Interview with DEMONS of the NEW YEAR editors: JOSEPH NACINO and KARL de MESA
How do we write well? What can inspire and help us tell better stories? What new horror stories do these awesome dudes have for us who can't get enough of scary places and killer spooks?
REACH Knowledge Magazine got the incredible chance to interview two of the best local editors for genre fiction: Joseph Nacino and Karl de Mesa, editors of the new horror anthology from UP PRESS, Demons of the New Year. While the publishing cognoscenti is going bonkers signing up WATTPAD superstars for book deals and movie options, long time literary-genre fans like Joesph and Karl, good people who live for good reading and who live to write stories, have put together their own splendid collection of genre horror that stand on its own for both craft and entertainment. Kids are reading AND writing AGAIN, which is incredible because all that is good springs forth from a generation that enjoys reading and sharing stories.
REACH: Bless you, sirs! How have you been keeping these days as far as craft and story are concerned? What works have enabled you to achieve what you have? We want REACH readers to get some insight from you this early by asking you this: If you were forced to live off-the-grid and had a choice of only three books to keep with you what books would you choose? This is our desert island question.
JOSEPH: I've been writing speculative fiction stories. I’ve had a number of short stories published in local anthologies as well as international online sites. By sheer chance, I’m also an editor, having published a trio of anthologies, not once but thrice: online, in print and coming soon, as ebooks. My writing also helps pay the bills in the real world as I’ve done work as a content manager for websites for different companies. In other words, I like writing about interesting stuff at work. So yes, my writing is my bread and butter, and it’s also what keeps me sane.
Instead of answering the deserted island question, I’ll give you a variant: when I travel abroad, I usually pack locally-published books. This is because reading home-grown stories while I’m in far-away places staves away homesickness. For my next trip, I plan to carry with me Nikki Alfar’s Here, There, & Everywhere, Gregorio Brillantes’ The Distance to Andromeda, and Eric Gamalinda’s Planet Waves.
Writer / Editor Karl de Mesa
KARL: I’m a journalist, editor, TV producer and all around creative consultant by profession, which is what puts bread on my table, and I have a career as a book author of horror fiction and long form non-fiction. I also play guitar in a metal band called Gonzo Army. My experience as a journ and pro writer started out in writing for cause-oriented NGOs, specifically human rights NGOs since my family has deep roots in the activism world. Then I became a rookie newspaperman through my first job at The Manila Times. From there I went through a lot of creative fields, a lot of companies (including two major networks), and various beats, including PR, advertising, TV production, TV documentary, investigative and combat journ, magazines, music and movie criticism, and even some stints as a mixed martial arts (MMA) analyst.
DESERT ISLAND BOOKS: Three blank journals. There are a lot of books I’d love to re-read but I’d rather spend the time in the desert writing new stuff.
REACH: Genre Fiction as far as we have observed has a growing group of two factions, the literary community and the fan writer community. With the advent of Wattpad as THE number 1 mobile application in the Philippines running close to 3 million users and most of these being kids sharing stories, how do editors like you feel about a fan community getting the opportunity to get published and even get movies get made off their fiction in the most amazing way possible?
JOSEPH: Normally, it’s best not to distinguish between types of writing and communities. You like to read, you like to write. However, what’s amazing about fan fiction is that it inspires people to create their own stories about their favourite stories. I know if I had a chance when I was younger, I would have loved to create fan fiction of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (but instead of a glider, I would have used a jetpack). So in a sense, I can empathize with those who were drawn to the act of story creation by playing in someone else’s playground.
But more than fan fiction inspiring people to write, I would love it even more if it inspires them to create their own original stories that are published into books or made into movies. Obviously, the reach of fan fiction is limited by copyright laws (unless you’re lucky enough to be licensed to write for them) and this means the people who read them is the fan fiction community that grew up liking the original idea. But that hasn’t stopped writers from coming up with original stories of their own. So yeah, if it gets them to step out and publish their original works to reach the wide world, why not, right?
KARL: It’s always going to be those who have against the have-nots, so any medium that enables the voices of the underdog, underserved, or the marginalized to be heard is something I’ll root for whether it’s Wattpad, new forms of social media, or those hook-up apps the kids are raving about. A lot of tech has helped the world be free to communicate with each other. In the case of the countries of the Arab Spring, tech has enabled them to literally be free.
REACH: For reading levels, are they a wall between appreciating literary genre fantasy by the fan writer community and the other way around, smarter readers liking fan-fiction or pulp written using popularly accepted tropes rather than anything else?
JOSEPH: In reading, there is no wall, there’s only preference. You may like a certain genre—including literary—but not another, and that’s okay. It’s all your choice. Same thing with readership there’s no “smart” readers and “not-smart” readers. You can limit the books or stories you like to read or you can expand the coverage. It’s up to you. In fact, what we should really worry about is the division between “readers” and “non-readers”: would you want the Philippines to be a country of people who like to read or who don’t like to read?
KARL: There are no books that are hard to read, but there ARE inexperienced readers who lack the comprehension or capacity to digest some of the denser, “bigger” literature. Education plays a big part in that. It’s also the reason why a lot of people shy away from the classics. They think they’re hard to read. Fortunately there’s no such thing, only good lit and bad lit. Books under good lit (even if they’re “hard to read”) teach you how read them, and the dilemma of hardness is easily solved by reading more and progressively above your level – like physical exercise. Popular fiction is usually meant to be consumed by the masses. Which isn’t a derogatory thing to say, simply a way to compose (just like TV as opposed to movies where the viewer is, ideally, held captive inside the cinema) and craft because they’re something you can read during commute, while waiting, and in the in between times so they don’t need your full, undivided attention, and they’re easier to digest than, say, door stop books like Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.
REACH: Former Dean Butch Dalisay was once quoted saying writers are born and although the craft can be taught to some extent, skill and flair is an innate ability....Neil also advises young writers to live life first and experience having a relationship and getting into trouble to have something to draw on for writing interesting stories.....how would you relate to either of these two great writers' observations and what would be your own observation about writers and craft?
JOSEPH: With regard to what Mr. Dalisay said, I would agree to a certain extent. I joke about it when I say I love making words jump through hoops. But on a serious note, I was taught by a wiser head than mine that it’s too easy for a writer to reach for clichés when writing, like well-used tools on a garage wall. But why limit yourself to using useful words when there are other words that would not only fit exactly what you mean but more than that? You have to know that: the essence of the power of words to exalt and glorify, and to hurt and forgive when writing. It’s not something that can be taught to you. Once you realize this, you’ll never look at words the same way again.
As to what Mr. Gaiman said, I would have to agree. Not that I would want any reader to get into trouble. Rather, I would say that writers should know what joy and anger is, what true sadness and real loss means to them. It’s like having a can of red paint and you’re faced with a grey wall. Dip your brush into it and you can paint a vivid red wall that everyone can see and wonder about.
KARL: Everybody’s different. But you’ll know a good storyteller when you read/hear him. Many ways up the mountain, after all. I usually have no problem taking material from experience or just making stuff up. Still, I learned a lot of stuff from Dr. Dalisay when I was in school.
REACH: There is the admonition: To write what you know ….to write well; which they always teach in school or in writing workshops. Do you agree with this? How does this work in genre fiction where you write about things not real? How do you make them real? This will be a backhanded way of giving pointers to any writer out there discouraged by certain ivory tower rules for writing well.
JOSEPH: Funny enough, I wouldn’t know since I never took a writing class or workshop in my life. All I can say about it is that writing is an act of imagination to create a story in the reader’s mind. Whether it’s based on something that’s real or not, it’s still an effort to make the story believable. Compare a press release and a news report, and if you’re truly discerning, you’ll know what’s real and what’s not. With that in mind, I have to add: it’s not about writing what you know, it’s about basing your writing on what you know. I wouldn’t know what a tikbalang would do in Europe, but I do know that if he sees how trains race so fast across the countryside (which I have), he’d race them for the sheer joy of it.
KARL Research and, when possible, first-hand experience. They’re the keys to writing about things you don’t know. Since I’m also a journalist I have no problem taking myself out of my comfort zone and putting myself in weird or bizarre situations to find out how a fictional scene may play out in reality. I think I was one of the very few journos covering the occult and weird occurences beat during the nineties so there were quite a few interesting material I got from my interviews there.
REACH: Most professional writing workshops, and even creative writing classes in academe , tell kids that they need to use the precise words and keep their writing precise and not verbose. On the other hand, there are writers who are roundabout, long winded, prose stylists yet they tell good stories. As an established editor and writer, which of the two do you prefer and how would your tell a bright eyed, young writer how each works in its own way to create a good story?
JOSEPH: If I were a lawyer, I would say, “Objection, your honor! Counsel is leading the witness!” (Insert smiley face here.---REACH aside: Joseph knows this interviewer is an idiot for baroque prose)
Speaking as an editor, I think a writer should know how to be precise first before they become prose stylists. This way, they know what words they want to use before they use all of them. Lord Dunsany is a prose stylist but his lines are a joy to read. Speaking as a reader, my preference is that the story or concept should be damn good if I have to sludge through a solid block of an opening line. Now, if as a reader, I’m not happy with the story I’m reading, why do you think I’ll be happy as an editor?
KARL: For young writers it’s crucial that they find their own voice first. Grammar and the technicalities of how to string sentences together need to be a given.
REACH: Horror and Fantasy are a very huge, vein for story for Filipinos who want to write and who love to read. Do you feel compelled or responsible for creating stories that uphold the argument that genre can be literary and vouch for it being able to hold its own against any other literary trope? How would you assess the Wattpad phenomenon with kids who just want to write anything because they can and share what they write because sharing stories is fun?
JOSEPH: Seriously, I don’t worry about stuff like that. To constantly threshed-out arguments of genre vs. literary, I prefer to say, “Just write well.” As for the Wattpad community, I actually empathize with the Wattpad kids who “want to write anything they want and share what they write because sharing stories is fun” because that’s what I also believe in—and that’s what I do. What, you think I’m writing for the money? *snort*
KARL: Authors like Poe, Peter Straub, and Tony Perez have already made the case for horror being more than just popular lit pablum full of demons and dark things and something that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the greats of the canon. I can only vouch for my own enjoyment reading and writing stories in the genre. Which is immense and intense.
REACH: Romance in any genre is also hugely popular. And I was pleasantly surprised that initmate relationships and even dirty romance are slowly gaining ground--you have P18 pulp romance in your 24-7 convenience store with fairly intimate scenes written in; and nothing is taboo anymore as far as romance and stories about love and making love when you fall in love are concerned. As editor and writer, what are your observations on this burgeoning trend in fiction both locally and in niche markets abroad?
JOSEPH: From what I know, it was never a trend, it’s a fact that’s always been there: women are a big part of the reading market both locally and globally and publishers would be fools to ignore this.
KARL: As a former Executive Editor of Playboy Phils, former EIC of Red Magazine, former head of the LitErotika publishing house, and consultant or contributing editor in various local men’s mags I can tell you frankly and succinctly: Sex Sells.
REACH: Demons of the New Year is one of UP PRESS' anthology titles pushing genre fiction, particularly horror as a good literary read. How did you guys get UP PRESS to support genre fiction, particularly pulp horror as good reading for everyone? Is Philippine pulp horror developing past the usual Balete drive ghost stories and manananggal in the city tropes? What are your insights on what makes for good horror stories for the literary editor, reader and writer?
KARL: Thanks. The trilogy of the Stranger Fiction series of books (DNY, Diaspora Ad Astra, Farthest Shore) were already published first on a website dedicated to each online anthology and readers could access them gratis. UP Press was one of the publishers who were interested in putting the books out in print. Publisher Joey Nacino decided to go with UP Press rather than other publishing houses, so when the books came out we took down the websites.
Re: Devt of local horror. We’ve got exciting new writers coming from both the pulp and lit sides of the fence working on Pinoy horror fiction. I hope that more markets emerge because of DNY. I hope that more young writers turn their energies to writing good horror. To them, I say: welcome to the dark side. It’s more fun here. We have cookies.
REACH: Thank you sirs for giving incredible insights into what everyone who is stoked about writing today should know: from craft and skill, to enjoyment of stories, to reading levels, to the resurgence of reading and writing as a hobby, and for telling us that pulp fiction whether horror, fantasy or romance will always rock. Please tell our readers about your current books and were can we find them?
JOSEPH: I currently have 3 published anthologies that I co-edited with three great writers that I’m honoured to call friends as well: Dean Francis Alfar (Philippine Genre Stories—fantasy and genre), Karl de Mesa (horror) and Prof. Emil Flores (sci-fi, also a comic book writer from UP). You can find these books in any National Bookstore or Fullybooked branch. Their titles are The Farthest Shore (fantasy), Demons of the New Year (horror), and Diaspora Ad Astra (science-fiction). Go look for them, there are great stories in these books. I hope I’ll find your story in anthologies like these in the future.
KARL: My current books are as follows: Report from the Abyss, Damaged People, News of the Shaman, and Demons of the New Year (as co-editor). They’re all available in print in major bookstores and also available as ebooks on Amazon, iBooks (for iPad and Mac), Google Play, and smaller ebook markets like Kobo and Nook. Thanks, REACH magazine!