Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Talecraft - Story Creation Game

Talecraft--it's a game, and yet, it's not.

The premise of a game, at least, the first that comes to my mind, is one of competition. Sports are prime examples. You keep score, and at the end, when either time's up or enough sets, rounds, or innings have passed, the one with the most points, wins. Outside of sports, classic board games like chess and backgammon have specific goals for victory, as do younger but no less common games like Monopoly or Clue. To win is still the goal.

The last time I rolled the dice for a role-playing game, I was a freshman in college. Forced to choose between keeping up with my homework and playing, I chose the former, and put my characters and rule books away after the first semester. But I still remember what it's like to play, and though the makers of such games as Dungeons and Dragons say that everyone wins in playing the adventure, you still feel like a loser when that wandering monster skewers you with his spear or when you fail that saving throw versus poison. You still want to win by grabbing the treasure and getting back home, safe.

So Talecraft took me by pleasant surprise because, really, there's little, if any, competition. At least in the traditional sense. You're not trying to beat someone in this game.

It's called a "story-creation game", and that's as apt a definition as you can find. Through the use of a series of specific prompts, as drawn from decks of cards, you're supposed to come up with your own original story. The cards you draw will specify which genre(s) your story should tackle, what type of character(s) or archetypes should be in it, and what item(s) should be found in the story. You're given five minutes, sometimes more, sometimes less, and once you're done weaving the tale in your head you're to share it with the other players.

It's a "game" right? So where's the "winning"? I asked that of Ria Lu, the creator of the game, and she said that, if necessary, a judge or a panel can decide who came up with the best story (by dropping coins in a cup; just like being paid! The better your story, the more coins you get!) But really, the story-telling is the goal. As it says in their "About" page, "Talecraft aims to promote creative thinking through story creation" and "to help writers generate ideas for stories." You get to make up your own tales, share them with friends, and hear their stories too. The game is one big imagination prompt.

Talecraft has a series of workshops through the Sundays of May, 2008, 1 p.m., at Powerbooks SM Megamall. Each workshop will focus on a specific genre (fantasy, horror, scifi, and romance). Admission is free, and if you have any questions about the game or the workshops, feel free to email them anytime.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Free And Legal Audiobooks

Just found this site today, and wanted to share it with all of you. Free and legal, and all classics.
Free Classic Audiobooks.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


(Currently available in Comic Quest Megamall and Comic Quest SM City, will be available at the other distributors over the next couple of weeks).

Cover art is by Filipino comic book artist Lan Medina, who has done work for such titles as Fables and Silver Surfer, among many others. He is the first Filipino to win the prestigious Eisner Award for comics. It's an honor for PGS that he agreed to do the cover art for this issue. Thank you, sir!

An excerpt from The Last Stand Of Aurundar, by Vin Simbulan:
Bodies cover the ground. Some of your fallen defenders rise again, infested and shaped into monstrous new forms by Ebonnite sorcery, and begin to fight against their former comrades.

It is not long before the tide of battle turns against you. From the ranks of the Grotesqueries comes a towering colossus of corpses, a makeshift titan of bone and rotting flesh that cuts a swath through the ranks of your troops, golden helms fall like sunlight on the blighted ground and rivers of blood flow freely.

Your Duke grimly orders a retreat. The field is alive with all manner of insects, feasting on the remains of the dead. The broken ranks bravely face their foes as they fall back.

They regroup along the twin towers of your barbican and make a stand there. Your Duke sends you an urgent thought; I need your strength.

He climbs over your barbican's walkways and draws power from you as he goes. You course your might into his jeweled scepter. With a single stroke he fires a coruscating bolt of prismatic light that disintegrates the Ebonnite colossus where it stands and sends the remaining Grotesqueries fleeing from the battlefield.

An excerpt from Psychic Family, by Apol Lejano-Massebieau:
I guess from how my mom is acting that her psychic senses are telling her that there is something wrong with the Room That Was Never Shown.

She had just told a little white lie. There isn't anything to be done with that room. It is small, but neat, even freshly painted white, and the only room in the house that was already furnished when we moved in. There is a single bed, a writing table, and a clothes closet.

The only problem is that there is a bad smell in there all the time, like rotten fish, or the brown gunk oozing out when I was in second grade and got an ear infection. Mom and the maid Linda washed down the walls with Clorox bleach. They sprayed everything with Lysol. The odor remained.

“That's why the rent is so cheap, there's a room that smells like feet,” my Dad joked, looking at mom and the maid on their hands and knees, scrubbing. Mom glared at him.

An excerpt from Chimaera, by Yvette Tan:
The beggar frowned. "There are many chimaera that walk the Worlds In Between, m'lord," he said. "I'm afraid I don't know which one you refer to."

"What? The seer not know anything?" the griffin said in mock-disbelief. "Too bad because it's not spare change that I'm offering."

"That's not fair m'lord!" the beggar said.

"It is and you know it," the griffin said. "You're just hurt you couldn't dangle the information over my head and make me beg for it."

"'Tis true," Mordacay chuckled. "It's always been my pride and joy, making passers-by beg from a beggar.'

"Are you going to let your pride get in the way of making a profit?" the griffin asked.

Mordacai looked at the griffin, then at his can, then back. He appeared to be in some sort of inner struggle. Then the words came. Slowly, reluctantly, in a tone so low it could have creeped under the shadows. Mordacai said: "She never left."

The griffin nodded.

"I see," he said before turning away from a grumbling Mordacai. His hand started to glow a pale blue, the color swirling until it became a small ball of blue light. In one swift motion, the griffin, threw the ball over his shoulder, then disappeared into the road that led to the worlds of fantasy.

The ball separated, becoming seven white butterflies that flew into the beggar's can. Mordacai, complaints forgotten, watched greedily with dead eyes as they flew in. He smiled.

"Yes, that's a luv," he whispered as he fingered the can's contents; two bloodshot eyeballs, a swollen black tongue, a half-decayed egg and seven butterfly carcasses, as gray and dreary as the night around them.

An excerpt from Blink, Wake Up, by Mia Tijam:
Once there was this little girl who was already as wise and weary as old women. She knew many things, things that were not supposed to be known by a little girl, but she knew no words and no one understood her. No one would listen to her and she was lonely.

So one day she took this shard of glass and carved a face on it with her nails. The face gave her a bloodied smile and she was happy. Then she placed her mouth on the face’s mouth and breathed out her stories.

In time, she found more glass shards as she found more words for her stories and found out that her stories were supposed to be kept secret.

She told only the glass shards her stories. The shards became a glass box through time and it had many faces: one face would laugh with her, the other would cry with her, the other would rage with her, another would patiently listen to her, another would dream with her… All of them told her that they loved her.

Each face was chosen carefully. Each face swore to keep her stories secret.

Then the glass box betrayed her. She did not know or understand why. She did not know which shard broke, which face spoke of her stories first or which of them had or would. She wanted to break all the faces and see their bloodied silent screams of pain mirroring her own.

An excerpt from In The Dim Plane, by Dean Francis Alfar:
I had left my cave on my way to meet the others – something that happens every year or so, at their insistence - when I unexpectedly encountered a ghost.

It was a beautiful woman with dark hair and sad eyes.

In any other place, in any other time, this would not have fazed me. I am, or was, after all, the greatest Necromancer of Forlorn. However, in this place of shadows, on the Dim Plane, I had barely enough power to do the simplest unnatural thing and could not defend myself if this was one of the hungry ones.

“What do you want, ghost?” I said with false bravado, at a loss to explain how a ghost came to be here, in this remote sanctuary, in the first place.

“Please,” the ghost said, holding out a small ornate sandalwood box toward me.

Before I could reply, she dissolved into the dimness, the box she held settling down softly near my feet. I sensed that it was end of her tenuous existence. I took the box, both puzzled and pleased. Puzzled, because here was a mystery; pleased, because it was something I could think about.

Just as I was about to open the box, a voice boomed out from the dimness.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Year Round Fiction Writing Contest

Hey! There's a fiction writing contest that's open year-round! It's the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, and it's stated in the rules that they accept submissions "everyday of the livelong year". Here're samples of past winners:

The lovely woman-child Kaa was mercilessly chained to the cruel post of the warrior chief Beast, with his barbarous tribe now stacking wood at her nubile feet, when the strong, clear voice of the poetic and heroic Handsomas roared, "Flick your Bic, crisp that chick, and you'll feel my steel through your last meal." (1984 winner -- Steven Garman, Pensacola, Florida)

As the newest Lady Turnpot descended into the kitchen wrapped only in her celery-green dressing gown, her creamy bosom rising and falling like a temperamental souffle, her tart mouth pursed in distaste, the sous-chef whispered to the scullery boy, "I don't know what to make of her." (1992 winner -- Laurel Fortuner, Montendre, France)

Detective Bart Lasiter was in his office studying the light from his one small window falling on his super burrito when the door swung open to reveal a woman whose body said you've had your last burrito for a while, whose face said angels did exist, and whose eyes said she could make you dig your own grave and lick the shovel clean. (2006 winner -- Jim Guigli, Carmichael, CA)

The site even has a link to shortlisted passages (from books) that have garnered attention for prose that deals with a specific situation.

I think...I think...I think I might have a good chance to win this contest! I think I'll join!


Heh. Peanuts fan here since the late 70's. Enjoyed today's strip, even if I've read it so many times in the past.

Above: one of my most favorite cartoon images. Check out this Google link for more variations of the same.

The Short Fiction Market

Via The Bibliophile Stalker: Is The Short Fiction Market In Trouble? It's a rather long read, as various writers and editors give their answers to this question. Nevertheless, an interesting link. And The Bibliophile Stalker gives his own response to the question here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Learning From Rejection

Joseph Nacino, a.k.a. Banzai Cat, writes about his coming erotic fantasy story in the FHM erotica anthology in this post, Some Good News, Some Not-so-bad News, but that's not what got my attention.

What did was the second part of his post where he details how Nick Mamatas, editor of Clarkesworld Magazine, took the time to explain why he rejected one of Joseph's submissions. It's not common for a busy editor to take the time to explain what did and what didn't work for him in a rejected piece, so we have a rare glimpse into the mind of Mr. Mamatas here, to learn from what he knows about story-crafting, and to see just what he's looking for in a story so he can publish it. Click on the link above and read Joseph's post. At the very least you'll learn something about line breaks, scene breaks, and chapter breaks.

Is Literary Critique Useful To Writing?

This is the question asked by Laughter At The Fringes of Sanity*, a member of the Manila Litcritters, in his blogpost, Literary Critique And Writing (also here at his blog mirror, Fictionautics). His answer to the question is a clear "yes", he expounds on his reasons, and tells us what exactly the Manila Litcritters do when they get together and critique stories. Click the link above and read what he has to say.

Every so often, the Manila Litcritters have open sessions. Anyone can attend these sessions, either to join in or to just listen. These sessions are announced in advance on Notes From The Peanut Gallery (you can join the Litcritters google group from there so that you'll have access to the stories they critique). You might want to try attending an open session. Hearing how others perceive various stories might broaden your own critical reading eye, which can then enhance your reading pleasure even more.

*Alexander Osias, author of "Inhuman" from PGS1.

A Counter

In my April 4, 2008 post, Two Scifi Links, I mentioned near the end two links from Welcome To Simpleton: Things We'll Probably Never See and Why Don't We Invent It Tomorrow? These articles were written by Dave Itzkoff, who wrote about possible--and impossible--technologies from the viewpoint of Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist who has been trying to popularize science through his radio programs and bestselling books.

Zen In Darkness sent this in: a negative review by Simon Ings (an English novelist and science writer living in London) of Kaku's book, "Physics Of The Impossible". He counters the optimism seen by Welcome To Simpleton by pointing out the weaknesses of Kaku's book.

I'm no scientist, but those of you with deeper backgrounds in science and who are more immersed in hardcore scifi might find all these links interesting.

The Best Of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2005-2008

I would just like to plug that PGS contributors Charles Tan ("The Devil Is In The Details" from PGS3) and Mia Tijam ("Blink, Wake Up" from the imminent PGS4) are co-editors for an upcoming website: The Best Of Philippine Speculative Fiction. They're going to post twelve stories on their site (with the authors' permissions, of course), twelve that they consider the best, twelve that they will choose from all the stories published between January 2005 to March 2008.

In this regard, they're asking for help. Their list of speculative fiction stories is extensive but not yet complete, and they would like to ask people to recommend stories and publications they might have missed. The deadline for recommendations is May 31, 2008.

Here's the blogpost that gives the details for their project. If you have any questions, or any story or publication to recommend that isn't on their list, please let them know through their blogs. Thanks!


Via The Bibliophile Stalker: Joseph Nacino, author of "Insomnia" from PGS1, will have an erotic fantasy story published in the soon-to-be-released FHM Philippines erotica anthology. It's due out very soon. Joey also won 1st place at the 2nd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards last year for his short story, "Logovore". Congratulations again, Banzai Cat!

Still via The Bibliophile Stalker: Celestine Trinidad, author of "Beneath The Acacia" from PGS2, has a story in The Genre Challenge - Anthology: Volume One, edited by Bart R. Leib. She posts about her story, "Creature Of The Night", here. Celestine was also short-listed at the 2nd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards, and has contributed too to Cozy Reads publishing, as was announced in this entry. Congratulations to you also, Celestine!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Plug: Philippine Speculative Fiction IV

There's an open call for submissions for Philippine Speculative Fiction IV, from the editors, Nikki and Dean Alfar. Please check out the link above for the submission guidelines.

Banging And Swooping (And Fluffing)

I first encountered the word "fluffer" as a late teenager when I overheard it mentioned by my friends after a couple of hours of basketball (which at my current age and physical condition I can no longer play, darn it). Being the type to guess first the meanings of words before consulting a dictionary or anyone who might know, I thought of pillows, comforters, and a laundromat worker “fluffing” them. I even considered that the word was mispronounced and that the speaker meant to say "fluffier".

As my friends' conversation progressed, I learned that they were talking about "fluffers" in relation to a video that one of them had just watched. The person who had started the discussion brought out said video from his bag, the title of which I will not mention here. Suffice it to say that the title of the video contained the word "fluffers". He waved it in front of us, proud and giddy from all the attention, and that forthwith many listeners asked if they could borrow the video. An instant hit, and instant popularity for the video’s owner.

(If you're wondering what the fuss was about, click this link and check out the last definition on the web-page.)

Shifting gears...

The other side of the reading coin is, as can be surmised, writing. Which came first, the reader or the writer, is easier to answer than the chicken or egg riddle. If no one writes, then no one reads. There are real people of flesh and blood behind all those books and pieces we read. As readers, we often take for granted that the author behind the work put the best of himself and his efforts into the text. But just as there are different types of basketball players (shooters, penetrators, passers, rebounders, defenders,, there must be different types of readers and writers too. Leaving the types of readers behind for this post, let's go into two types of writers.

After "fluffer", my expecations were no longer as unguarded when I later on learned of the words "Banger" and "Swooper". I still had--still have, actually--the habit of guessing the meanings of words, either outright or from context, before checking the dictionary for accuracy. I'd like to think I have a fair imagination, and having failed at guessing the real meaning of "fluffer", I allowed my mind to soar in wondering what a "Banger" and a "Swooper" is.

The meanings of these two words are not as mainstream as "fluffer", and won't be found on any online dictionary site. But according to Kurt Vonnegut (from “Timequake”), a "Banger" is a writer who focuses on each word, phrase, sentence, the minutiae of how they all work together to form a paragraph, a chapter, the story. Bangers carefully craft each word before moving on to the next. The pace is slow and careful, and mimicking glacial movement, there are many reverses before forward progress is made. I hope my memory serves me well, but I remember Elizabeth George Speare, author of "The Witch of Blackbird Pond", divulging in an interview that a good output for her would be about twelve words a day; sometimes more, sometimes less, but it comes to about twelve on the average. She also said that when she re-read her work at certain points and found her output wanting, she would erase several days’ worth of words and start over. Perhaps she was exaggerating, or I’m mis-remembering her interview, but at twelve words a day she definitely qualifies as a “Banger”.

"Swoopers", on the other hand, compose drafts quickly and then return to fill-in, add details, and rewrite, over and over again. They get everything out and then make colossal edits later on. Five, ten, twenty, maybe even thirty pages in one sitting is not unusual. It is easy to imagine writers of this type with their fingers flying across the keyboard, or their pens scribbling away at paper with the constant, scratchy sound of a large rat colony. "Writing in white heat, revising in cold blood" is the famous term related to swoopers. Think of Stephen King's output, and then think of how he once mentioned an author (whose name escapes me, I apologize) who kept to such an obsessive routine that, upon waking before dawn, he would proceed to peck away at his typewriter non-stop until it was time to leave for work. At day’s end, he would return home, have dinner, and then sit down again at his desk to write for hours more until it was time for bed. A daily routine, said Mr. King, and that this man's output dwarfs his own.

These real definitions of the words "Banger" and "Swooper", compared to what my mind originally came up with because of "fluffer", ended up as a bit of a letdown.

I think that for most of us, we are a mixture of both, sometimes even within the same piece. It is more often the ponderous "banging" that we labor at, squeezing what we can from our skill. But I also believe that everyone has experienced at one time or other, though also more seldomly, the "swooping" sensation of trying to keep up with the flow of words that gushes forth in volumes. Returning to basketball--and those of you who play this sport, or any other sport for that matter, know this--there are times when every shot you release just seems to find the basket, or that you always seem to be in the right place and the right time to snag that crucial rebound; being "in the zone", if you will, as is famously stated by sportscasters. Any errors and miscues don’t matter because your positive contributions far outweigh them. But even if you aren't "in the zone", which is the case more often than not, it won't stop you from grinding out with both will and exertion a game as excellent as if you were; and only a few, yourself included, would know the difference. Skill and inspiration help, but in no way diminishes the value of studious effort.

Now, whether the "banged" or "swooped" piece is of quality and value, or is simply fun "fluff", to use another meaning of the word (check out noun definition #3 of the American Heritage Dictionary entry on this link), is another matter altogether. You can “bang” or “swoop” your piece, but you just might also be “fluffing” it; not that, to my mind, this is such a bad thing, if such is your intention.

So, some food-for-thought: the next time you read a novel or a short story and wonder what pains the author took in writing it, you may consider whether it was banged or swooped, though the text may not reveal much because it will read the same either way. For the writers among you, you may also consider this the next time you're face-to-face with that blank sheet of paper or computer monitor: Am I a “banger”? Am I a “swooper”? And being one or the other, am I also a “fluffer”? And if “yes”, can I make a video of myself at work?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Basic Reason To Read

This article, "Connecting With A Book Can Do Wonders For Your Overall Being", seems to be written by someone who has no background in literature, yet expresses her profound interest in reading, in books, in thoughts and ideas, in stories. She addresses too, the difference she perceives in her personal life as a reader between popular novels and literature. Some quotes:

"...I believe in the power of stories and how they fit into our own lives. They educate us and make us aware of the tons of things we don't know.

Isaac Watts, a poet, popular English hymn writer and renowned theologian and logician, said: 'Acquaint yourself with your own ignorance.'

I'm not ashamed to admit I have a lot of acquainting to do. Watts believed reading is the most important method of self-improvement and that reading literature required a different skill than reading for pleasure.

Reading a good novel is like listening to a story you've waited a long time to hear. Sometimes the language and descriptions warm your soul enough that you can enter a new world through imagination. Good stories give your mind a chance to travel to a new world.

Literature, on the other hand, has to be studied, analyzed and evaluated...I'm relieved that Watts believes deep thinkers don't need to be geniuses, that studious thought, along with the exercise of your own reason and judgement, are all that are needed to attain understanding and improvement."

A little less intimidation for us regular folk.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


As announced first here, Crystal Koo's story, "Metropolis", is now up over at East Of The Web. Here's the first paragraph:

"This is how you talk about a city you love. You talk about it as if it's the only place in the world where this story can happen."

I hope that's enough to entice you to read it. If not, here's more:

"Beijing was a little detour to keep off the hunger till we reached home. That is why we write stories of it so we won't forget. That is why my friend's story cannot have a happy ending.

If I had found a home in Beijing, where I am disguised by my skin, where I am a nameless unit in a sea of faces, where I am finally part of the majority until I speak and the accent reveals everything, I would have forgotten all my wonder.

Only a foreigner writes a Beijing story like this."

Go on, click the link, and read!

"The Scent of Spice" by Crystal Koo PGS2

America's Top Books

This article, Bible Is America's Favorite Book: poll, gives us a look at what books can be found in American households.

I'm betting that the Bible is also number one in the Philippines.

It would be interesting to see a breakdown of the different Bible versions to see which ones are most popular, both in the U.S. and in the Philippines.

As for number two, there's great disparity. Depending on demographic, the titles mentioned in the article are "Gone With The Wind", "The Lord Of The Rings", "The Stand", "Angels And Demons", and the Harry Potter books.

Other titles mentioned in the top ten are "The Da Vinci Code", "Atlas Shrugged", "The Catcher In The Rye", and "To Kill A Mockingbird".

I wonder what the Philippines' top ten would look like.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Continuing Move To Digital

Interesting article here: "Facebook Provides A Site For Emerging Novels, Short Stories". It raises the usual "paper versus monitor" discussion, but the digital medium will certainly exist well into the future.

Previewing Books Online (Updated)

I think I'm coming a bit late to this party, but I just found out that you can preview books through Google Book Search. Just type in the title of the book you're interested in and you might get partial scans of the text and the cover. This way, you can browse through books whose text might catch your fancy, enticing you to buy the real thing either online or at a brick-and-mortar. In addition, if the story you're looking for is out of copyright or if the publisher has given permission, you might get the whole text! And for works in the public domain, you're free to download a PDF copy!

And while we're on this subject, you can also check out Project Gutenberg, which carries thousands of titles legally downloadable off the web for free, all in the public domain.

Great stuff!

Update: Two more sites that you can check for free and legal downloadable ebooks are Munseys and Manybooks. Thanks to lady5erudite for recommending these sites.

It's Good To Know

This article, "Despite Slowdown, Most Americans Still Reading: poll", felt like good news to me. The article says there's a downtrend in reading among younger people, but I believe that can be turned around!

A Find

Look what I scored in the gift shop of the B.C. ferry while heading back to Richmond via Tsawwassen, from Swartz Bay, Vancouver Island.

I haven't found an old issue of one of these in a long time, much less the newest and latest (the one pictured here is for May 2008). I used to buy the Hitchcock digest at Booksale, alongside Asimov's, Ellery Queen's, F&SF, and Analog. Nowadays, the store no longer stocks them. These magazines are the influence behind PGS.

Lucky find.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Two Scifi Links

The first via Zen In Darkness: A Brief History Of The Future by Dinah Birch. A quote:

"Writers continue to be drawn to the genre because it allows them to find subtle ways of exploring cultural anxiety and desire. As we leave the frosty air of the Cold War behind, innovative modes of science fiction reflect on the nature of religion, the fluidities of sexuality, the dizzying potentialities of computers, the relation between animals and humanity, the precarious coexistence of human weakness and environmental fragility...Science fiction has always asked frighteningly big questions; and, as some of its early projections become the facts of our everyday lives (organ transplantation, the exploration of space, assisted reproduction, climate change, genetic engineering, the mobile phone), it is developing ways for those questions to be addressed in a more human context."

The second via Welcome To Simpleton, whose blogpost Sci-Fi High, has the links to Dave Itzkoff's Why Don't We Invent It Tomorrow and Things We'll Probably Never See, as well as a brief writeup of how he felt after reading them.

Check out these links. Food for thought, for those who are interested in this genre.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Palanca Awards 2008 Update from Penmanila

Sir Butch Dalisay has posted about the 2008 Palancas, with a link to the forms, the rules, and a map to the new office of the Palanca foundation. Click this link to get to his blog post. Good luck, folks!