Saturday, January 31, 2009

Reviewing the Philippines Free Press Fiction January 2009

The Philippines Free Press, a century-old weekly periodical, is one of the venues where local fiction gets published. Back in 2008, I was planning to read a lot of their fiction, but somehow along the way, I got sidetracked. So this week, I found a stall that actually sells the magazine on a regular basis (you'd be surprised that occasionally, it's really difficult to procure a copy) and decided to, well, actually review the stories featured.

The first issue for the year should have been January 3, 2009 but I couldn't find a copy then and I underwent surgery a few days later so that's not covered in January's summary.

January 10, 2009 - "Grace" by Eric Melendez: Melendez goes for a conventional domestic realism story here and shows that he's competent when it comes to the fundamentals. Everything is balanced here, whether it's the setting, the characterization, the descriptions, or the plot. Perhaps the highlight here is the juxtaposition of the events taking place at the neighbor's and that of the narrator. Even the ending is carefully crafted as to not be heavy-handed. Overall a good story although perhaps it's too vanilla for my tastes to stand out.

January 17, 2009 - "Penny Blacks in Storage" by Catherine Batac Walder: Walder starts out strong with a promise of excitement and mystery. There's a lot of good exposition here, enjoyable to read as it's fused with the conflict of the story. There are even interesting telling details, such as the woman who was robbed of her fake earrings more concerned with the fact that they were fake rather than being a victim of theft. Where it ultimately falters however is how one feels that the story is too contrived. For example, we have an educated and seemingly well-to-do protagonist who lives in what seems to be a slummy condo. Much of the mystery revolves around a woman named Deborah who, aside from being a foreigner, happens to eschew email in favor of handwritten letters. Then there's the villain, a Mr. Carangal, whose life story is conveniently narrated early on by the caretaker. There's an allusion to the mystery genre and the protagonist takes into consideration the "booboos in detective series" and unfortunately, Walder seems to commit those very mistakes. And don't even get me started with the conclusion. Walder has her moment of genius as far as technique goes since the ultimate culprit is never mentioned explicitly but rather someone Filipinos can infer. However, the proposition is preposterous and I wasn't convinced. That perhaps sums up what I felt wrong about the story: it's a pseudo-mystery that wasn't convincing, even when it came to the threats upon our protagonist.

January 24, 2009 - "Autos" by U. Eliserio: Honestly, this story lacks the fine polish that would have made it, well, excellent. Eliserio juggles several fancy ideas and there's a certain backbone to them but it's the details that falter. For example, there's the language and the inelegant repeat of the word buried in the same sentence: "With our house burned down and my mother buried, my father took me to our province, Iloilo, and buried himself in politics." Another example of the lack of elegance is the line "In college I met a girl, a woman, a lady, named Mildred." The use of what seems to be synonyms isn't justified in my opinion. There's also the inconsistency of pronouns. Whereas the narrator is consistently referred to as a he in the rest of the story, the author falters in one line: "But the mark of an adult is her discovery of a best friend for life." There's the lack of preparation for some reveals in the second to last paragraph that should have been present early on in the story, such as the fact that the protagonist is a hermaphrodite (which explains what seems to be an erroneous scene earlier). This seems like the perfect story to workshop as the flaws are clearly evident and if they were remedied, would have made this at the very least a story that stands out in a positive way. Eliserio after all does create a compelling character in the hermaphrodite pyromaniac who thrives in what can be best described as Philippine politics and culture.

January 31, 2009 - "The Puppy Years" by Nikki Alfar: This piece can be deceptive as while it's told from the point of view of the youngest child in the family, this is really the story of all the siblings. Where Alfar excels in is the characterization. Despite the D naming scheme (Dom, Denise, Dennis, Derek, Delphine), there's really not much confusion as each personality stands out. We know for example that Derek is the responsible older sibling (although he isn't without his flaws) and Denise is this bratty and vain woman. There's even a wondrous consistency going on with the narrator as she initially thought she was an adopted puppy and later on in the piece, this "monstrosity" recurs as she's forced to play the roles of Chewbacca or The Beast (from Beauty and the Beast). There are also lovely scenes which remind you of one's childhood and the second to the last scene was touching. Overall however, much like "Grace," this type of fiction really isn't my cup of tea and while it's certainly competent, isn't memorable.

Oh, and if you're looking for speculative fiction stories, none of these stories could be classified as such. "Penny Blacks in Storage" however was a mystery while "Autos" easily fits under the crime genre.

Friday, January 30, 2009

January 30, 2009 Links and Plugs

It's pay-day Friday! And Fully Booked now has a Greenbelt 5 branch...
Have some Poe:

RPG Musing: Traps and D&D

Every Friday, I'll toss an idea or two with regards to tabletop RPGs.

I've occasionally GM'd for both D&D 3.5 and 4th Edition and one element I don't often use is traps. Which is ironic I think because if we're just talking about the dungeon delve--you know, entering a dungeon and plundering everything in sight for loot--traps make the most logical sense. I mean here you are, entering a structure that's been abandoned for several centuries. There's only so many undead and constructs that the GM can throw at you. Traps seem like the perfect eternal defenders and let's face it, when we watch movies and we see our heroes enter an ancient ruin, the first thing we expect are traps! Nothing seems more cinematic.

In practice however, it takes a skillful GM to make traps exciting. For me, there are two problems that come to the fore when dealing with them. The first is that often, they become the Rogue's schtick. Have the Rogue roll Search followed by Disable Device (or Perception and Thievery in 4E). That's well and good for the Rogue--he or she gets some spotlight--but what about the rest of the players? (I'm not advocating that every scene should incorporate all the players but as much as possible, involving the entire group is highly encouraged.) The other problem is that it could give rise to the paranoid player syndrome, the type that searches every nook and cranny they run into, which can lead to a time sink (both in-game and during the actual session).

That's not to say it's not impossible to craft a trap-centric campaign. The Tomb of Horrors for example is one of those either you love it or you hate it modules. Personally, my issue with that module isn't that it's full of traps, but rather that the traps tend to be lethal in the "sudden death" sort of way. I mean why bother tracking down HP when the next thing you'll be running into is a Sphere of Annihilation? Still, Tomb of Horrors proves that a death-trap dungeon can work. If executed properly.

I think that's the real caveat. Anything can honestly work if executed properly. The real challenge is figuring out how to do that.

One of my favorite books from the D&D 3.5 era is Dungeonscape by Jason Bulmahn and Rich Burlew (yes, that Rich Burlew). Some of the material here got adapted for the 4E Dungeon Master's Guide but it's no replacement for the actual book in my opinion. There's an entire chapter on traps which was very informative. For example, it breaks down the various functions of traps (most GM's tend to only think traps serve only one or two functions):
  • Killing Intruders (Sphere of Annihilation, Finger of Death trap)
  • Softening Intruders (arrows, Fireball, etc.)
  • Gaining Combat Advantages (Kobolds and a room full of pressure plates which the Kobolds are too light to trigger)
  • Discouraging Pursuit (pit traps)
  • Testing Intruders (the infamous water-filling-a-room trap)
  • Ejecting Intruders (teleports)
  • Altering the Dungeonscape (mobile walls and suddenly-locking doors)
The book even has advice on when and where to place such traps. For example, it recommends the Killing Intruders traps should appear early on in the dungeon as that's when it's most useful (i.e. before it triggers the rest of the traps). It honestly seems anti-climatic if that sort of traps appears at the end of the dungeon, after all the hardships that PCs have endured to get there.

However, the big highlight for me is a short sidebar giving Five Encounter Trap Tips (I omitted the elaborations):
  • Get Everyone Involved.
  • Keep the PCs Engaged.
  • Provide Multiple Ways to Defeat the Trap.
  • Vary the Focus of Traps.
  • Make It Last.
I think the trick to making traps effective in the D&D campaign is following those five tips, with an emphasis on the first and third point. I'm not a big fan of the traps-are-only-the-Rogue's-shtick and Dungeonscape opened up possibilities (there are more concise examples in the book). One example of such an encounter is the short adventure at the back of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide. There's a couple of combats wherein traps are involved but I think one that needs to be highlighted is the Indiana Jones boulder that follows a path while you're being peppered with slings (with glue!) by Kobolds.

It's even possible to come up with cool encounters that's entirely composed of traps. Imagine a room wherein the walls are closing in (PCs can make a Strength check to delay the walls while somebody looks for the main mechanism and disable it permanently) while saws pop out of the ground, moving in a predictable if inconvenient pattern. Or maybe the PCs enter a room where there's large gargoyle heads in each corner and once they reach the center of the room, a portcullis drops and the gargoyle heads start filling the area with water. Of course those who approach the gargoyle head might be in for a surprise when they randomly spit out acid... Throw in a couple of other elements such as the exit being a sentient door that asks a riddle (or simply a physical challenge to overcome as it fights back) or spike traps that emerge in random locations.

Top 10 Best-Sellers as of 2009/1/25

From USA Today's best-seller list (you can find out their basis here):
  1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney
  2. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
  3. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
  4. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  5. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  6. The Shack by William P. Young
  7. Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama
  8. The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
  9. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
  10. Suze Orman's 2009 Action Plan by Suze Orman

Zombies are Eco Friendly

Order of the Stick the T-Shirt here.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

January 29, 2009 Links and Plugs

Much stuff to do...
Here's something for the horror fans:

New Dark Voices 2 edited by Brian Keene

2009/01/29 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

I'm Now Officially an RPG Reviewer

Martial Power review over at Game Cryer.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

January 28, 2009 Links and Plugs

The sky is falling! Not.
Here's a novel for fans of Magic: The Gathering:

Agents of Artifice by Ari Marmell

Essay: Strange Queries

Every Wednesday, I'll have an essay or a feature on any topic that catches my fancy!

I'm an editorial assistant for a publications company at my day job (which, surprisingly enough, isn't really any different from what I was doing in high school as the news editor of the school paper, or right now with some of the websites--including this blog--that I'm working with)andas can be expected, I have my fair share of weird stories. And when I say weird, that's really my euphemism for saying those asking questions should know better.

For example, one of the books we produce is the annual The Philippines Yearbook. Suffice to say, the actual content changes every year that I can't really describe it as a whole other than the fact that it has a revolving theme and concept. Last year for example, we featured the country's prominent and upcoming visual artists, including not only a full-color photograph bleed of the said personality but a short write-up and some sample work. Think of it as your college yearbook except snazzier. The year before, on the other hand, we featured various recognized and unrecognized destination spots in the country and that had a more Lonely Planet feel to it, whether in the writing or in the layout. It definitely had a more informative bent to it.

What's consistent with the book however is that it has ads. Lots of it. In fact, The Philippines Yearbook in certain ways resembles a magazine more than most people's concept of a "book." Now one of the random queries I got--a phone call from a student doing research--is whether we consider ourselves a book because we have ads. Now to me, a book is a flexible medium and the only restrictions you have is the physical form: Cover? Check. Spine? Check. Pages? Check. Anything else is up for grabs.

I mean honestly, your reason that a book isn't a book because it has ads? Have you never picked up a paperback? Lots of books have ads in them. Usually advertising the other books of the publisher. Some even have mail-order forms, subscription forms, surveys, etc. The contents of a book is whatever you make of it. If your condition that a book isn't a book because it has ads, well, what about all those paperback books? Or maybe you want some empirical method, that a book is only a book if the ads make up less than 10% of its contents?

Or let's do the reverse. Is a magazine a magazine if it doesn't have any ads? Of course it's still a magazine. It's the form that dictates it, from the cover to the type of binding used. Reader's Digest for example will never be a book even if you strip away all the ads.

Now part two of this blog entry deals with a recent email. Basically, here's the gist of the email:
"Hello my friend! I'm from -insert country here- and I'm a big fan of fantasy but such titles are rare here. I read your post about receiving PDFs for review and I'm a fan of -insert midlist author here- so I was hoping you could send me PDFs of the author's books to review."
Here, verbatim, was my response:

Reviewers themselves aren't supposed to give out copies of other people's work. We don't have that authority and doing so is piracy.

If you want to review them, it's best you contact either

a) the publisher
b) the publicist
c) the author

Thanks and good luck finding copies of -insert author's name- books"
Now allow me to elaborate.

I like PDFs. They make life easier--at least for me (especially considering I'm in Southeast Asia and many of the publishers I like to read are based in the United States or Europe). In fact, it makes life a little bit too easy that spreading books around is as easy as copy and pasting.

Except it's not ethical to do so. Especially not review copies which the publisher has a note effectively saying "do not distribute."

Now if you're an aspiring book reviewer, sure, you can approach other book reviewers for tips or how to go about soliciting books from publishers/publicists/authors. But never ask fellow book reviewers to send you PDF copies of books. Simply put, they don't have the authority to do so. And why would they? They're not getting paid to promote the author. There's an entire department for that from the publisher. And they certainly don't represent the author. Worse, if they actually do so, they're infringing on the rights of the author and the publisher.

You don't approach a magazine or broadsheet and tell them "hey, send me the books you featured in your publication so I can review them on my website." That's honestly a ridiculous proposition. And that's definitely a different statement from "hey, send me books so I can review them for your publication."

Guys and gals, please do your research rather than settling for the first thing that shows up at Google. Again, a good chance to start with are the publishers themselves. Most have websites and they have their contact information listed there. Try to get in touch with their marketing department (usually but not always the publicists). Another approach is to contact the authors themselves. And if you're really having trouble finding their contact numbers, then presumably you can ask fellow book reviewers to help you out in finding them. This isn't rocket science people.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Story Philippines/Philippine Genre Stories Collaboration

The Filipino-Chinese Xaverian publishers have teamed up! From The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories:
I had the opportunity to speak with Jade Bernas, the publisher of Story Philippines, a few times over the last couple of months; it's always good to meet old friends. He had the idea of collaborating on one special, experimental fiction issue, a Story Philippines/Digest of Philippine Genre Stories collaboration. Jade always has good ideas.

So in light of that, this post is a special call for submissions for stories for that special issue. Whatever guidelines you know from Story Philippines or from PGS apply, the only difference being that Jade and I will be bringing our sensibilities together as publishers, editors, and most importantly, as readers, to this project. Simply put, we're looking for good stories, stories that work (wait, don't we always? ;P). Disregard whatever restrictions/perceptions you have of our publications for this special issue, and just send in the story you want to write. We're looking to fill 6-8 slots in the Table Of Contents.

We're going to try and bring the best of our publications together. All pending submissions to each of our publications will be considered, but we would also like to invite new submissions. Deadline is February 28, 2009. If you have any questions, just leave a comment here, or send an email to pdofsf(at)yahoo(dot)com. Please send all submissions also to that email address (subject: Submission, Story/PGS, "Story Title").

My Email Interview Process Part 1

Hitting the send button before I lose the courage to ask -insert author/editor/publisher/artist/publicist/blogger's name here-

January 27, 2009 Links and Plugs

Awards, awards, awards...
And since I was ill the other week, here's something for you:

Contagious by Scott Sigler

Interview: Nick Mamatas

Every Tuesday, I'll have an interview posted.

Nick Mamatas is the author of the Lovecraftian Beat road novel Move Under Ground, which was nominated for both the Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild awards, the Civil War ghost story Northern Gothic, also a Stoker nominee, the suburban nighmare novel Under My Roof, and over thirty short stories and hundreds of articles (some of which were collected in 3000 Miles Per Hour in Every Direction at Once).

His latest book is You Might Sleep...

First off, when did you know you wanted to become a writer/editor?

I still don't know that I want to be a writer/editor. I suppose my ambition is to be a former writer, sort of like Harper Lee. I want a book that will be a perennial backlist seller.

I decided to become a writer and an editor after spending a couple of years working in film (as a best boy and then a gaffer) and video production (video engineer, camera op, floor manager). Like anything else freelance, it was feast or famine, but "deferred pay" was especially common in independent film, as was working for trust fund snots and crooks. I also didn't like getting up at 3AM to make pre-sunrise calls to the sets. Writing seemed like a good way to work from home, so I figured I'd give it a whirl. Editing was just an extension of that.

With regards to your writing, you have a lot of nonfiction out there. What made you decide to pursue fiction writing? Which is more "natural" or easier for you?

Well, sure. Non-fiction pays better and there is far more demand for it. If one wishes to reach an audience with ideas or facts, reportage and essays are where it's at. I've been paid more for many of my articles than some writers are paid for entire novels. My main interest in fiction is the short story, which is entirely different, of course; it hardly pays at all and nobody reads short stories. I do find fiction more exhausting, and did have to train myself a bit more for it, but that's likely only because I started off with non-fiction and then decided to try fiction. I write fiction and non-fiction in the same way: mental composition of the first paragraph, some time in an induced hypnagogic state, then physical typing. The fiction is still more tiring though, so I cannot do it as often.

What is it about short fiction that appeals to you? And is it limited to horror, fantasy, etc.?

As a reader it is the joy of the completed action. One gets the whole reading experience in a single go, like eating a meal or watching a film or engaging in a wrestling match. I like the economy of a short story. They are as long as they need be. Compare this to novels, especially in genre fiction, where length is largely dictated by production costs, shipping, and the depth of spinner racks in airport bookstores. Most novels are 20,000 words of novel and 60-80,000 words worth of characters raising their eyebrows, having sex with one another, opening and closing doors, traveling, or contemplating the actually important 20,000 words.

The special appeal of short fiction is certainly not limited to horror or fantasy, though I would say that horror only exists in the short form. There is no such thing as a horror novel, just novels of other sorts (SF, domestic melodrama) containing episodes of horror or horrific themes. I read everything and dabble in writing other genres; I've done a couple realist pieces, non-fantastical comical stories, and several pornographic stories for example.

As a writer, short stories are especially suited to the hypnagogic method I mentioned. (This is part of why my own novels are quite short.)

Since you brought up your novels, how different is your approach/preparation with novels as opposed to your short stories?

It's the same, except I just write exactly one chapter, as if it were a short story, each sitting. Because it's tiring, I often take time off right after the end of the first act, and go back to doing other things. Generally stuff that pays off more quickly.

I know there's some anthologies in your queue right now but what aside from those, any novels/short stories you're currently working on?

Well, I wrote a novel called SENSATION in the spring, for school. (At this point, I don't generally finish books unless there is a contract, so this novel is unusual.) A chapter of it will be appearing as a short story fairly soon, I suspect. I'm also working on a novel about a Hunter S. Thompson-like journalist encountering Lovecraftian horrors during the New Hampshire primary with Brian Keene. It's called THE DAMNED HIGHWAY.

I have a mess of short stories running around, as usual. I sold one called "That of Which We Speak When We Speak of the Unspeakable", a Carver/Lovecraft mash-up, to LOVECRAFT UNBOUND (Ellen Datlow, ed.) and wrote one last Sunday about how much I miss living near Cambridge, Mass. Other than that, I'm fairly superstitious about talking about what I am "working on", since I rarely spend any time working on anything. When I have the time to do so, it just gets done.

Let's move on to more of your fiction editing. You used to be the editor for Clarkesworld Magazine. In your opinion, what made you a good fit for that publication?

I have exceptionally good taste and have been online since 1989, so I know how to attract an audience quickly. I also had experience with other magazines and with publishing generally on a number of levels. Too many online magazines have as their model little more than this: "Put up a bunch of stories I like, and then have nobody read anything but the submissions guidelines page." Our idea was to get stories that pulled readers in, stories that would make people email their friends or blog about the magazine. Seems to have worked very well.

I also had, at the time, a fair amount of spare time, so we didn't have to use form rejection letters. This added value to the magazine in several ways, including getting us submissions from folks we wouldn't have received otherwise, and creating a fun spectacle of the occasional tyro writer flipping out at me that indirectly increased readership.

What was your stance/goals as an editor? I remember listening to a recording of SF in SF where you mentioned you were more like this Wrestlemania personality who could make anyone a champion.

Heh, I was speaking more generally than all that, but the point stands. I'm not a selector, I'm an editor. It's not that I chose poor stories and made them good via editing, it is that I acquired stories with greatness in them, and then helped the authors remove the parts that weren't great, or that interfered with greatness. A number of the stories I published were acquired only after a draft or three, some others just needed a few paragraphs sliced off, or even a single name changed. A lot of the junk inside stories seemed to come from writer's groups and the foolish demand to "explain" things. Really, if a writer writes a story and another writer points to some element and says, "I didn't get this; could you explain it more," generally the better move is just to excise the confusing or ambiguous element entirely rather than plop in some babble to make it comprehensible to the five people who are reading the story only so that their own stories can be read in turn.

The SF in SF remark was part of a conversation about what editors do, and the notion that editors these days simply shift through submissions and buy what strikes them without really working on the story. Of course, editors these days are generally presiding over sinking ships too. I think there is a connection between the two. I was pleased to see when working with Ellen Datlow on our anthology HAUNTED LEGENDS that she edits for content like I do (except, of course, she is better at it). To depend simply on what happens to come in over the transom and then just hope it adds up to a magazine or anthology is a recipe for mediocrity as far as I can tell.

In line with what you said, what advice do you have for aspiring writers who submit to the slush pile? And to the editors who edit them?

Write a story that is something other than an instance of the genre in which you are writing. That's what the slush piles are full of: top-of-mind exercises in "ghost story" or "space opera" or "high fantasy." Nobody cares. There are already plenty of stories just like that; anyone who wants to read them only need go to a library to read fifty years, or, hell, two thousand years, of the same material. You have to write something that makes you stand out.

I suspect that right now someone is asking, "Well, how do I stand out?" That's a question without a general answer, because the key term in it isn't "stand out." It's "I." Standing out is a matter of radical subjectivity.

As far the currently seated editors, I have no advice. For those who would like to be editors, I do have some advice, but it isn't about the slushpile. Basically, get experience in publishing outside of the field. If one tries to derive some general theory of how publishing works by only looking at SF or even fiction publishing (whether periodicals, online, books), one will surely come to a number of silly conclusions. Every week, for example, I hear someone fume about how difficult it is to get an audience to pay for content. You really have to be a goddamned nitwit to think that consumers directly paying for content is the only useful or extant model for periodical publication at this point in history. Free newspapers and magazines litter the corners of every large and medium-sized city in the United States, and in most other countries I've been to as well. This has been so for decades.

Another thing for the would-be editor to contemplate: readers are more important than writers, and they are certainly more important than the writers you aren't even working with. I've seen a lot of energy wasted on things like making sure that every single writer's bulletin board or website is updated with each editorial ah-choo and field trip, while the actual magazine is delayed or shoddy. The end goal of a magazine has to be the pleasure of the reader, not the esteem of the ol' gang of writers.

How did you get your start as an editor?

I wrote a fellow named Sander Hicks a letter because on his website he had an essay about being expelled from a political group, the International Socialist Organization. I too had left the same organization for broadly similar reasons and wanted to share an anecdote. He owned a small publisher, Soft Skull Press, that primarily published the poetry of indie rock stars, but he wanted to branch out into politics. He had a book he was having trouble editing, and a political book I worked on with a friend, KWANGJU DIARY, had just been released. A few days later, he hired me to edit the book, SAVING PRIVATE POWER, by Mickey Z. (Incidentally, Hicks no longer owns Soft Skull Press. It's been sold twice since then, and is now an imprint of Counterpoint.)

From there, I bopped around, doing freelance editing and copywriting (cover flaps, tip sheets, press releases) for publishers of all sorts. The boom started and content was king, so I dove into Silicon Alley and did all sorts of projects for both old and new media venues—Silicon Alley Reporter, and Disinformation Books, ArtByte,, the Village Voice back when it had the "Machine Age" section, etc etc ad boring-ium.

I got involved in editing fantasy in 2003, after Sean Wallace asked if I had any projects for his fledgling Prime Books. He approached me after seeing some of my posts in the Horror Writers Association board, in which I dissected the vanity model of Publish America, which had bamboozled several members into believing that PA was just like any other independent press.

With regards to editing fiction, what it's like collaborating with other editors, such as with Ellen Datlow in the upcoming Haunted Legends, or with Jay Lake in the recently released Spicy Slipstream Stories?

It's fine. It's like any other project, isn't it? Everything's a collaboration, though normally the pace and type of collaboration in a workplace is dictated by bosses for their own ends. In the case of anthologies though, the "boss"—a publisher—is a distant thing, like a far-off general administrating a forgotten war. So we come up with our own division of labor and chat a lot and occasionally say, "Ooh, I thought you were gonna do that!"

Working with Ellen Datlow is fun because she knows everybody in the world. No need to beg for stories then, eh?

What's the division of labor like then? Like in order for a story to get included, do both of you have to like the story?

Well, in each case we had a "magic button." That is, generally we'd have to agree, but if someone liked a story well enough they could press the magic button and get it in over even the most vociferous objections of the other editor. This is important because often the best stories generate both great love and great hate. Attempting to satisfy everyone in a small group can lead to a blunting of strong opinions, and ultimately an anthology that meets some minimum level of quality without actually being exciting or even especially interesting.

That said, I don't think anyone ever pressed the magic button, but knowing that it existed was enough, I think.

What is your current position and duties at VIZ?

I am the editor of Tradebooks, which means I am responsible for editing non-manga titles. My main areas are the new imprint of Japanese science fiction, fantasy and horror, which we are calling Haikasoru, and books associated with Studio Ghibli films. Plus, other projects as they come. Can't say too much about Haikasoru yet, but by the time this interview sees print, VIZ will have announced several titles and such. I just saw the completed catalog this morning [the morning of December 1, 2008], in fact.

In your opinion, how has the Internet changed the industry?

Publishing? Lots of ways, I suppose. Too many to list: counts, so does Bookscan, which provides numbers just inaccurate enough to allow anyone in publishing to justify any decision he or she might like to make. Online content is vital, of course, and newspapers are having to adapt very quickly to the changing ad environment created by Craigslist and other such classifieds sites.

Or did you mean the peculiar subset of publishing that is SF? Sure, changes there too. Podcasts and blogging and online magazines and whatnot. Perhaps what is more interesting is what hasn't changed--short fiction is still a minority interest, most books exist simply because their authors were good at meeting deadlines and can write at some minimal level of competency, and readers simultaneously bray about every minor imperfection and infelicity while continuing to buy every product the publishing industry extrudes thus demonstrating that their complaints mean nothing.

Anything you want to plug?

I have a collection from Wildside called YOU MIGHT SLEEP... It contains several new stories, including a novella called "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son." The introduction has a bit more about the futility of publishing short story collections at this point in publishing history as well.

Monday, January 26, 2009

January 26, 2009 Links and Plugs

It's the Year of the Ox!
And here's an interesting 'zine:
Dead Reckonings No. 4: A Review Magazine for the Horror Field edited by S. T. Joshi and Jack Madison Haringa

Book/Magazine Review: The Beyond by Jeffrey Ford

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

The Beyond is a bigger departure from the previous novels of the Well-Built City trilogy, especially when compared to Physiognomy. Clearly the author was attempting different styles and approaches to the books. In this novel, we have a juxtaposition between two points of view, one of which follows a flow that is best described as fractured time. It's the latter that I have a complaint with as at times, it can be dragging. However, it also captures the frustration of the character and the monotony of his exploration. On the positive side, we have tender moments such as that of a man and his dog, perhaps more successful than Richard Matheson's I Am Legend.

The other point of view, which significantly shorter, was what I found compelling and serves as an excellent backdrop for the other elements in the book. As usual, Fords uses his sleight of hand and we're not really sure whether the events that transpired actually did happen. It is this duality in the series that has remained consistent, more so in this novel than in the previous ones.

The conclusion is to be lauded and this is where The Beyond truly shines. Ford leaves enough hints for the readers to decide, empowering them through his masterful craft of storytelling. Those who followed the series so far will definitely be surprised by the styles that the author explores but it can be rewarding especially if you're tired of formula. Fans of Ford also witness his slow evolution and much like the other novels in the Well-Built City trilogy, one can spot the seeds of his future short stories and novels. Not by any means a polished Ford but The Beyond is well worth the read.

Book/Magazine Review: Memoranda by Jeffrey Ford

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

This isn't the first time that I read Memoranda and yet rereading it is suitably apt as you can surmise from the title, a recurring theme in the novel deals with memory. This is the second book in the Well-Built City trilogy of Jeffrey Ford and having read the previous novel adds layers in one's understanding of the events but by no means is it a requirement. In fact, my first reading of Memoranda was months after I had read The Physiognomy and I did miss out on some of those details. Did it affect the overall narrative? Not really but such details reveal the author's care and preciseness.

Most of Memoranda has a duality to it that makes it complex and layered. Claiming that this is The Empire Strikes Back of the trilogy is an all-too easy simplification. Ford in this novel aims for something less straightforward than The Physiognomy but at the same time, it still has that frontier adventure atmosphere. Our protagonist is still out on a journey, attempting to solve the problems he comes across. There's less of a steampunk atmosphere here and more of the bizarre as our hero enters the dreamscape of his nemesis. Astute Ford fans will notice how the author will mine some of the ideas he develops here in the future. For example, there's a brief parallel foray into Reparata, the setting of one of Ford's short stories. Fans of Ford's The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque might also imagine this is the sandbox where the author hones his craft at magic realism.

For the most part, the book relies on sympathizing with the main character although I'm not absolutely invested in him. Perhaps it's due to those moments of self-pity that tend to drag a bit too long, especially towards the latter part. Still, this was a fascinating and enjoyable read, and the book seems to be the melting pot for adventure fantasy and surrealism. Again, memory seems a suitable subject for such a topic and Memoranda is quite ambitious in that sense. The book still has some rough edges but nonetheless a good book.

Book/Magazine Review: The Physiognomy by Jeffrey Ford

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

The Physiognomy isn't one of those thick, epic fantasy novels yet there is something massive about the book. Perhaps what anchors the reader is the way Jeffrey Ford uses one central character to narrate his story. Cley is a physiognomist and that premise in itself tells us so much about the world and the cosmology. The author definitely mines the concept of "what if a person's personality can be determined by their facial features?" and a lesser writer would simply stop there and perhaps compose a short story or even a novelette. Ford however probes deeply into this belief and expands upon it like an ambitious science fiction novel: what kind of society gives rise to a science like physiognomy?

While the high concept might intimidate readers, nothing can be further from the reality. Again, Ford grounds his narrative on character and it's easy to catch up on the action and events that take place. There's a lot of Steampunk-ish elements in the book, from clockwork jailers to token-powered babies that appear fresh and lend it an atmosphere of the New Weird. But beyond this spectacle and eyecandy there's a compelling narrative behind it and The Physiognomy is definitely Cley's personal story.

My complaints with the book is that it's not as tight as it could be (although the succeeding Ford novels show that he's improved). The first half of the book has an upbeat pace while there's a definite halt to the action somewhere in the middle. The menagerie of weird creatures doesn't cease however and Ford continues to fascinate us with fabricated horrors.

For me, rereading this book was interesting because in many ways, it's territory Ford doesn't cover much as of late. This is his version of an epic fantasy, one filled with adventure and discovery. His more recent novels save for The Girl in the Glass have a more literary bent with a definite slower place and a focus on language. The Physiognomy is where Ford is an unabashed fan of exploration and action while retaining his own unique style.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Happy Chinese New Year!

Off to bed soon. Just wanted to greet everyone a Happy Chinese New Year!

2009 Speculative Fiction Anthologies?

I'm a big fan of anthologies (original and reprint) and last year, a good bulk of my reading and reviews were on such books.

Last year, Jonathan Strahan made a list of anthologies to be published in 2008. I thought for 2009, I'd make a list of my own (although it includes reprint anthologies which Strahan doesn't include--mainly because he created the database to help him with his "Best Of" anthology).

Anyway, here's what I managed to gather so far. Feel free to add or edit or link to the database (either in the Google Docs or in the Comments section).

Friday, January 23, 2009

January 23, 2009 Links and Plugs

I have a splitting migraine so I'll make this quick:
And here's a book I'm still trying to save up money for:

The Best of Michael Swanwick by Michael Swanwick

RPG Musings: RPG Podcast Networks

Every Friday, I'll toss an idea or two with regards to tabletop RPGs.

You'd think I'd stop talking about gaming podcasts but here I am again.

When I started listening to tabletop RPG podcasts in 2007, there were just two podcast networks to turn to: and Goblin: The Gaming Broadcast Network. You wanted to be part of the first one because it aggregates all the RPG-related podcasts and well, the latter was the only other network in town.

2008 (and early 2009) however saw the birth of several new gaming podcast networks (to say nothing of the RPG Bloggers) in addition to the number of podcasts that have were created and podfaded. Some of these networks were already in existence, merely formalizing its official status. Others, on the other hand, were seemingly disparate shows and decided hey, let's team-up!

I want to ask though, what's the value of such networks? Is it like a Christmas basket, where fans might get a selection of pre-selected shows? Or is it simply a badge of some sort that'll hopefully draw interest to others in the same network? How about you, what RPG Podcast Networks are you subscribed to?

Anyway, here's some links to the RPG Podcast Networks that I know of (feel free to add any that I might have missed):

Goblin: The Gaming Broadcast Network

War Pig Radio

Vorpal Network

Spooky Outhouse Productions

d20 Radio

Pulp Gamer

Top 10 Best-Sellers as of 2009/1/18

From USA Today's best-seller list (you can find out their basis here):
  1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney
  2. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
  3. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
  4. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  5. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  6. The Shack by William P. Young
  7. Suze Orman's 2009 Action Plan by Suze Orman
  8. Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich
  9. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
  10. Marley & Me by John Grogan

Thursday, January 22, 2009

January 22, 2009 Links and Plugs

It's the season for horror awards:
And here's an anthology that's piqued my curiosity (contest here):

Worlds Apart edited by Alenxander Levitsky

2009/01/22 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 SessionsVideo

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

January 21, 2009 Links and Plugs

After today, I'm off my meds!
And here's some vampire love:

Lord of Misrule by Rachel Caine

Essay: Magazine/Anthology Redundancy

Every Wednesday, I'll have an essay or a feature on any topic that catches my fancy!

When it comes to speculative fiction magazines and anthologies, a question that pops up from time to time is redundancy. Last year, a question that got asked with regards to the local speculative fiction scene is why bother with a magazine like The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories when there's an annual anthology, Philippine Speculative Fiction? In light of the recent announcement that there won't be a St. Martin's Press release of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror in 2009, I'm sure some fans are also wondering about all these "best of" anthologies and if having too many is such a bad thing. Even Eric Marin, editor of Lone Star Stories, recently asked whether his publication is distinctive enough.

Steve Berman, in a different topic altogether, best answers that question: "There is no such thing as competing anthologies - fact is, people who like a genre never say, 'well, I will only read one book in this field all year.' No, each book is welcome."

While I'll happily quote Berman with regards to that topic, allow me to elaborate.

First off, when it comes to producing an anthology or a fiction magazine, it's an art as much as a science. One won't say, "Hey, Strange Horizons is a really cool website. Let's copy it." That's easier said than done. I mean how exactly do you "copy" Strange Horizons? One can mimic its format, with fiction/nonfiction/poetry getting published every week plus book reviews every Monday/Wednesday/Friday but just because one does so doesn't make you a Strange Horizons clone. The only time that'll happen is if you also port over the content. Heck, Transcriptase carries a lot of fiction from the now-defunct Helix but Transcriptase is definitely not Helix.

Now this might all seem elementary to some people but let me break everything down, on what makes an anthology or magazine unique.


At the most fundamental level, what can readily be distinguishable is the format. For example, in the The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories vs. Philippine Speculative Fiction argument, it's a simple difference. The former is a quasi-quarterly magazine while the latter is an actual book. There's a big difference between a magazine and a book, everything from page count (and size) to the schedule of release.

There's also the medium to consider. For example, Asimov's and Weird Tales are print magazines with some online support and that's very different from a publication like Fantasy Magazine and Clarkesworld Magazine which are mostly online publications supplemented by some print products.

Frequency is also a significant factor. Lone Star Stories for example is published once every two months while Subterranean is a quarterly, doled out in small chunks. There's definitely a different reading experience and expectations there, especially when compared to a monthly publication that you receive in one plop.

Subject Matter:

While we might use terms like Fantasy or Speculative Fiction, there's actually a broad definition of such terms. Perhaps the only way to truly understand what kind of content a certain publication includes is to actually read the said publication.

For example, both Goblin Fruit and Lone Star Stories publishes poetry but the former tends to focus more on "the fantastical" while the latter has a more general "speculative poetry" slate (which might include the fantastical). Also distinguishing Lone Star Stories from Goblin Fruit is the fact that it publishes fiction in addition to poetry and that in itself is a significant distinction.

Let's even compare the various "Best Of" anthologies for 2008. There's the aforementioned Year's Best Fantasy and Horror but simply looking at that particular anthology, we already see that it covers BOTH fantasy and horror (and poetry) in addition to the summations and honorable mentions list in the book. There's Jonathan Strahan's Best SF and Fantasy of The Year Vol. 2 but again, that's an amalgamation of two genres. Perhaps the only best of anthologies which supposedly overlaps is David G. Hartwell/Kathryn Cramer's Year's Best Fantasy 8 and Rich Horton's Fantasy: The Best of the Year 2008 Edition as far as subject matter is concerned but if we lately look at what's in the actual contents, they're far from identical (see below). And then there are the books which limit themselves in scope: Best American Fantasy and Wild Stories 2008 for example cover a particular niche.


This all boils down to taste and suffice to say, each editor has a specific preference or way of doing things. I mean just look at Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. It's the same anthology for the past two decades but there's definitely a noticeable shift in story selection when Gavin Grant and Kelly Link inherited the post from Terri Windling. That's not to say one is superior to the other but there is a comprehensible change.

It is also this editorial taste that distinguishes Year's Best Fantasy 8 and Fantasy: The Best of the Year 2008 Edition. They both supposedly cover the same subject matter yet their Table of Contents is anything but identical. That's not to say they aren't all fantasy stories but obviously there's a judgment call as to what is classified as "best" or even what is "fantasy."

And if we look at the various fiction magazines, I think it's mostly associated with their editors. In the first two years of Clarkesworld for example, the influence of Nick Mamatas can be felt. And hasn't Gordon Van Gelder been associated with The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction?

It's probably understated that when you're buying a fiction magazine or an anthology, you're not really buying it for the brand name as much as you're buying it for the editor's tastes. That's not to say a magazine can't transition from one editor to another but for the most part, story selection boils down to a subjective choice by a certain set of individuals rather than an empiric process of whittling down what is "best."


And then one combines all those factors (one thing I left out is packaging, layout and art but I'll leave that to those with more discerning aesthetics). One must wonder for example how much of a draw The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror would have been if a) it wasn't published by St. Martin, b) released consistently for the past twenty years, c) features summations of the year and an extensive honorable mentions list, and d) selections from respected editors. Omit one of those components and it's a very different book.

To Eric Marin's question, the same is true for Lone Star Stories. It's a combination a) his unique editorial taste, b) consistent bi-monthly schedule, c) three fiction and three poetry releases every issue, and d) that it's online and free.

Thus I don't think the various anthologies and publications are really competing with each other per se. They might occupy the same niche--genre publications in this case--but each one has a different demographic (and it's not like I'm only going to buy one book during the entire year).