Nob 24, 2009

E-mail interview by Leah Barona a year or so ago

1. What do you usually write about, and in what form? What influences your choice of subject?

I tend to be conceptual in my works (and I get my share of flak because of this). An idea will intrigue me. It may come from philosophy, optics, or local history - I find that I can't control these things. In order to "learn" this concept, I need to convert it to verse or story. I tend to deal with the over-all theme of memory and try my best to shy away from love fiction.

2. At what point in your life did you decide that writing is what you wanted/needed/were meant to do?

I've been taking down notes since the day I realized that the pencil is not for sucking. But I pledged to be serious with writing when I began teaching in LB (what was it, five years ago?) because I wanted to impress the people here. By the time I realized that it wasn't working, writing had become too much of a habit to get rid of.

3. How do you 'stay sharp'? Meaning, what do you do to get inspiration or to stay focused?

Drink coffee and listen to passionate people. Caffeine and passion are foreign to my system. But both substances get me writing. Both will kill me someday.

4. Who checks your work? Do you do peer reviews? Whose critique do you value the most? What award (or feedback) has been most affirming?

Friends like Carlos Piocos, Reagan Maiquez, and Emmanuel Dumlao never shrink from telling me the truth about my work. There are editors. Angels come to me in my dreams sometimes, but I can't understand what they're saying. They just keep pointing to my prose and spitting out holy water until the pages burn. Then there are the editors, the elder writers who assess my poems and stories. But I won't name them. They might withdraw the affirmation if I begin pretending to be "close."

Recently, my students gave me their comments and criticism, and I was surprised that I took it quite well (and they "dished it quite well" also). The most valuable criticism comes from my wife. Only one of my stories gave her goose bumps.

5. Name literary figures whose work you admire or use as a standard.

Nick Joaquin, F. Sionil Jose, and Gregorio Brilliantes.

6. Any trade secrets you can share?

You don't have to write three hours a day like they told you. You just need to get a clean sheet of paper and stare at it for three hours. Every day. It will eventually make a writer out of you. Try it.

7. Do you feel that you get enough support from the University as faculty members? As artists?

I can't speak for the others, they do sterling work. I'd love to see what work they can do with greater support. As for me, I don't feel entitled to support. If I get support, gracias salamat mucho. If not, I'm okay as long as I get my three hours a day with my clean sheet of paper. I'd rather have readers than supporters. But if the university won't give me readers... there's always family.

8. How would you describe the literary scene at UPLB now? How is it different from, like, five or ten years ago? (In terms of the people who write, what they write about, what form the writing takes…)

Oh dear. I wasn't here five to ten years ago. I'd like to believe it's better now, that people have more (and improved?) writing communities, literary visions, techniques, and third drafts in circulation. Still, it's possible that the only reason I want to believe that now is much better than then is because I am in the now.

9. Do you consider yourself old-fashioned, or are you open to new literary forms or genres, in what you consider legit art forms? What are your thoughts on "electronic literature"?

Critics have the luxury of labeling art as "legit" or "not legit". Writers, strictly speaking, should not care about these labels while they're writing whatever they're writing. But in the latter stages of the process, this becomes an important question. It becomes a matter of being read or not, getting published or not, being loved or ignored. But the question is if I'm old-fashioned, and I am, and I think that writers who say they're "experimenting" ought to use the bunsen burner more often.

I kept a blog as a regimen back when I was having a hard time writing. You get instant feedback there, and that's good. But it works only if you can separate the chaff from the wheat: Is this good writing or bad writing? Did I just get effective criticism or did somebody just want me to reciprocate and check out her site?

Others probably have that capacity. I don't. I only end up losing a lot of time online. Another problem is if the writer becomes obsessed by getting the most number of hits. The tendency is to produce more shock than art. Substance suffers. Heart suffers. We get more of less.

10. Do you keep a blog?

I do: It's been running since November 2001, and it's still up because of sentimental value. I used to keep accounts with multiply and friendster, but they weren't helping. Last week, I lit two candles over the CPU at ILC, then I deleted them both. Maybe I'll pull out tekstongbopis as well.