PGTW: Manila Noir and the Writing Scene

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 11 July 2013, Thursday

Manila Noir and the Writing Scene

The launch of the latest fiction anthology edited by Jessica Hagedorn – Manila Noir – last July 6 at National Book Store Glorietta 1 was sardine-can-packed with writers, students, and other lovers of literature, a heartening sign that reading is still well, if not thriving, in this country.

Edited by Jessica Hagedorn, Manila Noir belongs to the Akashic Books “Noir” series, collections of short fiction set in cities of the world, among them the usual big cities you’d expect – Manhattan, Los Angeles, Paris, Rome, Mumbai. There are other non-city settings – Indian Country, Prison. In the Philippines, the book is published by Anvil Publishing and is exclusively available at National Book Store.

At the launch I saw 16-time Palanca Award winner and University of the Philippines creative writing professor Jose “Butch” Y. Dalisay, PhD, eyes twinkling under an Indiana Jones-style fedora; I also got to hug another Palanca winner, Felisa “Ichi” Batacan (who writes under the name “F. H. Batacan”), recently arrived back in Manila after years spent in Singapore.

Both Butch and Ichi have stories in Manila Noir, along with other fascinating word-weavers.

Also at the launch was author and UP creative writing instructor Carljoe Javier, who is teaching a class on comic book writing. He’ll be talking about creative non-fiction on July 14 with two other authors, horror and travel writer Yvette Tan and journalist Karl de Mesa, at a Freelance Writers’ Guild of the Philippines OpenBook event. Dubbed “Truth Hurts, and Other Lies of Non-Fiction,” it’s set for 2pm at Sacro Costato, 13 Scout Magbanua St., Quezon City. There is a P150 fee.

Meanwhile, Philippines Graphic editor-in-chief Joel Pablo Salud and literary editor Alma Anonas-Carpio are calling for submissions to the 23rd Nick Joaquin Literary Awards, from July 1 to August 1. Email stories and poems to litgraphic@gmail.com. Works published in the magazine from September 2012 to present are already included for consideration.

“Part of Graphic’s mission,” says Joel, is “to keep Philippine letters alive and dynamic,” and they do this by not limiting themselves to well-known and established writers, always being on the lookout for fresh work from new talent. It’s the only publication I know that actively publishes short stories and poems from senders.

Which brings us to a common observation from aspiring writers – “Who gets to be published?” For collections such as Manila Noir, established authors were tapped, perhaps to be assured that a certain quality standard is met.

However, what chances are there for other, similarly talented writers to contribute in cases where no open call for manuscripts is made, only private invitations?

It is encouraging that Graphic, for one, provides a platform for the discovery of new work. There are also people like Dean Francis Alfar, who has put out a call for submissions to an “anything goes” short fiction anthology, “Volume,” that is, however, limited to works from writers aged 45 or below by December 31 this year; but then you need to have some sort of theme going for anthologies, otherwise it’d be just a grab-bag of all-sorts.

You could also go the way of Carljoe and self-publish (as he did with his “Kobayashi Maru of Love”), or publish your work as an ebook (Anthony de Luna’s Flipside Digital Content can help with that).

There’s also the annual Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. While it does not guarantee publication of winning works, it confers recognition and some sort of immortality upon those whose works are deemed worthy. Winners can take it from there.

What’s important is that reading is alive in the land. Students wait for the latest works in young adult series such as The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare, The Selection by Kiera Cass, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, and the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth. So popular are they that National Book Store has brought in Mafi for a book signing, and Cass is expected in August.

What we need more of are works by Filipino authors, published by local firms and aggressively marketed by big local chain bookshops. How interesting would our reading landscape be with more Manila Noir-style stories, set in the different cities of the country? Young adult series featuring tikbalangs instead of vampires?

We don’t lack writers with the imagination and the talent. We do need more content than is available at present – in other words, we do not have enough supply to meet the demand that is sure to be out there, once readers have among their choices quality Filipino works.

When we have that, it would be possible to grow a more vibrant and active reading culture than what we already have.

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