This Negrense’s debut novel lands on the New York Times bestselling list

Thea Guanzon’s ‘Hurricane Wars’ is inspired by the myths of Southeast Asia.

2023 was a great year for Filipino writers. Patricia Evangelista’s Some People Need Killing, for instance, was recognized as one of the best books of last year by esteemed publications such as Time magazine, The New Yorker,and The New York Times.

Filipino and Filipino-Americans are also taking up more and more shelf space, with their works being published by some of the world’s leading publishing houses. Among these are PH-based authors Rin Chupeco, Eliza Victoria, Gail Villanueva, Caris Avendaño Cruz, Mae Coyiuto, and Carla de Guzman. It has been a big past few years, too, for Filipino-American writers such as Jia Tolentino, Randy Ribay, Mia Manansala, and Erin Entrada Kelly. 

It was also in 2023 when a Filipino author clinched a coveted spot on the New York Times Best Seller list, widely considered the preeminent list of best-selling books. This is huge because since The New York Times has started publishing the weekly list on Oct. 12, 1931, a Filipino author has yet to be included—until last year with Thea Guanzon’s bestselling novel The Hurricane Wars. Her debut novel also landed on Barnes and Noble’s Best Books of 2023.

In an interview with The Post, fresh off a book tour in the United Kingdom and Singapore, Thea talked about her beginnings as a writer, her journey to being published, and being the country’s very first to have the honor of being a New York Times bestselling author.

A lifelong love for writing

Filipino author in New York

Thea Guanzon during a book signing event in London last November 2023. Photo from Thea Guanzon’s Instagram account

Thea was born and raised amid the picturesque sugarcane fields of Bacolod, the daughter of Casten and Joy Guanzon who are both physicians. She finished elementary and high school at St. Scholastica’s Academy-Bacolod, before moving to Manila to study in Miriam College where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Studies.

From her childhood in Negros Occidental to her college and professional years in Metro Manila, the 35-year-old writer shares how she can’t remember a time when she didn’t love to write. “Ever since I was in the first grade, I was always scribbling down short stories, poetry, and even just my thoughts. Throughout my school years I joined writing contests—and even won some of them—and was active in the campus newspapers. After entering the workforce, I would still write during my lunch breaks.”

Thea recalls how her grandfather kept a huge library in their ancestral house where she would spend entire weekends reading every book on the shelf. She credits her lolo for helping her unearth a love for literature. This love, she adds, was “happily nurtured” by her parents who also find joy in reading. “Lolo collected historical fiction, mostly, and it was that sense of epic scale that I still try to imbue my writing with to this day,” she says.

As in most—if not all—writers, Thea has her roster of favorite writers who influence how she writes. “My favorite classic author of speculative fiction is Ursula K. Le Guin, she was so daring for her time, and endlessly inventive with her worlds and her story structures. Neil Gaiman was my introduction to urban fantasy, and he and Terry Pratchett showed me a way of looking at fantasy that incorporated modern themes and was character-driven,” she explains.

Thea gravitates toward ‘the haunting rhythms of Amy Tan, the poetic flow of Margaret Atwood, and the atmospheric descriptions of Gregory Maguire.’

She adds that in terms of style, she gravitates toward and aspires to emulate “the haunting rhythms of Amy Tan, the poetic flow of Margaret Atwood, and the atmospheric descriptions of Gregory Maguire.”

Thea admits, however, that she’s a “hopelessly disorganized” writer. “One day I will learn how to outline and to make notes, but for now I just sit down and let the words flow, most of the time without a solid plan, although I do have a few key scenes in my head and it’s a matter of connecting them to one another,” she quips.

As for quirks, she eats shawarma rice for dinner every day while drafting, saying it’s her brain food. She also drinks iced coffee while writing.

The journey to publication

Thea had been posting stories online for several years, but she never thought it would be anything more than a hobby because it’s so difficult to make a living purely out of it. “Plus, I come from a family of doctors and lawyers, so I didn’t want to buck that status quo,” she adds.

Thea’s initial plan was to become a Foreign Service officer. Life, however, has other, bigger plans. Little did she know that her stories online—born out of what was then considered a hobby—would lead her to her biggest writing break so far. In the first summer of the lockdowns, an editor in the US who was following her works reached out and asked if she wanted to write an original novel. “I gave it a shot, and I was offered representation by a literary agent who was also following me, and I haven’t looked back since!”

“An amazing kind of validation”

Thea Guanzon The Hurricane Wars book launch
Guanzon during The Hurricane Wars book launch at Shang-ri La Plaza, Mandaluyong last October 14. Photo from Thea Guanzon’s Instagram account

Having a title in what is quite possibly the world’s most famous list of bestselling books is already in itself a huge achievement but being the first from a certain country to break into the list’s 92-year-old existence is an even more astounding feat.

Thea considers it “an amazing kind of validation.” “But it was definitely a team effort. I would not be here without the hard work of my Harper Voyager team and my agent Thao Le, as well as the support of my online community and the Filipino diaspora in the US, and the librarians and booksellers throughout the US who put The Hurricane Wars on their shelves. I’m grateful every day,” she says.

Like all endeavors, especially life-changing ones such as Thea’s, there are the inevitable challenges. Thea, however, says that she has been blessed with a brilliant team and supportive author-friends.

Asked how she feels about how more Filipino authors are now being given the chance to shine in the literary world, she says that it’s great that there’s been a bigger push for inclusivity and diversity in publishing in recent years. “I’ve gotten so many messages from Filipino and Southeast Asian readers all over the world talking about how they felt represented for the first time in a fantasy romance, and I think about how mine is hardly the first, but it benefited from marketing and social media reach,” she says.

Moving forward, Thea will always advocate for other authors of color to be given the opportunities she had. There are still gaps to be addressed, she says, but “we’ll get there as long as we support one another and encourage people to seek out more of our stories.”

A romantic fantasy inspired by Southeast Asian, Filipino myths

Published by HarperCollins Publishers, The Hurricane Wars is a romantic fantasy set in a world spun from the myths and cultures of Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines. It is expected to be a trilogy, with the next book set to be published this year.

The first installment was launched in London on Oct. 12. In November, Thea embarked on a book tour in Scotland, England, and Wales. The Waterstones exclusive edition of the book sold out before its release day in London.

“I loved, loved, loved meeting my UK and Singapore readers! It was incredible to get to talk with everyone and sign their books,” she says. Thea admits that before The Hurricane Wars came out, she was nervous that non-Filipinos wouldn’t be able to relate to the characters or the world, and she could only be so happy to be proven wrong. She adds: “Seeing all the enthusiasm for my book across continents was simply transcendent, in a way that I can’t fully describe. It made me realize that no matter our backgrounds, there will always be commonalities in the human experience that draw us together.”

Thea shares that the central romance in The Hurricane War is her take on enemies-to-lovers, which is her favorite trope of all time. Meanwhile, the concept of storms as a weapon of mass destruction speaks to life in the Philippines, where we experience several deadly typhoons every year and they are as much a fact of life as it is an ongoing nationwide conversation on how best to mitigate their effects.

Filipinos are no strangers to disasters—both natural and man-made—leading her to pose the questions: “How do we survive the hard times? What does it mean to be a better world?”

In the foreword of the book, Thea wrote how we Filipinos are no strangers to disasters—both natural and man-made—leading her to pose the questions: “How do we survive the hard times? What does it mean to be a better world?”

After the success of The Hurricane Wars, we asked her if she already has answers to those musings.

In response, Thea shares how she has learned over the course of tracking her characters’ journeys that it’s not enough to simply survive the hard times; it’s vital that we do so and make it possible for others to do so as well—with our humanity intact. “We must address the structural causes of disaster rather than just stopping them and holding our breath until the next one. The quest for a better world is exhausting and can seem never-ending, but we must always have hope that it’s out there waiting for us,” she enthuses.

Thea is currently working on the sequel to The Hurricane Wars. “In it, Alaric and Talasyn continue to reluctantly get closer and learn more about their magic while the webs of secrets and political machinations tighten around them,” she says when asked for a sneak peek into what readers should expect from the book.

Writing tips

When asked for tips for aspiring writers, Thea advises to write as often as you can.  “That’s the only way to hone your craft and find your voice. If you have a hard time finding inspiration, just remember that inspiration can come from anywhere, even from looking at everyday situations with an eye for what story you can create out of them.”

She also stresses the importance of finding a community of fellow writers so they can uplift one another and to do research in selecting agents and publishers.

Lastly, Thea adds: “Don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t be afraid to walk away if something’s off. It’s important that you surround yourself with people who will advocate for your best interests and who believe in your story and will fight for it.”

The Hurricane Wars (Harper and Collins) by Thea Guanzon is available at National Book Store outlets nationwide and on its website. It is also available at all Fully Booked branches and on its online store.

The new lifestyle.