Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Turning a New Page

Hmmm. Sorry if I haven't been blogging-- and blogsurfing-- as much. This past month I've been busy with one thing or another and presently, I'm been trying to make a work of the NaNoWriMo (3K words and counting!). So, like JP, I'm thinking of doing a few reviews and I figured, why not start with Story Philippines' first issue?

Thus: it seems like there are big things going for fiction-writing in this country with Story Philippines, the first local magazine dedicated to short stories written by Filipinos for Filipinos.

This is big news indeed since before SP, there weren't too many paying markets for fiction, much more short fiction. I know there's Philippine Free Press magazine (usually limited to one story per magazine per week) and various female magazines here and there that accept contributions. Likewise, I remember semi-magazines like Pen and Ink (which seems to have disappeared). However, most of the time fiction output is limited to published anthologies and these are too few and far in-between.

I first found about this from the unflappable anansi girl who reported the magazine's launch last October 14. Reportedly, the publishers of the magazine “have set out on a mission to provide the best reading experience for fiction in the country, and hope that the magazine will encourage Filipinos to read more quality fiction in general, and read Philippine writers in particular”.

However, it was only recently I managed to procure a copy from the local bookshop. At first glance, the magazine looks damn big, being published in a large, tabloid-newspaper format (reminding me of past magazines of yore like Panorama and Mr and Ms). Curiously enough, they have ads interspersed with the stories but these are no ordinary ads: less than 100-word stories with the company's logo at the bottom.

And then there are the seven short stories for the magazine's maiden run, written by the likes of veteran writers Gilda Cordero-Fernando, Joy Dayrit, and Sarge Lacuesta as well as new-bloods like Vincent Sales, David Hontiveros, Francezca Kwe, and Nicolas Lacson.

Though I've only read the first three stories, what I've read is an interesting, eclectic bunch indeed.

The protagonist in Lacuesta's "The Life and Loves of Doc Dwende" is a dwende or dwarf (though not in the Western sense of the word) who travels from his home in the provinces to the big city together with his faith-healer handler. In the process of finding a better life, the dwende finds himself confronted with the worst of human foibles and flaws. In my opinion, I would say this story is one of the magazine's strongest offering, combining well the speculative nature of the tale and the social commentary that's inescapable in Philippine literature. (Interesting enough also, this story also appeared in a local anthology of supernatural tales.)

Likewise, Hontiveros' "Natakdan" is a creepy tale of human monsters finding a certain empathy (solidarity?) with real monsters in a small town slowly beseiged by dark secrets. I found Hontiveros' prose a bit clumsy in certain passages but overall, Hontiveros gives Lacuesta's story a run for his money in weaving the fantastic with the social aspects of the tale. What's more, there's the kick-ass element of Filipino horror we all have about families: parental sexual abuse as well as fetus-eaters, oh my.

On the other hand, Fernando's "Losing Mac" doesn't have the tinge of the fantastic as its feet is firmly grounded in the realistic. A poignant tale of an elderly couple facing their mortality, the two try to live what remains of their lives by establishing contacts with long-ago friends. Though I was lost at times with its rambling format (which, given its narrator, was appropriate), I thought the story cleverly deft in avoiding the sappy formula with its enumeration of the various illnesses that strike the human body as it wears down. There's no regret nor angst here, only the simple struggle of living as the clock slowly ticks down.

Three down, four to go...

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