Monday, March 31, 2008

ack, the heat

It may just be me, but the onset of summer heat is just devastating. It's ridiculous. Walking from the office to various meetings nearby is akin to crossing desert sands. The sun beats down on me as I am swathed by the hot humid air. These days, I have a near-constant low grade headache - which is clearly not helpful in my work, and especially irritating when I make time to write.

If I ever get a wish from a genie I release from imprisonment, I will shunt the Philippines to Northern Europe.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008


This week (open session)

A Light in Troy by Sarah Monette
There's No Light Between Floors by Paul Tremblay
Man in the Mountain by JM McDermott

Last week (originals)

The Silent Season by Alexander Osias
The Legend of Dhul BaqTala, Last of the TiqBarang by Andrew Drilon
The Clockwork Dragon’s Heart by Vin Simbulan
Glass by Nikki Alfar
Bound by Nikki Alfar
Spider Hunt by Kenneth Yu
Light by Kate Aton-Osias
Messiah by Dean Francis Alfar
Remembrance by Dean Francis Alfar

Next week

Found Objects by Jennifer Egan
A Place I've Never Been by David Leavitt
Fire-bringer by Nick Mamatas
Linkworlds by Will McIntosh

Join the LitCritters.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

litcritter originals

We're taking advantage of the time afforded by the holidays to critique new stories the LitCritters have written. The genre assignment is fantasy, and over the week we're taking up the following stories:

The Silent Season by Alexander Osias
The Legend of Dhul BaqTala, Last of the TiqBarang by Andrew Drilon
The Clockwork Dragon’s Heart by Vin Simbulan
Glass by Nikki Alfar
Bound by Nikki Alfar
Spider Hunt by Kenneth Yu
Light by Kate Aton-Osias
Messiah by Dean Francis Alfar
Remembrance by Dean Francis Alfar

The point, as usual, is to help make the texts more effective, give them needed polish, and prep them for publication in various markets.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

an invitation

I just got invited by an editor in the US to be part of an antho being put together- news that made me smile on a horrendously busy Monday morning (busy because this being Holy Week, we only have three working days to execute a ton of taks for various clients). I'll wait for a go signal before posting any more details about this, but just wanted to share the happy news (yes, for writers like me who don't get published much outside of the country, this is a big thing).

The deadline seems tight (though not confirmed yet) so I have to really hunker down and write a new story soon (curse you, depleted inventory!). But the wonderful thing, if everything works out, is that I'll have a couple of stories out in the US market soonish (this one, plus my story in Exotic Gothic II).

I'm always happy to be in anthos - and honestly, one of the big reasons is seeing my story alongside those by authors I admire. It's a surreal fan-boy/reader thrill, almost like I can't believe it to true. In the first antho I was in (Year's Best Fantasy & Horror), it was Ursula Le Guin, Stephen King, Kelly Link, Paolo Bacigalupi and Neil Gaiman. In Rabid Transit: Menagerie, it was Rudi Dornemann and Vandana Singh. In the upcoming Exotic Gothic II, it's Nicholas Royle, Nancy Collins and Terry Dowling. And in this new one, there those writers that I look up to.

Now, of course, there is the matter of writing my story...


Thursday, March 13, 2008

eye am fine

After crumbling to guilt-inducing texts and emails from friends and family, I gave up my stubborn stupidity and left work early and went to the optha. As a walk-in patient with no records, I explained myself to the nurses, filled out a long form, realized that my health card was not one the place recognized, took a double-digit number, and waited for my turn, trying not to look at the other people who also had eye problems. I half-expected to see, seated to my left, someone with a pitchfork or something stuck in their eye; or, seated to my right, someone with gaping holes where their eyes once were, the less than delightful result of planting fireworks where one clearly should not. But everyone looked normal, two-eyed and not in pain. I decided to do some writing while I waited for my turn (that's what I get for not having an appointment), but ended up playing solitaire on my pavilion.

Then it was my turn. The doctor was pleasant and seemed caring (well worth the P800 consulting fee, I guess) and I told her what happened to me, evil leaf and wounded right eye and all. I confessed my fear of doctors and how corneal terms are not part of my physiological vocabulary. She smiled and walked me to the "let me peer at your eyes very closely" contraption, and proceeded to shine light into my eyes, instructing me to look up, down and all around, inverting my eyelids (just like we used to do as kids when we wanted to scare a younger cousin).

The happy result: no foreign objects, no corneal tear. But there was the beginnings of an infection, for which antibiotics was the key. I was so happy I tell you. The problem with an overactive imagination is the ability to create truly horrible scenarios, like unfolding parallel universes - good for fiction, bad for doctor visits.

The eye chart testing for each indivual eye's vision underscore the fact that right eye is doing 90% of the seeing. To left eye, even the biggest letter "E" of the chart looked like blurry black mess. Yes, I confessed, I'm supposed to be wearing glasses or contacts, but am stupid about it.

So I'm fine, and back to my default half-blindness.

And have an appointment with my doctor next week for contacts.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

one more day

I flushed and irrigated the pained eye and woke up intermittently througout the night because of discomfort. I imagined what life would be like as a pirate.

The sad thing is that this affected eye is my good right eye. My left is eye is screwed up (astigmatic, nearsighted). So if something happens, I'm practically blind.

Today, the pain is almost gone, kind of like just a phantom twinge. I haven't gone to the opthalmologist yet, frankly, because of several reasons:

1. fear
2. cost
3. fear
4. time schedule
5. fear

Part of me doesn't want to know if there is a corneal tear and if I'll need a procedure. But of course, I'll do it if I have to. I've come to a compromise with myself: to wait one more day in the hope that everything goes away.

Stupid, I know, but that's how it is.


Monday, March 10, 2008

brother eye

I was in a meeting at Coffee Bean, enjoying the air outside, when a leaf with a sharp point flew down and struck my right eye. The pain is intense and I afraid that a bit of my eye's surface has been torn (it feels like a tiny bit is sticking out). I hope its just a speck of leaf or somesuch, and that I can flush it with artificial tears or something when I get home. As it is, typing with one eye is a bitch (and I look like I just found out someone died, what with my dramatic tearing up - only from one eye).


Friday, March 07, 2008

gawad likhaan centennial literary prize deadline

The UP Gawad Likhaan Centennial Literary Prize deadline is on March 31, 2008.

There are six catergories, with a prize of PHP200,000 per category.

Novel or Short Story Collection in English
Nobela o Koleksiyon ng mga Katha sa Filipino
Poetry in English
Tula sa Filipino
Creative Nonfiction in English
Malikhaing Sanaysay sa Filipino

"(a) In the FICTION category (NOVEL or SHORT STORY COLLECTION) in English or Filipino, what is required is a book-length NOVEL or SHORT STORY COLLECTION; book-length, that is, about 200 pages or more when printed out, double space, on 8-1/2 by 11 bond paper, or as the Board of Judges for this category may determine.

(b) In POETRY in English or Filipino, what is required is also a book-length work or collection, that is, about 50 poems or more, or about 100 pages or more, or as the Board of Judges for this category may determine.

(c) As with FICTION, what is required for the category of CREATIVE NON-FICTION is a book-length work. By this category is meant biography, autobiography, or the personal essay ( talambuhay o personal na sanaysay )."

Full contest details and forms can be found at the Gawad Likhaan website.

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man asian prize deadline

The deadline for the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize is on March 31, 2008.

The work must be an unpublished novel in English. The prize is US$10,000. Partial submissions of 10,000 words or more will be accepted, but a full submission must be made by August 1, 2008 or the work will not be considered. Submission is via web.

Complete details on the contest website.

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palanca 2008 deadline

For those who are joining this year's Palanca competition, the deadline is April 30, 2008.

Also, in case you didn't know, the Palanca Foundation moved to a new address last November from their Makati one (which I used to visit whenever I was in the Greenbelt are).

Their new address and contact information:

6/F One World Square Building
#10 Upper McKinley Road
McKinley Town Center
Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City

Tel. no.: 856 0808
Fax: 856 5005

Their website is right over here.


homeward bound

"The Dog, the Cat and the Giant Squid" by Andrew Drilon, over at Kare-Kare Komiks.

Go. You know you want to.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

farewell, dungeonmaster

Gary Gygax, whose imagination sparked mine and more around the world, passed away. Without him, there would be no Isle and my writing would be much poorer.

Thank you, Dungeonmaster.

And farewell.


writing with vin

For the past couple of nights, I've been writing in the evenings at my best friend's pad (just an elevator ride down from mine) where my nicotine addiction can be sated.

The amazing thing is that I was actually able to complete a couple of stories while Vin and I sat across from each other, pounding away at our respective laptops. Amazing, because I fully expected him to interrupt me every 2 minutes - and yet he maintained his writerly silence and only engaged me when I stood up to relieve myself. With two stories to finish, he had matters of his own to attend to.

I still prefer to work by myself but I'm happy to note that his presence is not at all a hindrance to writing. Once in a while, it is even I who disturb him.

Years ago, when he used to manage his store at Megamall, I'd visit him and we'd take turns writing on his decrepit virus-infested PC. We'd toss ideas and scenes at each other and end up writing stories or parts of stories. Forlorn, that world devastated by evil things, came into being at one of those times. Plus various comic book projects and many other creative things besides.

One of the things I love about him is that his passion for fantasy makes mine look like a one night's stand. He, along with Nikki (and on a couple of occassions, Sage), reads my news stories first, and has always been an encouragement.

Oh, and he gives me Coke Zero when I'm writing there.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

feeling writerly

Time management is a big issue for me, something that I constantly struggle with. The demands of work, for example, take priority over writing, so it is only when there is a lull in my work day that I can write like a guerilla - which means being able, by necessity, to "switch on" the writerly mode at a moment's notice, and be willing to relinquish the hat when more real work needs to be done.

The other time I write is after work, usually late at night or early in the morning when I've spent some time with wife and daughter - dinner, watching TV or DVDs, reading stories, putting up a miniature hand play, relaxing, unwinding.

When Sage is asleep and I'm rested to a degree, then I write.

Among the stories on my "must write" writerly docket, I need to complete a children's book commissioned by the the good folk of the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation. Though its not a long text (around 1000 or words or so), its quite tricky, given the target audience of 8-16. Even with two stories written for young people under my belt ("Poor, Poor Luisa" and "How Rosang Taba Won A Race"), I find that it takes a different kind of mindset (given that my default prose style tends toward the elaborate).

I have a couple of days left to complete the book. My challenge is not in the existents (plot, characters, setting, etc.) but rather in the discourse and the small word count.

As with the original version of "Rosang Taba"(complete with footnotes), I think I'll finish the lengthy story in first draft then cut and polish. The good thing is that I don't consider these parameters as restrictions or limitations. I look at them as as discourse challenges, to be able to tell a story with certain givens.

It is important in writing instances like this to write with an audience firmly in mind - a mindset I sometimes, but not always, adhere to when I write fiction. Yes, writing teachers and books galore will tell you that you need to write for an audience, but in my experience, especially with Salamanca and majority of the stories from my collection, I work better just writing and not splitting hairs on who this is for. I do agree, however, that there exists in the writerly imagination a certain "ideal reader"(that changes from story to story) that we end up writing for; and that we do write for an audience, even if that audience is an audience of one: the author. But in cases where the story is commissioned, where the story is written for a market (magazine, anthology or periodical submission where the market caters to a specific reading audience), or even, arguably, for a contest (though how can you write for a board of judges whose composition you are unaware of?), you must write for an audience.

If all goes well, then this book (I'm not solid on the title as of this time) will be published by Bookmark later this year.

As for the second novel, well, I'm around 5000 words into it. In theory, if I do not sleep and do nothing else for the next three weeks (haha), I should be done. The going is slow and I need to clone myself somehow. The thing has yet to have a title (though if I had my way I'd force/wedge "Sinverguenzza" somehow - but it really doesn't fit), but that is the least of my concerns. I hope to make the end of the month deadline but won't go on a rampage if I am unable to.

As is the case with my writerly output, we'll see.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

kite review

The Literature of Unrequited Longing
by Ian Rosales Casocot
(from the Visayan Daily Star)

Things fall apart, and things are never as they are, in the speculative fiction of Dean Francis Alfar. To be more specific, the fragile bonds between one and another are often ripped apart to maintain what must be unconsummated distance: love from lover, dream from dreamer, traveler from destination. Mr. Alfar, it can be argued, is the sage of unrequited wants. He relishes, too, in the romance of heartbreak.

In his Palanca-winning novel Salamanca , for instance, the forces of nature, enchantment, and the vagaries of human desires conspire to keep his protagonists Jacinta Cordova and Gaudencio Rivera from settling into a happy union—and ironically, only a confounded bargain of wounding trickery somehow manages to rekindle lost magic. It is a novel whose ending can be said to be so wrong (“How could she agree to this arrangement?”), and yet also so right. In other words, we don't exactly get what we expect from this tale of passion, and yet nothing else but this throbbing unreciprocation of our expectations seems true in the end.

Alfar is strangely fond of rewarding stories of consuming passions with the dull ache of getting absolutely nothing in the end, and yet while we recoil from the slap of such unexpected twists, we also learn something vital about the dynamics of want: that it is the dogged pursuit that is truly rewarding.

In The Kite of Stars , his new collection of 18 stories (all of them variations of speculative fiction), Alfar gives us many variations of this theme, particularly in the haunting title story. But before anything else, the book is also a strange compendium of encounters with fantastic characters in a gamut of tales involving barbecued cerenas , dragons and prodigal daughters, locust-summoning pagan priests, fat women with racing ambitions, heartless maidens and gentle crocodiles, merchants of time and dreams, and princes aware of the stock destinies of their fairy tale characters.

In “L'Aquilone du Estrellas”—which was chosen in 2004 to be part of the landmark series The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror , alongside stories by Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates—a young girl goes on an incredible journey of many years through the islands of Hinirang. With an unnamed butcher boy as her companion and helper, she resolves to collect the impossibly strange and mysterious materials to build a kite large and powerful enough to carry her to the skies among the stars, where she hopes to be seen by the man of her dreams: a noble astronomer with eyes only for stars, and whose final condition gives the story its poignant sense of loss, as well as the unfairness for the final unfulfillment of desires. And in one corner of the story, there is also the butcher boy silent in his acknowledgement of a love he cannot have.

In “The Maiden and the Crocodile,” the treachery of love becomes more pronounced in this backwards-told tale of a woman who carves out the heart of her crocodile-lover—and her barbarity becomes more pronounced and more unsettling as we learn more of her own humanity.

In “Terminos,” we are introduced to Henares who buys and sells other people's time and memory, and Miguel Lopez Vicente, a writer of some renown who has exhausted his life's dramas and can no longer write. Their story becomes a meditation of endings and of time as a panacea of all hurts and pain. But it is also a postmodern exercise in seeing the many possibilities and consequences of our own expiration: in one supposed ending (there are five), the loss of faith for one character triggers the coming of the Apocalypse.

In “Saturdays with Fray Villalobos,” the disciple of a well-meaning frayle who has made it a mission to seek and tease out the divine through the cooking of the “savage” natives, goes from godly ministration to slow-burning bloody vengeance, the gastronomic implication of which will leave a distinct distaste in the reader's palate.

In “In the Dim Plane,” Alfar's high fantasy take of the world of Forlorn, the survivors of a cataclysm gather to tell stories from their shared past—and after one of them confesses to harboring desire to a forbidden woman, we learn that all of them has actually become undone by the sheer foolishness of having loved.

And in the science-fiction piece “Hollow Girl: A Romance,” a girl-robot struggles to become more human, and yet ironically erases every instance of human bond by her desire to seek answers to her questions of “how to become.” In one scene where she dreams of her creator whom she has left, she asks, “Why did you make me this way?” He replies by asking her, “Why are you obsessed with love? It's unhealthy.” “Why can't I be happy?” she questioned. “Why do you think love is the answer?” he said. And she replied: “Because love is what I do not have. It is the only thing that I do not understand.” Love, in Alfar's world, is a distant, often treacherous region—and his characters are defined by the frailty with which they succumb to it.

Alfar, in this volume, also challenges the possibilities of fiction with experimentations in form that he proceeds to undertake with a deftness that may be its own magic. The most difficult story to digest, “An Excerpt From Princes of the Sultanate (Ghazali: 1902), annotated by Omar Jamad Maududi, MLS, HOL, JMS,” is told mostly in footnotes, and a little patience to follow the myriad of information proves rewarding as we learn about the battle for the crown of the kingdom of Marawi. “Four-Letter Words” is erotic fiction involving three characters, where—in a span of narrative development that involves the evolution of four-letter words (give or take a letter)—is mostly a message about how carnality and desire transcends time and people. “MaMachine” reads like a blog from the future, where relationships and consequences are subtly and slowly revealed. “Six From Downtown” is a story composed of vignettes, each one a devastating story that has at its heart an organic marriage of the ordinary and the fantastic.

One thing immediately apparent though is that to read Alfar's stories is to nurture a secret dream of fantastic cartography. This is because the book is also an exercise, perhaps the most extensive ever seen in Philippine genre literature, of “worldling,” that pre-occupation in fantasy writing that requires the setting of geography (with the flora and fauna that go with it, as well as the minute demarcations of its strange corners and islands), and the peopling of another world.

In Alfar's fiction, that would be the world of Hinirang, a country of magic and history somehow mirroring the Philippines in a time that hovers between the immediate and the Hispanic pasts. (It is a world he conjures with fellow writers Vin Simbulan, Nikki Alfar, Alex Osias, Kate Aton-Osias, and Andrew Drilon, and there is a plan to put out an anthology of Hinirang stories.) It is a looking-glass world where familiar things take on a different dimension, where our own history is magnified to become a richer sepia picture of our dreams and nightmares.

Love may be blind, anguished, or treacherous in Mr. Alfar's stories, but such is the power of his prose that he makes us see there is beautiful honesty in acknowledging that our own hopeful romanticism can be even more perfidious.

The Kite of Stars and Other Stories is the first book out of the Fantasy imprint of Anvil Publishing. It is available in all major bookstores in the country.

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litcritters open - saturday, 2PM

This Saturday, March 8 at 2PM, we will conduct an Open Session of the LitCritters at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (Ortigas Park, Emerald Avenue, Ortigas Center, Pasig City). We have formally set the time at 2PM to accomodate all the comments on the stories (all originals and unpublished)under discussion:

The Man on the Moon by Miguel Escano
A Night with Candlelight and Amber by Blue Soon
The Hand of the Evil Eye by Charles Tan
The Shearing Time by Martin Badoy

Last week:

The Shelter of the World by Salman Rushdie
For Solo Cello, op.12 by Mary Robinette Kowal
Fire in the Lake by Chris Roberson
Pervert by Charles Coleman Finlay

Next week:

Briar Rose by Kim Antieau
The Green Children by Kevin Brockmeier
How Master Madman Came to Ch'ing Feng Temple by Heinz Insu Fenkl
A Few Things About Ants by Jeffrey Ford

We will also schedule critique sessions for the new batch of original traditional fantasy written by the LitCritters this February (yes, we are as much a workshop as we are a discussion group).


Sunday, March 02, 2008

exotic gothic 2

One of my new stories, "Remembrance", will appear in Exotic Gothic II: New Tales of Taboo, edited by Danel Olson (the sequel to the anthology Exotic Gothic) to be published by Ash Tree Press later this year.

I'm particularly delighted to be part of this international anthology of dark fiction. My story is set in a village beneath the shadows of hundreds of suspended coffins and is about a boy who dies there.

Here's the alphabetical listing of authors from Danel:

Dean Francis Alfar (Philippines)
Peter Bell (England)
Isobelle Carmody (Australia)
George Makana Clark (Zimbabwe/USA)
Nancy A. Collins (USA)
Edward P. Crandall (USA/Japan)
Stephen Dedman (Australia)
Terry Dowling (Australia)
Steve Duffy (Wales/England)
Tony Eprile (South Africa/USA)
Christopher Fowler (England)
Adam Golaski (USA)
Genni Gunn (Canada)
Robert Hood (Australia)
Roberta Lannes (USA)
Elizabeth Massie (USA)
Kenneth McKenney (FIJI)
Deborah Noyes (USA)
Frances Oliver (Austria/England)
Sarah Pinborough (England)
Nicholas Royle (England)
Barbara Roden (Canada)
Claude Seignolle (France)
Michael Marshall Smith (England)
August Tarrier (USA)
Lucy Taylor (USA)
Steve Rasnic Tem (USA)
Thomas Tessier (USA)
Tia V. Travis (Canada/USA)
Douglas Unger (USA)
David Wellington (USA)
John Whitbourn (England)

Podcasts of select stories from the first volume are right over here.

Many thanks to Danel for having me.

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