Our main story for this issue, "The Old Woman of the Candles" by Kevin Piamonte, is a record of the venerable Holy Week tradition in the land of the aswangs. In many cultures where a foreign has replaced indigenous religions, the populace furtively keep its old gods, deities, and rituals and merges them into the new belief system. And so it is in the Philippines. "The Old Woman of the Candles" gives you a look at this phenomenon.
Also in this issue are two short short stories (1,800 and 1,200 words, respectively). Whereas short stories in the top two American fiction outlets (New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly) are typically 7,000 words or more, Philippine writers tend to write short stories that are 3,000 words or less.
Is this a throwback to the old minimalist days of Raymond Carver? I don't think so. This is probably the result of very few pages available in the literary sections of the Philippines' two main fiction outlets, Philippine Graphic and Philippines Free Press. In these magazines, the literary section is usually only four pages long and that includes the usual page for poetry and at least one large illustration. This forces editors to use short pieces. Writers who get rewarded because they write short pieces continue to do so, and the practice goes on.
One result of this brevity in Philippine short stories is that characters tend to be simple, well-defined, and uncomplicated. The story line also tends to be epiphanic rather than episodic as is the case with current North American writing (E.L. Doctorow's observation).
Since the same few people teach workshops and judge literary contests in the Philippines (they just rotate), I don't see any great change in style soon. For Philippine writers, it's a matter of writing a story in a manner that gets gets published and wins contests.
The two short examples in this issue should give you an idea of what I'm talking about. In the past, I have tended to apply standards I am more familiar with and may have left out stories such as these. I am making up for that oversight in this issue.
Another thing to note is the language in "The Steel Brassiere." Like "The Little People" in the previous issue, its language is typically how a Filipino uses English. The Philippine way, although hard to define, is easily noticeable to people outside the Philippines.
I'm happy to see that our readership continues to grow according to our web data. I'm also pleased that many of our new readers have been referred to our site by non-Filipino literary sites. This is gratifying to me since one of our goals is to expose Philippine literature to a new, international readership.
Our authors will be glad to know that their stories in our archives get accessed quite often. It looks like after a year in the archives a story would already have been read by more new people than when it was originally published. Again, this fulfills one of our goals--to provide continued exposure for good stories. Too often, they just fade into oblivion after they are published.
As usual, we have two short stories in this issue. The first, "Kara's Place" by Luis Joaquin M. Katigbak, is about college students in the Philippines. It tells of the non-glamorous aspects of living in a rented place.
The other, "The Little People" by Maria Aleah G. Taboclaon, is a whimsical account of the mischief, both benign and malevolent, caused by Philippine elves called dwendes.
Eileen Tupaz is back with her math poems. Her poems are the most-accessed among all poems in our archives. They are accessed by people who are not necessarily interested in Philippine literature--they find the poems through search engines. I hope some of these people linger long enough in our site to read our other pieces and go away with a good impression of Philippine literature.
As the days grow longer for us in the northern hemisphere and the dry season (as in "no rain," but not necessarily low humidity) reigns in the Philippines, take time from your backyard barbecue and your May fiestas to read the two great stories in this issue.
The first, "The Martini Effect" by Doreen D.L. Jose, is about cyber relationships. This new way of connecting kindred souls in cyberspace often results in new friendships or love affairs. It has also caused problems in existing relationships.
I'm sure many of you have met someone online for whom you have felt a strong attraction. This story is for you.
The other story, "Thousand Year Eve" by Angelo Rodriguez Lacuesta, is about losing someone. You get an empty, gnawing feeling when it happens--it's the kind of experience you always thought happens to somebody else, not yourself.
What do you do and how does it affect your other relationships? What do you go through until you finally accept that your loved one is gone? The protagonist in this story goes through all the stages.
Where we are
Someone asked me recently where The Best Philippine Short Stories is based. I couldn't answer right away. Our web server is in the Los Angeles area but it could just as well be in Timbuktu and it wouldn't matter. Copper, Ramon, and I live in the L.A. area, as well, but Geejay lives in Davao/Manila and Aline in Lucena. We get together in cyberspace--I guess that's where we're based.
In this issue, we feature two warm, coming of age stories--quite a change from the sexy, even explicit, stories we featured in our first issue.
In "The Summer I Learned to Bike," our young narrator who feels he has not gotten his fair share of the spoils of war makes up for it by sharing vicariously in the adventures of his more aggressive friend. He uses his wits to get his friend to share the trophy that he wishes he had gotten himself.
E.L. Koh is new to fiction writing--he only has written a handful of stories so far. Perhaps this is why his story has the freshness that is sometimes lost when writers learn to write according to the "rules."
"Nanking Store" tells about the breakup of a marriage through the eyes of a child. The telling of the events as they unfold, all the way to the way to how the mistreated wife turns the tables on her tormentors, is enhanced and made more poignant through the innocent words of the boy narrator.
This story won for Macario D. Tiu a prize in last year's Philippine Graphic Awards for best short story.
The Philippine literary scene has at least two problems: first, there
aren't enough readers among the more than seventy million people who
live in the country; second, the good stories that make it to the traditional
show cases often disappear into oblivion after publication.
Of those stories that get published, a few make it to anthologies but
what happens to the other good ones? Even those that get anthologized
don't fare too well. Typical Philippine book runs of one or
two thousand copies really don't amount to much in terms of exposure.
This is where The Best Philippine Short Stories comes in. We will actively
seek outstanding Philippine stories and provide a showcase for them
to the world.
Why an ezine? Primarily because of the sheer number in its potential
audience and the speed with which we can distribute the stories worldwide.
Until recently, literary ezines were of poor quality. In the early days
of the web most of them were set up to showcase works of writers
who found it hard to get their own stories published. That has changed.
Today, you will find ezines that are professionally edited and their
content is as good as any print publication that features
short stories. Two of my favorites are Zoetrope: All-Story Extra and
I believe that the time is right for an ezine that features Philippine
stories. The Best Philippine Short Stories isn't the first of its kind.
There were many before us. What they didn't have was the consistency
in quality and the regularity of delivery of fresh, contemporary Philippine
stories. When we started working on this concept a few months ago, we
had no idea what kind of time, effort, and resources it would take to
deliver a quality ezine. Now we know and cannot be too hard on those
who pioneered the way.
We don't have a problem in finding great stories. We do find them.
Our problem is the difficulty of contacting the authors of these fine
stories. We hope Philippine magazine editors will see that this ezine fills
a need and will help us get in touch with these writers.
We will start out as a bimonthly publication and hope to go monthly as soon
as we hit our stride. We hope we can get sponsors to donate a modest prize
for the story of the year that will be selected by a board of judges. Of course,
our ultimate goal is to be able to offer at least a token honorarium to all writers
who appear in our ezine.
It will not always be possible to have a theme for a particular issue but
we will try to match up stories whenever we can. In this issue, we offer
two views on what we'll call "unauthorized love" for lack of a better term.
So read away or print out the stories. Enjoy!