Friday, December 21, 2007

philippine speculative fiction III at fully booked

Philippine Speculative Fiction III is now available at all Fully Booked branches in the Mega Manila area (Bonifacio High Street, Rockwell, Greenhills, Gateway).

Make sure to get a copy - it makes a swell gift, I tell you.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

ford on the kite

Jeffrey Ford, author of one of my favorite stories of all time ("Creation"), has a few words on my collection:

"One book that came, not mentioned yet, that I picked up immediately and read straight through, was The Kite of Stars and other stories by Dean Francis Alfar. I've been following Alfar's short fiction when it appears in venues in the U.S. and also through the books that Charles sends. You might have already encountered the title story of this new collection from Anvil Publishing over at the webzine, Strange Horizons The story is there online, so give it a look when you get the chance. In this new collection, Alfar puts on a real display of talent with a wide range of styles, structures, and themes (from science fiction, high fantasy, magic realism, horror, and places in between). He's a very accomplished short story writer and really deserves a wider audience in the U.S. The Kite of Stars has 16 stories, including a new one, "MaMachine." Each story comes with an illustration. If you are a fan of short fiction in the field of the fantastic, you should check this collection out."

Thanks, Jeff! And thanks, Charles!):

You can order The Kite of Stars here.


travel time

We got to NAIA just after 3AM and proceeded to do all the necessary pre-departure things - paying for the travel tax (since our tickets were purchased online and not locally - I'm just happy that Sage's tax is half mine, but still P5k right off the bat is dizzying), lining up for confirmation and baggage, paying the terminal fee (another P2.25k right there - ay naku), removing shoes twice before getting to the pre-departure area (sadly, the smoking lounge Nikki and I usually visit was still closed, and the only other option was to pay $10 each for access to another one, no thanks). Another Northwest flight was cancelled, so NW tried to fill up our plane with the unfornature souls, which made for delays as people hustled for space. Finally though, we left Manila for Nagoya, Japan, arriving after almost 4 hours.

The stopover at Japan is always irritating since we deplane and reboard in heartbeats, with barely enough time to find the smoking room (Japan is always smoker friendly, thank goodness). The stress begins when I realize that our boarding passes are missing, necessitating interaction with the Japanese folk that would have been funny if I were not so harassed. But things went well and we got on board for the longhaul.

Somewhere halfway through the almost 12 hours of crossing the Pacific, my nicotine craving brain tells me, like it does every time I travel to the US, that this is definitely the last time we're doing this. Apart from the lack of cigarettes, the interminable travel is not helped by the exhausted batteries of my iPod (I must find a battery that lasts for days), my laptop (ditto) and my O2 (safely on flight mode but really, hours of solitaire and the jewel game have a deleterious effect) and the lack of anything good to watch. I tried reading but the book I brought did not engage me (my bad, should have selected something better) and I amused myself by waiting for the horrible airline food. This time, to make things interesting, Nikki ordered lactose-intolerant meals for me (which meant I got fish and vegetables) and children's meals for Sage (which meant she got hamburgers and other fun stuff). I will never be lactose-intolerant again, I swear. The sheer tastelessness of what was served made even my ameoba overlords sigh in despair. Sage was fantastic the entire longhaul, cringing at the other children who'd cry once in a while and entertaining herself with the gazillion provocative activities that Nikki prepared for her. Nikki, of course, was the best traveler among us, able to sleep at will (damn her eyes), but had issue with a bloodthirsty pair of earphones which stabbed her. I walked around the plane a lot, cursing my lack of foresight (I have enough miles to upgrade all of us to business class, I think), thinking about people who died after sitting for too long, and raiding the galley for orange juice (I was dehydrated as hell).

When we finally reached Detroit, it was snowing or sleeting, and while it was initally quite a thrill for Sage, the winter wonderland could only spell more delays. We had less than 2 hours after deplaning to catch our connecting flight to Jacksonville, so we rushed down to immigration where hordes of people stood waiting to be let in America. Our visas and passports were good, so our next rush was to baggage claim were we wasted so much time just waiting for our luggage. Then it was through customs, after which we realized we had only 15 minutes left before our flight departed - and we hadn't even gone through homeland security yet. I explained our predicament to someone who pointed me to someone else and we lined up to talk to another someone while the last of 15 minutes evaporated. By the time we got to speak to a woman, she told us that it was impossible for us to get on the plane since it would leave on time - but that she'd book for Memphis. Memphis? Suddenly, Alex's "Walking in Memphis" resounds in my head as the rest of her news filters in: no flight today, maybe tomorrow. No, no, no. Another passenger freaks out and summons her manager and we tagteam them under a barrage of very polite almost-but-not-quite imprecations intimating doom if we did not get to board the plane. Finally, she called the gate, then turned to us and said "You have 5 minutes."

Detroit airport is sprawling, but we're game. Sage zips ahead with Nikki as I deal with everything a pack mule must contend with, and I remember thinking somehow we'll make it until we hit the human wall of homeland security. We lose precious time waiting for our turn. When it comes to me, I expertly kick off my shoes, remove my belt, produce the laptop and dump everything into every available basket on the conveyor belt to be x-rayed. Then, in our best Amazing Race mode, the three of us rushed to the gate. There we found a mass of very irritated people. It turns out that the flight to Jacksonville was delayed because of the snow and because a flight attendant was missing, and they were just about to board. Which meant we miraculously made it, 40 minutes after the plane wsa supposed to have left. Inside, we buckled up and watched our plane sprayed with de-icing solution (which looked like reddish fuel) before we finally took off.

Hours later, we were in Jacksonville searching for our missing luggage. The evil woman in Detroit that I harassed had a degree of vengeance, it seemed, as one of bags was somewhere it was not supposed to be. We found Nikki's mom and together we waited at the Northwest office to demand satisfaction (all of Sage's clothes and our pasalubong and gifts were in the missing bag). Instead, the woman there (who appeared almost an hour later) told us that she'd somehow find the bag for us and have it delivered to our doorstep and offered us toiletries (siyempre, the Filipino in me was thrilled to get something for free, though I wanted money, money, money). We were too tired to fight anymore and accepted her terms, boarded the car and drove to Palm Coast with a pit stop for dinner along the way.

When we got home, it was all we could do to crawl into bed and collapse. Of course, this was only for a moment, as the luxury of bathrooms where one could shower and brush teeth beckoned. Finally, after I was clean, there was only one last decision: sleep or smoke.

I happily sat in the cold darkness, looking at the almost invisible lake outside, and smoked a cigarette, almost human again.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

rest stop

Nikki, Sage and I are flying off to Florida this weekend to spend the holidays there with family. We've been looking forward to this vacation (Sage is especially thrilled to see her grandma again) and we've been spending the last few days getting ready (securing the e-tickets which the old-fashioned part of me is always wary of, exchanging some money, and of course the inevitable packing).

I'll bring my laptop (in the hope of writing something, anything, to start repleneshing my zeroed inventory), camera (because vacations are what cameras are for, not just product shots), my iPod (for the interminable longhaul, let's see if the battery lasts), o2 phone (so if I'm somehow possessed by an urge to get an iPhone I can look at my old one and hopefully realize that I truly do need the gorgeous - and now reasonably priced - iPhone, damn you Butch Dalisay for provoking both envy and greed in me), and a small pile of books (one of the advantages of writing/editing your own books is the instant-pasalubong effect, sorry nalang sila haha) including PSF 3, Salamanca and The Kite of Stars.

It's the reengergizing that I need. For several months I've been out of sorts at work and I owe it to both my long-suffering partner and our businesses to get my head back in the game. I've been distracted by writing and need to accept that work must be primary (again) since it what pays the bills. So it's back to mostly guerilla mode.

I'm not certain if I can blog while I'm away. If I can, I will. If I can't - then Merry Christmas to everyone!


Monday, December 10, 2007

PEN at 50

I must confess to a great deal to anxiety as the 50th anniversary of the Philippine PEN finally arrived. I was slated to chair a panel that included Krip Yuson, Charleson Ong, Vim Nadera and Mel Ylagan - all senior writers and accomplished as hell. The evening before, Ian Casocot asked me if my paper was ready.

ME: What paper?

IAN: The paper you're presenting.

ME: ...

So after the launch of PSFIII, I had dinner and rushed home and sunk into deep panic. PEN is populated by all sorts of writers, especially realist writers, and I wanted to take the opportunity to present spec fic.

When I arrived (after having gone to the wrong National Museum - who knew there were two along Burgos?), F. Sionel Jose asked me to walk with him because he wanted to talk to me. Oh no, I thought.

SIR FRANKIE: Dean, I want you to be more involved in PEN.

ME: ...

SF: A writer friend of mine just died and I'm also getting old. Soon I will be gone, and we need younger writers like you.

ME: ...

SF: I think the reason you avoid us older writers is that you feel condescended upon, since these people act high and mighty with their PhDs and such.

ME: ...

SF: When I was in my twenties, post-war, we knew all the senior writers. We called them by their nicknames. They were not condescending at all. We'd talk and argue with them. Don't allow yourself to be intimidated. I know what you're doing and writing. I expect to see more of you.

ME: Yes, sir.

SF: Okay?

ME: Yes, sir. I mean, yes, sir.

And he punctuated his sentences by tapping my left leg with his cane. I didn't tell him that I, in fact, did not feel that anyone was condescending at all - in fact, a lot of the writers and academics I've met have been quite supportive. But what he said was basically true - his observation of my absence (his secretary has been inviting me to various PEN meetings and get-togethers for almost a year now). But I wanted to have several books under my belt before I signed up. But that rationale was demolished when Marj Evasco told me to just sign up, so I did and became a member of PEN right before the first panel. At any rate, my conversation (very one-sided) with Sir Frankie was quite surreal, as well as encouraging. There are many other writers of my generation who deserve more than me to be encouraged by Sir Frankie - Sarge Lacesta, Vince Groyon, for example. But I am very thankful for his kind words.

When the time came for my panel, all my anxieties were gone. I was comfortable with everyone (even Dr. Ylagan who I just met that day), and employed a little levity to lighten up the proceedings (which wasn't difficult considering the sense of humor of Vim, Krip and Charlson).

When I presented my "paper" on spec fic, I did my best to explain what it was, told everyone why it was important and why it was just as valid as realism in terms of being able to articulate the Filipino experience/human condition through the lens of genre, why it is one of the best ways to claim/reclaim younger readers. I explained that while realism teaches us to write literature that matters, it is the readers who select what literature matters to them. And we need an audience. We need readers. We need to write for readers, and not just fellow writers and academics.

People who know me know that I am fond of using the "boy on a carabao" scenario from realism as an example of stories that while well-written do not find an audience with certain Filipino readers who are looking for something else. Before my talk, I decided to be prudent and not speak of that or use that example because I did not want to offend the realists - but found myself doing it anyway. I phrased it in such a way that I did not diss realism (because I appreciate and acknowledge its value) but instead placed it side-by-side with carabao that talks back to the boy - to show that there is more than way to tell a story, and that a sense of wonder is wonderful on its own. Yes, I was in demagogue mode, haha.

During the Q&A portion, one elder writer opined that he refused to read scifi because it he could not imagine it coming true (implying, once again, that only realism - or what could be - is more important and valid than "what if?). The audience waited for the inevitable argument, but instead I told him that since lunch was next on schedule that I'd sit down with him, and that he'd be a convert after we ate. :)


Sunday, December 09, 2007

philippine speculative fiction III launch

(L to R front row - Alex Osias, Joseph Nacino, Andrew Drilo; middle row - Elyss Punsalan, Marguerite de Leon, Mia Tijam, Yvette Tan, Joanna Cailas; back row - Nikki Alfar, TJ Dimacali, Charles Tan, Luis Katigbak, Ian Casocot, Domonique Cimafranca, Dean Francis Alfar)

Thanks to everyone who came over and joined the celebration! We tried our best to make the launch as fun as possible (personally, I get bored with the more rigid launches), with each contributor taking the stage to speak about his or her story or whatever was on their mind (and I'm delighted that everyone was game for the unconventional format).

Nikki subbed for the missing (and very much missed) authors who were mostly abroad, and Vin manned the laptop while exchanging repartee with me, while Jacque manned the book sales/food table. The venue was the arctic U View Theater at the basement of the giant Fully Booked at Bonifacio High Street (thanks to Tals Diaz and Jaime Daez). Thanks also to photographers Kate and Kyu for the great shots.

I was happy to meet the authors I hadn't met in person before (remember that Nikki and I selected stories, not people), as well as the parents of Rod Santos who flew in from New York, and the mother of MRR Arcega.

We'll take the usual break to regain our editorial sanity (and market the book, of course) before the cycle begins anew next year with Philippine Speculative Fiction IV.

Maraming, maraming salamat!

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

stories we tell

Cuddled together under the comforter, Sage offered up the usual challenge.

"It's time to tell stories, Dad," she said. "You tell one and I'll tell one."

"Oh, no," I told her, shaking my head. "I don't have a happy one in mind."

"What kind do you have?"

"Well, it's kind of bittersweet."

She expelled a sigh then looked me in the eye. "I like those too - but they make me cry, Daddy."

"They make me cry too, you know."

"Is it really really sad?"

"Well, not really really sad," I said.

"Ok, then you can tell your story - but mine will be really really exciting. An adventure, okay?"

"Ok," I agreed. "But you go first."

And she launched into an adventurous romp featuring lost crayons attempting to find their way back home, helped by the objects that shared similar hues.

I applauded when she was done, then cleared my throat and made ready to begin my own story when she raised a hand to stop me.

"Why?" I asked her. "Don't you want to listen to mine?"

"I do, Dad," Sage said as she nuzzled her way into my arms. "But I want to be here right next to you because I know your story is sad."

And so I told the story and my 5 year-old listened. When we got to the really really sad part, she looked up to me with tears in her eyes, which provoked my own.

"Can't this story be a little bit happy?"

"Wait and see."

And I finished the story, with a little happiness, and held the little girl I loved so much, and we shared that moment after a story is told when only perfect silence is acceptable.

"That made me cry, Dad, but I really really liked your story," she told me later. "Now let's tell Mommy and make her cry."


comics archive: hollow girl

One of the comics collaborations I enjoyed the most was a story for Siglo: Passion, where I got to team up with artist extraordinaire Jeremy Arambulo. The antho went on to win the National Book Award for Best Comic Book in 2006.

Read "Hollow Girl" here.

Art by Jeremy Arambulo
Words by Dean Francis Alfar

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Monday, December 03, 2007



This week:

Twenty Grand by Rebecca Curtis
Finisterra by David Moles
The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan by Clark Ashton-Smith
Urchins, While Swimming by Catherynne Valente

Last week:

Firebird by R. Robertson y Garcia
'Tis the Season by China Mieville
John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner by Susanna Clarke

Next week - all LitCritter originals (and we go into hiatus for the holidays)


fiction people want to read

Butch Dalisay's latest columns (here are parts one and two) tackle the state of the Filipino novel (sigh, yes, Butch, Salamanca is rather slim), and along the way happily endorses popular literature, which includes spec fic.

"Even before we dream of selling our books in New York or London, we Filipino authors in English have to sell more books in this country, and I’m coming around to thinking that the fault, dear Brutus, is no longer in our readership but in ourselves. True, books of almost any kind are expensive here. Also true, we may have focused on just producing what we think of as great art because there’s little money to be made, which isn’t so bad. But it’s also a fact that many Filipinos are buying books—and let’s face it, these book buyers are primarily middle-class—except that they’re not buying us. In other words, the market is there but we’ve given up on fighting for our share of it.

By this I mean that we’re not writing about the things that might prove interesting to our potential readers; we wouldn’t mind being popular, but we shun the popular. The crimes that pepper our tabloids hardly ever make it to our fiction. Clearly, we need to write more popular or genre fiction—novels that employ not only the fantastic, but also more crime, more sex, and more humor. They may not necessarily be great novels, but good ones—novels that can attract and develop a new class of readers, be serialized, be turned into movies, be talked about over Monday-morning coffee. We also need more professional translators who can turn the best of our novels in Filipino into internationally marketable manuscripts.I should admit, as soon as I say this, that I’ve done very little myself to fill my own prescription.

Younger writers like Felisa Batacan and Dean Alfar and his group of “speculative fiction” writers are doing much more by raising the profile of a kind of fiction that seems to resonate with younger readers and can acquire a substantial following."

Thanks, Butch!

(via Ian)

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Saturday, December 01, 2007


After twelve years of marriage, I'm still under your spell, my muse and naughty nymph of the woods.

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