Friday, December 31, 2004

2004 Annual Report

chairman's message

It has been one of those rarest of years for Dean Alfar Inc., a year filled with many reasons to celebrate life and the wonder of day-to-day existence. We began the year with a twinge of hope for better things and found that hope is sometimes rewarded beyond expectations when discipline is taken seriously and if the great wheel is on the upswing.

2004 was a year when the Company took stock of where it was, mapped out where it wanted to go, and proceeded to take steps to get there, stumbling occasionally but always finding reasons to get up and go on, like a blindfolded little steam engine who could not be dissuaded by the perserve impossibility of certain dreams. We learned to manage our expectations when circumstances did not permit the fruition of certain plans and dealt with the consequences of ill-informed decisions. But we also learned better how to both create and take advantage of opportunities, how to repurpose resources, how to privilege and prioritize specific goals above others, how to manage the artificial cycles of time, and once again how to stand at the edge of a precipice and take a calculated jump with eyes wide open.

In retrospect, 2004 will be just another year in the skein of time. But when we look back we will see that whichever lens we apply to survey its temporal landscapes, it is riddled with many things we can rely on to offer comfort as we turn grey and older. Not out of cold pride, but rather of sweet humanity.

Farewell and thank you, 2004!

We look forward to our 36th year with bated breath.

The Chairman

2004 highlights


Our bread-and-butter business enjoyed a moderate success, enough to stave off thoughts of having to put on costumes and dance in the rainy streets. We gained new clients with budgets that permit a variety of work. One of the websites we developed was a finalist in the Webbies, and we saw the fruits of our collective labor debut in London and New York and other parts of continental America. We also moved offices from Greenhills to the Ortigas Center, giving us a fresh geographic perspective away from the previous building poisoned by fire and murder.

Our new business is poised to reopen at SM Megamall after a brief reworking of its basic emphasis and methodology, with expansion planned out to other venues in the coming year.

Our content development thrust in the first two quarters yielded a project in Singapore, multiple episodes of animation writing that taught us more about the craft of TV writing.


Our daughter celebrated her 2nd year of existence and in the course of the following months continued her incredible verbal and intellectual development. Her language skills perpetually evolve alongside her appreciation of the passage of time, her observations of nature, her strong sense of identity and her ability to reason with increasingly abstract concepts.

Our wife taught herself CSS and HTML, coded and designed websites, operated her own copy / editorial/ content development business while operating and managing the growing demands of husband and daughter.

The Company maintained good relations with its siblings, parents and in-laws, put to rest the unreasonbale weight of past imaginary grievances and managed to survive the occasional family reunions with little or no trauma.


Our group efforts on the comic book scene were recognized with a National Book Award for Siglo: Freedom - impossible without the help, dedication and creativity of all the wonderful people involved. We thank each and everyone involved: my co-editor, the respective creators, our champions and publishers, the marketing and distribution teams, the media, and most importantly, the readers. It is our hope to release the second book in the series, Siglo: Passion, in its full-color thickness sometime in the first quarter of the incoming year. One of our stories also appeared in the Hey, Comics! Anthology, the first time we "illustrated" our own words.

We will continue to support the local comics industry but will take a less active role this new year to concentrate on other creative efforts. Local comics existed and was dynamic before we even got there, and we have no illusions about our "importance" - even if we close our eyes, there are many hands, hearts and minds that will continue to fight the good fight.

On the fiction front, our speculative fiction was published internationally (The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror Seventeenth Annual Collection - St. Martin's Press; The Best of Strange Horizons 3 - Lethe Press), and had another scifi piece win a Palanca Award for Futuristic Fiction. Most of our creative efforts this coming year will be focused on writing speculative fiction. The grand (but manageable)plan is not to win accolades or simply be published, but to help create a body of work that is both Filipino and in the genre of the fantastic, hopefully with the multiple quills of talented friends and strangers.

On the playwriting front, one of our unabashedly fantasy and non-social realist plays won a Palanca Award for One-Act Play. Another play was optioned for production locally and for staging in Australia. We seek to increase production in this mode, taking advantage of our imagined voice and using it to speak clearly on matters that are important to us. There is a power in drama that is absent in prose.

We also produced a novel in the latter part of the year, already in the process of edits and rewrites. This proved to us that it is possible to allocate time to write in the long form despite the realities of running business and handling the other demands of life. Having conquered the fear of potentially crash-and-burn, we look forward to one or two more in the coming year.

Also, as mentioned earlier, the Alfars wrote, developed or were involved in preproduction on a number of televisions properties.


We look inside and see endless room for improvement.

We challenged ourselves to write something new, right there and then, here and now, and did, and will continue to do so.

We engaged in multiple nights of question-and-answer, wrestling with craft, with life, with philosophy, with questions that were difficult to articulate much less answer.

We accept the inevitability of age and are determined to grow older with a twinkle in our eye.

We continue our life's work of deconstructing love and questioning whether or not the world drops to its knees in front of it in awe, and reaffirm our faith in a world of greys, empowered by personal choice to blaze or to suffer in shadows.

We embrace the notion of responsible appetite and continue to devour unceasingly, with the goal of regurgitating something of worth.

We lived our life this year as best we could, pushing parameters, enforcing stability, eyeing fluidity, and sang when it was time to sing, slept when it was time to sleep, worked when it was time to work, and then dreamed and dreamed and dreamed.

We believe in a wheel, in how it goes up and down, sometimes with precision, sometimes at random, and continue to hold our breath in the low spots and inhale with the high.

And though we think that world does not stop for love, it does make the world a much more wonderful place to live in - thanks to wife and daughter and family; friends best, old and new; and workmates and business partners.

Happy New Year, all!


Wednesday, December 29, 2004



Still at the office handling new projects that will get launched the first week of January. Though I'd much rather stay at home and vegetate or even write, work is work and that's the way the cookie crumbles - so no problem. We have a nationwide campaign to roll out for one client, plus a variety of materials for several more including radio, billboards, exhibits for New York and such. I'm delighted with all the work and am thankful for the opportunities.

But I'm actually very sleepy so I've hooked up a Coke IV to stay conscious.


Over the past couple of nights, Nikki and I (with Sage for selected viewings) went on two viewing marathons.

First, the Pokeathon. 84 half-hour episodes of Pokemon because we love it (and yes, I will defend the show as an important part of the world's cultural and literary ideosphere) - Season 1 and the Johto Journeys. As always, the post-episode analyses are interesting (especially when Sage revealed her scatologically-founded dislike with Koffin and Weezing from Team Rocket).

Then, the accidental Holly Hunter marathon (accidental because she was in three of the films): Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her, Thirteen and The Incredibles. "Things..." is better staged as a play with its stilted dialogue and artificially heavy tone; "Thirteen" is one of the best movies I've seen and enters my Top Ten due to the fine writing, acting, directing and cinematography; "The Incredibles" is definitely the best film of 2004. I was also impressed by the acting in "Monster" which I initially didn't want to see because the predictable story arc of a serial killer text is boring - but I'm glad I finally did and saw Charlize Theron in the performance of her life.

save me, save me

Of the avalanche of gifts that she got for Christmas, Sage immediately loved the Barbie Sleeping Beauty from Uncles Vin and Andrew, and the Blue Fairy Barbie from one of her granduncles. With the poorly dressed Barbie she got from an obnoxious woman in Florida, Sage now has three Barbies that she plays with. With her mom or with me.

I swear, I cannot last for more than 5 minutes playing Barbie. They soon acquire voices and do things when Sage is not looking.

SLEEPING BEAUTY: Look at my dress! It's beautiful!

BLUE FAIRY: Oh! Oh! 'Tis most lovely, my princess.


BLUE FAIRY: Oh! Oh! 'Tis so, indeed, my princess!

SLEEPING BEAUTY: Not like your dress.

BLUE FAIRY: Oh! Oh no! Not like mine t'all, my princess!

SLEEPING BEAUTY: It looks sprayed on.

BLUE FAIRY: Oh! Just my top, my princess. My bottom is actually real. And I do have a panty.


SKANKABARBIE: 'Sup, bitches?

BLUE FAIRY: Oh! Oh! Methinks there is no need for language foul!

SKANKABARBIE: Shut up, you little blue freak.

SLEEPING BEAUTY: Skankabarbie! Mind your manners! And your tongue!

SKANKABARBIE: Shut up, beeyotch. I don' take no lip from you. Princess my ass.

BLUE FAIRY(sobs): Oh! Oh! I am not a freak! I am really blue!


SLEEPING BEAUTY: Skankabarbie! We are all different but made of the same substance. Can you not see that beneath skin color and dresses and crowns, we are all the same?

SKANKABARBIE: Whatever. Now give me your dress.


SKANKABARBIE: Gimme your dress, deaf girl. Or I stick this nailcutter in your eyes. I'm tired of looking like a cheap hooker with my yellow Tweety Bird top. It's my turn to be princess.




SKANKABARBIE: Look at my dress! Who's the princess now? Huh? Who's the princess now?

Friday, December 24, 2004

merry christmas, all

Happy Holidays to everyone!

Thanks for all the greetings and goodwill. Isn't this time of year just great? I'm especially blessed because of my wonderful wife and daughter plus all the wonderful friends who make conversations worth living for.

I hope you all have a great holiday season.

Spend time with your loved ones and try not to drink or eat too much (gadz, my waistline has already expanded beyond reason).

From the oddly festive halls of Shadowland,


Tuesday, December 21, 2004


Siglo: Passion (hopefully released in the first quarter of 2005) will be my last involvement with comics for a while. After a dalliance begun with the foundation of my own comics publishing company, Kestrel Studios, it's time to devote time and effort to my other creative interests.

It's not really goodbye goodbye, since I will always love comics and will continue to buy them and interact with the Filipino creatives. I've come to accept the powers and fatal flaws of comic book publishing - hell, I've lived it, from self-publishing The Lost to receiving a National Book Award for Siglo: Freedom. I'm just fatigued with the entire thing. For now.

I'd rather focus on prose.

And, as is seemingly the practice with my friends this time of year, there is already a project in the making. Something to do with Filipino writers and Speculative Fiction.

Our "tradition" of Speculative Fiction is so thin it is almost invisible. I don't see why it has to be so. I don't see why Philippine Literature has to be written in the social-realist mode, with farming boys riding carabaos in ricefields aching with unrealized epiphanies. I don't see why imagination has to goosestep to the drums of misplaced nationalism. I don't see why the fantastic, the miraculous, the impossible, the past and the future cannot be part of our literary diet. I don't see why it should be in the ghettos - unless it is badly written (in which case, burn it).

I want literature of the fantastic. Key words: "literature" and fantastic.

It's funny because for the past several years I've been infected with the spirit of DIY. As in the case of Siglo: Freedom, it will be a struggle. But it is a struggle I'm more than happy to take on.

We'll see what next year brings.

Monday, December 20, 2004

vignette: something like that

You read the story in a newspaper: Girl Dies in Fire. And you shake your head and think "Poor girl" or "Poor parents of the girl" or something like that. If you look at the accompanying photo, you will see the girl, half-burnt, sprawled in her bathroom, partially covered by singed towels that were soaking wet when she entrusted her life to their questionable abilities. The bathtub is intact, which makes you think "She must have been to terrified to climb in" and maybe you're right. Or maybe not. Maybe she didn't want to get boiled. Or something like that.

The black and white photo reveals more details: a cracked mirror, remnants of her medicine cabinet, the lidless toilet. The shower curtain is missing, but you think that, of course, it must have melted away. You reread the article and discover that when she was found, the girl was almost obscured by steam. That she couldn't escape because the windows were bulletproof glass and locked from the outside. That she used her mobile phone twice: to call and to text for help. You think about yourself, about what you would do, who you would call when hope for rescue was still strong. And when it faded.

She was a politician's daughter, which explains the need for windows that denied gunshots. But she was also a young girl, which explains why her parents hoped that she was out with her friends when the fire consumed the house. She wasn't, which makes you think about statistics and fire safety and how you will get away from an inferno when it threatens your own home.

You think about calling the mother or the father of the girl. Not that you knew her, not that you know what to say. It's the thought of connecting, of connection, the thought of the thought that counts or something like that. You probably think it's stupid or maudlin or ill-timed and put down your own cell phone, not that you even know the phone number of anyone involved.

You look at the newspaper photo of the burnt bathroom again and picture the girl screaming or crying or praying or unconscious or hidden under wet towels and scalding steam, then turn the newspaper page looking for something, anything else, to read. Anything but that.

Friday, December 17, 2004

vignette: remuelda

I suppose what happened to us on Remuelda was unavoidable. The Church had no illusions about the enormous task of converting the entire autochthonal population of that hostile moon to the saving grace of the Divine. The road to the salvation was long, arduous, twisting and fraught with many a pitfall for the unwary, the unprepared and the faint of heart. After all, these feathered indigenes already had in place various false gods, spirits, ancestors and otherworldly beings that they feared, loved and worshipped.

None of the other historians or sociologists bothered to collate the complicated net of relationships between the native’s assorted pantheons and divinities – all the more made confusing by the fact that every little tribal grouping had their own gods, in addition to the spirits they held in common with the other tribes in other places. Historians of my upbringing were bred to interpret and record history as it unfolded, rather than look to the irrelevant past of savages.

Our religieuse had their work laid out like the imagined final image of an empty mosaic. Theirs was the responsibility of putting each tiny piece of glass together with the hope of creating a new nation of devotees, for the glory of the Divine. With each part of the picture completed, we historians would send word across the stars to the World, for the common edification of blessed humanity.

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

What seemed inevitable was that St. Carmon de la Saldivar IV and I would encounter a priest of the dreadful moon. We were riding long into the night, returning to the misión after a futile afternoon of looking for grabenen, that heart-shaped fruit that tasted like a mango. We were in the middle of a small argument about the benefits of veils when the savage priest suddenly blocked our path, frightening our normally docile thalim mounts with his crazed appearance. He screamed something at the top of his lungs and extended the dark feathers from his back, like a grotesque flightless bird. The tattoos that covered his arms and upper chest decorated parts of his hideous face as well – a pair that resembled wings framed his mouth in a most unflattering way.

Once again, he shouted something, twisting his head and contorting his serrated lips. I turned to St. Carmon de la Saldivar IV, whose religieuse studies included comprehension of the savage Remuelda tongue. Maintaining an outward calm, I asked him what the dreadful man was saying.

“He says he’s a priest, like me,” St. Carmon de la Saldivar IV told me grimly. “A priest of what, I don’t know.”

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

St. Carmon de la Saldivar IV nodded and dismounted quietly. “This is precisely the kind of heresy I was trained to counter.”

“Wait, wait,” I told him, trying to hold him back.

“Have faith,” St. Carmon de la Saldivar IV told me, drawing his regulation firearm. “I will show this pretender the glory of the Divine.”

Thursday, December 16, 2004


There are insufficient words to describe my feelings when confronted by the necessity to leave the area around my office and venture beyond the Ortigas Center and Makati City (there really aren't that many synonyms for hate - despise, abhor, resent, abominate, disdain, whatever).

The reason is the impossible traffic. I'm presenting my bid for a large client today at 1PM, but because of the harsh realities of the Christmas season, I have to leave before 11AM. If I the bid finishes before 2 or 3PM, I will need 2 hours or so to get back to office - if I can make it before the normal rush hour. Otherwise, it's pointness.

The government has tried to help with a scheme that extends working hours (come in earlier, leave later, work longer hours but have an extra day free) in an effort to alleviate the traffic (and enable the work force to spend more time with their families), but the malls simply counter with extended operating hours. Most are open until 10PM, some will be open until midnight.

The Greenhills area, always congested, has become even more so, despite the creation of multi-tiered parking areas. The reason? The Greenhills management decided to populate their parking buildings with more restos and retailers. That, plus the creation of the mosque (which people are in denial about, bandying non-religious terms like "meditation center" or somesuch - please, a mosque is a mosque is a mosque), which finally gives the devotees of Islam a place to pray (smackdab in the middle of what used to a fish pond is a Catholic Church, so fair is fair).

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

vignette: the road to pleiades

There is a star in the middle of my eye. When I blink, I send panic throughout the universe.

Everybody gives in to temptation some time. It is not a matter of willpower or faith or providence. The fine line between thought and action is not a line at all. To think of sin is to sin. This means I’ve done the deed with more than my fair share, all of them unaware. Including you.

From the common room’s porthole, I can only see an endless black, speckled by the occasional smattering of pinprick light. The glass (is it glass?) that separates me from the void outside is regulation thick and impossible to break. I’ve tried.

I first heard you sing my name when I was five years old. I was playing in the Atellant Room, floating with the other children in the happy zero-G, unaware that just an hour earlier, my mother had died. I loved her, I did. I loved that old woman whose smile was like brilliant light, and I know she loved me. Later, I would be told that she had died in an accident in the medilab; something to do with polymer dust. But really, I think she killed herself – because sometimes, you start thinking and thinking and thinking. Anyway, it was when I was floating, unaware that my mother had died, that I heard you sing my name. You sang it, and your voice and your melody made my name more beautiful than nebulae, more precious than heat. That’s how I remember me remembering you: floating and precious. It’s lovely, I know.

The problem with everybody knowing everybody else is that there is no room for privacy, except in the mind. There are other 3,717 people here, all of us on slow voyage to a mythical star, and I despise every single one of them. Yes, even little baby Remuel, with his missing eye. We all eat together, sleep together, work together, live together. Perhaps we all even die together, but I’d prefer to die alone. When everyone else whose turn it is to sleep is sleeping, and when I’m certain that the awake shift is nowhere in sight, I plunge

down deep into the void of my mind, into the emptiness, velvet and cold, blacker than darkness and unfathomable by poets or lovers or spacemen. I float and listen to your call, your voice that travels the emptiness on particles of dark matter or quantum strings or solar winds or as passenger on an invisible comet’s tail. I hope that your trajectory finds me, I know you know who I am: you’ve called me by name. Here I am! Look, watch me blink: there, there is my coded message that you must

decode before panic rends the universe.

what lies beneath

Michael Paulus: "I decided to take a select few of these popular characters and render their skeletal systems as I imagine they might resemble if one truly had eye sockets half the size of its head, or fingerless-hands, or feet comprising 60% of its body mass.

Each character resides on a translucent, hinged panel. When the panel is lifted the character’s skeletal structure is revealed giving each a certain validity and glimpse into its origins. Each panel is hand-drawn with archival ink and covered with an acrylic/acetate transparency."

So, above is what Pikachu looks like inside.

Here, we have Blossom:

And Hello Kitty:

This is a slipstream horror story waiting to be written.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

duel vision

The inherent difficulty in any collaborative effort is the diminishment or mistranslation of authorial vision. Take, for example, a comic book. The only way wherein authorial (privileged) intent can be kept is if the author is also the illustrator or artist, otherwise, there will always be a duel of visions.

When I write a comic book script my involvement in the creative process ends when I pen the last word (with a future editing pass after lettering, of course). The scene or panel instructions I leave for the artist are not mine to enforce, because the artist has to be given the opportunity to exercise his craft, which is to interpret the story in his mind and render it on the page. Thus, there is no way that the story as I envisioned it will be illustrated in the exact or precise way I intended - from the look of the characters to the nuances of expression to the background settings or even the color of the set pieces. If I wanted to "art direct" it, I could - but that would make the artist nothing more than a hand, and thus dispel the very notion of a true collaborative effort.

The same thing occurs in film or in plays. The scripts I write for these are at the mercy of the actors and the director. The director, even if he promises to adhere to the script, can and should impose his own eye on my material, ultimately becoming the auteur of the finished product - which, rightly or wrongly, is how things are, with directors being top-of-mind when it comes to naming quality films, as if they are the only ones responsible. In theater, the playwright may get the occasional curtain call ovation, but it is mostly the director or actors that carry the show (in some sad cases, it is even the set design or choreography).

Comic book scripts are meant to be part and parcel of a finished product. No matter how wonderful your script, if the artist proves inadequate, your story becomes inadequate, because comic books act as a whole (and they are unique in this respect, having elements that fight for the eye's attention at the same time: art, balloons, boxes, action, color, panel sequences). Scripts for film or theater are meant to be produced or staged. Many plays, even award-winning ones, become painfully obvious failures when they are attempted to be staged, because many playwrights do not think about the reality of a drama onstage, creating "closet dramas".

For a writer like me who does these three things (comic books, film, plays), the angst is not whether or not I can create excellent work. It is the frustration of seeing collaborative efforts miss the mark in my mind. I've been blessed with many fine partners in various projects, from award-winning illustrators, acclaimed film directors, and cutting edge stage directors to creatives who have yet to make their name and mark on the world, and am lucky to find one or two whose framework of artistic reference coincides with mine to a sublime degree (Andrew Drilon for Siglo: Freedom's "Jolo" and Jeremy Arambulo for Siglo: Passion's "Hollow Girl").

My agenda, if agenda needs to be defined, has always been to create work that is above the ordinary. Sometimes, this means pushing upwards towards some loftly goal. Sometimes, it simply means being playful but in a manner that somehow has some worth, going beyond the simplistic need to entertain or be entertaining. In other words, if I had my way, every film would be an "art film" with the rare mindless summer blockbuster to keep us sane.

If I am generally dissatisfied with the thought of collaborating with artists, I am even more appalled at the thought of collaborating with other writers. For two or more "wordsmiths" to share creative duties in the process of writing a novel or a series of short stories is, to me, a recipe for unmitigated disaster. The difference in terms of values becomes immediately apparent: discipline in deadlines, writing aesthetics, "craftwork", even the very choice of words. I can imagine a successful collaborative effort in terms of a joint novel or series of stories only if one or the other has control. Let one or the other employ best his best moves, as John Nash's Non-cooperative Game Theory purports (why "non-cooperative" in the context of a willing collaboration? Because since you have two or more unique individuals wanting to do the same thing, there is bound to be conflict).

I am happiest in psuedo non-collaborative efforts, like writing prose ("psuedo" because after everything, you may choose to deal with an editor, unless you live under a rock or are quite taken with your mastery of words and have no intention of publishing beyond your little circle of friends).

I am the master of my world which tick-tocks to my time and endures the tempests of my foul weather. I determine the words: their cadence, rhythm and billing; I decide on form, structure and length, manner and voice, character and plot. At the end of writing a short story or novel, I decide to keep it or burn it. Like a lone sculptor, I can look at the clay I fashioned and determine if it is worthy of my love, or if I am worthy to be called its creator.

In the context of publication, there is still the editor, and depending on the nature of this person, your relationship can be wonderful or murderous. But the corrections or recommendations are performed on work you wrote yourself, and any changes are made by you, using words of your choice.

Ultimately, it is a choice. Adhere to the "The act of creation is a solitary endeavor" or go with "Many hands make light work".

Whichever floats your boat.

Monday, December 13, 2004

vignette: sigbin

That night, I slept by the window of my grandmother's house, my feet tucked under the thick colorful sheets that I would forever associate with Negros. The yard beyond the window was illuminated by unbridled moonlight, the bougainville flowers transformed from fuchsia to blood silver, shivering at the occasional caress of breezes. Far away, I could hear a dog yelping, as if in pain. Perhaps in fear.

I thought about the quaint hotel room I abandoned at Rizal Boulevard in Dumaguete - the security of its locks, the comfort of its bed, the sounds of the television bolted into the wall, the hot running water - and tried to sleep, telling myself that I wanted this experience, that I chose to be where I was.

I was awakened by the complete absence of sound, as if my body, so used to ambient noise, was in shock at the total lack of it. I sat up, afraid to breathe, afraid to break the spell of silence without understanding why. I realized that my thin arms were trembling.

"Grandma?" I tried to say, but my voice sounded timorous and small, a tiny sound emanating from across a vast gulf. I stood up and looked out the window.

What I saw paralyzed my heart, my lungs, my eyes, the incoherent sound that attempted to escape my lips.

Something was moving in the garden.

It was three times the size of a dog, covered with a shiny black coat of fur. It stood on all fours, but its hind legs were much longer than its front limbs. The lower half of its body belonged to an animal; I could see a long tail twitching behind it. The upper half was that of a man, broad shoulders matted with hair. Its head was too large to make sense of, dirty with earth and soil, baring teeth sharp as knives and stained with mystery. I realized that it was trembling like I was.

In an impossible moment, our gazes met and locked and I found myself staring into the eyes of something I was not meant to see, not meant to know.

Friday, December 10, 2004

the return of the rabbit

One of the things that have been weighing heavily on my mind for the past months has been my other business, Petty Pets. The SM Megamall branch's location had to be moved. The new location is only several meters away, but the entire configuration is different. The previous one had four counters forming a rectangle in the middle of the floor. The new space has a wall and requires several long counters.

I had my brother Ricky's architectural firm design the new store, while my partners and I wrestled with the requirements of Megamall and the Bureau of Animal Industry. We took the opportunity to design display counters that would treat the animals we sell in a more humane way. In the meantime, we had to close down and pull out all our inventory, thus missing the heated Christmas shopping. When all the paperwork was done, we had to wait for the centralized authority of all the SM malls to reapprove us as tenants - which is standard, but which also gave them a chance to offer us an inline space. An inline store would cripple us at this time, so we declined.

Finally today, weeks later, we got word that everything was okay and that we could begin construction of the new store. This will take us about two weeks before we can ingress, which means two more weeks of lost sales. Two weeks from is Christmas Eve. Gah.

Meanwhile, we've been receiving text messages and email from various customers asking when we'll open. These are all very heartening because at least I know our store is relevant to some.

When the store reopens, I'll be able to breathe a sigh of relief, and get back to running that business.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

telling people what to write

The conceit, of course, is that ultimately people will write what they want to write. Writers select their themes, genres, subject matters, voice, language, manner, and all that. Some do it quietly, and simply write whatever it is they want to write. Others do it loudly, complete with a framework of thought or a philosophy that justifies it. Or with a manifesto, that in-fashion, out-of-fashion, recurring multiple point document that outlines the rules for writing in a specific manner.

These things are, by definition, limiting, and to an extent, that is the point. It does rankle thoughts along the lines of "write about anything and everything" or "don't tell me what or how to write", but at the very least authors who adhere to their manifestos are able to focus on precisely what they want to do. That is, if they consistenly create in the manner prescribed by the manifesto. Sometimes, acute focus produces great work (the risk is in not doing anything else to the detriment of the creative's overall growth) but any discussion of limitations needs to involve the concept of constraint, whether imposed internally by genre or externally by author (though the terms internal and external are necessarily vague).

Anyway, the thing that got me thinking recently is the Mundane Manifesto begat by George Ryman and his coterie vis-a-vis SF (for them, that stands for Science Fiction, not Speculative Fiction), stripping away the improbable tropes like time travel, faster than light travel, interstellar travel and communications, alien races, Quantum theory-spawed alternate universes, magic or the supernatural, and many more "Stupidities" (their term) in favor of the more likely tropes like virtual reality and nanotechnology. At first glance, it seems like something for Michael Crichton, Greg Bear and the other "hard scifi" authors to embrace (though they cite Gibson's Neuromancer and Orwell's 1984 as Mundane too). (Note: contrast this with the "New Weird".)

I would say that this manifesto is not something I'd ever subscribe to (i.e., it is crap), except that the Mundane folk recognize two things important to me:

A new focus on human beings: their science, technology, culture, politics, religions, individual characters, needs, dreams, hopes and failings.

The awakening bedazzlement and wonder that awaits us as we contemplate the beauties of this Earth and its people and what will happen to them in time.

In a sense, though 99% of my sensibilities run contrary to the demands of creating SF stories that are grounded in Mundane science, I understand what they mean, and wrote "Hollow Girl: A Romance" along the same unconscious lines.

I believe that any story in any genre should be primarily about human beings. Period. Everything else, from intensely moving fantasy tropes to factual scientific underpinnings to banal social realist contemporary settings, is just...everything else. A good story should not be about an idea but about how people thought of or were affected by or fought for or lived for or died for or got fucked up by the idea.

The sense of wonder, so important to me, is not in the stage props of magical spells or interstellar teleportation or an acutely-described alternate earth. The wonderment is found in explorations of the human condition. People. Always about people.

If the Mundane Manifesto helps its proponents write incredible and moving stories that are humanocentric, then good for them. However, it does seem to me like another act that further divides and assists in the creation of ghettos with more than a whiff of affected arrogance.

Gardner Dozois thinks more than just that:

"Much of what the Mundanes--Christ! Could they have PICKED a more awful name? Why not just call it, "Boring SF?" and have done with it--have to say has a good deal of possible (possible) validity to it, and I'm sure they mean well, but limiting your palette and your choice of tools and what you're allowed to build with them is rarely a good idea in art, and although I'm sure some of the stuff they produce will be very good, it does sound like a lot of it will probably be pretty dull.

I sometimes wonder if the fact that so many British writers started producing colorful, Wide-Screen Space Opera again in the '80s and '90s wasn't a reaction to the previous generation of British writers who had denounced and rejected all of that silly space stuff...and I wonder if this "Mundane" movement isn't a reaction to Wide-Screen Space Opera writers such as Stephen Baxter and Peter Hamilton and Iain Banks; the pendulum swings one way, and then it swings the other.

Besides... it's dangerous, and somewhat presumptuous, to think that we can know what's GOING TO BE possible a hundred years from now. If you look at 2004 from 1904, there's dozens of things that nobody would have thought even remotely possible then that are a part of our society now, and I suspect that we here in 2004 would be just as surprised if we could really look ahead to 2104."

In "literary" fiction space we have the New Puritans, offered as comparison. Lev Grossman reviews the anthology that Matt Thorne and Nicholas Blincoe put out a few years ago. Thorne and Blinchoe created the New Puritan manifesto for "literary" fiction, influenced by the Dogme95 films of Lars von Trier and Harmony Korine. Their points?

1. Strip their fiction down to the basics, and see if something exciting emerges
2. Shun poetry
3. Avoid all devices of voice
4. Eschew flashbacks, dual temporal narratives and foreshadowing
5. Avoid any elaborate punctuation
6. Avoid all improbable or unknowable speculation about the past or the future

Why is it so important to some to define and exclude? Why not just write and explore and push and borrow and restore and create and play in the interstices, in the spaces between the blurry edges of the maps of fiction?

Writing fiction in a specific manner does not negate its essential nature nor does it make it more "real": it is still fiction, make-believe, made-up, a product of the imagination. All fiction, on the primal level, is equal, and the divisions among its genres are artificial: "literary", romance, western, fantasy, scifi, it's all fiction.

More next time.

the agony of da feet

For the past few months, I've been bothered by pain (sometimes sharp, sometimes dull) in each foot, specifically the area near the arches. Sometimes, it gets to bad I feel I can hardly walk, but I've learned to ignore it and just let it throb. Walking is generally a bitch now, because after a few minutes I feel like the true little mermaid, walking on knives before turning into foam.

I have theories, of course, pending a visit to a podiatrist (but I don't put too much value in self-diagnosis anymore, ever since I misdiagnosed myself with cancer at age 12):

1. It is gout. Except that my joints are not inflammed, my big toe is fine, and I think my uric acid level is okay (I could be wrong of course). My joints are fine.

2. This is something most people getting older get but do not complain about. Except that it stands to reason that there must be someone who did bitch about it, someone who did something about it, someone who marketed the solution, and people who use the thing. I've been around older folk and I have an idea of the usual ailments associated with aging. This isn't necessarily it. But I am getting older and that's fine.

3. I need new shoes. Okay, this is should be the most obvious, but it does puzzle me. There are currently 4 pairs of shoes I favor: black Magnum boots, HK zip-up ankle boots, nice conservative leather shoes and my orange pair of rubber shoes. I switch among them during the week. Never had a problem with any of them, until now. My Magnums and leathers are supported, my zip-ups and rubber shoes are not. Do I need Dr. Scholl's® Tri-Comfort® Orthotics or just better arch-supporting shoes?

4. Exotic disease. In a tragic, silly way, like the way tubercolosis was romanticized as consumption because so many writers suffered and died from it. But consider:

Image A: Writer is writing, midnight. Pauses from furious scrawling of life's work to cough, violently, spitting red on his pages. Woman rushes in, sees author coughing up blood on the floor, holds him as he trembles.

"It's consumption, my love," he says, with a pained grimace. "We pay for what we write with blood."


Image B: Writer is writing, midnight. Pauses from furious scrawling of life's work to massage his feet, violently, spitting curses at his arches. Woman rushes in, sees author rubbing his soles, asks if he wants some lotion.

"It's my arches, my love," he says, with a sheepish look. "Fuck, they hurt."

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

vignette: green balloon

Five minutes from now, the little girl in pigtails will release each balloon she has in her hands as she enters a tan minivan. One of them will be caught by her balding father, he will say: "Gotcha!"; the other will float out the window, provoking inarticulate cries from the little girl and her friends. The balloon caught by the father will be the red one. The one that flies out will be the green one.

Seven minutes from now, a young woman walking her Dalmatian will look up and see the green balloon. The spotted dog will bark and stand on his hind legs and paw at the air, as if he could reach the balloon if he tried. The woman will smile and say: "Oh, Dog Martin. Don't be stupid." She will yank at his leash and Dog Martin will drop to all fours, growl and cast one last look at the floating balloon before the woman drags him away.

Eleven minutes from now, the balloon will be stuck in a tree, one bare of leaves, looking almost all-branches. The string that keeps it tied up will dangle down and a boy rising a bicycle will feel it brush against his face. He will say: "The hell?" and continue a few meters before turning around to investigate, discarding his initial impression that he ran into a spider web. When he finds the string, his dull brown eyes will follow the line up to the balloon and he will experience the quiet joy of serendipity. He will yank it and tie it to the back of his bike and go down the street.

Twenty minutes from now, the boy on the bicycle will evade a black Pontiac G6. He will fall off his bike and hit the ground, rolling once before stopping on his stomach. The driver of the car, fresh from the auto dealer's, will rush out of her car and scream: "Oh my God! Shit! Shit!", her thin stilleto spikes will make clack-clacking sounds on the concrete street when she runs to the boy.

Twenty-one minutes from now, the young woman and the Dalmatian Dog Martin will arrive at the scene of the accident. The young woman will rush to see what has happened and say: "Gadz. Come on, you stupid dog.". But Dog Martin's attention will be focused on the green balloon bobbing in the wind, still tied down to the left handle bar of the bicycle. He will attempt four times to get to it, but the young woman will stop him.

Twenty-five minutes from now, a tan minivan full of children will pass by and slow down as its driver, a balding man cranes his head for look. He will say: "Sit down, kids. There's nothing to see." One of the children, his daughter, in pigtails, will say: "But that's my balloon, Dad." Her father will just shake his head and drive away, the girl will cry and all her little friends will tease her about it for the next six days.

Monday, December 06, 2004

dread times two

Dread #1: I just got a personal invitation to submit a story for consideration for publication in an upcoming anthology, from one of the authors I admire most - the very one whose story inspired me to hope against hope and somehow see that hope come true.

You know, of course, that Nikki and I are avid readers of the fantastic, and we always get the annual Year's Best Fantasy & Horror collections (for the past 16 years edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling; now with Kelly Link and Gavin Grant taking over Windling's half). In the 15th annual, one of the stories that struck me the most was "Plenty", a quietly magical story, by Chris Barzak. I remember looking to see where it was originally published and discovered that it first appeared in the online journal Strange Horizons. That got me thinking: "Hey, maybe I can try to submit too. I've got nothing to lose." So I sent "L'Aquilone du Estrellas", and made my first international fiction sale. I was deliriously happy.

Then later, the impossible occured. The same story was selected and appeared in the Year's Best Fantasy & Horror Seventeenth Annual Collection, something that went beyond my wildest dreams. I found myself rubbing elbows, metaphorically, and like the slavering devoted fanboy that I am, with some of my idols - Neil Gaiman, Ursula le Guin and Stephen King. It was sheer rapture, I tell you, like a sublime magical realist moment which was foreshadowed by Chris' story.

And now, this. Chris and the Ratbastards (sounds like a punk band) are some of finest cutting edge writers around, consistently pushing the envelope in terms of genre and storytelling, and producing work that stands above the rest of pack. People have labelled their work as "slipstream" or "interstitial", but basically they tell stories that dispense with the artificial parameters of fantasy, scifi, horror or realism, stretching the notion of how and what stories can be told. The Ratbastards publish Rabid Transit, an annual anthology of stories that explore their method, style, manner, philosophy, whatever you want to brand it if you need to. The reason I admire them is that their stories are invariably literary, the kind of stuff I think these genres need to evolve into, beyond the irritating Tolkien clones or thick multi-volume mega bestsellers.

I've been invited to submit a story for consideration (which means it will go through the normal screening procedure and it is not guranteed for publication, of course) and I am filled with dread. But secretly, I was hoping for an opportunity like this, to continue my turtle-paced exploration of my life as a writer.

However, I dread the entire thing because suddenly, somehow, I feel the stakes are both personal and huge. If my story fails to be accepted for inclusion, I shall dwindle and die, or something like that - because I really do not take failure well. Sigh. I will try, of course, engage the Filipino in me and say "Bahala na" ("Come what may"). If it doesn't work out, at least I gave the rare opportunity a shot. Too bad I have nothing in inventory, damn it.

And the deadline? Before the end of the month. Bwahahahaha.

Dread #2: I've also been invited to submit stories for consideration to the Paris Review, in my identity as a Filipino writer. This is literary stuff, rarified atmosphere and all, the kind of stuff I'm somehow expected to be writing if I didn't spend so much time with speculative fiction.

The deadline? ASAP. As in this weekend. I don't think I can make this one, but, at risk of sounding like a broken record, I must try.

The pressure is sublime.

Light-headed, I peek into my mind's storehouse and see everything marked "Salamanca". Gah.

And Palanca season is just around the corner.

Madness, I tell you. But I love it all. With gritted teeth.

thieves like them

And to punctuate our discussions about theft, last night while we took Sage out for our family weekend thing, Nikki's brand new cell phone got stolen, lifted out of her purse.

I called her number:

ME: Hello? Hello?

HIM: O, ano?

ME: Ah, nahulog ng misis ko yang cel niya.

HIM: Napulot ko nga.

ME: Salamat. Saan kita pwedeng na-meet para makuha yung cel?

HIM: Ewan.

After he hung up, he rendered himself and the phone unreachable by shutting it off or removing Nikki's SIM card. And that was that. All the more do I think that everyone should use that tracking service provided by some suppliers - with an SMS message you can locate the phone, if they haven't shut it down.

Both Nikki and myself have lost our phones to thieves in a very short span of time.

Be wary, all.

thieves like us

One of the hilarious topics of conversation over the weekend with the gang was of petty theft and personal misdeamenors, which included answering the question "When was the last time you shoplifted?".

Most of us owned up to having sticky fingers in our collective youth. Reasons ranged from responding to dares, stultifying ennui, acting because of outrage over the overpricing of certain books, and simple greed. All of which are wrong and unjustifiable, of course - but how crazy we were when we were younger!

What's striking is that what we took were books and comics, stuff to read; food for our growing minds lifted by hands greased by a paucity of funds. We learned to slip magazines and modules surreptitiously into the fronts and backs of our school uniforms, into our pants, astride our thighs, in-between our legs; slyly into school bags, casually into shopping bags, or brazenly into attache cases which made click-clack noises when it closed, an extra dash of danger definitely not for the faint of heart.

When I would flich stuff from that store at Shoppesville, it seemed like a victimless crime. Until, years later, I realized that the cost of missing inventory was docked from the pay of the store staff. And now that some of us own our own businesses, we've been victimized by pilferage too (a particularly brazen one at my pet store: a man ran away with a huge birdcage with lovebirds). The wheel turns, yes.

Most of us are reformed now, certainly. But what made everything funny for me last night was that it felt like a meeting of a aging rogue's gallery, reliving high times and old crimes, when we were young and irredeemable, and treasures of the imagination were irresistable.

Thursday, December 02, 2004


Satellite images show us that Supertyphoon Yoyong is bigger than the entire Philippines.

Which is fantastic news for a country which just went through 3 storms in a row.

Be careful everyone. I've called a half-day at the office so we can all go home.

pate and paella

Nikki and I celebrated our anniversary at the best kept secret resto in the city - Terry Selection over at The Podium in the Ortigas Center. A massive floor area divided between Spanish resto, Euro deli and wine cellar, Terry Selection is simply fantastic.

We had one of the pates (from acorn-fed Iberian piggies) which was surprising in both its flavor and volume, moved to the house paella (with shrimp, squid, pork and my new favorite Chorizo Salamanca plus a garlic sauce) and almost didn't have room for dessert - their sumptuous creme brulee. And since they own the wine cellar, you can just select which you want and enjoy the bottle with your food sans corkage (unlike majority of restos that charge exhorbitant fees per bottle).

For our 9th year, Nikki surprised me with Michael Chabon's new anthology McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories - a collection I hope will be just as good or better than the previous Thrilling Tales (the introduction of which, by Chabon of course, pissed off almost every editor in the scifi community).

I got her Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel , whose hefty size and intriguing title had finally succeeded in its attempt to beguile. And since I was at Ink & Stone anyway, I got Gardner Dozois The Year's Best Science Fiction Twenty-first Annual Collection - because I actually enjoyed quite a few from his edition last year and I'm a sucker for nice thick anthologies - as a reward for finishing Salamanca (the novel AND the chorizo).

One of the things we enjoy the most about our relationship is our mutual love for reading, and how, even in the midst of celebrating love and life, one of our concerns was "Do we have something to read?". Because unlike other couples, we do not feel the need to fill the spaces of natural silence with words for the sake of noise. We love to converse but sometimes it's better to read next to each other, completely at ease and comfortable with the familiarity of quietude.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

the number nine

Nine years of marriage.

It's funny how, as young couples, the first few years are so important. Every anniversary, beginning with the first one, celebrated with paper, acquires incredible significance.

We count the first because everything is so fresh. Time moves so quickly: the wedding, the honeymoon, the initial adjustments and recalibrations of bathroom use, the tangled sheets at night, at afternoons, in the morning. It is a milestone in our world of insta-pop-flash-download-rip.

From the second to the fourth, we celebrate in big ways, leading up to the fifth anniversary, complete with anecdotes of how we met, what she said, how he smiled, what it felt, remembering who did what when in bursts of laughter, thinking how we feel so old, so mature, having reached five incredible years.

Sixth, seventh, eighth, these terms of ordinal succession are quieter than the rest, neither big or small enough to celebrate; no one knows what the sixth or eight anniversary's material symbol is - glass? organza? hair?. When we do celebrate, it's with a small dinner, like an embarassed admission of something almost forgotten but still important, like your mother's birthday. Those quiet years are times of building annexes to our houses, finishing payments on the car, taking a vacation somewhere not too expensive, dealing with the supposed itch of seven years or so.

But the ninth?

The ninth has a surprising quality. It's like being seated to someone you know in a moviehouse. You're sitting in silence, munching popcorn, watching the film playing out before you (is it a comedy? a melodrama? an art film of nothing happening but with such painful beauty?). Then that person next to you suddenly turns to you with an explosive laugh and starts tickling you, sending your bag of popcorn hurtling into the air as you wrestle with the fingers that assault you in the disturbed darkness.

It's like that because the ninth is prelude to the tenth, which, though exactly a year away, beckons impatiently "Come on! It's not so far!".

But believe me, it's better to linger and just hang out with number nine for a while.

ME: "So, which are you? Some say pottery, some say leather? Which is it? What do you symbolize?"

"Love, of course," Nine says, rising from the sticky moviehouse floor to reclaim its seat next to you. "Now shhh. I love this part of the movie."


Happy Ninth, Beloved.