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.

30 November, 2012


Let me start by wishing everyone who participated in the NaNoWriMo challenge congratulations. Whether you got to at least 50,000 words and finished writing a novel or not, you did make a commitment to your writing pursuits and that’s no easy feat. Many of us don’t have writing as our one and only job and, therefore, don’t have eight or more hours a day to use on writing, editing, thinking about writing, etc. I know, for me, it’s frustrating to get into a writing groove only to have to switch gears and get to my fulltime job. Now, however, with that self-imposed pressure to write at least 1,667 words a day over - and let’s face it, it is self-imposed because no one said we had to do NaNoWriMo - let’s all take that drive we reenergized our writing with and continue it the rest of our writing lives. Well, at least for the months ahead. Let’s take our manuscripts and edit the hell out of them. Let’s go to conferences, workshops and writing classes. Let’s serve as beta-readers for our fellow writers. (I am looking for some test readers so if you’re interested, shoot me an email or reply to this post.)

The month, in a strange way, worked out well for me. Hurricane Sandy killed our power so I had nothing to do but read and write. I was scheduled to run in the New York City Marathon, which, for me, would have been a six-hour endeavour. With the race getting cancelled, I was able to take what would have been running time and add it to my writing hours. Sandy also kept school closed for several days. As a teacher, then, I didn’t have to report in and had more time to write and, even when school did resume, the first couple of days were half days so I still had the afternoons to work on my manuscript. Then came Thanksgiving, with days off from work and, just this week, I was home sick. Who’d have thought being sick would turn out to be a good thing? Anyway, there’s only so much sleeping and mindless TV watching one can do. So, once my wife left to drop off our son at day care and go teach her Gyrotonic, Pilates and dance classes, I took down my Airborne, made a cup of tea and made the dash to the finish. By mid-morning on Wednesday, I’d finished my novel, albeit a first draft at 50,972 words. That’s the validated number by NaNoWriMo’s word counter. My Word application had it at 50,979 but, really, what are seven words when you’re already over 50K?

There have been claims that the NaNo challenge is a waste because it produces some really bad novels because participants are working at a feverish pace and encouraged to silence their inner editors. Well, firstly, I have to say what’s ‘bad?’ Maybe the writing, plotting, character motivations, scene descriptions, and so on have to be worked on but, whether you get a first draft done NaNo-style (Hmm, can we start a NaNo dance in the vein of Gangnam Style?) or in a less harried and more thoughtful way at a more leisurely pace, the idea is to get a first draft done. Marie Lu, the author of the highly successful dystopian Legend, tells writers not to fear writing badly when they start. Most books I’ve read on writing, in fact, and conferences and classes I’ve been to remind us that the first draft is going to be junk anyway. It’s rare - if ever - that a manuscript doesn’t need editing, cutting, revising, revamping before it can be shown to an agent or publisher or editor. Secondly, sometimes a ‘bad’ novel isn’t really a ‘bad’ novel. It’s sometimes labeled ‘bad’ simply because the reader didn’t like it. I haven’t read Mockingjay but I do have friends who’ve said it’s horrible. (I just started Catching Fire so it’ll be a little while before I can decide how I feel about Mockingjay.) Others, meanwhile, have loved it. 

One reviewer didn’t enjoy my own novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, saying it “failed to deliver.” Others, however, thoroughly enjoyed it giving it five-star reviews at Goodreads and at the publisher’s, Abbott Press, website. Among those I know who’ve read it and enjoyed it are two English professors, a boxing journalist, a black belt and a writer. The judges of the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards said Back Kicks And Broken Promises is “…interesting, well-written, and inspiring. The themes of identity, father-son relationships, and coming-of-age are nicely woven into the martial arts metaphor that serves as the organizing principle of the book."

So, bad isn’t really always bad.

But, I am writing this post, really, to say thank you to the NaNoWriMo people again. I finally signed up for the challenge this year and I can say, as NaNoWriMo does, “I won.” Now, it’s up to me to keep winning by revising, boosting my word count to get to about 70-80K and to edit and polish my manuscript so Sage of Heaven becomes the best book it can be; is enjoyed by all and not just the Asian-American YA audience it is ostensibly geared for.

Thanks to The Office of Letters and Light and congratulations to those who did and are still doing - at the time of writing this post there are still eight hours left to finish and get to be called a winner - NaNoWriMo 2012. Happy writing to all!

19 November, 2012

A Writer's Life

November, being the month of Thanksgiving, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, there have been a lot of words of thanks popping everywhere. On Facebook, there's an entire movement in which people post daily missives on things for which they're thankful. In the town I teach, several glass storefronts have similar written sentiments that customers and employees have penned.

In light of this, I've decided to say what I'm thankful for.

1. My family and that no one was hurt because of the storm. We lost power for about a week and our lives were inconvenienced because of it but no one was hurt and my wife, son and I are healthy. Growing up in Hong Kong, I've experienced some difficult storms (like Typhoon Ellen in 1983 and Typhoon Hope in 1979) but, and perhaps this is because I'm older and a parent with people who rely on me and not a teenager, I'll admit that I was nervous about Sandy. Hearing those winds, I prayed nonstop that nothing was going to come flying through our windows. 

2. I'm thankful, that even though the NYC Marathon was cancelled at the eleventh hour and I couldn't run it, for the improvements in my fitness that I gained from training. I'm also, on some level, grateful that the marathon was cancelled because, at the time, I was uncertain about whether I'd even be able to finish it this time around (it would've been my third NYCM and fourth marathon, overall). The last six weeks of training, I'd started to develop severe pains in my lower back and both hips and I was very concerned that I may have injured myself if I'd run it. I still have to see a doctor about these pains, and perhaps some kind of surgery may be required (I hope not but I've been researching and, based on the symptoms, it sounds like I have at least one acetabular fracture).

3. NaNoWriMo
  National Novel Writing Month. I'd hear of this every year, seeing tweets and reading blog posts but I never threw my hat into it until this year. And, I'm thankful for it. Since my first novel came out, last February, I've been sporadic in my writing. Some of that, I think, is from 'sophomore book blues' and some is just from being busy and, when life gets in the way, there are only so many hours in a day that writing sometimes is neglected. NaNoWriMo, though, has forced me to commit. My second novel, the first in a Chinese-American YA fantasy series, is starting to take shape. It's a story I started thinking about and working on in 2007 that is and I'm happy - and relieved - that it's coming along. 

  NaNoWriMo is a challenge. It's not as easy as it sounds - writing nonstop, suppressing one's inner editor, and pushing out 50K plus words to a first draft. If you're like me, and I think many writers doing NaNoWriMo are, you have a full-time job, a second job (and I haven't even included promoting my published book in that mix) and a family, generating time and energy to write almost 1700 words a day can be a challenge. But, that's what makes it special. That's what makes those who are able to complete the challenge say "I've won!" with the right to do so.

  So, I'm grateful for The Office of Letters and Light, the group that created and runs NaNoWriMo. Not only have they created this creature that helps writers gain momentum in their projects, it also gives me a taste of a writer's life. I already live one, insofar that I write everyday with the purpose of producing work for other people to read, enjoy, learn from, etc. I write this blog and I try to write the standard 1000 words that most people say should be the minimum a writer should produce daily. With the honour of being able to say "I've won!" however, NaNoWriMo has kept me on a pretty good schedule and, when I sit down facing my laptop, whether at the local Barnes & Nobel Cafe or in my living room office, I feel that I'm sitting down at a job about to put in my day's fill. 

 The last three days, however, have been hell. Friday, Saturday and Sunday were packed with obligations and other duties that I never got to write. I did some planning and research, which is part of a writer's duties, but I didn't get to add to my 50K word count. And, that made me anxious and angry. I've always put my writing pursuits high on my list of priorities in my life, and I still venture to being able to give up my day job to become a working and paid writer, but through NaNoWriMo the desire for that has been reinforced. It never waned but now it's more than something I know I want. It's become something I need to have. I know I'm treading on dangerous ground because if I fail I'll be devastated but, for the first time, writing isn't just something that I thought existed solely in my head and in my gut. I discovered that it's something that pours forth from my heart.

 In many ways this epiphany may not have happened without Hurricane Sandy. Since there was nothing else to do - no TV to watch, no Wii to play, no gas - and just my imagination - in the car to take me anywhere far and exciting - I sat down at my laptop and wrote. When my church, a mile or so from home, opened its doors for those without power at home to charge devices and access the internet, I was there researching and writing. 

  All my life I've called myself a martial artist. And, I am. It's the one thing I've done and believed in that I've continued to do since I was sixteen. I'm forty-three now. I believe the things I've learnt through my training - sacrifice, patience, enduring and overcoming challenges, battles with fear - have helped me in every successful pursuit I've undertaken. They've also helped me handle all the disappointments I've faced. Because of how they make me feel and what I feel about them, martial arts have 'made' me and, so, I call myself a martial artist. Today, with my enlightenment about writing and how it makes me feel alive and life isn't the same - it's worse - without my being able to do it, I call myself a writer. I used to say "I write." Now, I've become what I do.