Friday, August 29, 2008

Podcast Focus: If You're Just Joining Us

Every Friday, I'll talk about a podcast or two that catches my fancy.

RSS Feed:
Description: Jon Armstrong conducts short (and edited!) interviews with various people in the writing industry--and not just fiction. Recently, he had a round with various Campbell nominees. Personally, I find If You're Just Joining Us to be easy listening and the right length for those people with busy schedules.

Top 10 Best-Sellers as of 2008/8/25

From USA Today's best-seller list (you can find out their basis here):

  1. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
  2. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  3. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
  4. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  5. The Shack by William P. Young
  6. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, Jeffrey Zaslow
  7. Playing for Pizza by John Grisham
  8. Night in Rodanthe by Nicholas Sparks
  9. You've Been Warned by James Patterson, Howard Roughan
  10. The Choice by Nicholas Sparks

Thursday, August 28, 2008

2008/8/28 Tabletop RPG Podcasts

Every Thursday, I post links to various podcasts that deals with tabletop RPGs.

Tabletop RPG (Mostly)

General Discussions/Reviews/Everything Else

Actual Play Sessions

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

September 2008 Interview Schedule

I think I've finally got the hang of doing regular interviews that I'm in one of those rare opportunities where I know a month ahead of time what my publishing schedule is going to be like. Anyway, you can look forward to the following interviews in September:

September 02, 2008 - Cat Rambo
September 09, 2008 - Ari Marmell
September 16, 2008 - Laird Barron
September 23, 2008 - Jesse Willis (SFF Audio)
September 30, 2008 - Mur Lafferty

3rd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards Special Feature: Interview with Erin Chupeco

Every Wednesday until August, I'll have a special feature on the 3rd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards.

Erin Chupeco placed third in last year's Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards fiction category. When not writing freelance here and there, she also sells crochet dolls.

Tell us something about yourself.

I'm a twenty-something year old Chinese girl who had just recently resigned in pursuit of more emotionally rewarding, though financially deprived pleasures. In other words - a starving artist.

How did you come up with the idea for your story?

I was riding the MRT during rush hour, right next to an extremely emaciated woman one day; as rude as I'm going to sound, she closely resembled a walking cadaver to me. I wondered then if she'd look any different if she was actually dead. And then I wondered how the people around her would react if she really WAS dead.

What was the most challenging part of the competition?

Actually finding the time to write the story. Being a full time corporate drone had its disadvantages, especially when your boss thinks he owns your soul. About a few days before the deadline, figured what the hell, called in sick, and speed-wrote the story in under two days.

What was the coolest moment you experienced when you won the Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards?

Nothing beats a kiss from Neil Gaiman. Or the little high you get at being told you've got the potential to be a good writer.

What advice can you give to those participating in this year's competition?

Entertain misgivings. Acknowledge that you might need improvement further down the road. Fuss and worry if your writing's going to be up to par with everyone else's.

But do it anyway.

Essay: How Do You Listen to Podcasts?

Every Wednesday, I have an essay on any topic that catches my fancy!

This might sound like a stupid question but how do you listen to podcasts? There are many things we take for granted but I usually find it helpful to analyze my own processes, including the "automatic" ones.

To start off, I started listening th podcasts several years ago--back before the term "podcast" caught on and I was still on dial-up Internet. Of course back then, I wasn't in a podcast-listening frenzy like I am now. There were two sites that I frequently visited for podcasts, The Agony Column for my fiction needs, and Mortality Radio for my gaming needs. I'd download the said mp3s then listen to them on my computer, usually playing Minesweeper or Solitaire to distract my other senses.

And then around a year ago, I arbitrarily decided to seek out other podcasts--specifically the RPG-related podcasts. (This gave birth to my weekly compilation of podcasts which is based on SF Signal's model of compiling news tidbits.) Now, I listen to dozens of podcasts every week, some five minutes long, others a whopping two-hour podcast. With my day job and all, I'd say it's impossible for me to listen to all of them and still be sitting in front of my computer.

So what's changed? Well, first off, I have an mp3 player (a Zen: Vision M for those who are curious). All the podcasts that I've downloaded gets uploaded to it (and I make the most out of its bookmarking feature--handy when you're listening to a 2-hour podcast and your daily commute is only 30 minutes). The second is that I walk to work which consumes 30 minutes on each trip. That's already five hours worth of podcast listening time even if I do nothing else.

Now here's the first thing I noticed about my podcast listening habits: I multitask when I listen to podcasts. Before I owned an mp3 player, I was already doing this--by playing games. Currently, it's part of my routine going to work. I don't think there's been any point in time (aside from "resting my eyes" or sleeping) wherein the only activity I was doing was listening to podcasts. And when I want to devote time to listen to podcasts, I find something else to do such as a) playing video games and turning the music off or b) transcribing texts.

For your approval, I think Greg van Eekhout best describes the experience: "Podcasting is the first time short fiction has been presented in a format that takes advantage of suburban sprawl and boring cubicle jobs."

Of course my caveat there is that it not only applies to short fiction but to everything else (I'm listening to gaming podcasts after all). Feel free to share your own experiences or refute this thesis.

Now the other topic I want to bring up is the order I listen to podcasts. Again, this starts to matter when you're listening to dozens of podcasts every week, not so much if you're subscribed to just one or two podcasts. Basically, I have four podcasting "piles":

Pile A are the podcasts I listen to immediately (or as soon as I find the chance to) once I download them. In the case of my own podcast downloads, these are usually the D&D-related podcasts, or an interview with a game designer or author I really really like. The other week for example, I immediately listened to Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing's interview with Nalo Hopkinson and Geoff Ryman because I enjoyed the latter's short story, "Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy)", and I needed to interview him for the Nebula Awards Blog.

Pile B are the podcasts I'll listen to eventually. I faithfully follow these podcasts, I just don't get to them immediately. For example, my current playlist includes podcasts I downloaded a month ago. As much as I love Rick Kleffel and The Agony Column, most of his podcasts fall under this category (the exceptions go to Pile A). The good news here is that I listen to each and every show. The bad news is that I'm not able to give timely feedback.

Pile C are the podcasts that I follow but I don't download each and every episode. With these podcasts, I'm selective as to what episodes I actually download. Some episodes might fall into Pile A. Some into Pile B. Some not at all. It varies on the content that they come up with.

For most people, there is no Pile D. But I want to categorize them anyway. For the most part, these are podcasts that keep track of but I don't download or listen to. This only comes up because of my weekly RPG podcast listing and my contributions to SFF Audio.

In a perfect world, I'd be listening to all the podcasts that I'm aware of but unfortunately, there's simply not enough time. And the fact of the matter is, I've had to drop excellent podcasts simply because I need to prioritize every else I'm doing. There's only so many things I can do when listening to podcasts: I can't write, I can't read, and I can't blog.

Still, I've managed to expand my knowledge and repertoire, converting what would otherwise be a monotonous task (i.e. working the photocopier at the office) into valuable "learning" time by listening to podcasts.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Plug: Dr. Julius T. Roundbottom

Justs discovered this site, Dr. Julius T. Roundbottom which is full of 'punk goodness. It's a multimedia treat as one gets fictional non-fiction, photos, and a great layout.

Feature: Interview with Samantha Henderson

Every Tuesday, I'll have a feature article posted.

Samantha Henderon's upcoming novel, which will be released on September 2, is Heaven's Bones: A Novel of the Mists. Her short fiction and poetry has appeared in several publications including Lone Star Stories, Ideomancer, Chizine, Helix, and Strange Horizons.

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, when did you know you wanted to be a writer/poet?

I started writing poetry very early on, and I still remember parts of the first science fiction story I wrote at the approximate age of ten: "Rhombus looked out into the dark void of space." Yes, my main character's name was Rhombus. I wrote on and off for years, but not really with the idea of publication. Then, some years back, I was meeting my husband at work and had some time to kill, so I stopped in a café on Sunset Boulevard in LA and they had shelves of old tattered SF books.* I read one out of boredom and it hit me -- I can do just as good as this. I can do better than this, and it would be fun to try. I don't think I've lost that excitement.

*It was also the first time I had a Peach Snapple.

How did you get your start in the industry? Looking at your bibliography, your first short story was in 1995 in Theater of Blood and your next story was in 2000. Why the huge gap?

Heh. Eldest daughter 1995, smallest daughter 1997, plus I was working management in a media tracking company. There are people who have the self-discipline to write regularly despite such a schedule; I'm not one of them. I wrote one or two stories over that time and kept notes on others, but didn't really try to submit anything.

When I started seriously submitting stories the market-landscape had changed from the last time I had looked at it -- far more online markets and also online market information. I stumbled across Ralan Conley's market site (, which has information that's updated much faster than annuals such as Writer's Market. I was lucky enough to have the first two stories I sent out -- to Strange Horizons and The Fortean Bureau -- accepted fairly quickly, which was very encouraging. Then of course it was ages before I got another acceptance and I realized it wasn't quite as easy as all that. This field is, I think, very welcoming to new writers, at least in short fiction -- there are so many markets now and a lot of places where a new writer can go to get market advice, writing advice, moral support, hooked up with critique groups, etc.

In the past few years, your output seems to be quite prolific! What's your writing schedule like? Do you come up with an idea first or does your story develop as you write?

I don't think of myself as all that prolific -- ideas tend to germinate -- or, perhaps, fester -- inside my head over a long time and then they sort of explode all over the place, giving the illusion of abundance. During the time I just didn't have the time to write I did get ideas and scribbled them down, so that when I finally starting writing long-reserved stories just spilled out.

I find I can be (or fake being) prolific when I have the discipline to write daily -- those are the kind of stories which tend to develop as I write -- I like Stephen King's metaphor of the process being like uncovering a mammoth skeleton: the story's there and you just need to uncover it.

So I suppose I both plod and spasm.

What are some of your favorite books and/or who are some of your favorite authors?

This changes depending on the day and my bad memory. Jane Austen, Elizabeth Bowen, Kipling, Graham Greene, Anne McCaffrey. PC Wren's Beau Geste trilogy (you've got to read them all), Dorothy Sayers, Anthony Trollope, Flann O'Brien. Books I tend to read over and over again (probably out of laziness) are Pride and Prejudice, Gaudy Night, The Woman Warrior, At the Mountains of Madness. But, as I said, it changes.

In some of your short stories, your writing seems to be influenced by fairy tales and myth. What's the appeal of such subject matter for you?

Probably it has to do with the fact that fairy tales and myths are usually the first stories we're told and we tend to imprint on them, and then remanufacture to suit our desires. I think my main interest in such material is what's going on at the periphery of the story, with characters one might think were minor. When I watch a film, I'm often interested more in one of the supporting characters than the main character -- I want to follow them home and see what they do. Or I want to know how minor characters deal with the wake of the main character's passing. The same with fairy tales -- I want to know what happened betwixt and between.

What can you tell us about your upcoming novel from Wizards of the Coast?

Heaven's Bones is a dark fantasy set for the most part in later Victorian England, about a doctor who goes off the deep end when his wife dies in childbirth. Unfortunately, his mental state leaves him open to a malevolent entity from an alternate world. There's a female physician, a psychic detective, a dead little girl, an angel lurking in the Underground and a truly psycho ante-bellum gynecologist.

How did you make the transition from writing short stories to a novel for a mainstream publisher? Did you have to pitch Heaven's Bones?

Cortney Marabetta, an editor at Wizards of the Coast, contacted me, having read some of my online work, and asked if I wanted to pitch WotC a dark fantasy set in the Victorian era. My mom mentioned to me that she felt that one of the most terrifying aspects of that time would be gynecological -- or, as I interpreted it, how women's bodies were regarded and treated medically. So I let my imagination run wind on that subject and ended up with a story idea they liked. My delivery date was pushed forward so I ended up having a grueling writing schedule for a while -- but I was given a lot of latitude about the subject and also how I presented the story, so it ended up being a lot of fun.

I read in your interview at The Fix that you suffer from dyslexia and ADD. How did you overcome this challenge? How did it help/affect you in your writing?

I was diagnosed later than kids usually are today -- but once it was diagnosed my family was able to deal with it fairly quickly. It probably helped that my mother was getting her teaching degree and was therefore better equipped to help me with it. My dyslexia isn't severe in that I don't have a problem reading -- although I sometimes get the order of words mixed up and have to puzzle it out -- but my spelling is and always will be horrendous. I try not to let anything go out without another person looking at it, and if I ever get cocky and do, it's a disaster. I'll get stuck on words sometimes -- I'll know it, I can say it aloud, but on paper (or more likely on screen) I won't even know what letter it starts with and I'll just have to guess and muscle through.

It's an advantage, I guess, in that it forces me sometimes to break words apart, or sentences apart, to understand them and make them work. And sometimes I misread things in an interesting way that gives me a story idea -- for example, reading "I love your face as "I lost your face."

What's the appeal of poetry for you?

Writing wise -- I think I use poetry as an emotional jumping-off point; in a way I'm able to access a "suddenness" when I write it, a kind of raw, unrefined, immediate gnosis about (what I feel to be) the essence of a trope or situation. Writing fiction is more rooted in artifice, and sometimes I can be too careful about it. As a result, I fear my poetry tends to be very rooted in my personal mythology and therefore sometimes hard to access, although one does try to supply the reader with a lexicon.

What's your opinion with regards to the markets of speculative fiction poetry and how it's being received by the public?

There are a lot of markets for speculative poetry right now, and I think mainstream poetry markets are open to it (especially if you don't call it speculative). I don't know how's it's received by the general public -- although most non-genre readers I talk to about it seem intrigued that there's such a genre of poetry. There's discussion -- sometimes heated -- going on in some parts of the community about the quality of speculative poetry, and I wonder if it's not unlike the pulp era of science fiction, when people were discovering the possibilities of the genre and were very excited about its themes but not always concerned about the craft. Which isn't to say, of course, that there isn't a lot of very finely crafted speculative poetry out there.

What's it like being the treasurer of the Science Fiction Poetry Association?

It's a living Hell on Earth.

Heh. Just kidding. (It is.)

But I will say it's fun to be in contact with so many of the people who are making poetry and helping just now to define the field.

Which is more difficult for you to write, short fiction or poetry?

Short fiction.

I can imagine writing poems on napkins but do you really write short stories on napkins as well? Do you still keep the stories once the stories are published?

There are these writers who have lovely neat notebooks with beautiful blocks of text, glossed like a medieval bible, with perhaps elegant doodles in the corner. I can't work like that; my notebooks are a mess because my brain attacks stories from a lot of directions. I write story ideas on napkins, and sometimes scraps of stories, and I usually don't keep them because they don't matter and it's important they don't matter, because I find that if I'm not concerned with them being good (at least at the idea stage) then I'm willing to take risks with them. I think that August Wilson said that he wrote on napkins because "it doesn't count," and he found that liberating. (Goes off to Google). Yup. August Wilson.

What's the coolest thing that's happened to you thanks to being a writer/poet? The strangest thing?

The coolest thing, I think, is when someone I don't know reads something I've written all the way through and enjoys it.* And it's strange and cool to be in the company of people who love to write, and who understand feeling wonderful and terrible at the same time about writing.

I suspect the strangest thing hasn't happened yet.

*Or doesn't hate it. I'm not picky.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

It all boils down to writing and submitting. Try to maintain a regular writing schedule -- everyday, twice a week, whatever, but do it and stick to it. Submit while writing and write while submitting. Don't get defensive about people's criticism; thank them for their time, consider if any of their points are valid, and move on. Don't be afraid to send your stories to big markets, well-paying markets, markets you think you'd never have a chance in.

Advice for aspiring poets?

Exactly the same.

Anything else you'd like to plug?

Eaten Alive Media is in the process of making a short film based on my 2007 Realms of Fantasy short story, "Bottles." It's a surreal process watching your work sifted through the number of creative screens involved in filmmaking. With luck, it'll be released later this year.

I have a signing at Mystery and Imagination Bookstore in Glendale, September 20 at 2pm --

Monday, August 25, 2008

Book Ordering Travails

Today's a holiday so I decided to pay a visit to Power Books and order some books I would normally not be able to obtain.

Normally, I print out on bond paper the book's title, its author/editor, and its 10-digit ISBN. I found the last part important because it can mean the difference between the bookstore ordering you Christine Freehan's Shadow Game instead of Glen Cook's Shadow Games (well, at least it was technically still "in the genre"). True enough, by the time I got to the customer service section, a couple was having problems with the book they ordered because it wasn't the one they wanted (the book's title was something as common as Rosary and the customer service people showed them an entire list of possible books).

Anyway, despite my list, the entire ordeal was a huge time sink. I spent around 45 minutes to an hour waiting for customer service to process my book orders. To be fair, there were a lot of people at the time (is that good news for the bookstore that they had lots of customers on a holiday?). However, my caveat there is that the last time I ordered books from them during my office lunch break, it wasn't any better (in fact, I returned to the bookstore after work because my 1-hour lunch break apparently wasn't enough time).

One source of the long wait time is the fact that I have to fill out forms for each and every book that I'm ordering. The search engine is computerized (they're using Ingram's ipage) but everything else is done by hand.

Anyway, here are some of the books I ordered and here's the feedback they gave me:
  • Magic in the Mirrorstone: Tales of Fantasy edited by Steve Berman. Apparently, the bookstore wouldn't let me order this book because they were getting their own copies. Now I appreciate customer service informing me that the bookstore is having their own shipment (thus making it cheaper when it's finally on the shelves) but it does not alleviate my concerns on whether the book will actually arrive. Also, it's uncommon for bookstores to stock "old" books. Magic in the Mirrorstone was released in February of this year. Technically, if they were getting this title, the book buyer theoretically would have ordered it either in late 2007 or early this year. Anyway, placed a reservation which was the only option they gave me.
  • Unwelcome Bodies by Jennifer Pelland. Yay, no hassles getting this book.
  • Worlds of Their Own edited by James Lowder. This book isn't going to be released until two weeks from now but I wanted to place my order because it's unlikely that the bookstore will be stocking books from Paizo (for the record, the bookstore has only one Paizo book--C. L. Moore's Black God's Kiss--and I don't think it's working out well for them). Anyway, the bookstore told me they couldn't acquire the title because the supplier (Ingram/ipage) didn't have it in stock. After more coaxing from the customer service lady, I discovered that I can try again in the future when the supplier might have more stocks.
  • One for Sorrow by Christopher Barzak. So far so good.
  • A Whisper of Blood: A Collection of Modern Vampire Stories edited by Ellen Datlow. Highly skeptical because this was a Barnes & Noble exclusive (by the way, this is actually two books in one, the Blood is Not Enough and A Whisper of Blood anthologies). Anyway, long story short, I need to find a friend or a relative who can actually order this book for me from the Barnes & Noble site... (I don't have a credit card.)
  • Heaven's Bones: A Novel of the Mists by Samantha Henderson. Another pre-order book but one more readily available.
  • Gratia Placenti: For the Sake of Pleasing edited by Jason B. Sizemore and Gill Ainsworth. Check.
  • The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia. Not that I haven't read this book but I want my own copy to loan to friends. Like Worlds of Their Own, the supplier is out of copies (so this is a "good problem" for Sedia because the book's been out for a few months now and apparently it's proving popular enough that the supplier runs out. Either that or the publisher isn't shipping out enough copies but hopefully it's the former.).
  • The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia. The supplier had a few copies available so yay for me.

Some Anecdotes

Fiction Anecdotes

My father isn't much of a reader so he tends to take things too literally. (Sarcasm and rhetoric for example are lost on him.) For example, my godparents bought me some books from a few years ago and one of the books I had them buy was Kelly Link's Magic for Beginners. When my dad saw the books arrive, he asked me if I was interested in doing magic...

(I just wonder what'll happen if they saw me reading Graham Joyce's How to Make Friends with Demons. Thankfully the church's pastor is more understanding...)

Gaming Anecdotes

I'm currently the GM of a 4E D&D game and last Saturday, I finally got to sick a Mindflayer (octopi enough for you?) on them and I managed to Dominate (mind control) the Elf Ranger. On his turn, I decided that he should throw one of his swords at the nearest player. Said Elf Ranger was wielding two weapons so he asked me which one he should throw. I decided that it was apt that his Berserker sword was the one hurled and lo and behold, when the player rolled his dice, it was a critical hit!

Now Elves in 4E have this racial ability to re-roll their attack rolls. While the other players were recovering from the laughter at their own hijinx, the Elf Ranger asked me if he could now use this particular ability. I prayed to the Elder Gods that they would look kindly on my newly dominated thrall and said yes. So the Elf Ranger re-rolls his attack with a +2 bonus and well, the dice lands another 20.

Book Review: Here, There Be Dragons by James A. Owens

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book reviews.

The first thing that comes to mind when I read Here, There Be Dragons is that it's dual-layered. On one hand, it's your typical young adult fantasy where the protagonists enter another realm and end up saving it (although Owens breaks convention by having a much older demographic as its heroes). On the other hand, more knowledgeable readers will catch various literary and mythical allusions that the author sprinkled into the story. This is very much a young adult book, especially since Owens dives into the action quickly and the narrative is sparse when it comes to descriptions and detail. The illustrations in the book are gorgeous and is a perfect fit for the black-and-white printing of this novel. One strength of Here, There Be Dragons is that it moves at a quick pace, the suspense is steady, and every chapter has an immediacy to it. A factor to take into consideration when reading this novel however is its target demographic so one shouldn't expect Robert Jordan-esque complexity in the text. However, older readers will probably get tickled by Owens's various references and the true identity of its main characters. The author also draws from fantasy conventions, whether it's the destined hero or its European-centric mythology, and personally I'm exhausted by this type of fantasy but Owens redeems the reading experience due to the depth of its characters who are more than just cardboard cut-outs. Overall, Here, There Be Dragons was quick and enjoyable as well as containing easter eggs for astute and well-read readers.

Rating: 3/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Plugs

It's another three-day weekend here in the Philippines but alas, I am actually most productive when I am in the office. In the meantime, here are some plugs:

Friday, August 22, 2008

Podcast Focus: Adventures in SciFi Publishing

Every Friday, I'll talk about a podcast or two that catches my fancy.

RSS Feed:
Description: Interested in interviews with sci-fi/fantasy authors? Adventures in SciFi Publishing is one of the consistent podcasts out that deliver just that. Two regular fans, Shaun and Sam, are the hosts of the podcasts and make for geeky listening.

Podcast Focus: Wapcaplets

Every Friday, I'll talk about a podcast or two that catches my fancy.

RSS Feed:
Description: Don't have time to listen to gaming podcasts? What's five to ten minutes of your time? Wapcaplets is quick and direct to the point as Chris Engler shares his opinions on the gaming industry.

Top 10 Best-Sellers as of 2008/8/18

From USA Today's best-seller list (you can find out their basis here):

  1. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
  2. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  3. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
  4. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, Jeffrey Zaslow
  5. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  6. The Shack by William P. Young
  7. Playing for Pizza by John Grisham
  8. The Obama Nation by Jerome R. Corsi
  9. Night in Rodanthe by Nicholas Sparks
  10. You've Been Warned by James Patterson, Howard Roughan

Thursday, August 21, 2008

2008/8/21 Tabletop RPG Podcasts

Every Thursday, I post links to various podcasts that deals with tabletop RPGs.

Tabletop RPG (Mostly)

General Discussions/Reviews/Everything Else

Actual Play Sessions
Video Podcasts

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wednesday Plugs

There's a typhoon named Karen in the city right now and I'm wet...

3rd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards Special Feature: Interview with Yvette Tan

Every Wednesday until August, I'll have a special feature on the 3rd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards.

Yvette Uy Tan is a prolific writer whose works (both fiction and non-fiction) have appeared in publications like Philippine Speculative Fiction, The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, Rogue Magazine, and numerous others. She has also won a few awards including the Palancas and the Graphic/Fiction Awards.

Tell us something about yourself.

I'm a media mercenary -- I'll write anything for anyone on any topic. I once said that I'd do everything except politcs but guess what? I just did my first political piece about two months ago and it was surprisingly well received. I love writing about my interests, which can be summed up as: music, movies, food, personalities, business and finance, and of course, horror. So yeah, I'll pretty much write about anything.

How did you come up with the idea for your story?

I have always wanted to write something about the Martial Law era, without going into the politics of things. I was the last of the Martial Law babies so even if I spent the seventies and early eighties in a cloud of confusion that often comes with childhood (my only memories of the EDSA Revolution are swiping some lechon kawali from the dishes that my family was sending the protesters and that a flying voter voted in my mom' stead during the snap elections), I do feel a weird, slightly detached kinship to the era, via Voltes V cartoons, late night checkpoints and remembering when fruit used to be expensive. We as a nation have, I believe, a love-hate relationship with the ex-President and his wife. My mother for example, is deathly scared of anything that has to do with the military because her father and elder brother was "invited" to Crame for a few months during Martial Law, yet she is a die hard fan of the Madame. It's juxtapositions like this that I attempt to capture in "The Bridge," which is a reworking of an urban legend I heard as a child. Strangely enough, everyone I've asked hasn't heard of this particular story, which makes me wonder if it was something that I really heard, or if it was something I actually dreamt.

What was the most challenging part of the competition?

Figuring out what to submit. I wasn't actually supposed to submit anything, but Luis suggested I submit "The Bridge," which was up for Vin's dragon anthology. I asked Vin for permission to send it in, he said yes, and I'm happy that it got noticed, and by Neil Gaiman no less! So I have Luis to thank, actually, and Vin, too.

What was the coolest moment you experienced when you won the Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards?

The coolest moment came after, when I realized that Neil himself had picked my story for 2nd place. Also when I was on stage and didn't know what to do, I suddenly felt hands pulling me into a hug and a kiss -- only to find that it was Neil! It's not everyday have the guy who got you through high school (I am proud to say that I was the first girl in my batch who got into Gaiman -- I even got my friends into him!) kisses you in public! Yes, this is a very girly gush-fest but hey, can anyone, male or female, come up with a story about Neil Gaman that doesn't involve any drooling of some sort?

What advice can you give to those participating in this year's competition?

Don't write to win.

Essay: The Dark Knight Pet Peeves on the Commentary

Every Wednesday, I have an essay on any topic that catches my fancy!

When I saw Iron Man a few months ago, I thought that this was one of the best comic adaptation movies ever. And then comes along The Dark Knight, arguably living up to the hype surrounding it. I'm a reactionary kind of guy so what I want to talk about are the comments and reviews on the film.

The first thing that bleeps in my annoyance meter is the line "for a superhero movie..." or "for a comic movie..." that "it wasn't one". As a comic book fan, I merely sigh at this mass ignorance. This reminds me of the plight of the Trekkie: it's only several decades down the line that the public acknowledge something Star Trek fans know--that William Shatner is funny and can actually act. Moving on to the various reviews and blog entries that make the claim that The Dark Knight isn't a superhero or comic book movie, anyone reading comics knows that the medium has done lots of wonderful stuff, even when restricted to the superhero sub-genre. Recent movies like Road to Perdition or V is for Vendetta have proven that comics (and comic book adaptations) have depth.

The problem I think is that the public equates superhero movies with action movies (and The Dark Knight isn't lacking in action sequences). They expect action and special effects to outshine every other element (that's not to say action movies don't have other elements such as drama, mystery, comedy, etc.) when that needn't be the case. Sure, comics might have titles like Art Spiegelman's Maus but when the characters in spandex appears, people start lowering their expectations. But superhero comics in recent years have strayed from the Adam West wham! bam! slam! formula and drifted into territory that's not four-color. Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns are hallmarks of the 80's but more recent titles I'd want to mention is Kurt Busiek's Astro City and Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis, both of which relies more on drama and characterization than the physical confrontation with their antagonists.

It also hasn't helped that we've had some horrible comic book movies over the past few decades. There are lots of parodies of the superhero genre but we have little that attempt to take the genre into new territory, which is precisely what The Dark Knight (or even Ang Lee's The Hulk, albeit less successfully) did. Whether this is due to an edict from Hollywood or simply a lack of eagerness to stray from formula I don't know. But ask any comic fan and I don't think they'll say that The Dark Knight wasn't a superhero movie. Rather, it was the movie we weren't expecting but felt we deserved all along.

My other pet peeve is how little praise Aaron Eckhart gets (there are a couple of other actors in the movie who similarly deserves credit such as Gary Oldman). Don't get me wrong, Heath Ledger was terrific in his role as the Joker (and easily beats Jack Nicholson or Mark Hamil--who have been the Jokers in my mind for the past decade). The problem with Joker however is that he's two-dimensional and while Ledger brought out the qualities that make us fear him (and there was even a forum post on how Joker can be this Lovecraftian agent of chaos), we don't manage to glimpse anything else. Now this isn't the fault of Ledger but the nature of the script. The actor worked with the cards dealt to him and he passed with flying colors. Eckhart as Harvey Dent, on the other hand, gives us a wider range of characterization. We get to see him at his highest as well as his lowest. In many ways, Eckhart carries the movie because it is his character that undergoes the most change. He is, in many ways, Job with Joker playing the role of the Devil (or God, depending on how you look at it).

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

GenCon 2008 Podcasts So Far

A preview of my weekly compilation of podcasts every Thursday...

Feature: Interview with Adrienne Kress

Every Tuesday, I'll have a feature article posted.

Adrienne Kress is a Canadian writer and actor. Her first novel is Alex and the Ironic Gentleman which was published by Weinstein Books. Her upcoming book is Timothy and the Dragon's Gate which will be released in January 2009.

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, what made you decide to start writing Alex and the Wigpowder Treasure/Alex and The Ironic Gentleman?

I was initially inspired to write Alex while I was living in London, UK, specifically when I was taking a weekend break in the town of Bath. I’ve always had something on the go writing wise – plays, and I’ve always wanted to write a cozy mystery, but I’ve learned I am not very good at writing cozy mysteries. But I had never considered writing a children’s book before. I’m not sure if it was Bath that made me want to write that kind of book, or just the getting away from the city and having a chance to think. But suddenly the decision to write a children’s book just sort of happened while I was there as I was doing a lot of walking and thinking and stuff.

I am a huge children’s lit buff, total Harry Potterphile, and wrote my thesis in my last year of high school English comparing Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. Let’s just say I have read many great books in the genre. And I suddenly thought to myself, “Well I bet I could write one of these books.” Not because it was easy, but because I knew the genre so well.

Well whatever inspired the initial decision, it was definitely Bath that inspired so many particular details about the book. The doorknob shop was based on a doorknob shop I passed on my walk, the bridge that Alex and her uncle live on is based on the bridge in Bath with all the shops on it (which in turn is based on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence Italy) and so on.

Then as I thought more about the structure of the novel, I decided that Alex was going to be a love letter, an homage, to all my favourite children’s books. So the first Act, up until Alex leaves on her adventure, I consider very Roald Dahl (to me the Daughters of the Founding Fathers’ Preservation Society totally typify the sort of grotesque characters he liked to write). Then Alex’s journey to Port Cullis is Alice in Wonderland, where she meets some interesting characters in a forest and has miniature adventures where she needs to solve problems before moving on. Lewis Carroll made fun of the world of his time in Alice, and I try to do something similar with this section. Lord Poppinjay, for example, is a composite of all the bosses I had as a temp. The third Act, Port Cullis and onwards, is Peter Pan, at least the part with the pirates. It also owes a lot to Treasure Island. There are other authors I reference as well throughout the book: the chapters all begin with “In which . . .” which is a reference to A A Milne for example.

I just really love these books, they were a huge influence on me growing up, and I kind of wanted to say thank you to them with Alex.

What were some of the difficulties in writing the novel and getting it published?

The biggest challenge for me was actually just finishing the book. I’d never completed a novel before. I’d written plays and short stories. But I’d begun over a dozen different novels that never got past the first twenty pages. I honestly can’t tell you what made me not give up on Alex. Maybe it was a clarity of vision, I knew exactly where I was going, what I was going to write about. Maybe it was having a lot of free time. But it was a struggle. The train sequence took a month to write. The end of the novel from the treasure hunt onwards I had left unfinished due to serious writer’s block even when I submitted my work to agents. I was under the impression I’d have weeks to get that part done, and the time pressure would be incentive to finish. Not so. THE NEXT DAY I heard from an agent requesting the full. I finished that last section in three days.

As for getting it published. I am the sort of author that really one should never hold up as any kind of demonstration of the norm. My journey to publication was very very easy and quick, and that is simply not how it normally happens. Being an actress, I was very familiar with all the work that goes in getting an agent alone, let alone getting the opportunity to share your work with the world. So I expected a lot of grief and heartache, rejection, and months and months of not getting anywhere.

But like I said above, the day after I submitted my package to agents, I got a request for a full. Three months later, I was offered representation. A month after that Scholastic made an offer to buy the book.

Thus my story is pretty dull, and kind of unfair when compared with the hard work of some other very talented authors. I have a friend who worked for a decade before getting her three book deal with Harper Collins. Not that I’m complaining! I feel very lucky that everything happened the way that it did. But no one should look at my story and think, “Oh well if it’s that quick to get published I’ll give it a go.” It’s just not like that. It’s really hard, and really emotionally draining, and you have to really be passionate about your work and writing to want to pursue it. There is nothing easy about the publishing industry.

The book plays around with the text in some of the scenes, such as the initial fencing duel of Alex, or the song-and-dance number later in the novel. What made you come up with these techniques? Will we see more of such stuff in future books/stories?

It probably comes from my working with scripts so much. To me it didn’t seem like a neat unique idea, just a way of communicating certain more complex actions. I’m definitely not the first person who’s played with text on a page in novels. The musical number was really just written out how it would look in a theatrical script. The fencing sequence is a little fancier version of what a fight choreographer might write in her blocking notes. I also enjoy using ellipses to demonstrate the passage of time.

. . .

. . .

like –

. . .

. . .


There isn’t quite as much play with text on the page in Timothy, but that was simply because it wasn’t needed in the story. However I am quite a fan of using words to create actual pictures, and not just pictures in your mind, so you can expect to see the technique throughout my work.

Was writing for a YA market a conscious choice or was Alex and the Wigpowder Treasure simply a result of your "natural voice"?

I think already answered most of this question when I detailed above why I chose to write Alex, so I’m going to go on a slight tangent instead with this answer about writing for the “YA market”.

I never intended to write for a certain market, but rather for people like me who enjoyed to read books that are supposedly intended for children. I know we need to define books into genres for organizational purposes, but I really don’t believe that books are only meant for one certain type of person. When people defend seeing an animated movie, for example, like this: “I know it’s a kid’s movie, but it was still a lot of fun”, I get quite frustrated. To me if I like the movie, then it is an “Adrienne” movie. It’s not “meant for someone else, and I happen to like it”. No. If I like the book, then it was a book I was meant to read. It suited my tastes and sense of humour or whatever.

And yes, I am not so naïve as to say that there isn’t technique required in writing for different ages, but I never set out to write for children. I set out to write those kinds of books that I love that happen to be written ALSO for children.

I worry a bit about the way we categorise things in the publishing industry, because it leads to generalizations and assumptions about entire genres. “Romance” has had a bad rap for years, and there was a recent NY Times article about the stigma attached with writing “YA”. Like I already said, I understand why there are categories, and I am not sure how else you could organize the fiction section in a store, but there are fantastic books for all ages spread throughout all the genres out there. And I think some people can miss out on some really great stuff because of a simple label.

What's the story between the two different titles of your book? Which is the title you murmur to yourself when you sleep?

Like with Harry Potter, the different publishers wanted titles they thought most marketable to their audiences. Alex and the Ironic Gentleman was the title I gave it and the North Americans liked. The UK went with Alex and the Wigpowder Treasure. Which I like just as much. But neither can compare with the German title: Die halsüberkopfundkragendramatischabenteuerliche Katastrophenexpedition der Alex Morningside.

How did Weinstein Books end up being your American publisher?

My agent is responsible for selling my book around the world. When it came to the American rights, I was fortunate enough for Alex to go to auction with four different publishers bidding. Weinstein Books were very passionate about the book. They also are a small company with a big name, and it was a perfect mix of individual attention and big time promotion. The people I spoke with were also very nice and cool and really seemed to understand what I was doing with the book. I’ve been really happy with them.

Who are some of your favorite authors or what are some of your favorite books?

I’m a big fan of children’s lit, so I will always recommend the classics, Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, the books of Roald Dahl. I also highly recommend The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster – it’s fairly well known, but not as much as some other children’s books out there. It is brilliant and so funny. I am a Harry Potterphile as well.

As for grown up books, well I am a huge Douglas Adams fan. I would recommend The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (and its sequels) to anyone and everyone.

Also, Shakespeare. Love Shakespeare. I get lines from Shakespeare struck in my head the same way people get songs.

Currently, which are you more actively pursuing: your acting or your writing career?

Neither. Or both. People never seem to believe me when I say that, but it’s the truth. Acting was never a hobby for me, it has been a passion of mine since I was very little. I crossed the ocean to study it. Been a drama major since I was 11. Writing has also been just as important, but I never thought it was possible for me to be published. It seemed beyond impossible so I really just wrote for myself and some plays that I could direct. Now that I know it is possible to be published, I am just as excited and passionate about it as the acting. Heck, if Stephen Fry can do it . . .

Does your acting experience help in your writing? Does it work vice versa? (Done any improv? Do you think you'll excel in a show such as Whose Line Is It Anyway?)

I definitely think acting helps with the writing. As an actor you spend a lot of time on character development, no matter how small the role. The more three dimensional a character can be for you to play, the easier it is. Also the more rewarding. That definitely seeps through into the writing world. Even the smallest of characters come to my mind fully formed with extensive back-story. That isn’t to say I have a JK Rowling like glossary of characters (that woman is awesome when it comes to detailed world/character building), but rather that for some reason in my head I already seem to know all about the characters I write. Some of the smallest characters in Alex are some of my favourites for how I know them that way.

Also having come from theatre, I see the scenes I write. I see a stage setting, and can place where everyone is in the scene, and where they move, what they are wearing. Having come from writing plays, where as a playwright you need to visualise the piece on a stage as you write it, this technique has really informed my novels. I think that is one of the reasons people often tell me it would make a good film or television series, because when writing it, I already see it in more theatrical terms.

And no, I would not excel in a show like Whose Line. That I am sure of. Comedic improvisation requires a whole set of skills and abilities that I am lacking. I have been on occasion (when forced to do such improv) an acceptable “straight man”, the person off of whom others tell jokes. The person who says “Who’s there?” after being told “Knock knock”. So if pressed I can handle myself in such a situation. But seriously, no. I wish I was, I love those kinds of shows. But . . . no.

Right now, which would you value more: an acting award or a writing award?

Again, what’s with the either/or situation? Both would be fantastic!

What has it been like touring conventions and promoting your book? Any anecdotes you'd like to share?

It’s been a lot of fun. I love meeting people, fellow authors, and especially readers. I’ve never really been on any sort of tour before, so to be flown to interesting cities and staying in some fabulous hotels has been a real treat. I have shared the stories of these events on my blog, in probably a bit too much detail, if people are interested in the nitty gritty.

As to any particular anecdotes . . . I suppose a really nice event was a panel in Austin, Texas that I was a part of with 8 other authors called “Not For Required Reading”. It was in a movie theatre where you could order food and drinks be brought right to you (yes that is very important to me), and consisted of the audience asking us some really silly questions. It was a very relaxed time and the event was standing room only (though I like to think it had all to do with me, I am pretty sure the fellow sitting two chairs down from me by the name of Sherman Alexie had more to do with it . . .). When we were going down the line introducing ourselves, someone suggested we read a bit from our books. Most of the authors had something ready, and I was totally shocked, having not prepared at all. So when they came to me I just said, “I didn’t realize we would be reading anything, so I thought I’d just flip open the book and read whatever bit I happen upon.” That got a lot of laughter, and then I did it! Very fun.

You currently have a writing gig at Hardcore Nerdity. Can you tell us how you got involved with them and what it's like?

Hardcore Nerdity is still in its infancy, having launched May 1 of this year. It’s a website devoted to all things nerd related – specifically genre. We cover everything, comics, movies, books, gaming. Everything. It’s really the pet project of Jonathan Llyr whom many will recognize as his former incarnation as an on air personality for Space the Imagination Station. He’s interviewed . . . everyone. And is truly the king of all geeks. He also happens to have been my director and producer of the Tempest Theatre Group which is where I met him.

It’s all about who you know baby.

But seriously, we bonded over our geekitude. And so I, along with the lovely (and soon to be published with Harper Collins author) Lesley Livingston, Rob Salem – television critic to the Toronto Star, Simon Evans, Casey Hudecki and a whole host of others have put together this awesome site. The main portion right now consists of a weekly podcast where John, Rob and Simon (and even occasionally yours truly) talk about the latest news in the geek world, followed by an interview from someone within it. Our inaugural podcast had John interviewing David Hayter, screenwriter for the first two X Men movies, who is now working on the much anticipated Watchmen film.

I am having a blast working on the site. I’m quite used to writing articles and reviews as I am a blogger in my own right and have no compunctions sharing my opinions. However I am a baby at interviewing people, so it’s been a steep learning curve. Of course John is a total veteran at it, so I am learning fast. It’s amazing doing interviews. Totally terrifying, but amazing.

Anything you can tell us about your upcoming book, Timothy and the Dragon's Gate? Will it be released simultaneously worldwide?

I always like to link people to my site where I have a very snazzy synopsis of Timothy all ready, so here:

But in brief, it’s a story about a boy called Timothy Freshwater who finds himself in charge of a dragon trapped as a human. His job is to free the dragon by returning him to China to pass through the Dragon’s Gate by a certain date. Adventures of course ensue, Timothy is pursued by some maniacal taxi cabs, a ninja, and of course the commander of the Chinese pirate Fleet of the Nine Dragons – led by the Man in the Beige Linen Suit. Halfway through the book his story merges with the end of the first book and he and Alex get to adventure together. So no worries for those who are keen to see her again.

Any advice or aspiring authors?

There is a whole host of advice out there on the web of how to get published and scambusters and all that, so I won’t go into that here. I guess from me, I would start by saying “write”. Don’t ask permission. Don’t worry if you don’t think you are good enough. Don’t worry if you think what you are writing is too dark or weird. Or not dark or weird enough. The first step in writing is . . . writing. Too often we get bogged down in the other stuff, the after the book is finished stuff. To finish a book in the first place has got to be the greatest challenge, and the most important.

Also . . . read. Read tons of stuff. Read your genre, and read everything else. Read the classical stuff, read the ultra modern stuff. Read graphic novels and plays. Read Dickens and Shakespeare. Read Harry Potter and James and the Giant Peach. Understand this world of literature you are participating in, understand that there are so many levels and games to play with as a writer.

And don’t get snobby. Don’t turn your nose down at any other genre, be it literary, SF, YA, Romance, etc. Respect the craftsmanship it takes to write in general, and understand that each genre comes with its own set of challenges and advantages. Open your mind and realize that even if you don’t like a book, it doesn’t necessarily mean the book is bad. And if it is truly bad, that there is still something to learn from that. Make your own decisions, and don’t follow trends.

I have tons of other more practical advice, about learning the rules and then forgetting them (as trite as that sounds, it is something I firmly believe in), about professionalism in the industry, and sucking it up and editing your “golden words”.

But the ones I listed here are the most important to me.

Be thoughtful.

Above all things, be thoughtful.

Who's your favorite actor/actress? Favorite muppet or cute furry animal?

I simply cannot tell you a single favourite actor/actress. There are so many that I adore. Recently though I did see The Dark Knight, and it totally confirmed my love for Gary Oldman – he is such a stunning actor, capable of disappearing into any role. So I guess I could list him. But honestly, there are simply too many to list. I am sorry.

The Muppet question is easy: Kermit. Without a doubt.

Anything else you'd like to plug?

Well Timothy comes out in January ’09, and Hardcore Nerdity ( is building momentum and hopefully we’ll have an official launch in the fall.

Alexcomes out in paperback next week in the States (August 5th), so keep your eyes open for that.

And for any of you folks in the UK, I have a very short story in the upcoming Scholastic charity anthology for the National Year of Reading, called Wow 366. It contains 366 short stories (one for each day of this year), each 366 words long. Mine is called “The Portal”. Here is the link for it:

I think that’s it for now. But if people want to keep up to date with my adventures, or lack thereof, they can visit my blog where I post frequently:

And my website: