Posts Tagged ‘carljoe javier’

pop goes the world: books now and ever after

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  25 August 2011, Thursday

Books Now and Ever After

The major problem faced by creative writers in the Philippines today is that few people buy books by Filipino authors, and this lack of financial renumeration is a disincentive for the creation of literature.

Creative writers struggle because there is a tiny niche market for their work, and this market is dominated by the few established writers who create high-quality output and have managed to make names for themselves over many years of hard work. Writers just starting out looking for publishers? Good luck with that. Lucky breaks are frequently prayed for, but not always bestowed by the publishing gods, who have their bottom line to consider.

The lack of financial incentives for creative writers is a major deterrent to the development of works in the literary field. Why write a short story that may never see the daylight of publication in the very few literary magazines on the market, when you can write a showbiz column for an online website and earn enough to at least feed yourself and your cat?

Journalism provides a decent living for many creative writers, but sometimes it’s not what they would really be doing. What puts food on the table does not necessarily feed the soul. Writing creative works nowadays is seen as self-indulgent, because there is no assurance that the work will be published, or even paid for. In the need to be exposed, many writers often contribute their work gratis for anthologies. In order to survive, creative writers need a day job, and write their creative works on their off-time.

Authors whose works have grabbed the fancy of the reading Filipino public, like the top-selling and mysterious Bob Ong (said to actually be several writers), may make the best of the situation, reaping royalties such as they are. Still, it is debatable if he makes enough from his books to quit his day job.

While creative writers dream of being able to do nothing but write, it’ll remain a dream until present conditions change.

Why are local readers not reading – and buying – the works of Filipino writers?

In publishing, the biggest earners are the textbook publishers with government contracts.

Also doing well are men’s magazine publishers – FHM, Maxim. Literary works, however, are of a different character, and its readers are fewer compared to, shall we say, FHM readers. While readers of creative works may also read FHM, it does not follow that all FHM readers will enjoy reading literary works. Sex sells better than lit. (Perhaps creative writers should write more erotica?)

Because there is a small market for literature, there are few publishers who are still in business – Anvil, among the private companies, and the universities – UP Press, UST Press, Ateneo Press, and De La Salle University Press. Fox Books, founded in 2007 with such lofty dreams for the literary world, went out of business in less than two years, unable to gain a solid financial footing, although it had published interesting works by humor writer Jay David, Layeta Bucoy, Beverly Siy, Sarah Grutas, and other young writers.

It has been said that the Philippines does not have a reading culture comparable to that of the Japanese or the American. We are a still an oral, story-telling culture. The media we enjoy extend the story-telling function to a mass audience. What is the visual stimulation of TV but the modern-day equivalent of sitting around a rocking chair listening to Lola Basyang?

In print, komiks such as “Wakasan” used to be more popular and were the preferred channels for narratives that could be enjoyed by the masses. But komiks were killed by the increase of printing costs, poor pay for writers and artists, and the onslaught of alternative forms of entertainment brought by cable TV and the Internet.

Lack of education and unfamiliarity with the language is another barrier for the Philippines developing a reading culture. If one cannot understand English well, why buy books written by Filipino writers in English? If one cannot read, why buy books at all, even those written in Tagalog and the other Filipino languages?

A related problem is the cost of books. TV is ‘free’, another reason for its popularity. Buying a book can take a sizable chunk from a student’s allowance or from an average householder’s budget. With the majority of the population belonging to the C-D-E socio-demographic, they are potentially the largest market for any sort of product. In the case of books, the cost should be brought down for them to be more affordable and their purchase considered in lieu of other forms of entertainment; however, given that the present prices of books are already as rock-bottom as they can be brought, this is a major issue that will be a stumbling-block for the creative book industry until it is resolved.

A major constraint for the development of a healthy market for creative works is the lack of support or the inadequate support from both the government and private sectors. When an alarming number of the nation’s population lives below the poverty line, when gas prices have shot to the sky, when the world is struggling from the fallout of a major financial depression, less attention and funding are given to art, which many in the mainstream see as a non-essential indulgence or luxury, compared to, say, food.

Government agencies such as the National Commission for Culture and the Arts would be expected to be the rallying point for a development-focused national literature program, and for setting the foundation for Filipino literature appreciation in elementary and high school. Yet without enough funding, such plans cannot be implemented. The state universities, University of the Philippines to name one, have always tried their best in that regard, but again finances are a stumbling block for the expansion of their programs, such as the annual UP National Writers Workshop.

In the private sector, one would also expect that bookstores would be more pro-active in promoting creative works by Filipino writers; however, it will be noticed that they do not give prime display space to local works. Filipino works are lumped under one shelf category, “Filipiniana”, instead of each work being placed where they belong by genre: horror, young adult, etc. along with works of foreign authors, which are given more importance because they sell better.

There is also a lack of marketing opportunities, and writers themselves have to find their own ways to sell their works. Carljoe Javier sold his Kobayashi Maru of Love from his backpack; Axel Pinpin went the indie-publishing route for his Tulang Matatabil and did his own distribution efforts.

Multi-sectoral support is essential to the development of a better climate for the publication and reception of Filipino creative works; how to gain this support is a matter for discussion and planning.

Because people don’t read, they don’t buy, so publishers don’t publish, so writers don’t write. But the lack of buyers does not mean that writers cannot write, or should not write; it just means that they might not earn anything for their efforts.

But there’s always one story that’s the exception to the rule. First-time novelist Samantha Sotto is the talk of the blogosphere with the recent publication of her Before Ever After by Random House’s Crown Publishers imprint. She is the first Filipina they have published.

The novel was born this way: Samantha, who had to take her preschool son to Ateneo in the mornings, would wait for him at the Starbucks on Katipunan across the Loyola campus. Having read Audrey Nifenegger’s Time Traveler’s Wife and being dissatisfied with the ending, she set out to weave her own love story, pecking out the tale of Shelley and the charismatic Max Gallus over a year’s time, with much of that spent on research.

Upon finishing the manuscript, she bought a copy of The Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published and followed its advice, going online to search for an agent and finding Stephanie Kip Rostan, whose confidence in the worth of the tale led to her finding a publisher without much trouble.

The book is set mostly in Europe, which Samantha explored as a teenager. Its protagonists are non-Filipino; only one Pinay makes an appearance, when the action sends some of the main characters to Boracay. Overall, it is a good read. Generally I don’t like chick lit or the romance genres, but I loved this one in spite of myself. It’s well-written and  -plotted, complex enough to make it interesting without being difficult to follow, and the ending is enigmatic. It made me and my 13-year old daughter Erika, who devoured the novel in one sitting, sit up one night hotly debating “What really happened to Shelley and Max?”

Before Ever After is available in paperback at National Bookstore and online as an e-book at Amazon.com for $11.99, where it’s in the top ten bestsellers in its category.

It’s proof that even with the glut of content available, tales written with a magic touch will float to the surface and command attention; and that Filipino creative writers who despair of getting published here might try doing what Samantha did and get published abroad, and that way gain a larger audience and the proper renumeration. ***

FHM cover here.  Kobayashi Maru image here. 

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pop goes the world: e-book publishing now here

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 30 June 2011, Thursday

E-book Publishing, Now Here!

With the steadily increasing cost of paper and ink, books are getting to be even more out of reach for students and those without much disposable income. They are considered luxuries, rather than essentials, in many households.

I’ve advocated time and again in this column about the supreme value of reading in building vocabulary, grammar, and writing skills in any language. The publication of works in digital formats would make them available to a wider audience. You don’t even need an e-book reader like a Kindle, Nook, iPad, or other tablet gadget; e-books can be read on a desktop computer or laptop loaded with the proper app, many of which are available for free download on the Internet.

It’s a giant step forward  that e-book publishing is now being done here by a local company, and this news should give heart to writers who’ve despaired of getting published the traditional way, or wish to reach a global audience for their work (and earn better than they usually would, which is not bad at all.)

Let me tell you about one example.

Carljoe Javier’s latest book, Geek Tragedies, is going to be launched on July 1, 5pm, at the GT Toyota Hall of Wisdom, Asian Center, UP Diliman. It’s published by UP Press which will also be launching eight other new titles the same day, among them UP professor emeritus Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo’s Six Sketches of Filipino Women.

The interesting thing about Carljoe’s work is that it’s possibly the first time a book by a local author will be released in both print and e-book form.

The digital format was supplied by Flipside Digital Content, which has also made Carljoe’s book available for download at giant e-retailer Amazon.com. Flipside also recently released the digital version of another book of Carljoe’s, And the Geek Shall Inherit the Earth, on Amazon. It was originally published in traditional form by Milflores Publishing.

Flipside’s CEO, Anthony de Luna, waxes enthusiastic about the e-publishing trend:

“Our titles are distributed through Amazon (170+ countries) and Apple iTunes iBookstore (six major market countries). We will also distribute through Barnes & Noble Nook later this year.

“Flipside has notched 12 years of experience in e-book production as an outsourced service provider to publishers in the US and UK, with more than 100,000 e-books produced. It started as a subsidiary of Barnes & Noble (I served as Director of Digital Content for B&N during the early years of e-books).

“We use leading-edge production techniques, resulting in some of the bestselling and highest-profile e-books for our publisher clients, including Grufallo Red Nose Day (it was No. 1 in iTunes UK not just for e-books, but including songs and apps); the enhanced e-book edition of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Notes from My Kitchen Table; the enhanced e-book edition of Nelson Mandela’s Conversations with Myself; and the enhanced e-book edition of Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants.

“In April 2011, we decided to leverage the company’s international experience and resources to enable local authors and publishers to publish internationally via e-books. In our first month as a publisher – May 2011 – we published 16 titles and now have a fast-expanding title line-up.

“UP Press is the traditional print publisher of Geek Tragedies; the author Carljoe Javier asked and gained permission from UP Press to simultaneously publish an e-book edition through Flipside. It is the first time in the Philippines for a book to have print and e-book editions published simultaneously.

“On e-book publishing, the bottom line is that in the US, e-books are outselling print books three-to-one.”

Cover of Carljoe Javier’s Geek Tragedies. Image here.

While they will never replace the tactile and sentimental enjoyment one gets from ink-and-paper books, e-books are the future. In fact, many analysts say that that their future is now, and that it is only a matter of time before they will become more common than traditional books.

I’d say the major barrier to this happening fast, especially in developing countries, is the cost of the e-reader, which makes the reading experience convenient, personal, and portable, just like reading traditional books.

A major advance in this direction is the Rizal e-tablet, released by the Laguna provincial government on the hero’s 150th birth anniversary last June 19 in Calamba. The tablet may be loaded with textbooks and other reference materials, and is manufactured by Laguna-based semiconductor firm Ionics. It was distributed in Laguna schools starting last week.

I remember writing about this in my column last year when the project was first announced. It’s terrific to see that promises were kept here. Hopefully other local government units will follow suit.

One thing more needed to complete this winning recipe? The electrification of all barangays unto the remotest of rural areas. How can one effectively use gadgets if one can’t recharge them?

The Rizal tablet distributed in Laguna schools. Image here.

*****

Many thanks to veteran broadcaster Jo Salcedo for giving me a break on radio. Without fully knowing whether I would talk sense or drivel, she took a chance on me and starting February 2 this year had me on her show “Buhay Pinoy” five days a week on AFP Radio at DWDD 1134 khz AM as a guest analyst. For 15 minutes, we’d discuss current events from a cultural perspective.

For some strange unfathomable reason, she and station manager Capt Emmanual Diasen found merit in my mumblings and gave me an hour show which debuted on June 4. It’s called “Kwentuhang Pinoy”, on Saturdays at 8-9am, and live streamed over http://www.afpradio.ph.

I was a horseracing commentator from 2002 to December 2010 on cable TV in a live format much like radio, doing six to eight hours at a stretch up to six days a week. However, doing opinion and news in a radio booth instead of horseracing in a TV studio is new to me.

If you tune in, please be patient; it’s a work in progress, and I’m grateful to have the support of Ms. Jo and her daughter, broadcaster Jaimie Santos, who’ve promised to stay with me in the booth till I get it right.  *** (Email: jennyo@live.com, Blog: http://jennyo.net, Facebook: Gogirl Cafe, Twitter: @jennyortuoste)

Black-and-white portrait of author Carljoe Javier from his private collection.

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pop goes the world: culture stock

POP GOES THE WORLD, By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 7 October 2010, Thursday

Culture Stock

Where resides a nation’s heart and soul?

This was the question that several university professors, media professionals, and I discussed the other night during a PhD class at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication. It stemmed from College of St. Benilde professor Rod Rivera’s report on theaters in Manila that screen films bordering on the pornographic.  There are those, he said, that claim that such theaters in Quiapo and Recto are a front for male prostitution.

From there, Dr. Jose Lacson segued to commercialism in television and film. Advertising executive Chitchat Diangson said that much of television content in dictated by what producers believe will sell, leading to the creation of mind-numbing programs like “Wowowee”. Professor Bea Lapa deplored the entertainment media’s unwillingness to raise the programming bar in standards and taste, while writer Nina Villena brought up the issue of media gatekeeping. Women’s development professor and staunch feminist Julienne Baldo decried the media’s reinforcement of negative stereotypes of gender and class, perpetuating cruel cycles of prejudice and bias that further retard national social development.

Prof. Julienne Baldo analyzes the poster of  ”Serbis” at a theater in Quiapo.

Which brings us back to our question and its possible answer. It is in art where commercialism does not hold absolute sway and the discourse on social issues may be expanded without the taint of capitalism and the imperative of profit. There are those of us who write, paint, make music, and sculpt not for money, but because we need to express the meanings and concepts that burn within us and cry to be expressed and physically manifested in forms that may be shared with others.

These forms – books, songs, paintings, theater plays – often do not translate into income for their creators, but that was not the point of their creation anyway. It is in a nation’s art that current social events and issues are poked, cut up into bits, and licked to find out what they taste like. What’s important to people? That is what floats up in the content being made nowadays, and is disseminated over channels such as the Internet.

Dulaang UP scored one such intellectually-shaking triumph with their recent hit production “Shock Value”, written by Floy Quintos and directed by Alexander Cortez. It’s been given a positive review by MST opinion editor Adelle Chua, who focused her piece on the play’s theme of the commercialization of television, and how producers of celebrity shows of mass attraction artificially manufacture the scandals and intrigues that make up its content.

“Shock Value” cast members sashay across the stage. (Dulaang UP photo)

Among its stars in its cast are John Lapus, Mylene Dizon, Andoy Ranay, Christian Alvarado, and the awesomely talented Sabina Santiago. As “Little Tweety Girl”, Santiago’s hilarious on-stage simulation of an orgasm, eyes rolling back in her head, demotes Meg Ryan’s performance in “When Harry Met Sally” to amateur status.

Dulaang UP’s next offering is “Isang Panaginip na Fili”, “an edgy, dreamlike interpretation” of the Jose Rizal novel El Filibusterismo by writer/director Quintos, which will run from November 24 to December 12 at UP Diliman’s Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater. Call (02)926-1349 or (02)433-7840 for tickets.

“Isang Panaginip na Fili” publicity still, courtesy of Dulaang UP.

A fresh take on heartbreak, loss, and recovery comes from writer Carljoe Javier by way of his non-fiction book The Kobayashi Maru of Love, with artwork and design by Adam David of the Youth and Beauty Brigade. It’s available at avalon.ph.

Says Carljoe: “I wrote The Kobayashi Maru of Love because, first, I was trying to understand (a recent) breakup, and I was trying to work through my feelings about it. Like any breakup, there are nasty emotions that follow, and I was going through all that. But I thought that if I was forced to apply aesthetic distance, if I was forced to try and be funny about it, that I would be able to cope better. And as I got back into the dating game, well, things were just funny and had to be written about.”

The book is indeed funny, but beyond that, it dwells on themes that nearly everyone who reads it can relate to. “I think that I’m talking about something universal,” says Carljoe, “and that’s loss. Pretty much everyone has gone through a heartbreak or a heartache. I guess that I was just trying to connect to that, to make the book not just about my own personal heartbreak, but to make it for everyone who’s ever been through it. Our individual experiences are different, but the hurt is the same. So I wanted to write a book that talked about that.”

Carljoe’s next book, Geek Tragedies, will be published by UP Press next year. “I have a number of projects in the works,” he says, “among them a book I hope to write about the Filipino diaspora and the effect that having parents abroad have on kids; a book about me, a fat man trying to get healthy; and a novel.” A freelance writer and editor of the Philippine Online Chronicles, he is also taking his MA Creative Writing at UP’s College of Arts and Letters.

Art in this country is alive and well and a thriving part of our culture, a part that is not a slave to commercialism but is free to speak out on social matters, the human condition, and what lives inside the Filipino heart and soul. ***

Photo above, L-R: (front) writer Bambi Harper, UP professor emeritus Dr. Cristina Hidalgo. (back) writers Waldo Petralba, Jeena Marquez, and Carljoe Javier.

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