Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

how i spent my u.s. vacation (short story)

Heartfelt thanks to Palanca Award-winning writer Ichi Batacan for encouraging me to write this story, and Kenneth Yu for publishing it last April on his Philippine Genre Stories website.

Much of this is based on true stories. Truth, after all, is always stranger than fiction, precisely because it really happened.


So. The girl, I was told, was not Silva’s but another man’s – the woman’s husband. She had left him because he was beating her. Late one night she crept out of their shack carrying only a duffel bag of clothes and her young daughter; hitching up the skirt of her duster, she got astride Silva’s Yamaha motorcycle and off they sped into the night and a new life. Only for him to disappear mysteriously five years later.

Ray said, but that’s not what really happened.

You mean Silva didn’t run off with another woman?

No, said Ray. Tatay’s friend told me this:

A Spyderco Endura knife like this one features in the story

Boyong Silva was a neighbor of theirs. He was a drunkard. He spent the days getting soused with cronies, who, like him, relied on their wives to keep them fed and sheltered in the barong-barongs, the shacks of scrounged wood and galvanized iron that littered their community like rat’s nests.

He’d come home late. The wife would be asleep. She took in laundry and would be tired to death after a day bent over a washtub, scrubbing clothes by hand, the chemicals in the harsh detergent bareta eating into her hands, pitting the rough brown skin with red wounds that stung when she immersed her hands in water. After that she’d iron the dry clothes. The damp, the heat, the hard labor, they take a toll.

Read the entire story here.

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the shop of strange (flash fiction)

The strange shop sold only balls of all colors, sizes, materials.

In one corner he saw a crystal one with a watch within it.

“What does this do?” he asked the old woman behind the counter.

“It is the ball of time,” she whispered.

“Break it and you will go back as many years as you wind the watch’s hands to.

But choose wisely. Not all times are good, and you can never return to this time.” ***

Photo: “Timesphere”, original digital art by Jenny Ortuoste, 26 May 2012. 

Story and photo also posted on Instagram (follow me @jennydecember)

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tim tomlinson comes to town

It was with great pleasure and interest that my daughter signed up for the three-day creative writing workshop conducted by writer Tim Tomlinson at the Filipinas Heritage Library last month.

It was a coincidence that I bought online, just a month before, the CW textbook that Tim co-wrote – The Portable MFA in Creative Writing – and that he drew on as a basis for the workshop lessons.

I got it online via Amazon

I asked my daughter to take it with her and have it autographed. She waited for the right moment, and figured it was after Tim told the workshop participants to try to get the “hard copy”. So she brought out my book, and his eyes widened in surprise.

That is why he wrote this dedication.

“For Jennifer – Thanks so much for purchasing the hard copy. All the best, T”. 

With e-books now becoming more common, and photocopied handouts more the norm rather than not in countries such as ours where some books, especially textbooks, are not easy to come by, it must be even more gratifying for authors when readers go to the trouble and expense of purchasing an ink-and-paper copy.

I’m glad I did get the hard copy of this book, because through the serendipitous happenstance of fate, I was able to get it autographed – a tangible, physical mark of the author, which elevates my copy from the disembodied words of experts into a living, breathing work of a person who practices what he preaches.

Too bad I did not get to meet Mr Tomlinson, nor was my daughter able to have her photo taken with him and the other workshop participants. But what counts is that she learned much that will help and guide her in her fiction writing.

Life works in mysterious ways.

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bene gesserit litany against fear

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

- Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear (Frank Herbert, Dune)

Image here.

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the haunting of hill house

From my bookshelves: The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson (ebook)

In his book on horror fiction, Danse Macabre, Stephen King describes Hill House, written in 1959, as one of the best horror novels of the 20th century. His praise was glowing and I vowed to read it someday; and now, thanks to the miracle of e-books, I have and it is all that King said it was.

He particularly pointed out the first paragraph as a stellar example of an opening:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Ebook file available from Ebookna here. Book cover image here.

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patriots on the street book launch

After a wait of many months, there’s finally a schedule set for the launch of the novel Patriots on the Street.

The book serves as a platform for the thoughts of property developer Rex Drilon II and was written by Manila Standard-Today opinion editor and columnist Adelle Chua.

Patriots on the Street explores the issues of nationalism and poverty and offers Drilon’s solutions to the economic and political challenges facing the country.  It is a gentle and wry commentary of social ills and a search for social justice and change that should, at the very least, incite critical thinking and propel a revolution in the way one perceives Filipino politics and culture.

The book launch is set for January 20 at Bestsellers bookstore, The Podium, Ortigas Center.

From the book, on the true state of Philippines politics:

The truth is, they – administration or opposition – are all the same. Political parties? They don’t mean a thing in terms of policy positions. Politicians identify themselves with parties so they can take advantage of resources during elections. But at the first instance of disagreement, somebody can easily bolt a party, join another, or establish one of his own.

Furthermore, the country’s political elite, both on the national and local levels, flaunts the wrong values. They feel entitled to deferential treatment. They assert their influence in big and little things alike. Most of them believe they have the monopoly on good intentions and treat political office as a family enterprise – and nobody from outside can challenge their starring roles.

As a result, the governed feel both disgusted and powerless. They become resigned to their fate so they do just what is necessary to survive from day to day. They don’t see any value in participating in the building of the community, much less the nation. Why bother?

The book will be available at Bestsellers and National Bookstore branches.

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em forster: howards end and other novels

From my bookshelves: EM (Edward Morgan) Forster: Three Complete Novels (Gramercy Book, NY: 1993).

This was a Christmas gift from my mother last year – a special edition of Forster’s Howards End, A Room With a View, and Where Angels Fear to Tread.

It is beyond handsomely bound – it is upholstered. The front and back covers are generously padded in green faux leather and decoratively stamped with gold foil.

As an artifact, it is a beautiful book.

The edges of the pages are gilded, like the fine books of long ago, when books were cherished as containers of knowledge.

The endpapers were custom-designed.

The fonts echo those used in vintage books. A cream ribbon marker is glued into the binding.

Even in this age of e-readers, there is nothing to compare to the satisfaction of holding a well-made book in your hands and turning the crisp pages over, your eyes devouring the lines of text as the story takes shape in your mind.

A far more satisfying treat than the external beauty of this book is what lies within – the concepts that present age-old human themes in alternative ways.

An excerpt from Howards End speaks of the differences between the ways men and women love. Margaret discovers that her fiance Henry had a mistress; she tries to comprehend how he could have been unfaithful to his late wife:

She tried to translate his temptation into her own language, and her brain reeled. Men must be different, even to want to yield to such a temptation. Her belief in comradeship was stifled…Are the sexes really races, each with its own code of morality, and their mutual love a mere device of Nature to keep things going? Strip human intercourse of the proprieties, and is it reduced to this? Her judgment told her no. She knew that out of Nature’s device we have built a magic that will win us immortality. Far more mysterious than the call of sex to sex is the tenderness that we throw into that call…We are evolving, in ways that Science cannot measure, to ends that Theology dares not contemplate.

Forster wrote Howards End in 1910. One hundred and one years later, no one has found an answer yet to the questions he posed. But his belief in what he called the “magic that will win us immortality” is also what sustains those who cast their hearts into the ring – the belief that love and tenderness is stronger than all, and that in the end, it will prevail.

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shopping in 15th century baghdad

From my bookshelves: Tales from the Arabian Nights (Avenel Books, New York: 1978), a selection of the choicest stories from The Book of a Thousand Nights and a Night (Alf Laylah Wa Laylah) translated by Sir Richard Burton and privately published in 16 volumes in London in 1885-88.

I bought this for fifty pesos, which was my Christmas money I think, on 9 December 1982 at the now-defunct Alemar’s bookstore in Makati. I had just turned 15 and at the time it was the most expensive book I owned. This volume is a limited edition run and contains illustrations from the 1859 edited edition of the EW Lane translation.

Editor David Shumaker says in the foreword that the tales, while spoken of as early as 944 by Mas’udi, may have been collected in Cairo by a professional storyteller in the 15th century and recast in the form familiar to us now – of the clever princess Shahrazad avoiding death by telling a story each night to King Shahryar.

From the story “The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad”, a description of a shopping expedition to the market:

…she stopped at a fruiterer’s shop and bought from him Shami apples and Osmani quinces and Omani peaches, and cucumbers of Nile growth, and Egyptian limes and Sultani oranges and citrons; besides Aleppine jasmine, scented myrtle berries, Damascene nenuphars, flower of privet and camomile, blood-red anemones, violets, and pomegranate-bloom, eglantine and narcissus, and set the whole in the Porter’s crate, saying, “Up with it.”

So he lifted and  followed her till she stopped at a grocer’s, where she bought dry fruits and pistachio-kernels, Tihamah raisins, shelled almonds and all wanted for dessert, and said to the Porter, “Lift and follow me.”

So he up with his hamper and after her till she stayed at the confectioner’s, and she bought an earthen platter, and piled it with all kinds of sweetmeats in his shop, open-worked tarts and fritters scented with musk and “soap-cakes”, and lemon-loaves and melon-preserves, and “Zaynab’s combs”, and “ladies’ fingers”, and “Kazi’s tit-bits” and goodies of every description; and placed the platter in the Porter’s crate….

Then she stopped at a perfumer’s and took from him ten sorts of waters, rose scented with musk, orange-flower, water-lily, willow-flower, violet and five others; and she also bought two loaves of sugar, a bottle for perfume-spraying, a lump of male incense, aloe-wood, ambergris and musk, with candles of Alexandria wax…until she stood before the greengrocer’s, of whom she bought pickled safflower and olives, in brine and in oil; with tarragon and cream-cheese and hard Syrian cheese…

The device of using lists to add description, depth, or provide background to a story was also used to great effect by many other writers in both fiction (for instance, Oscar Wilde in his collection of original fairy tales, The House of Pomegranates, 1891) and non-fiction (Sei Shonagon in her memoir The Pillow Book, 1002).

The Arabian Nights tales are exotic and bawdy, set in a time and land so far removed from our own that many of the references would be incomprehensible if it weren’t for the footnotes Burton thoughtfully provided. Yet the themes – of love and betrayal, passion and pleasure, heroism and humor – are archetypal and resonate to the present day.

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pop goes the world: culture stock

POP GOES THE WORLD, By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 7 October 2010, Thursday

Culture Stock

Where resides a nation’s heart and soul?

This was the question that several university professors, media professionals, and I discussed the other night during a PhD class at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication. It stemmed from College of St. Benilde professor Rod Rivera’s report on theaters in Manila that screen films bordering on the pornographic.  There are those, he said, that claim that such theaters in Quiapo and Recto are a front for male prostitution.

From there, Dr. Jose Lacson segued to commercialism in television and film. Advertising executive Chitchat Diangson said that much of television content in dictated by what producers believe will sell, leading to the creation of mind-numbing programs like “Wowowee”. Professor Bea Lapa deplored the entertainment media’s unwillingness to raise the programming bar in standards and taste, while writer Nina Villena brought up the issue of media gatekeeping. Women’s development professor and staunch feminist Julienne Baldo decried the media’s reinforcement of negative stereotypes of gender and class, perpetuating cruel cycles of prejudice and bias that further retard national social development.

Prof. Julienne Baldo analyzes the poster of  ”Serbis” at a theater in Quiapo.

Which brings us back to our question and its possible answer. It is in art where commercialism does not hold absolute sway and the discourse on social issues may be expanded without the taint of capitalism and the imperative of profit. There are those of us who write, paint, make music, and sculpt not for money, but because we need to express the meanings and concepts that burn within us and cry to be expressed and physically manifested in forms that may be shared with others.

These forms – books, songs, paintings, theater plays – often do not translate into income for their creators, but that was not the point of their creation anyway. It is in a nation’s art that current social events and issues are poked, cut up into bits, and licked to find out what they taste like. What’s important to people? That is what floats up in the content being made nowadays, and is disseminated over channels such as the Internet.

Dulaang UP scored one such intellectually-shaking triumph with their recent hit production “Shock Value”, written by Floy Quintos and directed by Alexander Cortez. It’s been given a positive review by MST opinion editor Adelle Chua, who focused her piece on the play’s theme of the commercialization of television, and how producers of celebrity shows of mass attraction artificially manufacture the scandals and intrigues that make up its content.

“Shock Value” cast members sashay across the stage. (Dulaang UP photo)

Among its stars in its cast are John Lapus, Mylene Dizon, Andoy Ranay, Christian Alvarado, and the awesomely talented Sabina Santiago. As “Little Tweety Girl”, Santiago’s hilarious on-stage simulation of an orgasm, eyes rolling back in her head, demotes Meg Ryan’s performance in “When Harry Met Sally” to amateur status.

Dulaang UP’s next offering is “Isang Panaginip na Fili”, “an edgy, dreamlike interpretation” of the Jose Rizal novel El Filibusterismo by writer/director Quintos, which will run from November 24 to December 12 at UP Diliman’s Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater. Call (02)926-1349 or (02)433-7840 for tickets.

“Isang Panaginip na Fili” publicity still, courtesy of Dulaang UP.

A fresh take on heartbreak, loss, and recovery comes from writer Carljoe Javier by way of his non-fiction book The Kobayashi Maru of Love, with artwork and design by Adam David of the Youth and Beauty Brigade. It’s available at

Says Carljoe: “I wrote The Kobayashi Maru of Love because, first, I was trying to understand (a recent) breakup, and I was trying to work through my feelings about it. Like any breakup, there are nasty emotions that follow, and I was going through all that. But I thought that if I was forced to apply aesthetic distance, if I was forced to try and be funny about it, that I would be able to cope better. And as I got back into the dating game, well, things were just funny and had to be written about.”

The book is indeed funny, but beyond that, it dwells on themes that nearly everyone who reads it can relate to. “I think that I’m talking about something universal,” says Carljoe, “and that’s loss. Pretty much everyone has gone through a heartbreak or a heartache. I guess that I was just trying to connect to that, to make the book not just about my own personal heartbreak, but to make it for everyone who’s ever been through it. Our individual experiences are different, but the hurt is the same. So I wanted to write a book that talked about that.”

Carljoe’s next book, Geek Tragedies, will be published by UP Press next year. “I have a number of projects in the works,” he says, “among them a book I hope to write about the Filipino diaspora and the effect that having parents abroad have on kids; a book about me, a fat man trying to get healthy; and a novel.” A freelance writer and editor of the Philippine Online Chronicles, he is also taking his MA Creative Writing at UP’s College of Arts and Letters.

Art in this country is alive and well and a thriving part of our culture, a part that is not a slave to commercialism but is free to speak out on social matters, the human condition, and what lives inside the Filipino heart and soul. ***

Photo above, L-R: (front) writer Bambi Harper, UP professor emeritus Dr. Cristina Hidalgo. (back) writers Waldo Petralba, Jeena Marquez, and Carljoe Javier.

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my fiction: sire of sires

I was looking for old files in my computer when I came across this short story I wrote in 2008. I had forgotten all about it. But I remember the impetus for the narrative was my finding a sad note like this one in the story. I put myself in the place of the scribbler of the note, and imagined “What if…?”


It was 2008, and Danny was forty.

He felt old. It wasn’t that long ago when he was fifty pounds lighter with a full head of hair, jauntily entering the state university’s Malcolm Hall law school as a student. Where did time go?

Do the math, mocked Rina. How old will you be by the time your youngest child has finished his university degree? I loved you, Danny. I still do, a little. But you got yourself into this situation. Not me.

As much as his hand itched to slap her, he couldn’t do it, couldn’t even find the words to reply, because he knew she was right.

After she had gone back into the house and slammed the door in his face, and after he had driven back to his and Thess’s apartment where she, tired of waiting up for him, tired of putting up with his promises to leave his wife and excuses why he hadn’t, couldn’t yet, was asleep on one side of the bed, her bulk taking up fully two-thirds of the mattress, he went down to the living room and sat at his desk.

Drawing a piece of paper toward him with trembling hands, he made a list of his offspring. Lissette, born 13 November 1990; Migs, 25 October 1998, Marco, 29 October 2002. His youngest by Rina, Manolo, was born 8 March 2004, barely a month after Thess had given birth to their firstborn, John, on February 16. His and Thess’s youngest, Matthew, came along on 8 August 2005. Roselle’s baby was due in December.

In 2010, Lissette would be in her fourth year of college; Migs, in sixth grade, Marco in the second, John and Manolo both in Prep, Matthew in senior kindergarten.

In 2015, Lissette should be working, unless she took it in her head to attend law school; Migs would be in his first year at college, Marco in the first year of high school. John and Manolo, the almost-twins, in fifth grade, Matthew in the fourth.

By 2020, Lissette would be 30 years old, presumably working and with a family; Migs, at 22, should be working also. Marco would be 18 and in his second year of college, John and Manolo, both 16 and in their last year of high school, Matthew, at 15, in his junior year at high school.

By 2025, John and Manolo would presumably be in their last year of college, Matthew in his third. Roselle’s child would be 17, and perhaps newly-graduated from high school.

And Danny? He would be 58, with four children still in college. He would still have to be working and earning; there was no guarantee that Lissette, Migs, and Marco, his older children, would contribute towards their half-brothers’ education and upkeep. They would, of course, help out with their brother Manolo, but with John and Matthew? His child by Roselle? He didn’t think so. On the contrary, he felt that they would tell him in no uncertain terms to go to hell, dragging his own tail.

Buntot mo, hila mo.

The jokes comparing him to the prolific stallion Conquistador who sired countless colts and fillies weren’t funny anymore. No, the entire situation had lost its humor long ago.

He wondered where now were the drinking buddies with their ribald challenges of his manhood, where his employers, the racehorse owners with the expensive young women on their arms, where were they now that his life was falling apart?

Danny placed his scribbled list on the desk, weighed it down with an old horseshoe. His  neck hurt. The house oppressed him; it was as if he could hear Thess snoring, John and Matthew breathing heavily, even though they were yards away from him, in their own rooms. Oh, but he loved them so, and Roselle and their unborn child, and his older children, and yes, Rina too. He was never one to stop loving, he could only love more people, add to those already in his heart. Didn’t the old rascals say, “Magdagdag ka ng minamahal, huwag kang magbawas?”

He had always fancied himself a stallion like the late great Conquistador, and he was, with his six progeny, a filly and five colts by two broodmares, with a third dam in foal, and he was magnificent in his sexual prowess, a stud just like his father, they all said so.

His old man died at the track, watching races till his breath caught in his chest and his heart gave out and whose last sight was of horses running till his vision narrowed to a pinpoint and dissolved into darkness, at whose funeral two wives showed up, the first wife sharing bitter whispers with a woman whose jockey husband had left her for a slut: “They come back to us when they’re dead.”

But there was still one more way Danny could be like Conquistador.

He got out of the house, locked the door carefully behind him (it wouldn’t do at all to have an intruder or a burglar come in, an akyat-bahay who would not be content with stealing the plasma TV or the few pieces of jewelry he had managed to buy for Thess, but who would stab his family where they slept, turning them into another “Massacre In (insert name of city here)”, tabloid-fodder for the masses), got into the car, and drove to the racetrack.

The night guard was surprised to see Danny there so late, but waved him through and went back to sleep. Danny parked as close as he could to the first bend. Sitting in his car in the driver’s seat, the seat pushed back as far as it would go so the steering wheel wouldn’t dig into his gut, the moon shining into the car and filling it with silvery light, Danny unzipped the black leather case beside him on the passenger’s seat.

Inside was the bolt gun he used to put all those horses to rest.

It was heavy, the rubber grip rough in his hand, the barrel cool against his temple. He gazed at the track, it was aglow in moonlight, each particle of sand luminous, and over this brilliant surface he saw Conquistador’s legs pumping, galloping for the turn home.

Smiling, he pulled the trigger, and ran to meet his hero.

It was 2008, and Danny was forty, forever. ***

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