(Thankfully, I know my friends will understand.)
So I realized just an hour ago that I have never really blogged about my first-ever book launch. I can think up a few excuses – I have been very busy with other things, I felt insecure amid all the other good writers with me in that book launch, I have forgotten that I have a blog, I was offline for the longest time, I was sick, my Mac was out of space to even open a browser window, government work did not allow for blogging, my internet service provider is too inefficient, I ran out of fountain pen ink, I was trying to learn how to walk in high heels, I got a crew cut, I cracked a fingernail, I moved to Timbuktu where there was no internet service, my dog had a quarrel with the neighbor’s parakeet and the parakeet flew into my room through an open window and ate my homework …
Now that the (fake) excuses are over with, let me tell you that six months ago, in February of this year, Speculative Fiction Volume IV was launched at the Fully Booked flagship store in Bonifacio High Street. SpecFic4, as we lovingly call it, is the fourth volume of an annual anthology consistently being published by the husband-and-wife team of Dean
and Nikki Alfar, both award-winning writers, and also top coordinators for the LitCritters, a reading group that meets every alternate Saturdays. (The LitCritters also has a Dumaguete chapter, headed by award-winning writer Ian Rosales Casocot.
The anthology focuses on short stories under the speculative fiction genre, which is a loose – and, as Dean admitted, temporary – category that takes under its silvery wing science fiction stories, horror, fantasy, futuristic fiction, and other smaller sub-genre that cannot be technically classified under conventional realist fiction.
But the LitCritters never did let categories cramp their style. They just read and read and wrote and wrote, and they shared their thoughts during regular LitCritters get-togethers, to where everyone who has signed up in the Google group and read the story scheduled to be discussed for the week is welcome. The Speculative Fiction anthology is the fruit of these countless reading discussion get-togethers, where we get to meet writers we have read but have not met, read writers we have met but have not read, meet writers who are just starting out and writers who are well along their way, writers who are also editors and publishers, writers who love to read and write about dragons, writers who love Aimee Bender, and everyone else who the LitCritters just seem to attract into these afternoon get-togethers, to talk about stories of all kinds. It's no University of the Philippines, Diliman, but that, perhaps, is where the efficiency of the LitCritters gets its strength from. It's fun, it's funny, it's happy, it's uplifting, it's meaningful, it's natural. Isn't that how reading should be?
The LitCritters is a small group of really awesome people. My first experience at joining them was one particularly lonely Saturday afternoon in 2006 – which was really no different from all the other lonely afternoons I kept having that year – and at once I knew that this group can and will help me. With what particularly, I did not know yet. I was not even sure yet if I would still write, not sure if I still could, but I knew that there was still something in me that this group can (re-)ignite.
Right in the middle of a discussion about a story –- I think it was the one where the main character, an old potter, died and his body was cremated and his ashes were mixed into clay that were in turn made into pots and bought by people who lived in other countries and brought the pots with them to their homes, and placed them on porches, on windowsills, and the main character, Don Ysidro, was alive in those pots, exhilarated by all the sights and sounds of the civilization passing before him.
When I was asked to comment on the story, part of what I said was, “I am very much amused by this part that says that when an enemy of Don Ysidro asked Don Ysidro’s wife for the dying man’s red boots, the wife bent down to listen to what Don Ysidro would say, and Don Ysidro, who could speak with a very soft voice and only with great effort, said no, because the visitor was a thieving rascal, and the wife straightened up and said that Don Ysidro said the visitor could take the boots.” And then I paused, because I had a sudden flash of insight. “I’m amused because that is exactly how married people are.”
Of course everybody laughed at that. And that made me realize that maybe all was not lost. And when I laughed with them a split-second later, I knew I’d be okay.
And I got up from my depression -- aided by Dr. Zita Soriano and Zoloft
-- dusted myself off, and went to work. The result was not exactly stellar, but good enough for a recovering writer. I was able to rework some older pieces in which I used to be stuck, and I was able to write a few new pieces as well. For SpecFic4, I gave my short story Breathing Space
, which Nikki said has some elements of horror.
Here are all the stories in this volume:
A League of Champions by Ronald Cruz
A Retrospective on Diseases for Sale by Charles Tan
All We Need is Five Meals a Day by Jose Elvin Bueno
Beats by Kenneth Yu
Breaking the Spell by Rochita Loenen-RuizBreathing Spac
e by Maryanne Moll
Dino's Awesome Adventure by Carljoe Javier
Dreams of the Iron Giant by Joseph Nacino
First of the Gang to Die by Paolo Jose Cruz
From Abecediarya by Adam David
Haya Makes A HUG by Erica Gonzales
Hopscotch by Anne Lagamayo
Mang Marcing and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Vincent Simbulan
Parallel by Eliza Victoria
Press Release by Leo Magno
Revenge of the Tiktaks by Noel Tio
Sky Blue by Celestine Trinidad
The Dance of the Storm by Isabel Yap
The Day That Frances, The Copywriter, Became God by Monique Francisco
The Maiden's Song by Kathleen Aton-Osias
The Paranoid Style by Sharmaine Galve
The Rooftops of Manila by Crystal Gail Shangkuan Koo
The Secret Origin of Spin-Man by Andrew Drilon
The Sewing Project by Apol Lejano-Massebieau
And the launch was crowded and a little noisy, but as can be expected from Dean and Nikki and the rest of the LitCritters, always fun, friendly, and relaxed.
No stiff speeches and stuffy readings of excerpts of one’s story, just an evening of catching up on each other and meeting new friends and writers. It was my very first time to attend a launch of a book that included me -- this, a decade after the release of my very first book, in 1999, which I never launched, and the subsequent release of my second book in 2003, which I also never launched -- but maybe it's just as well, because the LitCritters are wonderful people to share a milestone with.
To Dean and Nikki and the LitCritters, you will always have a soft spot in my heart. Thank you for letting me into your gatherings. Thank you for being my allies in reading and writing. Thank you for being my friends. Thank you for making me laugh, and for making me see that what can save me has been right under my nose all along. Thank you for for those magical Saturday afternoons where talked about stories we have read, about stories we are working on, and how, in the beauty and the madness of storytelling, the trick is to keep going, keep reading, keep writing, and keep believing that in the childlike sense of wonder created by reading and writing all sorts of stories, we find our truest selves.
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