Alex Osias is proud founding member of the LitCritters, a writing and literary discussion group that includes several Filipino fictionists of note. He is an advocate of Philippine Speculative Fiction, and is the editor for Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 7, alongside his wife, Kate Osias. Much of his short fiction have been included in several of the volumes of Philippine Speculative Fiction, as well as in Horror: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults. His short stories include, “Gunsaddled”, “The Death and Rebirth of Nathaniel Alan Sempio”, “A Long Walk Home”, “Stations of the Apostate”, and more!
Q: Everyone has an origin story. Could you share with us the exact moment (or moments) wherein you realized that you wanted to become a storyteller?
I grew up during a time when adventure fiction and speculative fiction were both plentiful and rare. Shows like SuperFriends, Jonny Quest, and The Avengers (John Steed & Emma Peel) were on TV, but we often saw repeats of the same episodes. DC and Marvel comics were available in the bookstores and barbershops, but following a continuing storyline was difficult until I discovered specialty comics shops.
And, of course, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror anthologies and novels were available in National Bookstore, but sometimes a book in a series was missing – and you couldn’t always find a book that was to your tastes. Frustrated by a gap in the series of Elric of Melnibone, novels, I would delve into other Eternal Champion novels by Moorcock – or perhaps take a chance at my father’s library which included the complete works of Frank Herbert and some works of Heinlein.
This was when I started writing short stories and making small comic books in my notebooks, never to be published. But the urge to tell my own stories with existing characters, or inside my emerging appreciation of genres, started and grew from here. And often, these stories were shared with my first cousins, who shared my passion for these interests and who I – at the time – saw every weekend at family gatherings.
Q: From that moment on, and all throughout your journey as a storyteller, what has been your biggest struggle?
My biggest struggle has been starting and keeping to a story. It’s not so much about finding the time, but putting the pressure on myself to stick to and finish a story. When I work on one story, there’s always doubt: “Is this the story I should be writing right now? It had promise when it started, but now it’s starting to fizzle out – ooh, but there’s this other story idea that just came to me…”
That being said, I do have difficulty finding a solid time block to write. Unlike some of my writing colleagues and friends, I’m a diesel when it comes to writing; I have to warm up before I really get going on writing. If interrupted, I usually have to warm up again, before being able to surge forward with a story once more. More than one of my published stories has come from several weeks of thinking and marinating in my brain as one of many story ideas, before being committed to paper in a single night of focused, frenzied writing – usually peppered with a few typos, ghostly appearances of characters who’ve been deleted from most of the story, and the occasional “the the” due to lack of sleep and haphazard revisions and re-revisions.
Q: How have you been able to cope with (or overcome) this struggle?
Having a “cold freeze” file is useful to capture story ideas that occur to me when writing another story. It takes some effort to write down just enough to capture the essence of the idea so that when you get back to it, you don’t go: what are these notes about?
Starting a story is about carving time away from family and work to really write. My preferred method of writing is to jot down notes, plot ideas, vague outlines when I can – and then blocking off 4 to 5 hours where I write the entire story whole. Then set sessions to revise and polish.
But what really powers the writing sessions is a driving force: sometimes it’s the emotion of a character that I wish to sustain throughout the narrative, other times it’s the challenge of balancing a layer of plot and character atop an alternate that I’ve crafted to tell other stories in.
Q: What would you consider is the ONE thing that REALLY helped you level up your craft?
The simplest answer to everyone would be: reading and writing fiction regularly. However, I was very lucky because of the LitCritter group (started by Dean & Nikki Alfar, with other founding members like my wife Kate, Vincent Michael Simbulan, and Andrew Drilon) filled that role for many years of my writing life. We still hang out, but we don’t have the weekly sessions of reading and monthly deadlines of finished short stories anymore.
But that constant cycle of reading, critiquing, and writing short stories on a regular basis helped a lot with my craft.
Q: What is one thing you’d wish you’d known before you started your creative career? Why?
All the online markets that are open to international submissions! Writing for writing’s sake is fine, but writing for eventual submission is different. You think about the audiences, and their familiarity with cultural or linguistic shorthand. And the thrill of getting a customized rejection letter (or better yet, an acceptance letter) is a strong motivator to keep pushing forward through dry spells.
Q: What drives or inspires you to continue telling stories?
Reading. Exposure to fiction old and new often sparks new ideas, or triggers a reaction in me: I want to trying writing like that; I think I could do that but differently; that’s not how that would work out, what should really happen would be – and so on. Exposure to non-fiction (history, current events, magazine features) also jumpstarts ideas in my brain, often juxtaposed against a science fiction or fantasy background, or given a speculative fiction twist.
Q: What does your average day look like? (And when do you fit in the time to write or create stories?)
I spend at least 2 hours on the road, usually more, as part of the daily grind going to and from work. I put it at least 10 hours a day at work, and try to help out with our son at home on weekday nights.
As mentioned above, it’s really about jotting down notes during the week, and then carving out a solid block of time on a holiday or on the weekend to write. Been really hard the past year – which you’ve experienced given the delay in my submission of this interview!
Q: How do you deal with distractions or challenges that you encounter while you’re working on your craft?
As quickly and as politely as possible. If they won’t go away, I purposely leave my work in the middle of a sentence – and then jot down some adjectives, nouns, and notes right after to hopefully serve as tools to recover the momentum once I return.
Q: What do you do when you feel just completely uninspired or burnt out? How do you motivate yourself to start working again?
Reading anthologies and novels (mostly from the Speculative Fiction family, sometimes outside of that set of genres). There’s also movies and TV shows from services like NetFlix.
Q: What would you say has been your most EPIC win so far?
I confess that my wife’s admiration for my work brings me my greatest delight (don’t tell her).
I don’t think much about my own work, I just want to write what I want to write – and I want to write it well. An element of creative arrogance there, to be sure; but having to be technical and creative in order to meet requirements of a business or a set of stakeholders on a regular basis has led me to view writing as an endeavor primarily for my own amusement and personal growth.
It is therefore with great surprise and joy that I’ve found the positive responses from my wife is a joyful additional reward.
Q: What would you say has been your biggest failure?
There are a number of stories that I’ve written that end up in electronic drawers because, as writing experiments, they strove for the stars but exploded gloriously in the heavens in their bid to escape the gravity well of aspiration into the larger realm of excellently crafted fiction. I still hope to see them published in online markets, once I’ve refined the remnants of their wreckage into something worthwhile.
Q: What, for you, has been the best way to promote yourself and your work to potential fans, clients, or publishers?
I don’t really promote myself. I would hazard that continuously putting out work for publication, going online (blogs, social media, etc.) to share not only your own work, but other authors’ works, and perhaps interests that infuse your writing would be a great way to do so.
Do this consistently, and try to build up a network of colleagues and friends who will support your efforts in writing and submitting for publication.
Q: What has been your game plan throughout your journey? What’s the BIG picture here? The ultimate dream? The end game?
Derailed for a number of years on this, but rekindled with my son slowly discovering the joys of reading: writing a series of young adult novels primarily focused on action & adventure, science fiction, with a touch of fantasy. The kind that I used to devour when I was his age.
Q: What, for you personally, has been the source of your ideas, creativity and talent?
Talent comes from the two G’s (God and Genetics), which some might argue are the same thing. Ideas and Creativity come from constant exposure to new ideas (and old ideas in different contexts), and wrestling with them constantly, rather than admiring them from afar.
Q: What is your big “WHY”?
My primary writing audience is someone fascinated by the worlds of Science Fiction and Fantasy, who enjoyed the wonder-filled (occasionally angst-ridden) romps through incredibly rich world and vistas that were alien to someone who grew up in the Philippines in the 70s and 80s – but has had some of that idealism and enthusiasm tempered by the realities of the real world, and the painful realities of the current day.
Q: What 3 stories (novels, short stories, comics, movies, documentaries, etc.) would you say influenced and inspired your work the most?
Dune by Frank Herbert, the original Star Wars trilogy of movies, and the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Many others vie for the top spots: my fandom is broad, and deep, and haunted by little-known rarities.
Q: What are the top books, writing books, blogs, podcasts, or workshops you’d recommend that helped you level up your skills? (Feel free to plug in as many as you’d like)
If you have a chance, any workshop done by the LitCritters is one I heartily recommend. I think we’ll be starting up again next year – but I do know that there have successful parallel efforts in the format (as evidenced by the LitCritters Dumaguete by Ian Casocot). The emphasis on reading, writing, and thoughtful critique has helped kick off many a writer’s career in the past 10 years.
I also enjoyed the Writer’s Digest series of books on writing – and recommend you pick ones up that help you in your problem areas.
Q: If you could work remotely, from anywhere in the world, where would your office be? Why?
If you mean work on writing, I’d write in a really nicely appointed library. Proximity to books and magazine are a major plus for my writing.
Q: Name ONE artist/writer that, if you could, you would pick their brain and find out all the hidden secrets behind their amazing work?
This would be Isaac Asimov. My own style of writing is very different, as are some of my interests – but the sheer variety of his fiction and non-fiction writing, and the volume of his output is staggering.
Q: Who do you consider your biggest mentor that helped you improve your skills?
(Doesn’t have to be someone you’ve met personally. Can be someone you look up to, or someone whose art or words really inspires you to get better.)
That’s clearly Dean Alfar, who has dedicated much of his time helping me, and the rest of the LitCritters, in cranking out quality output