Q&A with Renee Macalino Rutledge,
author of The Hour of Daydreams
It's like an infestation of the mind, these fairy tales, the way they've taken root in the bodies of our people, Are our lives so bland that we need this magic, this spice to fill up the holes? Are we ghosts ourselves without them?
Renee Macalino Rutledge, in her debut novel The Hour of Daydreams, invites us to imagine a world where women remove their wings to bathe in midnight rivers, where fish rain down from the sky, where mothers become demons (or is it angels?) and disappear. Told through this lens of the fantastical is the story of Manolo and Tala's marriage. Revealed through the shifting perspectives of the couple and their family members, the book explores identity, love, and trust.
Victoria Fullard: The Hour of Daydreams is billed as a reimagined Filipino folktale. Why did the folktale inspire you? Is it a story you grew up with?
Renee Macalino Rutledge: I saw the folktale, “The Star Maidens,” as an interesting way to frame the story of a marriage. In it, a man steal’s a maiden’s wings and marries her. At the end of the folktale, she finds her wings and flies away, leaving him and their young daughter behind. The novel is the story I envision happening behind the scenes, an answer to the questions, What really happened in this marriage? How did they feel about one another? And what would drive a woman to leave behind her child?
I did not grow up with the story but was gifted with a collection of Filipino folktales in my twenties by my in-laws. They’re professional storytellers with a specialty in folklore. My mother-in-law is Puerto Rican and my father-in-law Jewish—I think the great thing about folktales is there’s a universal quality about them; this Filipino folktale can strike a chord with someone of any culture.
VF: How much creative license did you take? What would people unfamiliar with the source material (like me) recognize if we went and read it after reading The Hour of Daydreams?
RMR: People would recognize the imagery and some of the main events: the seven maidens, the man who steal the wings, and the marriage that follows. These are recognizable features in other versions of this tale that stem from Africa, Central America, and Finland.
In the retelling I drew from, the man falls in love with all seven maidens, willing to marry any one of them. In my novel, there’s a distinct connection between the main characters, Manolo and Tala, from the beginning. The father, in the folktale, encourages the son to do the stealing. Manolo alone acts in my version, and much of the affliction he contends with through the course of the story stems from the consequences of this act.
In addition to the Filipino folktale, people may recognize other myths/mythological figures in my book—I played with Greek images and a Native Alaskan tale.
VF: The Hour of Daydreams suggests that we sometimes fall in love with the idea we have of someone, ignorant—or maybe even willfully blind—to much of who they are. Do you think this inevitable?
RMR: I may see it the other way around, that anything we are willfully blind to will come to the surface eventually or always be there in some form between the couple. In setting out to write this story, I also thought of the couples between whom there is nothing that should part them—the love is intact. And yet, they drive that wedge with their own insecurities or self-convincing of a flaw.
VF: The Hour of Daydreams changes perspectives and where we are, chronologically, in the story. Why did you decide to use this structure? Did you always know which characters you wanted to tell which parts of the story?
RMR: I always knew I wanted the daughter, Malaya, to frame the story of her parents. I set Malaya up to start the novel with the question the reader too would want to know: what happened between them? The reader then goes on to find out, learning more than Malaya does, up until the end of the book, when I revisit her. At this point the reader can see how, depending on the who’s telling it, a story will change and the knowledge it imparts can vary.
I go back and forth in time a lot because I wanted to show the same scenes from different character’s eyes. I always knew Manolo and Tala would tell their stories, as well as Andres and Iolana. But Luchie, Baitan, and a mysterious fortunetellers’ voices all found their way to me while I was writing the book. There was also another voice—a narrator’s voice—part of the “telling” quality of the book.
VF: As I write these questions, #OwnVoices and #WeNeedDiverseBooks are hashtags I see in the online bookish conversation a lot. Around International Women’s Day a photo made the rounds on social media, showing an Ohio bookstore that had flipped around all the male-authored books—a powerful visual statement about gender inequality in book publishing. Do you approach your own reading with goals about diversity (of authors, of genres, etc.) in mind?
RMR: Most of the last several books I’ve read have all been by women: The Enchanted, In the Country, Homegoing, Marriage of a Thousand Lies, Deceit and Other Possibilities, Fates and Furies, The Last Illusion, Blackbird Fly. This is a departure from the norm, when the majority of books I’m reading seems to be by men. When that has happened, I’ve definitely felt the need to read a female voice, not just for political reasons, but to connect with that creative energy artistically.
VF: Do you know what’s next? Do you think you’ll tackle another adaptation?
RMR: I’m working on short stories and a novel. I’m definitely interested in tackling another adaptation in the future, though I know it won’t be anything like The Hour of Daydreams.
VF: Fill in the blank (hopefully in an unexpected way): People who like ________ should read The Hour of Daydreams.
RMR: People who like to wander off the main path and discover something new should read The Hour of Daydreams.