Monday, July 31, 2006

rosang taba

I finally got a copy of the issue of the Philippines Free Press where one of my stories came out. The story is quite straightforward (the title says it all) but was also a lot of fun to write, since it is set in the Hinirang of "L'Aquilone du Estrellas". It is based on an actual incident, found in my battered copy of The People's Almanac (1977, I think).

I just love the illustration.

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"How Rosang Taba Won A Race"
by Dean Francis Alfar
Philippines Free Press
July 29, 2006
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Oh, and another of my stories, "The Middle Prince" is scheduled to appear in the September issue of Bewildering Stories. More on that as apropos.

Friday, July 28, 2006


We got to sleep quite late last night. Before I nodded off, Nikki turned to me and said: “She loves us so much.”

“She sure does,” I replied as my consciousness dimmed.

“We’d better enjoy it while she does,” Nikki said, in a far-off voice.

In my dream, I saw Sage as a young woman, beautiful and intelligent like her mother, and willful like me. I think we were arguing; she wanted to go out and I didn’t want her to. Words were exchanged and I said something only a dad could say in a devastating way.

“You don’t love me,” she replied to whatever it was I said (all I know is the gravity of my words, the import and implications and intent).

“Of course we do,” I told her; no, actually, it’s more of “boomed”. I boomed at her.

“You don’t,” Sage said. “I’d rather be with my friends.” She slammed the dreaming door, the resulting imaginary sound enough to wake me up.

In my groggy state, I went to the kitchen for a glass of water, enveloped in the sickly sad sticky embrace of dream logic. I felt terrible, as if the argument were true, as if my 4 year old daughter had miraculously transformed into a teenager (straight out of spec fic, I know), as if, as if, as if. But the pain felt real; it felt True with a capital “t”.

Years into the future I’m certain we will have that fight, one among many, in the manner that fathers and daughters argue, in the way that youth challenges authority, as I did when I was a young man.

I’m recast in the drama. I used to play the angry son, my new role is older man; an inevitable change triggered by Sage’s birth and made more real with each passing day, with each passing year.

I’m not comfortable with the thought but what can I do? Love her, of course, and hope for the best. Learn patience while I still can. And tolerance. And acceptance of change.

And new vocabularies, so that the weight of my future words - when I sadly, inevitably speak them - will not crush either of us.

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Our special two-day Litcritter session focusing on original fiction began last night, with the usual lecture first (on Representation of Consciousness). On Saturday, we take on the second batch of stories. I'm very impressed by the overall craft and quality of these texts as much of the lessons and techniques we've discussed in the past few months have been applied with happy results.

Next week, we go back to reading and discussing the varied stories on our eclectic list. Up ahead - Janet Villa - "Undercurrents"; Octavio Paz - "My Life with the Wave"; Philip K. Dick - "King of the Elves"; Umberto Eco - "The Gorge"; Luis Katigbak - "Kara's Place"; Steven Millhauser - "In the Reign of Harad IV"; Kevin Brockmeier - "The Brief History of the Dead"; Yukio Mishima - "Fountains in the Rain"; Joyce Carol Oates - "The Scarf"; Guy de Maupassant - "The Horla"; Jorge Luis Borges - "The Man on the Threshold"; William Barton - "Off on a Spaceship"; Jack Vance - "Green Magic"; David Moles - "Five Irrational Histories"; Haruki Murakami - "Ice Man"; and more. Exposure to different authors and different genres (including the "genre" of realism) is important to us.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Here's the Digital Tour clip featuring New Worlds 4, with snippets of me, Nikki and Tobie on spec fic. Too bad Emil Flores' interview didn't make it - he was able to explain about the "What If?" origins of spec fic. But I'm glad we were able to show much we all care about writing fantastic literature.

And here's the Gaiman presentation video by Furball (great fun!).

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

vignette: quisling

(I'm recasting this as a full story...soon.)

Tenet paused at the ridge, licked the dry dust from her lips and looked at the small settlement that clung to the side of the mountain in the distance. Behind her, the uneven path was an unending brown, broken only by the heavy footprints of her mule.

“Well, Alister,” she said to her mule, “let us hope that this one is better than the last.” She tugged at the reins and squinted her eyes, looking for the best way down. “Though I doubt it.”

As she neared the town, Tenet briefly considered passing it completely. The few houses that she could see looked tired and worn down, as if abandoned by the hope of better days. A few fields were marked by erratic stone fences, with only small clusters of greenery managing to break free from the brutal earth’s embrace.

At a nearby well, a man and a woman watched her approach.

“Stranger,” the man in rough homespun nodded in her direction. “Are you passing through?”

“My name is Tenet, good sir,” she replied, offering a smile. “And I will pass through if afforded no opportunity for gainful employment.”

“What?” the man scowled.

“She’s looking for work,” the thin woman said, scratching at a sore on the side of her neck. “Paying work.”

“Do we look coin-made to you, stranger?” the man said, tightening his grip on a long piece of wood.

“A few coppers, good sir, on a regular basis,” Tenet said, extending her hands palm outward. “Perhaps there is something I can do for you or this place.”

“There’s nothing for you here,” the woman replied. “Fortune left us years ago, along with the weather.”

“I think I can work with the weather,” Tenet told her.

“Truly?” the woman’s eyes widened. “Are you a Weatherworker?”

“Not exactly,” Tenet answered. “But I am a Craftsman.”

“If you are Crafted,” the man said, a little fear edging his voice, “what is your Craft, if I may?”

“I am a Quisling,” Tenet said simply.

The man and the woman exchanged a look.

“Forgive our ignorance,” the man said, “but we have never heard of that Craft before, have we, Maery?”

“No,” Maery said, shaking her head. “Can you show us what you do?”

“Stay right there, Alister,” Tenet told her mule, pointing to a precise spot on the dry ground. She walked some distance away from the well and faced the man and woman who watched her every motion with distrustful eyes.

Tenet considered the environment and sought to encompass the nature of the everything in her immediate vicinity. When she closed her eyes, her Craft opened up and showed her the pattern of things: the heavy lines of climate interlaced with overlaying concentric circles of heat; the solid granulated outlines of the ground and earth; the folded dimensions of the receding water in the well; the harsh strokes of the woman Maery’s suspicions and the immutable texture of the man’s frustration.

As Tenet’s understanding of the status quo increased, her Craft began to present opportunities to betray the established parameters, giving her potential openings to create unexpected change, identifying weak areas that could be subjected to traitorous incidents.

When she opened her eyes, she knew what to do.

“Good sir, good lady Maery,” she called out to the spectators. “The rule of drought is the law in this place. But it need not always be so.”

Tenet smiled as she engaged the spark of Craft within her, selecting a weak point in the pattern of dryness and heat, slicing her mind through the layers of lines, sequences and strokes. Inside, she inserted a memory of rain and imbued it with all the desire she could muster. This wasn’t very difficult because she did want rain, had wanted it for days; she felt her need wash over her and into the pattern, invisible rays of persuasion emanating from her. Above her, dark clouds quickly gathered and grew heavy with water, as moisture betrayed the rule of drought and rebelled against the nature of things.

When rain began to fall in thick and weighty drops, Tenet opened her eyes. The man and the woman Maery had their arms extended to the sky, their faces raised up, mouths open to the welcome precipitation.

Tenet walked to her mule Alister, who stood as mutely as usual.

“I think I got the job,” she whispered into his big ear.

free press and book stuff

*update* - Sarge commented on the tagboard that he does not diffentiate between social-realist stories and speculative fiction. So, sulat na!

The Philippines Free Press has a new literary editor, Sarge Lacuesta, and he's asked me to tell you that he's looking for kick-ass short stories. If you have well-written fiction, send it to him for consideration. I can't speak for him in terms of what he's looking for (you could check out back issues under previous editor Paolo Manalo, but Sarge's taste might differ), but I can tell you what is obvious: literary fiction. Now before you roll your eyes and sigh, this isn't necessarily social-realist fiction - in fact, Sarge is open to spec fic, for as long as it is well-written (having contributed "New Wave Days", a great piece, to Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol.1 himself). So this is a great opportunity for you, me and everyone else who is pushing for more genre stories (for instance, I'll be delighted if a strong sci fi or interstitial piece is published there). Go and submit:

Speaking of the antho, just today my office got a call from Fully Booked Rockwell, reordering Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol.1 (Fully Booked branches issue purchase orders separately). The very small number we have left here at the office is not enough for their new order, plus projected requests from our other limited distribution channels (you can find the antho also at Central Books at 3/f Glorietta, Quezon Avenue and at Ever Gotesco at Recto, among other places). So we're talking to printers to see what can be done since the first printing is exhausted. It's a novel experience, given how little we managed to market the antho, and very encouraging for a book that has been out for 7 months - PSF1 was launched December 2005). In the meantime, I'm putting together the funding for the 2nd volume (this creative writer - businessman juggling can be such fun).

This got me thinking about Salamanca, so I called my publisher's office (Ateneo Press) and found out that almost half of the initial print run has been sold (big, big thanks to everyone who bought a copy!). Salamanca was launched just this April, three months ago. And it is still not available at Powerbooks or National Bookstore, because of the huge percentage National Bookstore is asking for.

So despite the fact that I still feel ill, I'm very happy and thankful.

I'm prepping some stories for submission abroad, and will soon have to make a trip to main post office in Manila to buy the coupons/postage that are needed to accompany the SASEs. Being able to submit electronically is a great convenience, but there is something more...real... about printing out manuscripts, writing a cover letter, and snail mailing the entire package off to editors in distant lands - and waiting for their replies by post. It's exciting, really. Quite suspenseful. Even if you get a rejection letter (which is more likely), the thing is, you tried. And I'm about trying. And trying again.

And now, back to work.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


It's an exciting week for the Lit Critters. Over the span of two days, we'll be reading and critiquing original fiction (fiction that the 'Critters themselves have written). As usual, the format of discussion is peer-review, with comments and observations on craft and such, with the goal of improving everyone's writing. The next step, after the critique, is to improve upon the texts and prep them for submission here and abroad. I'm particularly happy with this batch of stories (except for mine, which I always end up disliking anyway) as each author has produced stories that are both readable, enjoyable and textured across a variety of spec fic genres.

Speaking of spec fic, submissions to Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol.2 continue to come in, and I'm already in love with a couple of fine pieces by authors unknown to me. We'll how things go by the deadline in September as I cast the net wider this time, inviting writers of various stripes (as well as unpublished authors) including people you would not immediately associate with a fantasy, sci fi or horror story to try their hand at spec fic. What I haven't received yet is a good sci fi story. I have high hopes that the creatives at UST will send a number (or even better, sci fi stories from a completely unexpected source).

Monday, July 24, 2006


What a wet weekend. While it was terrible going out in the rain (there were these sudden child-snatching squalls), it was a fine time to stay home and write - at least during the day. I battled it out with a trio of stories I was working on, none of which were particularly cooperative. As is my way, I stepped back from them for a while and worked on a completely new one. I finished it five hours later, polished it the next day, and now I think it's ready for submission. I'll let the Lit Critters at it, then tweak it one last time before sending it off. We'll see how this experimental technique I've adopted works with the gatekeepers abroad.

I got a call from Adnan, one of cousins (remember that with my super-extended Muslim family, cousins of up to the fourth degree are considered first degree cousins), telling me that we (the cousins) were meeting at Quiapo. The great thing about meeting my cousins is that I continue to learn more about the part of my identity that is an Alonto. (An amusing digression: Before Nikki and I got married, her father took hre aside and told her to reconsider wanting to marry me. "Why?" Nikki asked. Her father, a general of the Philippine Air Force, said: "He has hot Muslim blood. He will beat you." Nikki rolled her eyes and married me anyway, ready to deal with my "hot blood", LOL). Anyway, I continue to learn that I have cousins everywhere, which is wonderful especially in retail and business - and culture, because I can ask them to tell me stories. Or more properly, I can ask their parents to tell me stories (most of the people of my age or younger, linked to the Alonto clan of Marawi, seem to know less and less about folklore and legends of the South). One of the stories I'd like to complete is something I began and put on hold years ago: "Rasagandang Kairan", a projected series of short stories about a "hot blooded" Marawi princess and her adventures above and underground, with a nasty whirlpool thrown in (ay naku, this list of things to write just gets longer and longer).

I had hoped that today would be declared a holiday because of the SONA, and because I wanted to stay home and sleep and write. No such luck though, but I hope - clients willing - it's a short working day for me.

Stay dry, folks!

Friday, July 21, 2006

feeling sassy

I just banned my first troll and I must say it's an interesting experience. I felt a bit like Sassy Lawyer who I think dealt with hers in the same way, and Ian, of course, with his.

When conversations degenerate into insults and absurd reasoning, along with emotional tripe and unfounded personal observations, well, you know it's time to disengage.

The thing is, this is my blog, and therefore I get to say what I want and answer what I choose. Normally, I'm happy to converse, but this one was just too ludicrous to entertain seriously.

And this troll prefers to remain anonymous - of course, because it is safe in the shadows and without a real name, there is no ownership.

New policy on the Peanut Gallery, folks - no trolls allowed.

Go find someone else to gnaw on.

story + new books


My short story, "How Rosang Taba Won A Race", appears in this Saturday's issue of Philippines Free Press. I'm happy that it finally sees print.

new to our bookshelf

The latest novel I read (in the span of around 36 hours) was The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger - a fun, light read with a disappointing end. Now I can watch the film with Meryl Streep.

Other new books:

City of Falling Angels by John Berendt (because we loved Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil)

Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones (because we loved Howl's Moving Castle)

Looking for Jake and other stories by China Mieville (because I really prefer his short fiction to his dense novels)

Outsiders ed. by Nancy Holder & Nancy Kilpatrick (necause I bought this horror antho on impulse)

Past Poisons ed. by Maxim Jakubowski (because I'm writing an alternate history thing and wish to see how it's done)

Hindu Mythology by WJ Wilkins (because we love Garuda)

All the Names by Jose Saramago (because I like to inflict literary pain on myself, wading through his mindblowing writing)

Soft by F. Paul Wilson (because I like small, single author collections)

In the Forest of Forgetting by Theodora Goss (because we love everything we've read of hers - "Pip and the Faeries", most recently, which is part of this collection)

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley (because once in a while I say "to hell with the budget")

Thursday, July 20, 2006

sick + observations

I'm sick but still working. My back feels like it has been pummeled repeatedly by Macho Libre but there are still presentations to make and projects to manage and things to write.

I hate the flu. I really do.

I hope that tonight, Lit Crit Night, I still make some sense. We're discussing AS Byatt's "A Stone Woman", Stephen Baxter's "The Raft", Paul di Filippo's "The Reluctant Book", and KJ Bishop's "The Art of Dying".

There's been lots of talk (online and off) about the quality of the finalists and the eventual winners of the Fully Booked contest, and several people have canvassed mine and asked why I don't post about it.

In a nutshell: With the exception of the two winners and "Atha", I didn't care about the finalists. "Atha" could be better improved with judicous rewriting and editing; "The God Equation", same thing; "A Strange Map of Time" will be incredible when cut down to around 5000 words (LOL Ian, knowing my preference for works in the 5000 word range, gleefully told me that the 28-page version that won was already the shortened version, already cut by 8-10 pages).

My big issue is with how the entries were shortlisted. The way I understand it, the three judges shortlisted and then sent them to Gaiman to rank (I could be wrong - if so, apologies, no one explained the methodology to anyone I know). None of the three judges (with the exception of Greg Brilliantes) strike me as writers of works that are primarily speculative fiction in nature (as in short stories - not plays or films or poetry), unless Tony Perez and Peque Gallaga have collections of short fiction that are fantasy, scifi, horror, etc. that I am unaware of (and if so, then apologies again, that's plain and simple ignorance on my part). All three judges strike me as more leaning towards the social realist bent in terms of positioning and taste, which accounts for the oh-so-Filipino themes of the most of finalists. Arguably, there were no pure "imaginary worlds" stories selected, for example (though it could be a case of no good ones were submitted) - all had the Philippines in one form or another or some reference to it. While that is fine, what it did was convert the contest to a variation of the Palanca Futuristic Fiction category (which, by the way, will be gone next year). I would have encouraged the judges to seek instead the Filipino of the imagination, where the Filipino is part of a greater universal thing, rather than something forced to steep in the waters of locality. In that contest, Filipino-themed stories would compete against works of pure imagination, which would make it more interesting. What I'm saying is that Philippine speculative fiction does not necessarily have the Filipinos or the Philippines or jeepneys in it. And for spec fic contests, get spec fic writers for judges. In the case of the comics contest, the only judge that made sense to me was Arnold Arre, who both writes and illustrates his work.

Monday, July 17, 2006

repost: open call for philippine speculative fiction volume 2

I am now accepting submissions of short fiction pieces for consideration for the anthology "Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol.2". Speculative fiction is the literature of wonder that spans the genres of fantasy, science fiction, horror and magic realism or falls into the cracks in-between.

1. Only works of speculative fiction will be considered for publication. As works of the imagination, the theme is open and free.

2. Stories must cater to an adult sensibility.

3. Stories must be written in English.

4. Stories must be authored by Filipinos or those of Philippine ancestry.

5. Preference will be given to original unpublished stories, but previously published stories will also be considered. In the case of previously published material, kindly include the title of the publishing entity and the publication date.

6. First time authors are welcome to submit. In the initial volume, there was a near 50-50 split brtween established and new authors.

7. Each author may submit only one story for consideration.

8. Each story’ word count must be no fewer than 3,000 words and no more than 5,000 words. If your story is more or less but you feel that it will blow me away, do not query and just send it in.

9. All submissions must be in Rich Text Format (.rtf – save the document as .rft on your word processor) and attached to an email to this address: Submissions received in any other format will be deleted, unread.

10. The subject of your email must read: 2nd Philippine Speculative Fiction Submission: (title) (word count); where (title) is replaced by the title of your short story, without the parentheses, and (word count) is the word count of your story, without the parentheses.

For example - 2nd Philippine Speculative Fiction Submission: The Last Siren 4500.

11. All submissions must be accompanied by a cover letter that includes your name, brief bio, contact information, previous work (if any).

12. Deadline for submissions is September 15, 2006. After that date, final choices will be made and letters of acceptance or regret sent out via email.

13. Target publishing date is December 2006/January 2007.

14. Compensation for selected stories will be 2 contributor’s copies of the published anthology.

Dean Francis Alfar, editor

Sunday, July 16, 2006

fantasy weekend 2

On Sunday, I was back at the Rockwell Tent, along with Nikki and Sage plus Uncles Vin, Andrew, Alex and Auntie kate, for the Writers Forum, one of the events of the New Worlds Alliance and Aegis. This time I came prepared and brought a jacket (the day before, I paid for wearing a thin camisa shirt which left my nipples in a less than demure mode).

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With me in the panel were Emil Flores, Vin Simbulan, Tobie Abad and Nikki Alfar. We met with moderator Karen Kunawicz and were led to the mini-theatre were we spoke about writing speculative fiction in the Philippines. Having Emil there was a wonderful thing, as he was able to give an academic spin on things. Ultimately, there was a call for more dialogue about spec fic, a direct request to me to hold a spec fic workshop, to publish more and to market more. There is a lot to do but i think that with focus, resources and resourceful people, we can achieve things. I was happy to meet various people from the audience, during and after the panel, and tried my best to answer their varied questions (and I'm sure my opinionated nature made itself evident haha). I'm glad there are people who care - but what I really want to encourage is more quality writing in the various subgenres of spec fic (particularly scifi, which I am hard-pressed to write myself, being more of a fantasy bent).

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Around the Con, Sage fell in love with R2D2 and followed the little droid around, tickled pink by the robot's camera and quirky movements. The Star Wars people were very cool and accomodating, and Sage was in kiddie heaven, until...

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...Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper came up. My poor little girl was terrified and burst into tears after the picture. "I don't like the black man," she told me when her sobs subsided.

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In the meantime, Vin gave in to the Call of Cthulhu,

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kate got a dragon tattoo,

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while El and Andrew strategized on how to deal with Sage whose parents were both on the panel. Andrew, sick and all, valiantly handled Sage for over an hour, running around everywhere, having a picnic outside and exhausted himself, while El ran for food and drinks. Thanks, guys!

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There were many costumed people around like the Narnians, the Harry Potters, the LOTR guys, Star Wars, Charmed and everything Level Up. I particularly liked the Star Trek folk in their classic attire (i especially love the nun at the back whose name I failed to get).

We didn't stay long and opted to drive to Dampa for our regular prawns and inihaw na liempo before going home and collapsing in bed.

All in all a tiring but rewarding weekend!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

fantasy weekend

My long weekend began on Saturday afternoon. I was invited to read one of the finalist stories for the prose category of the 1st Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards, the contest sponsored by Fully Booked and Neil Gaiman. I was hoping against hope they'd assign me Ian's story, and when I checked my messages, I got exactly that.

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I arrived at the unexpectedly cold Rockwell Tent and linked up with good friend (who keeps calling me "ex-boss", because, well, she worked for me a few years ago) and Fully Booked Marketing Manager Tals Diaz. We smoked our first cigarettes outside in the blessed warmth as she told me her hilarious experiences putting up the event.

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Onstage was the Comics Panel, with the formidable Gerry Alanguilan and the expressive Wilson Tortosa (plus a couple of other guys I didn't know personally. Later, I ribbed Gerry about how he's mellowing in his dotage, given the fact that he did not go into a frenzy at the mention of "manga".

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I met Ramona Diaz, who directed the Sundance-award winning documentary "Imelda". She was there to read too and we hit it off instantly, soon exchanging promises to work together or pass materials and content. I askd her questions about her film and she told me incredible anecdotes about the First Lady, while filming in New York.

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My crush that day though was a soft-spoken girl in fishnets. We started talking about writing and it turns out she's a songwriter. Later, I brilliantly came to conclusion that she was a reader too and finally asked her who she was. She was Aia de Leon, singer/songwriter of Imago (which just goes to show exactly how much I know about the music scene). I loved the way she read her piece best, because she straddled the stage, microphone in front, as if she was about to launch into a single, though a capella.

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When I read, I refused to sit on the stool in the middle of the stage, preferring to walk around (kunyari may blocking haha), and later, sitting down on the stage steps.

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I read one of my favorite parts of Ian's story, where the names of places on the map cascade like raindrops.

Time passed. I met a lot of people, friends old and new. I happily signed copies of "Salamanca" and "Philippine Speculative Fiction" as I was ambushed by people who were looking for me (thanks, folks!). I think I signed around 15 or so books, which is why, later, some people told me to be upset with Fully Booked because they had no copies of my books. Well, that's because they sold out again.

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It was like a reunion for comic book creators and enthusiasts. Above, that's Ariel Atienza, Jonas Diego, Gerry Alanguilan, Cynthia Bauzon-Arre, Arnold Arre, and Azrael. It was great talking to the Arres and finding out what they're up to (the answer is "Cast").

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Comic book fans were everywhere and poor Arnold was accosted by a particularly frenzied one, haha. No, that's Quark Henares mugging for me before we both waxed rapturously over "Lost".

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Here's a shot of Ate Cyn, one of my favorite people in the world. I asked her if she minded that I asked her the same question every time I see her... :) Hindi naman daw.

Soon it was time for the real reason for the celebration, the annoucement of the winners. Earlier, I posted that somehow I wished that Ian would win AND that someone new and unpublished would also win. You know what? I got both.

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Ian Casocot, "A Strange Map of Time"
Ian Casocot and Michael Co shared first prize (and P50k each), announced via video by Neil Gaiman. When Ian came up the stage, I elbowed Greg Brilliantes who was next to me and said "That's my friend!", haha, I was that proud of him. Parang ako ang nanalo, talk about vicarious experiences.

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Michael Co, "The God Equation", with his vignette (the Fully Booked management created vignettes for each of the finalists)

Later, I got to talk to Michael Co, who surprised me by telling me that he had read and enjoyed my work. I was happy for him as well, because we need more new writers. I really hope to read more from him soon.

Next: New Worlds Alliance

Friday, July 14, 2006

rabid transit: menagerie

I just received a number of copies of Rabid Transit: Menagerie edited by Christopher Barzak, Alan DeNiro and Kristin Livdahl from Velocity Press. Thanks Kristin (ratbastards stick together LOL)!

So if you want to buy a copy, let me know. We'll work something out (to those who wrote me earlier requesting to purchase copies, I'll hold yours for a brief time - kindly get in touch with me).

This anthology was published last year and collects a variety of speculative fiction, all exploring the the fabulist possiblities of the short story. Here's the TOC:

Terminos, by Dean Francis Alfar
PICK, I am, I am., by James Allison
Fragments, by Matthew Cheney
The Sky Green Box, by Rudi Dornemann
Ballerina, Ballerina, by Eric Rickstad
The Sign in the Window, by Vandana Singh

Reviews-wise, SF Site said "...there is something to recommend about each of the stories here; and "The Sign in the Window" and "Terminós" are so good that it's worth s pending six dollars on Menagerie just to read those two; and -- who knows? -- you may well enjoy more.--David Hebblethwaite. (Full review here.)


Being technologically weak-willed, I gave in to fear and panic and got myself a new Xda II Mini to replace my Xda II that died. Why? Because I got used to the O2 pda and it became part and parcel of my daily existence. I literally could not sleep last night because I missed the damn thing.

How do I justify this expense? I can't. I simply can't.

I just have to win a big project or two to rationalize this cost. And cut down on other luho.

But now my peace of mind (such as it is) has been restored.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Against my will, for now, I'm going all Gerry Alanguilan on you. No, I'm not brilliantly writing and illustrating a comic book about the travails of chickens - my PDA/cell phone just died mysteriously and so I cannot be called or make calls (just like Gerry, but I think he chose to turn away from the cell phones of his own accord).

Let me pause for a moment and reflect on how reliant I've become on this little gadget. I make and receive calls and text messages, check mail, listen to music, watch videos, plays games, schedule my appointments, use Excel and Word, use it as an alarm clock, take pictures oh my gawd I'm screwed.

I've frantically emailed the clients I'm doing projects for, lest they text instructions into the void and think that I'm deliberately snubbing them. What I can't do is to text everyone, client, family and friends, about this temporary loss of communication capabilities. Of course there are my office and home landlines, but the nature of my business is that I'm out a lot and I'd rather not take business calls at home (unless absolutely necessary).

I'm still in the throes of the shock/denial/anger phases, but now need to make time to find a place (where, where?) that can repair an O2 Xda II. I'm hoping I just need a new battery, because if it means buying a new PDA, well, I just can't afford it (Marco! Now is the time for you to buy a new phone and pass me your Mini!). Otherwise, I'll have to get a Nokia and go through process of relearning how to text using my thumb again (I already miss my stylus).

So, to my friends and readers, if you need to contact me, email me instead. My address is there on the upper left, in the About Me section.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


I woke up today to the sound of rain, a good half-hour before my alarm went off. In the semi-darkness, snug under the warm high-thread-count Egyptian bedthings that Nikki got, the temptation to just stay in bed forever was almost overwhelming. I felt a little ill, like there was something not right in my bones and joints, and dallied briefly with the thought of old age, storm-sensitive bones, and how ultimately everyone ends up sleeping. I wanted to stay in, and perhaps write, but there were too many things on my plate, a lot of work: three websites, two promos, two magazines, a planner, a series of postcards, a 350-page game guide, print ads, impending photo shoots in 5-6 provinces, and more marketing materials that you can shake a fist at - all waiting for me at the office. My PDA shows me my schedule and, bleary-eyed, I'm struck by the madness of it all. With Gabby winning a scholarship to Singapore, we are one project manager short. We do so need to hire one (we've been interviewing a lot of people, and honestly, I am most impressed by the molecular biologist and the anthropolist) before the end of the week.

I padded around the house, got a drink (I'm usually dehydrated when I wake up), and checked my daughter's room. Sage was still asleep, in a tangle of sheets, pillows and stuffed toys. I couldn't help but smile because I knew that she, and my sleeping wife, were the big reasons I went to work, regardless of what I'd rather be doing.

I suited up, selected an umbrella, and walked out into the rain.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

fully booked weekend

Well, I honestly thought that my involvement with the Fully Booked event was being part of the Writers Forum on Sunday at 4:30PM. However, it turns out that I am reading excerpts from the short listed finalists on Saturday afternoon, around 4PM as part of the show. Something like the Neruda readings by way of literary/celebrity icons (though I am quick to point out that I am NEITHER an icon nor a celebrity, so put those pitchforks away).

Part of me is tickled by the sweet irony of it all, haha. I'll be reading aloud from the works that trumped mine in the same competition - and the gods laugh.

Seriously though, I have no issues. I'm delighted to help further the cause of speculative fiction in any small way I can. I hope that one of the winners is a new author, someone unpublished, because that would make me very happy. I also hope that Ian wins, because his story is cool and, according to him, patterned after my own "L'Aquilone du Estrellas (The Kite of Stars)", so that makes it ubercool.

Fully Booked is also bringing out copies of my novel "Salamanca" for me to sign. So I'll bring a pen.

So let me know if you'll be there on either day. Let's say hello and have a good laugh (or a quick smoke) - besides, there's a rumor Neil Gaiman will be in town.


Here's the email from Fully Booked (quick question: would you rather be "renowned" or "well-loved"? haha)

"Hello everyone,

A few more updates to entice you all to come this Saturday, July 15, to the First Philippine
Graphic/Fiction Awards night:

1. Because we at Fully Booked have been very appreciative and impressed with the entries
we received this year, we will be highlighting the best quotes/excerpts from the prose/
fiction category, as well as the best comics pages from every contestant that submitted to
our competition.

2. We will be having live prose readings of selected excerpts of the short listed finalists
from respected personalities in various fields, such as eight-time Palanca Award winner
and renowned playwright Dean Alfar; well-loved writer, editor and eternal fan of Johnny
Depp Karen Kunawicz; Sundance award-winning filmmaker for "Imelda," Ramona Diaz,
among others. (More names to follow in next email update.)

3. Our very own world-class Filipino comics artists Gerry Alanguilan, Arnold Arre, Alfredo
Alcala Jr., Wilson Tortosa will be participating in our event through exhibits, forums,
booksignings and the like.

4. Because this is a celebration of extraordinary Filipino talent, we will be partying the
night away with cases and cases of Red Horse beer. =)

Four days to go fellow dreamers!

Fully Booked Management."

Monday, July 10, 2006

reading costs

Fully Booked and Powerbooks have some very interesting (and expensive) books which make me weep when I see them. Last night, shocked that it was there, I swooped down on the lone handsome hardcover copy of Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting, flipped it, looked at the price and proceeded to have a mini-seizure. The price? P1,799 (US$29.95). Even with creative budgetary juggling, it was simply too much.









Clutching it in my hands, I went around the other sections and found other books I also wanted, novels that ranged from P400 to P1,500, anthos with similar price points, new books (“fresh from the box”) that -

(Whoa. An earthquake just softly rocked the office. It was surreal. We all stopped and looked at our things on the tables, the mini-Jurassic Park effect of my pomelo juice swishing in the cup, the terrible sense of vertigo that makes you doubt if maybe, just maybe, it’s you who’s dizzy. I made a crack and asked out loud “Okay, so who’s going to panic and run screaming down the stairwell?” as we calmly walked to the door. It’s over now, but it makes you think. Think, think think. Anyway, back to the post…)

And yet, people buy them. Which is how bookstores stay in business.

So obviously the business model works, which is how these bookstores are able to stock new books every so often. People spend money on books.

If people can spend money on new foreign books, why can’t they spend money on new local publications? Why is there the argument that local books should be cheaper? The usual answer is that Filipinos will only buy cheaper books, that it is a matter of economics, of budgets, of affordability – but it does not change the fact that Filipinos still buy the expensive new foreign books. On the whole, new foreign books are more expensive than books published here (and they also have better paper stock). So why doesn’t this market buy more Filipino books, even if they’re cheaper?

Is it because the imported books have “name” authors (but the shelves are also filled with lots of unknowns or first time authors or crappy authors)?

Is it because we are conditioned to treat imported books as somehow special and worth spending more on (and conversely, our local books, being local, must be cheaper and worth less)?

Is it because these books – pop, fiction, mystery, chick lit, spec fic, children/young adult - are better written (but really, a lot of them are not, and it creates the impression that Philipine literature, in general, is poorly written in comparison, which brings us to fore the tried and true "colonial mentality" thing)?

If the argument is that “The Filipino cannot afford expensive books”, why are the bookstores in business (and note that majority of their sales is in foreign books)?

We are talking about a specific market here, being (for the sake of discussion) “Filipinos who buy books at Fully Booked and Powerbooks”. I make this distinction so that the social realists out there will not assault me with the grainy pictures of emaciated little children, tilling the fields in the provinces, dreaming about their next meal, a better tomorrow, and considering following their brothers into the mountains to fight against a government to whom they are invisible – that, obviously, is a separate market, for a separate discussion.

We’re talking about people who willing and able to spend money on books, confident that their next meal is not in question - and in particular, just to narrow down the discussion, to those who buy new books at Fully Booked and Powerbooks.

New imported stock versus newly launched Filipino book.

Price points: imported books are more expensive (if you don’t believe me, I will either show you my receipts or show you the books themselves at the bookstores). Which is bought more? Imported books. Apart from Filipino chick lit, majority of Philippine books have print runs under 500 or 1,000 units (which does not give Filipino publishers the economies of scale benefits of huge print runs, which makes an individual copy of a Filipino book cost more – BUT still generally cheaper than imported books). If a Filipino book breaks 1,000 units sold, it is pronounced a “bestseller” – that is something both sobering and sad, given the number of people in the specific market under discussion (and even worse if we consider the number of literate people in the country – and absolutely terrible when we think about the entire population of the country).

New imported books & new Filipino books versus Booksale

A funny thing. You know those Booksales and other purveyors of secondhand books? Generally speaking, their price points are lower (because of the secondhand nature of their books, though actually a number of them are in fact not secondhand, but returns and such – if you see a book with its cover deliberately removed, that book was returned to be destroyed by the original bookstore/seller and the neither author nor publisher are paid for it).

Some people buy books there and then compare the price to the retail price of new Filipino books in Powerbooks or Fully Booked. Of course, generally speaking, the imported books at Booksale are a lot cheaper. They are also cheaper than brand new imported fiction.

A reader recently pointed out that for the price of Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol.1 (P300), he could have purchased 2-5 books by big name authors at Booksale. But of course. Same argument for any of the new fiction at Fully Booked, across the genres, both imported and local. Is it fair to compare an old worn P30 copy of Asimov at Booksale to the price points of new pocketbooks, trades and hardcovers at Fully Booked?

There are people like me, part of the specific market under discussion, that want certain new books immediately, while also more than willing to root through tons of crap at Booksale for the rare used book. But I do not compare the two – it’s apples and oranges, though they’re both fruit. On a side note: on occasion, special copies of of very new books appear at Booksales and similar stores – Banzai Cat scored copies of Ford’s “The Girl in the Glass” and Clark’s “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell”, so it pays to dig through. I happily found an early volume of “The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror”, nice, thick, tall and almost new. And when I’m at Shoppesville in Greenhills for lunch, I stop by the Booksale there and pick something up, so that I have something to read at Le Ching (hmmm… pork tausi spareribs with chili sauce…).

If people (again, in the specific market under discussion – “Filipinos who buy books at Fully Booked and Powerbooks”) can afford to buy new imported books at those prices, then certainly then should be able to shell out money for new Filipino books, which generally speaking are cheaper than imported books (the reason I hedge is that there are a few Filipino books that do break the mold, like Best Philippine Short Stories or the erotica antho). My antho at P300 is cheaper than majority of the imported pocketbooks and definitely costs less than similar imported anthos.

On comic books/graphic novels, our latest book Siglo: Passion, full color and released December last year, retails at P800. Take a look at the graphic novel sections of Fully Booked and Powerbooks and you will see that a large number of the imported trades retail for more (I know because I collect them myself). The US$10 trade paperback is becoming rarer and rarer. I think one of DC’s best offers is at US$12.95. Most of DC, Marvel and indies trades/graphic novels retail at US$15, $18, $20, $25 and higher. There are special editions (Absolute, etc) that go for $75, $100 or more. Our other December release, Project: Hero is priced at P120, at par with the baseline US comics, but with more pages (in black and white). Other imported independent black and white comics cost more.

So if it is a market forces argument, we cannot discount the fact that all the imported books – fiction or graphic novels – continue to consistently move and sell at their prices. Who is buying these books? Filipinos, of course. So the question is why don’t they buy more Filipino stuff, if they can apparently afford the new imported stuff? Is because we think work by Filipinos is inferior and thus not worth spending money on?

It could be preference, yes, but part of developing the scene is learning about differences and supporting our own.

More soon.

karma police, arrest that man

Congratulations to the finalists in Fully Booked's 1st Graphic/Fiction contest. I'm not on the list (haha, but there's always next time, right?) but I'm delighted that Ian Casocot is! His story, A Strange Map of Time, is a standout. Apart from the formal contest, there's also a vote for reader's choice, so visit the Rockwell Tent on July 15, Saturday, and vote for Ian.

Visit on Sunday, July 16, as well - Nikki, Vin and I are among the panelists for the Writers' Panel at the New Worlds 4: A Broken Time Machine at The Fourth Philippine Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention. Our thing begins at 4:30PM and we'll be talking about speculative fiction and comics.

We visited Fully Booked Rockwell to browse and buy books last night. They have a new layout that is less remiiscent of Borges' labyrinths - it makes some sort of sense now. Concerned by all the postings about the unavailability of "Salamanca" and "Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol.1", I was intent on exposing the bookstore's shameful lack of my books (haha). However, I found them there (so people who want them, go to Rockwell now). The cover to my novel caught my eye because it looked so different and shiny. It turns out it was shrink-wrapped. I bought a couple of copies - one for Jason, back in Davao post-Stanford, and the other for my father in Las Vegas, whose school of US$350-per-head koi died when the heatwave evaporated his outdoor pond.

*This post's title is borrowed from Nick Mamatas' short story, and has nothing to do with this post except that I can't get it out of my head. Nick's story, "", is one of the interesting stories we read recently for Litcrit Night, along with Exie Abola's "The Shakespeare Guy", "Girl Reporter" by Stephanie Harell, "The Clients of Caralios" by CS Barlow, "The Soul Bottles" by Jay Lake, "The Death of Fray Salvador Montano" by Rosario Cruz-Lucero, "Sins of the Father" by SE Ward, plus more from Haruki Murakami, Anna Tambour, Greg van Eekhout and such. This week's authors include Shirley Jackson, Frank Stockton, Ryunosuke Akutagawa and Stephen Gallagher. Our discussions are always certainly animated, as we wrestle with the stories and our readings of them, with the primary goal of ultimately improving ourselves as both readers and writers. The last week of this month is reserved for new fiction from the group, and I look forward to reading all the new stories.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

i'm a dad again

No, no, don't get excited. Sage does not have a new sibling.

What she does have is a Tamagotchi (the spanking new Tamagotchi Connection Version 3), which she asked for after seeing the ad. I never had one of these guys when they first came out in the late 90's, but I do remember how addictive they were to those who had them. So Nikki and I got her one and it's amazing how she takes care of her virtual pet. She and her mom fuss over the thing, going to the Tamagotchi town website to get goodies, playing games to earn points to buy cool stuff and hunting for secret codes. I didn't pay much attention until I was tasked to watch over the little thing - and before I knew it, I was hooked. It was the games that got me, plus the need to collect everything possible (sigh, it's like my insane obsession with Pokemon all over again).

I was happy to time-share with Sage, until I realized that if we had a second Tamagotchi, they could make eggs (the insructions are pleasanty coy, alluding to "companionship" and other delicate terms) - we could oversee generations of the things. And so yesterday, we went to the newly opened Toys 'R Us over at Robinsons Galleria and got another one (P 999) - which, thankfully, hatched into a boy (Sage owns a girl).

And yes, matchmaking is in the works - after I play a gazillion games to amass a gazillion points to buy everything, fly to Chile, Australia, Switzerland and Hawaii, and visit the Tamagotchi King.

I have "Cole" with me at the office right now and I have to find a way to mute it, because it is embarassingly loud.

Now if only someone could tell me all the 7 Secret Codes...

Here's the website.

fiction: sabados con fray villalobos (excerpt)

Here's a bit from a story appearing in a food-themed antho edited by Cecilia Brainard and Marily Orosa coming out soon. I'm happy to have a Hinirang story as my contribution.

Sabados con Fray Villalobos (excerpt)
by Dean Francis Alfar

I suppose what happened to us one Saturday on the outskirts of Banay-banay was unavoidable. The Mother Church had no illusions about the enormous task of converting all of Hinirang to the saving grace of the Tres Hermanas. The road to the indios’ salvation was long, arduous, twisting, and fraught with many a pitfall for the unwary, the unprepared, and the faint of heart. After all, these people already had in place various false gods, spirits, ancestors, and otherworldly beings that they feared, loved, and worshipped.

None of us historians bothered to collate the complicated net of relationships between their assorted pantheons and divinities—all the more made confusing by the fact that every little tribal grouping had their own gods, in addition to the spirits they held in common with the other tribes in other places.

Our clergy had their work laid out like the imagined final image of an empty mosaic. Theirs was the responsibility of putting each tiny piece of glass together with the hope of creating a new nation of devotees, for the glory of the Tres. With each part of the picture completed, we historians would send word across the sea to the Mother Church, for their edification and praise.

We expected the indios to be grateful. After all, our motivation was the redemption of their pagan souls. In some areas, our clerics were successful. In other places, there was fierce resistance.

What seemed inevitable was that Fray Villalobos and I, on one of our culinary expeditions, would encounter a priest of the savage gods.

We were riding long into the night, returning to the misión after a full afternoon of making bibingka. Our hearts were full of praise for the Tres, and our bellies were bursting with cassava and coconut milk when the indio priest suddenly blocked our path, frightening our horses with his crazed appearance. He screamed something at the top of his lungs and waved some sort of feathered stick in his hands. The tattoos that covered his arms and upper chest decorated parts of his hideous face as well – a pair that resembled snakes framed his mouth in a most unflattering way.
Once again, he shouted something. I turned to Fray Villalobos and, maintaining an outward calm, asked him what the dreadful man was saying.

“He’s a wandering priest from somewhere in the south,” Fray Villalobos told me grimly. “He’s challenged me to a duel.”

I looked at him in astonishment. “A duel?”

Fray Villalobos nodded and dismounted quietly.

“Wait, wait,” I told him, trying to hold him back. “Why don’t we just offer him some bibingka? Or wine? I know we still have some in my bags.” I myself did not understand what I was trying to say. There was something in me that told me that something horrible was about to happen.

“I don’t think that would do anything,” Fray Villalobos replied, planting himself firmly on the ground. “Monja Barraquias, perhaps it is best if you leave as fast as you can.”

“Leave you?” I asked him incredulously. “If this pagan wants a fight, then smite him with the power of the Tres! You have Faith! Show him a miracle and let’s go home!”

“I would if I could,” he looked at me strangely, “but we are very far away from any Church demesne. This is their territory.”

“Then decline and let us be off,” I worriedly told him. “Please.”

“No. I cannot decline. I will not decline. He has blasphemed against the Tres,” he turned to me for a moment. “Go.”

“I will not leave you.”

“Then pray for me.” He turned to face the indio priest again.

I felt my heart sink as the priest bared his teeth and began walking towards us. I found myself retreating to keep the horses from bolting away. Part of me screamed at the injustice of the situation, at the unfairness of the ambush, for what Fray Villalobos said was absolutely true. Within the sphere of Church influence, the most powerful of our clergy, the ones with the greatest Faith, could work wonders and miracles, pull lightning from the sky and draw water from a stone. But outside of the Church lands, Faith could barely spark a flame or produce a drop of water. Outside, the spirits of Hinirang held sway. Outside, their vile spirits rode the storms and ruled the rivers.

“Leave us alone!” I shouted, as I felt an unearthly heat begin to form around the area. “Leave us alone!”

The ululating voice of the indio priest rose in volume and power, causing winds to thrash the ground into a frothing layer of dust, stone, and leaves. His outstretched hands contorted into painful positions, fingers splaying out in unnatural figurations. The feathered stick he carried glowed with an unnatural sheen of colors, and the tattoos that emblazoned his body seemed to move fluidly, crisscrossing, intersecting, breaking and reforming in bizarre patterns.

Fray Villalobos kept his eyes closed as the winds whipped his robe and habit around him, trying to find the calm center of Faith within himself. He chanted prayers to the Tres, raising his voice to counteract the singsong of his wicked adversary who began to call out to his heathen gods.

He raised the symbol of the Tres Hermanas above his head and bellowed out a powerful prayer, intoning the Holy Names of the Pio Familia, trying to create a small flame of Faith to protect him in this tribulation.

Above the cadence and rhythm of the competing voices, I heard a new sound, like a low moaning that originated from the evening sky. I saw the cloud of thousands and thousands of insects racing towards Fray Villalobos, commanded by the will of the indio priest, who had sung them into such an organized frenzy. I did not realize that I was already screaming as loudly as I could, screaming at the top of my lungs for this to just stop, for the horror to simply end, for this wicked, wicked man to just leave my friend alone.

At the moment before they struck him, Fray Villalobos opened his eyes and screamed, abandoned by the power of the Tres, unable to muster Faith, unable to do anything but be covered in the mass of insects that bit and clawed and devoured him in an eternal instant, reducing my friend of endless charm and collected recipes into nothing, nothing, nothing at all.

I had fallen to my knees—heedless of the horses, and weeping from the depths of my soul, finding no comfort in rage and helplessness—when the sound suddenly subsided. The insects dispersed to the four winds as the earth calmed and the indio priest examined what remained of my friend. I watched him mutely as he kicked the bones before walking towards me.

Umuwi na kayong lahat,” he told me.

Go home.

Go home.

Go home.