PGS 2023 Q&A: Joseph F. Nacino

Joseph F. Nacino has been published in local anthologies such as the Philippine Speculative Fiction series, A Time for Dragons, Friendzones, and garnered First Place in the 2007 Philippine Graphic Fiction Awards with his story “Logovore”.  He has also published in international platforms like Fantasy Magazine, City in the Ice, Kitaab’s Asian Speculative Fiction. He subsequently helmed three anthologies featuring fantasy, horror, and science fiction in the Philippines published online, and in print and ebook form: The Farthest Shore: An Anthology of Fantasy Fiction from the Philippines co-edited with Dean Francis Alfar; Demons of the New Year with Karl R. De Mesaand; Diaspora Ad Astra with EmilM. Flores.

Noteworthy is how his story, “Insomnia”, was part of the Premier Issue of the print Digest of Philippine Genre Stories,  which was inspired by the Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters etching of Francisco de Goya. And his story “War Against the City”, what he considered his first-born child and may have been inspired by Neil Gaiman’s short stories in The Sandman: The Wake, was published in the Special Horror Issue of the Digest of Philippine Genre Stories guest-edited by Yvette Tan. He then served as a guest-editor of Philippine Genre Stories in 2012 and published Vinci’s Real-Life Pulp Fiction (Part 1) and Vinci’s Real-Life Pulp Fiction (Part 2).  In 2023, he  returns to PGS with his story “SELDA 34”.

Where did the story idea for SELDA 34 come from?

This story had its inception from a news report I saw in 2017 of a hidden jail in the Manila Police District 1 in Tondo, where 12 men and women were detained in a room behind a bookshelf. 

It also draws from a 2005 remake of a film, Assault on Precinct 13, about police officers trying to repel an attack by assassins, and maybe a bit from the 1982 film, The Thing, wherein scientists discover a monster hiding in their midst.

Mix in the War on Drugs of the past Duterte administration and it gave me the idea that some of those arrested in the night during the administration’s anti-drug drive might not exactly be human, and those inhabitants of the night would not be happy being arrested because they were thought different or outsiders by the community or the local community officials.

What came easy to you when it came to writing this story?

I come up with a lot of concepts that I would like to write stories about. Some stories are easy to write; some have a more difficult gestation period.

This one was somewhat easy to write as this is more of an action-oriented story where something is happening as opposed to a more character-driven story.

It’s a lot like chess: you move the pieces, your opponent reacts, and then you move in reaction. You know there is an ending but you’re not sure how exactly it will get there, and what it will be exactly.  

What was the most challenging thing you had to overcome to complete this story, and how did you deal with that?

For this story, the interesting part was dealing with the dual storyline of the two main characters– one who was doing an interrogation, another who was doing a forensic investigation.

Trying to juggle the different scenarios and the revelations that needed to be unlocked, alternating both while also trying to keep a certain level of suspense– that was fun. 

While I sometimes use an outline when writing a story, I wrote this one flying by the seat of my pants, switching scenes when I thought the cut was at an appropriate mini-cliffhanger. 

What are the top three writing tips you would like to share with all aspiring storytellers out there?

Keeping it relevant, my top three writing tips would be: don’t use AI.

  1. Don’t use AI to come up with story concepts or ideas. Draw from your experiences or thoughts to create your stories or ideas.  Trust your brain to come up with crazy or surreal or fascinating connections between concepts and ideas that serve as the seeds for the stories.
  • Don’t use AI to write your stories. Aside from the fact that AI writing is still terrible, do the heavy lifting of writing your own stories. It’s a lot like exercise and dieting– you can use plastic or cosmetic surgery to create a beautiful body for yourself but you won’t feel like you’ve earned it.
  • Don’t use AI to create art. Technology is a powerful tool that can assist in making art, like Photoshop or digital cameras or CGI in films. But technology is supposed to assist you, not do the art for you. It’s like having your friend ask you to write a story based on his idea and he’ll get all the credit for it. 

What’s the one thing not mentioned in your profile that you would like people to know about you?

I have the opportunity to travel abroad a lot and it’s given me a perspective of how local monsters would deal with the diaspora of Filipinos. It also makes me wonder how monsters in lands far from ours react to Filipino monsters. How would an aswang treat with a vampire? How would a tikbalang travel through the Sahara desert and the djinni that live there? Globalization is unavoidable now so why should it not affect monsters as well?

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