Manila Noir (Part 2)

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After the interview with Jessica Hagedorn, I headed over to the National Book Store flagship in Glorietta 1 for the “Manila Noir” launch.

Luckily, we got there early, as a huge crowd turned out for the launch that afternoon. Not only did the event showcase “Manila Noir” editor Jessica Hagedorn; a good number of contributors also graced the event, including Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo, Rosario Cruz-Lucero, Jose Dalisay, Lourd de Veyra, Angelo Lacuesta, and R. Zamora Linmark.

As promised, here’s Part 2 of my Manila Noir reportage:


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After the welcoming remarks by NBS purchasing director Xandra Ramos-Padilla, Jessica Hagedorn introduced the book.

“It’s a special anthology that’s dear to my heart because the writers who are here today, the Filipino writers who are in the US and in Berlin, contributed so much to this collection,” Hagedorn stated. “It’s a special book; I’m really glad we all worked on it together.”

For the benefit of the audience, Hagedorn defined the noir genre. “It’s a form of crime fiction that really isn’t after cheap thrills and sensationalism and gore and that sort of thing. Although there are some pretty graphic stories in the collection, the aim of the writer is for something higher, I believe, and deeper, and they have to search and deal with what’s going on around them. And the characters are very special.”

Hagedorn drew attention to the book’s centerpiece: the graphic noir Trese story by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo. “There’s a visual element to this book that is extremely extraordinary, if I could be so redundant in saying that.”

After reading an excerpt from her introduction to the book, she then introduced the writers, who in turn read excerpts from their stories in the book.

Manila Noir reading

Here are recordings of all the readings:

(Click on link to play the audio file)

Introduction – Jessica Hagedorn

R. Zamora Linmark reads from “Cariño Brutal”

F.H. Batacan reads from “Comforter of the Afflicted”

Budjette Tan reads from “Trese: Thirteen Stations”

Angelo Lacuesta reads from “After Midnight”

Lourd de Veyra reads from “Satan Has Already Bought U”

Rosario Cruz-Lucero reads from “A Human Right”

Jose Dalisay reads from “The Professor’s Wife”

Particularly interesting to me was Budjette Tan’s reading of “Trese: Thirteen Stations,” as I’ve never experienced a “reading” of a graphic novel before, and this was awesome. Here’s a video I took (pardon the shaky hands):

I enjoyed hearing the writers read their work out loud. The readings make the stories come alive even more, and you hear the words and the tone exactly as the author meant them to sound.

The readings were followed by a short Q & A session (facilitated by writer and book reviewer Ruey de Vera), wherein the writers talked about how they came up with the neighborhoods in which their stories were set.

R. Zamora Linmark: “Well there were these brutal killings… There’s this girl or transvestite in Tondo during the Martial Law that I get from a friend Ferdie Lopez, who teaches at UST. And I’ve never written a story set in Tondo. And so I was drummed up, I think, to go to a place like Tondo because it’s so strange to me. I went there and I had a guide who took me through the labyrinths of Tondo, and it was just an amazing experience. I loved it; I’ve been hanging out there. I asked for an extension because I couldn’t get the noir, and I almost gave up. I hung out there for like two months, back and forth between Makati and Tondo on the train from Buendia. I almost suffocated… But I loved it. The challenge, I think, for this story, was that I’m writing about a familiar setting. I had to keep asking my guide, what was here during the ’70s? It was a bit of a thrill of an enthusiastic experience, something that I would never, never forget.”

Angelo Lacuesta: “Mine is set on J.P. Rizal, besides that obvious name J.P. Rizal, I’ve always been fascinated and disgusted by the gap between the wealthy and the poor, and I think J.P. Rizal draws the line between the wealthy of Makati and poor Makati. When I was a kid, I remember, we hit a car, my dad and I, and we were towed to Manila starting from J.P. Rizal all the way to Quezon City. It was past midnight — it was almost real, except for the joint part and the weed part. We were towed across Manila, and whenever we stopped at a stoplight, people would look at our car, and you felt it, just because we had a car that was smashed up, and we were almost taking off toward Manila, but we never really took off.”

Lourd de Veyra: “I too am a big fan of noir, and I was trying to combine those elements with what Project 2 is, how it feels and sounds and smells like… In terms of noir, I just happen to know some guys out there who are dealing in “special aspects of pharmacology.” So this is based on actual circumstances, except for the stabbing of the eye and that egg in the panaderia. Basically if I were to portray noir in the milieu of Project 2, these will not be the big-client drug lords with the whiskey in their hands, or smoking cigars. These are the small runners: sando, tsinelas, speaking at 1 million words per minute, crazy eyes. They’re always paranoid about each other, so it’s basically that conversation.”

Jose Dalisay: “I’ve always loved the empathic noir from Shanghai and all that, and when I got the invitation from Jessica, I decided I would do what I’ve always told my students to do, which is to take something familiar and turn it around until you’re somewhere you’ve never been. And so I began with what was familiar: my house, my car, my backyard. That’s my house – X Juan Luna, Area 2, UP Campus. But do something with that, and then start treading a path you’ve never been on.”

Rosario Cruz-Lucero: “I was in Davao when I got the email, and I have not really been writing any stories set in Manila, my forte has always been Negros stories. I happened to be in Davao at that time, and I was getting fascinated by the Davao Death Squad. I was very, very hesitant at first. I was trying to pass it on to others, but she (Jessica) said that everybody that she had invited had already chosen a place in Manila so I started to panic. So I said ‘Intramuros,’ but I knew nothing about Intramuros. Luckily, this friend of mine in Davao, he is a crusader against the Death Squad, but he is now based in Intramuros — what a wonderful coincidence. So we scoured Intramuros together, and I must admit that my first draft was really like a travel brochure because I was so fascinated by Intramuros, I was like a tourist.”

Jessica Hagedorn: “At first I wasn’t going to contribute a story, and then I thought, I’ve always wanted to write an intentional noir story, and I thought, ‘Who’s going to edit me?’ So I had to edit myself. And if it makes everybody here feel better, I rewrote that thing at least 20 times, from different perspectives… I was hard on myself, and I went through the hurdle. I do find it enjoyable, to retell a story, then you decide what works for you in that moment. The house I grew up in was in Old Sta. Mesa, and I know Old Sta. Mesa no longer exists. It would only be my memory of it, and I’d have to go back in time, which I didn’t want to do. My challenge, I felt, was to try and write about present-day Manila without living here anymore. So I decided to take Forbes Park, because it hasn’t changed, and the street I set it on was the one area, McKinley Road, which was not gated, so I knew I could get away with criminals being able to get into the house.”

F.H. Batacan: “It was going to be a given that my story was going to be an Augusto Saenz story, but there were two elements in particular that I wanted to include, one was the location, which Jessica was very clear in her brief to us about the color of the location. In 1993, my family purchased this house in Lagro, further off in Fairview in Quezon City. At the time that we bought it, it was really a province. There was no shoemart, talagang talahiban in other words. The rumor was that pag merong sina-salvage sa Quezon City, doon itinatapon. That was the area that we moved in. If you saw three cars pass by our street on the same day, two of them were the same cars. While most people, when we said we lived in Lagro, would go, ‘It’s so far, so inaccessible, so hard to get to. At that time, we found it a bit of a refuge because it was so quiet and we were in a part of the city, where, if you look up, you could see hundreds of stars. We didn’t care that it was malayo sa sibilisasyon. For us it was a refuge. That kind of tied in with the idea that for me, one of the tropes of noir crime fiction is the woman who is not what she seems. The woman you think you know, has a second life that is hidden well beneath the story. If you read the story, you’ll understand why this woman would live in this area of the city and why this is such a vital part of that secret life.”

Budjette Tan: “It was mostly trying to look for where the light would set in for Trese, and when I was suggesting settings for Jessica, she’d say, ‘That’s taken, that’s taken.’ So I said, ‘What about the entire MRT? No one’s taken the MRT yet, so that’s mine, we could be anywhere we want to be. It was also a bunch of news that kept coming up in the past couple of months before we ended up writing that: the big fire in Guadalupe, squatters being moved, and squatters are being moved again, but we don’t know where they’re getting moved now. These little elements keep coming up in the news, and as always we try to look what is the supernatural angle to all of this and where are we going.”

Kajo Baldisimo: “I was excited by this project because from the email, the ingredients that Jessica threw, parang, wow, pag pinagsama-sama ang mga ingredients na ‘to, masarap na ulam ito. Crime, noir, black and white, parang, wow, di ko pa ata nagagawa ‘to. Talagang feel namin ni Budj. Pero kung sinabi ni Jessica, gawa kayo ng story about rainbows and ponies, baka hindi kami sumali dyan.”

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Editor Jessica Hagedorn (4th from left) with the contributing writers of Manila Noir. Clockwise from bottom left: Lourd de Veyra, Kajo Baldisimo, Budjette Tan, F.H. Batacan, Jose Dalisay, Angelo Lacuesta, Rosario Cruz-Lucero, R. Zamora Linmark. Photo by National Book Store

After a few more questions, the launch wrapped up and the crowd lined up for the signing.

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It was great to meet all these writers and find out how their stories were put together! I must confess that weeks ago, when I got ahold of a copy of “Manila Noir,” I dove right into the Trese story in the middle  of the book (which was fantastic!), but as I read outwards and onwards, I found more and more to enjoy about it.

All in all, it’s a great collection, though if I had to choose, my top picks would be “Aviary” by Lysley Tenorio (because I’m frequently in Greenbelt and it was fun to imagine it happening); “A Human Right” by Rosario Cruz- Lucero (because it’s kick ass), “Comforter of the Afflicted” by F.H. Batacan (because I have yet to read “Smaller and Smaller Circles” but I’m already a fan of Fr. Gus), and “The Professor’s Wife” by Jose Dalisay (so Desperate Housewives!). But with each story set in a specific neighborhood in Manila and each contributor giving a different texture to the genre, it’s bound to appeal to a wide variety of readers, Filipino or otherwise, whether first time noir readers or seasoned noir fans.

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“Manila Noir” is exclusively available at National Book Store.

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1 thought on “Manila Noir (Part 2)”

  1. Hi. Been reading your blog. sorry ngayon lang ako nag-comment. haha. I like your blog. Design for the present and for the next generations.

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