Re-Establishing the Lines: Interview with Carljoe Javier (Part 2)

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On March - 26 - 2010

CarljoeCarljoe Javier is the author of “And the Geek Shall Inherit the Earth“ (he also did a recent guest post for the site), and an avowed geek whose particular background and history gives him a unique view of life and geekdom in the Philippines. We published the first part of the interview a while back–here’s part two, where we talk about his life as a writer and a critic.

Let’s talk about your own writing now. How did “And the Geek Shall Inherit the Earth” come about?

The first essays I wrote in the book were written for MA classes in nonfiction that I was taking under Prof. Jing Hidalgo. Based on that output, she asked me if I could submit a manuscript to Milfores, which is owned and run by her husband, Antonio Hidalgo. It took me a while to piece it together, but as I was writing it became clear that the things I was writing about all had to do with some type or other of geekiness. So that’s when I had a unifying element, and I came up with the title after I finished the manuscript.

You had a prior draft of the book that was lost due to a computer virus. How did you cope? What were the essays that were lost?

How did I cope? Well, first off I switched to Mac (Hello, Apple Marketing execs, are you out there? I’m endorsing you right now. please give me free stuff. Please.) Then I kind of avoided the book for a while. Some of the finished essays had been presented in classes, or sent out, so I was able to recover those. But I lost a lot and I felt bad about it so I wrote some other stuff or a while. I don’t know what it is thought, maybe selective memory, but at the moment I can’t remember what those essays were about anymore. Then, since I’d promised Milflores a manuscript I had to get back to it, so I finished by writing lots of new material. It’s kind of a blessing in that I think that the essays in the book are better than the ones that I lost.

What was it like, the first time you entered a bookshop and saw your book on the shelf?

The first time I got a copy of my book I was in the middle of the shooting of a webseries that I was trying to make. It didn’t really mean too much at the time, since I was focused on directing and stuff. But a few weeks later, we had a launch, and that’s when it really sank in. And I’d go to bookstores and see my book on the same rack as Nick Joaquin and F. Sionil Jose, Stevan Javellana and I thought, wow, I was just goofing when I was writing, but this is something really meaningful.

What advice can you offer to authors, especially non-fiction authors, who are looking to get published?

I don’t know about giving advice. Everyone has their own process. But I guess this advice would go for pretty much any kind of artistic undertaking; there’s always an excuse not to do it. You’re busy, you’re tired, you’ll do it later, you’re worried about something or other, you’re not in the mood, whatever. It’s easy to find an excuse not to write or practice your art. It’s easy to procrastinate. But if you believe in it, if you love it, then sometimes you just have to set everything aside and just do it. I’m guilty of procrastinating and being distracted myself, but again, you just have to do it.

As far as being particular to non-fiction authors, I guess it’s really a matter of being honest to yourself, to your material, and to your readers. Being non-fiction, we know that it is manipulated for the sake of the narrative, but how much manipulation do we do? The non-fic writer has to think about that and re-establish the lines constantly. Next is talking about yourself, your life, but being able to elevate the material so lots of people can relate to it, so getting it beyond our own feelings and concerns and making it relatable. Again this relate-ability is under constant renegotiation with each piece. I think it’s very important that the non-fiction writer always be thinking about the looseness of the non-fiction form and how we are constantly redefining it within each piece we write.

Speaking of your non-fiction work, you’ve recently become the editor of Metakritiko, the arts and culture section of the Philippine Online Chronicles. In your first feature piece, you spoke about your disappointment with the coverage of arts and culture in some sectors of the mainstream press. Care to elaborate?

Yeah before I start on a rant, I want to acknowledge that I understand the need for sponsors, for the need to package content so as to maximize readers and stuff. But even beyond that, I feel that when you look at newspaper arts and culture sections, they are usually press releases, or rehashes. There are a number of columnists I admire, but a lot of the other material is fluff. There isn’t much real criticism happening, on a regular basis. I’ve all too often opened up a newspaper and wanted to throw the page on the floor because it didn’t bother to engage me intellectually. It’s this trend of anti-intellectualism and the assumption that artists and intellectuals are only talking to themselves and not engaging a larger world.

For you, what is the role of a critic in today’s culture?

As is always the role I think, the critic should be someone who either helps to enrich or enhance a reader’s experience of a work by adding their reading to it. One comes to appreciate the work and understand it more when having read a good critic’s critique. Now if the work isn’t good (at least in the critic’s opinion), then it is the job of the critic to explain where the work falls short, and discuss it to enrich a reader’s understanding of the forms and how to appreciate the aesthetics of a chosen form. Now this is a very limited definition, but as writer of Metakritiko this is the bare minimum of what I’m expecting my writers to do.

Some would say it is better to be a fan than a critic. Is there a way to harmonize the sort of dissection and analysis one does as a critic, and the visceral enjoyment of a fan? Or does one role get in the way of the other?

I think that there doesn’t have to be mutual exclusivity. I am definitely a fan of a lot of things. That’s why I wound up becoming something of a reviewer, because I loved watching stuff, listening to stuff, reading stuff so much that I started to think a lot deeper about all these different forms I was being exposed to. But you have to apply a different kind of critical and analytical rigor when you are writing as a critic and when you are merely enjoying as a fan. For example, I’m a big Adam Sandler fan, I think the guy is really, really funny. But that doesn’t mean that I think his films are brilliant, or that just because I’m a fan I’m going to give a positive review to garbage like Click.

What are you working on at the moment? I hear you have a new book coming out this year.

Yeah as far as literary output is concerned, my second book, a collection of stories entitled Geek Tragedies has been accepted for publication by the UP Press, so I’m hoping it’ll come out within the year. I’m working on my third book, an essay collection about heartbreak, dating, and, well, that four letter word in the title, The Kobayashi Maru of Love and I’m maybe two-thirds through it. Pieces from it have already appeared in Philippines Free Press,, , and Playboy Philippines. I’m hoping to find enough writing time in between work to finish it in the next few months, then start on my next collection, which I’ve already started making notes on.

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Rocket Kapre is an imprint of Eight Ray Sun Publishing Inc. (a new Philippine-based publisher), dedicated to bringing the very best of Philippine Speculative Fiction in English to a worldwide audience by means of digital distribution. More info can be found at our About section at the top of the page.