7 Questions with Palanca Winner Alwin Aguirre

Alwin Aguirre has won a Palanca award in  1999 (Dalantao, Short Story in Filipino),  2000 (Desaparecidos, Future Fiction in Filipino) and 2002 (Semi-Kalbo, Future Fiction in Filipino).

Alwin holds a degree in Communication Research and Masters in Philippine Studies (Philippine Literature and Women’s Studies) from the University of the Philippines, Diliman where he is also a professor. He is a recipient of the Asian Public Intellectuals Fellow for  the Nippon Foundation for his research on Asian Science Fiction.

He is currently finishing his PhD in Discourse and Communication in Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand. Alwin is husband to Mich Ong, also a professor and author, and father to their son Rio.

1. How do you choose the themes of what you write?

Usually, I don’t choose themes. But I’m sure there are underlying themes in the pieces I write that may sometimes be hidden even from me. I write by inspiration or by: a sudden appearance of, shower of, or nudge by, an idea. But of course, I can be thematic. For instance, I can choose to write about the diaspora experience or gender topics. Or it may be as broad as science fiction or fantasy. Pero, I do not analyse where the ideas come from. They come anytime they want and the only thing they ask is for me to remember, thus, I always carry a tiny notebook and a pen with me.

These days, I consciously temporarily put a rest to writing fiction because of school. But, even so, ideas keep on coming. I hope to be able to have the time and desire to write again…soon.

2. Is writing short stories a preference?
Yes, short stories. I love the extent of experimentation one can do with short stories. Also, it is an ill-defined genre. It is a very unstable, unsettled form. That may be part of my attraction to it.

Kuwentong Siyudad
by Rolando B. Tolentino (Editor), Romulo P. Baquiran, Jr. (Editor), Alwin C. Aguirre (Editor)

3. How do you compare it with writing in long form?
Long form—i.e., the novel—requires more time, resources, energy. It needs to be sustained to be able to be realised. Wala akong resources enough to support me and the family if I focus on finishing a novel. Hehe.

4. Among all the stories you’ve written, what are your favorites?
Truth is, wala. I find some of those I have written really ok after some rereads. Pero, I really feel that I have not given enough of myself (which must be all of it) to writing to be able to say that I must love the stories I have written or one particular story for that matter. I don’t even feel like a writer at all. Why am I answering your questions?! Lol. However, I do love stories in their moment of being written.

5. As an editor, what are the common pitfalls of a writer?
I don’t think I’m a good editor. But I am quite frank about stories or works that I don’t like when putting together a book project, for example. Usually, I gravitate towards ‘sensibility’ and ‘language’. Sa Filipino, yung “dating” ng isang work. It speaks both of the formal and subjective aspect of the writing. Language should be good (e.g., tone is in harmony with the theme; grammar is a non-negotiable, etc). But, somehow, you must also sense the sensibility of the author. It’s something you can’t put a finger on, but it is that which you will remember.

Dadaanin
by Alwin C. Aguirre (Editor), Nonon Carandang (Editor)

6. You have titles in english but more in Filipino. How is your writing and frame of mind different for each language?
I can’t write a good critical paper in Filipino and I can only do some decent fiction at best in English. In short, illiterate ako haha. Siguro rin, sensibility hehe. My mother literary tongue is Filipino. Most of my favorite writers are non-English ones. I love Julio Cortazar and Kobo Abe and Eugene Ionesco. They obviously did not write in English. But I have read translations. I wish I could read them in their mother language. But alas, I can only do Filipino and English and my Spanish is bad. So, I read translated works. But I hope (I feel) that I grasp their “sensibility”. It is what will set an artist apart.

Julio Cortazar

Kobo Abe

7. What are your tips for the aspiring author?
Read. The biggest mistake of one who wants to write is to not spend more time reading. Reading in two senses: read, literally, a “lot” and “read” anything—make meanings out of things not made up of letters. Also, always carry a notebook and a pen. Or your phone, kung may note-taking app. But a pen is a must.

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