Posts Tagged ‘sarah grutas’

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 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: freedom of feedback

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  12 August 2010, Thursday

Freedom of Feedback

The topic that will not die. That’s the storm artist Mideo Cruz unleashed with the recent exhibit of his controversial work “Politeismo” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

That the artwork would offend religious sensibilities in this predominantly Roman Catholic country was a given. The artist expected as much, and in fact deliberately created his work as an artistic statement to provoke people to think about idolatry and, in extension, the role of religion in Philippine culture and their own lives.

However, no one expected how intense and massive the public reaction would be, or that the controversy would go global via the Internet.

The fallout was extensive. Politicians took up cudgels in behalf of the Church – Manila congressman Amado Bagatsing delivered a fiery privilege speech denouncing the work, prompting fellow lawmaker and former First Lady Imelda Marcos to have the exhibit shut down with one phone call. This is turn led to the resignation of Karen Flores, chief of the CCP’s visual arts division, which she announced yesterday at a forum at the University of the Philippines Art Studies Department.

What I found interesting about the entire thing was the extent of the public discourse which came from a myriad points-of-view. Some focused on the work’s artistic merit. Writer Sarah Grutas Tweeted, “Whether Mideo Cruz’s artwork is anti-Christ or anti-Church or not is beside the point. What needs to be addressed in the first place is whether Cruz’s artwork has any artistic merit at all. Does it even deserve public/national discourse? Maganda ba? Original ba? Art nga ba?”

Some opined on the responsible creation of art. Digital media artist Bea Lapa said, “Not all artists are behind [Mideo]. Many digital and new media artists do not want to be associated with this kind of work because we worked so hard honing our craft…I am not even Catholic, but I can see why such disrespect for powerful symbols could lead to chaos. As my brother, a sculptor, said, if we just express without burden of responsibility then we are no better than monkeys with paintbrushes.”

Others took up the issue of censorship. Artists’ Arrest, an “alliance composed of emerging and established artists and cultural activists…from the grassroots, alternative, and independent sectors”, posted a statement on Facebook:

“At this point, any defense or attack of the artwork “Poleteismo” by Mideo Cruz is already moot and academic because it will always be subjective…as it happens, the debate surrounding the artwork has been focused largely on its artistic and moral merits at the expense of calling our attention to what we think are more disturbing actions: the demand of a certain faction of the Catholic church for the resignation of the CCP officials; the vandalism of the artwork and in effect the CCP gallery in which it is in exhibit; and the decision of the CCP to close the exhibit.

“Peace and Beauty”, painting by Mideo Cruz. From the artist’s Facebook page.

“We call on the CCP board to rethink its position about the closing of the exhibit for it already constitutes censorship. We also appeal to artists and citizens to see the higher social wager at stake in this situation: our freedom of expression.  We join other artists and groups in the action to defend our right to express ourselves.”

Los Angeles-based Filipino musician Ray takes a pragmatic stance: “Mideo may well be a rabble-rouser, whose installation only aims to critique our colonial mindset and has stopped short of exploring its roots that go way before the arrival of Magellan (who, at best, only managed to shift that primal spirituality’s direction to a western and Judaeo-Christian orientation even as it moderately succeeded to blend in its animistic origins).

“If some art tucked in a secluded corner of the CCP – whose offensiveness may have been well unknown if not for the recent undue interest – offends anyone, there is less energy expended in ignoring it completely and engaging in more fruitful endeavors. If one finds an overpowering need to expend more energy, try exercise.”

On my blog, where I had posted my previous column which carried an interview with Mideo, 90% of the comments were laced with profanity, and 80% revolved around the thought “What if it were the picture of your mother, father, or other family member that had a penis stuck on it? How would you feel?” The insights here are that people are equating the defaced pictures of Jesus, Mary, and God with their relatives – in other words, Jesus et al. are considered part of the Filipino family – and that reciprocity is a significant value in our collective culture.

“Purity”, painting by Mideo Cruz. From the artist’s public Facebook page.  

Looking at the big picture, what we should appreciate about this entire debate is our freedom of speech as manifested in public discourse of the matter. Topics such as this will always be viewed subjectively. There will always be adherents for either side, and never the twain shall meet.

But to be able to talk about such things freely, to give rein to opinions for or against, is a liberty that we should not take for granted. There are many countries under repressive regimes where such conversation is forbidden and severely sanctioned if against the state’s position.

Social media played a large part in spreading thoughts about this topic. Through the Internet and platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, feedback was instantaneous.

Feedback is integral to the communication process. “Communication is useless without feedback” – It completes the whole process of communication, sustains and makes it continuous; serves a basis for measuring the effectiveness of communication and for future planning; and paves the way for the generation of new ideas (Seun, 2010).

It’s good to see our right to freedom of speech getting a workout. But freedom of expression as claimed by artists is another matter. Public censure is a form of censorship, imposed by society; the shutdown of the exhibit by CCP in response to political pressure is a manifestation, as are the statements made by various politicians including the President.

“See Through”, painting by Mideo Cruz. From the artist’s public Facebook page.

If Mideo Cruz and his “Politeismo” caused offense, it has also generated new ideas, shown us the role of religion in our lives, and revealed the most effective channels for communication and feedback.

It also tested the boundaries of freedom of expression. Now we know how far an artist can go pushing the limits before social sanctions are imposed. If only for that, Mideo deserves our thanks. ***

Image of Imelda Marcos here.

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pop goes the world: youth matters

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 16 June 2011, Thursday

Youth Matters

Last week I was pleasantly surprised to find that a friend, Sarah Bulalacao Grutas, is now social media director for the National Youth Commission. A young person herself, Sarah is a cum laude graduate of the University of the Philippines, with a Creative Writing degree from the UP’s College of Arts and Letters.

We met when we were both working for Fox Books, a now-defunct publisher of literary materials that sadly, felt the financial crunch and had to fold. A pity, because it had published a wide assortment, in both Filipino and English, of works by Filipino writers, such as Beverly Siy, Haidee Pineda, Vlad Gonzales, Anna Ishikawa, and US-based humor writer Jay David, among others.

But I digress. More on the Philippine literary scene in another column. Today I give way to news from the NYC on a couple of things, one of them being the rising transport fares that will negatively affect many students.

The NYC recently appealed to the management of the Metro Rail Transit and the Light Railway Transit to grant fare discounts to students. NYC chairman Leon Flores III urged the Department of Transportation and Communication to issue such a directive, citing the fare discounts for senior citizens.

Sarah says a recent NYC survey shows that most students who take the MRT and LRT have a daily allowance of only P100 pesos, half of which goes to transportation expenses. LRTA public relations officer Irene Valensarina told the NYC that LRT is not currently giving discounts to students, but is studying this given the impending increase in train fare. Ryan Abiñon from the office of the MRT general manager likewise said that as of the moment there are no directives from the management regarding student discounts this year.

I remember being an impecunious student with a limited allowance, and walking as much as I could instead of taking jeepney rides to save my allowance so I could buy books – mostly Star Trek fotonovels and Golden Age science fiction and fantasy.

I recall a story of a local author who, when they went to a city in the Visayas for a workshop and to sell his books, said he overheard a couple of students debating which one of his books they would buy, because pooling their resources, they could afford only one, which they would share.

How do we think we can manage to continue giving the world a superior workforce with language skills if our young people don’t have the reading habit? Much has been made of giving more English-language training to young people to fit them for careers in BPOs/call centers and to work as OFWs abroad. But how can they learn to speak and write English well if they cannot read books in that language, being unable to afford them?

I can attest to the power of reading to build vocabulary and instill by osmosis grammatical and syntactical rules. The brain recognizes patterns; read a lot of books and you will unconsciously pick up the flow of the language. You will recognize when something doesn’t “sound right”. And an ear for language is essential for mellifluous writing.

So, going back to the point, I hope the LRT and MRT give discounts to students so those inclined can afford more books. (Or food, because who can study properly with a growling stomach?)

And while they’re at it, booksellers might consider decreasing book prices. Same goes for sellers of electronic book readers like the Kindle. E-books can be had for free, especially older titles; newer ones go for a minimal cost, like ten pesos. If Kindles or similar devices were made more affordable, reading would be more popular.

Meanwhile, the Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations Awards Foundation, Inc. or TAYO Foundation is proud to announce the launch of of “TAYO 9”, the ninth annual search for the best youth organizations in the country.

TAYO 9 was launched in ceremonies coinciding with the release of the book entitled [R]evolutionaries, commemorating the first six years of the TAYO search and the inspiring stories of TAYO awardees. The book is available in all Fully Booked branches and the TAYO Secretariat.

The TAYO Foundation aims to discover and recognize exceptional youth organizations that have contributed to the development of their local communities, schools, or work places through innovative development projects. Since 2002, over a thousand youth organizations have joined the annual TAYO search and are now part of the TAYO youth network.

The TAYO Awards are open to youth groups, organizations, clubs and societies whose membership and leadership are composed of at least 15 members who are 15-30 years old. Ten of them shall be chosen to receive cash grants of P50,000 each to fund existing or future projects.

TAYO is online with a newly updated website, Interested youth organizations can both access information on the current search and submit entry forms online.

It will be a TAYO first to accept “virtual entries”, enabling an even more far-reaching search and allowing organizations from far-flung areas to submit their entries without cost.

The deadline for submission of entries is 31 July 2011. Entry forms may be also be downloaded from Text 0917 TXT-TAYO (898-8296) or e-mail for information about the TAYO search.

TAYO 9 is presented by the Coca-Cola Foundation Philippines, Inc., and organized by the NYC with the Office of Senator Francis Pangilinan. Also supporting the search are the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Agriculture, Philippine Information Agency, Ninoy and Cory Aquino Foundation, and the Philippine Center of Young Leaders in Governance Foundation, Inc.   ***

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tag ni sarah

I’ve been tagged! Hey, this is fun, I love making lists.

From writer/editor/heartbreakee Sarah Grutas, this meme:

Here’s the rule:

Click copy/paste, type in your answers and tag four people in your lists! Don’t forget to change my answers to the questions with that of yours.

1. Four places I go over and over

MARHO office
Fully Booked at Powerplant
National Bookstore

2. Four people who email me regularly
Fountain Pen Network Phils. penfriends
Annie Merginio-Murgatroyd
Gigi Tejada
Kites Cayetano

3. Four of my favorite places to eat
Zaifu at Powerplant
Pancake House
Le Souffle

4. Four places you’d rather be
On the beach
In a spa, having a massage
Any branch of Barnes and Noble or Borders

5. Four TV shows i could watch over and over

The Ghost Whisperer
Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone
CSI: Miami
Star Trek

6. Four lucky winners (of this tag)

Adelle Chua
Leigh Reyes

Image: banner illustration of Sarah’s blog.

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fox books: palalim ng palalim

Following the lead of other publishing trailblazers, Fox Books reveals its own take on the horror genre with Palalim ng Palalim, Padilim ng Padilim at Iba Pang Kuwento ng Dilim.

But unlike the badly-written, ungrammatical, and obviously made-up stories touted as “true-to-life” that you’ve had to suffer through for lack of anything better to read, Fox Books delivers a collection that is light-years higher in literary quality.

Pieces by Wennie Fajilan, Beverly Siy, Mar Anthony de la Cruz, Rita de la Cruz, and Haidee Pineda reflect storytelling genius, brought to life by the grotesque illustrations of Josel Nicolas (which nearly did not see print due to their shock factor).

If you want to enjoy not just good but terrific stories and writing, showcasing some of the country’s most imaginative literary talents, then this book will be a valuable addition to your collection of Filipino fiction.

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fox books: dagta

Is it a sign of maturity for a nation or a culture’s readers when books on erotica are published – and bought? With the publication of Fox Books’ Dagta: Antolohiya ng Erotika, then, we are progressing along the literary evolutionary scale, from bomba komiks,  Tiktik magazine, columns by Xerex Xaviera in tabloids and Dr. Margie Holmes in broadsheets, and even soft porn glossy magazines like the local editions of FHM and Maxim.

Filipinos are primarily a visual people. Whether this is a cultural preference or one ingrained by the media itself, it seems that magazines and other visual material sell than books. Fox Books, then, is testing new waters by offering the same subject in a more intellectual format.

Dagta offers stories by many, including Vlad Gonzales, Suzy Anonas, Michael Andrada, UZ Eliserio, and “Sarah Bulalacao” (pen name of Fox editor Sarah Grutas); and poems from the “Bikini Idolatry” cycle of Adam David (who also crafted the illustrations for the anthology).

Fox Books are available at National Bookstore, Fully Booked, and other retail outlets.

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anna ishikawa: where your dreams come true

Fox Books has a winner in Where Your Dreams Come True, a novel written by Anna Ishikawa, illustrated by Kristian Teves.

I read this story when it was still being edited by Fox Books editor Sarah Grutas – photocopied onto used paper, a binder clip holding the pages together. I took it home, started reading it in bed – and could not put it down until I was finished. It’s that absorbing.

Anna’s depiction of her main character, Emily, is so true-to-life, it could almost have happened in reality. (Parts of it most probably did.) I actually have met people like Emily before. (Diba, Miss Jas?) The most refreshing thing about this novel is the humorous, tongue-in-cheek tone, peppered with current colloquialisms that elicit an immediate reaction of “Oo nga, ganito talaga!”

What else can I say? Buy it na. ‘Wag mong paabutin ng one hundred years bago mo bilhin!

About the author:

Si Anna Ishikawa ay naging bahagi ng tatlong national writing workshops at nanalo na rin sa ilang patimpalak. Kapag hindi nagsusulat, siya ay tumatambay sa mall, nagbabasa, gumuguhit, nanonood ng anime, at nagtuturo ng English at Creative Writing sa UP Diliman…Siya rin ang may-akda ng Odd Girl Out.

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fox books: defining the new filipino literature

Fox Literary House, which publishes fiction in Filipino, was built with a leap of faith late last year by businessman Ramon Balatbat. A newcomer to the field of publishing, he also put up Newstar Publishing House, a textbook publishing enterprise, to provide quality educational material for young children.

With cum laude University of the Philippines Creative Writing graduate Sarah Grutas at the editorial helm of Fox Literary (also known as “Fox Books”), its initial five offerings are well-chosen from manuscripts written by talented authors. The formal launch of the company and its books, held last April 14 at Fully Booked in Bonifacio High Street, promises a new dimension in Filipino literature, providing a venue for fiction writers to have their creative efforts presented to the reading public in a graphically exciting format.

I joined Fox Books as the sales manager last January, but was lured back to the world of horseracing. Still, during my two-months’ stay at Fox, I got to know Sarah and Fox Books’ graphics designer, writer Adam David. These young people are bright, brash, and bold, rising stars in the firmament of Filipino literature, and Fox Books is certain rise to great heights with these two to pilot it.

Fox novels are available at Fully Booked, National Bookstore, and other fine outlets. Check out the ad and press release below, illustrated by Adam, written by Sarah:

New Filipino Literature Rises

Fox Literary House Inc., an aggressive publishing company involved in quality and creative literary works, launched its first line of books last Monday, April 14 2008, 4 p.m. at Fully Booked in Bonifacio High Street, Global City.

The book launch featured the works of mostly young writers and artists: Mykel Andrada, Kendrick Bautista, Layeta Bucoy, Sarah Bulalacao, J Luis Camacho, Adam David, Nicanor David, Jr., Mar Anthony de la Cruz, Rita de la Cruz, UZ Eliserio, Wennie Fajilan, Geraldine Flores, Vlad Gonzales, Anna Ishikawa, Josel Nicolas, Beverly Siy, Ardee Sto. Domingo, Kristian Teves, and Haidee Pineda.

All books: Dagta: Antolohiya ng Erotika, Mga Kwento ng Batang Kaning-Lamig, Palalim Nang Palalim Padilim Nang Padilim, Where Your Dreams Come True, and Tres Amores are now available at bookstores near you.

Contact Fox Literary House at (632)740.4532 or send email to: foxliteraryhouse(AT)

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fox literary house launch

After decades of having mostly foreign writers on the shelves of local bookstores, slowly the Philippine fiction market is growing and gaining more adherents – among them nationalistic young people who enjoy the best of global and local literature, and create their own stories with a uniquely Filipino flavor.

The newest kid on the publishing block is Fox Literary House. With cum laude UP (University of the Philippines) Creative Writing graduate Sarah Grutas at the editorial helm, the stories offered are among the best of the new generation of Pinoy fiction that are sure to appeal to a wide audience.

Attend the Fox Mega Launch (see invitation below) and enter an edgy new dimension in words and art.


Fox Books are available at Fully Booked, National Bookstore, Power Books, and many other outlets.

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