Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Things have been busy at work and real life, leaving both my writing and my online existence to languish, waiting for their turns with me.

These days, I find it hard to focus on work, to concentrate on the little details, the small things that make any material rise above the rest. Part of my brain is in zombie mode, and I realize that my a bit of my zeal for what I'm doing has diminished slightly. After several years, I'm getting worn down by the entire service industry thing, and would prefer, within five or so years, to shift to some other kind of business. If I had my way, I'd teach in college, or be a freelance editor of some sort, putting together book projects. Something still delightfully challenging but less stressful (but I cannot imagine myself staying long in a job without a smidgen of stress - it would produce waves upon waves of ennui and drown me in the end) - but I enjoy being a businessman, love the entrepreneurial mindset, and thrill to the problems of running it, so I don't know. Maybe I'm just tired.

Writing is also very slow. Perhaps unconsciously I'm just waiting for the beginning of next month. It's almost as if, writing-wise, I adhere to a fiscal year.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


This week:

Lines by Lakambini Sitoy
A Passion for Lord Pierrot by Colin Greenland
Sunfast, Shadowplay, and Saintswalk by Rudi Dornemann
The Jenna Set by Daniel Kaysen

Last week:

The Fluted Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Home for Christmas by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
The Artificial Cloud by Justin Tussing
Draco Campestris by Sarah Monette

Next week:

La Malcontenta by Liz Williams
The Narcissus Plague by Lisa Goldstein
The Sculptor by Garry Kilworth
The Girl with the Heart of Stone by Leah Bobet

Thursday, August 24, 2006

into the hands of another

I just submitted the manuscript of my anthology of short fiction to Anvil today, after relentless editing, rewrites and agonizing. In the end, there's only so much one can do before one has to let go and hope for the best. I'm happy one way or the other with each of the 16 stories I included, written over the past couple of years. All but two have been previously published (or are scheduled to be published in the next few months) and three have won awards. I'm hoping Anvil finds merit in the collection and includes it in their publication schedule for 2007.

With it out of my (metaphorical) hair, I can really focus on generating new stuff - instead of tinkering with existing stories.

When I met Karina Bolasco of Anvil last night at the Philippine Free Press Awards and started talking about publishing with her, she said "Is it your next novel?".

"Um, no," I smiled back, mildly stunned, because I've written less than a thousand words of "Sinverguenzza". I find it hard to concentrate on the new novel. My usual discipline is on vacation somewhere. It's easier to write short stories.

So now the antho is in her hands and the wait begins.

On to Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol.2.

better half

Nikki's on a publishing roll. She has these stories in the pipeline:

"In the Garden of Seven" - Sawi, edited by Rica Bolipata Santos (antho, upcoming)
"Glass" - A Time for Dragons, edited by Vin Simbulan (antho, upcoming)
"Menggay's Magical Chicken" - Night Monkeys (antho, upcoming)
"Heritage" - Our Own Voice (current)

Plus, her spec fic story "Brave Girl Leaves Town" is a strong contender for another antho. And she has a couple of others being readied for submission to other markets.

Four(possibly even five or six) stories published in one year is exhilirating. As you may have surmised, I'm very proud of her - and, of course, consider her the competition LOL

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

odds and ends

1. I like the word "odditorium" and will use it as a title for one of the stories I'm writing. It means "a collection of curiosities".

2. I'm growing my hair after years of being semikal (since my Hong Kong days, in fact). Semikal means semi - kalbo (bald) or shaved head.

3. Given that Sage and I have conversations about Disney princesses, I advocate Belle (of "Beauty and the Beast") as the best role model. She intelligent, reads, is beautiful, brave and willful. Qualities that I've found in my both my wife and daughter.

4. Sage reads! One night, she asked her mother to read her a new book. Nikki picked up one of the volumes of the Baum's Oz series and began to read. Over her mother's shoulder, Sage said "Ozzzmaaaaaa of Ozzzzzzz". To test her, I point to random words when we're reading together. She sounds out the letters, decides what the word is, and exclaims it when she's done.

5. English is an unfair language for someone learning how to read. There are different sounds associated with various letters and letter combinations and it does not reward intuition.

6. After watching endless hours of Nikki playing her farm simulation, I yearn for a cheesemaker.

7. My new favorite boardgame is now Acquire. It eased out Die Seidlers von Catan. I like Acquire's strategic depth better and can play it over and over and over without getting bored (fatigue is a different matter).

8. My brother-in-law and his daughters lost their house a couple of weeks ago, when the military took over their area. We are very concerned but are glad to know he and his kids have some other place to live now. Nikki and I lived in that house for some time before, in complete exasperation, we returned to condo life.

9. Marco will kill me but I'm uder-utilizing my Mini. All I do now is call, text, play Jawbreaker, use Word and Excel and listen to music in the various taxis of my life.

10. I registered the car I bought but am not driving it. It sits in basement parking with a cow pillow in the back seat. Maybe next year I'll feel better about hitting the streets. I haven't driven regularly in over ten years when I'd terrorize Manila and its environs with my tank-like fearless Datsun.

11. We keep three turtles at home. Some people claim that having turtles at home is bad luck. But not to a pet store owner. Sage named them Shelly, Shelby and Sheldon.

12. At night, when they go to sleep, turtles climb on top of each other and huddle. I didn't expect that at all, very mammalian behavior.

13. Sage has learned that I'm deaf in one ear and adjusts her speech volume accordingly. She does not yet suspect that I'm practically blind in one eye as well.

14. I used to wear contacts until I swallowed one. It popped out while I was driving along Roxas Boulevard and not having a container, I put it in my mouth (saliva is supposedly neutral) and drove back to Greenhills, had dinner, brushed my teeth and went to bed. I woke up in panic early in the morning but it was obviously too late.

15. I need rice. I get depressed (and hungry all over again) when rice does not accompany a main meal. I'm okay with pasta, pizza and sandwiches for merienda but not for lunch or dinner. And I love soggy bacon, not the cruchy kind.

16. I've become an addict of Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf's Pure Chocolate Ice Blended. It's truly delicious.

17. I'm thinking of getting new leather shoes but cannot summon up the energy to shop and fit. The ones I use everyday are getting worn.

18. I have to visit a chiropractor soon because something is wrong with my back's muscolo-skeletal thingie. I'm in low-degree pain most of the time (but its bearable) but once in a while it flares and I'm done. I've taken to sleeping on the floor every so often (not the soft bed). Or maybe I'm just getting old.

19. I took down notes during a client meeting and couldn't read my own handwriting when I got back to the office. It's so appalling. My natural impatience can't wait for my poor hand to catch up while my brain dictates the words. And to think, I spent so much time learning penmanship at La Salle as a child (all those pointless time-consuming ink-wasting exercises).

20. I have an idea for a full-length play which, maybe, I'll write. The tragic thing is that my focus is on fiction nowadays but I guess the old playwright in me refuses to go gently into the good night.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

nikki's heritage

Go check out Nikki's story "Heritage" over at Our Own Voice.

To celebrate, she's left the farm for a while and updated her blog. :)


This week:

The Fluted Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Home for Christmas by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
The Artificial Cloud by Justin Tussing
Draco Campestris by Sarah Monette

Last week:

Fourteen Experiments in Postal Delivery by John Schoffstall
Quiet Please by Aimee Bender
Red Star Winter Orbit by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson
Spillage by Nancy Kress

Next week:

Lines by Lakambini Sitoy
A Passion for Lord Pierrot by Colin Greenland
Sunfast, Shadowplay, and Saintswalk by Rudi Dornemann
The Jenna Set by Daniel Kaysen
*The Rememberer by Aimee Bender
*Installing Linux on a Dead Badger by Lucy Synder

* = non-required reading

Monday, August 21, 2006

veg is my middle name

I planned to spend all of today, a holiday, writing. However, Nikki and I maranthoned the entire first season of Project: Runway last night, ending at 5AM. So I woke up in the afternoon, to the insistent demands of my daughter who waited as long as she could to ask me to play with her. Ultimately, Sage and I ended watching a Winnie the Pooh DVD (rather clever, it's the one with Roo learning to count) as well as Disney's High School Musical (which I found quite entertaining; Sage loves it to death, singing along with the love songs).

So no writing done whatsoever today. Gah. Thankfully, it's a short work-week, with a nice highlight on Wednesday night: dinner at the Mandarin courtesy of the Philippines Free Press (no, I'm not in the running or anything like that, I'm just there to celebrate good writing and food). I still have a comic book script to finish (for the second annual Project: Hero anthology), which Jamie Bautista will illustrate; putting the finishing touches on the short story antho I'm submitting to my publisher; and all the other creative stuff in the pipeline. Plus the stuff for work (writing calendar copy is no joke; you need to strike a balance between info and prose-poetry).

I'm glad that I got some unplanned rest and vegging out though. All the drive and determination in the world is useless if one is too fatigued to do anything.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

salamanca review

Spinning Magic: A Review of Dean Francis Alfar’s Salamanca
by Igor dela Pena
(from In-Print, Aug/Sept 2006)

Sleight-of-hand: the magician’s trick has always been to make something impossible a possibility before our eyes. We are enthralled by a rabbit being pulled out of a top hat; a rose plucked from thin air; a woman cut in half and joined again. For a moment, the laws of logic are violated, no explanations given, and we applaud the magician’s act for its sheer implausibility.

From the start, Dean Francis Alfar’s Palanca-winning novel Salamanca takes a similar approach. Gaudencio Rivera’s decision to beget a child is punctuated by an earthquake, as though to literally the announce the earth-shaking nature of his statement. And amazingly, the author-as-magician pulls it off (along with other chapters of the novel) with élan.

Reminiscent in style of the magic realist fiction from South America, Salamanca chronicles the bizarre romance between Gaudencio Rivera, a prodigious writer, and Jacinta Cordova, whose luminous, unearthly beauty somehow transformed the walls of her house into glass. Intertwined in their long relationship that spans oceans and generations are subplots and vignettes about the interesting characters surrounding them.

There is the Baptist missionary Mrs. Helen Brown, tirelessly teaching English and Arithmetic to an empty class. There is Cesar Abalos, whom Gaudencio eloped with to Manila after marrying Jacinta in Palawan. Sailing from Vietnam through a small boat is Bau Lonh Hyuh, who communicated through gestures and drawings in the sand. And there are many others, a colorful ensemble each with their own unique quirks, who have figured into Gaudencio and Jacinta’s richly textured lives.

The odd assortment of characters gives a double-edged effect to this whimsical novel. They certainly make the book very compelling, hooking readers to the rest of the pages for them to witness what the author’s next trick will be. Yet they often become quick sketches, seldom going beyond the surface of what is happening.

In short, putting up a magnificent show is Alfar’s forte, and this he does with great bravado. Earthquake, typhoon, fire, flood – name a disaster and it happens in Salamanca, all of these tumultuous events detailed in loving splendor. Never has a fire, for instance, been depicted so dazzlingly as this:”…a chaotic vision of black smoke, broken glass, and thousands of fragments of butterfly wings, their brilliant colors and patterns quickly reduced to ashes…” Such events propel the novel, with its penchant for hyperbole and kilometric, Joaquinesque language. It is a delight to read (nay, recite) melodious sentences such as: “thus he [Bau Long Huynh] was able to seek the advice of fish and wandering turtles and helpful dolphins, finding in the cacophony of splashing gurgles, bubbling staccatos, high-pitched whines, half-drowned falsettos, gill-flapping exclamations, and rhythmic piscine, reptilian, and mammalian voices the necessary ways and means to cross the vast South China Sea.”

Expect to be completely beguiled by the dreamlike world of Salamanca. It is not unlike watchng Encantadia or some other telefantasya. Pardon the comparison but even it’s lowbrow, the show deserves kudos for its sheer inventiveness. Modern myth-making, when effectively done, will always be welcomed and encouraged. By fusing the 20th century milieu with Filipino tales and epics, the author achieves an eclectic effect that is pleasantly intoxicating.

Towards the last few pages, the story accelerates in pace and surprisingly, ends with an understated tone through Jacinta’s final letter (read the book to know what the poignant letter says). After regaling the readers with a whirlwind plot, the author cleverly concludes the novel with a very quiet, almost un-dramatic moment. Touché!

Spectacle after splendid spectacle, Salamanca enthralls the reader with its hypnotic narrative where ultimately, love endures all catastrophes. Rare is the writer who can juggle a series of vivid characters and riveting events, holding out attention from beginning to end. Dean Francis Alfar spins magic from his supernatural imagination and we are left breathless with no choice but to applaud.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

national book awards 2006

Thanks to Alvin, I found out that two of the projects I worked on last year are finalists for the National Book Award this year:

Philippine Speculative Fiction (for Anthology)
Siglo: Passion (for Comic Book, co-edited with Vin Simbulan)

I'm thankful to the Manila Critics' Circle for the mention. I'm also happy for the other creatives I know personally on the list (Alvin, Gerry, Arnold, Ed, Sarge, Augie, Eugene, Neil, Greg, Butch, Bing and Manolo) - congratulations and see you guys at the ceremony!

National Book Awards Finalists 2006

ANTHOLOGY: Philippine Speculative Fiction, edited by Dean Francis Alfar.

ALFONSO T. ONGPIN AWARD FOR BEST BOOK ON ART: Anita Magsaysay-Ho, by Alfredo Roces; Tanaw, edited by Ramon E.S. Lerma.

AUTO/BIOGRAPHY: Bababa Ba? O Bababa, by Jose Abeto Zaide; Don’t Ever Tell Me You Can’t, by Celia Ruiz Tomlinson; John F. Hurley, S.J., edited by Jose S. Arcilla, S.J.; The Last Full Moon, by Gilda Cordero Fernando; Light a Fire, by Eduardo B. Olaguer.

BUSINESS AND ECONOMICS: The Bangko Sentral & the Philippine Economy, edited by Vicente B. Valdepeñas Jr.; Making Your Money Work: Pera Mo, Palaguin Mo 2, by Francisco J. Colayco; Pwede Na!, by Efren Ll. Cruz; Setting Frameworks, by Elfren Cruz; The Way We Work, edited by Maria Regina M. Hechanova and Edna P. Franco.

CHILDREN’S LITERATURE: Baha!, by Eugene Y. Evasco; Elias and His Trees/Mga Puno ni Elias, by Augie Rivera and Mike Rivera; The Yellow Paper Clip with Bright Purple Spots, by Nikki Dy-Liacco.

COMIC BOOKS: Mars Ravelo’s Lastikman, by Gerry Alanguilan, Arnold Arre and Edgar Tadeo; Siglo: Passion, edited by Dean Francis Alfar and Vincent Simbulan.

COOKBOOKS AND FOOD: Gabay sa Pagkain ng Gulay-Dagat, by Paciente A. Cordero Jr.; Slow Food, edited by Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio and Felice Prudente Sta. Maria.

DRAMA: 10X10X10: Sampung Tigsasampung Minutong Dula ng Sampung Mandudula, edited by Rody Vera and Alfonso I. Dacanay; Mga Piling Dulang Pambata, edited by Arthur P. Casanova.

EDITING: Tandoz and Other Stories, by Delfin Fresnosa, edited by Teresita E. Erestain.

EDUCATION: Edukasyong Pampubliko, by Emmanuel Francisco Calairo; University Traditions, edited by Ramon C. Sunico.

ESSAY: The Cardinal’s Sins, The General’s Cross, The Martyr’s Testimony and Other Affirmations, by Gregorio C. Brillantes; The True and the Plain, by Kerima Polotan.

SHORT FICTION: Calvary Road, by Abdon M. Balde Jr.; Jungle Planet and Other Stories, by Lakambini A. Sitoy; Selected Stories, by Jose Y. Dalisay Jr.; White Elephants, by Angelo R. Lacuesta.

JUAN C. LAYA AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL IN A PHILIPPINE LANGUAGE: May Tibok ang Puso ng Lupa, by Bienvenido A. Ramos.

JUAN C. LAYA AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE: Banana Heart Summer, by Merlinda Bobis; Out of Doors, by Ernesto Superal Yee.

FILM: Making Documentaries in the Philippines, by Isabel Enriquez Kenny.

FOLKLORE: Literature of Voice, edited by Nicole Revel; Myth, Mimesis and Magic in the Music of the T’boli, Philippines, by Manolete Mora; Tales from the Land of Salt, by Emmanuel S. Sison.

HISTORY: Davao, by Macario D. Tiu; The Malacañan Palace, by Manuel L. Quezon III, Paulo Alcazaren and Jeremy Burns; Pattens of Continuity and Change, by Helen Yu-Rivera; To Love and to Suffer, by Luciano Santiago; Tsinoy, by Teresita Ang See, Go Bon Juan, Doreen Go Yu and Yvonne Chua; Under Three Flags, by Benedict Anderson.

LINGUISTICS: Sawikaan 2004, edited by Galileo S. Zafra and Romulo P. Baquiran Jr.

MEDICINE AND HEALTH: The Truth about Coconut Oil, by Conrado S. Dayrit.

MUSIC: Tunugan, by Ramon Pagayon Santos.

PERSONAL ANTHOLOGY: Jose Rizal, by Frank G. Rivera, edited by Arthur P. Casanova; Sakit ng Kalingkingan, by Rolando B. Tolentino.

POETRY: Dark Hours, by Conchitina R. Cruz; Days of Grace, by R. Torres Pandan; Misterios and Other Poems, by J. Neil C. Garcia; Pana-panahon, by Aida F. Santos; Saulado, by Rebecca T. Añonuevo.

REFERENCE: 100 Questions Filipino Kids Ask, by Liwliwa Malabed and Emylou Infante.

SOCIAL SCIENCES: Authentic Though Not Exotic, by Fernando Nakpil Zialcita; Kapwa, by Katrin de Guia; The Making of the Igorot, by Gerald A. Finn; The Star-Entangled Banner, by Sharon Delmendo; State and Society in the Philippines, by Patricio N. Abinales and Donna J. Amoroso.

SPECIAL INTEREST: Huling Ptyk, by Pandy Aviado; Sylvia Mayuga and Dario Marcelo; Ngalang Pinoy, edited by Neni Sta. Romana-Cruz; Mga Panibagong Kulam sa Pag-ibig, by Tony Perez, edited by Susie Baclagon-Borrero.

THEOLOGY AND RELIGION: Pagsubok sa Ilang, by Tony Perez; A Pilgrim’s Notes, by Fausto B. Gomez, O.P.

TRANSLATION: Fr. Francisco Coronel’s Arte y Reglas, Kapampangan Grammar and Rules, circa 1621, translated by Edilberto V. Santos.

TRAVEL: Ciudad Murada, by Jose Victor Z. Torres; A Pilgrim’s Diary, by Angela Blardony Ureta.

BEST DESIGN: Huling Ptyk, by Pandy Aviado, Sylvia Mayuga and Dario Marcelo, designed by Pandy Aviado and Carminnie Doromal; The Last Full Moon, by Gilda Cordero Fernando, designed by M.G. Chaves; A Pilgrim’s Diary, by Angela Blardony Ureta, designed by Ige Ramos.

Friday, August 18, 2006

spec fic antho

I'm glad about the upcoming 3-day weekend. It'll give me a chance to sink my teeth into the stories submitted for Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 2 (I'm putting together an initial shortlist). There seems to always be new submissions in my inbox - lots of good stuff - but the question that comes to mind is "where is the science fiction?". No, I'm not looking to publish an entire antho of scifi, but I do want it represented. Many readers of the first volume wanted a bit more scifi, and I agree with them.

Keep in mind though that my definition of speculative fiction encompasses fantasy, horror, magic realism, surrealism, fable, slipstream and more. So I'd love to receive fantastically written stories in any of these genres.

The deadline for submissions is on September 15th, and here are the details.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

archived fiction: into the morning

Into the Morning
By Dean Francis Alfar

A Language for Two

My earliest recollection of my dam is when I was two, as she prepared to go to another canopy: her face made up in meticulously, abdomen primly dotted, her hair swept up in an exaggerated wave that was meant to look accidental, her coordinated ensemble of beige and tan skins exuding unhurried elegance.

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

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

A Moment at Four

My dam loved to weave. When my sire was away in the late afternoons, she’d sit in her favorite spot in the hollows, and hum as she spun the silk from her spinnerets. She’d shape strands into patterns that first caught the last colors of dusk, before transforming what she held into something marvelously ordinary – a blanket, a sheet, a dining cloth.

I remember when I was four, coming across her spinning, dappled in the fading sunlight. My nest-siblings were far behind me, and for a pure and perfect moment, my dam and I were alone. She looked up at me, her eyes reflecting orange and red and gold, and held out the web in her hands.

In that action, I caught the unspoken words: how she moved her shoulders, the motion of hair on her soft abdomen, the softness of light.

And of course what she held up for me to see.

To me, it looked like a star.

To me, it said love.

Sick at Six

When I six I found a small moth on an old web, high up in the tree where we lived. It was noon and I was supposed to be with all the others, learning the things that defined who we were: the qualities of stillness, silence and surprise. Even then, I was easily bored and escaped when I could. That time I went up to a place I’d never been, thinking to see the sky.

The web strands were old and smelled unfamiliar, woven by someone in days long gone, and suspended in the weave was the moth, wings almost transparent, limned with dust. At that moment I felt hunger and moved towards the trapped creature, recoiling first at the almost complete absence of scent.

I ate it, beginning with the head, brittle in my mouth, spilling pieces downwards; then the body, hollow and tasteless; then the wings, flavored with dust.

By the time I returned home I was violently ill. My dam was beside herself with worry, though she did not speak, busying herself with actions that would cure me, including the most tender caresses that made all the pain worthwhile.

When my sire came home, he saw us together and told my dam to leave me and attend to other things. My illness, he said, was common and would pass. It was not worth all the attention.

Without a word, my dam rose and did what he said, dragging a leg as she moved away from me.

First at Eight

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

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

It never happened.

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

Second at Ten

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

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

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

Last at Twelve

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

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

“We agreed to go,” my sire said.

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

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

“Don’t call me dim.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No,” my sire hissed.

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

Goodbye, I spoke in our secret language.

Goodbye, my dam’s dead face replied.

Without a word, she released her grip on the silken fibers and fell into the morning.

in the middle of the night

Once in a while when I'm very tired and longing only for sleep, I crash into bed expect the delicious nothingness of sleep (dreams, if any are quickly forgotten), just pure rest - then an idea comes. Fatigued and not in the mood to think, I try to ignore it, but it sits there, blinking like an incessant light. I try to sleep - because, looking at the clock I realize it's already 4AM and I haven't sleep a wink - but the idea refuses to go away. It turns this way and that, suddenly folding and unfolding upon itself, exhibiting new patterns, new linkages, bringing over its friends, and soon the lone idea has grown into a small party, fed by my helplessly engaged mind that has given up on rest. So I get up from bed, careful not to wake my sleeping wife, and stumble over to my desk, turn on the laptop and wait for the screen to come to life. Then I write.

It is nothing mysterious, and in fact at times feels more like an exorcism than anything else. Certain ideas when they get hold refuse to let go until they are expressed in some way, a sentence, a paragraph, a vignette, waiting to be a story. Ideas in the middle of the night (or in the wee hours of the morning) trump any need for sleep because they are precious. Or seemingly so. Sometimes, in the harsh light of day, what seemed to be a groundbreaking thought turns out to be rather insipid, uninspired, and I wonder what possessed me to think it was so wonderful. But even those noctural writings I do not throw out immediately. I look at them, read them, and try to see what I was getting at. Perhaps my approach was wrong, perhaps I tried to it in the wrong structure. Perhaps it's not a story I can tell yet. Or at all.

Sometimes, one idea leads to another then another in a chain that is fragile and tenuous. Sometimes the linkages are illogical but beautiful. I take what appeals to me. Beauty is powerful but so is longing, so is hope, so are fear and love and children and endings and triumph and sorrow. Sometimes I follow the chain of ideas until I come across something new, something strange. Like an intruder in a guarded garden, I take it and climb back over the wall, and flee with my prize.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

dylan at 40

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Dylan and I go way way back. He turned 40 a couple of days ago with an party for his family and close friends. We talked about all the crazy things we used to do. Once, he called me up early in the morning to invite me for breakfast. Groggily, I got into his car and we headed for the airport.

"What are we doing here?" I asked.

He pointed to his helicopter and smiled. And so we flew to a resort, but not before he showed me how to autorotate the copter (which almost killed me with fright). Which is why I hate flying in helicopters up to now.

Happy birthday, Bodie!

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Dylan and his wife Missy

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

manolo says it best

I'm glad the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that published the homophobic words of hate by Isagani Cruz, also published Manuel L. Quezon III's rebuttal. By the way, it's important not to get confused because there are two Isagani Cruzes - the bigot is a retired Supreme Court Justice; he is not Sir Ani Cruz.

Here's the text (and here's the link):

The Long View : The grand inquisitor

First posted 02:39am (Mla time) Aug 14, 2006
By Manuel L. Quezon III

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the August 14, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

KURT VONNEGUT ONCE OBSERVED, “FOR SOME reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.” Vonnegut was pointing out the basic immorality of society’s self-proclaimed moral custodians. Hate the sin but love the sinner? But that opens to a possible debate on what is sin.

How much easier, more certain and eminently satisfying to decree, “Kill them all. God will know His own.” The result is the perversion of the finer instincts of religion into a false trinity—faith, hope and bigotry, setting aside charity which represents an inconvenient truth: Christ was friend to prostitutes and tax collectors, and He debated even with the devil. Must Christianity end with Christ?

Retired Supreme Court Justice Isagani Cruz says that his vigorous and vicious condemnation of gays, lesbians and transgendered people is not supposed to incite hatred and intolerance—or to be precise, that he is not invoking a blanket condemnation of all gay people. He only objects to some, not all. For example, he has nothing but the most generous and respectful thoughts for those who conform to what he finds tasteful and tolerable behavior. And what is tasteful and tolerable as far as his wounded sensibilities are concerned? A minority meekly and absolutely surrendering to the tyranny of the majority, a sub-culture reduced to the subhuman, in which the individual is instructed to live out, every day, a total repudiation of the self. Cruz demands the elimination of a diverse and rich culture—one that is as much a mirror of society’s larger complexities as it is an alternative to some of the worst instincts and features of the broader culture for which he has stepped forward as spokesman—because the minority displeases and disgusts him.

He would have me, and everyone else like me be a slave, a fugitive, a hypocrite and, most of all, a coward. And I find that disgusting. I find it neither reasonable nor acceptable. I do not even find it understandable. Cruz does not understand us, does not want to, would be unwilling to. Yet he says he hates only some, not all, of us, and expects “some of us” to embrace and thank him?

For what? That he reserves his scorn only for hairdressers and fashion designers? That he respects me, the writer, but heaps abuse on someone else because that someone uses slang I don’t use, speaks louder than I do, wears what I don’t wear—and those superficial differences are the things that guarantee me (and those who behave otherwise) Cruz’s respect?

I will not embrace him, not for that, much less shake his hand or offer him the opportunity for civilized disagreement. For he is blind to the civilization to which I belong, and to the fundamental identity I share with those he despises. Whether we have a little learning or not, whether we speak in the same manner or not, regardless of what we wear and what mannerisms we choose to exhibit, we are the same, for in the fundamental things—those we choose to love, to have relationships with and with whom we aspire to share a life marked by a measure of domestic bliss and emotional contentment—there is no difference. To permit Cruz to make such distinctions is to grant him and all those like him an intolerable—because it is fundamentally unjust—power to define myself and those like me.

When he casts the law as an instrument for prosecution, persecution and discrimination, he must be fought. That he discredits polite behavior by portraying civilized discourse as a fancy disguise for his uncritical obedience and intolerant enforcement of uniformity; that he defames religion by turning it into an ideology of hate; that he makes a mockery of filial piety by insisting that tyrannical instincts should be cultivated among the elderly and enforced upon their direction—these should inspire not pity for his moral dementia; these must provoke anger. And condemnation.

To be different is to be held in suspicion. The nonconformist is a subversive. Subversion and rebellion make societies become more generous, more diverse, more compassionate—and an individual more free. For the inability—or unwillingness—to see rebellion as a virtue and not a flaw is what provokes the uncomprehending hostility that makes the anxious herd stifle dissent and stamp out anything different. But humanity is not a herd, and being human demands a vigilance against the kind of provocations that start stampedes.

I will respect anyone’s convictions, but only to the extent you will respect mine. Goodwill inspires the same; tolerance results in cooperation. But I will not be told whom to love, whom to be friends with, what culture to represent, what mannerisms and interests to adopt and, much less, discard. I will not modify my behavior or limit my pleasures merely to please Cruz or bigots like him. The respect gays, lesbians and transgendered people experience is a brittle kind, but hard-won. Far more has to be won, in terms of actual legislation or in every sphere of our lives where discrimination virtually takes place every day.

The behavior Cruz finds so obnoxious is the price he and everyone else must pay for the pink triangles of the German concentration camps, the labor camps and prison cells of Soviet Russia and Communist China and Cuba, the merciless beatings and taunts endured by so many over so long a time. It is his punishment for representing a society whose instincts remain fundamentally murderous toward anyone different. If he weren’t such a hate-monger, he might realize it’s no punishment at all, and that society is all the better for the increased prominence of gays.


This week:

Fourteen Experiments in Postal Delivery - John Schoffstall
Quiet Please - Aimee Bender
Red Star Winter Orbit - Bruce Sterling and William Gibson
Spillage - Nancy Kress

Last Week:

Life on the Moon - Tony Daniel
Secret Life - Jeff Vandermeer
Tactics at Twilight - Michael Cobley
Under the Moons of Jizma by Michael Andre-Driussi

Next week:

The Fluted Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Home for Christmas by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
The Artificial Cloud by Justin Tussing
Draco Campestris by Sarah Monette

Monday, August 14, 2006


Isagani Cruz proceeds to offend and anger a lot of people with column last Saturday, "Don We Now Our Gay Apparel".

Being of the open-minded sort (hell, my best friend is gay, so is my brother), I couldn't help but grimace at the article. It saddened me to think that if this man had his way, then my best friend and my brother, as well as other people I know or like or admire will be thrown away somewhere in preparation for a pogrom of sorts (that's the speculative fictionist in me making the scenario) - because, in Cruz's words, they are an "insipid mix" of "diluted virtues".

The world is too small for hate.


One of the marvels of the internet is how suddenly the world becomes smaller, and how people you never thought you'd meet become only a few clicks away.

I first knew of Australian author Anna Tambour via Strange Horizons. I started reading the great stories there because Chris Barzak's incredible "Plenty" was first published there, which inspired me to try my own hand. Tambour's story, "Klockwerk's Heart" (part 1) (part 2) was one of the stories I enjoyed - and just a couple of weeks later, my own story was published. Then later, I discovered more of her work online, including "The Emperor's Backscratcher", which the Litcritters recently read and learned from.

Part of the Filipino thing is "hiya", which in this case roughly translates as "being too shy to instigate conversation", so I never contacted her. The stunning thing is that she did. She wrote me about quoting from my essay "Writing: A Blog Abecedary" - and the result is a great piece in her blog. And in the span of a couple of email exchanges (including her delightful story recommendations for me to read), I feel like the miracle of the internet has occurred again - for the first time. Thanks, Anna!

While it's true that the act of writing occurs in a vaccuum, in isolation, reading and appreciating the works of others need not be something done in solitude. Exploring new territories of words is best done in company of others - it's fun (and illuminating) to discuss things, after all.


And great big thank you's to everyone who commented, texted, emailed and called Nikki and myself about this year's Palancas. Salamat po!

Friday, August 11, 2006

palanca 2006

We received the letters from the Carlos Palanca Foundation today.

Nikki's play "Life After Beth" won 3rd Prize in the One Act Play (English) category! I'm so proud of her. She sweated and worked hard on her play and her determination was rewarded. It's a lovely play with a ghost in it.

My story, "How Rosang Taba Won A Race", won 3rd Prize in the Short Story for Children (English) category. An "adult" version of this story (with footnotes and two languages) was published a couple of weeks ago in the Philippines Free Press, but I like this version in a different way. Writing for young readers was quite a challenge but also very enjoyable.

These two letters brought joy to what has been a very long week.

Mr. & Mrs. Alfar thank the Big Guy above; lahat ng ito ay galing sa kanya.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

much thanks

To Jeffrey Ford and Chris Barzak for their story recommendations (and David Schwartz, for his wonderful scan). I believe that we expand our horizons by reading - and by reading different kinds of stories. When authors I respect give me stuff to read, how can I not be anything but delighted? There is so much, still, to learn from, and of course, to enjoy.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Sylvia L. Mayuga of the Philippine Daily Inquirer reviews "Salamanca" here. It's a fair review and got me thinking even more about language - in particular, how I lack the capacity to write in Tagalog. I agree that stories told by Filipinos have that certain something when told in the vernacular, but I also think that we, as Filipinos, have taken and molded the English language into our own thing. We need to be careful to not so easily equate nationalism with what language we write in or speak or think in.

As for the other observation, well, I am a devotee of the Latin American magic realists, and agree that our country, our culture, is a perfect fit - which is why the novel is written in that manner. With the next novel (working title: "Sinverguenzza"), I hope to explore more themes and our "fractured" national culture, in the context of speculative fiction (natch).

What made my day were words from author and poet Ed Maranan. I can't post them here, but they're about "Salamanca" and new modes of literary thought.

All in all, very encouraging. But really, what matters more is what new works tomorrow brings (audacious or not LOL).

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Yes, that's the right word.

Work, work, work. :)

Monday, August 07, 2006


This week:

Life on the Moon - Tony Daniel
Secret Life - Jeff Vandermeer
Tactics at Twilight - Michael Cobley
Under the Moons of Jizma by Michael Andre-Driussi

Last week:

Undercurrents - Janet Villa
The King of the Elves - Philip K. Dick
The Brief History of the Dead - Kevin Brockmeier
In the Reign of Harad IV - Steven Millhauser

Next week:

Fourteen Experiments in Postal Delivery - John Schoffstall
Quiet Please - Aimee Bender
Red Star Winter Orbit - Bruce Sterling and William Gibson
Spillage - Nancy Kress

mustang sally

We got Sage a jump rope, which turned out to be hundreds of feet long. So when she converted it into a lariat, I gave her my hat and grabbed the camera. Ride, Sally, ride!

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Internal preparations

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Exhibition begins

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Front twirls

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"Hit the photographer" technique

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"Sorry, Dad!" apologia

Sunday, August 06, 2006

birthday games

Yesterday, we hied over to the Osias spread to celebrate Alex's birthday with lots of food and games. Vin and I immediately parked our butts at the dining table and devoured the gourmet adobo (because we imagin ourselves as adobo specialists), fresh and fried lumpia, pancit malabon, and other terrific dishes prepared by a chef friend, Popit. Afterwards, we told stories and hit the games - Mare Nostrum (conquer the ancient world) and Deadwood (C-list actors vying for Western film credits) were great fun, especially with the rare appearance of Dino Yu.

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The elusive Mr. Yu

Thanks, Osiases!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

ian and mark

Buddha, Kate, Nikki, me as the empty space (the curse of having the camera), Ian, Mark, Vin, Alex

A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated Ian's victory ("A Strange Map of Time") with lunch at Manang's (our favorite Filipino resto at Megamall). It was great having a bunch of funny people just telling stories. Afterwards, we had hilarious a Q&A at a coffee place, and inevitably, thoughts of visiting Dumaguete surfaced again.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


I’m beginning a new submission cycle of stories, which means that I need a certain number of inventory stories so that I have one unique text for each of the markets I’m interested in. None of these markets accept multiple or simultaneous submissions (simultaneous = you submit the same story to different markets at the same time, sort of hedging your bets), and I think that’s a good policy. So the goal for me is to write 6 or so stories of a certain quality (my inventory, so to speak) in the next couple of months and begin sending them out. All of my targets are foreign publications, but this does not mean that I won’t be submitting anything to the Philippine markets. On the contrary, the encouraging results from Story Philippines (they’ll consider a new one from me for next year, since their policy is not to publish more than one story from an author a year) and Philippines Free Press (poor Sarge Lacuesta will be hearing a lot from me, given his stance that he doesn’t differentiate between realism and spec fic – which is great news for writers of fantastic literature) entail even more writing, but a less frenzied rate for me.

I believe in working rather than looking back with nostalgia, so to me, being previously published abroad has no bearing on my attitude towards my new cycle of submissions. I expect rejection slips left and right, which is the way of things (I treasure a note from Ellen Datlow, simultaneously rejecting a story I submitted and complimenting me on the one that got into the Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror). In the area of publications, there are no guarantees. I like the fact that, in a broad sense, getting published in a US magazine is like a competition. And I love competing – even if I stumble and fall. The trick is in picking one’s self up, dusting off the dirt, and getting back into the contest with something learned. This personal competitive outlook is what has gotten me to where I am at present – which is a few more steps toward where I aim to be. I’m still light years away from the goal (there are plenty of better writers, Filipino authors I admire and look up to such as Lakambini Sitoy, Krip Yuson, Rosario Cruz Lucero, Butch Dalisay, Vince Groyon, Ian Casocot, Janet Villa to name a few – and mind you, I’m only beginning to catch up on my contemporary Philippine Lit) but at the very least there is movement of sorts. I have no illusions about my abilities, and I’ll be the first to say that I have a lot to learn about this writing thing, even as I continue to wrestle with questions: “What is my identity/responsibility/goal as a Filipino writer in English?”, “What does it mean to be a Filipino speculative fictionist?”, and so on.

What I wish though is that I could write faster and more consistently. Faster, because there are times when, having completed a first draft, I pick at it endlessly, always unhappy with how it is (while it's true that I can sometimes finish a story in a few hours, that is very rare and an unreliable gauge of my speed). More consistently, because unless an idea really gets me, I simply won’t write. My vignette-writing exercises help, but I find that I need a goal or a challenge to get my juices going. Sometimes, I think, the need to write should be enough. But often, I need a carrot. Or the threat of a stick.

So the current story status is 1 completed, 5 to go.

Time to work.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

so where's nikki?

In between being wife and mother, writing for clients and writing fiction, Nikki's been farming.

Yup, in "Harvest Moon", an incredible farm SIM game on the PS One (where you don't just have to run a farm but find a way to get married as well).

It's so addictive, I get mesmerized just watching her play. And the cool thing? It's completely nonviolent (unless you take an axe to your animals, which would mean you have some deep, deep issues in the first place).

Image courtesy of Gamespot

fantasy & science fiction

Pre-internet, one of my biggest frustrations earlier was not having access to the various magazines and periodicals in the US, simply because the bookstores and magazine stores here do not carry them: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov's, Realms of Fantasy, down to the small press stuff like Lady Churchhill's Rosebud Wristlet and many others. So whenever Nikki and I would go abroad, we'd raid all the Borders and Barnes & Nobles and newstands (and porn stores too, naturally - you gotta love New York). Once in a blue moon, a battered copy of F&FS or Asimov's will surface at the Booksale here, and of course I'd lunge at it. The copy may be old but the stories are new, to me at least.

Since I started ordering books from Amazon, it was just a matter of time before the obvious struck me. Why not subscribe to all these previously inaccesible magazines? So I did, beginning with F&FS and Realms of Fantasy. My first copy of F&FS arrived in the mail today - and took me by surprise since I did not expect to get anything for a few months yet. The August issue, resplendent in purple, has new stories by Robert Reed, Christopher Rowe, Terry Bisson and other authors - plus regular columns by Paul di Filippo and Lucius Shepard. It's heaven, it really is.

And a potential market (everything starts with a small dream, yes?).