About Me

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Mabuhay! I'm an Asian American writer (Back Kicks And Broken Promises, Abbott Press, 2012), martial artist and teacher who was born in The Philippines, raised in Hong Kong and ended up in New Jersey.

25 February, 2011

Writing Space

It's funny when you learn or realise something about yourself. Sometimes, it's an 'aha' moment. Other times, it's disappointment and even upsetting. And then there are those times when the discovery elicits something positive; a direction you know you can take (and maybe should've already taken) to make a part of your life easier, better, more enjoyable.

Well, this week, I learnt something that is just frustrating.

I can't write at home. Well, to be more accurate, I can't write at home during the day.

I've had the week off from work and I go back on Monday. In some ways I'm ecstatic about that. You see, as a teacher, I get a lunch period and a couple of prep periods. If I don't have anything specific to do during my preps because I'm caught up on my grading or I've already written my lesson plans for the next week or the set up for my next gym class is done I can, sometimes, take advantage of the time and get some writing done. If not what The Gotham Writer's Workshop people call 'hard writing' - actually writing the manuscript - it may be 'soft writing' which is planning out what you're going to write either by working on your outline or thinking about your characters, theme, plot, etc. Usually, though, I'll send my down time doing as much hard writing as possible.

Well, it's hard to do it at home. Maybe it's just a matter of being disciplined and sitting at my desk and writing. Maybe it's the environment or structure of my home. For those of you reading who've been to my home, you know my 'office' is a small six by six space next to the dining table in the living room. You see, we live in a two-family house with cute and cozy (read: limited space) apartments. I used to have an office upstairs but it became the nursery when my son was born. I would love to set something up downstairs but it floods when there's heavy rain (like today). Moreover, the dining room is next to, without any partition, to the living/TV room.

Up until recently, as I was finishing Back Kicks And Broken Promises, I would take to getting up at 3:00am and writing for an hour and a half to two hours before my wife and son would wake up and before it reached the point of no return for when my dog has to go out. Now, it's gotten harder to get up that early and it's gotten harder to fight off the distractions - recorded shows on DVR, a little FIFA on the Wii, kicking around on the web. In addition to the distractions, there are other legitimate things that I do and need to get down. Things around the house - laundry and cooking are largely my domain. I try to hit the gym or a workout or two a week. I've started playing squash again for fun and fitness (anyone interested in a match) and I teach a Tae Kwon Do class twice a week at night. I've also got reading to do. What writer doesn't? And, last, but definitely not least, is family time with my wife and son that includes bath time, story time and sleep time.

I know I'm not the only one to have a lot on his plate. I'm not the first and I won't be the last. I guess, maybe, I'm in a lull from having finished Back Kicks; the high being over and I'm crashing hard. So, how do I sober up? What do you guys do in situations like this? Fellow writers, I need your help.

21 February, 2011


I'm off work this week and, of course, on the first day of break it's snowing. Looking out my window, it looks like the snowfall has stopped and I can go out and shovel. My back is tightening as I think about what I have to do. Haha. At least, only a few inches have fallen and not the few feet we had last month and at the beginning of this month.

Anyway, while waiting for the snow to stop, I decided to make breakfast for my wife, son and I. Looking in our ref (the common colloquial term for the refrigerator in The Philippines or, at least, in my wife's family), I found our rice cooker, half filled with leftover rice from yesterday, eggs and a package of tocino in the freezer. While thawing the tocino in a bowl of watre, I chopped some garlic and sauteed it before adding the rice and some rock salt from Manila to make sinangag, garlic fried rice. With the tocino ready for the skillet, I put it in a little oil and cooked it on low heat. While that was going on, I cracked three eggs - one at a time into a shallow bowl and added a pinch of rock salt to each - before making sunnyside up eggs. These are sunnyside up eggs I grew up with that are cooked overeasy without actually turning the egg over in the pan. The yolk is splashed with a little oil to cook it over just enough that when you eat it with the rice it oozes over the rice like a sauce. This combination of food - tocino, sinangag and fried egg (itlog) - is commonyl referred to as tocilog by native filipinos.

To top off our breakfast, we drank kalamansi juice. Unfortunately, although I'm grateful that we can get it here at the Asian grocery store, the juice is made from a honey sweetened concentrate and not fresh kalamansi. Only once did I find fresh kalamansi and fresh dalandan in a supermarket in Jersey City but, like I said, that was only once and it was super expensive. It was worth the purhcase though.

As far as this being a vacation week, it was tasty to have such a nice breakfast that we don't normally have. And along with the feeling of being snowed in, I've been put in a holiday, chillaxing (I don't normally use such words but since it was recently added as an official dictionary entry I've decided to) frame of mind. I guess, in a way, topsilog is a kind of comfort food. Thinking about that, I ask you, what are your comfort foods? And, if you're an immigrant, as I am, or come from a strong ethnic upbringing what are your comfort foods from your childhood or your homeland?  Let me know and include a recipe. I'd love to try it.

17 February, 2011

Writer's Block

As I sit and wait to hear from the agents I've queried and pitched my novel Backs Kicks And Broken Promises to, I'm working on my next project, Sage Of Heaven. I know where I want the story to go and what's going to happen (in a big picture way) but I've always been a bit of a free writer, letting the characters dictate what happens to them, how they respond to those happenings, and when, how and why they change to move the story along and fulfill their dramatic needs. In being a free writer, it's sort of like hanging out with people, getting to know them and watching them evolve. I do outline but it's a bare bones kind of outlining. I make bullet point lists of what I want to happen in the novel but I think I may have to do some deeper outling this time around.

Like many of us who write, I read magazines like Writer's Digest and Poets & Writers, and they often have tips on outlining. Some of them seem a little arduous, writing as much in the outline as you would in the actual manuscript. To me, this feels like doing the work twice (and then there are still revisions to do once the first draft is completed). I don't think this is a wrong way of doing it; just the wrong way for me. However, with Sage of Heaven, I'm a little stumped. I know what I want to happen but for some reason I'm having trouble tapping on the keys of my laptop and guiding my characaters. So, I think I'm going to have do give one of those arduous outlining processes a shot. Maybe I'll write something in the outline that I can put into the manuscript to jump start the process.

Anyone have any outlining tips that have worked for you? I'd love to hear them. I've also put a link, where I've mentioned that title of my current project, where you can read the first chapter. I'd love to get your feedback on it. Thanks.

14 February, 2011

Managing Emotions

It's been about three weeks since the Writer's Digest Conference and Agent Pitch Slam and I hate to say it but the high from the experience is coming down. Before the conference I sent a dozen query letters out to agents. At the slam, I pitched six agents and they all requested material from me; two asked for the full manuscript.

Since then, I've received four rejections. It's expected, and only one of the rejections came from an agent I pitched face-to-face, but it's still a downer. I know getting published is a process in and of itself and it can take years from typing the first word of the novel to getting published. It took me seven years to write my novel from concept and all of its transformations to its final form. Since 2009, when I pitched two agents at the pitch slam at Book Expo America, I've been trying to get an agent. I didn't think I'd have much success then - they both asked for pages but politely decline and one of them said I could query her with future projects - but this time around the responses seemed so positive and excited that I can't from feel hopeful. And, when three agents said my novel sounds, in scope and feel, like Junot Diaz's Pulitzer Prize Winner The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, I couldn't help from feeling that I may actually be on to something.

I'm old enough and experienced enough - I had a screenplay in the late 1990s that garnered agent interest but, unfortunately, things didn't progress - to know not to get my hopes up and that these things take time and that not every agent will be right for my work but, I'll be honest, it's getting harder and harder to plod along and push through. I've entertained thoughts of self-publishing and calling it a day but, then, I know I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't see my writing pursuits through to the end. After all, I write not because I think I should or because it's a viable work or career opportunity. I write because, like many of us scribes, I have to.

I guess, as I get older, I'm feeling more pressure to have done something with my life; not that getting a Master's Degree, becoming a husband and father, becoming a Tae Kwon Do master, trying our for an Olympic team, being a stuntman in a commercial, and getting articles published and getting paid for them is having done nothing but there's still something lacking. It's more than a desire or a wish but something deeper. It's somethign I've always wanted - to do and become something bigger and more meaningful than I already am - but it's gotten stronger since becoming a father.

Anyway, if I was venting then I'm done. However, if anyone has input or tips to get through the waiting, I'd love to hear them. For now, I'll just wait and keep checking my email (something I probably shouldn't do but it's easy to do with the iPhone) and work on my next novel. Thanks for 'listening' and, for you fellow writers out there, happy writing and good luck.

12 February, 2011


There's a general feeling among many of the teachers I work with that students today don't care about what they're doing; that they're lazy, unmotivated and less self-sufficient than when we were their age. Some of my colleagues cite lack of parental involvement. I guess that's true but my parents weren't too involved in my school work or school activities and I did all right. I got good grades, overall, and I played football (soccer), basketball (I was my school's captain) and athletics (I ran the 100m and threw shot and discus).

In my eighteen years of teaching, I have to say that I'm starting to agree with my colleagues. Athletes don't want to practise anymore, students talk back to their teachers and more often than not assignments are always late or not done at all. This lack of interest among my students became more evident when, on the first day of one of my seventh grade Health classes, when I was going over what's going to be covered, the grading scheme, etc, one student raised his hand and said, "Is the work hard?" and another followed up with, "Do we have to do it?" I've been teaching long enough to be able to discern when a student is asking a sincere question or just saying stuff to test boundaries and push my buttons. These two students were sincere. I looked at them wondering if I had a third head or a dunce cap on or if my fly was down. I was caught off guard, lost in disbelief, that students would wonder if work had to be done in school.

Things changed, however, the last few weeks. Not with these two particular students. They ended up not doing much work and earning less than favourable grades. What changed was my feeling that kids and their potential are going down the drain. In one of my current classes, on the day our first project was due and the students had to present their work, I asked if anyone wanted to go first. What do they say - the two things people most fear are death and talking in front of a group, not necessarily in that order? Well, one student shot her hand up and confidently presented her research on three eating disorders she'd been assigned. She had excellent information, was confident in herself, humble in knowing that she was doing a good job, gracious when I complimented her for doing so well and just downright pleasant.

I didn't just compliment her, I thanked her too. In eighteen years of teaching, one can sometimes feel jaded and become cynical. This student, however, brought me back and gave me a sense of hope for our kids and our future and a feeling of joy for being a teacher. Again, I thank this student and I thank her parents and everyone else who has shaped her into who and what she is. And, I encourage more to be just like her. Not in a carbon copy sort of way- because I'm a big believer in young people being able to experiment and express themselves in the way they need to at the time - but in a motivated, confident, wanting to succeed sort of way. This student did a class assignment. I dare say that she would've done work that was just as good if she wasn't getting a grade for it.

A funny thing happened after she presented. I asked who wanted to go next. Everyone looked down and I even saw a couple of people swallow in nervousness. It was as if they - we - were all thinking the same thing, "How do you follow that?" Well, someone did follow. And someone followed after that. Eventually, the entire class went. And, they were just as good. In examining their posters and reports, some had better material than others. Some posters were nicer to look at, some reports were beter organised. But, when they were up and facing the class, it appeared that whatever the first person has had rubbed off on them or enhanced their own already strong confidence levels.

There are two weeks left of this round of Health courses. I'll be passing this class on to another "special" - Art, Music, Home Ec - but it won't be without regret and gratitude. Regret because this collection of students is the kind of mix every teacher dreams of. I wish I could keep them for the rest of the school year. Gratitude because for, at least, once in my teaching career I had that 'best' class. As I pursue a writing career as a novelist, with the possibility of maybe leaving teaching one day, this class has reenergised my teaching battery and reminded me of the rewards of being a teacher.

So, whether you've been teaching for eighteen years, eight or eighty, be patient and remember that kids will surprise you. They are, after all, the best part of our jobs.

01 February, 2011

Getting Older

In the last seven days, two events pertaining to my age took place. First, I received a request from Rutgers University, where I went for my undergraduate studies, for a donation to its "Our Rutgers, Our Future" program. It wasn't just a plea for money. It came as a plea for money from the class of 1991. The astute ones of you reading have just done the maths. Yes, 2011 is my twenty year anniversary since graduating from RU. As I read through the letter, in the back of my mind, there was a little voice that kept saying "Twenty years. Where did all the time go?"

As I listened to that inner voice - of awe or guilt or regret or whatever I was feeling - I thought about, not so much where the time went, but what has happened during the last twenty years since I graduated up to the end of January 2011, which was the second of the two events pertaining to my age. Yesterday, the 31st of January was my birthday. I turned 42.

Anyway, looking back on my life, I made a list of the major events of each year since my undergraduate graduation, a ceremony I didn't even attend. Below is a list of those events; landmarks that have in some way influenced me and shaped me into who I am. Some of them are things that I did or were done to me directly, some are things that happened to us - as a people - and some had positive outcomes while others didn't.

As you read my list, think of your events and make your own list. It was fun to go back and reminisce and it was interesting to see how far I've come to becoming the best version of me I can be. I hope your list has more positives than negatives and I wish all of you the best for 2011 and beyond.

Graduated from Rutgers and got my first real fulltime job. I was a personal trainer at a health club.

Started my own Tae Kwon Do business (teaching out of the health club), lost my virginity and got paid for my writing for the first time. It was an article that appeared in Tae Kwon Do Times Magazine about the master I was training under at the time.

Opened my own Tae Kwon Do school, closed my Tae Kwon Do school, got my first teaching job, got my first tattoo and got my ear pierced.

Had my first one-night stand and got KO'd at a Tae Kwon Do tournament.
Ran the New York City Marathon, something I'd always wanted to do since watching Rod Dixon cross the finish line in 1983 and began graduate school at Montclair State University.

My screenplay, ALIENS AMONG US, PART I: DISCOVERY, got to the quarterfinal round of the Austin Film Festival screenplay competition, tried out for the 2000 USA Olympic Team Handball team, attended the 1996 Olympics (with an ex-girlfriend) where we traded tickets with another couple that took us away from the park bombing.

Handover. The British lease ends and Hong Kong goes back to China. A very emotional time.

Began my years as what Runners World Magazine calls a 'serious amateur' runner and ran the Disney World Half Marathon and I bought my first new car, a green Jeep Wrangler with a removable tan hardtop that I miss terribly.

Took my first Gotham Writer's Workshop class in Screenwwriting, did stunt work for a Fresh Samantha Juice commercial, moved into my first apartment and my parents sold their house in South Orange and moved back to The Philippines.

Y2K. Well, nothing happened so does this really count?

The 9/11 attacks on The World Trade Centre and I got my fourth degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

Visited family in London and got to see Arsenal beat Newcastle, 1-0, at Highbury.

Went to Boracay for the first time and got engaged.

Got married

Adopted a dog

Finished Graduate School - finally - and, yes, I went to both ceremonies this time around.

Took my first fiction writing class, at Gotham, went to my first Book Expo America and attended the Asian American International Film Festival where I got to meet and chat with director Justin Lin.

Became a dad, joined Facebook and got to see the first non-white American president get voted into office.

Reacquired Filipino citizenship, turned 40 (this was difficult to deal with), joined Twitter and saw my friend become a black belt.

Cancer scare with my father, finished my novel, voted in my first Philippines presidential election (my guy didn't win this time) and took my son to his first live football (soccer) match - Tottenham v. Sporting Lisbon followed by NY Red Bulls v Manchester City - at NY Red Bulls Arena while the two of us wore Arsenal jerseys.

January 2011
Went to the Writer's Digest Conference where I pitched six agents (they all want samples of my novel; two of them want the full manuscript) and turned 42. Oh, yeah, and started teaching Tae Kwon Do again.