Out of Print

Confessions of a Shy Party Boy

by Jonty Cruz
Photos courtesy of Jerome Gomez

Even with his byline on some of the biggest stories for the best publications in the country, rarely does Jerome Gomez talk about his life and his decades-long career. In this candid interview, he finally opens up.

Jerome Gomez always dresses like he’s on vacation. It’s the first thing you’ll notice if you’ve ever seen him out and about: bright floral top with the first three buttons never ever buttoned, a variety of charms wrapped around his wrists, and a woven tropical hat to top it all off. And it all works. The same way he can work any event he’s at. Be it the opening gala of an art exhibit, a swanky movie premiere, or retro night at the local bar. He loves the arts, whiskey sours, and stories from decades past. In fact, you could put him in any decade from the last 50 years and he’d still be as successful as he is today. Maybe even more so.

I met Jerome at my first job in Esquire Philippines back in 2011. He was the longest tenured editor on our team, if I’m not mistaken, and I had barely graduated from college. He was initially hired as our managing editor, but little did we know that the role would be a waste of his many and essential talents. He soon became Esquire’s senior features editor and it became apparent that Jerome wasn’t born to just stay at his desk and be a glorified administrator. He was and is a man of stories, always in search of the next great page-turner. And as excellent as he is at writing other people’s stories, I wanted to know more about his own.

Jerome was still in college when he turned down an opportunity to work for the legendary writer Ricky Lee. He had to say no due to commitments in school and because, as he says, “I was nahihiya na to my parents.” But even then, it seemed his course was set and he went on to work for The Manila Chronicle, StarStudio, Yes!, Esquire, Rogue, and now ANCX.ph, where he serves as its editor.

The following interview was conducted via email and has been edited for publication.


Jonty Cruz: I’m really curious how you got your start and what your life was like before publishing. What was the first book that really affected you?
Jerome Gomez: Bata, Bata... Pa’no Ka Ginawa? opened my mind to realities I’d never heard of. It’s also one of the books that kind of strengthened what was only a suggestion in my mind then: that the Filipino language can really be entertaining and powerful.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer or be in publishing?
I guess when I became part of the college paper. And then when Ricky Lee asked if I’d be interested to be his assistant—which I had to decline. It was probably not a writing gig but can you imagine being offered by Ricky Lee to be his assistant? Eh I was so in love with his book and his scripts then! And then mas na-convince na talaga ako when I was offered a job at The Manila Chronicle and started seeing my work in print.

How did that opportunity to work for Ricky Lee come about?
I interviewed him in his Balete home and wrote an article about him. Before that I was just a fan. I had the cover of the Salome screenplay book photocopied sa National Library and I made it the cover of one of my college textbooks. I invited him for a school-paper-hosted talk when I was already in Miriam and that’s when he asked. I met him again when I was working na. My friend Raymond was his friend and I would tag along on a couple of nights out sa Malate and sa screenings sa bahay niya—that’s where I first saw Natural Born Killers and Pulp Fiction. May laser disc pa no’n.

You mentioned you went to Miriam. What did you take up in college and how was that time for you in and outside of school?
Comm Arts. I spent too much time in college. First sa San Sebastián where I hated my teachers so I spent most of my time in the library reading back issues of Sunday Inquirer Magazine, or going to the National Library to read back issues of the rest of the other Sunday papers. Even then I was already attracted to profiles and feature writing. In Miriam, I also spent most of my time in the library, reading books and more Sunday papers. At least doon naka-bind na sila, malinis, at may aircon. Even then I was into periodicals from the 70s and 80s. In the 90s ‘yung Section Four ng Chronicle. Those decades really have been the core of my fascination, even in the later years.

Did you find your writing voice early on? How did you arrive at that style or tone?
I guess maaga naman dumating ‘yung voice. I was very much drawn to Ricky Lee and Lualhati Bautista, and the first American author I was really taken with was Erica Jong. So ang lakas nong attraction to be entertaining, and to write like one talks. Ang laki rin ng insecurity ko about not having a broad vocabulary so na-appreciate ko rin na mas attracted ako to write other people’s stories in a spare, conversational, honest voice. And to hopefully see a story about one person in the context of a larger picture. Basta mas ang goal ko lagi to be able to deliver the narrative. Kasi wala naman akong talent for literary calisthenics like my more well-read contemporaries. Lagi ko iniisip: if I were the reader, will I read me?

What was your first job in publishing? What was the industry like then?
Officially it was this never-made-it indie title that was being published by this unknown group pero ang EIC niya dating taga-Collegian. I got that job nga sa Manila Chronicle which was just a five-minute walk away from my first office, which was across Manila Cathedral. The Chronicle office was in Port Area naman.

I was in the Chronicle during its unfashionable years na, when it was no longer the Lopezes who owned it. Wala pa glossies no’n. If there was competition among the lifestyle papers? Meron din but we were all very friendly with each other. If there was competition, siguro it was just in our heads. Siyempre we always want to have the better articles kahit sobrang baba naman ng circulation namin. We want to be the first—I mean my colleagues in the section. That was the time na meron pang Today, Manila Times, Journal. May attraction pa sa‘kin no’n ang press cons. I remember my first one: it was a San Miguel Foods presser and, my god, may buffet and so much chocolates! I remember secretly putting chocolates in my pants pocket which all melted anyway because hindi naman talaga ako mahilig sa chocolates! But because I’d never been in anything like that before—lumabas ‘yung pagka-patay-gutom ko.

“I don’t ask for people’s opinions. But I love a compliment.”

What were the lifestyle magazines then? What were the subjects and personalities like then as opposed to now?
May Metro na noon. Owned by Larry Cruz, the restaurateur. That was the icon. And until Rogue came along that was the gold standard. It was edited by Floy Quintos. It had flair, it had style, it was worldly—a kind of sophistication and very with-it sensibility that can only come from, well, fabulous men.

And then the mainstream magazines came. I was already in The Manila Times in ‘97 when Preview was starting. I would pass by their office on the way to the news and lifestyle desks. And then Cosmo came along, and then the titles just kept adding up.

As for the subjects, people were still very much into fashion and society personalities then: models, designers, it girls. It was more pasosyalan than the need to sell copies to as many people as possible.

What were some of the hindrances or pushbacks you faced early on?
My shyness. I don’t think I ever got over my fear of speaking to a group of people. Once you become an editor, you’re no longer just someone who interviews people and sits down to face a computer. You kind of have to help sell the brand, build your network—which will be the source of your stories.

What would you consider your first big break?
I guess when I became EIC of StarStudio. Was I ready for it? Maybe not.

“How do I compete naman with Jo-Ann Maglipon? Shy and party boy me! I was always escaping to Boracay.”

How’d you get the job and why do you think you weren’t ready for it?
I was in PR for a while, after a short stint writing for Fashion Watch Television, which was produced by Inno Sotto and his partner Richard Tann. After a while I really wanted to go back to the editorial grind and the only thing open to me then was StarStudio, so I took it. I wasn’t very happy. Let’s just say I had a different vision of the magazine. When I had the opportunity to ask for the job of EIC, I took it. And I transformed the title from the fan mag it originally was to a celebrity lifestyle magazine. I wasn’t ready for it because they wanted it to compete with YES! How do I compete naman with Jo-Ann Maglipon? Shy and party boy me! I was always escaping to Boracay, haha.

What do you love most about writing/publishing and what do you like the least?
In writing, literally putting the words together and having it sound good in your ear. In publishing, it’s being surrounded by creative people. It’s working with the best writers. It’s getting a really good story and having the privilege to read it before everyone else. I remember getting to read this wonderful, heartbreaking short story Lav Diaz submitted for Esquire when we were still there. I got to title it too: “Snowstorm sa Frankfurt” yata.

What I hate most about publishing? I love the drama of different egos trying to work together but I hate it when the drama prevents you from doing the work.

Are you someone who seeks out opinions on your writing? Why or why not?
No, I don’t ask for people’s opinions. But I love a compliment.

“People were still very much into fashion and society personalities then: models, designers, It girls. It was more pasosyalan than the need to sell copies to as many people as possible.”

Did you have any mentors in your career? What are the things they imparted to you that you most remember?
Each boss I worked with, I learned so much from. From Thelma San Juan, to always go for the big story. From Carlo Tadiar, the influence was more on refining my ideas, refining my language. From Jo-Ann Maglipon, the journalistic discipline. And when she asks you a question, you can’t say you don’t know or you’re not sure. If there was a real mentor, siya ‘yun, because she really takes the time to explain. From Erwin Romulo, the most important thing is to have fun. If you’re not gonna have fun, it’s not worth it. I carry that until now. From Ces Drilon, to make fast decisions.

What challenges you most as a writer?
To be entertaining.

What are things that easily annoy you about the industry?
The business part of it.

You’ve recently transitioned from decades in print to digital, what has the experience been like?
Difficult. We had it so good. The weekends. The parties. I don’t miss print ha. Maybe just the weekends

Would you say being the editor of ANCX is your biggest success or toughest challenge?
Online is an entirely different discipline. As editor, you have to be constantly involved. That’s been the toughest challenge. Print was such a cushy job compared to this.

What do you mean by “constantly involved”? Involved in what and how?
Involved in creative and editorial decisions. It’s a very young website kasi so it’s still in the stage of being molded.

Lagi ko iniisip: if I were the reader, will I read me?”

Has there ever been a time you wanted out of publishing?

What do you do to destress or be inspired creatively?
I go to the garden and look at the sky.

You’ve been an editor for a long time now. Is there anything that still gets you excited about the job?
Good writers!

What is the secret to lasting this long in publishing?
Knowing what the job is really about: hard work, telling a good story, getting there first, and doing a good job. Plus, I’m a joy to work with and I know how to have fun.

If there’s one piece of advice you can give to younger writers, what would it be?
Read, so that you have standards to aspire to.

Don’t submit a crappy article. It’s insulting to the editor—you’re basically saying his standards are the same as yours.

When all is said and done, would you rather be known as a great writer or a great editor?
Oh my god, I think lahat naman begins with wanting to be a great writer. Ako I just want to be a really good writer. Wala pa ‘ko dun. I read my articles from a few years back and I want to clean them up, take out a lot of excess, make sentences clearer. ‘Yun pa rin ‘yung dream: to be a really good writer. ︎

Jonty Cruz has worked at Esquire Philippines, The Philippine Star, and Rogue Magazine. He also co-founded All Good, a social-impact storytelling platform.