Sunday, September 30, 2007


Reading/Discussion List

This week: Open Session at A Different Bookstore at Serendra, October 6, 4PM:

A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury
Walpurgis Afternoon by Delia Sherman
We Won't Cry Over This by Socorro Villanueva

Last Week

Journey to Gantica by Matthew Corradi
Envoy Extraordinary by Albert Cowdrey
Atalanta Loses at the Interpantheonic Trivia Bee by Heather Lindsley
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Next week

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick
The Rapid Advance of Sorrow by Theodora Goss
Fragrant Goddess by Paul Park

Join the LitCritters Group.


Friday, September 28, 2007

ateneo national writer's workshop

The 7th Ateneo National Writer’s Workshop wil be held Oct 22-27 at the Sacred Heart Novitiate in Novaliches, Quezon City.

This year’s fellows are Ernanie Francisco Rafael, Sonny Corpuz Sendon, Enrique Sia Villasis (poetry in Filipino); Joy Anne Icayan, Camile May C. Ocumen, Miguel Antonio Lizada (poetry in English); Mary Anne Claure M. Umali, Joanne Rose T. Laddaran, Anna Levita Macapugay (short fiction in Filipino); and Catherine Flores Alpay, Andrew S. Robles and Katherine Gae T. Yamar (short fiction in English).

Award-winning poets and fictionists will be the workshop’s panelists: Dean Alfar, Marjorie Evasco, Mookie Katigbak, Susan Lara, Allan Popa, Jun Cruz Reyes, Joseph Salazar, Benilda Santos, Luna Sicat, Angelo Suarez, Joel Toledo, Roland Tolentino, Kimie Tuvera, Larry Ypil, Michael Coroza, Jema Pamintuan, Edgar Samar and Alvin Yapan.The workshop is organized by the Ateneo Institute of Literary Arts and Practices headed by acting director Marco Aniano V. Lopez, with the help of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts.

From Akosiyol


Thursday, September 27, 2007

psf3 - editing phase

Nikki and I have sent out the letters of acceptance and regret. Thanks to everyone who sent a story in for consideration. This, I think, is our strongest year for spec fic, with Nikki and myself spending many a sleepless night deliberating as we championed various stories for different reasons before reaching an amicable accord. Some stories, after the second and third readings, remained strong; others, originally comfortably shortlisted, found themselves usurped by stories that revealed their prowess in the later reviews. We increased the word count of the volume, and therefore increased the physical page count, which translates to a greater production cost - but it is worth it.

I'll hold off announcing the final TOC for a few days as we wait for confirmation on a couple of stories we want - but this volume, this set of stories is exciting, with contributors young and younger from different parts of the country as well as the US and Europe.

Many of the other stories we could not publish because of page count limitations are already of publishable or contest quality. I encourage those writers to submit their pieces to Story Philippine, the Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, the Philippines Free Press and Philippine Graphic, as well as to enter them into the Fully Booked competition.

So now Nikki and I enter the editing phase of the process, followed by the final versions, cover design, layout, printing and the launch - which we have bravely set on December 8th, at Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street (how's that for crazed faith?).

Speaking of launches (shameless plug time), I hope to see you on Saturday at 4PM at Bestsellers Robinsons Galleria for the launch of "The Kite of Stars".


Monday, September 24, 2007

a wondrous can of worms

I am, of course, delighted with all the discussions on just what the hell "Philippine Speculative Fiction" is. Kyu has a list of people expressing opinions left and right, with very interesting and strongly-worded stances from Bhex and Tin and Sean.

It reminds me of the fact that I was supposed to be ruminating about this thing myself (started here with Parts One, Two and Three, limiting myself to two discourse elements first: character and setting) before real life and work took over.

I'm happy that there is impassioned discussion because it shows that there are people who care about this thing. Yes, I subscribe to the "write the story first and let the critics do what they do best but dammit write" but I am also a card-carrying member of the "you are responsible for what you write and it is your responsibility as a writer to know just what it is you're getting yourself into", as well as of the school of "the story doesn't come out of nowhere but is a text constructed by the author, which means that there are no accidents where it matters", and the "shut up, suck it up, grow up, you overly sensitive moronic writer" philosophy. I also pay dues to: "no one tells me what to or what not to write", the "literature must 'help' others", "language does not equal nationalism", "at a certain point, enough of this postcolonial anxiety, just write", and I have a blood-stained pin from the "show me what you mean - write a story that conforms to the theory you espouse; if you can't put up, shut up".

Oh, and I am a Filipino who writes in English (it seems that the order of the day is define, define, define).

Now the wonderful thing about this can of worms is that writers are being forced to consider issues that they normally are unaware of (or choose to ignore). Writing is political (yes, I get monthly magazines from "the personal is political" club too), and a writer's life does not begin and end purely with the text he or she produced.

It would seem that I am expected to weigh in on the issues discussed. To a great extent I have, though as I have posted before, I am not 100% persuaded by my own reasoning (there's lots to consider). I will write more on these subjects - soon.

In the meantime, I encourage more people to weigh in. Nothing is set in stone. Do not be intimidated by the academic-sounding articulations of some bloggers (they can't help their background, as they razzledazzle you with theory and jargon - their hearts are in the right place).

My only contribution at this time is to define (there it is again) how I view the big picture. As the co-editor with Nikki on an anthology called "Philippine Speculative Fiction", I am more descriptive than prescriptive.

Tin Mandigma writes: "People might say that making prescriptions and definitions is a critic’s job, as if writers sleepwalk their way through their stories, and as if speculative fiction writers, especially, are exempt from the responsibilities of writing literature because they claim to simply be ‘telling stories’ (excuse me)."

Wearing my editorial hat, I do not believe, at this stage in the development of PSF, that prescription is the best way to get excellent spec fic from a variety of writers. In the context of the annual antho, I'd rather present a variety of stories, including the occassional one that challenges what I think spec fic is. We need to see what grows, reading new stories every year, each story contributing to the definition. The answer to "What is Philippine Speculative Fiction?" is "A definition in progress". At this point, I'd rather err in terms of being inclusive than exclusive.

So I am anti-prescriptive, yes.

But wait! I am also pro-prescriptive.

As a writer, I firmly self-prescribe when I develop a text. My story needs to satisfy the unwritten rules of my own personal writing aesthetics, gently but truthfully represent my literary (and other) politics and sensibilities, be of a certain quality I personally judge to be acceptable (mas maganda sa Pilipino: yung hindi naman nakakahiya ipabasa sa iba), and, of course, tell a story.

And now, off to do some writing.


Sunday, September 23, 2007


Reading/Discussion List

This week:

Journey to Gantica by Matthew Corradi
Envoy Extraordinary by Albert Cowdrey
Atalanta Loses at the Interpantheonic Trivia Bee by Heather Lindsley
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Last Week

The Day the Dancers Came by Bienvenido Santos
Horse-Year Women by Michaela Roessner
The Elephants on Neptune by Mike Resnick
The Falling Girl by Dino Buzzati

Next week: Open Session at A Different Bookstore at Serendra, October 6, 4PM:

A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury
Walpurgis Afternoon by Delia Sherman
We Won't Cry Over This by Socorro Villanueva

Join the LitCritters Group.


Friday, September 21, 2007

fiction: ever, after

Ever, After
By Dean Francis Alfar

Once upon a time, there was a young girl whose mother had died. This, her father told her, was when the girl was small enough to rest in his arms.

I did not expect you to find me, but I suppose someone in your new station has certain privileges. I do not mean to sound adversarial, but you belong to a chapter in my life I thought long closed. Yes, it’s true that I still live, but far away – or so I thought. I hope you do not take my candid response to mean that I wish the past revoked. I do not. I made my choice, and yes, yes I left him and you. The reasons are small but manifold, and yes, if it gives you comfort, I do sometimes think of what might have been if I had stayed. But I didn’t.

1. My Second Husband. It was like I was half-blind until I met him. Then my eyes betrayed me, then my heart, then my lips. Reason was the last bastion of resistance as I asked myself what other people would say, what they would think, how they would judge. Then I decided that in the end, judgments are worth less than the energy spent to make them, and I went with him. Of course I am happier. And yes, sometimes I imagine regret. But it is such as small thing.

2. You. Are you surprised? Are you rolling your eyes in disbelief? Are you asking, as I suppose you should, if I loved you why did I leave you as well? Why didn’t I take you with me? The answer is this: in the new space I chose to occupy, there was only room for one. And yes, I chose myself. Was it not a selfish thing? Yes and no. And no, I do not care to know what you think. Because it will not change a thing.

3. My Garden. It is beautiful and demands only what I can give. My ornamental trees grow because they have to, because it is in their nature. I only help it along; devotion is my only magic. There is only so much a person can give, after all.

Her father loved her as best he could, but soon married a widow. Before long, he passed away.

First, a caveat: you know, of course, that I am dead. I do not know how much the love of those gone matters to the living, but if it is a comfort to you, here is my list. My honest list, my beloved daughter.

1. Your mother. It sounds trite and tired but it’s absolutely true. She was the first my heart knew, and the night she left was the time I think I began to die. If I could change things, I would change almost every day we spent together. I’d alter our conversations, or at least my part in them. I don’t recall every word but I know the sense of what I’d try for. And I’d ask her point blank to stay.

2. You, of course. I remember when you were born, how I felt my heart expand to accommodate the love that came over me like a towering wave. I didn’t think I could love you, given that all that I was I had already surrendered to your mother. But when I saw you, I realized that what I previously believed was utterly false. It grew stronger as you grew older; you look so much like her. I’m sorry that the truth places you at number two, but you asked and I am compelled to speak. But you must know that beyond this absurd list, I treasure you. No, I cannot “the most” or “the best”, but it’s true nonetheless.

3. Your Step-Mother. I know how you two do not get along, but I suppose you’d have to be a man to understand why I remarried. Or you have to be placed in a situation where the rest of your life looks like a dismal road. There is comfort in having a companion, someone of my age to talk to, someone to sleep with at night.

The stepmother was cruel to the young girl and made her life miserable. She kept her in the house, away from society.

I can guess what you think I’ll answer. It’s too easy. We have become predictable, you and I, caught up in your tragic expectations, your self-made drama. You never liked me, and I could never love you. What are you to me, after all? It is blood that sings true. Even if you gave me more than three numbers to fill, you will never find your name there.

1. Myself. If someone tells you that they love themselves least, you are speaking to a liar. You may accuse me of many things, as you have, but I have always spoken the truth. If I coerce myself to love you, as you no doubt have dreamed, ask yourself this: is love forced still love?

2. My Daughters. After all, part of me lives within them, and I am responsible for both. What mother leaves her children? You know the answer, of course. It is to her that all the bitterness of your youth, everything, should be directed to. Not to me, not to mine.

3. Your Father. I found him broken and entered the marriage knowing I could never replace your mother. But I did love him, in my way. Do you think it foolish, to give with little expectation? Perhaps. But it was enough. Unlike you, some of us have to work for what comfort we get to keep.

The young girl longed to attend a ball but was prevented from going by her stepmother. But her godmother gave her what she needed to go.

This request, I must confess, I find rather odd. What sort of woman asks people questions like these? It is a good thing I am not the sort to take offense. I loved you from the moment I was asked to love and protect you. If I could be your mother, I would. But I am not, I cannot, no matter how much I wish. There is, sadly, a limit to what wishes can bring.

1. You. My darling child, my little girl, my young lass, my princess. I know we have talked my absence through your early years, but as I said then, it was only because I had other godchildren to look after and you had your parents. When your mother left, I was the last to know, and, as I told you, I made haste to see you. But this body is old and all the will in the world cannot change geography. I’m just thankful I made it in time to make a difference. That means everything to me.

2. My other godchildren. They are all special to me as you are special to me. Even as I write this, I am on my way to another sad child, a boy this time, or more properly, someone who wishes to be a boy. Circumstances like these are why I cannot stay in one place for long. Too many children need love, and I find them, give them all my heart can give, and then move on. I miss you, like I miss the others, but I need to move on. It is not abandonment when part of my heart stays - I know you’ll understand in time.

3. Wishes. I know, what an odd thing to list. But wishes are expressed hopes released into the air. They make my world spin. They keep me alive.

At the ball, she met a prince. They fell in love and lived happily ever after.

Why even ask me? This is silly, and little bit of, well, an entrapment. Have I not proven myself by looking for you? By marrying you? If I begin with you, you wouldn’t believe me, even if it’s true. If I place you anywhere else on my list, you will be hurt. I know you will. So better disbelief than pain.

1. You. I liked the girl who ran away; I love the woman who chose to stay.

2. Me. This is somewhat important to me, that you let me love myself – not that your love is inadequate. But while I can choose to love you all the time, there are times you are not in my mind at all – when I read, when I work, and sometimes, even when I dream. You don’t mind, do you?

3. My Work. You know how it is. My father once told me that love for country would come in time; at that time, I didn’t believe him. But he is getting old and soon it will be my turn. It’s sad but true. But I am learning to love the land, my people, and I know you’ll understand when the time comes, when, my love, things must change. But that is yet tomorrow and what we have is today. It isn’t exactly forever, but as close as I can make it.

"Ever, After" first appeared in Philippines Free Press, August 2007
Copyright 2007 by Dean Francis Alfar
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

kare-kare komiks!

Check out Mang Tomas the Storyhunter.

The Chemistry Set is pleased to announce that Filipino comicker Andrew Drilon and his series, Kare-Kare Komiks, is joining it’s line-up. Previously displayed at Warren Ellis’ forum The Engine, Drilon is bringing his unique and emboldened take on comics to a bigger semi-monthly starting September 19th, 2007.

“These are wonderful,” says Warren Ellis. “I swear, the Pinoy make comics in the same way that the Icelandic make music … Fucking genius.”

‘Kare-kare’ is a traditional Filipino dish that incorporates various assorted ingredients into a delicious, meaty stew. ‘Komiks’ is a term for sequential art made in the Philippines, referring to Pinoy mass-produced newsprint comic books. Put these two together and you have Kare-Kare Komiks, the new semi-monthly webcomic at The Chemistry Set. Kare-Kare Komiks is an ongoing collection of self-contained short comics by Andrew Drilon that explores new flavors of the sequential art experience.

Andrew Drilon is a writer, artist, editor and graphic designer from the Philippines.He has been featured among The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s “22 under 22 Avant-Guardians” and Meg Magazine’s “Top 50 Achievers”, as one of the country’s hottest young voices. He has contributed to two National Book Award-winning anthologies-Siglo: Freedom and Siglo: Passion-and is the co-editor of the PBBY-recommended graphic anthology, Project: Hero. He has self-published a series of ashcan comics, is a regular contributor to K-Zone Magazine, and maintains a weekly Sunday strip at The Philippine Star.

“Andrew Drilon does beautiful, otherworldly work– he makes comics like nobody else,” says Matt Fraction, writer of Casanova and The Immortal Iron Fist. “Kare-Kare is one of my favorite things on the internet ever. It’s even better than that one time where they blew up that whale everywhere.”

The first comic is entited ‘Mang Tomas the Storyhunter’. Drilon will post favorites from his run on The Engine starting with ‘The Legend of Caraboy!’ on Sept. 26, ‘Secret Heart’ on Oct. 3rd, ‘Two Tiny Things’ on Oct. 10th, and ‘What Will You Bring?’ on Oct. 17th. After that, Drilon will begin a semi-monthly posting on the 1st & 3rd Wednesdays of every month.

The Chemistry Set is a destination for webcomics in a variety of styles from a variety of up & coming and established talent. Founded in 2006, The Chemistry Set boasts three Xeric Award winners and a combined bibliography including work for Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Random House, Image Comics, SLG Publishing and many others.
Emma Bull is in love!
Fantastic work, Andrew!

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

psf 3 - first reading done

Burning the midnight oil for the past few nights, my co-editor Nikki and I have completed our first reading pass of the submissions for the 3rd volume of the antho, happily reading in silence, sometimes surrounded by stories on the bed, or at the computer with a cigarette or at the living room with food.

Last night, Sage found us engrossed and scribbling initial comments, and brought her own reading material and sat with us until her patience wore thin.

"Dad," she said. "What are you guys reading?"

"Stories for a new book," I mumbled.

"Can I help?"

I looked up from the well-written story I was reading, about a man in a future where everyone is starving due to stuff placed in the world's water supply, and handed it over to my daughter.

Sage took the story, squinted at the text (we reformatted everything to LitCrit printout standards - Book Antiqua, font 8, two columns, landscape orientation) and silently read for a few seconds.

"This is a good story, Dad," she told me, returning the story under consideration. "I'm off to watch TV now."

"But Sage," I interrupted her. "You can't judge a story without reading all of it."

"Daaaaad," she said, moving to the doorway. "I know it's good."

Wisely, I decided not to engage her on the finer details of judging texts. After all, she was right. That particular story got a "hell, yes!" later from me, and a "definitely yes" from Nikki, and so it went into both our shortlists.

Overall, I am impressed by the quality of the stories submitted this year. Like the two previous volumes, stories came in from various parts of the country, the US and Europe.

Nikki and I both have initial shortlists, but these may change after the next two reading passes, as subsequent readings reveal story strengths and subtleties or (not-so-obvious) weaknesses that we missed during the first reading pass. We're targeting the end of next week for finalizing the TOC.


Monday, September 17, 2007

psf3 - the deadline rush

The influx of deadline-beating/straddling story submissions for Philippine Speculative Fiction v3 was stunning. I did not expect more than 10 or so to trickle in at the last moment, but instead was greeted by almost 50 stories when I checked my mailbox very early on Sunday morning. These stories arrived between Friday midnight and Saturday midnight.

I am moved by support of all who submitted, writers whose explorations into the fantastic they've opted to share - and I am glad I have a co-editor this time, as the happy time of reading and shifting and selecting begins. Thank you very much to every one who sent in a story. Rest assured that your submission will be read by Nikki and myself and then discussed and deliberated upon. Expect our TOC around the end of the month or early October.

This year, I'm aiming for a thicker book, budget-permitting, which means more stories than the two previous volumes (the secret dream is to be a thick as those phonebook-sized US anthos!).



Kudos to Nikki! Her new story, "Adrift on the Street Formerly Known as Buendia ", appears in this week's issue of Philippines Free Press. I quite enjoyed her quiet descent into surrealism with this one.

Also, we had a story each accepted in the upcoming tales antho edited by Christina Hidalgo. Jing sent me a list of the authors which I am sorely tempted to post (but will wait for her permission or a formal announcement from the publisher). It's quite a list; can't wait to see the book.

With stories coming out in the next issues of Story Philippines and Philippine Genre Stories, I can worry less about my own submissions and get focused on writing new stories.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

prepping for reading

I've started to print out the submissions to date for the new spec fic antho, coming out in December (which means we print the book in November). I haven't read of them yet (I have to schedule time with Nikki so we can both read and deliberate) but couldn't help look at the titles and scan the first pages as my printer churned them out. Everything looks exciting - except there seems to be a dearth of scifi submissions.

Deadline is still midnight this Saturday - so where's the scifi, people?

I also have better insight into a question I asked a few years ago, when I noticed that anthos and magazines tended to have a lot of the same authors year after year, issue after issue. Take a look at S&SF and you'll note writers like Robert Reed who seem to have stories in almost every issue. Or in the Year's Best anthos where Ford, Rosenbaum, Lanagan, Gaiman, Hand and others seem to come back year after year, with new interesting stories.

Anyway, business life is rather stressful these days (my partner is off for 5 weeks in Europe and I'm running the show myself), what with multiple conflicting meetings (which would be actually be funny if I had the energy to laugh, thank goodness for Nina, my PM) and a cascade of new projects (yay, of course, but OMG just how will we do this - the solution? Hire people. Which I just did) - it will be great to read through stories to unwind.

It just occured to me now, between all the LitCrit stories each week, plus these story submissions, plus the stories I need to judge for competitions, it would seem to suggest that I ought to be jaded or worse, averse, to reading short fiction by now.

It's quite the opposite, actually. It makes me happy.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

the agony of da feet

My mother used to tell me this story about my dad, of how, in the first couple of years into their marriage he didn't have a job and had to really on his family for support (which did not sit well with my mom). He would spend all day walking around the city, knocking on doors of companies and inquiring for openings. At night, when he got home, he'd stare down at his worn shoes before slowly taking them off. His huge feet, an exotic size not offered by regular shoe stores, would be painful. And he's look at my mother's eyes and sadly shake his head.

When I come home from work nowadays, I think about my dad's feet, not because I'm looking for work and not because my feet are as large as his (no, I am a demure size 9) but because they're painful. I suspect my arches have collapsed (but then again, I also suspected I had throat cancer at age 10 - it turned out to be some small infection) because the pain is pronounced where my foot curves. And of course, I have not gone to see a doctor or a foot specialist (because, somehow, it will make it a real ailment as opposed to the vagaries of age), but I might real soon as it hurts to walk.

I've changed shoes, eliminated suspects, tried rubber shoes with arch supports (but really, rubber shoes and I are like oil and water; we appear together once in a blue moon, at remote gas stations), rotated shoes and finally decided on the things I need (which are not available here): Dr. Scholl's Massaging Gel Arch Supports, Dr. Scholl's Tri-Comfort Orthotics, and Dr. Scholl's Adjustable Arch Pain Relief Orthotics. Just looking at their pictures brings me comfort (sob). So those things are #1 on my to-buy list when we visit the US on December (and books, of course).

There is another method I have for not feeling my footy pain: not putting weight on them, which means not standing up or walking much - which is, of course, impossible in my work (with the blessed exception of those odd days when I stuck at the office completely) since I run around a lot.

In the meantime, my loving wife has found wonderful temporary measures at a bargain Japanese store. These are foot-shaped rubber things (gah, what is the word?) that are inserted into shoes, each one offering a little bit of relief for aching arches due to its slightly raised design. She got me three pairs, which, like lego, I can opt to wear solo or in some other combination. I love this woman.

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Monday, September 10, 2007


Reading/Discussion story lists

This week:

Red Flowers and Ivy by M. Shayne Bell
The Secret of the Scarab by Ron Goulard
The Blemmye's Stratagem by Bruce Sterling
King Rainjoy's Tears by Chris Willrich

Last week:

Door 59 by F.H. Batacan
The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate by Ted Chiang
Private Detective Molly by A.B. Goelman

Next week: Open Session at A Different Bookstore at Serendra, Sept 22, 4PM:

The Day the Dancers Came by Bienvenido Santos
Horse-Year Women by Michaela Roessner
The Elephants on Neptune by Mike Resnick
*The Falling Girl by Dino Buzzati (*time-permitting)

The LitCritters are readers who write and writers who read, based in Manila (moderated by Dean Francis Alfar) and in Dumaguete City (moderated by Ian Rosales Casocot). We believe that there is much to learn from reading all sorts of fiction - from speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, horror, magic realism, surrealism and interstitial fiction) to realism and everything in between.

If you're interested, you can join the us in 3 easy steps:

Join the LitCritters Google Group. Click here.

Download the stories up for discussion and read them.

Attend the next Open Session at A Different Bookstore in Serendra (held every 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month; we start at 4PM) and get ready to talk.

Everyone is welcome. No degrees, previous workshops, published stories, pedigrees/bloodlines and certainly no awards required. Note that all stories are for discussion purposes only.


Friday, September 07, 2007

expeditions from fully booked

November brings the publication of the winners of 1st Philippine Graphic Fiction Awards from Fully Booked in the anthology "Expeditions".

The book launch is scheduled for late November at Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street, together with the awarding ceremony of the 2nd Philippine Graphic Fiction competition with Neil Gaiman as co-presentor.

"Expeditions" is composed of fiction and comics. The speculative fiction portion features the winning stories, "The God Equation," "A Strange Map of Time," "The Great Philippine Space Mission," "The Omega Project," and "Atha" as well as selected short listed works. The comics part will showcase the winning "Hika Girl," " SPLAT!," "Defiant: The Battle of Mactan," and "Dusk" along with selected short-listed entries. Foreword by Neil Gaiman, cover art by Leinil Francis Yu.

Congratulations to Ian and Michael and all the winning storytellers. Make sure to join this year's competition.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

mundane science fiction

Alex and I have been having conversations about Filipino science fiction, most recently exchanging views during the LitCritters panel at the Book Fair. In our (admittedly limited) readings of available Filipino scifi, we noted a rather pessimistic outlook toward the future - as if the gorgeous imaginings of fantastical or hard science fiction was not something that appealed to Filipino scifi writers or simply could not be presented as remotely possible.

It seems as if our writers cannot believe in a future where the Philippines is anything other than what it is right now, as if the country cannot possibly be anything else. In the name of verisimilitude, we present stories where the spectre of social realism is still strong, where the concerns of nationhood are paramount, and where the divide between the haves and the haves-not is even more pronounced.

There is nothing wrong in this, of course. Literature reflects the concerns of a people, and speculative fiction is no exception. At the core of things, stories, whether spun from magical cloth or constructed in terms of narrative realism, address human concerns, the human condition. My perspective is simply wanting more variety in the types of Filipino science fiction that we read and write.

Having said that though, if we were to go with the flow (remember: descriptive, not prescriptive), I'd suggest that some of us adopt the perspective of mundane science fiction (since we seem to be in no rush to posit scenarios that move too far away from what is "real").

Mundane Science Fiction, according to the Wikifolk, is a sub-section of science fiction that focuses on stories set on or near the Earth, with a believable use of technology and science as it exists at the time the story is written. Liberally quoting from the Wiki:

The central ideas are:

That interstellar travel remains unlikely; that Warp drives, worm holes, and other forms of faster-than-light travel are wish fulfillment fantasies rather than serious speculation about a possible future.

That unfounded speculation about interstellar travel can lead to an illusion of a universe abundant with worlds as hospitable to life as this Earth. This is also viewed as unlikely.

That this dream of abundance can encourage a wasteful attitude to the abundance that is here on Earth.

That there is no evidence whatsoever of intelligences elsewhere in the universe. That absence of evidence is not evidence of absence -- however, it is considered unlikely that alien intelligences will overcome the physical constraints on interstellar travel any better than we can.

That interstellar trade (and colonization, war, federations, etc.) is therefore highly unlikely.

That communication with alien intelligences over such vast distances will be vexed by: the enormous time lag in exchange of messages and the likelihood of enormous and probably currently unimaginable differences between us and aliens.

That there is no present evidence whatsoever that quantum uncertainty has any effect at the macro level and that therefore it is highly unlikely that there are whole alternative universes to be visited.

That therefore our most likely future is on this planet and within this solar system, and that it is highly unlikely that intelligent life survives elsewhere in this solar system. Any contact with aliens is likely to be tenuous, and unprofitable.

That the most likely future is one in which we only have ourselves and this planet.

So no aliens, no interstellar travel, no science that does not currently exist - it seems tailor-made. Personally though, if I could write excellent science fiction (which is a gigantic "if"), I'd go more with the "I want a space rocket" folk.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

the totem pole of priorities

One of the notions that the LitCritters reference because of its usefulness is the authorial totem pole of priorities. Most readers and writers use the totem pole unconsciously, but awareness of its existence is quite useful.

The totem pole is simply how elements of a text (in terms of story and discourse and beyond) are prioritized by the author. Like a real totem pole, something must be on top; there is a definite way in which each writer stacks what is important to him or her.

Elements that go on the totem pole include items that the author are concerned about, such as characterization, plot, dialogue, setting, theme, conceit/idea, agenda, structure, language/tone, slant, POV, texture, layering and so on. However, it also includes items that the author is not conscious of (or does not care much about), such as the marginalization of women, for example (in which case, these items, once revealed by analysis, are evidenced very low on the totem pole).

As readers, awareness of our own preferences totem pole-wise, is what guides us toward the kinds of texts and books we like to read or will purchase at bookstores. A reader who prioritizes plot, for instance, will gravitate toward stories that have strong plots; someone who likes world building will actively seek books that are big on setting.

As critics, teasing out the text's totem pole (which we perform on a text-pre-text basis, as discussion of an author's corpus-wide totem pole is a different matter altogether) lets us see if the text was successful in terms of what it set out to do. A story that does not appeal to a given reader might "fail" simply because the reader's totem pole and the text's do not align - this, however, is not reason to condemn the text. In fact, the enlightened critic should take care to read the text closely to understand it. There are many texts that prioritize elements other than character (characterization, to the realists as well as to the LitCritters, is very important - to some, in fact, the story is just a vehicle for the character) - it is simply wrong to turn up our noses at stories that do not prioritize what we think should be on top. By the same token, readers who prefer elements other than character (such as action, plot, didactic discourse, nationalist agenda) should be open to reading texts outside their comfort zone (such as spec fic pieces that are surrealist in nature, or prioritize the elevation of language, or, in the case of some science fiction, valorize the idea). We do not need to love what we do not love, or even like texts we do not like - but read them we must, to experience other ways of telling a story.

As writers, we need to be aware of our own totem pole of priorities. Not so we can adhere to a formula, but so that we can reflect on what is important to us when we write stories - and learn to question just why we have stacked our totem poles in a particular manner.

Many of us just write, without thinking about the totem pole. But this does not mean that there is nothing that is important to us, in terms of discourse, in terms of how we tell a story. This does not mean that we do not prioritize certain elements above others. Recognizing what is personally important to us as writers permits us to do several things: we can write to our strengths; we can work on our weaknesses; we can jumble up the authorial totem pole and try something new to us.

The totem pole is descriptive, not prescriptive. It reflects our writerly sensibilities; it should not dictate how we write. The totem pole can be shifted, altered, restructured and reset with every new piece - unless the author chooses not to, for whatever reason (it could be that the author is perfectly happy with the way things are).

Corpus-wide analysis (in which we look at the exisiting body of work of an author to see if the various stories share similar totem poles) is also interesting; and discrete blocks of stories that adhere to a particular configuration can be seen (which could be interpreted as "periods" in an author's life).

Myself, my top 5 elements on my personal writing totem pole tend to gravitate towards something like this (though I like to think I do shake it up from time to time):

character (yes, character is most important)
language/tone (second is language, how the text reads or sounds)
structure (the framework, how the text is assembled)
plot (the events, if any, in a text that help move the narrative)
conceit (the kernel of an idea)

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on philippine speculative fiction & the kite of stars

Bhex of the Philippine Speculative Fiction Blog posts some notes on the recent talk the LitCritters gave on spec fic at the recent Book Fair. Mia also provides her take on our talk, "The Imagination to Ask", for Read or Die.

Charles posts the recording of the radio interview (RX93) I did recently, with Tin Mandigma of Read or Die and Gwen Galvez of Anvil. Along with the talk about the book, I remember also talking about spec fic in general.

Thanks, Bhex, Mia and Charles!

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

vignette: the empress of trick

I watch him sleeping now, this stranger in my bed. At rest, his eyelids conceal his brilliant mismatched eyes – one green as a moss-covered glen, the other a cornflower blue.

“My mother loved cats and was loved by them in return,” he told me earlier when he found me staring at him. “Some folk back at home even whisper that I am cat-kin, and that my mother went a-dancing with the feline spirits under a harvest of moonlight. It’s only well that my real father didn’t ever catch wind of it – it would have broken his heart.”

I recall nodding then, mute as always. The shock of how fast events had taken place still weighed heavily on me.

“But whether that rumor be true or not, I love the strangeness of my eyes. They make me seem a little more than I am. But it’s all seeming, really. Nothing but an accident of color. They only become special when people think they belie something else. Do they bother you, girl-wife?"

I did not answer him, quickly lowering my gaze to the marble floor of the tapestried room where we spoke. I felt his piercing gaze cover me, razing all my garments in a haze of blue and green. Under the torrid heat of his eyes, I was made aware of only one thing: my nakedness under the robes of Imperial red and gold that I wore, the very ones that once belonged to his mother, he said.

Even now, as I watch him breathe and dream (what could his dreams be?) I shudder at his form. For where fortune or felinity had granted him the marvel of his eyes, he had been robbed of everything else. The rest of his face was dominated by a nose twisted to one side by an over generous mouth. His hair was of a rough and unkempt brown, framing his harsh features. On his back between his shoulders , a small lump grew. And where his forearms were massive and covered with hair, his legs were thin, pale and bare – almost like a woman’s.

After the funeral and the marriage came the evening I most dreaded. We were left alone by the courtiers and well-wishers, ladies-in-waiting, cousins and other crowned heads. I was dressed in borrowed splendor but my tears outshone all my jewels and finery.

“Do not be afraid, girl-wife,” he whispered as he began to kiss my neck.

When I was younger I had dreamed of a prince on a white charger, of us galloping to his castle far away. Or else a handsome tailor, common but truehearted, clever and kind. Or a young soldier returning from a distant war, with three mysterious hounds each larger and more magnificent than the other.

“I loved you the first moment I heard of you. And I knew it to be true when I first beheld you."

He had revealed all of me by then, leaving a pile of regal clothing on the floor. He carried me to the bed. I could not bear to look while he disrobed – I was wondering when my tears would stop flowing.

“You will learn to love me.”

Was that love he showed me that night? I realized that I was not breathing all that time.



Reading/Discussion story lists

This week- Open Session at A Different Bookstore at Serendra, Sept 8, 4PM:

Door 59 by F.H. Batacan
The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate by Ted Chiang
Private Detective Molly by A.B. Goelman

Last week:

Silence by Marianne Villanueva
The Girl Detective by Kelly Link
The Thief with Two Hearts by Chris Willrich
The Balloon by Donald Barthelme

Next week:

Red Flowers and Ivy by M. Shayne Bell
The Secret of the Scarab by Ron Goulard
The Blemmye's Stratagem by Bruce Sterling
King Rainjoy's Tears by Chris Willrich

The LitCritters are readers who write and writers who read, based in Manila (moderated by Dean Francis Alfar) and in Dumaguete City (moderated by Ian Rosales Casocot).

We believe that there is much to learn from reading all sorts of fiction - from speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, horror, magic realism, surrealism and interstitial fiction) to realism and everything in between.

If you're interested, you can join the us in 3 easy steps:

Join the LitCritters Google Group. Click here.

Download the stories up for discussion and read them.

Attend the next Open Session at A Different Bookstore in Serendra (held every 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month; we start at 4PM) and get ready to talk.

Everyone is welcome. No degrees, previous workshops, published stories, pedigrees/bloodlines and certainly no awards required. Note that all stories are for discussion purposes only.


Monday, September 03, 2007

the kite of stars launch invite

Click the invite for a larger image - and please help spread the word.

The book will be available at Powerbooks, National Bookstore, Bestsellers and other fine bookstores. You can also order directly from the publisher, Anvil.


palanca 2007 - the wowowee edition

Now this year's Palanca Awards night was truly different. Truly, truly different.

(Susan Lara)

(Marge Evasco)
It began innocently enough. Nikki and I arrived, and after linking up with Marge Evasco, Susan Lara and Mookie Katigbak (who was the absent Sarge Lacuesta's proxy eros), signed in the reception area and proceeded to search for the "best table". The "best table" is all about location, with particular emphasis on two things: proximity to food and quick access to the smoking area.

(Glen Mas and Ian Casocot)

We were later joined by Ian Casocot and Glen Mas, before table hopping to say hello to friends, new and old.

Dinner was announced and I found myself second only to Hall of Fame inductee Nicholas Pichay at the buffet (we shared a conspiratorial wink before breezing through the appetizers - shameless, yes, but effective, considering the loooong line of hungry writers LOL).

(Nikki & Dean Alfar, photo by Lilit Reyes)

Outside in the smoking area, I teased Butch Dalisay, asking him to show me his new iPhone - which I did not think he already had. With a small smile, he reached into his coat pocket and produced The Redeemer, and my jaw dropped. It is (insert superlatives here)! I considered savagely attacking him then and there and running away with the iPhone but the awards had yet to be given away and they would notice his absence. Anyway, he told me he'd blog about it (the iPhone, not my death threat).

As the awards were announced and the prizes given, there was a lot of rubbernecking to see just what faces matched the new names. Every year there are a lot of first time winners, which is just wonderful. I like meeting new writers - like Crystal Koo, who flew in to claim her prize (her megawatt smile was infectious) and Sheila Dela Cuesta (who also flew in from Singapore).

(Isagani Cruz, Butch Dalisay, me, Carla Pacis, Nemie Bermejo)

Chris Martinez's winning play was the performance highlight of the evening - but as it turns out, the evening had more surprises in store.

Out of the blue, special prizes - multiple P100,000 prizes - were raffled off to winners and judges by the Palanca Foundation and other generous people (I think the Palancas gave away P700k). We were transformed into a happy and anticipating Wowowee crowd, secretly hoping and praying that our names would be called. Danton Remoto, Glen Mas and I were happily kibitzing when Ian's name was called out. Fantastic! He got P50k! I was holding out for a car or for a ref or a TV when the last cash prize was called - and went home empty handed (well, apart from the check for the winning story, of course). But still, for that span of time, it was like a Christmas party for the Palancas - crazy and very different from the usual affair.

(Danton Remoto and Isagani Cruz)

Sana maulit muli.

We had a wonderful time, being able to chat with Jing and Tony Hidalgo, Bing Sitoy, Vim Nadera, Mike Coroza, Jimmy Abad (hey Cyan, hope to see you sometime soon), and many other happy folk.

Thanks to the Palancas for a great night.

(Photo by Lilit Reyes)

List of winners of the 2007 Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature here.

Read the winning pieces at Literatura.

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

final call for submissions for phil spec fic 3

Final repost - deadline on September 15th. Entries are coming in, so make sure you submit yours!

Nikki and I are now accepting submissions of short fiction pieces for consideration for the anthology "Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol.3".

Speculative fiction is the literature of wonder that spans the genres of fantasy, science fiction, horror and magic realism or falls into the cracks in-between.

1. Only works of speculative fiction will be considered for publication. As works of the imagination, the theme is open and free.

2. Stories must cater to an adult sensibility. However, if you have a Young Adult story that is particularly well-written, send it in.

3. Stories must be written in English.

4. Stories must be authored by Filipinos or those of Philippine ancestry.

5. Preference will be given to original unpublished stories, but previously published stories will also be considered. In the case of previously published material, kindly include the title of the publishing entity and the publication date. Kindly state also in your cover letter that you have the permission, if necessary, from the original publishing entity to republish your work.

6. First time authors are welcome to submit. In the first two volumes, there was a good mix of established and new authors. Good stories trump literary credentials anytime.

7. No multiple submissions. Each author may submit only one story for consideration.

8. Each story’s word count must be no fewer than 2,500 words and no more than 5,000 words.

9. All submissions must be in Rich Text Format (.rtf – save the document as .rft on your word processor) and attached to an email to this address: Submissions received in any other format will be deleted, unread.

10. The subject of your email must read: PSF3 Submission: (title) (word count); where (title) is replaced by the title of your short story, without the parentheses, and (word count) is the word count of your story, without the parentheses. For example - PSF 3 Submission: How My Uncle Brought Home A Diwata 4500.

11. All submissions must be accompanied by a cover letter that includes your name, brief bio, contact information, previous publications (if any).

12. Deadline for submissions is September 15, 2007. After that date, final choices will be made and letters of acceptance or regret sent out via email.

13. Target publishing date is December 2007/January 2008.

14. Compensation for selected stories will be 2 contributor’s copies of the published anthology as well as a share in aggregrate royalties.

Kindly help spread the word. Feel free to cut and paste or link to this on your blogs or e-groups.

Dean Francis Alfar & Nikki Alfar

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

the 2nd philippine graphic/fiction awards

Award-winning author Neil Gaiman andFully Booked present:

The 2nd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards!

Calling all Filipino writers, artists, and just about anyone with a wild imagination! Neil Gaiman wants YOU to join this nationwide writing competition to seek out excellent work in two categories: comics and prose fiction.

The contest starts on September 1 and deadline of submission of entries is on October 31, 2007.
Over P300,000 in prizes, including P100,000 grand prize for the first place winners!

1st Prize - P100,000
2nd Prize - P30,0003
rd Prize - P15,000

1st Prize - P100,000
2nd Prize - P30,000
3rd Prize - P15,000

Download the Contest Guidelines.

Download the Official Entry Form.

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