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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

entry arrow7:00 AM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 66.


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Saturday, March 27, 2021

entry arrow11:10 AM | Books By Filipino Writers I Love

In a few days it will be April, which is National Literature Month—and it got me to thinking about the books in my life that have shaped who I am as a writer. Asked the persistent question about what one must do to embark on a life of letters, any seasoned pen pusher would say that the one important thing—aside from consistently finding the time and wherewithal to write—is to read.

To read for the writer is finding out the means by which others have found the answers to various narrative entanglements. How does Stephen King handle suspense? How does Agatha Christie map out her twists and turns to a mystery? How does F. Scott Fitzgerald sing of longing and opulence?

To read for the writer is both fuel and inspiration.

To read for the writer is an experiment in distilling voice.

All are true for me: I write today on the wings of what I’ve read, inspiring me and sustaining me. Here are a few books by Filipino authors that have come to be my lessons in writing [and imagining] well…

Let’s begin with the book that gave me my dream of writing. You could say that the stories in Nick Joaquin’s Tropical Gothic [University of Queensland Press, 1972] have this aura of inevitability because they are fodder for anyone’s academic introduction to Philippine fiction in English. I remember being seduced by the language and headiness of “The Summer Solstice “ and “Candido’s Apocalypse,” but it was “May Day Eve” with its audacious treatment of time that made my head spin, and made me want to try my hand at fiction writing. One of my first attempts at a short story is a virtual copycat of its cartwheeling chronology.

Rosario Cruz-Lucero’s Feast and Famine: Stories of Negros [University of the Philippines Press, 2003] is the book that proved to be my maturation point. Itcontains four long stories and one novella about life in Negros Occidental, but covering practically the whole of Philippine history, from the Spanish colonial period to the post-Marcos era. It contains several of my favorite stories, including “The Death of Fray Salvador Montano, Conquistador of Negros,” “Doreen’s Story,” and “Good Husbands and Obedient Wives”—fiction which have greatly influenced my own in a very specific way: they were unabashedly Negrense narratives. Stories of home—and they gave me permission to do the same thing in my fiction. The book galvanized me and has since informed much of what I do as a fictionist: I insist on setting many of my stories in Negros, even going as far as dramatizing moments of its history not many people know about. This is to counter “cultural erasure,” to excavate and appreciate what consists of the literature of the place I come from, to get a sense of it, and to insist on its contributions to the national literature.

Dean Francis Alfar’s The Kite of Stars and Other Stories [Anvil Publishing, 2007] collects sixteen “wondrous stories of fantasy, science fiction, horror and things in between,” so goes its synopsis—but this book also jumpstarted the contemporary fascination of speculative fiction, allowing this kind of genre writing to finally be considered with some seriousness in the Philippines. The title story, set in Hinirang, was so influential to me it led to my writing of “The Sugilanon of Epefania’s Heartbreak.”

Jaime An Lim’s The Axolotl Colony: Stories [University of the Philippines Press, 2016] finally collects in one volume the landmark stories of this author, including two Palanca-winning children’s stories. But it is the title story, plus “The Homing Mandarin,” that I would consider my favorite—and a very influential one. I love how it distills the pain of a love that’s gone, and a relationship that’s dead, and shows us the exposed nerves of this marital drama in metaphors that are exquisitely chosen and rendered.

Charlson Ong’s Woman of Am-Kaw and Other Stories [Anvil Publishing, 1992] is a masterful collection of six short stories by the foremost chronicler of the Chinese-Filipino experience. This book is mostly domestic drama, but one that acknowledges the repercussion of national and international events into that hallowed sphere: Martial Law in “The Execution,” for instance, and the Tiananmen Massacre in “The Trouble in Beijing” for another—both of which helped me shape some of the stories in Beautiful Accidents.

Edilberto Tiempo’s A Stream at Dalton Pass and Other Stories [Bookmark, 1970] is the renowned writer’s first collection of short stories—which I read with curiosity, and then devotion, when I was in grade school, without knowing who the author was. [I happened to have found the book just lying around in the house.] It is without a doubt a masterful work, collecting such classics as “The Witch,” “The Grave Digger,” “Kulisising Hari,” “Mori’s Encantadora,” “A Stream at Dalton Pass,” “Daughters of Time,” and the short story version of “To Be Free.”

J. Neil C. Garcia and Danton Remoto’s Ladlad: An Anthology of Philippine Gay Writing [Anvil, 1994] is the book that changed the LGBTQ landscape in the country. When I got hold of the first edition back in the day [I was 19], it felt like sweet contraband to me, but it did show me the way to writing my own stories. It introduced me to the writings of Jimmy Alcantara, Jaime An Lim, Vicente Groyon III, Auraeus Solito, Jun Lana, Honorio Bartolome De Dios, etc. This book gave me permission to explore my own gay life and experiences, paving the way—without doubt—to my own first collection.

When Isagani R. Cruz’s The Best Philippine Short Stories of the Twentieth Century [Tahanan Books, 2000] was launched, it felt like an event: here was a handsomely produced book that was a celebtration of Philippine fiction in English, and looked the part. If you are familiar with designs for Filipino books before this [read: mostly ugly], you would know how this book felt revolutionary. It also became a laboratory for me, because suddenly within my reach was a compendium of great fiction by legendary and forgotten masters. I loved the discovery of many of these authors. This book taught me a lot.

José Y. Dalisay Jr.’s The Knowing is in the Writing: Notes on the Practice of Fiction [University of the Philippines Press, 2006] is part The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White and part On Writing by Stephen King, which is to say that it is a glorious combination of writing manual and writing memoir. That it is very much steeped in the context of Philippine writing makes this a valuable resource for the Filipino writer. It was to me when it first came out, and still continues to be. When I have doubts about fictional techniques, I go to this book. It is a lifesaver.

I love graphic novels, too. On one hand, there’s Arnold Arre’s The Mythology Class [Nautilus Comic, 1999/2014], which was my introduction to Philippine graphic novels—and what an introduction it was! Not only did it kindle a genuine hunger in me for more Pinoy komiks, it also reframed Philippine mythology for me in a significant way, allowing me to see that one can actually contemporize our myths and legends without losing their flavor. This, for me, is the precursor to other worthy projects like Trese, and also informed, by and large, how I treat local mythology in my own stories. Arnold Arre is still upping his game today, which is an inspiration.

On the other hand, there’s Carlo Vergara’s Ang Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni Zsazsa Zaturnnah [Alamat Comics, 2002], which is pure delight, a gay twist on Mars Ravelo’s Darna that became its own phenomenal success. What attracted me to it was that promise of queer parody, but what landed it for me was Carlo’s deft handling of the unfolding drama, his superb illustration skills, and the surprise of his humor. This book remains a beloved part of my Filipiniana collection, and I’m glad it has been adapted to the equally beloved musical. [But let’s not dwell on that misfire of a film adaptation.]

Luis Joaquin Katigbak’s Happy Endings [University of the Philippines Press, 2000] is a landmark title signaling the arrival of young GenX voices in Philippine literature. It definitely spoke to the concerns and themes of my generation, with Katigbaks’s often sardonic, often melancholic tone giving his stories not just an embracing feel, but also a way of seeing our world, especially those of us who came of age in the 1990s. I still remember the electricity I felt when I first read the book, its iconic cover calling out to me from the shelves. It made me realize I could write and put my own stories out there, to pursue my own generational book.

Finally, there’s Susan S. Lara’s Letting Go and Other Stories [University of the Philippines Press, 1997], which is a master class of literary fiction in book form. Here we get gimlet-eyed observations of the subtle violence and the occasional redemption of mundane, everyday living, but rendered in precise, restrained prose that makes the drama more visceral. That theme of loss, for example, in “The Reprieve,” or that theme of shame in the twilight years in the title story, “Letting Go.” They’re all so exquisite. These were my templates for such stories as “The Hero of the Snore Tango.” Lara has been a fine teacher for distilling voice.

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Friday, March 26, 2021

entry arrow5:20 PM | Listening to Max Richter's Sleep

I wonder what mechanism whirrs in the hearts
of those who see sunrise and despise it
for fallowness of brilliance, demanding more.
Isn't it enough that the sun deigns to shine?
The majesties of life are miracles obscured
in the mundane: a flower blooms, rain falls,
laughter springs from padlocked depths.
I listened once to music that was lullaby
For a runaway world. Someone demanded explanation
For the process, what sweat went to composing.
I said shush: to succumb is enough.
There will be no dissecting music, or light.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

entry arrow7:00 AM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 65.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

entry arrow7:00 AM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 64.


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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

entry arrow12:00 PM | Two Great Men on Making a Mark

Steven Yeun: “From my perspective, I’m just doing me. I’m very fortunate that I’ve been able to do work that feels pulled from my place. I carry with me so many things — including being Korean and Asian American. I’m glad and happy that I might be contributing to a larger, deeper understanding of who we are to each other. But I’m really just trying to play my part as well as I can. I’m still processing what this is. That’s literally where I’m at: What is this? Especially with the backdrop of this last year. I’m still figuring out what’s happened to us and where we’re at. [The year] has torn a veil off for all of us — removed a layer. In some ways, I’m thankful for that. But I recognize how scary that is. A lot of institutions got seen for what they were — the brokenness for what they were. I’m glad for it, because I think we can rebuild. But I recognize a lot of people are scared, because the safety we thought was there is also revealed to not be what we thought it was. It’s a super f—ed up year. So these are cool things — this nomination — I’m thrilled and I’m so blessed that I get to experience this. But I’m trying to hold both things at once, and it’s difficult.”

Riz Ahmed: “To be honest, I just feel like however people can find themselves in this moment, however they can find a connection to this moment, is beautiful to me. Some people may connect to the fact that it’s the first Muslim, some people might say British-Pakistani, some people might say first person from Wembley in London. What matters to me is that these moments of celebration, these moments of collective recognition, are actually moments where as many people as possible can recognize themselves in it. And so that’s all that really matters to me. And I’m really pleased if this is an opportunity for more people than ever before to connect to a moment like this.”

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Monday, March 15, 2021

entry arrow2:00 PM | Breakthrough

The other day, I had a breakthrough in my current mental health battles which has given me a much-needed nudge in the right direction. Sometimes it gets so exhausting I’ve taken to telling the s.o. I’m tired of my brain chemistry. But at least now I think I can build on this.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2021

entry arrow7:00 AM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 63.

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Friday, March 05, 2021

entry arrow12:42 PM | Do Look Back in Anger

I love the subterfuge of anger in Isabel Coixet's The Bookshop (2017), an otherwise slow and contemplative film about fulfilling your dreams only to have other people in your small town undermine it so wilfully in the guise of "good intentions." Evil exists, and sometimes [often?] it wins. I like how the film understands that—but it also comes with an ending that, while not happy, is most definitely satisfying.

In my own life, I've come face to face with one or two people in Dumaguete whose machinations have been so diabolical they've astounded me. I have a whole novel of skewering exposé simmering deep inside me—and while I will not name names, many will definitely know who they are. It can be delicious to write in anger, just like how this film, based on the novel by Penelope Fitzgerald, does it.

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Thursday, March 04, 2021

entry arrow4:25 PM | I'm Going to Give All This One Last Big Go.


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entry arrow12:07 AM | Someday, Somewhere

I decided to watch West Side Story again -- and boy, the eighth time was the one that did it, because unexpected waterworks! This has never happened to me before, WSS-wise. I've watched this film so many times but always thought it a dated work of geniuses [Wise, Robbins, Bernstein, Sondheim, Laurents, Shakespeare]. But I've been in a production of the musical before [I played Diesel, one of the Jets, once] and I know all the songs by heart, but have never really been touched by the story's central tragedy. So why now? Is it because I'm older? Is it because it is to be lamented that the problems of that 1961 world largely remain the same today? Is it because of the heightened emotionality of lockdown? Who knows.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2021

entry arrow7:00 AM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 62.


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