Digital Reporter

Gather ‘round, my children, and let me tell you torrid tales of forbidden romances and kisses that will leave you breathless, of glistening abs and piercing dark eyes.

This is probably not how most story telling sessions will go, as most of us associate story telling to parents reading bedtime stories to their children, but the ladies of Romance Class found out that having excerpts of their novels read out loud by theater actors is an effective way to get potential readers to pick up their books.

Testament to that is how on the rainy Saturday of October 14, approximately 90 romance fans, most if not all millennials, braved the weather and the traffic to go to #FeelsFest2017 at the second floor of Commune Café at Poblacion, Makati. At around four in the afternoon, the Commune staff refused to let more people upstairs as they have already reached the maximum capacity the floor could hold. Fans giggled and squealed with overwhelming kilig as actors brought their stories written by their favorite Filipino romance authors to life right in front of them.

Romance Class started as a facebook group made by romance novelist Mina V. Esguerra in 2013, when she decided to take a brief break from writing to teach a few people how to write romance stories in English instead. Now the group itself has more than 400 members, made up of writers, aspiring writers and fans, and is only growing stronger as friends recommend their favorite authors to their friends who recommend it to their friends and so on and so forth.

“In 2013, I wanted to take a break and not write,” Ms. Esguerra told SparkUp after #FeelsFest. “I wanted to try something new, so I made a Facebook group to teach contemporary romance. Most of us are indie published, and those who wrote during those classes continued to write. Four years later and we’re still here.”

In those four years, Romance Class has had several events, big and small, and twelve live readings. One of those live readings focused on erotica, and is fondly remembered as “the night with a lot about abs” and “the night Fred Lo (one of the actors) came straight from a ComicCon and read dressed as Prince Eric.”

“We found out that live readings are the most effective way to get people interested in the books rather than the authors saying ‘buy my book’,” Ms. Esguerra said. “Before that was how we did it. We told people to buy our books. We experimented two years ago with this, and it became effective. Because the stories come alive in a way but not in an intrusive way or like in a movie adaptation where it changes your experience of reading and makes you not want to read anymore. This one is just enough. It doesn’t replace the feeling of reading the book and wanting to read the book.”

“It’s an interesting group… here at least in this community, we have a range of people, usually people who are doing something else and not full‑time writers—we have doctors, architects, scientists, it’s just a bunch of different professions. Reading and writing romance is the hobby that we had when we were younger,” she added. “And we found a way to sustainably write something and let people read it. That’s how we came to be.”

Romance is more than an escape from reality for these writers and readers, it can also be empowering. “We like talking about it like it’s an escape from every day life, but actually for us it’s a motivation. We find purpose in it. We’re challenging each other to write stories that depict healthy relationships, functional relationships, what women deserve in a relationship—it’s exciting that we’re challenging each other to do it that way and I think we’re providing models in our books to our readers so that they can see that this is what you deserve. This is how you treat each other with respect. This is how someone who is not perfect works to make themselves better for someone else.”

“We challenge each other to write that way and it’s a very participative group,” she added. “If you do something well, you’ll feel all the love talaga.” And because the group is online, the authors don’t just come from Metro Manila and Greater Luzon. They also have authors from all over the Philippines and even Australia. They’re connected to a global network of romance authors, some of them sharing greetings from across the globe in a video message shown during #FeelsFest2017.

SparkUp also spoke to author Eris Peñaluna, whose short story is featured in the Romance Class anthology Summer Feels. She plans to have her own novel published next year and has done her research on how much indie publishing costs. “Editing will cost around ₱7,000 to ₱15,000 depending on the editor, and then cover art and formatting is around ₱7,000 to ₱10,000. Because the format will differ from the Amazon [e‑book] copy and the hard copy.” But the good thing about being Romance Class, she added, is that almost everyone you need is in their group. They also have connections to layout artists, editors, and book cover artists. (Janus Aragones‑Zate was also at #FeelsFest2017, making wonderful floral water calligraphy bookmarks and cards for commission).

Romance Class hopes to promote not just writing and publishing romance literature, but also the importance of reading Filipino works. Books by Romance Class are available in e‑book format on Amazon or in print by contacting the author or spotting them on your local bookstore. (I found some of them at National Bookstore. Also it looks like I read romance novels now).