Tuesday, March 30, 2004

happy endings

Speaking of Charles, he has an interesting post on cycles in which he wrote of my philosophy concerning happy endings.

Writing-wise, I repudiate the notion of happy endings. It all depends on when you choose to terminate the story. The only true physical ending is death, after all, and if you subscribe to that as the ending, then everything does end in tears. The so-called "happy endings" are just earlier terminations of a scenario - such as all the "happily ever after" endings that plague rewritten fairy tales. No one knows what happens the day after (though Sondheim's lovely Into The Woods gives us entertaining scenarios).

I believe that all happy endings are false. It is a matter of the author exercising creative control as pushed by his agenda. I prefer something more ambiguous, something more akin to the life I experience day by day, something that is somehow paradoxically more limpid because of its murkiness.

I do not believe in happy stories, not because I think them impossible, but simply because I cannot accept that anything is so simple, so cut and dried. It insults my intelligence. It spits in the face of my humanity.

I can only accept happy endings in the context of a parody, or in a deliberate surreal manner, or in anything that does not ascribe to realism. Because reality is more complex than finding one's eternal bliss. The notion that joy is the be-all end-all of things is simply naivete at its worst.

My reading life is too short to be held hostage by insensate delight.

I do believe that joy and happiness can be written about and experienced in real life. But please, please, please, spare me fiction that ties everything neatly in the end with a wedding or a romance or a birth or a sunrise or the flowering of hope or the triumph of one person against all odds.

Give me doubt, let me wrestle with my conscience, force me to invent answers and stroke my imagination with even more questions.

Show me something to believe - if you show perfection I can only ask "where is the blemish that makes it human?".

Allow me the privilege of experiencing the human condition - do not patronize me with sweetness.

Vivir para contarla

I just finished Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Living To Tell The Tale, and once again I am in awe of this man, my spiritual writer-father. Apart from his usual dazzling turn of phrase, the manner in which he deals with time in this novel is nothing short of spectacular. Time is at his mercy, bending forward and backwards as he needs it to. This memoir (the first of three) begins and ends with the tangible texture of melancholy, without being maudlin. When I grow up, I want to be like him. Sigh.

Also beautiful, but tragically ruined by a staggeringly weak final fourth, is Jeffrey Ford's The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque. His control of language and nuance is superb but his great flaw with his novels is how it all resolves (his Physionomy suffered from the same malady). His short stories on the other hand are generally superb, well-crafted masterpieces that challenge and move (best examples are "Creation", "The Green Word" and my all-time favorite of his "At Reparata") - as did the majority of the contents of his collection, The Fantasy Writer's Assistant And Other Stories(both books courtesy of Charles, the source of hard-to-find books. Both "Creation" and the collection won the recent World Fantasy Awards, and deservedly so.

With all the good writing going on, I feel recharged myself. And quite challenged to create. I'm all very proud of Nikki, who matched me work for work over my writer's holiday, generating an essay, a play and a short story, all well-written.

I hope my little girl writes too.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

three down, and in the home stretch

I just finished the Filipino play. Let me just say that being handicapped in the Filipino language is such a bitch. Every so often, I need to stop and translate my thoughts since I think and write primarily in English.

Still, the final product is not bad, a tad melodramatic but writing in Filipino does that to me. Besides, if I get in the mood, I can translate the whole thing back to English and tweak it to death.

I'm just so relieved that have been able to set a goal and meet it, with results that I can be sort of happy with (you know me, I'd rather rewrite the world). But there's only so much I can do before the need for distance arises.

Even if these things don't do what I hope they do, I'm a happy man.

And now, at last, a long break with the Marquez autobiography.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

two down, and miles to go before i sleep

The one-act play is done. I woke up at 7am and started pounding away at the laptop, took a break for lunch, and completed, edited and formatted the 82-page thing by 3pm.

Earlier, I had to choose between two plays-in-progress, to determine which I would complete (the third, in Filipino, is a given). Remembering Buddha's comments about the first play of mine that he read, I decided to go for the one that would challenge me the most and construct it in the manner of a choreo-play.

In a way it was like wearing old shoes. A bit of initial discomfort, but then the cadence sets in and the rhythm carries you through the steps. I barely felt the hours pass by - I was hopping and skipping and jumping until it was time to edit.

I think that I have been spoiled by my own advocacy of guerilla writing. Because I knew I could always sneak in a thousand words or so once in a while, I neglected the discipline of actually setting aside time to write. Well, in the past 36 hours, I have a story and a play and I don't feel exhausted or stir crazy. I think I will institute one weekend a month wherein I lock myself somewhere and make myself write.

Tonight, I tackle the Filipino play.

We'll see what happens.

Friday, March 26, 2004

one down, more to go

Just finished writing, polishing and formatting my new story for Strange Horizons.

Let's hope it gets accepted. It's a little sci-fi story (gasp, Vin, gasp) about a girl who looks for love.

Back to salt mines now.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

serious writing days

And so it begins.

In front of me, a list of things to finish or begin - plays and prose, rescued vignettes, half-formed ideas.

Three days to complete what needs to be done.

My tools: words, my laptop, a hotel booking, a considerate wife and a ridiculous amount of faith in my capacity to produce.

Now it's to shut up and stop talking the talk.

It's time to work.

See you next week when I come back from my sojourn with words, hopefully not wretchedly empty-handed.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004


Over my lunch hour yesterday, I walked to the nearby post office to mail my fiction submissions. One of the things required was an International Reply Coupon to accompany each submission, but when I asked to purchase some I was informed that the only place to get them was at the main post office in Quiapo in the City of Manila.

Well, I live in Pasig City and my office is in the City of San Juan. Going to the main post office would mean having to cross Quezon City before reaching the City of Manila. A nightmarish scenario for someone like me who just eschews long land trips, especially through traffic. But if I didn't, I could kiss any chance of potential publiction goodbye.

Impulsively, I flagged a cab and asked if we could make the trip to Quiapo and back to San Juan in a reasonable time. The driver shook his head, citing horrible traffic near Sta. Ana.

"Well, do you know of a route to Manila without passing through Sta. Ana?" I asked him.

"Of course!" he replied, his pride stung.

"Let's go," I told him, climbing into the cab and biting back all my nasty words.

The sun was scorching but the cab was air-conditioned-cool, and oddly enough, instead of my temper flaring at the reality of my rash action, I was slowly seduced by the sights of the trip. We passed through a startling variety of streets and thoroughfares, alleys and one-way streets. I saw glittering buildings, sad little shanties, a bewildering riot of colors at an area that seemed to specialize in fresh flowers, numerous schools and universities, dozens of love motels advertising their 3-hour S.A.W. (Stay-A-While) rates (which used to be called "short time" in my youth), roadside restos piled high with viands and eaters, statues of angry heroes with bolos and flags, dilapidated churches, dormant sex clubs, old movie houses and establishments with ancient signages announcing exotic wares and services.

And all the people. I've gotten used to seeing a certain general set of people: business folk, clients, suppliers, mallgoers, transit-users. That day, I couldn't help feeling frustrated that I didn't bring my camera. I saw more people laughing and smiling than I usually do in the space of a month - crossing the streets, carrying tools of their trade, conversing with fellow students, eating meals with their feet raised, swinging in trees, pushing carts, crowding jeeps, waving from rooftops, buying and selling and walking and running and singing. It was like I walked into an series of art directed movie sets. Colors shone in the bright sunlight and I looked every part the stranger.

I had little sense of the passage of time, I was so entraced by the things I saw, filing them in my memory for future reference - already, stories were suggesting themselves, intimating plotlines and characters. Before I knew it, I was in Manila, in front of the main post office.

When the Americans rebuilt the City of Manila after the war, the architect in charge took inspiration from the building styles used in Washington, D.C. So our main post office would fit right in there, with its towering columns and sprawling girth. The entire building was of a certain rose hues, infused with a touch of terra cotta. There was a huge fountain that fronted it, spewing water at an unreasonable rate, as if trying to refute the rule of the sun.

I remember thinking, before walking in, that the edifice reminded me of a cathedral - an observation further ratifed upon entry because, as is customary from time to time, there was a power outage. The entire interior was pitch black, a pervasive gloom only broken by feeble candlelight. These candles were set inside the numerous teller windows, as one would place candles of devotion in church alcoves for the the saints. I could sense people around me, but every shadow moved in silence, like mute wisps that only suggested a physical form. In keeping with the cathedral theme, barely anyone spoke, and those that did seemed to speak from a distance, the space around us playing tricks of acoustics, rendering banal conversation into something seemingly divine.

I found the alcove where my coupons were sold (with some difficulty, I can tell you, given the fact that I barely allowed my eyes to get used to the darker environment). But the lady there told me that I had to wait an hour for the official person who could stamp my coupons. An hour.

I left the building and crossed the fountain and found myself in a park. The vast area was shaded by trees with generous foliage and peppered with inviting benches and wooden swings. In the heart of it was a police outpost, which made me feel somewhat secure (this is Manila, after all, and the laws of magic realism state that oddness can occur at any time). I found a place that sold food and ordered a sandwich and a drink, and while I ate the oily mess I thought about how little I knew about the cities around me. When a pair of children started dancing under the trees I felt the urge to shout "Wait, wait. Stop that and wait for me to get my camera!". But I took a mental picture instead and later, perhaps, I will develop it with words.

The coupons cost P100 each and I bought several so I wouldn't have to repeat my sudden excursion in the future (though by this time, I don't think I would mind all that much). Each of the four manuscripts cost just over P200 to mail. So each one cost me a total of P300 (with the coupon for reply safely sealed within the thick envelopes).

On my way back to the office, we cut through the City of Mandaluyong, with its own distinct character (like an old person being forced to adopt to change, and both succeeding and failing in heartbreaking ways).

Then it was off to the City of Makati for my late afternoon client meeting. Unlike all the other cities I visited that day, Makati is polished and modern and swanky. All the people think they're beautiful and dress in ways they think are beautiful. I met my client at a resto that charged P200 for a small plate of pansit (Filipino noodles with toppings) - outrageous compared to my P22.50 sandwich earlier that day.

Then it was back to city of my comfort, my home with wife and child. When I finally arrived, I noticed my digital camera sitting on top of my computer table. I wanted to say "oh, the things I've seen" but took a shower and fell asleep instead.
fantasy life

submissions log

3/23 Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (Von Gelder)
3/23 SCIFI.COM (Datlow)
3/23 Realms of Fantasy (McCarthy)
3/23 Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet (Link & Grant)
3/23 Fantastic Metropolis (Rodriguez)


4/01 Strange Horizons
4/01 Interzone or Asimov's

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

submit and forget

I've just finished editing, polishing and formatting four stories for submission to four markets (Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, SCIFI.com, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet and Realms of Fantasy). I'll be snail-mailing all the manuscripts tomorrow with a little prayer before forgetting about them - let these stories rise or fall on their respective weaknesses or merits, as how things should be - until the rejection letters come.

I understand how fortunate I was when my first effort was purchased and then purchased again for inclusion in an anthology. I'm steeling my heart for the "no, thank you, you are a sad, small 'writer' and we are a serious publication" missives - all part of the growing experience (just kidding, all these publications have a form letter for rejection).

I also hope to finish two other stories before the Serious Writing Weekend, the ones I'm planning to submit to Strange Horizons and Asimov's (or perhaps Interzone). And Writers of the Future.

I'm a tad cavalier with my paper children, since I cut the umbilical cord as soon as they're finished. I do my best and then do my best not to fall in love with my own words. I am of the inclination that loving one's work shrieks of masturbation, a kind of intellectual and emotional self-abuse. This is not to say I don't like what I write (although, frequently, rereading something I wrote after some time has passed frequently makes me want to rewrite the entire thing).

So if one or more get accepted, fantastic. If not, then I'll do what other authors do when trying to penetrate paying markets - shop it around until someone gives in or until I determine that my loveless attitude is, in fact, justified. All of these professional markets do not accept simultaneous submissions (when you submit the same story to multiple publishers in the hope that one of them buys it), which I completely agree with. Which is why it makes sense to start with a number of different stories and then rotate them as the fates decree.

The new interstitial stuff I'm developing is actually dual purpose. Apart from trying to be published abroad, there's always local publishing (I'm thinking of putting together my short fiction in a collection for later this year or sometime next year - we'll see).

So am I writing some science fiction? Yes and no. I have never liked the genre, and was heartened to read in Asimov's Science Fiction submission guidelines "...we're looking for 'character oriented' stories, those in which the characters, rather than the science, provide the main focus for the reader's interest. Serious, thoughtful, yet accessible fiction will constitute the majority of our purchases..." Thank god. Because the very thing that makes sci fi dreary, ennui-inducing and fatally repellent to me is when the science aspect (the 'high concept', technology, or 'big idea') is the center of the "story". If I want to read something like that, I'd rather pick up a science journal.

Instead, I'm thinking about near-future stories that have the science as part of the background. Having said that though it is still a big leap for me, given my pecadilloes and reliance of good old magical realism (to digress: Nikki just surprised me tonight with a copy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's bio - and I want to paint the meadows with delight. And to digress even further: it turns out that Marquez is buddies with fellow Colombian Shakira - check out her DVD Shakira Live and Off the Record).

But it is no secret that I am a fantasist at heart, and all these excursions into "serious" prose is also agenda-driven: to be able to contribute to the growing body of literate fantasy. To create speculative fiction that has a degree of depth, creativity and art that refutes the terribly written "sword & sorcery" tropes that plague unsuspecting readers. To write magical stories that infuse a sense of wonder while telling a good tale with finely-tuned characters. Of course, I am far from my goals, but it helps me to understand what I'm aiming for.

I think the best way to grow as a writer is to simply keep writing. More likely than not, I'll produce things I will be unhappy with, but silver bullets can transform something pedestrian into something beautiful - silver bullets being time dedicated to craft, technique and a gazillion revisions.

Friday, March 19, 2004

billy's back

After he was terrorized by the police, my favorite pirate DVD vendor is back at Greenhills, plying his illegal film copies.

This time, he has a front of (still-fake) music CDs. If you ask him for the DVDs, he'll look around warily, and, once he has ascertained that there's no one suspicious in the vicinity, will pass you a list of his latest offerings. These Quiapo-sourced copies are high-level rips. You select what you want, without discussing price (because, as a favored customer, you already know your deep discount level), and his hands get busy under the table. In seconds, he'll hand you your selections, wrapped in discreet thin green plastic, with a smile and a "thank you, Boss".

To watch over the weekend (assuming no writing is done):

Bring It On Again (what can I say? I loved the first one, with young nubile cheerleaders jumping around)
Master & Commander (to see if Crowe' was any good)
The Cat In The Hat (for Sage)
Brother Bear (for Sage)
Looney Tunes: Back In Action (for all of us, because we love Brendan Fraser)
Love Actually (because I honestly do not want to watch this in a movie theatre)
Duplex (because once in a while you need something stupid)
Monster (to see if Theron deserved it)
House of Sand and Fog (for Kingsley)
three days

Nikki and I are thinking about going away for around 3 days, before the Holy Week.

I need time to focus on finishing all the stuff I need to write - two or three plays plus around 25,000 words of prose - and it is next to impossible to concentrate when the object of your adoration is jumping up and down the bed shouting your name with unmitigated glee (I mean Sage, of course, but sometimes Nikki does jump around when I ask with a twinkle in my eye).

There was a time when I could write with some distraction, but now I just can't. If I were running on pure inspiration, sure. But when I am deliberately doing things like structuring a story, or working on a complex sentence diagram, or running through my vocabulary for that perfect word... not anymore.

So, our options are:

1. We walk across the road and check in at the Galleria Suites. Very convenient, true, but there is no true sense of distance (but do I really need distance?).

2. We check in at the City Garden in Makati or the Sulu Hotel in Quezon City. There's some distance but still the comforts of Manila (but somehow, if we're going to spend for a hotel anyway, why not just leave town completely?).

3. Fly to Baguio (sorry, but the road trip would kill me, and the flight is exceedingly short and a bit exciting too). In addition, it's cooler there and it would give Nikki a lot more to do than just laze in the bubble bath for three days while I pound away at the laptop. But since we're willing to take a flight, why not leave Luzon altogether?

4. Fly to Cebu and stay at that garden hotel we love. The danger here is the fact that we have friends in Cebu and it would seem rude to not even bother linking up. But if we do, then just when do I write? Knowing these guys, we will be draged half-unwillingly to an island for some aquatic delights, and at night we'd probaby do a circuit of cool spots.

5. Fly to Hong Kong or Singapore for three days. What?! Just to write?! Can you see the absurd path my thinking has taken me on? Not only have I managed to multiply our expenses by a magnitude (because of course we'll need shopping money - you don't expect us to sit in the hotel room of a foreign country and not go book-hunting), but I've also managed to create a silly solution for a small need. Sigh.

6. Stay at home. And learn to write with eyes and ears closed.

We'll see.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

everyman = artist

We are playwrights when we converse (writing scenes and dialogues as we speak to the other characters in our circles), costume designers when we dress ourselves (selecting cut, pattern and texture to best accommodate our character in context), painters when we decorate our home (choosing colors for our walls), authors when we text or email (because prose, no matter how badly spelled or truncated is still prose), art directors when we select things we like for the bedroom (inherently understanding how things juxtapose), singers in the shower, curators in front of the mini-display cases, filmakers and photographers with our digital cameras.

Isagani Cruz, one of Manila's foremost intellectuals and critics, wrote that art is the province of the common man, and that it is only the artist who institutionalizes it. The artist takes the experience and transforms it into something other people can read or view or feel - but art does not belong to the artist.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004


Monday, March 15, 2004

be prepared

What I was told to be an intimate one-on-one with a large potential client over lunch suddenly became a tour de force presentation in front of their president, VPs for various departments, SBU and marketing heads.

It's a good thing I'm not afraid of crowds and am not intimidated by power suits.

But still.

It would have been better if I had known - I would have dressed up and read up on today's paper. It went swimmingly well though, because my philosophy is this: at the end of the day, all those powerful people seated in front of you are human too, and a sense of humor plus being to think quickly on your feet will almost always save the day.

That, and a wide vocabulary.

And a newly-shaved head (to give off that creative artist/scary businessman dichotomy).

Saturday, March 13, 2004

table of contents

Ellen Datlow recently posted the list of stories that will appear in the Year's Best Fantasy & Horror Seventeenth Annual Collection in August. She, of course, selects the horror half of the anthology, while Kelly Link and Gavin Grant choose the fantasy half. Here's the list, as it was posted (I say that because, well, it's alphabetized and my name is first up - so don't think I put myself on top LOL):

Dean Francis Alfar. "L'Aquilone du Estrellas (The Kite of Stars)". Strange Horizons 1/6/03.
Paolo Bacigalupi. "The Fluted Girl". F&SF 6/03.
Dale Bailey. "Hunger: A Confession". F&SF 3/03.
Nathan Ballingrud. "You Go Where It Takes You". Sci Fiction 7/16/03.
Laird Barron. "Old Virginia". F&SF 2/03.
Terry Bisson. "Almost Home". F&SF 10-11/03.
Kevin Brockmeier. "The Brief History of the Dead". The New Yorker 9/8/03.
Scott Emerson Bull. "Mr. Sly Stops for a Cup of Joe". Gathering the Bones (Tor).
Richard Butner. "Ash City Stomp". Trampoline (Small Beer Press).
Dan Chaon. "The Bees". McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales (Vintage).
Peter Crowther. "Bedfordshire". Gathering the Bones (Tor).
Karen Joy Fowler. "King Rat". Trampoline (Small Beer Press).
Adam Corbin Fusco. "N007-JK1". Borderlands 5 (Borderlands Press).
Neil Gaiman. "A Study in Emerald". Shadows over Baker Street (Del Rey).
Theodora Goss. "Lily, with Clouds". Alchemy #1.
Glen Hirshberg. "Dancing Men". The Dark (Tor).
Brian Hodge. "With Acknowledgements to Sun Tzu". The Third Alternative #33.
Nina Kiriki Hoffman. "Flotsam". Firebirds (Firebird).
Shelley Jackson. "Husband". The Paris Review #164.
Kij Johnson. "At the Mouth of the River of Bees". Sci Fiction 10/7/03.
Stephen King. "Harvey's Dream". The New Yorker 6/30/03.
Paul LaFarge. "Lamentation over the Destruction of Ur". Politically Inspired (MacAdam/Cage).
Marc Laidlaw. "Cell Call". By Moonlight Only (PS Publishing).
Ursula K. Le Guin. "Woeful Tales from Mahigul". Changing Planes (Harcourt).
Thomas Ligotti. "Purity". Weird Tales #331.
Kelly Link. "The Hortlak". The Dark (Tor).
Sara Maitland. "Why I Became a Plumber". On Becoming a Fairy Godmother (Maia Press).
Maureen F. McHugh. "Ancestor Money". Sci Fiction 10/1/03.
Mike O'Driscoll. "The Silence of the Falling Stars". The Dark (Tor).
Philip Raines & Harvey Welles. "The Fishie". Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet 6/03.
M. Rickert. "Bread and Bombs". F&SF 4/03.
Benjamin Rosenbaum. "The Valley of the Giants". Argosy #1.
George Saunders. "The Red Bow". Esquire 9/03.
Lucius Shepard. "Only Partly Here". Asimov's 3/03.
Vandana Singh. "The Wife". Polyphony 3 (Wheatland Press).
Michael Marshall Smith. "Open Doors". More Tomorrows and Other Stories (Earthling Publications).
Michael Swanwick. "King Dragon". The Dragon Quintet (Science Fiction Book Club).
Karen Traviss. "The Man Who Did Nothing". Realms of Fantasy 6/03.
Megan Whalen Turner. "The Baby in the Night Deposit Box". Firebirds (Firebird).

What kills me: being in the same anthology as the writers whose words have both inspired and entertained through the years - Ursula Le Guin, Thomas Ligotti, Stephen King, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Neil Gaiman... Such a rush.

I must write more.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

siglo: freedom availability

In addition to existing venues (ComicQuest, CCHQ, and the outlets supplied by Christian Commercial, Christian Ventures, CA Communication, plus Jade Bookstore and Popular Bookstore), I'm happy to announce that our book is now available at the following bookstores, by late next week:


Rizal Ave. Branch (701 Rizal Ave)
Superbranch (Gen. Roxas St., Cubao)
Glorietta Branch (Ayala Ctr., Makati)
Harrison Plaza Branch (Mabini St.)
QC Ave. Branch (Quezon Ave. cor. Sct. Borromeo)
Ali Mall Branch (Araneta Ctr., Cubao)
Greenhills Branch (Virra Mall)
Greenbelt 1 Branch (Ayala Ctr., Makati)
Robinson's Place Branch (Ermita Manila)
Festival Mall (Filinvest, Muntinlupa)
SM North Branch (North Ave., cor EDSA, QC)
SM City Southmall Branch (Las PiÒas)
Robinson's Galleria Branch (Ortigas Ave. cor EDSA)
SM Megamall Branch (Julia Vargas Ave., cor EDSA)
Shangri-la Plaza Branch (Shaw Blvd cor EDSA)
SM Manila Branch (San Marcelino St., Manila)
Katipunan Branch (Katipunan Ave, Loyola Heights)
Sta. Lucia East Branch (Marcos Hwy. cor. Felix Ave., Cainta)
Cyber One Branch (Eastwood Cyber Park, Bagumbayan QC)
Podium Branch (ADB Ave., Ortigas Ctr.)


Greenbelt 4 (Level 2, Greenbelt 4, Ayala Ctr.)
Megamall ((Julia Vargas Ave., cor EDSA)
Alabang Town Ctr (Muntinlupa)
Glorietta 3 (Level 2, Glorietta 3, Ayala Ctr.)

In addition, we have a full page ad in Candy, something coming up in Meg, and another radio station (88.3) next week.

Get the word out!

Gah. Gotta get up early for the Siglo radio interview (99.5 RT) and as is usual with me when I really need to sleep, I simply can't.

And I am so tired. My little business has a near-overload of projects (hang in there, Carl!) and there is an onslaught of deadlines this week and next.

Deep breaths, little steps. Just get through the week.

Except that even my weekend has been transformed into a series of business meetings and conference calls.

Well, that's the way life is. No use in whining.

Just needed to vent.

Hmmm. Mini-stop.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

vignette: beauty (gaudencio & jacinta)

*removed for completion - thanks to those who made the request*

Monday, March 08, 2004

forlorn vignette: karina's journal

Some of us, when the reality of the invasion broke through the final barriers of disbelief, fled the cities. Great Parthen, the Jewel of Anristen, was emptied in a matter of days. Piren of the Clusters, Huredinth the Ancient, Selemos Sion and Gated Rune followed suit. It was the same in the Southern Lands – Izak, Tergit, Bial, Volor, Ria Mnes, in all the cities of the Constellate as well as the Principalities of Thorn across the Fourth Sea.

Enormous caravans, farraginous and densely populated, crisscrossed the lands. Windships and aerial caravels dotted the skies. On rivers, lakes and seas thousands of vessels of various types jostled for position. They carried everything they could: mementos, treasures and keepsakes; artwork, books and esoterica; husbands, wives, lovers and children; pets, merchandise and food.

People abandoned their homes in the search of safety, only to find that the very places they had deemed safe were already in ruin. The enemy found the refugees in vast open spaces and burned them in massive funeral pyres that included everything that meant anything to them.

Some of us, when others ran away, elected to stay for various reasons. There were those who still could not accept the putative evidence right before their eyes – they persisted in a strict disbelief, as if by force of will they could deny the chaos around them. There were those who were resigned to defeat – in the face of terror they gave up the fight and hoped only to survive and eke out an existence under the new masters. There were those who simply refused to leave their homes – families who had spent generations in one place were determined to make it their final resting place. There were those who looked at horror in the eye and decided that the most reasonable course of action was to drink themselves into a stupor, sheathed from the unacceptable by smoke and alcohol.

People engaged in the heart-breaking game of trust, wagering their past and present against the uncertain future. But the fatal games were not dependent on fortune or happenstance, and all players who anted up paid with their lives.

Some of us, when opportunities became apparent in the confusion, took advantage of fear and looked to make profit. They bottled water and claimed it a nepenthe against the growing darkness, refashioned religious amulets as potent charms, and claimed to speak on behalf of the invaders, exacting atrocious amounts of money in exchange for the aegis of their dubious embassies.

People would eventually learn in the harshest possible terms not to trust these miracle workers, but it was a lesson many refused to accept. Many continued to swear by the efficacy of their glowing trinkets. Thousands died with ornaments clasped in their hands.

Some of us, sensing the end of our days, took to battle. Heroes rose by the hundreds, alone or in groups, and fought the grotesqueries with various motivations. Those who lived for glory died in the charnel pits, pleading for their lost lives. Those who lived for honor died bereft of honor, reduced to tooth and claw when their shiny weapons broke and when their splendid armor shattered against the enemy. Those who bore great magic fared little better. At first their magery seemed an effective hindrance to the legions that swarmed the lands, but as they exhausted their finite spells against the seemingly infinite army, they too fell, withered husks of great men and women perished evoking everything they knew in one final futile strike.

People fought as they knew how, but the enemy had different rules of engagement. Entires armies were destroyed as they rested, for the evening was when the vespertine enemy was most cruel.

The last of us, watching the best of us fall in countless mounds, barricaded ourselves in secret places. But in time all of these were ferreted out and gutted, overwhelmed by the enemy’s unholy intelligence and power.

But the cleverest of tacticians, the most careful of mages and the most paranoid of warriors – a pitiful number- convened and made desperate plans.

The fortress was named Forlorn, after the Ilkaren word for our world.

And in Forlorn we dared to hope.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

ivory tower

Growing up as a writer, I found myself writing in solitude. Don't get me wrong - of course all writing is done in solitude (yes, even a collaboration because you need to write your part yourself before you compare notes with your co-writer and go through the bloody process of integration). But having access to other writers, your peer group, well, this was just not the case for me.

I started to write seriously in college, and over at the University of the Philippines, the existence of cliques and the "in crowd" proved detrimental to a new writer like me, who did not want to engage in the politics of asslicking and mutual admiration.

So I wrote on my own, ignoring and ignored by the "established" writers who were based in the University. I didn't know who was who because it really didn't matter. Until I met my first mentor, another writer who was somehow considered outcast because of several reasons - his advanced age, the nature of things he wrote about, his eccentricities. Wilfredo Ma. Guerrero and I hit it off. He found in me a young playwright with a thousand questions, and I found in him a willing teacher who was happy to share his experience. One of the biggest reasons we connected was our love for plays, and somehow, in the enclosed literary caste system of the time, playwriting was considered less "serious" than fiction.

It was Guerrero who encouraged me to write like I had never written before, to be unafraid and uncompromising in my developing style, to seek my voice and shout loud. He wanted both of us to compete in the Carlos Palanca Awards for Literature - because in all his years, he had never been recognized by that august body.

So we wrote a play each and I was astounded when we both were the only playwrights that won that year. Even more shocking to me was the fact that my play placed higher than his.

He died soon afterwards and I felt the loss of my friend like the heaviest thing in the world.

I picked myself up and continued to write, winning more awards, getting my fiction published in magazines, and slowly slowly slowly learning about writing.

But apart from him, I had no one. No one to talk to about writing outside of the few classes I took in writing. Until I was invited by Ed and Edith Tiempo to the Silliman Writers Workshop in Dumaguete.

The set of epiphanies I experienced there under their guidance, kindess and tutelage was the equivalent to several cerebral and spiritual coronaries.

Invigorated, I wrote some more, won some more, then stopped writing. Obstensively, to concentrate on my life: marriage, career, the real world.

That was 1995, when I turned my back on plays and fiction and all my writer friends.

It would only be in 2001 that I started writing again. I put together a comic book, "The Lost", which owes a tip of the hat to metatextual claptrap and Pirandello. Then I started writing new fiction, particularly a sequence of stories for Hinirang, a reimagined Colonial-era Philippines with the fantastic thrown in.

With a group of talented individuals, I began to feel creative again.

Last year, I made my first international professional fiction sale to Strange Horizons with "L'Aquilone du Estrellas". I also won my 5th Palanca Award for "The Onan Circle" and the miraculous "Siglo: Freedom" was published.

And this year, "Simeon Rex" is becoming a reality, "Siglo: Passion" will be created and published, the set of stories for "Forlorn" will be written, and "L'Aquilone" will be reprinted in the Year's Best Anthology of Datlow, Link and Grant.

It's really hard to believe.

But more importantly, other writers, complete strangers to me in all but name, made contact with me from across the ocean and digital divide and shared their stories, giving encouragement and giving me a sense of belonging to a greater whole.

And these are people I've never met, persons I've with whom I've had no previous correspondence. Writers whom I knew only by their writing. And yet they took it upon themselves to give a kind word.

And to share their stuff.

It may seem like a small thing, but to someone like me for whom encouragement was in short supply early in my writing life, it takes on a great significance.

Because part of me is ever always challenged to reach the high standards set forth by writers I respect. And their kindness makes it an even more worthwhile endeavor.

Which is why I try to make it a point to encourage other writers who seek me out, or those whose paths intersect mine for an instant or even a lifetime.

So thank you, thank you, you know who guys are.

Though by necessity I continue to write in solitude, it's good to know that the ivory tower's walls are porous.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

wish list: short speculative fiction

Despite the existence of the internet, there are still so many stories I'm unhappy about not being able to read. Here's a short list of shorts I hope to read sometime.

"Dead Boy Found", Christopher Barzak (Trampoline)
"Wild Thing", Charles Coleman Finlay (F&SF)
"The Beautiful Gelreesh", Jeffrey Ford (Album Zutique #1)
"The Trentino Kid", Jeffrey Ford (The Dark)
"Closing Time", Neil Gaiman (McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales)
"The Forest of Forgetting", Theodora Goss (Realms of Fantasy)
"Lily, with Clouds", Theodora Goss (Alchemy #1)
"A Fault Against the Dead", Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Realms of Fantasy)
"The Headline Trick", Douglas Lain (Rabid Transit: A Mischief of Rats)
"Woeful Tales from Mahigul", Ursula K. Le Guin (Changing Planes)
"Broken Branches", Heather Shaw & Tim Pratt (Intracities)
"The Drowned Mermaid", Christopher Barzak (Realms of Fantasy)
"That Good Night", Tim Powers (The Devils in the Details)
"Confusions of Uñi", Ursula K. Le Guin (Changing Planes)
"The Pink Ribbon", A. S. Byatt (Little Black Book of Stories)
"Glass: A Love Story", Jay Lake (Greetings from Lake Wu)
"The Hortlak", Kelly Link (The Dark)

I wish these publications were immediately available over here in the boondocks - or that online versions would be made available sometime after the primary publication for the benefit of poor shmoes like me.

All of these writers have made some sort of impact on me with their previous work, and I long to see what new things they've created.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004


I couldn't sleep last night, so I got up at around 3AM and told Nikki I needed to go out to clear my head. The pressures of the last couple of weeks including all the new stuff I need to write has finally gotten to me. In addition, I still have all these other creative things I'm supposed to write on my plate: finish 2 or 3 plays and new fiction for Forlorn and new stories for publication.

I realized I short-circuited when my sense of what I had previously completed intruded on the things I had yet to do. I found myself in an odd deja vu scenario, writing something already finished (and no wonder it was suspiciously easy). It is not a lack of ideas, because they're coming and coming fast, but rather a matter of prioritizing the order in which I resolve things. Sadly, the purely passionate creative tasks need to take a back seat to the commercial creative work - because the opportunity may not come again.

When I was younger, I was afraid that if I did not immediately sit down and write the moment inspiration struck, I would lose the mad idea forever. As I grew older, I realized (that at least for me) it was not the case. In fact, sometimes it is better to leave the idea alone and deliberately let it stew before committing any time and effort. Often, the dross is expunged when excitement fades, leaving the fine kernel behind.

So I walked, my mind whirling with ideas and schedules and anxiety, and made my way to one of the ubiquitous Ministops in the area. I am thankful for these 24-hour places where I can get something to eat, something to read, something to smoke, something to drink.

The blank table covered by my purchased cluttered echoed my state of mind. So much to think about, so much to do.

A couple of hours later I walked back home (again, I'm thankful I'm a condo dweller in a relatively safe area in the city) and welcomed sleep, since my exhausted mind could not cope with any more scenarios or story ideas or what ifs?

I think everyone needs a Ministop once in a while. Not the thing itself, but what it stands for. A time away from everything and everyone, alone to think or ponder or project. A quiet place away from distractions whether imposed or beloved. I am surrounded by people almost all the time - at work, at home, at play.

But sometimes, I just have to get away and take a mini-stop in solitude.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004


Apart from art direction (for photo shoots), stage direction (for theatre) and video direction (for TV), I also do voice direction - for animation.

I'll be directing the voices and music for "Simeon Rex" (that floating citadel on top is one of the key locations in the long story Nikki and I are weaving) beginning sometime this month and it should be a blast. I'm looking forward to auditioning talents and finding the right voices. Believe me, many an animated property with wonderful scripts and animation has been ruined by horrible voices. It's time to utilize my past as with Repertory Philippines, I guess.

I've hired an award-winning singer/songwriter to compose the series theme song and I'm waiting to be surprised. I have no clue how I expect this to sound, apart from the notion that it must sound "right".

I'm also putting together a little something with El and Charles, that, if fortune is kind, will be something none of us have done before. More as positive events develop. All I can say is that these two young guys have impressed me with their writing. I asked them to jump into the deep blue sea with me, and with little reservations and a lot of good humor, they not only swam but put intelligent marine life to shame.

There are also 2 offers to write a film, both outside the Philippines. As usual, it all depends on my scriptment winning the pitch and persuading the producers to get me and my crew. Writing a live-action film is a whole different animal (as people like Noel, Paolo Dy or Quark can tell you). It takes longer and I have more stillborn examples of films that didn't make it past my own arduous creative process than my plays or fiction.

And there may be another pair of animated properties on the horizon. I know, I know. It all seems odd how all these things are becoming something I can actually hope to acquire. Again, we'll see.

Nothing is certain until the ink is on paper and money in the bank.

But isn't it amazing how the wheel turns?

I prefer this direction.


siglo as gifts

One of my former business partners who is now a big kahuna over at the Department of Trade and Industry overheard people talking about Siglo. When my name was mentioned, his curiosity was piqued. He gave me a call and placed an order for a few dozen copies of the book - to be given as gifts to foreign guests.

Hell, I'd prefer a nice comic anthology over native nailcutters or dried fruit any day (except if I'm on a rain-drenched island, hungry and unkempt).

Thank you, DTI!

Monday, March 01, 2004

siglo: freedom launch pictures

Now that CuteFTP and I are on speaking terms again, here are some shots from the launch. For more, check out the blogs of Marco, Gerry and El.

Marco, El, me, Nikki, Vin and Gerry (not in picture: Andrew, Jason, Hai, Arnold, Yang, Carl and Lan)

With Ariel Atienza (West Side) - coming up on Siglo: Passion this year

Nikki and Vin with Paul Zialcita, percussionist extraordinaire

Paul bashing away at the big drum - he also performed with a k-hon and a water dispenser

Monse did her undulating flamenco thing and won us over with her stylings

On the way back, the van broke down, stranding us temporarily along the center island of EDSA