Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Enter 2009, And A Banned Words List

Like most everyone I know, I've been taking a break. Once Christmas was over I willed my mind and body to slow down and forget all worries and concerns. I think I'll be this way till January 4, 2009. For myself, I'm enjoying the time to just be able to crack open a book and read at length with nary an interruption. I've read 'Schulz And Peanuts', 'The Unbroken Web', 'Gods Behaving Badly', 'The Moorchild', and 'The Tales Of Beedle The Bard'; I'm also about to finish 'The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao', and yes, I know I'm late to read it, but I'm going to start on 'Life Of Pi' next (or maybe I'll read Ian Fleming's 'You Only Live Twice' first before I get to Yann Martel's story). Quite productive. Come the 5th, it'll be time to face the grind again, but I think (I hope) I'll be ready for it.

I just want to blog and say Happy New Year to everyone, and here's hoping that 2009 will be much, much better for everyone!

I also found this article, "Banned Words List Offers No 'Bailout' To Offenders", which you may find amusing. For the people behind the list, words like 'maverick', 'green', and 'monkey' are way, way overused. Click on the link to read it, and enjoy a New Year's Eve chuckle. Interesting list, in contrast to the different Words Of The Year, which I blogged about earlier this year.

Happy New Year to everyone again!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Still Listening To This Christmas Album

Well, here's the one Christmas album that this Grinch still listens to: A Charlie Brown Christmas, featuring the music of American jazz musician Vince Guaraldi.

It's not accurate for me to say that the music hasn't gotten old. It was already old when I first heard it on the TV show, which was released in 1965, and which I didn't watch (on Betamax!) till the early 1980's. I was already a fan of the Peanuts strip then, so maybe that's why I didn't have a hard time taking to the show.

In fact, the music didn't take to my younger self's ears right away as much as the show itself, except for one song, the upbeat "Linus And Lucy", which by itself I've given over to be the Peanuts theme song. But as I grew older, as the TV special began to be replayed on our beta player, on local TV, or on FEN-P more and more often (no cable yet back then), I began to hear the soundtrack as much as the dialogue of the Peanuts characters, all without needing to turn the volume up. In other words, my ears began to hear more than they usually did, and the music grew on me.

Many of the songs on the album are easily recognizable instrumental versions of familiar carols: O Tannenbaum, Hark, The Herald Angels Sing; A Christmas Song; My Little Drum (for The Little Drummer Boy). But what I particularly enjoy with these familiar carols is the way Mr. Guaraldi takes off from the main melody and gradually sets off to play all sorts of his own complex beats, riffs, and patterns; yet he never strays so far from that melody that you don't remember it or fail to hear its echo, or loses control, even as he delves and loses himself in his own arrangement.

There's an admittedly poor mental image I use which might help explain what I mean. You know those movies from old Hollywood, films like Singin' In The Rain? This was back when dancers like Kelly, Astaire, Charise, and Reynolds were the A-listers on L.A. casting lists. (Brief aside: Charise passes away earlier this year, while Reynolds is more popularly known among younger people--like me, ahem--as the mother of Princess Leia Organa, er, Carrie Fisher). Anyway, back to the mental image:

Imagine a deserted boulevard at dusk, stretching into the distance, lit dully by streetlamps. Place in this scene (enter, stage left) a genial drunk, played either by Kelly or Astaire, stumbling on the asphalt, right in the middle, along the white, dashed lines. As the music starts, the drunk times his steps to the beat; he's still drunk, and he's still stumbling, but he moves as if in the beginning of a dance, though still along the white line. Once the music builds, and Guaraldi starts moving off the melody, the drunk begins to dance in earnest and with more energy, stepping away from the white line bit by bit, but to move to the steps and twists and turns that only an Astaire or Kelly can discover and own.

Once we're deep into the music, the drunk is everywhere but the white line, though we never lose sight of it, and he's still on the same road, though he never steps off camera or onto the sidewalk.

At last, as the music finds the melody once more, as Guaraldi somehow returns to the original key from wherever other chords and patterns and scales he's been, the drunk moves back to the white line, slows down, and stumbles on to disappear into the darkness just as the music ends. Fade.

It might help even more if you can imagine this mental image in black and white.

Hmm. How else can I explain the appeal I find in the music of A Charlie Brown Christmas?

It's like a writer who cheekily attempts to break the rules and write a long, run-on sentence, one that starts with the main idea of what he truly wants to say, then goes on and on, delaying the full-stop for as long as possible, all the while trying to maintain coherence, to keep the idea, to hold the reader within the narrative of the text, to not break the thin, delicate thread that keeps everything together, intact, and which connects writer with reader, yet daring and testing the tension and control by flying off on so many tangents, hither, tither, and yon, but never forgetting to come back to the main point, which is: that he was really just playing on this idea and sought this form of expression because he believed that this was the best way for him to bring forth what was on his mind; a long, leisurely journey that at its heart clearly had only one direction in its intent despite the main feints and fakes along the way.

Ooo, that was lame. Check out some Latin American writers for better examples; they're pretty good with those types of sentences. Or for a text that's closer to home, check out the first paragraph of Nick Joaquin's "May Day Eve".

I think the rest of the songs in the album are original compositions, and all of them sound just like their titles: Christmas Time Is Here, Skating, Christmas Is Coming. I say this perhaps because I've already associated this music with the scenes in the TV show, respectively, when the Peanuts kids go caroling, when Snoopy skates on the frozen lake (barefoot! Er, paw!), or when all the kids go nuts and start dancing during rehearsal, breaking up the preparations for the Christmas play Charlie Brown is directing. With these songs there is no need for Guaraldi to go off line; he makes up his own melodies and lines here, and can freely choose how he wants to go. The songs are lovely, whether they are the slow melancholy of a sweet carol or an upbeat tune for dancing.

The only song I find to be the odd-man in the mix is Beethoven's Fur Elise, played by Schroeder in one of the show's slower moments. It's a pure classical piano piece, but I just accept it because, well, Beethoven is Schroeder's favorite composer, and Peanuts would not be Peanuts without Schroeder and his toy piano somewhere in there. All is forgiven.

So there. A small part of this Grinch's small heart is still given to one (and just one!) Christmas album; I sometimes listen to it even outside the season, and while reading. I've done my best to explain why, and I hope my fellow Grinches out there will pardon me, and grant me this small, small indulgence. I'm listening to it right now, Skating is playing, and I'm smiling as I finish this blog entry.

I want to greet everyone a Merry Christmas right now, because once this album ends, I'm going back to my regular Grinchy self. Have a safe season, everyone!

(Check out this link for samples of the music).

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Just In Time For Christmas--A Book About Dickens

I put up a post earlier today about self-publishing, and then, a coincidence! Just this afternoon I find out in this article that one of the most famous Christmas stories of all time was actually self-published! Here's the article: Just In Time For Christmas--A Book About Dickens.

MIAMI (Reuters) – A new book about the economic struggles author Charles Dickens faced before he wrote "A Christmas Carol" in 1843 has been a hit with holiday shoppers.

"The Man Who Invented Christmas" by American historian and crime novelist Les Standiford has enjoyed brisk early sales at a time when many people may need some holiday cheer during the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.

"The need to be reminded of the importance of charity is even greater in difficult times," Standiford said in an interview.

At only 31 with a large family to feed, pressing financial needs and a dwindling reputation, Dickens had hit hard times after his earlier successes with "The Pickwick Papers," "Oliver Twist" and "The Old Curiosity Shop."

"I learned that Dickens needed money, he was desperate," Standiford explained.

Haunted by his father's incarceration in debtor's prison and his own experience of being forced to work at 12 to support his family, Dickens underwent a prolonged period of introspection before his fortunes turned again with "A Christmas Carol," according to Standiford.

With the book, and its enduring characters like Tiny Tim, Scrooge and Marley, Dickens had hoped to redeem himself with an uplifting message about a world of universal charity, empathy and family harmony.

But Standiford said he also probably had something less altruistic in mind than changing the world when he penned what became the shortest book he had written.

"The more practical need - to make a few quick bucks -- was not too far on the side," Standiford said.


Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol" in six weeks and spent his own money to do it. His publishers were dubious. Christmas was not even remotely the holiday then that it is now, so the subject matter was more than doubtful.

There were no Christmas trees or cards, no outpouring of gifts or "Yuletide greetings," and it was already October.

But the book was out in time for Christmas 1843.

Dickens not only wrote it, he did all the editing, chose the paper and binding and paid for it all out of his own pocket in something akin to what we now know as vanity publishing.

Standiford said the book made all the difference in the way we celebrate Christmas today.

"It has entered into the fabric of our Western civilization and Christmas and 'A Christmas Carol' are inextricably entwined," Standiford explained.

His book is subtitled "How Charles Dickens's 'A Christmas Carol' Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits."

"Dickens refused to believe we would always have the haves and have nots. He believed we could figure it out," he said.

25 Things You Need To Know About Self-Publishing

For those of you who are considering self-publishing, best you read this article by David Carnoy: Self-Publishing A Book: 25 Things You Need To Know. An excerpt:

The reason I'm here is that I have a book. A novel. Knife Music. Contrary to what you might think based on my day job, it's not a cyber-thriller, though it is a mystery/thriller with a medical/legal slant.

Its short history is this: I worked on it for several years, acquired a high-powered agent, had some brushes with major publishers, then, crickets. Way back when, say, a dozen years ago, a single editor could acquire a book, but today a whole board is usually required to sign off on a project, especially when a big advance is involved. Worse yet, the traditional book publishing business has fallen on hard times, with layoffs and news that vaunted old publishers such as Houghton Mifflin have literally put the freeze on acquisitions. In short, it's ugly out there, particularly for new fiction writers.

I could have tried to go for a small publisher, but I was told mine was "a bigger book" with more commercial aspirations and prestigious small publishers were interested in more literary tomes. I also learned that many small publishers were being wiped out by the "self-publishing revolution," a movement that's not so unlike the "citizen journalism" or bloggers' revolt of recent years that's had a major impact on mainstream media, including this publication. The basic premise is anyone can become a small publisher. You call the shots. You retain the rights to your book. And you take home a bigger royalty than you'd normally get from a traditional publisher--if you sell any books.

Against the advice of my agent, I began perusing the big self-publishing companies' Web sites and evaluating what they had to offer. Then I started poking around blogs and message boards to get customer testimonials. What I found was a veritable minefield with roads that forked in every direction and very few clear answers.

Friday, December 19, 2008

What Makes A Presidential Speechwriter?

We've all heard or read U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's speeches this year, or at the very least, seen clips and snippets of them. Americans old enough to know say that his speeches have been the most uplifting and inspirational since U.S. President John F. Kennedy's. I've always been under the impression that Obama writes his own speeches, but it seems he has a co-writer: 27 year old Jon Favreau, who will serve in the White House as Director of Speechwriting.

In this Washington Post article, "Helping To Write History", we get to know the young man behind so many of Obama's memorable speeches, and who is also helping draft his inaugural address.

Here's an interesting excerpt:

Still more daunting is the list of things Favreau can't think about as he writes the inaugural. He went for a run to the Lincoln Memorial last month and stopped in his tracks when he imagined the mall packed with 3 million people listening to some of his words. A few weeks later, Favreau winced when Obama spokesman Bill Burton reminded him: "Dude, what you're writing is going to be hung up in people's living rooms!"

"If you start thinking about what's at stake, it can get paralyzing," Favreau said.

More than once I've been given the warning "Once you become aware that you're writing, for whatever reason, you're no longer writing". It's the flipside of reading story passages that suddenly jolt you out of the narrative because the way the text is written makes you aware that you're reading. This seems to apply to Mr. Favreau. :)

The Newbery May Dampen Kids' Reading

Taken from The Bibliophile Stalker, this link: The Newbery May Dampen Kids' Reading. An excerpt:

The Newbery Medal has been the gold standard in children's literature for more than eight decades. On the January day when the annual winner is announced, bookstores nationwide sell out, libraries clamor for copies and teachers add the work to lesson plans.

Now the literary world is debating the Newbery's value, asking whether the books that have won recently are so complicated and inaccessible to most children that they are effectively turning off kids to reading. Of the 25 winners and runners-up chosen from 2000 to 2005, four of the books deal with death, six with the absence of one or both parents and four with such mental challenges as autism. Most of the rest deal with tough social issues.

I found this related article, Has The Newbery Lost Its Way? An excerpt:

Book critics and reviewers offered the harshest critiques. “Recent Newbery committees seem dismissive of popularity, a quality which should be an asset,” said one reviewer. “They appear to be hunting for a special book—one with only a few readers, rather than a universal book,” offered another. “They search for a book that makes the committee powerful, because they were the only ones to think of it,” reasoned a critic. When asked what she didn’t like about these titles, one reviewer responded, “There is so little right about these completely forgettable books.”

Booksellers told me that selling a Newbery winner during the 1990s was as easy as picking an apple off a tree, because the choices usually excited them. But “in the past few years,” explained one veteran, “we haven’t sold a single copy of the Newbery.” While a young bookseller conceded it was a snap to sell a classic like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to 9 out of 10 of her customers, only 1 in a 1,000 seemed intrigued by the recent Newbery winners. Today’s kids are just as discerning. Until a few years ago, said a chair of a book award selected solely by children, whenever the Newbery medalist was added to the master list, librarians complained because it was a shoo-in to win. Not anymore. These days, the Newbery winners “get very few votes from children.”

I grew up on many Newbery Medal and Honor books: Call It Courage, The Black Cauldron, The High King, Mrs. Frisby And The Rats of NIMH, The Cricket In Times Square, Dear Mr. Henshaw, Charlotte's Web, A Wrinkle In Time, to name some. I haven't read many of the latest ones, but maybe I should so I can see for myself what's making the critics speak up.

Here's a last excerpt from the first article above:

"The criterion has never been popularity," said Pat Scales, president of the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association. "It is about literary quality. We don't expect every child to like every book. How many adults have read all the Pulitzer Prize-winning books and the National Book Award winners and liked every one?"

"Quality and popularity are not mutually exclusive concepts," said Anita Silvey, editor of several books, including "Children's Books and Their Creators," an overview of 20th-century children's books. "They can be found in the same book. . . . If you don't think of children at all in the equation, what you get are books that work for adults."

Yet Deborah Johnson said she is reluctant to criticize the quality of recent Newbery winners: "To choose books that people feel are going to stretch a young person's mind is not a bad thing."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


More insights about war and fighting from Peanuts in this strip, a continuation of the one I blogged about here, "Peace!"

No words needed.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Oh No! Not Elie Wiesel!

The TV was on CNN, and they were flashing pictures of some of the fleeced investors of Bernard L. Madoff, the former fund manager and NASDAQ Chairman who, it seemed, had been running an elaborate Ponzi scheme, with his clients (or victims, as the case may be) being many high and powerful people, including captains of industry, hedge fund managers, celebrities, and high finance executives. The amount lost that most likely will never be seen by these investors again supposedly reaches US$50 billion. I'm sure you'll recognize some of the names of these investors: Steven Spielberg, BNP Paribas, HSBC, RBS, Fred Wilpon (owner of the New York Mets), and Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. These three articles enumerate some of the other investors, but there are many smaller investors--regular people--who it seems have lost their savings because of this man's scheme.

Elie Wiesel is most famous for the book, "Night", and earlier this year, I read another of his books, "The Gates Of The Forest". I blogged about it briefly, typing out the book's first five pages for you to read, if you wish.

I kind of remember reading news articles about Ponzi schemes and victims here in the Philippines too over the last six or seven years or so...


I've been thinking a lot about the renewed tensions between India and Pakistan in light of the recent events in Mumbai.

In four simply drawn panels, and with one word, Charles M. Schulz captures just how difficult it is to bring any disagreement into settlement.

Poor Snoopy.

I think you can apply that comic strip to any war and any peace-effort, big or small.

Having said this, I think I'm going to be able to find some time in late December to read Schulz And Peanuts: A Biography, which my brother gave me some months ago. Hooray!

Strip borrowed from and linked to

Roberto Bolaño Interview

Zen In Darkness sent me an email with a link to this Roberto Bolano interview. Bolano's viewpoints are very interesting, as can be gleaned from these quotes from his interview (chosen by Zen In Darkness):

'20th century Latin American literature has followed the impulses of imitation and rejection, and may continue to do so for some time in the 21st century. As a general rule, human beings either imitate or reject the great monuments, never the small, nearly invisible treasures. We have very few writers who have cultivated the fantastic in the strictest sense—perhaps none, because among other reasons, economic underdevelopment doesn’t allow subgenres to flourish. Underdevelopment only allows for great works of literature. Lesser works, in this monotonous or apocalyptic landscape, are an unattainable luxury. Of course, it doesn’t follow that our literature is full of great works—quite the contrary. At first the writer aspires to meet these expectations, but then reality—the same reality that has fostered these aspirations—works to stunt the final product. I think there are only two countries with an authentic literary tradition that have at times managed to escape this destiny—Argentina and Mexico. As to my writing, I don’t know what to say. I suppose it’s realist. I’d like to be a writer of the fantastic, like Philip K. Dick, although as time passes and I get older, Dick seems more and more realist to me. Deep down—and I think you’ll agree with me—the question doesn't lie in the distinction of realist/fantastic but in language and structures, in ways of seeing.'

'The truth is, I don’t believe all that much in writing. Starting with my own. Being a writer is pleasant—no,
pleasant isn’t the word—it’s an activity that has its share of amusing moments, but I know of other things that are even more amusing, amusing in the same way that literature is for me. Holding up banks, for example. Or directing movies. Or being a gigolo. Or being a child again and playing on a more or less apocalyptic soccer team. Unfortunately, the child grows up, the bank robber is killed, the director runs out of money, the gigolo gets sick and then there’s no other choice but to write. For me, the word writing is the exact opposite of the word waiting. Instead of waiting, there is writing. Well, I’m probably wrong—it’s possible that writing is another form of waiting, of delaying things. I’d like to think otherwise. But, as I said, I’m probably wrong.'

'Yes, plots are a strange matter. I believe, even though there may be many exceptions, that at a certain moment a story chooses you and won’t leave you in peace. Fortunately, that's not so important--the form, the structure, always belong to you, and without form or structure there's no book, or at least in most cases that's what happens. Let’s say the story and the plot arise by chance, that they belong to the realm of chance, that is, chaos, disorder, or to a realm that’s in constant turmoil (some call it apocalyptic). Form, on the other hand, is a choice made through intelligence, cunning and silence, all the weapons used by Ulysses in his battle against death. Form seeks an artifice; the story seeks a precipice. Or to use a metaphor from the Chilean countryside (a bad one, as you’ll see): It’s not that I don’t like precipices, but I prefer to see them from a bridge.'

'The truth is, reading is always more important than writing.'

Zen In Darkness had sent in a previous link about Bolano here, and he also sent in this link to a Bolano story, "Meeting With Enrique Lihn", over at The New Yorker; the story is one long paragraph.

As Zen In Darkness said in his email, read the interview yourself and see which other passages draw your attention.

What The F...?!

Author Lois Lowry received the above anonymous letter (here's a link in case you can't read the image), which has something nasty to say about her novel, "The Giver". Nick Mamatas, another author, has something to say about the letter. Make your own judgments. Bad enough that the letter is anonymous, and the sender won't stand behind what he/she has written.

Thanks to The Bibliophile Stalker, from whose blog I saw the above links.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Back To The Fix It Shop

An antique Olympia...

...and an antique Royal

I'm headed back to The Fix It Shop (I was just there early last month). I had two of my manual typewriters fixed then; now, I have another one, a much older one, in need of repair.

I visited a relative's place over the weekend for dinner, and part of the talk went around how expensive original ink and toner cartridges are for today's printers. One guest said he thinks that it's a marketing ploy by the printer manufacturers: price the units really cheap, but then make the real money on the ink. Even compatible cartridges and bottomless ink systems aren't as cheap or reliable as they used to be, others said. So I shared with them how I sometimes still use manual typewriters, which must've sparked the host's mind because she suddenly remembered that she owned more than one typewriter, unused and put aside.

She had them brought out, and suddenly before me sat a really old manual Olympia, even much older than mine. I think it's a certifiable antique! Her other machines were electrics, Brothers. They had stopped using the electrics because for some reason, whenever they typed certain letter or number combinations, the user would get a serious electric jolt (I had to stifle a laugh when I heard this). "Why did you stop using the Olympia?" I asked. They said that it just got forgotten, and I agreed with her when the host said that it is easier to use printers and word processors.

In any case, I offered to bring the Olympia to The Fix It Shop, just to see if it can be refurbished and brought back to working condition. The ribbon's ink had dried up, some keys stick, and rolling paper into place is not easy (the sheet snags somewhere on the inside, on the right, and even tears sometimes). But the ribbon catches still turn, and there are no broken or missing keys. If the cost isn't too high (ribbons cost less than P25.00, it's the spare parts and labor that might cost more), I'll have it repaired for my relative.

"Retro cool," someone remarked. "It's like wearing Chucks."

After bringing the Olympia home, it struck me how close in appearance it looked to the old Royal typewriters the faculty and administrative staff used in my old high school. Now if the Olympia is old, the Royals are even older. Luckily, I have pictures of both, so you can see this for yourselves. You can tell the Royal is the more antique machine because the keys are flatter and more rounded, and have this circle of silver steel around each. I remember seeing typewriters like these being used as props in old, black and white movies that are set in World War II or are about detectives/gangsters in the 1950's and 1960's.

My relative also inquired if the Brothers could be repaired, but I said that the manual one might have more hope. But hey, no harm in asking for a repair-quote, if she really wants to have her machines brought back to life.

I think it is cool, bringing these old writing machines back into service. :)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

61st AAP Annual Art Competition Awards Night & Opening Exhibit

Announcement of an Art Exhibit, care of The Intersections & Beyond:

61st AAP* Annual Art Competition Awards Night & Opening Exhibit
December 13, 2008 Saturday
5:30pm, GSIS Theater, CCP Complex
Manila, Philippines

Opening Exhibit: simultaneous in GSIS Museum & Kanlungan ng Sining Gallery (AAP Office near Luneta)
Witness works in Painting, Mixed Media, Sculpture, B&W Drawing and Photography.

The paintings and mixed media works are displayed in GSIS Museum while the 3 other categories are displayed in Kanlungan ng Sining Gallery.

*Art Association of the Philippines

Friday, December 12, 2008

Using Classic Literature To Break Internet Addiction

A Chinese teacher has broken a young girl's internet addiction by making her read and recite Chinese classics (here's the article). The report describes one family's problem with their young daughter, who was finding all sorts of ways to get online despite the efforts of her parents. They enrolled her in this teacher's school, and it seems his methods have broken her addiction. Some have criticized the teacher's methods, but based on the report, the family is doing better now. I wonder if this method will work in other places of the world in breaking all kinds of addictions, internet or otherwise. Anyone for reciting Florante at Laura? :)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Ancient Art Of Keeping It Real

Sent in by Zen In Darkness: The Ancient Art Of Keeping It Real. An excerpt:

It's one of the most contentious debates in the literary blogosphere, but its roots stretch back more than 2,000 years. Is realism, "lifeness" or verisimilitude a necessary quality of good literature?

Former Guardian books editor James Wood
argues forcefully that it is, and in so doing has trampled on and trounced some glamorous, bulgy, iconic American novels. This has fuelled fireworks and lit up a lot of Yankees. Votaries of Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo are particularly hostile. Wood's extolling of "lifeness" and character as key to "how fiction works" has resulted in much red-flagged response from those who favour avant garde experimentalism. Attacks have been frenzied and in some cases gratuitously insulting. Much of the name calling can be put down to envy - Wood writes better than almost all comers - or a misplaced national pride - how dare this upstart limey besmirch our holy texts.

Wood's contention is that the best drama/fiction uses techniques that create lifelike characters because this is how emotions and feelings are most effectively communicated, how the most pleasure is gained and how moral improvement is best achieved. Of course, words on the page do not perfectly replicate the real world - they're just scribbled signs - but gain their power by creating reactions in readers which approximate those experienced in their real lives. If I can get psychoanalytical for a moment, when a situation replicates something first encountered in childhood, this often triggers feelings similar to those experienced years ago.

PGS Horror Issue Review

Earlier this year, I sent David Dizon, the writer from ABS-CBN News, early copies of the stories from the PGS Horror Issue, and he's put up an advanced review. The horror issue isn't out yet (lots of production conflicts) but I'm still doing my best to get it out before Christmas (the rush at work is a killer, worse than some of the monsters in the issue's stories). I'll blog here as soon as it's available in stores, but my thanks to David once more for writing a very detailed review of the PGS Horror issue. Thank you very much, David! :D

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Lady Who Wouldn't Take My Fare

Jeepney drivers lucky enough to have helpers who ride shotgun have it easier than those who don't, because these assistants can keep track of where passengers got on, where they get off, and compute the fare accordingly. When I was younger I wondered how these drivers and their helpers could gauge the actual kilometers traveled by a passenger and compute any fares that went beyond the minimum rate. Now I know that it's all just a vague "guess-timate"; they know their routes well-enough to make an assumption of how many kilometers certain points on their route are relative to where they've been.

When you ride a jeep, there's an unspoken and unwritten rule of fair play and honesty among the passengers. The one least followed is that if there's space up front, you move up front, closer to the driver, so that newer passengers will have an easier time embarking. This usually doesn't happen because everyone wants to sit closest to the rear to make exiting easier.

Honesty comes into play when paying. Drivers with assistants have the added advantage of having an extra pair of eyes to keep track of who hasn't handed over their fare, but drivers who don't may miss out on those trying to get a free ride, especially if traffic is heavy, the jeep is constantly full in a steady stream of people getting on and off, and every face blurs right into the next in a mix of sweat, heat, car fumes, and dust. In the past, it was more common to find jeeps with signs that punned: "God knows Hudas not pay", "Hudas" being the Filipino name for the Bible villain Judas, and a play on the words "who does". I don't see as many signs like these anymore, but I'm sure there are a few still around.

Perhaps another reason riders don't want to move forward when they embark is that they are usually tasked to take the fares of those who are in the rear, and pass this on to the driver or the assistant. If the fare isn't exact, it's their unspoken responsibility to pass the change back to the rider. The driver's hands are usually sweaty, and grimy with grease and motor-oil, and who knows what stuff the other passengers have been holding? Money isn't very clean. A U.S. study I read long ago reported that dollar bills can be as dirty as public restroom toilets, so you can imagine how dirty the money in our wallets are right now.

I know I'm taking an awfully long time to get to my point, but I suppose that's because all these thoughts came to me in a rush because of what happened last night. Just like in an old blog entry when, for the first time ever, I encountered a lady jeepney driver, last night I experienced, for the first time ever also, my first uncooperative passenger.

I had just hopped onto a half-empty jeep heading for my neighborhood, and had taken a seat near the back (breaking the rule I mentioned above myself). Only one passenger was seated up front, a lady with short hair and in office clothes who looked to be in her late 20's. I had my fare ready, and called out to the driver to hand it to him, so he reached backward to take it. Another lady passenger in the middle took my money and made to pass it forward to the lady up front. She called out to this passenger and stretched her arm out with my fare, but the lady in front did not make a move to take it. She didn't even blink. The driver and another passenger seated beside him actually stared at her and asked her to take the money, but she was lost in her own world; she didn't even look at them. We called to her several times, but there was no reaction.

This oddness clearly unsettled those of us in the jeep; no one found it amusing. Everyone's brow was wrinkled in confusion or irritation. This doesn't happen! One man muttered quite loudly, "Ang bastos" (How rude). The lady with my coins handed them back to me, and I heard her say "Nakakatakot" (Scary). She didn't want to get near that other lady. Clearly, when these unspoken rules are broken (outside of sitting near the rear instead of in front), jeepney-riding people clearly get bothered. I could do little else but take my coins, stand up, and hand over my fare to the driver myself, but even I couldn't bring myself to sit beside this lady up front; I returned to the rear.

Little by little the jeepney filled with other travelers, and another person who had sat up close to the driver took on his temporary role of taking fares and returning change. I closely watched the lady who had refused to pass my money, but nothing else changed in her demeanor until I got off at my stop.

What to make of this? What story is behind this? Was she deaf, perhaps? She certainly wasn't blind; I saw no walking cane, and she was alone and unassisted. How strange, and really, the reactions of the other passengers were not surprising because, well, like professional basketball players who miss easy, open layups, or excellent free throw shooters bricking their charities, this really doesn't happen. In fact, pro players and good free throw shooters can miss, but something like this just doesn't happen. So when it does, it's unsettling. I really do wonder what story is behind this.

You know what else struck me? In all my years of riding jeeps, I've never suffered a robbery yet, believe it or not. This year I've had my first lady jeepney driver, and my first uncooperative co-passenger. Could a stick-up be next? Gee, I hope not. But as I recall last night's weirdness I still feel unsettled, and I can still see the same in the faces of the others with me yesterday night.

The Tyranny Of The To-Read Pile

Sent in by Zen In Darkness: The Tyranny Of The To-Read Pile. An excerpt:

Over recent months I've read plenty of articles about the impact the credit crunch will have on publishing, and the general consensus appears to be that while it will doubtless be affected like every other industry, the impact will likely be gentler than elsewhere. The industry is used to struggling already, so it's less likely to be panicked by narrowing profit margins than those skittish coke-fiends in the city. What's more, recessions generally don't seem to stop people buying books. Punters may have less money to throw away on extravagant food-porn absurdities such as The Big Fat Duck Cookbook, but this is balanced out by the sad fact that plenty of people suddenly find themselves with a lot more time to read.

I'm prepared to go along with that theory, but an article I just came across on has led me to question the premise slightly. The stealthy links-master (whom I love even though he once tried to have me assassinated) suggests that if we're feeling the financial pinch, we should stop going to bookshops: "Instead of going out and buying more books you fully-intend-to but are-not-going-to read, why not examine your shelves for ones that slipped through the cracks and feel lonely and neglected."

If everyone has as many unread books as I have such actions won't help the industry - as bookninja suggests. And much as I'd appreciate the spare cash he also points out will result from not buying books, the challenge has a definite dark side. In directing us to the books we already own, bookninja is asking us to confront the tyranny of the to-read pile head-on.

Books And Travel On CNN Business Traveler

CNN Business Traveler will have a feature on books and travel today. Host Richard Quest will talk about where to find good books when you're living out of a suitcase (I don't know which parts of the world he'll cover, though, but I'm sure you can order products from the stores he will feature via the web, if you're so inclined). I caught the program schedule as 16:30 Buenos Aires, today, but I'm not sure what time that is in the Philippines. Thanks to Village Idiot Savant for the heads up.

By Moon Alone Fantasy Fiction Contest

Taken from The Bibliophile Stalker's blog (whose links and plugs posts you should really check out as often as you can): By Moon Alone Fantasy Fiction Contest. This contest is sponsored by Filipino artist Honoel A. Ibardolaza (nicknamed HAI). Good luck!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Should Our Writers Globalize?

"Should Our Writers Globalize?", an article from The Philippine Star by F. Sionil Jose. An excerpt:

In a couple of days, I will be 84 — a very old man. I have earned the privilege of saying what I please because now, I know so much — and yet, I also know so little. Indeed the whole of living is a learning experience. I have seen how this nation has decayed, how our leaders betrayed the Filipino dream. I think I can also question now without quibbling what Ninoy Aquino said, that the Filipino is worth dying for.

With my background, then I hope I can impart to you some thoughts about writing — shortcuts, perhaps, in the craft which will spare you some trouble.

Early enough answer some basic questions which all writers should ask of themselves, like, what is literature? Why do I write? What will I write about? And who is my audience?

Click here for the whole article.

Monday, December 08, 2008

@#$%^ ONE THING!

Less than ten minutes' walk from my place is a sprawl of establishments that includes a bookstore, a department store, three drugstores, two groceries, a coffee place, and various restaurants and small businesses. After work today, I went to this place to buy some necessities for the house. As is the case for an old, forgetful, and stressed-out guy like me, I forgot to purchase ONE THING. What this ONE THING is isn't important to this post, but I can tell you that as I unlocked the front gate and set foot onto my property, it struck me that I had forgotten to buy it. Under my breath I muttered some colourful words guaranteed to put me on the "Naughty/Not Nice/Downright Evil" list of the fat guy in the red suit.

I dropped my bags and packages onto the living room coffee table--dismally thinking of the crowds, the long lines at the cashiers, the traffic's exhaust fumes, and worst of all, the piped-in Christmas carols--and trudged back, grumbling all the way.

Finding the #$%^@! ONE THING was not too difficult, but finding a way to pay for it was. People were as thick as flies and maggots on a corpse, and frankly, I was feeling pretty corpse-like by this time; I was dead tired. Murphy's Law came into effect when I chose the shortest queue, which of course, ended up to also be the slowest. Home, home! I wanted to pay for my item and get HOME!

When I finally reached the head of the line, I paid for that ONE THING and made haste to leave. In all that hustling bustle (bustling hustle?), just before I made my escape, I spied two kids sitting Indian-style on the floor, their backs to some magazine shelves. They looked to be sisters, about 12 and 10, I estimated. They had open books propped on their laps, and had shut out the world. To read.

Hey, hey, hey! Cool beans! I couldn't see the titles of their books, but they seemed to be the same size as those published by Adarna House.

Kids. Reading.

Ha. Ha! HA!

Even if the return trip to the store to get that ONE THING was anything but pleasant, the walk home was much lighter, then.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Common Misconceptions About Writers

Sent in by Wandering Star: Common Misconceptions About Writers, from Crossed Genres, the Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy with a twist. Below are the misconceptions, but click on this link to read the funny explanations.

All writers are rich.

"Why are you still working?" (always said in horrified amazement).

Many fans believe that we write our own lives into our character's lives.

We are all insane.

We are all drunks or druggies.

All writers are ditzy.

Writers' creativity is geared only to the written word.

All writers are unhappy, lonely creatures.

Toxic Textbooks

Remember this post, "English Textbooks In The Philippines"? Here's a follow-up editorial from The Inquirer: Toxic Textbooks. It's a frustrating bit of news. An excerpt:

For three straight days this week, the Philippine Daily Inquirer put out a help wanted ad right on one of the three pages where it does not accept paid advertisements: the front page. (The other ad-less pages are in this section.) The unusual ad called for a new crusader to come forward and wage war against “sick books” that contaminate the Philippine educational system, from grade school to high school. The call was made after Antonio Calipjo-Go, former academic supervisor of Marian School in Quezon City, announced that he had given up the fight for better textbooks in Philippine schools. But after what Go has gone through, there will be few, if any, who will be willing to take up the challenge.

After spending so much time, effort and money, what exactly did Go accomplish? While education officials, like the authors and publishers of the textbooks, were at first in a state of denial and appeared more interested in impugning his motives, in the end they had to acknowledge that Go was right about the errors. In the case of “Asya,” for example, the Department of Education was forced to issue “teaching guides” to correct the mistakes and then hired 22 historians and evaluators to rewrite entire chapters of the textbook. Last year, the department also issued a 21-page guide to correct, factual, grammatical and typographical errors in 11 new Social Studies textbooks. The National Book Development Board has also recommended the pullout of at least one textbook from private schools.

However, aside from creating some awareness of the problem, Go’s lonely crusade seems to have made little headway in improving the quality of the textbooks used by schoolchildren. “Nothing has changed,” Go himself said in frustration. “I am fighting an uphill battle that leads to nowhere."

Friday, December 05, 2008

2008 Merriam-Webster Word Of The Year

If "hypermiling" is the 2008 Oxford Word Of The Year, Merriam-Webster counters with "bailout". They define it as "a rescue from financial distress".

Other Merriam-Webster finalists were "socialist", "maverick", and "bipartisan".

Both the Oxford and the Merriam-Webster words of the year seem apt for 2008. Which do you like better?

Immortal Hydrozoa

Remember this post about the creepy squid? Here's more creepiness: Aquatic Invader Has Time Lord's Regenerative Powers. It seems there's a species of hydrozoa that can pretty much live forever.

Real-life monsters can be just as creepy as fictional ones.

Sent in by Zen In Darkness.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

For The Love Of Writing!

From my email inbox:

The Event

Name: "For The Love Of Writing"
Hosted by Talecraft

Description: A gathering where published and aspiring writers and readers can come together. We will also award participants of the National Novel Writing Month.

* To promote readers' appreciation for local works
* To promote writing in the Philippines by giving honor to those who finished the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in a month
* To promote story creation in the Philippines

Date: December 12, 2008 7-9 p.m.
Venue: U-View, Fullybooked Fort

Lots of stuff happening! Including the raffling of General Booster Packs!

So, my dear Talecrafters, this is also your party. Celebrate the love of writing!

Defending The Indefensible

Here's a link sent in by Zen In Darkness: Why Defend Freedom Of Icky Speech, from Neil Gaiman's Journal. It's a long entry; here's an excerpt:

If you accept -- and I do -- that freedom of speech is important, then you are going to have to defend the indefensible. That means you are going to be defending the right of people to read, or to write, or to say, what you don't say or like or want said.

The Law is a huge blunt weapon that does not and will not make distinctions between what you find acceptable and what you don't. This is how the Law is made.

People making art find out where the limits of free expression are by going beyond them and getting into trouble.

The Law is a blunt instrument. It's not a scalpel. It's a club. If there is something you consider indefensible, and there is something you consider defensible, and the same laws can take them both out, you are going to find yourself defending the indefensible.

You ask, What makes it worth defending? and the only answer I can give is this: Freedom to write, freedom to read, freedom to own material that you believe is worth defending means you're going to have to stand up for stuff you don't believe is worth defending, even stuff you find actively distasteful, because laws are big blunt instruments that do not differentiate between what you like and what you don't, because prosecutors are humans and bear grudges and fight for re-election, because one person's obscenity is another person's art.

Because if you don't stand up for the stuff you don't like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you've already lost.

Monday, December 01, 2008

How To Publish Without Perishing

Here's an interesting piece over at The New York Times: How To Publish Without Perishing (which I picked up from The Bibliophile Stalker's blog). It talks about digitized books, the publishing industry, and the actual, physical book. An excerpt:

One could imagine the book, venerable as it is, just vanishing into the ether. It melts into all the other information species searchable through Google’s most democratic of engines: the Web pages, the blogs, the organs of printed and broadcast news, the general chatter. (Thanks for everything, Gutenberg, and now goodbye.)

But I don’t see it that way. I think, on the contrary, we’ve reached a shining moment for this ancient technology. Publishers may or may not figure out how to make money again (it was never a good way to get rich), but their product has a chance for new life: as a physical object, and as an idea, and as a set of literary forms.

As a technology, the book is like a hammer. That is to say, it is perfect: a tool ideally suited to its task. Hammers can be tweaked and varied but will never go obsolete. Even when builders pound nails by the thousand with pneumatic nail guns, every household needs a hammer. Likewise, the bicycle is alive and well. It was invented in a world without automobiles, and for speed and range it was quickly surpassed by motorcycles and all kinds of powered scooters. But there is nothing quaint about bicycles. They outsell cars.

Click here for the whole article.

The Human Soul: An Ancient Idea

I just finished reading a short story with a ghost in it, and after that, another heavy in myth and magic. I also enjoy the articles over at Livescience; it's a paradox, my affinity for and enjoyment of matters that cannot be empirically explained, and those that can. It's my personal characteristic that I enjoy mysteries and puzzles, and seeking logical explanations or evidentiary value of these, if they're there, but I'd also like to think I have the ability to suspend by disbelief and just take all that mystery in "as is, where is" (which I acknowledge leaves me open to making big, mistaken assumptions over many things). I don't think I'm alone in being like this. I read somewhere that Arthur Conan Doyle in his private life spent money and time on seances and other supernatural endeavors, and yet he is also the creator of the world's most famous logical and deductive fictional sleuth, Sherlock Holmes.

Please let me share this Livescience article then, where a very old human idea conflicts with the usual requirement of evidence from science: The Human Soul: An Ancient Idea. An excerpt:

What is it with humans and the idea of a soul? The ancient Greeks, who were around about the same time as the slab was cut, also loved the idea of a soul, and most cultures and religions today buy into it as well. Yet there's no evidence that such a thing really exists. But still, even the most cynical of us is always trying to save our souls, damn other people's souls, and searching for soul mates.

It's hard to say exactly when the idea of a second self came into play. Presumably the recognition of a soul appeared hand-in-hand with human consciousness, and it was probably voiced when we had language to put the idea of a soul into words. That would place the time frame for a soul around 200,000 years ago, when humans experienced a cultural explosion which they expressed in art, clothing, and evidence of religion.

Clearly, at that point and beyond, humans had moved beyond solving how to find enough food, and they were using their excess brain power and leisure time to think of other things.

In that sense, the idea of a soul, or any kind of human spirituality, might simply be the product of too much brain and too much free time.

It might also be an evolutionary strategy that takes us away from the anxieties of self-consciousness. Once fully modern humans knew they could die, it probably made sense to pretend that no one really died but that some part of us lived on into the cosmos.

Given the vagaries of ancient life, it probably also made sense to invent souls that had the power to haunt and cause harm to explain all the bad stuff in life.

In fact, every culture, even today, has some concept that separates the spirit from the body, confirming that like my dreamy friend, humans seem compelled to think of themselves as something more than the sum of our biological parts, even if that belief makes us do foolish earthly things.