Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Straining to See

I feel mentally drained all of a sudden. And to think that I was just bloghopping for a bit.

I wish I could say that I feel tired because I encountered plenty of topical discussions, pseudo-philosophical discourses and just plain creative articles. The problem is, I didn't. I skimmed through three or four interesting-looking blogs in the last hour, and all of them turned out not to be as interesting as I had originally hoped.

That's not to say that they were bad, of course. Theoretically, if you subscribe to the belief that any piece of writing will inevitably have an audience that reads and respects it, then it's simply not possible to develop "bad" works, much less "bad" blogs. These weblogs most likely cater to particular audiences, which happen not to include me.

I would call them "shallow", I suppose, if I subscribed to a more opinionated point of view. But in reality, every bit of writing is insightful to some people and "shallow" to others. And everybody else has as much a right to their own perception as I do to mine. No two people, for that matter, will ever see a single piece of writing in exactly the same light.

You can look upon this article, for example, as the words of an enlightened genius, the ravings of a complete lunatic, the daydreams of a neurotic thinker, or the scribblings of an elitist observer. Whatever the case, you're forming your own opinion about things, and that's probably what's important to begin with.

It strikes me that we still don't have much of an idea as to what makes a "good" blog, much less a "bad" one. The Philippine Blog Awards weren't able to answer the question, last time I checked, and the local blogging community has yet to get organized long enough to point out the distinctions. Sure, each of us probably has an idea as to what they want to see in a blog, but those desires are probably far from universal to begin with.

In short, each of us sees different things. Each of us looks for different things.

I look for a bit of personal insight in the things I read, as opposed to mere narratives for the purpose of summary or entertainment. Everything that doesn't fit the bill, therefore, seems "shallow" and unfulfilling to me.

I could just as easily be sitting on the other side of the fence, though, enjoying idle tales of personal experience that have little or no relevance whatsoever, simply because it's fun. It wouldn't have to be fulfilling as long as the story, the experience, the life is there. Sometimes it's just good not to take things too seriously.

But then I'm the sort of person who does, and thus I already have a particular fence position staked out. The grass looks neither more nor less greener from where I sit, and I'm probably one of those people who can look at the stuff and realize that it's just grass.

Just grass.

Grass, grass, grass, wherever you go.

There are blogs everywhere as well. And most of them aren't trying to be professional or clear-cut or formal or insightful or whatever. They're just blogs.

People just write, and people just read. There's really not much else in it.




And now you know just what caused the mental strain I'm feeling right now.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Last Days of Dial-Up

I believe that I've finally figured out the darn modem.

After a bout of close observation, the situation degenerated to the point where the modem was shutting down every morning, and I would usually have to spend the next few hours getting it to work again. These "repairs" would involve any combination of hitting the device with a stick, restarting it, re-plugging it, and rebooting the host computer.

A few days of careful experiments later, however, it turned out that the best recourse was to wait.

I suspect that the darn-fangled device tends to shut down overnight for one reason or another, and therefore needs to be jump-started each morning. When I start it up, however, it apparently takes a while to "prime" itself -- which means that if I boot up the computer immediately afterwards, it won't detect the modem just yet.

I don't know how long it takes before the modem actually gets up and running, but I've found that I can usually start off a game of Zuma or two, then reboot the computer after a couple of game overs. Chances are good that the modem's working by then.

With that said, I believe that the modem is dying. It's not supposed to start up this slowly, I think, and in any case I'm still encountering the periodic disconnections. Technical problems aside, I also have to realize that it's a 56k dial-up modem, which isn't quite the pinnacle of Internet capability nowadays.

So I'm in negotiations for a cable internet connection right now. I'm talking to ICable with regards to their services, and they seem pretty happy about my willingness to pay in advance for a year's worth of fast Internet access. Globelines is also a possibility at this point, but I'm probably going with ICable for their customer service capabilities. That, and Globelines might require that I wait anywhere from two weeks to two months for setup, despite the lower prices. I know that I'm staying away from PLDT at least, if only because they always seem to encounter problems with either connection, or services, or both -- it's like the 1980s all over again, when they took ten years to install new phone lines.

Regardless of who'll be taking care of the faster connection, however, this will eventually result in one thing: I'll eventually have to put the modem out to pasture.

This is not to say that I have any regrets about doing so. In fact, it's the complete opposite: Once I disconnect the stupid device, it's going to take all my willpower not to drive it to the middle of the nearest empty field and smash it with a good-sized sledgehammer. But because I have certain pack-rat tendencies, I'll probably just end up putting it back into its styrofoam box and storing it in my closet.

As with many things, however, it's the thought that counts.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

I Never Metamorphosis I Didn't Like

Every now and then, something will cause me to break my habit of browsing without buying. Earlier this afternoon, the culprit happened to be a most unlikely subject:

Yes, out of all the authors looking for attention in this dog-eat-dog world, it had to be Franz Kafka. Yes, out of all the books staring out at me from the infinite rows of shelves, it had to be Metamorphosis. I expect that you're probably wondering why.

The reason actually lies in the little synopsis found on the back of the book:

WAKING AFTER A NIGHT OF TROUBLED DREAMS, Gregor is surprised to find himself trapped in the body of a hideous man-sized bug. As he lies on his shell and gazes into space, his mother and father begin calling to him from outside his bedroom door. He must get out of bed, they tell him. He has to go to work. They need his money to live.

Gregor replies to them nervously, his voice sounding strange to his ears.

He'll be out very soon, he says. He's just getting ready...

But he can't keep saying that for ever.

Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is a synopsis.

I'm sure that everybody's familiar with synopses, of course: They're the short outlines or summaries that you find printed on the back of most paperback novels. Why they're there is anyone's guess; I believe that it has something to do with the fact that some people are perfectly willing to try books that lie outside their normal stable of authors. If you subscribe to this assumption as well, then you're probably aware that a synopsis has to make the book sound pretty interesting in order to lure people in.

This one does. From my point of view, it's a very effective synopsis. It summarizes the story without spoiling it for people, it gives emphasis to the main character's unlikely situation, and it forces us to ask questions that can only be answered by turning the pages. Why has Gregor suddenly turned into a bug? How did it happen? Why don't his parents seem to care about him enough to open the door? And what do the dreams have to do with his suddenly awkward position?

You don't get many synopses like that, yes. At the very least, it sounded compelling enough to have me buy the stupid book, and that's not a common occurrence.

And for that matter, haven't I already pointed out that it's Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis? It's obviously not a title that you actively seek out at your local bookstore. Barring the whims of well-meaning educators everywhere, I'm even willing to bet that it hasn't seen the light of a bestseller list in a long, long time.

I have, of course, seen other copies of Metamorphosis before. They were the stoic, edumacated versions, though -- the ones marked with a little "Bantam Classics" logo (whatever that means), and a piece of Rennaissance-looking art on the front cover. They were the ones that came packaged with meaningless sections on explanation and critical analysis, not to mention some of the most sawdusty synopses on the back of each book.

In short, these other versions were the "glazeover" kind: The ones that line bookshelves in an endless series of similar cover layouts, all of them being so monochromatic that your eyes do nothing but glaze over the incidental titles.

The copy of Metamorphosis that I bought this afternoon happened to break the mold for me. It was a "classic" literary work that was packaged in a mildly interesting cover with a knockout synopsis, and the moment I finally pulled myself together, I realized that I just had to read the book. It was simply too attractive for me to do otherwise.

Is there a reason why all "classic" novels are packaged in such a way as to look like mass-produced clones of each other? I can only imagine that the publishers do things like that in order to cater to the sensibilities of modern education. Lord knows that everything we take up in Literature class should look like a textbook in some way.

The flaw in this reasoning, however, is that not all "classics" are taken up in a classroom setting. Yes, most of us probably got acquainted with Hamlet and The Odyssey back then, but not all schools are likely to have certain books on the curriculum. Only a certain percentage of us got to tackle Animal Farm, for example. Or The Lord of the Flies. Or The Catcher in the Rye.

If these books were timeless "classics" in every sense of the word, then they shouldn't feel as though we're forcing students to read them. Yes, we know that Animal Farm is, at its heart, a view on the (d)evolution of communist/socialist governance. Yes, William Golding wrote about societal breakdown due to the flaws inherent in humanity. Yes, Holden Caulfield is deeply afraid of growing up (and more than a little neurotic besides). No matter how often we preach and trumpet these assertions, they won't get people interested in the books by themselves. They don't do anything for the requirements of story or setting. In short, they're not good synopses.

Reading, I think, is invariably a matter of discovery. Having a good piece only becomes part of the equation in that regard -- you still have to get people interested in the darn thing. You have to grab them from the moment they glance at the title, or look at the cover, or scan the synopsis. None of this "educational classic" crap that simply gets students buying more copies of Barron's Book Notes. Make it sound compelling enough to pick up, and if the "classic" is really worth anything, then people will only be too happy to read it on their own.

This is how great books survive. Each new generation must be made to see these works as fantastic discoveries that they can take home and read, and not as dull manuscripts that inevitably get associated with boring literature classes. Every interested reader contributes a little more to a book's repertoire; Every indifferent reader kills a little of it in some way.

At this point, I must say that I honestly don't know where Franz Kafka stands on the matter. But I do know this: I bought the book earlier this afternoon, and I'm taking it home. And if it's as good as it sounds, then that means that Mr. Kafka's story will have one more person who can take the virtues of his work into the oncoming century.

You get what I'm saying?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Constant Techno

Somebody is messing with my modem.

For one, I can't seem to get a connection that lasts more than thirty minutes on my part; I inevitably run into a weird series of buzzes and clicks that sounds as though somebody's using the line. And while we're on that minor technical point, I have to tell you that this shouldn't be the case: While the modem does use your average run-of-the-mill telephone line, it's an unlisted number that no one knows -- including us.

I've since come up with a few hypotheses on why the modem's doing this to me all of a sudden. Either there's some telemarketer schnook out there who doesn't know when to give up; or maybe it's the executor for a dead long-lost relative waiting to award us ten million bucks' inheritance; or maybe the Ganaxians finally figured out where I was hiding, and I have to blow up this pathetic planet soon in order to cover my tracks.

If you've been reading up on this blog, you probably already know that this isn't the first problem I've encountered with the modem. For that matter, this isn't the first problem I've encountered with hardware or technology, period. It's probably safe to say at this point that, despite the presence of my technology-oriented college degree, six years' experience in web and multimedia development, and a tendency to gravitate towards electronics-related topics, I still know jack about computers in general.

Of course, there's also the possibility of just trashing the 56k modem and getting a Broadband connection. The problem is that there don't seem to be many quality services that reach my place of residence, and that's not even considering the fact that I'm broke, lazy, and out of work at the moment. (Buying a new printer last weekend didn't help my disposition any, too.)

In my current circumstances, the best that I can probably do is to yell and scream at the foul contraption that represents my only tether to the online community. Or, in the event that it actually does turn out to be a telemarketer, I can always do the yelling and screaming at them. I've never had any great love for telephone solicitations; it's as though they're the primitive forerunners of e-mail spam.

And I go ahead and assume that nobody else out there can possibly empathize with my current situation. You all probably have fast Internet connections from where you access IFilm or YouTube or whatever you crazy kids are surfing nowadays. Back in my day, we had 286s that took five minutes just to boot up, and draft printers with form feeds, and floppy disk drives, and GWBASIC, and MS-DOS. And in order to buy what little peripherals were available, we had to climb up the nearest hills where the rare stores were located. In the rain. Or the driving snow. Both ways.

Man, I miss MS-DOS.


Guess I'm just an old softy sometimes. *Honk*




Saturday, August 19, 2006

See Sean Run

See Sean drop by Dean Alfar's blog in a (rare?) instance of bloghopping.

See Sean read Dean Alfar's recent post on his second Speculative Fiction Anthology.

See Sean remember a previous post that looked mightily similar to this new one.

See Sean raise one confused eyebrow, and start jumping to conclusions for no reason at all.

See Sean wonder if this happens to be Dean Alfar's "subtle" way of narrowing down any further submissions into specific categories.

See Sean wonder if this is actually Dean Alfar's way of giving ground to people, warning them if the current set of submissions is unbalanced in one direction or another, and opening up a path less travelled.

See Sean wonder if maybe he's just reading too much into Dean Alfar's two posts. See Sean wonder if maybe he's just being paranoid again, like the time he thought that a new breed of monkeys were taking over his brain.

See Sean crumple up a bunch of drafts.

See Sean roll up a bunch of other drafts.

See Sean think.

See Sean plot.

See Sean write.

Write write write.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Fiction: Therapy

"It's still there, doc," Harvey said. "No matter how much I try to forget it, it's still there."

Lovelace thought carefully, tapping the edge of his clipboard with a purple crayon. "Be careful what you say, Harvey," he admonished his patient. "I should remind you that you have just completed your rehabilitation training."

"Well... yes, doc," Harvey admitted, his tail thumping from side to side in an obvious gesture of apprehension. "But it's still there. No matter how often I tell myself that it doesn't really exist, that it's just a figment of my imagination, it's still... there."

Lovelace sighed. "Now look here, Harvey," he said gently. "Why are you doing this to me?"

"Doing what, doc?"

"Being difficult."

"I'm not being difficult," Harvey complained, sitting up from the couch. "I'm just telling you that it's still there!"

"You also told me that you passed the extended treatment with flying colors," Lovelace said. "You told me that you were a changed weezlefrum, Harvey. You told me, in the plainest terms imaginable, that you were cured."

"I... was," Harvey said dejectedly. "That is, I am. I'm cured, doc. I'm cured."

"Then what's all this about seeing things, hmm?"

"I... don't know," Harvey admitted. "For a couple of days, everything's fine. I wake up in the morning, I do my business in the bathroom, and I head off to work. All hunky-dory."

Lovelace made a few notes on the clipboard. "And then?"

Harvey squirmed. Lovelace noticed that he was grasping at his enormous tail as though it were a security blanket, and considered sending the weezlefrum in for further treatment.

"I heard its voice, doc," Harvey finally said.

"And what did you do, Harvey?"

"I ignored it for a while. I slept on it, like you told me to."

"That's good, Harvey."

"Yeah, doc," Harvey said, and this time his yellow eyes were wide and pleading. "But after a while I start hearing the voice in the middle of the night. When I'm in bed, even."

Lovelace removed his monocle and began cleaning it on the lapels of his white coat. "I see," he said. "Is this why you called me last night?"

Harvey looked up, his expression a mixture of agony and relief. "Yeah, doc," he said. "Last night... last night, well... I hear the voice again, and I wake up."


"It's in my bed, doc. I was in my bed. And it was... calling my name." Harvey shuddered.

Lovelace replaced the monocle, gazing at the patient through his one eye. "And then what happened, Harvey?"

Harvey thought for a while. "Nothing," he finally said.


"Nothing, doc. Honest."

"You didn't try to interact with it? You didn't talk to it? You didn't sing, or laugh, or dance, or play games with it like you were doing when you first came to me?"

Harvey considered this for a moment. "No," he said. "All I did was pull the blanket over my head and try to sleep. But I couldn't sleep after a while, so I called you."

"Ah," Lovelace said, and rubbed his one eye. Harvey had cost him a good night's rest, but he supposed that he could take it out on the weezlefrum's bill.

"So what is it, doc?" Harvey asked.

Lovelace put down his clipboard. "Nothing, Harvey. It's absolutely nothing."

"Nothing? But... I'm still seeing it!"

"What does it say to you, Harvey?"


Lovelace frowned. "I mean, what does the voice tell you?"

Harvey thought for a moment. "Not much, really... it just calls me, and..."

"I meant last night, Harvey. It was in your bed when it spoke to you last night, wasn't it? What did it tell you?"

Harvey thought for a while. "It asked me why I wasn't playing with it anymore. It told me that we were supposed to be best friends."

Lovelace closed his eye in contemplation. He was on familiar territory now. He picked up the crayon for a short while, changed his mind, and then put it down again.

"You're right, Harvey," he said. "You're cured."

"I am, doc? But I'm..."

"You're still seeing it, yes," Lovelace finished. "But you must remember what we discussed before, Harvey. Do you remember what we discussed before?"

"Which one, doc?"

"That this 'child', as you call it, is a manifestation of your own personal insecurities," Lovelace explained. "It doesn't really exist, does it?"

Harvey took a deep breath, his yellow dinosaur-tail thumping against the couch again. "It doesn't exist," he said, in the practiced tones of deep therapy.

"Of course it doesn't," Lovelace said.

"But I still saw it, doc!"

Lovelace waved it away with one astute tentacle. "Yes," he finally said after a while. "You can probably still see it. But that's part of the rehabilitation, Harvey. It's all part of the natural course of things."

"I don't understand."

Lovelace leaned forward. "You see, Harvey, the rehabilitation process only taught you more about yourself. It showed you that this 'child' -- or whatever you call it -- is only a figment of your imagination, created to deal with your inner insecurities. You created it because you couldn't deal with them yourself."

"So what does this mean, doc?"

"Well, for one, you dealt with the situation very well. You ignored it."

"I did?" Harvey asked.

"Yes, Harvey," Lovelace sighed, "you did."


"It's an indication that you're fully on the road to recovery," Lovelace explained. "Your imaginary 'friend' will most likely try to manifest itself every now and then, but all you have to remember is that it doesn't really exist. It is a product borne from your own weaknesses, and in order to move on, you must ignore it completely."

"Ignore it completely," Harvey repeated. "Yeah, I can do that."

"You can, Harvey?"

"Yeah, doc," Harvey said, his expression becoming far lighter than Lovelace remembered. "I can do that."

"Good," Lovelace said, picking up the clipboard and slithering back towards his desk. "I imagine that it should disappear in time," he added.

"Yeah, doc. I suppose."

Lovelace raised a singular eyebrow. "You suppose, Harvey?"

"I mean I do," Harvey corrected. "I just have to ignore it, and then it'll disappear."

"Good, good," Lovelace said. "I believe that means that we're done here. You just need to remember, Harvey: You are the one who is fully in control. There are no such things as 'children'. They are mere figments of your imagination."

Harvey moved towards the door. "Yeah, I'll remember that," he said. "Thanks, doc."

"Just make sure that you see the secretary outside. She'll take care of the paperwork."


"And... Harvey?" Lovelace asked.

"Yeah?" Harvey answered, about halfway out the door.

"If this imaginary 'friend' of yours gives you any further trouble, you're welcome to come and see me again. Just be sure to make a proper appointment the next time."

"Yeah, doc. Thanks. Sorry about last night."

"It's okay, Harvey. It's okay."

Lovelace waited for the weezlefrum to close the door before taking a look at his sparse collection of notes. Harvey was one of the good patients, although with a little luck, he was unlikely to cause the office any further inconvenience. Lovelace considered this for a moment, then crumpled the session log into a little ball and threw it towards the wastebasket in the far corner. He missed.

"Miss Grace?" he asked, pressing the intercom button. "Please send the next patient in."


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

When Ideas Die

The blog post had been sitting around since last week, and I had gone to work on the article about three or four times already, adding a few more sentences each session. After writing about fiftysomething words tonight, however, I finally realized that it just wasn't going to work.

No, I didn't delete it yet. It's still sitting among my drafts right now, waiting for a knight in shining armor to come and garb it in stellar white. Essays have dreams too, you know.

I don't suppose that anybody knows why ideas die. Sometimes they die as early as the original point of conception ("Ooooh, how about a story that puts together cyborgs and zombies? Naaaah, that's stupid."), sometimes they die as late as the final product ("I finally finished the whole novel... and it reads like five hundred pages of crap."), and sometimes they crash into one of the innumerable opportunities in between. It's a rare idea that actually survives the entire creative process, right down to the scrutiny of the audience.

What's strange is that the process usually doesn't discriminate. You could probably conceptualize a really good idea, a really bad idea, and a really ugly idea at the same time, and anyone would offer even odds on their survival. But then again, the quality of any idea is pretty subjective to begin with, so worrying about them probably isn't worth the effort anyway.

That's one of the things that amateur writers have to realize, I think: There are no "good", "bad", or even "ugly" ideas to start with. The quality of an idea will eventually depend on exactly how well you execute it.

I've held a certain viewpoint on the matter for quite some time now: Maybe ideas die because, deep down inside, they're really "bad" ideas. They pop up inside your head, encourage you to work on them for any amount of time, and then suddenly leave you holding the ball with nothing to show for your effort. In such cases, there's nothing you can do but simply move on and hope that the next idea you have turns out to be a good one.

When one considers that there are no "bad" ideas, however, it throws a monkey wrench into the workings. If the idea isn't "bad" by itself, then you can't certainly blame its quality for the failure of the product. The only thing you can possibly saddle with fault is the execution -- in a sense, all that we know is that it's time to stop what we're doing, wipe the slate clean, and start over.

This, I think, explains why it's relatively easy to find old ideas, dust them off, and put them to good use again. Even if the original execution left a lot to be desired, there's always the chance that we could improve on our first efforts. And even if the second attempt doesn't turn out so well, then it's possible that the third time's the charm, and so forth.

Ideas are remarkably durable, I think. This perception places a lot of emphasis on the approach, as opposed to the root concept. It not only tells us that we can attempt to produce different treatments of the same idea, but also that eventually one of them will turn out effective enough for our tastes.

So the title of this post is actually a lie. It's not the idea that dies in this case; it's the execution that seems useless or ineffective. I'm not deleting my rejected article because the idea didn't seem to work the first time; I'm keeping it because it might provide some useful reference when I finally come up with an alternative approach.

One idea, multiple executions. Some of those treatments will probably turn out bad, while others will probably turn out better than expected. What's probably important in this case is that we keep hacking away at it until we come up with something that satisfies our own perceptions.

No, the idea hasn't quite died yet. There's the possibility that it might die in the future, but to be perfectly honest, I don't remember ever seeing any one idea shuffle off this mortal coil. For all we know, they're all just standing in line somewhere, waiting for us to get out of bed and start writing them up.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Staples and Binding

Bargain bookstores: You gotta love 'em.

Unlike many of the other bibliophiles out there, I'm actually not in the habit of visiting these places. My sister does pass by one branch or another on an almost-weekly basis, however, so I still maintain a strange familiarity with these literary clearing-houses.

That said, I'm not all too familiar with their business processes. As far as I can tell, these places pick up their stock from a number of different sources. Most of their books, I think, come from readers or collectors looking to clean out their rooms and make a little money along the way, whereas most of their magazines probably come from newsstands and hobby shops looking to get rid of useless back issues. In short, it's an interesting business model -- sort of like being the scrapyard of the printed media industry. I'm not certain as to whether or not it's a profitable endeavor, but it's definitely expansive enough to allow for branches in all the local malls.

Most die-hard readers probably visit these places for the books. My sister, for one, keeps a running list for her favorite authors, and scours the booksales for anything that's missing from her collection. But then there's me, and I mostly stick around for the magazines; It's strange behavior for a man whose writing feels more at home between stiff cardboard covers.

Rooting through the magazines does sound like a losing proposition. Each back issue runs about a hundred or so pages as compared to the thicker paperbacks or hardcovers, and yet those same hundred glossies cost at least as much, if not more, than their thicker incarnations. In addition to that, the older magazine issues are far more likely to be out-of-date; you'd think that these things would have little or no shelf life at all.

In truth, I only actively search for a few specific titles, and a few specific types of articles. My motivation for each of these probably runs along certain lines of interest, although sometimes it's nothing more than a weird fixation.

For starters, I'm a Dungeon hunter. Dungeon magazine is pretty difficult to find in the Philippines, seeing that its main audience is primarly composed of Dungeons & Dragons players. The only places I know of that regularly stock issues are the Comic Quest outlets run by Vin Simbulan, and even there, the latest issues go for about four hundred pesos a shot (about US$8.00). Every now and then, however, a local newsstand will order a few copies of the periodical, watch as it sinks to the bottom of their sales list, and then unload it on the local bargain bins in the hopes that people like me will come along and pick it up.

Dungeon magazine, for the curious, is a publication that is solely focused on the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. That is to say, it contains nothing but adventure scenarios, play discussions and customized rules tables. Unless you have at least a passing familiarity with tabletop RPGs, the magazine will almost certainly read like pure gibberish.

With a smattering of D&D references in mind, however, the true value of the magazine comes to light: It's a good repository of fantasy settings, plotline ideas, and fictional events. I feel that a story can sometimes be reduced to creating a bunch of interesting characters, putting them in an interesting situation, and seeing how they work their way through it. Dungeon magazine helps reinforce this kind of viewpoint for me, and that's why I think it makes for interesting reading. Dungeon's scenarios probably don't constitute redeemable stories by themselves, but they do fire up the possibility of better pieces of fiction.

Then there's Games magazine, the publication that claims a good chunk of the American puzzle-solving audience as its own. While there are already a lot of books devoted to Word Searches, Logic Puzzles, and the ubiquitous Sudoku floating around, Games magazine takes this concept one step further, into a far more creative environment. And if there's anything I have an affinity for, it's out-of-the-ordinary puzzles.

Each issue of Games is divided into two sections. The first half of the magazine is devoted to creative puzzle creations: Photograph mazes, trivia contests, dual-headed crosswords, anything that you probably won't find in an ordinary solver. The second half of the magazine contains the mundane stuff that you'd actually expect from a "Games" magazine: Reviews of newly-released board and card games, feature articles on the leisure and toy industries, even interviews of personalities involved in the design or manufacture of these products. It's literally enough to make your head spin, especially if you're the type who likes exercising your mind.

Apart from Dungeon and Games, I also pick up the occasional computer-game publication. That's not to say that I own an Xbox, or a PSP, or a tricked-out PC or anything like that; It's just that every now and then some magazine is going to come out with a retrospective on gaming, and I like seeing how some of my favorites have stacked up over the years. I may not be too obsessed with computer games right now, but I did play a lot of good titles in the past.

I particularly like lists. Lists are easy to read, and even easier to judge: You just have to look for proper justification on the part of the writers. Electronic Gaming Monthly came out with a "The Greatest 200 Games of All Time" article a few months ago, for example, and I still peruse my copy every now and then. Sometimes the features happen to be near to my heart (Gamemasters had a four-page spread on Anito: Defend a Land Enraged a few years ago), and sometimes I just want to see how an issue or an event gets discussed (Seeker ran one or two articles on some local conventions, from what I remember).

The strange part is that I most definitely buy magazines to read, which means that I'm actually far more likely to pick up an issue of Cosmopolitan than of FHM. (That is not to say that I own a lot of copies of either publication, but the argument will probably come down to that distinction if needed.) My jury is still out on things like Heavy Metal, though -- I don't know if the nudity, the obscene ads, and the terrible storylines are enough to justify looking for the occasional brilliant piece.

If there were a magazine that I'd like to see around here, though, it would be 2000 A.D., a British graphic/fiction publication known for its experimental stories and settings. I've caught a few scans across the web, and they seem pretty good. The problem is that I'm not even sure if the quality is consistent, or even if any new issues are still being published. Being halfway around the world tends to be disadvantageous sometimes.

Now, with all that out of the way, there's only the matter of figuring out what people like me are called. Does the word "bibliophile" still apply in this case? There's got to be a more specific term regarding a fascination for magazines. Something that doesn't rhyme with "weird", maybe...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Le Ecrits

Looks like Dominique's out of the Mensa NaNoWriMo event, due to unforeseen developments. He'll probably be back for the November event, though, so I figure that his readers shouldn't have long to wait.

Me, I'm somewhere around 2,400 words at the moment. The bad news is that, if I were writing at the steady rate I forecasted earlier, I should have around 6,450 words to my credit already. As it stands, I'm four thousand words behind, and that's not a good sign.

I've noticed that, with regards to the NaNoWriMo entry, I'm only writing about 300 to 500 words per session -- significantly less than my 500-word blogging average. Part of that is probably due to the fact that I'm piecing the story together as I go along, and I literally have to stop after each bout of typing just to decide what's supposed to happen next. While I don't have any problems finding my "flow", that "flow" only seems to last for the aforementioned 300 to 500 words before slowing to a trickle.

I've also noticed that I seem to be falling back on a traditional style of narrative -- the one-on-one dialogue -- in order to flesh out the characters and the story background. I think that I unconsciously favor this over direct description, although I've made an effort to avoid it over the last few months in an attempt to diversify my writing. With that said, however, using this style makes it easy for me to work hundreds of words into the story with little effort.

Then, there's Dean Alfar's Second Spec Fic Anthology, which will be accepting submissions until September 15th. I usually only work on one story at a time, but my current states of unemployment and pseudo-insomnia have caused most of the ideas in my head to come out and assert themselves. That, in effect, means that I'm writing multiple pieces at the same time, and I'm worried about the quality.

In addition, all of these considerations don't even take into account the fact that I'm still writing blog entries. My blog entries, however, are probably the french bread to the penne arribiata: They're not quite the focus of the dish, but rather, they're something nice that's served on the side. They're also far, far easier to write, if only because I don't place the same overthinking zeal into them that I do into my stories. (This would probably also explain why I've written far more blog entries in the last two years than short fiction in the last fifteen.)

The Antaria stories, for the two or three people out there who read them, have fallen by the wayside in all these developments. I was surprised to learn that people assumed that one of my independent pieces ("Masks") was an Antaria story when it actually wasn't; I concluded that I had been spending a little too much time in Antaria as a result. The stories will therefore be on hiatus for a month or so, although I'll be writing up descriptions on the setting for interested parties.

I figure that, within the next few days, I'm going to have to make a choice between the NaNoWriMo novel and the Spec Fic submission. If that does turn out to be the case, then I'll have to go for Dean Alfar's initiative. It's difficult to jump into novel-writing when you've been perfecting an approach to short stories all your life, and I'd prefer to submit something I know I can tweak and rework with relative ease. I've also endorsed the anthology to a number of other unpublished writers of my acquaintance, and I want to hand in something just to make sure that we all run a nice horse race together.

Now, with all of the above items neatly arranged and summarized for your knowledge, all that remains is for me to get off my duff and actually start writing. What complicates matters, you see, is the fact that I still have to deal with the stuff of modern living: Job-hunting, busted modems, freelance writing assignments, invitations for various business ventures, and that scourge of scourges, that ultimate time-waster, the SNES Emulator. (I could almost swear at this point that there is no better way to melt one's brain... except maybe for copious doses of local TV.)

I suppose that I've also written far too many posts about writing lately, and it's probably time to get back to other random topics just to carry peoples' attention. I should write something about chocolate someday. Or maybe something about the role of undead characters in fantasy culture. Or maybe something about fanatical obsession and its long-term effects. Or maybe I should just write something about monkeys... everybody likes monkeys, after all.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Obstacle Course

Ever tried writing fiction in the middle of a crowded internet café? It's remarkably difficult to execute. Apart from the noise, the constant invasive presences of people, and the frustration of ending up with a sticky keyboard, there's also the fact that you're trying to get the words to flow in an totally different environment than the one you're normally used to.

Strangely, I have little or no problem writing blog entries in the same environment. Maybe personal essays and fiction pieces are especially distinctive in that way.

One of the things I've found is that nowadays, I absolutely have to write my fiction in front of a computer in order for it to turn out properly. I can still scribble my ideas or narrate entire sequences with pen and paper, but with fiction, my mind usually works so fast that my hand finds it difficult to catch up. For that matter, if I do find myself reduced to paper as a medium, I feel that I write far better with a pencil than I do with a ball-point pen.

Call it a set of odd quirks, I suppose.

Then again, a lot of writers can be observed to maintain their own strange habits. Don't some of us listen to music when writing, for example? Don't some of us shut all the doors and windows to ensure extra silence? Don't some of us bring a tape recorder everywhere we go, in case some great idea comes around in the middle of our more mundane lives?

I've particularly wondered if any of these strange habits directly influence our kind of writing, or if we actually do turn out better works because we follow these odd quirks to the letter. I'd even go as far as to suggest a scientific study on these sorts of things, if there were a scientific method of measuring writing skill out there. (Sadly, there isn't, and therefore, I can't.)

Another possibility, for that matter, is the exact converse; that our choice of writing may directly influence our choice of weird habits. Writers do develop a certain reputation through the core disciplines of their products: Most of us, for example, find it easy to assume that H.G. Wells was an intellectual genius, or that Neil Gaiman is a new-age guru of some sort, or that Stephen King is a very creepy man. While these people and others may not necessarily fit the impressions we assign to them, they'd all probably be willing to admit to having taken on some aspects of their chosen genres. (Although it's just a theory, of course.)

Maybe it's simply a question of who we are, really. It's easy for one's personality to become ingrained in whatever he or she writes, so it's not too far a stretch to assume that the methods of how we write would contain pieces of our personalities as well.

If that's the case, then I can assume that there's probably at least one person out there who might find it easy to write something in a very noisy environment, e.g. one of the local internet cafés.

For that matter, maybe they can teach me how to do it one day.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

No Time Like the Present

Honey, I've got a confession to make:

I'm seeing another blog.


Well, okay... I'm not having a relationship with another blog or anything like that. I just spent the whole of this afternoon setting up a new one, that's all.

You see, I got this informal invitation from Charo, a friend in one of Mensa Philippines' SIGs (Special Interest Groups) the other day. It turned out that their Creative Writing SIG was planning to hold a NaNoWriMo event for the whole of August, and the name of a certain non-Mensan writer came up as a prime candidate to fill out their roster. That name, of course, was Dominique Cimafranca. But because they needed somebody who could make everybody else look good in comparison, they decided to let me in on it as well.

NaNoWriMo, for those who haven't heard of it, is a semi-acronym for "National Novel Writing Month". It's actually an international event that usually takes place in November each year, and you can think of it as the "Iron Man" competition of all writing competitions. The object is deceptively simple: Write a 50,000-word novel in exactly thirty days.

Yes, you read that right: 50,000 words in thirty days. That's about 1,600 words per day, folks. If you want a good measure of comparison, my posts on this blog usually number about five hundred to seven hundred words a shot.

Now, don't get me wrong: I'm a short-fiction man, and nowadays there's the everpresent deadline for Dean Alfar's Second Speculative Fiction Anthology. But I've long considered joining the event just to get an idea of what it's like to have to burn through more than a thousand words a day, and the Mensa Philippines event is about as good a method of practice as any. That, and the Mensans only require people to write a minimum of 25,000 words, which is a far more reasonable total.

My entry in the event, of course, required a place to store my writings. While Microsoft Word still makes for a viable tool in this regard, I also wanted to place my stuff online so that I could continue writing even when I was out of the house. This eventually led me to this afternoon's activities, a long and complicated set of affairs where I spliced code, consulted existing copyright disclaimers, and fussed over the appearance of a new blog.

That blog, by the way, is right here. You're welcome to peruse it at your leisure.

I only warn you, however, that the writing standards there probably won't be of the same level as the ones over here. Novels and short stories are two completely different animals -- you'll find it very difficult to write one of them if you're thinking in terms of the other. One of my efforts now will most certainly involve keeping the two approaches separate.

For that matter, there's also the issue of schedule. I originally took into account the fact that I don't have any work at the moment, which should theoretically leave me with lots of time to write. It usually takes me a while to nail down a story, however, and I only had a grand total of eight hours to prepare a plot before the event officially started. The long-term planning isn't particularly easy, especially when you've got a plotline full of holes to deal with.

As of the time of this writing, I've got about 739 words down on (virtual) paper. That already puts me about 874 words behind the rest of the pack. And I'm still planning to write something for that Spec Fic collection, too.

At this point, it's kind of obvious that I might be spending some time away from this blog. I'll probably end up posting my notes in one way or another, however, so I don't think I really should worry all that much. I'm also fairly sure that I'm going to be sick of that other blog by the 31st of August when the event finally ends, and all my thoughts on the matter will most likely end up being written here eventually.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to attempt to pick and sneer at my "other" workings. I don't want to reach a point where I'm five thousand words behind with nothing but writer's block in sight.

And if you're still pondering the situation: Yes, I'm writing for another blog. Yes, it feels as though I'm cheating on this one. No, it doesn't do anything for my insomnia, either.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Disclaimer: August 2006

I'm right in the middle of something, so I'll actually make this post both straightforward and brief. I'll explain my current situation in a future entry.


This is Sean's blog, established in September 2004 as a bastion of personal works, literary efforts, and out-of-the-way reflections and insights. Over the last twenty months, it has come to house Sean's open attempts at writing, and currently tries to serve as a venue of ideas for the average stable of writers and readers.

All items posted on this weblog are Sean's original works (except where posted), indicating that Sean is the rightful owner of all copyrights pertaining to these items. Further foundation is given by the Creative Commons License currently located in the right-side area of this blog, and in addition to that, Sean keeps printed and semi-officially dated copies of some entries.

Any items excerpted or quoted from outside sources are acknowledged in their respective posts. In the event that the proper references are not given for a particular entry, the aggrieved parties only have to contact me for correction. Sean will make any or all such corrections immediately, and to the best of his ability.

In much the same vein, any person wishing to quote or reference any item on this blog is free to do so, as long as they enclose the proper acknowledgements along with their writings. The safest thing to do, however, would be to contact me: That way, I can give guidance on proper usage, as well as promote the work if I feel that it's worth reading.

I do not condone sources that quote my writings in an out-of-context fashion, nor do I have much patience for people who take my work and try to pass it off as their own. In the past, I have regaled readers with tales of just what I plan to do with these kinds of people; Suffice to say that they invariably involve coal tar, cream cheese, an alunimum baseball bat, and a very good law firm. You don't want to know the details.

Mmm... cream cheese.