Anneliz Marie Erese writes prose and poetry, and experiments with the ways they intersect. Coming from a religious background, she has an interest in morality, sexuality and gender. Her short story, Strawberry Perfume, is being published in the 2018 Antithesis Journal, launching in October!
Jacinta Dietrich: Hi Anneliz! Your short story Strawberry Perfume is set to be published in this year’s edition of Antithesis. How would you describe it to a prospective reader?
Anneliz Marie Erese: Strawberry Perfume is a story of a teenage girl exploring sex and sexuality and their complexities as taboos within her religious upbringing and as norms within her social environment. Ultimately, it is a story of a kind of awakening – a young girl’s introduction to shame, to betrayal and to acceptance.
JD: What prompted you to write Strawberry Perfume?
AME: Early last year at a train station, a schoolgirl caught my attention. She had blonde hair, blue eyes. She was with a friend but wasn’t interested in whatever she was saying. We got on the same train. I continued watching her. I was fascinated by her. There was something about her effortless grace but also her innocence. If inspiration comes in this way, then I guess I was inspired. When I arrived at the uni library, I wondered about her, her family, her school, what could possibly break her innocence. ‘Break’ might be too strong a word. In my mind she was beautiful, well-mannered and yet deeply disturbed. I knew I wanted a version of her in a story.
I struggled to write her story at first because I knew who she was but I didn’t know who she would be. I had to trust my character to develop in her own way. I just knew that I wanted her to be as real as possible.
‘…it is a story of a kind of awakening – a young girl’s introduction to shame, to betrayal and to acceptance.’
JD: Are there any works that influenced or inspired Strawberry Perfume?
AME: In the early stages of Strawberry Perfume, I read Girl by Jamaica Kincaid, This was when I was considering the voice of Emma and how to tell her story. I was struck by the masterfulness of its poetic qualities. The story itself is quite affecting and it has stayed with me since then.
JD: Strawberry Perfume grapples with ideas of femininity, sexuality and violence. What did you want to champion or address by writing to these themes?
AME: I don’t think I wrote the story to ‘champion’ anything. I just want to share a glimpse of someone’s reality through fiction. In the Philippines where I grew up and in my own familial environment, there was a lot of stigma towards the idea of sex outside marriage. I was a devout follower of these traditions and yet when my own principles collided with them, I became ashamed of my thoughts, of my own body, and it was something I struggled with for years.
Through my character, Emma, I’d hoped to explore how shame is dangerous and debilitating, how religion and beliefs can sometimes trample our agency over our own bodies and our self-image. Personally, I still don’t know what the ending of the story is all about. I’d like to believe Emma found some kind of power in sex. If not that, then I hope she gained self-acceptance.
‘I ask myself: how do I write about the Australian/Filipino life if I do not know where and if I belong?’
JD: You’ve addressed some particularly difficult themes with this piece, are there any themes or issues you avoid writing or don’t feel comfortable writing about?
AME: I think the beauty of writing is that it renders a writer limitless. However, I do question my ‘right’ sometimes. As an Asian international student who has been living in Australia for more than two years now, I often doubt my voice. I feel I am standing on the border between these two countries. On one hand, I do not feel I have the liberty to speak out about Australian politics and culture because I am not Australian. On the other hand, I also do not feel like my opinions toward issues regarding the Philippines are still welcome because I do not live there anymore. These feelings can freeze up my writing sometimes. I ask myself: how do I write about the Australian/Filipino life if I do not know where and if I belong?
JD: What was this process of being edited and published like for you?
AME: I am always grateful when someone takes the time to read my work and give feedback on it. This is only my third time to be published and I treasure the guidance that my editor, Grayce Arlov, has given me. She was insightful and gave me and my work such respect. I think an editor’s view is incredibly important, and she was tireless in providing that, but she has also let me maintain my voice, which I am thankful for.
JD: What’s your favourite part of the editing process?
AME: My favourite part of the editing process is seeing the final piece. I enjoy all the back-and-forth and the brainstorming, but that’s hard work. I sit down and think and I hope that what I think is right. But when it is all finished, I get to read the story again and say to myself, ‘Ah, this is how you were supposed to be all along.’
JD: Does being an editor yourself change the way you experience being edited?
AME: I have been on both sides of the coin but I think there is still a separation between the two. When I write, I cannot think of what an external reader (i.e. an editor) would think. I have to lose control and give myself over to the page; it’s the only way.
But as an editor reading someone else’s work, I try to lose the emotion because I cannot get attached to the piece. Clarity of mind is important when editing. Being edited makes me feel protective of my work, of course, but I do have a better understanding of the process. I’d like to stay as a writer in that process and I try to give my editor the space that he or she needs.
Image by Holly Becker, used with permission.