Seaside Story


A Visit to the Seaside

The boy stumbled over the body of a mermaid, long dead.

The sea had tangled seaweed onto her hair and body.The crabs had picked at her skin and the gulls, her eyeballs. She stank like meat and fish left too long in the sun.

She was the loveliest thing he had ever seen.

Waking the Dead Book Launch

Thank you to everyone who made it to the Waking the Dead book launch. Lots of people braved horrible traffic and a mall sale just to get to the lauch, and for that I am supremely grateful.

There were folks who tried to make it, but got stuck in traffic and had to turn back and folks who wanted to come but had birthdays and weddings and other events to attend. Thank you for your thoughts.

And to the people who dropped by even though they had to rush off to a concert or a gig, I am supremely touched.

And of course, to the people who bought the book, whether at the launch or after, those who hunted the title down in the bookstores and those who are still in the process of looking for it (I’ve alerted the publishers, they’re on their way), once again, thank you.

To Anvil, for a great launch, and to WeeWillDoodle, for the time, support and the great art. You’re the best! :D

Here are some of the launch highlights. Many thanks to Denise, Kenneth, and Kathy for the images.

Eon Miranda, Elyss Punsalan and Oscar Alvarez, who came entirely of their own volition and not at gunpoint or anything.

Eon Miranda, Elyss Punsalan and Oscar Alvarez, who came entirely of their own volition and not at gunpoint or anything.

Nelz, Paulo and Pam from WeeWillDoodle doodling. These guys rock!

Nelz “Dark Bulb” Yumul, Paulo “Astig ang girlfriend ko” Ferrer and Jhoan from WeeWillDoodle, well, doodling. These guys rock!

Luis "another Palanca" Katigbak reading an excerpt of "The Bridge"

Luis “another Palanca” Katigbak reading an excerpt of “The Bridge”

Arnold "Martial Law Babies" Arre reading an excerpt of "Sidhi."

Arnold “Martial Law Babies” Arre reading an excerpt of “Sidhi.”

Wincy "genius" Ong reading from "Boss, Ex?', doing robot voices and cursing in the children's section.

Wincy “genius” Ong reading from “Boss, Ex?’, doing robot voices and cursing in the children’s section.

Litcritter support! Andrew Drilon, who did the art, Dean Alfar, who worte my blurb, his lovely wife Nikki, who I should have asked to read because I love her voice. I think That's Kate Osias in the corner. Yay!

Litcritter support! Andrew Drilon, who did the art, Dean Alfar, who worte my blurb, his lovely wife Nikki, who I should have asked to read because I love her voice. I think That’s Kate Osias (who btw also won another Palanca) in the corner. Yay!

Waya Gallardo's Graveyard Cake (Thanks, Waya!), before it was decimated by hungry zom - er - launch goers. Only had a spoonful myself, thanks to the loving kindness of Fran Ong.

Waya Gallardo’s Graveyard Cake (Thanks, Waya!), before it was decimated by hungry zom – er – launch goers. Only had a spoonful myself, thanks to the loving kindness of Fran “sexier than a sexy librarian” Ong.

Many thanks to Denise "Where are the bears?" Mallabo for directing this photo as proof that people got their books signed. There's Cynthia "I like cheese" Arre, Erwin "harrumph" Romulo, Quark "Us-2Evil-0 sneakers" Henares and Jun "You know you want me" Sabayton.

Many thanks to Denise “Where are the bears?” Mallabo for directing this photo as proof that people got their books signed. There’s Cynthia “I like cheese” Arre, Erwin “harrumph” Romulo, Quark “Us-2Evil-0 sneakers” Henares and Jun “You know you want me” Sabayton.

Rock Ed: A day in Bilibid Prison

As posted on my GMA column:

Last Wednesday, I tagged along with Erwin Romulo to New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa. This was part of Rock Ed’s weekly visitation to the maximum security prison.

RockEd is a movement that aims to encourage reading and education through music. They have held several projects and produced several events. They also have a weekly radio show every Sunday at 8pm on NU 107, hosted by Gang Badoy, who founded Rock Ed, and Lourd de Veryra of the RadioActiveSago Project, with music by Terno Recordings.

We met up with Gang and two other volunteers, Leslie and Mike along the SLEX and together, we went to Bilibid.

You hear all sorts of things about folks in prison. It doesn’t help that movies paint prison as being a dark, soulless place where people are kept behind bars and given scarps of food to eat.

The security inside Bilibid is unbelievably tight (and rightly so). No cellphones or cameras allowed. We had to empty out the contents of our bags, surrender an ID and get frisked. The guys had to get stamped as proof that they don’t belong inside. After all that, we were finally in.

The inside of Bilibid is like a little barangay. There is a hospital, a basketball court, a canteen, numerous sari-sari stores. People walk around, some in their orange uniforms, others in casual attire. It looked like you were in a men-only commune and not one of the biggest prisons in the country. People called out to Gang as she passed, all of which she greeted with a cheerful ‘hello’ back. We could see groups of prisoners walking around — probably gang leaders and their ‘bodyguards.’ We passed some joggers who waved happily at us. The tiny road was smooth and well-paved, a far cry from some of the streets you see in Metro Manila.

Gang teaches a creative writing class in Bilibid every Wednesday. She sometimes brings in guests to talk about what they do. It’s one way of getting the inmates to meet new people, something they cannot do on their own because of their current situation. Examples of people she’s brought include writers, filmmakers and musicians. RockEd even organized a concert of the inmates recently of three of today’s most popular bands — The Itchyworms, Pedicab and Hale.

We were led deep inside the prison, into a small, well-lit activity room that also housed the prison library. This is where Gang’s students regularly gathered for class. I was asked to introduce myself. I told them that I was a horror writer, and that immediately got their attention. It seemed that everyone had a question to ask or a scary story to tell.

“Did you feel anything on your way here?” someone ask.

“Thank goodness I didn’t!” I replied.

I was told about haunted cells, haunted bathrooms, given tips on how to go about researching in the morgue. A guy told us about how he had encountered a talking goat when he was a child while another regaled us with a story of how he picked a fight with a ghost. They were all very smart. We discussed stuff like clairvoyance, near death experiences and Christian belief about the nature of spirits. I learned from them that fiction is kathang-isip in Tagalog.

They also asked about how I researched my stories, and whether I did it alone.

“Not if I can help it!” I answered.

Afterwards, Gang gave them a lesson on ownership and imagination. “Your story or poem belongs to you,” she said, “and only you have the right to dictate what happens in it. It can be based on events or it could be something purely from your imagination. You can exaggerate if you want, because it is yours. What is important is that you are happy with what you have written.”

Gang is a very good teacher. I found myself relearning things I had forgotten and discovering others that I didn’t realize about the writing process. Her class listened attentively, drinking in her every word. I realized that this was probably the most interested, well-behaved class I had ever seen. She then gave them an assignment. They were to each write a horror story that they were to let someone else read, one person per story. The only criteria for this exercise was that they scare their groupmate. They would then report on the stories they read.

Gang’s students wanted to see some of my work, so I’m supposed to give Gang photocopies of one of my stories.

Afterwards, we milled around for a bit. One of the prisoners showed me and Erwin the scars from where he was shot in the early 90’s. He described the sensation of being shot, and the pain of the wound healing. I asked to touch it and he let me. Now I know what a healed gunshot wound feels like. He also told me that he’s been starving for horror and suspense books, since most of what circulates within the prison walls are Tagalog romance novels. Imagine that!

We were joined by fashion designer Puey Quinones, who also holds once a week classes in Bilibid, but for painting and fashion design. Everyone sat down to a dinner of white rice, steamed crab, and probably the best tinolang manok I have ever tasted. We sat around some more then it was time to go home. what looked like the whole class escorted us to the prison gates, where we shook hands and said goodbye.

Later, I asked Gang when the class would be reporting on their groupmates’ stories. She said they could wait for me if I wanted. I really want to hear what horror stories her students come up with. I’ll let you know if anything stands out.

Find out more about Rock Ed on

Happy Halloween, everyone!

On the phone with Cirio Santiago

I did a short phone interview with director Cirio Santiago today (I wasn’t able to catch him at the photoshoot, where I interviewed director Eddie Romero) for Rogue. It’s amazing how, in just a five minute conversation with this man, I learned more about the Philippines during the American era than I did in four years of high school.

He and Eddie Romero were cinematic pioneers, even though the Philippines was too insular to notice. The duo thought that the local film industry was too stifling, and that there were creative opportunities available elsewhere, if they knew where to find it. And find it they did, both of them working and making names for themselves on Hollywood B movies.

I was very fascinated by Mr. Santiago’s approach to moviemaking, which he tackles from an economic point of view. I was saddened by his statement that the movies that he really wanted to make were ones that the (Filipino) public would not want to watch. It drove home how, even after more than a century of freedom, most of us still live our lives in accordance to what we think would appeal to our colonizers. I have friends who will not read, listen or watch anything that was not a best seller, blockbuster hit or platinum-charting, and who let their in-the-loop friends dictate their tastes. It’s sort of like that. Mr. Santiago mentioned something to the effect of “I’m not well known in this town.” But with Hollywood filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Jonathan Demme (and this is the important part) telling Filipinos about Mr. Santiago’s influence on their filmmaking, maybe that might change.

Happy Year of the Rat: rats in pop culture

Happy Chinese New Year! Let’s usher in the year of the Earth Rat!

According to Chinese Horoscope Masters, this year is filled with opportunity and money, good things, good things. As my friend texted, (you can practically hear the Chinese accent in the message) “Year of Earth Rat filled with good luck. Money come from God.”

It’s only in the Chinese Zodiac where a rat is considered a “good” animal. Everywhere else, from movies to literature to history, the rat has been treated with (well deserved) hate and disgust.

Rats rarely get to be the star of movies. Oftentimes, they’re part of the background, used to denote a place that’s dark and filthy and not fit for humans, like the sewers or a tomb, for example.

When they are part of the main cast, they are often misunderstood creatures who side with misunderstood men. The most well-known examples of these are, of course, Ben, and more recently, Willard, a remake of the 1971 movie that started it all.

If not, they’re part of a rat mob, out to destroy humans. I remember watching such a movie with my cousins in my childhood. I can’t remember the name of the movie, only that there were rats, and lots of them. This was your usual B-movie, filled with hormonal teenagers, idiotic adults, and as many rodents as could possibly fill the screen. I only remember one scene from that movie, a scene that disturbed me then and still disturbs me now. One of the teenagers was going to sleep in a sleeping bag, and for some reason, even though she was in the middle of a killer rat-infested town, she decided to sleep naked. What happened was cinematically inevitable. She died in the most gruesomely disturbing way possible in her condition. Rats can gnaw through cloth easy, so guess where they went in, and guess where they came out. I still don’t know what the name of the movie was.

Nowadays, rats are getting an image makeover, the most recent enterprise of which is Ratatouille, the disturbing Pixar animation that did not sit well with me because one, Linguini, the main character had no redeeming qualities whatsoever (he was just a vehicle for Remy the rat’s culinary aspirations) and two, a kitchen full of rats is just wrong, even if they all washed their paws.

Writer Troy Patterson lightly analyzes rats in pop culture in his review of the above movie:

“There’s a whole book for some crazy person to write about rodents in pop culture, with one chapter devoted to Alvin and the Chipmunks and another analyzing the werebeavers depicted in both Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon and Pamela Anderson’s Stripperella.”

To most people, rats are scary, be it a lone rodent munching on the crumbs on your kitchen floor to the flood of rats that take over your house, your town, your kitchen. But there’s a certain kind of rat whose gross out factor far outweighs that of the ordinary rattus rattus. It’s something we’re not familiar with in the Philippines, but have sometimes encountered in books and stories, usually of European origin. I’m talking about the Rat King.

Wikepedia describes the Rat King as thus:

“Rat kings are cryptozoological phenomena said to arise when a number of rats become intertwined at their tails, which become stuck together with blood, dirt, and excrement. The animals consequently grow together while joined at the tails, which are often broken. The phenomenon is particularly associated with Germany, where the majority of instances have been reported.”

Two of my favorite authors use the Rat King either literally or figuratively in their novels. There’s China Mieville’s King Rat, his drum ‘n’ bass, jungle-fueled pied piper-inspired first novel, and Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, a book aimed at younger readers about a cat, together with his rat friends, who have a really good scam going.

On the horror front, rats, as well as other creatures like spiders, bees, rabbits, and most recently, sheep can (sometimes) be effective vehicles of fear when there are a lot of them, and if they’re ready to kill. I realize that this is more often used as a cinematic convention than a literary one, but it’s still an idea you can play with.

Here’s to a year of joy, prosperity, and lots of ideas for us all!