NJLA 2017 winners chosen

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The winners of the 2017 Nick Joaquin Literary Awards have been selected by the contest’s panel of judges, Alfred Yuson (panel chair), Susan Lara and Sarge Lacuesta.

The winning stories are: “Mathilde’s Absence” by Christian Ray Bautista (first prize), which was published in the Philippines Graphic literary section on Oct. 3, 2016; “Self-Possessed” by Alex Lecing, which was published on April 10, 2017, and; “Certainly a train love story” by Wayne Benitez Castillo, which saw print in the Graphic literary pages on Feb. 20, 2017.

Three more stories from the judges’ short list of the 40 stories entered in the 2017 NJLA were also selected by the panel as deserving of honorable mentions: Albert B. Casuga’s “Sons and Fathers,” Danton Remoto’s “The Ruins,” and “Cousin Ofelia” by Antonio Hernandez.

A separate panel composed of Graphic’s editors and our publisher selected the NJLA Poet of the Year. This year, it is Anne Carly Abad, whose poetry is so beautifully crafted that it has consistently seen publication in the Literary Section over the span of the contest period.


Before the deliberations went into the actual judging phase, Yuson, Lara and Lacuesta discussed their parameters for selecting the winning pieces.

“A short story, unless you are an exceptional writer—with very few exceptions—you can’t deal with something happening from the Philippine Revolution to the Japanese Occupation in a short story,” Yuson said. “This is what explains why I favor short stories that are done, to me, in the conventional way, dealing with a short scope of time—dealing with a day, two days, at most a week.”

The problem with attempting to cram an epic timeline into the one-sitting read form of short fiction, Lacuesta noted, is how authors tend to zoom in and out of given parts of such a long timeline: “It’s ugly when it begins to look telescopic.”

Yuson also pointed out the importance of opening a story with a bang instead of pedantic prose: “Another weakness [of some short stories] is usually that they tend to start out like an essay.”

He also pointed out the fundamental functions of dialogue in short fiction, saying he frowns upon “lack of dialogue.” Short story writers must learn “how to incorporate dialogue immediately with the story, to make dialogue push the story along, to betray more of the character. Dialogue is an important component.” One cannot merely rely on the narrative to tell the story.

Lacuesta said “it is also difficult to write a good story that is almost all dialogue.”

“Another thing apart from the use of time,” Lacuesta said, “is the tense issue. It is a tense problem. At the end of the day, I don’t want to go ‘let’s just consider the story and not the tense problem.’ Kasi (because) you should not.”

He noted that some stories whiplash the reader between tenses: “Present tense suddenly becomes past tense.” He added a tip for making the transition from past perfect to past tense: “You only do [past perfect] the first time, then proceed to past tense.”

Then Lacuesta spoke of how any self-respecting writer should open his or her story: “As a judge, I’m always turned off of the manuscript if there is a problem with the first paragraph. I’m not going to read the rest of it.”

Lara concurred with both Yuson and Lacuesta, adding that she really likes “the one day story. You can have flashbacks” to frame the story she also said. To which Yuson added, “but you must start in medias res (in the middle of things).”

Lacuesta said fiction writers can, and should, “harness” the structural strengths and power of immediacy that are the hallmarks of short fiction—power and impact that are unique to the short story form.

The short story as written by Filipino authors, Lacuesta noted, “already has form. We have a frame of mind. I don’t know if it’s good or bad. It just is.”

“Personally, I don’t favor fantasy,” Yuson said, “unless it is carried out very well. Normally, they’re all of a kind, not far removed from fan fiction.”

“They start with a myth, tweak it a little,” Lara added, shaking her head.

The beef the judges had with fantastic fiction, is mainly one over the creativity of the authors writing in this genre. If one is to write fantasy fiction, then it must be original, include good world-building, literally transport the reader into a new world—not a clone of another established fantasy world, with a few changes here and there.


The judges presented the short lists of stories they’d chosen as the best of the 40 in the competition, discussing the merits and weaknesses of those pieces and speaking of what made these selections stand out. Forty minutes later, the top three stories and the three honorable mentions were selected and finalized.

Every one of the 40 stories in the NJLA 2017 were published in the literary section of the Philippines Graphic from Aug. 1, 2016 to July 31, 2017. Each of these stories were selected from a weekly submission list averaging between 10 and 50 stories emailed to the litgraphic@gmail.com inbox by this writer, the Literary Editor. G






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