Arts & Culture

Late-blooming author realizes her debut was worth the wait

Text and photos by ELIZABETH LOLARGA

COLUMNIST-HUMORIST Chit Roces-Santos has joined the respected ranks of hyphenated women authors at the launch of her first book, Personal Space and Other Essays.

At the well-attended event at Powerbooks in Greenbelt Makati, the author marked other milestones: another birthday in her senior citizen’s life, coming out with her official married surname in her byline, partnering with husband Vergel O. Santos who was her illustrator, and being serenaded publicly by him and his son Paolo.

She also made  Anvil Publishing Inc. happy with the sale of 200 copies at the launch.

“A star is born. She looked absolutely ravishing,”enthused editor Lorna Kalaw Tirol describing the  evening as “joyful and special. “

Freelancer Mae Manalang Sta. Ana said, “That launch made me think and dream again that maybe someday I, too, will write and get published.”

The fact that Roces-Santos inspired this reception from followers of her newspaper column “Not Quite There” shows that her late entry into the writing was worth it.

She narrated how she got on the road that she had wanted to take, except that a first marriage and a family sidelined her: “I was glad no one had asked me what I planned to do with my life before I knew any better, or I’d have given the question serious thought and might have even drawn a road map – a wrong one. As it is, with a life lived unmapped, I’m just happy beyond expectations.”

She credited Gilda Cordero-Fernando for discovering her, describing Fernando as having an “intuitive power not only for reading people but also for putting them together in the right assortments.”  In 2001, she said the older woman “plucked each one of us, not exactly rosebuds, from her garden of friends. After eleven years of meeting monthly and much later once every two months as a First Draft Club, with each one bringing a home-worked essay to read, Gilda challenged me further and asked me to offer my pieces for publication.”

First Draft is made up of Fe Arriola, Melinda de Jesus, Mariel Francisco, Karina Bolasco, Rita Ledesma, Edna Zapanta Manlapaz, Lorna Kalaw Tirol, Gilda, Chit and this writer.

Another woman who matters in the author’s life is Ninit Roces-Paterno, “both a primary character, source and corroborator,” Roces-Santos said. Paterno heads Winner Foundation that once locked horns with a former Manila mayor in the fight to protect and preserve Arroceros Park, the city’s remaining lung. The Roces cousins were united in that cause.

In her introduction, Kalaw-Tirol wrote that while Roces-Santos is a late bloomer, she is “definitely a more talented one than many early starters I know.”  She compared the writer’s style to that of Erma Bombeck, Nora Ephron and Helen Gurley Brown: Bombeck for Roces-Santos’s “hilarious candor and amusing common sense” on the subject of family life and homemaking; Ephron for her sharp wit, “at times cutting, always delicious”; and Gurley Brown for “takes on sex [that are] delightfully saucy.”

Santos produced satirical pen and ink drawings for the book. She called him her first editor who “edits everything, edits as he reads, edits as he listens, even edits what he sings.” He stood up to proudly declare that not even his worst doodling could lessen the merits of his wife’s essays.

When Roces-Santos was told combining her words and his doodles reflected perfect partnering like in a ballet, she quipped, “Imagine Vergel in tights and me in a tutu!”

Acoustic guitarist Paolo Santos went up the stage to casually greet his step-mom by her first name “Chit” with no honorific “Tita.” It was an example of what the author wrote in “The Rules of Estrangement” about unions that are “so accommodating, so inclusive, so welcoming.”  Of the songs he sang, Livingston Taylor’s lyrics to “Life is Good” echoed the Roces-Santos couple’s life today, one marked by “being proud of what you do, giving it all to others and it all comes back to you” and “love is forever and will never grow old.”  T

he morning after, Roces-Santos, who isn’t above helping market her book, said, “Never in my wildest imagination did I ever think it would go so well. Vergel’s drawings were a big hit, a close second was his singing. I’m still giddy. Two books are being sent to my unit for signing and I dropped seven dedicated books at Salcedo Market.”

In her usual funny character she added, “It’s hard to get over the euphoria, especially when my hairdo is still holding. I won’t wash it off until after breakfast tomorrow at Italianni’s. I mustn’t shock those who were at the launch with the truth about Ruth!”