“On the Far Shore” is what I’m calling this series of interviews with the authors/editors of “The Farthest Shore” an anthology of secondary world fantasy from Filipino writers. The anthology is available here . Today we speak with Joey Nacino, one of the anthology’s two editors, and also the author of “Brothers-in-Arms“.
How did you come up with the idea for “The Farthest Shore”? Why focus on secondary world fantasy?
As I’ve talked about in the book’s introduction, Dean and I were talking about our love of secondary world fantasies and how as Filipino writers we couldn’t write about them because of the lack of Filipino elements in such stories. So we decided to hell with expectations and come up with an anthology of secondary world stories written by Filipinos.
I came up with the title “The Farthest Shore” in honor of Ursula K. Le Guin’s third Earthsea book and thought it apt given her definition of what ‘the farthest shore’ meant. Likewise, I thought the title evoked the feeling of islands, which is really what this is all about: secondary world stories from the Philippine islands, as far as it can be from the US or international readership.
How did you go about defining “secondary world fantasy”?
The basis of our definition of secondary world fantasy stems from the epic doorstoppers like George R. R. Martin’s and Robert Jordan’s works, as well as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth. However, we also thought that this kind of definition is somewhat limiting given the other kinds of secondary world ideas, i.e. the portal-to-a-fantasy-world like Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books or the new weird stuff like China Mieville’s Crobuzon tales.
So we thought of making the definition a little vague in order to give our writers free rein to interpret what secondary world fantasy could mean. Hence, in this anthology you will find stories about pseudo-Filipino myth-laden realms (like Rod Santos’ “Queen Liwana”), a girl’s imaginary world of justice fulfilled (like Eliza Victoria’s “The Just World”), a New Weird-ish story of generational turtle ships (like Dom Cimafranca’s Rite of Passage), etc. Of course, those descriptions are my reading of the stories and may not apply to others. *wink*
You’re obviously well versed in some of the classic secondary world stories. Do you have a few more obscure secondary world favorites to recommend? Those that deserve more attention and acclaim?
Well, people can always try the late Paul Zimmer’s Dark Border novels (“The Lost Prince”, “King Chondo’s Ride” and the stand-alone “A Gathering of Heroes”) and P.C. Hodgell’s Kencyrath books (“God Stalk” and “Dark of the Moon” which was later collected in “The God Stalker Chronicles”; “Seeker’s Mask” and “To Ride a Rathorn”, which was collected in “Seeker’s Bane”). Zimmer’s books chronicles a cold war fantasy world wherein evil is just a border away. However, though the heroes of the Dark Border are quite compelling, they’re also tragic. Istvan the Archer is a famous swordsman who foreswore the bow after a massacre that made his name. Hodgell’s books are similar in that evil also lies over another border but her adventure stories of Jaime are leavened by a sly sense of humor. Both have their strengths and weaknesses but overall, they made quite an impression on me—especially since I managed to acquire copies of these more-than-likely-out-of-print books at secondhand bookstores. Unfortunately, there aren’t any Dark Borders books anymore since Zimmer—the brother of fantasy granddame Marion Zimmer Bradley—died in 1997. Fortunately, Baen Books have been publishing omnibus copies of Hodgell’s books and it looks like a fifth one is in the offing.
In the course of putting together this anthology, what was your biggest challenge? Your biggest surprise?
For myself, the biggest challenge was having enough stories that fit the bill to fill the anthology. Despite the popularity of fantasy/SF books in the Philippines, it seems like Filipino writers aren’t as keen to write about non-Filipino stories. Or maybe that’s just my perception. The biggest surprise? Filipino writers can write good secondary world stories.
Ah, now there’s a statement that might be misconstrued. How was that a surprise? what were your initial expectations when you and Dean began the project?
Well, the submissions did open my eyes to what could be considered as secondary world fantasy. Prior to this, my perception of a secondary world story was limited to the Western type ( i.e. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth or George R.R. Martin’s Westeros to China Mieville’s New Crobuzon) though I never realized it. Good thing I found myself seeing past this as I read stories that were non-Western– sometimes non-Filipino– but still apply a very Asian context to the idea of secondary worlds. An example would be Crystal Koo’s “Wildwater” story about a poor yet ambitious fisherman who goes off to find fame and fortune in the big bad empire. Ironically, Charles once pointed out one time that the submission guidelines describing the secondary world theme as “too vague”. Good thing that worked out to our advantage.
Could you tell us a bit about your story “Brothers-in-Arms”?
My story “Brothers-in-Arms” is actually one of my few attempts to finish writing a secondary world story. Likewise, it’s also one of a series of attempts to break a number of genre tropes. In this case, I came up with the idea of a man trying to break a spell cast upon him since birth. This spell, whether you consider it a curse or destiny, it’s all the same thing: is there such a thing as free will or do we just think we’re making our own decisions?
Predestination huh? And what’s your personal stance on that?
We all make our choices and these set our paths before us. Of course, whether we walk the paths is also up to us.
How long did it take you to write the story?
A long, long time. Maybe five to eight years? It took me a while to align my urge to write with my sense of Filipino nationalism. But that’s another story altogether.
Were there any particular sources of inspiration for your story?
None in particular. But I do think that Alcatraz bathroom scene in the Jerry Bruckheimer movie “The Rock” helped, wherein the Navy SEALS were trapped by the besieged Marine Recon soldiers. The movie’s flaws notwithstanding, the idea that you had soldiers on the same side forced to fight each other was pretty powerful for me.
What aspect of the writing/ editing did you enjoy the most?
The conceptualization and the editing. I love coming up with story ideas. Writing the actual text is painful for me, given that I’m such a lazy bastard. But once I’m done, it’s all easy-peasy—unless the text doesn’t want to cooperate.
What aspect of the writing/editing did you find most difficult?
See above. In this case, “Brothers-in-Arms” was a bit of a hard delivery as I complicated the story too much. Thankfully, my appointed editor managed to point out the problems that were making it clunky.
If you could write in a secondary world created by another (literary, television etc.), which world would that be? What kind of story would you write?
You mean fan-fiction? (Insert smiley face here.) I never really given it much thought since I prefer to write my own creations. However, I once fell in love with Hayao Miyazaki’s post-apocalyptic environmentally-conscious fantasy opus “Nausicaa” and imagined myself writing my character into it.
You’ve announced that Farthest Shore is to be the first in a line of books from your new digital press. What can you tell us about Estranghero Press?
The local writing market that’s open to the writing public and at the same time is regular is pretty scarce at the moment. Aside from Dean’s own annual Philippine Speculative Fiction anthologies, there’s also Kenneth Yu’s Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, the Story Philippines magazine, the literary-oriented fiction section of the Philippine Free Press magazine as well as the Philippines Graphic magazine. Unfortunately, running a magazine/book publishing needs a lot of money which I don’t have so I decided to create an online press that would give writers another paying market. Likewise, given the international flavor of the Internet, it would also give people abroad a chance to read Filipino stories. What’s not to like about that idea?
Where else can we find your work?
I’ve been published in Dean’s Philippine Speculative Fiction (all four volumes!), the Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, Manual Magazine, the FHM Ladies Confessional issue, and Vin Simbulan’s A Time of Dragons anthology. I also run a blog at www.estranghero.blogspot.com as well as an idea writing blog at www.thisisfifteenminutes.wordpress.com. And then, of course, there’s secondary world anthology at www.farthestshore.kom.ph and all the imprints that will come out from www.estrangheropress.kom.ph (Note: the Estranghero Press website isn’t active at the moment).
Anything else we haven’t touched upon that you’d like to talk about?
Yes: do you think that words should have an expiration limit?
Well some words certainly seem to have a shelf life. I’m usually more concerned with weeding out words that wouldn’t have been in existence yet in my story’s time period. You?
I don’t know. I have yet to finish that story yet!
We’d like to thank Joey for agreeing to do this interview (and allowing us to interview the other authors as well). You can find him online at his blog, The Grin Without the Cat.