Saturday, May 14, 2005

[Blog Entry] Chance


I recently joined the youth newsletter (youth, by the way, is defined by law as someone under 35 years of age) of our church and yesterday was the first meeting I attended. In a way, it was a bit uncomfortable since the editor-in-chief had high expectations from me, me working as an editorial assistant and all, while they themselves haven’t worked in a previous publication before.

Of course that got me thinking. I did have prior experience working for a newsletter. Back in high school, I was the news editor of the school paper. And well, basically what I learned there more or less follows the typical routine in most publications; writers still don’t meet deadlines, there will always be room for editing and more editing, and doing layouts is not as easy as it seems.

But perhaps closer to the point, as a kid, I never imagined myself working for the school paper, much less pursuing a degree in Creative Writing. Honestly, I wasn’t a voracious reader when I was young. I was into video games, video games, and more video games. Perhaps the only thing that kept my reading skills alive back then was poring over video game magazines like Nintendo Power and Game Pro month after month. As for actual books, that’s really laughable. Perhaps the closest thing I came was reading the Choose Your Own Adventure line of books. When I was eleven, one of my friends got me interested in Tom Swift, the equivalent of Hardy Boys for nerdy kids (Tom Swift, by the way, is not recommended reading for would-be writers; it’s plagued with awful adverbs that’s really not in your best interest to absorb). Oh, and there was comics of the Marvel variety (and the occasional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pamphlet).

The first novel-length book that I actually finished was Jurassic Park, because I was always fascinated with dinosaurs, and the movie was about to come up then. It took me a month to finish the book, mainly because after the first few days of reading it, my Chinese teacher confiscated the book due to a misunderstanding and wasn’t returned until a few weeks later.

That’s basically the reading history of my childhood before my “teen” years. Makes you wonder why I ever pursued Creative Writing.

It all started just after summer of 1995. I was entering the last year of my grade school, grade seven, and I thought I might as well have a club or something. I mean seven years of grade school education and nothing to show for aside from the short stint as a Kab Scoout (my school’s equivalent of a pre-Boy Scout club). So I applied for the school paper. To make a long story short, I didn’t get in (although I think I did write a great poem about an egg at the time, which was one of the exams to qualify for the school paper).

One year later, I found myself in high school. Remembering my failure in grade seven to make it to the school paper, I thought what the heck. Might as well try again. I mean your first year of high school is a fresh start right? Not exactly the truest statement there is, but I did manage to get into the school paper.

Two years later, I found myself in the position of being co-news editor of the school paper. Of course this wasn’t due to any of my excellent skills as a writer. To put it bluntly, it was due to attrition. By the time I entered third year, there were four of us news writers left in my batch, and no upperclassmen in sight. One of my batchmates was being groomed to take the position of editor-in-chief, while the other one had more or less stopped showing up during our meetings. So that left me and my batchmate, Rafael. So by default, despite no training at all except what we learned on our own from the past two years as news writers, we became the de-facto news editors. Which was repeated the year after that.

So what made me take up Creative Writing as a course in college? Suffice to say, two years as news editor had honed my editing skills. Unfortunately, it only honed my editing skills for news articles. My groove was so much so into news articles that my English teacher (who was our moderator for the school paper) even commented on one of my essays that it was an essay and not a news article. My previous writing style had disappeared, and in its place was the dull, informative art of news writing.

I wanted a change of pace and wanted to “forget” the lessons I learned as a news editor, at least when it came to just plain writing. There was a feeble attempt on my part to transfer to the literary section of the school paper, but that was easily rebuffed by the rest of the editorial board (hey, I was actually good in editing news articles, especially considering a lot of our news writers then didn’t know how to write news articles [not their fault really because no one taught them how to write news articles, a very technical style of writing, at least in comparison to say, the feature article] which was thankfully remedied when we held a much-needed workshop on news writing). By the time we filed our college application sheets, I thought that I had only two possible careers to pursue: one in writing, and another in psychology.

Unfortunately, I didn’t pass the exams of the university under which I checked “psychology” as my preferred course. So Creative Writing was pretty much the default choice rather than an actual choice on my part.

Of course by then, I had become a voracious reader, as if to make up for my childhood’s lack of book-reading. I mean at the time, some of my friends were surprised that I haven’t read Lord of the Rings, or The Chronicles of Narnia, or even Dragonlance and Riftwar. Actually, the first time I bought a fantasy book was when I was in grade seven, when I first discovered the collection nightmare of fantasy books. The Shanarra series was available at our local bookstore, and me and my best friend decided to split it both ways. He’d collect the first trilogy, while I’d collect the second (it was comprised of four books and to this day, the mathematician in me wonders why they keep on calling books more than three a trilogy). Those books sustained us for one year, and then in high school, I started experimenting on other fantasy books (I found Terry Goodkind at our school library, while a friend on the Internet recommended to me Robert Jordan). Nine years later, I have more than a hundred fantasy books on my shelf (unfortunately, some of them are just plain bad, while others are pretty remarkable works) and I find myself with a degree in Creative Writing.

It’s strange how our lives change by one seemingly insignificant incident. What if I picked up a mystery novel back then, would I be a mystery fan? Or perhaps instead of applying for the school paper, I applied for the varsity. Would I be a wannabe sports-star now? It also goes to show how hard work and effort can mold a person into who he or she wants to be. I mean I was never groomed from birth to be a reader, much less a writer, nor do I see myself possessing genius abilities on both counts. I must admit, I’m not exactly outstanding in the writing department, but I’d like to think my reading skills are above average. And that’s not an inborn talent but something that was nurtured over the years.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

[Blog Entry] Where Have the Creative Writing Majors Gone?, Room Temperature, Traffic

Where Have the Creative Writing Majors Gone?

It’s been more than a year since I graduated from Creative Writing. Despite not seeing each other for the past thirteen months, I’ve been hearing some things about my batchmates.

Perhaps what surprised me the most is the fact that a third of us ended up working for magazines one way or another (one-third, by the way, is not a huge number, considering you can count my batchmates with your fingers). The other third are most likely back in their provincial homes, doing what they can there. As for the last third, well, one used to be a highly-paid trainer for a certain call center, another just recently came back from being a Jesuit volunteer, and the last one is pursuing her studies.

I wonder if anyone of us thought we’d end up where we are now (or thought that others would end up where they are now).

What interests me more is the fact that we were trained to write fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry for our degrees. Personally, even before graduating, I knew that I wouldn’t pursue those genres as much as I wanted to. The feature article was what interested me the most, although I’m not working on that either right now.

How about the rest? Were they intent in pursuing fiction? If so, have they given up the dream, postponed it for a later date, or actively honing their craft?

If there’s anything I miss, it’s finding the time to see my friends and acquaintances. Either I’m preoccupied with work, or they are. I wonder what emotions my Creative Writing classmates are feeling.

Room Temperature

Honestly, I’m built for the summer. I have a lower threshold for cold, but a higher one for heat. I mean I’m probably the only person right now who still bathes with hot, steaming water in the morning and in the evening. Even my room isn’t built for ventilation as all the windows are shut tight, and the wallpaper is black to trap the heat. There’s an electric fan and air conditioner in my room, although I don’t turn them on unless there’s a guest around.

Strangely enough, it’s not in the morning or in the afternoon that I find the heat searing. It’s during the evenings. I guess I reached my threshold last night as I was forced to turn on the air conditioner for ten minutes before shutting it off again.


Robinsons Galleria will be on sale this weekend, so that’s either a sign to avoid the area at all cost because of the expected heavy traffic, or expect massive cash withdrawals on payday Friday to make room for the sale.

Would You Rather Work With: Talented people in your profession but are hard to work with, or people who aren’t so gifted but are easy to get along with.

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[Book Review] Odds and Gods by Tom Holt

I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting used to Holt’s writing style, or if it’s because I’m a mythology fan, but Odds and Gods is the best Holt read so far. Ever wondered what happened to all the deities? Well, they became old, and are now living in a home-for-the-aged. And well, retirement isn’t all it’s hyped out to be.

This time around, Holt managed to grab my attention from the very beginning. His comedy was evident from the start, and despite the huge cast of characters, each one is compelling and enjoyable. There’s even a recurring character from Holt’s earlier books, and his role in this one is indeed fun (no prior reading necessary!).

Odds and Gods seems to be a polished-up Tom Holt. He’s shifting into high gear and there really aren’t any dull moments in the book. It’s his best book so far, and I’m really interested in reading what he’ll come up with next.

This book is sheer fun, and as long as all you’re expecting is a good laugh, Odds and Gods will do the trick. It’s funny from the first page down to the last. Not much to complain about, at least in my book, and highly recommendable to virtually anyone. It helps if they can appreciate British humor.

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[Book Review] Here Comes the Sun by Tom Holt

If anything, Tom Holt has really funny premises. In this case, the world isn’t governed by physics. Rather, there are angels and demons working behind the scenes to make sure that the world runs smoothly (which includes making the sure the sun rises at dawn and it sets at sunset). Except now they’re understaffed, and working overtime isn’t enough to do the job right.

Here Comes the Sun had a slow start for me. Mainly because of the snippets of the would-be main characters, whose true identities aren’t revealed until the very end. You just know that there’s an inevitable collision course between all of them. It’s just a matter of getting there. Once you reach that point, all’s set to go.

Of course whereas Pratchett will insert something philosophical, something wise despite the abundance of satire in his stories, Holt is just plain being funny. No great epiphanies here folks, just plain old comedy and spoofs. Well, at least he’s good in that. Holt can cause a good laugh. It’s better than his earlier work, Flying Dutch, but there are also lull times during Holt’s writing. He also resorts to the occasional footnote in this book to get readers to laugh, which I think is a good sign that he’s not a Pratchett copycat (who footnotes often). Still, it’s not the best Holt read I’ve had so far, although it is pretty decent.

Here Comes the Sun is mediocre Holt. Good enough for laughs, but it’s honestly not that impressive. The premise though is great, but some of the tropes in the book have been done before. Still a good read nonetheless, and it’s something that a lot of people can really get into.

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[Book Review] Faust Among Equals by Tom Holt

Admittedly, I’ve never been a fan of the classics. Which unfortunately includes Faust. But hey, perhaps the mark of a good writer is that the reader enjoys it when he’s unaware of what you’re spoofing, right? While not the first person to satirize literary classics, it’s interesting to see the kind of comedy Holt is capable of weaving.

Suffice to say, it’s thankfully not a retelling of the original Faust story. It’s more like a sequel. Faust manages to break out of hell when hell gets new management. The best bounty hunter is hot on his trail, and chaos ensues. It’s a funny premise, and even a funnier read. Thankfully, the pace is faster in here compared to Flying Dutch. It’s not a can’t-put-down book, but was compelling enough for me to manage reading it by the end of the week. Holt’s style is improving, mind you, and there’s progress compared to Flying Dutch.

Thankfully, Faust Among Equals is a stand-alone book. Unlike some Discworld novels where prior knowledge is sometimes needed to fully appreciate the book, that’s not needed here (although being familiar with Faust can be helpful). Heck, I enjoyed it and I’m not even that familiar with Faust. At this point, I find Holt enjoyable. Not as enjoyable as Pratchett, but he’s getting there. At least it’s more enjoyable than Pratchett’s earlier Rincewind books. And why do I keep comparing Holt to Pratchett? Because Pratchett is God, at least in terms of fantasy comedies. And Holt seems to be following in his footsteps.

Honestly, Faust Among Equals is a funny book. It’s not as polished as I want it to be, but it’s good enough. Some might not even consider Holt fantasy, since he’s using the modern world as the setting, albeit with fantastical elements (oh, I don’t know, like hell, Faust, and other supernatural entities). If anything else, Holt’s writing style is improving, so that’s a good sign, especially if you’ve read his earlier works. I mean it can only get better, right?

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[Book Review] Flying Dutch by Tom Holt

One of my officemates was raving about Tom Holt so I thought of picking up a copy of his book at the local bookstore since it was on sale. I mean it’s not everyday that you get good comedy SF&F. Aside from Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, no one else really stands out. The back cover blurbs were interesting. The question was, would the actual text be as enjoyable as well?

Well, Tom Holt is a British writer, so his comedy is also British. Admittedly, the first few pages were boring for me. Maybe it’s because it’s the set-up. We get a glimpse of who the main characters are and what their history is. It’s not a pretty history though. And while there are attempts at being funny, they just don’t cut it out for me. At least initially. After the first 50 pages though, things start to heat up and we catch a glimpse of what the story is really about and enter the main conflict.

Flying Dutch can get quite funny. Not as funny, or as sophisticated as Pratchett’s later novels (but thankfully not as boring as his first few Discworld novels) in my opinion, but somewhere along the lines of Douglas Adams. Of course Holt’s setting is modern times, albeit with mystical forces abound. Of course one thing Holt does right though is his cosmology. The setting is like a modern-day Discworld, with consistent and recurring characters throughout the book. It’s not apparent in Flying Dutch, but it’s evident as you read more of his books.

The premise of this book is that the Flying Dutchman, along with his crewmates, has found immortality. Unfortunately, it also has a side-effect of making them stink, repulsing anyone that comes their way. The crew sets out to find a cure, while being chased by someone from the bank because the Flying Dutchman bought life insurance back in the day.

It was an okay book. Not exactly something that entices me to purchase the next book, but a satisfactory read nonetheless. Was it funny? It had its moments. Perhaps not as funny as the best, but it’s not something as simplistic as, say, Piers Anthony. It also helps if you have an appetite for Brit humor. Of course this book is thankfully recommendable since the setting is modern times so there’s really not much to fret about readers getting confused with this and that.

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Monday, May 09, 2005

[Blog Entry] It’s Too Early to Plug the Toy Con, D&D MMORPG

It’s Too Early to Plug the Toy Con

June 26, 2005. That’s more than a month away. That’s why I’m plugging the U Got Game Pro Con as well as the Sci-Fi Con. The former will be on May 21-22, while the latter on the 23-24th.


More info here.

Perhaps what surprised me is that you don’t get experience points for killing monsters but rather for completing quests. *gasp* Does that mean there’s actual story and role-playing involved in the game? Actually, it’s really interesting to see the evolution of RPG games, from its roots in pen-and-paper to video games, which in turn are now becoming more and more like their pen-and-paper predecessors.

(Of course another risky proposal is the fact that it’s running under the new Eberron setting, rather than the more popular Forgotten Realms.)

Playing Mephisto: Would you rather I grant you unlimited wealth but halve your life span, or extend your life span to twice the normal amount?

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