Paolo Chikiamco is the writer and creator behind the 2015 National Book Award Nominee, Mythspace, as well as other notable comics such as Muros (illustrated by Borg Sinaban), and Sparrows’ Roar (illustrated by Cristina Rose Chua). He’s the author of the world’s first pro-wrestling interactive fiction game, “Slammed!” by Choice of Games, and is also the Managing Editor of Studio Salimbal, which is a studio behind many other Filipino publications, and is also the editor of the Alternative Alamat anthology of short stories, and Kwentillion, a young-adult comics magazine. Paolo has also served as a judge for the National Book Awards in Graphic Literature. For more on info or updates about Paolo Chikiamco, follow him on Twitter or follow Studio Salimbal on Facebook.
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?
While it’s true everyone has an origin story, it’s usually something that’s more obvious to the observer than the subject. I’ve always wanted to be a storyteller, because for as long as I’ve been a reader of stories, I could never get enough of them. And I realized early on that the best way to have more stories, to ensure that the adventures I love never come to an end, is to make my own.
What I can pinpoint more exactly are two moments that led me to becoming a storyteller that made stories for other people to read, not just for myself. These were the moments when I realized that there were people that shared my passion for the type of stories I wanted – science fiction and fantasy that draws upon the stories and culture of my home. These two moments were when I first read Arnold Arre’s “Mythology Class” and when I first discovered the Philippine Speculative Fiction community through calls for submission for Vin Simbulan’s “A Time for Dragons” and Kenneth G. Yu’s “Digest of Philippine Genre Stories.”
Q: From that moment on, and all throughout your journey as a storyteller, what has been your biggest struggle?
Time is my most frequent opponent as a writer, whether it be finding time to write, or justifying the time I do spend writing as against other endeavours, some more lucrative, some more urgent, others more instantly fulfilling.
Q: How have you been able to cope with (or overcome) this struggle?
Support from those I love goes a long way towards assuaging the guilt I feel for not devoting more time to them, or to earning more for them. Another method is by going to the book store and looking at the shelves – and seeing the types of stories that are not there, stories that I think should be there, stories that I know that I can create.
But while there are a lot of coping mechanisms, the most important thing is to be forgiving to yourself during the times when you fail to cope with or overcome your struggles. Writing can come easy, but the writing life is never easy. You may not always believe in yourself but you have to trust in yourself – not that you’re necessarily a great writer, but that you are a writer, and whatever else happens, you will eventually write again.
Q: What would you consider is the ONE thing that REALLY helped you level up your craft?
Being open to criticism and rejection. Not all of the feedback you receive will be true, or useful to you, but if your default attitude is to take things personally, putting your work up for public consumption will shred your soul. But if you never show other people what you create, then you’ll never get appreciably better.
Q: What is one thing you’d wish you’d known before you started your creative career? Why?
To get more work done before I had kids 😛
Q: What drives or inspires you to continue telling stories?
The continued lack of the types of stories that I want to tell. There’s been positive changes since I started – I no longer say ‘the absence of the types of stories that I want to tell’ – but we’re still far from the point where I can say that the audience for the stories I want to tell is already well served.
Until Filipinos can recite the lore of the heroes and monsters of our legends as easily as the weaknesses of vampires, until we’ve reimagined our pantheons as often as those of the Greeks or Norse, until we have so many Filipino space-faring heroes that we don’t need to fan ourselves whenever a Filipino word is used in a Hollywood space opera… until then, I don’t think I’ll ever not be driven to make more stories.
Q: What does your average day look like? (And when do you fit in the time to write or create stories?)
I have two children now, so days are both more regimented and also more prone to sudden detours. I usually drive for my eldest and my wife, do errands for the house, then sneak in what writing I can during lulls in the day job. At this point, I’ve learned I can’t be too picky about when and where I write – if there’s an opportunity, whip out the laptop or even the phone and… Probably just stare at a blank screen for an hour. But even that time is valid writing time, even if the word count ends up being zero.
Q: How do you deal with distractions or challenges that you encounter while you’re working on your craft?
I usually buy them a new toy and they stop bothering me for ten minutes 😛 More seriously, one way that usually works is to have a schedule and stick to it. It’s easier to resist the call of other matters when you know you’ll be able to attend to them in an hour or two, after your appointed writing time.
Q: What do you do when you feel just completely uninspired or burnt out? How do you motivate yourself to start working again?
Sometimes, it helps to re-read or re-watch a story you enjoyed. Sometimes, it helps to re-read or re-watch a story that you know you could do better. Sometimes, you just need to let your burn out, well, burn itself out.
There are a lot of ways to tackle burn out, but the most important is to not feel like you’re a failure for having down times. Trust in yourself. Or trust in the me that trusts in you (points for those who get that anime reference).
But burn out is different than a lack of inspiration. If you’re someone who wants to be a professional writer, then while burn out is something that can and will affect whether or not you can write, a lack of inspiration should never do the same. You can’t depend on inspiration if you’re a professional writer, because in that case you have an obligation to put words to a page – to your editor, your publisher, your audience. You only have the privilege of waiting for inspiration if you’re writing exclusively for yourself.
Q: What would you say has been your most EPIC win so far?
Every story that you finish is a win. Doesn’t matter how big it is, how small it is, whether it gets published or not. Every story you complete is a win.
But every story you complete is also in the past. So I don’t tend to dwell on them very much. There are always more stories to tell.
Q: What would you say has been your biggest failure?
I always felt sad that we couldn’t get more people to try Kwentillion, and that the magazine never went beyond the first proof of concept issue. It would have been a great market for new and old talent, and a great incubator and platform for us here. A shame.
Q: What, for you, has been the best way to promote yourself and your work to potential fans, clients, or publishers?
Know what you love to do, do what you love to do, and don’t be ashamed of that love even while you acknowledge it won’t be shared by everyone. No one is going to be passionate about your work if you aren’t passionate about it yourself.
Q: What has been your game plan throughout your journey? What’s the BIG picture here? The ultimate dream? The end game?
There’s no end game, only a series of moving targets. Finish the story, refine it until it’s the best it can be, find a way to get it in front of as many people as you can, finish the next story – rinse and repeat. The more work you do, the more opportunities you find to better your craft and to reach a bigger audience, and the more motivation you have for your next story. Your next goal is always larger because it feeds upon the carcass of the goal you just vanquished.
Q: What, for you personally, has been the source of your ideas, creativity and talent?
Other stories are always an inspiration, but so too are the stories that are not there – the spaces on the shelves and in people’s mental spaces that only your stories can fill.
Q: What is your big “WHY”?
I may seem to be repeating things at this point, but everything I do revolves around the fact that as a child, I never saw myself in the genres I wanted to read. There were no Filipino superheroes that I had access to, no secondary worlds of magic based on my own myths and legends, no brown-skinned Captains in the Final Frontier.
These are stories I want to write, stories I know I can right, and stories I want to make available for people like me. Even if a reader doesn’t resonate with my work, if they see it, they’ll know that it’s possible for, say, a space opera to be based on Philippine folklore. Even if I fail, if I can open a door, make other see something worthwhile is possible – or better yet, make them think they can do it better than me – then my work has made the world just a bit better.
Q: What 3 stories (novels, short stories, comics, movies, documentaries, etc.) would you say influenced and inspired your work the most?
The Mythology Class by Arnold Arre.
The Sword and the Chain by Joel Rosenberg.
Reap the Whirlwind (Marvel Super Heroes Module MX3) by Warren and Caroline Spector
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)
I used to listen a lot to the Writing Excuses podcast, and I learned a lot about self-editing from Revising Fiction by David Madden.
I also learned a lot by being a slush reader for Fantasy Magazine. You learn a lot about common errors that turn off readers when you’re exposed to them in abundance, and when you’re the one forced to read them, as opposed to the one writing them.
Q: If you could work remotely, from anywhere in the world, where would your office be? Why?
Right here 🙂 Honestly as long as I’m in my own home, the surroundings are largely immaterial to me (I’m used to working in rooms without windows).
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?
Q: Who do you consider your biggest mentor that helped you improve your skills?
As someone whom I deeply admire and respect, whose writing style and aesthetics are miles apart from mine, I’d have to say Mia Tijam.