Tuesday, January 31, 2006

acquired addiction

Image hosting by Photobucket
I'm a lover of games, perhaps even compulsively so. Ever since I was a little boy I've had a special place in my for all sorts of board games. I love the strategic elements, I love the rush of competition, I love using my mind. From the early days of Snakes and Ladders (that game of virtue and vice which we recently gifted Sage with, to add to her first game of Candyland) through Monopoly (and it's inferior incarnation - Millionaire's Game), Clue, Sorry, Trivial Pursuit and all the more obscure games I found at GenCon or during my various trips abroad, I'm more than willing to hunker down and throw dice or bid or just duke it out in pick-up games of Carcasonne, Die Siedlers von Catan , Kill Doctor Lucky, Cranium , Axis & Allies or Risk. When CCGs (collectible card games) first came our in the Philippines, I became the first national champ for Magic: The Gathering, later becoming the product's Brand Manager (Wizards of the Coast, owners of Magic, also own Avalon Hill Games plus a ton of other properties). Every time I leave the country, looking for a store that sells games is an unassailable part of my itinerary (along with book and porn hunting).

Image hosting by Photobucket
So when Alex and Kate introduced Acquire, Nikki (who is as much a game addict as I am) and I fell head over heels in love. This economic/business game is about establishing companies, buying stocks, merging companies and managing finances in a highly competitive environment. The bug bit so hard that Nikki and I bought heavy duty casino poker chips in a metal attache case so we didn't have to use paper.

Image hosting by Photobucket
On weekends, Acquire is part of the schedule of events, between dinner and videoke. And since we inevitably purchased our own set (try Toy Kingdom or Landes/Hobbes), it has become our favorite pasttime, enjoying the ebb and flow of economics with Vin and Buddha.

Image hosting by Photobucket
The pleasure I get from gaming stems from the intellectual aspects with a bit of the social elements - but really, while I prefer to play with good friends who are excellent players, I could just as well play with complete strangers, for as long as they are likewise challenging. Writing exercises certain portions of my brain, while gaming flexes other portions, including my need for blood (there is a violent caveman in me) while appeasing that part of me that cannot abide ennui.

The value of games in real life is beyond question. Part of my overall attitude towards life was developed in the course of playing games (or creating and acting them out, as in the case of role-playing games). Elements of game theory are useful in my business, and there is always the wonderful unexpected discovery that a client shares the same passion. Games are not just entertaining ways to pass time.

I'm happy that Sage loves games to, asking to play her board games with me and her Mom every so often. Teaching her how to play games is part of our strategy of expanding her horizons, imbuing her with a healthy sense of competition, and showing her to be responsible as she takes care of her games' components.

I cannot wait until she can play Acquire.

Monday, January 30, 2006

esprit de corps

It was time for new company IDs and the concept I approved was a zinger. Each person would have a formal shot, yes, but flanked by two zany character poses. We held our pictorial guerilla-style, taking over our floor's elevator bank without informing building management and had a blast. We had straight guys crossdressing, animefolk, fairies, MILF, disco kings, Jedi and more, with everyone throwing discretion to the wind in the name of creative fun. I love how everyone got into the spirit of things.

For one of my background shots, I borrowed two swords, donned my long coat and shades and ran up the wall:

Image hosting by Photobucket

For the other shot, I did my version of "Brokeback Mountain" complete with the cowboy hat Nikki gave me for my birthday. That, along with my formal shot, made up my new ID. Here's the first draft (I've decided to make it horizontal instead):

Image hosting by Photobucket

And yes, this is what we will use to identify ourselves with clients and banks and such. You gotta live a little.

cake costs

My daughter Sage is turning four next month, and asked her Mom and I if she could have a "princess cake". We went to a cakeshop in the nearby Robinson's Galleria and asked if they could do it. The cakelady pointed us towards a pile of picture albums we could choose from.

"Wow," Sage said, as we sat down to peruse the books. "But remember, Dad. I want a Cinderella one, okay?"

"Of course," I said, skipping past Jasmine on a magic carpet and Belle at the ball. My eyes began to scan the prices appended to the colorful pictures. Each one had a little sticker that noted the cost and the word "motif".

"What does 'motif' mean?" Nikki asked the cakelady.

"That's the cost for the design," the cakelady replied. "The cake is not included in that price."

"Dad, look!" Sage exclaimed, pointing at a massive towered cake with all of the Disney princesses on it, including the in-demand Cinderella. I looked at the motif price and was stunned into near-speechlessness - P4900. It was more expensive than certain weddings cakes.

"Oh," I mumbled weakly. "That does look nice but let's look around a little more. There's a lot to see, right?"

"Okay, Dad," Sage said, leafing through the pages.

In my head I was already finished with the budgetary computations. Even if I stretch what I had put aside, the expensive cake Sage first pointed to was way beyond what I assumed a cake would cost. In fact, that cake would consume the entire amount I set aside for her party. I struggled with how I would have to tell my daughter that she'd have to settle for a less expensive one - because her Dad could not afford the dazzling omnibus Princess set up. In that span of time I remembered my own childhood and how I took the cost of everything for granted. As a father, I do want to give my daughter what she wants. But I know my limits. It made me a little sad but certainly cakes are not the be-all end-all of what it means to be a good father. But how I wanted to be able to give it to her. After all, her birthday came only once a year, I thought. But how? How do I pay for it?

"Dad, look!" Sage exclaimed, restoring my mind back to reality. Her finger pointed to a blue cake, with Cinderella standing beside a fountain. "Cinderella! Can I have this one, please?"

I looked at my daughter's eyes and realized that sometimes love and the budget are mutually exclusive. Please, please don't let it be absurdly expensive, Lord.

The sticker informed me that the motif price was P2700. In one of my stories I wrote about a terribly exquisite moment when a character's heart shattered into a thousands of little pieces, each one cold and hard and sharp. It happened to me. Even at just over half the cost of the initial ludicrous cake, it was still too expensive.

"That's a wonderful cake, Sage," Nikki said.

"It has my favorite," Sage said happily.

In the middle of prepping up my speech about how cakes are not the most important thing about a birthday, I looked at the motif price again, wondering how in heaven's name Nikki seemed to be fine with the cost.

Magically, the sticked informed me that the true price was P270. P270, not P2700. I couldn't believe my eyes. I turned to my daughter.

"Yes," I told her. "Yes, you can certainly have this one."

An explosion of joy!

With the addition of a strawberry butter cake to which the Cinderella motif would be applied, our total cost came in at around P600. I got a kiss, a hug and a big "thank you, Dad!" from Sage as I lingered in the midst of an epiphany: it is wrong to assume to that the most expensive thing is what will bring joy to a child's heart.

It is my own expectations that bring me heartache, I thought as I picked up the pieces of my heart on the bakeshop floor. A lesson I need to remember as my daughter grows up.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

money matters

My mother instilled in me the conviction that I would be forever poor. Beginning when I was a young boy until well after I had left the house as an adult, she’d repeat the mantra of poverty endlessly, inflicting her fears upon most of our conversation, not content until I held up my hands in surrender. She grew up in Palawan, in one of the provinces in the south, dreaming of having more than she had. Her stories from that period in her life are filled with the heartbreaking examples of struggle, some of them exaggerated, most of them true: balancing on a borrowed bicycle in the rain, one hand clutching a basket of precious eggs destined for the market; assisting my grandmother with the patterns for dresses ordered by the rich into the early hours of dawn; walking hungry to school and not having any of the materials that schoolwork demanded because her parents could not afford them - endless anecdotes that are the equivalent to the American “when I was young, I used to walk ten miles to school, barefoot, in the snow”. She told me how she used her dreams to warm her, spinning fantasies of wealth, splendor and vengeance upon the rich folk who possessed not an ounce of sympathy for her. Fiercely intelligent, she decided that one day she would be rich and leave all the stories of her impoverished childhood behind.

I grew up as a child of divorce, in the custody of my mother. She confused comfort for love and love for loyalty, spinning in place for years until nausea overwhelmed her. When she opened her eyes, she found a little boy looking at her. Sitting in the ruins of her marriage, my mother realized that she was still poor and had the additional burden of a son. “At that moment I knew that I needed to fight no longer only for myself,” she told me once over coffee in the open-air lanai of our huge house in Greenhills. She summoned up a measure of brutal determination and entered the corporate arena. In a few years, I was studying in an expensive private school and spending weekends at our condominium in Makati’s business district. We had cars and drivers and opulent Christmas celebrations when my mother acted like Santa Claus possessed by the demon of generosity, not because she wanted to show off her prosperity, but because she knew how it was to spend Christmas with next to nothing.

Early on, she abruptly stopped giving me expensive things. Her desire was to replicate in me the very conditions that made her strong, that made her a fighter – poverty. And so in the heart of the affluent Greenhills neighborhood, surrounded by a battalion of maids and bountiful tables, I grew up poor. Like her, I biked to school, balancing my schoolbag instead of a basket of eggs. I crossed EDSA to take a bus to accomplish errands and learned how to save to buy the books I desperately wanted. She drilled into my head that I did not have the fall-back position of privilege that my half-siblings and step-siblings had. Their father – my stepfather – was a very wealthy man. She told me that I could not expect an inheritance from him as we shared no blood, and that my presence was tolerated in the house only because of pity.

“Be kind to your sisters,” she told me when I was fourteen years old. “When I am gone, maybe they’ll remember your kindness and let you stay in this house – as a gardener or a houseboy.”

She succeeded in fashioning the framework of impoverishment in my mind, with what, to her, were only the best and most noble of intentions. But to me it was poison. I struggled with the possibilities of being suddenly thrown out into the streets, conditioned to fear and resent the power of my affluent step-siblings. I alone in that house was an Alfar; everyone else had an influential family name that I did not share. In the paranoiac delusions of adolescence I imagined escaping. I created a scenario where one of the rich and famous families of Manila would suddenly claim me as their long-lost scion (“Now and forever, you are Dean Zobel de Ayala!”). But what did not rub off on me was a desire to wealthy.

Instead, I looked at what I had, at what I possessed on my own. I searched for something no one else had, that no one could buy with scads of money or with intimated inheritances. I decided to find happiness on my terms, to construct it, to live it. Because of my mother’s Soviet-style conditioning, I had the mind of a poor man but instead of struggling to be rich in material things, I elected to find fulfillment on the intellectual plane. I would never be rich, but I certainly could be smart. Released from that pressure, I began to write.

Even now, as a surprised businessman, I find myself with the mindset my mother spent tremendous effort to force upon me. In the company of rich men, I sometimes find that part of my mother bristling and wanting to slap everyone down simply because I do not have what they have. I struggle with the ghosts of her childhood frequently, half-persuaded that the little business successes I have will crumble at any time and my daughter will have to sleep on a carton under a bridge, snot trailing down her unwashed face. But more powerful than that are my own personal convictions: that rich or poor doesn’t really matter; that things are not as bad as I make them; that while I cannot choose my circumstances I can sure as hell choose my attitude; that words will always afford me something; that while everything ultimately ends in tears, what matters is that I do not cry today; that wealth cannot buy everything; that we create our own bliss.

My mother failed in her bid to create in me a person who would be motivated by the accumulation of wealth. I know that majority of my siblings, half or step, are magnitudes of degrees richer than I am. But that is not the arena in which I compete, and my will to compete is very strong. Wealth is not equivalent to success or happiness. I’ve never believed that the measure of a man is amount in his bank account or the value of his investment portfolio. The moment I subscribe to that is the day my mother wins.

Where she did win is with the most important aspect my character. I became a feisty fighter, with attitude to spare. It is not that I pick fights, but I can fight when it matters. It is the basis of my "find a way to do it" outlook on life and achievement.

As for money matters, it is enough that via my businesses and investments I have enough to live how I live and provide for my wife and daughter, today and tomorrow.

Everything else is in the realm of “nice-to-have”, but mean little in my mindscape. I do not lose sleep over things I do not have.

Monday, January 23, 2006

the world is big and small

Image hosting by Photobucket
philippine speculative fiction vol.1

Right after launch and while I was in the US, I sent copies of PSF to France, Japan, and a few cities in the US (to friends old and new, plus a couple of authors I met online). I originally intended for PSF to be available only locally in the Philippines, but am now receiving various inquiries from different countries - thanks to Jeff Ford's blog and Charles whose comment provoked a great post.

(I seriously need to digress here and tell you how awesome it is to know that Jeff read and liked one of my stories. He is one of my favorite authors - I have this interview over at Pinoy Book Reviews conducted last year to prove that it's not a matter of kissing ass. In particular, his short stories "Creation" & "At Reparata" plus his novel "The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque" are among the best things I've read in my life.)

So now, I have to come up with some way to handle payments and remittances. My first impulse is to look into the regular old banking method. I've already instructed my accountant to facilitate matters. I can also use this for other aspects of my design company business and stuff for my pet store. The other option, suggested by Ben, is PayPal. Despite the fact that PayPal's website makes things seemingly clear and easy, a huge part of me is still stuck on the paranoid notion that money sent via the internet is a risky proposition. That, and the Luddite in me. So I've asked advice from the best tech friend I have, Jason, as to how to handle it.

Getting speculative fiction written by Filipinos out to readers in different parts of the world is a thrilling thing to think about. It goes beyond the act of writing, editing, and packaging the book. In the Philippines, the book can be found in Fully Booked and over at Comic Quest, and is selling nicely. But beyond our shores... the possibilities are both exciting and terrifying. I need to learn how to think bigger, that's all.

This brings to mind an expanded interpretation of the question "Who do I write for?". Food for thought, indeed.

ten things about my fiction

Ten ways to tell you're reading one of my stories.

Got this meme from author Ben Peek’s journal, and it looks like fun (and, at the same time, reminiscent of the long conversations I have about writing with Nikki, Vin and Buddha).

Not everything I write shares the same elements, and I like to imagine that I do write about different things in different ways. The truth, however, is evident. Someone once wrote, and I paraphrase wildly because my memory is pathetic: “You can tell what an author is all about – past, present and future – by looking at any three of his works.” I do not completely disagree; certain elements do pop up and are seemingly integral to the author’s unique voice.

1. The Run-on sentence. Given the magic realist slant of most of my writing, this is practically a given. Through the years, I’ve worked to tame the beast. But once in a while, a monster sentence (over a page long) sprouts like a sudden tendril in a Swamp Thing story, threatening to strangle all light and love in the world. When this happens, it’s time for the shears: cut it into two or more sections (since these run-ons usually have some independent clauses anyway). Why does this happen? For texture, for pacing, for atmosphere.

2. Love & Loss. Sigh. Despite myself, I find myself writing more stories that have to do with sad qualities of love: desperation, searches, longing, endings. My novel Salamanca can be read on one level as a love story, and I’m fine with that. The curious thing is that I rarely set out to write a love story, but find elements of love intermingled in my final text. What I do not write is sappy, crappy love stories. Nope. Love, like hope, is cruel, after all. Interestingly, my own love affair with my wife is wonderful. I think I’m channeling all the failed marriages I’ve been exposed to.

3. Language and Vocabulary. Since I love words, I consciously select and use newer (to me) and uncommon words in most of my writing. Words are the primary tools of my trade after all, and increasing my familiarity with them improves my ability to be more concise (or vague) as I need to be. My basic default style is lyrical and so-in-love with words.

4. Lists. I like lists and imbed them in some way. This could be lists of objects, actions, places, whatever.

5. Local Color. Especially in fiction (and more so in longer pieces), I imbue the text with details about my country, whether real or real-enough. Apart from adding to the texture, historical details enhance the verisimilitude of certain stories. Additionally, it appeals to the odd nationalistic part of me which attempts to conform to the stunningly powerful deeply-set social realist “Pride to the Filipino” sensibility that I am sometimes at odds with. The struggle is between the Filipino-in-me and the Filipino-of-my-imagination which, I feel, should break the traditional notions of what we Filipino authors should write about, regardless of mode.

6. Women who explode. Or burst into flame. I have nothing against women (my experience with my own mother do not warrant multiple visits to a therapist) but I do have penchant for surrendering them to the flames of unearthly passion which often is expressed through literal explosions. On one level, this is a metaphor for the uncontrollable demands of lust or loyalty. Or there could be a very disturbing psycho-sexual pyromaniac in me. Hmmm.

7. Margins. Mostly in my plays, I have characters who are gay or transgendered, minority or marginalized. I like giving them a voice, given the fact that I’ve met and spoken to many different kinds of people, some of them close friends. The fact of the matter is that they should be treated no differently from the dominant set in terms of sexual preferences. People are still people under skin color or choice of lifestyle, prone to the same demands of passion.

8. Dialogue. I started out in my writing life as a playwright, and so I am no stranger to dialogue. In my prose, I keep dialogue as my silver bullets, consciously using them sparingly, often to elucidate certain character-defining moments. There is a certain delicious depth to the words people say, and the very choice of words to place in a character’s mouth is one of my favorite parts in the writing process.

9. Short-form experiments. With stories under 3000 words, I consciously attempt to experiment with different styles of writing, prioritizing different things, veering away from my established “voice”. I write shorter, terse sentences. I write about subject matters that are not exactly the first things I’d normally care to write about. I play with structure. The point of all this is to force my other writerly muscles to grow, learn new lessons in my craft, and kick myself down the path towards improvement. I think that an author should, like wine, improve over time, and I’d prefer for my writing style to alter as I grow older, to be more attuned to my aging sensibilities. There are things I look at now that as a young man thrilled me; now they fill me with melancholy. If my writing is not reflective in some degree, no matter how small, of me, then why am I writing?

10. Speculative fiction. The last thing I’d care to write is a social realist thing in the mode handed down to me by my literary predecessors. I champion works of speculative fiction that challenge the dominance of the staid formalists who seem to think that the plight of the poor or the martial law era is are the only things worth writing about. I believe in the power of story, that incredible sense of wonder that gives one pause. I’d choose it over dry didactic nationalistic drivel any day. There certainly must be a place in the canon of Philippine literature for stories of the imagination that go beyond the aspirations of citizen and country.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

vin's day

It's not until tomorrow, but I want to be the first to say "Happy Birthday!" to my best bud Vin, who trails three years behind me (so you figure his age out).

It's been a wild ride, my friend. Here's to the years to come.

As for the gifts, I hope you like the three packages from the three Alfars :)

Friday, January 20, 2006

murder by design

I'll be one of the speakers in the upcoming Murder by Design Conference, scheduled for February 25 at the 70's Bistro.

I'll be talking about how to start up your own design company. Or, I think, more properly I should talk about what not to do, having gone through hell myself (OMG, honestly, you just have to laugh at the past - after gleaning whatever lessons there are to be found).

Mark your calendars. More details here.

story of my life

Got this quiz from cholo (I know, after so long being quiz-free, but this one made me smile).

As a film, what would my life story be called and who'd direct it?


Take this quiz at QuizGalaxy.com

Surreal and action-packed, with lots of funky dialogue :)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

gifts unbidden

The holidays and my natal day are long past but wonderful gifts continued to arrive, up until yesterday. This is quite stunning to me because I am used to receiving very few gifts, and certainly none beyond a certain point, thinking that the number of gifts one gets is inversely proportional to one's age.

A black cowboy hat from Nikki - I actually wanted to wear this with my new barong tagalog at a wedding, put on an SoCal accent, and pretend I was an obnoxious FilAm relative who just stepped off the plane. Or, if I'm I'm the only one with a hat, I can channel Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line. Or (heh) if there's another guy with a hat... Brokeback Mountain (LOL)

A Hellboy Zippo lighter from Vin - With art by Mike Mignola (one of my favorite artists and storytellers), this black matte firestick is ubercool. The problem now is paranoia, as in I'm so concerned that it will slip out of my pocket or that I'll leave it on a table somewhere. My last Zippo was a 4 bar in college, and I remember the anguish of losing it.

Books from Banzai Cat - A hardcover anthology edited by Hartwell and an edition of William Hope Hodgson's classic The House on the Border Land to add to my must-read pile (I must confess that the only copy of "House" I leafed though was a comic book). The Hartwell antho even has one of my favorite Le Guin stories, "The Rule of Names".

A Silly Putty pancake and an illustrated book from Sage - First, Silly Putty is really not meant for Manila's climes. Here it is quite a sticky icky frightening mess. But shaped by my daughter's hand into a pancake, I will accept it as the most delicious thing in the world ("No, Dad! Don't eat it! It's just pretend!").

She also presented me with her first book - a series of self-illustrated pages which she wrote also wrote. It's called "The Gingerbread Family and the Rosy Day". Her mommy helped with the title, but it's Sage who wrote "Once upon a time", and who narrated every page she drew, ending with "The End". It precious and utterly wonderful.

A Tarot reading from Buddha - Being a Superstitious businessman, I had many silent questions asked of the cards and the general picture painted is positive, so that's good. The future is certainly unknowable, but every little conceit that points to a better tomorrow is always welcome.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
A pen from Tals - Tals, a dear old friend, does marketing work for Fully Booked, and the chance to touch base with her after so long was welcome. I thanked her for their support of our books (and yes, it was quite a thrill seeing the specfic volume, Passion and Project: Hero there). She reminded me of the Gaiman contest and I did my best to smile enigmatically. Apparently, entries have already been submitted and they explore the range, from drivel to excellence.

A broiler/oven from Reb - Reb is my chef sister, one of the top corporate chefs in the country (check out last month's F&B mag). With her gift, I can at last prepare turbo chicken, with all the drippings (yum).

It's really too much for me, and I'm very thankful.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

maiden in february

My short story "The Maiden and the Crocodile" will definitely see print in the next issue of Story Philippines. I was delighted to get the confirmation letter from the editor, who also told me that there was a possibility that artwork from Negros-artist Nunelucio Alvarado will accompany my piece, which is simply mindboggling since I'm a admirer of his work. Here's a sample, "Mapait sa Mata, Mapin-ot sa Ginhawa".

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Fingers crossed and all.

I wrote "Maiden" backwards (though it also works read the other way) and as part of the Hinirang mythos, of which a lot of my earlier writing develops.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

at work: ocular

Prepping up for a shoot with a hotel client, I spent most of today wearing my art director's hat in the cool climes of Tagaytay, overlooking Taal Volcano. Since I ended up not buying a prosumer SLR camera while I was in the US (frustrating story there), all I had was my trusty and beloved Xda II.

Since I'll be directing the future shoot, I needed to familiarize myself with the location, reviewing all the shoot requirements. I wanted to see everything for myself so I can plan the shots and cut on the time devoted to the actual shoot. I think of it as doing my homework - and also so I don't look like a fool to the expensive "name" photographer whose fees outstrip mine.

The property is a hotel, a pedigreed one at that, so I can't post the revelatory shots I took (rooms, ballrooms, restos, viewdecks, exteriors, pool, etc.) but I did take some images for reference that are hard to pin down on any specific place. Why the carefulness? Because my design company is creating a series of print ads for this client and I want them to look their best.

Of all the layouts I'm shooting, I'll select only a small number for the actual ads, giving the rest to the client for their library. Remember, these are hurriedly-taken shots for angles only and not the final shots which will be in full color. I show these to the photographer and we compose the shot together - he'll handle the lighting, I'll handle the set design as well manage the talents (I'm delighted because there is a spa setup).

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
I like shots like this, which permit my artists the ability to isolate details. Details are useful for a variety of materials such as brochures, menus and rate cards.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
I plan to have a bartender at the far edge of the shot, or a set of bottles with colored fluids to refract/scatter hues in the upsidedown wine glasses.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The reason I spent so much time at the bar was that the client was happy to keep me lubricated ;)

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
There are so many options for the required spa shot. I'm thinking of filling this up with bubbles or the usual flower petals and work the shot via lighting. And perhaps I'll take the wife here for some hankyp-panky.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
I call it a cupola but it's just the ceiling of one of the external function halls (sadly, no dome). But with the proper setup and a wide shot, this will look great.

Despite myself, I found myself wishing I could shoot the kitchen (and hence, food) as well but it's not part of the project scope. I met the hotel head chef and he's really cool.

Monday, January 16, 2006

vignette: someone to watch over

The dragon watched the princess from behind his hiding place on the cupboard, nestled between the oversized Starbucks mug and a lopsided bottled ship. He knew her routine down to the last second, the regular cadence as soothing to him as the soft ticks of the burnished clock a shelf away.

Every morning, after she forced herself out of bed (she was an early riser from childhood, and there are some ingrained things that even heartbreak cannot alter), the princess made herself a cup of black coffee and stood before her catalog of loss. She did this every morning because she felt less vulnerable when the sun shone. When light invaded the secret intimacies of her home, the princess felt she had nothing to hide. At night, however, when darkness only reflected the dismal emptiness within her chest, all she wanted to do was to close her eyes.

“I know you’re watching me again,” the princess spoke in the dragon’s direction, but, as usual, he pretended he did not hear. “But it doesn’t really matter, does it?”

The princess kept the broken pieces of her heart in an old Chinese cabinet, each fragment in a drawer of its own, tagged with short descriptor and a date to help her remember. On a small table next to the cabinet was a box, its velvet interior enclosing a small pile of unsorted fragments, dislodged when her heart shrank at the end of last week’s love affair with the boy with the rumpled hair.

The dragon watched her open the box and upend the contents on a thick tea cosy with florid but time-dulled patterns, her next action as predictable to him as his next breath.

The princess picked up a fragment with a steady hand and brought it to her eye, squinting to interpret the pattern laid down by her own passion.

“If you come back to me, will it be only for a little while or forever?” the princess asked softly. “Tell me.”

The dragon regarded the pause with little hope for an alteration, knowing that what would happen next would occur as it had always played out, day after day after day.

The fragment remained mute and unmoving.

“I thought as much,” the princess said. With a deep sigh, she dropped the piece on the padded cloth, picked up her half-empty cup and went to the kitchen to refresh her coffee, pausing only to glare at the hidden dragon in the bookcase.

When she was gone, the dragon shifted position and yawned before settling down to the sleep for the rest of the day and night.

couch potato season

Smoke from Lost

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Kate from Lost

Though not as fervid as pal Rickey, I am so looking forward to these shows, beginning this week: American Idol 5, Lost: Season 2, Survivor: Exile Island, Project Runway and Entourage. Oh, and America's Next Top Model because I am Tyra fan.

I'll catch the first two on local TV (yes, I'm now a devotee of ABC 5's stunningly anatomically incorrect newscaster - okay, so she has a really big, big head, but I love her now, so back off), and get the rest from the pirates (which is how I'm only 1 episode behind the US with Lost - no, I haven't seen the wonderful Mr. Eko ep - but will soon). My supplier, Horny Devil (heh), provided me also with all of Rome, one of my fave series with excellent writing, acting, directing, editing and design (though the finale was rather rushed and a bit of a let down).

So now, all my work and writing need to be scheduled around these shows :)


Look at what my friends are up to:

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Get ready for Gerry Alanguilan's next serious work (after Wasted)... Elmer! Reseached by the Komikero since 2004! Believe it or not! I'm way ahead in line for this chicken! But if you can't wait, revel in Crest Hut Butt Shop. Go ahead, don't be afraid.

Two-time National Book Award-winner Arnold Arre (Mythology Class, After Eden) offers a tantalizing peek at his upcoming book, a reimagination of Alagad ni Kalantiao (or so close buddy Marco says). Three years in the making, watch out for this killer book, to be distributed by Nautilus Comics.

Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah flies...live! The popular heroine belts out songs and action in Carlo Vergara's Zsazsa Zaturnnah: Ze Muzikal, starring Eula Valdez and Agot Isidro, with direction by Palanca Awardee Chris Millado. For show details, visit Carl's blog . For tickets, contact:

Tanghalang Pilipino 832-3661 / 832-1125 locals 1620 / 1621 /
(0920) 953-5381 / 0920 953-5419
email ccptanghalan@yahoo.com
TicketWorld 891-9999

Friday, January 13, 2006


Where I'm lost.

go, doppler, go!

Cause for celebration: Tyron Caliente's "The Doppler Effect" will appear in the March issue of The Edge (thanks to editor Ern Banawa). It first appeared in Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 1.

Calinte's textured epistolary piece is one of the strongest stories in the book, and comes highly recommended. I'm delighted to see stories of this nature get more exposure.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

answering questions

Q: What is your writing process? I mean, what are the steps you take?

A: Here's my personal process. Caveat time again: by no means am I saying that my writing mechanicals are the best way or the only way or that people should do I as do. But my process (such as it is) works for me.

Concept/idea development

To begin writing a story, be it a piece of short fiction or something longer, I start with an idea or a notion. Sometimes, it’s a bit of dialogue (that’s the playwright in me) that triggers the process. Sometimes, it’s something visual that I can see in my mind’s eye. Sometimes, it’s purely an idea, something that comes in a flash of oh-my-god-I’m-brilliant. But most of the time it is deliberate focus and concentration, willing myself to work on a time schedule, whether the inspiration is present or not. In those cases, I dig up some older story idea or create one on the spot. If I need to do the latter, I seek out some quiet space and let my mind wander in the various places of my mind. Most of the time, I find a little something in some almost forgotten area that I can use.

To me, the quality of the initial conceit is not as important as the execution. The truth of the matter is that the story is an organic thing. As it is written, it will change; and that change can include its very basis or foundation idea. This happens, for example, when I set out to write about something specific, say a certain character performing a specific task. But in the course of writing, I discover that the events surrounding the character are more interesting, and that there is a more invigorating story to tell. This creates a choice for me: to pursue the initial idea or to walk down the new road.


Next thing I do is to outline or structure the piece. I do this mostly for plays but have also started to do a bit for my fiction pieces (with plays I’m stricter with myself because I’m conscious of the play’s running time). This process for fiction is fairly simple. In very general terms, I list down a sequence of events (if I’m working with plot) or focus characters (if a choreo-play). Sometimes, I break down the imagined narrative into discrete parts and, thinking musically, determine the tempo. Sometimes, the so-called “outline” is no more than a set of loglines. I really do not spend much time here because I suspect (at least for me) that it is really unnecessary. I tend to break whatever outline I create anyway.

What I do not do is to create a full blown written guide (or a “bible”). I write bibles only for work-for-hire.

Initial draft

I tend to write my first draft quickly. Depending on the length of the piece, this can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days for short fiction. In the case of Salamanca, I used a personal quota system – X number of words per day, but the new novel I’m starting is structured into chapters, so I’m writing by chapters. In the case of a play, I finish the first draft in a couple of days.

The quality of my initial drafts vary. For plays, I tend to write quicker and let the dialogue flow. The draft is usually sprawling and improves during the next steps in the process. I usually think of my play drafts as ugly and unwieldy, nothing I care to show anyone.

For fiction, I’ve found that as I grow as writer I’m more able to imbue texture on the first pass (character touches, dialogue, descriptors, and insight). I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be in terms of being able to write as precisely as I can on the first pass, but I tend to generate very little that I cannot later use, reuse or abuse.

Since I do not write in a linear fashion (beginning-middle-end, in sequence), I am able to write bits and pieces here and there as my mood permits (for me, it’s okay to be moody as long as I’m actually being productive). Ideas continue to be developed as the first draft is written because you cannot write a one-idea story (you can have a focus, yes, but you need to build texture and other interesting things around the main idea). When I write short fiction, I tend to jump around a lot, writing this then going back to that before suddenly deleting an entire section because it simply doesn’t work anymore. I try not to edit during the draft process but do a bit of it anyway – because while I am in the zone, my tolerance for what-the-fuck-is-this is very very low.

During this step of the process, I try to write uninterrupted, to preserve momentum. Nothing irks me more than sudden conversation, music, a phone call, any sound or movement at all. I’m like a foul-tempered beast forcing blood from a stone.

This is the part of the writing process that I enjoy the most, when all my creative juices are flowing and I am only dimly aware of the physical act of writing (when I am aware, I’m dismayed that I think faster than I can actually type).

Walk away

When I’m finished, I leave the text alone. We need time apart. I need a clear head the next time we meet.

Rewrites and revisions

When I return to the text, it is not as a lover. I rewrite the parts that do not work or are not true or are simply out of place. I check for flow and pacing and texture, for the quality of language and agonize over paragraphs or even word choice. At this point, it is still possible for the entire story to be changed or at least vast parts of it.

This stage takes as long as it needs to take. However, if there is an actually deadline, then I make sure that I actually have time to perform this step. I usually end up unhappy with anything I’ve written anyway.

This is the second best part of the writing process for me.


This is the homestretch when I harvest the errant commas and replace the hyphens with em dashes. This is when I clip run-on sentences that are just too long, even for me. I go over the text and change certain words for better, more precise (or vague, as the case may be) ones. “Find and replace” lets me change character names if I choose to.

Final manuscript

I format the final text for submission or publication and send it off.

And I inevitably think I’ve written the most terrible thing in the world, but move on to next story anyway.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

salamanca: cover

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

This is the cover I've approved for Salamanca, with changes in the font and a few small tweaks. The indistinct face of Jacinta, steeped in the old magic plus the superimposed realist eye of age works for me. And Shiro, the three-legged dog, makes a cameo, representing Gaudencio, who is also a dog (LOL).

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

answering questions

Q: My writing has been critiqued as "shallow and superficial". I don't understand why; I'm telling a story, and the story is the story. What's superficial about that?

A: Assuming that your critics dis not focus on the basics such as language and style, it's highly possible that what they mean is that your story exists only on a single reading level. A single reading level story is good enough for anecdotes and the like, but for narrative text to become a great story it needs to exist on several reading levels. You need to work on texture and subtext, and not to have a simple series of events or a plot populated by characters who are cardboard cutouts. A reader brings his or her privileged reading to the text, attributing personal meaning. Perhaps what your critics mean is that, when reading your story, all they get is the obvious single reading. Do not get me wrong: there are times when simplicity equates to excellence in story crafting. But more likely than not, the reader equates satisfaction with the notion of "getting more" from the story. Sophisticated readers tend to turn their noses up at stories that are predictable or routine. Texture is created in the details, in the characterization and dialogue, in the authorly insight that is imbedded in the narrative. Texts that exist on multiple reading levels offer readers a wealth of experience - these are the stories people return to again and again, discuss, argue or remember. It is possible to imbue subtle agenda or perspective or point of view. It is possible for a story to work on its most obvious level (as a story about X) but also as an allegory or commentary. Are simple stories crappy stories? Would you consider the Grimm marchen/fairy tales simple?

Q: I wish my stories could be published!

A: Then take steps. Polish them off and submit to various publications. In Manila, you can try Story Philippines (Vanni de Sequera, Ed.), Manual (RJ Ledesma, Ed.), Philippines Free Press (Paolo Manalo, Ed.) and several other publications. In addition, there are calls for submissions by various anthologies from time to time. Join an online mailing list for writers to get news of such things. You could also collect your stories and pitch them to various publishers - but be prepared for multiple rejections. With limited budgets, publishers are picky. Having said that though, if your writing is incredibly undeniaby good, then go for it. Another local option is to self-publish, but make sure you understand all that this option entails (cost, production, distribution, marketing, collection).

For international publications of the speculative fiction sort, there are many. Online, you can try subbing to Strange Horizons. I have a personal fondness for this publication because I made my first sale with them, inspired by Chris Barzak's experience. If you check out the blogs of other published spec fic authors such as David Schwartz or Doug Lain, you'll see their publication lists, which you can use as leads - Realms of Fantasy, Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov's, and a lot more combining online and traditional print publications (take note that for US subs, you'll need an SASE and can buy International Money Coupons at the main post office in the City of Manila).

There is no harm in subbing. Again, be prepared for rejection slips. Collect them with pride and learn from what comments the editors give you (not all of them do). Conquer your fear of rejection and just do it.

Q: How can I write more consistently?

A: By disciplining yourself to write on schedule and from learning from your errors. The development of the writing craft is through the act of writing, and to write you need to make time to write.

Q: I'm blocked with a story. I can't go on.

A: It's different for different writers, but the way I deal with a mental block or a stubborn story is to leave it for a while and work on another story. There are times when I am too close to story, and so both time and distance permit a fresh perspective when I come back to work on it at a later time. For the truly frustrating ones, I abandon them. One of my personal writerly maxims is never to fall in love with my text. I cannot afford to be tied done to a story that I simply cannot make work. I'd rather begin something new and make better use of my time and creative juices.

Q: I have issues with commas, em dashes vs. hyphens and such. What do I do? I don't remember learning this crap from school.

A: Get a copy of good old Strunk and White. They'll help you out. Some writers, myself included, gained an understanding of grammar, punctuation, syntax and all these things simply by exposure: we read and read and read and all the rules become somehow imbedded. But when I doubt, I ask Strunk and White or rouse my favorite editrix.

Q: Where do you get your ideas?

A: Gah. I loathe this question. Next, please. ;)

Monday, January 09, 2006

salamanca: the road of publication (update)

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Before I left last year, the publisher sent over a bunch of cover studies for me to select from. They offered for me to have my design company design it but I declined out of delicadeza, not wanting to step on the toes of anyone within the publisher's company (especially their designers). Here's a look at one of the designs (which includes a non-existent cat). It's hard to control myself from taking over the design, but I've decided to play politically, this being the first book Im not publishing myself. I still have input on several things like the font choices and such, but basically I'm telling myself that ultimately the cover is just a cover, and what matters is the content - which, with the exception of two grammatical errors, went unchanged, thanks to the ability of the best inhouse editrix in the world.

I haven't been able to follow up since I got back, but the launch is set vaguely for this month or next and I'm terribly excited. I printed myself a copy of the PDF layout of the book, so I can pretend I have it already, and as usual, I find myself wanting to rewrite vast tracks of text. It's my usual angst, whenever I look at anything I previosuly wrote, to be overwhelmingly unhappy with the small things. But, of course, eventually I let go. As in this case, where I'm allowing the text to stand virtually as I initially submitted it. Perhaps in the future, when I'm older, I'll return to Salamnca and release a "Director's Cut" - rewritten with extra material. But for now, this will do.

More as this develops.


One of the ways to torture me is to have me sit down for hours without doing anything, as in the long flight back to Manila. Time expands on a long-haul flight: you sleep and awaken rightfully expecting hours to have passed only to discover that you were asleep for only ten minutes; inflight movies become unbearably populated by Mark Ruffalo and extend forever, heedless of plot or sense; I wanted to compress time and just get home. To keep myself hopeful, I imagined the delight of at last being able to visit my barber for a shave and a haircut, plus a steam bath and a massage at my spa, plus being able to smoke myself to death in my underwear in my the comfort and privacy of my bedroom. And I kept drinking juices and water and fliching small bottles of wine whenever I walked the length of the cabin to prevent my legs from dying.

When we finally landed in Manila, we breezed through customs with our boxes via the power of a Mason and a moviestar (my father-in-law and my brother-in-law) and sped off home. Sage embraced her nanny and they both cried - I was crying too, in relief that we still had a home and a yaya (because last year, one of our helpers (fired, of course) betrayed us by selling my cell phone and inviting people over to sleep in our bed - gah). We left the work of unpacking for the next day and went happily to sleep. Truly, truly, there is no place like home.

The next day, we met up with our dear friends, passed out pasalubong, and hied off to Dampa for garlic butter prawns and inihaw na baboy, Risk: Godstorm (one of the new games I got, along with Senator, Incognito, Skull & Bones, and Colossal Arena), and a lot of catching up. I was still jetlagged and zoning out but I wanted to sleep at my normal time, so I can readjust my body clock. We spent the weekend with more friends and family, doing pretty much the same thing.

This morning, I was so excited to go to my office. When I got there at 8AM, I was surprised to see a pile of gifts and wine bottles on my desk from friends, family and suppliers. Among the wonderful presents I got were copies of Ian Casocot's books (salamat!), a large mirror for the house from my brother Ricky, copies of The Edge magazine from Ern (salamat!) where my new column debuts, and an astonishly number of quality things from clients (like this super planner from Levis). At 9AM, I get a call from the manager of the bank I bank with wishing me a belated happy birthday. Before noon, I received a mango pie from them - I was surprised and quite happy since I love mango pie.

But what really made my day was being briefed by my partner on the projects we're doing. I missed work and am glad to be back.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

coming home

Well, miraculously, Nikki and I managed to pack everything into 2 suitcases, 4 balikbayan boxes, 2 handcarry strollers, 1 baby bag, and 1 laptop bag. We weighed everything and as expected, the damn books take up the bulk of the weight, with Sage's stuff (toys, dresses, gifts) and pasalubong rounding up the balance. So I distributed the weight among all the luggage we had and somehow made it work (it's amusing to note that Northwest Airlines exacts a maximum of 50lbs weight per piece of luggage for everyone except those travelling to the Philippines - we have a weight allowance of 70 lbs per luggage, which is why we managed to cart off everything).

So in a few hours, we do everything in reverse. We head on out of Palm Coast at around 4am to get to the airport at Jacksonville. From Jacksonville, we fly to Michigan then take the long haul to Nagoya, Japan, and from there to sweet polluted congested lovely Manila, losing a day in the process.

This was a great trip, and I enjoyed myself more than usual. For one thing, I actually kept within budget and managed not to spend all my dollars inspite of the temptations of all the different branches of Barnes & Noble we savaged. I also bonded with my in-law family here, with Nikki and most especially with Sage, who has turned out to be quite a seasoned traveller. Most of the people we met thought she was at least 5 years old, given her vocabulary and expressiveness. But I am especially delighted with her sense of humor, in her ability to crack jokes of her own devising and her capacity to laugh at her own silliness at times.

So it's goodbye once again to suburbia, to this place of endless highways and interstates and mindnumbing distances, to the vast tracks of forests, swamps and empty spaces and sparse population, to the stunning laidbackness and cell phones used to actually talk instead of text, to the hundreds of channels on the TV and the funky commercials, to the Publix, Walmarts and other supermarkets that offer the most interesting things, to the supersized resto portions and to the all the lobsters, steaks and $30 meals (plus 18% gratuity) I can never afford on my own, to the abundant running hot water and cool climes, and to the wonderful post office that makes you want to find a reason to keep on snail-mailing; goodbye, farewell, goodbye.

I'd trade all of you anyday for my Manila.

Bye for now - see you guys later.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Goodbye mini-soft drinks


I celebrated my birthday with family and friends at the Yamato resto, named after the famed Japanese battleship (or Spacecrusider, if your memory is more anime pop). I gave in to the astounding serving of filet mignon teppan-style, with chef juggling eggs and the works. Sage was riveted, and a little bit scared of the fire, but we all had a good time (I got acquainted with a little alcoholic drink called "The Ninja", which, if it were an actual ninja, would be pretty accommodating).

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Flame on!

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Sage says "No to forest fires".

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Sage led the "Happy Birthday, Daddy" song, accompanied by a gong.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Father and daughter reprising "Memoirs of a Geisha".

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Daughter, wife and mother-in-law - all beauties.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


One more day in America and then it's the long flight to blessed homeland. Really, after a while, I tend to snap and long for home. Everything about elsewhere irks me; the romance cannot last.

So anyway, resolutions. Gah. I don't know why I bother since I suck at keeping resolutions. But I'll try this year to:

1. Smoke less.
2. Lose weight.
3. Spend less, save more.
4. Write more.
5. Publish more.
6. Be kinder.
7. Learn patience.
8. Compete more.
9. Share more.
10. Think more.

Monday, January 02, 2006

thirty seven years old...

... and loving life!

I'm approaching forty (the new twenty) and this time I'm feeling less stress about growing old. I'm excited by the prospect of more things to do, challenges to be won, and stories to be written.

According to my stepfather, a man can consider himself to have lived a complete life if he has done the following things:

1. sire a child
2. write a book
3. plant a tree

I have done items 1 and 2. Therefore, I resolve not to plant a tree until my very last moment - not because I do not want to contribute to the dwindling ecosphere - but because to do so would mean that everything else is meaningless.

There is plenty to achieve.