Friday, March 02, 2007

where stories come from

In the process of reviewing stories submitted to me for publication or critique, I got to thinking about where these stories come from (and no, the answer is not from the hearts and minds of the writers).

As a country where only a small fraction of the population write, it bears to consider the question. My best guesses (since I have no research handy):

a. Academe - Students enrolled in creative writing courses or similar classes that require the development of texts must write stories. It's sort of like forced savings, in financial terms. Some of the stories developed here are quite good (especially in the post graduate courses) and have gone on and been published and/or won literary awards (e.g. Janet Villa's excellent "Undercurrents" and Socorro Villanueva's "Mahogany Waters"). In the undergrad level though, finding a good story is a bit harder - people, after all, are still learning craft - but once in a while excellent stories written for a class come my way and floor me (thanks for Krip Yuson for asking his students to forward me spec fic stories) - with a little work, they're ready for publication. Included in this category are stories written by students even if they are not in a creative writing course - because I suspect that, given their exposure to things academic (including required readings and interdisciplinary studies), school is a profound influence on what they choose to write about and how they write it. Also included would be work by writers who are teachers or otherwise part of the university system - these writers also create surprising fiction that deserve a wider audience.

b. Writing Workshops - Technically, no writing is done in workshops as each fellow "auditions" with a select set of stories, plays or poetry which obviously was written beforehand. However, these texts undergo the workshop experience where they are critiqued in Dumaguete or Iligan or Bacolod or Baguio or whichever lovely place is chosen by the organizers. In my experience, rewriting occurs after a critique (whether placid or devastating), and so the work becomes more polished. A lot of workshopped pieces go on to publication and/or literary awards. But certainly the benefit here is not on a per story basis but in the critique and in what the fellow learns from the panelists (techniques, terminology, critical approaches, history). Apart from the formal workshops hosted by various universities, there are also a number of informal writing workshops (such as the LitCritters Manila and LitCritters Dumaguete) which go on during the year.

c. On Demand - Every so often an editor issues out a call for submissions for a certain anthology. Usually these anthology are themed (by subject or genre) and the editor is looking for a certain kind of story. If the writer has no story that fits the requirements, that author needs to write a new story if she wants to submit a story for consideration. Sometimes, this brings out exciting texts, sometimes it doesn't. But when it does, the resulting anthology is a fine read, a blend of editorial taste and manifold authorial flavors. Once in a while, an editor may contact an author directly (for an anthology or a magazine) and request for a particular story or type of story from that author, with the ecpress purpose of publishing that story in said antho or magazine. Whichever case, if the author's inventory does not contain that needed story, then the author must write a new one.

d. For Periodical Publication - A number of Filipino authors develop stories with the intent of submitting these stories to the various periodicals that publish fiction (Story Philippines, Philippines Free Press, Philippine Graphic, Digest of Philippine Genre Storie, Manual and others). Respect the "no simultaneous submissions" policy - once you submit a story to a particular magazine, you should not submit it to another other/s - especially if you're also looking at the international market. So it helps to have a number of stories awaiting their black or white fates with various mags; when one is rejected, you can pass it to another venue (after the requisite agonizing and rewriting, if you are so inclined).

e. Competitive Writing - There are a number of literary competitions, the most famous of which is the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. Some writers develop texts specifically for competition. My stand on this has always been clear - it is akin to athetics, and writers must also exercise writerly muscles in competition against other writers. Judges change from year to year and so do their tastes. Some people say that the awards are rigged (syndicate system wherein awards are given to friends of judges) and I must say this is not true. In my personal experience, 9 of my works have been awarded Palancas (plays, fiction, novel) and therefore been scrutinized by 27 judges (3 per category) over the course of 16 years (I won my first in 1990). I am more maverick than establishment and am certainly not friendly-wendy with the judges (a lot of them I don't even know personally). I've also been a Palanca judge and certainly did not collude to give prizes to people I knew. Believe me, having to read through all the entries is work, and wrestling with the other judges to determine which text wins which place is also work.

f. Personal Writing - There are a number of authors who just write stories because they like to write stories. Majority of these are not up to publishing standards but do give a sense of the author's potential. On occassion a gem can be found and this is just a delight. I firmly believe that stories are written to be read, and to be read they need to published, and to be published they need to be a certain quality. Young, unpublished authors with a number of stories need to start showing their stories to readers, other writers and certainly editors. That said though, I imagine there must be a number of unsung, unpublished writers with phenomenal stories waiting to be read. But ultimately, the action must spring from the author, to expedite discovery.

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