By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
The lockdown hasn’t changed much for Kenneth Rocher Villa, who has lived in his bedroom, either in his wheelchair or in his bed, for the last 22 years, or ever since his skull came loose from his spine due to the rare congenital disorder called Morquio-Brailsford Syndrome. Covid 19 doesn’t faze him, since he has been hooked up to a ventilator for that long as well. His three mama-tita’s, the paternal aunts who have cared for him after he was abandoned in infancy by his biological mother, learned how to suction his tracheostomy. They use a manual resuscitator (ambu bag) when the rolling blackouts outlast their generator. Another thing that hasn’t changed is that since he discovered his literary calling, Kenneth writes at least 1,000 words a day--a discipline that many self-professed writers cannot commit to.
When his skull detached from his spine, Kenneth was flat on his back, unable to even turn his head. His mama-tita’s took such good care of him that he never had bedsores. The Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) doctors tried but failed to graft bone from his hip to his cervical spine. He was declared “a hopeless, terminal case.” After 4 months in the PCMC Pediatric ICU, he made it home. Five years later, a PGH team led by the neuro-surgeon Willy G. Lopez performed pro bono, the surgery to put new bone grafts, and the titanium plates and screws to stabilize Kenneth’s skull and spine. Dr. Lopez got his colleagues: the orthopedic surgeon Adrian Catbagan, rehabilitation medicine doctor Sharon Ignacio and the pulmonologist Mike Javier, to donate their professional services for free as well. Months after his successful operation, Kenneth could sit propped up in a wheelchair--a big improvement from having been flat on his back, unable to lift or to turn his neck for the previous four years. He immediately drew maps of the PGH and the Luneta which he was seeing for the first time.
Upon reaching his teens, Kenneth got into gaming, such as Warcraft, Final Fantasy and Clash of Clans. Then he discovered J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. That was the gateway to J.R.R. Tolkien, Rick Riordan, Christopher Paolini, the Dragonlance Saga, Dungeons & Dragons, as well as Japanese anime. He posts Kenneth’s Anime Reviews on Facebook
“Reading became my true passion,” Kenneth relates. “Even while gaming, I focused more on the story.”
The more he read, the more he wanted to replicate the joy he felt. An early fan fiction got good reviews. He set his sights higher, working every day, writing at least 1,000 words daily, getting feedback from friends at Wordsmith.org, revising and rewriting till he was satisfied. After nearly three years and five full drafts, he completed The Reaper of Iremia, the first part of his fantasy novel The Celestial Chronicles. In 2019, he self-published this on amazon.com/dp/B07TXR23TH. The logline and synopsis read:
“Justice for the living. Vengeance for the dead. Judgement to the sinners. Calian seeks one thing: vengeance. After a murder incident during his childhood almost drove him insane, he has vowed to hunt down all criminals. However, one night he fails to stop one such murder, and he soon discovers that it is just the beginning of a more sinister plot. Reneia, Calian’s friend, holds a grudge. During her childhood, she witnessed the assassination of her mother and vowed to capture the culprit at all costs. Ten years later, she becomes an official member of Iremia’s City Guard when history repeats itself; her father is gravely injured in another assassination attempt, and the suspect is Calian. Two friends—one driven by revenge and the other by justice—both are seeking the truth. But as they delve deeper into uncovering the mystery behind all the deaths in the city, they discover that not everything is as it seems, and there is an evil plot behind the incidents; one that threatens all life in Iremia.”
Reviews were generally positive, averaging 4 stars on Good Reads. An Ohio-based blogger, Rachel Pope (rpbooklist.wordpress.com) even offered to edit his book for free when she found out that English is Kenneth’s second language, hence certain “unconventional word choices.” Corresponding with his readers has been a bonus to Kenneth’s writing life. Given the competition on the world’s largest publishing platform, Kenneth thought he might do better on home turf. On June 13, 2021, 8letters, an independent Filipino publisher, launched the Philippine edition of The Reaper of Iremia, now available on Shopee.
While working on the second part of The Celestial Chronicles, Kenneth is writing more fan fiction and also trying the short story form. These are like sorbets to clear his palate, as he anticipates at least 8 more parts to The Celestial Chronicles. Lockdown or not, Kenneth Rocher Villa’s spirit, mind and imagination are free.
Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is an award-winning writer and a social concerns advocate. IRL (In Real Life) are short verbal pagmumuni-muni, the essay equivalent of fast fiction--but in real life. She really wants more Filipinos to care, and to do something legal and non-violent about it, preferably together, so that we act more like a civilized country, a mature democracy.