Thursday, January 25, 2007


Of course I'm happy that the latest season of American Idol is on ABC 5 every Wednesdays and Thursday at 10PM. Or at least I tell myself that I am happy.

The thing is, it seems a bit of the same old-same old.

Maybe things will change for me when the competition portion begins.

Right now, the auditions are quite (and I don't mean to be rude) boring.

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the wall

Sometimes, despite the best of preparations, I come up to the wall. I'm happily writing, in the moment, in the zone, and then without warning I find myself splattered against it; it takes only a moment to comprehend that things have come to an end - at least in terms of a free-ish ride.

That's when I pick myself up (all the scattered pieces of my sensibilities; in a way it's like coitus interruptus, an interruption of immiment orgasm) and consider the wall. It takes another moment to still myself, to steel myself, before I start to climb.

Writing becomes difficult, more conscious self-consciously aware, more considered, more technique-driven and mannered. In a small way, it feels dishonest (but the truth is that all fiction is dishonest: as soon as we begin to render it in some way, it becomes a fabulation that can only hope to reflect some degree of truth - or so we hope, offering prayers to the gods of verisimilitude), less spontaneous, more artificial (like Byron's belief that a poem comes perfectly in its first draft, that to correct it or tinker or tamper or add or subtract would make it less true, of less value), but I know of no other way to scale the wall.

But there comes the time when the wall fades or crumbles or recedes or is conquered by relentless (blind?) determination, and writing becomes easier, like coasting, like breathing, like magic, enough to intimate that perhaps I have something here, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Some say that the wall does not exist, that it is a fabrication of writers who have no subject matter, nothing to write about. Or that they are constructs of the lazy, of the slothful souls who cannot focus. Some say that the wall is a state of mind, deftly dealt with by altering one's state of mind, thus alcohol, customized pills, sex, pain, exhiliration or depression, sound or silence - all these can dissolve the imagined barrier. Some say it is a matter of ignorance - that the wall symbolizes what we fear or do not know; and that the impression of something so vast and towering is a reflection of our own authorial inadequacies - to do away with the darkness, one must acquire knowledge, and so on and so forth.

Whatever it is (or isn't), it is something that must be dealt with in some way. Otherwise, those like me cannot write.

But there are rumors of people, so rare and pure, who are said to be able to write -zen-like - unaware of the wall. Or, flipped, the wall cannot touch them. These writers transmit their thoughts and ideas from brain to keypad or pen in glorious unstoppable rhythm, their self-determined cadences measured in sublime output - stories, poems, plays, essays. To them there is no wall, and so the wall has no power, real or illusory, over them. If they are real, then I can only shrug my shoulders as I return to my own realities.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

talking parts

The secret to good dialogue is this: it's something spoken, written down, preferably with warts and all. I do not subscribe to polished grammar-perfect dialogue unless done deliberately, for effect. I would rather lean toward verisimilitude.

Naturally, this is not a hard and fast rule (nothing in writing ever is), but it is a good thing to keep in mind. Dialogue needs to read right, sound right.

If you think about how people communicate, you'll realize that people are never direct, transparent or able to immediately state what's on their mind (if you are a devotee of semiotics, you know its because of the gap between signifier and signified). Language is not precise. People are not precise. There is much coloration, hesistation, interpretation and misinterpretation, assumptions, translations.

Even a seemingly obvious statement like this...

ME: I'm hungry.

...does not reveal to the person spoken to the exact nature of my hunger (food? sex? company? excitement?). Even with the context clues (body language, vocal tone, accent, expression, gesture, distance, props, time of day or night, location) the listener can only make the best assumption as to what I'm talking about. If you and I are both in the restaurant, you'd seemingly be justified in assuming I'm talking about food.

But what if I'm not not? What if what I meant was that I'm hungry for you? Language fails because of its inherent flaw: it translates thought - but only to best of its limitations.

So when I read something that continuously has characters directly stating things (without anyone doubting the precise meaning, or without clarification, repetition, misunderstanding), it reads wrong. Because I know that in life, which almost every bit of literature tries to emulate (otherwise, what's the point of having people talk in your work - unless you do not care about characterization), it is not the case.

Listen to how people speak. You'll notice some of the following - some of which can be used in writing, as the realists do:

Sometimes, they do not complete sentences. Because sometimes-

-people interrupt each other.

Everyone involved in a discussion has an agenda (haven't you experienced trying to shift the conversation back to what you want to talk about?).

Exposition is rare (which is why, as a literary tool, exposition must be used with great skill and sensitivity - believe me, nothing threatens to bore a reader more than this).

People tell anecdotes. Because, whether they believe it or not, we are all storytellers to a degree.

People reference a lot ("did you see that movie where the...?", "so anyway, Vin told me that Andrew said that he...", "I read this article that said..."). Very rarely does anyone simply state a (questionable) fact and get away without even a little explanation or justification.

Conversations are fluid. That makes them interesting (and quite challenging to create from whole cloth).

Some people just listen. Others need to participate verbally in conversation. In other words, not everyone has something to say or contribute - but this in no way excludes them as participants.

Some topics have the half-life of a split second (someone brings up a topic, none or few respond, then the conversation moves on without a batting an eyelash).

These last three are linked: People repeat themselves ("I told him, I said to him...").

People question each other ("really?" or "talaga?" or "who said that?"

Some people parrot the last question (D: "Okay, what's your favorite color?" V: "My favorite color?" D:"Yeah, what's your favorite color?"

Of course, there are lots more to observe and add to your arsenal as an author (this list is by no means exhaustive or even necessary - it depends on your writerly goals, style, voice). With fiction, you can get away without dialogue. But when you write that particular story where people talk to each - and you will eventually write that story - you need to keep the notion of what makes dialogue work in mind. Remember that everything you create is immediately artificial by virtue of the act of contrivance. The last thing you want is to detract further from your reader's suspension of disbelief.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

vignette: zombie

It was Charlie, in a fit of inhuman brilliance, that christened the strange new girl “yucky Zombie”.

It was something only someone like him could come up with – Charlie was like that - though all the kids we knew, ourselves included, had nicknames like that. The girl was new because she and her mom had just moved into the old house that used to belong to the de Vera’s; it had been abandoned for years and Charlie and I had decided it was because it was haunted.

The girl was strange because she looked strange. Her left eye bigger than the other, her hair was usually tangled and mussed up, and she had an odd way of walking. She didn’t walk, she shambled. All these were evidence enough for Charlie that she was one of the undead.


Monday, January 22, 2007


This Week

Scherzo with Tyrannosaur by Michael Swanwick
Green Magic by Jack Vance
New Year's Eve by Kenneth Yu
The Floating Otherworld by Thomas Doyle

Last week:

Long Ago by Kristien Hemmerechts
Greedy Choke Puppy by Nalo Hopkinson
The Apples of Youth by Masha Gedilaghine Holl
Reports of Certain Events in London by China Mieville

Next Week:

Kara's Place by Luis Katigbak
Stella for Star by Yvette Tan
Sink or Swin by Myza Sison
Stories by Cesar Aquino

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birthday boi

Happy happy birthday to my best bud, Vin!

Here's to another fiery year of fun and fiction!


Sunday, January 21, 2007

a la carte book launch

Here's the invitation from Anvil for the launch of A la Carte. Ian and I have stories there (mine is "Sabados con Fray Villalobos", set in magical Hinirang).

Anvil Publishing, Inc. requests the pleasure of your company at the launch of
A la Carte, edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard & Marily Ysip Orosa
with contributions from Dean Francis Alfar, Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, Erwin Cabucos, Ian Rosales Casocot, Shirlie Mae Mamaril Choe, Carlos Cortés, Erma M. Cuizon, Jose Dalisay Jr., Susan Evangelista, Ma. Romina Gonzalez, Margarita Marfori, Reine Arcache Melvin, Veronica Montes, Corinna Arcellana Nuqui, Marily Ysip Orosa, Oscar Peñaranda, Edgar Poma, Brian Ascalon Roley, Nadine Sarreal, Joël Barraquiel Tan, Linda Ty-Casper, Janet B. Villa, Marie Aubrey Villaceran, Edna Weisser and Alfred Yuson

February 12, 2007, 5:30 - 7:30 pm
2nd Floor, The Lounge (in front of NBS Bestseller-Podium)
18 ADB Avenue, Ortigas Center, Mandaluyong City

Hope to see you there (I'll be where the food is haha).


Friday, January 19, 2007

middle thoughts

I like the fact that Philippine Genre Stories encourages feedback from its readers. My story, "The Middle Prince" was the feature story of the first issue. As a result, I've been getting opinions on my work. Now all feedback, good or bad, is good. It means people took time to read and think about my story. They bought the magazine and deserve to be heard. I may not necessarily agree with the comments but I respect the readers' right to have them. I particularly enjoyed Sean's thoughts on all the stories that appeared in the maiden issue - these are well-reasoned and articulated.

Any writer worth his salt needs to be able to balance the need for worthwhile critique with the artistic necessity of putting on earplugs and just writing. There is value to what others say, yes, but of more value to me is what I'll write next. I'm glad that the story seems to have worked for a lot of people (and of course there will always be people for whom a story simply does not work: it can be because of any reason - choice of theme, characterization, tone, structure, reading preference, authorial bias, or my story is truly dismal). I'm also happy that it provoked some discussions on a structural or meta level (one of the person's assumptions about my 'intentions' made me smile).

One of the readers wrote that my story was "just well-written", nothing more, did not leave a mark. I am suddenly reminded of mother who, when I was growing up, always reminded me to wear clean underwear and to make sure that none of them had holes in them . I assume she did not want me to offend the paramedics or the emergency room people when I'm rushed there after an accident. Snip-snip. OMG his underwear is unclean AND has holes in it! In storywriting terms, I have pristine hole-free undies, though DOA in that reader's hospital haha.

I must admit that I do feel distant from the story from this point in time (I feel like I wrote it a lifetime ago), especially since the ones I'm working on now are very different from it. I guess what a lot of casual readers don't know is that the stories they read in the latest issue of whatever magazine isn't fresh, wasn't written yesterday. In many cases, these stories were written months, if not years, before the issue was published. From the time it was submitted for publication, the author has moved on to other stories - so these stories are like timestamps of authors (and their mindscapes) at a prior point in time. For me, it's like looking back at photograph of myself years ago. I read my story again and my critical eye was not kind (I truly dislike a lot of what I write - there are so many places for improvement).

It's a cycle of me celebrating the present (enjoying the act of writing whatever it is I'm writing now) and wrinkling my nose at the past (reading my previous stories and publications and going "OMG, why did I write this?") and projecting the future (planning the impossible stories in my mind) ; all part of my writing process.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

books and games

For someone who is supposed to be working on a handful of stories (gah, the deadlines draw ever closer), I've been remiss, instead spending time reading and figuring out the intricacies and secrets of Final Fantasy V.

New to my bookshelf are a pair of books by Filipino authors:

The Umbrella Country by Bino Realuyo (such a nice guy, as my email exchange with him attests) - direct from the Netherlands, thanks to Rochita.

Night Mares by Leoncio P. Deriada - direct from Dumaguete, thanks to Ian.

I'm also moving through the strange cities of Leviathan, edited by Forest Aguirre.

But what's really eating up my time is Nikki's Christmas gift, a lovely matte black Gameboy Advance that swallowed me whole and spat me out in the worlds of Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced, Final Fantasy V and Pokemon Chaos Black.

I remember the last time I had a Gameboy. Nikki and I got each other a Gameboy Color to lessen the tedium of the longhaul flights to the US and back. Even with those we were competitive, connecting each machine to the other via wires - nowadays, it's wireless, of course.

Lost, lost, but loving every moment (and feeling very guilty).

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

talking about stories

One of the things that made me very happy was the recent founding of LitCritters Dumaguete. Helmed by multiple Palanca Awarding winning fictionist Ian Rosales Casocot, this group of six authors (Michelle Eve de Guzman, Robert Jed Malayang, Rodrigo Bolivar, Lyde Villanueva, Marianne Tapales, and Anthony Gerard Odtohan) held their first LitCritter session with stories by William Faulkner, Jorge Luis Borges, and Socorro Villanueva.

Like LitCritters Manila, their goals are to expand their reading horizons, learn craftwork from well-written stories, and to write new stories of their own with the aim of getting these published here and abroad. Along the way, the weekly sessions teach literary criticism as well as writerly techniques, without forfeiting the pleasure of simply reading a story (sadly, this tends to happen in many workshops - after a while, stories cease to be stories but more fodder for the critic to analyze and deconstruct; it is vital that on some level we keep stories as stories - without this balanced approach, it is too easy to turn something pleasurable like reading into something tiresome).

Ian and I believe in encouragement. Not by creating a "praise factory", but by creating a venue for frank critique. This means being honest when we talk about the group's original stories, even if it hurts - but always with the understanding that we are by no means experts and ultimately offer only an opinion. It also helps Ian and myself in one big way: the existence of a group of peers who can critique our own work, from whom we can also learn from.

I'm making plans to hold a couple of open sessions or workshops in Manila this year, to answer requests from readers and writers who are not part of the regular sessions. My only concern is how to encompass in the course of a day or a weekend what took me weeks and months to articulate and share. But, as always, we'll see.

I'm delighted that Ian and his circle have decided to do this. I look forward to reading the new stories they'll be writing. Another reason to love Dumaguete and what comes from that magical place.

The latest LitCritter story, developed and critiqued during our sessions, appeared in last week's issue of Philippines Free Press: "Happening" by Andrew Drilon. Andrew's story is one of his strongest, and I am very proud of him.

It appears back-to-back with Ian Rosales Casocot's "Still Memories, in Ten Shots"- which was the last literary piece for the year 2006 for the Philippines Free Press (appearing in the final December issue).

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

good films

I'd like to invite everyone to a special film retrospective for noted screenwriter Amado L. Lacuesta Jr. on the occasion of his 10th death anniversary.

The event is scheduled for January 23-24, 2007 at the UP Film Institute Cine Adarna.

Here's the lineup:

Jan 23, 7PM Gala
Working Girls
1984 Viva Films
Direction: Ishmael Bernal

Jan 24, 2PM
1996 Neo Films
Direction: Tikoy Aguiluz

Jan 24, 5PM
Balweg: the Rebel Priest
1987 Viva Films
Direction: Butch Perez

Jan 24, 7PM
1996 Viva Films
Direction: Butch Perez

Admission is free.

For film details (and synopses), visit For other information, email


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

week one

December 31, 2006

Sage's nanny leaves. Coming back from a vacation with her in Dumaguete, this leaves a sour and helpless taste in my mouth. I feel betrayed, but what can you do? Finding a new helper becomes priority number one. It does not bode well for the new year.

Later, as we prepare to leave for my mother's house (where we celebrate New Year's Eve by force of tradition), I get a call from my mother. My grandmother, Jacinta, has taken a turn for the worse and has been rushed to the hospital. There will be no celebration.

Suddenly bereft of plans - and with Nikki taking ill - I rush out to secure food (thank goodness for credit cards as I had no cash). New Year's Eve dinner is mushrooms, onion rings, prawns, carbonara, white fish, and roast beef with Sage and Nikki.

It is quiet and I think of my grandmother.

January 1, 2007

Another quiet day punctuated by phone calls from the hospital. The phone calls are erratic because our cell phones and landline are affected somewhat by the chaos caused by the submarine-cable-ruining earthquake.

I try to write, but my heart isn't anywhere near me. It's in Paranaque, it's in the hospital, it's with lola.

In the evening, Nikki and I visit Vin and I walk into a surprise birthday party - for me. Truly surprised, I am happy to be in the company of friends with good food. But I leave my own party early. I have too much on my mind.

January 2, 2007

I turn 38 and feel the weight of age and years.

I spend the day at work and in client meetings (one of them is stunned that I'm at work during my birthday). I like keeping busy.

When I get home, I find out that Nikki's gift to me is a new bed for us. For the past several months my back has been a source of exquisite pain, and the new semi-orthopedic bed is wondrous.

That night, two stories appear in my sleep. One is sad. The other is sadder.

January 3, 2007

I'm at my office when my mother calls me to tell me that lola has passed away. She tells me to inform my sisters, which I do.

I feel numb.

When I get home, Sage looks at me and asks what's wrong.

"My lola died," I tell her.

"Oh no, Dad," she says, embracing me.

That's when I cry.

Later, she whispers in my ear: "It's okay to cry, Dad, but remember that I'm still here and I love you."

Despite my broken heart, I cannot help but be amazed at the words my four-year-old daughter speaks.

January 4, 2007

The wake is held at Funeraria Nacional. Nikki, Vin and I go towards midnight. I speak with my aunt and uncles.

The coffin is there and my lola Jacinta is in it, gaunt, too pale, unsmiling, eyes closed, smaller than life and bigger than death. She's wearing a beautiful dress that makes her look like a Chinese matriach. I find out later that my sister, Maureen, the fashion editor for Philippine Tatler, styled her - but only after a heated argument with my mother.

Even over the dead, my family argues.

January 5, 2007

I take a leave from my office (which functionally means I'm not there but still in contact with clients - most of whom did not call me for work, out of respect) to help out with the funeral arrangements. At this point, there's actually very little for me to do except to speak and give money.

There is a necrological service for lola at the funeral home. Towards the end, family members were asked to speak. We recover memories and share them with friends, family and strangers. When it is my turn to speak, I stand there with the microphone and for a moment the surreal nature of everything strikes me with breathless force and I am left mute.

When the words return, I speak about Jacinta, who at 94 years old lived a life impossible to encompass in the few minutes that I have. I talk about the grandmother that I love, always in the present tense ("Jacinta is...") because only her physical state ha changed. She is gone, yes, but she will never cease to my grandmother. Death does not, cannot, change that quality.

I struggle to offer comfort to the audience even as I need comfort. In the end, I feel an odd sense of bravado, making it through my speech, giving honor to my lola.

The UP Singing Ambassadors come and sing a capella. The songs are old and powerful and true. I remember my cousin BJ who died a few years ago (he used to sing with them) and meet the eyes of his mother. At that moment, we both surrender to a doubled grief.

Only the young are spared the immensity of grief: Sage reconnects with her cousins and stands firmly on the side of laughter which the adults try to shush.

At 1AM, we go home to prepare for the funeral.

January 6, 2007

At 4AM, we are sitting on stone benches at the Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina.

In the darkness before sunrise, everything is enveloped in tranquility. As we wait for the others to arrive, Nikki, Andrew, Vin and I smoke cigarettes and talk about life and death and spirits and ghosts.

Soon, lola arrives and the service is performed and she is laid to rest under the earth and we are driving away and stopping for breakfast with my family and going home and getting changed and getting into bed and falling asleep.

I do not dream of anything.

January 7, 2007

We are at the wedding of Ruey de Vera, in barongs and suits, with Sage and Nikki in dresses. We would have prefered to stay at home and rest, but Ruey is a close friend and so there was really no question that we'd go.

The wedding is lovely and Sage thrills to the kiss between bride and groom.

Later at the reception, Sage falls asleep as I converse with Karina Bolasco who gestured for my family to sit with her at the "Anvil Publishing/Inquirer" table. She tells me that my collection of short fiction is slated for publication during the second quarter of this year and that makes me smile.

We eat and drink and talk and watch the video and get our pictures taken with Ruey and Joysie but after a while, the fatigue and emotional toil of the past few days just gets to me - I watch my sleeping daughter with envy.

We go home and finally, finally the week ends.

It feels like fiction. In one week: a New Year's Eve, a 38th birthday, a death, a wedding.


Monday, January 08, 2007


This week:

Home on the Rain by Jonathan Caroll
The Monkey's Paw by WW Jacobs
Henry James, This Ones for You by Jack McDevitt
The Island of Varos by Severina Park

Last week:

The Axolotl Colony by Jaime An Lim
The Dust Enclosed Here by Kage Baker
Next Sunday at the Bazaar by David Evans Katz
Isolde, Shea and the Donkey Brea by Timothy Lanz

Last Last Week:

Fairest by Brian Atterby
The Hours Before Sunrise by William Congreve
Unspeakable by MCA Hogarth
The Specialist by Alison Smith

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Due to the damage wrought by an earthquake in Taiwan to submarine cables and terrestial lines, internet connectivity in the Philippines has been intermittent and frustrating.

I'll be back soon, when things are back to normal.

Until then, Happy New Year to everyone!