Eating And Reading Are Two Pleasures That Combine Admirably

I love reading. I love food. I love reading books with food in them. I love it so much that all my books will feature local food from their respective setting (Philippines, Singapore, Thailand). Also, the hero of my third book, Craig, is a chef.

I thought of this quote by CS Lewis because I recently read 20170518_191314402_iOStwo food-centric romance novels – Sherry Thomas’s Delicious and Laura Florand’s The Chocolate Thief. The food descriptions in both novels were so vivid and sumptuous that the first thing I did after reading was go to a French café and buy madeleines and chocolate tartlets and mini-croissants.

I always give high marks to books that make me react – whether it is to cry, laugh, or think. Those that induce me to go out and buy food deserve no less than five stars. It doesn’t hurt that they are fantastic stories told by talented authors. These were my first books by these two writers and they won’t be the last. I already have their backlists on my Overdrive holds. What are a dozen more books to pile onto my TBR mountain? Why, nothing. Nothing at all.

 

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Mommy, Thank You for Giving Me the Love of Reading

You may have tangible wealth, untold caskets of jewels, and coffers of gold;

Richer than I you can never be, I had a mother who read to me.

~ Strickland Gillilan, The Reading Mother

 

I also have a mother who used to read to me. And on this Mother’s Day, I’d like to honor her and thank her, not only for giving me life, but also for encouraging my literary pursuits. All my life she has always nurtured my love of reading. Seldom was I scolded for bringing a book to the dining table. My poor eyesight was not blamed on reading in the dark or on reading in a moving vehicle. It was TV’s fault, never books. She could not admonish me for reading too much. After all, she was the one who taught me to read. My mom, Marieta Ruaza, was a teacher – to me and my siblings and to thousands of kids in the Philippines for over forty years.

She was also a short story writer. If writing is a hereditary trait, then I must have gotten it from her. I hope my son will get the writing gene, too. If not, I can only be happy to know that he appreciates my reading to him. Maybe, someday he will write a poem about his Reading Mom, too.

 

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Thank you, Mommy. I love you! Happy Mother’s Day!

Looking for Asian/Pacific-American Heroines in Romance Novels

May is officially the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the US and this month, I’ve decided I’m going to read romance novels featuring heroines of Asian descent. Before today, I’ve only read a few, among them Nalini Singh’s Rock Courtship, Alisha Rai’s Pleasure series, The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev, Lora Leigh’s Wicked Pleasure, Jaci Burton’s Midnight Velvet, and Fobolous by my friend Rainne Mendoza.

My Goodreads search proved to be frustrating as there are very few books that answer to the criteria – 190 if you include South Asians. Amazon is not much help either – only 40 are listed and most of the heroines are half something else.

It’s no wonder that 63% of those who answered the Dangerous Books for Girls survey said (they) “…think there is not enough diversity in characters and settings…”. It’s true, there’s not.

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In the same study, it was learned that there were over 9,500 Romance ISBNs in 2013. Very likely, that figure went up in 2016. If I would hazard a guess, the number of those books who have Asian/Pacific Islander heroines would be pitifully small, could only be just a handful. Why? Are people not buying them? The Romance genre is a Billion-dollar industry and there’s no market for novels with my kind of protagonists? That’s sad and I refuse to believe that.

According to the 2010 US Census Bureau Statistics, over 3.3 Million American husbands have Asian wives. If only a small fraction of those wives read romance novels, that’s still a substantial number who may want to see their stories told in books. Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” So, that’s what I’m doing, I’m writing their story.

I’m writing MY story.

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Read A Lot, Write A Lot

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

I have no problem with reading a lot. Last year, I recorded 465 books on Goodreads. It’s the writing a lot that is hard for me. On January 1, I set my Reading Challenge to 120 in order to give myself more time to write. This was based on my experience in November when I wrote most of my first book, One Week in Boracay. I managed to put together 51K words, but only read a dozen books. So far this year, I’ve already read 80 so I had to increase my goal to 180. However, apart from the title Christmas in New York, I haven’t written a word of my second book yet.

Then I saw Katy Regnery’s blog post and my jaw dropped. From September 2013 until April 2017, she published 31 books. She completes one book every five to six weeks. Talk about prolific! I’m awed and envious.

Can I do that? Possibly. I did put the finishing touches on Boracay five weeks after I started it. Will I do it? Maybe someday. When I don’t take three months to edit, or when I have a team to help me with editing, cover design, formatting, etc. But not yet, not for a long while yet. For now, I’ll read a lot first, then maybe I’ll write a lot of the second book, and the third, and the fourth…

Not maybe. I will. Starting now.

 

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“No two persons ever read the same book.”

The quote was attributed to Edmund Wilson, a noted American writer, editor, and critic. I agree with him.

This year, I have decided to write a short review of every book I read or reread and post it on Amazon/Goodreads. Before 2017, I used to only rate the books without giving my reasons for the number of stars. After posting my rating, then and only then will I check out other people’s reviews. I always look for the ones that are most diametrically opposed to mine and just shake my head and smile at the reasoning behind their grades.

Here are a couple of examples:

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

M: “Five flamethrowing stars. This book is fresh and young, utterly delightful. Josh and Lucy are fantastic characters, their chemistry is electric. I adore their conversations. I didn’t want the book to end. One of my new favorites.”

S: “DNF. Lucinda and Joshua are extremely annoying. I don’t care about how much she hates Josh 4Ever.”

The Duke and the Lady in Red by Lorraine Heath

M: “Five heartrending stars. This novel broke my heart and put it back together again. Avendale – he’s so flawed and yet so amazingly heroic. Rose — a swindling angel. Harry — the best part, the heart of the book.”

E: Two stars. DNF. Barf. Cannot stand the prose.

We’re all different and what appeals to one may not be attractive to others. This brings to mind another (cliché) quote, “One (wo)man’s trash is another (wo)man’s treasure.” This is one of the reasons why I appreciate my favorite Facebook Group–Old School Romance Book Club (OSRBC)–so much. We all just agree to disagree. The members’ thoughts and opinions are respected and supported. They might have been the cause of my out-of-control TBR pile, but I won’t ever regret joining them. #OSRBCRocks

 

 

 

 

Love at The Masters, a Romance Novel in the Making

The hero–a 37-year-old Spanish golf-wunderkind who finally fulfilled his potential after 19 years of disappointments in majors.

The heroine–a beautiful American from a sporting family, whose love and support for our hero propelled him to previously-unreached heights.

The setting–Augusta National, The Masters Tournament.

After 73 attempts, Sergio Garcia finally shed the title Best-Player-Without-a-Major by winning the sudden-death playoff over his friend, the Englishman Justin Rose, and putting on the coveted Green Jacket. Everyone calls it a story of redemption, a new and mature Sergio overcoming his demons and at last breaking through in what is probably the greatest golf tournament in the world.

Me, I’m fascinated with the love story of Sergio Garcia and Angela Akins. I agree with several publications like The Washington Post and Mirror that she’s the it-factor, the secret behind his newfound success. In previous years, I never rooted for Sergio. He was a whiny brat–petulant, had a persecution complex, rude to American fans, and was tactless in his speech about his competitors like Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington. But over the past couple of years, since he and Angela started their relationship, he had mellowed, softened, grown up. I admired his self-deprecating demeanor during the Ryder Cup and his fight to equal Phil Mickelson point for point, resulting in one of the best matches in the competition’s history.

On Thursday, the first day of the Masters, I had him as one of my Top Five picks to win alongside Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson, and Fred Couples. After my American choices fell down the leaderboard, I continued to cheer Sergio on and rejoiced when he sank that birdie on the 73rd hole. Finally, Sergio Garcia is a major champion. All because he is at peace, happy, and in love.

So, if in the future you’ll read a romance novel written by me about a professional golfer with an abrasive personality who has never won the big one until he met the love of his life, you can say that it might have been inspired by Sergio and Angela.

 

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Photo credit: AP/David Goldman

 

Proud Romance Reader

The ebook of Dangerous Books for Girls, Maya Rodale’s nonfiction book on romance novels, is on sale for $2.99. This book, published in May 2015, is based on Ms. Rodale’s master’s thesis which examined the stigma attached to consumption of this genre.

As a reader–and now, writer–of romance novels, this study fascinates me. Even when I was young, I was never ashamed of reading them because I was known as a math nerd. Nobody maligned me for my choice of reading materials. The only reason I hid books within the folds of the skirt of my uniform was that I was not supposed to be reading during school hours, and not because of the subject of my book. I would have done the same for a Shakespeare or a Charles Dickens title. But then, it’s probably because I grew up in the Philippines, where you’re encouraged to improve your English as best as you can. Reading anything in the language was an accepted–even approved–means of doing that.

I never knew that Americans are looked down on when they read romance. That was weird to me because most of the books I read in Manila were from the US. Even when I came to the US in 2005, I was still oblivious. Had I been interviewed for this study, I would have been one of the “50% of romance readers who love the genre and don’t care who knows it”. I surely would have answered that romance novels make me happy.

As a writer, I am encouraged by this infographic. Especially as I’m hoping to address the lack of diversity in characters and settings issue mentioned here. I hope my multicultural, contemporary novels set in Southeast Asia will find a place in the romance readers’ bookshelves. I certainly hope they won’t feel guilty about reading it for pleasure.

Thanks, Maya Rodale, for this enlightening study. Your books are now going up on my TBR pile.

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Write without fear, Edit without mercy

Among those I credit for inspiring me to write my own books are Rainne Mendoza and RG Gallardo. They are two brave souls who trusted me to be part of making their dream–publishing their first book–come true. They allowed me to opine on their labors of love and believed that I knew what I was doing when I clicked on my imaginary red pen and slashed my way through their manuscripts. Thankfully they emerged triumphant and managed to release their books in spite of my meddling.

Now that I have completed a book of my own after having gone through five rounds of editing, my respect for Rainne and RG went up a thousand-fold. I hope I have even a fraction of their fearlessness when it’s time for me to publish. Thank you both for the inspiration and for the encouragement. I learned so much from working with you. I hope I learned the lessons well.

Fobolous is available on Amazon Kindle and other sellers.

Survivors 1 and Survivors Part II are also available on Amazon Kindle.

 

 

Boracay and Me, Our 20th Anniversary

Twenty years ago today, I went to Boracay for the first time and fell in love…with the island. I experienced that indefinable, magical feeling of coming home even though I wasn’t born there, had never been there until March of 1997. It wasn’t as if I had not seen the beach before then. I grew up with the sea only a few steps away from our house. No, Boracay was different. Special. More.

It was a combination of things – the white, fine sand; clear blue waters; fragrant sea air; sweet, delicious mango shake; and best of all, the company of my best friends. I can only recall the beauty and deep contentment of being there, my friend had to remind me about the masses of people who, like us, were spending their Holy Week in the island and the turbulent waters during our boat tour. I didn’t mind those things. I was happy. I was home.

We only stayed three days that first time. They weren’t nearly enough. I had to go back three months later with a different set of friends. From then on until I left the Philippines to migrate to the US, I kept going back to Boracay. It became an annual pilgrimage for me. Even when I was working in Indonesia and Singapore and had gone to the famous beaches in Bali, Phuket, Sydney, and Brisbane, I still wouldn’t miss a trip to Boracay. That’s how much I love that island. I don’t need any travel magazine to tell me it’s the Best Island in the World. I already know. I have known for 20 years now.

So when I decided to write my first novel, there was never any doubt where I was going to set it–yep, you guessed it–Boracay. In my book One Week in Boracay, I created a fictional exclusive resort named Perlas, which is supposed to be located on the Northeast part of the island where Yapak, Punta-Ina, and Ilig-Iligan beaches are. Perlas has its own airstrip (instead of the golf course that’s there now), a dream scenario that may or may not be possible given the topography. The Boracay in my book is my ideal, the one I first fell in love with in 1997 – a clean, quiet, less commercialized place that’s a balm to a person’s soul.  It’s the one I’d like to go back to again and again even if only in my books.

Happy 20th Anniversary to us, Boracay! I will be with you again, soon.