Monday, April 03, 2006

salamanca means magic

Until the last moment, part of me was convinced that everything was just a cruel joke (a launch on April Fool's?) and that I would be shaken awake by my wife - and it's 2004 and everything has been a fever dream, a wish fulfillment fantasy - and that I did not, in fact, have a novel.

But last Saturday, I was faced with the truth of the matter, that I, in fact, had written one and there it was in my hands, a book swathed in mysterious green with a blurred face of a woman and an inset black and white photo of an eye (which, I assure everyone, is not my eye). Add to that the startling fact that every copy of the advance print of the book on sale during the launch was purchased, leading to a frustrated list of people who didn't get a copy (but more on that later).

I arrived early for the launch at Fully Booked, wanting to help my publisher set up, for two reasons: first, I was used to doing that whenever we'd launch our stuff (as hardened self-publishers of comics and books, you learn early on to do your own heavy lifting); and second, because I could not sit still. I mean, honestly, who could? (Come to think of it, perhaps authors who've launched 15 books can be jaded, but give me a break). The caterer was there, and the food arrived, but I didn't see much people.

"I'm going to the Children's Section to cry," I told my friend Kate.

"They'll come, Dean," she reassured me.

And come they did. Friends old and new came, from my intimate circle to old high school chums to my college barkaka to bloggers to gamers to fellow fictionists and authors to workmates, clients and people I've met only once or twice in my life. Family came, my mom, my stepdad (whose presence made me so happy I gave him a book in the midst of my speech), my siblings (half- and step-), uncles and aunts, and cousins. Friends of my mom came - in droves, peer-presured into dressing up and attending the book launch of the son of their good friend (and what a mix: police generals, government officials, matrons, newspapermen, businessmen, fashionistas, art patrons, dancers and artists and people visiting from Europe - it was crazy).

My good friend and fellow Silliman/UP workshopper Sarge Lacuesta gave a talk about the book which became a talk about how he and I once had a close encounter with aliens in Cebu in 1992 (really, it has been blocked from my mind by the grays, no doubt). I was floored by his kind words, shocked that he referenced one of the first stories I ever wrote ("The Sad and Strange Tale of Sister Maria Dolores, the Nun who Exploded"). Privately, he confessed that he didn't feel it was right for him to be one selected to speak about the book - but we laughed it off by saying that since Greg Brilliantes bowed out at the last minute, neither of us had any choice in the matter (and it's true - my publisher went to pick him up but he ultimately had a more important matter to attend and sent his regrets).

Maricor Baytion, my publisher (Ateneo Press), introduced me and asked me to read a portion of my novel. I took a deep breath and dove into the text, failing miserably to budget my air (because, as one fellow observed, my prose is not meant to be read aloud by smokers with little capacity for storing air) but plowing on through anyway, twice (there was a reprise - and Tobie took me to task for not reading the secy part earlier so I threw it in the second time around).

Later, during my speech, I thanked everyone I could remember and told every person in attendance to stop listening to me and to get something to eat (because, as someone who has attended these things, I know how hungry people get). And to buy the book.

I started signing books handed to me by friends and friendly strangers and I think I started out fine, chatting a little with every person who asked me to sign, and writing a little something special on the flyleaf. Until the volume of people (especially those who bought 5 or 10 copies at a time) reduced me to generic "Thanks!" and a hastily scrawled signature (again, because i identify with the people in line, hating waiting myself). After some time I actually failed to recognize people I knew - such as Karina Bolasco, the publisher of Anvil (it much later in the day when, chatting with her, she told me that I didn't recognize when I generically signed her book - I gasped in horror, took her book and made amends).

I didn't get to eat (well, maybe a couple of forkfulls of pasta) because a lot of people wanted to talk, and I tried to accomodate everyone. It was surreal. One of the people who came up to me on my camelia-laden signing table was the woman who used to buy me books and read to me when I was three years old - Vivienne de Venecia. I was in tears when we embraced, and I told how much she meant to me (I hadn't seen her since I was in grade school). There was so many people whose presence meant so much to me, that I feel like a heel that I couldn't spend time to catch up with my barkada from high school, or my friends from Magic: The Gathering, or with the speculative fictionists, playwrights, filmmakers and poets who came for me (Cyan, Luis, Yvette, Banzai Cat, Alvin, Lilit, Gelo, Gabby and more). And all the time, my mobile phone was filling up with messages from people who couldn't make it, all promising to buy a copy. It was incredible.

After everything, a smaller circle of friends and loved ones joined me for prawns and grilled pork at Dampa, then for coffee and conversation at Tomas Morato. By the time we decided to keep the celebration going, I realized how tired I was (and how I really really really wanted to hold my book in my hands and read it).

So thank you, thank you, thank you, everyone for helping make this dream come true, for coming over, supporting me and for buying my book at the launch; for all the calls, and text messages, and emails, and blog comments (yes, I know I sound sappy, but too bad). Oh, and to Butch Dalisay for his kind words in todays Philippine Star.

Fully Booked should have their stocks sometime this week (fingers crossed - my guilt-stricken publisher has been assaulting the printers, demanding for more).

And to all who asked, well, I hope this isn't my only novel (one can always hope, right?).

Salamat, salamat po!

Some pictures, courtesy of my photographer pal, Pierre Cruz:

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Maricor Baytion of the Ateneo Press presents me with the first copy of Salamanca

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For a while we had no sound system and I thought I'd lose my voice

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Breathlessly reading the sexy part of the book, to the shock of some of my mother's conservative friends (haha)

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Sage with her mom and Uncle Vin Simbulan before she elected to go home, away from the madding crowd

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Signing at the camelia table (which, I'm informed, is a "unisex" flower)

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With Vivienne de Venecia and my mom

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With my family

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With my friend and business partner Marc, his wife Teret and my brother Ricky

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With my creative barkada who keep me both rising and grounded

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