Monday, September 16, 2013

Back to the Book Fair with The Social Scientist

The natural magnetism of printed books still captures the imagination of most Filipino bibliophiles. This is what the 34th Manila International Book Fair proved, which I’ve attended this Saturday at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City.

The colors and the ambiance of the place do not immediately give away the drastic changes to this event. Since I first attended in 2009, the red and yellow tarpaulins marking the aisles, the smell of unsold stocks of books, the hard-to-maneuver alleys between exhibitors remain unchanged.

There are new folks here though, like the larger areas allotted for big name bookstores like National Bookstore, Fully Booked, and Goodwill. Big publishing houses are also kings this year, with Anvil, Rex, Diwa, Vibal, CentralBooks and Phoenix attracting clients to their Print-on-Demand, Publish-on-Demand, and e-book services. The increased number of foreign exhibitors gave the event a truly international vibe.

But there are old folks missing from this year’s fair too, like Scholastic Philippines (to my relief), who opted to exhibit only their Grolier encyclopedia division; also missing is an ex-girlfriend who introduced me to this fair five years ago, and a fellow blogger who I introduced to the fair last year. Going to the fair alone for the first time was truly surreal because I didn’t have anyone to discuss my book choices with or to chuckle with about interesting book finds.

I traversed every alley with one eye always looking at my shoulder for fear of who I might bump into. That was into the first twenty minutes inside the fair. Soon enough, I realized I won’t bump into any of my expectations with all the people moving their way like ants inside. Besides, if I did bump into them, why bother? I came for the book fair, not for the ex-girlfriend.


The author together with Mr. Isagani Cruz and
friend Mr. Bob de Castro
By saying “I came for the book fair”, I wasn’t being exact. I actually came for the “How to Write a Book” seminar by Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Isagani Cruz—an event which I waited too long to happen in a book fair like this. With me was my boss and fellow writer, Mr. Abraham de Castro, who happens to be the writing a book on Cory Aquino.

In a span of three hours, I found out that it wasn’t my consciousness of the critics, or the unavailability of time, or my novice book writing skills that’s preventing me from realizing my greatest dream—its myself. “To write, you have to write, whether its garbage or mediocre”, said Mr. Cruz. He added that “Writing begets writing, but it doesn’t start until you do something.”

In retrospect, I’ve written three unfinished novels since college, one of which was lost when I changed computers while the other two being works in progress. I also have an unfinished movie script with indie film director Eseng Cruz which we worked on this summer. I haven’t added new content to these works of art after the school year started because of work demands, laziness, or procrastination. I can’t seem to find the time or energy to continue writing them. But Mr. Cruz says, “What is the best time to write? Anytime, as long as it’s always the same time everyday.” He gave himself as an example, describing how he writes at 3 AM in the morning when there is less likelihood of disturbance and when his mind has fully rested and fresh with ideas.

Well, he must have been working in a really cozy room with a nice desk and comfy chair. Mine is a front row seat to a concrete wall thanks to the commercial building adjacent my window. However, when it comes to the best place to write, Mr. Cruz suggests, “Anywhere, as long it is always the same place.” He uses Filipino author Samantha Sotto as an example. She wrote her internationa best-selling novel “Before Ever After” in a Starbucks in front of the Ateneo de Manila University everyday while waiting to pick up her child who was studying in the aforementioned school. Of course, I won’t be chugging down on Starbucks coffee anytime soon considering my pay rate, but Sotto’s story gives my meager desk from SM Hypermarket a confidence boost. In fact, on Sunday, I gave it a good cleaning and decluttering. The rest of my room benefited from the process.

Mr. Cruz also made me realize that I was following the basic process of book writing all along—or a least most of it. In my two unfinished novels, I decided to do a deductive approach by 1) writing a synopsis of what the entire novel is all about before, 2) breaking down the synopsis into chapters and writing a synopsis for each, and finally, 3) writing the content for the chapters. I never got beyond chapters 3 and 7 for both novels respectively and so I never had the chance to take Mr. Cruz’s other steps which include:
  1. Idea – Brainstorming the main idea of the novel and its specific details
  2. Research – Conducting research about the fact to be contained in the novel
  3. First Draft – To be written without regard for chronological sequence of events, grammar, and facts and with different possible endings
  4. Fact Checking – To avoid any errors that might cause the author to lose face and credibility
  5. Second Draft – To be written this time with regard to chronological sequence, grammar, and facts
  6. Language Check – You don’t want to do a Venus Raj here that’s why
  7. Copy Editing – Writers don’t do this, according to Mr. Cruz. That’s why God created editors.
  8. Final Draft – To be saved as an e-file multiple times in different storage devices aside from printed in clean sheets of paper.
Mr. Cruz also advises not to rewrite your first draft and to save edits in a different filename each time so you can see how your novel evolved throughout its writing. He cites Ernest Hemingway as an example, who wrote 28 different endings for “A Farewell to Arms”. He emphasized the need for friends to look at your manuscript before publication, particular three kinds of friends: 1) The friend who reads and listens without commenting or judging, 2) The friend who reads, listens, and critiques, and 3) The copy-editor friend.

With the recent advent of Print-on-Demand and Publish-on-Demand services from various local publishing houses, its only a matter of time before I can finish my novel and have it printed. Most celebrated works these past few years like Ramon Bautista’s “Bakit Hindi Ka Crush ng Crush Mo” and CarlJoe Javier’s “And the Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth” were all independently published using such methods. In the case of Samantha Sotto, she had to sell her manuscript to literary agents first before it was picked up by Random House, which, for me, is a 50/50 gamble considering that your work may or may not be enticing and thus not reach the US market. It’s one gamble I am willing to bet on considering my connections and resources.

Writing begets writing. And so I’ll finish this article in the hopes of beginning where I left off in my novels and movie script. No matter how long Mr. Isagani Cruz and I got to know each other, it felt as if he’s been my mentor for a long time now. I would have wanted to say that he gave new inspiration to my writing but he did say that “There’s no such thing as writing because of inspiration”. Hence, I'd say has injected new energy into my writing with his insights. Because of him, who knows, (and this was suggested by Mr. Cruz himself) I might get this blog published in book form sometime soon.

Mr. Cruz, mag-dilang anghel ka sana! TSS

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