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Q&A with Dean Francis Alfar on Philippine Speculative Fiction

Q&A with Dean Francis Alfar on Philippine Speculative Fiction

Last August 16, we had such a fun and insightful conversation with the Father of Philippine Speculative Fiction, Dean Francis Alfar! Here are just a few bits and pieces of our chat. If you missed it, or just want to relive it, you can watch the video below.

The Big Book of Modern Fantasy

Coming soon to our shelves, from Penguin Random House, is The Big Book of Modern Fantasy. It is a collection of stories of speculative fiction from all over the world, and it includes Dean’s story “The Kite of Stars.” Now, we all know that Dean is a Big Name in the Philippine literary scene, but for him, being a part of this anthology is a huge deal. “To be included in the roster alongside Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Haruki Murkami, Kelly Link, Jeffrey Ford—it's so humbling and so unbelievable,” Dean says.

“The Kite of Stars,” the titular story of his own collection of short stories, is about a young girl’s quest to build a kite and strap herself on it to be seen by the man she thinks she loves. She looks for kite parts in and around Spanish-era Philippines, a fictional world called Hinirang, created by Dean and his friends. “It’s a quest story,” Dean says, “but it’s also about love and longing.”


Speculative Fiction and Philippine Mythology

As the Father of Philippine Speculative Fiction, Dean notes that spec fic covers stories that come from fantasy, horror, science, fiction, and everything in between—the literature of the fantastic.

“It will fill you with a sense of wonder, a sense of dread, or a sense of uncanny. It can make you question what's going on, a leap into the imagination.”

Of course, we can’t talk about speculative fiction without diving into the origin of most stories, fantastical or not—and that’s mythology. We explore our own diverse mythology. “Because we are an archipelago, there are numerous cultures which have their own myths and folklore, their own heroic tales,” Dean says. “We have fascinating things, magic, underworld that can put castles and knights to shame.”

Although many of these stories have yet to make it to the mainstream, Dean is happy that over the last decade, various creators—the likes of Budjette Tan, Edgar Calabia Samar, and many others—have incorporated Philippine myths in their own stories.

We ask him about his favorite creatures from Philippine mythology, and it was like asking him to choose a favorite child. He did manage to come up with his top three:


They're hilarious and destructive forces of nature. But if you stand up to them and make fun of their privates, they will back off out of embarrassment. That’s how you deal with bullies.


It fascinates me that its torso would separate from its lower part, grows bat wings, and flies. It finds a house with a thatched roof that has a pregnant woman, then let their tongue slide down like a slender red thread with its pinpoint sharp tip that enters the belly button of the sleeping pregnant woman painlessly, then it eats. There’s a dichotomy here because it flies back and assembles like a Japanese robot, and it’s normal again.


I am amazed by the half horse, half human form. There's something noble about it. It’s interesting to write about.


Dean’s Three Writing Modes

Classic Writerly Mode

Sometimes I get an idea, it can come from anywhere and a particular word or phrasing intrigues me. It can come from a conversation or from listening to music or seeing an everyday object. I will take that idea and will sit down to write. Under disciplined writing, I usually write for an hour or more. I need to make sure that there are no distractions. Eventually I will have a first draft.

Guerilla Mode

When stuck in traffic or sitting around a lobby, I will take my cellphone and tap away at my Notes application. Anything that comes to my mind. I will write a vignette, or a descriptive sentence. I will describe an action. I disciplined myself that when I do guerilla writing, I don't need a prompt. There is no pressure.

At night, I will send that to myself and send it to a file. And when I get an invitation to contribute, I will look at that long document and use that as a prompt. I am able to combine and get inspired from those ideas.

Crying-in-My-Chair, Asking-Why-Mm-I-Doing This-to-Myself, I-Am-Terrible Mode

This mode happens when I am on a deadline and I am not able to produce as quickly as I could.

You cannot call upon inspiration. Your only inspiration is the deadline. In that mode, I just have to sit myself down and get the story out. All that time, I am crying. This is really when it's hard work.

Maybe when you're blocked, it's because you're not interested in writing to progress the story. You have to make peace with that. You have two choices: make yourself do it anyway or work on some other aspect of the story. The third option is to stop writing for a while.


Tips for Writers and Creators

You cannot rely on inspiration. Being inspired only happens like 1% of the time. It's really sitting down and sweating it out.

If you're blessed with an idea, make sure you jot it down and get ready to sit down and work. That's the only way you'll finish a short story, a novel, or a play.

After the first draft, the second phase of hard work is when you tinker and tweak with the story. This is when you make peace with the fact that you may have to kill a portion of the story that you love, that you worked so hard on, that ultimately does not help the story become the best version of itself.


On Being a Filipino Writer

I use my Filipino-ness as my anchor.

The most challenging about being a Filipino writer is that large bucket of cold water that all of us encounter:  when we finally realize we cannot make a living from writing creatively. There are just not as many opportunities for this.

Message for aspiring Filipino writers

I would not have even considered the dream of being included in The Big Book of Modern Fantasy. For me, one Filipino writer being included among the authors I read growing up—it’s such a big deal. And if I can do it, can’t you also? We can—we can do it. There is nothing mediocre about our writing, about our culture. Just write it well and you will find your audience. Keep writing. Whatever happens, don't give up.


Author’s Picks

Favorite writer?

My most favorite writer in the world, in the universe, of all time—is Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for his magical realism. My favorite living writers are Kelly Link and Jeffrey Ford. My favorite Filipino author is Nikki Alfar, and she's a better writer than I am. I’m not saying that because she’s my wife! She’s really an excellent writer.

Book you always recommend?

I would have to recommend a technical book: The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Grammar is a very important thing when you are writing in English because when you submit to markets abroad, if your grammar is not on point, you will be almost immediately rejected. I feel it is our responsibility as writers, if we choose to write in English, to understand the nuances of that language, because that is part and parcel of what makes the language work—all of its ridiculous complexities and the way the rules are often broken, we just have to learn how to do it.

Local title you think every Filipino should read?

For YA – Janus Silang

For comic books – Trese, Arnold Arre’s books

Just check all the Filipinana books. I’ll also recommend my books. If you don’t believe that people should read your books, you’re lying!

The Big Book of Modern Fantasy is coming to our shelves soon! Click notify me when this product is in stock to get an email when the book is available at Fully Booked Online.

Check out more activities like this at Local Lit Fest.

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