Interview with Paolo Chikiamco
While Lavie is currently away, I managed to interview Paolo Chikiamco, who recently published a steampunk comic (High Society) and an anthology on Filipino myth (Alternative Alamat) for the Kindle (disclosure: both were published by the company I work for).
Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, what made you decide to start Alternative Alamat?
First, my more selfish reason: I was very into mythology as a child–but it was always Western mythology, not Philippine mythology. I only discovered Philippine myths well into my teens, and was mortified both by my ignorance and by the fact that I couldn’t see many modern writers drawing from these old stories. The reason I put up Rocket Kapre was to allow me to produce/encourage stories of the type that I would want to see on the market, and from the very beginning, I knew that one of my first projects would be to create an anthology which would bring together such stories, or give those stories a reason to be written.
My second reason was to help, in some small way, to promote awareness of both modern Philippine speculative fiction and Philippine mythology. In a sense, both are still invisible, internationally and in the Philippines itself, and one of the most effective ways I know of becoming more visible is simply by producing more content. To put out a book is, I think, the literary equivalent of “showing up”.
How did you first become acquainted with speculative fiction?
I grew up on a steady diet of fantasy and science fiction. The first novel I ever read was a fantasy novel (YA wasn’t a category back then). I’m an only child and, in what I’m sure is a familiar story, I found a haven in these other worlds.
Now, my encounter with specifically Philippine speculative fiction came much later, in the form of, first, the Mythology Class comics, and second, the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology.
Did your experience as a slush reader for Fantasy Magazine come into play when editing the stories for the anthology?
Yes, in the sense that my experience in the slush pile helped me refine my personal taste in short fiction. I find it much easier now to decide whether or not a story is a good fit for me. I did, however, have to always remember that I was an editor as well as a slush reader. As a slush reader, it doesn’t usually matter if a story is “fixable”–it’s a pass or fail. As an editor, those aren’t my only options.
What was your criteria in selecting the stories?
The presence of a mythological element–whether that be in the form of a character, a concept, an artifact–was the first factor I considered. Equally important to me, however, was for the stories to have a clear and coherent arc–even with the more experimental formats employed in the last two stories of the book, readers will know what the stories are about. One of the goals of the anthology was to offer a glimpse of our cultural heritage, and it didn’t serve that purpose to have stories that were amorphous or unclear.
Who was your target reader for the book? Were you gearing it towards local readers or to an international audience?
I tried to make a book that would appeal to any fantasy reader who was interested in mythology–particularly the lesser known mythologies. As far as nationality goes, I didn’t make a distinction between a Filipino and non-Filipino reader because the sad fact is that Philippine mythology is, for the most part, a mystery to both Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike. It’s one of the reasons I put so much non-fiction content in the anthology.
What made you decide to go with an eBook release?
Lower costs, wider distribution, and faster turnaround. That and the fact that I probably buy ten books a month for my Kindle, so while I still love physical books, I love digital books just as much. That being said, I am still considering a print run, if only so I can put Alternative Alamat on library shelves.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m concentrating on my own writing for the moment, both in comics and prose. “On Wooden Wings”, the first part of my “Wooden War” series (set in the same world as “High Society”), is due out in the first half of next year, and I’m working on an urban fantasy YA novel. I’m also collaborating with Kevin Libranda (Novus Karma) and Koi Carreon (Marco’s Delivery Service) on a pair of comic book stories. There’s also something special that I’m cooking up with Budjette Tan, Trese co-creator and Alternative Alamat contributor.
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