Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Pinoy Penman: Filipino-ness In Fiction

As he promised, Sir Butch Dalisay has written about the ongoing discussion. The title of his column is "Filipino-ness In Fiction". You can check it out on his blog, or you can read it in his column on page G-1 in the October 1, 2007 issue of The Philippine Star. Here are some quotes that struck me:

"What connects us as Filipinos is the land we came from and some experiences we’ve shared. Many writers will focus on those commonalities, and even raise them up as national traits or virtues—hospitality, resilience, religiosity, the whole Social-Studies shtick. But just as—if not more—interesting are the things that divide and differentiate us as a people and as individuals."

I suppose what I’m saying is, the “Filipino” in what we write is practically inescapable; it’s hardwired into our imaginations, and it’ll almost surely come out in whatever we put on paper."

"Whatever is perceptibly Filipino in our literature should be an asset and not a liability, especially in this age of creeping homogenization"

"This Filipino element doesn’t mean that your story has to be set in Payatas or Negros, or depend on the exoticism of tropic foliage. We can and should write about the world; it’s about time we did, given that we’re everywhere."

"...this Filipino element doesn’t have to be another kapre or tikbalang (although one of the stories in the first issue of Kenneth Yu’s magazine did a great job with this idea); clichés of any kind degrade the writing,..."*

"I think that writers who know what they’re doing—whether they’re realists or fantasists—don’t worry about Filipino-ness and such, leaving that to readers and critics to discern and to sort out, if it’s all that important to them."

I have also scanned his column, which you can read here: part 1, 2, 3, 4.

If you want to share what you think, feel free to leave a comment here or on his blog. Or you can email him privately at penmanila(at)yahoo(dot)com. Thank you, Sir Butch!

*I mention this quote only because it thrills me that Sir Butch found Beneath The Acacia (the story with the kapre and the tikbalang) by Celestine Marie G. Trinidad "a great job". Celestine, I hope that, despite your heavy study-load at med-school, you continue to find the time to read and write! Consider Sir Butch's words as encouragement!

This, by the way, is the second time Sir Butch has given column space to something PGS-related. The first one can be found here.

Kristin Mandigma of Read Or Die On Clarkesworld

The next month is just a few days away, and we not only have Butch Dalisay's article in the Philippine Star to look forward to on October 1, 2007, we also have Kristin Mandigma's story, Excerpt From A Letter By A Social-Realist Aswang, to read on the Clarkesworld Magazine site! She blogged about it yesterday on the Read Or Die blog. We'll put up the post linking to your story once it's out on Clarkesworld, Tin. Congratulations! Looking forward to reading your story!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Me And My Delusions of Grandeur, And The Wandering Star

Jeff-Reiji of Me And My Delusions of Grandeur thinks all the talk about Philippine Speculative Fiction that's been going on is Beautiful Chaos. But it's this statement of his that I agree with completely:

"I’m looking forward to a day that it (Philippine Speculative Fiction) will be accessible to everyone regardless of their standing (in life)."

Wandering Star, on the other hand, makes interesting points, the most interesting for me being this:

"The (Philippine) music industry, just by making and making music, finally now has an identity all its own. Sure, it still has obvious Western influences, but it no longer sounds like an imitation of Western music. They did not do this by making categories, but just making a conscious effort to be at least slightly different from what they've heard before. Why is that not possible to do for literature in my country, aye?"

As I've written in this post, I'm not that up-to-date with current music, from the Philippines or elsewhere (I still very much enjoy the old stuff that I've currently got in my iPod); so I am not the best person to ask about the above quote. But it seems that for Wandering Star, Philippine music has progressed farther than Philippine fiction.

Links have been updated.


PGS Interior Design and Layout Editor Elbert Or has a new book out filled with his art.

PGS contributor Andrew Drilon has new comics up. Check them out here and here.

And PGS contributor and Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology editor Dean Francis Alfar will be launching a book tomorrow.

The Pinoy Penman Writes

Got an email from Sir Butch Dalisay this morning:
hi, kenneth, thanks for the question. check out my column [in the Philippine Star] on monday [October 1, 2007] (or catch it on my blog this sunday [Sept. 30, 2007]).
The "question" being this part of an email I sent him earlier in the week:
I know you're busy, so you don't need to respond to this if you don't want to, but I wanted to ask if there was a time back before the internet when there were discussions among writers about how to define "Philippine" fiction. What makes a story Filipino in nature?
I'm asking because, well, it's a long story, but I'll try and shorten it.
Dean Alfar, as you know, is the major proponent of "speculative fiction" in the country, and he posted on his blog his thoughts about what would make spec fic Filipino. Then I went to UP to meet the class of Prof. Emil Flores and to promote PGS (I've been doing the round of schools to promote reading among the youth, bringing writers along with me), and the Prof. shared his thoughts. I felt some confusion, and posted something on the PGS blog. Thereupon others began posting their thoughts. I've collected all these links here:
I'm thinking all these thoughts might already be a well-traveled road, but by writers from before blogs and emails and RSS feeds.
So, the Pinoy Penman will share his ideas. Please grab a copy of the October 1, 2007 issue of the Philippine Star to read his column, or check out his blog on September 30, 2007.

(Note: As of September 30, 2007, I've made a link here that will take you to his column.)

From Laughter At The Fringes Of Sanity

Laughter At The Fringes Of Sanity offers a distinction that might clarify things in the discussion: Philippine Fiction: "Author" vs. "Genre".

Updated links here.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Choose Your Own Adventure

I can't believe it. My eight-year-old daughter is done with the first four Artemis Fowl books by Eoin Colfer (I first wrote about her reading habits here). I still wonder if she's scanning instead of really reading, but my wife told me she's interrogated her about the books and her comprehension seems all right. We don't have the fifth book in the Artemis Fowl series, but we're borrowing it from one of her cousins this weekend. At this rate, she'll be done in a couple of weeks, maybe sooner. (She likes Harry Potter better than Artemis Fowl, by the way, but that's no surprise).

I'm not complaining, but she's bugging me for something new to read now. I handed her my old Narnian Chronicles boxed set by C.S. Lewis and for some reason she can't relate to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. She lost interest somewhere before page 70. I asked her why and she just shrugged her shoulders and asked me if she could just re-read any of the Harry Potter books. I offered The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien but she shook her head. So I consented to Harry Potter again since I also know the pleasures of re-reading favorite books, but I wanted to give her something new to read. There were nice suggestions by others in that previous post, but I want to save those other books for the future. I want to give her something lighter for the interim.

So I went to the shelves, scanned my old books, and decided to try her out with these: the Choose Your Own Adventure Books. A blast from my past. They were really popular when I was growing up, and though I stopped reading them sometime in the mid-80's, I understand the publisher continued churning them out till the late 90's, and that now another company is republishing them.

I tried her out with one book first, The Reality Machine, just to see if she would get into it. Well...success! Like any real reader she lost herself in the book. Just as with the Harry Potter and the Artemis Fowl books, she was engrossed enough not to pay attention to anything around her. I called out her name while she was reading and she acted like she didn't hear me (for all I know, she really didn't). She did mutter something like "this is a funny book, you have to flip through it forward and back a lot", but it didn't take her long to get the hang of it. Now she's asking for more. I'll try her out next with the book pictured above, The Cave Of Time, the very first Choose Your Own Adventure book. Heck, I'll give her the first five.

As a teenager I once tried to write my own Choose Your Own Adventure book, and realized that it's harder than it looks. Or maybe there was a template or formula to it, some kind of flow-chart to follow, because I got lost in all the options and never did complete it. But I'm certainly glad I've got something to keep my daughter reading again for a while.

The King Of Nothing To Do

Luis Katigbak has written about his talk at The Philippine Science High School last September 17, 2007, in his column, The King Of Nothing To Do, in the September 26, 2007 issue of the Manila Bulletin. Scanned images of the column here and here. Thanks, Luis!

Gloss Girl

Gloss Girl (whose secret identity is here) sent me an email about the ongoing discussion on Philippine Speculative Fiction, and, like others, she has her opinions. She allowed me to quote her:
"The comments raised sound suspiciously familiar to the debates regarding gay literature (if you're a straight person writing about gay characters, does that still make it gay lit?); and film vs digital (if you shoot a film with a videocam, does that still make it a film?); both old, passe topics. I think this debate, no matter how infuriating, is essential as part of the growth of genre in a formerly realism lit-based society.
My two cents: I'm Filipino. My ancestors may have chinky eyes and a penchant for noodles but I grew up in the Philippines and identify myself with this and not my grandparents' home country. By citizenship, I am Filipino. If China and the Philippines were to go to war, whose side do you think I'd be on? Whether I write about my being Chinese-Filipino, about Martians invading the Earth, about an invented fantasy land, about aswangs, kapres, and tikbalangs, about a hungry Hungarian vampire craving Hungarian sausages set in Budapest, I think it would still be classified as Fil. Spec. Fic. I hate labels and I don't like it that people needlessly pick at something just because it doesn't fit this or that category. The glory of speculative fiction lies in its, well, speculative nature. To box it in with all sorts of name-calling just detracts from what it was supposed to do in the first place: set us free. In the end, all I want is for us to be proud of our fiction, under whatever name. Personally, if I were forced at gunpoint (or by the discontinuation of my favorite lip gloss) to pick a label to work under, I would like that my work be called 'fabulous'.
Ay, di na pala two cents. :P "
She also points to S.P. Somtow, a Thai-American science-fiction and horror writer (who is also a musical composer), who writes about, among other things, vampires and werewolves, and has received acclaim for such, with little, if any, reference or mention of his Thai background. I haven't read his books, but as far as Gloss Girl knows, his fiction, deemed by her as American, does not reflect a need or guilt to write Thai (though he has written a grand opera, "Ayodhya", a retelling of Thailand's national epic, the Ramayana, in modern terms).

Gloss Girl's more than two cents.

Latest updates to links and blogposts here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

From Professor Emil Flores of U.P.

Prof. Emil Flores made a comment on this entry, which I'm copying and pasting on this post (see below), and linking to here, where all the links are posted. Thanks, Prof.!

Emil Flores here. First of all thanks to Kenneth for coming over to the class and giving a good sumary of the things we talked about.

I won't get into a long lecture on "national identity" (I will say thiugh that "nationhood" is a terribly complex and unstable concept for colonized cultures and the fact that we're problematizing what should be a basic idea demonstrates how deeply colonialism has affected us).

The point about FOOD is actually a very good idea. There's a book called MEMORIES OF PHILIPPINE KITCHENS by Amy Besa and in it she shows how as a country like the Philippines was able to preserve indigenous cooking while adapting foreign ingredients and techniques. Amy went all over the country gathering many recipes and rediscovered the Philippines in the process.

She even mentioned in our discussion how, through cooking, she wants to show the world how unique Filipino culture is. "You are what you eat" indeed. According to her, the American customers in her Filipino restaurant in Soho, New York just love adobo. Our food is unique. We just don't think of it as special.

I told Kenneth that I believe in unversal themes and concepts (love, hate, revenge heroism etc.) but the manifestations of those concepts are culturally grounded.
Why is Hollywood remaking SIGAW into THE ECHO? Why is the main character in THE ECHO an ex-con? That's because he comes into conflict with his cop neighbor. This change is important for American audiences. In the Philippines, you don't have to be an ex-con to get into trouble with a cop.

My Japanese students loved THE LAST SAMURAI but when I asked them if it was similar to a Japanese movie, they emphatically said no. The same is true with MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. It's a Western view of Japan where individualism reigns over duty.

As silly as it may seem, compare ZAIDO to SHAIDER. The family and oppression angle is very much present in the Filipino version of the tokusatsu show. Now compare that to VR TROOPERS or POWER RANGERS. At least the Filipino version didn't just splice together Japanese footage and then reshot scenes with the cast of teenagers from Saved by the Bell.

This is what I tell my students when I don't talk about postcolonial theory: You come from a unique culture. It's up to you to see it. We eat differently, we talk differently, we walk differently, we communicate differently (who else points with their lips or nods with their eyebrows?), we look at the world differently. It is this outlook that makes us Filipino. That outlook gets blurred particularly in SF because our models are foreign. But make no mistake, we are different.

As writers or would-be writers, I tell them to just look at the world around them, when they walk through the corridors, when they ride a jeepney, when they use a cell phone, when they eat. Embrace that world and slowly, very slowly that world will permeate their minds mired in worlds created by foreigners. When that happens, whether they use indigenous ideas or take all the foreign tropes they want, that world will still come out.

Wow. That went on longer than I planned. Hope you don't mind.

All the best!"

Other new posts: Mia too, who brought up the food and fiction connection in an earlier comment, expounds on this here. Kristel too has her say. And so does The Coffee Goddess. Again, the complete set of links are here.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Bloody Murder!

Thousands of hyphens perish...

Who's going to answer for this? Where is justice?! Juustiice!

Clear-Cut (and a Rebut?), plus a Cat! (and then some)

Links last updated 5:00 p.m., October 9, 2007, Manila time

(I'll update this post for as long as there are bloggers posting their opinions. Please let me know if you or anyone writes something new so that I can link to those entries here. And please do take time to read all the links and the comments. There are a lot of heated (but civil!) exchanges going on that can give you food-for-thought. It will at least make you look again at your own position, reassess it, and maybe even strengthen it.

In addition, I've been trying out Multiply because a lot of people I know are there. It isn't perfect--updates here don't reflect there, comments there don't reflect here--so you might want to check out the comments on the PGS Multiply Blog too.)

After this post last September 17, 2007, I discover that Bhex of the Philippine Speculative Fiction blog gives her own insights into "Filipino" speculative fiction:
"Filipino" Speculative Fiction, Read: The Rambling of the Overly Simplistic
The "Filipino" In Philippine Speculative Fiction, And More Quotation Marks
Links and Announcements (where Bhex posts the other opinions she found on the web about Pinoy Speculative Fiction).
"Filipino" Spec. Fic.: We're Nowhere Near Done Talking About This

Quite clear-cut. A very neat slice. What do you think? Do her posts address the confusion?

The Bibliophile Stalker weighs in too, looking for a compromise:
Does One Need To Use Filipino To Write Filipino Fiction?
More Thoughts on "Filipino" Speculative Fiction
Just A Comment On The Present Discussion (And Not What Is Being Discussed)

Banzai Cat has his say as well, highlighting the quotable quotes:
Of Conceits and Agendas
The Plot Thickens...Like Dinuguan
Anyone For A Round Of Literary Tennis?
and summarizes what has happened so far (as of October 9, 2007): Trying To Get The Last Word In First.

And thanks also to Bhex, there is this, in Filipino:
Planetang Pinoy Scifi

Capsula Stories makes a point: Filipino Speculative Fiction

Read Or Die, through Tin Mandigma, Mia, and Kristel Autencio, have posts (and rebuttals) about this too:
Speculating About Filipino Speculative Fiction
Say What?
Sounding Off On Philippine Fiction
Eating The Sinigang Of Words

And Tin Mandigma makes a further statement (I think) on all of this in the form of a story, Excerpt From A Letter By A Social-Realist Aswang, on Clarkesworld Magazine.

And To The Tale, And Other Such Concerns answers back from where he stands as a "stranger" (as Banzai Cat has jokingly mentioned in his comments-box):
On Being Nationalist

The Coffee Goddess raises her concerns on--and "cringes" at--some of what's been written about the issue: A Speculative Discussion

Electrick Twilight Boogaloo gives his thoughts: Writhing?

The Last Of Me puts up his post: Defining Filipino Spec. Fic.: Can We Skip This For Now?

Gloss Girl's two cents: Gloss Girl

Jeff-Reiji of Me And My Delusions of Grandeur thinks all this talk is Beautiful Chaos.

Wandering Star
speaks her mind: About Being Pinoy In An Opening Field

Anton makes definite and clear judgments, drawing the lines clearly as to his thoughts versus some of the other arguments raised earlier: Philippine Speculative Fiction: Points to Consider; Other Points To Consider Parts 1, 2, 3, 4; More Details On Speculative Fiction; and My Conclusions Regarding Philippine Speculative Fiction.

Musings from Dominique Cimafranca of Davao: Filipino Science Fiction, Part 1, 2, 3.

The Doppler Effect sees a similarity between the discussion and what Margaret Atwood went through. He writes about it in this post.

The Manila Litcritters at the recently concluded 2007 Manila Book Fair talked about Speculative Fiction in the Philippines, as reported in an entry by Miamor: The Imagination To Ask

And one of them, Laughter At The Fringes Of Sanity, lists his own criteria for Philippine fiction: What Makes Fiction Truly Filipino?; and offers a distinction that might clarify things: Philippine Fiction: "Author" vs. "Genre"; and goes further by posting Write Something Filipino, Man.

Another Litcritter, My Life As A Bed, makes a clear statement: Release The Elves!

From a Litcritter in Dumaguete, The Spy In the Sandwich gives his take on the discussion: The Filipino-ness In Our Literature.

Accidents Happen writes A Love Letter To Susan and discusses this issue through the crime/mystery genre.

Professor Emil Flores has his say on the matter: From Professor Emil Flores of U.P.

Notes From the Peanut Gallery has promised to continue from where he left off:
Towards Philippine Speculative Fiction 1, 2, 3
And says something about all these discussions: A Wondrous Can Of Worms, and Write Here, Write Now.

The Pinoy Penman, Sir Butch Dalisay: Filipino-ness In Fiction

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Writing Contest #3!

PGS will give a free copy of the next issue and P100 -- enough for a good cup of coffee -- to the person who writes the best story in 500 words or less based on the above image. The winning
story will also be published in a future issue. Send your entries to pdoimage(at)yahoo(dot)com and label your email "PGS3 Image Entry". Include your name and pertinent contact information.

The above illustration is from Mark Torres (Mytymark as he's fondly called by friends, family, and the undead). He's the resident graphics dude of NU107 for 7 lifecycles now. When not haunting the hallowed halls of the Home of NU Rock, Mark can be found doodling illustrations for magazines, storyboards for ad agencies+TV networks, and sequential artworks (comics) for local+international publishers. His greatest feat of geekdom glory so far is a contribution to the Hope Anthology book for the benefit of the hurricane Katrina victims, published by Ronin Studios, available globally. He's currently penciling issue#5 of Ronin's Adam Zero series. He begs people to buy it when it comes out so he can finally eat decent food. Or buy a lifetime's worth of booze. Bugger him through mytymark(at)yahoo(dot)com.


PGS contributors Nikki Alfar and Yvette Tan have new stories out. Nikki's "Adrift On The Street Formerly Known As Buendia" and Yvette's "Lao Peh"* have been published together in the Sept. 15, 2007 issue of The Philippines Free Press. You can buy the magazine at any leading bookstore or magazine stand. Nikki's "Beacon" was published in PGS2. Yvette's "Chimaera" will be published in PGS4.

*lao peh means "father" in Hokkien

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Continuing Conundrum

(Here are links to other entries made after this particular post was written.)

If you don't like the confusion of Gordian Knots, stop where you are. No need to read further. However, if you don't have anything more important to do...go read a book! Or write something! Or go jogging and give some attention to your health for a bit. Do some macramé, yoga. And after that, if you still don't mind some dizziness, come back to this post (which may not make much sense; that's enough fair warning).

Before he began his class and while waiting for the latecomers to arrive, Prof. Emil M. Flores shared with me his thoughts on the development of American and British myths. He explained to me how the writers from these countries who wrote their stories a long time ago were trying to make a mythos that could be identified with their respective countries, in truth to find their own identities through their own tales, as against the then prevailing stories of Greek and Roman culture (for the Brits), and, ironically, British influences (for the Americans). He cited Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", and Edmund Spenser's "Faerie Queen" as early examples of America and Britain finding their initial voices. I remember reading somewhere that J.R.R. Tolkien was trying to do the same thing for England with his Lord Of The Rings story because he rejected the Arthurian legends as just a hodge-podge of stories put together over time from neighboring lands or disparate tribes across the English countryside.

It is Prof. Flores opinion that the Philippines is in the same development stage as America and Britain were in at the time those above-mentioned tales were written. For him, we are currently trying to find our identity in the writing of our own modern myths, trying to look for those definitive tales that can mark us as a people. For him, the difference is that the Philippines was colonized by Spain and America, but otherwise the "searching" stage is the same.

This reminded me of Dean Francis Alfar's ruminations (part 1, 2, and 3 here, with the promise of more to come) on what makes a speculative fiction story truly deserving of that "Philippine" adjective before it. It is a difficult, convoluted, sometimes contradictory, often confusing mess to sort through. I don't envy Dean's trying to sort it out, and I'm wondering why I'm even trying
it right now. (I suddenly feel very dimwitted, but I'm in the middle of it now, so I'm pushing through to the end).

Prof. Flores and I discussed if--as Dean mentioned to me one evening some months back--citizenship is the sole defining factor. I posited to Dean back then a hypothetical situation wherein Tim Pratt had not yet written the wonderful "Little Gods", had visited Palawan for a vacation, had fallen in love with the place, and then had moved there after tearing up his U.S. passport and acquiring Filipino citizenship. It was only after this that he would complete "Little Gods". Would his story now be considered a part of Philippine speculative fiction? For Dean that night (and I say "that night" because Dean said his thought processes were not yet done), the answer was yes. For Prof. Flores that noon-time in his class, the answer was not as certain.

Prof. Flores said that perhaps it's the story itself that should have that distinctive Filipino flavor. But what comes to my mind is does the author's citizenship matter? In other words, if an American, Englishman, or Australian of Filipino heritage, or any heritage for that matter, wrote a very Filipino-flavored story after lengthy research, can it maybe make the story a part of Philippine speculative fiction?

And if so, where does that place the beautiful melancholy of Kij Johnson's excellently written "Fox Magic"? Is it American speculative fiction, the author having been born in that country? Or is it Japanese? Would the Japanese take and accept it as being the equivalent of one of their own stories written by one of their own citizens? Or not? We'll have to ask a Japanese who has read it to find out, but even then the answer might not be as clear as we expect.

Or to bring something closer to home: PGS (and Philippine Speculative Fiction, as well as other publications) are open to stories from Philippine citizens and those of Philippine heritage. Write anything you want, go ahead, as long as you're either of these. Yet, what if a Filipina, say, marries a foreigner from, and moves to, hmm, lemmesee, Azerbaijan, after renouncing her Filipino citizenship? Then she sends a story in to PGS or those other publications, but her story is about an Azerbaijanie (?)--er, citizen of that country--dealing with Azerbaijan mythological creatures (Gee, what could they be? This sounds intriguing!). What does that make her story? She might argue with the editors that she was a former citizen of the R.P., had learned how to read and write here, and that we do accept stories from those of Filipino heritage according to our guidelines.

To add to the confusion, what if she wrote and sent in instead a high-fantasy story with knights on horses, wizards with magic wands, dragons, stocky dwarfs, and elves with pointy ears, kings and princesses?

Or instead, she sends in a crime story set in Chicago involving Italian gangsters, Hong Kong Triad members, and an American-Azerbaijanie detective (married to a drop-dead gorgeous Filipina, of course!).

Or what if her work was a science fiction story with all these characters set on Mars, or on asteroid DX-CV5676? Does setting play a part, along with characters and the author's citizenship? Martian speculative fiction, anyone?

Or, in the most confusing case, what if she sends in a story woven from the stories she grew up with, a story of tikbalangs and kapres, tiyanaks and mananaggals, written during her free time in the Azerbaijan countryside? She's no longer a Philippine citizen, remember?

So, now what?

(Maybe this is why the Palancas are only open to those of Philippine citizenship, hyuk-hyuk.)

Another friend I was speaking with on this topic released more worms from the can. He suggested that maybe it's the country where the piece was initially published that determines the adjective before the noun. So in his view, a Malaysian publishing any piece in neighboring Singapore has just contributed to the general body of Singaporean literature, not to Malaysian literature. In a real-world situation, I bring up Crystal Koo's winning poem, "Corridor", which was published for the first time in the University of New South Wales' student literary journal. If my friend's argument is right (and in my mind, I don't think so), Crystal has just contributed to Australian poetry! She's based in Hong Kong now, so anything else that gets published by her there becomes Chinese lit as well! And what of the work that was published before Hong Kong was turned over by England to China? Are those pieces no longer veddy British, suddenly Chinese?

Ditto this situation for Nikki Alfar, she of the ability to weave lavish, atmospheric prose; she has a story coming out for the first time in the Winter 2007/2008 issue of Fantasy Magazine, based in the U.S. Her coming tale is thus going to be a part of American speculative fiction.

(Crystal, Nikki! Mga taksil kayooo! (hwe-hwe-hwe))

So is that that, for the location of a piece's first publication? Let's let more worms out. With anything published on the internet being able to cross borders, including blogs, how do you determine location now? Is it by where the servers are located? If so, all of us blogging using non-Philippine weblog services have just contributed to the blogging culture of our servers' countries! Or, in fiction, Dean's "The Kite of Stars", first published on the U.S. based e-zine Strange Horizons, is also American spec. fic. As is the coming "Excerpt from a Letter by a Social-realist Aswang" by Tin Mandigma of Read Or Die, who is seeing this story published next month, October, in Clarkesworld Magazine, another American e-zine.

(Dalawa pang taksil! Mga collaboratooor! Mga kababayan, isumbong natin kay...kay...kay Tulfo!)

But really, the location of first publication on the web is the easiest argument to shoot holes in. The internet is meant to cross borders, and in my judgment content determines a website's flavor. In fact, even first publication on paper by location seems iffy at best in a work's determination as being "Philippine" spec. fic. or not. Yet, I wouldn't be surprised if this argument of "first publication" had its adherents somewhere out there.

"So," my friend asked me, "is it language then?"

Haay, language. Sigh. The worms are all over the place now.

The Philippines has two official languages, Filipino and English. If I remember rightly, National Artist Edith L. Tiempo, when asked why she wrote in English and not in Tagalog, defended her choice by saying that there is no need to defend her choice. She writes in the language she can best express herself in. Still, I do want to allow for some stories in Filipino to find their way into PGS, and I'm exploring how to go about this. There can be no arguing that there is a certain feel and taste to all languages that best reflects the culture it exists in. But then, we'd have to take into account the even more specific flavors of Cebuano, Ilocano, Chabacano, etc., suited to their localities.

That I am Chinese-Filipino, and that I sometimes feel the pull to explore the roots of my heritage, where my parents and grandparents originally came from, to see how I fit not only here but in China, through fiction, I think reflects that same search that Prof. Emil mentioned. I understand this, I understand very well the need to discover identity through stories.

(Ah hah! Taksil ka rin pala! Pare-pareho lang pala tayong lahat! Kaya...ganito nalang: mag-beer muna tayo! Mas maganda pa 'yan! Kam pai!)

Back to Professor Flores. After his comparison of early American and British tales to the current story landscape in the Philippines, he started talking about how much Western publishers are looking for Eastern myths this time. It seems they're looking for fresh ground to explore, having exhausted their own mythologies. He said to me something to the effect that "If we write and send them something about an aswang, they're sure to at least consider it!" So Tin Mandigma is perhaps on the right track with her story to Clarkesworld in spreading word about our myths; and perhaps therein too lies our strongest means to adding that Philippine flavor to our spec. fic. stories. Prof. Flores finds it ironic in fact that Pinoys are into the elves, knights, wizards, and monsters of Western stories, when those across the Pacific are looking here for something that, to them, is new, but which we take for granted since for us something like a dwende is overly familiar.

But in his opinion, Prof. Flores warns that we should be careful not to "exoticize" our fertile mythological world, to write of such strangeness for the sake of addressing a particular audience, lest we lose the original honesty of what is Filipino in them. I translate this to mean that our stories should not be contrived for certain segments of readers, but should just be what they are, written honestly, in the same way that any other honestly written story, any other myth, just is. This to him would be a better reflection of the culture from which the story, its creatures, and its characters, sprung.

In PGS3 there is a story, Dreamtigers, by American poet and fictionist Robert Frazier, who has a take on bangungot different from what we're used to seeing around here. He identifies bangungot in the text as a Philippine nightmare syndrome. In that story, the victims of bangungot are not Filipinos, but Vietnamese. His protagonist is an American black man, and at the end, as he dreams, this protagonist finds himself in the African wilderness. I asked Mr. Frazier if we could reprint his story because I felt it would make a nice comparison/contrast to Miggy Escaño's Tuko, which also deals with bangungot. I reached a point where I wanted PGS readers to see too how other writers who are not from these shores write about us, even just a bit, never mind their background or their nationality but focus on the story, dammit, the story. That Tuko and Dreamtigers were about bangungot was serendipity. But more than that, Dreamtigers shows too that any subject, any mix of subjects, is a target for any writer, for any imagination, no matter where they're from.

There are no clear answers to anything I've brought up; and perhaps everything is just vapor, really. But I'm not sure it's a good idea to cut the Gordian Knot yet, to just slice it and leave it on the floor. Yes, do write what you want to write, tell the story you want to tell, that you find interesting, because if you're not interested in what you're writing the reader will sense that too. All these arguments for what makes a tale Filipino is important, but it also reminds me of the classification issue that I addressed in PGS2's editorial, about how genre fiction is perceived as so different from literary fiction, when I wrote (and I could be wrong, you know) that "a story is a story is a story no matter what it's about or how it's labeled". It could be that it all depends on an individual case-to-case, story-to-story basis. We can leave the classification to the publishers and the managers of the bookstores, in the same way we can leave what makes a story Pinoy to those who are more learned, well-informed on the matter, brilliant.

Just read and write. We can wheel that Gordian Knot into an empty room when we tire of it, and then bring it out occasionally when we feel the need to give its unraveling another try, especially when we come upon a work we feel can define us the way Irving's or Spenser's did for their countries. But the time we spend reading and writing should be commensurately longer than the time we spend on that godawful Knot.

And I think I've spent enough time on it now, thank you very much.

Okay, okay. Show's over. Nothing to see here, folks, nothing to see here. Go home, people. Go back to what you were doing. Pick up that book and take up where you left off. Go back to writing your story. Go back to jogging, or yoga, or macramé.

I'm dizzy. I'm going to lie down for a while. I'm not sure I want to post something like this again in the future. I'm afraid that if I reread this, everything I've put down might be horribly wrong!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Creative Writing 111 with U.P.'s Professor Emil Flores

Also on September 17, 2007, on the same day that Luis Katigbak gave a talk to the high school students of Philippine Science High School (but this time at 11:30 a.m., not at eight o'clock on a Monday morning), I was also invited to sit-in with the Creative Writing class students of Professor Emil M. Flores of the University of the Philippines, Diliman. In fact, it was this noon-time class that was the "blind-item" subject of one of my earlier posts (thank you to Prof. Flores and to the class for letting me post about this fully this time, and thank you to Kristine Dumalanta for emailing me about your class to begin with).

Prof. Flores explained to me that in this class, CW 111, he was allowed to shape the curriculum around Science Fiction and Fantasy, as against CW 110 which deals with the Philippines' rich vein of domestic realism stories. As I mentioned in that previous post, the class critiqued the stories "Beneath the Acacia" by Celestine Trinidad and "The Final Interview" by Sean Uy, which came out in PGS2. This time, I was able to sit-in the class's workshop of original fiction written by the students themselves. I was able to browse through work that included stories set in an alternate, magical Philippines, in the Cordilleras to be specific; and a story about a seemingly perfect couple, which, upon losing one member to death, refused to allow that to stop them from being together. Interesting stuff, as befits creative writing majors. In listening to Prof. Flores's students I heard many interesting points made as these young writers tried to help each other develop and improve their work. Prof. Flores too gave his comments and insights to guide the formation of their stories.

It was a good experience to see these young writers work and help each other with their writing. I encouraged them to continue, and to submit anywhere and everywhere they could. I'm grateful to them and to Prof. Flores for having me over, and if they and I have the time, I would gladly show up again.

Four schools visited so far (I.C.A., Xavier, Pisay, U.P.), with the promise of more to come. It's clear to me that the young readers are there, and so is the Pinoy talent for writing. But even without these visits, I think we all kinda' knew that already, didn't we?

Prof. Flores told me things before the start of his class that will be the confusing subject of my next post, what looks to be a long one. I'm glad that it'll be posted on this blog as digitized content on the web, otherwise I might end up wasting a lot of paper and ink.

Luis Katigbak at Pisay

From I.C.A. and Xavier in San Juan (see here and here), I scooted over to Philippine Science High School in Quezon City.

Looking at the very active high school students who were up, about, and fully active inside the ASTB-Audio/Visual Room at eight o'clock on a Monday morning--not a nodding head among them--I reflected on the energy I had as a youth; as in: where the heck did it all go? Luis Katigbak* and I are more or less from the same generation, so while watching him speak to an audience of about sixty teenagers, I wondered if the same thought had crossed his own mind.

After the Bloggers' Kapihan last September 12, 2007, I had the good fortune to meet Anna Santiago-Oblepias, Luis's English teacher back when he was still at Pisay. I broached the subject about having me back to promote PGS to a wider audience of Pisay students, offering to bring what writers I can to speak to them about reading and writing. She was all for it, and mentioned Luis by name. Prominent alumnus, he. So I invited Luis, who graciously agreed to give a talk, and a date and a time were set. Which was why we were there at eight o'clock on a Monday morning.

Anna (who sadly, was not present due to illness) gathered twenty students each from the Creative Writing Club, the school paper, and the Journalism Club to hear Luis talk. Luis couldn't stress to them more that the two greatest secrets to writing are to read a lot and to write a lot, and that they are lucky because today there are more outlets for them to find homes for their work (PGS among them, plug-plug, addressing the genre side, plug-plug).

Again, just like in San Juan, today's youth showed their talent and wit in a writing exercise. Luis asked them to write a four to five sentence opening paragraph for a story that begins with "I know you won't believe this, but...". Some of the more memorable ones were openings for a story pining for romance, a confession of homosexuality by a son to his father, a reflection on being caught in time in a photograph, a writer caught in a time loop, and a story about a vampire that can only drink blood from a virgin octogenarian. (Regarding this last one, if the author of this piece is reading this blog-post, I'm interested in this potential tale the way you wrote it, as a humor piece, if you can develop it into a full short story. Just wanted to let you know).

An interesting question was raised by one of the students. "How do you join and win a Palanca?" someone asked. Joining is the easy part as the Palanca Foundation usually posts on the web the rules and application form for a particular year. But to win?

"Well, you can do what I did," Luis said, "and go to the Palanca offices and read all the winning entries of the past to see what type of story usually makes it. But that doesn't always work. There are years I've joined when I thought I was sure to place, and didn't. And there are years I've joined when I thought that I had no chance, yet did all right. Just write what you want and send it in, and if it doesn't win, you can always send your work to other markets for another chance at seeing print." Sage advice.

Luis held the interests of his listeners, and he confided in me afterward that they also held his. "They're a smart bunch," he said, and agreed with me that most of the opening paragraphs held promise to become lengthier stories. He collected their exercises and their email addresses and generously offered to answer any further questions they may have.

Thanks very much to Luis for giving the talk, to Anna and her co-teachers for setting up the period, and to the Pisay students who attended and gave us your full attention. We hope you found it interesting and worth it.

(Luis has written about his talk in his Manila Bulletin column, The King Of Nothing To Do, here.

*Luis, who I am wooing for a PGS story, is a two-time Palanca winner, once for "Subterrania" (in the now defunct Futuristic Fiction category), and once for "Miko and Friends" (in the Short Story for Children in English category). His 2001 collection of short stories "Happy Endings" was nominated for a National Book Award in 2001, as was his 2007 collection of essays, "The King Of Nothing To Do". Currently, he's the Editor-in-Chief of and the Music Editor of Burn Magazine.

Friday, September 14, 2007

From the DepEd

Ahh, some good news.

More Filipino Students Read, Comprehend Better -- DepEd

And hopefully, not spin.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Vin Simbulan at Xavier School

From I.C.A. last July with Yvette Tan, I crossed two streets over and went to the neighboring boys' school, making sure to skirt the church inbetween, taking as wide and safe a berth as I could so that I wouldn't accidentally alight on sacred ground and get struck by sudden blindness, hit by lightning, or drowned in a downpour of blood.

Now on his second year at Xavier School in San Juan in his stint as the high-school creative writing club moderator, writer and National Book Award winner Vin Simbulan* has been hammering into the heads of his young wards the importance of reading and writing.

Vin invited me over twice this week to visit his classes, to meet his 2nd year high-school students last Tuesday, Sep. 11, and then to meet his 3rd year students on Thursday, Sep. 13, 2007.

Girls are quieter than boys, let me tell you that.

Amid wisecracks, side jokes, and boisterous laughter, I watched Vin teach his students. He spoke to them of the different story genres, how each person is different from another and thus, has different stories to tell, and how self-discipline can lead to achieving one's goals, whether as a writer or anything else.

Vin gave me an opportunity to speak to his kids too. I told them about PGS and why I set it up. I told them that there are many Pinoy writers out there worth reading as much as writers from other countries, and that they should not stop reading even when they get older. They in turn asked me about the time when I was their age, and they had a lot of fun with what I told them about a world with no internet, no high-tech game consoles, no cellphones, and no cable TV (if I had been in their place, I would have joked about it too). It was a wide enough opening for me to segue into talking a bit about science-fiction, how the world these kids were living in today was just imaginary years ago, the subject of seemingly fantastic stories then, but now taken for granted as a regular part of everyday.

But even then, there were books. We had books. We still have books. I told them, that even with all the other things they could do today, the should reserve a part of their lives for books.

Vin also gave both classes a writing exercise. In fact, he used Andrew Drilon's illustration from PGS2 to give them their own forty-minute Image Inspiration. I promised to reward the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd placers of both classes with free copies of PGS, their short vignettes to be judged by Vin and a few of his friends.

My interaction with them, and with the students Yvette spoke to last July, confirms my notion that there are a lot of young ones out there with the intelligence that can be enhanced by reading, and with the talent and imagination to write; and not necessarily write only fiction, but to write anything competently enough, a skill that will be an asset no matter what they choose to be in the future.

Two uplifting afternoons, and Vin's students are lucky to have him for a club moderator. This makes me so much more eager to meet other students from other schools. I've scheduled time to go to these other schools in the near future, with other writers in tow. I'll blog about these visits soon.

*Vin has won the National Book Award three times, and has seen his work published in The Philippine Daily Inquirer, K-Zone, and in Philippine Speculative Fiction, Volumes 1 and 2. One of his stories, "In the Arms of Beishu" from PSF Vol. 1, received a citation a couple of years ago in the international Year's Best Fantasy & Horror anthology (edited by Ellen Datlow, Gavin Grant, and Kelly Link). He's amassed more books than he could ever hope to read in one lifetime and favors the high-fantasy genre in particular. His story, "Wail of the Sun", appeared in PGS1, and another one, "The Last Stand of Aurundar", will come out in PGS4.

Some Things This Morning

The discussions on science-fiction have increased here, here, and here. (I missed posting about the third one in an earlier entry).

And serial offender F.H. Batacan seems to be in the middle of committing another crime. Quick! Catch her before she gets away!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bloggers' Kapihan

Last Saturday, September 8, 2007, I found myself at the Philippine Science High School, or Pisay, as it's more popularly known, to attend the first Bloggers' Kapihan.

The Bloggers' Kapihan is a get-together organized by Shari Cruz, Ederic Eder, Mong Palatino, and their other blogger friends, with the aims of teaching other Pinoys about, well, blogging; about their right to it, the power of expression they have if they do, and the pitfalls that can come with it. No problem with me, as blogging is writing still, and to understand a blog you have to read it, right?

The speakers at this first Kapihan were Abe Olandres, Victor Villanueva, and Manolo Quezon III, respectively representing tech, personal, and political blogging.

It was an active and interesting afternoon, and the people who attended were really into the open forum, asking some delicate and entertaining questions of the speakers. But why should I tell you about it when you can read about it in the words of the attendees, on their own blogs?

I'm looking forward to future Kapihan's, and I hope I'll still be invited and welcome to attend. I've offered to put the organizers in touch with those writers I know who keep prominent and popular blogs. I hope they take me up on my offer, because if interests of tech, personal, and political blogging had their time of representation, why not reading and writing, the very core of what goes into blogging?

And some further things came out of this, the subject of which I hope I can post about next week, if all goes well. It is my hope that another visit to Pisay in the near future is in the offing for me.

To Shari, Ederic, Mong, and company, thanks very much for inviting me to be a part of your project.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Reason To Hoo Hah!

I don't know if I am allowed to reveal the identities of the people involved, or the surrounding circumstances. I'm waiting for permission to be granted, and if it is, I'll update this entry, but for now, here's part of an email I received last September 8:

I'm (name withheld), a Creative Writing junior in (school withheld). My professor used some of your stories from the mag to discuss our lessons in Fiction II and I wondered what sort of stories you look for to publish in the digest, since I would want to try my hand and submit a few things.

Thanks and more power!
PGS stories being discussed in a Fiction class! Hoo hah!

So I answered the sender, expressed my happiness, and asked for more details. Here's what I got in reply:
About the stories we discussed in class, our Professor made us read Beneath The Acacia by Celestine Marie G. Trinidad and The Final Interview by Sean Uy. Just last Thursday (Sep. 6, 2007) we discussed The Final Interview, and Beneath The Acacia's due for class discussion on Monday. We've exchanged lots of comments about the story by Sean Uy.

For the most part the class agreed that Mr. Uy can write well, but we also agreed that he should have used a specific of the dragon's power - that is, the power to assume human shape because it would have made for a more exciting plot twist. One classmate of mine even suggested that the dragon could have been Remington! I can't really recall all of our individual comments (we're a class of fifteen and we got really excited, haha).
I've asked for the dirty details about Beneath the Acacia after their discussion is done, and I even had the temerity to ask if could sit-in in a future class (if they let me in, I must, must find the time). I'm looking very much forward to receiving the next email about this. Hoo hah!

Two September Notices and Two Discussions on Science Fiction

As of this writing, there are six days left before the deadline to email your submission for the third volume of the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology. Editors Dean and Nikki Alfar have posted their last call here. If you do submit, please follow their guidelines. Always follow the guidelines. In doing so, you make the world a better place by making life easier for editors everywhere.

Also, there's an open invitation to Dean's book launch of The Kite of Stars on September 29.

At the Read Or Die Weblog, there's an entry by Mia that talks about science for writers.

And at the Philippine Speculative Fiction website, there's a post by Bhex about using science in science fiction.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle, 1918-2007

Excuse me, ma'am. You don't know me, and I don't know you--outside of what you showed me in your books--but I need to say thank you. I need to say it more than you or your heirs need to hear it, because yours were one of the earliest words to take me to other places, other worlds, making this real one so much more bearable and easier to comprehend.

You took me on your wild tesseract ride with your children, the Murrys, then later on the Austins. You made me consider kything as being more real than imagined (and I still do lean to the former than the latter), and you revealed to me that what may seem so little and inconsequential to human eyes have their importance and place in the universe.

I was only a kid, yet you spoke to me in elegant and crisp prose that I understood, and even now as an older man I still find touching. You showed how a story can have something beneath it, so deep beneath it, layers upon layers, and without being preachy, so that as a child I began to understand how the world has this potential to be so ugly, and that even small ones like me, even if we might fail, can at least try to do something to turn it around and make it beautiful. Inconsequential indeed am I, but nonetheless with a role and a place. When I became an adult I realized then that it was you who had taught me early humility, and proper pride.

Though I'm no Charles Wallace, I believed you when you wrote that "adults can go deeper", so maybe I can kythe you my appreciation, since now you can probably hear me much better.

Excuse me, ma'am. I just want to say thank you.

Madeleine L'Engle, 1918-2007.

*Yahoo News.
*An interview when she was 85. Tough lady! But we all gleaned that already from her books and because of the eras she wrote them in.
*A Filipina mourns Madeleine's passing.
*Booktopia, a PGS distributor, remembers the author.
*An entry with a poem at Miamor. The poem speaks of death in the same way that Dylan Thomas's Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night does, but with less defiance and more joy. Typical of Madeleine, as Miamor has pointed out to me.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Ahh, the Power of Words In Music

Spinner has compiled a list of what they think are the Best Opening Lyrics in a song and, to balance it out, their Worst Lyrics Ever.

I know some people more than a dozen years my senior who break into smiles whenever they hear V.S.T. and Co.'s "Haaah...awitin mo, at isasayaw ko...Ohohah". They sing along and move their bodies to it, though surely not as vigorously as when they were younger, and they also don't get out of their seats anymore. Can you imagine someone dancing while sitting down? Is that my future? Is that all our futures? Oh wait. I don't know how to dance. I'm safe.

And then a few years ago, I remember feeling creeped out when I heard and saw my 13-year old niece and her friends singing and "shaking their groove thing" with so much enthusiasm to "My humps, my humps my lovely lady lumps, in the back and in the front". My skin crawled. Something felt very, very wrong.

As for the time when I was growing up, "Time, like a clock in my heart" seems pretty obviously redundant now, more than twenty years later. And what the heck is a Karma Chameleon? And what does this mean? Is it poetry?
“You've gone too far this time” but I'm dancing on the Valentine
I tell you somebody's fooling around with my chances on the danger line"
Well, maybe...maybe it is. But to be certain, go ask a real poet.

Full disclosure: I humbly admit that I sang and tried to shake my groove thing to this stuff way back when, along with everyone else I grew up with. I'm looking back with older eyes, and yes, I'm smiling widely right now. Partly from embarrassment.

In the late 1980's (or it could've been the early 90's), a very sentimental man who was then about 65 years old told me that they don't write lyrics like they used to (in different variations, I recognized this statement of his as the endless lament of the aged who consider their youth the best of times, and that in their opinion the current is deplorable because "things just aren't what they used to be").

"Take this example," he said to me. "How poetic, meaningful, and beautiful can these lyrics be: 'Love is a many splendored thing', by Sinatra. What does your generation have?"

Being younger then, and less respectful, at mas walang takot, humirit ako.

"'Love is a battlefield', by Benatar," I answered him. He wasn't amused.

Some lyrics though have stuck with me over the years, and still mean just as much now, if not more. When I'm 65, I wonder if I'll corner some poor soul in his 20's, recite these lyrics to him, and tell him "What does your generation have?" I hope not. And I really should listen to more of the newer songs.

Ahh, the power of words in music.

But for today, my smile is at its purest whenever I see my kids dance, with all their energy, while singing "We're all in this together".

Since Spinner's list is for songs that were hits in the U.S., I wonder which O.P.M. lyrics would fall into which side, best or worst.

"Don't touch my birdie"?

"Humanap ka ng pangit, ibigin mong tunay"?

Haynako, "Ewan".

A Belated Review

A belated review of PGS2 by Electrick Twilight Boogaloo.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The 2nd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards

Fully Booked has announced the 2nd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards. Whether you are readers who write or writers who read, good luck to all you PGS patrons who might want to throw your hats into the ring. In fact, we encourage you to do so!

Manila Book Fair

Thank you to Kristin Mandigma of Read Or Die who invited me to be part of the panel for new and independent publishers at the Manila Book Fair today, September 2, 2007, 12 noon. It was fun to discuss and share the goals of PGS with those who attended the discussion. With me in the panel were Ani V. Habulan of Anvil Publishing, Sherwil P. Nuesa of Cozy Reads Publishing, and an old schoolmate, Jade Bernas of Story Philippines. Kristin ably handled the hosting gig, a difficult job I'm sure with four publishers pushing their products. Again, thanks very much, Kristin.

I found it particularly amusing that we each had common authors, and were not afraid to say so! Of course, Ani was plugging Dean Francis Alfar's The Kite of Stars and Other stories, so Jade and I interrupted to say that we had Dean's work in our past issues, and will have him again in our next ones. PGS2 and Issue 4 of Story Philippines came out pretty much at the same time with stories from Chiles Samaniego, and Sherwil did note that Cozy Reads and PGS shared authors in Elyss Punsalan and Celestine Trinidad. What a small world.

But we all also share the same goal: to push literacy in the Philippines, to get more Filipinos to read, and not just the work of foreign authors, but that of fellow Filipinos too. Here's hoping we can do something about that, no matter how small our contribution is.