Ink: A Love Story

In a way, “Ink: A Love Story” is the oldest of the stories I’ve published. It’s inspired by the Twilight Zone revival episode “Dream Lover,” about a cartoonist who drew his perfect girl, as well as its parent story, the Greek myth “Pygmalion and Galataea” (which I reference in the story).

I was watching the episode one day in 2012, while making cream puffs in someone else’s kitchen, when a switch flicked in my brain. I first wrote the story for one of my fiction workshop classes in 100 words and titled it “An Author Takes a Wife” (and this, in part, explains why nearly every sentence begins with ‘he’ or ‘she’). In it, a snooty literary author writes up his perfect woman and adores her—up until she starts having desires that contradict his. This version was published in 2012 by the University of the Philippines Writers Club’s 100: The Hundreds Project. Meanwhile, I expanded the original to a 1,400-word story for my undergraduate thesis and thought no more of it after that.

Then at the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop, I dug it up from my graveyard of files. I was working on a story that would become “Song of the Mango” for the first two weeks—meaning, I submitted nothing the first week and the second week was about to end with my having turned in nothing for workshopping. I was told that I could submit at least one story—like Ted Chiang did, apparently—but that I would only maximize what I’d get out of the workshop if I submitted six pieces.

So I pulled out the long version of “An Author Takes a Wife” from my files and thought hard. This was honestly the era before I became ‘woke,’ before I proudly claimed the label of ‘feminist.’ At the time, I thought of myself as an ‘egalitarian person.’ Was there a female version of the snooty literary writer? Someone who maybe liked the complete opposite stuff, but was still similar to him in all the ways that counted?

And then it hit me that there were probably many romance writers out there who dreamed of writing their perfect guy to life. I just made the female character a Tagalog romance novel writer who was also into anime, manga, and dating sims. Then I added the frame story of the two writers entering a mangkukulam’s shop and buying magic ink, as well as the headers for both sections. The snooty literary writer became ‘The Professor’ and the Tagalog romance novelist became ‘The Fan Girl,’ while the two creations became ‘The Perfect Boy’ and ‘The Housewife.’ And the story became “The Politics of Ink.”

Months later, I was trying to sell off nearly all my Clarion stories—at least, the ones I considered finished, anyway. I took a look at all the sterling critiques I received at the workshop and implemented the ones I agreed with, including changing the title to “Ink: A Love Story.” Lastly, I remembered that during a walk to the parking lot, my brilliant classmate Kiik Araki-Kawaguchi wondered aloud what it’d be like if there had been several lovers, or what if the two creations met and talked about their creators. I really liked the latter idea, and that’s how the middle section got written.

I must’ve submitted this story to three or four different magazines before it finally found a home in Lontar: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction vol. 7. All in all, I’m glad that’s where it ended up.