Monday, 9 March 2015

Three Years Later

I just received another short message on Facebook this week from someone who had just read my book. He said that he was moved to tears by the end of the book, and that he found it inspiring. I quickly replied, thanking him for reaching out to me. It is still gratifying for a first-time author to receive readers’ letters many years after my book’s initial release.

Maverick House Publishers released my book, OF GOD AND MEN: A LIFE IN THE CLOSET, three years ago, in March 2012. Its previous iteration was as a self-published novel, God Loves Bakla, published two years earlier in Cambodia. It was briefly on the bestseller list of National Book Store in Manila, but sales have slowed down, as might be expected. But there remains a market for the book out there, and the recent Facebook message I received proves this.

The world has changed a lot since I first self-published my memoirs about my life in the closet. We are three months away from a possible United States Supreme Court decision declaring same-sex marriage a fundamental human right in every state of the country. The implications of such decision will be enormous, and the United States will become the biggest country in the world where same-sex marriage is recognized. In my home country, the Philippines, which catches a cold every time Uncle Sam sneezes, I am sure that the US Supreme Court decision will lead to more discussions on LGBT rights, and perhaps my traditional, conservative, devoutly Catholic country will finally begin taking steps to recognize the rights of LGBT Filipinos as a minority group justly deserving state protection.
But then again, the Philippines has never followed the US on the issue of divorce, so perhaps the US Supreme Court decision would not be as consequential as I would like to think.

Beyond the legal arena, much has changed in the Philppines when it comes to LGBT rights. I had been one of the Partylist candidates of Ang Ladlad LGBT Party in the 2013 midterm Congressional Elections. I volunteered to be one because there was almost no one who was both willing and qualified to speak out for our community. In next year’s elections, that would no longer be the case. Between 2013 and now, I have seen so many of my LGBT sisters and brothers step up to the plate to speak out for our community. Some of them, to my mind, would make excellent candidates. 

Moreover, there would no longer be just one LGBT partylist; there would be several, and this is certainly a case where we should let a thousand flowers bloom. We saw how Ang Ladlad failed to unify the LGBT community in 2013. Maybe the solution is to have more sector-specific partylists, which could then mobilize more effectively and campaign more successfully.

I would still like to be able to do LGBT advocacy in the Philippines, in one form or another. But the urgency for my personal participation is no longer there, as we have many young people who are bravely speaking out, and who could communicate our ideas and principles more effectively to their generation. And if my voice is somehow sought after again, OF GOD AND MEN will always be available.

I am currently based in Vientiane, Laos, where I have lived for close to two years with my partner, John. I moved here in July 2013, right after the elections, and began the work of setting up an international law firm to cater to foreign companies investing in Laos. This was the same work I was doing in Cambodia before I came home to the Philippines to campaign for Ang Ladlad. This is my livelihood at the moment. It pays my bills and allows John and me to build a comfortable home and a happy life together. Laos is a wonderful place to live and work in, and I am slowly improving my Lao language skills in order to be more integrated into the local community. How long John and I will stay here we cannot say. But we do not mind staying in Laos for another two to three years.

Later this month, the directors of Out Run are coming to Laos to interview me to check on me two years after the failed Ladlad campaign. Out Run is a feature-length documentary currently in production by American filmmakers Johnny Symons and S. Leo Chiang about the world’s only LGBT political party to run for office. I am one of the film’s subjects, and the filmmakers are preparing the epilogue. When I stand before their cameras again, I will be speaking about LGBT rights once more. I am looking forward to the completed film, which should be released later this year. In the meantime, you can check out a trailer at

The world has indeed changed a lot in the last several years. But in the larger picture, probably not by much. Many parts of the world remain homophobic, and young people in towns and villages all over the world remain cowering in the closet, fearful that their family and friends would find out they were homosexual, which would destroy their lives forever. I hope that my book, as well as other similar works, reach these young people to let them know that there’s nothing wrong with them. I hope that Maverick House continues to sell and market OF GOD AND MEN to be able to help these people in the closet. Like the recent reader who wrote me on Facebook, perhaps they may also be inspired by my book.

I may no longer be as active as I used to be, but I will always be an advocate for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage. And I am profoundly thankful that OF GOD AND MEN and, hopefully soon, Out Run allow my advocacy to outrun my meager efforts in order to reach so many, many more.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Lissa Oliver, the author of Gala Day and Chantilly Dawns, is writing another thriller

I’ve heard it said that an author should write the book that’s missing from their bookshelf. While it’s sound advice, I couldn’t imagine doing otherwise. In my day job as a horseracing journalist I only write the features that I would like to read and when it comes to my first love, writing novels, it really is pure self-indulgence.

My passion for writing came as soon as I could hold a pen and form a letter, and my passion for racehorses a few years later, so I’m at my happiest combining the two. Chantilly Dawns really was the book I most wanted to write – it didn’t follow the usual trend of a racing thriller, but instead offered me an opportunity to really explore, and abuse, my protagonist’s psyche. It was written for myself, but thankfully quite a few others share my tastes!

Although I set my books within the horseracing world that I know and love, I try to be aware that they should appeal to non-horse people and I take care not to be technical or use jargon. But the self-contained bubble that is the racing world does present me with an excellent base on which to build a story and really test a character.

Gala Day may be a typical horseracing thriller, but again it was the book I most wanted to read. I’d grown up with the Dick Francis thrillers and their imitators, but I always found them detached from the real, ground roots stable in which most of the industry work. I didn’t like the oh-so-perfect heroes, who described pain and discomfort as ‘boring’! I wanted an ordinary hero who felt pain like any of us and felt fear, too, but was prepared to fight for his reputation, simply because he had to.

Right now I’m working hard on a third horseracing thriller, which could be described as a combination of the two books. I enjoyed the fast-paced whodunit aspect of Gala Day, so that is certainly the main premise of my current novel in progress, but I also enjoyed my sadistic role as an author in prising out and preying upon the hero’s weaknesses in Chantilly Dawns. Currently I have two central characters, the hero and the villain, both with their own set of emotional problems. The plot revolves around their tortured relationship and its repercussions. Once again, the racing world is merely a backdrop.

I find when I’m writing a novel that the first three or four chapters are the most difficult and take far too long to write. But they are the crucial foundations of a story, establishing characters and plot. As soon as I’m comfortable with them, the remainder simply flows, rather like following the characters visually and recording their actions. From that point on, despite only writing in my spare time (it’s surprising where you can conjure it up from!) I tend to write non-stop and so far have completed each of my three published novels in nine months; not counting those first long and laboured months or even years of getting past chapter three. As I’m approaching the halfway point of thriller number three, it’s safe to say: Watch This Space!