Archive | February 2008

March 4 is Grammer, er Grammar Day


Yes, Virginia, there is such an occasion as Grammar Day.

Do you adore clean, correct sentences? Do ungrammatical advertisements make you cringe? We understand completely, and this is why the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar and MSN Encarta have designated March 4, 2008 as National Grammar Day.

Now you have every excuse to call the attention of someone who spells it attension. Or says  irregardless. 

I just love these people!

Incidentally, I just received a survey from Chicago Manual asking for feedback about its grammar chapter, which, I must admit, I seldom use. Another reason to take it out from the shelf and use it.

What I’m Reading Now, Again


513298tnqml_ou01_aa240_sh20_.jpgOver the weekend while recuperating from a bad case of gastroenteritis (something I must have eaten at the office buffet), I found time to catch up on books I started but haven’t had the time to finish.

One of them is Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun, which has a back story that I will save for next post, when I have found the archived blog entry somewhere.

I love this book! I love how poetic Mayes sounds even when she’s writing prose. This is the nth time that I’m re-reading the book and I get carried away by her words each time.

Under the Tuscan Sun is the kind of book you’d like to read aloud at 1 a.m., when the entire household is fast asleep.

I don’t usually mark my favorite phrases–I write them down in my Moleskine–but I felt I had to, this time, because I want to go back and read and re-read my favorite lines and feel each word roll out of my tongue when I say them.

Chapter 1 starts out very simply, matter-of-factly, but the sentence reaches out to you, an announcement that, you know, will be life-changing: “I am about to buy a house in a foreign country.”

Each time I read this, I put down the book and I am lost in reverie. I am in Tuscany too.

More soon.

Why an Online Presence Is Important for Writers


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If it were difficult to penetrate the international literary scene a decade ago, today many young Filipino writers are getting published in international magazines all because of the Internet. Furthermore, with the advent of Guru, Elance, and other job markets, Filipino writers are able get projects and commissioned work abroad. That means a wider market and more jobs (and more money!) for writers.

Many years ago when I applied for admission at the University of the Philippines, I was weighing the pros and cons of taking creative writing as against journalism. My parents’ advice echoed in my mind: You can never get rich by writing.

Of course, these days, making money through writing is not altogether impossible and one can actually live comfortably by doing copywriting, manuscript editing, and Web content work. While this isn’t the type of creative work that most writers aspire for, it brings food to the table, and whoever said you couldn’t write a novel or a short story on your days off, eh?

A project fell onto my lap a few weeks ago, courtesy of a forgotten profile on Writers.net. Perhaps things like this don’t happen frequently, but it bolsters what I have always believed in: for you to break borders and find jobs elsewhere, you must have an online presence.

How Many Notebooks Do You Have?


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I find that I remember things better when I write them down. I have a crazy (and busy) life, and I feel the need to compartmentalize it. That’s why I have seven active notebooks.

It probably would have been ideal if I centralized things, but a very sentimental journal entry about someone doesn’t look good beside a list of to-dos, including “pick up the laundry” and “send money.”

I go crazy having to look for my notes on e-mail campaigns (which I’m working on at the office) and find them beside a list of stories I have gathered but haven’t written yet (five done of twenty-plus), or worse, some resolutions like, “I will never . . .”

Seven notebooks. Yes. Allow me to count them:

1. Moleskine Plain Reporter – initially this was where I started a novel in progress (two pages and counting). If you happen to steal it, you’ll get an inkling of what bothers me. This is stuff that never goes into my personal blog. Now you know. (And yes, I name names there. Eek. I learned a lesson from a friend who recovered a journal from 10 years back and came upon initials, and a decade later she doesn’t remember any of them!)

2. Moleskine Lined Journal – my very first. There are a few leaves that I need to finish, but I’m thinking of retiring this as it’s more than a year old and has gone traveling with me. Its binding is falling apart, and I am afraid my grandchildren won’t get to read it. This one started out as a journal, but more interestingly, like my reporter, it also contains notes on my very first interviews (I can’t decipher my scrawl anymore) and books I read.

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3. Rhodia Uni-Blank (above photo). I love its paper! This contains a lot of interview notes too (I know, I have this habit of randomly picking one notebook and running off) as well as stuff from work. No journal entries, thankfully. I’m planning to retire this one soon as these are not available locally. I won’t get another one ever. That’s for certain.

4. Moleskine cahiers ( plain and squared) given by two different people. One has four blank pages left and contains my weekly editorial lineup for this arts and culture blog (I take it seriously, yes), as well as a list of people I wanted to do a profile on. It’s a long list that’s part of a greater list and I’ve done only three stories so far. I also listed a lot of addresses and numbers here, in addition to possible stories I can do.

My other squared cahier acts more like a to-do list. Someone gave it to me for Christmas, but I gave away the two (it comes in a set of three) others to people who have been wanting a Moleskine but never got the chance. I only wish the last few pages weren’t detachable because I write from both ends, and flipping through the pages wears them off easily.

5. Ayala Museum notebook. Its cover is “Mother and Child” by National Artist for Visual Arts Ang Kiukok from 1983. I started using this around 2005, but in the process of moving from one home to another, I completely lost it. Half of it is still blank. It’s a home directory: you know, whom to call to buy gas, or which box number I stored the pair of glass plates. I need to write everything down as I am so forgetful.

6. My Little Brown Notebook, which I got for Christmas. It’s not in the picture because I decided I will be using it solely for notes at my day job. It’s anything but little (in fact, it’s huge and bulky!) and is very handy as it contains a food directory for, like empanada or lechon.

I still have a couple of blank notebooks around, and am I excited to start them off (there’s this sexy feeling I get when I’m starting a new one), but I want to make sure I use up all these seven other stuff before I do.

Reluctant (Chick Lit) Author


I had an interview today with Jaime, a senior sociology student at UP Diliman who is writing a thesis on chick lit in the Philippines.

Jaime tells she is a big fan of chick lit and has, in fact, the complete (well, almost, except for the recent one) series of books from Psicom Publishing, which produced this book.

The interview was very enlightening for me because for the most part when I was doing the writing, I never thought about the hows or whys of it, or whether I was actually being a responsible author and teaching readers to be more than what they were. I was simply writing, because I was asked to, and because it was a productive way to get over my depression at the time.

Among the many things we talked about was that chick lit, as a genre, deserves all the respect it can get and is not in any way inferior to “serious” literature.

When you get down to it, it’s simply writing. Writing as a craft should be respected. Whether one writes spec fic or creative nonfiction, news articles or e-mail campaign copy, blog posts or a thesis, it’s still writing, and writing does not come easily. If one agonizes over how to start a “serious” novel effectively, chick lit authors agonize as well.

We both agreed that, in most novels, families don’t figure much in chick lit. Characters in this type of genre are usually independent women who are earning their own money, sometimes living alone or sharing a condo with a friend, but are nevertheless confused over what they want to do with their lives. They are usually stuck in relationships that aren’t going anywhere, or want to get the attention of the boy they like. Call it trivial. Call it trash, but isn’t that what most of us were like when we were 21?

I also observed that most heroines in chick lit novels are focused on themselves (okay: let’s come clean: the word is selfish; it’s a me-me-me phase, after all), so you don’t hear of protagonists going to Tondo to help build homes for the poor or volunteering as teachers in Cordillera (my best friend Mona did, when she was 19, but she’s different). It’s not something we’re proud of, but that’s reality. Of course, I told her that I hope one day other writers (doesn’t have to be me) would come up with characters who are concerned about other matters, like poverty and politics. I don’t discount the fact that there are 21-year-olds who are more aware of what’s happening around them.

What amazed me was that here’s one reader who actually reads between the lines (and not just because she has a thesis about it) and tries to see the lesson that comes with the story. I didn’t mean to be all too preachy when I wrote Runaway, but I thought that writers have a responsibility to mold readers’ minds.

It’s not just about coming up with a happy ending because the editor or the publisher wants you to (and I really fought it because I thought a happy ending wasn’t realistic). It’s about giving them more than what they’re used to. Because that’s how we all grow as readers–by going beyond our comfort zones, exploring, learning new things.

That interview was a good mental exercise for me. Thanks, Jaime.

P.S. Am I going to write another chick lit soon? Never say never!

Work in the Office or BYOB*?


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My office desk. Am I ready to say goodbye to an IT guy on standby?

I’ve been contemplating on working from home in the last couple of months mainly because I’ve started to love freelance work. I thought I was ready to make the shift from 9-hour office worker to independent Web worker who gets to do some cooking while she writes.

(I kid. I always burn the rice when I cook while writing.)

So I came up with a list of advantages and disadvantages for working in an office and being my own boss:

Working from home is good because I can be around more often for my little boy and it will enable me to be more productive without the distraction of casual office conversations (which run for 30 minutes without your noticing). It will also save me on cab fare to work, the energy of reporting to a brick-and-mortar office, and commuting time.

On the other hand, what I love about working in an office is that a part of me is comforted by the idea that there are people around (okay, I admit, I am afraid of being alone–sometimes) and that when I get bored I can sneak downstairs with a friend and watch people smoke or try to climb over the barricade to get to the commercial district across the street.

I also like the idea that I have IT guys in the office whose only responsibility is to make sure the Internet and the entire network is running fine. At home, the mere act of picking up the phone and reporting that my Internet connection is slow or nonexistent irritates me no end and sometimes interferes with my writing mood.

And yes, the idea that there’s someone who does the accounting is also comforting, because I honestly do not want to be bothered with contracts and billings. I like knowing that I can march off to the nearest ATM twice a month and get my pay, and not have to remind my client that it’s time to issue me a cheque.

But the nice thing about working from home is that, if you are able to snag a number of well-paying projects, you actually stand to earn more than if you do office work. (And you don’t have to pay taxes!–okay, I’m kidding: I’m not encouraging you to renege on what you owe the government.) There’s also the fact that you can work when you want to or as long as you want, and if you’re sleepy, you can sneak in an hour’s nap and nobody will raise the roof. As long as you get the job delivered on time and in fine condition, who complains, right?

Am still weighing things for now. My freelance work isn’t enough to pay all the bills for a month yet, so there’s no way I’m giving up my full-time job. But who knows? I believe that whether I work in the office or or at home, there always will be something to pick on. It’s only a matter of living with the situation. Maybe in six months, we’ll see.

*In case you didn’t know: Be your own boss

Trey Ellis’s Bedtime Stories, an Excerpt


bedtime-stories.gifWhen I read an excerpt from writer Trey Ellis’s book, Bedtime Stories: Adventures in the Land of Single-Fatherhood, the first thought that crossed my mind was “OMG, this is like the book I’m trying to write!”

About two years ago, on the prodding of a friend, an editor who was responsible for getting my first book published, I started compiling excerpts on single parenting from my now-defunct blog (rest in peace, baby).

I had some 15,000 words written already. They were mostly posts, lifted from another personal blog, that I improved on. In between coping with depression and moving from one job to another, I lost focus. Now the manuscript sleeps in my hard drive, waiting for me to find the time to resume writing.

Over Christmas I actually thought of going back and editing, but with another edited manuscript due a Singapore pub house in January, I didn’t have much time to write.

Anyhow, go over to Salon and read the excerpt. It will make you laugh. And if you get to read the book before I do, by all means come back here and tell me about it.

Excerpt: How does a single father ever get laid?

Read Trey Ellis’s blog here.

P.S. In case you’re wondering, my version doesn’t refer to anything silicone or rubbery. I made sure it was GP. Didn’t want to have my parents disown me. Nah.

P.P.S. I discovered another kindred single-parent writer’s blog. Now I’m starting to wonder if it was indeed a good idea to close down my personal blog.