Sunday, September 11, 2005

15 seconds and all that

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sunday inquirer

I woke up today (groggily, since Nikki and I slept at 5AM after an evening’s worth of crooning with friends) to a small flood of congratulatory messages on my PDA (thanks, everyone!). Today’s issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer has a feature on the Palanca winners in the Sunday Inquirer Magazine (“RP Literature’s Main Attractions) and I, along with my malong, am there.

It was a relief to see that the end result of the pictorial was not as terrible as I thought it would be (this shows that a skilled photographer like Raffy Lerma can make anyone look good) so my mother can, emboldened, show off to her friends – like all proud mothers are wont to do. It was great reading about the other winners, people I met during the awards night, especially the uber-talented Joel Toledo and the “I-warned-you-my-play-was-depressing” Alvin Dacanay.
His Novel Approach
by Ruel S. De Vera

There are many unexpected, perhaps even fantastic things about Dean Francis Alfar. He is, after all, very particular about definitions. The tall 36-year-old is a partner at Kestrel IMC, an integrated marketing communications company, as well as the publisher of Kestrel Studios, which publishes comic books locally, what Dean refers to as “grafiction”.

Yet the standout quality in Dean goes beyond his being a passionate, prize-winning comic creator or a comic book fan. It goes beyond the malong he occasionally wears to formal affairs – such as the awards night. “I am of Muslim descent, from the Alonto clan of Lanao. I’m actually a datu, and my Muslim name is Salahuddin Alonto. I was raised as a Christian but am proud of my Muslim heritage. The malong I wear bears the colors and patterns of my family.”

The confident, opinionated UP graduate wrote drama under the tutelage of the late Wilfredo Ma. Guerrero, and gravitated to fiction about the fantastic, like science fiction and fantasy, what he called “speculative fiction”. Dean says “our country has a long tradition of the fantastic, with the old stories, myths and legends of times past. I believe that the fantastic is part of the Filipino culture, and deserves a place in Filipino literature as well.”

It goes beyond the eight – eight!- Palanca Awards he’s won, or the fact that his wife Nikki won her own Palanca this year (third in Short Story for Children). Is an Alfar writing dynasty in the offing? “Already, our daughter Sage (who is 3) is making up stories on her own. I wouldn’t be surprised –in fact, I’d be delighted- if she took after her parents. However, that’s her choice to make in the future – but we can hope our genetic code kicks in,” he laughs.

It’s in that Dean has won the prestigious Grand Prize for Novel, which is only handed out every four years, and he is incredibly grateful and humbled by the company of other novel winners. “I actually feel like one of my characters, living in a magic realist scenario. It’s surreal in a good way.” He wrote “Salamanca” as part of National Novel Writing Month, where authors all over the world would attempt to complete a novel in a month’s time. Dean wrote after work every day last November and the product was “Salamanca”, which he describes as revolving around “the love story of two people, beginning in Palawan in the 1950s and ending 50 years later in Manila.” Up next for the busy Dean will be more speculative fiction, including an anthology from Filipino authors, more comic books, keeping his blog hopping ( and perhaps another novel. Now that is certainly something fantastic. RSDV

A short excerpt from the novel follows. Thanks, Ruey (though a small correction is in order: the Novel prize is given once every three years, not four)!

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The Malong Man (for Pauline, who demanded it)


Dr. Cirilo Bautista’s column in today’s issue of the Philippine Panorama (the Sunday magazine of the Manila Bulletin), also goes into my “clip-and-save-to-look-at-when-I’m-old-and-grey-and-need-a-little-kick”. It seems to have been written in between the time the judges of the novel category (which he headed) determined the results and the time they found out just who they awarded the prize to. Aside: The entries and manuscripts to the competition are stripped of any reference to their authors, to guarantee impartiality on the judges’ part; recently, even pen names have been removed – replaced by numbers – because certain authors use the same pen name year after year thus rendering the entire system of blind entries moot.

In “Looking for the Year’s Novel”, Bautista tells us that “in this year’s Palanca contest for novel in English, there are 15 entries. This is quite an impressive output from our writers, considering the almost moribund state of novel writing in the country. In the past, there would only be two or three submissions to this category.” The number of entries impressed the judges, enough for them “to suggest to the sponsors that three prizes, instead of only one, be given in this division.”

He then proceeds to enumerate the titles of all 15 entries – an intriguing list: Tiamat Setting, Couple Weeks, The Ghost Projects, Star, A Midnight’s Daughter, Wrestling Salvador Resurreccion, Letters to Matrimony, Out of Doors, The Tragic Theater, Abstract, The Last Full Moon, People on Guerrero Street, Samboangan – the Cult of War, and The Transgressors, plus Salamanca. During my conversation with judge Tony Hidalgo at the awards night, he told me that Abstract, in particular, was very good (and that he suspected it was written by Charleson Ong, one of the writer/teachers when I was at university).

Bautista continues:

They reflect a wide range of subjects and a variety of fictional techniques. As for the former, there are narratives about intergalactic occurrences, romance of common people, ghosts that haunt an international film center, a battle in the south between Spaniards and Filipinos, and the magical and unique affair of a writer and his ideal love.

As for the latter, there is the use of epistolary technique. One novel employs an exchange of letters between a man and a woman to delineate the progress of their relationship. Another uses the methods of science fiction to portray the adventures of characters caught in a conflict in a desolate and forbidding world. Several novels use the traditional chronological and flashback timeframes to capture the significance of commonplace realities or draw a sharp commentary on history.

The writer of “Salamanca”, in particular, seems to have learned from the techniques of the modern South American writers in terms of rendering dramatic situations and fusing image and idea. Consider the opening passages…

At this point, Bautista quotes two passages from the novel. He then concludes:
There are many other brilliant passages in the novel through which the author links incidents together and convinces us about the very verisimilitude of the threads of fantasy that have been woven in the story. The materials have been successfully fictionalized, thus, satisfying the readers’ aesthetic demand.

That cannot be said of some of the entries which do not have the requirements of fictional narrative because they are simply autobiographical narratives or belabored short stories.

I am happiest about the fact that the elements of the fantastic that I worked in, that are in tune with my advocacy for speculative fiction, were noticed – and rewarded.

Plus, there was a sci fi novel in the mix. That's fantastic!

philippine star

Last Monday's issue of the Star had Krip Yuson’s take on the Palancas – in which he could not help but slip into the literary equivalent of a society column (like I did, it’s inevitable, sadly) but with the most personal of touches.

There’s a nice picture of Nikki and myself, along with (in his words) “the lucky tapis”. LOL


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