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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 January, 2013

Getting Giddy Over Books And Movies

Getty Giddy Over Books And Movies

I read a lot because I enjoy it. I also read because I'm a writer and writers need to read. So, it was with extra excitement that I picked up Prodigy, Marie Lu's follow up to her highly successful and acclaimed debut novel, Legend; a book I read last year and absolutely loved. Prodigy came out yesterday and, at my first opportunity, I ran out to my local bookstore (less than a quarter mile from where I teach) and got it. The store had one copy and now it's mine. Legend came out in the fall of 2011. I read it in January 2012 and waited a year, with other Legend/Marie Lu fans, for Prodigy to come out.

Lu's Legend, which is the subject of the very first book review I've ever written (click here for the review),  is so engaging, interestingly written with two superb protagonists, that it was with great anticipation that I counted down the days until Prodigy was released. And, forty-some pages in, it's living up to its predecessor. If I wasn't before, I'm definitely a Marie Lu fan now; although anyone who knows me and/or has read my posts, knows I already was.

The last time I was this excited for something like this, counting the days like a child waiting for Christmas morning, was when I found out that The Life Of Pi, another of my favourite books, was being made into a movie. Before that, off the top of my head, it was with the release of Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the first movie in the prequel trilogy of George Lucas' Star Wars movies. Since Prodigy has come out, and I have it, my next countdown is for the first movie of the upcoming Star Wars sequel trilogy to come out. And, with J. J. Abrams who, in my opinion, hasn't produced anything bad, signed on to direct, I'm doubly giddy.

On some level, as a forty-three year old husband and father, who worries about keeping his family housed, clothed and fed, I feel a little silly being childishly excited about the release of movies and books. You'd think as a writer, I wouldn't feel silly about getting excited about books but, sometimes, I do. I know they aren't mutually exclusive - being excited about such things and worrying about the banal things in our lives - but sometimes I feel guilty if I'm not worrying about world peace, my son's future, the state of our economy, war in the middle east, etc. On another level, however, I'm glad I get this chuffed or, as we say in Tagalog, gigil, about these, for lack of a better word, trivial things. I think it keeps me young, shows my son that life is to be enjoyed, and it reminds me to see the lighter side of things. And, for me, that is exceptionally important because I tend to be very serious, sometimes to the point of being glum.

So, do share. What was the last thing you got this excited about? And, if like me with Prodigy, since it's already come out, what are you counting down to now?

Free Book Birthday Giveaway

Happy Birthday to....YOU!

Well, it's actually my birthday tomorrow, Januaury 31st, but I'm giving the presents. I'm giving away nine free ebook copies on my novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, to the first nine people who comment on any of my blog posts. Just make sure you enter an email address so I have somewhere to send your prize.

Here are the rules:

1. The giveaway starts at midnight on 31st Janaury, 2013 and ends at 11:59pm on 31st January, 2013. Any posts received before and after that will be ineligible for the contest.
2. Comment on any of the blogs I posted here, at
Contemplations, making sure you leave your email address so I can send you the ebook. Only entries received via the filamkickingscribe.com edition of Contemplations will be accepted. Entries at the Blogger version of Contemplations are not eligible for this giveaway.
3. The winners will be determined by the time stamp of the emails I receive notfiying me that someone has posted a comment.
4. BONUS: The first person who comments AND shares the post he or she comments on will also receive a signed paperback edition. To receive this, make sure you email me a mailing address as well. You can email me at
Thanks for stopping by and good luck.

P.S. It's also my wife's and brother's birthday on 31st January. So, happy birthday to them too. And, in case you were wondering, my brother and I aren't twins.
P.P.S. Why nine prizes? Why not? Haha. Actually, nine is my favourite number.

23 January, 2013

Reading When You're Writing - Good or Bad?

As a writer, naturally, I read. In fact, I'm one of those people who read several books at a time; reading twenty to thirty minutes a day from each book. Currently, I'm reading Dumpling Days by Grace Lin, Chosen by Denise Grover Swank, The Collective by Don Lee, and Inheritance by Christopher Paolini. I'd read more - books and minutes per day - but the realities of life don't prevent that from happening. Recently, though, I listened to an interview in which the author being questioned said that she doesn't read much when she's writing. She didn't say it exactly but she intimated that she's too involved in her writing that she just doesn't think about reading and she doesn't want to be influenced by what she might be reading.

I've often felt that way, too, but I don't think I could stop reading when I'm writing. And, in which stage of writing would I not be reading? The two - reading and writing - just belong together. Every writer is unique in how he or she approaches the books he or she is writing. Some of us outline while others don't. Of those of us who do, the way we do it differs greatly.

My work-in-progress is a YA, Asian-American fantasy series. As I worked on the first draft of the first book, I read Catching Fire and Insurgent, among other books. I'd read The Hunger Games and Divergent and I already wanted to find out what happens in each series so I was going to read Catching Fire and Insurgent, anyway, but I figured reading them as I was writing the first draft of Sage Of Heaven would help put me into a YA mindset. But, did they just put me into a YA mindset or was I influenced by them? I already had an idea of where the second and following books were going in Sage but I made a drastic decision as I came closer to finishing my draft. The change - switching the series' protagonist from one of the male characters to one of the female characters - makes the story more complex and interesting (for reasons other than the gender change) but, how much, subconsciously, was I influenced to do that because the protags in Catching Fire and Insurgent are girls?

In the last two years of writing Back Kicks And Broken Promises (which took almost ten years to write), I'd met, was taking workshops led by and read books by Matt de le Peña. Taking a pass at some of the passages in my debut novel, and at the risk of sound self-congratulatory, I think there are some parts that have a similar flow and tone as some of Matt's books. If you read Back Kicks and Matt's books - Ball Don't Lie, Mexican WhiteBoy, We Were Here - the subject matter is similarly themed. I was drawn to Matt's books for two reasons: he was the instructor of the first fiction class I took so I wanted to see if I'd like his work AND his books, with a male protagonist who's trying to sort out his place in this world, validated my own. Matt's stories come to us through a Mexican-American/Latino eye while mine are through an Asian-American lens.

I suspect the author who was interviewed in the podcast avoids reading other novels while writing either during the first draft/creation stage of her novels or until she submits a completed manuscript to her editor, agent or publisher. At that point, the work is out of her hands (although is a book, even after being published, ever out of a writer's head?) so she may have the time and intellectual and emotional freedom to sink into someone else's piece of fiction.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm reading Inheritance, the concluding volume in Christopher Paolini's series that started with Eragon. I bought it in 2011, when it came out, but at 800-plus pages, for me, it's an exercise in perseverance to finish it. I want to know how the series concludes so I will finish it but I'm extra motivated to finish it now because it's a fantasy story with dragons and wizards and Sage Of Heaven is also a fantasy story. The vehicles through which their stories are told are very different but they're in the same genre so Inheritance, while hopefully being entertaining, may offer me some insight into fantasy writing.

So, what is best? Or, is this another one of those things that's really different for every writer; one way working for some, another way working for others, and neither working for the rest? Should we, writers, read while we're creating and, if so, should we read in the genre of what we're writing in or a different one?

14 January, 2013

New Discoveries in Asian-American Literature

As usual, I'm behind the ball and late, but, as the saying goes, "better late than never." As a writer, though, and an Asian-American one at that, I will admit that I'm embarrassed that I didn't know about this sooner. Anyway, this past weekend, I discovered two new outlets for Asian-American kids to learn about themselves, their multiculturalism and diversity, general. 

One of them is Grace Lin. Ms Lin is the 2010 Newbery Medal for her book Where The Mountain Meets The Moon. The Newbery Medal is a literary award given for distinguished contribution to American literature that is written for children. I was at my local indie bookstore, when my wife pointed out Ms. Lin's Dumpling Days. Our son was in the kids' section and Ms. Lin's book was in the older kids' section, in the adjacent part of the store. As good book titles do (and should), Dumpling Days intrigued me. As an Asian-American writer, I am naturally drawn to books of Asian and Asian-American subject matter. With an Asian girl leaning over a circle of dumplings, that surrounds a Chinese rice bowl and chopsticks, I knew Dumpling Days was definitely up my alley. When I read the back cover blurb - about how a Chinese-American girl goes to Taiwan for the first time and she can't speak Chinese, I immediately knew I had go read this book since my own novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, also has to do with Asian-American identity. 

My book, however, is more suited for the older YA set or the New Adult Fiction audience. Ms. Lin's, while it can be read and enjoyed by adults (I am reading Dumpling Days now), is geared for children. And, thankfully, so. Admittedly, I haven't paid much attention to children's literature until now; not just because of Ms. Lin's book but because I have a son, who's turning five in April, and I want him to have outlets and heroes (writers and characters) who are Asian-American; other than his parents, of course. Ha ha. 

As far as Asian-American literature goes, most, I think it's safe to say, is for an older population. My (contemporary) writing heroes - Don Lee, Jhumpa Lahiri, Susan Choi, to name a few - don't write for kids. Heck, my books (Back Kicks and my current works-in-progress) aren't meant for young kids either. Ms. Lin's are and they give our young people a nice outlet to see what it is to be multicultural, in general, and Asian-American, in particular, in this crazy and beautifully diverse world we live in.

Another discovery I made at the same store was the Calvin Coconut series by Graham Salisbury. From my internet search, I understand Mr. Salisbury to be from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but he grew up in Hawaii. Hawaii, as we all know, is one of the most Asian-influenced states of the United States. This makes perfect sense, naturally, since it is so close to Asia and many Asian immigrants settled there. It's the most northern group of Polynesian islands and the prehistoric origins of the Polynesian people are derived from the Malay Archipelago; like the peoples of Indonesia, The Philippines and Malaysia. Anyway, Mr. Salisbury's book series has a male protagonist, Calvin, and, gauging by the illustrations on the book covers, Calvin looks very much of Asian descent. Ultimately, the Calvin Coconut series is about kids growing up with the normal trials and choices kids have to make, regardless of their ethnic makeup, again, in this crazy and beautifully diverse world and the crazy and beautifully diverse place Hawaii is. That the series has a protagonist of Asian heritage got me excited and hopeful for my son and other Asian-American children, whether in or from Hawaii or on the mainland. 

In one of the books, Kung Fooey, there's a new kid in town that knows kung fu (gung fu) and his surname is Obi. Japanese, perhaps? Forget that kung fu is a Chinese martial art and that the practitioner is probably Japanese (although I suspect that Mr. Salisbury did this intentionally to further illustrate the diversity of the world he grew up in and the one we currently live in). Focus on the ethnicity of the character and the material. The books are more opportunities for our young Asian-American kids to relate to the world outside their windows.

Readers coming to books as teenagers, or in their late teens or early twenties, looking for books that relate to them in terms of their ethnic makeup will find a good sampling from which to choose. There's Don Lee (Yellow), Paisley Rekdal (The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee), Jhumpa Lahiri (The Namesake), Change-Rae Lee (Native Speaker), to name a few. Sung J. Woo (Everything Asian) wrote his book with a younger protagonist but, for me, the book has some adult themes that preteen readers might not immediately relate to. (I loved the book though. It's one of the few books in my library that made me cry.)

Younger people, however, don't have as many options as their older counterparts. Through the work of Ms. Lin and Mr. Salisbury, and writers like them, they do now. And, for someone like me, who came to American at age sixteen from Hong Kong, where the idea of being Asian-American didn't exist and I was just 'me,' having books like these makes a difference. It's common in Asian families not to discuss matters of inner turmoil, preferring to bury one's difficulties in order to get ahead. As the old Chinese adage goes, "One must eat bitter to taste sweet." But, whether one Asian-American kid comes from this type of environment or one that's more open, having avenues through which the child can recognise other people like him or her can't hurt. 

Click here for more on The Newbery Medal.

Click here for Ms. Lin’s website.

Click here for Mr. Salisbury’s website.

02 January, 2013

Goals, not Resolutions

Happy New Year everyone!

I don't make resolutions on New Year's. They imply solutions, finite achievements in one's life, but life, if you've been paying attention to it, is too fluid and evolving. I guess the one true thing that's finite is death but even then, depending on what religion or spiritual form you follow, death doesn't end life. Some of us believe in an afterlife; a heaven or hell, a Valhalla where we live on in a divine sort of way. Some of us believe in the continuous cycle of life - reincarnation into another physical being - that sees life go on in a different way from a different perspective. Add to this that human beings are fluid and evolving. It might sound like a copout - I don't think it is - but making resolutions doesn't allow for failure and, as humans, we - I - am bound to fail. Sometimes we fail because of our own humanness and sometimes we fail because of setbacks that are not our doing. Failing to live up to our resolutions suggests a sense of "less than" and an inherent wrongness about who we are inside; that the person who failed is "bad."

Instead of making resolutions, I set goals. I make plans to achieve them and, if those plans are working, I stay with them. If they're not, I devise new ones. If I decide that the goals I set at the start of the year are too lofty or unrealistic, I change them. That's one of the great things about being human - we can change our minds and decide when/if/how/where we want to do things and how important those things are for us.

Having said all of that, here are my main goals for 2013.

1. Finish writing Sage Of Heaven and either secure an agent/publisher or self-publish it, working so it, and the series, gets picked up like Christopher Paolini's Eragon and its series.
2. Sixty pound weight loss, at five pounds a month, to get back to my pre-marriage weight by 1 January, 2014. In addition to improving my nutrition, this will be accomplished with, but not limited to, the following: at least 3x a week of regular Taekwondo practice, at least 4x a week of cardio training (minimum 30 minutes) and at least 3x a week of resistance training (each body part 1-2x per week).
3. Finish writing my Fil-Am short story collection, Five Corners. I'm talking about a first draft and not a finished manuscript.
4. Read, at least, 30 books in 2013. I read 24 in 2012.
5. Finish writing the first draft of the second book in my Sage Of Heaven series.

These, of course, are MY own goals; the ones that, while they do have bearing on my wife and son, they don't - or, at least, don't have to - involve them in terms of achieving them. Not directly, anyway. The goals involving my family are, say, less tangible, less measurable.

Anyway, there they are. I'm publicising them here to keep myself motivated and honest. And accountable. After all, it's easy to say them just to oneself. And when that's the case, as hard we humans try, it's easy to bail on them. I don't want to bail and I want to succeed so I'm putting them out there and I'll post updates in this blog and through my Twitter (@JuanRaderBas) and Facebook accounts. Feel free to ask me about my progress towards achieving them. In fact, I hope you do so I'll be even more motivated to achieve them so I can respond to you meaningfully. I'm aiming to achieve them either way but your encouragement, nagging, enquiry will serve me well like a drill instructor getting into his new recruits.

I thank you, in advance for your support and I wish you luck in achieving your own goals and, even, your resolutions.