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Beautiful heartbreaks, accidental magic

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It was–so others have noted–a fantastic piece of birthday luck. Last Tuesday, a day before I turned 36 (and owning it like it was the new 28), we did a Dumaguete launch of my two books of short fiction–Heartbreak & Magic (from Anvil Publishing) and Beautiful Accidents (from the University of the Philippines Press). I am grateful to the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee, under University Cultural Officer Diomar Abrio, whose generosity it was that made this launch possible.

That it was also the opening of Hersley-Ven Casero’s first solo art exhibition made the event a little more special. From Foundation University, where Hersley works, they came in droves–and what a turn-out it was. The Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium Foyer Gallery was packed with friends and family, it was a humbling experience for both of us. For all those who came, Hersley and I give our heartfelt thanks.

I never quite expected to have two books out at the same time. It’s a quirk of publishing schedule that allowed this to happen. I had worked on Heartbreak & Magic first, but there were pressing concerns in Anvil–among them, the move to a new headquarters–that necessitated a delay in the release. But its release coinciding with Beautiful Accidents is a blessing from God that I don’t discount, and I thank Him for it, for the Grand Design it could only be. When I started work on these two books more than a year ago, I designed them to be of two volumes of totally different sorts–one book to collect all my domestic realism, and another one to collect all my speculative fiction, encompassing fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Perhaps they are twin to the manifestation of my output as a writer, and I am glad they are out at the same time.

Truth to tell, I didn’t always know I’d write–and much less make creative writing an enduring passion. Like most important things in our lives, this passion is something we remain blind to, until someone else points it out to us, and tells us: “You’re good at this. Perhaps you can do more.” In many ways then, last Tuesday’s book launch was a thanksgiving for people in my life who became personal heroes, simply because they pointed the way for me.

In grade school, that was a certain schoolteacher in the SPED program of West City Elementary School by the name of Ms. Bennie Vic V. Concepcion. From Grade 3 to 6, she taught me everything I knew about English and writing–and made our theme-writing exercise something that smacked of adventure and not homework. (Writing theme papers like How I Spent My Summer Vacation became instances of great introspection, a germinal act that unknowingly flicked the switch on for me.) In high school, those heroes were Mrs. Alejandra Bañas and Ms. Gina Fontejon-Bonior who–through some foresight of their own–made me editor of this and editor of that. (What did they see in me?)

In college, I had as my College Composition teacher a young writer by the name of Timothy Montes. One day in class, he gave out our marked papers, and on the margins of my own, he wrote: “Please see me after class.” I thought, Uh-oh, I must have done something wrong. When he dismissed us and I remained in the classroom, he asked me point-blank: “Did you write that?” pointing to the essay still in my hand. I quickly nodded. And then he said, “You should write for the Weekly Sillimanian.” And so I applied, and I became a staff writer. After graduation, Prof. Montes again told me, “You should apply for the National Writers Workshop under Dr. Edith Tiempo.” And so, again following his advice, I applied–and that quickly became the start of a writing career that will have its significant turn this week, with the launch of these two books. And it’s fitting enough that my old teacher, Prof. Montes, has written the introduction to Beautiful Accidents, where he writes…

And so I would like to thank all my teachers for showing me the way–there are many of them, each one has contributed to my growth as a writer, and also as a teacher. I would like to thank my family, and people from Silliman University, in particular Pres. Ben Malayang, Dr. Betsy Joy Tan, Dr. Margaret Helen Udarbe-Alvarez of the College of Arts & Sciences, Dr. Evelyn Mascuñana of the English Department, and former Board of Trustees Chair and former National Treasurer Leonor Briones, who has been more than supportive. I would like to thank Dr. Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo who gave my manuscript of Beautiful Accidents to UP Press, and to J. Neil Garcia who heartily approved it. I would like to thank novelist Dean Francis Alfar who encouraged me to submit the manuscript of Heartbreak & Magic to Anvil, and to Karina Bolasco for quickly putting it into publication mode. I would like to thank people who helped me in the birthing and publication of these stories, as well as in their encouragement–Neil Gaiman, Gregorio Brillantes, Tony Perez, Ceasar Ruiz Aquino, Paolo Manalo, Lito Zulueta, Rowena Tiempo Torrevillas, Susan Lara, Marjorie Evasco, Rosario Cruz Lucero, Kit Kwe, Rica Bolipata Santos, Ginny Mata, Luis Katigbak, Yvette Tan, Charles Tan. There are also many friends who helped: the LitCritters of Dumaguete, for example, and a group that calls itself The Hive. I have dedicated the two books to three friends who for me embody very well the spirit of each book.

The thing is, it is very difficult these days to profess to being a writer–especially in a time when artists are pilloried for thought-provoking work that court controversy, and in a time when so much around you pressures you to succumb to the everyday temptation of having to be “practical.” I don’t exactly know what people mean when they say that–because for me the most practically thing in the world, the one thing that saves our souls from the banality of everything else–is to pursue your dreams, to be in sync with that kind of personal happiness, because only then can everything else fall into place. And yet so much about our society demands that we become who we are not. And when I was younger, I, too, thought I could be a physical therapist–to go abroad and earn dollars, and all that. I went through three years of sheer agony in my first years of college knowing that I was not being true to myself. It took a certain courage to finally find a voice to my dreams, and to tell everyone else around me: “This is me.” I’m not sure many people in my life understands this. Why do you want to become a writer? they say. You don’t become rich being a writer. (Tell that again to J.K. Rowling.) But I guess, for me, being rich means something else: it is staying true to who you are, and to your dreams. Because every sort of compromise becomes a sure poverty of being.

Heartbreak & Magic is available right now in National Bookstore Dumaguete, and in other bookstores nationwide. Beautiful Accidents will soon be available as a Kindle book from Amazon.com.

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