Sunday, August 31, 2003

what lies beneath: a "critical" survey

As part of the varied table topics our barkada discussed last night (and we were in one hell of a celebratory mood - triggering off a little gem of idea that I can't talk about here yet), I brought up the notion of the underlying theme or themes in each of our bodies of work. The idea is here is two-fold: first, that it is possible, by looking at a single text by one of us, to interpret what that author "is all about" (therefore, a representative work that yields the author's unconscious agenda under critical analysis). Second, that each one of us is in fact writing about only one or two themes across the variety of our corpus.

Carl, newly-minted National Book Awardee (sorry, but I'm so proud of him), writes in three genres (used in the sense of a category of artistic or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content) - grafiction, prose fiction and poetry. Analysis revealed that his work for comics and fiction is about hope - hope for something better despite the mundane or complex intricacies of life. Hope that by effort, will or courage, people can enjoy life, whether it is in the end ordinary or extraordinary. His poetry, on the other hand, echoes the sentiment of loss, the personal nuances of little tragedies. See: One Night in Purgatory & Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah (graphic novels), Lu Parlores du Anjelia (prose).

Marco's body of work is predominantly comics, and his underlying theme is contentment - being content with the life you lead, finding pleasure in the company you keep, looking at life with an optimistic perspective, because, certainly, life is not all that bad. There is value to a smile, to laughter, to retiring at the end of the day knowing that, despite appearances, all is well. See: Angel Ace (continuing comic series).

Vin, last year's National Book Awardee, writes comics, prose and poetry. He writes about love denied. I would have assumed that his master theme was more reflective of the sunny climes of Happy Land. Yet if you dig deeper in his work, you'll see just that, because Vin's work yearns for the idealized love - whether romantic or platonic, and what it takes to get there. There is hope, there is always hope, depsite the initial onset of challenges. See: Isaw, atbp., The Clockwork King (grafiction).

Nikki gravitates towards the essay, the novel, short fiction, poetry and pornography (definitely not erotica, and yes, there is a difference). Her unconscious theme is choice. Once you make a choice, you need to live up to it. Sleep in the bed you make. There are underpinnings of feminist empowerment, of course, but never overtly so (except for the porn pieces that are irredeemably constructed to simply arouse). See: The House on 14th Street (upcoming grafiction), Skin and other poems (poetry), Post-Partum Digression (essay), Tulisan ei Ladron (prose).

Arnold, two-time National Book Awardee, writes grafiction almost exclusively. His central theme is about the power of love to defy any and all difficulties. There will be challenges, yes, but love (and its kin, loyalty, friendship and trust) transcends everything in the end. Like classic fairy tale tropes, goodness is rewarded, evil is punished and love will find a way. See: Mythology Class, Trip to Tagaytay, After Eden (graphic novels).

Jason writes comics and short fiction. His deeper theme is rebellion against authority and his agenda is the promotion of native magick and spiritual (re)awakening of the Filipino soul. See: Baylans (upcoming full-length graphic novel).

And I, a writer of writes plays, short fiction, comics and the very occassional poetry, deliberate about the tragic consequences of yearning for idealized love. There is no such thing - better to love who you have right now, embracing what's good, flawed and mutating about that person, and live in the now; rather than long for something that doesn't exist to the detriment of everything else. See: Island, Short Time, Onan Circle, Loving Toto (plays), L'Aquilone du Estrellas, Spark: The Sad and Strange Tale of Sister Maria Dolores, the Nun who Exploded (prose).

After we performed the most surface and cursory of analyses on our indivual bodies of work (not much text, but enough for a discussion - none of us have published a trillion novels, comics, fiction pieces or poetry), Vin asked if, now that we are aware of what lies underneath, we should do something about it.

I think that there are three options open to authors made suddenly self-aware: to ignore analysis and just write what you want in the way or ways that you want; deliberately recognize your theme/s and promote your agenda in future work; or to consciously write about something else (either adding variety to your themes or abandoning the old for something new).

None are the "correct" option, every option is fine. As far as themes go, everything is valid and need not be justified. For me (and perhaps for all of us), more important that writing about something deep or reflective of the human condition is writing something you enjoy (or would enjoy reading yourself), and enjoying yourself while doing so.

But sometimes it helps to see yourself in a mirror that allows you to begin to ponder what you are about.
cross dressing

But not in that way.

As Nikki, Sage and I were walking around the mall en route to the grocery, we bumped into Dylan, one of my dearest friends from way back.

After the hugs and greetings (for his birthday, for my award) we did a double take at what the other was wearing.

Traditionally, this is the breakdown:

Dean - black shirt (short sleeves, polo or tee), black pants or jeans plus occassional black jacket or blazer

Dylan - funky shirt, jeans or longish shorts

This time, it was:

Dean - funky shirt, longlish shorts, boots (hell, I didn't expect to bump into anyone I knew - I'd rather die than show off my chicken legs)

Dylan - black polo, black jeans, boots

It was kind of surreal.

So we laughed, attributed it to age or denial and promised to do lunch sometime.
hinirang plug

From 'Off Hours' section of PCWorld (Phils) Sept
Pinoy Comics Online
By Ria Elainne C. Mendoza

"The Land of Hinirang

If you want a whole alternate land during a specific time in our history, hop over to, where comic book luminaries Nikki and Francis Dean Alfar (Kestrel Studios,, Jason Banico (Dynatica Comics,, Carl Vergara (Carver House,, Marco Dimaano (Angel Ace,, Arnold Arre (Tala Studios, and Vincent Michael Simbulan (producer of Isaw At Iba Pa under Quest Ventures and manager of Comic Quest), have gathered. Here they offer readers a host of stories, essays, and Web comics about this enchanted land where higantes and tiq'barangs are but normal. You will meet characters like the demonica puta whose name is Immacolata (art and story by Marco Dimaano) and the nameless lady and her mystical sea creature in Asin (written by Nikki Alfar).

What’s great about this site is, it will link you to the respective pages of all these comic book big shots. For instance, you can go to the site of two-time National Book Awardee Arnold Arre (for The Mythology Class and Trip to Tagaytay) and take a peek at his latest graphic novel After Eden (Arnold was also the illustrator and designer for the 5th Philippine Web Awards, You can visit where Carl Vergara's Ang Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni ZsaZsa Zaturnnah is featured. "


Well, it's flattering to be called a comic book luminary, but really...

And poor misunderstood Imma - to be called a "demonica puta" (demonic whore) ala Ispancialo...

Now I need to post a few more stories in Hinirang.

Hmmm. Wait until you see our next joint effort.
zsa zsa flies to the top

Carlo Vergara won the 2003 National Book Award for Best Graphic Novel, honored for Ang Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah.

It is an award well-deserved - given to a talent that has so much more to create and show the world.

Congratulations, Carl! Well done!

Saturday, August 30, 2003

adelic penguins

Sometimes, at the cusp of midmorning and noon on a lazy Saturday, it's nice to play some music you have in your collection but do not listen to frequently, either because it is the equivalent of a B-side or because just wasn't popularized by the artist you like.

Today, in my case, it was a string of compositions by Ryuichi Sakamoto from his Beauty and Discord albums (yes, I was listening to so-called world music before it was co-opted as "cool").

It's like reading less celebrated works of an author.

There are familiar enough tropes, distinctive enough as signatures to tell you that this music is uniquely the composer's. And there is also the small delight of hearing melodies or percussions that suddenly sing to you.

Almost like discovery, like seeing something new in someone you've loved for many years.

I think we all need to listen more, especially to familiar voices - they may something new to say.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

short time redux

It was the play that kept being produced and performed without my knowledge – flattering and infuriating at the same time.

On one hand, I could not help but feel “Hey, that’s great!”. My plays are not closet dramas – they are meant to be performed (well, except for the musical without a score, but that’s a different banana).

On the other hand, it was like the various bodies that held performances treated me as if I were dead. The Palanca library gave everyone free access after all, and no one is told in no uncertain terms to contact the playwright.

The reason I’m dredging up the past is that there is a chance that “Short Time” will be produced in Hong Kong in the future. Details are still being firmed up, but a request to review the play (by someone who saw the original production in the University of the Philippines) has been made.

If it happens, this time I will be delighted because it is being performed for a new audience, and satisfied that the producers had the courtesy to request permission.

Even if it doesn’t push through, the news put me in the mood to reread the play. How does it read after 12 years? Not bad, if I may engage in a moment of self-indulgence. A bit shrill (I must resist the temptation to rewrite blocks of it) but I liked the structure, the flow and pacing (is this paragraph masturbatory or what?).

It was odd feeling. Parts of the text I remembered almost verbatim. Other portions, lines of dialogue or beats, I didn’t recognize.

Like someone you know who went away for a long time and unexpectedly came back one day. There is that moment of disbelief and quick recognition. “Hey!”

And yet things are not the same.

But the play did not change in any way.

It was me, me that was different.

I'm not reacting well to my new medication.

I feel fuzzy and tired and it's not even midday yet.

At my breakfast meeting earlier, I just wanted to claw at my eyes.

I loathe this sense of non-well-being.

It's hard to think, difficult to focus on tasks, and travel is a bitch.

The paranoid part of me now thinks that maybe I have more than one or two illnesses, things beyond my current knowledge.

But that's just thinking aloud.

it’s really not a challenge
finding a little girl: I’ll even close my eyes
no doubt she’d race up the stairs
agonize between playroom
and bedroom and choose what’s
familiar: green-lilied comforter,
grandma’s chest, Pooh’s corner
and she’d wait there trembling
in a tightly contained rapture-
a giggling lump that defies the landscape

ten hours later and she is still unfound
nine rooms left behind in a whirlwind dash
eight hundred thousand times calling her name
seven million possibilities, grotesque and mad
six multiverses charted in entirety
five o’clock AM and still going
four steps at a time at the staircase
she’s not even three she’s not even three
two hearts ruptured, bleeding, betrayed
one father crumbling into dust

come out, come out
wherever you are

Wednesday, August 27, 2003


if I could return to the moment
the exact moment in my past
when I picked up something
a bug a rash a gash
that would come back later
to intimate murder in my ears

I would tell myself
loudly at the top of my voice
to sheathe my dick before
any impulsive excursions
into nooks and crannies
and happy valleys that promise
moist rewards

knowing myself (but really,
who knows himself young
old or in-between?) I’d
probably stab away anyway
bumping grinding sweating
until I achieve the requisite
nirvana and become one
with one two or even three

I’d turn to my future self,
tell the motherfucker
to take his news
his gloomy views
back back forward
to the lonely hospital room
of his lugubrious affliction

what matters now
what matters most
is the intoxicating contortions
the non-Euclidian exertions of
the woman
the woman
the woman beside above
and behind me.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

...and a stick of butter

When I got home, I told Sage that she had to go to the mall next door and get the following things: deodorant for me, diapers for her, 5 boxes of the ready-to-drink coffee we both like, 12 packs of juice for her and a box of assorted doughnuts.

As I itemized each item, I counted it on my fingers, ending with five.

She put on her serious face and furrowed her brow (as she has learned to do, mainly to elicit gales of laughter from her mother and me), and raised her own hand, echoing five.

Then, in her matching pink leotards and sandals, she proceeded to move towards the door, Diovine in tow.

An hour later, they returned with all the stuff and she nibbled at choco frosted doughnut I picked out of the baker's dozen she brought back.

Next, I'll be asking her to do some client calls.

I got a call last night informing me that I had won Robinbon's Galleria's raffle. My prize was 7d/6n in Australia, Thailand or Indonesia. Or I could avail of 3d/2n in Davao or Cebu.

All I had to do to claim my prize, said the man, was to attend a 90-minute presentation at a building nearby.

For an evening, I laughed at the perversity of things. I never won these things and then... I imagined stealing time away from the business to go to the Gold Coast with Nikki.

Then the next day as I told my partner Marc about it, he cautioned me that perhaps it was one of those sneaky time-shares things.

Later, a client told me that the same thing, pointing out that her father had been victimized.

It was harmless but a waste of time.

"Besides," said my client, "they do not guarantee the prize. After the loooong spiel, you get to draw from a fishbowl."


I called up the man and gave him a piece of my mind, threatening to report him to the Department of Trade and Industry.

"Did you even tell the DTI that you will force your so-called 'winners' to sit through your presentation?"

"Yes, sir," the voice replied suavely. "It's in section 3 of our permit. Shall I read it to you?'

"Er, okay," I mumbled meekly.

Despite the fact that they had indeed informed the DTI, Nikki and I decided to skip their silly presentation, forfeit the prize, buy stuff to read, have savory crepes (salmon for me, shrimp, spinach and gruyere for her) for dinner and spend the evening with our lovely daughter instead.

It's nice to win but when strings are attached, it isn't so pleasant anymore.

With just a snap, you can go back to moment before you won - and dream of a more realistic vacation.

Rarely, I encounter a piece of fiction so well-written, so well-imagined, so well-constructed that it leaves me breathless and pining for more.

This is how I felt after reading Jeffrey Ford's Creation, a story about a boy, some wood and cigarette smoke trapped in a bottle.

Now I must find his collection, The Fantasy Writer's Assistant and Other Stories, and his novel, The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque to see if his magic goes beyond a single story.

Another pair of short stories that moved me were Little Dead Girl Singing by Stephen Gallagher and Thailand by Hiroki Murakami.

Oh, to be able to write like these guys.

Monday, August 25, 2003

longing for breakfast

One of these days, stomach and time permitting, I will treat myself to a huge breakfast, probably at some hotel or upscale resto with white linen.

Once in a while I feel like being irrationally decadent, just to throw a monkey wrench into the imposed order of life, time and schedule. This time, I'm thinking about food - which is also most likely a rebellious action against the tyranny of my amoeba overlords.

First, I'd allocate three hours to eat.

Then - a massive spread, of freshly-baked breads and rolls and a variety of jams, butter and spreadables. Eight kinds of eggs, slabs of bacon and ham, and fifteen varieties of pancakes, waffles and muffins. Lots of cold juices, piping hot coffee and a sea of desserts to balance the savories.

Hmm. Maybe tomorrow.

interstitial writing

One of the things that has piqued my interest of late is writing that falls in the grey areas between genres.

For example, for the past several years (actually, since I was in early twenties), I have acquired a less than thrilling reaction to genre fiction, in particular, fantasy. It seemed that everything I saw was an Imaginary World creation ripped-off from Tolkien or Lewis, poorly thought-out Historical or Alternative Fantasy, sup-par Magic Realism, trendy Modern fantasy or simply disjointed and "trying-hard" Mythic Fantasy (usually set in Seattle and featuring elves and people who play lutes).

In the past three or so years though, I have noticed a wonderful tendency for fantasy writers to borrow tropes and styles from Realist fiction and vice-versa, leading to the creation of a melange that has elements of the fantastic but has a powerful capacity for truth, character and resonance. It is as if the walls surrounding fantasy, previously relegated to the ghetto of "non-serious" writing, have collapsed or become permeable, allowing for crisscrossing of unprecedented degree.

This is all great, whatever it is called (New Wave Fabulists, Outsider Writing, Mixed Genre), because previously restricted (and restrictive) genres contribute their best elements to create something different, something new. And it's a kick in the balls for the hack fantasy writers to improve their silly derivative writing.

It challenges my assumptions of what fantasy is, opening a wide expanse for my jaded eyes to explore. And more importantly, beyond critical considerations, it allows new stories to be told in fresh ways. Speculative fiction is alive and well, and wait until you read what its adherents are writing now.

Sunday, August 24, 2003


I just found our belatedly this morning, while lazily surfing through links of other people, that Honoel Ibardaloza won the 2003 Palanca Award for Short Story for Children - first prize. This is his second Palanca Award, winning third prize in the same category a few years ago.

The neat thing about this is that I finally get to meet and thank him personally for his contribution to Ab Ovo, that little comic book anthology we put out last year. He illustrated a story Jason wrote but we never got to meet. He's from Negros (not Cebu as I thought earlier - sorry Hai!) and will be flying in for the awards next week.

His work can seen in the current issue of Hainaku (illustrating Marco's Game Girl), and is one of the creators of the upcoming Cherry Blossom High anthology (with pencils for Marco again). This is looking to be quite an interesting release: it has Vin's best comic work (The Clockwork Kingdom, illustrated by Joel Chua) and an enjoyable story by El.

I wish though that Honoel would given the opportunity to write - his art is great but of course my bias is towards the written work. Writing stories of any length for children is no mean feat, and I look forward to reading what he has created.

She toyed with her beads Jadedly

Fueled by the desire to find The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Sixteenth Annual Collection edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, Nikki and I ended up at Fully Booked where we not only found the elusive volume but also Amphigorey Also by Edward Gorey.

I had read about Gorey before as an illustrator and author, seen a few samples of his artwork, and jumped at the chance to finally get one of his handsome books - which does have sequential art but is not, by any means, a simple comic book. He is a master of the peculiar narrative, a sublime abecedarian and a very careful and detailed artist.

Gorey is a mad genius, with a sensibility that sings to mine and Nikki's. His fractured worldview is simply delicious.

And even more enticing is my discovery that he also wrote a lot of plays, all fueled by his lovely skewed perspectives on death and societal mishaps like love and hope. So now I add a new playwright to my must-read list.

Gah. Must travel abroad to book hunt soon - though Fully Booked offers a surprisingly superior selection nowadays.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

shame and horror: why it rained last night

We finally had our long-planned Videoke night over at Music 21. In attendance: Carl, Tobie, Vin, El, asphyxiating Charles, Nikki and myself.

In the haze of a smoky room (and really, poor Charles looked like a Hong Kong resident at height of SARS, with his hanky clutched vainly over his nose), we took turns belting out stress, in solo, duet, or group mode, just enjoying the opportunity to unwind and bask in the laughter of friends.

El, with his "I have the voice of an innocent young boy" had us, the older guys, wanting to immediately corrupt him. I told him that soon, he'd be mining the songs he heard his parents sing, because, really, the songbooks are riddled with songs of an older generation. But Vin was delighted because he found in El someone willing to sing those atrocious boy band songs that we previously only tolerated and sang with ill-concealed disdain.

Song were shared and stolen and sung with gusto or misguided melodies. What a night.

Sana maulit muli.

Prepare yourself for a note from an absurdly proud father.

Yesterday, Sage to attend some other little kid's birthday party over at the playroom (a catered party, which bodes ill for me because of the "keeping-up-with-the-Joneses" syndrome which necessitates that when Sage turns two, we have to hold something similar and invite all these kids over).

One of the games they played, with a special prize at stake, was the Statue Dance - you know, music plays and kids dance; music stops and the kids freeze - anyone who moves while there is no music is eliminated. Well, Sage, with her Sex Bomb "ocho-ocho" moves and head-bobbing, outlasted all the other children and won her very first competition at the tender age of 18 months.

She came home with her special prize (a "construct-it" house that confounded her happy mother), with a huge smile (she had an armfull of other goodies too, but those were the result of her uber-zealous and very aggressive yaya, Diovine).

So there I was, inordinately proud of her success - which may be good or bad, but I don't care, all that matters is that she won and I'm delighted she did. So of course Nikki and I cooed and told her her how wonderful she was, and Sage took all of that with good grace.

When I was growing up (and, to be honest, up to now), I longed for a kind word, a pat on the back or hint of pride in the eyes of my mother and step-father whenever I did something special or achieved something out of the ordinary. I never really got it.

Bitter example#1: I win a Shakespeare competition at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and am awarded a trip abroad. Instead of celebrating with friends, I rush home to tell my mom.

Dean (happy): Mama! I won! I won the British Council thing!

Mama (raising an eyebrow): Dapat lang. (Of course you did).

Bitter example #2: I show my stepfather a telegram informing me that I won Palanca Awards #3 and #4.

Dean (handing step-father the telegram): Look at this!

Step-father (reads the telegram): You must be jaded by now.

And there's more. And yes, that is sadly one of things that motivates me up to now. A sublimated need to prove myself to my parents.

But my daughter will never get that crap from me. She doesn't have to win anything to be loved. But if she does achieve anything, big or small, she'll always hear a kind word from me - I will hold her and tell her how lucky I am to have such a wonderful child.

The best Alfar.

Friday, August 22, 2003

praise where praise is due

"I hope to read you soon."

That little note from Butch Dalisay (one of my biggest literary icons before and after I was still in UP) meant a lot to me. Sure, it was probably a nice little thing he wrote to all the little wanna-be writers like me who sought his advice on the finer points in writing, but it was a hell of a nice thing to say.

At that moment, I realized that, hey, I could also possibly be published in the future. It kicked the remote and dormant possibility in the balls and hustled it to forefront, forcing it to wear the ugly sweater of H.O.P.E. and cheer for me. I started writing more, got stories published here and there (oh, the pain of looking back at your work - it makes you want to deny authoring the entire corpus of that period or edit the thing wholesale), won awards, challenged myself to extend to other things.

I don't pin the entire thing on Butch's little note, of course, but it was One of Those Things that helped make a difference. I'm still not a Big Name Writer or anything like that, but I like to think that I can be, if I conspire with the fates and acquire more discipline.

Why all this now?

Because I am delighted to see the wonderful writing of my friends, little pieces here, a short story there, the occasional script or poem or fancy. Because I can hear their own respective voices in their texts.

I do not take the "mentor" credit in any way, but I'm happy to note that they feel that the small writing workshop we did a few months ago helped in some way. And our friendships are continous workshops. Just try stopping us from talking about writing (the only thing that can stop me when I'm in this mode is if I fall alarmingly short on ciggies). You can't. Because our love for Story is too powerful, too entrenched in who we are.

So now I read Vin's vignettes, brimming with character and magic and his accessible stylings. Look at "The Prince and the Magus" for a fairy tale trope deconstruction. And this is beyond his other works in progress like "Twilight Empires".

I am floored by Carl's work, so textured and nuanced and poetic. Read this sketch and dare to disagree. Everything you've seen this man produce is merely the tip of the iceberg of his talent - there's a lot more to come.

Nikki takes on the novel (something I want to do but fear to - because I think I'm more of a sprinter than a long distance runner) in her own inimitable voice - the same voice that empowers her essays and poetry (another two genres she trumps me at - damn her eyes!).

Jason 's developing a personal handle on dialogue and character - two of the most crucial things for a playwrights and fictionists - steadily raising his own personal bar notches and notches higher.

And Marco's knack for action and heartfelt wonder continues to inspire me. I just viewed his new pages for Codename: Buffy and all I could critique was the need for more ass shots.

Is all of this lip service or masturbatory bluster? Not at all. Let me throw away the rulebook and mix metaphors for a moment: when I critique, I am harsh. But when I see something beautiful, I am held in thrall by it, helpless as a Toreador vampire watching a forbidden sunrise. Then my mouth overflows with silver and rubies, not the usual frogs and toads I so try to hold back.

And I don't need to hope to read any of them soon. I can read them now. And I also know that best is yet to come, singly or in collaboration, in comics or in prose - so in that regard, I do hope to read them soon.

And to add to my delight, this year I've met two young writers I'm dead certain will become important in their own right: El (with his love for history and startling observations) and Andrew (with his unabashed experimentation and uncommon currency of juxtaposed verbiage). They share a common courage - they have to. Like us, they are self-publishers.

It's a good time to create, a great time to write, a wonderful time to read.

I feel the current and the water's fine.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

the better alfar

Yes, the end times are here!

My beloved Nikki has given in to the blog bug.

It's fresh and newly minted but watch it for some of the great writing from the better Alfar (because, well, she can do porn and erotica while my hidden conservative nature cringes against a far corner). Her blog, unfortunately, isn't entitled "As Snow As Blog" as dear Marco wanted.

Friends and kind readers, here's Contradiction in Terms.
deconstructing blah blah: rapport

It's funny, but one of the things I arm myself with before I go to any pitch or formal bid (apart from the usual designs, rationales, mock-ups, power points and show materials) is a brain freshly infused in local political happenings as well as the most sordid celebrity tabloid scandals I can get my hands on. This entails a broadsheet or tabloid purchase or two on the way to the meeting (and with my sense of time, I am invariably early so I have time to read and have coffee).

I consume both important news (like the Oakwood mutiny hearings, the latest money laundering scandal of First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, the irritating pre-election posturing of scary Ping Lacson, the new traffic schemes in New Manila of Bayani Fernando, the deteriorating peso brought about by things like the sacking of Central Bank's Buenaventura, stuff like that) and the latest gossip (Ogie Alcasid responsible for Regine Velasquez's pregnancy, more pregnancy rumors about the Sex Bombs Girls Jopay and Rochelle, Mystika and her brother causing an uproar at a Cebu Pacific flight, Lolit Solis playing hardball with Mother Lily over the casting of Mano Po 2, the difficulties of Quark Henares' new film Keka with Katya Santos, the schism between the Viva Hot Babes, the sweet young thing whose XXX naked pix are making the internet rounds, how nice Aubrey Miles is as a textmate - the list goes on).

Armed thusly, I can, before, during or after the presentation, throw in the occasional pop reference, droll political observation or eye-popping tsismis. It works because all the people sitting across the table from me are exactly that - people. People can and need to focused on the presentation, yes. But conversational tidbits used as metaphors to illustrate certain salient points in the pitch create an immediate connection.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

vignette: free

She held him in her mouth, careful not to graze any part of him with her teeth. Her face revealed how focused she was on what she was doing, unwilling to make an error, or display through a mistake the fact that this was her first time. She had to do it right.

He felt the wetness of her breath against him and he suppressed an involuntary shudder, trying not to think about what was happening. Like her, it was his first time, and he felt that any sudden motion on his part would spell ruination for them both. He tried to be as still as he could.

She tugged gently and he felt the pressure of her teeth against his skin. His mind reeled at the recklessness of what they were doing. In a moment they would cross an impossible chasm and nothing would be the same.

He forced himself to be calm and looked up at her, towering behind him, her teeth tightly clamped on the harness on his back.

“I’m ready, I think,” he whispered and closed his eyes.

She blinked once and spread her wings to their full extension, summoning a powerful wind to carry them both, invoking her right as a beast of Air and Sky.

When he next opened his eyes, all he saw were the craggy mountains beneath them, growing smaller as they flew higher, spiraling lazily on the higher currents. Far below them, the Grey Emperor’s men spat in the snow and cursed the sight of the dragon and her boy, already beyond the reach of their best archers.

“Free,” the boy spoke against the wind. “We’re free.”

And it was so.
play-in-progress: the butterfly emporium

Here's part of a scene I'm working on. Right now, everything's raw, unadorned. Stage directions and descriptions are not even there yet.

This is the rawest unit of material for me - just dialogue, awkward and unedited. Basically, I'm just letting the characters do the talking.

I just have two of the lead characters, Max and Chloe, talking for the second time outside on a terrace. There has just been a whirlwind dinner at Chloe's family, where Max and Jean announce their engagement. The family takes the news in odd ways. Chloe goes out for a smoke.

You okay?

Yeah. Just out for a smoke. You know.

Mind if I join you?

It’s an open terrace.

MAX laughs


It’s just-


I love your family.

You only think you do.

No, really. I do.

We’re all a little crazy.

Aren’t we all?

Not like my family.

I was telling Jenny, I wondered if everyone talked like her, you know?

Surprise. We all do.

It’s freaky. In a good way.


So, do you really love her?


Why do people do that?

Do what?

You know, state the obvious. Of course, Jenny! Who did you think I’m talking about?

I do. I really do.

My sister is as crazy as they come.

I can handle crazy.


What makes you ask?

Nothing. Nothing really.

She reminds me of a butterfly.

Oh please.

No, really, she does.

A butterfly? Could you, I mean, could you be any less original?

There's a reason why I think of her a butterfly, you know. It, it isn't something, I don't know, poetic or something.

Being compared to butterflies is not a particularly great thing.

Why’s that?

Short lifespan.


We all die young.

But –

But what? But butterflies are beautiful? So delicate and precious and wonderful? Spare me. Spare me the comparison.

She’s different.

Oh, now she’s a different butterfly. What’re you going to do when she dies? Mount her on velvet and frame her in your memory?

Has anyone told you you’re quite morbid?

Everyday of my life.


Insects. You’re thinking about insects.

You’re too young to be thinking like that.

And you’re too old for me.




It’s you’re sister that I-

Right, sorry. Something came over me. Forget it.

Chloe, I-

Forget it.


I thought I knew everything there was to know about people. Until I met Jean.

Are we still having this conversation?

Why are you so-



I’d like, I’d like for us to be friends. You and me.

Just like that? Is that the way you think it works?


You want to be my friend? Then listen. Say goodbye to her. To my family. To all of us. There is nothing for you here.


Because I know how things end.

Monday, August 18, 2003

mint green silk jammies and black brelly

Someone decided that her father's black umbrella would go well with her new jammies.

So she paraded around the room with the open umbrella, playing peek-a-boo with her parents when she realized that she could completely hide behind the thing.

Really, by now she must think she has the village idiot for a father because he's always crying "Oh, my goodness! Where's Sage?". That's when she'd pop up from behind the umbrella, shrieking with laughter.

After all, she was saying "O-mai-dudnes!" to us as well.

I feel bad that I can't carry her around just yet because of my silly back, and she seems to understand.

At least I hope she does.


Oh my goodness!
and there's the pitch...

I had an interesting pitch for one of the largest consumer conglomerates this morning. Of course, my regular competition was there and that made it doubly challenging.

But what made it challenging in the first place was how truly underdoggish our position was, entering in. The company that got mine to handle the design and pitching duties had done work for the conglomerate before, and well, let's just say that there were a lot of issues and memory is long.

Solution? My new patented "sotto voce" approach. A softer voice with undertones of confidence and camaraderie - something I've never done before (give me a break, my back was killing me during the pitch and it was all I could do to stop myself from groaning in pain).

Even if we do not win, I think we made significant inroads into restoring a testy relationship.

But still, it would be great if we actually landed the account.

Toes crossed and all that.

quimby, i adore thee

It's official.

I'm a big Chris Ware fan. I thought he was the bee's knees with Jimmy Corrigan, that incredibly sad book about what happens you find your lost father.

But with Quimby the Mouse, his storytelling, design sense and overall style and elan blew me away. This is a book that is lovely to read, lovely to look at, lovely to hold, lovely to keep, lovely to display. It's something you can show someone else with pride.

Excellent work in an oversized format.

Go, get it. Now.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

human condition

This past 24 hours have been a rollercoaster for me, leaving me feeling like a character in some fiction author’s work – and that author was given the task of making up a story that would run me through the gamut of human experience.

Sounds too much? Read on.

pride: pantene pro-v

The day began at Ateneo, with a triple talk by Budj, Zach and I. I think that our love for writing (and writing comics in particular) was very clear, and we consumed the time given by expressing our views on craft.

I spoke about some of the stuff I’ve written in earlier blog posts and wrapped up my share of the time with a product endorsement for Pantene Pro-V, a hair conditioner.

This hair care product, you see, claims to fight the 5 signs of unhealthy hair: weakness, split ends, dryness, dullness and lack of manageability. I drew comparison between bad hair and bad writing and defined those traits in the context of craft. It went swimmingly well, though I think I traumatized poor Charles because I used his hair as an example several times (and no, there is really nothing wrong with the condition of his hair).

The good thing about having the three of speak is that none of us are particularly stressed about speaking before an audience. Budj came with pages of notes. I came with a little piece of notebook paper tucked into the cuff of a pant leg. Zach spoke from memory.

But we all spoke with obvious love and positive pride about craft. Pride in what you do is very important, because you must tie in a sense of achievement and worth to what you do – you need to make it count.

Thanks to El, again, for the opportunity. Next month, I’ll be Carl’s assistant (clicking on Powerpoint) which will definitely be a blast.

avarice: cchq

Nikki experienced the same reaction – “oh my” – when she finally got to go to CCHQ, happily browsing through the shops indie trade offerings.

As usual, I wanted a ton of things, but given budgetary constraints (damn it, I want more) we ended up buying two books: Van Meter’s hilarious Hopeless Savages for her, and Ware’s beautifully designed and written Quimby the Mouse for me.

Last time I was here, I got some incredible reading – Pop Gun War, Project Telstar, the 2002 and 2003 SPX anthologies (the earlier one just won an Eisner for best anthology), the first volume of Courtney and the lovely Sandwalk Adventures.

I appreciate CCHQ’s style and model and wish them more success in the future. Part of what they do figures in an “I wish” scenario that I share with Carl.

anger: stupid restaurant

Stupid restaurants and I go back a long way, and my impatience with inefficiency and lack of customer service reared its ugly head at Encomnium (sp?) or Gaci or whatever that horrible restaurant was called.

The food took hours to arrive if it did at all. And it tasted like crap.

The owners should close down and reassess what they want to do with their lives. If they continue as they are operating they deserve only the most relentless of bad reviews.

The business consultant part of me was appalled at the horrors we were subjected to.

shock: a death foretold

After “lunch” I rushed to my food client meeting. I needed to present the final art and copy for the range of materials we were commissioned to do.

Just before we started, I got a call from one of my closest friends, Juancho, one of Sage’s godfathers, telling me that his mom was in hospital and at death’s door.

My heart twisted inside even as I helplessly continued with my presentation, going on autopilot and letting my mouth and hands handle the meeting. My mind was back ten, eleven, twelve years back in time, remembering how much I owed Tita Baby, how much love she gave me when I had no where to go, how she gave me a home and fed me for two years as I tried to get my life back from the chaos that engulfed me.

I have three surrogate mothers. Juris, my mother’s sister, took me as her own when my mother was unable to be a mother to me. Mina, my mother-in-law, loved and still loves me as one of her own children. Baby, Juancho’s mom, all but adopted me – a stranger – at the point in my life when I had hit rock bottom.

grief: the shape of a body bag

I didn’t get to hospital in time to say goodbye.

After my meeting, I rushed as fast as humanly possibly through the sudden torrent of rain and inevitable traffic to the hospital in Quezon City.

When I got to her room, the first thing I saw was a blue body bag.

Grief is powerful and it was as if the earth just swallowed me up. I was only dimly aware of Nikki (who had gone there earlier), Juancho who embraced me, and the other people in the room.

I could not believe that all that she was, physically, all that was left of her, was inside that body bag. I was outraged at the banality of it all, at how a receptacle could so conveniently, so casually, so completely envelop a person I loved.

“You cannot imagine the pain of losing your wife,” Tito Johnny, her husband, whispered to me, as I wept without regard next to him.

“She always went out of the house on Saturdays,” Millie, her daughter told us. “She was true to form until the very end.”

Tita Baby is gone.

Nikki and I left after a while, after I stopped physically crying, after I managed to say all the words I needed to say (autopilot helps me in more situations than I can count).

And as we waited for a ride to take us away, my mind vainly tried to fill the emptiness she left behind, that particular shape she left in my heart, but memory is a poor replacement and will never get the dimensions exactly right.

I didn’t arrive in time to say goodbye.

Goodbye, Tita Baby. And thank you.

Your other son, Dean.

inertia: the pull of the rest of life

Because that’s the way it is.

Just go on.

With life, with schedules, with dinner, with a movie.

Grief need not be worn outside.

Not when part of you can go on autopilot.

At least for a time.



Should we who remain feel guilt about still being here?


But it feels like we ought to.

escape: lxg

Three words: I loved it.

More than I expected, so much more. Despite all the flaws, it was a good film. It is pointless to compare it to Moore’s original work – one is not the other. But in terms of experience, let me go out on a limb and say that I enjoyed Robinson’s script treatment more than Moore’s book.

And that’s saying something right there.

Believe me, I’m as shocked as you are. Did my grief weaken my critical will? No, I don’t think so.

People who know me well know how snooty I am with films, how my critical faculty usually dooms almost everything to a low grade.

But it was lovely, lovely – flaws and all.

comfort: conversations with friends

Sometimes, you need to talk and ask questions and expect answers to the odd scenarios running your brain.

Sometimes, you need to hear opinions, you need to see other perspectives, you need to know how other people would deal with the situations you find yourself in.

Sometimes, the human condition becomes so pronounced that you cannot help but feel its presence, like a garish clown sitting at a restaurant table across from you, and its there, it’s there but it’s not polite to stare.

Sometimes, the comfort of friends is in words, in dialogue, in conversations that go everywhere and nowhere.

Sometimes, all that matters is being in a living circle, drinking indifferent coffee.

Sometimes, you need to remind yourself to breathe. Or for others to gently point out that you need to.

love and hope: wife and daughter

Sage, sleeping like the baby that she is. Small and big, growing so fast, so soon, so wonderfully soon, the expression of all my hopes.

Nikki, washing her face, getting ready for bed, so beautiful, so tender, the reality of love and passion and joy.

I sleep and, like a character in one of my own sad stories, sleep without dreaming, without meaning, without epiphany.

There. That’s all there is.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

these boots are made for walking

This little girl just wants to be like her mother.

Note how she has taken over Nikki's boots. Even with the tops folded, they threaten to engulf Sage.

She struggled valiantly to get them on and stomped about the condo like a little troll terrorizing the billy goats.

When the time came for Nikki to wear them to go out, Sage put up a fight, convinced, by the act of being able to put them on, that she was the rightful wearer (sort of Malory's Sword in the Stone scenario but cuter).

She's learned a life lesson quite early: fight for your footwear.

And also: some things you need to just grow into.

And: don't mess with your mother.
talking the talk

In around 9 hours, I'll be at Ateneo, hopefully awake, where I've been asked to talk a bit about writing (along with Budj and Zach). I just hope I don't get lost (oh wouldn't that be too ironic?), El.

Anyhow, if I have extra time, I'd like to give some advice for starting writers (assuming there are starting writers there - but even if there aren't, I think these are still good things to keep in mind). Where do I get off giving advice to newbies? Well, when you're 34 and written a little, you tend to learn things.

One my advantages, I guess, is that I come to comics writing by way of another discipline, playwriting.

twelve things for a writer to remember

1. Know your grammar. It’s sad, but something as basic as this has to be said. If you plan to be a writer of a decent sort, you are assumed to have mastered English (or whatever language you choose to write in). Subject-verb agreement, tenses, objects of prepositions, all the small stuff. Believe me, nothing irritates an intelligent reader more than crude writing.

2. Know the rules before you break them. Forget about free verse until you understand the sestina and the villanelle. Put off the play until you can write a scene very well. Hold off the novel until you know the ins and outs of narrative. Too many would-be writers jump in without understanding the rich and textured way in which writing (and literature) has evolved.

3. Be prolific. Write as often as you can. Your “talent” will only take you so far. You need to practice your craft whenever you can. Learn discipline by starting a journal or a blog. Jot things down. Expand on the wicked ideas that come when they come. This was the first bit of advice I was ever given, from the very first person who believed in me - my English teacher in high school.

4. Do not fall in love with your text. If you know it doesn’t work, that it cannot work, then discard it. Or change it. Focus is one thing, but being obsessive is another. Very often, authors fall into this mode – they are mesmerized by a turn of phrase, a character or an ending, and are unable to let go. Know when to edit. Know when to trash.

5. Read. But be very selective in what you allow to enter your system. As writers, we are sensitive to the flow of notions and words, so be careful of what you allow to influence you. But do read volumes in a variety of modes – fiction and non-fiction; as well as genres, styles and nationalities. You learn by excellent examples. Nothing beats reading good stuff, apart from the act of writing itself.

6. Be your worst critic. Never be satisfied until your inner critic lowers his eyebrow. You know when you’re just getting by with technique and when you’ve nailed it. Develop your critical faculty. Bleed for your words. And remember that your friends are the worst people to ask criticism from - they'll probably lie or don't know what they're talking about. Sad but true.

7. Take on the attitude of a student. That’s what you are. No number of awards, published material or critical praise merits you calling yourself an Author with a capital “A”. Be personally humble and let your work speak for itself.

8. Write for a reason. Whether it is for pure expression, to change the world, to promote an agenda, to try an experiment, for the sheer joy of it, or to articulate the significance of the human condition vis-a-vis our national patrimony, whatever. Have a reason. Don't let your efforts be senseless invisible thrashings in the void.

9. Expand your horizons. You write good fiction? Great, now try poetry. Already a poet? Try an essay. Comic book writer? Write a play. Remember that mostly the barrier to entry is the form and format. Learn them, master them.

10. Be inventive. Yes, it may be the case that every story in the world has been told and told better than you, but you have the opportunity to prove that adage wrong. But rather than tiresomely reinventing something someone else has done, why not attempt something the world has never seen?

11. Join competitions, workshops and seminars. There are many good reasons for participating in these. Contests force you to be lean and fit – that is the way to win a struggle against others. Workshops teach you critique and expose you to other ways of approaching your craft. Seminars and lectures give you glimpses into technique. Learn from all these.

12. And when you can, encourage others who are just beginning. Because even the little that you know may be a treasure trove for someone who has just started on the hard road we walk.

Friday, August 15, 2003

vignette: ride

Jackie wants to ride, so we take the car.

We drive and drive until we see Greg and Maggie.

“Hey,” they say.

“Join us,” we tell them and so they do, climbing in the back, gin in hand.

Jackie wants the radio loud so loud it is, full-blast. We shake and rattle and bang our seats to the beat. It sounds like something old.

“How can you not know Husker Du?” Greg shouts. Jackie laughs and I just keep driving.

“That’s just like you,” Maggie tells Greg.

Jackie wants to pee so we stop at a gas station.

“Come with me,” she says and Maggie goes with her to the lav, holding hands like best friends.

I buy some gas and Greg lights up.

“Hey,” I say. “Hey, that’s not so smart.”

“What? What’re you talking about?” Greg asks. I notice the gap between his teeth.

“Ciggie. Gas station. You know.”

“I know.” He shrugs his shoulders. “So what?”

Maggie and Jackie come back, fresh and bright and pee-free, and off we drive.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

sixteen oh two

I broke my vow.

I promised to give up all pamphlets, all monthly serials and just get the trades. I knew my resolve would be tested immediately, and I turned my back on everything. Until 1602 by Neil Gaiman, who just happens to be one of my favorite writers.

So was it worth breaking the vow? Oh yes. Nikki and I loved it.

Will I buy the rest as it comes out, month after month? Nope, we'll wait for the trade, thank you.

Sometimes, when you slip, it's better to accept the fact that you did and pick yourself up and start again - rather than saying "Ah, what the fuck, I've slipped, I'm down here, I'm dirty, so I might as well just."

eighteen months

Sage turned a year and a half today, and yes, yes, I have written countless times how time flies and all that, but it does. It really does.

When we first took her home from the hospital, she was such a small and fragile thing, red and pink and squinty, fitting in the span of my forearm and cupped palm. She didn't move much, which caused me distress when she was asleep (crib death running foremost in mind) and so I'd poke and prod her awake to see if she was okay. Which, of course, was not okay - because then she was awake and crying and had to be calmed and lulled back into sleep.

Her first bathtub, majorly blue, seemed like a swimming pool compared to her. I was afraid she'd slip and vanish into the warm water, but Nikki always held her fast, singing to her songs from the stage.

I remember when Sage first managed to pull herself up and look at us from her crib, a little tuft of hair and eyes.

Then she learned to waddle and walk and run and climb and now I have to be careful to bend my knees when I use both arms to lift her - my forearms can no longer contain her.

And I know this is how it will be for the rest of my life and hers. That I will always remember when I was enough to encompass her, and just marvel and wonder at how it is now the universe that embraces her.

But she'll always always be my little girl. Sagey Wagey Baby, the best banana in the world.
sixty-six and change

I watched Mars last night.

It held steady and bright to the lower right of the moon from where I stood.

The little boy in me who loved astronomy books from the Tim-Life series was a bit disappointed at the lack of redness. Growing up, I learned that Mars is the red planet, named for the Roman god of war (who, of course, was derived from the Greek Ares). So I fully expected even just the slightest crimson tinge, a speck of blood against the velvet backdrop.

But it shone fiercer than stars - excepting the full moon, it was the brighest thing in the sky.

Scientists say that the next time this happens will be in 66 or so years. Assuming I'm alive, which is highly unlikely, I'll be 110. Sage, who slept through it tonight, will see it for the first time when she's 67.

There are things you truly see or experience once in your life, and their qualities are never alike.

Some are life-changing and cataclysmic, like sudden reckless passion that engulfs you like a sheet of flame from nowhere.

Others happen in silence, like the time the fracture in your heart finally, quietly, grows too big to arrest when love goes elsewhere.

A few are bereft of drama, and offer no new startling understanding of life or the universe.

They simply occur and you watch without words, because, really, what is there to say? Your participation only that of a witness.

Like looking at an unmoving Mars.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

five hundred

Along Aurora Boulevard in Cubao there is an old movie house, the Diamond. It is there where, at night, you can have your pick of young sweet things for a bargain price of 500 pesos.

If, like me, you don't have a car, you can befriend your cabbie and have him take you there. Make sure to be there as soon as the goods are available, say 7PM, because, really, if you wait until past midnight (perhaps in the hopes of being a little more discreet), you'll have to make do with tired and less enthused girls.

When you draw up in your vehicle, expect to be approached by one of the many lesbian pimps (who knows why they're all lesbian?) who will befriend you and ask you about your preferences and the like.

Once you enlighten her, she'll signal behind her and three or four girls will magically appear, manifestations of your stated type. They are all young and attractive, some still in school uniform, carrying a bag of school books - none of them look worldwise or puffed with attitude, and certainly no one dresses in leather and fishnets.

Some have milk-white skin, some are morena. Long hair, short hair, bobbed or cut. All slender, all smiling, all soft and inviting. You will find yourself mystified as to the quality of the stock.

You make your choice then, carefully weighing your options - they are all game, all fair play, all willing. Tell the pimp which one you want and she'll ask for your 500 pesos in advance.

That's the way it works. You pay ahead of your engagement. No pay, no play. Your partner receives her share of your payment after everything, when she comes back.

After you pay, the chosen girl enters your vehicle. No small talk is necessary, no need to make her feel at ease - she knows what happens next. Try not to ask too many personal questions. You bought sex, not an interview. Epiphanies cost more.

There is a Sogo's nearby, though its almost always full, and the bemused staff will only shake their heads as they turn you away.

But do not fret, there are a number of apartelles nearby, only 150 pesos for a brief interlude of the sort on your mind, easy on the pocket. If you're in a cab, your driver knows them all.

Do what you want inside, but don't expect anything beyond the flavor of vanilla. While your 500 pesos doesn't cover exotica, it does cover the basics and should be enough to get you through (such a bargain).

You don't have to take her back to the Diamond theatre when you're finished, though there is a certain Old World charm that surrounds you like an aura if you do. It is appreciated and you will be remembered next time - word gets around and gentlemen are rare.

But it is not required.

No, you can just go your way and let her find her way back.

See how she hurries? That's because she wants to turn another trick or two before the night grows too dark. Competition at the Diamond is fierce and unforgiving of the slow, the lazy and the unmotivated.

With 60% of your payment, she only has enough for a phone card, after all.

She needs more.

Every night she is able.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

more than three

Nikki and I were in bed, and, as is the way between us, we ended up talking about several things: how our days were, what Sage did today, what's being written by whom, what we're reading, things like that.

Conversation moved to our grandparents (you know how fluid conversation is) and I asked her exactly how many things she remembered about her maternal grandmother who died before Nikki turned a year old.

"She was a concert pianist," Nikki began, and I raised a finger, marking her first memory.

"How do you know this?"

"My mother told me," she replied.

"What else?"

"She used to make candies out of flowers."

"Really?" For a while I thought I heard it the other way around, imagining florette-shaped candies.

"She did," Nikki told me. "She'd make them and my brothers would eat them, like little fairy children."

We both laughed at the image it conjured - her hulking brothers in Midsummer Night's Eve attire, delicately nibbling at peonies and strange-named blossoms.

"That's two. Two memories," I counted, my fingers raised. "What else?"

"Her name was Mansueta. Her nickname was Chuting," she finished.

"That's it?" I asked, looking at my three fingers.

"Yup. That's all I remember my mother told me."

Nikki didn't have an image of Mansueta, nicknamed Chuting, because all her grandmother's photographs were buried with her, so she wouldn't miss them.

I told her that I thought I remembered just the same number of things about my maternal grandfather - and he lived until I was a teenager: that his name was Crisanto (nicknamed "Santing"); that when I was three or so, he'd take me to barbershop to show off the fact that I spoke English quite well and wasn't afraid to speak to anyone; and that, once, he took me hunting for hermit crabs at the Kanigaran beach in Palawan.

I was saddened by the paucity of our memories.

"Do you think you're an interesting person? Do you think I'm an interesting person?" I asked my wife as I thought about how transitory everything, especially memory, was.

"Of course," she replied. "Why?"

"Because I'd like to be remembered by our grandchildren for more than three things."

On cue, Sage laughed from the living room, filling the air in our bedroom with something beyond words, beyond feeling. And for the next few hours, all thoughts of remembrance were superseded by the living truth of our daughter.

Monday, August 11, 2003

vignette: thirteen

And so you watch them, your sisters, don their dancing shoes, shushing each other in between giggles. You think to yourself how lucky they are: that the guards to the Princesses' suites are old and mostly deaf; that your father is asleep, carried off to dreamland by his nightly dose of herbs; that they were all born before you, each one two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve of them.

Grace, the eldest, opens the secret door now, as usual, taking the lead. Minette and Claudia follow her down the stairs, holding lit tapers aloft, careful not to singe a single thread of their gossamer gowns. Alexandra, the fussiest, pauses to adjust her hemline, then a shoelace, then her hair, before being pushed by Danae, her mouth set in a calculated moue. Genevieve looks almost unwilling, you could almost forgive her for going, but her twin Geneva is just the opposite, nearly tripping on her dress. Llyn, the tallest, reminds everyone to keep quiet - she would have been more beautiful if she chose to smile more often. Tomasine follows in her wake, still half-asleep but guided by feet already tapping to unheard music. Francesca and Camellia, deadly enemies by day, go down the cold stairs hand-in-hand, best friends at midnight.

It is Fallon, of the emerald eyes and alabaster skin, who stops and looks at you with a sad smile. "I'm sorry, Tess, but there aren't enough Princes."

And with that she is gone, and the wall reclaims the invisible door.

You rest your head on your pillow of goose down and fight back the usual heaviness. There was a time when being the youngest meant being special, when it seemed as if all your wishes could come true, simply by virtue of being born last. But now you question how you ever thought, how you ever believed there could be anything else, something apart from this pain of exclusion.

And so you force yourself to sleep and dream your dream of a thousand white lies.

And twelve dancing princesses.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

observations on dialogue

The secret to good dialogue is this: it's something spoken, written down, preferably with warts and all. I do not subscribe to polished grammar-perfect dialogue unless done deliberately, for effect - I would rather lean toward verisimilitude.

Naturally, this is not a hard and fast rule (nothing in writing ever is), but for a starting playwright or fictionist or comic book writer, it is a good thing to keep in mind.

This is one of reasons why Brian Michael Bendis is so readable (a good head for characterization, narrative construction and pacing are also part of his bag of tricks). His dialogue sounds right, reads right - making him the best in business right now, bar none (and you all know my bias for Gaiman, Moore, and others).

If you think about how people communicate, you'll realize that people are never direct, transparent or able to immediately state what's on their mind (if you are a devotee of semiotics, you know its because of the gap between signifier and signified). Language is not precise. People are not precise. There is much coloration, hesistation, interpretation and misinterpretation, assumptions, translations.

Even a seemingly obvious statement like this...

DEAN: I'm hungry.

...does not reveal to the person spoken to the exact nature of my hunger (food? sex? company? excitement?). Even with the context clues (body language, vocal tone, accent, expression, gesture, distance, props, time of day or night, location) the listener can only make the best assumption as to what I'm talking about. If you and I are both in the restaurant, you'd seeminly be justified in assuming I'm talking about food.

But what if I'm not not? What if what I meant was that I'm hungry for you? Language fails because of its inherent flaw: it translates thought - but only to best of its limitations.

So when I read something that continuously has characters directly stating things (without anyone doubting the precise meaning, or without clarification, repetition, misunderstanding), it reads wrong. Because I know that in life, which almost every bit of literature tries to emulate (otherwise, what's the point of having people talk in your work?), it is not the case.

Listen to how people speak. You'll notice some of the following:

1. Sometimes, they do not complete sentences. Because sometimes-

2. -people interrupt each other.

3. Everyone involved in a discussion has an agenda (haven't you experienced trying to shift the conversation back to what you want to talk about?).

4. Exposition is rare (which is why, as a literary tool, exposition must be used with great skill and sensitivity).

5. People tell anecdotes. Because, whether they believe it or not, we are all storytellers to a degree.

6. People reference a lot ("did you see that movie where...?", "so anyway, Vin told me that Carl said that he...", "I read this article that said..."). Very rarely does anyone simply state a (questionable) fact and get away without even a little explanation or justification.

7. Conversations are fluid. That makes them interesting (and quite challenging to create from whole cloth).

8. Some people just listen. Others need to participate verbally in conversation. In other words, not everyone has something to say or contribute - but this in no way excludes them as participants.

9. Some topics have the half-life of a split second (someone brings up a topic, none or few respond, then the conversation moves on without a batting an eyelash).

10. These last three are linked: People repeat themselves ("I told him, I said to him...").

11. People question each other ("really?" or "talaga?" or "who said that?"

12. Some people parrot the last question (D: "Okay, what's your favorite color?" V: "My favorite color?" D:"Yeah, what's your favorite color?"

Of course, there are lots more to observe and add to your arsenal as an author. With fiction, you can get away without dialogue. But as a playwright or a comic book writer (and yes, we exclude the so-called "silent" comics and those composed purely expository panels), you need to sharpen your skills with dialogue.

Remember that everything you create is immediately artificial by virtue of the act of contrivance. The last thing you want is to detract further from your reader's suspension of disbelief.

Help him out and write a better scene.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

parang hotdog

Sa buong buhay ko ngayon lamang ako inihambing sa hotdog (at hindi lang ako, pati na rin si Zach at si Budjette). Nais kong maintindihan, El, kung bakit ito ang napili mong metapora. Dahil ba kami'y malambot, makatas at masarap (and pulang-pula) parang Purefoods Hotdog? Hmmm (ika nga ni Carl)...

Inimbita kaming tatlo ng Comic Collective (ng Ateneo) at ng UP Grail na magsalita tungkol sa pagsulat ng komiks sa ika-16 nitong buwan. Dumalo kayo kung gusto ninyong matuwa dahil siguradong kakaiba ang mapapanood ninyo (malaking pagkakamali ang ilagay kaming tatlo sa isang kwarto - wala sa aming pakimi-kimi).

Pero sa totoo, malaking karangalan para sa amin ang magsalita tungkol sa mga bagay-bagay na nalalapit sa aming mga puso.

Salamat - at ubos na ang Tagalog ko.
how to whistle through her fingers

1. Have your child draw her lower lip firmly across and slightly below the tops of her lower teeth.

2. Now have her put the tips of her pinkie fingers together at about a 45 degree angle. Have her place the tips of her pinkies against the tip of her tongue, pushing her tongue up and slightly back. Her tongue will be wadded up, sort of like an accordion. Her pinkies will rest on her lower teeth, just short of the first joint.

3. When her fingers are positioned correctly, you'll be able to see a little triangular hole formed by her pinkie fingers and lower teeth.

4. Have her close her lips firmly around her fingers so no air can escape (very important). Now have her blow forcefully through the little triangular hole.

This bit of advice, from a book lent to us by Vin, was put into practice by Nikki, who is now practicing to whistle loudly enough to get a cab.

For Sage, this will be an interesting little skill that may come in useful in life.

Little people can make big noises and sometimes should.

Friday, August 08, 2003

the horse's back

It's just absurd, really.

Apart from the invaders in my digestive tract, I just threw my back lifting Sage the wrong way (and compounding it, unwittingly, by playing horsey-horsey). But you try being a father and resisting a little 30-poundish girl who wants to climb and ride and tumble off (with nary a care, mind you). And do it again and again and again.

So now, as it was a couple of months ago when I threw my back lifting a stupid barbell that was too heavy for me, I can't stand straight and find it painful to walk around.

Just another ailment to add to my growing catalog of pain.


But when I think about my daughter's squeals of delight, the pain vanishes a little. No excuse not to be more careful though.
national book awards teaser
(well, it is awards season after all)

Yes, it's coming up at the end of the month, and amid all the categories, the one I'm paying the most attention to is Best Graphic Novel.

Because, again, it is most likely to be between friends.

Last year, Carl's One Night in Purgatory was pit against Vin Simbulan's Isaw Atbp., with the award going to the jam comic Isaw (which also sported art by Carl, along with Marco and Arnold, poetry by Tobie, me and others, all edited by the lovely Nikki).

This year, if I've read the tea leaves right (and mind you, my mother's fortune telling skills didn't pass on to me), it going to be between Carl's Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah and Arnold's After Eden.

Angels versus Amazonistas. Epiphany versus epiphany. In just three weeks.

Make sure to get ringside seats.
armchair economics

In my business, one of the things I learned (and actually continue to learn about) is the difference between price and value as it applies to our service offerings.

Historically, the definitions of these terms were enough to give Adam Smith a headache, hence his thoughts on the paradox of value.

The simple-to-understand law of supply and demand easily accounts for price. What is rare is dearer.

But value is found in the fact that it costs to produce certain things or to offer quality service. For me, this involves the monthly burn on all business expenses (rent, utilities, salaries, materials and related expenses). So the relationship between the two is that value (perceived or otherwise) actually determines the price (along with market conditions).

From my vantage point of armchair economics, it still seems quite simple, but in practice it is challenging to pull off. After all, my perception of value is different from the client's perception of value.

It's a wild world and things change.

A few years ago, I wouldn't bat an eyelid at charging in the millions of pesos for a funky and functional website with some consulting thrown in. But after the big internet bust, year after year, the perceived value of a website goes down and with it, the price you can expect a client to pay. Granted, there are still large companies that are willing to pay premium, but even the price of the premium has lowered due to the deterioration of value. Nowadays, its about value added services. And a hell of a lot of good ideas. And command performance blah blah.

It gets even hairer when we talk about "pure" creatives. What is the value of excellent design? How do you assign a price to aesthetics? Just how much do you charge for an idea sans execution and production? In my experience, depending on how well you pitch or sell the idea, you can get an interesting range. Imagine, just thinking on behalf of a brand can translate to hundreds of thousands of pesos. Or not. The reluctant salesman in me has to be forced at gunpoint out into the open.

It took me quite a while to accept the fact that entities were willing to pay for ideas - because in terms of value (to me), ideas are dime a dozen - some of them are mediocre, a few actually good. But on the flip side, companies with no ideas want to buy our ideas - so that's great, right? Until the time comes to determine the price.

My partner can attest that I always, always feel a sense of guilt when it comes to pricing - yet another sign that betrays my background as a press-ganged businessman. I loathe assigning price, and shrivel at haggling - because, well, I'm a nice guy. Or so I believe.

As a creative, in the past, I was used to being used and being paid little. As a result, I attributed the price as the value of my work (after all, how could I not?). But then as time passed and I did work for others, particularly foreign entities, I realized that I had consistently undervalued myself. I tested my new understanding in a round of salary negotiations and was able to walk away with a job that paid much much more than I thought I could get. My sense of worth was dragged upside.

And of course I throw in social responsibility into the whole mess of pricing. If you are an NGO (non government organization), which, by definition, helps others, I will charge you much less than I would I giant corporation that rakes in revenues on the billions of pesos. Because, to my mind, the deep discount is our way of helping too.

Don't get me wrong. Our pricing is consistent with value, market realities and materials costs. Everything is justified and we have spreadsheets galore and accountants and all that. We've learned to adapt, tweaking business models, making changes, learning new ways to think, new ways to do things. I've developed my own way of management without reading a single management book or attending a single business class. It is definitely maverick, but it fits me like a glove.

But as I ride the sea that is the business environment, sometimes I am overwhelmed by all the swells and waves and the vastness of it all. Always, I long for stable ground.

In fact, I still cannot believe that I am businessman, when all I truly truly truly want to do is to write.

So now I find myself in the position of having a business and still being able to write - so all my namby-pamby excuses in either direction are gone.


Just don't ask me to price.

Thursday, August 07, 2003


One of the consequences of being dehydrated is a feeling of general weakness. I now wake up with a sigh, forced out of bed by the demands of my new ameoba overlords. After all that, I drink some liquids to replenish my system and have the first cigarette of the day, watching the sunlight spread over my view of Ortigas Avenue.

The early morning hour, the small small feeling of my body and the addictive smoke combine to produce a pleasant feeling, a high of sorts. My head goes light and I feel almost weightless, almost afraid to shift my weight in the chair I'm sitting on lest I drift away beyond the window, passing through the glass barrier like a wraith.

Ideas come and go, flitting through my head as slow as lightning and as fast as ice, cockteasers in their ephemeral quality, there and not-there, not quite substantial, mere beginnings, nothing more and certainly nothing less - but all nude and unabashed.

I watch their erratic motion. This one spins, a Jenny-May-Care-Less; that one prowls, like a noble jaguar, a mouthful of teeth.

Some of them are familar, the Old Ones, like faces you recognize subconsciously in the back portion of a glossy magazine, not-so-subtlly posturing for attention. Some are new, peculiar configurations, hazy and wordless, intimating brilliance. Others are partially both, half-remembered, perhaps novel, as elusive as the name at the tip of your tongue when you need it the most.

I proceed with caution, a tailor with thread and needle, custodian of my cabinet of fabric. I have been burned before, tempted by the glamour of clothing an idea too-good-to-true, only to be betrayed in execution - which is, of course, my fault and my fault alone (the cut is wrong or my assumptions of color misjudged or the fabric just simply untoward). But sometimes, with the hushed rustle of perfectly falling silk, everything works out, and I dress the idea in cloth-of-words, coaxing the idea's inner beauty to shine through in a recognizable fashion.

I have become a tailor of habit, preferring materials I'm already familiar with. Often, it is enough (sometimes simple is best and sometimes simple materials do the best job). But there are times, out in the world, when I see someone else's fashion beast and I am struck dumb with envious admiration. "I recognize that idea," I say to myself, "but I never would have thought to use that fabric!".

And so I borrow (a much more polite term than "steal") and add the textile to my cabinet of materials, excited for the next opportunity to exert the new fabric's influence on my sense of style. And when it does, I cut and hem and pink and tuck until I know that I have made a version that is never a copy.

That's when the naked ideas squeal in horror or delight, for better or worse. For nothing, nothing we say or write ever comes out unclothed.

Yesterday, while playing with Sage, I suddenly asked her to get me some juice. Now this is truly an formidable request - first, because she's only 1 year and 5 months old; and second, because she would have to interpret what I meant and then go to the big ref, open it, select the juice and bring it to me.

She stopped playing, stood up, walked to ref (which Diovine opened for her after she tried, unsuccessfully, to open it by herself - it's quite heavy), tried to lift the big Drysdale orange juice bottle and opted instead to get a ready-to-drink coffee, and walked back to me. She handed me the drink and I thanked her with tears in my eyes but she wasn't done. She went back to ref, got another drink, gave it to her mother and gave us the sweetest smile imaginable.

She obviously takes after Nikki in the smarts! What a clever little girl.

A big round of thank-you's to everyone who called, texted, emailed and tagged me about the award.

I appreciate all your kind words and hope to continue to share what thoughts I have about certain things (although of course Martin Heidegger wrote that every author writes just one piece, no matter how many different times he writes, and that it is not necessary to read anything else from that author to understand what he is all about).

I've had the pleasure of having the company of the most interesting and inspiring of friends, workmates and fellow writers through my life, people who push and challenge me to better myself. Now before this gets too mushy, again, thanks to my friends who suffer through my opinionated-ness and very loud voice.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003



24 hours or so after writing the post below, the Palanca Awards people inform me that "The Onan Circle", the one-act Play I entered, won 2nd prize this year. Just when I had resigned myself to a graceful acceptance of loss.

Geez. If you didn't know me better, you'd think my previous entry was me attempting to be horribly precious. Everything below is still true, of course, but how can I not be jubilant?

My stomach hurts like hell and my ass is like a faucet, but something I worked on won - so there is a bit of balance in the world after all.

There are plays and pieces of fiction that I can write fast, some take longer. This one took 3 years of drafts and revisions, including morphing into a 2-act monster, shifting language from English to Filipino to English again, and paring down multiple characters and scenes. You know, of course, of my belief that there are certain things better left alone for a time, when you're stuck, lazy or out of inspiration. You can always return to them at some later point.

Sometimes it just takes time.


I'm in the middle of elation and having to run to the bathroom. The irony...

What a year so far.

Monday, August 04, 2003

the magic of negros

Carl rhapsodised over the weekend about Lucero's prize-winning story, The Death of Fray Salvador Montano, Conquistador of Negros - about how magical and lyrically it was written, and how Hinirangesque it was. Indeed, a number of writers from South of Manila (or who set their stories in the South) are able to create wonder with the islands of Negros and Iloilo and the cities of Dumaguete and Bacolod. Dumaguete, home of Silliman University and the famous workshop (which began in 1962), provides authors much nurturing and challenges their writing acuity.

Here are some great Negros short stories, Palanca Award winners all, for your pleasure:

The Black Monkey by National Artist Edith Lopez Tiempo

What I Love Or Will Remember Most About High School by Vicente G. Groyon III

The Death of Fray Salvador Montano, Conquistador of Negros by Rosario Cruz Lucero

Stories by César Ruiz Aquino

If you are a writer, you must read good stuff like this as often as you can. By exposing yourself to the good stuff you learn discernment and pick up invaluable lessons that cannot be taught.

Oh, and speaking of the Palancas: if you are one of those who are waiting for the results of this year's competition, well, if you haven't received a telegram or three by the time you read this, better luck next time. All winners are informed by telegram around this time. (I add this because I noticed some people in my site stats querying Google and Yahoo for the results.)

Remember that awards, while nice, are not the be-all end-all of literary existence. The important thing, more than not sour-graping, is to keep writing in your way, in your voice, getting things "right". Writing should do these things: give you a voice, give you joy and set you free.

That is your most powerful, most personal magic - the magic of words. And the link between magic and awards is forced, at best.

After a month of just suffering and waiting for my tummy troubles to subside, I finally went to see an Internist today. For the past weeks I've been generally weaker, and no amount of Gatorade restores the liquids I keep losing. I've always been lactose intolerant, but this is simply absurd.

While waiting for the doctor, I was struck by the number of people waiting to see specialists for their various ailments. Everyone gets sick, everyone deteriorates. It is the way of the world.

As I grow older, I realize that things I take for granted are now things I need to pay more attention to. My health, for example. Traditionally, I get really sick twice a year, when the seasons change (in our case, rain and no rain - which is better than Seattle's all-rain). Now I find myself more suseptible to little things. A cold, a cough, the threat of asthma's return, flu, whathaveyou. I tire more readily and find myself getting drowsy during times I'd normally be up. While I was stuck at the doctor's lobby, I wished I could just upgrade my body, my intestines, my lungs.

Anyway, it seems I have an ameoba or somesuch (though in my mind, I always liked the paramecium better, more visual with all its thousand tiny legs) wreaking havoc with my insides. I'm supposed to see another specialist, a G.I. (gastro-intestinal guy) to see, after my current round of medication and observation, if I have the more dire cyst version of the thing. If so, I'm told that my liver or spleen or whatever is in danger because these fuckers can be nasty. Something like that - I wasn't paying too much attention because I was dreading the inevitable blood tests and the fecalnalysis.

So. I bought all the medicines, choking back my shock at the cost, plus this powder thing I'm supposed to mix with water to replenish myself better than Gatorade can. And I feel sad and tired and there's still a lot of work to be done but I'm just so physically down.

That, and my mind just wants to shut down.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

black zodiac

This list of the Black Zodiac characters from the 2001 film Thir13en Ghosts reads like an evil power group I'd throw at the players of my old RPG, complete with killer lines, attitudes and funky storylines. The Torn Prince, in particular, sounds great.

The Jackal
The Juggernaut
The Great Child & Dire Mother
The Hammer
The Withered Lover
The Pilgremess
The Bound Woman
The Torn Prince
The Merciless Child
The Lost Soul
The First Born Son
The Torso
The Angry Princess

Of course, I'd tweak some of the titles, drape them in funky attire and throw in a signature item or two. Just for maniacal fun.

Listings like this bring to mind Glen Cook's Taken, my own Immaculata (a group, not the Hinirang heroine), Honored Blood, Doomgarde and their all their nasty foes.

I miss running a game.