Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Long Weekend

I spent Saturday walking around the local mall, looking for a touch of inspiration (and maybe some diversion or other). At that time I was still sifting through a number of possible plot generators in my head.

These were all "baby ideas", mind you. These weren't "adult" ideas, the kinds that arrive at your doorstep all made out and demanding that you paint the town red. No, these were "baby" ideas, the kinds that lie in a basket while you read the tear-sodden note from the unwilling young mother who probably doesn't exist.

With "baby" ideas, the basic plot is there. It looks cute, it looks workable, and it looks like it'll let you get a handle on things. The problem comes about the moment you bring it home, when it starts crying and throwing tantrums and generally messing up the place. That's when you realize that you probably didn't think things over as much as you would have wanted to. That's when you regret not having gone into this without a plan in mind.

(I'd like to take this moment to say that I have absolutely nothing about babies in particular. Bear with me on the metaphors; it's been a rough day.)

So at 3:00pm last Saturday, I decided to throw everything out of my head and start fresh. I paid for two hours' advance at a small internet café, staked out an empty spot in a quiet corner, opened this blog and started scribbling the first thing that came to mind.

About a hundred minutes later, I had a thousand words. What idiot writes a thousand words of meaningless fiction in one sitting, anyway? By that point my computer time was running out, the sky was darkening with the threat of rain, and I desperately felt like chewing on something edible. So I went home and just hoped that the story would keep my interest till at least later that night.

I was only able to get back to the story at around 10:00pm, and to my surprise, the narrative sounded fluid enough to work. So I kept at it, and by two in the morning, I had over two thousand words to my credit.

Two thousand words. You have no idea how nice that sounds. Two thousand words implies that the story is beyond a passing fancy. Two thousand words says, plainly and simply, that you decided to invest a good chunk of your life into the work, and that turning back now would result in a lot of wasted time and effort. Two thousand words is magic.

I stayed home practically the whole of Sunday. I got a nasty scare when I turned on the computer shortly after waking up, and found that I couldn't write anything. After lunch, however, I got back into my peculiar narrative rhythm, and I chalked up that morning's miscue to morbid fatigue. By two in the afternoon I hit three thousand words. By two-thirty I had a another five hundred.

Then the Pirates of the Caribbean movie came on TV, and I got distracted by Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley (not necessarily in that order). Creative movies are the bane of any writing binge; their images flood through your mind so fast that you can't tell which ideas are which anymore, and you can't shut off the stupid TV because the show is so darn compelling. I was still stuck at three thousand six hundred words by the time the sun went down, so I shut off the computer and gorged myself on Cheetos and Pepsi MAX or a while.

I emerged from my gluttonous episode sometime after dinner, at which point I told myself that I needed to finish the stupid story before I went to bed. I didn't want to panic like the last time; while panic might make for some good writing every now and then, you don't want to end up editing the results. I ended up sitting myself on a hard swivel-chair for the next five or six hours; pounding out words, phrases and sentences on a stubborn keyboard; wondering just where the story was going and how it was supposed to end.

I finished at two in the morning, a hard-bitten veteran of over six thousand words. Then, because I was also a closet masochist, I spent the next one-and-a-half hours reading the silly thing and making millions of adjustments to every tiny detail.

I did the same thing again when I woke up around noon that Monday. I can be the most obsessive-compulsive man when it comes to my stories, and once you factor six thousand words into the mix, then you get a writer who moves with all the speed of a turtle and all the grace of a house on fire.

I had bought a ream of bond paper specifically for this occasion. That gave me good reason to watch my agonizingly slow printer for two full hours while it scanned my words to paper and spat them out into a plastic tray. Between the printing, the paper, the clips, the envelopes, the application form, the formatting and the CD, I needed about three whole hours just to get everything ready. I whiled away the time by reading the piece again and cursing myself every time I encountered a mistake that I could no longer correct.

Then, because I could no longer wait to get rid of the cause of my suffering, I threw the envelope into the back seat of a car and drove it to Fully Booked headquarters. I handed it off to a polite young gentleman who obviously didn't belong in customer service, but who was nevertheless nice enough to help me double-check my requirements.

Finally I went home and collapsed on the bed.

Two thousand words will drive you. Three thousand words will spur you on. Six thousand words will leave you a wet dishrag on its way to the bottom of the sewer.

And people get impressed at the fact that I do this to relax.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Plotting and Scheming

Work has forced me into an eleventh-hour session for the second Fully Booked contest, so I'm going to have to wrap things up by this weekend. As per Murphy's Law, my textbook's publisher has also seen fit to place my deadline around that time -- in fact, my editors have somehow timed my deadlines to coincide with every single independent fiction due date I've had for the past two months. I could almost swear that they're doing this deliberately.

Usually, when it comes to writing a new story, the first thing that I do is open up a plotline. If I have anything interesting that dangles in front of my mind at the time, then I write about that. Otherwise, I open up my archives and look through the uncompleted works that I have, checking to see if I can salvage a storyline or two from there.

There is a practice among some writers that involves maintaining a repository of ideas, and then just taking stuff from there in the event that it's needed. This, however, is different -- rather than holding a bunch of pristine ideas in my archives, I keep only failed works and experiments in there. As a result, everything that I look through happens to have been a story idea that was once approved and attempted.

To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, I have the following plots in there at the moment. I'll even toss in some sample lines from the unfinished works:

- A description of a dystopian future where digital devices rule every aspect of human existence. (i.e. it would be difficult to find a date on a Saturday night.)
It was so quiet that he could hear his Biological Clock ticking. With any luck, he thought, it would stay frozen at half-past twenty-seven.

- A treatise on human dissection, written from the unfortunate subject's point of view.
And then something that felt like rushing water sped through his mind. It was cold and clear, and it pushed relentlessly at his rationality, to the point where it finally surfaced like a cork in the middle of the ocean.

- A hacker finds out exactly who -- or what -- really runs the Internet.
00040A5D: WARNING: Error 14-6EA65109 Improper Syntax, global.emp Line 39
00040A5E: WARNING: Error 60-47B83B11 Improper Syntax, global.emp Line 39
00040A60: WARNING: Error 61-00043C2A Improper Syntax, global.emp Line 39
00040A61: Critical Error 00-043279A1 Missing Component
00040A62: Critical Error 00-043279A3 Missing Component
00040A63: Auto Shutdown Unit AA-0432
00040A64: Error 02-77AB4110 Override failure

- Something about what happens when imaginary friends turn out to be real, and perhaps just hovering right at the edge of your vision...
“Honey,” Margaret said, her attention elsewhere, “honey, Daddy and I need to finish our Christmas shopping. We can’t buy you anything right now, but I promise that we’ll come back here after New Years’ and get you whatever you want, okay?”

- A robot who laughs.
As a result, when the first recorded incidence of MR-12138’s laughter occurred on the evening of the 3rd of May, the event did not elicit a particularly favorable response from the family.

- A drunken dragon (of the fantasy persuasion).
“I told you, I was drunk! I went around setting things on fire because I thought that the flames looked pretty in the moonlight!”

“Yes,” the knight said. “Yes, you did.”

“I picked up stray cattle and dropped them into buildings because I thought it would be funny in the morning!”

The knight seemed to stifle a short laugh. “Yes, you did.”

- A narrative concerning the first Philippine mecha (a giant human-piloted robot, that is).
Marasigan leans against what remains of a massive right leg, and lights a cigarette. It happens to be his fifth smoke in the last half-hour, despite the fact that he resolved to quit the habit earlier this week. When a giant robot falls from the sky, breaks up on impact, and crushes a substantial portion of the city under the weight of its bits and pieces, you’d probably be reaching for those Marlboros, too.

I have no intention of putting further effort into any of these stories, but I might salvage certain elements of their plots for use in other places. For all I know, I'll end up doing complete rewrites of these.

More often than not, however, I come up with entirely new plots. This is particularly the case whenever I'm writing for a publication that I know and respect, and I don't want to give what might essentially turn out to be a recycled work. Fully Booked just happens to have a few strikes against it -- first, I don't know anyone there; second, I don't know who their judges are and what they'd presumably want from me; and third, they weren't able to pick up on a serious case of plagiarism from last year. In short, it wouldn't weigh heavily on my mind if I gave them a few scraps.

This is not to say that I just pull together a half-hearted story and hand that in, of course. Whether the plots are old or new, I try to develop them as best as I can, given the time and the circumstances. Fully Booked will still get a quality submission from me, assuming that I can write something by this weekend.

Now if only I could ditch my publisher for a day or so. Hmmm.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Months later, his life had changed.

He knew that there had to be a turning point somewhere. It had probably occurred sometime in the blueprints of his memory. It was, after all, one of his last links to that point in the past where he once dreamt of work and steady income.

Now the work and the income were there, to be sure, but the sense of satisfaction hadn't quite caught up. The great machine had been built, yes, but somehow it wasn't working up to spec.

He found that it was difficult to do without the writing. The writing was an entire world to him, and he wasn't about to pack it up and store it in the hall closet. It was a strange solace from a faceless environment where people and places constantly asked for things. Days of work turned into weeks of support, which turned into months of wariness. The faminites proved insatiable, he mused.

In contrast, the writing never asked for anything. It was just... there.

He could give it up anytime he wanted. But what would that prove? Would he just dive into the sea of hands grasping at a piece of his soul? Would he sink further into an upholstered chair, listening to the drone of voices across frayed lines of communication? Would he bend, and break, and choke at the weight of foreign wills?

Each day the task became a little harder to bear.

There had been a turning point somewhere. At some time, some cog or sprocket in the grand machine of his plans had come loose.

After a while, he rolled up his sleeves and went looking for his toolbox. He needed a good-sized wrench, he thought. Perhaps something to the tune of five-eighths of an inch...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Nasssty Hobbitsses Steal My Pepssssi

It's been a hard week. I've got customer issues piling up on my desk, I've got overdue reports that have yet to be written, and I've got servers bouncing up and down somewhere halfway across the world.

As some means of compensation for this, I've traditionally kept a little something in the office pantry. At some point in time, it involved bowls of Cup Noodles. For a few days it had something to do with packets of junk food. And, most recently, it's been sugar-free softdrinks. Because we don't have Coke Zero around here yet, we have to make do with such things as Pepsi MAX.

Except that somebody has been stealing mine lately, and I have no idea who.

I stockpile my bottles in the office refrigerator, and although it does get cleaned out every weekend, it's a safe bet that nobody's about to throw out any brand-new bottles of Pepsi. Besides, I picked up my last batch just this Monday, and by Wednesday morning another bottle was missing.

Isn't there some unspoken moral code that exists in every office environment? Something like, don't touch other peoples' refrigerated stuff? I feel violated, somehow... if somebody's likely to just up and grab my softdrinks whenever I'm not looking (and I'm busy enough nowadays for that to be the case), then just how am I supposed to feel?

Part of me now wonders why I should even bother buying more bottles. It's a long walk to the nearest 7-11 here, and I don't want to spend too much time outside work. The more I dilly-dally, the louder my clients get.

The meaner side of me is debating the possibility of spiking my Pepsi somehow. But I'm not that evil, regardless of what some people might think.

In the meantime, I've got the bottles in my personal office cabinet right now. Hopefully I don't get stuck with a leaky bottle sometime, and hopefully no one will think to steal the ice cubes out from under my nose...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Cast of Characters

I might not have made it to the lineup for Dean Alfar's third Speculative Fiction Anthology, but apparently Dominique Cimafranca has. Seeing that this will be his first published short story in the local scene, you might want to congratulate him on his achievement. :)

Dominique joins what strikes me as a very distinguished list of authors for the book. It's got names that should now be established as mainstays in the field of local Speculative Fiction (like Ian Casocot and Andrew Drilon), wide-ranging awardwinners (like Yvette Tan and Alfred Yuson), and people who I could probably take on in a one-on-one cage match (like Joseph Nacino and Charles Tan). There are a number of notably missing names -- Vin Simbulan and Chiles Samaniego among others -- but I'm pretty sure that their works will be back in the spotlight soon.

Furthermore, one of Dean's subsequent comments tickled me quite a bit:

We specifically wanted the Yuson, and believe it belongs in the antho. We've loved it for some time. I think you'll like the stories of the authors you mentioned above - as well as a goodly number of the younger writers.

"The Yuson", he says. The last time I heard anything like that, it involved a priceless Amorsolo painting getting manhandled out of its display case. I don't doubt that we're referring to some works of art here, but I'd still laugh if I ever had to refer to a short story as "The Yuson", or "The Casocot", or "The Nacino". Or, heaven forbid, "The Sean".

What fools we writers be. :)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

You Know You're an Old Gamer When...

- You remember a time when all board games involved dice in some way.

- Every board game you played was published by Parker Brothers or Milton Bradley. (Back then, entities like Renier Knizia and Cheapass Games were probably a mere twinkle in their progenitors' eyes.)

- You know what SuperTrump cards are.

- Despite the fact that you know what the terms "zugzwang" and "en passant" mean, you still can't win a game of chess to save your life.

- You can debate the merits of "Snakes and Ladders" over the more child-friendly "Chutes and Ladders".

- You balk at the thought of putting up houses on Boardwalk.

- You know how many points a Z is worth. You know how many points a K is worth. And you can somehow use them both for the same Double Word Score.

- You think that Colonel Mustard did it in the Study with the Candlestick. (And some guy in the background says, "No, dude... it was Professor Plum!")

- You've won second prize in a beauty contest. (And $10.00, to boot.)

- You don't need more than six guesses to figure out any four-color Mastermind combination.

- You suppressed your memories of that last game of Candyland.

- You still love the feeling of dropping thirty units on Kamchatka and steamrolling across Asia.

- You regret that you never learned how to play this one game that everybody else seems to know how to play. (For me, it's Backgammon.)

- You know who Rich Uncle Pennybags is. (And complained when they changed his name.)

- You've screamed "It's called Othello, not Reversi!" at people.

- You realize that your knowledge of the capital of Iceland, the meaning of the word "boustrophobia", and the only Rocky movie that starred Dolph Lundgren are all pieces of the same pie.

- You can tell what a drawing is trying to depict, without the artist having to say anything to you.

- The whole "expansion set" marketing scheme still puzzles you.

- You've played the old shoe.

- You can name the most horrid, most absolutely wretched game you've ever played... and suddenly have the urge to dig up your closet and try it again.


Monday, October 08, 2007


I was not very productive at work today.

Sometimes you get days where you're just a whirlwind of efficiency. Those are the times when you scrawl a check mark next to each and every item on your to-do list, walk around impressing people with your clipboard and your it-ain't-over-yet attitude, and chew lunch over contracts and support calls. And then you lean back in your chair at the end of the day, holding that simple, gratified feeling that you have absolutely nothing to procrastinate about.

Today was not one of those days. It's been over twelve hours since I reported to work this Monday morning, and I feel as though I've done nothing salary-justifying, much less worthwhile. For all I know, I could have made my entire company just a little bit less profitable... but I try not to think about that.

I find that this scenario is not just limited to work. Sometimes I open up Microsoft Word intending to write something, and then end up just wasting a few hours' worth of electricity. Or sometimes I attend seminars and spend half the lecture trying to keep myself from dozing off.

Maybe it's the fact that I spent most of my weekend working. Maybe it's the fact that I was up till four in the morning last night doing freelance stuff. Maybe it's the fact that the stars and planets decided to align themselves in a way that guarantees my misfortune for the rest of the year. Lethargy isn't the easiest thing in the world to explain, and it looks terrible on your performance review besides.

I'm not about to give up my white-collar career anytime soon, of course. I've been hanging around the business world for the last seven years, and I find it woefully devoid of strange influences. As long as I can inject a little dose of myself into the stodgy office environment, I'll still be hunched over a laptop, listening to the score of the telephone.

...If I'm not being useless, that is. But some days you've got it, and some days, you don't. Today just happened to be one of the latter.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Mausoleum 618

(This is an excerpt from the work I submitted for consideration for Dean Alfar's third speculative fiction anthology. I won't be posting the whole thing here because I feel that the story is still workable, and because of that, I might be using or rewriting it again someday. Regardless, it probably wouldn't hurt to post the first page...)

Upon entering Mausoleum 618, Dr. Mahadevan saw that the caretakers had done their job well. The Victorian anteroom looked polished and comfortable; Shelves lined the walls around a single plush armchair and an antique end-table. Closets and cabinets stood among an idle collection of books and the resplendence of a red carpet. There were even a couple of smaller, less expensive chairs tucked away in the remote corners of the room – in case guests were present, Dr. Mahadevan surmised – but for now, the place was completely empty.

Empty, that was, except for a single weary doctor.

Dr. Mahadevan pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his forehead of sweat. He hated these jobs, he had to admit. It wasn’t just the fact that he had to enter these places on a daily basis, or the fact that he constantly met scores of insufferable people during his regular rounds – there was also the fact that he felt something fundamentally wrong about the whole business.

Regardless, however, Dr. Mahadevan knew which side his bread was being buttered on. The pay, moreover, was nice – it paid his bills, kept his vices in check, and left his mortgages manageable. For the money he was getting, he would gladly have entered a thousand more Mausoleums.

His cryogenicist’s kit felt uncomfortable in his hands, and he decided to leave it sitting on the end-table. He yet clutched a clipboard in one hand, however, even as he crossed the thick red carpet.

There was a sliding door at the other end of the anteroom, and Dr. Mahadevan recognized the type. It was one of those thick, thermally-insulated doors, something that kept two completely different environments separate from each other. It was the type of door that most likely needed a retinal scan and a digital password to open, and Dr. Mahadevan gladly provided both.

Welcome, Dr. Mahadevan, the door said. It slid open.

Mist pooled around the doctor’s feet, and he shivered. No matter how many Mausoleums he had entered, or would ever be entering, he could never get used to the biting cold.

The room beyond the door stood in sharp contrast to the Victorian anteroom. Decades ago, Dr. Mahadevan guessed, the chamber would have looked pristine and antiseptic. Now the metal walls were overcome with rime and frost, and some of the granite floors had cracked from the temperature difference. The first of the fragile tiles had already shattered under Dr. Mahadevan’s first footsteps, and to the good doctor everything sounded like so much glass.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Disclaimer: October 2007

Everything on this web site is of my property. Everything on this web site was originally and completely conceptualized by me. Yes, me. It's mine, mine, all mine, d'you hear? It's all mine, except for those little things I post every now and then that were made by other people, in which case they will always come with an acknowledgement so that you'll be able to better glorify my own stuff. It's mine, darn it!

Yeah, that's right. I wrote everything here. That's almost five hundred posts spread out over three years of blogging, and I'm not going to let it go quietly. Everything here represents the best and the worst of my writing, the best and the worst of my moods, and plenty of everything in between. If you want something good to put on a paper, then you can march over there to the other side of the room and write it yourself.

Yeah, it's obvious that I write about anything. If your favorite topic hasn't come up so far, then that just means that I haven't thought of a good way to present it yet. I'm a writer, and what that means is that I don't just write -- I lie, cheat, steal, whine, wheedle and seduce, too. Most of my stuff might be about writing, but that only means that just about anything can come from these pages.

I claim rights to all the works written and posted here, and any secondary rights implied. This is my stuff, and you can't take it without asking permission. You're welcome to get down on your knees, prostrate yourself, or offer me huge sums of money to use anything on this blog, but I'd prefer that you just ask. It gives me this nice warm feeling inside -- the feeling that you're not skulking around and swiping it out from under my nose.

That's a Creative Commons License down there on the bottom right of this blog. Read it.

I don't like it if you take stuff here without telling me. I don't like it even more if you put your name on it and become successful at something that you clearly didn't do yourself. This is not your own personal supermarket, kiddo. If there's anyone who deserves the accolades for writing this stuff, it's the guy who wrote it. Steal anything here, and it ain't my name that going to get dragged through the mud when people find out.

And when I say that people are going to find out, then people are going to find out. Plagiarism's not a nice mark to have tattooed on your forehead. And you can bet that if you ever do take something from me that isn't yours, then I'm not just going to see to it that they brand you with a red-hot iron, I'm going to hold you down while they're doing it. And I'll laugh, too.



...yeah, I loved Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kevin Spacey in that movie, in case you were wondering.