Wednesday, November 30, 2005


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Ten years tomorrow.

Look at us back then, so brave and determined to conquer life. Nothing could have prevented us from being together: not your father's unsubtle threat to get his gun, not the fact that we were by no means wealthy - all that mattered was that somehow we both knew we'd do more than just survive on a surfeit of love.

I grew up believing that my parents' failed marriage was the model for all marriages. I never thought I'd marry since it seemed all things end in tears. Until you arrived in my life, a gradual epiphany that slowly banished the shadows of solitude.

In you I've found my kakampi, my partner, my lover, my pillar, my confessor. You are the home I return to, the source of my strength, the relentless opponent in games that keep my mind sharp. It is an endless catalog, what you are to me and I regret not having a poetic bone in my body (I would fake it but you'd know).

I have a present for you (and no, it's neither tin nor aluminium, the traditional tenth anniversary materials), but I think a better gift is to reiterate my heart's decision ten years ago:

"You and me, babe. How about it?"


Ten years is not enough time to show you how much I love you.

Happy Anniversary, beloved.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

guerilla wanking

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Scans Daily's "I'm gonna burn in hell for doing this" strip perfectly illustrates the principle of guerilla writing: you take advantage of opportunities to write something, just get it out of your system.

On another note, Garfield's penchant for managing to get off before a snowflake falls is just...sad.

Monday, November 28, 2005


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There's no rest for the wicked and no holiday for my office as we all need to work on a huge bid for tomorrow. But one of todays highlights was being interviewed by one of the major papers about the upcoming release of Siglo: Passion.

After the initial questions, I suffered a moment of vertigo, remembering just how everything started. Looking back at the almost two years it took us to put the book together, I could only shudder and be thankful.

I am grateful to every creator who agreed to submit some of the best written and illustrated stories I've seen. Really, an editor can only bask in the light of an anthology's content (all these people are and have been wonderful without an editor) and so I am proud to present the book and give all the creative credit to each person who contributed (such as the dazzling artwork above, by one of my favorite komikeros Gerry Alanguilan). And on the production side, there would simply be no Siglo series without Nautilus Comics.

Somehow, everything worked out in the end.

I'd like to extend an open invitation to the triple book launch on Dec 10, 6:30PM, at Fully Booked Greenhills for Siglo: Passion, Project: Hero and Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 1.

Come on over and share our happiness.

And buy our books!

Friday, November 25, 2005

the levitation of princess karnac

As I sat trapped in a cab en route to a big pitch this morning, an idea for a story (length undetermined, but I think it can grow to novel-length) arrived banging gongs and fluttering gossamer cloth. It's a story about magic, of course, and I think I can set it in the Philippines during the 1920s-30s, bringing to bear what I know about stage magic and what I've read recently (books like "Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear" by Jim Steinmeyer). It's something I'm terribly excited about and cannot wait to make time to write. But for now, given the toxic requirements at work, it will just have to wait and gestate for a while. I have no illusions about being able to write anything next month during our US vacation, but hope to be able to at least write an outline or something.

I always need to temper the arrival of a great idea with my ability to devote time to executing it. In the storehouse of my mind, there are several good ones that appeared with the intensity of an unexpected storm, but have yet to be completed - like the perpetually morphing "Graveltown" or the where-the-hell-is-this-play-going "The Butterfly Emporium". Sometimes these previous ideas are simply supplanted by a new idea that rudely cuts into the line. Sometimes it just isn't their time to be born, and any attempts at premature delivery would have fatal results. And sometimes it turns out that idea is all sound and fury (but very pretty sound and fury) that cannot be developed beyond the initial tantalizing conceit.

Once in a while though, an idea comes that cannot be denied. It shimmers and teases with its fantastic shapes and mysterious outcomes. When this happens, I give up sleep and try to catch the words to describe it, cursing the slow pace of my six-finger typing method, fearful that the story will vanish like Kublai Khan's poetic pleasure dome. Of late, this happened twice - with a short piece and a novel - ideas that looked intimidating and perplexing but which, upon closer reflection, were within the realm of my ability to set on paper. Of course, after the initial rush of wonder, the hard work of completing and refining the story takes up a vast track of time. I don't know anyone who can write a pitch-perfect story on first draft, void of even the smallest grammatical errors or lapses of story logic. But I'd rather toil away for hours and days and weeks on something I know has the potential for beauty, rather than attempt to create wonder from ennui.

It's really all about time and discipline. Talent can take you places, yes, but it is fickle and untrustworthy. Though I've stated above my preference to work on something I know can be beautiful, there are many times in my writing life when I've worked on something uncertain, without even the smallest whiff of potential wonder. During those times, I rely on my discipline to get me through, generating small sparks of inspiration to get through paragraphs, chapters, exchanges or sequences.

A writer's abilities are not developed by talent but rather by devoted work, an investment of time and effort in thinking about the writing craft, in reading thousands of pages, and in writing itself. I'm nowhere near what I hope I can become in terms of being a good writer, but I discipline myself to take steps - sometimes small and quiet, sometimes dramatically leaping to a new place - because I know I need to keep on moving. I need to move constantly.

So what about the story of a levitating princess?

I'll get to it soon.

I want to.

I need to.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


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Too. Much. Work.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Reading my wife's post about Christmas trees got me remembering:

I grew up as a single child in a small house filled with the love of a single mother. We weren't rich, but every Christmas, my mother made sure to stage a spectacular holiday celebration. The house would be transformed over the course of a few weeks into a wonderland of wreaths, lights, bells, angels, candles and various thematic bric-a-brac, and the centerpiece would be my mother's tree. Given the low ceiling of our house then, it was actually a small tree, but after it was trimmed - and only by my mother's hand, plus those of a few carefully selected assistants - it looked larger than life. My mother decorated the tree with a deft artistic touch, placing the different lights in such a way that they grew bright and dimmed to imaginary music, arranging the colorful ornaments to reflect the faces of the children who looked at it in awe (I realize now just how gifted my mother is - I'd have her art direct a product shoot any day).

The tree dominated the living room and anchored all the events and festivities she put together. All our guests, ranging from close family members to people she met only days before, would gather around the tree and play a dazzling series of games, competing for small prizes made exotic and mysterious by giftwrappers. She led the singing of carols as well as the prayers, and made sure that the feast prepared was nothing short of breath-taking: paellas, hams, prawns, steaks, fish, chicken, grilled pork, several types of salads plus a variety of desserts. A few of these dishes were ordered and purchased from trusted suppliers, but most of them were made from scratch, under the guidance of my aunt Juris whose passion for food knew no equal and the meticulous eye of my mother, who made sure that everything that came to the buffet tables or were warmed in chafing vessels looked beautiful. When midnight announced the arrival of Christmas Day, she'd call everyone to the tree and begin giving out presents. She made certain that every single person got a gift - from the housemaids to the guests to the guests of the guests who came in tow, unannounced.

As I grew older, the Christmas tree seemed to get smaller, and somehow, Christmas itself began to lose its special significance. We moved houses several times as our fortunes changed, ending up in a huge house in Greenhills with a cavernous living room with ceiling higher than any house I'd ever been in before. I remember the year my mother set up the tree in the new house, how it was swallowed by the vast spaces above and around it. It looked terribly sad, like a futile light against the gloom. No matter how well my mother lighted it or rearranged the ornaments, it looked pathetic.

"This will not do," she told me, and left the house.

She came back with several elongated boxes, summoned her staff of helpers (remember that our fortunes changed?) and proceeded to install not just one new Christmas tree, but another three or four. In her desire to have a tree, she created a forest whose representatives dominated not just the huge living room but also the upper sala, the family room, and the entire lanai outside. Not satisfied with her labors, she eyed the two huge real trees on our property and before long had the helpers climbing on ladders, armed with giant versions of the thematic decor as well miniture capiz lanterns that glowed from within. In the span of one long day and night, my mother conquered both the inside and the outside of the house, possessed by the spirit of Christmas and her own artistic drive, and transformed our residence and the land around it into something astonishingly magical. Gone from my mind was sense that things were growing small, replaced instead by the sense that Christmas was bigger than I had ever imagined.

The reckless expense of that year would never be repeated again, and though the following years proved powerful enough to tame my mother's decorative impulses, I will always remember the year that our trees multipled, like a Christmas miracle.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

piraso ng isang maikling dula: tagay-tagay

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Sa roofdeck ng isang condominium sa Ortigas Center

Lampas alas onse ng gabi.

(Sa rooftop ng isang condominium. Mayroong isang mesa at limang upuan. Sa ibabaw ng mesa ay mga plastic cups, mga bag ng potato chips, bote ng beer at ibang inumin. Nagiisang umiinom si WINSTON. Pagkatapos ng ilang sandali, papasok si JOSHUA, na may dalang knapsack at mga shopping bag na may tatak "Duty Free".)


Joshua? Ikaw ba yan?


Pare! Akala naming di ka na darating!

Na-delay yung flight ko, sorry, sorry. Kanina pa kayo?

Hindi naman. Medyo. Ay, sorry, ha? Sinimulan na namin. Teka, anong gusto mo?

Kahit ano. Anong meron?

(Naglalabas ng bote ng alak mula sa kanyang Duty Free bag.)

Gin, vodka, beer…

O, eto.

Ano to?

Merlot. Masarap yan. May apat pa ako dito.

Wow, okey to, a. Mukhang mahal. Syempre, ikaw pa.

Di naman. Okey lang. Nasaan sila?

Si Eileen nag-CR lang. Doon banda sa may pool. Si Dennis bumaba, kumuha ng ice sa unit niya. San Mig o hard?

Beer muna.

(Iaabot ni WINSTON ang isang bote ng beer kay JOSHUA.)

Uy, ano to?

Strong Ice. Okey yan.

Wala pa nito sa Hong Kong. O, tagay.


(Iinom sila.)

Alam mo, pare, halos hindi kita namukhaan kanina. Ibang-iba ang itsura mo. Ang laki mo na, a!

Di naman.

Serosyo, pare. Para kang bouncer. Gym, ano?

Konti. Walang masyadong magawa kasi pagtapos ng trabaho. Wala akong masyadong kaibigan doon. Kaya, eto.

So binuhos mo ang sama ng loob sa gym.

Parang ganon na nga.



(Iinom sila at tatawa.)

Naku, mashashock si Eileen. Pero okey, okey lang. Bagay sa yo.

Salamat. O, kamusta ka na?

Eto, medyo lasing na. Tagay!



(Iinom sila at tatawa.)

Wala, ganon pa rin. Mahina negosyo. Patay ang web design. Di tulad ng dati.


Mga freelancer kasi, pare. Mga gagong freelancer. Yung mga kalaban sa bidding. Biruin mo, minsan, may project dyan sa Galleria. Teka, alam mo bang kita mo ang Gale dito?

Talaga? Siguro nga.

Kita mo. Halika, halika, doon banda.

Okey lang. I believe you.

Hindi, dyan lang, o. Kung tumayo ka doon, nakikita mo. Pati yung hotel. Pati Megamall.

Sige, sige. Tapusin mo yung kwento mo.

Sorry, sorry. Tagay muna!


(Iinom sila at tatawa.)

O, yung kwento mo?

Kwento ko, kwento ko. A, medyo okey yung project, hindi gaanong malaki. Anyway, ang bid ko, 60 thousand, maliit lang naman na website, di ba?

E, si freelancer?

Si hinayupak na freelancer? Hulaan mo.

Um, 40?



Baba pa.

15 thousand?

Sampung libo! Can you imagine?


Shit talaga! Paano ka naman lalaban sag anon, di ba? Impossible!

Di ba bawal yun?

Dapat bawal! E, hindi man lang sila kompanya.


Shit talaga.

(Iinom sila. Papasok si EILEEN. Tatayo si WINSTON.)

Eileen! You'll never guess who this is!


Hulaan mo kung sino to!

Ha? Ewan.

See? I told you, man.

(Tatawa si WINSTON at JOSHUA)

Hi, I don't know you at lasing na tong boyfriend ko. I'm Eileen, friend ka ba ni Dennis? Cute ka.

(Tatawa silang lahat.)

It's me, Joshua.


O, sabi ko sa yo, hindi ba?




JOSHUA (tatawa)

Ay, PO-tang ina mo, bakla! Ang ganda mo!

(Yayakap sila.)


Di nga! Ang juicy juicy mo! Diyos ko! Crushable ka sa itsura mong yan! Paano ka lumaking ganyan? Anong kinakain mo sa Hong Kong? Siguro nagstesteroids ka, ano?

Hindi, a! Lungkot at exercise lang.

Really? (kay Winston) Hoy, jowa, asan ang drinks ko?

(Iaabot ni WINSTON ang isang bao kay EILEEN.)



(Iinom sila at tatawa.)

Syet talaga. Para kang Masculado.

Paano naman niya malalaman kung sino yung mga Masculado? E ilang taon na siya sa-


Honey, he can't-


Actually, kilala ko kung sino sila.


Talaga? Paano?

Hindi naman ibang planeta doon, no? Tatlong dura at walong yosi lang ang distanya ng Manila sa Hong Kong. At may internet naman.


Winston, shaddup. Wag mo nang subukang intidihin. All he means is he's never too far away, di ba?


Ubos na ito. Give me a drink and hurry now, you!


Teka, kita mo namang wala akong hawak no? Hoy, bilisan mo!

Sorry, sorry.


I forgive you and I ask the same of you. O, di ba, "I'm only human"? O, tawa naman dyan!

Monday, November 21, 2005

archived fiction: rope

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Fiction by Dean Francis Alfar

Forget the past

Do you remember the first time he kissed you? Of course you do. It’s not something easily forgotten. Not when it happens on Christmas Eve. How his lips touched yours, the expected softness, the unexpected harshness, the darting of his tongue. How your mind spun out of orbit into the infinity of his taste: ensaimada, eggnog, cigarettes. And his tongue, his tongue, his tongue.

Don’t deny you liked it.

It’s all right, we all fall in love.

The secret apocalypse

When things end for you, they end very badly, wouldn’t you say? Not in a spectacular display of nova brilliance but rather in a helpless sinking implosion, quiet as it is potent, silent as it is final. You never choose to show your pain because you think something so private should be kept hidden from everyone else’s eyes: your ex-lovers, your friends, your family, yourself.

Many times in history, people predicted the end of the world. It was greeted with a certain sense of desultory anticipation. Some people partied (especially when the End of World coincided with Christmas), some people sold all they had and covered themselves in ashes, some people stayed in bed waiting for the end. But the end never arrived.

The lesson, I suppose, is that every apocalypse is personal. Choose your own adventure and helplessly pursue the inevitable ending.

Is it that way for you?

Do you think you can change it?

Just another love story

Let me guess how it goes. After all, all love stories have been told, so it isn’t rocket science, is it?

Girl meets boy. Girl falls for boy. Some tenderness or whatever. Girl gets dumped.

It’s a story, I grant you. It has every hallmark: beginning, middle, end. The question is, is it a good story? Was the audience prepared for the ending? Was the principle of rising action observed? Was there verisimilitude? Is there closure?

You know the answers. They’re the same for almost everyone like you.

So by now you should know this is nothing personal.

A word of advice

It’s less painful if you don’t struggle. The rope tends to cut into skin.

Don Quixote knew his stuff

To reach for the stars is a good thing. To hope against hope is even better. To achieve the utterly fantastic – well, that’s what the human spirit is all about, isn’t it?

Sure it is. I know you agree. Nod if you agree.

Are you awake? I know you’re awake.

There you go.

My first love

It was just before Christmas when we first met, a pair of seven-year-olds.

We played at each other’s houses, alternating days: Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays were at my place, all through the holidays and into the next year. We cut paper and raced cars. We built parapets and made them tumble. We had no sense of time, just an understanding that things would never change.

But things do change, puppy love notwithstanding.

Everything comes to some sort of end.

The story of the perfect garden


There once was an emperor who could not abide imperfection. He summoned the wisest men in his domains and commanded them to build him a garden and to fill it with only the most perfect examples of things. This they did, determining a patch of earth of the perfect size and surrounding it with walls perfectly crafted. Then they set out and about and beyond the empire, seeking and taking things that were perfect. This they did for seven years while the emperor fretted as he walked the empty garden.

Soon they began to return and presented wonders for the emperor to marvel at, approve and set within the perfect garden. Things he approved: a clockwork wisteria that bloomed at the third hours of day and night, a great tiger with emerald eyes and catercorner stripes, a statue of a gilded horse that allowed no rain to touch it, and a ceramic jar that foretold earthquakes, eclipses and tidal waves. Things he disallowed: a song that grew in the singing, a bird with a tail colored with rainbow hues, a book that never told the same story twice, and a handful of pearls that were proof against poison.

In the years that followed, both the contents of the perfect garden and the warehouse of unwanted things grew until both were filled to the point of bursting. It became impossible to even enter the garden, much less walk in it. Famine and plague and all sorts of tragedies struck (the warnings of the miraculous jar went unheard, smothered by the weight of many other perfect things above it) and the people grew to be unhappy with their emperor.

There was talk about revolution but no one dared to act. He was that feared, even if his attention was focused only on perfection.

One day, he died (would it be terribly jolting if I told you he actually died on Christmas Day?).

The imperial chamberlain, his most devoted aide, had the emperor’s body washed with the most perfect liquids, anointed with the most perfect perfumes and covered in the most perfect silks, all taken from the towering heights of the piles in the perfect garden. He commissioned an orchestra to play the most perfect dirge on the most perfect set of instruments known to man, each one plucked from its place from the wonderful garden.

Then he had the exquisite corpse thrown into the warehouse of useless things, which was then set to flames, along with its perfect neighbor, the perfect garden.

The moral that accompanies the tale

Everyone who wants perfection will be burned. OR:

You can’t take it with you. OR:

Fill in the blank - I know you want to.

Your guardian angel

I’ve watched over you for years, you know. Don’t act surprised. I know you know.

That Christmas when you were twelve and you thought you had lost everyone at that amusement park, do you remember who helped you find them?

That Christmas when you were fifteen and desperate to be invited by the popular girls to their cool parties, do remember who listened to you as you wept?

That Christmas when you were nineteen and so stoned you couldn’t move away from the sudden headlights, do you remember you saved your life?

No, no, no tears now.

Stop. Stop. You’re breaking my heart.

Whatever happened to Prince Charming

The sad truth of the matter is that he’s forgotten you by now.

That’s what happens when love ends. Dumper leaves dumpee and walks forward.

Memory is like that, you know.

He won’t rescue you.

How can anyone rescue someone they’re unaware of?

You are all you have. And me, of course, here, now and forever.

Instructions for a better life

1. Christmas is just another day, really. What makes it special is who you share it with. Like today, this year, it’s you and me.

2. Love is both intoxicating and sad. Better to hold on to what we can, right?

3. The rope goes when you convince me you won’t run.

Happily ever after

Can you see it?

Open your eyes and see it with me: sunsets hand-in-hand, shared cups of chocolate, endless Christmas trees, a soundtrack everywhere we go.

Can you see it?

I know you can. I know you will.

Because I believe in you.

Let you go?

No, not you, my love. Not yet.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

book burning

While bloghopping, I came across my friend Alvin's blog and read about the fire that razed NVM Gonzalez's home.

Bing Sitoy's article affected me terribly - I know that his work has been published and reprinted many times over, but the loss of original manuscripts, clippings and even his awards saddened me.

Endnote: according to Gémino Abad, the annual NVM Gonzalez Award for short fiction in English will still push through - which is excellent news (I'm not in the running but know some who is).

Thursday, November 17, 2005

mimetic fiction

I may give the impression that I have everything against mimetic fiction or realism. Given the fact that I produce or help produce genre works instead of the dominant mode, speak as if realism were a bad thing, and generally decline to purchase fiction that has to do with exploring - yet again - the plight of the downtrodden, the socially-oppressed, the politically disadvantaged, and the marginalized Filipinos, it would seem that I don't even like it.

I actually do. And in my own way, in my own manner, I attempt a certain amount of verisimilitude in the speculative fiction I write. It's quite neccesary. Without that element of truth - be it researched factual events spun into gossamer plotlines, the manner the characters converse and what they talk about, in the "throwaway" details of setting, how the people in the story act and react, or how the narrative flows - the story would fail.

Just because a story is science fiction or horror or fantasy does not mean that truth goes out the door. The most powerful creations of the imagination have some provenience or connection, whether obvious or invisible, to something true. After all, behind the best carefully-constructed, delightfully-fantastic magical tale is an idea or a set of ideas, something those semiotic signposts point to, some shared insight of the human condition; and, given the fact that the author is human and the reader is human, what is behind the words resonates powerfully - if it is true.

So for me, while plot (or what happens in the story) is certainly vital, it is less important than how my characters, and the things they say or do, combine with all the other fictive elements to create the story's internal truth (which, hopefully, is in synch with the author's intended truth, though it is never always the case; in fact, sometimes the story reveals truths about the author that the author is not consciously aware of - the perils of deconstruction and privileged reading and all that).

As we grow as writers, there are at least two paths we can choose. We can learn to pay attention to the other elements of craft in our attempts to improve how we communicate with our Reader. Or we can turn inwardly, almost to the exclusion of our Reader, and turn craft into introspective praxis. Most walk a path somewhere in between, but what all paths have in common is truth - it's just a matter of how it is communicated (if it is identified or shared at all). What we cannot afford to do is to be lazy or to permit nescience to determine how we write and what we write about.

I suppose my only real beef with mimetic fiction is the limited subjects most Filipino writing focus on. I've become inured to the flavor of realism. It feels trite and washed-out. Because I am exposed on a daily basis to what is real, realism's power to persuade or convince me usually fails, except in the most terrible of circumstances (when you read death statistics in your morning paper on a regular basis, your heart and mind swiftly develop some sort of protective shielding - until the stats become suddenly painflly real when one of people who died is someone you loved).

I prefer to see truth cloaked in stars and steeped in wonder. It allows my mind to map out new places, limited only by how far I dare to go, and to restate the horrors of my everyday world with a vocabulary empowered by imagination - never sugar-coated.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


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1: When dinosaurs ruled the earth and I was a toddler, my grandfather came across me calmly munching on something while I gazed at the beach as I sat on the porch of our old house in Kanigaran, Palawan. He did a double take though when he noticed that whatever it was I had in my mouth, it was feebly wiggling and possessed antennae. In a whirlwind of panic, he forced my mouth open, retrieved a half-dead cockroach, and proceeded to teach me the error of my gastronomic leanings with his belt. Traumatized, I was careful never to eat another bug.

(This is the same grandfather who saved my life when, again as a toddler, and again, while eating, I ended up lmost suffocating on sago pearls that had somehow insinuated themselves deep into my nostrils. Don’t ask how they got there – I suppose that even as a little boy, experimentation misguidedly burned in my blood. He threw me on my back and proceeded to suck the sago out of my nose with his mouth, in a kind of reverse kiss of life. I could tell my grandfather loved me so much because I cannot imagine doing what he did for just anyone. Years later, after he died and rumors of his spirit walking around the house surfaced, it fell to me to persuade my family that the old man could not possibly mean any of us harm; a ghost who in real life saved lives would not seek to frighten but only to be remembered.)

2: As a young boy, I chanced upon an old bottle of cinnamon which I remembered my aunt used for baking. Entranced by the delightful smell, I proceeded to dab my finger into the small jar, coating my finger in the brown powder, then sticking it into my mouth. At first, I was puzzled by the exotic taste; I thought the stuff was potent since it was concentrated, so I plowed on. It was only when I was halfway through, dizzy with spice overload, that I found the remains of a cockroach inside the jar. I recall throwing up. Henceforth, I would associate the taste and smell of cinnamon with cockroaches, furiously declining offerings of cinnamon rolls, cinnamon-laced apple pie, cinnamon-powdered coffee drinks and visits to Cinnabon and its ilk. The smell of cinnamon makes me physically ill, triggering a phantom-taste reaction in my mouth.

(Funny thing about us Filipinos: we like to share astounding horrible tastes we’ve just experienced.

ME (eating something): OMG! This tastes like shit!

YOU: Really?

ME: Yeah! Here, try it.

(YOU try it.)

YOU: Yuck!

ME: Yeah!)

3: When I was around 6 years old, my mother kept a condo unit in Makati. I’d look forward to spending the weekend there because I could pretend we were rich people (we weren't). My mother helped create the illusion: we’d have breakfast on pristine china – delicate Vienna sausages, fluffy eggs and toast smeared with a variety of imported jams in tiny bottles – and keep the air-conditioning on all day and all night. Part of pretending involved wearing pajamas while lazing away on Sunday mornings and my mother got me several sets – silk and cotton in different patterns, though I remember desperately wanting the superhero Underoos I saw in comic book ads. One night, right after I changed into my new pjs, having meticulously buttoned all the huge buttons, I felt something scurrying on my skin, skittering on my back, trailblazing a path around to my chest. At the moment, I was rendered helpless in the throes of horror, as the air around my nose and mouth was suddenly suffused with the terrible scent and flavor of cinnamon, while the invader, which felt like an army, furtively caressed me with a thousand scratchy legs. I remember bursting into tears, unable to speak or cry out, before finally finding the strength to move, tearing the front of my illusory-rich-boy pajamas apart in an effort to escape. The roach then took wing, and took on a new petrifying approach, erratically flying in alien patterns. By the time I managed to somehow kill it, the sense of wonder that my mother’s weekend condo used to provoke was gone forever. The roach served to teach me the obvious lesson: reality has the power to shatter make-believe.

(Now that I think of it, perhaps it was me who started the lifelong enmity between roaches and myself. After all, I fired the first salvo.)

4: The only roach I willingly placed in my mouth was rolled by a friend, shared and passed around as we listened to music that dramatically revealed its significance. I would always get thirsty, and before long gave it all up in favor of the less mind-affecting cigarette.

(I tried a lot of things when I was younger - popped, snorted, smoked, but not injectde - and really, they are all unnecessary to be creative or enjoy life. Nowadays, I get high on creation.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

house to house

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Last Friday, Sage came home with an unfamiliar teddy bear from school.

SAGE: Dad, look!

ME: Who's this?

SAGE: It's a bear, Dad. From school.

ME: You were given a bear?

SAGE: No, Dad. Just for a while. We have to dress her up then go house to house.

ME: What?

SAGE (sighs): Dad, we have to dress her up, then go house to house.

ME: We have to dress the bear up, this bear from school...

SAGE: Yes.

ME: And then we go from house to house?

SAGE: No, Dad! you're being silly!

ME: The bear goes from house to house?

SAGE: That's right.

ME: But why?

SAGE: Because teacher said so.

ME (still in DTI promo mechanics approval mode): Did all the kids get a bear? How long does this bear stay with us? What sort of clothes should we get her? After you pass this bear to another kid, will we have another bear? How long does this entire thing go on?

SAGE (looks at ME): I think she wants a dress.

Apparently, we are supposed to host the unfamiliar bear, clothe her and take her around with us for the weekend. And we need to record the fact that she became part of the Alfar family. So we went to Galleria to the bear clothes store (it exists, much to my shock, at the ground level near the fountain overlook) and I pouted when I had to part with P95 to buy a knit sweater for this bear that wasn't even ours. Then off to Megamall where we stopped by Photo Me for a quickie pictorial.

Up to recent memory (as recent as, oh, last week), these quickie pix places operated thusly: you inform the dour lady of what size ID picture you want; you get in the booth and sit on the round screwtype seat; the lady asks you to get out while she adjusts the seat to accomodate your height; you get back in and stare at the opposite wall; she pulls the curtain to hide you from view (though your legs can be seen, of course); she tells you to smile; the light flashes, blinding you, and you're not sure if you're smiling or looking stupid; repeat; repeat; repeat; you get out and wait for the film to develop; a roll of your terrible pictures slides out of the side of the booth; lady cuts them up to your specifications; you pay up; you cringe at your shots; repeat; repeat; repeat.

So this time, we told the lady that there would be four of us who needed to fit into the small booth: two adults, a child, and a bear. She said go ahead and try so we did, managing to squeeze in without squishing our child and the dolled-up bear.

"Ok," the lady said, as she REMOVED the opposite wall, revealing the outside world. She then appeared brandishing a digital camera. "Smile!"

We smiled. I wanted to monkey around, like I would if it were an impersonal camera taking the pictures, you know, like before. But this was different.

After a couple of clicks, she decided she had her shot and proceeded to download the file. After a few moments, her printer spewed out our pictures.

For a moment I felt like my mother confronted with the task of programming the VCR. It just wasn't the same.

After dinner with her favorite Uncle Vin, we went home where Nikki proceeded to create the bear's scrapbook (yes, the bear needs a scrapbook for her memories as she is shunted from house to house like an unwanted orphan).

The next day, Sage came to me after I got home from work.

ME: Hey sweetie, how was school?

SAGE: It was okay.

ME: What happened to the bear?

SAGE: She went with Maxine to Maxine's house.

ME: That's great! Now she gets to meet Maxine's family.

SAGE: What if she doesn't want to go with Maxine?

ME: She does, she has to - house to house, remember?

SAGE: Do we still have a picture of her?

ME: Yes, we have an extra one.

SAGE: Can I have it?

ME: Why?

SAGE: Because someone misses her.

ME: Who does?


Monday, November 14, 2005

work work work

November is one of the peak months in terms of activity for my agency. We're all running around, balancing working on existing projects, pitching for new ones and keeping ourselves sane. It's all necessary, of course.

We work on the projects we worked hard to win: these are a mix of year-long requirements and one-offs, including a spate of seasonal projects. We go into competition against other agencies and shops to get new projects and new clients: the great thing is when new clients call us out of the blue, because of referrals from other happy clients, inviting us to make a presentation (this is also one of my favorite activities - the deep thought and analysis, the preparations, the brainstorming, the design process, and the presentation to a board). And we do things to keep sane: in my case, it's mostly shifting focus to another project or stepping out for a smoke.

So it's hectic and tiring and everyone is pulling long hours. But that's the nature of the business so no one is complaining. I like the way my crew looks at these different tasks as challenges to be conquered. It's an attitude I admire and appreciate in people.

The silver lining (or the carrot, depending on how you personally motivate yourself and your employees) is that the more business we generate and execute well, the longer we stay in business. This translates to raises, bonuses, outings, vacations, dinners, celebrations and financial security for all concerned. So it's all good.

Sadly, no amount of guerilla-writing can obviate the very simple fact that I cannot make time to write anything creative (outside of copy and concepts for clients). So there is no novel this year. I'm not killing myself over it though. There'll be time next year, when things are not as hectic. Either that or I book an entire month of vacation time just to write - which would kill me because I'd (shudder) miss work.

So for now, I'm going to coast on the results of previous labor and enjoy the upcoming books I worked on or helped put together. Once in a while, I must concede that the spirit is willing but there are just not enough hours in the day - because, unlike Jeff Ford, I need to sleep.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

ad man

The past two days were just amazing. I was tapped as one of the judges for the Ad Congress (the Congress will be held next week in Cebu, but the juding for a number of the categories was held in Manila) to judge for the Design, Direct Mail and Interactive categories. There was a small mountain of entries we judges had to look through - a natural thing given the fact that, for the advertising industry, these awards are very important.

On the design front, I looked at everything from logos to murals, packaging to signage, postcards to invitations. Competition was fierce because everything was lumped together. All the major brands and agencies were represented. On DM, I was floored by the creativity of the DM practicioners - so much so that I'm going to offer DM as a service of Kestrel, tying up with new friends I made while judging. I was mostly disappointed in the Interactive category, which incuded websites, banners, campaigns, and besically everything that is digital. Creatively, it seems to be the same as it was four years ago.

The best part was deliberating with the other judges. For the first time in the Araw Awards, deliberations were made a part of the judging process (as opposed to before, when everything was numeric). I enjoyed discussing pieces and learned what we judges had in common in terms of what we were looking, as well as what made each of us unique in terms of taste and preference. I shudder to think how the judges for TV and Print, the most competitive and coveted categories, will behave.

When all was said and done, I went back to my office with a finer appreciation for what we do - especially in the context of being an IMC (intergrated marketing communications company). I love the spirit of competition and strongly advocate contests that push creatives to new heights. In my experience as a judge, the entire process was clean, no agency agenda was promoted and no political aspects reared their unwanted heads - so kudos to Lilit and Melvin, just two of the many hardworking people behind the organization for this congress.

It was both a pleasure and an honor.

Monday, November 07, 2005

judge dredd

I'll be out tomorrow and Wednesday, judging entries for the Araw Awards of the Ad Congress. Like hermits, we must seclude ourselves at a nice hotel with plenty of food... to keep our bodies strong, of course, for the rigorous work involved ;)

spec fic exposed

Image hosted by
With this beautiful baby and Siglo: Passion, two-thirds of our December megablastbonanza is in the bag. The third one, Project: Hero, is now being completed. It seems impossible, but with the help of very very very good and tireless people, it's being done.

All three will launch on December 10th at Fully Booked Greenhills, to which ALL of you are invited.

How much?

Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 1 is over 200 pages, 6" x 9", at P300. This is published by Kestrel, my own publishing company.

Siglo: Passion is the full-color square-bound super-anthology of grafiction, superthick at P850 - with a special promo discount during the launch (see post below). This initial limited collector's edition (2000 copies) is published by Nautilus Comics.

Project: Hero is a full-color covered black-and-white joyous return to superhero delights sans agenda! We haven't fixed the cover price yet, but it should be quite affordable.

As for Salamanca (Ateneo Press), we're pushing the publication and release date to January 2006, in light of all our releases. On the movie/option front, we're still in negotiations over the amount, but it's looking gooooood.

passion promo

SIGLO: PASSION is the full-color graphic novel follow-up to the National Book Award-winning Siglo: Freedom, and puts together a roster of award-winning writers and artists alongside some of the country's most promising new talents. Each of the stories in this long-awaited anthology explores different forms of passion and how they affect the lives of people – for better, or for worse.


Reserve your copy of the limited edition full-color Siglo: Passion now to avail of the SPECIAL PRE-ORDER DISCOUNT (more than 40% off the regular price!), and an exclusive invite to the GRAND LAUNCH on December 10, 2005 at Fully Booked Promenade!

Note that this edition of Siglo: Passion will be in full-color, the first full-color graphic novel in the country, and will be limited to only two thousand (2000) copies. This limited edition of the book will be the only full-color edition that will ever be released in the country and will NOT be reprinted.

Here's how:

1. Visit any Fully Booked or Comic Quest branch and pay the pre-order discount of Php500 (from the original SRP of Php850) at the counter.

2. You will be given a ticket stub that will also serve as your invite to the Siglo: Passion grand launch at Fully Booked Promenade on December 10, 2005. Claim your copies of the book during the launch to get free limited edition Siglo postcards from Nautilus Comics.

3. You may also claim your copies of the book after the launch, at the Fully Booked or Comic Quest outlet where you made the reservation.

4. For more information, you may also inquire via e-mail to

kudos to Jaime and El!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

i'm your vehicle, baby

I haven't owned a car since I sold off my Datsun a couple of years after college. So it was odd that I caved in to impulse and bought a secondhand car yesterday. Odd because

a) it's not something you impulsively buy,
b) I'm not really a car person (one of the reasons I gave up my car was because my temper would often get the best of me during traffic) and
c) I am so used to just walking or taking a cab

However, I do have a little girl, and I may need to drive her to school or something. Plus, it gives us more options when we go out during the weekends, so I'm not that reliant on cabs.

The thing is, now I have to pay for a parking space at the condo, which I've never had to do in my life. And the price of gas just went up again. And my office is just a few buildings away. Oh, and now I need to renew my super-expired license.

But it was a rare opportunity, so I took it. I can always resell it or whatever.

What kind of car is it? Just to show you how little I know, the best I can honestly muster is "It's colored grey?". But also to prove that I didn't get hornswaggled, I bought it from my stepfather. He has more cars than I am aware of, apparently, because this entire purchase started when I asked him about the two or three unfamiliar cars I noticed outside my mom's house. He offered to sell one of them to me for a more than fair price (Jo! You know this car!). So, okay.

As long as it runs safely, I do not much care about brand or prestige.

novel beginning

I haven't decided on which book to write. This is foolish, of course, given the fact that NaNoWriMo began yesterday, but I'm quite ambivalent.

On one hand, I have the beginnings of an interstitial story that begins with a murder:
The dead woman in the tight leopard print dress balanced precariously on the hotel awning, her legs splayed somewhat immodestly, giving the stunned onlookers from the upper floors an unimpeded view of her white no-nonsense underpants. The few who were close enough to see the woman’s face noted an expression imprinted with a mélange of her final moment’s anger, shock and confusion: her jet black hair highlighted with caramel hues transformed into an gorgon-like profusion that writhed in early evening air.

On the seventeenth floor, beige curtains billowed gently out of the dead woman's last known location on earth, before she took to the sky with disastrous results. In that room, Mira Ruiz sobbed violently on the carpeted floor, surrounded by shattered glass, her mascara creating ebon trails down her cheeks. In her bleeding hands she clutched the letter that began and ended everything. About her, in disarray: two handbags purged of their contents, a dog-eared copy of the most dismal of Maya Angelou’s poetry collections, a universal remote smashed beyond repair, the ruins of a leatherette-covered reading chair, and a gorgeous fur coat that matched the dead woman’s dress.

Behind her stood a broad-shouldered man, his face still red from the whirlwind of violence. With trembling hands he fished out a cigarette from his jeans pocket and lit it, cupping the small flame generated by his yellow disposable lighter, protecting it from the errant breezes that wafted through the serrated frames of the broken balcony doors.

“We have to go,” Esteban Ruiz told his sister, ending his statement with an exhalation of grey smoke.

On the other hand, I have a craving to write a full-length novel set in Hinirang, telling the big story I wanted to tell a few years ago:
The first thing Ciri did when she reached Ciudad Meiora was to have her name read and analyzed by the most vocal and colorful of Namespeakers along the Encantó du Caminata. The mustachioed savant looked at the young girl, fixed her in place with a one-eyed stare and told her the meaning of her name.

"Loss," he told her breathlessly. "Your life is one long quest that will never end, your plans and ambitions will have bitter results, love will always elude you, and, given the duplication of vowels, your liver and kidneys will always be weak, leaving you vulnerable to skin eruptions, fatigue and occassional false visions of a happy future."

“What?” asked Ciri, looking up sharply.

“There's no avoiding fate,” he told her sadly, extending a gloved hand palm-up in her direction. “Sometimes parents are cruel and unthinking.”

Ciri swallowed her annoyance and gave him a centavo for the reading. As soon as she had walked five steps away from the Namespeaker’s booth, she spat in her hands and flecked the spittle off into the air, to avert whatever truth the savant had managed to auger.

We'll see what happens tonight. Gah. Already I'm behind schedule.

By the way, unlike last year's Salamanca, I'm not posting whatever I write as I write it. Frankly, I found the process too open - like I'm exposing myself before I'm ready. I was uncomfortable with everyone seeing me work - I kept wanting to apologize for the all the typos and in-progress errors of story/character logic I was making. At a certain point, it felt like performance writing, which, really, isn't my thing.