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 December, 2012

Evolution of a Flight

I was never really conscious of the 'flying on an aeroplane process' when I was a kid. Back then, it was just check in, wait in the lounge, have a plate of Green Noodles at the old Kai Tak Airport, board the plane and off we were. Well, that's a process but it was just what we did, what happened. None of it meant anything, emotionally or psychologically, other than we were going on some kind of vacation and, for a kid, that's all that matters. The only thing I do recall was my parents' way of addressing the airline employees - from the check-in counter people to the flight crew to the immigration people - and it wasn't with the most pleasant of demeanours. It was probably just their way of being assertive and, perhaps, letting them know that they weren't going to tolerate anything less than what THEY felt were the proper ways to be treated on an aeroplane and by an airline; anticipating the worst while hoping for the best.

Nowadays, however, and especially over the last ten or so years, I've become more aware of my own thoughts, feelings, anxieties, frustrations when it comes to flying. And none of them have to do with the aeroplane crashing or with terrorists. I've also come to the conclusion that going on an aeroplane isn't nowhere near as enjoyable as it was as recently as the early 2000s and late 1990s. It's definitely not as much fun for me now as it was in the 1980s. And this is a sentiment many friends - so it's not just me - also feel.

How I've grown to feel about air travel and the process one goes through, really, has to do with the changes that have taken place as a result of the heightened security measures (a good thing and I welcome it but, just to be honest, it's also a pain) and the (supposed?) rising costs of fuel and aeroplane maintenancr, which has jacked up ticket prices and led to the creation of new fees for baggage, food on some airlines, etc. How long before fees are incurred for using the in-flight toilet or using the reading light? Some of the other changes have to do with the number, size and weight of the allowable checked suitcases and the kinds of things you can bring on the plane.

Anyway, here's what I go through and how I feel about it.

1. Packing.

This usually begins a day or two ahead of the departure and it's exciting to go through because it means I'm going somewhere. It might be a work-relayed trip, like my trip to San Jose last year for the USA National Taekwondo Championshisps, or a vacation but both mean I'm getting a break front the mundanity of my existence and that's always a welcomed thing. The problem lies in whether I can fit everything I need in one suitcase or not. Work trips are easier to pack for because what you need is specific. Holiday travel, though, isn't. As recently as 2009, airlines allowed two suitcases of slightly larger dimension, each weighing up to 70 pounds for international travel. Now, depending on the airline, it's between 44-50 pounds. More than that, you either have to go through the indignity of repacking at the check-in counter or being charged a fee. This is something I don't get. Did airplanes become less capable of carrying suitcases weighing 70 ponds each? I simply don't see why these, to me, arbitrary changes with suitcases took place. Sure, hoisting more and heavier bags means requiring more fuel but ticket prices have more than doubled over the last ten years, surely the airlines can recoup their fuel cost that way.

The other thing that makes this additionally annoying is the restrictions on what you can bring on the plane now. In the recent past, I could bring my toiletries on the plane with me. I prefer to so I can freshen up with my own toothbrush, deodorant, cologne, etc. Now, I have to pack them because they're too great in volume to bring on the plane and I have to check them in. That, in turn, takes a little space away from what I can put in my suitcase. Yes, I can - and did for this trip - buy the travel size deodorant and cologne but I shouldn't have to. And, what about cologne? Am I supposed to buy a travel size just for one trip, that's still in the $30-$40 range, in addition to the one I use everyday that's larger and costs already $80-$90?

2. Checking In

This isn't such a bad process. I pretty much get to the airport a the time I'm supposed to so I'm early and the waiting isn't usually that long. I also get my seat assignments ahead of time and everything is usually smooth. The worry comes from whether my suitcases meet this particular airline's size and weight rules. I check online with every flight but, one time, the check-in clerk told me my bags were too big AND heavy and she tried to charge me. I whipped out the print out from the airline's website and had to show her her own company's rules. She still tried to charge me until a higher up came over. I didn't ask for him and she didn't ask for him. He must have overheard us. Suffice it to say, my print out was correct. I'm thankful for my parents teaching me to get as much stuff in writing for everything, not just air travel, and for the higher up coming over. After the issue was sorted out, the clerk left and the higher up finished my check-in. The clerk never even apologised or acknowledged her mistake.

3. Beverages

On a long flight, there are ample supplies of water and other drinks the passenger can get from the flight crew at any time to quench his thirst. Like many people, though, I have drinks I enjoy over others. On some long-haul flights, the flight crew seem to disappear, resting like the passengers, so getting a drink isn't always so easy. A few times now, however, after I've gone through security and gotten to the 'all clear' part of the airport, where you are supposed to be able to but food and drinks that can be brought on the plane, I've had the water bottle or Coke bottle or Gatorade bottle taken from me. In some of these cases, mine was taken but others' weren't. I didn't mention that because I didn't want to screw a fellow traveller out of his thirst quenching enjoyment. On one specific occasion, I had my Gatorade taken from me by the same airport staffer who, just moments before, told me I was clear to buy it and bring it in the plane! These kinds of inconsistencies drive me even more insane.

4. Cabin Baggage

My family and I are extra careful in meeting the cabin baggage laws because we have a young son and we carry extra juice (which we're allowed to bring in the plane), food and clothes for him. What irks me is invariably an airline staffer will try to make us check something in. Again, we're following their own rules so we shouldn't be bothered about this at all. And, if we did check it in, adding it to what we'd already checked in, then our checked baggage would exceed their own weight totals. Hmm. Wouldn't that, then, violate their own check-in baggage rules and show that the plane CAN carry more than 44 to 50 pounds of checked-in baggage per passenger!

Additionally, with cabin baggage, is that sometimes I get on the plane and there's no room in the compartment above my seat for my bag. Why not? Because some flight attendant has stowed someone else's bag - someone from several rows away - into my row's compartment. Every passenger should be guaranteed compartment space at his seat. The person who can't keep his hand-carrieds at his seat is the one whose bags should be taken for additional check-in.

Other than these issues, of course, there are concerns about delayed flights, missing connections, cancelled flights, etc. As much as those are a nuisance, I can't fault the airline or airport for them. Most of those things are caused by unforeseen mishaps like inclement weather, technical malfunction, etc. Regardless, though, the passenger should NEVER have to pay to get a new flight, which I've seen happen to people. The way I see it, once the ticket has been paid for, the airline is responsible for getting the passenger from the airport of origin to the destination airport. If the original flight is cancelled for whatever reason, the airline is still responsible for the getting the passenger to his destination. The passenger should NEVER have to pay for anything else - not even accommodation and food - if the new flight is the following day or the day after that or several days later. The airlines overcharge for seats, as it is. They can afford to fulfill their duty of giving their passengers what they've paid for - safe passage from origin to destination.

Even as recently as ten years ago, there was a certain excitement to flying. Wondering what movies I'd get to watch, for instance, was a thrilling anticipation.Seeing if I could get an upgrade to a roomier seat was another. Now, though, flying has lost its enjoyment. The planes are newer, the in-flight service is, generally, more luxurious, even in coach, and the food and entertainment have also improved. But, with the negative changes in the other areas, albeit some of them precautionary and necessary, enjoying the improved things become, at least, secondary if not altogether moot.

Just get me to my destination. And don't make me have to suffer while doing so.

26 December, 2012

Favourite Books of 2012

The title of this post is a little misleading because the books I'm going to mention are some of those I read, or re-read, in 2012, even though many of them were published several years before. Also, to be perfectly frank, to have a top ten list while having only read twenty-four books this year (twenty-five, if I can finish Veronica Roth's Insurgent before 2013 arrives) seems a little silly but to fit in with the theme of my last post and of top ten lists that'll be coming up as 2013 gets closer, I figure I'll share mine anyway.

They're in order but not necessarily from the one I most liked to the one I least liked. I enjoyed them all, after all, otherwise they wouldn't be on this list. Really, I'm not sure how to describe the order I've put them in. It's not as if they're all the same kind of books either; all YA, all contemporary fiction, whatever. Nonetheless, here are ten of the twenty-plus books I read in 2012 that stood out for me.

So, here they are. Perhaps you've read some of them as well; liked them as I did or, yikes, maybe hated them. What's on your list?

1. Legend by Marie Lu (2011, Penguin) (Read my review at http://juanraderbas.blogspot.com/2012/01/book-review-legend-by-marie-lu.htm?m=1)
2. Running The Rift by Naomi Benaron (2012, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill) (Read my review at http://filamkickingscribe.com/4/post/2012/07/book-review-running-the-rift-by-naomi-benaron.html)
3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, and Ellen Forney (illustrator) (2007, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
4. Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim (2011, First Second; originally self-published in 2003)
5. Get Jiro! by Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose, and Langdon Foss (illustrator) (2012, DC Comcis)
6. Divergent by Veronica Roth (2011, Harper Collins)
7. Age Is Just Number by Dara Torres and Elizabeth Weil (2009, Broadway Books)
8. Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (2012, Random House)
9. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (2005, Random House)
10. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (1998, reprint by Harper Collins; originally published in 1962).

P.S. If I can be so bold, in the nonexistent number 11/proverbial honourable mention position, I would put my own book, Back Kicks And Broken Promises. I think it's a good book and I know some people have loved it and others (thankfully fewer) not so much. I hope it breaks into the library of talked about Asian-American literature. I believe it's a good story and offers insights into being an Asian-American. It's a coming-of-ager that depicts its male Asian-Am protagonist in a non-stereotypical way and it offers much for Asians, Asian-Ams and non-Asians alike. All that said, however, I would include it in my list, not because I think it's so great or anything like that, but because it was my first published, albeit self-published, book. It had (has) meaning for me and it has made some sales. Even if my next book is picked up by a traditional publisher and I earn a significant advance package, I think Back Kicks will always be just a little bit more special. From its first seed to when I held the first copy hardcopy, almost ten years had passed and to see an idea come to fruition, truly has some kind of impact on a person; especially when the thing that has come to fruition is a book and you're its author.

Best and Worst of 2012

Looking Back on 2012

As the year comes to a close and newspapers, music charts and movie reviewers, to name a few, start putting up their lists of bests and worsts of the past twelve months and honouring their industries chart-toppers, I've decided to take a look at my own best and worst of the year moments. I don't know if I'll manage ten (or twelve, one for each month) but there are some moments that do stand out. And, in many ways, as I'm writing this post, I'm thinking off the top of my head so the list I come with here might change if I made a new list next week, a month from now, or even tomorrow.

Oh, by the way, the items in each list are not written in any particular order. They also might not have been things I did or experienced firsthand but things that made me feel strongly about something or someone or some place in a significant way. Lastly, those items that appear in both lists...well, I'm probably happy for them that they happened but their impact or how they made me feel might not have been exactly what I would have hoped for.

So here goes - my best and worst of 2012.

The Best of 2012:

1. Publishing my debut novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises.
2. Repeating as New Jersey State Poomsae (Forms) Champion in the 1st Masters Black Belt Division.
3. My Manila Bulletin newspaper interview about my book and my life as a writer.
4. The feature about me and my book in The Filipino Reporter.
5. Hyphen Magazine - the review of Back Kicks And Broken Promises and being interviewed for a feature on self-published Asian-American authors.
6. Meeting Marie Lu, the author of Legend.
7. The removal of my father-in-law's cancerous kidney and his subsequent recovery.
8. President Obama's re-election as president of the United States.
9. Completing the first draft of my second novel, Sage of Heaven: Lineage.
10. Having the best season (final record of 12-10, second round of the country tournament, qualified for the state tournament for the first time since 2003) my high school volleyball team since I joined the coaching staff in 2003.

The Worst of 2012:

1. The Hyphen Magazine review of my book.
2. Hurricane Sandy.
3. The end of classes at my martial arts club, Bamboo Martial Arts.
4. The scare that it was my father-in-law's time to go.
5. My son's first stitches, on his forehead, just above his eye.
6. Not being able to attend the US National Championships after qualifying to compete.
7. Injuries to my back, hips and left calf and hamstring, brought on from training for the NY City Marathon, that sidelined me.
8. Robin Van Persie's betrayal and subsequent departure from Arsenal Football Club to join rivals Manchester United.
9. The rising cost of things.
10. Decreased fitness and weight gain due to number 7 and number 5, above, of the weight I'd lost in 2011, while training for Nationals.

So, there they are. Like I said, tomorrow, next week, next month, I might have entirely different items on those lists. And, some of them may seem trivial, at best. But, like I also said, they're what I came up with on the spot. Either way, I'm glad for the things on the best list and less than so of the things on the worst list.

What's on your lists?

19 December, 2012

New Adult Fiction

New adult fiction.

I came across this term a couple of hours ago, when I was reading the latest issue of Publishers Weekly (PW) on my flight from New York to Hong Kong. There was a short piece in it that introduces the term - the genre - and explains it as fiction for books that are, basically, older than YA (young adult) and younger than adult/contemporary/mainstream/literary fiction. The contents of NA (somehow I don't see the abbreviation NA catching on, like the abbreviation YA, because of the other kind of NA, N/A. I don't fancy any author wanting his or her work to be mistaken for being N/A when it is NA.) are usually centered around characters who are older teens and younger twenties who are navigating what it means to be a (new) adult. It's coming-of-age, another genre that instantly makes me think of Catcher in the Rye and the movie Stand By Me, for an older set. Coming-of-age, typically, as far as I've always known it to be, was about the preteen referred to as 'tween' in the current century) through adolescent years and center around how the protagonist navigates the mental, emotional and social changes that adolescence brings.

The term 'new adult fiction' came about in the early 2000s when a contest was held within the walls of a publisher on how to describe a particular book it's staff was working on. It hasn't really come into vogue (yet) but with its unveiling in this week's PW I'm sure it's only a matter of time before it stakes its claim in literary lexicon. NA fiction is also geared towards those YA readers who are getting and have gotten older. With this approach, I suspect some authors may expand on the types of stories they tell to keep their audience. I don't know if this necessarily good or particularly bad but it could lead to stories just being produced no maintain a fan base and not written because the author HAS to tell the story.

Personally, I like this new genre. Well, the genre, as far as the kind of books that would fall into it, isn't new. NA books have been written for decades. The identification though for books being referred to as such is new. Really, readers will like stories that entertain and move them so it doesn't really matter what you call them. I love Legend by Marie Lu, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery, and the Narnia books by C. S. Lewis, to name a few, and these are regarded as YA/children's books. I loved them today, at 43, as I did when I originally read them when I was a tween. (Legend, of course, I only read as a 43 year old because it only came out last year but I love it, all the same.)

I like the term, though, from a marketing and publicity viewpoint. When asked about my book, Back Kicks And Broken, I describe it as 'older YA;' something that's appropriate for 17+. I feel it's NA because of the intimate scenes and not because of the martial arts action or the adult material that pertains to issues surrounding the protagonist and his parents. The martial arts scenes are action but they're not violent and, from personal experience, I know of eleven year olds and younger who have been faced to deal with - and handle very maturely - their parents' divorce, extended families with parents' new boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses. Good or bad, it's the world we live in in 2012.

Another reason I like about the term 'new adult fiction' is that those are the kinds of stories I'm writing. I've described my work-in-progress, Sage of Heaven, as YA but when I finished the first draft I felt that what I'd written is 'older YA' yet again. I can, and might, change it to more conventional YA yet but the story naturally lends itself to older YA, aka new adult fiction. This new genre gives writers like me a firmer place to belong as I slowly make my way into the world of writing and publishing. And that, in and of itself, makes me hopeful that I might actually make it. Good writing and storytelling will always win readers regardless of what category a book falls under and who the writer is but it never hurts having to place to call home.

08 December, 2012

Character Traits

"There's nothing better than a fresh plain bagel with butter."

When my son and I returned home this morning, after mass for The Feast of The Immaculate Conception and breakfast at our favourite bagel deli, I put on the television for the Arsenal v West Brom match then I put the extra doughnut and bagels we bought on the kitchen counter. Next, I opened the brown bag with the bagels - 3 plains - ripped one in half, ripped one of the halves open and buttered it. The bagel was no longer steaming and the butter didn't melt and ooze but, when I bit into it, it was absolutely delicious.

As I did all of this, I thought of a character - as yet, uncreated and unnamed - who could appear in one of my works-in-progress. My entire bagel experience wasn't just an 'in the mood' thing. I do really enjoy a fresh, cool bagel with butter, pretty much, anytime. Add a touch of grape jelly or Nutella and we're really set. What struck me, and this wasn't the first time something like this has slapped me in the face, was how much writing material there was in these few moments. I thought, too, how characters must be different and possess their own traits and idiosyncrasies; that they must be unique from one another even if they're, say, the same gender and age and ethnicity and grew up in the same town.

From my bagel experience this morning, the things that came to mind for specific character traits were enjoying a fresh, but cool, bagel with butter and the phrasing I used to express my like for bagels with butter. It dawned on me that I often express things I with "There's nothing better than..." Another thing I often say - a friend pointed this out to me a year or so ago - when asked how something was that I'd eaten for the first time or tried in a new way at a particular eatery is, simply, "tasty." I say that when it was good enough but not the best I've ever had or when it was good enough but I don't know if I'll get it there again. I also say it when I don't hate it.

I also tend to cover my upper lip with my lower one. A former student pointed this out. At first, I was self-conscious about it after she'd said something. Now, I'm just aware of it. I think it's actually part of my (self-diagnosed) minor Tourette's; along with the swallowing reflex that erupts when I'm nervous, my twitching nose tics, erratic coughs even when nothing is tickling my throat or when I'm not sick, and my occasional, spasmodic nods.

I bring these things up because, like I said about my bagel experience, I could use them for character traits. A couple of weeks ago, I finished the first draft of my second novel. There are many characters and I was extra conscious of trying to make each of them unique. It's only a first draft so there are loads of revisions to be made but I found myself sitting, staring at the computer screen, thinking of ways to make some of these similar characters different in their mannerisms and speech, and other personal nuances, while still making them real. There are books and websites that help writers sort these things out. I've tried some of them and, as a whole, I'm sure they're all very helpful in some way but we really don't have to look far and wide to find great source material for character nuance.

Just take a look at yourself in the mirror or a photograph. As many as there are topics to be discussed, there are as many opinions, thoughts and feelings in your minds and hearts on each of those topics. Why not spread those thoughts and feelings around with your characters? Many of us writers wear multiple hats throughout each day and at different times of the year. Me, here are the hats I wear: husband, father, teacher, volleyball coach, Taekwondo master, soccer fan, Broadway wannabe, track and field coach, catholic, runner, blogger and, of course, writer. From these different - some isolated and some related - parts of my life I can extrapolate, not just the 'hat' (one character might be a husband, another might be a teacher, etc) but different mannerisms, customs, feelings I have for and because of each one.

I know I feel differently about teaching now than I did when I started almost twenty years ago. I even feel differently about Taekwondo now than I did when I put on my white belt in 1985. Some of those different feelings are positive and some are negative. Writing and being a writer, too, has changed for me. It's not just something I do but it's something I've become. If I were, say, writing a story about a magazine that's about to fold, I might have one character who's older and sees things with the eyes I look at writing with now and I might have a teenager looking for his first beat and he'd seen things the way I did twenty or so years ago.

You might be thinking that all of this sounds really simplistic and that it's really obvious. I agree with you. It is simplistic and it is obvious but sometimes we need to be reminded about what is right in front or inside of us. It's just a suggestion. The next time you catch yourself, as your tapping on your keyboard, say, "What would so-and-so say/do/feel about this?" how about you first say, "What would (your name) (one of your many hats) say/do/feel about this?"

Try it. You've got nothing to lose and you might find you've created a wonderfully complex and real protagonist.

Happy writing all!