Meet Alunsinag Bayani, a Pinoy protagonist in a new sci-fi novel

Published October 15, 2020, 4:21 PM

by John Legaspi

58 Minutes in Driftland brings a story that rings true to the life of the Filipino youth and immigrants

A coming-of-age story about belongingness, taking a stand against the odds, in an alternative realm where both dreams and nightmares reign—that’s the premise of Filipina author I.S.A. Crisostomo-Lopez’s novel 58 Minutes in Driftland.

The author I.S.A Crisostomo-Lopez

The sci-fi tale revolves around Alunsinag Bayani, a 17-year-old Filipino immigrant in the US who is trying to find his place in the world. His mother, Mercedes “Chedeng” Bayani, is a nurse who works at a community hospital in Los Angeles, while his father, Artemio “Miyo” Bayani, is a travel writer who is mostly out of town on assignment in search of the next endangered plant or animal to feature. 

The adventure begins when Alunsinag accidentally steps into “Driftland” and discovers he can switch places with his alternate, more efficient self for 58 minutes. The switch opens doors to discovering one’s strengths and regaining confidence in one’s abilities.

She designed the cover image of the e-book. It has mirror images of her husband

58 Minutes in Driftland is a modern allegory on a person’s journey to self-realization, and the battle between good and evil. 

In a conversation with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, the author shares how she juggles her time as a mother and a novelist and how daydreaming while doing household chores can bring out the best ideas you have in your mind. 

Hi, Iris! Can you tell us how you became a novelist? Is Driftland your debut book?

You could say that 58 Minutes in Driftland is my debut novel because I’ve already authored two short stories for children in 2016. These are Si Lola Apura at si Lolo Un Momento, published by Adarna House and Ang Bisikleta ni Kyla, which is a volunteer work I did for the Philam Foundation.

I’ve been writing short stories for as long as I can remember. But when I became a stay-at-home mother after my retirement, I tried to see if I could test my limits and push my writing to a different level. So I began sending out my stories and poems to literary magazines. I also started joining contests and awards. 58 Minutes in Driftland is a contest entry to Amazon UK’s Kindle Storyteller Contest. 

I wanted a protagonist with a Filipino-sounding name as I wanted my story to stand out as Filipino, yet not discounting the various cultural influences we have adopted as our own. So the boy Alunsinag Bayani in my novel is an immigrant who loves to eat adobo on weekdays and pizza on weekends. He also occasionally eats dumplings and curry dishes, through the influences of his friends who are also immigrants (from Hong Kong and Bangalore). 

Writing a novel isn’t a walk in the park. The plot was as complicated as the characters. But coming from a short story writer’s point of view, a novel can be described as several short stories so arranged by chapters to move the story forward.

How was it writing a novel while caring for your babies?

My husband and I are blessed with three lovely daughters. The eldest, Kim, is 14 years old. Second is, Kyla, who’s 13. The youngest is, Keona, who’s eight years old. After retirement, we were gifted with another baby, this time a boy whom we named Kaeleb, who’s turning one year by December. With a bad back and an arthritic finger, I thought I was too old to become a new mother again. But I believe everything is grace from God. So with a new baby and a new novel, life begins at 45.

The author with her husband John Allan and their daughters

Writing a novel while taking care of four children is a challenge because it is both physically and mentally taxing. I could be doing the laundry but my mind is somewhere else, thinking what’s going to happen next to Alunsinag who wanted to stand up against Lucas, the class bully without looking like an idiot in front of Ziya, the girl he admires. 

I keep a notebook where I write down my ideas as they come. Otherwise, they would just fly away and be forgotten. I think a lot of writers would agree with me that keeping a notebook close at hand is very helpful. 

‘If you don’t believe in the self you’ve always known, at least believe in the self that you have yet to discover. If you want to make your dreams come true, be ready to conquer your fears.’

We know you get your ideas while doing house work. But can you share with us how you conceptualized the story of Alunsinag?

Conceptualizing the story took me several months because I wanted a lot of elements to be highlighted in the story. It has to show cultures of different people. It has to show childhood and adulthood, where dreams are created, where dreams are forgotten. It has to show weaknesses and strengths. It has to show duality and complementary (as shown in the chapter headings).  

I.S.A. Crisostomo-Lopez with her son Kaeleb

I wrote the novel with the readers in mind. I wrote it for teenagers like my daughters who may be experiencing some insecurities about themselves like what they want to be when they grow up, or how they can make new friends in a new school. Changes in a teenagers’ life could be stressful. They had also encountered bullies when they were younger who would get their snacks or hair clips. I told them not to be silent about it, and tell the teacher. 

Teenagers out there may be experiencing the same situation or maybe worse. If they have an unhealthy image of themselves and don’t know what special and unique abilities they can do, they could be likely victims of bullying. But if we could somehow empower them to discover another part of themselves—the artistic, the athletic or heroic part—then they have something they could be proud of. It could be a source of pride and confidence for them. 

From this came the concept of Driftland, an alternate realm where our alternate selves reside, where dreams and nightmares also exist. If you don’t believe in the self you’ve always known, at least believe in the self that you have yet to discover. If you want to make your dreams come true, be ready to conquer your fears. 

Are you going to ask why I picked 58 minutes instead of 60 minutes? Well, while my mind says anything goes with fiction, my logical mind wanted some order. So I calculated it could take one minute to step into Driftland and another minute to step out of it. So the two-minute travel leaves only 58 minutes.   

Does the story somehow relate to your own life?

I’m proud to say that the story of Alunsinag is a story of Filipino immigrants. My parents were immigrants in the US, trying to fit and be useful in the society which adopted them. Then they chose to retire in the Philippines so we could take care of them. 

The characters in the story pay tribute to people who are working hard to make a difference, like nurses and frontliners, as characterized by Chedeng, as well as environmentalists and earth savers, as characterized by Miyo. My sister is a doctor whom I greatly admire because of her selflessness in helping others through her profession. Whether it is saving a life or saving the planet, either is synonymous to saving our own lives because we are all interconnected. Maybe in one way or another, we could be instrumental in saving a life by what we are called to do.

In addition, some parts in the novel were based on real-life events such as the “Hiccup song,” which was sung by my husband to our daughters when they were young, to help them get rid of the hiccups.  

I also like quotes. I started each chapter heading with a quote from a person, famous or not-so-famous. It is my way of acknowledging the wisdom of those who came before us, something we should carefully consider and not ignore.

I hope that, by grace, my book will eventually find its way to the hands of those who need an encouraging word, those who need to stand up against oppressors, and those who need to believe in themselves and what they can do. There is also the blessing of family and friends whose alternate voices tell us that “life isn’t as bad as we think it is.”

58 Minutes in Driftland is the first book of a series. I hope to finish Book 2 before the year ends.

58 Minutes in Driftland is available in both digital and paperback editions on Amazon.com.

 
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