Art Fantastic: Interview with Tey Bartolome

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On April - 12 - 2010

There’s no better complement to a Spec Fic story than some good fantasy or science-fiction artwork. CG Pintor is an organization of Filipino digital painters, co-founded by Usok #1 cover artist Kevin Lapeña, and now and then we’ll do interviews with some of their members. Today we speak with Tey Bartolome (teygraphy on deviantart), who will be contributing a piece to a soon-to-be-released illustrated edition of Usok #1. In fact, let’s show you his take on “The Child Abandoned” by Yvette Tan:

Neat huh? So let’s learn a bit more about the artist behind the digital brush.

What’s the first thing you remember drawing (that wasn’t a requirement for school or anything)?

I used to be a big fan of Dragonball Z and the very first drawing I made was a stick drawing of Goku, way back when I was little.

How did you get started as an artist?

I’ve loved drawing since I was a kid. My parents used to give me crayons and coloring books. I gave so much time over to drawing that I forgot how to be like a normal kid. Instead, I’d develop my skills by doodling in my textbooks and notebooks–I’m still doing that now. When I was in school, I established a name for myself amongst my classmates and professors, who usually tapped me for activities that required drawing.

I had to stop drawing earlier in my college life because I was taking an engineering course instead of fine arts. Later on, I realized that I needed to pursue my dreams. I shifted to a multimedia-arts-related course and there I met my friends who helped me further build up my skills in drawing.

Right now I’m still in college and I’m happy that I have the time to pursue my art, either drawing or studying how to draw. When the mood hits me, I do quick sketches to apply the lessons as I’ve learned.


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Joseph Nacino on the Demons of the New Year

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On March - 30 - 2010

With the launch of Estranghero Press’ new horror anthology, Demons of the New Year, we cornered EP founder and anthology co-editor Joseph Nacino for a short interview. Here are Joseph’s thoughts on the second anthology, the existence of demons, and the state of the horror genre in the Philippines.

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Congratulations on the new anthology! Were there any lessons you learned from The Farthest Shore that you applied here?

Thanks Pao. I suppose if there’s a primary lesson I learned from the first anthology, it’s that it’s possible. That if there is something you want done, you have to do it yourself. I’ve always heard Filipino writers (myself included) lamenting the lack of local writing markets. So actually having completed The Farthest Shore convinced me that I could actually do this.

This is also your second time collaborating on editing duties (Estranghero Press’ fantasy anthology, The Farthest Shore, was co-edited by Dean Alfar). Why go down that route, rather than monopolizing the editorial reins?

Well, don’t you get bored at times of hearing only yourself in your head? (Of course if you start hearing someone else, I suggest you go see a shrink.) I figured it would be great to have different editorial perspectives of what the Story is, what it means. So rather than limiting it to my perspective, I thought it would be great to share the fun with other writers and making them guest-editors.

Do you and Karl share the same taste in stories?

Well, we have different tastes– I think he goes for the more edgier stuff while I dig the weird shit– but both of us have the same reverence and joy of horror stories. I’m primarily a fantasy reader/writer but horror is a close second favorite in my clockwork world.

How did you settle on the theme of demons/horror for the anthology?

I threw a number of topics to Karl and he picked one and threw it back to me. From there, it was just a matter of selecting the right title. (And really, once you have the right title, everything else is easy.)

Are any of the writers included in the anthology new to you?

One thing I like with this whole gig is that I get to read– and introduce– new writers to the world. There are some writers here and in The Farthest Shore that I’ve heard about but never worked with (or read) before. And there are some writers that are new to me, i.e. it’s the first time I’ve seen their names, and they have stories that expand what Philippine Speculative Fiction is.

What do you think of the state of the horror genre here in the Philippines? Not just in fiction necessarily, but even in film, the state of the fandom/s, etc.

I do think that among the genres, horror is the one most alive and well in the Philippines. All you have to do is look at the moviehouses during the year-end film festivals with Shake, Rattle and Roll series, movies like Sigaw, Feng Sui and Sukob. TV as well with Wag Kukurap, E.S.P. and Nginiig. Print you have writers like Yvette Tan, Karl de Mesa, and David Hontiveros– as well as the Psicom horror series. Obviously, some people would disagree on the quality of the horror genre locally but still– unlike science fiction– it’s there. You might say this stems from the Filipinos’ need to scare themselves silly when relating ghost stories during the wee hours of the night. Or it could be due to our inherited memories of a time when there were no bright lights and big cities, when it was always dark once 6 p.m. rolled around, and we had to shutter ourselves in our bahay kubos at night.

Are you a believer, insofar as the darker side of the supernatural/paranormal spectrum is concerned? (From the introduction, Karl seems to be.) Does that affect your writing at all?

Do I believe in ghosts? Yes, though I’ve not actually seen one. As with most people, I have seen some things from the corner of my eye. Do I believe in demons and monsters? Well, I keep an open mind– it’s easier to run away when you’re not asking stupid questions in the face of “the jaws that bite, the claws that catch”!

What’s next for Estranghero Press?

Well, given that I’ve already done one per genre leg of fantasy and horror, there’s only one left– science fiction! Now to look for a guest-editor!

And the Geek… : Carljoe Javier Interview (1 of 2)

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On February - 3 - 2010

Carljoe 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. In the first of a two-part interview, we talk to him about that background, and what the word “geek” means to him.

What’s your family like? Are they geeks like you or the type who love you in spite of the Emma Frost action figures?

My mom is totally non-geeky. She’s very supportive, but I get the sense that she kind of just nods along and thinks, O sige anak kung yan ang gusto mo.

My younger brother, who is also back in the States, is a bro in geekhood as well. Though there’s a five year gap between us, we share a lot of geekhood, we used to hang out in the comic book store and he went a step further by actually working at the comic book store (whereas I just worked at the library). He’s also got a much better Magic: The Gathering ranking than me. And we played a lot of video games together; we’d have our specialties. I could never beat him at fighting games, but I always pwned him at sports games.

I’ve also got a younger sister who I am trying to influence in geekiness, but she’s in high school so she’s still worried about looking cool and fitting in.

As for the extended family, cousins and the like, I’m a bit of an outsider, no geeky group around.

I know that you spent part of your formative years in Los Angeles. How long did you live abroad?

Yeah my mom and I moved to the States when I was three. I’m the eldest, so by the time we moved back to the Philippines when I was fourteen, we were making the trip back with my younger bro and my sister who was a baby at the time.

What was the biggest adjustment you had to make when you moved back to the Philippines?

Oh, the heat. haha. That and the mosquitos. Seriously, I spent the first couple months in air-conditioned rooms and the mall.

But culturally, I found myself in a pretty middle class neighborhood and I had come to the country assuming that I would have to learn and assimilate whatever was in front of me.

In that sense then, language was the hardest thing. I came back to the Philippines armed with enough Tagalog that I could hold a conversation, but the idioms were very different, (the only spoken Tagalog I’d been exposed to other than that spoken by other Fil-Ams came from Tito Vic and Joey and Rene Requeistas movies). People would use words and I’d look them up in the dictionary and they wouldn’t be there. Case in point, “Pare, ang lupit nung flipkick mo kanina.” I’d run home and look at the dictionary and it would say “Cruel.” And I’d be wondering how a flipkick could be described as cruel.

Also, on my first day of school, people laughed at my accent, and I’ve made a conscious effort to not have that accent since then. But then sometimes when I’ve been drinking the accent will sneak out and make an appearance.

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Usok Interview: chiles samaniego

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On January - 13 - 2010

Been busy with Ruin and Resolve, but don’t think I’ve forgotten Usok ! I’m still in need of stories for our second issue, so if you have a speculative fiction tale in search of a home, you can check Usok’s submission guidelines here.

Here’s the second of my interviews with several of our Usok authors (to get some insight as to their lives as writers in general, and their stories in Usok in particular), this time with chiles samaniego, author of The Saint of Elsewhere: A Mystery. chiles (yes the small caps and small pronoun “i” are intentional) is also one of the authors who generously donated a story to Ruin and Resolve.

Tell us a bit about how you came up with the idea for your story.

As with many (maybe even most) things for someone of my temperament, it started with a girl. Though that, obviously, is as simplistic/reductive as it is concise as a summary of my particular creative process—at least for this story. Of course, after that, in the writing, it grew into something both more and, substantially, less than what that beginning suggests.

What aspect of the story gave you the most difficulty?

The Elsewhere itself—the thing itself and the ‘theory’ behind it—which, between this version and the original version published by Q [Ed. Note: Kenneth Yu of the Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, where the story was first published], took me years of not-actually-writing-or-even-thinking-about-the-story to get ‘right’—i.e., get it to the point at which it’s a fairly workable approximation of what i wanted or what i now think i wanted it to be.

Do you remember the first short story you ever wrote? What was it about?

No, i don’t remember. i’ve got a shit memory. To be fair, it’s hard to imagine a ‘first’ when i must have made hundreds of false starts over the years, little abortive/nascent bits of story floating around somewhere in the universe—exponentially more of those than actual finished product. Personally i don’t quite see the point of ‘firsts’, it all seems pretty arbitrary to me, like alphabetizing things—on the one hand the apparent progression gives you the illusion of some imposed order but, on the other, what does it really mean, starting with ‘a’ and ending with ‘z’?—though of course illusions of the sort can provide us with a way to do things we might not otherwise think to do, or think we can do—walking on water, say, or shifting planetary orbits—and pretty much sums up what we do–or, to be precise, what i think we do–with this thing called literature. Or one of the things, anyway. Not that i have any idea what literature is ‘for’.

Does your cultural background influence how you write, or what you write?

How could it not? Though that’s not to say i’ve ever been the type most people would call ‘engaged’ with what they would most likely identify as ‘my cultural background’. Then again, maybe what matters is the form that engagement takes—maybe it’s the form (or maybe the engagement itself) that exerts ‘influence’, not the cultural background per se. i don’t really know. i really haven’t given it much thought. Which is to say—to be unabashedly wishy-washy about it—i suspect it must do, whether i’m conscious of it or not.

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever read or received?

“At the end of the day, if you can do anything else—telemarketing, pharmaceutical sales, ditch-digging, or being a major league ump—I suggest doing that. Because being a writer blows. It’s like having homework, every day, for the rest of your life.”

As an aside, i can maybe think of one other thing i can do. But, until they make it legal, i guess i’m stuck with the homework.

(Ed. Note: chiles’ answer to the last question surprised me, so I sent him a follow-up question via email to try to clarify what he meant. I’m including his reply here because I think it sheds more light on the answer, and because I always find his thought process interesting. )

hey Pao

i do, actually, believe that ‘being a writer blows’. that does not, of course, preclude the occasional hair-raising, mind-blowing, pure-orgasmic pleasure to be had from crafting the occasional well-turned phrase or from an elegant act of punctuation, though these pleasures are of the few-and-far-between variety, and are at any rate so fundamentally meaningless in the so-called Grand Scheme of Things as to be nothing short of plain absurd.

now, the fact that you even have to ask implies that, no, a simple ‘yes’ would not, in fact, suffice, but to properly expound on why i think ‘being a writer blows’ (beyond the ‘it’s like having homework every single day of your life’ argument) entails writing a lengthy, footnote-and-bibliographed intensive essay on literature, or Literature, which i am not, in fact, equipped to deliver. i will, however, suggest here that i find it impossible for anyone who truly understands literature–with or without the pretentious cap–what it so-called means and what it so-called does, and loves it with the fatal passion it demands, or has even just a fraction of that understanding, that love, i don’t see how such a writer can think otherwise, if for no other reason than because not only is Literature the evilest, bitchiest of evil bitch lovers, inclined to love you less (if you’re a writer) the more you love it, but that also being a writer is the ultimate expression of the absurdity that is the so-called human condition, ie: that being a writer forces you to define ‘self’, your ‘selfhood’, as it were, by and against something that is essentially, despite its alleged value as the Most Important Thing In The World/That Which Defines Our Basic Humanity/That Cry Against The Indifference Of The Infinite, judge and weigh yourself constantly by and against something that despite these lofty (and true!) allegations is nonetheless universally, fatally *inconsequential*. A writer, f’rinstance, is forced to define himself with such meaningless/pointless/inconsequential terms as ‘good’ versus ‘bad writing’–and *Writing is Dangerous* in precisely this sense (among others) of self-negation, ie, of constantly putting yourself on the human-sacrificial-altar that is the receptacle for the blood price that is demanded by literature…that the ‘typical’ writer (if there is such a thing) also tends to be exterior to that so-called human condition is just icing on the cake: that to chronicle life, or a perception of life, or an imagined perception of life, or an invention that to some (God help ‘em) is itself a kind of life, except for the gifted few, is necessarily to stand outside and apart from the so-called real thing. this is why i believe a sense of humor, that most basic component of wit, is absolutely necessary to the survival of the fatally self-aware writer, and is so essential to so-called greatness in literature (whatever that means), and why our great comic writers, our writers of the absurd–Bolaño, Foster Wallace, Kafka are some of who i mean, just as a f’rinstance–are They Who Know Where It’s At, and therefore bear the greatest moral weight…and why i present none of this with the po-faced lack of humor my tone and name-dropping might imply. ie, what i mean to say is, yes, go ahead; and include all this babble by way of explicating my position if you feel you must, because, really, no one should listen to anything i say anyway: ie, it’s all nonsense, really.

Usok Interview: Kenneth Yu

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On November - 25 - 2009

I’ll be doing some interviews with several of our Usok authors, to get some insight as to their lives as writers in general, and their stories in Usok in particular. First up, and rightly so, is Kenneth Yu, editor of the Digest of Philippine Genre Stories which is, I’m not ashamed to admit, the lineal ancestor of Usok. Kenneth is the author of “Mouths to Speak, Voices to Sing“.

Tell us a bit about how you came up with the idea for your story.

There is, somewhere in Quezon City and owned by an old Tsinoy businessman, a large house overflowing with antique Chinese pottery and vases. This old Tsinoy has spent years collecting them; and they come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. I’ve never seen the collection, but some friends who have been to that house have. They were the ones who told me about it, and they were awed at its quantity and extent. The old Tsinoy knows the story behind each of his acquisitions, and my friends estimate that the worth of his antiques could reach the tens of millions of pesos. Over time, this value is bound to increase. This old man was described by my friends as being a nice guy (“mabait” to use the Tagalog word), and quite generous, though they met him only a few times.

My mother owns some antiques herself, but nowhere near the level and scale that this old man possesses. As a kid I would often peer curiously into her vases, wondering what was inside. I never found anything, other than dead cockroaches and a bit of dirt, but in the way that you can hear strange echoes and sounds–voices, maybe music–when you put your ear to a seashell, the same sounds can be heard inside these vases.

Two curiosities I explored in this story: What kind of “mabait” and generous old Tsinoy businessman would collect antique vases and why; and what would these vases be saying if they really could talk. Throw in a little bit of Chinese mythology, and the story somehow formed into what it is.

What aspect of the story gave you the most difficulty?

Trying to find the right sequencing of scenes, for one. Maintaining a consistent point-of-view, for another. It was a bit of a challenge shuffling sentences and paragraphs around, trying to find the best mix. I spent some time moving words around, adding here, removing there, and gauging the effect. I’m glad for the advice of the Usok editor in sorting this out. His comments were a big help. And I did warn him when he asked me for a story that the one I would be sending him was only in its first draft. ;-)

[Ed. Note: Usok editor pats self on the back. :P ]

Do you remember the first short story you ever wrote? What was it about?

Oh, no, I don’t, though an old friend told me recently that he remembered reading a story I wrote when we were 12 or 13, something about a “house on a hill”. I suppose it was a mystery or a ghost story of some sort. I have a feeling it was inspired by, of all things, a Choose Your Own Adventure book I liked very much: The Mystery Of Chimney Rock, a book about, er, a spooky house on a hill. I remember that book fondly, and the Choose Your Own Adventure series was a big hit when I was 12/13 years old, so the logic adds up. I have that title somewhere on my shelves still, I’m pretty sure.

Does your cultural background influence how you write, or what you write?

Occasionally. I’m a Tsinoy, influenced by Filipino and Chinese culture. And there’s no escaping the influence of Western culture, given its pervasiveness on TV, radio, in movies, and books. This influence comes out every now and then in what I write. I suppose it depends on what grabs me at the moment of writing, though it’s been pointed out to me that I did write some stories that are culturally “neutral” (“House 1.0″ from The Town Drunk and “Beats” from Philippine Speculative Fiction IV were the examples given by those people).

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever read or received?

Ah, it’s “Read”. Read, read, read. This advice has stuck with me, and of all things, I received it in such an impersonal way.

Years ago, during the martial law years in the Philippines, when Ferdinand Marcos was still president, the newspapers reported that famous author James Michener stopped by Manila for a few hours, en route to some other destination (I think he was on his way to Japan from Hawaii, or maybe it was the other way around; or maybe I’m completely wrong about where he was going and where he came from, I’m really not sure). His book “Shogun” was a big bestseller back then. Being a celebrity, he was interviewed at the airport and featured on the front page. I forget what the rest of the article was about, but I do recall the last question they asked him: What advice would he give to aspiring writers? He said, quite succinctly, “Read.” I’ve taken that to mean “Read a lot” or “Read as much as you can” or “Read about everything and anything you can get your hands on”; and so, I have.

There is another piece of advice that seems to work for most writers and that seems to run consistently with the most successful ones that I know, and that’s to be disciplined and set aside a regular schedule for actual writing everyday. I don’t know whether I heard it or read it somewhere, but I remember this quote: “The only way to write…is to write.” Makes sense to me. If you have time to read, and want to try the other side of the coin and write, then you have to set aside regular time for both activities.

FHM Interviews Budjette Tan

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On November - 20 - 2009

Budjette Tan has an interview up on FHM, which deals with his writing in general, as well as Underpass. You can find it here (somewhat NSFW of course, unless your boss will really believe you were at a Men’s mag site for the articles) or on Budjette’s blog here.

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[Picture of Budjette sourced from the abovementioned FHM interview.]

On the Far Shore: An Interview With Eliza Victoria

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On October - 7 - 2009

“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 Eliza Victoria, author of  “The Just World of Helena Jimenez.”

Tell us a bit about your story “The Just World of Helena Jimenez”:

Without spoiling anything, “The Just World of Helena Jimenez” is about a girl whose family has been a victim of a heinous crime. One day she just finds herself in a world where there is no crime.

How did you hear about the Farthest Shore anthology?

Wow, I can’t even remember. I must have picked up the “call to submissions” link from Charles Tan’s blog, or from Dean Alfar.

Prior to that, had you ever written a secondary world story before?

No. Or if I ever were able to write such a story before, the writing was done unconsciously. If anyone ever reads a story of mine and points this out to me, I’ll probably just dismiss the notion and say, “Oh, those things didn’t really happen, it’s a psychological thing, the character’s just insane”. Etcetera etc. When I write non-realistic fiction it is still very much rooted in our reality, so much so that the fantastic elements can be easily explained by psychology. Ha! I don’t know if that’s a bad thing. I can never do Lord of the Rings, where everything is created from scratch, even the language; I’m inclined to use the two-world trope. I suppose Harry Potter falls in this category. This world, that other world.

I can never erase this world from my stories, but that’s me speaking now. This may change in the future.

As far as reading goes though, does your present self share those same inclinations? Or, all else being equal, do you enjoy reading Lord of the Rings type epic fantasy as much as a tale set in our world?

Confession time: I haven’t read Lord of the Rings. (Please don’t shoot me.) But to be sure, I enjoy reading non-realist fiction as much as the realist ones. I read like crazy. I read whatever the bookstores and the book bargain sales and the online journals can offer (well, as long as I can still afford them). I don’t care if the story is set in this universe, or elsewhere. If the language is lovely, the plot engaging, the characters interesting, then I’ll pack my bags and board that plane to Wherever.

How long did it take you to write the story?

Hm, not too long, but longer than usual. However, it took years before the story finally assumed the form I wanted it to have. I started writing this story in 2007, my last year in college. I finished the story sometime after graduation I think. The first draft was more than 30 pages long. It pained me to cut it, so I just set it aside, then wrote other, shorter stories and sold them. When I heard about Farthest Shore, I revisited the story, rolled up my sleeves, and revised.

What aspect of the writing did you enjoy the most?

Creating a new world is always fun. Describing the culture, the surroundings – I enjoyed this immensely.

What aspect did you find most difficult?

Editing! Oh, editing this monster pained me, because it was so long and I had to cut so many conversations between the characters short. Also, the first draft was very graphic, very violent. I toned it down a bit; though the violence is necessary, I really don’t want to hit the readers too hard.

Ouch. Always painful to kill one’s precious babies. How did you choose what made the cut and what didn’t?

I remember a couple of scenes where the characters suddenly became melodramatic. Like telenovela-melodramatic. When I read the manuscript again after setting it aside for a little while, the dialogue made me cringe. So out with those scenes.

The other parts I didn’t really cut, I just shortened them. I mean if a scene can be shortened and it still works, then it doesn’t have to be that long, right? As a writer, you’re just wasting space. Or being clingy to your language, like, “Oh, but this line’s so beautiful/witty/whatever”. Enough with that – just edit!

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World SF Roundtable

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On October - 6 - 2009

At the World SF News Blog’s new home, they’ve got the first of a two part round table discussion up with guests Kaaron Warren, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Vandana Singh and Aliette de Bodard being asked: How, and to what extent, does your environment and background inform your writing?

Here’s a snippet from Aliette de Bodard’s answer:

About the background… I don’t set out to consciously use it (since my experience as a half-French, half-Vietnamese writing in English as a second language is probably not shared by many people on Earth), but for me, the background is still an integral part of my writing. It’s shaped the values I hold, the type of characters I’m drawn to, and the type of stories that appeal to me. Some of it comes from the background, some of it from my own experience, but all of that is stuff that ends up unconsciously going into the stories.

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