A Note On These Pages


Better Living Through Xeroxography

Literary Patricide by way of the Small Independent Press

I just lived through the first annual Taboan Writers Fest, a three-day mostly national but actually international (made “inter” by the presence of a Vietnamese writer and a Thai filmmaker) summit of writers, mostly under forty years old, set to talk about the various issues that surround the cultivation of one's literary existence in this quite flippity-floppity literary world of luckers and losers and lousy lolo layabouts. I was chosen to talk about one of my major worries, Self-Publishing, and one of my minor preoccupations, Criticism of Speculative Fiction. Those three days were in turns uplifting and exhausting—sometimes both at the same time—like a marathon orgy of what most of us felt as exuberant virility. It was great. “I came five times,” I would’ve said if I was six years younger. This essay is a putting to print some of the things I said in the panels—specifically my thoughts on the Small Independent Press, and why it’s the Future of Philippine Literature.

My general poetics can pretty much be summed up as such: Literary Patricide. From claiming that the Future of Philippine Literature is in the Small Independent Press to proposing for the Obliteration of Genres—pretty much every single thing tossed into these essays—are my various How-To’s on killing our Literary Daddies and Mommies, and yes, these are things that I truly believe in, the rules I’ve lived my literary life by, causes that I truly rally behind: they really have to die various deaths—and by our hands—because really, things need to change, for the better, for the greater whole, as the current state of affairs in literary production is thus: it is intellectually bankrupt, and idiots can only really do idiotic things.

One of the many things our Daddies and Mommies have choke holds on is Publishing, be it as minor as seeking the Silliman Tiempos for approval of having our poems printed on the Philippines Free Press or as major as having Ophelia Dimalanta and Cirilo Bautista police—excuse me, referee—the books we give to the Mainstream Presses. They have been doing this constantly for thirty years now, some even for fifty years, and most of the time the people who did it in the Beginning are still the same people who are doing it Today, all in the name of Setting the Standards when it’s really just to pass on their Literary DNA without regard of what we really want to do in our writing lives. The sadder thing is that most of us have been led to believe that this is the only way to live our writing lives: we’re all brought up to be Mama’s Boys with Daddy Issues, always seeking for Parental Approval (I’m looking straight at you, SpecFickers!!!), dogs being fed yesterday’s table scraps. If this isn’t reason enough for us to rethink the things we have been taught—the things we have been led to believe for so long, now—you should all just stop reading this essay and move on to writing about growing up as a temperamental sensitive misunderstood artiste and calling it creative nonfiction.

All official talk of Mainstream Publishing reduces things to market values and set audiences and sales strategies and brand recall, and all unofficial talk of Mainstream Publishing reduces things to Literary Patronage and the maintenance of the Status Quo, which are very very very staid very very corrupt ways of looking at what is the be all end all of any act of writing. People write so that people read them. It can't be any simpler than that. It is how and where the Art and Craft of Writing feeds back into the Culture that beget it. It is Public Service, “giving back to the community.” Writing is as much about Selling Prices as it is about Winning Prizes. And access to it is being denied us, or dangled in front of us tied to a string just always out or reach unless we sit up or roll over or stay or shake.

But of course, that's not the kind of talk you'll hear from the Mainstream Publishers as Publishing for the most part really is a business, and a business really is dictated by market values and set audiences and sales strategies and brand recall, thus these things dictate the production of the manufactured product that the business is trying to sell, and that I understand, but the problem begins when these things begin to infiltrate and dictate the Art and Craft of Writing itself.

Which is why more people should rethink the relevance of Mainstream Publishers in the System of Literary Production, in the evaluation of Literary Worth. Is one thing really better than the other because Bienvenido Lumbera says it is? Is it better because it sells more? Mainstream Publishers talk about the teeming unwashed masses as a great potential reading audience, people we should try to write for, and at the same time disparage and insult them and the books that they buy when they do decide to read. Is it better because it sells less?

The contemporary average Pinoy reader is not Ester in a duster eating crackers by the shower. The contemporary average Pinoy reader is a twenty-something undergrad reading Twilight in the dark, with enough foundation in grammar (in English, at that) to read and understand and be absorbed by a novel-length elaboration of undersexed teenage angst filtered through post-Victorian emo goth vampire horror (after all, market hype can only go as far as making people buy the book; they have to read it, too). If they read and love Bob Ong, they understand the basics of satire, of sarcasm, of parody. The contemporary average Pinoy reader is not an idiot. They just don't know any better, having a limited choice in reading material. What ought to happen is that we stop giving them idiotic things.

We can't expect Mainstream Publishers to change the present condition for us, because the present condition is a condition that benefits their bank accounts. The present condition is a condition that benefits their egos. Mainstream Publishers will publish anything as long as there is money to be earned in it, if it maintains patronage, quality of thought and writing distant second and third concerns.

What we should be focussing on is creating and providing new venues for alternative attitudes in Reading and Writing, creating and providing new venues for ourselves and our “unmarketable” material, for our “unrefereed” efforts. What we should be focussing on is developing and cultivating an audience that will read and understand and actively seek our work. We should stop writing down to Mainstream Publishers’ standards of marketability and literariness and start writing up to raising the quality of available reading material, and the only way to do those things and remain untarnished—remain honest to ourselves and to our art—is to do the publishing ourselves.

Of course, not everything about self-publishing—about the Small Independent Press—is as rosy as I seem to be putting it, as for now actual physical publishing of pristine quality remains a costly effort, but there are already cost-effective ways to having our precious words available in print, as cost-effective as how much of our pride we can swallow down and not gag:

  1. we can have our books in websites as downloadable PDFs that readers can either print out on scratch paper or read in their PSPs and Blackberries and 3G cellulars, the technology is actually already here for such things, and it's only a matter of time before they become really cheap as to enjoy widespread distribution across social classes all over the country, if not the world (one more notion up for revision: the book as artifact);
  2. we can have our books as staple-bound photocopied publications serialised in twenty-four page chunks that can be made and sold at a fraction of what it would have been if made and sold as proper books, and “photocopied” isn't as bad as it sounds as Print Technology steadily advances providing public access to quality reproduction of the Printed Page at the price of two pesos or less;
  3. we can have our books published via Print-On-Demand services like Centralbooks or FujiXerox or Océ (which FYI aren't sponsoring me [although I wish they would {attention Centralbooks/FujiXerox/Océ!!!}]), basically running books through big brother versions of an office desktop toner printer, the print quality impeccable, only really dictated by the sort of paper grade used, which thickness and which grain;

Option #1 only costs as much as what we already pay for Interweb Access. Option #2 means we can sell our serialised novels in twenty-four-page chunks for fifty pesos each. Option #3—the most expensive option, and the one closest to Mainstream Publishing's aesthetic (even surpassing it most of the time)—means we can have one hundred pieces of our one-hundred-page poetry collections out for at least twenty thousand pesos.

The only real problem is Distribution: there are still no stable systems in place as alternatives to bookstore placement, although there ought to be seeing as to how oppressive bookstore policies are to small independent publishers. One possible way is to find indie-friendly stores we can shelf our books in, like the Filipinas Heritage Library, or Cubao X's Sputnik, or the various Comic Odysseys and Comic Quests across Metro Manila, but that's just really covering Metro Manila (and maybe Cebu). Another way is to hook-up with an online bookstore like Avalon.ph, which I know has a system in place for online selling.

One other option is the Direct Market, a system that ought to be part and parcel of Print-On-Demand, which works on the concept of Advanced Solicitations: solicitations of our books are given to sellers in advance, and they order only the set amount that they feel they can sell, and that number dictates how many copies of the books are published. If we get orders for one hundred copies, we only publish one hundred copies. Theoretically, in the Direct Market, there are no unsold books, no warehouse stocks waiting for orders.

The problem with this system is finding the seller with the market we can solicit to. One solution is to sell the books via the classrooms, by asking teachers if they can use the books as required readings, but this can limit the type of book that can be made available, dictated primarily by curricular relevance, which can really be just a different sort of pandering, but it works. The other solution is to completely ignore such worries and publish our books blindly and then look for the sellers willing to sell our books. We can print a minimum amount of copies and sell those and keep the money in a bank so the earnings from the previous printrun will pay for the succeeding one.

But all of these things will only be possible once we make that initial step of deciding it’s okay not to earn big money, if at all, that it’s okay to not have Krip Yuson’s breezy blurby blessings or Marjorie Evasco’s limning reaction paper introductions in our books, if it means we get to have our way, untarnished and honest and true.

The old ideas do not work anymore. The old machines are in the back yard, rusting in the rain. We need to think new thoughts if we want things to change. We need to build new machines. We should all move our parents to retirement homes by the Silliman beach where they can play volleyball in their geriatric pace, if not kill them outright in their drooly siestas. We only owe them as far as we can throw them down an empty well of nostalgia that we often mistake for respect.

The problem with patricide, of course, is that it produces orphans. But orphans are only orphans if they remain as children, diapered and single-toothed and crying for their mothers, when really, a parent's absence can be seen as an occasion for children to grow up, to take their fathers’ places in the table, to be the woman of the house, to be actually adult. It’s time we stop pretending at playing grown up in our mommy’s blouses and daddy’s pants and actually consciously decide to grow up. “Maturity” just doesn’t mean you get to swear at people. It also means living up to your swearing. So stop your whining and drop your linen, children: grow up already. Independent life is actually good for you.

Previously published in the Philippines Free Press

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