Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bite-Sized Fiction

1:03 AM

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Wham bam bulaga!

Brevity is the name of the game these days, and Noelle de Jesus knows it. The preface she wrote for Fast Food Fiction Delivery, the collection of 500-word short stories she co-edits with Mookie Katigbak Lacuesta, emphasizes how this generation is all about the quick and easy. As a generation of consumers, we yearn to take bites of everything, just as long these things are easy to digest and leave a lasting impression. You know, sort of like the new KFC menu.

Fast food puns aside, this new anthology—a follow up to 2003's Fast Food Fiction: Short Stories to Go is chock-full of these little bites that satisfy in just a few minutes.

Gaby and PaCho sat down with Noelle, one of the editors of FFF Delivery, to talk about the editing process, blogging, and negative feedback!

Thank you for agreeing to speak with us!
It's no problem!

The first book, Fast Food Fiction, was released in 2003—that makes an almost 13 year gap between this release. What was the process of making it like?
We moved to Singapore in those 5 years, so it kind of fell by the wayside a little bit in terms of getting it done. The internet was alive, but only via email. There was no Facebook; a lot of the submissions came [as] hard copies, so I had to transcribe. It was a different time—the technology wasn't as pervasive, nor was it easily accessible. Time moved slower, and no one was pushing me because I was alone: I was the only editor because it was my idea. And I thought, well if no one's waiting for it, then I don't have to rush!

What made you decide to wait so long before coming up with a follow-up?
Actually, I never thought of doing it again. The experience was difficult for me because I write my own fiction. I wanted the anthology to come out the first time, and I wasn't in a sequel mode or a franchise mode. It didn't even occur to me to do it twice. Or another one... another version, or a part two. I thought it was done—I thought it was finished.

Then last February, [there was] the launch of Maximum Volume, which is another anthology for (supposedly) young writers, but the cap was 45. So when I saw the call for submissions, I said “Oh, I can still submit.” So I submitted and got in, and so I'm in Maximum Volume I, and that was going to be an anthology. So I came to the book launch for that, because there were twelve writers featured, and Gwen Galvez [marketing director] of Anvil came up to me. I was looking at all of the books of Anvil—and she said, “It's so old. You should follow it up. You should do another.” I said that I didn't wanna do another because it's too much work, and I'm not in the Philippines—I'm in Singapore, so it'll be harder to collect. It took five years for the first one; I don't wanna take that long. And she said, “That's easy, just get a co-editor.”

But then I looked up and in the crowd, I saw Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta, who is the wife of a friend. She's a friend also, but I didn't really know her that well, I just knew that she was a poet. She was [at the launch] because her husband, Angelo Lacuesta, is the editor of Maximum Volume... Sarge Lacuesta. He and Dean Alfar. So I saw her and asked her to sit down because all the writers were sitting down, and I said “Mookie, do you want to co-edit?” on a whim, on an impulse. She said “But I'm not a fiction writer.” I said “It's even better because you're a poet – different perspective.” These are short short stories, so it's very poetic. In many ways, it's more like poetry than fiction.

She got excited, and I said that we'd have to do it fast because I'm the kind of person that, if you let it go past a certain time, then I lose the momentum. I lose interest, and time passes and some other things become interesting to me. So I said we have to do it fast. So that was February, we had a call in March, our deadline was May 31. Things came in and the month after that— but of course, there's a threshold. You say May 31, but of course people will go over that. We were accepting stories as late as the end of June. So we had one month grace period from the deadline.

You gathered the stories for Fast Food Fiction through word of mouth. This time, you and Mookie did a call for submissions on social media. How did you come to make that decision?
[Mookie's] here, and I'm in Singapore but she's younger than I am, so she's very much in touch with the writing scene—she's a Palanca award winner, her husband is a Palanca award winner. Basically when she says “Everybody, do you wanna submit?” they'll do it.

I only know the older, more seasoned writers, so I would solicit via email. We didn't even talk— we looked at everything that we had, I had to say “Are you sure you have enough? Do you have the same things I have?”

Some would email to her only, and some would email to me only. We had to read everything the other was reading, and that was the trick. We did a shortlist, we said “I like this, I don't like this...” over a three month period. There was a writing festival, The Philippine Writing Festival in October, and Anvil wasn't pushing us. That's my weakness... if no one's pushing you – you know, we have jobs and family and writing our own [work], so we were just taking it easy.

But when the writing festival came out, Anvil said “Can we get it finished by November?”

We said, “What?” How can we do it by November? That's in two weeks!” Because you have to cut and paste, you have to make a file. And we're not sure, 'cause there are some things that we're still not sure of. It's generally there. And so we tried and we failed. So there was another writer's festival end of November, and we tried and we failed [again]. Finally we finished it three weeks after that second festival. We said “Can it catch Christmas?” and then they said it's too late. It'll be ready in the warehouses by after Christmas. They wanted to launch if in January, but the Pope was coming. So here we are now. So it was fast when you compare it to the other one.

How many submissions did you receive this time? 
Over a hundred. Around 150-160. I don't recall how many. I think the first issue was almost the same. But I was alone, and I had five years.

Did the process give the idea for the addition of 'delivery' in the anthology's title? 
No. The process...that's true. Maybe subconsciously but it was more like we knew we needed Fast Food Fiction in the title so that they would remember and that it would also cause a sales buzz for the first one again. Like Toy Story and Toy Story 2. The people who weren't alive when Toy Story came out, they buy Toy Story again. It's the same principle.

Delivery because it was something different. It was very, very quick. We didn't really think about other ways to call this thing. We didn't want a long title either.

So there are 68 writers...
All of the stories are in the vicinity of 500 words. Some go over, but not by much. The old book has 1,000, right? I think it's also because the form is not as rare as it was. The form has come into its own, and people do it and it's helped by text messages, status updates, tweets. People don't have time, and they don't want to go into the slow accumulation of plot points... Basta, it happens.

Wham bulaga.
Exactly. Yeah, I imagine in 13 years, it's a different generation as well that's submitting. There are some repeats in terms of writers. Most of them are due to me. Like Budjette Tan, Rayvi Sunico, Rofel Brion. And these are all professors from Ateneo.

The first anthology is described as directed to “people who are always on the go.” You're based in Singapore now, but you worked and lived in many other places abroad before. How has this affected how you edit and write?
Living away from the Manila writing scene means that I am totally dependent on the internet -  which can make things very efficient. But it can also sometimes give a false intimacy or connection that seems more than what it actually is. For instance, at the launch, I didn't know a good number of the authors, though I knew the stories they submitted very well. Clearly there are drawbacks to that. We rush around and we are in touch on line, and we get things done but are our relationships of quality? That's something we need to watch out for. Face to face is still better than Facebook to Facebook.

Aside from the manner of collecting stories, we also noticed a number of other differences between the two anthologies in terms of structure and content. Did some of the original authors change too? How, if at all? Are the characters more developed? 
They evolved, definitely. I mean Rayvi Sunico's story from the first one is very different from this one. The people who know them will be able to tell that it’s theirs, but the styles are all different. The styles are all different, so I can't say it's better. I think both stories were equally compelling, and that's why we accepted them.

I also heard that you used to run a blog before switching to Facebook statuses. You mentioned how you preferred Facebook more because you would get feedback about your work almost immediately after posting it. 
Yeah, I didn't need to blog anymore. I had the audience already, and it felt like double. But in Facebook it's captive eyeballs: You're already there. Blogs naman, you have to go to [them]. I wasn't the kind of blogger that was very marketing-savvy. So for me, what I wanted was to be read. Facebook satisfies that for me. That daily “say something,” and then someone likes it or someone comments. That impulse was the same, even if the two things are very different. 

It's interesting though that you decided to go back to an even older form now—the book. What is the satisfaction in not knowing what your readers are thinking right after reading your work. 
All throughout, I've been wanting to write a book. I'm still writing a book. It's a perpetual book that I'm working on. 

How do you think that affected your writing?
I write many different things, so it doesn't really affect anything. My Facebook status is not my fiction. My Facebook status is about what I'm doing, my kids, whatever. They're all different kinds. I'm a copywriter by profession — that's for money. 

What's the satisfaction you get from the feedback?
Someone's reading it! That's all you want. And if someone gets it. 
When would you rather not hear from your reader? When would you rather not get feedback for something that you've written? 
If they have negative criticism, they can tell it to people or write a review. They don't have to tell me face to face. For me, once it's out, it's out. 


Close to 70 writers contributed to the anthology, and we were able to catch up [read: ambush] some of them for an interview. We asked them to describe their stories in a flash, and here are their answers:

Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo – “When It's a Grey November in Your Soul”
It's about what a woman feels who loses her friend...very old friend, and doesn't know why. 

Gemino Abad – “Bettina”
Of course it is my boyhood experience. The first awakening to girls. Who make the better half of the world. 

Cyan Abad Jugo – “Earth-bound”
It's about falling in love even in old age.

Gabriela Lee – “Orange”
Post-apocalyptic poetry-prose. 

Mariel Q. de Jesus – “Seed”
Climate change, agriculture, and poverty. 

Nikki Alfar – “Revelation”
It's about a man realizing that he wants his life to the middle of a very sexual scenario. 

Susan S. Lara – “Ballet as Paradox”
It's all about control and restraint and rigor, which is what art is all about and should be. 

Article by Gaby and PaCho
Photos by PaCho
Gaby is used to working quietly in the background. The Thing is her first big attempt at taking the lead. She isn't sure how it is going to go, considering that most of her time is spent trying to get her dog to listen to her. On most days, you would find her at her computer, excessively bookmarking links to DIY projects and articles about teenage wunderkind.

PaCho  is the nickname of a full-time fangirl who wants an infinite amount of money with which to travel the world and buy merchandise. This girl is currently amassing the skills to achieve these goals, and collecting stories and perspectives along the way (to consequently be the best that no one ever was) at a university. She will smile in satisfaction at the fall of the patriarchy and Western domination of international affairs. She is only half-joking about this (which means that she's completely serious).


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