Friday, August 03, 2007

Crime Does Not Exist (updated)

(new links have been added, with more to come as they crop up, and further updates too down below at the end of the post)

Indeed, it doesn't:

To the Tale, and Other Such Concerns
Accidents Happen 1, 2
Bibliophile Stalker
The Grin Without A Cat 1, 2
Notes From The Peanut Gallery
Jessica Rules The Universe
Read Or Die Weblog
Electrick Twilight Boogaloo

Being a fan of many types of stories, the dearth of Filipino crime/mystery/suspense submissions to PGS has been quite disappointing. What could be the reason?

Having gone through the submissions list of PGS many times and seeing hardly any for this genre, I've been lamenting this predicament for some time now. Months, in fact. My lamentations have become borderline rants, and I'm afraid that I might already be offending my friends by sounding like a broken record (or CD, or corrupted audio file, for those who don't remember vinyl; you want some scratch?). I'm glad to see that others in the blogosphere have noticed this too. Perhaps all this discussion might spur writers to give this genre a try, following in the footsteps of FH Batacan (Smaller and Smaller Circles). We won't know how far we can progress in this genre without trying.

Disregarding attempts at cross-genre (infusing some supernatural or fantastical element), crime/mystery/suspense stories are decidedly realist, something readers here should be familiar with. The tension and drama (trans. "blood and violence") behind unlawful acts committed against another person or against society can lead to stories with interesting explorations of the human condition. Even the absence of trustworthy law enforcement agencies and figures--as some have pointed out to be the reason behind the lack of such tales--would, or rather should, make for a different point-of-attack for writers making an attempt in this genre.

Maybe the reason is as simple as this: the genre just isn't popular at all in this part of the world. In other words, such stories just don't catch the fancy of enough people here. I would imagine that air conditioners wouldn't be as popular in Anchorage the way they are in Manila, though it wouldn't be impossible to consider that there are air conditioners there, somewhere. But something inside me rebels against such simplistic reasoning. We can easily surmise why air conditioners are unpopular in Anchorage (the whole place is a giant ice cube!). It's not as easy to deduce why this genre doesn't resonate with Filipinos. Which leads us back to just what the real cause behind this dearth could be. It's not like we haven't been exposed to work in this genre through books (Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and Jane Marple, anyone?), film (The Silence of The Lambs, Se7en, The Godfather, and Goodfellas), and TV (The Sopranos, Prisonbreak, C.S.I. in all three of its incarnations, and the riveting variations of Law & Order). All the theories I've heard posited by different people sound plausible, and ultimately and unfortunately, unprovable.

Maybe we can just forget delving for reasons, and just write, just tell, our stories.

Can you imagine a very Filipino story with jueteng as the backdrop, perhaps told from the point-of-view of a runner? Or how about a story that takes off from a theft from a hotel room safe by one of the hotel staff (do you remember that? It was a big issue in the papers some years ago). A celebrity caught in a compromising and unlawful situation becomes fodder not only for the gossip columnists but also for corrupt law enforcement or an obsessed fan-stalker. What would someone in the household staff of a rich politician do if he or she had evidence of a crime done within the premises of her employer's mansion? Carnapping, kidnapping, thieves boarding jeeps, taxis, and buses, laptop theft,...the list goes on. And Lord knows there have to be stories around all those murders of journalists around the country. Or how about a simple petty-crime story around a stolen cellphone that contains incriminating data, or around fake diplomas and government forms (Recto St in Manila is famous for this), or pirated music, software, and film discs ("dibidi, dibidi, boss, X, X, gusto mo? Meron ako dito, sariwa pa").

(Brief Aside, lest this post end up much too dry: speaking of sariwa, I suddenly recall this old movie that came out when I was just twelve going on thirteen, and it made an impression on, and a memorable introduction to, my teenage years. It was directed by Joey Gosiengfiao and starred a very young Dina Bonnevie. The film is entitled Katorse. What a title! They don't make movie titles like they used to! And you should say it right, the way the voice-over announcer did on the trailer back then (kailangan tigasin mo ang dila mo: "Ka-TOORR-se"). Dina really looked***...eeep...'di na bale. Holy Freudian slips, Batman! Quick! We have to get back to the Discussion! Before The Riddler gets away! End of Aside.)

If these U.S. circulation figures (circa 2004) are true, then it's worth noting this reversal in North America: the combined circulation of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine is almost one million. In contrast, the combined circulation of Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, Analog Science Fiction & Fact, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction comes to about two hundred thousand. I don't know the circulation figures of Realms of Fantasy and Fantasy Magazine, but I think if you add them into the mix it still won't reach a million (I'd love for PGS to have just 10% of the circulation figures of Hitchcock and Ellery Queen). These circulation numbers however don't take into account science-fiction, fantasy, horror, or crime/mystery/suspense e-zines, but it is logical to assume that the ratio of North American readers would be more-or-less the same (figures taken worldwide would surely skew the ratio; but for or against which genre?).

I've enjoyed reading all these publications since I was young (the first five I mentioned above, in particular), and I always scour the second-hand bookstores for their back issues. In fact, these magazines were the inspiration behind PGS, an idea that's been gestating for years until I worked up enough courage to give it a try last year (hoping against hope that I can somehow make PGS last and not just flash briefly). It was a simple enough thought: "Why can't there be similar digests like these here in the Philippines? Such digests could help promote literacy and Filipino storytelling, couldn't it?" I didn't expect though that crime/mystery/suspense fiction would have little or no presence once the ball started rolling.

In a country full of crime, crime fiction doesn't exist (except for that one, notable exception).*

Isn't it ironic? Don't you think? Yeah, I really do think.

Onli in da Pilipins.

*It has been pointed out to me that there is another crime story written by a Pinoy. The story is entitled "Voyager", is set in 1883 on a ship coming in from Hong Kong, and features a Manila police officer assigned to assassinate a rebel onboard. It's included in the book, "Penmanship and Other Stories" (1995). It was pointed out to me by no less than the author himself, sir Butch Dalisay, who was once a reporter on the police beat for a newspaper. Eep. Sorry, sir Butch. Quick, everyone! Get a copy! Might be easier said than done given that it's out-of-print, but still, try! Of course, if there's anyone who would have done everything already, including crime fiction, it would be sir Butch. Nonetheless, crime/mystery/suspense stories by Filipinos have been few and far between.


Blogger Apol said...

Because solving crimes require a logical mind and we are not a logical people?

5:05 PM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

Hahaha! The insight behind your comment makes sad and, at the same time, amusing sense!

5:58 PM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

Also, it would explain why a lot of things are the way they are in this country, not just the absence of crime/mystery/suspense fiction.

7:27 PM  
Blogger Ian Rosales Casocot said...

ken, i feel the challenge. i'll try to write crime fiction for PGS very soon :)

2:12 AM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

Wow! Thank you very much, Ian! Coming from you, this promises to be very, very exciting!

8:12 AM  
Blogger skinnyblackcladdink said...

i would posit that 'our' perspective of crime fiction simply isn't the same as what you're looking for. (for one thing, the template for 'crime fiction' as you are ostensibly looking for it, whatever its origins, has become a decidedly *Western* model. compare Infernal Affairs to, say, L.A.Confidential.)

i would further posit that, in fact, 'crime fiction' *does* have an outlet in the Philippines (or had) i said elsewhere (try to find it), take just about the entire run of 'FPJ sa GMA' in the 80s...if you're looking for a big underlying reason to explain this 'phenomenon', i think *that* may well be the place to look...

12:45 AM  
Blogger skinnyblackcladdink said...

and to extend apol's position, it isn't necessarily (or isn't just) that we as a people don't tend to be logical thinkers, it's that what we *do* most certainly tend to be is *magical* we like to say, bahala na si batman.

and no, i'm afraid i have to disagree: i don't think it's onli in da Pilipins.

12:55 AM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

@skinny: you may have a point there, but it sure felt like "onli in da Pilipins" at the time I wrote the post. But you're right, I'm sure other countries filled with crime may also lack crime fic. Sorry, but I'm not familiar with FPJ sa GMA, but I suppose you mean that our template for crime stories involves the regular man patiently taking in abuses from others who are the villains, and then snapping when his loved ones are hurt by going after these villains with vengeance, well, I haven't received submissions of that nature either. As for being magical thinkers, yes, others would agree with you. You echo what several people told me in a discussion I had just recently, that we are more drawn to stories of the supernatural and the mythic, which is not what realist crime/suspense/mystery fiction is.

6:57 AM  
Blogger banzai cat said...

And here I thought you were kidding, skinny. :-)

Those FPJ movies were primarily Western in template with a dash of social realism thrown in, i.e. you got this guy who gets bullied by a group of bad guys and responds with guns blazing. The closest I can remember that had a crime feel to it was this short-lived TV show starring Christopher de Leon, "Elias" I think was the name of the show.

However, I gotta agree with you on the other: if we're going to do something of a crime story, it has to be what's ours.

On Onli in da Pilipins, I gotta ask: can you cite other examples?

1:48 PM  
Blogger Yvette Tan said...

I think there are three reasons crime fiction isn't popular in the country:

1. Filipnos aren't investigative. Something happens, then it happens. If you think there's something fishy behind it and try to find out why, you will get killed.

2. More often than not, people already know what happened Filipinos are notoriously chismosa (probably the same reason we don't have serial killers -- Andrew Cunanan had to go all the way to the States to get hims nname on the spree killer hall of fame). The reason wh nothikng gets solved is because if someone does speak up, our justice sstem obscures everything and eventually, someone will get killed.

3. With these two in mind, reading a Filipino mystery where a crime gets solved is just like reading fantasy -- so why not read that instead? Seriously, crime fiction reads too close to everday life -- sort of like reading the papers, but with a happy ending. Most people read to get awa from realit, not to wallow in it.

That said, I beleive that the Philippines is ripe for crime fiction. After all, classic crime fiction feeds on career criminals, dirty cops and corrupt politicians, and those are things that we're never going to run out of!

8:19 PM  
Blogger skinnyblackcladdink said...

bc: the Western template doesn't discount the fact that those films are our version of crime fiction. the structure may be Western, but these are essentially vigilante crime thrillers. sure they aren't mysteries, but that's another subset of the genre. besides, the 'Western' template translates into a lot of other kinds of fiction as well. take The Crow. the Western structure is obvious, and yet would you deny that it is a dark superhero fantasy?

as for not being 'onli in da Pilipins', i repeat my earlier point, which is that, like your Western, crime fiction is predominantly a non-Asian format for fiction. take Infernal Affairs again. it's so much more introspective, almost mystical in its approach. and the great Asian works of fiction seem to be either romantic or historical, and almost always philosophical without using the micro-cosmic crime/mystery format to explore those philosophies, and i'm not just talking about literature.

which brings me back to point in bringing up FPJ is that i think the answer to the 'lack of written crime fiction' (am i write in assuming you're particularly worried about the lack of *mystery* fiction?) you are worrying at may well lie in looking at the *current outlet* for crime fiction, in all forms, not just written, examining how it is treated and what it all says about what we, as a generalized culture, are interested in, and the response to that outlet across the culture, encompassing all classes.

i'm not offering an answer, but a possible route to it.

8:29 PM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

@gloss girl: thanks for your comments! You've given a different perspective, one I haven't heard before. Strangely enough, though on the surface your #1 and #2 seem contradictory ("Filipinos aren't investigative" vs. "Filipinos are chismosa"), I think I understand what you mean, and so it isn't contradictory anymore. I guess it would take someone from here to understand what you meant. And I do hope you're right, that we are ripe for crime/mystery/suspense fiction.

@skinny: thanks too! My understanding of your comment is that there have been few or no outlets or encouragement for Pinoys to write in this genre, so it's stagnated. Is that right?

I'll leave banzai cat to continue your talk about Asian vs. Western templates, but I will say this:

This genre has been explored thoroughly over the years in the US, has been approached in so many ways, and yet, to me at least, remains fresh. It's not always investigative in nature (like with a detective or a police procedural), but it always reflects something about the universal human condition in the face of unlawful acts, big or small, or whether law enforcement exists in the story or not. I think that since Filipino readers are not that exposed to this genre, it should be fresh to them if some story would jump out and catch their interest (supporting gloss girl's supposition that we are "ripe" for this).

This has been very interesting. I hope some reader out there would become inspired to try his/her hand at this genre after reading all your comments, and all the links at the beginning of this post.

8:51 PM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

If I may further suggest to all who are reading this post and its comments: if you haven't yet, please go and read The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe (you can do a search, and it's all legal since the copyright of Poe's work has lapsed). Written in the mid-19th century, many consider it the first real "mystery" story, the grand daddy that started it all. It has all the elements: a crime that seems unexplainable, blood and dead bodies, a deductive and observant detective, the imbecilic cop, etc., all elements of mysteries as we've come to know them. Of course, the genre has evolved a lot since then.

Poe is considered by some to be the father of the modern mystery, which, given the accolades he is given by many as a master of the short story, shows that genre stories like this doesn't mean you should be considered low-brow. Isn't it ironic (there's that word again!) that Poe is so highly regarded as a master of the short story, as a prime example of American literature, and yet the books in the genre he started is often relegated to the back rows or the bargain bin, often not considered of literary worth?

Well, a story is a story is a story, as I've said before, no matter how you try to classify it. In fact, you can leave the classifying to the bookstores and publishers and just enjoy the story for what it is in your own reading.

(I'd better stop now before I ramble on. I've been up this same soap box before.)

If you liked The Murders in the Rue Morgue, follow it up with The Purloined Letter. And then you can check out Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes which I think, like Poe, is legal to read online.

9:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think its because we have so much crime around us, and we break laws so often ourselves, that we either don't want any more of it or don't see the point in talking about it.

11:27 AM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

Hi bbs. Others share your opinion and have voiced them to me in informal talks. It does seem plausible that we are now so jaded and cynical about crime, that we see so many criminals (especially from the upper class or from among those in power) get away with their wrongdoing, to continue living brazenly among us instead of doing time dancing to "Thriller", that even in fiction, it doesn't faze us anymore. Maybe you're right; we're tired of it, or maybe we get too much of it already in real life news reports. But I still hold on to the hope that even in such circumstances, authors will find a fresh and perhaps even uniquely Pinoy approach to the genre that will captivate readers, not just from here, but from around the world. Italian mafia stories have attracted a lot of readers, as have Japanese Yakuza stories, as have Latin American drug cartel stories. Is there a uniquely Pinoy angle somewhere here? Thanks for your comments.

11:37 AM  
Blogger banzai cat said...

skinny: (Heh sorry kyu if we're debating on your blog) If we're going to go by your idea that despite the genre templates, then I would offer the proposition that for crime fiction, most movies having criminals (i.e. Lito Lapid's Leon Guerrero) or police officers (i.e. Eddie Garcia as Alfredo Lim? I forget...) as protagonists would be more appropriate.

(On the other hand, The Crow as a Western never really struck me but I can see the similarities.)

Now that I think about it (and also based on my examples), yeah, you may have something there about vigilante fiction as our version of crime fiction. Something about trying to regain power in a powerless situation must be appealing to a majority of our countrymen. Any takers on such an analysis of this idea?

5:35 PM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

@banzai cat & skinny: Debate away!

5:56 PM  
Blogger Celestine Trinidad said...

Speaking of detective novels, there was a series of children/young adult novels that I collected before...The "Jenny and Jay Pinoy Private Eyes" series by Marivi Soliven Blanco. :) I'm not sure if it's still available in bookstores now, but I enjoyed reading them when I was's not set in the Philippines, though, although it has Filipinos for main characters.

Anyway, it would really be interesting to read crime fiction written in our setting. I think it would be more challenging, though...since as you pointed out, crime/mystery suspense stories are still realist, it's not just about writing a good mystery--it's also about writing something that would address certain issues about our society...class issues and the like. And with our country, there are a LOT of issues to explore. Ehehe.

But the dearth of such fiction here is probably just because we're just recently exploring new genres of fiction so far, and fantasy/science fiction stories just became more popular here first. Maybe with time, and with more people clamoring for more crime fiction, I think more people would write them. :)

Sorry for the really long comment...anyway, this makes me want to write a more realistic mystery story. Ehehe. I'll...try.

11:26 AM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

Thanks for your comment, Celestine! Good luck with your attempt at mystery, and thanks for mentioning those children's books! Maybe you're right, and that this genre will eventually catch up with scifi and fantasy.

11:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi kenneth, couldn't help add my comment. I agree with apol, it's so hard to be logical. i tried coming up with crime fiction, ala james ellroy. it overwhelmed me. it should have been easy. CSI keeps coming up with it every week for 7 seasons. it's just too mathematical to wrap up. i think it was the clues to solve the crime that did it in. maybe it would be easier to think of aliens making contact for 9 seasons than that. but based only on personal experience, of course. maybe that's why we have a lot of unsolved crimes in the country?

4:14 PM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

Thanks for joining in, Sharmaine. By the way, PGS3 is halfway through production now. Should be done soon. I'll announce when it'll be released.

The logical is indeed the challenging part of writing detective fiction, but I know some writers who end up writing in the genre without bothering with such by focusing instead on aspects like motive, escape, or vengeance, the last of which is very Pinoy (the small man getting even with those who oppress him). But yes, writing a story where clues and deduction is important requires a logical mind.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Dean said...

I think that apart from analyzing this to death (don't get me wrong, theory is great), we should set aside time and actually write. One of the things that delighted me most about about Ichi's book is the very fact of its existence; that someone wrote something like that. The danger (as I pointed out while ruminating on spec fic) is that we're trying to be prescriptive - telling each other what SHOULD be written. This can lead to a form of analysis paralysis, where writers can be frozen by "what it ought to be" instead of just writing. This is the case when we attempt to please the armchair critics (suddenly evincing expertise in crime fic)who have the loudest voices :) (I have a loud voice myself, but am no expert here LOL)

I suggest a good mix of writing what the crime genre (elsewhere) and theories seem to demand, plus writing what we can develop on our own - in the process decribing, by example (stories), what we are talking about, and actually growing Pinoy crime fic, instead of bemoaning its small existence.

1:33 PM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

Hi Dean. What you said makes sense. Like I wrote in the main body of the entry ("Maybe we can just forget delving for reasons, and just write, just tell, our stories") and in the comments ("I hope some reader out there would become inspired to try his/her hand at this genre after reading all your comments, and all the links at the beginning of this post"), nothing will substitute for writing/telling the story.

"We won't know how far we can progress in this genre without trying."

Still, it's nice and all to read what people have to say or think about this matter. And maybe all this talk will result in a story sooner or later.

Looking forward to receiving submissions in this genre!

Thanks for taking the time to comment, Dean!

2:02 PM  
Blogger exie abola said...

A wrinkle I'd like to add is that the dearth we've noticed exists in our literature in English. I wonder if such a genre exists in our literature in other languages.

Perhaps the lack of crime fiction in English is partly the result of the kind of writer who ends up writing in English: the serious writer of "literature." I doubt many of our best writers have thought of themselves as entertainers. It takes a certain willingness to condescend, if that's the right word, to write genre fic, no matter the genre. Which is probably why our writers in English, who have been trying to create high art, have not given it their attention.

My ninety centavos.

10:28 PM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

Hi, Exie.

I'm not much into comics, or komiks, but I've been told by aficionados that there were a lot of crime stories told in the Liwayway komiks of the past, so there is a precedent. It just hasn't reached prose.

Your analysis that writers in English are trying to create high art and disregard genre because it's entertainment sounds true, but also makes me sad, 'coz I'm of the opinion that any genre can be treated so as to show literary merit. Thus, no genre should be treated as "lower" than another. And there's really nothing wrong with story as entertainment, in my book, nor story as high art, as long as they're honest about what they're trying to do.

It can actually be a negative for some to read a story that's so well-crafted, so technically sound, that it becomes soulless--the humanity of it is lost--and perhaps even to some eyes, it becomes pretentious and dishonest. It loses its touch with the humanity of the reader that it can't even, well, entertain. It is beautiful, and perfect, but becomes unreachable and cold.

Ay! But that's a whole different post altogether, one I humbly admit I don't think I'm ready for, given my lack of credentials, and one where my opinion might be completely wrong. I'd love for us to share our thoughts on this, but better between us first till the ideas can be threshed out. :)

9:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

im a big fan of mystery/detective stories. i would like to know if you're still open for submissions. im currently working on my third try for this genre. don't let this genre die shall we? ^_^v

i'll be submitting as soon as possible. please give time to read it. email me please, i have so many questions..


7:35 PM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

Hi Ned! I'll email you. We have a special crime issue due out, and guest-edited by FH Batacan. I'll email you the link and the details. Thanks!

7:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah I got it. i was just wondering if cozies (the likes of puzzle lady mysteries by parnell hall) will do. i'm not really into political crime or celebrity scandal types. i enjoy classic locked-room and simple whodunit stuffs. i had mine sent already...i think (sana di tinamad kapatid ko.) anyways, i'll just resend it if ever..thanks.

2:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nga pala..(kunwari na lang english 'to(para madali sabihin at marami makabasa))

nga pala.. ang masaya sa crime/mystery e yung ability ng detective na mag-isip outside the box.

corny kasi dito sa'tin kung ano yung simple at madali yun na lang ang solution. napanood ko dati sa bubble gang yung paligsahan ng c.i.a.,f.b.i ata yun saka n.b.i.(pis!) tungkol sa paghahanap sa white rabbit. yung c.i.a. gumamit ng g.p.s. para makita ang white rabbit. ung fbi, intensive search na inabot ng 1 week, sa nbi daw 1 hour lng. tapos yun pala nagdala lang sila ng taong umamin n sya si "white rabbit".

enjoy kaya mag-solve, parang puzzle. sarap p sa pakiramdam pag nasolve mo. di bale ng parang bata magisip kung tutuusin, game naman ang mystery stories e.

pananaw ko lang yun. ^_^v

2:51 PM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

Hi again, Ned. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and your joke. :) Nakakatawa naman 'yan.

I just checked the email; wala pa kaming natatanggap sa iyo. Please re-send.

I'll tell Ms. Ichi of your comments. Maybe she can answer you here too in the comments section of this post.


3:10 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I am writing a detective fiction novel in Filipino, about 40-50 chapters. It will come out soon in September or October.

9:54 PM  

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