Saturday, December 31, 2005

happy new year

I'll post my usual annual report soon, but for now Happy New Year to one and all!

Thank you for your visits and comments and friendship!

May the coming year be filled with blessings for you and your family.

accolades for the luminescent

Kudos to J. Pocholo Martin B. Goitia whose story, "An Introduction to the Luminescent" won first place in the 21st USTETIKA Annual Awarsd for Literature. This is great because Cholo's work, a speculative fiction piece, was recognized as an excellent work of literature - which I wholeheartedly agree with, since "Luminescent" was the first story I selected for Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 1. Go, spec fic!

Friday, December 30, 2005

book list

Here's the list of the books we've gotten so far. There's a good number of non-fiction books, and I wish I could get more histories. Our spec fic haul is pretty satisfying (the Link, the Mitchell and the Borges alone are enough to make me smile) and Tatar's annotated volume is simply wonderful. And at last I was able to pick up a couple of F&SF and Asimov's magazines.

100 Years of Comic Strips - Bill Blackbeard, ed.
2107 Curious Word Origins, Sayings & Expressions - Charles Earle Funk
A History of the Middle Ages - Joseph Dahmus
A History of Violence - John Wagner & Vince Locke
Battle Royale - Koushun Takami (at last, the novel translated from the Japanese)
Changer of Days - Alma Alexander
Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
Devil in the White City - Erik Larsen
Dragon's Treasure - Elizabeth Lynn
Fire Logic - Laurie Marks
Gardens of the Moon - Stephen Erikson
Last Call - Tim Powers
Latitude Zero: Tales of the Equator - Gianni Guadalupi & Anthony Shugaar
Magic for Beginners - Kelly Link
Restaurant Confidential - Michael Jacobson
Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn - Robert Asprin, ed.
The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales - Maria Tatar
The Best American Short Stories 2005 - Michael Chabon, ed.
The Book of Imaginary Beings - Jorge Luis Borges
The Briar King - Greg Keyes
The Charnel Prince - Greg Keyes
The Courtesan - Susan Caroll
The Essential Calvin & Hobbes - Bill Watterson
The Etched City - KJ Bishop
The Family Trade - Charles Stross
The Handy History Answer Book - Rebecca Nelson
The Hidden Queen - Alma Alexander
The History of Murder - Colin Wilson
The Lost Chronicles - Mark Vaz
The Mad Bathroom Companion: The Motherload - Nick Meglin, ed.
The Mammoth Book of New Horror - Stephen Jones, ed.
The New Book of Lists - David Wallechinsky, ed.
The Rabbi's Cat - Joann Sfar
The Simpsons: Barn Burners - Various
The Stories of English - David Crystal
The Wee Free Men - Terry Pratchett
The Year's Best Science Fiction 22nd Annual Colleciton - Gardner Dozois, ed.
Thieves World - Robert Asprin, ed.
Thieves World: Turning Point - Lynn Abbey, ed.
Under the Black Flag - David Cordingly
Villains Victorious - Martin Greenberg, ed.
World Mythology - William Doty, ed.


On the surface, it seems that Filipino communities abroad have broken the deeply ingrained social class/status awareness that is so prevalent back home. It would seem reasonable. After all, when the Filipino community is made up of only a small number of families, dyads or singletons, it makes sense to think that banding together is easier, if not a given. The logic is that we are all Filipinos in a different land, and that since we speak a common language and share a common culture, we ought to be sympathetic to each other and desirous of the company and fellowship of our countrymen. And since extended or permanent residence entails taking root, we struggle with the reality of acclimatization and the weight of loneliness.

To a great extent, Filipinos abroad welcome each other. But sadly, in my observation, after a few weeks or months of open arms, many Filipinos revert to the nastiness in their bones. Like water, they seek other Filipinos whom they consider to be on their own level. Thus, dollar-rich doctors seeks other doctors or rich professionals. Wealthy Filipinas (here due to their Filipino or American husband's largess) eschew the company of other Filipinos whose work is less than acceptable (remember: in the Philippines, the only noble "professions" are doctor, lawyer and landed gentry). Intelligent, educated, native-English-speaking, newly-minted expats seek out others like themselves who can use idiomatic expressions of speech. Like seeks like, and only in the cases of holiday celebrations does the entire community congregrate as if nothing is amiss.

But to the visitor, the class divide is glaringly apparent during these omnibus gatherings. It is equivalent to a party held at my Manila house by my mother, with all her invited guests of different social or familial standings forming little cliques, with the servants bustling about, ignored by all. None of the people I've met here have maids, of course, but they treat some of the other Filipinos here like their own servants - though not obviously, and not all the time. Sadly, in an effort to be accepted, some people willingly allow themselves to be treated as if they were of a lower caste. They fawn over the rich and influential, hoping to be included again or invited once more to the next gathering because exclusion means life as an Outsider. Since the Filipino is almost helplessly social by nature, not being part of a group activity like the community's New Year's Eve celebration is unthinkable.

As a guest and family relation of one of the inlfuential families, I've got it made. Nikki, Sage and I are treated well. We're the center of attention, receive offers to be driven around or shown the sights or taken shopping, offered use of vehicles, pools and houses, introduced to other people left, right, up and down the strata.

But my attention is drawn by the Outsiders, the least powerful at the ball, watching from outside the metaphorical gates. We lock eyes and I am shamed to be on the inside with a glass of white wine.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

story philippines...perhaps

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I just got a happy acceptance note from Story Philippines, that giant-sized new literary publication that debuted a month or so ago (with stories from Phil Spec Fic pioneers Sarge Lacuesta and Kit Kwe). One of my stories (The Maiden & The Crocodile) has been selected for publication in the upcoming February issue. Problem is, it previously appeared in one of my own comic books (ab ovo). I wrote the Editor to explain, and the decision is his.

Even if my story is ultimately not published in this mag because of it previous appearance, I'm actually okay. "Maiden" was written as a experiment in tone, structure and language and is part of the Hinirang cycle of storie (which includes "L'Aquilone du Estrellas", "Terminos", "Rosang Taba", "Sabados con Fray Villalobos", and a number of others); it will be part of my first short fiction collection in 2006 or thereabouts.

And it is my fault for not paying attention to the guidelines. Though honestly, I really wasn't aware as this is something I look at before I submit to various publications - it's always in my best interest to follow the rules, after all. Still, mea culpa.

But of course I do hope the editor accepts it. It would be a wonderful birthday gift (that's right rabbit, I turn 37 on January 2nd).


Update (12/30/05)

The letter I sent got a note back from the editor that said "No problem at all. Thanks, Dean." which I think means the story will be published, so yay! However, I could somehow be reading the terse but happy message wrong and frankly, I'm too embarassed to confirm (kasi naman, parang ang kulit di ba?). So bahala na, let's see what the February issue of the magazine brings.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

a few images from the o2

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This is the view from the porch, the smoking area outside the house that Nikki and I have sequestered. We call the tree "Six Feet Under". Last year, it was reddish brown because we here here during the fall. Sage spotted two squirrels and a couple of birds who made the tree their home. Around the tree is the expanse of the golf course.

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Santa made an appearance at the house (courtesy of Grandma Mina) and surprised the little girl who suddenly experienced her deepest wish come true. Too bad that Santa's surprise gift (Barbie Pegasus) was something her parents bought for her in Manila a month ago. Still, she rationalized that it was probably some other little girl's and gave it back to Santa, opting to wait for her real Christmas gift. On Christmas Day, Santa gave her a V-Smile (a wonderful educational video game set). She was delighted.

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This is Ace, Sage's cousin. Her Uncle Rob and Aunt Rose have no kids of their own, but do have a cat named Smudge and this loving dog, Ace. Ace is 13 years old and deaf but still acts like a puppy. Sage adores him and was happily shocked when Ace gave her a pink tutu for Christmas (When I read the card, she gave him a kiss and said thank you).

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My beautiful wife looks even more devastating in cooler climes. She's been incredible on this trip, given the fact that she takes care of two kids - Sage and me. But she loved the diamond ring I gave her... yay!

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I brought thin cotton shirts and linen pants and things like that, because of course how can anyone think it could possibly be cold in Florida? To survive, I began to pack on the pounds...

Image hosted by that by Christmas, I was tall lump of smiling putty. Make that smiling and singing putty - because apparently the community of friends we met last time we visited remembered my "one man show" and requested a reprise of everything in my tiny repertoire. Me, I'm just glad for our weekly videoke singouts back home with Vin, Drew, Alex and Kate.

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We eat out everyday for almost every meal, from breakfast to dinner and everything in between. Here are Sage, Nikki and Grandma Mina (Nikki's mom) at Japanese resto Takeya, where a single order of sirloin for me had me struggling with a 12-inch plate pilled high with succulent medium rare meaty goodness. I also became an instant convert to zucchini (saute lightly in oil, drizzle in soy sauce and munch away).

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That's Jack, Rose and Rob. Jack's platelet count has dropped to 14, so it's back to transfusions, which is truly depressing to all of us. Rob is Nikki's brother, Rose is his wife. Rob is Ricardo Cepeda's twin brother. Yeah, my brothers-in-law are kickass.

bloated guy smoking

On one hand, I've cut down on the number of cigarettes I have each day. The big motivator? Sloth. I'm too lazy to have to bundle up in warm clothes just to survive the cold outside the house to enjoy a puff. We live on a golf course with no nearby neighbors, so the wide expanse encourages frosty winds. This morning though, my nicotine addiction won over my natural laziness and I watched the white egrets pick through the cold grass, alternately exhaling smoke and water vapor in the feeble sunlight.

On the other hand, the enforced rich meals have had the unwanted effect of ballooning me past the weight I'm happy with. I keep forgetting that America is the land of the supersize (not that we've eaten in a fastfood ever since we got here, I kid you not), and so the steaks I get are 12-16 oz., the Maine lobsters are weighed whole by the pound, and I will never order a pair of chicken breasts from the deli again, since the two pieces I got could have fed my entire office staff and their families for a day. Huge portions of the main courses plus all the add-ons like baked potatoes and their ilk smothered in things like real sour cream have packed on the winter fat on my frame. My silhouette is now closer to Hitchcock's famous outline than the dapper thing I had illusions of maintaining.

It's all too easy to become unhealthy and overweight here. At least in Manila, I could walk from home to office to store and back. Here, everything necessitates a car ride (mental note: when we move to the States, move to a real city where there are people and buildings crammed into city blocks and not so much of this rustic loveliness) because everything is so far from each other. Even Sage has developed a habit of immediately taking a nap when we buckle her up in the car seat:

ME: Are you sleepy?

SAGE: No, Dad. But it's gonna be a long ride, right?


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

reminder: submit to dragon anthology

There's still time to submit your short fiction (or poetry) to Vin Simbulan's upcoming "A Time for Dragons: An Anthology of Philippine Draconic Fiction".

I'm 100% behind this speculative fiction project, naturally, and will be contributing a story or two myself (assuming it/they pass muster, of course). Vin is a two-time National Book Awardee (for his work on Isaw, atbp. and Siglo: Freedom), and his latest output includes fiction and grafiction contributions to 2005's Project: Hero, Siglo: Passion and Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol 1.

Vin says:
Show me something new, something fresh, something that presents the dragon in a new light and restores a sense of awe and wonder. I'll accept tales from across genres: classic fantasy, science fiction, horror, slipstream, children's fiction/juvenilia, as well as poetry - whatever strikes your fancy. Show me new dragons that have never been seen before, make it grand or small, just keep in mind that we are dealing with a creature that has fascinated humanity's collective imagination for centuries. Give it the treatment it deserves.

Here are the requirements (his full post can be found here):

1. Word Count. For fiction, anywhere from 2500 to 6000 words. For poetry, short or long form is acceptable. English language only.

2. Language & Setting. English language. Can be set in original imaginary worlds or the "real" world, not necessarily the Philippines (as Dragons are "universal"). Absolutely no fan fic.

3. Number of Entries. Each author may submit up to two (2) submissions.

4. Format. Only via email. Attach as a Word Document - just make sure your submission is virus-free. Please email all submissions to: viniquest(at)yahoo(dot)com

5. Cover Letter. Kindly include a cover letter that includes the title of your submission, the word count, your full name, contact details including contact numbers, as well as a list of your previously published work, if any. New unpublished authors are more than welcome to submit.

6. Compensation. Each author whose work becomes part of the anthology will receive two (2) author's copies of the final publication.

7. Deadline & Publication Schedule. All submissions must be received before midnight of January 4, 2006. Authors of selected pieces will be informed thereafter. The book will be released by the first quarter of 2006.

Dean's notes:

* Email Vin regarding the deadline. I'm not absolutely certain, but perhaps it has been extended.

** I'm pretty sure that Vin is open to subs from not just the Philippines. Again, address him directly for inquiries.

Saturday, December 24, 2005


Merry Christmas, guys! Have a great holiday with family and friends!

Friday, December 23, 2005

upended days and nights

detroit - jacksonville - palm coast

The flight to Jacksonville was spent slumbering by all three Alfars. Depending on the type of person that you are, travel does one one of two things: it either broadens your horizons, expanding the limited sphere of your personal experiences by exposing you to a variety of new stimuli, triggering lovely thoughts in your head about the nature of things and how much there is yet to be discovered; or it it does nothing. Normally, I'm firmly in the first column, savoring the new and thrilled at the activity of electricity and unknown biological chemicals in my head, seeing a story or two in almost everything. However, when I am zonked out and dead to the world, I'm like one of the barbaric travelers, for whom everything just whizzes by at quicksilver pace, failing to make the slightest impression on my primitive brain.

When we finally arrived in Florida, we were elated to see Nikki's mom and Jack, who was undergoing treatment for cancer. After secring our luggage, we ate at Longhorn, where I greeted my return to the land of the impossibly huge servings with a 12 oz. steak, medium rare (pinkish center). Sage tried to stay awake but failed.

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Outside smoking, I cursed my gullibility. I thought that Florida in winter was very warm. As in slightly-cooler-than-Manila warm. After all, EVERYBODY says how hot it is in Florida, even in Winter. Well, while it certainly is warmer than the New York ski lodge we holidayed at a couple of years ago, 6 degrees Celcius is by NO MEANS warm, not by my definition. I packed short-sleeved shirts, not even bothering to bring a jacket (well, okay, just one: my stylishly black Dockers jacket that, really, just looks good but offers the protective warmth of tissue paper - on that thought, I'm glad I didn't bring my special Minus 5 Dockers top, which keeps the temperature next to my skin at 5 degrees lower than the outside, which would have just been too too cruel), plus linen pants, thin cotton t-shirts and shorts. To everyone who still thinks Florida in winter is hot: do not believe the lies. Remember that our Filipino blood thinks Baguio is cool. During the daytime, it's not bad, more like HongKong, but really, it is not "nippy". Gah.

Sage suffered bad jet-lag, unable to realign her body clock, which meant her parents couldn't also. So we had many midnight escapades, watching TV, cooking, eating, puttering around and trying to conserve energy for the daytime activies. We've done a lot of looking around, but really, my big goal, as usual, are the bookstores.

We attacked a Barnes & Noble (I'm happy because of the 10% discount card) and stocked up on new things to read plus gifts for the friends we're missing badly. I was not terribly impressed by the selections this year (Nikki, on the other hand, found a lot of things on her list of books), ending up favoring non-fiction. None of the spec fic books leaped out and I wasn't in the mood to buy older titles. We also found a comic book store cleverly named "Comics" and I couldn't resist buying Infinite Crisis #3 (wow!) and a couple of trades.

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But the most fun we had was over at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, where they had a stunning variety of crocs, alligators, gaurials, caimans, plus galapagos turtles, birds and other primates and reptiles. Sage was awed by the sheer size of these creatures (Maximo, a croc, was over 15 feet long and weighted 1250 lbs.) while I was stunned by the sheer variety, with over 300 specimen to look at, scattered in multiple ponds, enclosures, aquaria and pens.

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Maximo, the big guy

I've never been this up close to members of the croc family and it triggered some sort of primordial thing in me: I wanted to run away, throw things at them or meekly submit to the power of their impossibly large jaws. There is something in their reptilian gaze, almost as if they're saying "It's only a matter of time."

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Dozens of crocs waiting for me to jump in

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Of course I found the smoking area, with a lovely arrangement of red chairs

upended days and nights

nagoya - detroit

I really really hate long haul trips. Each time I do it, I find myself at the edge of killing myself from the sheer length of the trip. I go to sleep, wake up and I'm still in the plane. Repeat multiple times. It is not something conversation, a book, 4 inflight films or all the games on my PDA can affect.

Also, Sage was quite the traveler, keeping both of her parents up with all sorts of questions and stuff. I must say though, that we are very fortunate t have such a well-behaved girl - no tears, no tantrums, no issues. Except that I cannot wait until she can read, so she can entertain herself once in a while - a critical skill in a long ride with someone like me, whose paternal good nature is sadly finite because of the enforced cigarette deficiency. What made me smile though was how my 3 year-old would glare at the two other kids nearby whenever they made the slightest noise, roughly at the same time I would turn to look in irritation (I know, as a parent traveling with a child I'm supposed to be understanding, but honestly, I simply cannot stand the sound of children bawling for any reason, and yes, I suppose this makes me an ogre, but what the fuck).

The duration of the trip just made me miserable and I could not wait to get to Detroit, brightening up only whenever I was given food (another sad confession: I think I am one of the seven people in the world who are delighted by airline food - in their cutey little containers and bland glory). When we got to Detroit, we zoomed past immigration (well, except for Nikki, who, for a moment, got a thrill when the official asked her if she had another alias and had prior difficultly entering the US - of course, her fantasy of being a spygirl blossomed in those tiny moments), rechecked our luggage, and went to the lone oasis for smokers in the airport: Fox Sports Bar (our next leg was not scheduled for another three hours, so we had plenty of time).
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Let me tell you, we just blissed out on nicotine and quickly regained the niceties we lost over the course of the hellishly long transpacific flight. We spent the rest of the time looking at books, ridng the trains, eating and sprawling on the carpet next to our assigned gate. When the announcement that we'd be delayed for another hour was made, Sage decided enough was enough and finally (finally!) went to sleep. Nikki and I fatalistically accepted our lot in life (and man, it was -11C in Detroit) and waited for the final leg of the non-Amazing Race, Family Edition.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

word trail: manual

Check out my latest fiction, "Four-Letter Words", in the December/January issue of Manual Magazine.

A little experiment in tone, I can safely say that this one does not sound like me at all. I'm in the midst of a small number of new stories, in various early stages of development, and this "Four"'s manner is still interesting to me. I'm not certain it is something I can maintain over longer stories before I shrivel from ennui, but for short form it's cool.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

penman & spec fic

Butch Dalisay is one of the writers I look up to. Truly. I am in near-awe of this man. So when he writes in both the Philippine Star and his blog about the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology I put together, I am elated.

Go and read - and discover his secret scifi past (that really made my day).

And today we have new cause for celebration, with the recent launch of Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 1, edited by Dean Francis Alfar. The 200-plus-page book (published by Kestrel, Inc., and available for P300 at all Fully Booked and Comic Quest branches) features the work of 18 young Filipinos – some younger, some better known than others, but all of them imbued with the same visionary zeal that the editor (last year’s grand prize winner for the novel in English in the Palancas) is making a name for. The back-cover blurb declares that "Between these covers you will find magic realism next to science fiction, traditional fantasy beside slipstream, and imaginary worlds rubbing shoulders with alternate Philippine history – demonstrating that the literature of the fantastic is alive and well in the Philippines."

Dean, whom I first met in a UP Writers Workshop many years ago, is proving to be a powerful and positive influence over a group of young authors and artists dedicated to new forms of and new directions in Philippine writing, beyond the sometimes stolid realism that I and my generation of writers espouse. (His wife Nikki, herself a Palanca prizewinner, shares in this mission.) While paying homage to their elders and precursors like Alfred Yuson and Rosario Lucero, these young writers are seeking to write what Alfar calls a true "literature of the fantastic – unashamedly magical, beyond lyricism and tenor and style." Dean explains further: "To find the fantastic, we must create the fantastic. We must write it ourselves, develop it brick by enchanted brick. We must write literature that unabashedly revels in wonder, infused with the culture of our imagination – which means being Filipino and, at the same time, surrendering that very same limiting notion – being more than Filipino, unleashing the Filipino of our imagination, divorcing and embracing the ideas of identity, nationhood and universality. We need to do magic."

My next mission? To somehow persuade Butch to contribute a scifi piece for next year's edition. And while I'm at it, I'll hunt down Krip.

Salamat, Butch!

upended days and nights

1. Manila - Nagoya

One of the wonderful discoveries Kate shared with us was the name of one of the cab drivers she trusts. So rather than coordinate with someone else to drive the car (remember the one I never drive?), we arranged for Mr. Bronson to pick up us in the wee hours of the morning. Sage told her Ate Lhen that she'll always remember her, and I told Ric (Ricardo Cepeda, Nikki's brother) to take care of our home while we're away (though he insists I gave the go-ahead for some raucous parties).

In line, we made friends with Angel, an American who came to Manila to train some call center folk but ultimately lost his heart, falling madly in love - not with the country but with a woman. We smoked our last desperate cigarettes in the P560/head lounge (what a rip-off!) and scattered our lighters in everything we carried. In the past, zealous people have confiscated our lighters, making lighting a needed ciggie all the more difficult.

I was a bit worried about Nagoya, since the previous days flight was delayed due to severe snow. Based on past experiences (although sounding hilarious when I recount them) I do not ever want to be stranded in any part of Japan. It's just too expensive.

We barely had time for a smoke before it was time to board again, Sage happily leading the way, having weathered her first conscious flight with flying colors (during her previous flights in the past, she wasn't really aware). It was time for the dreaded long haul to Detriot (soon, as I just got called away...)

Sunday, December 18, 2005

leaving on a jet plane

I know, I know. I've been remiss in updating, but the events of the past week have had the collective effect of several whirlwinds of astonishing potency as a wedding, book launches, Christmas parties, and client meetings (in the midst of my so-called "leave") mingled with our preparations for our annual trip to the US.

There's still a lot to do, a lot to pack and we have around a half a day before Nikki, Sage and I fly off. I assume I'll be able to connect to the internet somehow, so no sappy holiday greetings from me - yet.

But for now, bye!

Monday, December 12, 2005

passionate thanks

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(picture by Jun Dimaano)

SIGLO: PASSION partial roster
Standing: Dean Alfar, Quark Henares, Luis Katigbak, Tobie Abad, Andrew Drilon, Vin Simbulan, Nikki Alfar, Elbert Or, Camille Francisco, Face-Turned-Away-Girl-Who-Is-Actually Shelly Soneja, Ariel Atienza, Jaime Bautista, Marco Dimaano, Jeremy Arambulo, Gerry Alanguilan.
Floored: Reno Maniquis, Joel Chua, Jac Ting Lim

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picture by Tangerine Lullaby

Standing: Vin Simbulan, Nikki Alfar, Andrew Drilon, Tyron Caliente, Cyan Abad-Jugo, Gabriela Lee, Cholo Goitia
Squatting Bravely: Jay Anyong, Dean Alfar, Doug Candano

A very big thank you to all our family, friends, readers and mediafolk who attended the triple book launch last Saturday! I promise to post longer with a lot of pictures very soon once we consolidate most of the images of the event. Suffice it to say, the launch for Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 1, Project: Hero and Siglo: Passion went beyond our humble expectations. We met old friends, made new ones, signed our hands off and had a blast.

Maraming, maraming salamat po!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

wedding of the year

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Halfway through the mass, I was already near tears. Nikki and I were candle sponsors (fittingly, because we always have a light for our cigs) and halfway through the rites, I had tears in my eyes.

I will write more about this incredible wedding (on that incredible Saturday) soon.

To Alex Osia & Kate Aton-Osias*, congratulations and much love!

*Humbly updated, after Nikki's note ;)

Friday, December 09, 2005

the edge

The Edge is a new magazine slated to hit the stands very soon. I have a column in it (called "Notes from the Peanut Gallery", natch*). I'll end up writing about disparate things as evidenced by my first two offerings (one about lessons I learned in business, and the other about verbal encounters with my mother) but it's fun, fun, fun to do.

Much thanks to my editor Ern Banawa for his unflagging faith :)


* It seems I cannot ever come up with another title. Back in the old days of the erly 90's, I had a theater column called "From the Peanut Gallery". Later, for Yehey!, I had "Notes from the Peanut Gallery", my sex column (oh yeah). This blog, of course, has exactly the same name. And now The Edge. So why I am so "column-title-challenged"? Hell if I know. Maybe it's a comfort thing. Or just a slothful mind. Sigh.

food for thought

One of my stories, "Sábados con Fray Villalobos (Saturdays with Fray Villalobos)", will be appearing in an anthology of food-themed fiction edited by Cecilia Brainard and Marily Orosa slated for publication in late first/early second quarter next year.

This is a reworked and expanded version of one of my longer and darker stories, set during the Spanish domination of the Philippines. I explored the interlinkage between faith, food and friendship, and of course, I have a little magic in the mix. My main characters are a pair of Spanish priests who seek the salvation of the indios' souls, but I throw in a lot of recipes too. It's an odd thing, but I loved writing it.

Details to follow as the publication date nears.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

talking comics at xavier

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I few days ago, Nikki and I were given the wonderful opportunity to talk to 5th, 6th and 7th graders of Xavier School, as part of the school's Author Visit program. The invitation, given by our librarian friend Zarah, was something I'd didn't have to think twice about (unless terrible work schedule interfered) because I relish chances to talk about comics and writing (only the act of writing needs to be solitary; afterwards, it's better to get out there and talk to readers and writers).

I prepared three power points (which I later condensed into one presentation) tackling the history and heritage of Filipino comics (how I wish I were Gerry Alanguilan instead whose advocacy and passion for this topic is expressed in his near-encyclopedic knowledge), the multi-step process of putting together a comic book and general guidelines I follow when writing comics (or just about anything). I'm glad I took the extra time to pepper my slides with various comic book artwork, logos and symbols to illustrate my point - it became a side-game for the kids to identity what was what.

I am used to public speaking and have addressed audiences of various sizes and compositions throughout my life, but this was my first time to speak to a large group of 11-13 year old boys - and it was quite different from what I expected. I was concerned that much of what I was saying was not of specific interest to them, but as soon as the formal session ended, several waves of kids came up to ask questions of all sorts(maybe they were intimidated by the formal Q&A), show artwork, talk about writing, and of course, comics. If even just one of these boys grows up to produce a comic book or a work of speculative fiction, I'll be ecstatic (hope rears its head whenever I give a talk like this, and, at the end of the day, you can only hope for the best anyway).

Before and after the talk, I was interviewed for the school website and I took the chance to expound on several key elements of my advocacy. While I believe in and fully spoort the creaiton of Filipino comics, one of my goals is to raise the bar in terms of quality and storytelling - to create literature that in time can stand toe-to-toe with the corpus of Philippine letters. I also wanted to show that creating a comic book is not an easy task, that in the multiple steps that are necessary, it takes discipline and drive. Creativity is not enough, after all, given the fact that production, marketing, distribution, collection, publicity and more are part of business plan. And finally, how important it is for me that people read in the first place, whether comics or books or whatever, as long as begin to read and continue to read.

Read School Librarian in Action for Zarah's take on our visit. Thanks again, Zarah!

archived fiction: hollow girl: a romance

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For Siglo: Passion, I had the wonderful opportunity of working with Jeremy Arambulo. I first became a fan of this man who swiftly became a friend when he visited Manila, just after the release of Siglo: Freedom. I fell in love with his art, with the expressive nature of his lines and faces, and with the ability of his sequential illustrations to tell a story in a riveting way. I sent him a version of Hollow Girl, a speculative fiction prose piece that won a Palanca Award that year. I wanted to do something different in terms of Siglo: Passion, and Jeremy rose to the challenge and created something we are both proud of.

Comics are read, which is to say the words are read and the images are read. The whole package is a reading experience, with even purely visual images (in the context of a sequential narrative). This is what makes comics a unique artform. And so while the version below is the full prose version, our grafictive version is quite a different experience.

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Hollow Girl: A Romance
Fiction by Dean Francis Alfar


Hollow Girl first became aware of sound: a sudden thumping that repeated itself in an established rhythm. Without anything else to focus on, she was entranced, mesmerized by the regular beating of her heart. When vision came, her world exploded in light: colors and shapes that fought for her attention, swirling into clarity before being disrupted by the next image. Touch followed: the waft of warm recycled air from the atmospheric scrubbers on her skinsheath, the cool moisture on her face, the gentle caress of the polyfabrics that swathed her body in lieu of a mother’s embrace.

“Can you hear me?” A voice rasped from somewhere to her left, the question pushing the nanotech in her brain to lightning activity.

“Yes,” Hollow Girl said, marveling momentarily at the resonance of her voice, the vibration in her throat, and the motion of her tongue and lips.

“Can you sit up?” The voice asked, as she felt her birthing cocoon removed, band by band.

“Yes,” she said, sitting up slowly, without pausing to consider the meaning of the request. She felt the flex of her muscles culminating with a tightness centered on her stomach.

“Kamusta,” said the man who stood next to her, his face emanating an almost desperate manner of kindness. “If you feel nauseous, you may lie back. Do you feel dizzy?”

“No,” Hollow Girl replied, surprised at the way her head shook from side to side. She did not feel any degree of discomfort at all, with the exception of a growing sense of embarrassment provoked by her nudity.

“May I have some clothing?” she asked, facing the man who was concerned with her well-being. His head was shaven and square-shaped, his eyes a dull brown.

“Of course, of course,” he replied, vanishing for a moment behind a pale blue curtain before returning with folded clothing in his arms. “Eto,” he said, handing the small pile over to her.

Hollow Girl accepted his offering and wordlessly swung her feet off the birthing crèche. Her soles registered only the most insubstantial cold before the Romblontech tiles provided a pre-calculated amount of heat. She wore the short dress and stood before the short man for approval.

“Ayan, ayan,” the man exclaimed in delight. “You’re just perfect.”


In the days that followed, Hollow Girl grew at an astonishing rate, surprising even the man whom she came to know as her creator.

“It’s all there inside your head,” he told her once, as she watched him pick at his lunch: okra, water chestnuts, and squash with a dash of sour cream. “Ninety-eight percent of each of your brain cells has been engineered to hold enormous amounts of preselected information. Every book that has ever been catalogued is there inside.”

She looked at him and carefully asked, “Then why do I feel empty?”

“Empty?” he repeated, stabbing at an obstinate water chestnut. “What an absurd question. You are anything but empty. You are filled to the brim with magnitudes of information. You have the best the Philippines – no, the best the world has to offer.”

She watched him without expression, quietly determining the precise trajectory required for her creator’s fork to spear his target as she tried to assess the vacancy within her that she had attempted to articulate.

“May I have a name?” she asked him as he finished his meal.

“If you feel so strongly about it, then choose one for yourself,” he replied, scratching at the rash behind his ears.

She thought for a moment then said, “Hollow Girl.”


In the months that passed, Hollow Girl assisted her creator in his work, giving him complete access to her abundant stored information. They quickly established a certain working order, with her standing next to him as he struggled, in bursts of patriotic zeal, to conquer the scientific mysteries that eluded him.

“We do what we do for our country,” he said grandly. “There was a time when the Philippines was considered the beggar of Asia, but thankfully, that time is in the distant past. But there are still things to be discovered, secrets to pry from the silence of nature.”

“Why do you look for so many answers?” she asked him.

“Why do you ask so many questions?” he asked her back.

In that moment, Hollow Girl realized that she shared more in common with her creator than simple existence, and her feeling of emptiness grew and an inconceivable vacuum established itself in her heart.

“Today, I plan to make myself small enough to explore a blood vessel,” he told her, pointing to the apparatus he had assembled with her help. “Think of the things I’ll see.”

“I will have to leave you soon,” she told him, her words heavy with sorrow.

He didn’t answer her, busying himself with the components of his miniaturized experiment: ship, suit, helmet, recorders, clock, and cigarette – all emblazoned with tiny Philippine flags.

“Do you mean now?” he asked her, when he realized she was still waiting for him to speak. “We still have much to do.”

“I have questions neither of us can answer,” she told him.

“O, sige,” he nodded. “But do you have time for one last thing?”


He rode the knife as it slashed towards Hollow Girl, the rush of air muffled by the null-audits of his helmet. Still, he felt the sound, the sibilance crashing over his miniaturized compartment at the blade’s sharpest point as he cut through the space between them. Around him, nanotech cameras recorded the approach, the digital images they captured streaming across the impossible gulf and saved for posterity in the huge J/Banico servers in his laboratory.

As he neared the break point, he could not help but blanch at the inelegant terrain that was Hollow Girl’s skinsheath. At his size, flesh tones defined the sky and the horizon, and follicles towered like sullen gods forced to kenosis. He allowed himself a smile at the detail of his creation.

He adjusted the cameras for optimal perspective, wanting every possible shot, every possible angle of entry – to remember her by, he thought, in a moment of peculiar sadness.

He checked his harnesses and helmet one last time as he prepared for impact, confronted by a yawning emptiness before the knife tip made contact with Hollow Girl. For a moment, it was as if nothing else would happen – in that exquisite moment before the inevitable, he realized the symbolism of his act of penetration.

Her skinsheath gave way, diaphanous and irrelevant – a tear, exposing the wonders beneath her epidermis before the blood reacted, welling up, flooding out in a single eternal globule, black and blacker from his viewpoint.

And his ride continued, cutting deeper within Hollow Girl. Darkness was replaced by the lambent glow of his cockpit lights, and as he found himself embraced by the hot wound, the temperature in his capsule adjusted to accommodate the heat outside the blade.

He commanded the cameras to 3D-mode, orientating ellipses, making panoramic cycles of motion, enslaving everything that could be seen.


Hollow Girl looked at her reflection in the mirror of the restroom of the New Davao Club for Men. Her eyes had changed color again, overnight: russet and grey replacing yesterday’s lilac. She ran some warm water and wet her hands, then her face, watching the droplets trail down her features, tracing the contour of her cheekbones towards the angle of her jaw line and down the tip of her chin.

“Alam mo, sometimes I think you’re too beautiful for your own good,” k8lin said, moving beside Hollow Girl. k8lin was a head taller, with close-cropped black hair that accentuated her Filichino looks.

“I wasn’t admiring myself,” Hollow Girl said in an even tone. She had gotten used to all the intrigue and sniping of every other masseuse at the Club, and though k8lin’s words were barbed, Hollow Girl knew that they were empty as well.

“Ewan ko ba why we even bother,” k8lin said, stripping off an eyebrow with one stroke. “When it’s time for sex, most of them close their eyes anyway.” She opened her vanity kit, selected a replacement eyebrow, and applied it, twitching the muscles of her forehead to make sure it held.

“I like it when they look into my eyes,” Hollow Girl said softly.

“Right,” k8lin said, turning away from the mirror to look at Hollow Girl directly. “And I’m here because I love what I do.”

The mirror shimmered and the pixilated image of Triple M, Matron M-lani Marquez, appeared, her voice rendered in dulcet audio.

“Holly,” the image said, “Your fingers are needed.”


Hollow Girl’s client was positioned on his stomach, his head pressed against the thin red pillow. Her fingers pressed against his back, her touch firm yet oddly light, engaging his skin and muscles in a pattern of give-and-take.

The man lost all sense of time, trapped between the eternal moment of pressure and release, a repeating pattern of rhythmic motion, as his skin surrendered all intimate knowledge of its secret aches and places to her fingers and palms.

“Sir, may I ask you a question,” she said, as he was enveloped in the scent of oil, thick and cold at first but dramatically rendered airy and warm by the conversion of her touch.

The man tried to answer but could not form a single coherent thought, reduced instead to a self-conscious moan.

“What can you tell me about love?” she asked, moving her fingers down his spine, counting each vertebra as she coaxed them into feeling. She paused then to pour more oil onto the small of his back and the curvature of his buttocks, denying the liquid any routes of escape by quickly rubbing it into his skin.

Helplessly, the man felt his unbidden arousal as she sought deep muscle in tight focused circles. He tried to shift position to relieve his discomfort, but her fingers rode his motion like old seafarers sailing in familiar oceans, adjusting, adapting, never breaking their union of skin.

“Do you expect to find it here?” Hollow Girl said, changing the texture of her skinsheath as she leaned over and massaged his shoulders.

“Come home with me,” the man finally managed to say. “I will show you.”

Three years later, he came home to find Hollow Girl at the door of their apartment in Mega Makati, waiting to say goodbye.

"What's going on? Where are you going?" he asked, despite already knowing the answer.

"I wanted to give you my key,” she said, handing him the sensekey. “There's some food in the Omnitop – you just need to decide if you want to have bread or make some rice.”

"Please don't go."

Hollow Girl looked at him with her gold-flecked eyes, and in that instant, everything he loved about her was reflected in the measure of her gaze. .

"Don't. Don't cry. Please." She kissed him on the cheek and held his face in her hands.

"But why? Tell me why," he asked her. His entire body felt like it wasn't his own. It was too heavy, too solid, too real to be real in that unreality where the world existed but was of no substance.



"Because I have too many questions."

He watched her walk away, down the brightly lit hall to the airshaft. He wanted to run after her, to beg, to plead, to try everything, say anything, but the unwelcome gravity of the situation was too strong to fight, to struggle against. Instead, he watched her turn towards him one last time as the airshaft signaled its availability, watched her vanish behind its invisible caress, watched the ghost of her last smile disperse like the illusion that it was, and stared down numbly at the sensekey in his hand.

He was oddly flooded with thoughts of particles in motion in a void; of black holes suspended in infinite black space and of the loneliness of their existence -- invisible, powerful, devouring, in solitude; of stars that suddenly flare and supernova, brilliant, burning, echoing light for millions of years, and of worlds that spin unaware that the source of their light is long dead, long gone, a corpse-light. He wanted to cry, to shout, to articulate his pain but realized it was pointless, because words, like sound, could not exist in the vacuum of her departure.


Hollow Girl found work, doing rapid analysis and calculations, on the AsiaPac community station in geosynch orbit around the sunside of the moon. The hours were long but her circumstances, like the spin-generated gravity, suited her well.

During the artificial night cycles, she found solace in Tranquil, a subtle narcotic blend that she injected directly into the tiny aperture behind her left ear, allowing her to manipulate the stuff of her dreams. She knew it was destroying her but she felt that she needed the calm it bestowed.

Gabriel-Four, an enhanced man, had begun courting her from the moment she first set foot on the station, four years ago.

“It’s not so bad being what we are,” he told her, curling and uncurling his multiple limbs. He was engineered for physical multi-tasking but was made redundant when the need for such specialists vanished in the wake of another ergonomic discovery. “The trick, I guess, is finding something else to do.”

“The trick is in finding the reason for the trick,” Hollow Girl said.

“But that would be like understanding how an illusion works,” Gabriel-Four replied. “Don’t you think that sometimes it’s better just to sit back and marvel at the show?”

“I can’t just watch,” she said. “Too many people do just that.”

“Then what would you do?” he asked her.

“I want to fall in love,” she said simply.

“Then fall in love with me,” he replied.

"I have left every man who has ever loved me," Hollow Girl whispered quietly into his ear.

“I will take what I can,” he said with a brittle smile.

"Do you believe that someone who has no heart can truly love?"

In the ensuing void of words, Gabriel-Four kissed Hollow Girl gently on her dry lips and pretended they were as moist as the tears that fell from his eyes.

She broke from the kiss and turned her face away to cough, hiding in the cup of her palm the flecks of virtual blood that came with distressing frequency. But he saw it, as he had seen through all the previous times of her subterfuge, and again chose not to call attention to it.

“I’m tired,” she said.

"I love you, Hollow Girl," Gabriel-Four said as she walked away. Whatever elation he should have felt at that moment seemed as hollow as the object of his adoration. As he watched her leave, he realized how sometimes devotion was a curse, imperceptible and relentless in the consumption of hope.


She decided that night to dream of her creator.

They were standing next to each other, her birthing crèche adjacent to their flickering bodies. She imagined him young and so he was young, smiling and benevolent. She imagined herself as herself during that time, and it was not very difficult because so little about her had truly changed.

“Why did you make me this way?” she asked him.

“Why are you so obsessed with love?” he asked her. “It’s unhealthy.”

“Why can’t I be happy?” she questioned.

“Why do you think love is the answer?” he said.

“Because love is what I do not have,” she replied. “It is the only thing I do not understand.”

“Talaga,” her creator raised an eyebrow. “Of all the myriad mysteries of the universe, love is the only thing you do not understand? I must have built you better than I thought.”

“You did not build me with what it takes to understand,” she said.

“Listen,” he said. “I built you just fine. Now wake up and start living your life. You have too many questions.”

Hollow Girl found Gabriel-Four asleep in his cubicle, his arms dangling from his pallet. His face was handsome in the dim light, his features enhanced by the play of shadows.

He opened his eyes and saw her standing at the doorway. Wordlessly, he shifted his body to make room for her on the narrow bed, and then gestured for her to come.

She closed her eyes for a moment before joining him, and when she felt his arms around her it felt like she was coming across an unfamiliar word for the first time. She recognized the letters, could guess at the sense of it, but knew absolutely nothing of its meaning. Her intelligence wrestled with the notion of staring at something whose significance she should have been aware of, context or no context, but she was reduced to conjecture, lost in the heat of semiotics.

Gabriel-Four watched her sit beside him, watching her eyes shift colors with every second.

“Are you-,” he began to ask.

“Shhh,” Hollow Girl said, with a smile on her face, listening to the beating of their hearts.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

philippine speculative fiction vol. 1: bios and teasers

With the book launching on Saturday (to which, again, everyone is cordially invited), I thought I'd share the roll call of the authors and a brief teaser of their contribution, in the order they appear in the book. Sorry, I didn't include any online links.

Cyan Abad-Jugo took her Master's in Children's Literature at Simmons College, Boston, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of the Philippines. Her first book, Father and Daughter: the figures of our speech (Anvil Publishing, 1996), was a joint project with her father, Gemino H. Abad. Her second book, Sweet Summer and Other Stories, was published by the UP Press (2004). Her children's story "Behind The Old Aparador" won second place at the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature in 2003, and will soon be published by Anvil. Her work has appeared in the Junior Inquirer, Flip Magazine, Pulp, the Philippine Free Press, and Jam (a cool comics digest for girls).

In "Jan's Door," a dissatisfied young man befriends a mysterious door painter and learns the hard truth behind beginning anew.

Tyron Caliente is the pseudonym of a research and development engineer who seems to have too much time on his hands when he should be analyzing statistical data and design issues. Proof of this is his conception of a series of e-books compiling the best of the Philippine blogosphere, released (almost) regularly beginning April 2005. His publications include emotionally-charged technical paper thrillers such as “Understanding the Mechanism of Wirebond-Related Blown-up Test Failures in Flash Packages” and “Delamination in Very Thin, Fine-Pitched Ball Grid Array Packages.” He was previously the editor-in-chief of a factory newsletter and is currently a contributor to a company magazine. He will be relinquishing his position as grammar police of the engineering department after clipping the last stray apostrophe inside a process development report.

The Doppler Effect,” Caliente’s first fiction publication, looks at how the laws of physics sometimes reflect human relationships.

Andrew Drilon is mostly known for his comic book work, having won the 2002 Likha Comics Making Contest and contributed to the National Book Award-winning Siglo: Freedom. He has two self-published ashcans, The Germinator and Subwhere, and has also appeared in Grafic Magazine, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Pugad Literary Magazine, Hilites, K.I.A., and hey, comics! His most recent comics work can be found in Siglo: Passion and Project: Hero, which he co-edited with Elbert Or. Upcoming works include Whapak! and Funky Monkey Comics.

Tendresse,” a coming-of-age story in the grand tradition of Dali and Dada, is Drilon’s first published work of fiction.

Francezca C. Kwe's fiction has been published in the Philippine Free Press, the Sunday Times, Tomas, Dapitan, and OIST magazine. She has received the USTetika award and the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature for her work, and has been a fellow for fiction in four national writers’ workshops. She is currently completing her first collection of short stories and editing an anthology of contemporary fiction with Ian Rosales Casocot.

A shorter version of “Lovelore” first appeared in the Philippine Free Press.

Nikki Alfar has been a flight attendant, a bank manager, a magazine editor, a radio newscaster, an office administrator, and a copywriter. Her stories and articles have appeared in The Philippine Star and the magazines Smart Parenting, Stuff, milk, Seventeen, and Jam. She has written more comic books than she is readily able to remember, and edited the Manila Critics’ Circle National Book Award-winning anthology Isaw, atbp. She has also won a number of Anvil awards for her copywriting, as well as the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature for her short story for children, “Menggay’s Magical Chicken”. Alfar runs a content development firm and an online weblog out of the home she shares with her husband and their three-year-old daughter Sage.

EmberWild” is a classically-told fantasy set in an imaginary world, both fresh and familiar to perceptive readers.

Joseph Nacino is the daytime online Internet editor for Being an inveterate reader of science fiction and fantasy, the publication of his first story in a Filipino anthology of speculative fiction is a tremendous source of fanboy glee for him. Hopefully, this isn't his last.

Walking Backwards,” which Nacino describes as “a historiographical soft SF story ,“ looks into the ties that bind a young man to his past as well as his future.

Angelo R. Lacuesta was born in 1970. His first book, Life Before X and Other Stories, won the Madrigal-Gonzalez Best First Book Award as well as the Manila Critics’ Circle National Book Award. He is a recipient of the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature and his fiction has appeared in the Philippine Free Press, The Best Philippine Short Stories, and Future Shock: prose, an edition of Sands and Coral.

New Wave Days” is from his second collection of short fiction, White Elephant: Stories.

Dean Francis Alfar’s plays have been performed in venues across the country, while his articles and fiction have been published both locally and abroad, most recently in Rabid Transit: Menagerie. His writing awards include eight Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature and the Manila Critics’ Circle National Book Award for the acclaimed graphic novel Siglo: Freedom. His first novel Salamanca won the Grand Prize for Novel in the Palancas this year and is scheduled for publication by the Ateneo Press. Alfar is a comic book creator (The Lost, ab ovo, and the grafiction anthology Siglo: Passion, which he co-edited) and blogger. He is also an entrepreneur — running two businesses, the pet store Petty Pets and the integrated marketing company Kestrel IMC —a s well as a devoted husband and father to his wife Nikki and their daughter Sage.

L’Aquilone du Estrellas” first appeared in Strange Horizons and subsequently in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror Seventeenth Annual Collection. As “The Kite of Stars”, it received the Don Carlos Palanca Award for One-Act Play.

Jay Steven Uy Anyong has been a roadie on a Hello Kitty mall tour, sold miniature Space Orks to underaged children, and successfully convinced an American to keep up with house payments while in the middle of an earthquake. His roleplaying game articles have appeared in Seeker magazine. An active member of the Alliance of Eclectic Gamers and Interactive Storytellers (AEGIS), Jay is often found holding pen-and-paper roleplaying games for newbies, or over at his blog.

The Coward's Quest,” Anyong’s first published work, is about Garret, the Coward of Silver Vale, and a Mysterious Stranger (tm) who tries to convince him to undertake a quest to Save the World (tm).

Pauline Orendain dabbles in photography, copywriting, web and graphic design, parenting, and fiction. Her articles and photos have been published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Manila Times, and The Philippine Star. Currently, she is most comfortable foraging nuts and berries and unearthing arrowheads, peyote buttons, and ancient cooking pits in the American wilderness with her husband Dino and their four-year-old son, Dylan.

Room Three” shows what happens after the bell tolls... and before the gates open.

Gabriela Lee received her Bachelor of Arts degree in 2005 from the University of the Philippines in Diliman, where she majored in Creative Writing. She has been published in the Sunday Inquirer Magazine, the Philippine Free Press, and The Literary Apprentice. She has been a Fellow for Poetry in English at the Iligan, Dumaguete, and UP National Writers’ Workshops. She also has a children's book entitled La-on and the Seven-Headed Dragon, published by Adarna House, which she co-wrote with her mother. Lee received the Amelia Lapena Bonifacio Literary Award for her fiction and poetry. She has been a member of the UP Writers’ Club and UP Graphic Arts in Literature (GRAIL).

A unique twist on a deceptively standard break-up plot, “Instructions on How to Disappear” captures a woman midway towards shattering.

Ian Rosales Casocot’s short stories and essays have been published in The Sunday Times, Sands and Coral, Dapitan, Tomas, the Philippine Free Press, Philippine Graphic, Sunday Inquirer Magazine, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, SunStar Bacolod, and MetroPost. He writes a weekly column, “The Spy in the Sandwich,” for StarLife Magazine of the Visayan Daily Star, and maintains A Survey of Philippine Literature, a comprehensive website resource on Filipino writing and literary criticism. Based in Dumaguete City, he has won two Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature and an NVM Gonzalez Prize for his fiction, and was chosen as one of the authors for the UBOD New Writers Series 2003 by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

In “The Pepe Report,” Casocot turns the spotlight on the Philippine national hero, Jose Rizal, with startling results.

Vincent Michael Simbulan is a two-time Manila Critics’ Circle National Book Awardee for his anthologies, Isaw, Atbp. and Siglo: Freedom. He is the co-founder of Quest Ventures, which is both a publishing house and a coalition of Filipino comic book creators. His work has appeared in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Project: Hero, and the magazines Stuff and Guide. Siglo: Passion, co-edited with Dean Francis Alfar, is his latest comic book anthology. He is in the process of editing a collection of stories about dragons, due in 2006.

In the Arms of Beishu”, a tale about longing for one’s homeland, is set in the time of the Spanish rule over the Philippines. It marks Simbulan’s first published work of short fiction.

J. Pocholo Martin B. Goitia was born on Halloween 22 years ago. He is currently a journalism student at the University of Santo Tomas and is the editor of one of the college magazines and its adjacent literary portfolio. He is a fellow and former president of the Thomasian Writers’ Guild and attended the 3rd UST National Writers’ Workshop a couple of years ago. He claims to being tempted by the allure of jumping on the call center band wagon one of these days, in order to earn the cash to buy incredibly expensive imported novels, graphic or otherwise, at his leisure. He is currently working on and off on his first novel.

An Introduction to The Luminescent,” a look into the Philippines of tomorrow and the people who live in it, is Goitia’s first published work outside of UST.

Khavn is an internationally-awarded filmmaker whose explosive forays into fiction and poetry are not for the faint of heart. His personal anthology, Ultraviolins: This is not a book by Khavn, collects his poetry, fiction, essays, plays, and screenplays; and is available from UP Press.

The Family That Eats Soil,” a surreal tale, won the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature in the Short Story in Filipino category, and became a film. It was translated by Singapore-based Mayo Uno Martin, the author of Babel—a volume of poetry published by High Chair—and producer of the spokenword album Uniberso: New Pinoy Poets Calling.

Sean Uy has been writing since he was 12 years old, and has explored a broad selection of genres in the span of a largely unheralded writing career. He has been published in Singapore's Eggplant magazine, and has done work with characters and settings for Anito: Defend a Land Enraged, the first entirely Filipino-made computer game.

In “Regiment,” five men returning to their homeland discover that there is more to the strange old woman they meet on the way, just as she knows that there is more to them than they expect.

K. Mandigma is 25 years old and works in Makati City as a researcher. A self-confessed bibliophile, Mandigma professes to be more of a reader than a writer, experiencing confused literary ambitions.

The Catalogue of the Damned”, a story deliciously difficult to categorize, marks Mandigma’s first publication.

Douglas L. Candano graduated in 2005 from the Ateneo de Manila University, where he was awarded the Development Studies Departmental Award and the Loyola Schools Award for the Arts for Fiction. A former associate editor of Heights, Ateneo’s official literary publication and organization, he has been awarded fellowships to the Ateneo-Heights and Ateneo National Writers’ Workshops. He is a recipient of the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature; and his stories and essays have been published in Heights, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and The Philippine Star. He is currently conceptualizing his first novel, while doing consultancy work for a Canadian International Development Agency project.

The Life and Death of Hermes Uy,” which combines world mythology, an alternative Chinese-Filipino history, and pop-culture, first appeared in Heights.

A great big "thank you" again to all these authors, as well to everyone who submitted stories for consideration. I'm certain that by this time next year, we'll have an even more fantastic collection.

a bit of what i do

Much of this blog is devoted to what I think about writing, reportage of things in my life and sundry. From time to time, I also write about business, about the work I do. Here's an article from the newspapers that sheds on light on one of my company's ongoing projects for Level Up Games, the people behind the MMORPGs Philippine Ragnarok Online, Rose, and RF Online (and no, I did not write it).

This long term engagement is one of my favorite projects in a long time. In the course of developing interlocking stories, the creative writer in me (that is usually divorced from my corporate self) is given free reign. And if the stars align, I may write novels based on the game. Nikki, who is my team's primary writer (and in many many instances, a finer writer than myself), was sadly cut out from the article.

It's also very important for me to clarify that the game came from Korea and that Filipinos did not develop it. We're developing additional content to make it ours.

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The Filipino ingenuity behind
Korean online game sensation

A little known fact is that Filipino writers are the ones crafting the exciting stories that will unfold next year in RF Online, the first massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that has stirred a craze in the Philippines. This new MMORPG blockbuster from Korea presents a galactic setting wherein three racial groups -- the Accretians, the Bellato Union, and the Holy Alliance of Cora -- each with equally devastating power and weaponry, are at war with each other for dominance of the universe.

From these three races the gamers will choose which to join and fight for, with their individual and collective performance determining how this adventure saga will develop and end.

The stunning and suspenseful stories that will soon surface from this inter-stellar conflict are conceived and written by a team of Filipino writers led by Dean Francis Alfar, a novelist, fictionist, playwright, eight-time Palanca awardee, and founder of content development firm Kestrel IMC.

“Our aim is to create story arcs that players can appreciate and get into. Since our game is experienced by three races, we developed stories that star each race in turn and amplify the very core of the RF Online playing experience. Our master storyline for the first year involves the secret origins of the races over a series of startling revelations and adventures,” Alfar explains.

“The story must serve the game, of course, and create opportunities for players to be involved in the outcome of events. Part of our strategy is to create situations where the actions of players determine the path of the story.”

The stories being developed by Alfar’s group also reinforce the nature and character of each of the races, including their physical, psychosocial and cultural differences.

The Accretians are those who have turned themselves into cyborgs to attain physical superiority, whereas the Bellatos are a fiercely independent race of inventors who combine creative tools and weapons with the light form of universal magic called Force, and the Corites tap ambient force to acquire superhuman strength and manipulate the Dark Force to teleport people and equipment.

Those who want to join any of the three races may visit their respective websites -- of the Accretians, of the Bellato Union, and of the Holy Alliance of Cora, or visit for registration. The game has come online since November 17 after a series of open and closed beta (sneak previews) in the past two months.

Its three warring races were all developed in Korea, but it was Alfar’s group who decided on the final naming conventions. “The foundation storyline (the baseline events) are all Korean. Kestrel, as content developer, builds on that, creating our own fiction in the massive world of RF Online,” Alfar points out.

Much of Alfar’s work involves interweaving the three races along the main plot through various points of conflict and racial characterization. “We used a character as an anchor and developed interlocking storylines that are engaging and exciting. We will also develop completely new characters and quests, acted out by actors in-game,” Alfar says.

With all their many differences, it is their common consistency with human logic and adherence to their respective racial character -- as dramatized in Alfar’s stories -- that make RF Online a captivating and thrilling personal experience.

“In the context of a game, we can explore aspects of the human condition such as loyalty, duty, evolution and cultural development - without losing sight of the fact that this immersive game is first and foremost an engaging way to exercise the imagination,” remarks Alfar.

On how his group creates the stories, Alfar reveals: “Our team throws ideas around, selects the best and most novel, then writes the "bible". This document is the roadmap for our gaming scripts, which we then expand and develop over the period of time allocated. We develop scripts for each race, having them do things that help the storyline along towards a series of important events which the online community will participate in for the duration of next year.”

The goal, according to Alfar, is to have segments of the populace supporting their favored races, “just like we have avid supporters of sports teams.”

And on whether or not he sees RF Online as a sport that can be played, not just in the Philippines and Korea, but also globally, his answer is: “Why not?”

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

fiction: into the morning

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Into the Morning
Fiction by Dean Francis Alfar

A Language for Two

I always suspected that, like me, my dam hated going to crèche reunions. An outsider would never know it, not from observing her: her face was made up in the same meticulous way, abdomen primly dotted, her hair swept up with in the usual exaggerated wave that was meant to look accidental, her coordinated ensemble of beige and tan skins exuding unhurried elegance.

I learned to understand my dam’s silent language when I was younger. I could pierce the meaning behind her actions: the flicker of pursed lips, the quickening of an iris, the wiping of invisible sweat from under her dry spinnerets, the deliberately misused hiss, the subtle variations of tongue clicks, the underlying color theory of her selected cosmetics.

I knew my dam more than anyone, more than any of my nest-siblings, and definitely more than my sire.

First at Eight

I’d only been to crèche reunions twice before, both times on my sire’s side because my dam’s family was thin-blooded and dispersed across several canopies. The first time was just before my eighth birthday. I remember my sire telling me how wonderful it would be for me to finally meet family members who hadn’t seen me since I was hatched. But when we arrived, I was overwhelmed by the cacophony of strangers, numbed by the countless embraces and tongues and pinches and unfair questions (“Don’t you remember me? I tasted you when you were born.”), and terrified by the way I was expected to experience familial love at first sight.

By the time the main meal was served, I could not be found anywhere. Hours later, one of the hunting parties led by my disheveled dam found me curled up among the weeping aphids, semi-conscious and dehydrated. My sire was furious. My dam did not scold me then, and I thought there would be a devastating tempest later, in private.

It never happened.

We spiraled down the webs together, clasping hands all the way home.

Second at Ten

My sire exacted a promise from me to behave before we left for the second reunion when I was ten. I agreed and followed quietly up the webs, already itching in my black skin funeral attire. I did not want to upset him, who was mourning his own sire’s loss heavily. My dam and all my nest-siblings gave him wide berth, and the long trip was conducted in arduous silence. I remember wishing that day and night would pass quickly but my desire seemed to only prolong the journey. My dam just looked blankly ahead as she moved, her legs and arms gaining purchase on the fine silk that marked our pathways.

When we arrived, I was shocked to discover a range of exhibited emotions, ranging from caterwauling to raucous feasting headed by some of my sire's nest-siblings. There was a reprise of the painful greetings and impossible questions that I somehow managed to endure, drawing strength from my stoic dam’s firm smile. But when I realized that I was expected to taste my dead grandsire, I reneged on my vow to behave and promptly fainted. I came to in her dam’s arms and listened with my eyes closed to a thousand invasive questions and fragments of unsolicited advice from the others who had seen me collapse. I tried to apologize to my parents, but ended up crying instead, tears that were interpreted by many as genuine grief.

On the way back, one of my nest-siblings arched backwards and called me a bitch, which did not surprise me in the least. She had a foul mouth and was just a hatchling, after all. I chose not to tell my dam about it and instead turned away from my sister and focused on strands that led home.

Last at Twelve

On the silken path high in the branches of a dead tree again to reunite for some unknown relative’s homecoming, just days before my twelfth birthday, the last thing I expected was for my dam to speak up.

“I’d really rather not go,” my dam clicked, the suddenness breaking the immaculate silence with the force of thunder.

“We agreed to go,” my sire said.

“We can turn back,” my dam replied. “Or we can go somewhere else.”

“We’re expected.,” my sire hissed. “We told them we’re coming. What sort of dim thing is this?”

“Don’t call me dim.”

“Don’t act dim,” my sire clicked, jumping on the web, forcing all of us to race to catch up or suffer a tremendous fall.

I listened to entire exchange with a sick feeling in my stomach, as if my pre-dawn breakfast had turned to stone.

“Stop moving,” my dam said, in almost a whisper. “Please stop.”

I watched my dam’s face. It looked to me as if her eyelashes were burdened by the enforced curls of the macopa extract she favored. Her abdomen exhibited a smudge of cosmetic. Several strands of the hair that framed her face were conspicuously out of place. Her secret language surfaced and receded on her face.

“No,” my sire said, continuing his motion in the early morning gloom.

“Let me go,” my dam said quietly. I saw the darkness that thrummed beneath her request and tasted the bitterness that circulated in the air. I wanted to tell my sire to stop jolting the web but could not speak.

“No,” my sire hissed.

My dam and I exchanged an accidental look. In that instant I felt the weight of her fatigue and drowned in its depth and immensity. Floating on the dark current was a dam’s doomed love for her offspring, condemned by choice and circumstance to be swallowed by the greater force of sorrow.

Goodbye, I spoke in our secret language.

Goodbye, my dam’s dead face replied.

With a precise and wounded economy of motion, she released her grip on the silken fibers and fell into the morning.

freeman by friday

That's right. I just need to get through these next few days then I'm on leave - my first vacation from work for the entire year. That should give me a week of resting, puttering around and finally, writing, before flying off to the US for the holidays.

And that's a good thing too, given the fact that the storywriting requirements have ballooned. Apart from the projects that I've been fiddling around with, there's the need for a story for Vin's Draconic antho, one for the Fully Booked/Gaiman competition (see, I told you), one as a Christmas gift for a friend, and another for a magazine (by the way, one of my stories, Four-Letter Words, is supposed to appear in this month's issue of Manual).

Of course, I could just attempt to shoehorn the stories I'm already working on for one of those needs - because four new stories in two weeks is insane. But then again, I have been known to dance perilously close to insanity when it comes to getting writing done. Therefore, as usual, we'll see.

While all the story needs above are important to me, it seems that the Gaiman story requires more attention. It is the first instance of competition and it seems truly pathetic if I do not at least make an attempt - and frankly, the money is enticing.

The implication is that Gaiman will judge the entries. If so, that's stupendous, given the fact that he is both an excellent writer and more exposed to the different manners of writing speculative fiction. However, I suspect that he won't be alone. Perhaps a board of Filipino judges will be selected to at the very least sift through the entries. The quality of those judges is a potential issue to me. By now you must be aware of my stand vis-a-vis realism, and I know that the number of Filipino spec fic writers is quite small. If they gather Palanca-type judges, especially the writers of the older generation (the fiction award is named after Greg Brilliantes, after all), then they will bring their biases to bear. Which means that a viable strategy for someone who wants to win may well be to infuse his or her entry with a degree of social realism - which, in a sad and terrible way, means writing for the judges.

Don't mind me, just shifting things around my head before I go off to a client meeting (it's so hard to concentrate on work now but dems da breaks).

Monday, December 05, 2005

best of 2005: comic book trades

I bought a lot of trades this year, preferring collected editions of comics that I can stand on my bookshelves. This allows me to appreciate a story in one go, instead of agonizing over a monthly release schedule (although for certain titles, I am still a hapless victim, unable to prevent myself for finding out immediately what's gouing on, like DC's ongoing Infinite Crisis).

Here are the ones I consider the very best for the year (published within 2005), the top ten in reverse order.

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10. Young Avengers Volume 1: Sidekicks by Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung
Like a smaller version of the Legion with surprisingly wonderful emotional riffs and great charactertization, this book was an unexpected treat. I actually liked this more than Runaways, which sadly, did not make this lit.

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9. Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer & Rags Morales
One of the best storylines from the previous year reads even better in trade format. A murder begins a chain reaction that changes things in a big way.

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8. B.P.R.D.: Plague of Frogs by Mike Mignola, Guy Davis, Dave Stewart & Clem Robbins
Mike Mignola's manner of storytelling is such: as long as he's writing it, I do not care about the art. Mignola's mad ideas make this book such an enjoyable read. The BPRD, supporting characters to Hellboy, come into their own in this -as well as the next - book.

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7. Wolverine: Enemy of the State, Vol. 1 by Mark Millar, John Romita Jr. & Klaus Janson
Okay, I must confess that I did not expect to have a Wolverine book in my final list. But this incredible tale of mayhem made Wolverine kickass - as he should be. Seriously, I was so amazed I passed it to Nikki who was similarly converted. So much for being comic snobs.

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6. Top Ten: The Forty-Niners by Alan Moore
When he's not trying to stuff didactic magic lessons down my throat, Alan Moore is one of my favorite writers. With this stand-alone tale, he combines his ability to create interesting characters and unusual situations with his penchant for perfect pacing, resulting in one hell of a read.

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5. Ultra: Seven Days by the Luna Brothers
While the art is not particularly strong, Ultra is on my list because of spot-on characterization and dialogue peppering a superhero(ine) slice of life thing. We've become fans of the Luna Brothers (both Filipinos, by the way), enjoying their current work, Girls, as well.

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4. Epileptic by David B.
How does disease destroy the quality of life? David B. shows us. Powerful and brutally honest stuff. Amazing.

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3. WE3 by Grant Morrison
While most of his recent work tastes like the same psychedelic shit thrown up from the gullet of a hallucinating fractal universe, WE3 shows off Morrison's ability to tell a stripped down story. A dog, a cat and rabbit in battle suits take us on wild ride that can only end in tears.

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2. Persepolis 2 : The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi
Searing honesty is rare in comics, but Satrapi serves it up in spades, sharing the continuation of her memoirs as a woman in Iran. Lovely and compulsively readable.

And now, the Best Trade of 2005:

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The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck by Don Rosa
Most of the Duck stories are highly intelligent and wonderfully entertaining, and this edition collects some of the best. Tracing the origins of Uncle Scrooge from his time as a youngster to the time he finally made his fortune, the book shows all his failures and frustrations, adventures and setbacks, and of course his triumphs and successes - yes,Scrooge is a self-made man, with chutzpah to spare. In terms of production quality, cost, interior art and storytelling, this book is a fantastic bargain, easily deserving of the highest honors (the storyline won Einsner Awards during its original pamphlet run).