Tuesday, May 02, 2006

on awards and stuff

Banzai Cat's latest post notes his ambivalence about joining this year's Palanca Awards competition (sorry, but with the cut and paste thing, I lost all his links):
What with the passing of the submission deadline to the prestigious Palanca Awards last Sunday, [identity-protected] asked why wasn't I submitting anything. I had to give it some thought but I finally answered that for all intents and purposes-- and given that I've never taken any writing or literary/ criticism classes-- I'm really more of a storyteller rather than a writer.

Is that so bad? That I would rather write stories for my readers rather than for critics and go thru the whole process most local writers do, i.e. submit to the Palanca contest and win an award, try for a slot for the U.P. and Dumaguete workshops, get published in Philippine Free Press, etc.?

I suppose going on the workshops thang would help my craft-- and despite critics bent for social realism, noted writer and critic Butch Dalisay points out that it's really all about good writing (scroll down for his review of the country's first Speculative Fiction anthology)-- and I know any suggestion to improve myself is welcome. Still, I'm wary-- and reluctant to dip my foot in that pool.

Maybe it's because local literature is more concerned-- i.e. hell-bent-- about writing social realism as opposed to any kind of story. The impression I've gained throughout the years of observing the literary scene is that if you want respect, you have to write social realism. There are exceptions of course, Dean for one with his focus on speculative fiction. But still...

What do you people think? Am I crazy for not aiming for awards? Is it a bad strategy not to be concerned in getting local recognition from the writers circles? Or am I just paranoid?

I responded, of course:

Every writer has a different track on how he wants to improve his craft. For some, like me, awards and competition fulfill the function of forcing me to keep my writing muscles limber. Likewise, the national-level writing workshops help in craft (as you pointed out). If people can go to business school to learn best practices, what's wrong with wanting to attend a writing workshop with a similar goal in mind? We are all storytellers.

In fact, I think of myself as a storyteller first before I accept the label of "Writer". How to best tell the tale then is the question each storyteller must find personal answers for. But certainly, most writers want to be published. It need not be in the confines of academe or social realist-preferring publications. For example, there are the entire range of spec fic markets abroad. For a story to be more than just ephemera, it needs to be published, it needs to be read by more than just its author.

I also like the competitive aspect of publication - being the story selected by Greg Brilliantes for his mag or by Kelly Link for her antho gives an author a degree of validation. Though it must be said that in the end, what validates a story is not if it won an award or was the product of a workshop or if it was selected by an editor. It's if it told its story best, and if it made a difference and is remembered. And that usually means it was read by someone somewhere, which means it was published.

As for social realism, well, you know how I feel about that. But the truth is that little by little Filipino fictionists are starting to realize that they can write about other things. Story Philippines, for example, has a somewhat wider range than I expected. Domestic realism is more potent than social realism, and as a genre is more open to slipstream manifestations - I'm talking about a number of new stories by Filipino fantastists that merge domestic realism with imagination (such as you, with "The City, Like A Lover", for instance).

It is important that we write and publish more and more different stories, stories that are not of the pure social/domestic realist school - these can be anything else, including spec fic, chick lit, or whatever. Only by producing a large number of well-written stories (and getting them read) will we ever see the day when the dominance of realism in the Philippines is challenged. If we do nothing, we are guilty of the sin of omission. We need to try, and to try as best as we can. Which means becoming the best writers we can be. Awards help impress critics, yes, but in the end what matters is the story.

If you can tell your stories (written, of course) in the best manner that suits them - and if your readers agree (and readers include your audience, editors and critics) - and if you do it without the benefit of having an armload of awards, or workshop credentials, or kissing the ass of social realism, then you've got a great thing going and the Philippines is too small a market for you.

But if, like me, you think that talking to and taking critique from writers (even of different genre schools, critical positioning or background) helps your craft, helps you learn to be a better storyteller, then the given paths walked by writers before you are options to consider.


"terminos" nomination

I just found out that my story "Terminos", which was published in Rabid Transit: Menagerie (Velocity Press), has been nominated for the Gaylactic Spectrum Award for Best Short Fiction, along with the likes of Haruki Murakami ("Chance Traveler" from Harper's Magazine) and Chrisopher Barzak ("The Language of Moths" from Realms of Fantasy), among other incredible authors.

The Spectrum is "awarded to the best science fiction, fantasy or horror short fiction work originally released in North America during 2005 with significant positive gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender content". A Short List of Recommended Works and a Winner will be announced at the World Science Fiction Convention in August, 2006.

Even if I don't win, I'm delighted (the Murakami is a spectacular piece of writing).

"Terminos", a Hinirang spec fic piece about endings (and possessed of two gay main characters), was what earned me my Ratbastard stripes. I remember Chris Barzak challenging me to submit a story for consideration for publication in Rabid Transit - not just any story, but a story that is "cutting edge fantasy/ scifi/ slipstream/ horror/ realism"; a piece that has "flare and stretches our ideas of how stories can be told, or how we perceive ideas of genre". What I did was revisit two older stories ("Ser Clessidrana Acerca Tiempo" and the much shorter draft of "Terminos") and I rewrote both into a single narrative with touches of modern fantasy, realism, a hint of surrealism and my own magic realist aesthetic. I'm glad that someone other than just me or the editors of anthology found merit in the story.

If you'd like to order a copy of "Rabid Transit: Menagerie", follow this link.


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