So I’ve been based outside of Metro Manila for about a month, with weekends generally reserved for dropping by. I would have thought that it would take me so much more time to getting used to living outside the capital (or thereabouts), but surprisingly, I’ve adjusted quite well – and the last couple of weekends have shown me why.
A couple of Saturdays back, it took me 50 minutes to get from Clark to Balintawak… and another 50 minutes to get from Balintawak to Taguig.
Last Thursday, as we experienced heavy rains across the country, I was in Angeles City. The rains were strong, but it was comforting. Then I read through my Facebook newsfeed about the usual horror stories of flooding and horrendous traffic at that very moment. People being on the road for five or six hours, stranded, may already feel normal for Manileños, but that night in the heavy rains I got to work in Clark in less than ten minutes.
Yesterday, coming from Taytay and going to Shangri-La Mall in Mandaluyong, it took me almost two hours. It would normally be half an hour to forty with moderate traffic. The Cainta/Pasig area in Ortigas Extension was at a snail’s pace. Then, the universe lulled me into a sense of hope when we passed that gridlock and drove smoothly through Rosario and right by Libis and Medical City. Lo and behold, it took me 45 minutes to get from Metrowalk to Shangri-La: usually a 5-minute drive. I would’ve walked, except the heat was atrocious and I had no desire to go to a book-signing event looking even less fresh than I already was.
And yes, the heat is another thing I do not miss. In Angeles, in Clark, it gets hot, but it doesn’t get this dirty, icky hot. I blame the pollution and overly-congested urban landscape of Metro Manila.
I definitely still love Manila, and I will always visit. Probably every weekend or so. But some things you just don’t miss, and now I understand why so many folks prefer accepting jobs in other places like Cebu, Davao, Dumaguete, and Clark.
I definitely see why Filipinos outside the capital find the Manila-centric attitude of the government head-shaking. There is still so much opportunity outside of Metro Manila, and if the government invests more beyond the capital, much like private BPOs have been doing, I think there’s a much better chance for this country to further develop.
I confess that I have not read many Young Adult books in a long time. Not counting the Hunger Games trilogy, which I picked up late last year mainly because of the movies, it must be almost two decades now since I’ve regularly read anything categorized as such. In fact, it’s been so long that these books were still classified under the “Juvenile Section” by National Bookstore when I was still reading them. I should be thankful they’re now called “Young Adult” because “juvenile” just brings up negative connotations of childishness. That, or else images of a young Brad Renfro being manhandled in the movie Sleepers.
This is not to say that I owe nothing to the genre. I grew up on R.L. Stine’s Fear Street as well as Christopher Pike. Heck, since I’m in confession mode, I may as well admit that I also read Sweet Valley High back then. Yes, I accept your judgment. Still, reading such books helped shape my eventual passion for writing. Just by reading, I learned things as simple as how to properly place periods and commas vis-a-vis quotation marks and as important as how to find a voice. These books also led me to seek out more mature material; Stine and Pike led me to my love of horror and fantasy, paving the way for Lovecraft, Tolkien, and Rice. This eventually set me down the path of wanting to write.
It was thus fortunate that I was given the opportunity to interview two New York Times bestselling authors of the genre, the husband-and-wife team of Ransom Riggs and Tahereh Mafi. They were in Manila and Cebu on a book tour to promote their latest works – Hollow City and Ignite Me, respectively.
I’ve never met any New York Times bestselling authors before, let alone interview them, so it was a very interesting assignment. After all, it’s not everyday you get to meet a pair who both made the bestselling list of the New York Times. It also gave me the chance to revisit the genre that I had not really read in so long; prior to my interview, I picked up a copy of Riggs’ first book, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, to catch up on the genre.
It was an early Tuesday afternoon in late April that I sat with Ransom and Tahereh at Writer’s Bar in Makati to discuss matters of writing, literature, and the wonderful reception they received from their fans in Manila and Cebu. They were a very approachable couple who could quickly make you feel at ease n their presence, their responses punctuated with good humor, and the support that they provided each other was very apparent.
Below are highlights and excerpts of the interview. The full transcript is available at the end.
How did you like Cebu?
Tahereh: It’s great. The few glimpses we did get were pretty amazing. It’s so beautiful. It’s kind of like imagining Manila without as many skyscrapers and replacing them with greenery. It’s so very tropical and lush. People were so great.
Could you tell us about your experience in Cebu? How was the reception there?
Tahereh: It was really great. It’s been great in both Manila and Cebu. Even we didn’t expect such enthusiasm, but it’s been really wonderful, really humbling, really inspiring to see so many kids excited about books. It’s faith-restoring, you know?
Ransom: Yeah. What she said. It was great. It was really cool.
When did you decide to start writing?
Ransom: I was very young. I’ve been writing since I was, like, seven years old. I really loved it, and I wanted to be a novelist. Then, in middle school, I discovered movies, and I thought actually I’d rather be a movie director. I was on that track for a long time, and I ended up going to film school. And then, I just got an opportunity to write a book out of the blue about four years ago.
I did read about that. You had some vintage pictures, if I’m not mistaken?
Ransom: Yeah. It was “collectorable” photos, and I thought that they would (make for) an interesting book. So I ended up doing what I wanted to do as a child, that I’d forgotten how passionate I was about it.
I know you mentioned that you started with these vintage photographs, and you wanted to drive a story around those photographs. What made you decide to go to this genre (horror/fantasy), as opposed to maybe a more straightforward…
Ransom: Historical book?
Historical book, yes, as opposed to horror/fantasy.
Ransom: I’ve just always loved fantasy stories and strange stories and stories about other worlds that are within our own world. I thought that using the photos as a gateway into a world like that would be an interesting idea. So it starts out in my world, in the town I grew up in, in Florida which seems so ordinary, then it transitions into this extraordinary… like strange children, and time travel, and all that. Total unreality.
Why did you choose Wales (as the setting for the extraordinary world)?
Ransom: I chose Wales because I felt America didn’t seem magical enough, and I wanted them to still speak English. Americans don’t know anything about Wales, so I could feel free to invent lots of fake things, and no one would know the difference.
How about you, Tahereh? How did you start writing?
Tahereh: I have been a life-long reader. I actually didn’t start writing until just after I graduated from college. I never thought I could write a novel, which just seemed so tremendously difficult… It seemed too big a task and so tremendously difficult, and I didn’t think I was up for it. It wasn’t until I rediscovered my love for young adult fiction, in particular, that I remembered what it was like to read a book for fun and just disappear into a story because it was a great story, and that really made me want to start writing.
Who’s your biggest influence? Or your favorite author, maybe?
Tahereh: … I always come back to J.K. Rowling. Somehow those books are the obvious answer that a lot of people might give, but I truly think she had a great impact on my life because the Harry Potter books were books that I grew up with and stayed with me and stay with me still.
Why did you choose (this) genre or that world?
Tahereh: I didn’t intentionally. The story evolved very much around the central character, Juliette. She has a lethal touch, and she’s living in this dystopian society where the government wants to use her as a weapon, and she learns to fight back and stand up for herself and what she believes in… I had to figure out what kind of world would she live in to sustain that kind of ability, and it became this dystopian world, this broken-down world with environmental problems, genetic defects, and mutations. Everything just fell into place.
Do you have a process in terms of writing? Like a certain time of the day, or do you have a routine, or do you write as it comes?
Ransom: All day. (Laughs) In chunks. Starting pretty early, and I just need peace and quiet and noise-canceling headphones. We actually work together at a desk, sort of a long desk, facing out into our yard on two laptops. It works really well. Some people think we’re crazy, but…
Tahereh: No, it’s great. I need the same thing. My process is the same. I need quiet, and I need lots of time.
Ransom: And caffeine!
Tahereh: And caffeine. I drink a lot of tea.
Since you mentioned that you work together, what are the challenges – if any – of being married to another writer?
Ransom: It’s so much better. It’s great.
Tahereh: It’s wonderful.
Ransom: We support one another. We read each other our work and have instant feedback and encouragement. (I) have a person who understands all my weirdness and hang-ups and habits and things, who understands why I’m pacing around talking to myself at midnight sometimes.
Tahereh: Yeah. It’s great. I think we are very, very lucky in that we both are really big fans of each other’s work. That’s so important because it would be really difficult to lie to someone you love, and so that makes it really easy. I love his stories. I love how he writes, and it’s so fun to watch him go through this creative process and throw his heart into something that then becomes a beautiful story and that I can enjoy and hear first-hand from him.
Do either of you do a lot of research to make your worlds much more realistic, or do you do it more of “on-the-fly” and really be very creative and very imaginative?
Ransom: I do lots of research, but I’m not totally convinced that it’s just not mostly procrastination. (Laughs)
Tahereh: I research a few things. The things that I really don’t know, like fight scenes. Like I had to figure out how to disassemble a gun and reassemble it. And then, you’ve learned terms and techniques for the military and things like that… and then there are other things like – my story, it’s about a girl who’s been, when you first start the book, she’s been locked up for almost a year, she’s been in perfect isolation. So I spent some time in a deprivation chamber. That was interesting to feel what it was like to get my senses totally cut off.
You spent time in a deprivation chamber?
Tahereh: Yeah. Not very long, just … five, ten minutes? Something like that. And it was insane… It was horrifying. I think of myself as a pretty normal, well-adjusted person, and I thought I’d be able to handle it, and within the first thirty seconds I was already thinking I was hearing things. I felt totally paranoid, like I thought at any moment someone would break in… I was thoroughly convinced by the end of that experience that if you were in isolation for too long, you would just completely lose your mind.
(Tahereh) mentioned earlier some of her influences, like J.K. Rowling. What about you, Ransom? Do you have any influences in terms of your writing?
Ransom: Early on, it was C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. Stephen King. And a writer named John Bolaris who did mysteries for kids that were really wonderful. And now I have lots of influences, most of whom are friends of mine in the Y.A. world who are beautiful, brilliant writers. Like my wife. And there’s a writer named Jandy Nelson whose work is just worth the gorgeous poetry flowing off the page. And Veronica Rossi, who we’re touring with, is just an effective storyteller. My buddy, John Green. I didn’t even know that Young Adult literature was a thing that people were doing today until we started writing these books, and I was, “Oh, wow!” Teenagers really care about books. They’re so enthusiastic. It’s really cool.
Do you think there is still a future in Young Adult literature? Because there’s this impression – not necessarily true – that some of the young people today have too many other interests that compete with books right now (video games, television, the internet, social media, etc.).
Ransom: I think that’s been true for at least the last twenty years. I would never have explored this if that were going to be a problem.
Tahereh: I think books have been around forever, and I feel like they’re not going anywhere. I think, in fact, maybe they will change shape…
Tahereh: Yeah, like e-books, and then audio books, and then maybe… I don’t know what the future holds. Maybe we’ll all be wearing glasses that read the books to us. And I’m not sure how that storytelling method will evolve, but I think that we will always be telling each other stories, and I think there will always be an appetite at every age for those stories. So I feel they’ve been around forever and will continue to exist. Only recently did we start putting a label on certain types of books and calling them “Young Adult,” but for years and years, these books have been around. It’s just that we never distinguished (them). There was, “This is for adults,” and “This is for small children,” and now there’s a widening of that gap in the middle.
Since you mentioned that there’s this “Young Adult” bracket, have you guys ever thought of trying to write for a more “Adult” market? Are there any plans, not necessarily soon, but in the future?
Tahereh: I would never say, “Never.” I have no immediate plans, but it’s always about the story. If the character comes to you as a young person, then that’s the story that needs to be told. But if the character comes to you as an older person, then that’s the story.
Ransom: I’m not really concerned what genre my stories are. I just want to tell stories.
Since you’re a filmmaker, how has that influenced the way you write?
Ransom: It’s like a chicken-and-egg thing. I went to film school and wrote a lot of screenplays, and I was telling stories with pictures. And then making a book with pictures was just another way of telling stories with pictures. I think screenplays honed my storytelling ability early on because they’re very concerned with, “Move the story along,” and, “Don’t bore the reader,” and plot has to thicken by page ten, and first act ends by page thirty, and… it was very freeing not to have to do all that stuff, but it was still ingrained in my mind, this sort of structure and telling story with pictures.
Can you tell us about the latest projects you are promoting now? In (Ransom’s) case, Hollow City, and in (Tahereh’s) case, Ignite Me.
Ransom: Hollow City is the sequel to Miss Peregrine, and it picks up right where Miss Peregrine leaves off. So it’s the same characters, more of the same story. If you liked the first book, you might like the second book.
Tahereh: Ignite Me is the third book in the Shatter Me series, the third and final book. So it wraps up the storyline and the characters. It’s Juliette basically back and ready to finish things off. There’s a lot of excitement, a lot of action, adventure, and lots of kissing. It was a lot of fun to finish up a series. So I’m happy to have it all out there.
You mentioned you pitched this as a series, so you probably had an idea where the story was going. However, did you plot everything in advance through to the last book, or did you plot it book by book and just see where it would go?
Tahereh: I had a very general idea of the trajectory of her character and how she would grow and how her character arc would evolve over the course of the series, but I didn’t know for sure. With the first book, I was really building the world within the characters, getting to know them and figuring out who they are and where they’re going. And then with the subsequent books, I was then able to play within the confines of the world I created.
How do you take book reviews? Do you read reviews of your work?
Ransom: I read the one from my publicist that he sends me. They’re usually friendly. (Laughs)
Tahereh: Yeah. Sometimes. I did initially, quite a bit, because it was all so new and interesting and you want to know (what people think). But now, I feel like once the series really gets going and finds its footing… only the people who actually felt like the series had something to offer pick up the subsequent books. And of course there are always the people who might have loved the first one (but) might not love the second one, and so forth. It just becomes easier, somehow, to not focus on the reviews as much and focus on the people you’re writing for. Once the series is out there, then the readers have, for the most part, they’ve found it. And so then you’re just writing for the people who enjoy the stories.
Did you experience a sophomoric slump in terms of writing the second book?
Tahereh: God, I hope not. (Laughs)
Ransom: Well, that was why (my) second book was so difficult. But, I mean, I hope it’s not crappier than the first book. That’s for you to decide.
Tahereh: Yeah, that’s for the reader to decide.
Ransom: No, no. No slump. It was great! (Laughs)
As young writers yourselves, what advice would you give to aspiring young writers?
Tahereh: Never give up. Never surrender. Read forever. It depends where you are as an aspiring writer. Are you an aspiring writer who’s never written a book? Are you an aspiring writer who’s written a book and is trying to get published? Are you an aspiring writer who’s just looking for basic tips and tricks on how to get through writer’s block? Ransom has unlocked this really beautiful way of describing how to write a book, which was – the answer is in other books, and I think that is so true. You can say this…
Ransom: No, I love hearing you say what I said. (Laughs)
Tahereh: (Laughs) He was saying that books are made of other books, and the answer to how to write a book is in other books. And so I think if you’re an aspiring writer who’s looking for help, just read. Infinitely. I’ve never taken a creative writing course in my life. I read my whole life. That was my creative writing course.
Ransom: You can’t device a lecture to teach someone how to write a book. It’s all instinct and feel, and reading a lot just helps your brain get used to the shape of a book and all of the different ways that story can be told and a character can be developed. It’s really important to develop a library of possibilities in your brain so that when you’re writing your own characters… you immediately have a million possibilities.
How do you develop your characters?
Ransom: (Laughs) By reading! This is a perfect segue.
Tahereh: Yeah. Get to know human beings. Pay attention to them, and just realize that everyone is very complex and very multi-faceted. Everyone you meet, you think you get it, you think you know them. You meet someone, and you analyze, “Well, you seem like this kind of person.” I think a good writer is also the kind of person who is able to recognize that a human being is so much more than you see and to understand that that human being in front of you who’s laughing currently has also felt great pain… And so it’s important for me as a writer, when building characters, to remember that even though they’re fictional they’re still human.
Backtracking a bit, we touched on writer’s block earlier. Have either of you experienced writer’s block?
Tahereh: Who hasn’t?
Ransom: I have a line about writer’s block in that I don’t believe it actually exists. It’s the result of you judging your own writing, becoming self-conscious. Sort of like stage fright. You get out on stage, and you’ve memorized all your lines, but you become conscious of everyone looking at you, so your mind goes blank. So if you can somehow get past the idea that you suck and people are going to hate you and what you’re writing is bad, then that block goes away.
Tahereh: … I’ve also found, for myself at least, that it’s also true that when I’m stuck like that, it’s usually because I’m trying to force the characters to go in a direction that is unnatural to the story. I often have to go back a couple of paragraphs and fix something, and then it unlocks the trajectory. Then the characters are like, “I am a character who has autonomy and independence. You’ve given me a mind and a body and a heart, and this is what I want to do.” Sso when I step back and change something, it unlocks an important twist in the story. From there, it’s like you’re changing the train tracks. All of a sudden you switch gears.
It just writes itself.
Tahereh: Yeah! Sometimes I feel like it really does. Being honest to the characters and understanding that they need to be dynamic and to not always fit into a very rigid plotline.
Especially if you create a character who is three-dimensional, they have a life of their own and start doing things you didn’t expect they would be doing.
Tahereh: Right! It sounds a little crazy, these aren’t real characters, but if you think about it as a writer and you think about the characters that you’ve created, and… you ask that character, “What’s your favorite color?” That character has an answer… When you realize that your character has the ability to become a fully-formed human being, you then realize that they also have the presence of mind to make their own decisions in your story. For me, that was really enlightening, and I had to realize that I had to let them go.
You mentioned earlier, “Books are made of other books.” So do you think what they say is true, that there aren’t really any new ideas in terms of writing? That it’s just how writers reimagine those ideas or how they approach the idea? Is there any new story out there?
Tahereh: Yeah, that was Ransom’s line. (Laughs)
Ransom: I think that is totally true. I don’t think that there are any “new” stories out there. I think that humans, as we know them to be for a hundred thousand years, have been telling the same stories over and over, just in different iterations and mutations, and that’s okay. Like every twenty years, it’s time to tell all the stories again but in their new mutations relevant to us. We can hear about something that we’re experiencing now from two hundred years ago, and it will resonate the way that it will if it’s told by someone we recognize.
Since Ignite Me is the last of (Tahereh’s) series, what’s next for you?
Tahereh: I’m currently working on something new, but I’m in that weird place where I can’t really talk about it yet. But I’m very excited.
Same genre or something different?
Tahereh: A little different. I think a little different.
Ransom: And I’m working on the third book (of my series).
Did you have any messages for your readers?
Tahereh: Read a lot of books. (Laughs)
Ransom: Keep it weird! (Laughs)
That’s it. Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it. Hope you enjoy the heat! (Laughs)
Tahereh: Yeah! (Laughs)
Ransom: It’s probably like Florida. (Laughs)
You may read the full transcript of the interview here:
When the TV contest I Am Pogay first came out, it must have been a curiosity to the Filipino masses who may still have little understanding of the modern gay paradigm. After all, the stereotype of the bakla as the swishy fairy is ingrained in our cultural consciousness – stemming, perhaps, from our own pre-Hispanic roots where notions of gender and sexuality were much more fluid and definitely more liberal than what the West brought to us throughout four centuries of colonial rule.
What few of the masses may understand is that the image of the paminta gym buff who parties shirtless in trendy gay clubs has become such a common representation of PLU that it now nearly rivals the classic Facifica Falayfay perception. The success of My Husband’s Lover has also contributed to the recognition of the masculine gay man. In fact, much like the pagirl, the pamhin has become its own stereotype as well, albeit relatively new and perhaps still not as widespread; this masculine representation has permeated our cultural consciousness in the last decade or so.
And yet what does masculinity, or femininity for that matter, really mean to the common Pinoy? This dichotomy of masculine vs. feminine is still so ingrained in the consciousness of our people despite the emergence from the shadows of more gay folk, a non-homogenous demographic whose members do not always fit into the traditional binary of the masculine and the feminine.
It thus becomes confusing – unthinkable, even – for the less-educated when gender-bending behavior in I Am Pogay is shown on national TV. Boxing in gay men as being “straight-acting” vs. “lady-like” becomes meaningless when those same hunks who in the interviews were so “manly” suddenly do an Alma Moreno as they are hoisted up in the air for their diva dance number in the talent portion. The succeeding buzz in social media then becomes both a spectacle and an experiment: a spectacle in seeing still so many people mouthing off ignorant statements, and an experiment in understanding if the kind of reception to such stereotype-defying behaviors provides a suitable gauge of the readiness of the Pinoy population at large in accepting an even more diverse gay community than it has been used to.
Read my further thoughts on this as well as my post-mortem of the contest results in The Pogay Experiment, published by the Philippine Online Chronicles. I think four of the five winners have a future in the limelight; hopefully the opportunity is not wasted by the Powers That Be.
A couple of weeks ago, Pope Francis made history by canonizing two previous popes – Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII. Although I am not Catholic, this event fascinated me as it underlined the savvy that Pope Francis has consistently demonstrated since taking over from his less charismatic predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. In an increasingly globalized modern world where Catholicism has struggled to survive the continuous exodus of a large number of its followers – mostly the younger generation – Pope Francis has shown the type of smarts he has in trying to keep the Catholic Church relevant.
Read my full thoughts in Papal Savvy, courtesy of the Philippine Online Chronicles.
Some random non-spoilery thoughts about The Amazing Spider-Man 2:
1. This Electro has such a Dr. Manhattan slash Palpatine complex.
2. It looks like the Sinister Six may have a female in its ranks next movie. Good.
3. Since obviously we need to maintain the animals motif, therefore: electric eels. Okay, then.
4. Apparently, some computers can last without losing power and shutting down even after about an entire decade of being in an abandoned hidden lair. Someone please find me one of those babies. The lights, too – they never died down, either.
5. Why do I start the movie finding Dane DeHaan unattractive then progress to finding him strangely cute by the middle?
6. Jamie Foxx, I have not seen such horrid scenery chewing since Governor Arnold in “Batman and Robin” and such cliched “I’m-an-unappreciated-worker” acting since Jim Carrey in “Batman Forever.”
7. Friggin’ bait-and-switch with the Rhino, but I suppose I should be happy given the terrible performance that Paul Giamatti turned in. Jamie Foxx seems restrained in comparison.
8. It’s such a shame that Peter and Harry’s friendship was underdeveloped and one you could not truly root for. Tobey Maguire and James Franco did it better, but this is not the actors’ fault but rather a writing case of putting in too much, too soon.
9. Speaking of writing, that is one of the most unearned denouements in the history of film. How can an epilogue be both so long and yet so rushed? Especially given the circumstances? Well, I suppose the same can be said about the entire story: long, overstuffed, and yet thin on plot and motivation.
10. At least we get excellent performances from Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Sally Field, and Dane DeHaan – who may be chewing scenery as well, but at least he seems to be having fun, unlike Foxx who is taking himself ve-ry se-ri-ous-ly.
Amazing Spider-Man 2 was passable, but it was an underwhelming and poor follow-up to an already so-so first film. It is interesting that Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is considered one of the best superhero movies. Meanwhile, Webb’s sequel – which should have been pivotal given the source material – is a disappointment of the genre.
My Rating: 6.5 out of 10 Stars
Directed By: Marc Webb
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Colm Feore, Felicity Jones, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, with Paul Giamatti and Sally Field
It feels like a Harry Potter moment, somehow.
Kidding aside, I’ve always been a social media addict, so it was quite a pleasant surprise when my mentor Jessica asked me to set up Instragram for The Library of Babel, her publisher slash online distributor. The IG idea quickly expanded to include Facebook and Twitter.
I’ve known about Babel for some time now as it slowly builds an online presence not just for selling books but also for promoting other items of interest, such as World Domination Shirts and the Save The Philippine Eagle foundation. It was a no-brainer that I would say yes to creating and helping manage these social media channels.
So there you have it. Follow the Library of Babel on Instagram (@thelibraryofbabel) and Twitter (@thelibofbabel), and like the official Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/babellibrary).
And of course, visit http://library-of-babel.com to view and purchase really cool stuff. Right now, there’s The Last Twisted Sale Ever, where you can get classic editions of Twisted – and you can also get them bundled at a reasonable price!
Finally, you’re encouraged to post pics of yourself reading Twisted on the Facebook page, Twitter, or Instagram. What’s more, you can send in requests for famous (living) folks whom you want to see reading them as well; best arrangements will be made.
I requested for Tom Rodriguez. The guy’s a fellow comics geek, as this interview proves. Incidentally, he answered my, umm, phoned-in questions. Being deeply knowledgable about Batman’s core character just makes him even more admirable. Yes, the Minister is allowed to be fanboyish.
Read Jessica Zafra’s blog entry regarding the new social media channels for The Library of Babel here.
One of the more difficult things in being a genre fiction writer (horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action-adventure, etc.) is how to write believable and three-dimensional antagonists, i.e. villains. Genre fiction, after all, are usually good vs. evil tales at the core.
It’s then rather easy to fall into the cliche trap of the obvious villain: evil is as evil does, and evil does as evil looks. They are identifiable by their cackle, their rants, their singular evil motives, and so forth. Many of them revel in being evil, so much so that they may as well have t-shirts printed proclaiming their evilness.
But if one wants to ground characters in well-rounded reality, one must remember that – in real life – very few (if any) people view themselves as evil. Most real-life “villains” see themselves as misunderstood, even righteous in whatever ends they have set their eyes upon. Do we really think Hussein, Bin Laden, and Marcos thought of themselves as Saurons, or Voldemorts, or Wicked Witches of the West?
Like real people, the best and most complex villains, after all, are those who think they are actually doing good. The likes of Ra’s al Ghul and Magneto in the comics, for instance, or Akasha from The Vampire Chronicles have rather noble intentions – but their evil simmers underneath as their means and motives come into question.
So it is a continuous challenge to create and sustain interesting gray antagonists. Even I am still learning along the way.
Last year, I was lucky to have been chosen to participate in Jessica Zafra’s first writing workshop, “Write Here, Write Now.” We had a meet-and-greet in November, which Jessica featured in her blog. In the succeeding weeks before the end of 2013, I also met up with some participants to get to know them and prep ourselves up. It was nice to have like-minded folks getting ready to dive into a workshop with one of our most famous local authors.
We started the workshop in January – four non-consecutive Saturdays until March 8th. Held in the Ayala Museum, it was sponsored by the Ayala Foundation.
Now, the workshop is over. I’ve finished the first draft of my novel, but looking at the revisions I need to make is rather overwhelming. So pen (okay, keyboard) in hand, I need to roll up my sleeves to get things moving along.
That being said, I learned a lot from the workshop and made new friends with whom I can talk about literature, writing, and gossip. And to nobody’s surprise, about 75% of the class (or at least, those who actually made it) turned out to be… of my persuasion. Let’s leave it at that.
Some things I learned:
- Take a break. Having finished my first draft, I’ll let it breathe for a few days and write other things. I’ve been writing a horror/fantasy novel and, although the characters are living animatedly in my mind, I need to leave them for a while so I’ll have a fresh perspective. I’ll be re-writing some short stories in the meantime.
- Focus and write. I’ve started to really discipline myself to write something everyday. True, life can be so busy, and it might never be a perfect routine, but having that sense of structure can help. Of course, it will vary from person to person – this works for me now, but it doesn’t necessarily work for others, as I’ve seen with some of my new mates. The important thing is, find your personal process… and stick to it.
- Try not to get stuck. We’ve all been there, including me: make that first chapter perfect! I kept on going back and going back to rewrite and perfect the first few chapters, until I realized I wasn’t moving forward. Once I got over it, I just decided to write and write. This helped me finish my first draft in less than two months. There will be time to revise afterwards, perhaps even with the help of a fresh set of eyes who are willing to be constructive first readers. No matter how good your idea is, if you only have one chapter, it will just be one chapter unless you get over it.
- Don’t aspire or claim to be the next “Filipino XXXX.” You’ll just set up expectations – possibly unrealistic – that can disappoint you. Instead, aspire to be yourself as a writer.
- Read, read, read. Keep on reading. Not that I didn’t need to learn this, per se, but it’s good to be validated as a reader as well.
- Experience the world. Everything can be material for your work, including those strangers chatting in the other table in the coffeeshop. Experience Quiapo. Mingle with the rich. Understand human nature. Stories should never just be about plot; characters should be those you can also root for.
- My gaydar still works at 99.5% accuracy levels.
- Lloyd’s gaydar is more powerful than mine.
- It is interesting to watch a debate between a Paleo guy and a vegetarian. Popcorn is a must when there is a battle of wits between Reg and Evan.
- Think of Russia not as a European country but as an Asian country. Then some of their politics will make sense. Props to Mike C for that perspective.
- Older queens, those in their 70s or so, apparently have a fantasy: tapis, laba sa batis, “Andyan na ang mga Hapon!” Then it becomes a Seiko films ouvre.
- Sid Lucero likes to play video games. If only Momelia had asked for his number.
- Jen, Tal, and Lea are great names for three sisters. As Angus accidentally found out.
- I fear walking through the minds of Deo, Jovan, Patrick, and Ryan. Well, Patrick, do the Arnel Salgado route!
- 15K Pesos and $200. Kelangan nang pag-ipunan! Kung hindi man, pwede namang tumambay na lang sa Mr. Jones.
- PJ was impressed that I knew Starro the Conqueror. I didn’t think anyone would be impressed by that. Well, we need to go to Quiz Nights, then.
- Dry-variety Friskies are best for kittens.
- Crime-Fighting Call Center Agents is hilarious. Noel needs to mass-market this. I’ve only read snippets, but I need to see more.
- White ladies (or perhaps diwata) in Mt. Makiling dislike noisy radios. Next time, magpatulog ka kasi, Roni. Or write more porn. Este, erotica.
- I must read and watch Never Let Me Go.
- Apparently, I am not the only writer who has not read The Great Gatsby. I now feel less low on the food chain.
- I have confirmed that a certain politician is bisexual.
- Sam Milby has a twin brother.
- Jaime has unusual ambitions. Support!
- There are still people out there who have no idea about Talong, Pilita Corrales having a son with Eddie Gutierrez, and why the movie title Cristina Moran is funny.
- It would’ve been nice to have known Mike D, JMe, and Butch more. Well, Charlene, too – but I’ve known her since the late 90s so I know how her crazy mind works already. Well, nowhere near mine.
- Draft in Greenbelt 2 is a great place to drink beer.
- I now know what free-range beef is. I have no idea why legumes are supposed to be bad, but I still eat them heartily. Meanwhile, I did not know chocolates were a gift from aliens.
- Dennis Trillo looks even better in person.
- New friends are always just around the corner. #sepanx as one of them said. Well, the workshop is done, but we’re not. I’m sure we’ll all get to hang out regardless. It’s always nice to have people to discuss writing and these things with; always stimulate the mind (and the gossip brain centers). Besides, we still have a June deadline. Nothing better than fellow writers to support you over a cup of coffee, tea, and cake.
Some other blog articles by Jessica Zafra about our workshop:
I recently watched “Slumber Party,” the Cinema One Originals / Origin8media / One Night Entertainment / Outpost film. Despite very minimal publicity, I was eagerly anticipating this comedy based on a viral trailer I saw on the internet. I also had high expectations because two of the studios have produced a lot of quality films in the past, including one of my favorite aswang movies (“Yanggaw,” Cinema One Originals) and one of the most hilarious movies in the history of ever (“Zombadings: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington,” Origin8media).
Now, while “Slumber Party” over-all was not so bad, one thing left a very sour note: that male rape was essentially played for laughs. After the fratboy-wannabe intruder was captured by the three protagonists during a sleepover, one of them (Archie Alemania) secretly went and forced a blow job upon the hogtied, struggling eighteen-year old (to his credit, actor Sef Cadayona effectively conveyed his helplessness, anger, and terror at being molested).
Moreover, towards the end, it almost happened again, with Markki Stroem being the near-perpetrator until he was caught by RK Bagatsing, resulting in a rather melodramatic sequence about the secret resentments of all three. You know, because never mind the boy who was almost raped for the second time within 24 hours. Priorities.
I tried my best to see what the filmmakers would do with this. I waited patiently if there would be some kind of payoff in the end – such as the perpetrators getting their just desserts, or at least a stronger acknowledgement of the implications of the incidents. While rape can be depicted in art, literature, and media, there needs to be meaning to it, a purpose. Rape is so sensitive a topic that it needs to be handled with care if it is to be used at all.
However: Nope. Not even a sorry from the perpetrators. In the context of the entire film, there was no purpose to it as it was glossed over and ignored.
Does this happen in real life? Of course it does. Men, women, gays, lesbians, trans – there have been rapes committed by members of these communities. It is not that we disallow the portrayal of a social reality, but what we do with such a portrayal is the question.
There is nothing funny about rape. Even worse, this film perpetuates the myth that male rape is “okay,” that because the victim is male then nothing is lost, that the victim may have even secretly enjoyed it. It doesn’t help in this case as the guy develops a mild case of Stockholm Syndrome with one of his captors, albeit the only one who doesn’t attempt to rape him.
And no, even if he is the intruder in the first place (which is of course still wrong, albeit a frat prank), it still doesn’t make it right. Rape as punishment is not right.
This is the kind of depiction of male rape that makes it even more difficult for male victims of abuse to come forward. That somehow, it’s nothing, that it’s just a funny thing, a rite of initiation, that it’s just a “macho thing,” that being raped is a sign of virility because all the women and the gays and the trans desire him, that he is an alpha god.
Let me ask you: if that scene had involved an eighteen-year old girl hogtied to a chair, and a straight man comes in to pull down her panties and molest her, and all this in the context of being played for laughs, how do you think people would react?
And yet, because it is a boy tied to that chair, probably a horny one for he is a teenager after all right, people actually thought it was hilarious.
It is a sexist double-standard that is unfair to both men and women.
Worse, this further demonizes the bakla as nothing more than a molester. Even if it is to the film’s credit that the third bakla is decidedly not so, when two-thirds of your primary beki protagonists are molesters, then you are not doing the community a favor. Instead, you are reinforcing the myth that all bekis are predatory.
The rest of the movie actually had its good parts. Sef Cadayona, Markki Stroem, and Nino Muhlach cameoing as a “gay auntie” were comparatively effective in their roles, whether on the comedy side or on the dramatic side. There were of course some internal logic and plot hole issues, such as – exactly what were the three bekis planning to do with their captive, keep him there forever? Medyo hindi napag-isipan ng tatlong sisteraka ang plano nila. Also, as a friend put it, the movie fell quickly into the stereotype of the “effeminate, transgender freak as the primary comic relief” (not to mention the most vile of them, having been the rapist).
“Slumber Party” could have been a great effort. The trailers and premise showed a lot of promise. There were a lot of nice scenes and heartwarming sequences. It could have been used as a vehicle to promote good LGBT cinema.
It is unfortunate that it had to be marred by an unwarranted rape scene played for comedy.
I cannot help but sometimes think there is a conspiracy against education. Whether here or in the USA, education is one of the first institutions that tend to take a hit when budget and planning come into play.
In the USA, it seems the budget for the war chest takes precedence over education (which is not surprising, I guess, considering how many enemies the USA has and how many war profiteers there are in that nation). In the Philippines, education keeps on getting budget cuts, straining state universities and causing a deterioration in quality schooling, while the pork barrel of unscrupulous politicians just keeps on growing.
It is as though we are at war against education, and our leaders want to raise morons. This, of course, may not be that far-fetched because a world full of idiots is easier to control and manipulate.
Recently, it was reported that – in the new K-12 educational system being rolled out for the Philippines – the Department of Education is looking to downscale Literature and Humanities in the curriculum. This is despite the fact that the K-12 program seeks to add two additional years to the basic education of Filipinos.
(Do not get me started on the uselessness of adding two years to basic education. At this point, quality, not quantity, is needed. All that we will accomplish with two years of additional schooling is that even more of our poor countrymen who have no means will end up not finishing school.)
Needless to say, the proposal to downscale Literature and Humanities was not met with open arms by writers, Literature teachers, and anyone who actually has brains. And why should we meet this with open arms? As the article notes, it is strange that while two more years are being added to basic education, Literature and Humanities are getting the shaft by being subtracted from the curriculum.
One of the more preposterous ideas is to collapse 21st Century Regional Literature into World Literature. One is the study of Philippine Lit in regional languages, while the other is the study of works from other nations. It would be akin to these DepEd idiots collapsing Chemistry and Biology into one subject (and not in the sense of a true Biochemistry course).
Now, while the value of Literature may not be as easily apparent in daily life as, say, basic Math or Grammar, the value is nonetheless significant.
Literature helps develop critical thinking in people. People need to read more and more, not less and less, especially in this day and age where Twitter and Facebook have become the norm in feeding us ideas not always filtered with intelligence or the sublime. Mind you, social media has its value, but it should not replace true education, especially when there is so much garbage that needs a critical mind to be filtered out by impressionable young people.
“There are magazines, too!” I hear naysayers cry. Right, because there is so much depth to learn from reading Cosmopolitan and FHM.
The fact remains that, without Literature, people will not learn to think critically as they could and will not understand more about the world around them in ways that Math, Science, or even History cannot provide. I say this as a person who holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and who is a self-professed Math nerd. These disciplines show us logic and teach us about the objective; Literature and the Humanities show us emotion and teach us how about the subjective.
Literature and the Arts are about humanity. These teach us to understand and learn the human experience from all around us – whether it be through the local experience, the national experience, or the global experience.
Devaluate Literature and the Arts, and you risk devaluating how we learn to be more human.