Out of the six stories I wrote for my Creative Writing thesis in 2012-2013, only half went on to become publishable (and published!) stories. “How the Jungle Got Its Spirit Guardian” is one of the ones that made it.
I wanted to challenge myself by writing a story about food and its preparation. This turned out to be only a small part of the larger narrative, but it was a good challenge nonetheless, considering that the only thing I knew how to cook back in 2012 was Lucky Me Pancit Canton. But at the time, I still wasn’t completely sold on the idea of writing high fantasy in the Philippines or writing secondary world fantasy set in a pre-colonial Philippines analogue (at this time, I was two years away from that shift). The closest real-world stand-in I could find were the food cultures of pre-colonial South America, specifically Mayan civilization. The influences of my research from that time permeate the entire story.
“How the Jungle Got Its Spirit Guardian” is the prototype of the kind of story I want to write—that I wrote for a time—that I still hope to write again, really. It’s got many of my go-to tropes and themes: soft boys, strong girls, gender roles, forests, romance, adventure, tragedy, bittersweet endings.
Writing this story first demonstrated to me that I was capable of a grandly ambitious story, that I tended to think in novelettes, that I could completely buck “show, don’t tell.” Much of this tale is told, not shown, and it is what it is because it is mostly told. I learned that a writer can do many things if they lean into the telling, such as compressing a huge swathe of time in one sentence.
Over the years, I’ve added only one scene and half to the story and kept the rest as is. It was one of the first stories I could be proud of; I’m still proud of it, in part because it was my first publishing credit. I initially submitted it to FableCroft Publishing’s call for the anthology Insert Title Here. It didn’t get in, but editor and publisher Tehani Wessely found that it and a handful more stories resonated with each other and so, she decided to create Phantazein to house them all (ah, the beauty of running your own small press).