Tuesday, July 31, 2007

hustling during breaktime

With only the final polishing to be done on a new story ("Listing"), I treated myself to a viewing of one of my most enjoyed films - Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle. I loved it the first time I saw it and loved it all over again tonight.

I've been a fan since Nikki and I lived in Hong Kong and could actually check out the Night Market where parts of Shaolin Soccer was filmed (remember that wonderful scene with Karen Mok?).

What I like best is the sensibility of this film, where the Hong Kong manner is presented while walking the fine line between whimsy and absurdity. Naturally, the film has flaws, but really, who cares?

And the Axe Gang? Gotta love dancing gangsters (which goes a long way towards explaining my morbid fascination with Warden Garcia's crew).


On the bandwagon, playing around with Multiply, testing the cross-posting to Blogger. It seems that if I post here, it will appear in Blogger. What is not so clear is the reverse: it seems that whatever I post at Blogger will not appear in Multiply.

Hmmm. The features over at Multiply are numerous and fun to explore, even for an old technofart like me. But there is a certain elegance in my old Blogger, so we'll see what happens.

I'm over here.


Monday, July 30, 2007


This Week (Open Session at A Different Bookstore - Aug 4, 4PM)

Don Ysidro by Bruce Holland Rogers
Eight Episodes by Robert Reed
The Labrador Fiasco by Margaret Atwood

Next Week

Shiva, Open Your Eye by Laird Barron
Rude Kate by July Lewis
Timmy Gobel's Bug Jar by Michael Libling
Under the Lake by Garth Nix

Last Week

Lazaro y Antonio by Marta Randall
Gardening at Night by Daryl Gregory
Wizard's Six by Alex Irvine
The Mole Cure by Nancy Farmer

LitCritters Originals for July

The Siege of Arundar by Vincent Simbulan
The Question of Boo by Andrew Drilon
Power Out by Andrew Drilon
Poor, Poor Luisa by Dean Francis Alfar
The Stranded Star by Nikki Alfar
The Goodlife by Kate Aton-Osias
Secrets by Kate-Aton Osias
The Death and Rebirth of Nathan Siempo by Alexander Osias

A Thin Layer of Skin by Fredjordan Carnice
Summer by Robert Jed Malayang
The Golden Boat by Lyde Gerard Villanueva
The Haunting on San Damian by Rodrigo Bolivar
The Collectors by Michelle Eve de Guzman
The Flicker by Ian Rosales Casocot
The House in Piapi by Marianne Tapales
Padre Santiago by Anthony Gerard Odtohan


almost there

Arriving in bookstores in September. I'll post the launch details soon.

Cover Design by Hiyas de Guzman
Book Design by Ani Habulan
Illustrations by Andrew Drilon
Anvil Fantasy logo by Andrew Drilon

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

on zafra

I recently reviewed two new books for Libro.ph, both by the same author.

The 500 People You Meet in Hell by Jessica Zafra

Twisted Travels by Jessica Zafra

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prison break 2

More of Warden Garcia's dancing inmates.

There is a story in here, somewhere. In my mind (as usual), it is a sad story, along the lines of the orchestra formed in a concentration camp during WWII, "Playing for Time". Or something bittersweet, like dancing for redemption. Or realist, but then it would be a play, with lots of drama (and music, of course).

Radio Gaga

Jumbo Hotdog

Hail Holy Queen


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

time for a drink

Poetry is not something I can write. I'll be the first to admit that. I guess my mind just doesn't work that way. I'm happier reading poetry and listening to it.

Last night, a number of poets, some celebrated, some not that well-known, took the microphone and read, sang or performed their works (or those of others). I especially enjoyed Joel Toledo (refined but truthful), Gabe Mercado (who read Yoyoy Villame's Diklamasyon:Magellan vs. Lapu-Lapu) and another male poet in Filipino whose name I wasn't able to write down (he read about a view in Davao and his words were beautiful). But the true stars of the show were the members of the De la Cruz combo, headed by Khavn (whose talent is astounding, and whose song selections made the LitCritters offer to buy non-existent CDs of then and there), the guy on the cello (I wasn't able to ask his name, but I want to him when I grow up haha) and the guy on percussions (I was seated right in front of him and was impressed by the dazzling variety of instruments he had).

I was happy to meet Karl de Mesa face-to-face (where before it was just an exchange of emails) so I can invite him to this year's antho. And I got a copy of Katipunan magazine, with Sasha Martinez's interview of me (with my *ahem* boy next door smile - and here I thought the Muslim in me was vaguely threatening haha). And I got to see BC (to demand science fiction from) and later, Mia Tijam and I became spirits in the stairway, hurriedly and hushedly exchanging news and views about Dumaguete and spec fic. The LitCritters (we all came) had a great time.

In fact, everything at mag:net was a blast - except for the stunning bill we had when it was time to go (over P600 for me and Nikki), which goes to show that while words are cheap, drinks and adobong pugo are not.

As for my reading, well I was right - I was the lone fictionist who read in something billed as an evening of love poetry. I read anyway, sweltering under the hot lights, hoping I didn't bore people to tears.

I must confess, when I got up onstage and heard Khavn ask what music I wanted, I was this close to dropping my story and belting out a love song, a power ballad, instead.

I'll just have to wait until Charlson Ong agrees to my videoke challenge.


prison break

Wentworth Miller, watch out!

The inmates over at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) in Cebu practice their "Thriller" routine. You have to see this to believe it.

Man, makes me wanna dance!

If you like that, then you'll also like their rendition of "I Will Follow Him":

And their Algorithm March (which may have started it all):

As Kyu said, it's "weird, surreal, and absurd".

It can't be real - or can it?


Monday, July 23, 2007


Due to a conflux of circumstances triggered, ironically enough, by Harry Potter, the next open session of the LitCritters at A Different Bookstore is now scheduled for August 4, 2007.

We'll discuss these stories:

The Labrador Fiasco by Margaret Atwood
Eight Episodes by Robert Reed
Don Ysidro by Bruce Holland Rogers

See you then.


cinemanila international film festival essay and scriptwriting contests

Quick! While there's still time! Go and join the essay writing and scriptwriting competitions of the 9th Cinemanila International Film Festival! Rules and forms below.

Download the essay entry form and the scriptwriting entry form here.

The 9th Cinemanila International Film Festival runs from August 8-19 at the Gateway Mall Cineplex 10.

Rules for FDCP / 9th Cinemanila International Film Festival Essay Writing Contest

1) The Essay Writing Contest is open from 8 August 2007 to 15 August 2007. The contest is open to all high school and college students who are Filipino citizens. Current members of the Cinemanila Secretariat and employees of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) are not eligible for entry.

2) Entrants may submit only one (1) entry for the contest.

3) Entries may be in English or Tagalog, but entries in the latter must be accompanied by an English translation.

4) Entries which have been awarded a prize in another contest before 12:00 m.n. of 15 August 2007 are not qualified for the awards.

5) The work submitted must be the entrant’s own and to which he or she has absolute ownership of all intellectual property rights thereto.

6) The entry must be on any of the following topics:
a) The Festival theme: Global Pinoy Cinema: Kwentong Pilipino Para Sa Mundo;
b) 9 Best Filipino Films (Digital and 35 mm) Program (1999-2007) of the Festival;
c) Best ASEAN film of the Festival;
d) Best International Film of the Festival;
e) Best Digital Lokal film of the Festival; or
f) The SEAWAVE Project.

7) The entry must be of no less than 500 and no more than 1,000 words in length.

8) Entrants must submit one (1) hard copy of his or her entry. Entries must be typewritten or computerized and must follow this format:
a) 8.5” x 11” paper;
b) One-inch margin on all sides;
c) Double-spaced throughout; and
d) Font Arial or Times New Roman size 12.
Entrants must also submit a soft copy of their work in MS Word document (.doc), Rich Text File (.rtf), or PDF format in a CD or diskette. The entrant’s real name and address must not appear on any of the pages of the entry. When asked for a name in the Entry Form or elsewhere, the entrant must indicate a pseudonym.

9) Entrants must submit all hard and soft copies of their entry along with the official Entry Form and their resume flat in a 9” x 12” envelope addressed to the Cinemanila Secretariat Rm. 5C2, NCCA Bldg., 633 General Luna St., Intramuros, Manila. The deadline for all entries is 12:00 n of 15 August 2007.

10) The winners of the 9th Cinemanila International Film Festival Essay Writing Contest will be announced and awarded during the Festival’s Awarding Ceremonies on 15 August 2007. The prizes are: 1st – PhP25,000.00; 2nd – PhP15,000.00; and 3rd – PhP10,000.00.

11) The 9th Cinemanila International Film Festival Essay Writing Contest and the awards are made possible by the joint efforts of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) and the Cinemanila International Film Festival.

Rules for FDCP / 9th Cinemanila International Film Festival Scriptwriting Contest

1) The Scriptwriting Contest is open from 28 June 2007 to 12 August 2007. The deadline will coincide with the first day of the Master Class in Scriptwriting workshop. The contest is open to all current and former Filipino citizens of all ages. Current members of the Cinemanila Secretariat and employees of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) are not eligible for entry.

2) Entrants may submit only one (1) entry for the contest.

3) Entries may be in English or Tagalog, but entries in the latter must be accompanied by an English translation.

4) Only works that have not undergone production may be entered. Entries which have been awarded a prize in another contest before 12:00 m.n. of 12 August 2007 are not qualified for the awards.

5) The work submitted must be the entrant’s own and to which he or she has absolute ownership of all intellectual property rights thereto.

6) The entry must consist of material good for 90 to 120 minutes of film (average 95 to 125 pages).

7) Adaptations of existing material (e.g., books by other authors) are eligible. In this case, the entrant must submit along with his or her entry the written consent of the author of the existing work to have his or her work be adapted for contest entry. The consent must be notarized and should include a clear and categorical statement that Cinemanila and its partners shall be exempt from liability in the event that the adaptation is found to infringe on the intellectual property rights of the author.

8) Entrants will retain ownership rights to their submitted scripts, under the condition that Cinemanila and the FDCP be duly acknowledged in the event of the script resulting in a production. The FDCP and Cinemanila reserve the right to assist the entrant in this regard.

9) Entrants must submit three (3) copies of his or her entry, each fastened with brads. Entries must be typewritten or computerized and must follow this format:
a) 8.5” x 11” white 3-hole punched paper;
b) One-inch margin on all sides, except left (between 1.2” and 1.6”);
c) Courier size 12 (no bold or italics); and
d) Paged in the upper right hand corner (except first page).
Entrants must also submit a soft copy of their work in MS Word document (.doc), Rich Text File (.rtf), or PDF format in a CD or diskette. The entrant’s real name and address must not appear on any of the pages of the entry. When asked for a name in the Entry Form or elsewhere, the entrant must indicate a pseudonym.

10) Entrants must submit all hard and soft copies of their entry along with the official Entry Form and their resume flat in a 9” x 12” envelope addressed to the Cinemanila Secretariat at Rm. 5C2, NCCA Bldg., 633 General Luna St., Intramuros, Manila. The deadline for all entries is 12:00 n of 12 August 2007.

11) The winners of the 9th Cinemanila International Film Festival Scriptwriting Contest will be announced and awarded during the Closing Night ceremonies of the Festival. The prizes are: 1st – PhP200,000.00; and 2nd – two winners of PhP100,000.00 each.

12) The 9th Cinemanila International Film Festival Scriptwriting Contest and the awards are made possible by the joint efforts of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) and the Cinemanila International Film Festival.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

reading at mag:net

Join us this Monday, July 23rd, 8:30PM at Mag:Net Cafe along Katipunan Road, Quezon City. It's all about love, with poetry read and sung with music by Delakrus.

I'll be the odd man out, I think, since I'll be reading a love story, but look at the roster of really cool poets, singers and creatives: Aldus Santos, Teo Antonio, Noel del Prado, Joel Toledo, Mikael Co, Angelo Suarez, Gabe Mercado, Karl de Mesa, Roxlee, Tengal, and Cynthia Alexander.

It's living lit, fusion lit, piano-love combo, call it what you will (I tend to think about in spec fic terms, so since it mashes modes and genres around, it must be interstitial LOL).

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Friday, July 20, 2007

co-editor on Philippine Speculative Fiction

And to make it official:

The best editor in the world (believe me, I know by experience) joins me as co-editor of the annnual Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology, beginning with volume 3.

Nikki Alfar is an excellent fictionist and her editorial taste will undoubtably invigorate the collection (plus, I get multiple editing passes for free - because she will never ever let a book out unless it is pristine and edited to death LOL).

So beginning this year and on until the stars go blue:

Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 3
Edited by Dean Francis Alfar & Nikki Alfar

Yup, an unabashed husband-and-wife editorial team.

We're excited about this year's antho as a number of authors we hoped would submit did submit stories, and there are happy surprises and no doubt more to come. We can't wait to get to the task of reading and deliberating this September. Personally, I hope more new authors submit quality work - especially science fiction. Submit, submit!


On a somewhat related note, I think it's high time someone put out a Filipino language antho of spec fic, because, and I'll say it again, there are a lot of wonderful non-English-language stories that deserve a wider audience. I wouldn't be surprised if they are, in fact, even better than the English language ones.

Bhex! You can do it!


And while I'm thinking out loud, is it too much to hope that someone comes out with something like "The Year's Best Philippine Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror"? Man, I'd buy that book in an instant. And no, it doesn't intrude on "our space" (as if anything is "ours"). Our antho is not positioned as a "Best of" anything, though I see how people can come to that erroneous conclusion.

"Philippine Speculative Fiction" showcases stories that I (and now, we) think are helping describe the literature of the fantastic, as it grows in the country. It is based on our aesthetic tastes alone (just as any editor's, in similar anthologies), though we try to provide a wide range of stories.

In fact, I think our antho should not be the only one of its kind here. Having another annual antho or two, whether or not a "Best of", would create wonderful opportunities for discussion and simply provide more delicious stories to read.

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the road to publication: blueprints

Another big step towards the collection's reality today.

I received the blueprints for the book from Anvil and made the last small corrections. It's exciting holding the blueprints and leafing through the pages (even though I think I have lost all capacity to edit these stories of mine beyond the obvious formatting errors).

All the blurbs are also in, and it's truly humbling reading through them. Keep in mind that the purpose of blurbs is to help sell the book - any other nicey feelings the author feels are incidental. But, yes, it feels good. I'd be lying if I said otherwise.

The last bits of work to be done involve the cover, especially the new Anvil Fantasy imprint logo to be designed by Andrew Drilon, whose interior illustrations rocked the publisher's world (and when you see them, you'll understand why - they're incredible). I'm happy to have my book inaugurate the new Anvil Fantasy line (even I disagreed with the use of "spec fic" as a bookstore label - too confusing, too vague). I'm certain it will be the first of many books of the imagination from many authors.

We're also looking at the new Fully Booked as the launch venue, moving the launch date after the Book Fair, which means sometime in September. The LitCritters will perform (!) a one-act play based on the title story, which won the Palanca in 2004 (which means in addition to literary criticism and writing stories, we'll be rehearsing too para hindi naman nakakahiya hahaha).

Managing magnificently through the process of getting the book out are the tireless Ani Habulan and Karina Bolasco of Anvil Publishing. I've been blessed to work with wonderful publishers - for Salamanca, it was ever-patient Maricor Baytion of Ateneo Press. I wish I had their grace (I'm more of the gruff, come on let's do this kind of publisher myself).

So malapit na.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

food & fiction - we'll be there

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Photo by Allan Tuazon (one of my fave photogs in the country)

Sad but true. Wave some delicious fiction at us, tempt us with pate and wine, and we'll come running.

That's me, Nikki, Vin, Andrew, Alex and Kate at the recent launch of Fully Booked's flagship store at Bonifacio High Street.

Thanks for having us, Tals!


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

more hidalgo

Christina Hidalgo wrote about the Filipino novel in English (it's funny, she texted me to say hindi daw ako kasali kasi hindi pa daw niya nababasa ang Salamanca when she finalized the paper).

She begins with a quotation from National Artist Nick Joaquin:
After the early 1900s, Philippine writing in Spanish took on a discouraged tone, became a querulous repetition, and sank into mediocrity… Writing in English may go the same way, because it, too, is following the pattern of dropped or evaded challenges. In this new medium an old characteristic of ours is again evident: our timorous preference for work in miniature, work on a small scale. The only literary form in which we have excelled in English is the short story, and we are working it to death. The short story is a good medium for apprentice work; but having mastered it, we must move on to bigger challenges…” (1988, 45)

Read Fabulists and Chroniclers by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo here.

Speaking of novels, Butch Dalisay has just finished his 2nd novel, "Soledad's Sister". Kudos, Butch!

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thinking3: towards philippine speculative fiction

Caveat and Part One here.

Part Two here.

I was talking to Sarge Lacuesta the other day, and I told him that interestingly enough I've found myself coming somewhat full circle, now thinking about subject matter and the little details. The more and more I think about this, the more it becomes obvious that I'm teetering towards the prescriptive rather than the descriptive. The problem is I cannot be truly descriptive because the number of texts is not large enough - so I need to speculate. The danger with being prescriptive is - well, in a word, arrogance. How can one person prescribe what should be? That's not just arrogance but also shows a certain short-sightedness. So let me be clear, in case I'm not: these thoughts I'm working out are speculation, with the goal of rationalizing my position on the various matters and issues at hand.

It becomes clear that most, if not all, of my questions cannot be answered in my lifetime - as we need to get to certain volume of quality texts to actually describe what has happened/is happening; because Philippine Speculative Fiction, right now, is still young and growing. A hell of a lot of writing needs to be done, and across the various genres under the spec fic umbrella. That makes it exciting, because all of my opinions could be proven wrong, and PSF can take a truly unanticipated turn and blossom into something I could not foresee or perhaps even dismissed.

(Haha, this sounds like the end of a paper)

A reader emailed me and asked why I'm limiting my posts/analysis to only fantasy, scifi and horror. What about surrealism, magic realism, fabulism, slipstream, etc. ?

Well, the answer is: honestly, I would like to, but let me deal with the "big three" first. I feel even now that my approach (via elements of discourse) is not the best, that I'm leaving out things, but I need to set a foundation of thought first, and this is it. Later, we'll see. For now, let's continue.

C. Philippine Setting + Non-Philippine Characters = Philippine Spec Fic?

What does this mean? What sort of stories come out of this formulation? It's not difficult to imagine. Some early writers, learning by emulation, write very Western characters in a Philippine setting. They learn to write from what they read and majority of what they read (in terms of accessibility, preference, availability) is Western literature. So who can blame them when their texts feature white folk speaking American slang?

Similar to this are texts from writers whose first writing bore fruit as fanfics. While western media provides a lot to speculate on (various properties like Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter and a lot more), the Japanese influence is also strong, with various anime and manga inspiring people to write fanfic. In this case, they learn the cultural mentality of the Japanese characters (because in a fic, while situations and pairings change, it is vital that the characters remain true).

Therefore, in both cases (western and Japanese) the characters, though written by Filipino writers, are not in fact Filipino (because they are established characters). If a fanfic writer transposes the cast of (and I'm betraying my age here, but I did love the series) Ranma1/2 to Manila and had them running around Quiapo and Intramuros, it would be responsibility of the fanfic writer to stay true to the cast of Ranma's characterizations, and at the same time, bring the setting to life.

So while the setting is truly Filipino, the characters are not. So does that make this example of fanfic Filipino (authorship aside, please - we'll deal with that later).

Fanfic aside, why have non-Filipino characters in the first place? The gut/guilt instinct would be to immediately condemn such examples as blatantly non-Filipino. But we need to see where this question is coming from, and why it is asked with such vitriol. It is premised on the notion that to have non-Filipinos as characters is wrong or unacceptable, and that line of reasoning can be traced back to our conditioning - the very conditioning that tells that to do otherwise is to be non-nationalist, to be some sort of race traitor, because every story written by a Filipino must somehow help other Filipinos, or bear the onus of waving the flag.

Is there value to this question? Yes, there is. But we need not approach it, or in fact, answer it, on its terms. We continue to struggle with guilt, and that is what will keep our literature small.

Metaphors aside, some of the many kinds of stories that can be developed under the aegis of speculative fiction WILL have no Filipino characters. For example, a high fantasy text with different imagined races. Or a scifi story of aliens attacking other aliens. Or a horror story about the Thing at the Edge of Darkness. We cannot always impose some Filipino there, simply because our guilt demands it.

On the flipside of the argument, the question is why not? Guilt issues aside, why not have a Filipino?

It will be the author's call, in the end. And we will let each author deal with the issue as that particular author sees fit.

As for setting:

Is setting alone enough to qualify a piece of spec fic as Filipino?

I believe in setting, and I believe that written well-enough, setting actually becomes a character (you can name unforgettable settings in fantasy and scifi, I'm certain, from Lewis' Narnia to Mieville's genre-defying New Crobuzon in Bas Lag; and in real world terms -because a lot of spec fic is set in the 'real world' - you could identify the cities of New York, Tokyo and London).

It would have to be a Philippine setting that is so intrinsically Filipino, so uniquely Filipino that there is no question where in the world it is. But what does this mean? The default, again, would be realism and its tropes: the countryside, the villages, the rice fields, the islands, the jungles, the provincial town square, the church, the shantytowns, the congested Metro Manila and its 17 components, Smokey Mountain, the domestic household and its permutations (nuclear family house, extended clan houses, etc.), and on and on. But if we take time and exhaust the list, is it enough? Is Filipino enough to separate it from similar locales in our neighboring countries? What differentiates our poverty-stricken slums from those in Bangladesh or Indonesia? Our red light districts from those in Thailand? Our rice fields from those in Malaysia?

It becomes apparent that setting is not purely descriptions of the physical environment but is also informed by the social, religious, political and cultural aspects of the place. Place goes beyond buildings and boondocks and bordellos; it involves its inhabitant's mindscapes, its history and context, its memories of the past and future projections.

The Philippines struggles to concretize its identity, and one of the ways it does this is through the literature of its people - and so once again, we find spec fic marching under the banner of general Philippine Literature, because the stories we write also do this, whether consciously or not.

We contribute to how we, as a people, perceive our country, and how other readers perceive us, as a people.

Philippine Setting + Non-Philippine Characters = Philippine Fantasy?

Given the many types of fantasy stories, I would say that more likely than not this permutation could work and some of the end results could be considered Philippine Fantasy.


The thorny question (which we have elaborated on a bit above) is why didn't the author have Filipino characters in the first place? Even if the character is not sufficiently explored or developed, if the reader realizes it’s not Filipino, the question will be asked, and I'm telling you Filipino critics will have a field day. The implication is that we continue to kowtow to the west by using them, their characters, as a default. A white default.

If we valorize the Japanese character, the argument would be the same.

"Why not one of our own?"

Indeed, why not?

Philippine Setting + Non-Philippine Characters = Philippine Scifi?

I honestly do not know what this is, unless we're talking about a Michael Crichtonesque scifi thing with a group international specialists coming to the Philippines to deal with some funky thing. With a pretty Filipina as a guide and/or love interest or something. Haha.

In this permutation, having non-Filipinos as characters is almost, so temptingly, rational. Because "they", not "us", have the scientific know-how and gadgetry and money. Please, no.

It's like those US movies that are shot in location in Manila.

We are not truly part of the story.

Philippine Setting + Non-Philippine Characters = Philippine Horror?

Again, why set it in the Philippines at all if the characters are non-Filipino?

My tired mind imagines Cthulhu rising out of Manila bay, rendering the locals (that's us) mindless gibbering puddles, while the White Specialists (oh so handsome and clever) save us from cosmic horror.

"Oh thank you, kind sirs," we'd say, at least those of us who survived with sanity intact, as we press their white feet to our brown faces in gratitude.

Who is telling this story and why are we the extras?


D. Non-Philippine Setting + Non-Philippine Characters = Philippine Spec Fic?

E. Filipino author = Philippine Spec Fic?

F. Non-Filipino author = Philippine Spec Fic?

(I am resisting adding more items down here, for now)

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

fully booked flagship store launch


Books and cocktails? You bet we'll be there tonight.

Fully Booked's management has always been supportive of spec fic, and is one of the places where "Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol.2" and "Salamanca" can be found (sorry, PSF Vol.1 is out of print).

Hope to see you there.


And what a launch it was. The LitCritters came in force, braving the rain and the traffic (free food triggers a sense of purpose, I tell you) and we got to the 5 storey edifice in time to mingle and partake of the bounty (the menu was a clever twist on literary-themed food) and wine.

I met people I've worked for and people who've worked for me, longlost friends, writing colleagues and made new acquaintances in what is probably the coolest and most laid-back launch I've attended (it was fun watching Carlo Celdran do a walking tour of the store). Naturally, we gravitated to the balcony smoking area, with out pate and wine, and agonized over books we couldn't truly afford (but ended up buying anyway - the curse of the bibliomaniac). The expanded comics and spec fic section in the basement is depressingly well-stocked.

A highlight for me was Jaime Daez asking if I had a new book after Salamanca and then offering the place as a launch venue for the Kite collection in Aug/Sept. We'll see what my publisher thinks, but man, I love the notion.


thinking2: towards philippine speculative fiction

See this earlier post for the caveats and context. In a future post, I'll deal with authorship as a means of identifying Phil Spec Fic.

B. Non-Philippine Setting + Philippine Characters = Philippine Spec Fic?

In the totem of pole of discourse elements, authors are free to prioritize whichever element they feel is most important to the particular story at hand (and as authors - for example, there are authors for whom world building is the number one priority, always). Majority of writers I know prioritize character, and spend the most amount of writing time on this aspect - the argument, after all, is that it is through the actions, reactions, dialogue, mindscape, and lives of the characters that the story is anchored in terms of being able to provide observations of the human condition.

If the characters are Filipino (or a mix of Filipinos and non-Filipinos) then it seems reasonable to think that the text would be an example of Philippine Speculative Fiction (the basic assumption is that there are spec fic elements in the first place).

But why do we immediately assume this? Is it a fair assumption? Does the Filipino character have to do something instrically Filipino to merit the label? Does the character have to exhibit identifiable Filipino traits? Think like a Filipino? Act like a Filipino? Or is the direct label (or even a suggestion of nationality or country of origin) enough? Is it enough to reference that Pedro came from Manila and then have Pedro act as any other character would? Or is Pedro required to act in a manner that is distinctly pinoy? And if so, then what do we mean by this? Should we adopt the existing stereotypes or create new stereotypes?

Non-Philippine Setting + Philippine Characters = Philippine Fantasy?

This type of story is easy to imagine. We can use the basic trope of the "Portal" and shunt, for example, a bunch of Filipino students to an otherworld. The interaction of the Filipino characters as they adjust/adapt to the new environment would make interesting reading, especially as magic and new races are bound to be involved. There are many many many ways to tell fantastic stories with this formulation.

The burden also rests on the non-Philippine setting. The easy way out would be to kowtow to the Western influence and have castles and kingdoms in peril - as if these kinds of settings are the automatic default. This tendency (to equate fantasy with forests and burrows and mountain peaks and mystic lakes and such) is derived from the Western books we've read, the movies we've seen and the powerful combination of pop culture + the colonial mentality that exists in the country (wherein America/the West is the land of plenty/opportunity, and anything imported "must be good").

I feel we should, given this opportunity, create new settings that are not derived from the West. We should create a sense of Place that can override this default kind of thinking. Some people I've talked to balk at this notion, because of the impression that the ancient Philippines had nothing (or very little) of value to provide as a setting. After all, the argument goes, we had no castles and such, and lived in tribes. We had no ancient civilizations, no sexy pantheons, no artifacts, etc, etc, etc. It's tiring to counter and I can see the what the ultimate point is: a sad sense that we have nothing comparable to the West. The better question is: so what? With the power of fiction we can take what there is (or not) and craft and spin and create some Place new, which is ours, and hopefully, in the course of time and usage, be the dafault for Filipino writers, and Asian writers, and anybody else who wishes to come to play in our Place.

We need a Place, people. And by Place, I do not mean a definite place (like Camelot or Middle Earth). I mean the sensibility of a Place, a set of motifs that determine it as definitely ours, perhaps new tropes that do more than suggest or imply, but slap you in the face with the fact that this here is our Place. Yes, in the end, the non-Philippine setting needs to be, somehow, Filipino too (sense of Place).

Non-Philippine Setting + Philippine Characters = Philippine Scifi?

I think we can construct science fiction along this formulation for as long as the characters are strong and the idea is strong. We cannot segregate the notion of "the idea" from science fiction. But also, I think we cannot prioritize "the idea" over character. A combination of character and the conceit will carry the story.

"The idea" can be universal; science after all is universal, but it's impact on the Filipino characters is what makes it Philippine Science Fiction.

It can also be argued that the genesis or origin of "the idea" can come from a Filipino and therefore the entire text is immediately Filipino.

More on this as I ponder.

Non-Philippine Setting + Philippine Characters = Philippine Horror?

All the more the onus is on the characters, because if you can simply substitute someone else (of another country of origin or ethnicity) for the main character and your story still works - then having Filipino characters in the first place was not important.

What kind of story is this? Maybe OFWs in the Middle East dealing with monsters there - there are many ways to tell a frightening "fish/Filipino out of water" stories.

Character is vital, and having Filipino characters in this formulation is what makes it work. Stories must achieve the point where they will fail IF the characters are not Filipino - in the context of determining if they are examples of Phil Spec Fic.


C. Philippine Setting + Non-Philippine Characters = Philippine Spec Fic?

D. Non-Philippine Setting + Non-Philippine Characters = Philippine Spec Fic?

E. Filipino author = Philippine Spec Fic?

F. Non-Filipino author = Philippine Spec Fic?

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Monday, July 16, 2007

thinking: towards philippine speculative fiction

This will be more than a bit scatter-brained as I'm trying to set down my thoughts on these questions: What do we mean by 'Philippine Speculative Fiction'?; Where is it heading?" This is meandering and unedited (I'm writing directly in my blog so pardon the misspellings and sudden thought jumps for now).

I'm still in the process of thinking about things and processing my thoughts, which means that at this point I'm not even 100% certain of my own position on certain matters, which necessitates more elaboration and fine-tuning. In time, I will gather and edit this (and my other notes) and come up with some sort of paper.

The first thorny question can be broken into parts. "Speculative Fiction" can be defined as an umbrella term that encompasses fantasy, science fiction, horror, and other non-realist genres. Some people feel that it would be better to break down the umbrella term and let each genre stand alone. I have no true argument against that notion, except that at this time in the Philippines, I believe we can put together a stronger argument for spec fic by aggregating genres. In the future, with a combination of a more mature market, wider readership, academic analyses, and, of course, a gigantic number of published texts across all the genres, then I think we can live with fantasy as fantasy and not as a part of spec fic (although perhaps even then I'd argue for the merits of staying together). It is very early still, and all our efforts can be characterized as baby steps at this point in time. There is still a lot to do - primary, writing and publishing.

As for the "Philippine" in "Philippine Speculative Fiction" - One of the many ways to approach the questions is through an analysis of the elements of discourse, which gives us a handle for discussion. I've selected two elements - setting and character - for now, and am aware of the risk of sounding prescriptive instead of descriptive, but what the hey. What we need to get at is this: what makes a text Filipino (I feel like going off tangent and discussing things like authorship and citizenship, but I'll leave that off for another post)?

So let's use the combinations of the two discourse elements and see what's what.

A. Philippine Setting + Philippine Characters = Philippine Spec Fic?

This seems necessary and at the same time limiting. My initial reaction is that, if we follow this route, we are acting more on guilt and a misplaced sense of nationalism than anything else. Do not get me wrong. There is something wonderful and true about using Philippine settings and Filipino characters in a spec fic story. The argument would be about identity, about pride. But on reflection, isn't this more because of the influence of realism? About those who have taught us to "write what you know"? About somehow being socially relevant? Ultimately, I think each author who uses this formulation should consider his motives - is it because the story in his imagination demands use of the formula or because of the need to be somehow recognized as "valid"? Being validated (by authority) is a strong need, and at this point, the implication is that spec fic somehow needs to be validated.

The validating authority is X (where X = (academics who privilege realism, and are in the position to pass on their bias as teachers) + (publishers who privilege realism to the detriment of non-realist texts; this includes book publishers and magazine editors who select stories to purchase and publish) + (the general readership, the so-called 'common reader', who, through their real life existence [prioritizing living life in the here and now and thus being unable or unwilling to project into the future or elsewhere] + their indoctrination in school [where, for example, the study of science is not given priority or funding - so how can we expect to develop writers of science fiction?] + (writers who come from the realist school and therefore write realist stories) + (writers who come from the realist school who are also writing spec fic).

We need to consider why there is a strong need for validation (but keep in kind that it is exactly the same case on the other side of the fence).

Naturally, there are those who feel strongly that spec fic need not be validated at all or that it should be validated by its own validating authority (which, I suppose, would be most of the above with "spec fic" substituted for "realist/realism"). Along these lines, should we not consider creating or developing our own awards-giving bodies, the equivalent of the local Palancas, for example, or, if we cast our imagination further, the equivalent of the Nebulas and Hugos (stories of merit voted on by peers or readers)? Or is pinoy spec fic 'too young'? Until then, we compete against all other types of stories for accolades and recognition (Palancas, Free Press, etc.).

If we accept the realist-derived validating authority, then spec fic will need to deal with the burden of nationalism, relevance, struggle with cultural identity and uniqueness, and deal with all the other issues that the writers of Filipino realism are dealing with themselves. Is this wrong? Should spec fic distance itself from all of this? Can it not be argued that Philippine spec fic is itself under the greater umbrella of Philippine Literature and thus subject to all the issues and concerns that the literature of a country faces (especially when we consider post-colonial issues, etc.)? Should spec fic be freed of...the real?

Let's move along and apply our first formula (Philippine Setting + Philippine Characters = Philippine Spec Fic) to particular genres.

Philippine Setting + Philippine Characters = Philippine Fantasy?

This is strong and can grow stronger, due to our folklore. We have a strong tradition of stories that have fantastic motifs and can easily develop texts along those lines. In fact, this is what people most expect to see when we talk about pinoy fantasy - the rendered imaginings most recently given form in teleseryes and earlier, in komiks. But we're talking about prose specifically. I think we can - Philippine settings are rich and textured, from the old Spanish-era to the wonderful southern Muslim cultures and every place in between. In terms of stories set in modern times and settings, definitely yes. The power behind the adage "write what you know" is that we can imbue the text with honesty (yes, we must be honest). If we use pinoy characters in pinoy settings, chances are, with excellent writing, we will be able to create stories that are remarkably (and identifiably) Filipino. But what this is, I do not know. We run into multiple issues like language, for example. And the question "What is the Great Philippine Fantasy Novel" runs into the same difficulties as "What is the Great Filipino Novel and how do we write it and where is it going and where should it go and what should it tackle and how should it be written and and and and and, etc." that the non-spec fic novelists here are facing.

Philippine Setting + Philippine Characters = Philippine Science Fiction?

Can Filipinos write scifi? My answer is a resounding 'yes'. But. There have been those who have thought or continue to think otherwise. The argument is that our country did not/does not have a strong scientific tradition (apart from the old chestnuts of the Filipino who helped design some lunar gear for NASA and our advances in rice research in IRRI, among the usually cited examples, true or not). I see the logic in this argument, and as far as the educational system (particularly the elementary level) goes, this is true. Lack of funding and lack of priority plus lack of teachers contribute to the sorry state. How can we expect the young to be turned on to science? I suspect it is mostly the same with private schools. In the high school level, I assume that Philippine Science High is different. But. We also need to take a look at new social realities that technology has produced. Take the mushrooming of internet cafes, for example. Add the fact that for games publishers like Level Up! students of various stripes are a major market for their properties like Ragnarok. Access to the internet changes things. Granted that it is nowhere near truly influential to majority of Filipinos, it does exist - and does influence the privileged youngsters who have regular access to it.

Ultimately, the lack of scientific tradition should not imperil that creation of new ideas in the scifi realm by Filipino writers. We can certainly create or imagine, we can do research, and we can write stories that show the consequences/effects of technology on people. The Palancas took down their futuristic fiction category, where examples of what could arguably be called Filipino science fiction once competed (arguably because some feel that most if not all of those stories are not scifi in the first place).

Philippine Setting + Philippine Characters = Philippine Horror?

It is in this genre that we have, I think, the greatest quantity of stories, spec fic-wise. Because we need to count the anthos of ghost stories, which are more anecdotal than anything. But still, they are set in the Philippines and have Filipinos. So there you go. The question now goes towards the quality of these stories.

We have a strong sense of the supernatural, and the Filipino consciousness is filled with creatures of the night and the underworld. Almost everyone can name at least a handful of the denizens of darkness: duende, mananggal, kapre, tianak, multo, white lady, tikbalang, bruja. There is much to mine and a lot of space to create.

So, all these genres obviously benefit from having Philippine settings and characters in the context of describing what the "Philippine" in "Philippine Speculative Fiction" is. Therefore, regardless of how we feel about guilt or the burden of nationalism or the question of relevance, this formulation is here to stay. The "Philippine" part is answered by having Filipino elements present as integral parts of discourse (we'll deal with cosmetic "Filipinizing" some other time).

But is that all that "Philippine Speculative Fiction" is and can be? Must all our stories be set in some area in the archipelago, past, present, future or alternate AND have Filipino characters? What will people think about stories that do not conform to this formulation?


B. Non-Philippine Setting + Philippine Characters = Philippine Spec Fic?

C. Philippine Setting + Non-Philippine Characters = Philippine Spec Fic?

D. Non-Philippine Setting + Non-Philippine Characters = Philippine Spec Fic?

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Updated: change of stories and schedules this week, as our LitCritters open session at A Different Bookstore is moved to next week - due to Harry Potter).

This week

The Mole Cure by Nancy Farmer
Gardening at Night by Daryl Gregory
Wizard's Six by Alex Irvine
Lazaro y Antonio by Marta Randall

Next week (July 28, 2007 - Open Session at A Different Bookstore, Serendra):

The Labrador Fiasco by Margaret Atwood
Eight Episodes by Robert Reed
Don Ysidro by Bruce Holland Rogers

Last week:

The Way We Live Now by Susan Sontag
Horsing Around by Vincent Diamond
The Flood by Jed Hartman
Red Riding Hood's Child by N.K. Jemisin

If you haven't read the Sontag, go to the LitCritter Group Archives and do so. The best stories stand the test of time and in terms of technique, this story blew everyone away.


The LitCritters is a reading and writing group based in Manila, as well as in Dumaguete. Every week, we read and discuss several pieces of short fiction from various genres from different writers with the goal of expanding our reading horizons, improving our ability to critique, and learning how to write from the good texts. In addition to speculative fiction, we read Philippine literature in English, as well as world literature.

For those who'd like to join us: first, sign up for the LitCritter mailing list so you can access the archives of readings (the box is on the right side of my blog). Next, read all the stories for the week. Then, join one of our open sessions at A Different Bookstore at Serendra, Bonifacio High Street every 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month.

We'd love to have you there.


Friday, July 13, 2007

love or hate, i just can't wait

I've been all over the spectrum on how I feel about "Lost", but right now, while Season 4 is being shot, I guess in firmly in the "where is the show?" mood.

Here's re-edited footage, splicing together the scenes of the crash from multiple perspectives, createdd by a fan with a lot of time and amazing editing skills:

And "Heroes"! Where is it? We want the new season NOW (one of the guys from "Alias" apparently has been signed up) And where is "Origins"? and why isn't Manila on the Heroes World Tour?

And "Jericho"! Yes, it was saved from cancellation, but where is it?

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

required reading: new tales for old

Nerisa Guevara posts Christina Hidalgo's new essay on her blog, Bodies of Water.

Jing's essay is mindblowing, educational and more than worth your while. Two of the six stories discussed come from the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthologies: Cyan Abad-Jugo's "Jan's Door" is from volume 1; Nikki's "Bearing Fruit" from volume 2. Hurray for Spec Fic!

Jing sent me an earlier draft in course of email correspondence with her, and I was floored. I look forward to expading my appreciation and understanding of the tale more.

Read the complete essay here.

New Tales for Old
by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo

She wraps the cloth around
Her eyes to see.
The finer the weave
The more powerful is she.

- Marjorie M. Evasco, “Mandarawak”

I. Introduction

Nick Joaquin’s first book, Prose and Poems was published in 1952 and Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker was published in 1962. Both collections contain stories which today seem readily recognizable as modern tales. But for the longest time, “May Day Eve” and “Summer Solstice” were taught in classrooms as realist stories, and “The Legend of the Dying Wanton” was usually ignored. Similarly, Cordero-Fernando’s “The Level of Each Day’s Need” was passed over by anthologists, who clearly felt she was better represented by “Hunger” and “People in the War.”[1]

For some time no other mainstream writer seemed interested in writing tales. But today, among younger writers there is a growing interest in what is referred to as “speculative fiction.” The term covers a wide range of genres which speculate about worlds different from the one we regard as “real”: science fiction, fantasy, horror fiction, gothic fiction, supernatural fiction, futurist fiction, alternate history, magical/marvelous realism.[2]

My own interest is not in the entire field of speculative fiction but only in the modern tale, which is descended from the literary fairy tale and the philosophical tale; and, in particular, in modern tales by Filipino women who write in English. This essay is part of a longer study, the first part of which is on Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s tales, and has already been published. (See Hidalgo 2006, 45-76.)

Without losing sight of Maria Nikolajeva’s warning that “drawing clear-cut borders between different types of literature associated with fantasy is not only impossible but also not always necessary” (2003,138), I find it useful to refer to her categories—myth, the traditional fairy tale, modern fantasy and postmodern fantasy—because using the terms interchangeably sometimes leads to confusion.

So, first, there is myth,[3] which predates the traditional fairy tale, which, in turn, predates fantasy. Nikolajeva reminds us that the fairy tale and modern fantasy differ, first of all, in their origins. “Fairy tales have their roots in archaic society and archaic thought, thus immediately succeeding myths.” But “literary fairy tales and fantasy are definitely products of modern times.” They owe their origins mostly to the Romantic Movement in Europe, with its interest in folk tradition and its rejection of the rationalism of the previous century. (138-139)[4]

For a long time, the fairy tale was associated with the nursery. According to Ursula Le Guinn, books written specifically for children began to emerge in the mid-19th century. Before that, fiction was dominated by the realistic novel.

Romance and satire were acceptable to it, but overt fantasy was not. So, for a while, fantasy found a refuge in children’s books. There it flourished so brilliantly that people began to perceive imaginative fiction as being “for children.” (2006)
In fact, fantasy may well be the only type of fiction which crosses age-lines and bridges generations. “As the grip of realism weakened, the fantastic element began returning into adult fiction by various routes,” Le Guinn adds. These routes include magical realism and the philosophical tale. This might be the explanation for our own writers’ indifference—it wasn’t considered “serious literature,” until very recently.

Modern fantasy has borrowed many elements from the traditional fairy tale—its cast of characters, the quest plot, magical objects like wands and invisibility mantles and potions. But there are important differences, the figure of the main character, for instance. While the fairy-tale hero is heroic, the fantasy protagonist “often lacks heroic features, can be scared and even reluctant to perform the task, and can sometimes fail.” (Niklolajeva 140)

Another difference lies “in the way fairy tales and fantasy construct their spatiotemporal relations or what Bakhtin calls the “chronotope.”[5] (Bakhtin 1981,85) Nikolajeva observes that both myth and fairy tale take place in a magical world detached from our own both in space and in time. Tolkien’s name for it is the “Secondary World.” (Tolkien 1975, 40) Whereas the characters in myth and fairy tale “appear and act within the magical chronotope,” in fantasy, “the characters are temporarily displaced from modern linear time—chronos—into mythical, archaic, cyclical time—kairos—and return to linearity at the end of the novel.” They are either transported from the initial realist setting into another realm, or they encounter something from another realm in the “real” one. (Nikolajeva 141)

Nikolajeva also refers to Tzvetan Todorov’s famous description of the fantastic as the “hesitation” between the “uncanny” and the “marvelous.” (Todorov 1973, 25) This hesitation at the confrontation with the supernatural is shared by character and reader. “At the story’s end,” Todorov says, “the reader makes a decision, even if the character does not; he opts for one solution or the other and thereby emerges from the fantastic.” [6] (41)

Such a decision is not necessary in postmodern fantasy which is characterized by heterotopia (a multitude of discordant universes), intersubjectivity (which presupposes the absence of a single fixed subject in a literary text, instead suggesting that the complex “subject” of a narrative has to be assembled by the reader from several individual consciousnesses), and heteroglossia (an interplay of different voices and perspectives within a narrative). (Nikolajeva 148-149) In postmodern fantasy, we face uncertainty, indeterminacy, ambiguity—typical features of postmodern literature.

“Suspension of disbelief” is another area where the modes or genres differ. In myth “the bearers of myth are positioned within its time/space” and the reader is expected to accept the events narrated as true. Myth is based on belief. “The mythic hero’s deeds are essential for the survival of his society.” (153) Examples from our own literature would be the myths recorded by Damiana Eugenio. (1993) On the other hand, the reader or listener of a fairy tale is “detached.” The tasks of the traditional fairy tale hero are impossible for ordinary human beings. The action is symbolic or allegorical and happens in a “detached timespace.” Readers are not expected to believe in the story…” (Nikolajeva 153) Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s Bad Kings (2006), for instance, is in this mode.

In fantasy, the protagonist is an ordinary human being, [7] and there are two possible ways of interpreting the supernatural occurrences. These “can be accepted as ‘real,’ having actually taken place, which means that the reader accepts magic as a part of the world created by the author.” Or, they can be rationalized, explained away, as dreams, visions, hallucinations, even psychological disturbances.[8] Therefore, “the most profound difference between fantasy and fairy tales is… the position of the reader/listener toward what is narrated.” (emphasis mine) (Nikolajeva 152)

Again, the situation in postmodern fantasy is more complicated. For postmodern characters, the boundaries between dream and reality are blurred. Following the developments in natural science and quantum physics, fantasy literature accepts parallel worlds as equally real. It accepts more than one reality and more than one truth. (154)

Philippine folk literature does not seem to have an equivalent term for “fairy tale.” Damiana Eugenio does use the word “fairy” in describing the engkantadas: “In these legends she is variously described as ‘a lovely woman, more goddess than mortal,’ or as ‘a fairy’ with ‘a beauty that surpassed that of any other woman they had ever seen.’” (2002, xxxiii) She also uses the term “fairyland” when referring to the realm to which engkantadas take their human lovers to live in. (xxxv) But the folk material in her exhaustive Philippine Folk Literature Series does not include the category “fairy tale.”[9]

According to Reinerio Alba, the first efforts to introduce schoolchildren to Philippine folk material in literature in English are contained in the Philippine Readers series prepared by Camilo Osias in the 1930s. In the 50s, writers like Manuel and Lyd Arguilla, Maximo Ramos, and I.V. Mallari tried their hand at retelling folktales. And in the 60s, PAMANA published 5 books for young adults, some of which were inspired by folk tales, among them, Makisig by Gemma Cruz Araneta. (Alba 2003) Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s “Horgle and the King’s Soup,” a fairy tale, was also published by PAMANA in 1965.[10]

On the other hand, Nick Joaquin’s “May Day Eve,” a literary tale for adults was published in 1947; his other tales followed soon after. And, as mentioned earlier, Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s early tales were published before 1962. So fantasy (in English) in the Philippines seems to have taken a different route from the route it took in Europe, making its appearance at about the same time in literature for children and literature for adults. Some later examples of literary tales are: “The Hill of Samuel” by Alfred A. Yuson (1968), “The Bird” by Tita Lacambra-Ayala (1984), and Leoncio P. Deriada’s Night Mares and Other Stories of Fantasy and Horror (1988).

For this essay, I reread most of the personal collections of short fiction in English published by women in the last two decades; women’s short fiction included in general anthologies; and women’s tales included in the few published fantasy anthologies. I also read some unpublished tales.[11] Finally, I looked for criticism on the tale in Philippine fiction in English, but here, to my regret, I drew a blank.

My preliminary findings seem to show that, though the body of tales being produced today remains small, the tales themselves are extraordinarily varied. On the other hand, hardly any critical attention is being paid to them.

In the West, the writing of new tales and rewriting of old tales has been part of the feminist project for some time, and a considerable body of scholarship in the area now exists.[12] Moreover, attention is no longer limited to European and English tales. For example, Fiona Mackintosh has written on the engagement of Argentinian women writers with the fairy tale. (Cited in Mortensen 2006) Cristina Bacchilega has studied the work of the Caribbean-Canadian writer of fantasy, Nalo Hopkinson. (2006)

To my knowledge, this is not happening in the Philippines. My essay is a modest step toward filling that gap.

For this short study, I have selected six tales which may be regarded as modern wonder tales, and which I will discuss in pairs: “Rosa” by Nerisa del Carmen Guevara and “Orange” by Natasha Gamalinda; “A Bedtime Art Story” by Joy Dayrit and “Jan’s Door” by Cyan Abad Jugo; and “Bearing Fruit” by Nikki Alfar and “A Song in the Wind” by Maria Elena Paterno. Without claiming that there are exact parallelism in these pairings, I think the similarities in each case are striking.


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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

ateneo national writer's workshop

The Ateneo Institute of Literary Arts and Practices (AILAP) is now accepting applications for the 7th Ateneo National Writer’s Workshop to be held on October 22-27, 2007.

Each applicant should submit a portfolio of any of the following works: five poems, three short stories, or two one-act plays, written in Filipino or English, with a title page bearing the author’s pseudonym and a table of contents.

The portfolio must also be accompanied by a diskette/CD containing a file of the documents saved in Rich Text Format.

All submissions should include a sealed envelope containing the author’s name, address, contact numbers, and a one-page resume including a literary curriculum vitae with a 1x1 ID picture.

Twelve (12) fellows will be chosen from all over the country. Food and lodging accomodations will be provided.

Please address entries to: Marco A.V. Lopez, Acting Director, AILAP, c/o Filipino Department, Horacio de la Costa Hall, Loyola Schools, Ateneo de Manila University, Loyola Heights, Quezon City.

Deadline of submissions is on August 3, 2007.

For inquiries, please contact workshop coordinators Ms. Bong Oris and Mr. Yol Jamendang at 426-6001 local 5320-22. You may also e-mail Mr. Lopez at mvlopez@ateneo.edu.



This week:

The Way We Live Now by Susan Sontag
Horsing Around by Vincent Diamond
The Flood by Jed Hartman
Red Riding Hood's Child by N.K. Jemisin

Next week (July 21, 2007 - Open Session at A Different Bookstore, Serendra)

The Labrador Fiasco by Margaret Atwood
Eight Episodes by Robert Reed
Don Ysidro by Bruce Holland Rogers

Last week:

At Merienda by Maryanne Moll
The Remember by Aimee Bender
A Siege of Cranes by Benjamin Rosenbaum

The Moll delivered, the Rosenbaum needed to be explained (and thus, in a way, failed to work, though it was still interesting) and the Bender was great read (enough to cause the remaining copies of Bender's collections to vanish from the bookstore).

To give more time for more voices to be heard, we've decided to discuss only three stories each time we have an open session (we normally do four).


**The LitCritters is a reading and writing group based in Manila, as well as in Dumaguete. Every week, we read and discuss several pieces of short fiction from various genres from different writers with the goal of expanding our reading horizons, improving our ability to critique, and learning how to write from the good texts. In addition to speculative fiction, we read Philippine literature in English, as well as world literature.

For those who'd like to join us: first, sign up for the LitCritter mailing list so you can access the archives of readings (the box is on the right side of my blog). Next, read all the stories for the week. Then, join one of our open sessions at A Different Bookstore at Serendra, Bonifacio High Street every 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month.

We'd love to have you there.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

new to the bookshelf

The new pride of my collection is a beautiful hardcover I received from my friend Anna, of her own collection of short fiction. I've always felt a kinship with her, ever since our stories appeared in Strange Horizons practically back to back (Klockwerk's Heart and L'Aquilone), which is how I first read her fiction (it's funny and kind of strange, I know). She continues to be a wonderful source of encouragement to me.

Monterra's Deliciosa & Other Tales & by Anna Tambour

And again, despite economic woes and budgetary constraints, Nikki and I have been adding to the bookshelves. Most recently, there have been wonderful books at A Different Bookstore and the gargantuan Fully Booked flagship store over at Bonifacio High Street (enough of a Borders experience to justify it as a destination all by itself).

9Tail Fox by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog by Ysabeau S. Wilce
The Return of the Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov (I loved this so much I finished it almost overnight)
Sir Thursday by Garth Nix (and we spotted Lady Friday in hardcover but Nikki, as usual, elected to wait for the softcover - I was willing to bleed just a little more)
Wizards: Magical Tales From the Masters of Modern Fantasy edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois (new stories by Ford, Gaiman, Nix, Yolen, Baker, McKillip, Hand, Wolfe and more - impossible to resist)
Moral Disorder: And Other Stories by Margaret Atwood
The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko (also spotted Day Watch and Twilight Watch, but I'm not convinced)
Birthday Stories: Selected and Introduced by Haruki Murakami by Haruki Murakami (though what Nikki showed me but which I decided not to buy, and ultimately regret not doing so, is Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Haruki Murakami, and Jay Rubin - if it's still there next time, it's mine)
The Tenth Power by Kate Constable (Book 3 of Chanters Of Tremaris)
The Blood Knight by Greg Keyes (finishing up the Kingdom of Thorn and Bone series we picked up the last time we were in the US)
In Pursuit of the Green Lion by Judith Merkle Riley


Monday, July 09, 2007

the poet with the same camera

I first met Ana Neri when I visited Dumaguete last year, after too-long an absence. She was one of the fellows at that year's Writers Workshop, along with Patricia, Mitch, Doug, Dominic, Ino, Erika, Darwin and the other young creatives - all there to learn from Mom Edith.

I remember noticing that we had the same camera, and techno-neanderthal that I am, I immediately gravitated to her to ask for advice with my settings (up to this day, if I see someone with a camera similar to mine, I will ask for pointers). She had the biggest smile - and took the best pictures. They were simply amazing.

We took a shot of each taking a shot of each other. I'm sure hers turned out amazing.

Last April, I bumped into her at the Philippines Free Press Awards. I was trying to get to the relocated smoking section and she was trying to get into the elevator. In that moment, as we stepped back from our near collision, we exchanged hasty smiles and sorries and hastier kudos (she won for poetry, me for fiction), before going our separate ways. I thought I'd see her with Patricia's cluster, but it wasn't to be.

Last night, I got a text from Ian, telling me that Ana had died.

In shock, I texted back. I said and Ian said and I said and then there was nothing more to be said.

Bye, Ana.

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a language for two

My story "Into the Morning" appears in the current issue of Bewildering Stories.

An excerpt:

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.

Read the story here.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

rainy day critiques

The rain didn't stop the LitCritters from having a great time discussing stories at A Different Bookstore last Saturday. With a group of students from Ateneo observing us, we launched into the usual critiques with gusto (also with the usual tangential side discussions on literary issues provoked by the participants). In three hours, we covered 3 of the 4 stories I selected, and I decided to thereafter have only three stories whenever we met at ADB, because the simple truth is that we run of out time (not that we're on a clock; the wonderful people of ADB tell us we can stay as long as we like, but hunger gets the best out of people, especially writers). This means that the last story is moved to the next session (Don Ysidro - sorry Bruce, but we'll get to your wonderful story very soon). Apart from the usual suspects, we had other authors join the talks as well as a surprise appearance from Sarge Lacuesta and Mookie Katigbak. Come on over and join us next time.

photo by Kenneth Yu

(L to R Upper Row: Vin Simbulan, Kate Aton-Osias, Nikki Alfar, me, Elyss Punzalan, Charles Tan, Maryanne Moll, Miggy Escaño, and Ateneo's Monique, Junno and Burger; kneeling: Alex Osias and Andrew Drilon)

Sarj, Sasha Martinez and Nikay Paredes of Katipunan magazine also came over to interview me about spec fic and the LitCritters. The questions were quite interesting, and I remember one about what I thought the role of spec fic was in Philippine literature.

photo by Nikay Paredes


Saturday, July 07, 2007

plot thickens

An article on Philippine literature by James Gabrillo, touching on speculative fiction, appears in today's issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Vim Nadera and I also provided Super! with our thoughts on what's exciting about Phil lit today.

"Reading through the anthology “Philippine Speculative Fiction,” edited by Dean Alfar, enabled me to see first-hand that the “literature of the imagination,” as Alfar calls it, is in no way nonprestigious or “low-brow.”

The anthology, as a whole, enabled me to imaginatively soar away from the bleak present to the exciting world of the unfamiliar. The tales took me away from the city, towards the suspension of disbelief, towards the enchantment. I was pleased with how most of the stories pulled the carpet I was sitting on, the way they used space well, and the way they flowed with a balance of complexity and irony."

Read Plot thickens here.

"It is an exciting time for Philippine literature, especially with the growth of Speculative Fiction. Writers have begun to produce more and more stories of wonder and imagination and are being taken seriously, unlike in past times."

"We are in a postmodern world of anything goes. There are no real trends or traditions to speak of. Skinheads can coexist with the Christ look-alikes, among others. In literature, the forms range from prehistoric or prehispanic up to the avant-garde. Poems, fictions and nonfictions, and plays (from stage to radio to television to film) sometimes blur their borders. They talk about anything under the sun, be it in the romantic or realistic or surrealistic or radical way—in dealing with, say, Marxism, feminism, homosexuality, or post-colonialism."

Read Main characters here.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

short fiction for children: poor, poor luisa

Poor, Poor Luisa
By Dean Francis Alfar

For Sage

When summer ended, it was time for Luisa to attend her new school. But she was quite afraid.

“I don’t know the other children there,” Luisa told her mother.

“I’m sure you’ll make new friends,” her mother said with a smile.

“I don’t think so,” Luisa said quietly. She imagined that no one would talk to her.

Poor, poor Luisa.

On the morning of the first day of school, after she kissed her mother goodbye but before the school bus came to pick her up, Luisa rushed through her house.

In the closet, she took a mop and cut off the stringy ends used to clean the floor with. This was her new hair.

In the living room, she borrowed her father’s old pair of thick glasses. This became her new eyes.

In the bathroom, she squeezed a tube of blue sparkly toothpaste all over her cheeks and forehead and chin. This was her new face.

In the kitchen, she filled a small bag with vegetables and wore it on her back under her clothes. This was her new body.

So it was as a blue-faced hunchback with stringy hair and thick glasses that Luisa boarded the school bus for her new school.

She imagined that it was better if no one knew who she was.

Poor, poor Luisa.

The classroom was filled with children and Luisa quietly took her seat, keeping her eyes on the floor.

It was only when the teacher called her name that Luisa looked up: this is what she saw.

To Luisa’s left was a green-faced girl with spaghetti hair and doughnuts on her eyes.

To Luisa’s right was a chocolate-coated girl with two halves of a coconut shell on her head.

Behind Luisa sat a girl covered in bright yellow banana peels with pillow cases for feet.

And in front of Luisa was another girl completely covered up by a pink shower curtain.

And no one, no one was talking or looking at anyone else.

Luisa was confused by her strange and quiet classmates.

Poor, poor Luisa.

When the bell rang for recess time, all the children walked into the school’s garden. Curious about how everyone looked and having nowhere else to go, Luisa followed them.

The odd children stood in the sunlight, not looking at other.

Luisa waited for someone to talk, but no one did.

Poor, poor Luisa.

“Hi there,” Luisa said, deciding to be the first to say something to the unusual children.

“Oh!” said the green-faced girl with spaghetti hair and doughnuts on her eyes.

“Ah!” said the chocolate-coated girl with two halves of a coconut shell on her head.

“Er!” said the girl covered in bright yellow banana peels with pillow cases for feet.

“Uf!” mumbled the girl completely covered up by a pink shower curtain.

They were all surprised.

“Why are you all wearing strange things on your faces, heads, bodies and feet?” Luisa asked.

No one answered her question.

Poor, poor Luisa.

“Won’t you tell me, please?” Luisa asked.

“Well, you’re very strange-looking yourself,” said the green-faced girl with spaghetti hair said.

“That’s right,” nodded the chocolate-coated girl.

“You should see yourself,” said the girl covered in bright yellow banana peels.

“Uf!” mumbled the girl completely covered up by a pink shower curtain.

“Oh!” cried Luisa, remembering what she had put on herself. “But this isn’t really what I look like!”

Luisa took off the stringy mop and shook out her long black hair.

She took off her father’s old pair of thick glasses and blinked her large brown eyes.

She wiped off the sparkly blue toothpaste from her face and revealed her dark brown skin.

And finally, she removed the small sack filled with vegetables from her back and straightened up to her full height.

“This is me,” she said. “My name is Luisa.”

The other children looked at her and at each other in silence.

Luisa suddenly felt very shy and afraid. She began to walk away.

Poor, poor Luisa.

“Wait,” said the green-faced girl with spaghetti hair. “This isn’t me either.”

“Wait,” said the chocolate-coated girl. “It’s the same with me.”

“Wait,” said the girl covered in bright yellow banana peels. “I don’t even like bananas.”

“Uf!” mumbled the girl completely covered up by a pink shower curtain.

And to Luisa’s amazement, the other children shook out and took off and wiped away all the different things they had put on their faces, heads, bodies and feet.

In the middle of garden, surrounded by a mess of spaghetti noodles, doughnuts, chocolates, coconut shells, yellow banana peels, pillow cases and a pink shower curtain stood four young girls.

“I’m Nikki,” said the first girl.

“I’m Kate,” said the second girl.

“I’m Zarah,” said the third girl.

“And I’m Janet,” said the fourth girl.

“Hello, Luisa!” the four girls said together.

“Hello, hello, hello, hello,” said Luisa happily.

When Luisa got home, her mother asked her about her first day at school.

“It was a bit scary then a bit silly,” Luisa told her. “But I have new friends.”

“I knew you’d make new ones,” her mother said, embracing her.

Luisa smiled and gave her mother a kiss.

Copyright 2007 by Dean Francis Alfar
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

live, dammit, live!

In the middle of Elliot Yamin's new song, my iPod Video froze, which caused me to panic. Nothing I could do could make it play. It was stuck there, seemingly forever.

But thanks to the wonder of the internet, I found how to reset it, which I will share just in case something like this happens to you.

1. Toggle the Hold switch on and off. (Slide it to Hold, then turn it off again.)

2. Press and hold the Menu and Center (Select) buttons simultaneously until the Apple logo appears, about 6 to 10 seconds. You may need to repeat this step.

I had to strip off the black devil sheathe Nikki gave for my iPod (she has a matching white angel one for her nano) and place it on a flat surface to make the reset work. Make sure that you use two fingers - one for the center button, and one for the menu (and make sure you press towards the outside of the menu button).

It seems to the season for iPod breakdowns. Nikki's was in the shop for a week, and Andrew needed a new battery.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

repost: open call for philippine speculative fiction vol.3

Entries are coming in, so make sure you submit yours!

Here's a repost:

I am now accepting submissions of short fiction pieces for consideration for the anthology "Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol.3".

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. However, if you have a Young Adult story that is particularly well-written, send it in.

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. Kindly state also in your cover letter that you have the permission, if necessary, from the original publishing entity to republish your work.

6. First time authors are welcome to submit. In the first two volumes, there was a good mix of established and new authors. Good stories trump literary credentials anytime.

7. No multiple submissions. Each author may submit only one story for consideration.

8. Each story’s word count must be no fewer than 2,500 words and no more than 5,000 words.

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: dean@kestrelimc.com. Submissions received in any other format will be deleted, unread.

10. The subject of your email must read: PSF3 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 - PSF 3 Submission: How My Uncle Brought Home A Diwata 4500.

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

12. Deadline for submissions is September 15, 2007. After that date, final choices will be made and letters of acceptance or regret sent out via email.

13. Target publishing date is December 2007/January 2008.

14. Compensation for selected stories will be 2 contributor’s copies of the published anthology as well as a share in aggregrate royalties.

Kindly help spread the word. Feel free to cut and paste or link to this on your blogs or e-groups.


Dean Francis Alfar

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litcritters open

It's an open session for the LitCritters this Saturday at A Different Bookstore over at Serendra. Be there at 4PM and see why reading and discussing stories is something we can't get enough of.

This week (July 7 - Open)

Don Ysidro by Bruce Holland Rogers
At Merienda by Maryanne Moll
The Remember by Aimee Bender
A Siege of Cranes by Benjamin Rosenbaum

Next week:

The Way We Live Now by Susan Sontag
Horsing Around by Vincent Diamond
The Flood by Jed Hartman
Red Riding Hood's Child by N.K. Jemisin

Last week

The Spellweaver's Tale by Michael Jones
The Black Phone by Joe Hill
When the Dragon Falls by Patrick Samphire
The Woman in Schrodinger's Wave Equations by Eugene Mirabelli

Three of last week's stories were amazing, but the best of the bunch was the Mirabelli, which has so much going for it in terms of tone, characterization and structure. And while most of the LitCritters voted for the Samphire as #2, I could not help but vote for the Hill - because good horror is rare.

**The LitCritters is a reading and writing group based in Manila, as well as in Dumaguete. Every week, we read and discuss several pieces of short fiction from various genres from different writers with the goal of expanding our reading horizons, improving our ability to critique, and learning how to write from the good texts. In addition to speculative fiction, we read Philippine literature in English, as well as world literature.

For those who'd like to join us: first, sign up for the LitCritter mailing list so you can access the archives of readings. Next, read all the stories for the week. Then, join one of our open sessions at A Different Bookstore at Serendra, Bonifacio High Street every 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month.

We'd love to have you there.