Saturday, December 23, 2006

dumaguete bound

I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the city of Dumaguete in Negros since the first time I visited. That was way back in the summer of 1992 for the Dumaguete National Writers Workshop. I was directionless writer. At that time I had written only a couple of Palanca plays and published around three or four stories (in MOD magazine and in the now-defunct National Midweek). All I knew was that I needed to be there, that there was more that I had to learn, and I hoped for some sense of direction. I got all that in spades when my stories were critiqued by Doc Ed and Mom Edith Tiempo and the panelists. The things I learned from them, craftwise, altered my writerly mindscape. Equally important was the fellowship of the other young writers, in particular Sarge Lacuesta who is a friend and compatriot to this day (he was still a poet then, not the prose powerhouse he is today). I learned that as much as writers attack each other (it's true; I was involved in a physical incident there LOL), we also need to support each other. I remember being depressed when my return flight touched the tarmac at the airport back in Manila; how polluted and noisy and bereft of intimacy everything was.

It would be 14 years before I returned to what I consider to be my Visayan home. In the interim, I quit writing to focus on love and work. I honestly thought I had nothing more worth writing about, and my maverick nature precluded staying in touch with the literary circles (so much for lessons learned then). It took the death of my cousin (BJ, I loved him like a brother) to open the floodgates again, and I began with comics, wrote some plays and then fiction. This year, I decided to visit Dumaguete again to pay my respects to the woman whose words of encouragement were of paramount influence to me. I also wanted to meet an author whom I knew only via the internet. So I took a plane to Dumaguete and got my wish. I got to talk again to Mom Edith (who had become a National Artist since I last saw her) and got to meet Ian Casocot in the flesh. I told Mom Edith that I thought I finally found the direction I was looking for as I gave her a copy of Salamanca and told her about speculative fiction.

While I was there, I delivered a lecture on speculative fiction to a large crowd from Silliman University (Ian is a magical creature), saw a huge mural of the characters and events of my novel, meeting the latest batch of talented workshoppers, had drinks with the wonderful students and simulatenously renewed my acquitance with/built friendships with some of the very best creative writers Dumaguete has created: Marge Evasco, Susan Lara, DM Reyes and many others. I wandered around the sitting with my camera, crossing paths with the infamous pimp Red Red, eating chicken as only Dumaguete cooks it, and enjoyed the view from a mountaintop home. I even managed to write a new story from scratch. The week I spent was like coming home.

So I told my friends how happy the place made me, and ultimately we agreed to spend a week of our Christmas break there. The entire roster of the LitCritters (along with Sage) are hitting my hometown - and frankly, I can't wait. We're even taking 4 stories to critique (because our critique schedule - every Thursday- seems happily writ in stone), as well as several laptops (in the event of delightful inspiration).

I look forward to the quietude, the conversations, tempura on the Boulevard, and just recharging in an atmosphere that is unlike any other in the world.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

photo fun

Recently, Nikki and I celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary in conjunction with Alex and Kate's 1st. With Andrew and Vin in tow, we rented a hotel room, played games, had dinner at a fancy resto (the bill was more than the hotel room but worth it), critiqued stories, talked about writing...and had a photo shoot. In formal wear.

I'm still learning how to use my camera but that didn't stop my ambition. Besides, the best way to learn is to try. I donned my photographer/art director hat and proceeded to command my poor talents/models, filling up my big CF card, chasing the natural light around the suite. When it was my turn to be snapped, my wife and friends took turns with the camera, exacting revenge (Andrew had me on the kitchen counter) and desperately seeking light. We ended up with a lot of photos, some of them quite good. Here are some samples, headshots:

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Now I really have to learn Photoshop so I can tweak all these pictures I've taken and stored in my hard drive.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

in between

the novelette

With the latest batch of LitCritters stories behind us (an excellent batch with not a single dud), we're gearing up for the next story challenge - the novelette. This is particularly challenging given the length requirement of 7,500 - 17,499 words .

My personal misgivings are based solely on the fact that the format is new to me. I haven't written anything in that particular length before. My comfort zone is the short story (my sweet spot being from 3000-5000 words). And while I have written a novel, I'm certain that the novelistic structure and the concept of novelistic space are different from the novelette's parameters.

It's writing something in between a short story and a novel while making sure that all the elements of discourse (that make a text successful and readable and worthwhile) are covered.

My developed discipline with the short story is to create a tight text, paying heed to the concept of restraint and economy despite whatever manner or tone I choose to adopt (yes, even at my most baroque or magical, the story needs to be somehow restrained). Character arcs are necessarily brief and concise, description supports the text in terms of layering and texturing, a single master story arc or idea (usually but not always) is presented, and so on.

With the novel, I have the all the space in the world - which presents its own unque challenges. There is more room to develop characters over time, more allocation for texture and meaning, setting and world-building is encouraged, and pacing becomes one of the more critical issues. I remember thinking "OMG How can I ever write anything this long? I must be out of my mind." But things worked out once I accepted the fact that the novel is a different creature altogether.

So all my anxieties about writing a novelette can only be done away with by the act of actually sitting down and wrestling with the beast. I like this task precisely because it is challenging and daunting (and at the worst of my anxiety, I think "Come on, Dean. It's just a story after all." Which comforts me for all of two seconds.

One way I can approach the thing is to do away with the labels and just write a long story - which is probably the best way. And I have to get started soon. The other approach is to think that all the other LitCritters are in the same boat haha.

Already, for the first two months of next year, I have four story deadlines: the novelette for the LitCritters, two stories for two magazines, and one for inventory. And I want to redo one of my newer stories for my collection of short fiction coming out next year (yes, as usual I am suddenly unhappy with and ashamed of one of the stories I wrote for inventory a couple of months ago). And there's that new novel both Ateneo Press and Anvil are asking for - of which I currently have an astounding 200 words in (which are so blah that they're as good a zero words).

shameless flashback

But before I completely stress out about the coming year's requirements, it helps me to take a look back at my published output this year:

Short Fiction

Four-Letter Words in Manual (magazine)
Hollow Girl: A Romance in Latitude: Writing from Scotland and the Philippines (anthology)
The Maiden and the Crocodile in Story Philippines (magazine)
Six from Downtown in Philippines Free Press (magazine)
How Rosang Taba Won a Race in Philippines Free Press (magazine)
Sabados con Fray Villalobos in A la Carte: Food and Fiction (anthology)
The Middle Prince in Digest of Philippine Genre Stories (magazine) and Bewildering Stories (online - Part One and Part Two)


Salamanca (Ateneo de Manila University Press)
Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol.2 (Kestrel)

A good year for me, publishing-wise: 7 short stories, a novel and an anthology.

I can only hope to publish as much this coming year. We'll see.

woman of letters

Nikki also had a great publishing year:

Doe Eyes in Story Philippines
Lola Ging and the Crispa Redmanizers in Philippines Free Press
Bearing Fruit in Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol.2
Heritage in Our Own Voice (online)

As an editor and reader, I think Lola Ging and the Crispa Redmanizers is her best work among the many stories she developed this year.

As a fellow writer, I am envious of her control, tone and vocabulary.

As her husband, I am damn proud.

I can't wait to read more from her - both because I love her work and because I need to keep an eye on the competition.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

music for kestrel

My business partner and I decided to give all our employees iPods for Christmas, in addition to the bonuses. It's part of our business philosophy to share the benefits of a good year - and it was worth seeing the smiles on their faces. Each person deserved it for their hard work and team spirit (believe me, you need all the good team spirit you can muster in an industry like ours).

And besides, we all love music.

I got myself one too - which lasted for one afternoon. As soon as I got home, Nikki persuaded me to trade my pretty new Nano for her iPod Video to which I happily acquiesed (I was ensorcelled by the ginormous space and the video capacity).

So now my pockets are truly filled. On the left, the iPod, cigarettes and lighter. On the right, my PDA. And my wallet at the back. When I lug my laptop and camera, I'm Mr. Techie haha.


Monday, December 18, 2006

the horror, the horror

I hate traffic on normal days, but going to Greenhills for a meeting was just...absurd.

It is impossible, impossible. Sheer madness and chaos with all the cars desperately looking for parking and the horders of Christmas shoppers duking it out for things to wrap and place under their Christmas trees.

It's crazy everywhere. Thinking of going to Makati is just pure horror.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

new to the bookshelf

Book buying is truly some form of hideous disease. Or an addiction. Over the past couple of weeks, here are the ones new to the bookshelf:

Leaping Beauty by Gregory Maguire
The Ice Dragon by George R.R. Martin
Salon Fantastique edited by Ellen Datlow and Terry Windling
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
The Cave by Jose Saramago (which maybe a dupe, I'm not sure)

I'm particularly delighted with Salon Fantastique which is an anthology with stories from the best spec fic authors.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

story crafting

I think after the adrenalin rush of the book launch, the stress I had been holding at bay finally got to me. That, and the fact that I got drizzled on. I had a slight fever and decided not to go to work today, although there were a couple of things I could not miss. But sometimes, you just have to listen to your body. And my body said "Rest".

I spent last night and today reading and editing new stories by the LitCritters. Part of the LitCritter workshop is developing original fiction. Since we started in the second quarter of this year, we've had a total of four deadlines, and each of the LitCritters was required to submit at least one new work every couple of months. The goal is three-fold: to improve our craft as writers; to get our paper children published; and to help speculative fiction grow in the country. I can see improvement in every writer in the workshop, in terms of how they develop their stories using writerly techiniques. Each of us has miles to go before we can rest, but it is the learning and creating that matters.

And as for publication, well over 50% of the stories developed by the LitCritters have been published or are slated for publication in venues such as Story Philippines, Philippines Free Press, and the Digest of Philippine Genre Stories as well as various anthologies. The next step is international submissions. We just need to steel ourselves against the inevitable rejection notices which are part of the process (my most treasured, from Ellen Datlow some time ago, passed on "Terminos" for because it didn't quite fit the bill - but had a lovely handwritten note that congratulated me on "Aquilone". "Terminos" later became my Ratbastard story).

December marks the last deadline for the year and I'm quite happy with the quality of work being presented. I challenged each author to write out of his or her comfort zone and the results are very intriguing. I am glad that this group of writers takes writing as seriously as I do.

Okay, now to sleep.

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It's LitCritter Originals time and we take on six new speculative fiction pieces by the Manila LitCritters, over the course of two critique days.

This week:

Peekli by Andrew Drilon
Beacon by Nikki Alfar
Saving the World Every Saturday by Alexander Marcos Osias
Here Lies Silverio de Guzman by Vincent Michael Simbulan
Wishcatcher by Kate Aton-Osias
In the Dim Plane by Dean Francis Alfar

Last Week:

The Music Child by Alfred A. Yuson
Understand by Ted Chiang
Standing Room Only by Karen Joy Fowler
The Book of Things Which Must Not Be Remembered by C. Scavella Burnell

Next week:

Zora and the Zombies by Andy Duncan
Saga of the Raiding Team by Kristin Livdahl
Fairy Tale by Gardner Dozois
Ancestor Money by Maureen McHugh

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Monday, December 11, 2006

philippine speculative fiction vol.2 antho launch

If there's anything we've learned about holding a book launch in December in Greenhills, it's to expect rain, heavy traffic and impossible parking. But the impossible is well within the purview of spec fic, so we braved the horrors (on the same day that the ASEAN summit was cancelled in another part of the country) for the sake of fiction and fun.

People came with friends and family in tow to the warmth of The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf resto at the Promenade, the venue of the launch (great thanks to Walden Chu and Paolo del Rosario for their hospitality), and soon we were ready to begin.

I spoke about what speculative fiction was, why it was important that we develop it and make it more widespread, and how its intrinsic value was beyond question. Then I called each of the authors present, introduced them and presented each with copies of the anthology. We missed, of course, contributors who could not make it to the launch: Apol Lejano-Massebieau who is in France, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz who is the Netherlands, Michael Co who I think is in Indonesia, and Jonathan Siason who is in Zamboanga. Soon we had readings from the anthology: Stan Geronimo read from his "The Sign of the Cross", Mia Tijam read from her "Waiting for Agua de Mayo" and Kate Aton-Osias read for her "Snippets".

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Joshua So, Stan Geronimo, Mia Tijam, Joey Nacino, Yvette Tan, Maddy Ong, Oscar Alvarez, Andrew Drilon, Alex Osias, Kate Aton-Osias, Vin Simbulan, Nikki Alfar, Jessi Albano

Afterwards, there was much coffee, talk, laughter and book buying (yay). I was delighted to finally meet the authors I hadn't personally met before (I knew them just via their stories and email). I was happy that contributor Allan Lopez made it somehow as I've been wanting to meet him.

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Stan Geronimo

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Tokwa So

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Maddy Ong

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Vin Simbulan and Oscar Alvarez

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Mia Tijam and family (special shout out to Aprille for all her support!)

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Alex and Kate Osias and family

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Charles Tan and Gabby Lee (fresh from Singapore)

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Publisher Kenneth Yu and sexbomb Elbert Or

Kenneth Yu also brought copies of the premiere issue of The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, which also made brisk sales. He also brought his advance copy of the latest issue of Story Philippines...

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Nikki Alfar with her new story "Doe Eyes"

...which made Nikki very happy as her new story, "Doe Eyes", is published there.

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Lucas Pison and Sage Alfar. My daughter, Sage, was one of the loudest hooters and clappers, of course.

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Aftermath dinner at Tender Bob's with Dino Yu and friends.

Thanks to all our friends and readers who came to support the book. It really means a lot to me that you made it!

With this, I'm done with all my publishing for the year, thank goodness.

Now to start planning the next one...

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Friday, December 08, 2006

philippine speculative fiction vol.2 book launch

Everyone is invited to the launch of Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 2!
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Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 2 Book Launch
Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 3PM
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
Ground Floor, The Promenade
Greenhills, San Juan, Metro Manila

It's a simple launch, featuring the authors reading from their stories.

Copies of the book will be available at the special launch price of P270 (10% off).

Next week, the anthology will be available at Fully Booked, Comic Quest, Booktopia, mag:net magazine stores, Ayala MuseumShop, and the Filipinas Heritage Library, with other venues coming soon.

Hope to see you guys!

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

street fighter...later

Like David (from whom I read about this), I spent a lot of tokens Street Fighting. My three best characters were the kickass Chun Li (using moves that we christened "step kick" and "helicopter"), the masked Vega (in the old days, his aerial attack was devastating - until we learned that Chun Li could catch and throw him in midair), and... Dhalsim (setting up a leg stretch kick/flame combo was wicked). It's one of those games that I cannot help but play if I see an old console or arcade machine lying around. Heck, I even hosted the championships of the game at Robinsons Galleria years and years ago (when you could smoke while playing - it was heaven).

Check out these hilarious minifilms, set 10 years later...



With, hopefully, more to come.

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I was the roving photographer (and my wife's best accessory) at the Ateneo Library of Women's Writings unveiling of its New Stars - The Now Generation of Filipino Women Writers, last week at the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City.

As I walked around taking pictures of the event, I griped to Krip Yuson ("why, during my time, was there never anything like this?"); rolled eyeballs with Sarge Lacuesta (we were just together a few days ago, judging the fiction entries for UST); ribbing Jimmy Abad (because Cyan sent him in her stead and she's much prettier); putting Story Philippines editor Jade Bernas on the spot, again ("So, when is the next issue coming out?"); exchanging stories with Aparna Halpe (a visiting scholar from the University of Toronto); and being generally delighted and stunned by the event itself (they had banners for each of the New Stars - and Nikki, of course, was the most beautiful).

Okay, now with my obvious envy out of the way, here are some pics.

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The New Stars

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Nikki with her giant banner. I'm going to ask for it so I can set up a shrine at home.

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Greg Brilliantes (I'm still intimidated and haven't managed to ask him directly for a story for my next antho - gah)

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Krip Yuson, the other photographer and supportive dad (his daughter, Mirava, was one of those honored)

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Nikki Alfar and Aparna Halpe. I met with Aparna the next day and spent an afternoon talking spec fic, postcolonial head/heartaches and why the sense of wonder is important.

Here's the list of the now generation of Filipino Women Writers:

Cyan Abad-Jugo
Francis Alcaraz
Nikki Alfar
Christine S. Bellen
Rica Bolipata-Santos
Becky Bravo
Conchitina Cruz
Nerisa del Carmen Guevara
Mookie Katigbak
Fran Ng
Jema M. Pamintuan
Girl Valencia
Mirava Yuson


Tuesday, December 05, 2006


With the launch of Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol.2 on Sunday, I can't help but be anxious - though, really, there's no reason to be.

The books will be delivered to my office on Thursday (Friday, at the latest). I've seen the proofs and I'm very happy. The launch - a very simple one, with readings from the authors - is set (and frankly, I can't believe it's already this Sunday). I look forward to meeting the authors in person, since a number of them I know only by their stories.

Literary-wise, it's a wonderful month. Apart from the antho, the LitCritters have stories appearing in the premiere issue of a new publication: Digest of Philippine Genre Stories. One of my stories is featured there and I'm delighted that Vin, Andrew and Alex's stories (which all went through the LitCritter workshop process) are present. I also can't wait to read Joey Nacino's story (Joey is a fine spec fic writer, who appears in both volumes of PSF). If Story Philippines gets released this month (as publisher Jade Bernas assured me last time we spoke at Ateneo), Nikki's piece "Doe Eyes" will see the light of day.

Plus, each LitCritter wrote a new piece for December, all of which we'll read next week.

It's a good month for words.


Monday, December 04, 2006


This week:

The Music Child by Alfred A. Yuson
Understand by Ted Chiang
Standing Room Only by Karen Joy Fowler
The Book of Things Which Must Not Be Remembered by C. Scavella Burnell

Last week:

Salting the Map by Alan DeNiro
The Circular Library of Stone by Carol Emshwiller
Travels With My Cats by Mike Resnick
CommComm by George Saunders

Next week:

Zora and the Zombies by Andy Duncan
Saga of the Raiding Team by Kristin Livdahl
Fairy Tale by Gardner Dozois
Ancestor Money by Maureen McHugh

*We're also critiquing 6 LitCritter originals, over the weekend next week.

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Friday, December 01, 2006


Eleven years ago, I got married to the most intelligent, beautiful and sexy woman in the world.

It's hard to believe that so many years have passed. In some ways, I still think of us as a young married couple. When I look back, I'm glad you said yes to my proposal - our partnership has only grown stronger through the years of living, writing, gaming, reading and raising our little girl together; through the times when we could barely make ends meet, the tears of our mutual desolation at the loss of family, and those early days of business when every month I thought I'd close shop.

You are the #1 blessing in my life, my lover and equal, kakampi and partner, confessor and editrix, co-conspirator and muse. You make me shine brighter by knowing when to fan the flames; you put me in my place when I'm dead wrong about things.

We both know how the wheel turns and how things can change: but I know something absolutely true - I'll always be right beside you.

There is no one I can imagine I'd be happier with; right now, my heart has swollen to fill up my entire body so I don't have much more to add.

Except that I love you, wife-o-mine.

Here's to the years ahead.