Dean Alfar talks about “Six from Downtown”

Awesome author Dean Alfar took time out from his busy schedule to spend a Saturday morning chatting with me. The products are two episodes, first this one on his own fiction, and then a lengthy geek out session about Locke & Key (which I’ll be posting soon).

You can listen to Dean talk about “Six from Downtown” here at the podcast page. Feel free to stream, download, and share.

Dean is an engaging speaker, as anyone who has met him knows. And those who haven’t yet will want to after hearing his great ideas about writing, the fantastic, and attempts at capturing the Filipino urban experience. This is a fun half hour where I pick his brain about this great story which has won awards and been anthologised.

If you’re interested in the story or Dean’s other work, you can find his stuff on Amazon here.

You can also get the collection at Flipreads here.

Thanks for listening to the podcast. Please tell your friends if you liked it, and if you’d like to help me keep the lights on and keep this thing going, please feel free to click that donation button and leave however much you want.

The Next Big Thing: A Chain Letter for Writers

I got tagged by the wonderful Eliza Victoria to be a part of this project. It’s a series of questions, and I get to tag some other people. As they post their answers on the 26th, I will put links to them. Anyways, here’s me talking about my upcoming novel.


1. What is the working title of your next book?


Salvage. Which I know is a really lame title. Still trying to think of a good title.


2. Where did the idea come from for the book?


A number of things, first off the idea that I wanted to write an action romp. Then I drew on my family’s experiences in both law enforcement and criminal activity. And lastly, I heard a story of my grandfather searching for the Yamashita gold and blowing the family fortune on that search. There was just so much stuff that had happened in my family history that it seemed a shame not to incorporate it in a book.


3. What genre does your book fall under?


Crime fiction novel. I think.


4.What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?


Gosh I never really thought about casting. If I could cast anyone, I guess I would go for Bembol Roco as the evil boss commissioner. I’d get Christopher de Leon as the con-man dad. Kinda hard pressed to think of late-20s dudes that I would cast as leads, but maybe Epy Quizon would work. As for girls, if I could get Aubrey Miles as the Eve character, that would probably work.


5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?


20-something Johnny Boy Salvador wakes to the worst day of his life, as the threat of death looms and evil henchmen, crooked cops, his con-man father, and the search for the Yamashita gold all come suddenly crashing into his once mundane existence.



6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?


At present I am revising it to be submitted to my agent. Hopefully she’ll take it. Haha.



7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?


It took me about a year to get to this first draft stage. I am beginning revisions in a week or so.



8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?


I have to admit that I was largely influenced by the works of Junot Diaz, Michael Chabon, and Dave Eggers. I don’t know if I can ever compare myself to those writers, but I want to think that I was able to show some of that influence.


I wasn’t really looking at books for influence, as there haven’t really been many Filipino novels that functioned as capers. When I started writing I was imagining that it would have the tenor of something like a Guy Ritchie crime flick. And now thinking a little more about it, I guess I was also trying to go for like an Elmore Leonard vibe, which mixes humor and crime.



9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?


I felt like it was time for me to do a novel. I met my agent at a literary festival and she encouraged me to start on it. Then the other ideas that I mentioned previously started to come together, and there you have it. I just want to tell a fun, crazy crime story. I want a novel that people can enjoy and read and laugh with and just go on an adventure with.


10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?


I guess the selling point is that it isn’t your usual Filipino novel. There’s no attempt to write the Great Filipino Novel. While I think there’s a fair amount of social consciousness, it’s not set out to be a commentary. It’s just an action adventure romp, and I hope people will have as much fun reading it as I did writing it.



And the five people I am tagging for this are:


Francis Quina

Gabriela Lee

Crystal Koo

Josel Nicolas

Rob Cham


You Need to Read

The semester begins and with it I meet a new crop of creative writing students. The ongoing debate over whether creative writing can be taught is far from being resolved. I approach it in the same way that I think of sports talent. There will be people who will just never be able to grasp it, no matter how much work they put in. And then there are the Jameses, Bryants, and Durants whose skills seem innate, who would have been great through sheer talent and then took the time to hone their abilities. Both sets of people fall on the edges of the bell curve. The middle of the curve allows for people of varying skill and talent abilities, and within that middle, there is always room for improvement and development. And in the same way that one’s development in basketball relies on being on the court, so too does an aspiring writer’s development rely on spending time with the written word.  Read more of this post

Writing Tips!

I compiled these from notes made in the second semester of last school year. I would be reading student works and then writing notes like these, then presenting my notes to class for future improvement. But I thought that maybe this sem’s students would benefit from hearing these off the bad. And maybe other people online might get something out of it too. Anyways, here you go, a few tips on how to write better.



  1. Show Don’t Tell.
  2. Why are you writing? What are you trying to say?
  3. Writing is an act of hubris. Live up to your hubris.
  4. Make the reading worth the reader’s time. With the ubiquity of content, attention is a scarce resource. Don’t waste it. Make things matter, make the reader care about what’s going on. Reward their attention.
  5. When you write about something, it probably matters to you. The challenge is to make it matter to the reader.
  6. Know how much of yourself to put into the piece.
  7. Set the table.
  8. Let your ideas develop. If you hit on something, take it as far as it can go. If it doesn’t work you can always edit it. But if it could have been good and you didn’t pursue it, there’s no going back to it.
  9. Try to have amazing story openings and endings. It’s like a plane ride, once you’re cruising it’s fine, but you have to make sure you’re really doing well when you take off and when you land because those are what people remember most.
  10. Don’t go for twist endings. Set things up right. It’s not surprise, but resonance we want when we walk away from a story.
  11. Stories are made of scenes.
  12. Make things happen! Events! Confrontations!
  13. Don’t avoid confrontations. Build them into your work.
  14. How do you build drama? How do you make something engaging? Technique. You start with ideas and inspiration, but it’s technique that makes the writing work.
  15. Hold back. Restraint makes things more painful. Don’t give in to the cheese.
  16. Have an awareness of other stories similar to the ones you are writing so that you can avoid cliches and put your own touch on your work.
  17. Establish transitional devices, physical and literal markers, items, etc, which enable flashback, jumping through time, and dream sequences.
  18. There has to be a reason for a character recollecting the past. Something must be at stake in the present.
  19. Character deaths must be earned. If you kill characters we don’t care about, then their deaths hold no meaning.
  20. The God argument invalidates everything in your story. Make your characters the agents of their destinies
  21. How many of you have ever told a complex lie? You have to build in truth, build in details, so that the lie is believable. It’s the same with fiction.
  22. Write with clarity. Writing is communication.
  23. Don’t waste words. Say only what needs to be said, no more, no less.
  24. Be precise in your word choice.
  25. You don’t have to use big or complicated words. This is creative writing, not academic writing. If you can say it with one syllable, why bother with a longer word?
  26. Avoid adjectives and adverbs. Use nouns and verbs.
  27. Don’t rely on punctuation and typographical gimmicks, especially ellipses. Use the right words and the right emotions will be conveyed.
  28. If you say of your character, “You would never notice him/her…” or “He’s the typical…” then that doesn’t create interest. It’s not where the character is like everyone else, but how they are different that makes them intriguing.
  29. Why refer to your characters as normal, typical, or the usual (or geek or nerd)? These don’t create or unlock meaning. Choose details, work at illustration, and describe. If an artist doesn’t draw something, we can see that it’s missing. It’s the same thing with words.
  30. Dialogue should function first and foremost as dialogue. It shouldn’t be there for exposition, so that characters can explain things they already know to each other. It should sound realistic, sound like people actually talking. Good dialogue characterizes, pushes the plot, and provides information all at once.
  31. Have you ever watched dancers or actors who look bored while performing? No, because they know they have an audience, and they have to be at performance level. Writing is a performative act too. You readers can tell when you’re bored, lazy, or not into it.

Reading List for Creative Writing 10 (Creative Writing for Beginners)

Last year at the Manila International Literary Festival I presented a teaching plan that was styled differently from the usual syllabi. Other syllabi usually when chronologically or by genre or theme. My plan took from those ideas (and it could be seen arguably as both chronological and genre-based still) but it focused on the output that the students would be expected to submit. As such, I went for different ideas, effects, and genres, all coming together. Students would be expected to deliver pieces in each category which would be workshopped by their classmates. That way, even though we are working in only two genres, they will still be producing a variety of stories.

I recently revised my syllabus for the start of the semester, and here’s my reading list:

Make It Fun (We start with the basics of writing, and how it all stars with a sense of fun in both the writing and the reading.)

“Let it Snow” by David Sedaris

Excerpt of High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

Make It Interesting (I ask students to write about their field of study or their hobby, in such a way that would make others interested.)

“Why Businesses Don’t Experiment” by Dan Ariely

“Food is Good” by Anthony Bourdain

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know (Pretty self-explanatory)

“How David Beats Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell

“Secret Skin” by Michael Chabon

Make Me Cry (Tugging at the heartstrings)

“A Small, Good Thing” by Raymond Carver

“Firefly” by Haruki Murakami

Make It Fantastic (Fantasy writing, set specifically in the Philippines)

“The Impossible Life and Loves of Doc Duwende” by Angelo R. Lacuesta

“The Gyutou” by F.H. Batacan

Make Me Hypothesize (Sci-Fi!)

“They Toynbee Convector” by Ray Bradbury

“A Retrospective on Diseases for Sale” by Charles Tan

Make Me Scared (Horror!)

“Man Overboard” by Winston Churchill

“To Serve Man” by Damon Knight

Make Me Laugh (Comedy!)

“A Princess and a Guy Like Me” by Simon Pegg

“Possible Contacts with Alien Life”  by John Hodgman

Infiltrating the Establishment

In a recent comic book (I think it’s the latest Avengers vs. X-Men, but not sure, just remember it’s one of the many running Avengers titles) Thor and Cap a little heart to heart. Without having to go too much into all the Marvel event backstory, let’s just say that Cap is now head of the global defense force. And the whole enterprise weights heavily on him. Thor tells Cap that Cap was always better when he was following his rebellious streak. But now that he is the establishment, how can he rebel. And as a result, how can he be at his best. I was happy to find, as I often do, that despite the very clear incongruities between real life and comic books, that once again I could see how these characters are made human and forced to deal with the very normal, very real questions that we do too.  Read more of this post

Trying to Finish Books

Sometime in January, after having read Jay-Z’d Decoded I decided to start growing my hair and beard. In the book Jay-Z mentions that he lets his hair grow out when he’s making an album, and thus has a visual reminder of how long he has been working on a project. I thought to one-up his method by letting the beard and ‘stache go too. Which was not a very good idea. Read more of this post