Interview with Bernise Carolino

When did you first realize your passion and talent for creative writing?

I’ve always devoured every book I could get my hands on, and I guess like most other writers, the desire to write books rather than just read them progressed naturally from that lifelong habit. At age nine I wrote a “novel” on a big notebook. Each chapter was exactly five pages long and had a hand-drawn-and-colored illustration every other page. The protagonist was blond, American, and inexplicably popular. He encountered misfortune after misfortune and blamed a black cat for all his woes. Obviously, that “novel” sucked big-time, but I still keep it and look at it from time to time just for the laughs. I’m glad I started so early so that I could fulfill my quota for terrible writing and hurry up and start banging out passable stories.
What do you feel are your strongest literary influences? Who are some of your favorite writers?

I prefer reading Children’s and Young Adult books, and some writers whom I idolize are Roald Dahl for his whimsicality, Markus Zusak for his imagery, and Beverly Cleary and Laurie Halse Anderson for their humor. I also enjoy reading the darkly humorous essays and memoirs of Augusten Burroughs and David Sedaris. Pretty much every story I write also tries to be funny, the key word here being “tries.”

The only writer whom I actively try to collect all the books of is Haruki Murakami. His themes of isolation and fragmentation never fail to intrigue me. It’s the same case with two other books: Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Brett Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero. Those are books I wish I’d written.
We were dazzled by the narrative voice, the structure and the themes of “Tilt the Years Sideward and You Get a Fucking Loop.” How did this story get onto the page—in one single, manic gust of air, or more slowly, with multiple revisions, fine-tuning, and such?

Carolino Penduline

Bernise Carolino, writer of transgressive literature in the Philippines

We were required to submit one modernist and one postmodern short story for our fiction-writing class, and this was my attempt at postmodernism. I focused way longer on the modernist one so I ended up writing this story one day before the deadline, in the course of one hectic night. So, yes, it did come out with a whoosh from some tired part of my brain. I usually am strict about outlining my works, since I tend to ramble too much if I don’t follow a predetermined structure. So if this story seemed rambling . . . now you know why. I also barely revised it, which is why it has that whole stream-of-consciousness thing going on.

The story I used as my inspiration is the postmodern staple Lost in the Funhouse by John Barth. I tried to write the gay version of that. Just kidding.
What is the local writing scene like where you are? Do you belong to any writer’s groups?

I’m not a great believer in groups, probably because I generally suck at dealing with them. I am semi-active at though because it doesn’t require face-to-face interaction.
You write on your author page, “I’m all about androgyny and self-destruction. I’m a lose-lose situation.” If these fuel your writing work, wouldn’t you say that it’s also a win-win?

I had this persistent but mild self-destructive phase starting from fifth-grade elementary until second-year college, but that’s a thing of the past. I’m totally straight-edge now—don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs, don’t eat meat . . . the whole enchilada. I still have a fascination for self-destructive habits though, so I almost exclusively create characters who have some psychological disorder or other. Since I seem comparably sane, I guess you can say that I live vicariously through my grandly effed-up characters.
What are your literary aspirations? Do you see yourself someday as a widely published author? As an editor?

My ultimate dream has always been to be the first Filipino writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Another is to achieve J.K. Rowling-esque proportions of popularity. I’ve always had huge ambition and am only slightly daunted by the fact that I’ve only written one real novel so far, and that was for NaNoWriMo 2012. I should probably write more if I ever hope to publish a novel by the age of 80, but I always find myself reading or rereading some book/magazine/newspaper or other every minute of free time I get. I’m an obsessive reader. It’s a serious addiction.
If you could go for six months to a year anyplace on earth simply to write and publish, where would you live, and what would you want to work on?

I’d love to visit Vancouver, Canada, though I’m pretty sure that if I was there I’d ditch the work and try to attend as many Tegan and Sara concerts as possible, or just walk around and check out all the sexy, stylish androgynous girls. Kidding. But on a more serious note, I have always thought that the Western world as a whole would probably be more receptive to the transgressive literature I like writing. The Philippines, though big on Western culture due to its colonial history, is still primarily Catholic, so it’s not as open-minded as I imagine, say, America or Europe to be.

As for material, I’d work on my Blacky Dano project. Blacky is the protagonist of my NaNoWriMo novel (check it out here), and recently I’ve been working on a collection of surreal, darkly humorous short stories that all feature her as the focal character. The story which appears in Penduline, “Tilt the Years Sideward and You Get a Fucking Loop,” is in fact part of the budding collection, and it touches on Blacky’s past and why she’s a lesbian, why she’s a nymphomaniac.

Bernise Carolino

Bernise Carolino is a recent graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University, and has since then been engaged in a drawn-out existential battle with herself on what she should do now with her life and God-given talents, to the great dismay of her long-suffering parents. Berry spends most of her time indoors and never gets bored. She likes iced coffee, the band Tegan and Sara, and books of all sorts and subjects. She lives in Marikina City, Philippines, and can be contacted at

Bernise Carolino's website »