WHETHER IN classes, university halls or book fairs, the possibilities of writing narratives were endless for a young literature student with big goals.
“Obsession,” as he called it, drove Artlet Von Zyron Alimorong to turn his ideas into tangible dreams. This is evident in how he grew from just writing literary pieces for leisure to doing short stories that populated his first published book in 2021.
Alimorong’s fiction anthology, “A Toddler Walks Into A Bar (And Other Stories),” which tackled morality, purpose and love, booked his entrance as an author at the Manila International Book Fair (MIBF) in September last year and again this year.
With his first published book’s back-to-back MIBF appearance, the young author cannot highlight enough the importance of Septembers in his career milestone and personal growth.
A young dreamer
At the early age of seven, Alimorong started writing literary pieces as his first attempt at being an ambitious writer. However, despite coming from a family of bookworms, with his mother being a fan of romance pocketbooks and his eldest sister having a complete collection of the Twilight novels, he recalled that he was not an avid reader.
He admitted to getting his inspiration for writing from his sister’s favorite vampire novel series—but not on the book edition.
“I was amazed that the books [Twilight series] will become movie adaptations, but I didn’t read that book; I only looked at it,” Alimorong said.
Even though writing was his elementary hobby and high school habit, he considered his young writer self as ‘hard-headed.’
“When I started writing, I was extremely hard-headed because I didn’t want to read. I was addicted to the act of writing, [the] act of creating those worlds, creating those characters,” the young author said.
When he was in high school, Alimorong won numerous accolades in school press conferences in the Ilocos region, mostly at division and regional levels, and even qualified at the national level. With an impressive history of winning awards, his writing was constantly praised by family, friends and people who had witnessed his triumphs.
Even though such a validation built his confidence, Alimorong said the constant adoration led to the “unhealthy inflation of his ego,” from which a humbling experience followed.
He joined another high school creative writing contest with the assumption that his spot on the podium was secured.
“If I remember correctly, either the fifth or sixth [placer] was already called. And of course, I thought, ‘Oh, I must be in first place,’ that’s why I wasn’t called yet. Then I was shocked when I didn’t win first place,” Alimorong said.
The unexpected failure gave him a reality check. But despite the bruised ego, Alimorong still felt grateful that he had experienced failures as they had planted his feet on the ground, and prodded him to reflect on his flaws as a writer and to improve from thereon.
By the time he stepped foot in college at the University of Santo Tomas in 2019, Alimorong would refer to his writing habit as “obsessive,” a quality that became more evident during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was obsessive not in the way that I kept writing and writing, but in a way that it’s the only outlet I have for these new emotions that I felt during the arrival of the pandemic,” he said.
Alimorong’s approach to writing developed when he took up literature. By reading the works of Nick Joaquin and other Filipino authors, his taste in books matured as he became immersed in Philippine literary works.
Aspiring to develop his skills in a publication, Alimorong joined The Flame in September 2022 as a literary writer. By becoming a staffer of the publication, he was given a platform to express himself, allowing him to gain experiences that could further his career.
The birth of an author
With a keen eye for details and timelines and armed with the support of his older brother Carl Jones, Alimorong set off to write and compile his first published work in early 2021, unaware of what lies ahead.
His brother had been the most supportive of his writing career. Alimorong recalled giving him a copy of the first draft of his anthology, and his brother returned it with detailed suggestions.
“He annotated the grammatical errors he saw, or if he had suggestions. He was doing that even though he had his own life. He’s a (medical) doctor, and that was during the pandemic. It’s that kind of support,” Alimorong said.
On March 31, 2021, Alimorong reached out to CentralBooks via email to inquire about the self-publishing process. His brother then volunteered to finance the whole process, with Alimorong solely focusing on perfecting his anthology.
“It was an ordinary day, and I had just told my brother that I found some publishers who can publish my book for a price that fits my budget,” Alimorong said.
Unlike the usual issues a writer would commonly go through, the young author had rarely encountered writer’s block and financial restraints. He only had the problem of procrastinating in his writing journey, which, according to him, happens rarely.
But the uphill climb still has its bumps along the way. At certain points, Alimorong felt ‘disillusioned’ as the process of book publishing was challenging for a newbie. Nonetheless, his hard work paid off and his dream of becoming a published author became a reality a little sooner than he expected.
“The book was supposed to be published some time in October 2021, but a friend asked if she could do a critique of it for a school requirement. I agreed, and that’s when I realized I had to publish, so it came sooner in September,” he said.
The plot of the book’s titular story, “A Toddler Walks Into A Bar,” is straightforward: a child, whose mind and consciousness are an adult, makes his way into a tavern. It tackled themes of guilt, longingness, and the human condition, with each story being standalone.
“[The adult] is contained within the body of a toddler, so that comes with various, [complexities], and the weirdness of [the] scenario allows that character to be very contemplative about certain questions about life,” he said.
According to Alimorong, most of his works are “philosophical in nature.” He considered the book’s titular story as the most philosophical. The first story in the collection, “The Joke that Everybody Knows” was a type of metafiction involving the reader’s participation.
However, he considered “The Morose Trench” the most memorable among all the stories. He said he wrote it with one particular person in mind in the hopes of “helping her overcome the difficulties she was experiencing.” The novelette is also the longest story in the collection.
“I wrote that story with her as an audience in mind, so yeah, it talks about love and the complications that come with hesitance, of being afraid to speak about our own feelings,” Alimorong said.
After four months of diligent writing, compiling, editing, and revising, the first 50 copies of his book were finally released in late September of 2021.
Alimorong felt surreal upon seeing his book among hundreds of works of other authors, most of whom are well-esteemed authors and professionals, in the MIBF. “Concretized” was how he described that moment.
“I remember when I first saw it, I thought to myself ‘Is that my name? I think that’s my book’,” Alimorong said.
“A Toddler Walks Into A Bar (And Other Stories)” clinched the ninth spot in the Top 10 Fiction Anthologies of the Filipino Reader’s Choice Awards Batch 2019-2021, besting the works of other established authors in the genre.
“It’s much more special now, because of the gold seal indicating the seal from Filipino Readers Choice Awards,” he said.
For Alimorong, such achievements early in his career brought a somewhat unbelievable feeling.
“Maybe I can let it slide [the achievements] when I’m already in my 40s, because that would mean I put in my life’s hard work […] but I’m still a college student now,” Alimorong said.
The death of an author
The next major step in Alimorong’s writing career was set in motion on September 1—the day he “killed” V. V. Childwright, his first pen name.
First introduced in 2019, the persona was crafted with layers of meaning that separated Alimorong from his own person. According to him, “V. V.” was meant to emulate some well-known Western authors, such as J. R. R. Tolkien and George R. R. Martin, while “Childwright” symbolized an innocent person, such as a kid, writing stories.
“I was kind of, you know, mythologizing to a rather severe extent a certain persona that I once hoped people would become familiar with,” he said.
Alimorong created his former pen name in hopes that it would become a commercial success. However, he said that Childwright’s persona was quite “western-leaning,” which he did not entirely align with anymore today.
“I couldn’t identify with the desires, wishes, ambitions, and whatever identity the previous pen name represented anymore. It’s been years since it was established, and I’ve grown since then as a writer,” he said.
The death of his persona birthed Noe Murcielago–a persona he claims to be closer to him as a person since he did not manufacture it to cater to a certain audience. Alimorong chose the new pen name “because he liked the way it looked and sounded.”
“I really do feel a certain connection to it. I can feel confident wearing that name,” he said.
Noe Murcielago debuted on Friday, Sept. 15. Nobody knows how long Mucielago will live but certainly, Alimorong still has that “obsession” that will allow him to walk into bigger, more crowded bazaars.
“I plan to release a debut novel next year under that name and be much more focused on my writings,” Alimorong said.
“The debut novel, that will be the starting point of a very serious focus on my writing.” F – Janssen Anne Versy Mendoza