My Heart Laid Bare

A big thank you to CJ de Silva Ong and Mitch Mauricio for my banner.

A big thank you to CJ de Silva Ong and Mitch Mauricio for my banner.

My blog’s going through a slow revamp in terms of both appearance and content. It’s also got a new name: Mon Coeur Mis a Nu, French for ‘My Heart Laid Bare,’ a phrase I borrowed from Charles Baudelaire, because it’s a beautiful and apt phrase for what I intend to use my blog for, and because he has the same name as my first cat.

The blog’s been stagnant for a while, mainly because I didn’t know what to do with it. The problem with writing about everything I’m interested in for a living is that I have an outlet for everything, so I end up with nothing to write about on my personal website. Then I realized that the one thing I don’t have an outlet for is my personal stuff, so this is where they will go. I’m going back to the beginnings of the blog as an online diary; I hope you have fun going through mine.

I would like to thank Mitch Mauricio for the banner photo, Elena Andaya for the space and props, and CJ de Silva for the banner design. I know it’s weird having one’s picture on top of one’s website, but what the hey.

I still don’t know what to write about on my blog, but for now, writing about myself will do.

Why Creativity Shouldn’t Be Cheap

A few days ago, I came across this post on Facebook:

I don’t know where it’s from so I can’t cite sources, but it generated a lot of response when I reposted it. It’s a constant headache among people in the creative industry–graphic artists, writers (especially writers!), photographers, and so on–that they are under-compensated, their work undervalued.

There are two prevailing notions behind this that I know of:

First, non-creatives have the tendency to think that just because anyone can, say, a. write, b. buy a DSLR, and c. take a graphic design class, these are automatically skills that everyone can possess.  Professional writers suffer from this misconception the most because in theory, even a first grader can string a sentence together and if a seven year-old can write, then it shouldn’t be a hard skill to master, right?


The second misconception is that creatives work like machines in the manufacturing industry, in the sense that the more work you make them do, the cheaper production gets. Many people think that projects that involve creativity can be bought wholesale, again, like physical products.

Wrong again.

Let me tackle the second point first. Unlike machines, which have moulds and run on continuous power, ensuring (theoretically) quality product all the time, creatives are human beings that use brain power. Contrary to popular belief, thinking is hard work, even if it does not burn much calories. It tires the body and fatigues the mind. Quality of work can diminish without rest. Whether you want to give someone a discount because s/he has given you a lot of work is up to you, but they shouldn’t be able to use ‘buying wholesale’ as an excuse.

Now the first point. Yes, a seven year-old can fill a notebook with words. And yes, that same seven-year old can take nice photos (but hopefully not with a DSLR, unless you are very, very wealthy). But what people don’t realise is that what they’re buying isn’t just someone who will do a job that they could do themselves, if only they had the time. What they are buying, particularly when they hire a professional, is the time, effort, and experience that person put into honing his or her craft.

What you are buying are words that every client, every investor, loyal or potential, will see, so it is in your best interest to make sure that those words are damn good.

Obviously, this post comes from a personal disappointment. As a young writer, I kept coming across these two arguments, and I didn’t know how to respond to them. I don’t know where I read it, but now I know how to explain why we charge what we charge:

What we charge isn’t really high because when you divide the amount spent on art/ copy by the number of people you want to impress (clients, investors, employees, your mother) and the profit/ morale you will generate from it, then you will realise that what you are paying isn’t expensive at all.

If you ask me, most creatives still aren’t being paid enough for their work. I’m still hoping that this changes someday.

“The Bridge” podcast on Pakinggan Pilipinas

An abridged podcast of “The Bridge,” my short story about a very special former first lady and a psychic child can be heard on Pakinggan Pilipinas, site that features podcasts of fiction written by Filipino authors.

I had that story in my head for more than a decade, ever since I heard an urban legend that involved the costruction of the San Juanico Bridge, which connects the islands of Samar and Leyte and is the longest bridge in the country. It wasn’t until 2005 that, urged by the need to submit to Vin Simbulan’s A Time for Dragons anthology, that I finally decided to write it.

The writing of the story was very special to me. I was working in a newsroom of a major TV station back then. We were a small, but tight-knit bunch. I was in my mid-twenties but I was a kid next to the seasoned veterans who had 30 years of hard news reporting under their belts. I remember distinctly, the day the story finally, after more than ten years of just sitting in my brain, came together in my head. I looked over at the cubicle across mine and asked the guy seated there, one of the older reporters who had lived through everything, and asked “When was the San Juanico built?” He answered, “1972” (construction started in 1969 and completed in 1973, but 1972 is the year the story takes place).

For some reason, that date unlocked a door in my mind, and writing the story was easy. I had been preparing for it for more than 10 years, after all. And yes, I wrote it during work hours. But my boss didn’t mind.

“The Bridge” would go on to win a Philippine Graphic/Literature award, and I remember Neil Gaiman repeating throughout the evening when we were having dinner with him how much he loved the story. It is a memory that always warms my heart.

The story is read by the bedroom-voiced Nikki Alfar, and I am so glad to have gotten her as a reader. If you’ve read “The Bridge,” I hope you liked it. If you haven’t, you can try out the lite version via this podcast. I hope you enjoy it.

Thanks very much to Elyss Punsalan of Pakinggan Pilipinas for featuring “The Bridge.”

Interview: Carlo Vergara

For the second installment in my interview series, I am fortunate to have Visconde Carlo Vergara, one of the country’s most talented writer/ illustrators and author of One Night in Purgatory and Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah, the latter one of my favorite graphic novels. Just just Filipino graphic novels, graphic novels, period.

Carlo’s sketch of Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah

Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah is about a gay man who comes a cross a mysterious stone that, when swallowed, turns him into a female superhero of Amazonian proportions.  She then sets out to rid her town of various monsters, which include, among other things, a giant frog, an alien queen and zombies. I particularly liked how Carlo married Philippine gay culture and the annihilation of the undead. The graphic novel has been turned into a successful musical and a not so successful movie. And Carlo, if you’re reading this, I can’t wait for the sequel.

Here are his answers:

Do you believe in ghosts/ elementals? If yes, have you seen one (or more)? Can you tell us about it?

Allow me to share two.
1) It happened the night before the funeral of my first cousin, who passed away because of a brain tumor. (I was in elementary school then.) I woke up in the middle of the night and saw a veiled shadow standing beside my bed. The room was dark, and the shadowy figure was backlit by a faint light streaming through the window. But I knew it was my cousin. Then Murphy’s Law kicked in: The moment you need a blanket to cover yourself is the same moment no blanket can be found. So I closed my eyes instead, hoping I was just imagining things. But no, she was still there. I repeated this process about twice or thrice, only to confirm that there was, indeed, someone beside my bed. Later, while my eyes were closed, I heard the door open and the light click on. It was my mom, telling me to get up and get ready for the funeral.

2) Another elementary school encounter, though this is the audio kind. I woke up in the middle of the night, dark room and all. I heard music being played right outside the bedroom window, and it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. It had a tinkly, flutey quality, and even at a young age, I knew that it was the kind of music that only duwendes (dwarves – ed.) could play. I wasn’t afraid–the music was so soothing that I couldn’t find it in me to be afraid. But I was prudent enough not to look outside the window. A couple of minutes later, the music stopped. I went back to sleep after trying to remember how it sounded. I couldn’t–it was as if it never happened. Until now, I wish I could hear it again.

What’s the scariest place you’ve been to? Why was it scary? Did you end up experiencing anything supernatural there? Do you plan to go back?

I generally feel anxious in places that have a “heavy” vibe, especially when I get the feeling that someone’s watching and not just passing by. Usually large, old houses. When I was working for Real Living magazine, I’ve had a share of goosebumps in a few of the houses we’ve shot.

What’s the scariest ghost story you’ve heard?

I forgot the details of the story, but it involved “something shaking the front gate, as if trying to get in.”

How has your supernatural experiences (even if they come in the form of secondhand stories) influenced your work?

If anything, supernatural experiences influence the way I explore possibilities in storycrafting. There are simply some things that happen, coming in from left field, that may or may not figure prominently in the plot, but happen nonetheless. But whether or not they affect the plot, they affect the story experience. Also, the supernatural experiences I’ve had opened me up more to the interconnectedness of things, or the causality that runs between the past and the present.

What advice would you give someone who comes face to face with a ghost/elemental?

Hmmm… welcome the fear. But be fascinated by the experience. Unless, well, said ghost/elemental is one nasty bugger, in which case you’re more than welcome to shriek and run.