Alternative Alamat Interview: Dean Francis Alfar

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On December - 15 - 2011

Alternative Alamat” was released yesterday (go buy a copy at Amazon, iTunes, or Flipreads), but our contributor interviews will still continue. Today’s featured “Alternative Alamat” contributor is a man who should need no introduction (but I’ll give him one anyway), Dean Francis Alfar. Dean is a leading advocate of speculative fiction in the Philippines, and the publisher of the annual “Philippine Speculative Fiction” anthology. His novel “Salamanca” won both the Book Development Association of the Philippines’ Gintong Aklat award, as well as the Grand Prize in the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. He has nine more Palancas to his name, two Manila Critics’ Circle National Book Awards, the Philippine Free Press Literary Award, and the Philippine Graphic/Fiction Award. His short fiction has been collected in “The Kite of the Stars and Other Stories”, and been published in venues both national and international, including “The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror”, “Rabid Transit: Menagerie”, “Latitude”, and “The Apex Book of World SF”.

Without spoiling anything essential, could you tell me a bit about your story?

My story, set in the reimagined colonial Hinirang, answers the question “What happens when the Spanish colonizers open the door into the Faith system of the native Filipinos?”

Most of the narrative in this story is told through the use of the footnotes. What do you gain, and what do you sacrifice, in using a different format for a story than most readers are used to? When is it worth the risk?

I like to use different forms and structures to tell different kinds of stories.  For this one, I liked the appeal of being able to delve deeper into the usually dry and superficial tone of most encyclopedias or similar resources.  I also broke the convention of the footnote and utilized direct narrative, with complete sequences of quoted text (warts and all).  It is a challenge to read, but I think it is also rewarding.  The loss of the usual narrative flow is worth the discovery of deeper or enhanced text.  But certainly, this manner is not to every reader’s taste – but it falls to us to try something unusual once in a while, for the sake of the story.

What part of the story–or the writing process–was the most fun for you?

Finishing it, haha!  But really, apart from the white heat of insipiration, writing is more work than fun for me.  But the reward upon completion is worth all the stress and late nights.

What part of the story–or the writing process–was the most difficult for you?

Editing myself has always been my bane.  I tend to gloss over my own errors – lapse of logic, missing words, mistaken attribution – because my mind fills in the blanks even as I read.  It’s different when I edit other authors because I am automatically distant from the text.

How were you first exposed to Philippine mythology?

As a young boy, I cut my teeth on the classical myths but eventually found myself wondering if we had anything ourselves.  I wasn’t happy with the watered-down versions I found as a youth.  It was much later, in university, when I had a class with Damiana Eugenio whose work provoked my interest and in turn led me to Maximo Ramos and other sources.

Is there any myth, epic or legend that you wish would be adapted into a novel, or comic, or movie?

During a panel I chaired recently on Philippine Folklore and Mythology, Jun Balde sold me on the myths and legends of the Bicol region.  I’d love to read all of that. [Editor's Note: Here's an audio recording of that panel, Manila International Literary Festival 2011: Of Folklores, Myths and Legends, courtesy of Charles Tan.]

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Rocket Kapre is an imprint of Eight Ray Sun Publishing Inc. (a new Philippine-based publisher), dedicated to bringing the very best of Philippine Speculative Fiction in English to a worldwide audience by means of digital distribution. More info can be found at our About section at the top of the page.