The Art of the Matter Part 2

How did James jumpstart his art career? Read on to find out.
by Marla Miniano   |  Oct 15, 2008
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JAMES GABRILLO, WRITER

At what age did you start writing? Do you remember the very first thing you wrote? What was it about?
When I was 9 years old, I opened Roald Dahl's book "Revolting Rhymes," a collection of poems that re-interpret popular fairy tales in a pretty twisted, hilarious way. I remember reading it for the first time inside the car, on the way to school. The minute I entered the classroom, I got my notebook and wrote my version of Jack and the Beanstalk, where Jack calls the Three Little Pigs to help him defeat the Giant.

When, how, and why did you start writing professionally?
I was 17 when I read in the Super section of the Inquirer that they were having an open call for new staff members. The announcement said that applicants had to bring resumes, portfolios, and stuff they've done before. Meanwhile, all I had that time was a blog and four issues of a small class magazine that I started with my best bud. I dashed off to the Inquirer office in Makati knowing that I wouldn't get in—all I honestly wanted was to experience an actual job interview. I was one of the last ones called in the boardroom. It was like American Idol and The Apprentice, with Creative Director Tim Yap heading the panel. I left the room with two writing assignments that were due in two days. I was so psyched.

What do you love most about writing?
Writing is the hardest thing I've ever had to in my life. But I keep on doing it week after week because it is such a privilege to be able to influence the way my generation views things. It's also extremely satisfying when I find out that one or two readers are affected by what I wrote.

How often do you write? What do you usually write about?
I write a weekly column called "Thunder Road" for the Inquirer Super. I usually write about pop culture, particularly trends in film, TV, technology, and art. I also scribble daily in thick black notebooks. Whenever I have extra time, I write online at http://backalleybuck.wordpress.com.

Who are your writing influences?
Roald Dahl and J.D. Salinger for fiction, TIME Magazine's Joel Stein for culture, and the Inquirer's John Nery for opinion writing.

Where do you get ideas/inspiration? Has there been a particularly strange or unexpected incident that inspired you to write?
I get ideas from reading one book a week, any magazine I can get my hands on, and tons of websites. When I get assigned to cover an event, I try to take an unconventional reportage style. For example, when I interviewed the Foo Fighters in Japan, journalists were only given 10 minutes each to talk to the band. After the whole press con, I decided—through instinct—to wait inside the hotel. After about three hours, I found the band members in the hotel café, where they gave an impromptu performance and hung out with the hotel guests. I got to spend more than an hour with them!

Are there any places you'd suggest going to, people you'd suggest spending time with, or things you'd suggest trying out to get inspiration?
To free my mind, I love riding the trains and taking long walks. Watching people and eavesdropping on their conversations give me so many ideas as well.

Do you have any specific writing rituals/schedules?
I write my Saturday column on a Thursday morning, where I usually camp in a friend's room or at Burger King, where I can plug my laptop, surf the net, and eat a Whopper. Two years ago, I took a scriptwriting class where we were required to write a full-length film screenplay in a week. I borrowed a friend's condo unit and took out everything inside except for a sofa bed, a desk, a chair, a lamp, and food. I didn't leave the room for two days and eventually finished writing the 214-paged script, double-spaced.

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Marla Miniano
Former Editor in Chief, Cosmopolitan
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