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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.

30 March, 2012

Katniss meets June in Dystopian Crossover Book

Okay, so there isn’t one; at least not that I know of, anyway. Crossovers, though, are the subject of this blog post and wouldn't a Katniss and June meeting be really interesting?

Generally, I’m not a big fan of mixing things up in books and movies but when two comic book heroes or two TV shows join forces for an episode or two, or even a series of episodes, it can sometimes lead to entertaining and intelligent reading or viewing.

I remember in the late 1970s/early 1980s there were a Superman/Spiderman crossover and a couple of Marvel/DC crossovers. In the 1990s, shows of similar genre had characters jump from one show to another - and I’m not talking about characters who were on one show, are now the star of their own show and returns for a guest stint on the original show. I think there were a couple of Law & Order crossovers with The Practice. Personally, I wanted to see a Chicago Hope/ER crossover.

Literature, I don’t think, really lends itself to such things because the protagonist in a book is so deeply involved with everything that’s happening on and between the pages of his or her own book that to mix in another protagonist with his or her own depth can be a major challenge to reconcile. It’s harder still, I think if one character is written through a different POV (third vs. first person, for example) and voice (conversational vs. formal, for example) than the other.

However, as I read The Hunger Games, with its strong teenage female lead, and, having recently read and loved Legend, that also has a strong teenage female lead, I was hit with the following thought: what would happen if Katniss and June met? I don’t have an answer. I haven’t read Catching Fire or Mockingjay and I’ve done a good job of steering clear of spoilers and I don’t know what Marie Lu has in mind for June (or Day, the male protagonist in Legend) in books two and three of her dystopian series. Maybe Katniss and June both die and there’s no way for them to meet. Or, a la the Star Wars books, they could meet in a book that regales events that happen somewhere in between their own stories.

Thinking about this, however, made me wonder of other possible crossover pairings. Perhaps, Holden Caulfield, Salinger’s frustrated east coast teen, could meet up with one of Matt de la Peña’s many soul-searching Mexican-Americans on the west coast. Or, Don Lee’s cast of characters from Wrack & Ruin could run into Miles and Jack from Sideways. Or, Once A Runner protagonist, Quenton Cassidy, could (literally) run into Jean Patrick Nkuba from Naomi Benaron’s Running the Rift. Now that I’m on a roll, perhaps, it can be done. The ideas and shenanigans that these characters could get into and the morality tales they could present are spinning tornado-like in my head.

But, these were what I came up with. Do you have any of your own? Do share and, even though it’s early, Happy Easter, Passover and whatever else is being celebrated this time of year.

20 March, 2012

Being Unrealistic

I was driving to work today with my usual radio setting when the DJs started talking how the kids' game Duck, Duck Goose was being eliminated from some school district in the country and it was, again, because somehow it makes students feel bad and feeling bad is not allowed for children. I agree that to make someone feel bad is not a good thing but to eliminate a game or change the name of something just because some people feel bad about it is ridiculous. It's also unrealistic.

As part of the radio show, the DJs reported that there was another district where Valentine's Day was not being called that. Instead, it's now being called Caring Day and St. Patrick's Day is being called O'Green Day. What a load of nonsense. This is my blog and my opinion so I'm going to give it.

The DJs reported that those days names' were changed because people felt bad not having a special someone on Valentine's Day when others did made people feel bad. St. Patrick's was changed because of the 'Saint' part, making it religious. What's next, changing Christmas to "Happy Birthday To The Messiah Of Some But Not All Day?"

I'm all for sensitivity and being thoughtful but things like this are, again, just plain and simply ridiculous. For children, yes, you want them to develop positive self-esteem but to do so at the expense of reality is a major disservice. Whether, literally, in sports or, proverbially, in life people win and lose. You don't always get your dream job or get into the college of your choice or win the trophy or medal you covet. Even if you do all the right things - sacrifice, work hard, train, etc - sometimes what you want doesn't happen the first time or at all. Everyone is special - I'm not denying that - but to mislead our children into thinking that the world is always going to be rosey is just wrong. Also, to denounce the name "St. Patrick's" because of any religious affiliation is also an unrealistic disservice. In many ways, all of the inclusion and political correctness we practise is making this world homogenous and, simply, bland and ignorant. It's insulting, too, when we're told to unify everything and call things by new names because it offends some. We might as well do away with every religion, ideology, descriptive word, country, you name it. Let's just be "world citizens" who practise "unrealinclusionism" and live where everyone is the same. Again, ridiculous.

Some years ago, I had a student (yes, I'm a teacher and a parent) in sixth grade who made fun of the "we're all winners" idea that was really starting to take hold. I was reassured that realism still had life when, at her age, she saw life with open eyes. She also gave me hope for the future because of how she, a future leader in our world, saw the truth. I'm all for awareness and sensitivity but, I think, in many ways we're going - we've gone - overboard and we're getting ominously close to the absurd.

15 March, 2012

Top Ten Favourite Days of the Year

Last week was the start of Daylight Savings Time (DST) and, as the day wound down and it was still light outside at dusk, it got me to thinking that DST – not just the idea behind it but the first day of it – is one of my favourite days of the year. It could very well be my number one favourite day of the year. Well, maybe. Suffice it to say, I love when it rolls around.

As I enjoyed the longer daylight, I started to think about my favourite days of the year - what are they and why they are my favourite days? As a result, I’ve come up with my Top Ten Days of the Year. Naturally, you might think that my anniversary or my birthday would be on the list but they’re not. That isn’t to say that those days aren’t important and that I’m not glad for those events. I am – especially when I think of how I was dying when I was born - but I think days like those go into their own special category as special case, natural favourite things (although, if I do my Top Ten Least Favourite Days, my birthday could appear in that list). The Top Ten List I’ve come up with doesn’t have any of those ‘gimme’ or ‘duh’ days and the days aren’t listed in any particular order. So, without further ado, here they are:

1.        Daylight Savings Time. Like most people, when there’s less light I can get irritable and sometimes I can even feel a little depressed but that’s not why I like DST. I like it because, even though, I am somewhat of a professed homebody, I do like it when it’s light outside. It just, literally and metaphorically, make the day longer. As a busy human being, when it gets dark, I tend to shut down and view the day as over. When there’s more light, whether it’s real or not, there just seems to be more time. It also just, simply, feels good. Some people I know complain that it means they lose an hour and they’re tired but the effects of an hour’s less sleep diminish. The longer daylight hours, at least, last a few months longer.

2.       The winter’s first snowfall. Anyone who knows me might find this surprising because those people know I have a love/hate relationship with snow. It’s pretty to look at but it’s also dangerous, causes major inconveniences, and takes time away from my already busy life. My wife, family and friends will attest that I’ve referred to it as “white shit.” So, why is it on my list? Well, because it is pretty to look at and it does offer some – this is going to sound corny – warm, fuzzy feelings and thoughts of coziness, younger days, the holidays and new and exciting things. You might say the hate part of my relationship with snow is because I didn’t grow up with it; my first encounter with snow wasn’t until I was sixteen. Not growing up with snow is also why I have the love part.

3.       The first cool day in October. Autumn begins sometime in late September but it’s the first cool day in October that has a special feeling for me. The early Fall is one of my favourite times of the year but it’s that first day when you have to wear a sweater or sweatshirt to work, put the flannel PJs on that gets me. There’s a certain crispness and something clean in the air. It also makes me start to think of the holiday season that include into Thanksgiving and Christmas.

4.       The opening day of the English football season. I’ve been a football (soccer) fan for 32 years and an Arsenal fan for as long as I’ve been a football fan. So, in the same way a Yankees supporter look forward to spring training and the opening day of the baseball season, I look forward to the opening day of the English Premier League. I love football, especially English football, I love Arsenal and I love that cable television and the internet allows me to watch and/or listen to just about every Arsenal match of the season. Even though I’m not there in London, or wherever my team is playing, I can smell that distinct aroma of fresh grass and fresh grass in cool autumn air.

5.       January 1st. No, this isn’t because it’s the start of a new year and all that is supposed to bestow upon us. Really, it’s because it’s the start of the midseason transfer window for European football and it’s an exciting time of anticipation and disappointment to see who’s leaving this time and who’s going to that time and what trades and deals Arsenal are or are not making.

6.       The first day after the last day of school. I’m a school teacher – when I’m not writing and not being a Taekwondo instructor – so the last day of school is always exciting. Listen folks, it’s as exciting for teachers as it is for students. Let’s not be coy about it. We all look forward to it. Other than my first three years out of college, when I had a job that ran for twelve months and not just ten, I’ve been in and around schools all my life. The first day after the last day of the school year is like a breath of fresh air.

7.       My son’s birthday. This, you might be thinking, should fall in that special case, ‘gimme’ and ‘duh’ category. Perhaps it should. For me, though, it really slapped me in the face but not because I’m a father and we’re talking about my son’s birthday. That’s just a ‘duh.’ My son’s birthday has added significance to me because we’re best friends and because, while I am still very much a flawed man, I’m a better man every day because of him. Additionally, I see him on his birthday and he’s aware that it’s a special day for him. He knows there’s going to be cake and presents but without any kind of selfishness or self-centredness. His demeanour is full of innocence; an innocence I know will one day disappear but one that I can witness and appreciate, unlike the innocence I possessed at that age. It makes me think of what Jesus said needing to be childlike - not childish – to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Children are Heaven on Earth.

8.       Thanksgiving Day. I love the holiday season and Thanksgiving starts it all. (Yes, some of you start it with Halloween but Halloween falls in my list of least favourite days; although, with my son’s enjoyment of it, I’m starting to warm up to it.) I love Thanksgiving, too, for the Macy’s Parade. I love watching it, seeing the Broadway performances, seeing everyone dressed up in New York City, the balloons and floats and, of course, Santa at the end. Like I said, it excites me for the upcoming holidays but it also brings me to a childlike state and lets me be free, albeit just for one day, of any and all adult pressures and worries.

9.       The day after Thanksgiving. No, this has nothing to do with Black Friday. I have gone to the stores and there is a lot of excitement and the crowds and such are all part of the season. The day after Thanksgiving, though, is the start of the secular Christmas season and, while I believe Christ MUST be kept in Christmas, I also like the red and green, the bells, carols and decorations that stay with us for a couple of months.

10.   Marathon Sunday. Many marathons are run on Sundays but if you’re from the New York area this can only refer to first Sunday of November. That’s when 40,000 plus people run the New York City Marathon. I love this day. There’s so much anticipation leading up to it, so much celebration. Also, I’ve run it twice and I want to do it again. I first ran it in 1995; twelve years after I watched a delay of it on TV in Hong Kong and vowed I would one day run it. Maybe it’s because I’ve run this race or that I’m in the New York area, living next door in New Jersey, and that, if I were in Boston, I’d feel this way about the Boston Marathon but there’s something truly special and powerful about 40,000 runners and tens of thousands of assistants, organisers and volunteers coming together to make the even work and for everyone to have his or her own unique experience. Each runner’s reasons for entering are different but they’re all coming together with one thing one their minds – finish the race, cover 26 miles and 385 yards and conquerthe monster that is a marathon and the need that made them have to run it.

So, that’s my Top Ten Favourite Days of the Year. What are yours? Do we share any? Think about what yours are and do share. Thanks for reliving my year.

07 March, 2012

Cousins...or not?

My father is an only child. He grew up with some cousins who became very close, like brothers and sisters. Those cousins, like my dad, grew up and had their own children. 

My father's cousins' children are my cousins. From my understanding of family tress and such, they are my first cousins. It is also my understanding that my father's cousins are also my cousins but they're my first cousins, once removed. I believe my cousins' cousins would be my second cousins. 

Who's confused? It sounds confusing - and it very well could be because who said family relationships were anything but? - but, if you read it carefully it's easy to follow.

I bring all of this up because it's my first cousin's birthday today and because of a conversation I had with a friend last week, an Italian-American friend, about something she saw in my novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises. There's a situation in the book that has to do with cousins and first cousins but, instead of calling the older cousin, once removed his cousin, the character referred to him as his uncle. It's what I do in real life, too, when I address and refer to my father's first cousins (my first cousins, once removed) as my tito and tita (uncle and auntie, respectively, in Tagalog). My Italian-American friend said that in Italy their once removed cousins are still referred to as cousins.

So, I write about all of this because, first, I'd like to know what you think? First - and I guess I could consult a family tree resource or website and find out what the accepted definitions are - am I correct in how I've gotten my relationships sorted, regardless of what I call them in real life? Second, I'm curious to know what you do. What's your 'family language' or 'cultural language' when dealing with stuff like this. 

You see, being Asian and growing up in Asia, I found that it's not the actual blood relationship that determines the proper way of addressing someone. Instead, it's the generation and status of a person. Even though my father's first cousins are my cousins also, I refer to them as tito and tita because they're in my father's generation and not my own. This way of addressing people was reinforced during my freshman year of college. I was playing a lot of squash and I'd made friends with other students and squash players from Singapore and Malaysia. One Friday night, I had to shoot home and one of them had nothing better to do so he came with me. We ended up staying at home, eating dinner and hanging with my parents before heading back down to New Brunswick (we were students at Rutgers). My father, in particular, enjoyed the visit because he'd lived in Singapore as a journalist but what stood out was, as soon as my friend met my parents, he politely shook their hands and said, "It's nice to meet you, Auntie" as if he'd been calling my mother that all his life.  And, to my father, he used the term "uncle."

So, what is it for you? Is their a proper way or does it depend on something else? I'd love to hear what you think.

06 March, 2012

First Reading

So, I did my first reading the other day.

It was for Read Across America and I was asked to read for a class of eighth graders. I didn't read from my own book, however. I was asked to read when our librarian found out my novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, had just come out. At first, I was supposed to read from it but I decided against it for the following reasons: 1. It's not a YA book, dealing with adult issues and themes and containing adult language, that I felt it was difficult to find an appropriate passage for the students to listen to and 2. As a teacher in the building, I didn't want to get accused to soliciting on school grounds; especially since my book is intended for an older audience. 

I decided to read from Marie Lu's Legend. I really loved this book and I love seeing students reading in class when their work is completed and there's only a minute or left before dismissal and during my lunch duty when some of them are sitting with their friends reading and/or talking about what they're reading.  (I wrote a review of Legend in a previous blog post. You can find it here if you're interested.) Anyway, I chose Ms. Lu's book because it's exciting and has a male and female protagonist and I know many of my students have read The Hunger Games books and Legend would be right up their alleys. Without giving anything away, I read from an early section that sees June, the female protagonist, make a vow of vengeance. I'd asked Ms. Lu if she had any suggestions on what I should read and she was spot on with that passage. 

The class of about thirty - and the teacher and an aide - listened attentively and asked some really good questions after I was done. They asked about writing, my own book, how a book gets made into a movie and where they could get Legend. One of the students, a self-proclaimed non-reader even said that he liked it, that it sounds really good and that he might try reading it. Another student, yesterday on the way out of our cafeteria, showed me a copy he'd obtained from the local library. He said that he's really enjoying it and this particular student is an ELL (English Language Learner) student. 

It's really exciting to have seen the class's response to the reading. Legend is a fantastic novel, so it's not a surprise that they were into it, but for them to think about taking the next step and to get it and start reading was extra reward. I've been exposed to books all my life and been a reader for almost as long so to witness how a book has directly transformed someone was truly special. 

In addition to hopefully promoting reading and books and to have, maybe, converted a couple of our students from non-readers to readers, I had a lot of fun. The reading also gave me practise for if or when I get to have a reading for my own work. (I'm trying to sort out a couple of possibilities locally and I'd love to do a blog tour but nothing's materialised yet.) I'd rehearsed the passage while my wife and son were still asleep that morning so I made sure I knew exactly how I was going to read each paragraph and how to read the dialogue in the way Ms. Lu tagged how her characters say the words. I also prepped, on the drive to school, how I might answer some questions that might get asked. 

So, if I can offer a bit of advice to other newly published authors like me, it's this: read in front of an audience and any audience so you can. And, read from your work or someone else's. It's all good fun and good practise for when the reading is all about you and your book. If I ever get to have that experience, I'll let you know how it goes.

03 March, 2012

Book Discussion

Hi there.

So, my novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, has been out for almost a month. I ran a giveaway on
Goodreads that, in the two or so weeks I ran it, got 400 plus entrants. I don't know how that compares with other debut indies but I'm happy with it. 50 or so readers on Goodreads added my novel to their To-Be-Read lists and it got a 5-star rating as well.

Presently, I've just started a discussion group on Goodreads and would like to invite you to join. Let's start chatting about my book and, whether you've read it yet or not, I'll be happy to field any questions. If you're reading it, I hope you're enjoying it.

Here's the link to the discussion group and thanks for stopping by.
Back Kicks And Broken Promises Discussion Group

01 March, 2012

Teaching Kids To Love Books

As a writer and reader, I value books. I value them for entertainment, education and emotional support. I also value they’re part in teaching young people language, helping them develop brainpower and processing skills and for how they nurture one’s imagination. So, naturally, when I became a father I was adamant that my son is read to every night. Even as a newborn, the parenting magazines all say for parents to read to their babies. Since his infant days, my wife and I read to him most nights. Some nights, mostly on the weekend, our son falls asleep downstairs and I carry him up to his bed. On those nights, he misses the reading.

Now, with my son almost four, he’s aware of what books are. Even though he can’t read the words yet, he’ll grab one and flip its pages. If it’s a picture book with a story that we’ve read to him before, he’ll turn the pages and tell us the story without our reading the words. My wife and I spend a lot of time reading, too, and our son sees that. We bring him to the bookstore, whether it’s our local indie or a big Barnes and Noble, and take him to the kids’ section and he’s starting to look at books himself. Since he can’t read the words he’ll be attracted by the pictures - especially if it’s of something he’s into, like superheroes or Cars 2 characters - and ask if we can get it. Then, after we get home, he asks us to read his new book to him. So, I have to say, I’m very happy. I love books and everything they can do and, so far, my son seems to be grasping that they’re valuable to his father and so they must be valuable all around.

My son’s development into someone who likes books and words took a serendipitous boost last weekend. I was downstairs, while my son and wife were still asleep, catching up on football developments on Fox Soccer Channel’s early morning news program. A little while later, Jude came trudging down the stairs. He ran over, we played hide-and-seek (which consists of him closing and covering his eyes, me asking where’d he go, him removing his hands and yelling “boo!” and the two of us laughing and hugging) and then I made his customary chocolate chip Eggo waffle.

As he was eating, he said that he wanted to watch the “gold king.” I had no idea what that was so I questioned him. Eventually, he said that I could find it in “the white,” referring to our Wii. Immediately, I knew it was something from Netflix, which can be streamed through the Wii. So, we turned it on and started looking. Nothing. I continued to question him for more details but, all of a sudden, he stopped me and told me to scroll back up the menu; not just one row but three. Following that, he hopped off the couch, walked to the television and touched a picture of a boy in a green suit and green mask. Next to him, in big green letters, was SUPER WHY! Honestly, I think he thought it was a “Green Lantern” show of some kind.

When we turned it on, however, it turned out to be a kids’ program that promotes reading and books to kids. The green-masked character is Super Why. His alter ego is Wyatt, Jack’s (from “Jack and the Beanstalk”) younger brother. Wyatt enters a bookshelf and comes out on the other end in a secret fantasy world that’s very much like our world. The only difference is that everyone is a character from a fairy tale, including talking animals. As the show progressed, Wyatt’s baby sister wouldn’t stop crying so it fell upon him and his friends - Red Riding Hood, Princess Pea and a pig (fro, I think, “The Three Little Pigs” who had their homes huffed and puffed by the Big Bad Wolf) - to find a solution. In doing so, they go a secret lair situated in a library and become their superhero selves - Super Why, Little Red, Purple Princess and Alpha Pig.

After an incantation from Purple Princess, a book flies out and from that book their solution is found. They enter the book’s story, find Super Letters along the way that, at the end, form the word that lets them know how to solve the problem in their real world. In this particular episode, they went up the beanstalk - meeting the book’s Jack and not Super Why’s actual brother who was outside the book - helped put the giant to bed and returned home to put Wyatt’s sister to sleep. Music was the solution of the day.

As they discovered the solution, the four superheroes (I tell you, in any form, my son loves his superheroes) used steps made by letters thanks to Alpha Pig and his ‘power of letters.’ Little Red has the power of words, Purple Princess has the power of spelling and Super Why has the power of reading. Also, as they put the giant to bed, they changed a sentence in the story by removing a word and putting in a new one from some clues their super computer gives them. Naturally, the words are all accompanied by pictures that help the young viewer learn them. The characters also talk to the young viewer, engaging them so they stay with it and do indeed learn.

I wasn’t sure if my son was going to like it but, after the episode one was over, he asked for more. Gladly, I obliged. I’m very liberal with what my son watches on television. I grew up watching all sorts of things and I turned out all right. Plus, seeing how he responds to some scenes in some shows, I see that he’s learning things empathy and creative. His response to different kinds of music, for instance, floors me. To a dance beat, he’ll start swaying his hips and such. When it’s something softer, he’ll start moving slower and pull out moves like he’s doing lyrical or interpretive dance. With “Super Why!” however, I am even more permissive. He’s learning letters, being reinforced in the value of books and reading and it’s also just a simply fun and wholesome show.

I looked the show up on IMDB. Sadly, the PBS show only aired in 2007 and 2008. That’s a shame. It’s such a good show. However, thanks to the internet and Netflix and streaming, it can still be watched. So, if you’re a lover of books and want your son or daughter to love them too, or if you just want another option for your young ones to develop their minds and language skills, you’ve got “Super Why!” on you side. Many of you may already know about this show. I didn’t until last Sunday. For some of you, though, this is the first time you’re hearing about it. Check it out. I don’t think you’ll be sorry you.

As for the “gold king,” I still don’t know what my son was talking about.