“Why do you write speculative fiction?”

Well, since it’s been a year to the day I finished my first-ever (fantasy) novella, I might as well celebrate it with a writing post.

I just got back from coverage of the Panagbenga festival in Baguio. The reporters were billeted at The Forest Lodge, though we usually ate our meals at The Manor, both of them in Camp John Hay.

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The view from the veranda of Le Chef, The Manor’s premier restaurant. That’s only a small part of its humongous garden.

One lunch time, Forest Lodge’s General Manager Heiner Maulbecker sat with us and gave us a history of Baguio. Maulbecker had been living in the area for about 30 years. Then all of a sudden, he asked me to tell him about myself: how did I get my job, what did I write, all that jazz.

“Fiction,” I said. And then he asked me what sort of fiction I wrote, and I said fantasy and science fiction, though I wrote more of the former. He zoned in on  the science fiction bit.

“But you still have human feelings, a human component?” he asked me. I nodded. He recommended me Frank Schatzinger’s The Swan and said he didn’t really like science fiction all that much but that particular book is interesting.

And then, question of all questions, he asked me why I wrote that sort of thing.

I no longer remember what I answered. But I nibbled on that question even as I took a bathroom break. Why do I write fantasy/speculative fiction? It was just like my thesis days.

Except I came up with an answer that I wish I’d thought of a year ago, though I guess I wouldn’t have been able to think of it due to my lack of life experience at the time. I think answering this question is going to take a good few years yet, but I think the building blocks for my (I believe weighty) answer sprung to being as I was washing my hands in one of The Manor’s cozy bathrooms.

I like to show what’s possible through the impossible.

I’ve been making too many puns on certain words lately, but hey, if they birth thoughts like that, so be it.

A poem, a speech, a haze of doubt, and the importance of darkness

In the beginning, there was only darkness. God looked upon it and thought long and hard.

It took me six months to realize that all the changes, all the fear and sadness I’d unknowingly tried to deny to myself—all of it were symptoms of growing pains, of adjustment pains.

While it derailed me from what I thought were fool-proof writing plans, I wouldn’t take back these months for the world. I’ve met a handful of very interesting people, got rid off some that I didn’t need in my life, read some books I’ve put off reading for two years (such as Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing), and I’ve begun at and continue to adjust to my first job ever.

So all right, I go home at 10pm for four days a week and I have to file a leave for any holidays I wanna take. I sit for eight or nine hours in front of a Samsung LCD screen whose brightness I have yet to learn how to lower. But I also get to watch movies and plays, read books, and attend cool events for free, just so long as I write about them afterward.

And best of all, when I’m in between editing articles, I can browse the internet for inspiring comics and speeches. In fact, that’s all I’ve been reading of late (that isn’t for work, anyway), and it’s this sort of thing that helped get me through really rough times.

I’d like to highlight this illustrated version of “The Winds of Fate” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (who is quickly becoming one of my favorite poets), and the part in J.K. Rowling’s speech about having worked for Amnesty International for her first job.

What “The Winds of Fate” is getting at is that it is one’s inner strength that determines one’s path in life, in spite of and not because of the obstacles one encounters. I love rereading this every once in a while, when I feel as if the new arrangements in my life are threatening to crush me and turn me into the overly-cautious, impervious-to-amazement adult I loathe and would loathe to become. I’ll get back to this poem later, but here’s my favorite part of it.

‘Tis the set of the soul
That sets its goal
And not the calm or the strife.

One of the best parts of J.K. Rowling’s speech was the part talking about her experiences at Amnesty International, just before she hit rock-bottom in her life. It struck several cords in me: the part about life experience and human nature and the part about hitting rock-bottom.

Okay, this part’s going to sound completely contradictory to my first couple of paragraphs, but bare with me here. See, I’m in my early twenties and I’ve just begun my grown-up life, but I’m already afraid of going to such a dark place even though I’ve already been to dark places—I think I might be afraid that that sort of dark place will be different from the darkness I know, and worse, I won’t be able to get out. (But that’s where “The Winds of Fate” come in, right?)

My mom said that if I am already thinking about that, then perhaps the job I’ve got isn’t the job for me. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t—but I am sticking with it for the time being because journalism seems to be the fastest way to gain life experience, of which I think I have too little of (and which is the key to good literature, even if it is in the vein of the fantastic, and the writing of which is the underlying shade behind all my decisions). That’s how Neil Gaiman worked his way around the publishing industry, after all.

My only other option regarding life experience is to travel (like, town to town and country to country kind of travel), but I need to save maybe a shitload of money for that on top of my grad school dreams. That does not mean I’ve completely put it out of my mind, however.

How do some people do it? How do they decide to just up and leave all that is safe, all that is known, and with what seems like enough money to burn, for dreams that may trip them up at every step? I truthfully cannot even say to myself that I will one day do just that without a few uncertain hiccups. Maybe everyone who has ever thought of that kind of life has been through this haze of doubt I am almost blind in.

But back to Rowling. What her speech is telling me is that there must be hardship before a victory, and there must always be hardship while continuing to bag one victory after the other. There must be glimpses (sometimes more than a glimpse) of the deepest horrors and highest joys of human nature before you can pull a glinting something out of the jumbled melting pot in your soul and lay it bare on the blank page.

There must be darkness before light. Sometimes that’s difficult to remember, but it’s as good a bedrock as any on which to build my life.

In the beginning, there was only darkness. God looked upon it and decided there would be light—maybe not now, maybe not tomorrow, but there will be light.

There will be light.