Monday, July 29, 2013

Not-About-Writing Interview: John Joseph Adams

I've been gone for the past few months, but to tide you over, here's an interview with John Joseph Adams, editor of various magazines and anthologies. The point of this interview though is to not talk about writing! So without further ado...  

Hi John! I know you're a fan of metal, so what music are you currently listening to?

At any given time, I typically have a group of several albums that functions as my "current listening" playlist; usually, these are the last several albums I've acquired, and thus they're all new to me.

Currently, it contains the latest albums by Baroness, Killswitch Engage, Holy Grail, Mutiny Within, Ensiferum, Epica, Firewind, Soilwork, and others. I've also got a singular non-metal entry on the list: Muse's latest. Here's a link to the whole thing:

The latest Baroness album -- the double album Yellow/Green -- is one of my favorite records...I was going to say in recent memory, but given the number of times I've listened to it I would have to say calling it an "all-time favorite" would be more accurate. I just love the hell out of that album. Their first two albums -- The Red Album and Blue Record -- were both amazing too, but it feels to me like they really elevated their game to another level with Yellow/Green. Arguably Yellow/Green isn't even metal. Red and Blue certainly are -- and probably not particularly accessible metal either -- but Yellow/Green is much more mellow, which doesn't at all detract from how awesome it is, even as a metal fan.

Could you elaborate on what's the appeal of In Flames for you? How did you first hear about them and what made you listen to them again recently?

I think I first heard of In Flames courtesy of an MTV2 Headbanger’s Ball compilation CD. I’m pretty sure it was this one. Actually, though, now that I think about it, I may have first heard them on a different compilation -- I know I had bought some metal movie soundtracks around then. Looking at this track list for the soundtrack for Freddy vs. Jason (which I never even saw or had any interest in seeing), I think this must have been where I first heard them. Because before I looked I would have thought that the first In Flames song I heard was either “Trigger” or “Minus.” I’m now pretty sure it was “Trigger,” so I must have discovered them on that Freddy vs. Jason CD. It might have been encountering them subsequently on the Headbanger’s Ball CD that made me decide to check out one of their albums.

Those Headbanger’s Ball CDs (there were a couple compilations) really helped me expand my metal horizons. They were all double albums, with the first one being sort of more familiar metal bands (i.e., more commercially successful ones), and the second disc was full of bands that were more underground types, on smaller labels. I ended up discovering a ton of bands because of those CDs, including several bands that are now among my favorites: Killswitch Engage, Trivium, Lamb of God, Arch Enemy...

Although I usually only have recent additions to my library on my playlist, occasionally I'll rotate older material back into my playlist; for instance, I went to an In Flames concert a couple of months ago -- which was awesome, by the way -- and prior to that I sort of binged on In Flames for the weeks leading up to it, and added their most recent albums to my regular playlist for a while. When I go to see a concert, I like to be really familiar with the band’s material ahead of time. And of course I’ve listened to all of In Flames’s discography a ton, but I hadn’t in a while, so I wanted to make sure they were all fresh in my mind.

As for what I like about In Flames, I’m not really sure how to answer the question, largely because I never did quite figure out how to write or even talk about music. I tried taking a music review class once in an effort to figure it out (since I seem inclined to turn my hobbies and interests into work), but I couldn’t quite get the hang of it. It probably doesn’t help that when I read reviews of music they almost never actually give me much of a sense what the band is like, unless they compare them to some other band I already know. If I were to take a stab at trying to explain, though, I guess I would say that what I like about In Flames--and more generally what I tend to like about the metal that I like--is the blistering guitarwork and the dynamic ebb and flow of the melody and the vocals as they alternate between harsh and mellow. Lyrics are kind of an afterthought for me when it comes to music, which is probably one of the reasons I connect to metal so much since it’s often so hard to understand what they’re saying. I may just be musically or tonally impaired, but I have a terrible time actually understanding the lyrics in MOST songs, even pop songs where they’re just singing, so not being able to understand the shouting and screaming vox in metal isn’t a big deal to me. Sometimes I seek out the lyrics so I can read along as I listen, when I have a band or album that I really like, and it’s cool to discover that the songs I like so much actually have cool lyrical content too. But I’m just as often disappointed to discover that the songs I like are either vapid or just don’t make much sense. So it’s not something I indulge in often. It’s usually better to just think I know what the song’s about  based on the limited amount of the lyrics I can decipher on my own.

And speaking of the Baroness, not a lot of musicians (especially in these post-iTunes era) release double albums. In what situations do you think are they apt, especially when it comes to the packaging, the track sequence, etc.?

I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. In the case of Baroness, I can’t really tell the difference between Yellow and Green stylistically or musically--the songs all sound like they’re part of the same album to me. Actually it’s funny, because I mentioned how Yellow/Green is so mellow it’s barely even metal at this point, so it occurred to me that one use of a double album could be if, as a band, you wanted to experiment with some wildly different direction (say a metal band doing an album that was much less heavy), they could do one part as a regular album and have the other part be the experimental album.

I have another double album, from Dark Tranquillity, that is one part a B-side compilation and one part a live album, so that’s another way to do it. I’m actually really glad they did that as it kind of opened me up to buying live albums more often, as I previously hadn’t liked a whole lot of them. That one, though, is amazing, and I actually prefer listening to those versions of the songs to the studio versions in some cases. (Pantera’s live album is a similar case; that version of “Cemetery Gates” is hands down the definitive version of the song in my mind.)

All this talk of double albums kind of makes me want to do a series of “double anthos.” They could be done up Ace Doubles-style, and one side would be original stories, and the other side would be reprints. Although actually I guess that’s almost what I do in every issue of Lightspeed (minus the double-sided aspect). Whoa. I just blew my own mind.

Speaking of Ace Double-styles, I hear some editors talk about them (never saw them on my end because genre books were scarce here back then). Did you read a lot of them? Were they books your sister passed on to you? Why do you think they're gone now (with the exception of independent publishers who employ that format)?

I actually never encountered them until I started working in the industry. Without cheating and googling to find out, I couldn’t tell you when they stopped doing those, but it must have been before I started seriously reading SF/F. I expect had I identified as a genre reader earlier, I might have encountered them, as I do think they were around in the ‘80s. Though I--and a lot of people--often refer to them as “Ace Doubles” some other publishers did them too; Tor, for instance. And the format actually does have a name: it’s called “dos-a-dos binding” or “tête-bêche.” Wikipedia has an article about the format that explains it all pretty well.

I don’t really know why they’re gone now. I assume it’s just because that format stopped being successful commercially. It seems like it’s such a great idea, though, because it allows authors to write shorter novels and have them still be marketable, and also allows you to pair up a more well-known author and a lesser-known author, to help expose that newer author to a wider audience. I guess there are some issues with shelving such things though; where do you shelve it, and how does anyone looking for the “B Side” know how to find it in the store? That kind of problem would probably be irrelevant with online bookshopping, though, so, who knows? Maybe we’ll see them become popular again some time soon.

You recently moved from New Jersey to California. How is it going for you so far? What's the biggest adjustment you had to make?

It’s going great. I moved to the Central Coast of California because I met and fell in love with the lovely and talented Christie Yant. Location-wise, I guess the biggest adjustment has just been the lack of local culture that I had ready access to when I lived so close to Manhattan. But overall it’s been a definite upgrade; where I live, there’s just basically nice weather all the time; it never snows here, and I really hate snow so that’s a real plus for me.

And we’re not THAT far from culture if I really want it; we live about two and a half hours from Los Angeles by car, and an hour away from Santa Barbara. Plus there’s always conventions to help fill that socialization void, and of course since Christie is also immersed in genre publishing, I can also talk with her whenever I want and so that also basically negates that loss. And earlier this year Christie’s sister Kate moved in with us (after Christie’s eldest, Danni--now an adult--moved up to San Francisco). Like Christie and I, Kate’s also a huge geek and into genre publishing (she’s an aspiring writer). Heck, even the little one, Grace (who is almost eleven), is a big geek, and as I sit here answering this question, she’s working on her Harry Potter fan-fic story. So we basically have a little convention right here in our house whenever we want one

Otherwise, the biggest adjustment has been that I went from being single to having not just a girlfriend but a whole family, since Christie has two kids. So that was kind of a big deal, but it’s all gone really well, largely I think because we’re all awesome people. And then, of course, Christie and I got married--at the same place in Reno where George R. R. Martin got married!--and so now I’m a stepdad, though honestly that transition seemed even easier just because it seemed so natural.

Is there anything you miss from New Jersey? How about something that you really look forward to in California (aside from your new family)?

There’s nothing really I miss from New Jersey specifically, except that my mom still lives there, so I miss her. Otherwise, though, there’s nothing really about New Jersey I miss except its proximity to Manhattan and all its culture.

Here in California, I’m mostly just looking forward to never having to shovel snow again, and maybe a periodic trip or two down to Disneyland and Universal Studios with the family.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Call for Submissions: Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol.9

Editors Andrew Drilon and Charles Tan invite you to submit short fiction for consideration for Philippine Speculative Fiction volume 9.

Philippine Speculative Fiction is a yearly anthology series, which collects a wide range of stories that define, explore, and sometimes blur the boundaries of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and all things in between. The anthology has been shortlisted for the Manila Critics’ Circle National Book Award, and multiple stories from each volume have been cited in roundups of the year’s best speculative fiction across the globe.

First-time authors are more than welcome to submit; good stories trump literary credentials any time.

Submissions must be:
1. speculative fiction—i.e., they must contain strong elements and/or sensibilities of science fiction, fantasy, horror, magic realism, alternate history, folklore, superheroes, and/or related ‘nonrealist’ genres and subgenres
2. written in English
3. authored by persons of Philippine ethnicity and/or nationality

Submissions are preferred to be:
1. original and unpublished
2. no shorter than 1,000 words and no longer than 7,500
3. written for an adult audience
4. featuring a strong Filipino element (a character, setting, theme, plot, etcetera.)
In all cases, these preferences can be easily overturned by exceptionally well-written pieces. In the case of previously-published work, if accepted, the author will be expected to secure permission to reprint, if necessary, from the original publishing entity, and to provide relevant publication information.

Submission details:
1. No multiple or simultaneous submissions—i.e., submit only one story, and do not submit that story to any other publishing market until you have received a letter of regret from us. But we don’t mind if you submit to contests.
2. All submissions should be in Rich Text Format (saved under the file extension ‘.rtf’), and emailed to, with the subject line ‘PSF9 submission’.
3. The deadline for submissions is 11 pm, Manila time, October 26, 2013. Letters of acceptance or regret will be sent out no later than one month after the deadline.

Editors’ notes:
1. Please don’t forget to indicate your real name in the submission email! If you want to write under a pseudonym, that’s fine, but this can be discussed upon story acceptance. Initially, we just need to know who we’re talking to.
2. If you’d like to write a cover letter with your brief bio and publishing history (if applicable), do feel free to introduce yourself—but not your story, please. If it needs to be explained, it’s probably not ready to be published.
3. We advise authors to avoid fancy formatting—this will just be a waste of your time and ours, since we will, eventually, standardize fonts and everything else to fit our established house style.

Authors of selected stories will receive Php500 pesos in compensation, as well as digital copies of the book.

Please help spread the word! Feel free to copy this and paste it anywhere you see fit that happens to be legal.

Andrew Drilon and Charles Tan, co-editors

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Why I Stopped Choosing with My Heart

You meet someone new. You get along.

Somewhere along the way, you fall in love. You don’t always know what triggers it: a favorite song, a poem they share, a book they like.

You think it’s too good to be true. And it is. They get mad at you, even if you don’t immediately know what caused it.

If you’re lucky, they talk to you again. You get to know them more.

You start seeing the cracks. You have a list of people you’ll never date. You make an exception.

They get angry, again. You’re both too different:

You’re brutally honest, logical, persistent.

They’re sensitive, moody, evasive.

They hurt you, because you care. You hurt them, because your words strike true.

You want to solve the problem. They don’t want to talk about it.

You learn patience, when you yearn for compromise. They learn forgiveness, when they yearn for acceptance.

You cope by crying yourself to sleep, writing letters that never get read, and rereading the scant words they left.

You get more chances than you deserve but you squander it by conveying how much you’ve been hurt.

You realize too late that to save the friendship, you need to shut up, swallow your pride, and sacrifice your heart.

Call for Submissions - VOLUME: An Anthology of Contemporary Fiction Edited by Dean Francis Alfar & Angelo R. Lacuesta

VOLUME holds several meanings. First, that there is an abundant amount of excellent fiction in English currently being written by the younger generations. Second, that these stories must be read and shared. And third, that they deserve a place in bookcases and classrooms all over the country.

VOLUME 1 will be the first book in an anthology series that will showcase fiction by Filipino writers, age 45 and under, selected without regard for boundaries or genres. VOLUME 1 will be launched in September 2013.

Submission Guidelines

1. Submissions are open to all Filipino citizens 45 years and younger as of the end of 2013.
2. Submit only original unpublished short fiction written in English. ‘Unpublished’ is defined as not having previously appeared in part or in full in any print or digital media (including online refereed markets, blogs or any social media).
3. No multiple submissions. Submit only one piece of fiction for consideration.
4. Short stories only. Open theme, any genre.
5. Story word count cannot exceed 7500 words. Our preferred word count is in the range of 3500 to 5000 words.
6. Submissions should be formatted as Word Document files (.doc, .docx) or in Rich Text Format (.rtf) in simple fonts.
7. Submissions must be accompanied by a cover letter that includes your name, your preferred byline and contact information.
8. Send your submissions to or We will confirm receipt of your work within 24 hours.
9. Deadline for submissions is midnight of June 30, 2013. Our reading period begins immediately afterwards. Letters of acceptance or regret will follow.
10. Contributors will be paid Php5000.00, as well as 2 copies of the book, for the exclusive first print rights to their story, as part of the anthology.

We look forward to your stories and appreciate your help in spreading the word.

Dean Francis Alfar & Angelo R. Lacuesta

Friday, May 10, 2013

10 Stories for My Future Lover

Dear future crush/girlfriend/fiance/wife,

I love science fiction. I believe in time travel. This is my past self sending you a missive into the future.

By this time, you'll know that I'm horrible with words. But I do love stories, and if there's anything you can take away from our relationship, hopefully it's these:

Who I Was Missing Before I Met You

"Say Zucchini, and Mean It" by Peter M. Ball

Why I Never Gave Up

"On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning" by Haruki Murakami

Is it Too Good to be True?

"The Empire of Ice Cream" by Jeffrey Ford

For The Days When We Drift Apart

"The Rapid Advance of Sorrow" by Theodora Goss by Theodora Goss

When You Leave Me for the First Time

"The Sugilanon of Epefania's Heartbreak" by Ian Rosales Casocot

I'll Support You

"For Solo Cello, op.12" by Mary Robinette Kowal 

Making Sense of It All
"26 Monkeys and the Abyss" by Kij Johnson

Hopefully It Never Comes to This

"Spar" by Kij Johnson

Read In Case of Emergency

"Little Gods" by Tim Pratt

All of This is an Illusion

"L'Aquilone du Estrellas (The Kite of Stars)" by Dean Francis Alfar


The Butcher Boy

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Essay: Teaching Science Fiction

Julia Rios posed a question the other day: What would you consider the most important texts to teach in a class about SF/F? (Strangely enough, I didn't see the fantasy part, and interpreted it as limited to just science fiction.) Assume the reader is unfamiliar, and that you are limited to 5 novels/novellas and 5 novelettes/short stories.

There were, of course, the standard disclaimers (scope, audience, agenda, etc.), but what Julia was asking was really a person question: if you were given a chance to create a curriculum, without limits aside from the parameters above, what texts would you select? It's your choice on which particular topic to select, whether it's the classics, gender, colonialism, etc.

Again, I neglected to notice the fantasy part, so as I pondered the question, I limited myself to science fiction (despite the fact that I believe fantasy and science fiction aren't that different from each other).

What appeals to me are stories that tackle human nature so if there's an agenda behind my selection, is that. And since we're given limitations of 5 novels/novellas and 5 novelettes/short stories, I want to juxtapose them and show readers how the form of one interacts, and how different (or similar) it is to the other.

"The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin and The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

I'd start with Le Guin's short story: it's brief, concise, and there's lots of elements for the reader to parse out. It's a dystopian story but that's left for readers to decide (and an important question is whether they would want to live in such a world). The Dispossessed, on the other hand, is its opposite: it's probably a more difficult read but Le Guin is more direct here. You have two supposedly utopian/dystopian societies, but is that really the case?

"Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card and Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

There's three points I want to highlight by this selection. The first is the story itself: do the ends justify the means? Is ignorance truly an excuse? Is there such a thing as an innocent killer? The second is the format: in the transition from novelette to novel, what were the elements that were added? Does this enhance the story or detract from it? And then there's my third point: knowing Card's homophobia, how does this change the way you react to the text or shape the way you read it?

Foundation by Isaac Asimov and "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang

In the first pair of texts, what's discussed is society; in the second, the individual, and how they are manipulated into their role. For this choice, I wanted to transition to determinism. Foundation is an interesting choice for me because it's really a bunch of short stories rebranded as a novel. Would the readers consider them as short stories or novels? The way society is manipulated in the stories is also an interesting talking point. "Story of Your Life," on the other hand, shifts from the larger society to the individual (and it's a stark contrast from the detached point of view of Asimov to the very personal story that Chiang chooses to employ). And Chiang brings up several important points, especially language.

"The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary" by Ken Liu and "Spar" by Kij Johnson

What I like about these stories is that they're modern and they're very personal. Liu's protagonist rebels against prevalent society, and the narrative is told in such a way that it's viewed from different perspectives. Which is apt given the omniscient, single view a lot of stories have. And it's a story that revolves around society. "Spar" also requires reading the text beyond the surface, and digging deep into it. It's also a story where there's an implied society (whether the protagonist or the alien), as opposed to being at the forefront. And in both pieces, there's a return to the individual, although the choice of perspective differs.

The Next Continent by Issui Ogawa and "The Pelican Bar" by Karen Joy Fowler

I chose The Next Continent because it's society viewed from the lens of the Japanese, and makes different assumptions while still retaining the sensibilities of utopian science fiction. On the other end of the spectrum is "The Pelican Bar," and it's a story that some might question whether it's science fiction, but also why for me genre boundaries are more interstitial than set in stone.

What would your curriculum look like? And perhaps more interesting is to ruminate this question with fantasy in mind as well (maybe a future blog post?).

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Promoting Filipino Comics

I've been disheartened lately when it comes to promoting Filipino comics due to a series of unfortunate incidents: a Fed-Ex package sent to a friend abroad encountered a mishap (and it's a tragedy not because of the financial costs, but rather because those were two dozen comics that's difficult to obtain due to the nature of indie comics), the company website's database goes down on the day I started plugging a comic I enjoyed (I suggest Registering first, filling out all the forms, then Logging in before checking out your order), and despite my best attempts to get more female comic creators (you can hear my rant about the lack of female name recognition in this podcast) to participate in the day job's Free Comic Book Day, a lot declined.

But feeling sorry for myself gets no one anywhere, so here's my last ditch effort. I think there's a lot of interesting, diverse work being done in local comics, but due to small print runs, lack of distribution, and absence of digital copies, it's a huge hurdle to spread awareness of Philippine comics outside of Metro Manila. So it dawned on me to get various comic creators to distribute their work at the day job's eBookstore for Free Comic Book Day. You can read more about it at the company blog, but I wanted to highlight some comics that I think will be of interest to my readers (and what I'll be picking are in English, so you don't have to worry about the translation hurdle):

 Kuting Magiting by Robert Magnuson
Despite the title, this is mostly a wordless, all-ages comic in English and highlights the strengths of the comics medium, whether it's the beats, the panels, or the effective use of imagery. If there's one comic I want you to try out, it's this one.

Confused Volume 1 by Trizha Ko
While admittedly not the most polished work in terms of visuals, there's a rawness and willingness to tackle taboo subjects in this comic. It has a solid feminist bent that's lacking in the local comics scene, and hopefully others will give it a chance.
Bakemono High: Recess by Elbert Or
This one's an all-ages comic from my best friend. I wouldn't say it's high art, but definitely one that features amusing, self-contained strips.

 Skygypsies by John Raymond Bumanglag & TJ Dimacali
It's not often that I encounter Filipino science fiction stories, so here's a comic that's just that.

Mythspace: Free Comic Book Day Sampler 2013 by Paolo Chikiamco,  Koi Carreon, Cristina Rose Chua, Jules Gregorio, Paul Quiroga, Borg Sinaban, Mico Dimagiba
My main problem with this is that it's a sampler (rather than a self-contained comic), but if you're interested in a Filipino folklore-inspired science fiction comic, here's a preview of what we're capable of.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Not a Review: Summer Komikon 2013 Stash (Part 1)

Not to be confused with a review, here's my initial thoughts on some comics I got during the recent Summer Komikon:

Hero Kitten: Kuting Magiting by Robert Magnuson
It's simple and straight-forward in terms of plot, but Kuting Magiting is nonetheless heartwarming. Don't let the simplicity fool you, however, as this elegance is proof of how meticulous and skillful Magnuson is when it comes to the comics format, best illustrated by this panel:

Who is AC? by Hope Larson (writer) and Tintin Pantoja (illustrator)
Black-and-white with a touch of pink is a nice touch, but what caught my attention is how modern and apt Who is AC? feels. While there's lots of formulaic elements, what turns it around is Larson's mastery of characterization and voice of her teen characters. This graphic novel however is a setup for a series, and I hope it gets continued. Besides, where else do we get to read an American comic that a) is targeted at teens, b) prominently features a female person-of-color as a protagonist, c) written and drawn by female comic creators.

Ang Maskot by Macoy
Snappy and upbeat, Ang Maskot captures an element of the Filipino zeitgeist and weaves an adult narrative around it without falling into the temptation of cynicism. While it doesn't have as much depth as School Run (and appropriately so since this is a self-contained story), it highlights many of the strenghts of Macoy's comics.

School Run (Part 1 ~ 5) by Macoy
There's a lot to love about Macoy's School Run. The art alone is an interesting juxtaposition between the bleak setting and iconic characters. But don't let the simplicity fool you: over the course of each issue, Macoy packs depth into his characters, at the same time imagining a setting that organically resonates with Philippine pop culture, such as the parallelism between the zombie outbreak and typhoons ("Signal #1 Laaang? Sayang!"). Or something as simple as naming a cat as Catniss.

Mikey Recio & The Secret of The Demon Dungeon by Budjette Tan,  Bow Guerrero, J.B. Tapia
The art is undeniably gorgeous and the setting makes great use of the Philippines, but ultimately, this IS a prologue, so the question is whether the team of Tan, Guerrero, and Tapia can sustain the momentum and flesh out the narrative before George R. R. Martin releases the last novel of A Song of Ice and Fire.

The Filipino Heroes League Book Two: The Sword by Paolo Fabregas
The previous volume was honestly problematic and this book still has its flaws, such as its indulgence when it comes to the wish-fulfillment aspect. But that aside, there's a significant improvement in terms of the art (and consistency), and with secret origins done away with, Fabregas keeps the ball rolling and creates an atmosphere similar to a thriller novel. What's interesting for me is how the focus on the political is amped up, and is quite appropriate since this is an election year.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Why the Bibliophile Stalker is Away

There are two Charles. One reads a lot and writes. The other plays all sorts of games. Both are contemplative and love to strategize. They seldom exist in the same space however. The first Charles could spend years devoting himself to fiction with nary a thought when it comes to games. When the latter emerges, however, there is this overwhelming desire to be the best: why bother pursuing something if you're not going to excel in it?

Writing and reading scratches a different itch: the more I write, the more I become aware that I'm lacking in a lot of areas. And that's not necessarily a bad thing: I think style and voice is important for writers, and if you compensate for your weaknesses too much, you might end up with a diluted narrative. Which isn't to say we can't evolve or become better as writers; but the more you develop as a writer, the more evident your shortcomings become.

Gaming is different. I love games which have a high skill ceiling and there's much room for growth. In recent years, games that I've become obsessed with include Starcraft II, Dota 2, Eclipse, and Mage Wars. While I may never completely master these games, there's an immediate payoff after a short amount of research, training, and practice: you objectively become better playing these games. While writing and critical reading can be subjective (and some writers are plagued with the inability to judge their own writing: what others consider as their talent is crap to them and vice versa), there are definite goals and rewards in games.

Both endeavors, however, require time and effort. It's why I seldom manage to juggle both at any one time (and why extra-curricular activities are sacrificed for the sake of your corresponding passions).

For the past few months, the aspect of myself obsessed with games is what's surfaced. In many ways, it's the me that looks for escape, a distraction from everything else. I have my feedback loop: I'm getting better at this, and other people should acknowledge me for my skill.

Recently though, I've been facing an emotional slump, and reading-writing is what I eventually fall back upon. It's art, and all the complexity that entails: art can be touching, gripping, and relevant to the challenges I face. But on the other hand, it can also be elusive, abstract, and shrouded in Mystery. There are no fixed rules, roles, or goals in life and fiction for me mimics that. I dislike the statement that writers are liars: for me, they articulate truth, even if it's not necessarily what we immediately perceive as reality.

This is me picking up the pieces, rediscovering who I am, rekindling my passion for stories, and coming back to what's meaningful.

(And on a side note, you should read Theodora Goss's Going for Real.)

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Guest Blog: Architects of Abandoned Cities by Chandler Klang Smith

Steven Millhauser’s novella “August Eschenburg” concerns itself with an inventor of performing automatons – a groundbreaking forefather in a field of entertainment that was in short time surpassed by animation and the movies. Historically, Eschenburg’s art form represents the road not taken by popular culture, but for Eschenburg himself, clockwork is the lens through which he sees the world, the only means of communication that can convey his secret heart. A life in which he ceases to build automatons is without meaning or passion. I find figures like this character fascinating, poignant, even haunting. What happens to a person who thinks in a dead language? What happens to an artist whose art form goes out of style?

In a way, my novel poses this same question about the American circus. Set in the 1960’s, when traveling shows of this kind had long since seen the heyday of its relevance, Goldenland Past Dark concerns itself with two characters for whom the big top is the essential forum for personal expression. The first, Dr. Show, is an impresario past his prime, driven on by ego and delusion even when it becomes clear that the public will never resuscitate the corpse of his career. The second, Webern Bell, is his protégé, a talented and damaged young man with a questionable grip on reality, who finds the emotional landscape of his life only navigable through the surreal clown acts that come to him in dreams. Both characters find peace only in the center ring, but tastes and trends leave them alone in its spotlight, performing for no one. The title of the novel comes from both men’s spiritual home, an abandoned amusement park called Goldenland that they visit one dark and lonely night – a place of faded laughter, long forgotten by most, created decades earlier by a famed toymaker named Kingsley Golden. Walking among its dilapidated rides is like entering the ruined civilization of another man’s mind.

As a fiction writer in the era of glimmering tablets and effortlessly streaming virtual immersion, I wonder if I too am the tyrannosaur offspring of an extinct world. I suppose only time will tell.

Chandler Klang Smith is a graduate of Bennington College and the Creative Writing MFA Program at Columbia University, where she received a Writing Fellowship. She lives in New York City. Goldenland Past Dark (ChiZine Publications, March 2013) is her first novel. Learn more about her at, or find her on Goodreads at

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Perils of the Bookshelf

Pictured above is my bookshelf. Not pictured above are the books, boxes full of books, and envelopes containing books, that have overtaken my floor. I don't really begrudge the loss of space, but my books--or more importantly, the dust--does pose a health problem for me to the point that every time I go through my shelves, I eventually end up with a cold the next day. It's gotten to the point that when the parents renovated the house two years ago, I didn't get to organize my own bookshelf due to the accumulated dust. Instead, someone else organized my bookshelf for me, and my memory of which books I have (and don't have), and where they are located, have been fuzzy ever since. At this point, my only comment is yay eBooks.

Earlier this month, I found myself ransacking my shelves, boxes, and envelopes looking for specific books (which also leads to inadvertent trips to bookstores all around the city) to loan, to give, to present to a friend. I tell myself I won't get sick (I end up sneezing the rest of the night) and reassure myself that my book is somewhere (sometimes, they are gone, either trapped in our basement somewhere, or the book has found a new home months or years earlier in a similar predicament). On one hand, the process is exhilarating, the same thrill a collector might feel upon acquiring an obscure item at the right price. On the other hand, there is the ailment that follows, and disappointment when you fail to find the specific book and fault your aging memory.

More importantly though, this is a rare occurrence, as for most of the year, I am usually content to let my bookshelf idle and gather dust (I can easily imagine communities springing to life when my back is turned, torturing protagonists, giving birth to new settings, and perhaps inventing a new word or two). It was only upon self-reflection that I realize I braved the perils of my bookshelf only when I wanted to impress someone, and by someone, I mean an individual who actually takes the time to read books and appreciates them. A few years back, there was a meme about dating someone who reads, and while not every reader is our ideal partner (I'm a selfish jerk for example), I'd like to think that I'll eventually end up with someone who is passionate about books. There's always a narrative, even if it's failure, when we go about choosing a book for someone; there's the time spent thinking what they might like, going through the process of procuring that specific title, and then convincing them to read it (and even if you succeed, might not lead to the intended consequences, in the same way that readers don't always arrive at the author's intentions). My heart flutters every time I go through this even if this eventually (100% so far) leads to disappointment, heartbreak, and depression.

There are a lot of adages I can console myself with but that's not what matters. There is still that moment, however brief, of joy that is boiled down to possibilities. And that's perhaps the beauty of the bookshelf: that there will always be options and divergent paths that's open and unique to each reader.

Now if only they'd find a cure for my allergies...

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Guest Blog: Way Inside the Story by Karen Heuler

We are each of us residing in our brains, looking at a world we decode with our various brain functions. If we’re lucky, everything works well and we see the world as it is. And one reason I love Oliver Sacks so much is how deft he was at presenting us with people who don’t see the same world we do. His stories in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat are rich and surreal, as tragic and beautiful as fiction. These are stories that tell us how we assemble the world around us; and how the structure can fall apart and we won’t even know it.

In my short story collection, The Inner City, people accept what they see no matter how “unreal” it may be; for them, it’s just part of their day. A woman comes across people growing up out of the soil, and because she’s retired and no longer of use, she finds a new purpose in allying herself with them. I imagined, for a while, writing a bunch of stories called “The League of Invisible Women”—stories that would show the power of women who have become socially invisible because they’re no longer young and lithesome. This could be one of those stories. She might be the only one who understands what’s happening and who chooses what to do about it. And because no one sees her as a threat, she’s invulnerable.

Most of my stories get their start from items in the news or other media. We’ve all seen occasional pieces about science and medicine trying trans-species grafts: mice with “human” ears; transplanted organs from pigs and apes or even dogs. Those transplants haven’t worked yet, but eventually something will work, in some variation that alarms us and then slips by us as it becomes familiar—like genetically modified food. At that point, not only will we grow transplants from “disposable” animals, we might see what happens when we mix and match desirable traits from humans and animals.

Not a nice thought, actually. I used this premise in “Down on the Farm.” We like dogs for their eagerness to please; mix that with male dominance and male desires and you get a very nasty world with an underclass of female human-dog hybrids as a new servant class. How would you feel about it—about using hybrid animals without having to worry about protecting anything like their rights?

This collection does tend to notice the animals around us. There are stories about fish that grant wishes; fish that walk and appear to be organizing themselves; there’s a cow that a girl creates from discarded packets of meat she got from the store. In “The Difficulties of Evolution,” people evolve into animals at some point in their lives, and the trick is to discover which one you are. Don’t we all know people who remind us of bears or cats or birds? What would happen if they stopped looking like them and started being them? Would they just be moved from one category to another in our brains?

We know things are going on behind our backs and it’s only a matter of time before it’s evident. It’s only too likely that someone else, behind the scenes, is controlling the parking spaces. Nothing is more inevitable than an ultimate showdown with nature. And haven’t we all been warned to be careful what we wish for? These stories are all based on reality! I wouldn’t be at all surprised if all of them were true.

And now to get back to Dr. Oliver Sacks and his patients.

The brain creates stories. The brain creates plots. The brain constantly tries to create a narrative. Writers are a lot like the brain—noticing, analogizing, finding a pattern, making it into a meaning. Telling a story. And readers like to find the stories that match up with that vaguely uneasy feeling they’ve been having. A good story makes life meaningful rather than random. It takes the memories and observations in our brains and comes up with a structure that rings with authenticity.

But is a story real?

I can only imagine you; I am glad to imagine you; I need to imagine you. Because in imagining you I begin to make up a tale that convinces me that what I say indeed is real.

Karen Heuler's stories have appeared in over sixty literary and speculative journals and anthologies, including several "Best of" collections. She's published a short story collection and three novels, and won an O. Henry award in 1998. She lives in New York with her dog, Philip K. Dick, and her cats, Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Best Intentions...

I've come to value perspective and empathy: I don't have it, but over the years, I've become aware that I don't have these qualities.

One of the problems when we talk about topics like diversity, privilege, racism, feminism, misogyny, etc. is that some participants think they see the entire picture. And despite the best intentions, we have shortcomings. For example, in 2012, some prominent bloggers tackle "World SF" in their own way. There was one person who talked about African Science Fiction but only chose to include Mike Resnick in his title. Or another who wanted more Chinese Science Fiction, but was asking to see more space-oriented fiction akin to the "Golden Age" of Western science fiction with China's space program. That's not to shame them, and they had the best of intentions, but it's also ignorant and they're probably unaware of what they did wrong (and I'm guilty of this too).

But what I want to talk about is how sometimes, in supporting a particular cause, we can end up neglecting others. Just look at the difference between third-wave feminism and second-wave feminism: the former addresses a lot of concerns for people who don't conform to the gender binary, while the latter does not. In practical terms, I might produce an anthology highlighting People of Color (POC) for example, but leave out women, or vice versa.

One not-so-recent Twitter conversation I saw for example was a publisher asking for gender stats from a magazine and the managing editor smartly replied that they couldn't just give out stats divided into male/female--at least not based on name alone (which, in itself, isn't exactly the most accurate way). Some contributors identify themselves with different gender identities so the binary statistics model doesn't fit. It didn't occur to me back then, but they made great sense. And again, it's a shortcoming of my existing paradigm.

That's not to say that we should give up on our causes since they're going to be flawed, but rather we need to keep an open mind and progress the conversation. While not all change is necessarily good, if we are to evolve to be better people in general, our ideas and beliefs also need to grow and develop.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Turning Off the Internet

So far in 2013, I've turned off the Internet: no checking of RSS feeds, not browsing Livejournal (showing my Internet age here...), not keeping myself updated on Twitter and Facebook, no checking of stats, etc. And surprisingly, I'm totally fine with that. There's a lot of arguments, debates, and conflict that you end up avoiding--stressors that don't help your productivity (and right now, my productivity is nada).

It's a reminder for me that it's okay to step back, take a deep breath, and devote some personal time for yourself when needed. In the meantime, I'm taking baby steps when it comes to my blogging self (apologies for the lack of updates), hence this short blog entry.

Hope your 2013 is going well.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Updates, or Lack Thereof

Apologies for the lack of updates. I'm currently recovering from the new day job (well, it's been new since December 2011) and the monotony of doing nothing but links for the past two years. Have I mentioned that I have an anthology from Lethe Press, published last year?

I'm hoping to recalibrate myself and perform my regular blogging duties by February 2013. There'll be reviews once again, although I'm also hoping to focus on local stuff that the day job doesn't publish, since not a lot of venues discuss or review Philippine fiction. I'm also hoping to spread out a bit, talking about my other passions.

Thanks for your time and if you're not comfortable with the direction the blog is heading, feel free to unsubscribe, unfollow, unfriend, etc.

And if you're still with me, thanks again for all the support.