Posts Tagged ‘samantha sotto’

pop goes the world: by any other name

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today1 September 2011, Thursday

By Any Other Name

The debate on Filipino language and identity remains hot as ever, the flames stoked higher recently by Ateneo de Manila University student James Soriano’s essay “Language, Learning, Identity, Privilege”.

It was incendiary and set off an explosive string of comments pro- and -anti on the Internet. I have issues with language and identity myself and have written about them here before. But Soriano’s essay, on first reading, stank of the arrogance of privilege and caste. Referring to Filipino speakers as merely the people who wash our dishes or fetch us from school is at the very least insensitive.

On a second, deeper reading – no, still nothing.

Other writers have “deconstructed” the piece and claimed to have found it “satirical” and like Mideo Cruz’s art, meant to provoke. But why ascribe depth when there is none? The work, hardly well-written to begin with, screams that it was crafted by an unformed, immature personality that reminds me of nothing more than a social climber.

Soriano’s was a straight-up statement of fact and I object to the over-readings. Take it at face value.

From all over the world, reactions poured in. Says the California Dreamer (a Pinoy living in Los Angeles): “The fellow might have a serious attitude problem, but it was not about his attitude but his proposition. There’s always privilege and entitlement, especially where access to knowledge is unequal.  It was mean-spirited to say the least, but wasn’t he just a mirror of what’s wrong in society with a yawning gap between rich and poor, the information haves and have-nots?

“Once more, vanity is the death of us all.  He should’ve kept it to himself because from now on it will be all about a certain (bleep), and not the fact he framed his argument so badly that it fell apart.

“Identity is like water- the more one tries to grasp it, the more it slips past one’s fingers.”

Soriano may have a point in that because of the circumstances shaped by our culture’s colonial mindset and economic exigencies, and some individual families’ affluence, there are Filipinos who speak English better than any of the Filipino languages. Still, there is no call to denigrate the people who speak Filipino through preference, accident of birth, or lack of learning opportunity. And why laud one language over another? We are richer for being conversant in more than one.

We multi-lingual people have the advantage, because the words in the different languages we know have specific nuances; thus we are able to communicate more effectively because we have this formidable arsenal of words. Language is foremost a tool for communication.

This is also the point Carla Montemayor raises in her “How do you make dabog in English?” on Newsbreak Online.

“Since most English people are monolingual,” she writes, “they don’t get this seemingly schizoid shifting from one language and one thought process to another. I, on the other hand, cannot imagine myself using just one language all the time, forever. That’s like having a teaspoon in your hand when there’s a banquet spread before you. Attack with all available cutlery!”

I was in Los Angeles two years when an American friend asked me and an LA-based Filipino friend, “Why do you speak to each other in English and not in Filipino?” We replied “There are concepts we discuss for which there are no words in Filipino; but matters of family and the heart are spoken of in Tagalog.”

That is where identity lies – where the heart is. Language is there to help us articulate what is inside of us, struggling to get free and be shared with others.

* * * * *

My column last week was about first-time novelist Samantha Sotto, whose Before Ever After was published recently by Random House. Her story is a miracle of determination, drive, and dreams coming true. Here’s a Q & A with her:

Jenny:  Is this the first time you’ve written anything or had anything published – are you a professional writer? If not, what is your profession?

Sam: I’m a stay-at-home mom and Before Ever After is my first book. My previous career was in marketing management.

J: Where you educated in the Philippines or abroad?

Sam: I studied at Benedictine Abbey School for grade school and high school. I took up AB Communications at Ateneo. During college, I spent one year in the Netherlands where I studied at the Leiden campus of Webster University.

J: You’ve said elsewhere that Audrey Nifenegger’s Time Traveler’s Wife was your inspiration for Before Ever After. In what way is your novel different from TTW?

Sam: I think the key difference is that while Before Ever After spans different historical periods, it is not a book about time travel.

J: You’ve made your characters, except one, non-Filipino. Why did you choose to do it this way?

Sam: This might sound strange, but it was the story and characters that chose me and not the other way around. Max, my main character, popped into my head while I was stuck in traffic in EDSA and told me his story. I just wrote it down.

J: Is there a second novel in the works? Will you set it abroad again?

Sam: I’m 80% done with my second novel. It explores an entirely different concept but is also set in Europe.

J: What has been the most exciting thing so far about this entire experience?

Sam: Holding the finished book in my hands was very surreal. The highlight, however, was when my kids read the dedication of the book.

J: What made you decide to try have your novel published abroad rather than in the Philippines?

Sam: I decided to pursue publishing the book abroad because I wanted to prove to my children that dreams have no boundaries.

The real-life inspiration in Boracay for “Shell”, one of the locations in the book. From the author’s public Facebook Page.

J: It’s been said that Filipinos are not a reading public. How do you think we can increase the popularity of reading in this country?

Sam: I think we should have more accessible public libraries so that people will be encouraged to read.

J: Where can we get your book?

Sam: The trade paperback edition of the book is exclusively available at National Book Store while the hardcover edition is available at Fully Booked. You can also order the e-book version via Amazon, iBooks and Barnes and Noble. People can find and follow me on samanthasotto.com, Facebook, and Twitter (@samanthasotto).

J: Describe your novel in one sentence.

Sam: It’s a fairytale for grown ups.

Samantha Sotto has proven that we don’t have to wait for dreams to come true – we can make it happen. May we all find our happy ever after!

* * * * *

Starting today till September 24 at Silverlens Gallery, catch “Slice”, Kidlat de Guia’s first solo photography show. His wife, performer Lissa Romero de Guia, calls him “the accidental artist”. “Slice” was born of those moments, she says, when “on a whim, [Kidlat] drove to Scout Hill at Camp John Hay. What he found there was completely unexpected: a childhood haunt in its death throes.”

Artist Kidlat de Guia setting up his works for his “Slice” one-man show at Silverlens Gallery. From the artist’s Facebook Page.

The images capture “the eviscerated remains of white clapboard structures in peeling green trim, the ice cream parlor transformed into a garage, debris carelessly strewn on the old tennis courts…[Kidlat’s] knee-jerk reaction to the carnage was to start shooting the beloved space that seemed to have found itself caught ‘in the beginning of the end, and the end of the beginning’. Through the lightboxes these photographs have become, Kidlat allows us a look into a slice of time that may well be gone in the blink of an eye.”

Kidlat is the first of three sons of stained-glass artist Katrin Muller and multi-awarded indie filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik.  ***Email: jennyo@live.com, Web: http://jennyo.net, Facebook: Gogirl Café, Twitter: @jennyortuoste

Image of writer Carla Montemayor here. Image of author Samantha Sotto from her public Facebook Page.

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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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