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.

26 February, 2012

Six Degrees Of Separation - Pinoy Style

(Before you read this post, here's a basic Tagalog lesson. Pare means 'bro' and kanina means 'a while ago.' In true Taglish fashion,  they're used in the post.)
My book, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, is out and popping on all sorts of outlets and I’ve done two interviews on it. Things are looking very positively for how the book develops. There’s some excitement from the publisher that it would make for a good movie and that it should be made into a movie. Nothing’s happened concretely (yet) – no big money contracts, movie deals or big time television, magazine or radio interviews are being put into place – but there is some sign that Back Kicks And BrokenPromises might be able to do something.  
What it is doing right now, though, is that it's bringing people back together.
Now, you might be thinking that’s nothing unusual. Books, after all, get people to feel certain things and that can generate a need to connect with someone the reader hasn’t talked to in a long time. The people being brought together through my book haven’t even read it, however. And, again, it’s happened through the magic of social media.
You see, a month or so ago, someone sent me a direct message (a DM in the correct lingo) on Twitter. The sender is a sports journalist who writes for The Ring Magazine and freelances for the New York-based The Filipino Reporter. The DM asked if I were, indeed, me. I knew the sender’s name and I smiled as I typed my response.  (I’m going to go ahead and use the names of the people I talk about in this post because they are all writers and/or journalists and their names are already out in public.) The sender was Ryan Songalia (www.ryansongalia.com) and he was a student of mine in the late 1990s. As a result of this connection, we’ve been talking regularly on Twitter and via e-mail, largely because of my book and our common interests in writing and boxing. Regardless, we’ve been reconnected and it’s special, at least for me, because he’s Filipino-American just like me and, when he was my student, we were the only Filipinos in the school building.
In one of our chats about The Filipino Reporter and the possibility that it might want to do something with my book, I learnt that its sports editor, L.P. Pelayo, is very good friends with Ryan. I’ve been reading The Filipino Reporter for years, just like many Filipino-Americans and Filipinos living in the US, so to have this new and personal connection gave it more significance.
My father, who is the managing editor of The Manila Times, naturally, is helping to get my book into The Philippines and with any possible movie contacts he knows in Manila. As we were e-mailing and texting about the promotion of Back Kicks And Broken Promises (my dad used to be an ad-man with J. Walter Thompson), I mentioned that I’m in the works to see if The Filipino Reporter would be interested in doing some kind of review or write-up about it. In a follow-up e-mail, my dad mentioned that he is an old friend, from way way back, with Bert Pelayo, The Filipino Reporter’s owner. 
(Is the Disney song “It’s A Small World” playing in your head right now? It is in mine – loudly – as I write this post.)
Granted, Ryan, my dad and the Pelayos are all journalists so it’s not inconceivable that they would know each other. However, when you factor in the generational gaps and the distance between them, it really becomes a ‘six degrees of separation’ situation. (Ha! How do you like that for alliteration?) But there’s more. Just one more degree.
In 2006, as I was midway through the first draft of my novel, I learnt of Carissa Villacorta. She’d just published her first book, Surreality. It’s a collection of essays on her first impressions of New York (she used to work in the communication department of the Philippine consulate in New York City) and what it was like living as a young and single Filipina in New York City. It’s a well-written, often poignant and very entertaining read. It’s not long so you can get through it quickly and enjoy it in a sitting or two. I was interested in it for a couple of reasons: it has some elements of the ‘fish out of water’ story, which I was researching for my own novel, and Carissa is also from The Philippines so, naturally, I wanted to support a writer from the motherland.
I ordered Carissa’s book through Amazon but it took forever to get to me. First, my credit card was charged then I was credited then I was charged again and I never got a book. I e-mailed Amazon and they redirected my e-mail to her. She e-mailed me and, after a few exchanges the problem was rectified and I got two copies – one signed and one not – sent directly by her. In one of our exchanges we talked about writing and I said that I would send her a copy when my book when it gets published; you know, one Filipino writer promoting another and all that.
Well, now that Back Kicks And Broken Promises is out and as someone who tries to live up to his word – even if no one else remembers what I said (maybe that’s a black belt, thing) – I looked Carissa up on the internet. I tried to find out if she was still at the consulate. She’s not. I looked her up on Twitter and Facebook and, here it comes, I saw on her Facebook profile, in the right corner, that she is friends with Ryan Songalia. Six degrees, pare, or what?
Like I said kanina none of the people mentioned in this post have even read my book but, through all sorts of efforts for promoting it and otherwise, it has created and rejuvenated connections that, for me, have enlivened my world as a Filipino-American writer. So, I guess if you’re going to get anything out of this, other than an entertaining story, it’s that social media does work and you never really know who knows who. For all of my fellow indie authors, here’s another tip: everyone can help you. Don’t burn any bridges or abuse any friendships but remember that everyone knows someone and they can all help.
Oh, one last thing. Based on this experience, I’m starting to believe that strangers, are indeed, friends I've still yet to meet.

21 February, 2012

Good Advice - Write Bad Stuff

I don't consider myself to be a new writer. I am a newly published author but not a new writer. I do, however, regard myself as a writer who can still work on his craft and still has much to explore in finding his own style and voice.

As I've developed so far as a novelist, I have repeatedly been reminded - either directly by a writing group or mentor or indirectly through a conversation with someone else or by reading an article - of the most common pieces of advice: "show, don't tell," "character IS action," "everything must move the story forward," "your protagonist must have a need" and "your first draft is going to be junk and don't worry about that because you're going to edit anyway." All of this is good advice and stuff that I passed on in a recent interview I did for The Manila Bulletin (The Philippines' largest daily newspaper) and its Student and Campuses section.

One piece of advice that I heard recently, from Marie Lu, the author of Legend, at a reading and signing in New York takes the 'first draft as junk wisdom' one step further. Not only did she allude to a novel's first draft as being something that will need editing and revision, she also said that new writers should not be afraid to write bad stuff. What she meant - and the other authors in the panel (Beth Revis, Jessica Spotswood and Andrea Cremer) agreed - was for the new writer to write short stories, novellas and even novels that aren't necessarily intended for submission but for the development of the writer and his or her craft. Simply, those pieces of work become practice; the training ground that transforms the person fron writing neophyte to author.

It's like running a marathon in The Olympics. You don't just get to The Olympics. You have to train and run shorter races - 5ks and 10ks and half marathons - and even other marathons before running for your country. On race day, the marathon you've run after all that preparation is the best marathon it can be. So, it's just like writing a novel. The finished novel is the best version of that novel it can be. The author's next novel is akin to the runner's next race. With every race under his shoes, the subsequent race is tackled with more experience and, yet, because of a different venue, the changes in weather, the runner's own altered mindset and whatever other bits of wisdom the runner has gained, the new race is a better one but it is still something completely unique experience.

So, new writers, fear not. You have something to say and we, the reading world, want to read it. Just don't rush to get it out. Take your time to make it right and, in doing so, it's okay to get it wrong.

14 February, 2012

Holiday Overkill

Happy Valentine’s Day!

That’s what I’m supposed to wish everyone today, right?

I’m asking because I was at Target yesterday with a friend and she was looking for cards and candy for her husband and her kids. She was also looking for cards and candy for her kids, who are a toddler and an infant, to give to their grandparents. I’ve been living in America for a long time now and I know that Valentine’s Day is about getting cards and candy, flowers and gifts for those you love but I’d grown up thinking of it as giving cards and candy, flowers and gifts to ‘that special someone.’ Yes, one’s kids’ grandparents are special and getting a card for your toddler to give to your spouse is also a sign of love but Valentine’s, to me, was always about romantic love.

After work, and after picking up my niece from the airport, my wife and I went to day care and got our son. I stayed in the car with my niece, who’s here from England to attend a special K-Pop event in New York City this coming Saturday. When my wife and son returned to the car, my wife had a Valentine’s Day handout with the list of the day care students in our son’s class. It suggested that the parents bring in something, a small token, to distribute to all the kids to celebrate the day. I didn’t mind returning to Target to get something but I’ll admit that I was a tad surprised that we’d only been told about this the afternoon before the day. It’s for the kids, though, and they’ll have fun and learn about Valentine’s Day so, really, it wasn’t a problem or a big deal. It did, though, reinforce that Valentine’s Day is not just for boyfriends and their girlfriends, girlfriends and their boyfriends, girlfriends and their girlfriends, boyfriends and their boyfriends, or spouses; at least not anymore, anyway.

It also made me think that we celebrate too many holidays and we extend some of them - like Valentine’s Day - to include everyone. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s a financial thing and the marketers and product makers target everyone so they milk us out of our last dimes under the pretense that we’re doing something nice or celebrating something meaningful. Maybe it’s so no one feels badly, perhaps, because they’re left out of the party. It’s the same with being a physical education teacher. There’s such a strong push away from competition that, in my opinion, sports has become so anemic and everyone’s ‘a winner.’ There are winners and there are losers. That’s a fact of life. It also doesn’t mean that if you win you are a better human being than anyone else and if you lose you’re a lesser one. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be sensitive or that we should condone meanness. What I’m saying is, we should be honest. Like I said, not everyone wins. Sometimes, we are losers. Sometimes, they party isn’t about (the proverbial) you.

Going back to holidays, it seems that there’s one almost everyday. I’m not talking about religious holidays. The word ‘holiday’ comes from ‘holy day’ after all.  If we really were going to celebrate the holy days then everyone’s holy days would be days off from work or school, without those who celebrate them needing to apply for days off to do so. For instance, in the interest of being sensitive and inclusive, why don’t we have days off for, say, Diwali or Guru Nanak’s Birthday.

I love a good celebration and the festivities that surround it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not putting down holidays and people’s need and desire to feel special and to have a good time. Believe me - anyone who knows me will verify this - when I say I like to have as much of a good time as the next guy. It just feels that holidays are shoved down are throats and even created for the sake of just having one. It used to be that Halloween items were displayed or sold until the middle of September and Thanksgiving stuff after Halloween. At the earliest, Thanksgiving items might start showing up mid-October. In 2011, Thanksgiving stuff started appearing in September as if Halloween didn’t exist. As for Valentine’s Day, I remember walking into my local Target a day or two after Christmas Day to see Valentine’s Day cards and such on display. Um, what happened to New Year?

I grew up believing that holidays had a religious origin and, because of that, they had much greater meaning than the cards and candy and lights and such that represent them. Maybe it’s in the naming that bothers me. Should some things even be called holidays? Maybe I’d be less at odds with this if they were referred to as ‘commemoration days’ or ‘national days.’ But, then, again do we need to commemorate everything? For example, February 1 is National Baked Alaska Day and January 31 is National Popcorn Day. Come on, really? Give me a break.

Anyway, I know this is a happy day and everyone’s loving everyone else and all that; and I am, too. I just think and feel that we’re over-killing the idea of what a holiday is and that, in turn, is taking away each one’s significance and meaning.

What do you think?

10 February, 2012

Social Media And Books Making A Connection

Social media. That’s what sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are called. However, while professionals do market their talents and products on Facebook and people do make actual friends via Twitter and LinkedIn, I dare say that Facebook is probably the one that is the most social. Social, to me, connotes a sense of personal and not professional. However, and this is going to sound contradictory, it is often through those personal connections that professional ones develop.

A week ago, I was in my local bookstore on a Saturday with my wife and son and I was hoping to catch the person who I think is the owner. I’d e-mailed him earlier in the week, announcing the upcoming release of my novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, and I asked if carrying my book is something he’d been interested in doing. I explained that I reside locally, that I teach in the middle school down the block and that my book is set in New Jersey. He replied with interest in carrying my book and that, perhaps, we could arrange a reading.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t there but, being a lover of books, we browsed and checked out what was new. My son sat in the children’s section and flicked through some picture books. My wife checked out the new YA books, which she’s completely into after reading the Twilight series twice and devouring The Hunger Games series in a matter of days. I checked out the fiction sections.

As I perused the shelves and displays, I noticed a poster advertising that Naomi Benaron was going to do a reading from her new book, Running The Rift, this coming Saturday. I picked up the book, about a Rwandan boy who takes up running during the height of ethnic tensions in the 1990s and how his running helps him come to terms with his own identity. I’m also a runner so I was instantly interested in Naomi’s book. My own novel deals with identity issues so I was drawn to Running The Rift for that reason as well. In 1996, I wrote a science fiction screenplay, that got some agent interest, called Aliens Among Us, Part I: Discovery. The central theme of the script is racial tolerance and ethnic cleansing. With that as its theme and having written it in the 1990s, Naomi’s novel really seemed to be calling to me on a very personal level.

My wife bought me the book and I began it immediately. It’s a wonderfully written book with exciting running segments, a main character I wish I could meet in real life and revelations of what was going on in Rwanda during the 1990s. I’m still speeding through it but I was extra motivated to finish it in time for the reading. I also found Naomi on Facebook and sent her a message letting her know that I’m enjoying her book and that I was looking forward to the reading. She replied and, unfortunately, she’s had to cancel the reading due to illness. There is another reading on Monday, February 13, in Brooklyn but I don’t think I’ll be able to get there.

We exchanged a couple of messages. She told me to introduce myself if I am able to attend and she also wished me luck with my novel and my running. About my novel, she also asked for its title so that she could pick it up. That just made my day and, in a way, my entire writing career so far. I've had Twitter chats, albeit brief ones, with Lisa See and Marie Lu and Cindy Pon, all established writers. I also know Matt de la Peña, who I regard as a writing mentor, and he endorsed my novel. As a writer, part of me feels that I should take her request in stride but Naomi’s an award winning author and her book’s gotten all sorts of praise so, for someone of that stature to ask for the title of my book so she can go pick it up, I can’t help from feeling excited. It’s like Kobe Bryant asking someone who plays pick-up basketball on the weekends to play with him and share a thing or two about the game. It’s the equivalent of Chuck Norris asking me to go to his school and teach his martial arts classes.

I guess, what I’m saying is that there is definite value in connecting through social media. Most of you reading this already know that, owning your own Twitter and Facebook accounts in addition to websites dedicated to your novels and such. I’ve never met Naomi Benaron and I can’t profess to being able to call her a friend but we are fellow writers doing something we both love while trying to earn a living - or part of a living - doing it. I feel that through the simple and personal message I sent her, as a new fan of her work, I’ve also managed to make a professional connection of some kind.

So, for those of you who are unsure about getting into Twitter and Facebook and whatever else is out there, don’t be. Yes, idiots and hackers can send you all sorts of stupid - usually pornography - links and they can get into your accounts. Just be vigilant about changing your password and login settings and don’t put anything up that you don’t want anyone to see. Really, if a hacker wants to get in they will. They’re merely the dark side to the light of those people who write the security programs to block them. Most people I know - myself included - have been victims or know someone who’s been a victim but, in the end, things are restored and fixed.

The benefits, though, are worth it. I’ve made a professional contact with a well-regarded author through Facebook. On Twitter, I’m now a part of a large community of writers, indie and traditionally published, who support each other’s endeavours. With my novel about to come out, that’s particularly important. Beyond that, I get some love and validation and support for what I’m trying to do and for those times when it becomes overwhelming to do it. You’ve got nothing to lose. Give it a shot and if you don’t like it, just like at the party whose lights have flicked ‘last call’ and the kegs are drying up, you can always leave.

For me, I’m sticking around for a while. And, who knows? Some of my online friends and connections may even become real ones.

09 February, 2012

Free Willy Doodoo

Today I held the last class in my six-week after school creative writing program. I had several students show interest and get permission slips from me but only two actually came every Thursday. Another student showed up but, getting the times confused, he came immediately after school at 2:45pm and left when he saw no one in the classroom. After verifying the times with me the next day (I ran the workshop from 3:15pm-4:15pm), he never came again. Hmm. 

Of my two students, one was reluctant to take the class and didn't even think she could write. She cited an inability to sort thoughts out in her head and a lacking discipline to get whatever thoughts she had down on paper. She did, however, manage to bring in her samples every week and get into what we were doing so, perhaps, there is a writer within her. The other girl listened well, took down all sorts of notes but was, rightfully, diligent in getting all of her school work completed and that took away from some of the time she had to write her samples.

I'm happy with how things turned out. Both of these girls gave full effort during the time they were in class (a couple of weeks they showed up thirty minutes late though) but they did seem to enjoy our discussions on writing elements and listening to each other's story ideas and passages. Funnily, as reluctant as they were to join, I have a feeling (a hope, maybe) that they might pursue writing on their own. Even though the workshop ended today, I told them that if they are going to work on their stories (one is about a college-bound girl who is trying to get through her bucket list after finding out that she has cancer and the other is about a family who had everything but lost it all after the father dies) that I would be willing and available to them for reading, input and so on. 

Seeing these two students grow in confidence, while still developing, they both show promise as writers. One of them has shown a natural knack for it and already seems to have her own voice. Her tension about the whole 'writing thing' seemed to disappear after week three. I'd given them an in-class writing exercise on character to which one of them asked how long it had to be. I gave them a ballpark; a few paragraphs or something like that. The same girl wanted a specific number of words and paragraphs. Yes, she wanted both. I told her it didn't matter, really, since this was an exercise and to just go with the flow. The other one reminded me that they're eighth graders and for that many years they've only be told to write for a certain number of words and paragraphs and that they weren't used to this "free willy doodoo." Those were her actual words.

I smiled and immediately removed my teacher ID card. I nodded and said, "Okay. Well, with creative writing you can free willy doodoo. Let go and just write. This isn't a test and I'm not grading this. Just write." I also said that for the hour of creative writing they didn't have to call me Mr. Bas and that they could call me by my first name. Well, allowing them this freedom appears to have helped.

In today's class I told them to write a scene that personifies an inanimate object but without telling the reader what it is. They did that and, more than that, they gave their objects character and will, a soul and meaning. As can be expected, this was their best work - one should get better the more he or she does it, right? - and I hope they don't give up on writing. I told them that they're showing progress and signs of developing their own writing style. The girl who was the most reluctant to join - Miss Free Willy Doodoo - said she would. Whether she actually does, only time will tell.

I just hope I've been able to share something cool with them. Well, I think writing is cool and I know the writers of you who are reading this blog, and the readers too, think it is. Perhaps the door for two more members of our great community of writers has opened. I hope, too, that they see writing as being something cool in the way they see whatever it is teenagers today view as cool; things like skinny jeans, jeggings, Lady GaGa, perhaps?

When I was younger I didn't have this opportunity - a free class that encouraged me to write and not just in a school assignment sort of way - but I always liked to write. Who knows? If I had something like this when I was their age, maybe I'd have gotten into writing a novel and publishing it sooner in life. If one of them really gets into writing and publishes her own work, perhaps, she'll pay it forward and share the wonderful world of writing with those younger than her.

Who knows? One can only hope, right?

So, when did you start to write? What inspired you and when did you realise writing was something that moved you? Do share.

06 February, 2012

Value in the Nook

So, my wife got me a Nook Tablet for my birthday. I've hesitated on getting any kind of e-reader and wouldn't have gotten one for myself but, now that I've had some time playing with it, I see that it has value to me. 

For Christmas, I got my wife an iPad. It's made her more technologically functional. Before, I served as her email and Facebook secretary; all her friends became my friends on Facebook and I'd pass on their messages. I did the same with her emails. It wasn't that big of a deal but she does it all herself now. The iPad is quick and easy and something she's used to because it functions just like her iPhone. Logging into stuff on a laptop and desktop was just too much for her. She also uses the Nook app and iBookstore app to get and read books. 

Personally, I still prefer the smell and feel of an actual book. Turning pages, seeing the cover every time I pick it up, dog-earing a page when I don't have a bookmark, and being able to do a quick reread of the cover flap blurb or the author's bio, without having to scroll through pages and pages of e-pages, allows me to experience the book, not just through the author's words, but through the book itself.

The obvious value my Nook has is that it's light and when I travel, which isn't that often, I can carry all the books I'm currently reading in one place. Currently, I'm into three new hardbacks, two older paperbacks and one e-book. The e-book, The Forever Girl by Rebecca Hamilton, only comes in the e-format otherwise I would've bought it in hardcover. (It's not my usual type of read but it's very good and I'm thoroughly enjoying it. I'll write a review when I'm done but, if you enjoy YA fantasy stories with a feisty female protagonist, give it a try)

Where the Nook (and I'm sure the Kindle and Kobo and others), has real value for me is with my periodicals. I subscribe to The New Yorker and The New York Times and other magazines and newspapers. Unfortunately, due to a busy schedule, I don't always get to read all of them cover-to-cover, if at all. Some weeks, The New Yorker piles up and I'm playing catch up or just tossing some of the older issues out. (One day, if writing ever gets to be my full-time profession, I'll actually be able to have reading hours. Now, how cool would that be?) Aside from the financial waste of tossing those unread issues away, I lose the information, great fiction, book reviews, you name it that the magazine has to offer. This also happens with some of other magazines I subscribe to. Really, I should just stop subscribing. With the Nook, though, I can get the digital versions of some of these magazines and that way they're with me and I can easily access them and keep more updated on what's happening. Unfortunately, not all the magazines and newspapers I get are available in a digital format but they are available online and I can, at least, quickly and easily go to their websites and view them that way when I'm on the train or waiting at the doctor's office or anywhere most people read things like magazines and newspapers.

Truthfully, unless actual hardbacks and paperbacks become extinct, I don't see a full conversion to e-reader use happening for me. As someone who likes his technology and keeps up-to-date with what's out there and what's coming soon, I must admit that I'm usually late in getting my hands on stuff. In 2003, for instance, while riding a bus with my volleyball team to an away match, I was the brunt of my girls' jokes when I whipped out a Sony Discman. Discman! 2003! Many of them, of course, had their iPods. I'm not a Luddite. I just like my books but I am glad that my wife got me one. 

03 February, 2012

Being Talked About

Wow. What a way to start the day!
As I was getting ready to leave for work this morning, I received a message from one of my friends on Twitter, a fellow writer. She informed me that someone was saying terrible things about me and she included a link in her message. When I clicked on the link, the connection timed out and I had to re-login to Twitter. I tried on my iPhone and my laptop. Both times, the link didn’t go through. I decided to post a tweet telling those who follow me that I’d received this message, that the link wasn’t working and to provide me with details if anyone knew what was said about me. Another writer Twitter friend followed my tweet with a post of her own, reassuring me that it’s SPAM and that someone’s account, unfortunately, was likely hacked.
When I got the initial message, a range of emotions shot through me. Concern, confusion, sadness, anger were the strongest. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you, while I do have strong views on certain things, I am also very amenable to agreeing to disagree and letting everyone have their own beliefs and opinions. So, when I read the message, I ran through what I’d said, written and recently posted that could have offended anyone in a personal way that he or she would want to lash out at me.
To the writer who sent me the reassuring message, I offered her a ‘thank you’ and, making myself feel better and trying to take a positive spin to the situation, I alluded to the saying that goes something like “all publicity is good publicity.” As a writer who’s trying to get his debut novel out to readers, I guess it’s better that someone’s talking about me, albeit it negatively, than not being talked about at all.
If there is someone who is unhappy me with, I offer the person the opportunity to go to my website (http://www.filamkickingscribe.com)  and send me a message and let’s talk about what’s wrong. To simply lash out at someone, in my opinion (this is going to get me in trouble again), is simply classless.  I also feel that there’s a certain level of arrogance to it because the other person, the one receiving the lashing, is not being given the chance to respond; as if the lasher’s opinion is the final word on the subject. Furthermore, I think there is a sense of fear or insecurity, too. By not dialoguing with the person, the lasher appears afraid or unable to defend his or her opinion.
Respect is one of the basic tenets of existence. You give it and you’ll get it. Be open, talk maturely, agree to disagree and, if you don’t like the person or what he or she has to say, then don’t talk to them and don’t read what they write.  

01 February, 2012

Contest - Win An Autographed copy of Back Kicks And Broken Promises

Hi. In a shameless act of self-promotion, here's a link for a contest to win a signed copy of my upcoming novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises. I hope you enter and, please, do share this. Thanks. Good luck.