic novels and Filipino mythology.
Nathalie De Los Santos is a Vancouver-born and raised filmmaker, digital designer, photographer and writer, who just released her gamer-world inspired freshman novel, Hasta Mañana. She produced a short film called The Weather Girl that represented International Women’s Day for Women in Film and Television Vancouver in 2013. An exciting and emerging voice in Filipino-Canadian literature, Nathalie is completing her second novel, the high-fantasy adventure, Diyosa Mata. Via email, Nathalie shared her thoughts on Filipino mythology, fan-girling Lynda Barry, and the future of diaspora Filipino science-fiction and fantasy.
What inspired you to write fantasy and science-fiction? More specifically, to write Filipino fantasy and science-fiction?
I loved video games growing up, fantasy and sci-fi. I loved Legend of Zelda, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, all the way to some obscure fantasy film like Seventh Seal. I drew a lot of fan art and wrote fantasy growing up for fun, but I hit a point in college where I realized all the characters I created were white and often based on Greek, Roman, and Nordic mythology. It’s all I knew.
When I asked my parents about Filipino folklore, they told me fragmented bits of their culture. Within the last couple years, I started to read fairy tales and the mythology online and have collected books related to the topic. The more and more I read about Filipino culture, I was fascinated. The stories resonated with me and I wondered why I never learned this growing up. I find a lot of the times my family think the monsters in the Filipino mythology —the aswang for example — are superstitious or country-bumpkin, so they avoid talking about it. Except my dad, he always tells me what he knows with an excited mystery. As I studied the Spanish colonial period as well, I understood how this shame came to be, and my reaction to that time made me want to read more.
In your upcoming novel, Diyosa Mata, the protagonist, Mayari, is a woman. Is she based on a historical figure or someone from your own life?
Mayari isn’t based on one person but many. She has the ability to gender bend between herself and a male form named Apolaki. In the folklore, they’re two rulers of the world — Mayari the night, Apolaki the day, and they fought each other for the dominion of the world. I thought it would be interesting if they were one character instead of two opposite halves. The adventures and actions Mayari takes in both form is inspired by history. For instance, a battle she fights as Apolaki in the story is based on the Battle of Mactan.
My friend Naomi is also non-binary and my friend Romeo transitioned, so their stories inspired Mayari’s gender fluid character as well. (They’re both Filipino too, by the way!) For example, Mayari experiences very different social exchanges in each form. My friend Romeo said when he transitioned to a male, it was much easier to get a point across without much explanation.
Are there any interesting overlaps among Philippine history, mythology and the Filipino diaspora that you discovered while writing Diyosa Mata?
Sometimes when I think about our diaspora, I think of how our culture would sail between islands. I remember reading in Lane Wilcken’s book, Filipino Tattoos: Ancient to Modern, that a lot of the original stories of the Philippines required understanding of how people would have perceived the world and not just attribute it to being magical or something simplistic like that. Islands rising up from the water or dropping from the sky in mythology was most likely due to the perception of the curvature of the earth and how landmasses would appear to our ancestors traveling by sea. This might be a really, really far stretch, but I see us still being nomadic in our displacement, making sense of the distance between spaces poetically.
Who are your literary heroes?
Lynda Barry re-inspired me to write. I went through a period of depression in my life and her books about her process made me less critical towards myself. Also her sense of smart humour, deep philosophy, and curiosity reawakens my imagination each time I read her work. I went to see her at the Vancouver Writers Festival and learning writing techniques from her made completely break out of this dark period of my life. I also am interested in graphic novels and comics, so seeing her fusion of whimsical visuals and deep writing encourages me to tell personal stories along with fantastical ones.
Where do you see Filipino fantasy and science-fiction literature in the next few years?
I am really excited about Pixar’s short film FLOAT that will star Filipino characters. Bakunawa, The Mythology Class, TRESE and Skyworld are on my BOOKS-TO-READ list. TRESE was bought by Netflix to turn into an anime, so I’m really excited to watch it.
I think the Filipino comic scene is wonderful! I want to see more Filipino-Canadian authors enter this scene, because it was difficult to find them when I was writing Diyosa Mata. I believe that there will be more fantasy and sci-fi authors and work in the near future because there’s so much of a need of it: Filipinos are usually the second or third largest populations in major Canadian cities. Even in my own practice, I want to write two more books for Diyosa Mata. One would be set in the Marcos period, because so many people were referred as “aswang”, which is an interesting monsters among us concept to me. The last book would be set in a cyberpunk world where my characters are spread out and decentralized but fighting evil across the world while trying to find their lost civilization. Perhaps the Philippines by then would be some sort of Atlantis beneath the sea.
*Parts of the interview have been slightly edited for clarity.