Filled with the complexities of memory and acceptance, English teacher Gina Apostol’s new novel, Gun Dealers’ Daughter, follows Sol, a young woman from Manila in search of an identity. Intertwined with her past and future, Sol’s narration is filled with the history of Manila, her parents’ societal role and position, and her own beliefs and desire to rebel against her loved ones. The Scroll’s two book reviewers sat down with Ms. Apostol to talk with her about her novel, due to be published by W.W. Norton in July.
Kuo: Congratulations on your book, Ms. Apostol!
Apostol: Thank you, Stefani.
Kuo: I really enjoyed reading it. Could you tell us about the writing process of the Gun Dealers’ Daughter?
Apostol: I got a fellowship to write a draft of this novel from Phillips Exeter Academy. They have a writer in residence for a year. I finished the first draft but didn’t do anything with it. When my daughter went off to college, I had nothing to do, so I spent every afternoon revising the novel. It took me years to figure out how to revise Gun Dealer. The first draft of the novel was chronological narration, which was very boring. I didn’t like the structure of the [first draft].
Ingrassia: So you wrote your first draft, left it and then came back to it. What did you do differently when you returned to it?
Apostol: I got rid of the chronological. The early draft was around 300-400 pages, but I took out the backstories of a few characters and put in what would fit in terms of what [Sol] would actually think.
Kuo: So was your first draft all in Sol’s perspective? Or was it a third-person narrative?
Apostol: That’s a very good question. I started off in third person, but I really wanted to hear her voice. So, I moved out of the third-person voice. That ironically pushed me to be more disciplined about what I would include because if you have this kind of person, she can only have this kind of memory. That issue of limiting, narrowing, and creating constraints is really important in writing novels and in fiction.
Ingrassia: The book also revolves a lot around memory and how “memory is deception.” How much of Sol’s memory recreates itself rather than portrays the truth?
Apostol: I have an idea, but that is such a reader’s question. What do you guys think?
Kuo: At first, I assumed she was a little distorted, but I didn’t think she was making up memories. Then I started doubting if she was remembering things for what they really were.
Apostol: There’s something deceptive about recall, about memory, and the writing process is part of it. She’s writing everything out, and the deception is really an issue. Even the issue of being literary and how constraining that is when you have to figure out your words and still portray the truth: there is always a gap between writing to portray the truth and recognizing your construction is made up for fiction writers, for novelists. In a sense, that, too, is an interesting theme and a struggle for me as a writer: the paradoxical truth of language.
Ingrassia: I was wondering how much of the story or the plot is based on your own experiences?
Apostol: Well, my parents aren’t gun dealers, so no. One of the problems I had with this novel is with this person who wants to belong. What is it about [Sol] that makes her stray from her upper-class friends? It takes a long time, maybe five years, to write a novel. You have to think a long time about it, go through the characters, and research on the time period. I also had to figure out my connections; what I could put into her psychology that would be interesting. [Sol] is a composite of a lot of people I knew.
Ingrassia: So, as you’re leaving at the end of the year, do you have any plans concerning your writing? Are you hoping to write more books?
Apostol: Yes, the one I am working on right now is a combination of the modern and the revolutionary. I’m going back to a massacre in 1901, when Filipinos killed 33 Americans, and Americans killed several thousands of Filipinos. I’ve already started writing that, and it is connected to movie-writing and mystery.
Kuo: After leaving Deerfield, are you focusing on writing and your next novel?
Apostol: It will depend on whether I get a job that’s interesting that I’ll take. I’d love to focus on my novel, which would be fun. I have one question for you guys. Is this a book that is assignable to high school students?
Kuo: Yes, in our English class we were reading Beloved, which was a lot about memory, and I think this was similar in that sense. I thought it connected with our class.
Apostol: In what way would this plot be relevant to a kid your age?
Ingrassia: The coming-of-age theme is what every high school student is going through. No one has really found themselves yet because everyone is trying to find their voice.
Apostol: Yes, in fact, I called one of my drafts Catcher in the Rye novel. If you were this teenager trying to find herself in the Philippines, what would you do? You would become a Maoist rebel, instead of walking drunk on Fifth Avenue. I thought there was something about the coming-of-age that was interesting for me.
Kuo: Well, thank you so much for your time!
Apostol: Thank you!
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: April 9, 2012
An article on April Special Art Issue about the new novel by Ms. Apostol, misquoted the reference to Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. He was walking drunk, not walking with drugs.