By MEANN ORTIZ – In Samantha Sotto’s fictional world, the road to immortality begins with dreams and ends with a choice and the will to overcome death.
Her journey to becoming a published author also began with a dream, albeit one that you would not expect from someone who just launched her book. After all, while Sam wanted to write just as much as anybody does, it was not something that she consciously pursued.
“I think everybody has these dreams that you put at the back of your head. But even when I was writing, I didn’t feel like I was living my dream; I was just amusing myself. When I typed the end, that’s when the dream started: now I have a book, what if I publish it?”
By persevering and making the right choices, her dream is now reality: Before Ever After was released in the Philippines last July 27, and in the US and other international markets last August 2.
As of this writing, Sam is promoting the book in the US, doing interviews and blog tours. The Philippine Consulate General in New York also hosted a special event to introduce her and the book to the Filipino-American community.
“I’ve been amazed by all the support that Filipinos have been giving it,” she said. “Readers have really rallied around it.”
Fiction inspired by fiction
It’s easy enough to support something like Before Ever After—a novel that incorporates romance, a hint of the fantastical, a sense of escapism, and memorable characters.
After the success of Before Ever After, Sam is now working on a second novel, which will be set in Amsterdam; it will also have romantic elements and a touch of magic.
Sam’s lyrical and evocative prose guides readers through a brief tour of the life of Max Gallus—an enigmatic man with a strange penchant for eggs and chickens—whose astonishing secrets come to light when his wife Shelley and his grandson Paolo go on a quest to find him three years after his alleged death. His story spans hundreds of years across various locations in Europe and, of course, the Philippines.
Sam revealed that Max’s character is inspired by Doctor Who (“He’s fiction inspired by fiction”) while the settings are heavily influenced by her teenage years in Holland and a backpacking trip she took across Europe with a friend several years later.
“It was my age when I went to Europe that made it special for me. When I first went there when my father was expatriated by his company, I was 16,” she recounted. “Because I was young, and everything was so different from my real life, I was just so amazed by everything.”
When Sam and her family returned to the Philippines, she enrolled as a Communications major at the Ateneo de Manila University, where she became an editor for the student publication The Guidon.
When she graduated, she followed her father’s footsteps and joined the marketing group of a multinational company. Her work required her to travel often, but when she started to feel like she was “living out of a suitcase like in that movie, Up in the Air,” she decided to quit work to become a full-time mom. At the same time, she maintained a small business on the side.
It was during hours spent waiting at a coffee shop for her son to get out of school that Before Ever After started to take shape.
“I was just by myself; I had nothing else to do. If I go home [after dropping him off], by the time I get there, it will be time for me to fetch him again. And gastos pa ‘yun sa E-Pass and sa gas, so it was a practical thing more than ‘Oh, I have a dream. I’m gonna write.’ Hindi. Ayoko umuwi, ‘no,” she explained, laughing.
Sam finished writing the book within one school year—yet another practical consideration—because she felt she will not have time to finish it once summer vacation started.
With a finished novel in hand, she approached the problem of getting it published by putting on her corporate hat.
“Now that I have a product, how do I sell it? I didn’t know anything about publishing. Everything I knew at that time was from that Idiot’s Guide to Publishing that I accidentally saw in a book store and took as a sign.”
Sam sent many query letters out to agents, some of whom sent back rejection letters solely based on the query. One asked for sample chapters but later told her that her work “wasn’t polished enough.”
“I was so naïve. It was such a raw form of the book. So I stopped sending queries altogether, and for 3 or 4 months, I revised the hell out of it.”
Signs point to: chickens
An agent named Stephanie Kip Rostan would later tell her that she would be happy to represent the book, and Sam thinks that having her on board was fortuitous.
“I believe in signs, right? Her name `Kip’ in Dutch—and I only know this because I lived in Holland—means ‘chicken’. I told her, ‘it’s a sign; we’re meant to be together.’”
Rostan sold Before Ever After on 23 December 2009 to Crown Publishers, a division of the largest English-language publisher in the world, Random House, Inc.
The Filipino touch
Sam’s entry into the international publishing scene is viewed by most as a breakthrough, and she believes that her being Filipino actually gave her an edge.
“The first time I got to talk to my agent, she told me that there was something different in the way I wrote, that she was sure I wasn’t American. I told her ‘that’s because I’m Filipino!’” she proudly recalled.
“I think it’s an important message to get across to people that you can use being a Filipino to your advantage. You’ll get other people’s attention—it makes you different, and it puts a different flavor into your writing. I’ve always said that imagination is one of the few places that Filipinos don’t need a visa. We’re creative as a nation, so if you want to be a writer, write.”
“I’m happy to be the book that you hate”
While Sam’s dream of publishing her novel had a deeply personal motivation, she hopes that her story will inspire others to pursue their own dreams.
“Whether they like it [the book] or not—in fact, even if they hate it—I want people here in this country to say ‘pwede pala.’ I’m not gonna lie: it’s a hard process, but it can be done. If the reaction is ‘eh yun lang pala, kaya ko naman gawin ‘yan,’ then good for you. Do it. If that’s going to be my only contribution to people, then I’m happy to be the book that you hate.”
“I wrote it for myself and I published it for my children. This is all I wanted from it,” she added, opening a copy of the book and pointing to the dedication, which is addressed to her two children. “I can give this to them and say ‘dream, believe, and just do it.’ No one can ever take that away from them.” – YA, GMA News