Charles Tan is the blogger behind one of speculative fiction’s top blogs, Bibliophile Stalker. While much of the content on his site pertains to Philippine speculative fiction, Tan has his finger on the pulse of the SF/F industry. Not only is he a fascinating person to know, but he’s also got a sharp sense of humor that makes talking about literature (or pretty much anything else) even more fun.
Anyone who hangs out in the speculative fiction social media circles for more than 5 minutes will likely hear the name “Charles Tan.” Who is this mystery man who crops up in your Twitter stream, in your Facbook updates, and in nearly every major and minor online SF site in some way? These are the questions that Underwords seeks to answer today as we sit down with Tan to get a few of our questions answered.
In 100 words or less, how would you define the speculative fiction character known as Charles Tan?
He’s sometimes saTan, a charlatan, arrogant, pesky, insidious, and of course, constantly stalking people.
What is it about the speculative fiction field that first attracted you? What has kept you here?
I find that speculative fiction writers have a lot of tools and options at their disposal (which isn’t to say that they should use all of them at any given time). What first attracted me to it? Well, it was interesting and cool as a teenager (don’t ask me what I was reading at the time…) yet it also had depth that resonated with me.
Sometimes, the division between “Realism” and “Speculative Fiction” is as arbitrary as the line separating science fiction and fantasy. There’s a lot the various genres can learn from each other and appreciate, so while I do have a preference for speculative fiction, I’m not exclusive to it, at least as far as my reading is concerned and how I read texts (at least that should be the case…).
As far as staying within the field, in truth, I’ve drifted across a lot of fandoms: comics, video games, anime/manga, collectible card games, board games, RPGs, cosplaying, etc., but what’s kept me part of the speculative fiction community is that it’s what I do: I consume spec fic and write within the field. And of course, there’s the community, especially with people like yourself who are as passionate–if not more so–as I am when it comes to speculative fiction.
While many people may know you best as a blogger, you’re not just a Bibliophile Stalker blogger. What other hats do you wear in the spec fic field either in the Philippines or internationally?
Well, here in the Philippines, I’m just a regular fan. Invisible to the rest of the community–the perfect disguise for a stalker.
I’m also a writer (unfortunately not a lot of people read my work–or at least it seems like that’s the case) and you can find my (short) bibliography at https://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dfbr9z73_320cz9wh2g9&pli=1
As for the rest, it’s mostly work that doesn’t get you the spotlight but is nonetheless rewarding. I’m the content manager for the Nebula Awards blog for example (now at sfwa.org) which mostly involves coordinating with interviewers and Nebula nominees and making sure they get posted online.
I’m also the interviewer for the terrific Shirley Jackson Awards. You can find some of the interviews at http://www.shirleyjacksonawards.org/blog/
I’m also a contributor to SF Signal, whether as an occasional interviewer or regular compiler of links.
Behind the scenes, I’m also sort of a publicist for Philippine speculative fiction, although no one pays me nor asks me to represent them.
How did you get into blogging? What attracted you to this medium?
Well, I started blogging as far back as 2001. Although I didn’t attain infamy until recently.
Mostly blogging was one-part exercise for myself as a writer and one-part bonding with like-minded people over the Internet. Over the years, the goals have evolved, and it’s a different mentality when you decide to work on blogging “professionally” (I mean that in the sense of mindset, of delivering content that you think is apt for your readers and doing so regularly, as opposed to getting paid [no one's paid me so far nor am I earning anything from the blog]).
The good and bad thing about the medium is it’s easy for everyone to have a voice. For me, the big gulf between US/UK publishers and authors is that they tend to be the center of the industry (just compare the ease/cost of ordering a US/UK-published book vs. one published in, say, France or Singapore or Australia). Blogs are one way for people to have a voice, and I do think I have a unique perspective to share.
Chimamanda Adichie for example has this brief (20 min.) but important lecture at TED Talks and that’s appropriate here.
Clearly, the Internet has done a fabulous job of bringing speculative fiction bloggers, writers, and fans together in unprecedented ways. How has it affected your work either positively or negatively?
To be succinct, you wouldn’t be here interviewing me (nor would people have heard of me) if it weren’t for the Internet.
I’m an Internet construct, an AI program running in the background…
You’re one of the most involved spec fic bloggers on the net. What has been the most rewarding for you as a blogger?
It depends on the hat I’m wearing at the time.
It’s an awesome experience, interacting with authors, artists, editors, publishers, publicists, critics, reviewers, etc.
It’s similarly a great experience giving those people a voice, especially those who deserve such recognition but don’t have it.
What I write actually affects people (sometimes it’s a small number, sometimes a lot) for good or for ill. I’ve made some mistakes, but hopefully I’ve also written down some enlightening things…
Sometimes it’s the virtual smiles of people, the feedback I get, the chance to get interviewed (I’m vain), people’s gratitude, or even free books…
In speculative fiction, you have a unique perspective on the genre because of your international position and your work with writers, publishers, and fans. In what ways do you see Philippine speculative fiction adapting or following international trends? Do you see international trends following Philippine spec fic in any way?
I think it goes both ways, with local fiction being influenced by the “outside” but also at the same time being a unique creature unto itself due to what’s happening locally.
For example, for the longest time, Philippine Fiction and Philippine Speculative Fiction didn’t really have a strong distinction. Is that good or bad? I don’t know. But lately, it’s drifted into genres and labels.
There’s also the issue of labels like “magic-realism”. To non-Westerners, that could be interpreted as a horrible term because what is magical and fabulist to you is reality for some of us.
At the same time, we’re not immune to the same fads that arise from Western spec fic: Harry Potter, Twilight, Game of Thrones, True Blood, etc.
That’s the gist of it, as a more elaborate explanation would require hours of writing…
What do you do for fun and entertainment when you’re not blogging, reading, editing, or writing?
I mean who has the time to do anything else?
But as I mentioned earlier, I’m quite omnivoracious in terms of fandom. Every weekend I try to sneak in some RPG (or sometimes board games) time with my friends who are into tabletop gaming. If we’re lucky we might even play a game or two of DotA.
Lately I’ve also been watching some Japanese Tokusatsu shows like Super Sentai (Power Rangers) and Kamen Rider (Masked Rider), as well as the occasional anime (currently enjoying Tiger & Bunny).
Last year I played–and had to inevitably give up–Starcraft II.
Then there’s comics, manga, JPOP, and running in general.
What is a bibliophile stalker? And how does a person get one?
A bibliophile stalker is just a Stalker. They can be rented for $400/month.
There are rumors that you don’t sleep, that you are immortal and haunt the internet day or night. There is also some evidence that a person can log onto the net at pretty much any time and find you there to wish them a happy morning, a nice day, or a good night. Do you have some super power we don’t know about, is there a secret Charles Tan twin we haven’t met, or is there something else?
Charles Tan is really composed of several people. You’ll never see Lavie Tidhar and Charles Tan in the same room for example…
Charles Tan’s fiction has appeared in publications such as The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories and Philippine Speculative Fiction. He has contributed nonfiction to websites such as The Nebula Awards, The Shirley Jackson Awards, SF Crowsnest, SFScope, Fantasy Magazine, Fantasy Literature, BSC Review, The World SF News Blog, and SF Signal. In 2009, he won the Last Drink Bird Head Award for International Activism which is described as “In recognition of those who work to bring writers from other literary traditions and countries to the attention of readers in North America, the United Kingdom, and Australia…” You can visit his blog, Bibliophile Stalker, or the Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler. [...from Charles Tan's website.]