Wednesday, October 19, 2005

salamanca: the road of publication

Let me shed some light into the process of getting a book published, for the curious.

The hard work of actually sitting down, completing a novel and editing it is just the beginning. As a publisher myself, the option of self-publishing was always present, but for "Salamanca" I really wanted an established outside publisher, like Anvil or one of the university presses. Why? Because there will always be the accusation that self-publishing is just vanity press - that you publish yourself because no one will touch your material because it's terrible (which may be true for some, but certainly not for all cases). Award aside, I also wanted the validation from a publisher, someone I did not know from Adam, and to experience actually having my first novel published by someone other than myself because they believe in the property.

After an exciting series of emails, I decided to visit the Ateneo Press and give them first refusal. Why not UP, my own alma mater? Because of my natural impatience - I need for things to move at my quick pace, and I heard that even the act of submitting material for consideration to them took forever (to be fair though, I would have been armed with recommendations from the former UP Press director and the UP President, so arguably, their clout would have lessened the time - but taking advantage of that would have obliterated one of my goals, which was to get validation for the novel on its own merits, and not because of who recommended it).

Ateneo was open to the idea and informed me that the decision process included letting mystery readers review the novel. If they didn't like it, Ateneo would not publish. If they did, they would go and recommend it to the board. If the board agreed, then it would go on the publishing schedule for the coming year.

So, the first real step was to convince these mystery readers and get their thumbs up. I submitted copies of the manuscript, both soft and hard copies and, like any literary competition, went back to my regular business and secretly hoped for the best. Once again, my novel would be judged. I reasoned that if Ateneo declined, I would go talk to Anvil and everyone else (first time authors have stories about numerous rejections from publishers, persevering until someone finally bit - rejection washes off my back quickly, I'm not one to be utterly desolate for as long as there are other options to look into).

After around three to four weeks, I got a call from Ateneo that they would publish my novel. Apparently, the mystery readers gave Salamanca a thumbs up. Without asking for their identities, I asked my publisher to tell me about who, generally speaking, their readers were. "A cross segment, young and old, 20's to 60's," she said. And what did they say? I begged to read what they said:
Salamanca by Dean Francis Alfar presents, perhaps, the latest addition to the growing roster of Philippine fiction in English that has evidently been shaped by the influences of magic realism. More recently, for example, the works of Rosario Cruz-Lucero (Feast and Famine) have also adapted this same technique of stretching the “consistencies” of realism, bending the premises of much of contemporary Western (continental) fiction, and integrating heretofore unrecognized modes of storytelling (fables, rumors, magical tales) into the capacious space of a novel, all to the effect of not only expanding notions of the possibilities (and goals) of fiction but also capturing “more accurately” he non-Western (Philippine) experience of multiplicity and the supernatural.

While it may be contested whether or not the adaptation of the mode of magical realism to the Philippine context does in fact accurately capture a more “Filipino” experience of reality (and not merely an exotication of our Hispanic-influence culture), Salamanca certainly offers a notable contribution to this enterprise. It is, without a doubt, well-written, and entertaining. Its main character Gaudencio Rivera presents perhaps one of the most unforgettable characters in Philippine fiction (certainly one of the most memorable I have read in a long time): a portrait of the Filipino as an irreverent, if not delightfully sexually ambiguous writer who in his travails of betrayals and reparations spans an exciting aspect of our experience. This is not to mention the other characters in the novel: a Japanese veteran and his tripod-dog; Jacina, the love of Gaudencio’s life, and the muse of Gaudencio’s writing, whose beauty blinds with its capacity to elicit not just a hard-pronged lust, but a hard-tongued river of words; and the albino teacher Mrs. Brown, to name a few.

While it may be typical of magic-realist fiction to conflate historical events with imagined renderings, this novel also certainly does it in a fresh way. In its mix of Palawan history, the Philippine diaspora and what may be considered a quick cross-section of the life of the Filipino writer, it offers an expanded notion of what it is to tell a story and (without sounding too mushy) to live a life. In the end, it reminds us ultimately in its expansive scope of historical retelling and fable making, fantasy and “reality”, what good novels, when they work, can do.

Without reservation, I recommend the publication of Salamanca.

The work under consideration has successfully employed language for the exploration and delineation of a romantic-realistic world that defines the main characters Gaudencio and Jacinta. In most instances, the author impresses us with his ability to imbue common details with astonishingly inspired perceptiveness, as when he says, “He was informed that her name was Jacinta Cordova, and that her beauty was of such purity and perfection that he walls of the house she lived in had turned transparent long ago, to allow both sunlight and moonlight to illuminate her incandescence.” Or, “She arrived a young woman with impossibly blue eyes and hair the color of corn; but with startling rapidity obvious to her students and their parents, she began to fade until, after some years, she became an albino, with the sole exception of her eyes that did not turn pink, but were watered down by her nightly tears into the weakest blue.”

Alfar’s romantic-realistic world is configurated by the perspective of magic realism. Through this, verisimilitude is achieved with the imaginative fusion of the historical and the probable within the context of a Philippine experience. The descriptions, narrations, and dialogues are meant to strain our credibility but, in the end, they are orchestrated to convince us of their aesthetic acceptability. Indeed, Alfar has created a love story that is memorable for its emotional restraint, sustained interest, exceptional characters, and well-conceived plot. The narrative moves at an appropriate psychological pace to give us an interpretation of a slice of Philippine life that is both common and unique. The unique is a result of Alfar’s creative adventurousness with language and the techniques of the genre. All these show why “Salamanca” contributes to the enrichment of our small body of novelistic literature.

Also, Alfar shows us that he has a fictive consciousness – a proper grasp of the magnitude and depth of the novel form, of its “literary architecture.” His novel should be printed.

Based on the recommendations, the board approved the proposal to publish (and of course, I'm delighted with the comments, sabik sa feedback LOL)

Now I have a few days to tweak and edit, then I submit my final MS. Next will be cover design, book design and typesetting (which the publisher asked if I wanted to do, deferring to the fact that I do have a design company - I declined with a smile, since we're doing the Spec Fic Antho already). Then printing, binding and a book launch.


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