Saturday, February 28, 2009

Quick Plugs (Again)

Friday, February 27, 2009

February 27, 2009 Links and Plugs

Drop by the Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 4 book launch tomorrow if you're in the area!
And for the daily plug, I get to promote my own book, right?

Philippine Speculative Fiction IV edited by Dean Francis Alfar & Nikki Alfar

RPG Musings: The Sandbox Game

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

While there's a plethora of RPGs out there, most gamers play them in one of two ways. The first is what is typically called a "railroad" as it follows a linear path. For a lot of people, this is most likely the type of game you're most familiar with. Just look at most video games as they tend to fall under that category. Now some gamers view this method with scorn as it tends to limit options but I'm not of that opinion. The other type of game is the sandbox game in which the players are theoretically given absolute freedom to do what they want. Some even claim that this is the advantage of tabletop RPGs over the electronic kind since no program can account for all the possibilities that players might act upon.

Strangely enough, when I think of a sandbox game, the best analogy I could come up with was the NES/Famicom game The Legend of Zelda (and in certain ways, this was the proto-RPG of console systems). Unlike a game like say, Mario, in which you progressed left to right (or bottom to top depending on the game) and had a finite number of lives/continues to reach the end goal, the start of the game didn't really give you concrete objectives. You could go anywhere (provided you managed to overcome the obstacles) and possibly enter any of the dungeons whether you were just started out or played it for several hours. It's so free-form, considering the technology available at the time, that gamers were able to play variations of it without altering the game's programming. For example, one popular variant is playing the game without acquiring Link's sword (players must rely on evading enemies initially and then later on using items to overcome obstacles and enemies) or finishing the game with only three hearts.

When I first encountered The Legend of Zelda, it was honestly frustrating, mainly because I was used to the more traditional games. Where do I go? Who should I kill? What should I do? These were the questions that I asked and when I couldn't find the answers, gave up on the game.

In certain ways, I feel the sandbox RPG is like that, especially when you're used to the railroad method. Your GM throws enemies/encounters at you and it's up to you to react to them. In a sandbox game, you're forced to be more pro-active and it's the GM who has to adapt to you rather than vice versa.

Unfortunately, I also don't think the sandbox game is optimal for large groups. Part of the fun of Legend of Zelda is that I was alone and I was free to explore the game. When part of a party, what happens when the democracy doesn't go your way? Or on certain levels, there's some meta-gaming on your part as you don't want to split the group as it'll take time away from the other players (just watch Heroes--not every character is given ample screen time and not everyone is part of the same action).

Top 10 Best-Sellers as of 2009/2/22

From USA Today's best-seller list (you can find out their basis here):
  1. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
  2. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  3. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  4. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
  5. The Shack by William P. Young
  6. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney
  7. The Associate by John Grisham
  8. Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man by Steve Harvey
  9. The Love Dare by Stephen Kendrick and Alex Kendrick
  10. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Filipino Speculative Fiction 2009 Part 2

Publication: Uno Magazine January - February 2009

"White Meat" by Yvette Tan

There's a point where I shouldn't be surprised, Uno is a Men's Magazine after all and Yvette Tan's story is precisely catered to that market. For the most part, "White Meat" is this erotic speculative fiction piece (between Benito Kampf and Nikki Alfar's stories in Rogue Magazine and Joey Nacino's fiction in the FHM Erotica Issue, that's a new sub-genre in the local market) with touches of horror. Thankfully, Tan does good work on the sex scenes and the speculative fiction element plays a big role in the story. Unfortunately, overall, there's nothing really much here that stands out. No real complaints about the story but nothing really eyecatching either.

Publication: Philippine Graphic January 19, 2009

"Cyclist" by Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon

Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon dives right deep into the action and for the most part, this is a well-written character-driven story. The protagonist has some unusual character traits that make her a compelling read and de Leon's attention to detail is commendable (although since she's talking about Japan, I'm not so sure how accurate her portrayal of the place truly is but from someone who's heard secondhand stories, it's believable). The speculative fiction element isn't overt but quite appropriate. This honestly isn't my favorite story but it's definitely one of the better-written Philippine speculative fiction stories in the year so far.

Publication: Philippine Graphic February 16, 2009

"The Homocene Methylate" by Arlynn Raymundo Despe

This immediately caught my attention as it's attempting to tackle two things which isn't so prevalent: science fiction and gay fiction. The story is competent enough although I feel it built up something big and simply ended with a whimper. The focus is clearly the protagonist but I feel the personalization of the text was overwhelmed by exposition, especially the lumpy part in the middle. Not that the exposition was bad mind you but I think its execution prevented it from establishing a closer rapport with the reader. The inclusion of the said exposition was also more functional rather than elegant and seamless. Overall a decent story but otherwise simply ho-hum.

Publication: Philippine Graphic March 2, 2009

"The Ruins" by Danton Remoto

The story starts out strong but it soon descends into a plain and fairly traditional story. There are some details that stand out, such as the narrator being labeled as "The Curry Queen" for having an Indian lover, but as for the rest, they feel functional with the mention of numerous locations but lacking the descriptions that tickles one's sense of verisimilitude. The highlight of the piece is when the seance approaches its end and our main character makes a heartfelt confession that rings true. There are numerous bits and pieces that shine and while overall there's nothing to really criticize, it also lacks a certain ooomph.

Reviewing the Philippines Free Press Fiction February 2009

Unfortunately I couldn't find a copy of the February 21, 2009 issue (if one was ever released).

February 7, 2009 - "Soulkeeper" by Arvin Mangohig: There's a certain rawness to this piece but it's evident that this is where the author's passion lies. This would have made for a good character-driven story if not for two flaws. The first is that early on, the author is clearly trying to grasp synonyms for the word darkness, which I felt was overused, and fails. The second and more glaring problem is the plot hole that revolves around the premise. As evident from the title, there is some trading of souls and in the exposition, and there are consequences for losing your soul. Unfortunately, this fact is inconsistent with the grandmother character who supposedly lost her soul a long time ago. And Arvin Mangohig fails to be convincing when the said character also tells the protagonist that she can't help him find the correct bottle. Aside from that, this could have been an interesting and complex story but it's still rough.

February 14, 2009 - "The Naming of Cats" by E.K. Entrada: The first two paragraphs of the two were entrancing as Entrada weaves the most beautiful scene of nostalgia and appreciation for a book. Unfortunately, my interest stopped there the moment I realized where this story was heading. As far as technical skill is solely concerned, there's not much to criticize against Entrada. In fact, I'll praise her for her apt descriptions. What I disliked about this story was the flow and characterization. Look, I have nothing against "America is imperialist" texts as long as it's convincing and well-written. This one however is transparent and lacks credibility. My foremost problems stems from the characterization. Our heroine, a plucky woman from the provinces who finds herself married to an American and living the American dream, is fleshed out and given ample background (the cliche aside). The rest however are cardboard cut-outs. It's never explained how her American husband fell in love with her. The students of her English literature class, and even the teacher, barely warranted a description aside from the color of their skin (a polarized white-and-black). You'd think that the protagonist's father--who is mentioned to disdain Americans (again, no explanation why, especially considering that during the flashback an American was kind to him and his daughter)--would warrant a further scene or two of conflict because his daughter married an American but this is conveniently omitted and merely present in the middle of the narrative to emphasize the Filipino-American tension. Please, if you're going to feed me Philippine nationalist drivel, let the characters be actual characters rather than convenient plot devices. Entrada could have mined the father-daughter relationship if she simply wanted to tackle the evils of America but no, we get this all-too contrived story that quotes T.S. Eliot.

February 28, 2009 - "Manong Uldo, vol. 11" by Dennis Andrew S. Aguinaldo: Dennis Aguinaldo attempts something unconventional by using the interview format as a framework for his narrative. He doesn't really do anything new with it although his prose is flawless. What's interesting is that the narrative stretches credulity in a good way, everything from a beggar begging for books to the method in which the interviewer compensates the interviewee. This was an entertaining albeit quick read and there's an engaging political lacuna thrown in for good measure if you're the type that's looking for social relevance.

February 26, 2009 Links and Plugs

R.I.P. Philip Jose Farmer.
And for your book plug:
Voracious by Alice Henderson

2009/02/26 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 SessionsVideos

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Rogue Magazine Speculative Fiction

Local lifestyle publication Rogue Magazine now has a website. What's even better is that they posted some of their speculative fiction stories:

July 2007

"Boss, Ex" by Yvette Tan

July 2008

"Seek Ye Whore" by Yvette Tan

Elizabeth Gilbert on Writing

Here's a video I snagged from Benjamin Parzybok (Couch). I don't necessarily agree with everything that Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) mentions but still a good talk:


Book Launch:

I'm inviting everyone to come to the book launch of Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 4 this Saturday:

Philippine Speculative Fiction IV
Edited by Dean Francis Alfar & Nikki Alfar

Book launch: February 28, 2009 - 5:30PM
U-View Theater, Fully Booked High Street
Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City
Here's the table of contents (not in order):

A League of Champions by Ronald Cruz
A Retrospective on Diseases for Sale by Charles Tan
All We Need is Five Meals a Day by Jose Elvin Bueno
Beats by Kenneth Yu
Breaking the Spell by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
Breathing Space by Maryanne Moll
Dino's Awesome Adventure by Carljoe Javier
Dreams of the Iron Giant by Joseph Nacino
First of the Gang to Die by Paolo Jose Cruz
From Abecediarya by Adam David
Haya Makes A HUG by Erica Gonzales
Hopscotch by Anne Lagamayo
Mang Marcing and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Vincent Simbulan
Parallel by Eliza Victoria
Press Release by Leo Magno
Revenge of the Tiktaks by Noel Tio
Sky Blue by Celestine Trinidad
The Dance of the Storm by Isabel Yap
The Day That Frances, The Copywriter, Became God by Monique Francisco
The Maiden's Song by Kathleen Aton-Osias
The Paranoid Style by Sharmaine Galve
The Rooftops of Manila by Crystal Gail Shangkuan Koo
The Secret Origin of Spin-Man by Andrew Drilon
The Sewing Project by Apol Lejano-Massebieau

Taboan: The Philippine International Writers Festival 2009

The official website can be found here.

I also have some recordings but since I don't have storage space, they're hosted at easy-share. I don't know how long they'll be up, usually one month since the last download:


A plenary panel discussion to set the tone for all other panel discussions. A representative each from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s can talk about the conditions for writing and publishing in their eras and how things have changed, or maybe not. And where do we go from here?

Panelists: Elmer Ordonez (1950s), National Artist Virgilio S. Almario (1960s), José Pete Lacaba (1970s), Marjorie Evasco (1980s), Angelo Lacuesta (1990s)
Moderator: José Y. Dalisay, Jr.


What's writing like as a profession in the Philippines? What writing jobs pay, and how can writers get them? How should writers deal with writing commissions? What about copyrights and contracts? How do we break into the global market and find and deal with agents?

Panelists: Vietnamese writer Nguyen Bao Chan, Tony Enriquez, Luis Katigbak, Charlson Ong, Alfred Yuson
Moderator: José Y. Dalisay, Jr.


Gay/lesbian literature, chick lit, "spec fic", Chinoy lit , and all that jazz. What alternatives exist to straight, realist, mainstream lit? Is this kind of "pigeonholing" good or bad—or, when is it good, and when is it bad?

Panelists: Dean Francis Alfar, Jhoanna Cruz, J. Neil C. Garcia, Jaime An Lim, Tara FT. Sering


Hosts: Angelo R. Lacuesta, Festival Coordinator; Joel Toledo, Festival Assistant Coordinator


Web-based publishing, traditional print publishing, and print-on-demand: the meaning of publication has multiplied so much these days. Has the meaning of quality, or rigor, or intent changed as well? How has this affected today’s writer? Has he (or must he) achieve convergence, or should there be dividing lines?

Panelists: Adam David, Jean Claire Dy, Edgar Samar
Moderator: Dean Francis Alfar


A plenary discussion over lunch featuring Asian and Filipino writers who have gone “global.” Our international panelists will discuss the challenges and rewards of writing in their local language and still achieving international recognition and popularity. The panel will also discuss practical tips on international grants, fellowships and exchange programs.

Panelists: Nguyan Bao Chan, Conchitina Cruz, Dinah Roma-Sianturi, Prabda Yoon
Moderator: Angelo R. Lacuesta


This is a friendly showdown between the realms speculative fiction and “non-speculative” fiction—its advocates, practitioners and its subject matter. Also up for discussion: attempted definitions, blurred boundaries and common goals.

Panelists: Dean Francis Alfar, Adam David, Jonathan J. Siason, Alvin B. Yapan
Moderator: Ian Casocot

February 25, 2009 Links and Plugs

Go buy Palimpest by Catherynne M. Valente:
As for your daily book plug:

Essay: Is Philippine Speculative Fiction Marginalized?

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

One topic brought up at the recent Philippine International Writers Festival is whether Philippine Speculative Fiction is still marginalized. There are those of the opinion who think that it's not anymore, that it's rather mainstream. I beg to differ.

Before I start, I'd like to clarify that we're talking about Philippine Speculative Fiction rather than say, Western Speculative Fiction like Harry Potter or Twilight (in which it is a futile effort on my part to even attempt to disagree). Nor is it, say, Speculative Fiction in television or Philippine comics (which in itself is probably in the margins as well).

I think the first example that Philippine Speculative Fiction is marginalized is one of the panels held last February 11, 2009 entitled ATBP: Writing Off the Mainstream and has the following description: "Gay/lesbian literature, chick lit, "spec fic", Chinoy lit , and all that jazz. What alternatives exist to straight, realist, mainstream lit? Is this kind of "pigeonholing" good or bad—or, when is it good, and when is it bad?"

Philippine Speculative Fiction certainly didn't dictate that it'd be included in that panel. The ones in charge of the festival (which we assume is the "literary center") did. Another thing that if you read the description carefully, it's only Speculative Fiction which is in quotation marks.

And then let's talk about the actual genres discussed. The initial Chick Lit books had an initial print-run of 10,000 books (succeeding ones had more). During the panel discussion, it was mentioned that three Chick Lit books published in Singapore authored by Filipinos made it to the best-seller lists. If it's just economics we're talking about, Chick Lit doesn't seem to be in the margins--at least compared to other genres. The Philippine Speculative Fiction series apparently has a print-run of 500 books. I estimate a lot of the Fiction (with a capital F) have a print run of 1,000 to 2,000.

Gay literature on the other hand seems more successful than Chick Lit. Ladlad, a Gay fiction anthology, has undergone ten reprints (I don't know what the initial print run was). Even if we're going by modest estimates (1,000 copies), that's still good circulation numbers. It was even noted that publishers are willing to task a risk with gay poetry collections but not general poetry collections.

Clearly, even by those standards, Philippine Speculative Fiction isn't mainstream. Of course "legitimacy" isn't all about print-run numbers. If that were the case, Fiction with all its realist and social-realist agendas shouldn't be the status quo. There are other factors, which includes the support of the academe, the writers of the previous generation, and the publishers. Heck, why would the said genres be lumped together in a panel called Writing Off the Mainstream if that weren't the case? There are a lot of variables involved which can't be pinned down to one cause. I mean if it was solely reduced to quantities sold, then why isn't Chick Lit accepted as literature, at least by the standards of the academia? And in that sense, Philippine horror, which is admittedly a sub-genre of Philippine Speculative Fiction and probably has identical numbers as Chick Lit, not accepted either?

There's a complaint that what is truly marginalized in the Philippines is a medium like poetry. For example, let's say a poetry book has a print-run of 100 books. Okay, you're perhaps even more marginalized compared to Philippine Speculative Fiction. But that doesn't mean the said genre along with others (Chick Lit and Gay Fiction) aren't marginalized in general. And hey, at least you're being discussed in the classroom and attained some scholarly legitimacy.

It's brought up that Philippine Speculative Fiction is being published in magazines like The Philippines Free Press, Story Philippines, and Philippine Genre Stories.

Here's the deal. I read six stories published in the Philippines Free Press this year and out of those six, only one is speculative fiction. So just because one out of six makes that mainstream? There's market penetration, certainly, but I'd hardly call it dominant. There were two crime stories in that selection, does that mean Philippine crime isn't marginalized? There was also one gay story in the six, does that mean Gay fiction is wholly accepted?

Story Philippines on the other hand as far as I can tell does publish a lot of Speculative Fiction, comprising around half of its content. Of course you have to take into consideration the fact that Story Philippines is relatively new at four years old (it certainly isn't decades old unlike many of the respected literary magazines such as Philippine Graphic or Liwayway). It's been having problems getting released on time (it's supposed to be a quarterly but in the past few years, only two issues were being released every year). There's also its questionable circulation numbers (questionable in the sense that I honestly don't know what its print-run is) to say nothing of the respect attached to the published pieces (which is to say that to the literary reader, they'll hold The Philippines Free Press story in higher regard than one published in Story Philippines).

As for Philippine Genre Stories, woohoo, Philippine Speculative Fiction has its own magazine that it happens to share with the Crime/Mystery sub-genre. Again, the same problems of Story Philippines: relatively young, a horrible release schedule (no offense to the publisher who is a friend), plagued by problems with distribution (I honestly don't see it in most bookstores), and the legitimacy of the magazine was attacked even before the first issue was printed ("Who are you to publish such a magazine?").

Another item brought up: Philippine Speculative Fiction winning awards.

Well, there's the Palanca and honestly, for every Speculative Fiction story that wins an award, there's probably 10 other realist stories that wins the other slots and categories. The only concession to Speculative Fiction the Palancas had was the Futuristic Fiction category which was recently abolished.

There's the Graphic/Fiction Awards, sponsored by both Fully Booked and Neil Gaiman, which is great and all but it's honestly not what I consider a long-term award (hint: those planning a long and respected career in Philippine fiction, don't hedge your bets with this contest). It's honestly an award riding on the name of Gaiman but Gaiman won't always be here. Why do you think we haven't yet heard about the winners of the 3rd Graphic/Fiction Awards considering the entries were solicited last year? Or why the 2nd volume compiling the winning entries haven't been sold? It's admittedly a contest that pays well, with P100,000 on the line, but shall we reduce the value of the competition by its prize money?

I think some people are mistaking "presence" for acceptance. Philippine Speculative Fiction certainly isn't invisible and doing better than some genres of Philippine literature, but it's hardly what I'd call mainstream or taken seriously by the academia. Are we reduced to such a state that we're fighting over scraps? Local speculative fiction might be on the rise but it's not yet at the point where said writers can make a living off of it, or that it's selling in numbers that's extremely lucrative for publishers. Heck, even international Speculative Fiction isn't accepted by the canonical Literati with authors like Michael Chabon being the exception rather than the norm (and as Matt Cheney mentioned , those familiar with both Neil Gaiman and Roberto Bolano is ony a small overlap). And if Philippine Speculative Fiction is the de facto reading material in the country, wouldn't the proponents of the movement like Dean Francis Alfar be making a lot of money by now, or failing that, dictating what kind of content Filipinos should be reading?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Quickie News

February 24, 2009 Links and Plugs

No relation at all to speculative fiction but have you seen these Chinese McGyver commercials?
And from Norilana:

A Cold Day in Hell by Ken Rand

Interview: Peter Crowther

Every Tuesday, I'll have an interview posted.

Peter Crowther is the publisher of PS Publishing. He's the author of the Forever Twilight series, co-author (with James Lovegrove) of Escardy Gap, and author of the 'Luddersedge', 'Land at the End of the Working Day' and 'Koko Tate' short story series. Several of his 100-plus stories have been optioned or adapted for both big and small screen.

What made you decide to set up your own publishing company?

I’d always hankered to do a magazine – something along the lines of F&SF, which I’ve bought ever since I was barely in my teens. I made a couple of early attempts – and I’m talking way back here . . . around the early 1970s – at producing a template and getting costings, but I wasn’t convinced that anyone would buy it. Plus I was also trying to break into writing myself and I was holding down a demanding day-job and, in 1977, helping my wife raise our family.

Then, when I’d had a measure of success as a reviewer and an interviewer – plus I’d gotten a few stories under my belt which had been pretty well received – and I was thinking again about doing my own magazine, But as I started investigating the possibilities, I spotted a gap in the marketplace: novellas done as regular standalone books.

I pitched the idea to my good friend Simon Conway – for whose Editorial Services company I was working at the time as a consultant – because Simon had the necessary equipment. Thus PS – Peter and Simon – was born. When Simon moved to the US in 2001, I took over the company completely. The rest, as they say, is history.

What's the biggest challenge in running PS Publishing?

Oh . . . the fact that there’s just not enough time, I suppose. It intrudes massively on any attempts I make to keep up with my own writing. But we’re now slowly getting out from under – thanks to a lot of hard work put in by my wife Nicky, Nick Gevers and Robert Wexler – and I’m now being able to write a little almost every day.

You've certainly proved that publishing novellas can be profitable. In your opinion, why do you think the mainstream publishers aren't so keen on publishing novellas? Is there a special business model that you employ to make it a successful endeavor?

I think it would be very difficult for mainstream publishers to make a profit on standalone novellas because they couldn’t put a price on the books that would persuade high street and mall shoppers to part with their money. We make it work because (a) we do them in limited runs – always fewer than one thousand copies, split into two editions – so there’s a “collectable” element; and (b) we sell them only through specialist bookstores and dealers or through our website. Obviously, we prefer it when people buy our books through the website – ie. direct from us – because we don’t have to discount. But the fact is that the specialist dealers and bookstores have helped us immensely over our first decade and it’s fair to say that, without them and their support, we wouldn’t be where we are now. That’s why we make sure we maintain our support of them, particularly in these fairly turbulent times. By that I mean we don’t hold off from letting them have supplies of what promises to be a ‘big’ book – and I mean ‘big’ in terms of ‘financial gain’ – even though we could shift all the copies ourselves . . . because we rely on the specialist outlets to take copies of less-lucrative titles, albeit in smaller quantities, of course. What pisses me off royally is when some outlet that has never carried any of our books suddenly gets in touch asking for large quantities of a new title by a Big name.

What are some of your favorite novellas, whether it's published by PS Publishing or not?

I’m not going to single out any PS novella because I love them all – after all, I put money behind them and that should speak volumes. Outside of PS, I loved Connie Willis’s ‘The Winds From Marble Arch’, Ramsey Campbell’s ‘Needing Ghosts’, Stephen King’s ‘Hearts In Atlantis’ (not the whole book, just that one novella . . . for which he should have received the Pulitzer), Ed Gorman’s ‘Moonchasers’, Peter Straub’s ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ and so on.

Now that we’re safely over into a new year, what product that you released during 2008 are you most proud of or excited to see?

Crikey, that’s a tough one. They’re all special to us . . . but I guess I was particularly pleased with our Bradbury books – the two-book The Day It Rained Forever set and the three-book gift set.

What can we expect from PS Publishing in 2009? Are there any new authors we should be expecting?

Check the website! We’ve got stacks of stuff coming along.

Of the new authors, well . . . I just have to mention Rio Youers. Rio wrote to me out of the blue with a novella titled Old Man Scratch. We were not considering unsolicited material at that time but there was something about his letter that made me give it a look. I loved it and I sent it to Nick Gevers for a second opinion. He loved it too. So I bought it.

Then Rio happened to mention that he had finished a novel so, against my better judgement, I asked him to send it along. I loved it and I sent it to Nick Gevers for a second opinion. He loved it too. So I bought it.

At that stage, I figured we should really have a story from him . . . something we could put into Postscripts that would segue into the novella which, in turn, would then segue into the novel. He said he had two and I asked him to send them. One was fine but the other was wonderful. I sent it to Nick Gevers for a second opinion. He felt the same way about it. So I bought it.

Since then, we’ve bought a second story from Rio, ‘Alice Bleeding’. Believe me, he’s one to watch.

As publisher, what exactly is it that you do or how involved are you with each project?

I pick the full-length projects and short stories we accept and I pick the authors we approach . . . on both counts with Nick Gevers. I’m fully involved with everything we do. In addition, I try to maintain a balance across all of our genres – Fantasy, Horror and SF. With Nicky (and Nick again), I give input to choosing a cover artist (or, occasionally, an existing artwork piece); and with our senior designer (Robert Wexler) I give input to the way each book looks, with that input often being disseminated to other designers. With our advertising and PR guy (Paul Raven) I help to prepare newsletters and send out review materials; and with Mike Smith, our new webguy, I give input and comments on our website. Meanwhile, again with Nicky and Nick, I liase with authors and agents, and other publishers with regard to new materials, and with dealers, bookstores and reviewers on sending out books. Nicky handles invoice-chasing and, with some involvement from me, dealing with customers on orders and queries. The two of us also deal with our storage depot – maintaining a working supply of all titles here at the office – and with our packers, our packing materials suppliers and with the post office and other freight carriers.

What made you decide to create Postscripts?

As I said, I always wanted to do a magazine so the only real surprise is it took me more than four years of full-blown PS operations to fulfil my dream.

What's the biggest challenge in editing the magazine?

I think that has to be the signing sheets. We’ve not managed to lose any yet but we’ve come close.

What were the qualities of Nick Gevers that finally made you decide he was going to be your editor for Postscripts?

Nick has a wealth of knowledge not only of our own field – particularly SF – but also of literature in general, plus he is a first-rate reviewer/critic (as anyone who ever read any of his columns in Locus magazine will surely confirm) and a top-notch line- and content-editor –cum-proofreader, sympathetic to an author’s style while equally keen to ensure consistency and accuracy. I first worked with him when we did the two anthology volumes of material originally published on Keith Brooke’s infinity plus website and, shortly afterwards, I asked him to join the team. Thank goodness he said yes.

What's the division of labor between you two when it comes to producing the magazine?

We both pick stories we like from what comes in and then we send those on to the other. So long as the other agrees then the story gets picked. In other words, both of us like every single story and book that we put out. Sure, we may have our favorites, but we like them all.

Based on your own experiences, how does one become an editor of anthologies?

Here’s how it happened for me. (Long answer warning: now might be a good time to put the kettle on or take a bathroom break. Pete)

I was at a FantasyCon – it was 1988, I think – and Andy Richards (of Cold Tonnage Books) called me over. At the time, I was one of Andy’s biggest customers, with a monthly payment that would make your eyes pop . . . and that’s now, so imagine what it was like 20 years ago.

It had been suggested to Andy by a US small press publisher, that he (Andy) might like to have a crack at editing an anthology of new horror stories for the small press imprint. Andy said he’d give it some thought but, in the end, decided I would be a better choice. Needless to say, I didn’t hesitate. I charged around the convention collaring all the authors – most of whom I’d interviewed for one mag or another – and, bless ‘em all, they agreed without exception to do me a story.

On the way home, I chatted with Nicky in the car about a possible theme. When we pulled in on the motorway, Nicky noticed a big coffee-table-type book for sale in the convenience store . . . on superstitions. She bought it and presented it to me when we were back in the car. “How about this as a theme?” she said. What a girl, eh?

When we got home, I went through the book trying to find a focal point – sure, we had the basic theme, but I wanted a title. I turned a page and saw an entry about coffins being considered narrow houses for the dead . . . and that was it: Narrow Houses was born.

I got in touch with all of the potential contributors to let them know the theme – and now the title as well – and got in touch with the small press concerned. Alas, they were a little hesitant about the whole thing and so, perfectly amicably, I was left without a publisher. But, undaunted, I soldiered on, shlepping the idea around Publishers’ Row all the while writing to authors whose work I admired to get a new story from them. Bear in mind, that I had absolutely no spare money to pay for these stories: I had talked this through with Nicky and she was fully supportive of our getting out some kind of loan (heh . . . loans: remember them?) and so I cracked on.

I had some nice rejection letters but nobody was interested. Don’t forget that nobody knew who the heck I was in those days: I’d had a few interviews and lots of book reviews published, plus a few stories in obscure small-press mags in the 1970s, so I wasn’t a household name by any stretch of the imagination. But then Rob Holdstock suggested I try John Jarrold at Macdonald . . . and I did.

After seeing the pitch document, John called me and asked me down to London for a meeting and at the end of it, he said he intended to put the project forward for consideration. To cut a long story short, it got the green light. . . . and not just one volume but two – Narrow Houses and Touch Wood.

There followed a fairly angst-ridden time when Robert Maxwell, owner of Macdonald, died in suspicious circumstances and Macdonald’s future – as well as that of my superstitions anthology project! – was doubtful but, thankfully, Little, Brown stepped in and bought the company and the powers that be re-affirmed interest in my books.

There’s a little postscript to all this that you may find interesting.

My commissioning letter to possible contributors outlined various ideas for stories, one of which (which I’d entitled ‘Break A Leg’) was aimed at Ray Bradbury. One author – James Lovegrove, whom I’d met at a party at Mark Morris’s house and whose novel The Hope I had thoroughly enjoyed, dropped me a line to say he’d try me with something . . . and then commented on ‘Break A Leg’: “Sounds very Bradbury-esque,” James said. I explained that I had written it expressly to entice Ray and, when he heard that Ray was not going to do the story, James expressed disappointment. “What a shame – just think . . . he’d have done such and such,” he said. I responded equally enthusiastically with, “Yeah, and this and that,” and the conversation carried on like that for a few minutes until one of us – no idea whom – said, “You know . . . we should write this, together.” And so we did, with me kicking it off with a couple thousand words and then James adding a couple thou more and so on. About one year – and some 170,000 words – later, Escardy Gap crossed the finishing line.

So there you go.

Three further postscripts: (1) John Jarrold, a giant amongst men, is now my agent; (2) John, then recently decamped from Macdonald/Little, Brown [UK] to Simon & Schuster, bought the UK rights to Escardy Gap for his new Earthlight imprint; and (3) Escardy Gap was voted # 35 in SFX magazine’s reader poll for the 50 best books of all time (issue # 63 April 2000) . . . above Shelley’s Frankenstein, Asimov’s I, Robot, Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama, Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Stranger In A Strange Land, Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, Bester’s Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination, Miller’s A Canticle For Liebowitz . . . Hey, don’t blame me, okay! I didn’t vote for it!

That’s a good point to talk some more about your own fiction. How did Subterranean end up publishing your short story collection The Spaces Between the Lines? When did you know it was time for you to release a short story collection?

Spaces was my fourth collection – the first was The Longest Single Note, then came Lonesome Roads, and then Cold Comforts (a CDRom-only collection). My fifth collection, published last year, was The Land at the End of the Working Day.

It was originally down to be published by Rich Chizmar’s CD Books, which published Single Note, but Rich was so up-to-his-ears with stuff – the books, the mag, the comic and his TV/movie work – that I suggested I move it to Bill Schafer’s press, for whom I’ve got a lot of time. Rich and Bill are two of the best guys in the business and their imprints have been and continue to be a huge inspiration to me and PS. He was fine with that – relieved, probably – and so we went ahead and Bill put it out. We’ve done the same thing with the second and third volumes in my Forever Twilight SF/horror cycle which Bill will be doing over the next couple of years (and yes, they’re both written!). And considering the length of time that Tim Lebbon and I have been taking with Into The Wild Green Yonder – all my fault, I have to point out here . . . nothing to do with Tim – Rich suggested we remove that as well. Thus Yonder is now back with me and standing at around 40,000 words.

As for when did I know it was time to put out a collection, well . . . I like to try have a book of my own out every year: simple as that. Bill has taken my next collection as well – Things I Didn’t Know My Father Knew . . . a very Bradbury-esque collection, to use James Lovegrove’s word. That should come out in 2010, along with Twilight book 3. Twilight book 2 should be later this year.

Between running PS Publishing and Postscripts, how do you manage to find the time to write and do everything else that you do? What's your writing process like?

Not as good as it should be. As I said earlier, PS takes up a lot of time but it isn’t just the time element. It’s the fact that there are so many things to be thinking about. There’s all too often just no space in my brain to start layering and planning a story or, even worse, a novel. But things are improving.

How has your previous journalism experience aided you, whether running PS Publishing or honing your craft as an editor and writer?

I guess it hasn’t done it any harm . . . but I don’t really feel it’s helped significantly. It helped with the interviews, of course. Talking to Harlan Ellison or Ray Bradbury or Robert B. Parker about their fiction is a long way from talking to the boss of British Airways or British Telecom but it is akin to talking with Brian Wilson and Frank Zappa and Cliff Richard about their music. It’s the actual process and the technique, both of which I guess I pretty much mastered during my journalist days. We should always try to transfer experiences from one area to another.

Is there any chance that we'll see PS Publishing books outside of the UK in the future?

I’m not really sure how to answer that. The world is a small place these days and I feel that PS is already a global player. Sure, we don’t have a US distributor as such but people can order direct from our website, and orders are sent on a weekly basis. Plus all pre-orders are now post-free. And in addition to our eight British Fantasy Awards, we’ve picked up two World Fantasy Awards, a Horror Writers Association Award and a Locus Award – not to mention all the international Awards that our various titles and authors have picked up – so we’re already fairly well known across the Atlantic.

What advice can you give to aspiring writers?

Read every day and write every day. And master your craft on short stories before you tackle a novel.

Advice for aspiring publishers?

Move your offices from expensive rent-areas and spend the resulting savings on buying more projects and re-building the mid-list with advertising and promotions.

Anything else you want to plug?

Just books. Buy more. Doesn’t matter whether they’re PS books – though it helps! – so long as you’re buying books!

Monday, February 23, 2009

February 23, 2009 Links and Plugs

Today's your last chance for the Shirley Jackson Awards Lottery...
And here's a re-issue that you should check out:
Twists of the Tale edited by Ellen Datlow

Book/Magazine Review: We Never Talk About My Brother by Peter S. Beagle

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

Of course I've heard of Peter S. Beagle. Who hasn't? But the question off the top of my head is that in this age where new trends such as the New Weird or Interstitial Fiction have entered the fray, is Beagle's prose still up to par? We Never Talk About My Brother collects the author's newest short stories and this book allays those fears. In fact, this is some of the best short fiction I've read in quite some time and Beagle has only improved with time.

Of the nine stories that are included in this collection, seven of them truly stand out. For the most part, the strength of Beagle is his characters, especially their dialogue. In "The Stickball Witch" for example, there can be no doubt that the narrator is but a boy, and this reinforces the belief in the game of stickball or the supposed witch who is their neighbor. Or in "Spook" where amidst a phantom haunting an apartment, it is the banter between two Jews that hooks us to the setting and propels the narrative. And perhaps Beagle is at his best when he's tackling contemporary fantasy, fantasy that's urban even before "urban fantasy" became a popular marketing label. Maybe that's why "The Tale of Junko and Sayuri" or "King Pelles the Sure" aren't as memorable for me. They're competent stories, no doubt, but it lacks that extra oomph to deliver the coup de grace. There's a certain distance in my reading of the former story. However, "By Moonlight" and "Chandail" clearly shows Beagle more than capable of writing compelling second-world fantasy and they would easily have been my favorites if not for the other equally excellent stories in this collection.

"Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel" is the opening story and right from the outset, the story reels you in. For me, this is one of the best examples of how good dialogue carries the story. Amidst the preposterousness of an angel suddenly appearing in your midst offering itself as a muse, the painter Uncle Chaim dismisses it in able to concentrate better on his current model. Uncle Chaim is your grumpy uncle, practical but dedicated to his work and this is what resonates rather than the other fantastical elements of the piece. For me this is the Beagle template and what makes many of the other stories in this book succeed.

The titular piece is "We Never Talk About My Brother" and it's equally impressive. While Beagle excels in dialogue as well as characterization (or if any distinction should be made between the two), it is more of the latter that makes this a rich and enjoyable read. The author successfully summons an aura of a small-town family and we are anchored by the all-too sympathetic narrator. He's the likable Joe, not without flaws but definitely someone we can relate to. And while this could have been the backdrop for a battle of epic proportions, it all boils down to a simple brawl for the most personal of reasons. One's humanity is written all over this short story.

This isn't the first time I read "The Last and Only, or, Mr. Moscowitz Becomes French" and I praised it back in Eclipse One. I'll praise it again and this is easily for me the best story in the book. Surprisingly, this doesn't quite follow your Beagle template. This is actually a layered story and new elements are discovered as one re-reads it. It initially starts out like a fanciful fairy tale yet it spirals into something big and encapsulating, all the while we're tethered by the plight of its human characters. This is certainly fuel for post-colonialism readers but I appreciated the fact that this is not only the story of Mr. Moscowitz but that of his wife.

What We Never Talk About My Brother might lack in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality. Seven of the stories as I said before are striking and you can compare them to any other contemporary short fiction and they'll hold their ground, if not outright blast away the competition. Beagle's writing has ripened with time and if there's any doubt, one only needs to pick up a copy of this collection.

Book/Magazine Review: The Babylonian Trilogy by Sebastien Doubinsky

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

I don't know which was more overwhelming: the "fuck, this is brilliant!" experience in reading the first few pages or the "how come I'm hearing about this Sebastien Doubinsky guy only now?" by the time I reached the end. Without a doubt, The Babylonian Trilogy was a real treat because I didn't know what to expect and it exceeded what I was prepared for.

The Babylonian Trilogy is, no surprise, three sections compiled into one neat package. They are The Birth of Television according to Buddha, Yellow Bull, and The Gardens of Babylon. What's exciting with this trilogy is that Doubinsky's style is both familiar and varied with each section. For example, The Birth of Television according to Buddha features a variety of viewpoints, some not making immediate sense while others are relatively more comprehensible. What's enjoyable about the author's writing is that each viewpoint tends to be just a page long with a title at the top of the page. As the story slowly unfolds, everything starts to make more sense but never losing your interest as a reader as it's one bizarre trip to another.

Yellow Bull retains the sparseness of the text and the chapter headings but for the most part this is a story told from a central perspective. There's an wonderful juxtaposition between the two lovers of the protagonist which becomes a recurring theme although one flaw of this section is the fact that we occasionally drift towards the main character's "sidekick" and by the time we reach the end, there's really not much payoff for him. Still, this was nonetheless a compelling read and very engaging.

The Gardens of Babylon feels the most different from the previous two. We return to the multiple point of view perspective except it's down to three characters and each point of view is preceded by the character's pseudonym for the purposes of this narrative. The text also tends to be longer but it doesn't really extend more than two to three pages.

What's impressive is how Doubinsky can drift from one section to another and deliver an entirely different thesis with each story. The Birth of Television according to Buddha feels like the most politically-relevant as it showcases the glamorization of pain and suffering mixed in with some meta-textual elements. Yellow Bull on the other hand feels more like a crime homage with a resonating epiphany at the end. And The Gardens of Babylon tackles all sorts of death--or departure if you will--in a very stylish fashion.

The three narratives are only loosely tied together and The Gardens of Babylon seems the most out of place of three as the setting seems to have changed the most significantly (a world with assassin-writers/poets) while the others seem to fit in just right with the real world. Their common element is a recurring character, Doubinsky's equivalent of a Duncan Idaho character who is anywhere from a main character to a plot extra depending on which section you're reading.

Another reason you should be getting The Babylonian Trilogy is that it's simply a well-designed book with its actual form and layout complimenting the author's writing style. What is usually the header/footer in this case occupies the left/right hand side of the page and there's a certain minimalist design as most of the chapters fit one page (and sometimes it's as little as three lines) with an identifiable title on top.

Overall, The Babylonian Trilogy isn't perfect, but it's an honest-to-goodness literary rollercoaster ride that delivers something different each time and there's never a dull moment. It's refreshing and daring and the surprising thing is how Doubinsky managed to sustain such a writing style this long and he accomplishes in one book what other people accomplishes in three novels.

Book/Magazine Review: Everland and Other Stories by Paul Witcover

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

As a relatively "new" genre reader, uncovering a previously-established author is a mixed bag. On one hand, while their work might have been lauded at the time, closer scrutiny makes it falter under a more modern lens. The other possibility is that it excites you the same way one uncovers a Lucius Shepard or Peter S. Beagle and makes you wonder why you haven't been reading them before. Thankfully, Everland and Other Stories is more of the latter. In fact, if I didn't look at the end of the book for Witcover's publishing history, I would never have known that some of my favorite stories are as old as I am. The quality is certainly that of a classic, timeless and relevant and written in such a way that it captures readers of any era.

In the introduction, Elizabeth Hand swears by Witcover's story "Red Shift" and it certainly set high expectations. Amazingly, I must surrender and accept Hand's verdict. This is easily one of the most beautiful and powerful stories in the collection. "Red Shift" seems to pack everything necessary, from evoking your sense of wonder with this tragic circus, tugging at your emotions as a drunken strongman wrestles an intelligent bear, and shades of horror when the sense of inevitability comes knocking. All this time, one is anchored by the ensemble of characters and details such as the condescending but appreciative attitude of the narrator towards the gypsy. What's even more surprising is that this was originally published in 1984 and it easily beats a lot of the modern short stories that I've read.

Another rich story that reels me in is "Lighthouse Summer." While Witcover's strengths are not any less absent here, I think what's particularly striking is the way the author portrays our protagonist. He is a believable teenager yet there is a certain nobility in him that heightens the eventual conflict. If he were a tad more dastardly or naive, this would have been an entirely different story yet here he is, this complex creature whose fate is intertwined with the reader.

And then there's the relatively recent "Left of the Dial" which is rich in detail and a geek's paradise whether you happen to be a music fan or RPG gamer. Again, another common thread that Witcover returns to is character and despite the seemingly-surprisingly twists and turns of the piece, it feels just right as if no one other possibility could be considered. If there's a story that approaches the quality of "Red Shift," this is it and again, the folly of our protagonist sounds all-too human. The speculative fiction element is also to be commendable as it sneaks its way into the narrative and by the time you realize it, it's too late.

What Witcover fans can look forward to are some stories debuting in this collection. There are five and "The Silver Ghost" and "Everland" are the strongest. A common theme in both stories is the way Witcover injects a dark and horrific take on them. In the former, it's one escalating shock after another that's not altogether unwarranted and culminates into an appreciatively ambiguous ending. With the latter, the author's demented imagination casts the Peter Pan story into a new light with a refreshingly different approach and gives something back to the original.

Everland and Other Stories is a really impressive and resonating book. Thankfully PS Publshing resurrects some stories that never should have faded into obscurity in the first place and gives new readers like me the opportunity to appreciate someone as talented as Witcover.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Plug: Arnold Arre - Book Signing at Powerbooks Trinoma, Feb. 28 2009

Arnold Arre is Powerbooks' Author of the Month
Meet Arnold and get your copies of his latest works signed!
Feb. 28 2009, Saturday | 3-6 PM
Powerbooks Trinoma

Arnold Arre is the author of Martial Law Babies, Ang mundo ni Andong Agimat, The Mythology Class, After Eden, and Trip to Tagaytay and is the illustrator for Private Iris & Cast.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Hugo: Best Fanzine

George R. R. Martin just endorsed Pat's Fantasy Hotlist for the Hugo Best Fanzine category and I'll agree with Martin that the days of the ditto and hekto are gone and one of the grassroots projects that have taken their place today are the webzines.

Now for me, there are two kinds of webzines. The first is actually similar to the magazine format except that it's on the web. I'm not exactly sure if The Green Man Review qualifies as a fanzine, but that's one example of that model. The other is that of the webzine blog, which is what Martin cited when he recommended Pat's Fantasy Hotlist. There's a lot of these going around and Grasping the Wind's book reviewers meme is an example of this new phenomenon.

While the Best Fanzine category might be the closest applicable category to recognize the webzines, the Hugo's criteria for what constitutes a Best Fanzine doesn't really applies to the blogs. For example, it mentions that the fanzine must have at least four issues but what constitutes an issue? A week's worth of blog entries (and if so, what's the minimum number of posts?). I'm not saying that Pat's Fantasy Hotlist shouldn't qualify (and I think he's been posting consistently enough that frequency isn't an issue) but I think there should be concrete standards so that everyone, whether you're a new or old blogger, knows how to meet the qualifications.

Of course if Martin is just going to recommend such sites as eligible, my current favorites are The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent. and Ecstatic Days.

My Email Interview Process Part 3

If inviting people to participate in interviews is nerve-wrecking, I go through it all over again in follow-up emails asking if they're done with their answers.

February 20, 2009 Links and Plugs

Just wanna remind everyone about the Shirley Jackson Awards Lottery.
Small Beer Press happens to be giving away a few copies...

The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry

RPG Musings: Dragon/Dungeon Magazine Online

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

Pardon me for partially hijacking this section. It's been several months now since Wizards of the Coast re-launched Dragon and Dungeon magazine, the official Dungeons & Dragons publication. Now there are several legitimate reasons not to support the magazines (such as if you're not actually playing in a 4th Edition game). Of course now and again, I'd see someone making a stupid suggestion with regards to both publications, especially when it comes to its online distribution model.

How stupid? Well, something along the lines of (I'm paraphrasing) "I really like the content of both magazines but I wish Wizards of the Coast would make a print version so I suggest boycotting the online version."

I have several rebuttals for that argument but let's first tackle the one with the biggest assumption flaw. The "let's boycott the online version" part so that a print version would eventually be released. Let's put it this way, the online version is probably easier and takes less manpower to put out (it mostly boils down to distribution) than the print version. And if the former isn't successful, why would you think a company would try their hand at the latter?

Honestly, a better suggestion would be to support the online model and suggest that they come out with a print version. There's going to be an print annual and another method is to gobble them up like crazy. Buy boycotting something in order to get a more expensive and labor-intensive iteration doesn't make sense.

The second point I want to bring up is the content. Again, at this point, I don't think a lot of the content that you're currently receiving from the magazines wouldn't be possible if it weren't for the fact that it's currently hosted online. I'm not talking about page count (although that matters too) but the realities of publishing a print magazine (again, mostly focusing on distribution). It usually takes a monthly magazine to have two months of lead time (that is, the content should be ready two months ahead of the printed date) before it can come out on time. Aside from deadlines, what contributes to this time "lag" is the magazine needs to be sent to the printers, proofread, printed, dried, sealed, then distributed all over the country or all over the world depending on your circulation. Distributing a magazine all over America is no easy feat, considering the vast expanse of land as well as climate (distribution in the Philippines is also a major challenge because while we're a significantly smaller country, we're an archipelago with a Manila-centric focus).

Now you might think so what, what if there's a two-month delay? The old magazines handled themselves competently; one just needs to plan two months ahead. Sure, that works to a limited extent. But one of the more appealing features of Dragon right now is its sneak peak at future publications such as the playtest/preview classes. By the time they see print online, the final revisions could have been made the day before. If you're using the more traditional model, the preview you're reading in a magazine could easily be two-months outdated. Or in the case of the playtest classes, two months too late for the designers to have received your feedback.

That's not to say that Dragon and Dungeon magazine are perfect. For example, I still like the latter Paizo-era models for the magazine where Dragon was for players and Dungeon was for Dungeon Masters (currently, the latter is still for Dungeon Masters but now content for the former includes both target audiences). But for the most part, I think the online incarnations of both magazines is the wave of the future.