Tablay Novel Cover Art by Joie Reyes
Tablay is a novel inspired by Filipino folklore by up-and-coming author Katrina F. Olan. Set in a future Manila, Tablay centers on mech pilot Anya Valerio, who finds herself racing against time to stop a weapon that could have irreversible consequences. The book aims to shed light on the relationship between technology and society's ethical choices.
Self-published by Olan, Tablay received rave reviews upon its release, with Trese co-creator Budjette Tan calling it "a fun mash-up of mech and myth." We recently had the opportunity to speak with Olan about Tablay, Filipino folklore, and the future of the Philippines. We had the opportunity to speak to Olan about her ground-breaking novel.
Why did you choose the term "tablay" as your title?
Initially, I just wanted to find a fantastic and single-worded title for my book. I looked through an entire list of Filipino science words and found out that "tablay" meant electric charge. I soon realized that ELECTRICITY was a repeating theme in the story - it was the power source of the mechs, the lifeblood of the futuristic city of New Intramuros, the point of contention in their war, and also the spark between two hearts.
How much did you know about Filipino folklore before writing Tablay? What inspired you to incorporate it into the novel?
Before I wrote the book, I practically had the same knowledge as any Manila-born-and-bred kid had growing up. I’d hear stories from our Lolos and Lolas back in the province. I knew about the ghosts that lived in our trees and mounds and the White Lady (of Balete Drive and our school’s gym!) But my knowledge mostly spanned Tagalog-based mythology. By researching for Tablay, it opened my mind to the Visayan, Mindanaon, and Cordillera regions. We have such a rich myriad of deities and different interpretations of the familiar creatures, making it tricky to interpret them into the mechas. Regarding incorporating myth into mecha, I knew first and foremost Tablay would be a science fiction novel, but I wanted to mesh it with something unexpected. I thought to myself: what is the most Filipino thing ever? Philippine mythology.
While there's a long history of Philippine science fiction, it's still an underrepresented genre. What made you decide to write a science fiction novel?
I’ve loved science fiction ever since I was a kid. I was also raised in a family of professionals in Science and Humanities. I have relatives that are scientists, both of my parents are doctors, and I’m that Asian kid who chooses a creative career over a “practical job.” But my parents have always been so supportive of me, and I’m grateful. I’ve always been in love with the idea of creating and building, but I’m bad at math. I guess that’s why writing also called to me - I’m making an alternate Filipino history from the ground up. It was exciting to venture into the world of Tablay. It was a frontier, and the world expanded the more I stepped into it. Although it is science fiction, I wanted it to feel distinctly Filipino. You can see in the book the happenings (Christmas starting in September, EDSA traffic) even the character mannerisms (such as pointing with the lips, making mano and beso, being scolded by a strict tita) are very reflective of our culture. There are hover-jeeps and cyber-slums too. There are nods to indigenous cultural communities too, but I won't spoil too much. I feel Tablay is also a way to encourage more of the youth to get into STEM. Especially in this country, the sciences are not supported, much more advocated for as career options. Most of our greatest minds travel abroad to find better opportunities. There’s also a significant disparity of women in STEM. This book features a lot of great Filipina scientists, engineers, and change-makers hoping to inspire the next generation.
In your day job, you work as a copywriter. What's it like to pursue writing from multiple angles? Do you ever find it tricky to switch from copywriting mode to novel mode and vice versa?
I think there are habits from copywriting that is useful in novel-writing, and vice versa. I think the ability to find structure, logic, and flow (left-brain thinking) comes from my Copywriter side. I write ads for TV, Radio, and Digital, so the message must be concise and land within 30 - 15 - or even 6 seconds! Copywriter Kat is pragmatic, straightforward, good at editing Author Kat’s work. On the other hand, author Kat is good at giving love, sex, and magic to the words. It’s about making the reader feel strong emotions, connecting with the characters, and putting readers under the spell. Sadly, I got my writer’s glow up during the pandemic and wish I could re-master the story with the skills I have now. I guess that’s why I’m making Tablay: The Graphic Novel with my illustrator, Paul Medalla (@ApolonioDraws); go check him out.
Tablay is set in the not-too-distant future. What do you think the Philippines will look like 100 years from now?
Oh, that’s tricky to predict. Tablay was created as a warning against a bleak future, not an inspiration. But the end message of the book is hopeful, so let me reply with a Miss Universe-grade answer: I hope that the Philippines will be a country our children can be proud of a hundred years from now. No, seriously. As people, we’re one of the most kind-hearted and talented bunch on the globe. I hope that there is a way we can create a sustainable future where we put to use our rich natural and human resources without exploiting them. I hope that we will select leaders that govern to serve the people before anyone else in the future. I hope in the future, the Philippines will put a premium on education and work in the medical, science, agricultural, and creative sectors. I hope that even the minimum wage workers are treated with the same opportunities as everyone. I hope that the future Philippine provinces outside Manila will also have the same opportunities and infrastructure as the capital city but with better urban planning. Finally, I hope that we will have giant flying mecha.
Tablay aims to shed light on the relationship between technology and ethical choices in society. How would you relate that in the Philippine context?
I think the Philippines - like many other countries now - are experiencing the boom of technology and social media, perhaps not as fast as the global North, but our lives are much attached to it already. Technology has allowed us to connect and build, but it’s also been very divisive - especially when it comes to the space of truth and politics. With the upcoming 2022 elections, social media will also play a decisive role in being the next top dog. Aside from digital media, there’s also talk about infrastructure and conservation. Many of our natural resources and indigenous community lands are being degraded (and even bloodily fought over) not only by local corporations but, even worse, by illegal foreign builders. The loss of biodiversity is at a staggering rate. This is all for the creation of roads, subdivisions, malls, illegal mining, and logging. I think these are just some examples of progress with little consideration for sustainability and humanity.
Do you have any details you can share about the upcoming graphic novel adaptation?
Yes! We were chosen as part of the Official Selection of the Philippine International Comics Festival 2022. I am back with my illustrator, Paul Medalla (@apoloniodraws on Twitter and IG, check him out) who designed the aswang mechs. What I can say is Tablay: The Graphic Novel will feel “same same but different” - it is me revisiting the story two years later as an evolved writer and person. With the wisdom and skill, I appreciate the themes I wrote with a different lens. The story and world of Tablay expand in ways never expected. The storytelling feels much more mature now. Some new characters and conflicts create a more compelling narrative. With Paul’s bombastic and bold art style, I can say this will be a fantastic piece of work. I’ve always appreciated his attention to detail, as drawing robots requires a thorough understanding of patterns, lines, symmetry, and shapes since it is a mechanical design. His anime/manga proficiency is also the icing on the cake. Paul also works incredibly fast, and in terms of design thinking, I think he just understands the assignment every single time. Our basic agreement was “You write, I draw.” - and I think that level of trust speaks volumes.
Mech designed by Paul Medalla and Marc Gallo.
Right now, we’re heavy into production. I recently finished writing the script, and Paul’s taking care of inking the first act. We’re slated to release it in September 2022.
What advice do you have for other authors looking to self-publish?
The self-publishing route is not for everyone, so you should know what you are getting into. Most of the spadework comes from you and requires an entrepreneurial mindset. I am also a self-published marketing officer, social media manager, event planner, and financier. You have to be flexible enough to wear different hats. It takes a lot of guts, but fortune favors the bold. It is also a very lucrative business if you do it right and returns are very favorable. I think most people think the work is done after you finish your manuscript. That is only half the battle. You have to be prepared to work hard to sell your idea and pitch your work, or it will never see the light of day. I am not telling this to scare you but to make you understand the realities of the industry. I think it is good to talk to other experienced authors, join forums, network with social media; in your hand, you can attract hundreds of readers. Most of all, be authentic. People can smell bullshit from a thousand miles away nowadays. Just love your work, be honest to your readers, and wear your author badge with pride. Everything will follow in your favor.
Tablay is a story that encourages us to follow paths in STEM, where many Filipino people thrive. It reminds us that we can carry out Filipino traditions in a not-so-traditional way. Katrina Olan'sjourney as a self-published author is proof that, for our dreams to come true or our passions to thrive, we must be flexible and courageous enough to pursue them — even if things don't seem as clear as we'd like.
Tablay also has a graphic novel coming out in September 2022! The book is an Official Selection at the Philippine International Comics Festival 2022.
Tablay The Graphic Novel by Katrina Olan and Paul Medalla.
For more updates about Tablay, follow their social media accounts via https://linktr.ee/tablay!