Usok 2 Interview: Elaine Cuyegkeng

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On April - 27 - 2011

Whenever an issue of Usok comes out, I conduct a short interview with the authors, to give readers some insight into the creation of the stories, as well as the authors themselves. Next up is Elaine Cuyegkeng (check out her new author’s page here), whose Usok story, “The Widow and the Princess of the Dwende“, is her first to be published online. The story is illustrated by the exceptional Mark Bulahao, who we interviewed last month. Elaine is a new author, but one already hard at work on her new novel, so keep an eye on her new author’s page as she continues to build her body of work.

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

The Widow and the Princess of the Dwende is actually a prequel to a NaNoWriMo project I was working on in 2009: A Brief History of the Enkanta. Both of them came about in a rather roundabout way. The vampire craze was going strong then (as it still is), and while I’m fond of vampires, I was frustrated by the current trends.  The vampire was always the Romantic Male Lead, and while I think vampires are awesome when they’re not just predators, they were depicted in such a way that they weren’t frightening anymore. For me, that takes away the compelling power of the vampire archetype.

And I thought: But hey, how much more scary would the vampire be if he was in a position of institutional power? If somehow, refusing to be a vampire’s paramour, or not welcoming him into your home, was bad news for you and your family? The idea of the vampire frayle was born, and from there, the idea of various enkanta clans wrestling for agency and survival in the Spanish era.

What aspect of the story gave you the most joy?

I love delving into the back stories of characters and fictional societies. The intricacies of Filipino society under the Spanish are fascinating to me, and it was immensely fun to delve into enkanta societies, mix enkanta lore with Western myths, and explore how they would interact.

What aspect of the story gave you the most difficulty?

The problem is, when you geek out like that on the page, you need to balance all of those details with telling a story. With a short story, you need to condense, condense, condense, which I found very hard to do. But I had awesome friends and an awesome editor [Editor Pao: Naks!] . They taught me how to fix the little things that were driving me mad.

Have you ever worn a costume? What was your favorite one? What about the most ridiculous?

I was waaaaay too little to remember this. But there’s a picture of me at three in a Supergirl costume. The geeky DC Comics-loving adult I am loves it.

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

I don’t think I could have written The Widow and the Princess of the Dwende or a Brief History of the Enkanta if I wasn’t Pinoy—if I hadn’t grown up on stories of the cruelty and romanticism of the Spanish era, or stories of the aswang lurking in the streets of Manila, or of the dangers of the various enkanta. And I think it’s partly due to my heritage that I’m particularly interested in colonial stories—stories that look at the dynamics between the powerful and the powerless, and the people caught in between.

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

Finish everything you start. Incidentally, the best method for finishing what you start appears to be writing fast, which I still need to work on.

Art Fantastic: Interview with MJ Pajaron

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On April - 20 - 2011

MJ Pajaron (janemini on deviantart) grew up in Caloocan with two brothers and a sister who all share her love for karaoke. An avid anime fan and a gamer who enjoys roleplaying games and first person shooters, MJ provided the art for Kate Aton-Osias’ story “100% of Me” in Usok #2. In this interview, MY talks about games, anime, and some differences between two dimensional and three dimensional art.

You’re the first artist I’ve met (virtually speaking) who is equally at home with two dimensional and three dimensional art work. Or at least, it seems that way–are you more naturally inclined toward one form?

I am an artist, a game developer and a gamer… For someone like me who loves games and has the passion to make games, it actually seems only natural that I’d be interested in both art forms. I would say that I didn’t have the slightest idea about 3D models back in college, but when I found out that one of my units in 2nd year college would be 3D modeling, I got excited. I was amazed when I first saw how 3D models were done (from modeling to animation), but then… I was disappointed to learn that there were the professors were not as knowledgeable nor as capable as I’d expected them to be. Fortunately, in my second job I met the people who taught me all I know in 3D modeling, my officemates and friends who shared tips and techniques Ranging from the most basic to the most advanced. I truly thank them for all they’ve shared with me! Great games also inspire me to do more 3d models :-D

Which games have had art design that truly impressed you?

The Prince of Persia game released in 2008. I just love it, from the concept to the in-game art! (Although I do have mixed feelings about Elika always being there to pick you up whenever you fall…) Another would be Call of Duty Modern Warfare. I really like the lighting in the game, which was very realistic!

What are the advantages of 3D art as compared to 2D, and vice versa?

In 3D- Effects, lighting and shadow are processed in real-time, and that is awesome! On the other hand, in 2D, lighting and shadows are fixed. SFX is complicated.

2D games doesn’t require powerful computers unlike 3D.

Animation is easier to do in 3d rather than in 2D, especially considering the latest technologies that make the 3d animator’s work easier and faster.

In 2D, however, you don’t need plug-ins–instead, you sit for an hours, do some trial and error for the lighting and special effects, and from that you can create a really nice looking piece.
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Art Fantastic: Interview with Mark Bulahao

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On February - 16 - 2011

Mark Bulahao (edictiv on deviantart) grew up in Northern Luzon, and came to Metro Manila to pursue his education. A fan of history and warfare (evident in his art and his loves HBO’s “Rome”), he painted a more static, yet sinister, scene for Elaine Cuyegkeng’s “The Widow and the Princess of the Dwende” in Usok #2, and he took the time to sit down with us (virtually speaking) to discuss his influences, the importance (and joy) of drawing backgrounds, and whether or not artistic talent is genetic.

How did you get started as an artist?

I got interested in drawing at a very early age. I think it’s all the cartoons and video games that got me started. I also collected Marvel and DC comic books and copied them all the time.

Me and my brother were fortunate to have a few friends who also liked drawing. After playing video games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, we would do an artjam on our favorite characters or design ones based on them. They later lost interest with drawing in high school but me and my brother stuck with it.

You have a twin brother who also seems to be a very good artist. Do you think that, to some degree, artistic talent is genetic? Does anyone else in your family draw/paint?

In our family, only the two of us are interested in drawing. So far I haven’t seen or read anything that proves the existence of “artistic genes” so I have no reason to believe in it. We just happen to like drawing and have made it a hobby.

A lot of the pieces in your deviantart gallery have a lot of detail invested in the background, whereas a lot of artists I know would prefer not to do backgrounds at all. Do you enjoy rendering those vast, panoramas? Do you like working on the background as much as working on the characters/people?

If art is biology, then those who are interested in backgrounds would be the type of biologists who study not just a certain species but their environment as well: how they interact with it, what role and niche they play in the ecosystem, how they cope with environmental changes, etc. I guess artists who ignore backgrounds are like biologists who are more concerned with a species’ anatomy, behaviors and interactions with other creatures. I don’t want to choose between the two because I’d rather be both.

I wouldn’t say that I enjoy doing environments and landscapes more than characters, but there’s a special kind of feeling in creating thriving ecosystems or living and breathing societies. There’s an incomparable joy in painting places that can allow someone to forget about reality for a while and be transported into another world, even for just a few seconds.

If you want to create fictional worlds, then you have to understand that a setting can become the star of a story while the characters themselves can take a back seat. Environments can have “personalities” and sometimes they’re much more interesting and complex than the characters that inhabit them.
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Usok 2 Interview: Eliza Victoria

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On January - 6 - 2011

Whenever an issue of Usok comes out, I conduct a short interview with the authors, to give readers some insight into the creation of the stories, as well as the authors themselves. As we started our interviews for Usok 2 with VN Benedicto, who did the art for “Elsewhere“, we’ll begin the author interviews with the author of “Elsewhere“: Eliza Victoria, one of the country’s most prolific authors of speculative fiction. Don’t believe me? Check out her newly minted author’s page here on the site, and see for yourself.

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

It was just a what-if that came out of nowhere: What if there were a natural phenomenon – like lightning, or rain – that could create superheroes, but those superheroes couldn’t choose their powers? I thought it was a scary idea, and a sad one, and I had to write about it.

What aspect of the story gave you the most difficulty?

There is a secret in the story, and it is always difficult to hide a secret.

What aspect of the story gave you the most joy?

I’ve always wanted to try my hand at using a different structure for the short story. I’d planned to use the structure of a film script, and even studied a handful, but couldn’t find a narrative to sustain the form. Then one day my boyfriend mentioned taking up a comic-writing class in the University of the Philippines, our alma mater, and I insisted on seeing his script. Before I saw his comic script, I already had the idea [for “Elsewhere”] in my head, but as usual couldn’t start it because I couldn’t figure out the right way to tell it to make the story different from all others. Then I saw my boyfriend’s script, and I realized, here it was: a narrative structure based on images, a structure I could use.

Not long after, he lent me several comic books, one of which was a copy of Neil Gaiman’s Marvel 1602. 1602 contains a sample script of the graphic novel. I studied that closely, and had fun writing those portions of the story.

However, I still don’t know if I could write an actual comic book script.

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Art Fantastic: Interview with VN Benedicto

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On November - 18 - 2010

VN Benedicto (zahntelmo on deviantart) is responsible for the artwork that graces Eliza Victoria’s story, “Elsewhere” in Usok #2. VN grew up in Romblon, in a place where the old stories (which remind VN of Lovecraft) are very much alive. He retained his love for local myths and legends, and is working on Diwata Nation, a shared world project that is very much influenced by Philippine mythology. A member of CG Pintor, and a digital painter ever since his brother gave him a Graphire4, you can view his works at his deviantart gallery. Today, we talk to VN about his love of myth, steampunk, and how he created the art for Elsewhere:

I was struck by the amount of local folklore inspired artwork you have in your deviantart gallery. When did you become interested in Philippine mythology?

I’ve been drawn to folklore ever since I was a little kid. I was fortunate to grow up in a place where oral folklore still exists, if you know where to look.

Where do you turn to for information about Philippine mythology and folklore? I’m a bit of an enthusiast myself, and resource materials can be hard to find.

In the interwebs there’s the Encyclopedia Mythica, Maximo D. Ramos’ A Survey of Philippine Lower Gods, even Wikipedia… also, I found John Maurice Miller’s Philippine Folklore Stories in the Gutenberg Project archives.

What is it about Philippine mythology that inspires you?

I love all mythology and folklore. But of course I’m more fond of the ones I grew up with, it’s what inspired me to be a fantasist.

Do you have a favorite myth or legend? What about a favorite character?

Let’s see… Well in our province there is an island called Kayatung that is supposed to be a capital of the engkanto realm and a lot of lore are tied to it. Old people claim to have seen golden ships arriving or leaving that island, possessed people are supposed to have been taken there during their possession, and people who go crazy are said to have [had their souls brought] there and will remain insane until their soul/essence returns to their body. There are supposed to be invisible bridges and roads connecting Kayatung to other engkanto cities. Sounds like a really nice place to visit, so if I go insane you know where to find me.
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Usok 2 is Live

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On November - 3 - 2010

The second issue of Usok is now live! I’ll post my introduction here, but you can also see it on the front page of the new issue itself. I hope you enjoy the stories and the art, and if you do, please comment and encourage the creators, because feedback is sweet ambrosia for writers and artists. For those who are looking for Usok #1, you can get a PDF of the illustrated edition in the Past Issues section of the Usok site.

Introduction: Hidden Selves

Kept you waiting, huh?

It’s been a long journey to get to the second issue of Usok, and while I’ve had to deviate from my original plans for the magazine, I’ve learned a lot about editing, working with creative people, and the speculative fiction scene in the Philippines, during the past year. There were ups and downs, but I have no regrets; sometimes the only way to get any solid data about an endeavor is to try it, to let your plans and dreams drum against the craggy shore of Reality. Usok will continue to evolve from here on out, and I hope you will all continue to support the magazine.

One thing I’ve learned is that it’s easier to find a unifying theme among stories that I’ve already accepted, than it is to assign a theme and wait for the stories to come in. Or maybe it’s just serendipity that all three of our stories in this issue (released days after Halloween) touch upon the theme of hidden selves, the masks we put on for the sake of blending in with “normal” society. It’s a common enough theme in speculative fiction, but it’s one of my favorites, and I hope you’ll find that each of these stories engages it in an intriguing way.

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Usok #2 Release Date: 3 November 2010

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On October - 29 - 2010

The wait is over. Be here on November 3, 2010 for the launch of the second issue of Usok, the webzine of Fantastic Filipino Fiction. Three all new stories, each with a custom piece of art by some of the best digital painters in the country, with a cover by CG Pintor founder K. Lapeña. Please spread the word!

Table of Contents:

100% of Me by Kate Aton-Osias

Elsewhere by Eliza Victoria

The Widow and the Princess of the Dwende by Elaine Cuyegkeng

Artwork by K. Lapeña, Mark Bulahao, MJ Pajaron, and VN Benedicto

Future of the Book Conference 2010: Day Two Videos

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On September - 20 - 2010


The first Future of the Book conference was held last week at the UP-Ayala Technohub in Quezon City (here’s a great overview of the conference at Coffeespoons), which brought together publishers, writers, teachers, readers – and yes, even lawyers – to discuss the changing aspects of publishing throughout the world, and in the Philippines in particular. I was there on the second day, to talk about how independent publishers can thrive in the digital age, and I managed to take videos of a few of the other speakers as well.

A few caveats though: First, the latter half of the footage of Charles Tan’s talk has atrocious video quality – my Vado is quirky that way apparently – but the audio is still good, so I uploaded it because it was a great talk, and you can at least still listen to it (or indulge in Max Headroom nostalgia by watching it).

The second caveat is that because of time constraints, a few of the speeches had to be rushed or cut short. After the videos, I’ll have the full text of my speech and links to a few others.

I’d like to congratulate the conference organizers for a successful conference, and I hope we can all work together to maximize the benefits of this new world of publishing for all interested parties. But I swear to God, the next time I hear someone say Filipinos don’t have a reading culture, I’m shoving a textbook up his ass…

And now, the videos!

First up is Charles Tan, (Bibliophile Stalker) prolific blogger and Philippine Spec Fic advocate, on the topic of the consumer experience in the age of ebooks.

More after the cut

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Art Fantastic: Interview with Benjo Camay

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On May - 26 - 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 Benjo Camay (The-Hand on deviantart), who contributed a piece to the illustrated edition of Usok #1, namely the art for “The Coming of the Anak-Araw” by Celestine Trinidad.


What’s the first thing you remember drawing?

I remember that I when I was 4 years old I’d always draw a scuba diver thrusting a knife unto a shark’s body.

Uhm. Why? Did you have a deep hatred of sharks or something?

Actually, I don’t really know why I did that when I was a kid… maybe sharks are just so cool to draw?

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Usok Interview: Crystal Koo

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On May - 20 - 2010


Here’s the fourth Usok #1 author interview, this time with Crystal Koo, author of “The Startbox“, which now has an illustration by Kevin Lapeña.

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

Given the theme that was set as a guideline for the issue, I actually started writing a completely different story, a very science-fiction one with a lot to do with computers. But I was having really big trouble with it, so one midnight I just abandoned it and started writing this one, without any planning at all, and for the most part of the first draft, it wrote itself.

What aspect of the story gave you the most difficulty?
Making the main character’s transformation credible.

Do you remember the first short story you ever wrote? What was it about?
I started off scribbling bits and pieces of things on lined paper and stapling them together into a “book” when I was a little girl. I can’t remember any of those. The earliest that I can remember is the first story I ever typed on a computer – something about a Molly.

Does your cultural background influence how you write, or what you write?
What I write, yes (the how is mostly influenced by the books I read). It’s a bit complex writing as a Chinese-Filipino who’s moving around Asia at the moment, so all kinds of considerations crop up, but most of the time I just make sure that I don’t pigeonhole myself into writing about one particular culture all the time.

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever read or received?
“The whole business of writing is to live with doubt: to do what you don’t know how to do, to place yourself continually in a situation of ignorance and inelegance” – Peter Carey. Not exactly advice, but it’s very reassuring, especially from a big guy in the business.



About Me

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.