An Interview with Miguel Syjuco

Written by: Lara

Edited by: Keitaro

Visuals by: Andie 

Miguel Syjuco is a celebrated author who wrote the critically acclaimed Illustrado, which reflects on Philippine history and the failure of the Filipino “elite” to build a fair country. Recently, Syjuco revealed he will publish his second novel, titled I Was The President’s Mistress!! which highlights the systematic issues of the present-day Philippines. To delve deeper into his new book, Bamboo Telegraph interviewed Miguel Syjuco. 

Could you give a brief introduction to your new book? 

Syjuco: I Was The President’s Mistress!! is a story which revolves around a minor character in Ilustrado named Vita Nova, a starlet who was rumored to have romantic relations to the president in Ilustrado. She was involved in a scandal called “Sexy Sexy Gate” in which she “spilled the beans” about her corrupt former lover the president. The story gains traction and the media is all over it. From there, begins the riveting story about the fallout after the scandal. 

Why did you choose to write about Vita Nova? 

Syjuco: I chose to write a book centered around Vita Nova because in Ilustrado she was often misunderstood. I wanted to explore her life and the challenges she faced in a patriarchal and machismo society where she was surrounded by men. Another major factor was that I also wanted to widen my narrow perspective and examine a cross-section of Philippine society. While writing, I Was The President’s Mistress, I also aimed to address the criticism towards Ilustrado about it being male dominant. I wanted to write a story that was more inclusive and would broaden my perspective despite my own inattention when writing Ilustrado.

What inspired you to write this novel?

Syjuco: A large part of this story was based on my experience in the Philippines in 2016 when I started reporting and writing opinion pieces. I was inspired by current events in the Philippines and the limited participation of Filipino citizens. I wanted to challenge the norm by creating a character who stood up and said, ‘Enough is enough! I’m gonna do something about this,’ exploring what forces in politics and social hierarchies would be against her.”

What is your writing process like? 

Syjuco: In writing my stories I often come up with the characters first and end up with a character-driven plot because I believe that if one knows the motivations of the characters and their wants in life it essentially becomes the plot. My stories are often about the characters achieving their goals but also how the world acts against them which causes a chain of events.

When do you expect your new book to release?

Syjuco: I Was The President’s Mistress should be released in the first quarter of 2022.

Syjuco’s responses offered greater insight into his writing process and authorial decisions he made as he was writing the novel. The global issues Syjuco explores relating to women are becoming front and center in recent years–his new novel reveals how these manifest themselves in the Philippines.