“Enlightenment” Blog Tour: Getting to Know Author Reno Ursal

I used to post interviews I’ve done with fellow writers, but it’s been a while since I last did one for this blog; about four years actually. I’m thinking of bringing that back in the new year to some extent, and it begins with my participation in the blog tour for Reno Ursal’s upcoming novel, Enlightenment; a coming-of-age story that fuses the paths of two people, by way of Filipino folklore.

Reno is a fellow Bay Area-based Filipino American author.  He is an alumnus of the University of Michigan where he received his B.A. in English. While he has had work published in the past, Enlightenment is his debut novel and the first of his Bathala series. I now turn it to him on what Enlightenment is all about, how he got his start as a writer, his influences, etc.

Who the characters in Enlightenment are:

Enlightenment tells a story from the first-person perspectives of Dorothy Dizon and Adrian Rosario. Dorothy is inspired by various different people in my life, the most significant being my niece who was raised in America after immigrating from the Philippines at a young age. Her biological father was not in her life and she was raised by loving grandparents and her brothers and sisters in LA and Vegas.

In this story, Dorothy is humble and aware of self-perceived faults in what some may consider an impressive resume of achievements for an eighteen-year-old. She is Filipino American through and through – she’s aware of her cultural heritage, but there is a disconnect in language and understanding of her homeland’s history.
 
Adrian is the epitome of an overconfident being who underestimates the human condition. He physically looks like a young Filipino, but he is a warrior member of a long-lasting secret society in the Philippines. Without being a spoiler, his connection with Dorothy tests his beliefs and makes him question the reason he was sent to Vegas in the first place.
Urduja is a woman warrior of the ancient islands. Her inclusion in Enlightenment is a teaser that leaves more questions than answers in relation to the story of Dorothy and Adrian. I can reveal that readers can expect a prequel novel dedicated to Urduja that will connect the dots with modern-day Dorothy Dizon. By far, Urduja is my favorite character in The Bathala Series!
On the future books in the series:
The Bathala Series is magical realism using the obscure history of the Philippines and Southeast Asia. All the novels will take readers around the world in the quest to understand the unwritten history of the world. Book One: Enlightenment takes place in the United States.  
 
We are currently editing Atonement; Book Two of the Bathala Series which will primarily take place in modern-day Philippines. That’s really all I can say for now! The release date will be whenever my editors feel the novel is ready. There are questions in Enlightenment that will be addressed as the series moves along, so it’s my hope Atonement will be released sooner than later.
And I’ve already spilled the beans on the Urduja prequel that will be released after Atonement. Perhaps I’ve said too much!
How long it takes for Reno to write a book:
It took me over nine years until Enlightenment was published. Having said that, every book has its own background story and timeline. I started writing Enlightenment in 2009 and the manuscript became 600 pages over the years. The published novel ended up 250+ pages and it was difficult when scenes were cut out. I was resolved to trust my editors knowing they were cutting out words to make this a palatable young adult novel. The silver lining is I still have these scenes and perhaps I can incorporate them in later novels.
 
I don’t think you can write a novel without soliciting feedback from editors, alpha and beta readers. My beta readers were all high school students (addressed in acknowledgments at the back of the novel). High school students keep you humble. They tell you like it is without a filter! Without a doubt, I am blessed they critiqued my work. This feedback takes time to receive. It takes time to incorporate changes in a manuscript. A novel that stands the test of time takes time to write. Lots of time. And the amount of time varies depending on what’s going on in the author’s life.
Favorite childhood books:
C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia series and Jules Verne’s Journey To The Center of the Earth. These books had me hooked to Fantasy & Adventure books and introduced me to other narrative worlds and the concept of magical realism.
Which Enlightenment character he’d want to hang with for a day:
I would love to hang out with Adrian in his secret society in the Philippines. This is a world that will be introduced in Book Two: Atonement, so I’ve already spent a lot of time here as a novelist. But to see it all in person would be a dream come true (because this world has truly been in my dreams for years!).
Hardest scene to write in Enlightenment:
The hardest scenes had to do with two antagonists, Aria and Dala. Don’t want to be a spoiler, but I struggled with Adrian’s choice, which epitomized my struggle with the fates of my female characters. As a male writer, I want my female characters to be strong and badass. After much back and forth, my editors (one male, two females) convinced me not to let my defaults hinder the story. I eventually reconciled this struggle with Dorothy’s decision when facing Sitan on the plane. 
On what made him want to be a writer:
As alumni of the Huron Shores Writing Institute in Northern Michigan while a teenager, I began my writing journey. When I became an English major at the University of Michigan, I continued writing sloppy short stories. A pivot point for me was taking Professor Stephen Sumida’s Asian American Writing course at Michigan as a sophomore where I was introduced to Asian American writers like Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan, and Peter Bacho. I was blown away there were APA writers with their own published stories. I was used to reading stories from white male authors, so this class changed my trajectory and the tone of my inner voice changed. I wrote pop songs that eventually were produced, all the while writing short stories unknown to most people who know me. Over time, I realized my writing voice was Filipino American, a voice I thought was a hindrance to being published. Today, I realize my unique Fil-Am writing voice is shared by many in my community. It’s a voice all readers should be exposed to.
These are a few of his favorite things:
Favorite Song: “Viva La Vida” – Coldplay, among many others
Favorite Book: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, among many others
Favorite Movies: “A Walk To Remember” and “The Notebook” – two movies adapted from Nicholas Sparks books
Favorite TV Show: “Friends,” among many others
Favorite Food: Sushi!
Favorite Drink: Guava juice
Favorite website: Way too many to pick out one!
What he hopes for readers to take away from reading his works:
Some readers have called Enlightenment a vampire book, but I am resolute that this is a standalone novel in a series that incorporates characters who need blood for sustenance and survival. The word “vampire” originated in Western Europe in the 18th century, but blood-eating pacts have been part of world history since before the days of Christ. In Southeast Asian history, blood compacts were part of ancient traditions for many island tribes. From all accounts, the colonization of Humabon (King of Sugbu and Lapu-Lapu rival) by Magellan in 1521 was agreed upon with a blood compact!
 
In Enlightenment, the concept of vampirism is an antagonist in itself. Modern society associates vampires as evil, fictional beings. Not in Enlightenment. For me, Enlightenment is a young adult fantasy & adventure novel delved with magical realism elements. I hope readers are affected by a young adult coming-of-age story involving the complicated history of Filipino folklore through honest, transparent characters of Filipino descent.
Enlightenment will be made available on March 14, 2019. For more updates on Reno’s work, be sure to visit his website.

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