reading

We Must Create The Fantastic

I’ve spent the past few months reading speculative short fiction by Filipino/a writers. It’s a fun way for me to explore my roots and also helps me to discover the kinds of stories other Filipinos/as are writing. Thanks to the magic of ebooks and Amazon, I’ve been able to access some wonderful collections of stories originally published in the Philippines (and for a while, difficult to find in the United States). One of my recent purchases comes from an annual anthology series entitled Philippine Speculative Fiction, which began in 2005 as the brainchild of husband and wife writers/editors, Dean Francis Alfar and Nikki Alfar. They strove to promote the writing and reading of speculative fiction in the Philippines by publishing some of the best stories they could get their hands on. Fast forward to 2017, and the anthology series is still going strong with volume 11 currently in the works. I’ve been reading one of their special anthologies, Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2005-2010, just to get my feet wet. Instead, I plunged into the deep end. It’s been a revelation thus far. (more…)

Dissecting Humor

I recently completed my second semester with the Stonecoast MFA Program.  I’m still in a state of awe, as I could’ve sworn I just started yesterday, and now I’m halfway to graduation.  But that’s still a long time from now, so I’ll stop counting my chickens before I roast ’em.

My second semester project focused on humor in genre fiction.  I studied writers who’ve achieved success in this niche market (i.e. Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Jasper Fforde, etc.) while attempting to write a few stories of my own in various genres.  It’s been a rather eye-opening semester as I’ve come to realize that writing humor isn’t as easy as it looks.  Most writers are concerned only about writing a good story; humorists have the same concerns except on top of all the necessary story elements (plot, character, setting, etc.), they also have to worry about their story being funny.  That’s extra work, people! That’s like me spending all day cooking an amazing seven course dinner for you, and then offering you three more courses of dessert.  With humorists, you can have your cake and eat it, too.  Several times, actually.

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Slipping Into Another’s Soul

During the summer residency, I volunteered to assist with my MFA program’s literary magazine, The Stonecoast Review.  I’m a fiction/pop fiction reader for the upcoming issue number 4.  Issue 3 was just published yesterday, and it’s fantastic – check it out when you get the chance.  My job entails reading through the slush pile (i.e. submitted manuscripts) and scoring those stories based on a strict set of criteria established by the editors.  Stories that score well enough are sent up the chain where editors will scrutinize the stories further.  The lucky few deemed worthy will be published.  Manuscripts with low scores will be cheerfully bound to a bottle rocket, launched into the atmosphere, and burnt to a crisp in a beautiful display of colored sparkles to be enjoyed by children of all ages.  It’ll be quite the show.  You should join us.  Of course, I’m just kidding (maybe).  It’s the nature of the business.  Stories will be rejected, and believe me, I know what that feels like.

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Take A Look, It’s In A Book

I was a bookworm growing up.  I was one of those kids who enjoyed extra books outside of school, and I happily took advantage of classroom libraries during school.  Back in my day, I didn’t have a Nintendo 3DS, a tablet, or a smart phone.  Books were the portable entertainment systems during my childhood.  Sure, I received a Game Boy from Santa one Christmas (I earned it – I didn’t dropkick anyone that year), but that thing went through 4 AA batteries like Homer Simpson on a doughnut binge.  Books were the most reliable and consistent way to spend time engaging your imagination.  I believe they still are, despite the distraction of modern gadgets and some bothersome thing called “the internet.”

I read through so many books as a kid it’s almost impossible for me to put together a comprehensive list of all my childhood books.  There are some titles I know I read but can’t recall anything.  For example, I know I read Welcome to Dead House by R.L. Stine, which is book 1 of the once popular Goosebumps series, but I can’t tell you the basic plot unless I look it up.  I can, however, recall elements from The Haunted Mask, which is book 11 in Goosebumps.  It’s the same thing with other series I enjoyed as a child: Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins (my love of mysteries started early), Choose Your Own Adventure, Amelia Bedelia, Clifford the Big Red Dog, The Berenstain Bears, and more.  Some stories I remember clearly, while others vaguely or not at all.  So I wondered: Which books do I remember best from my childhood? And why? After a few days of reflecting upon my early years (minus all the embarrassing moments, like wearing an eye-patch to school for a week after injuring my eye – pirate jokes got old real fast), I created a list of five books that even my faulty memory can’t erase:

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Tonight We Are Young

During a trip to the Philippines back in February, I had an interesting experience at a bookstore in the mall.  I was in the section for teens AKA young adults (YA), searching for a copy of The Maze Runner by James Dashner.  The movie kept me entertained for two of the fifteen hours I spent on the flight to Manila, so I thought it’d be fun to read the source material.  I found the book without much trouble and began perusing other titles, pulling them off the shelves to read the inscriptions on the back.  A young girl, maybe 13 or 14, joined me in the section.  She, too, searched through the book shelves.  From the corner of my eye, I saw her pick up Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.  I wanted to scream, “No, any book but that one!” but I remained silent.  After all, who am I to frighten a complete stranger?

Then her parents showed up, asking her if she were ready to leave yet.  While she tried to convince her dad to buy the entire Twilight trilogy, her mom gave me a funny look as I continued to pull books off the shelf.  She gave me the once over, eyebrow arced upwards, before quickly glancing away.  As much as I hoped that she was a pro-wrestling fan and merely giving me the People’s Eyebrow, I knew what that look meant.  It’s the “Aren’t you a little too old to be reading these books?” look.  It only lasted a few seconds, and the girl ended up getting all the books she begged for.  I forgot about the whole thing until recently, when I walked into a bookstore back home in the U.S. with my nephew (who’s in the “correct” age group) and accompanied him to the YA section.  While thumbing through the selection, I glanced around me and realized something awesome.  Out of the six people there, I was one of four “regular adults” looking at the books.  So that got me thinking…  How many “regular adults” enjoy reading YA?

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