Friday, January 13, 2017

Writer's Drinks, For People Who Can't Stand Caffeine

In the last ten years I've had a torturous relationship with caffeine. Sometimes it gives me the worst side effects, from palpitations to anxiety, and I'm practically inconsolable. Sometimes I get the wrong dosage, and I get so wired that everything comes crashing down over my ears in the worst possible way. 

But when I do hit the sweet spot--just enough to keep me buzzed, but not so much to leave me frayed--everything snaps into focus. My mind is clear, and my writing flows through me with ease. Errands get done. Goals are met. Everything becomes right with the world. 

The trick is to play around with the combinations. 

For one thing, decaf-ing alone is not enough; I've tried using instant decaf coffee, and the results were nothing short of disastrous. (I've got some theories about instant coffee coming from cheap beans, but I could be wrong here.) On the other hand, I've drunk full-strength iced tea on some days, and it has given me mellower results. I've also tried playing around with sugar, and it doesn't look like it has made a considerable amount of difference either. 

Long story short, here are the things that have worked for me, as far as keeping the buzz alive goes. Please note that your mileage may still vary, but it wouldn't hurt to at least try. 

- Chain-store coffee. Just because I have problems with decaffeinated instant coffee doesn't mean that all decaf coffee is verboten from my diet. I've stuck it out with decaf lattes from Starbucks and Coffee Bean for a long time--the buzz is low, and the milk does a good job of smoothing out the bitterness of the coffee. I also single out these two stores because they're the few places where I can get Splenda with my drink if I want to cut down on sugar. (Equal in coffee tastes like melted plastic, and good luck finding stevia anywhere!) Let's not even forget about Christmas drink season coinciding with NaNoWriMo, either; it's like the coffee gods have been listening all along, and want us to get new planners to go with our drinks, too. 

(A side note: One of the ways I survived Christmas drink season at Starbucks was ordering them with decaf espresso, light on the syrup, and no whipped cream. That way, I don't get too dizzy with the extra sugar, and I don't have to feel like a dork for scraping off whipped cream from my glass.) 

- Storebought milk teas. Unlike coffee, chain-store milk tea can be hit or miss (looking at you, Chatime) and they can be too pricey for the amount you're actually getting in your cup. But there are some chains that do milk tea right: Moonleaf and Infinitea make milk tea that chills me out at a reasonable price (at least P100 for a 16-oz cup). The indie milk tea stores in my neighborhood in Diliman charge less depending on the flavor; I found out during NaNoWriMo that black or oolong tea (50% sugar; tapioca pearls if available) gave me the writing boost that I needed for the night. 

- Instant milk teas. My holy-grail drug of choice is Owl Teh Tarik, which is based on the Malaysian drink (read about the technique here)--the brew is foamy, but rich with the right balance of bitter-sweetness. Sun Soya also makes decent milk teas as well; currently I'm into their Matcha Latte flavor, which is an inexpensive alternative to chain-store green tea lattes. Then there's Old Town White Milk Tea, which can be good for two cups to each package; I save those for the days when I have more hot water to spare at home. The only downside to this is that they're made with coffee creamer instead of milk, which can be terrible to your innards if you're watching your sugar. 

- Brewed tea. While I do count on herbal tea to keep me sane, there are times when you just need to brew a bag. Stash and Bigelow make my favorite Earl Grey teas in decaf form, but I've also started experimenting with regular-strength tea, with lots of hot water to control the impact.  

- Iced tea. Lately I've become a bit of an iced-tea snob; I can take or leave the cheap iced tea that I get at some restaurants in Quezon City, but give me a glass of the brewed stuff and you've got a customer for life. As far as fast food iced tea is concerned, I'm partial to the one at KFC, which has the bite of fresh-brewed tea and enough citrus to cut down on the sweetness. (I've heard good things about the tea at Wendy's, though. That may have to wait.) 

Happy caffeinating! 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Bimonthly Goals: January to February

Happy New Year! I know it's been a month since my last post, but a lot of things happened over the Christmas break that threw me for a loop: deaths in the family, academic delays, and even a stomach bug that nearly ruined the first few days of 2017 for me. And I'm not out of the woods yet; as of this writing, my academic career remains in a state of suspended animation because of the delays in the release of my exam results. Don't even get me started with my renewed interest in current events, either. 

In spite of all of this, I've decided that I'm going to put down some goals for myself. It's not a terribly original idea--Jenna Moreci and Kristen Martin (among other authors) have been making themselves accountable on YouTube for their writing goals--but I figured that if I'm going to do something different for this year, then I might as well put something down in writing where everyone else can see it. 

1. Finish my #romanceclass2017 manuscript. If you've been following me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I've been posting word counts for a new #romanceclass manuscript that I'm hoping to finish by the end of February. This time, the stakes are pretty high, and everything is contingent on me having a polished manuscript that's ready for review by the deadline. What makes this especially difficult is not just the demands on my time--which are different from the ones I went through during NaNoWriMo--but the various tangents that this manuscript has taken from the original outline. But I'm honing my instincts as I go, so I'm hoping to get back on the horse as soon as I can.

1.5. Write at least 500 words a day. This is more of a long-term goal for the year, and it's easier said than done--there are a lot of spots on my spreadsheet where I've written 0 words for the day. But this is a workable goal for me; a scene can take me at least 500-800 words to type over the span of an hour, and if that's all I can spare for the day, then I'll take what I can get. That said, I'm planning some writing marathons for this weekend, so I'm hoping I can get my daily word count fixed before school starts again. 

2. Finalize the print edition for Crushingly Close. After much soul-searching, I've decided that I'm going to do an indie run for this book, mostly because I want this book out as soon as possible and I can't let everyone wait a moment longer for this to be published traditionally. Do I still want to see this in bookstores? Yes, possibly, but at this point I think the timing is just right for me to get this new book out while I still can. If all goes well, I can have this out by the #romanceclass event at Ayala Museum on February 11--but either way, if I can do this within two months, then I'll be all set. 

3. Read at least 3-4 books. So many new books are coming out, but most of my reading at this point is related to filling up the well that's been taken up by #romanceclass--which means that there are a few reads that are falling by the wayside. (Sorry, Cormoran Strike.) I've already gotten started on Beard Science by Penny Reid (love the banter and the small-town setting), which I'm following up with Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand (heard many good things about this), but everything after that (apart from my brother's new book and the new Charlotte Stein that I've pre-ordered) is up in the air. At least I'll be able to hold off on more purchases until March. 

4. Post one new blog entry every week. It might not always be every Monday like I tried to do in October and November, but I want to make sure that I keep in touch with you at least once a week to let you know what I've been up to lately. So far what I have planned for this blog is to start talking about the writing process again, since I've been inspired by the series of blog posts that I did during NaNoWriMo. You'll probably hear more about me doing writerly stuff with things like Scrivener, beta readers, and optimum caffeine intake (more on this later)--but it'll be fun, I promise. 

5. Monitor caffeine intake. I have a love-hate relationship with caffeine. I can't live with it (lest I end up crawling the walls) but I can't write without it (see also: my word-count spreadsheets) which means I have to pick and choose my battles. You'll hear more about it in another blog post, but for now I want to let you know that I'm choosing to live with it, and the consequences that may come out as a result. 

6. Use all of my planners. I have a pocket planner for quick appointments and a daily diary for my prayer time (more of a personal goal than a writing goal). This leaves me with an extra planner that I'll have to use for my medium-to-long term planning. I don't have a system in place this year (unlike last year when I experimented with bullet journaling) but I miss taking time every weekend to look at what I need to do for the week. Here's hoping I can get more things done this way. 

Let's see how this new system goes for us! Here's to a productive 2017. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

A Dispatch from the Save the Cake Universe

How about a short check-in with Sean and Eloisa? This snippet was part of a short story that I had been writing on and off until I realized that I didn't know what I was doing. But I couldn't resist having a story from Sean's point of view, and I thought I'd bring you guys something hopeful in the face of all the chaos that we've been slogging through this year. 

If you like this story, please leave a comment or tweet me (@TheStellaTorres) with your feedback! 

We were both working at the same job, a golden wedding anniversary at the Orient Hotel where we had our first dance. We were both underdressed--her in her work clothes, and me in khakis and a flannel shirt with loafers--so we stayed in the sidelines while the guests of honor worked the room.

She leaned on my shoulder. “Look at them. Fifty years and they’ve still got it for each other.”

“I know.” My camera equipment was at the edge of the dance floor, where I was going to shoot the program. “Remember when I asked you if you were going to do the cake for Hazel and Vinny’s golden wedding anniversary?”

“I remember that. And I was kind of worried that they weren’t going to make it.”

The cake that the family commissioned for the party occupied prime real estate in the ballrooom--white on white, with the signature flourishes that made Eloisa a favorite in certain circles. I kissed her temple while we admired her handiwork. “Hazel's having a girl, you know. I got that from Tita Rosemarie.”

“Shit. Vinny’s going to spoil the hell out of that princess.”

The happy couple held hands while making their way through the tables.They gazed at each other with awe and happiness, as if they were proud they were of how far they’d come along through the years.

“Eloisa, do you think we’re going to make it to that stage?”

The look in her eyes was wistful. “You mean, like, fifty years together?”

“Maybe longer than that.” I took her hand in mine. “Like, I can see us back in this ballroom, with our families and closest friends, and we’d still be dancing and holding hands like time hasn’t passed.”

“Except that time has passed. Like we’ve had fifty years of experience with each other, like we’ve lived through each other’s bullshit.”

Right away I knew what she meant. “Like taking care of the kids.”

“Yes. I want us to be hands-on. No yaya.”

“I’ll bring them to school and pick them up from soccer practice.”

“No way. They’ll want to be at the cafĂ© where Neri can teach them how to make carbonara.” 

“They can be whoever they want, Eloisa.” There were kids inside the ballroom, but they were lined up in front of an ice cream cart that had been rented for the occasion. “Who’s going to do the housework?”

She tapped her foot against my toe. “I was going to say we should get a maid, but I don't think we'll have the budget for it.”

“So we’ll both vacuum the floors and wash the dishes.”

“And laundry. Don’t forget laundry.”

I rocked her in my arms. “Let’s get a washing machine. I separate my whites from my colors.”

“And I hand-wash all my delicates. No bras and panties in the dryer.”

God, the way she said “bras and panties” made my thoughts go wild. “You can live with me.”

“You know I want to, Sean.”

Usually that statement would have been followed by a discussion on why she couldn’t move out of her family home, but this time I understood the gravity of the situation. Eloisa had a home for most of her life, and the love of her family had carried her through the toughest times. Meanwhile, Mom and I hadn’t been the same since Papa died, and I’d been on my own long enough to know that I could support myself.

But the more time I spent with Eloisa, the more I dreaded going home to that dark and empty apartment on my own. And I didn’t just want her body in my bed; I wanted home-cooked dinners and movie nights and long talks that stretched into the night. Some nights I wanted us to have dumb fights about nothing so I could figure out what she’s thinking most of the time.

I didn’t just love her with all my heart. I wanted her with me forever.

And as I held her hand while watching the banquet before us, I knew exactly what I had to do.

Because she was worth it.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Road to NaNoWriMo: Week 2 and 3 Recap

I'm sorry I forgot to post last week; I had so many things going on over the weekend that I wasn't able to post anything substantial. But what's most important to note here is that, in the span of three weeks, I managed to do something that I would not have been able to do in any year:

I FINISHED! AND I BROKE 50K!

Mind you, there were a lot of other factors that came into play here. But I finished, at a little under 54,000 words, and I'm happy with the way my novel ended. Which can only mean one thing: I can claim THIS. 


So how did I manage to do it? Well, let's look at the facts:

- I had no academic deadlines. Sure, I had to do some research at the library for my dissertation topic, but otherwise I didn't have anything important to take over my mind and headspace for the entire month.The only troublesome days that I had were the ones that affected me politically, and even then I forced myself to get my butt-in-chair time so I could get my writing done. 

- I had an outline. This, I think, is one of the most important factors that have contributed to my numbers, since I planned this novel ahead of time (as in, all the way since August/September) and I had a good idea of where everything was supposed to go. No more aimless writing for me...but is that the rule? 

- I didn't follow my outline. Granted, there are huge chunks of text that I'm going to excise once I start revising this next year, but there are some parts of the story that I would never have been able to write if I followed my outline as closely as possible. Most of the sexy parts, for instance, were improvised, and there were some chapters that were compressed together in order to make the narrative stronger. Some of the character beats that were missing from the outlining process also emerged from the pantsing that I did on certain scenes, too. If anything, however, the combination of planning and pantsing made for an interesting writing process, and I was happy with the outcome. 

- I actually liked what I was writing. Again, this might be because I'd already outlined this several months beforehand, but there were places where I thought that I might actually hate my work. On the days when I had more writing time, I went back to the story and tweaked what I'd actually written so that I could zap out the parts where I felt that my writing had dragged. This is not to say that I messed with large chunks of text to make it happen, but a little line editing here and there for certain scenes had helped. 

Keeping writing hours sacred. There's no way around it. In the daytime, I have to do a lot of running around, so it's impossible for me to put myself in the right frame of mind to write. But once I'm finished with dinner, and I've done my basic rituals for the night, I can relax and sit myself down in front of my laptop, so I can get the juices flowing. There were no ifs, ands, or buts; I made sure I was sitting down by 8 and finished by 11, so I could log in my hours and continue with the rest of my night. 

- The word count tracker helped, but only to a certain extent. Remember the Excel spreadsheet where I tracked my word count? I used that faithfully every single day to keep me accountable on how many words I was supposed to write on a certain day. Before NaNo, I set a target of 2,000 words per day, which I was able to meet whenever I wrote in the evening (2000 words/3 hours = 667 words per hour). Having a tracker certainly kept me accountable to my goal, but I found that having the tracker alone would not have helped me as much as having a clear direction on what I was going to write that night. That said, it was still cool to see everything on a spreadsheet, so that kept me on my toes. 

- One word: Scrivener. Oh, Scrivener, how would I be able to write novels without you? But again, Scrivener was just one factor out of many that contributed to my word counts. The last book I wrote was on Scrivener, but it didn't have an outline so it took me a year or so to finish it. This time, with a plan in hand to keep track of both word count and story direction, I was able to maximize Scrivener's potential and come up with a draft in less than a month. 

- Caffeine can only go so far. Normally, I can write well after a cup of tea--especially if it's milk tea--but there were days when I couldn't sleep, and my nerves would be frayed the next day as a result. I find that hot chocolate or warm herbal tea does the same trick; the warmth and flavor is there, which lulls the brain into thinking that something creative is going to come out. 

- Support. This was the first year that I've also maximized the writing buddy system, where I stayed in touch with the people I've met through the NaNo forums; having someone who's going through the same journey as you are helped in making the process more bearable. I also got a lot of support from social media, especially after I started posting my word counts on Twitter; I got messages not only from my #romanceclass friends, but also from people in the general NaNo community. 

I know that there may have been a few things that I have missed, but these are the ones I could see so far. I'm not saying that my way is the only way--I'm sure that there are some things that I've mentioned which may not work for you--but I'm sharing them anyway because they have worked for me and you might be able to pick up some cues along the way, too. In fact, I'm going to put all of these through the test when I start writing my next book in the first quarter of 2017. 

Until then, happy writing, and have a wonderful month! 

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Road to NaNoWriMo 2016: Week 1 Progress


(Screengrab: my original Scrivener file for Nine Years Away. Click to enlarge!) 

And we're off! 

It's been only five days, but I've been seeing some progress. Right now my word count is at 14,977 words, with an average of 2.496 words daily according to the NaNoWriMo site--a little over the 2,000 words per day that I've allotted for myself this month. However, I've been logging my numbers on a separate spreadsheet, and there have been several days when I've written past 3.000 words! Here are my comments:

- On November 1, I wrote 2,971 words for eight hours, or about 371 words per hour. On November 5, however, I wrote 3,094 words for six hours, which is 515 words/hour. To drive the home further, my shortest writing day was on November 3, where I wrote 1752 words for three hours, which is 584 words per hour! So it wasn't a matter of having more time to write, though it can be a factor.

- Another factor that can be examined is my caffeine intake. On November 4, I had a cup of my favorite 3-in-1 milk tea (Owl Teh Tarik) in the afternoon, and that day I ended up writing 3,849 words in five hours for a high of 770 words/hour. That day remains my highest on record, but when I decided to go caffeine free the next day (see above), my numbers were still in the 3,000/day range. Perhaps I still had residual effects from the chemical high? I don't know, but knowing this has taught me that I don't need to have caffeine every day to write more, even if I did write faster.

- What I can say was an influential factor was writing my scenes out of order. You see, that's the great thing about outlines: when you have a scene that you have to, have to write, you write it right away. It's even more convenient when you have Scrivener and you've already divided your chapters by folder, which means you can squeeze in scenes according to where they are in the narrative. In my case, I was itching to write the sex scene, so I got started on it on October 3 and continued to write the chapters surrounding that scene the next day. Once I got those chapters out of the way, I went back to the chapters I was working on in chronological order (Chapters 3 and 4) and used the information that I had just written to inform the characters' decisions on those chapters--a sort of foreshadowing, if you will. That also helped me to recalibrate the romance between my MC and LI in terms of their chemistry (Jenna Moreci has more to say on the subject here) by giving them more opportunities to pursue each other, even though they didn't start off strong in the previous chapters.

- What also helped: a "show, don't tell" approach to storytelling. Originally I had intended to write this in Deep POV, but I found that it killed the sense of romance and made my MC sound a little crazy. (Really now: Just because she's managing her depression doesn't mean that she has to plunge into the dark side.) But after hearing the live reading that Rachel and Herv did for Save the Cake, I realized that I had to lay off on the dialogue tags. So now most of the novel is written like this:

“You know what we could do?” It was Sienna’s turn to face everyone else. “We could visit her. There’s a three-day weekend coming up in a couple of weeks.” 
“That’s a great idea.” Ashley’s voice cut through the noise in the restaurant. “Kim, are you cool if I take you there?”
“No complaints from me.” 
Christian turned to the rest of the table. “I’ll see if Egg wants to go. He’d want to see Mrs. G too.” 
“You do that.” Sienna’s voice turned terse at the sound of Egg’s name. “Anyway. How big is this resort, Brian?”  
 So, to recap: More action, more description, less dialogue tags. Yes, it's painful, but I still needed to remind myself that my goal was to come up with a rough draft, so I put aside my reservations

- And here comes the part where I know you're going to kill me: I did not stick to my outline! There were entire scenes where I actually pantsed it because I thought that the previous scenes were weaker, and I wanted to get into my MC's mind a little deeper. The last two scenes that I wrote last night were pantsed because I needed Kim and Christian to spend more time with each other. But I don't regret it; if anything, I felt that my outline was just a way to keep my pantsing under control. This might probably change once I start editing this story, but for now this combination is working for me.

- The urge to edit as I write has been strong for this story, since I can't seem to get the characterizations in order and there are some places where the prose sounded downright painful. But again, I have to remind myself that my goal is to have a finished rough draft by November 30, if not earlier. To quote Elizabeth Gilbert, the point of the exercise is to remember that "done is better than good"--because not everyone gets to finish what they've started, and this story would probably remain untold if it wasn't finished.

Next week's goals: breaking 20k, updating my word count for 10 days in a row, and building up more chemistry between the characters to put the romance front and center. Fingers crossed!

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Road to NaNoWriMo 2016: A Story Spiral

I got the concept of story spirals from fellow Pinay author Ines Bautista Yao, who publishes outtakes from #romanceclass books on her blog. I wrote my own story spiral for Crushingly Close on Ines' blog (you can read it here), but since I was already getting restless over NaNoWriMo I decided I should do one for this year's book as well. It's a bit of a writing exercise, in a way, but if it gets me more motivated for NaNo, then so be it.

To get a feel for this scene, try to imagine Troye Sivan narrating this as Brian, with TJ being played by a young Josh Hartnett.

(Also, there's a shout-out to Settle The Score/Hustle Play by Tara Frejas in this story. Hi, Tara!)

**** 


"Hey, Sprite."

That was what TJ used to call me back then. I got the nickname because he was Trinculo and I played Ariel--or, rather, one of the three people who played Ariel--when we did the live reading of The Tempest with the rest of Tita Evelyn's class. By then I was sure who I was, but he wasn't, and he was still hanging out with his basketball friends at Paideia Academy. So he called me Sprite, and every time he did that, I could hear his friends chuckling in the background.

"Sprite," he said again.

I whipped my head so hard that I almost threw my lunch all over myself. "What do you want, knucklehead?"

His friends continued to snicker.

"All right, TJ, spit it out." I wasn't going to let him ruin my lunch break, but the way he stretched his long legs out on that bench made me tingle all over. "What do you want?"

TJ cleared his throat. "Um, I don't--see, I was wondering--were you at the prom the other night?"

I rolled my eyes. "Hello, Fabella. I couldn't find a date. Why would you ask me that?"

"You could've, you know, brought a cousin with you, or something."

What, so I could pass as straight to my classmates? I knew what these people said behind my back. That was the reason why my mom told me not to tell anyone after I came out to her: because there was nothing left to prove. Then again, I would've looked better in a suit than the rest of them. And maybe TJ would have noticed me.

TJ coughed again, and I liked how he hunched his broad shoulders so he wouldn't hover over me--or everyone else--while he talked.  "Well, I'll...see you later in class, Sprite."

"Of course, TJ. I still have your stuff for pre-cal."

He pressed his lips together and nodded. "Thanks for letting me use your notes."

"You're welcome."

One of the basketball guys--I couldn't remember, but he had curly hair--punched TJ in the arm. "You're flirting with the bakla now too?"

Oh, please. As if that was going to happen between us before the end of senior year. Besides, TJ needed to pass that math class if he didn't want to lose his chance of going to college. Most of the seniors in his team had accepted basketball scholarships, and all he had as a second-tier D-man was a promise from his Dad that he would "find ways" to get him into Avenida de Manila if he graduated above the cutoff GPA.

Another joker--again, I don't remember who, except he had small eyes--tried to catch my attention. "Bakla, you should be looking for Christian Mendiola. Did you hear what happened?"

"He wasn't at the prom," TJ said. "He doesn't know what happened."

Suddenly the table went silent.

"What?"

TJ was the first to blink. "Don't look, Sprite."

"What do you mean?"

KA-BLAM!

That was the sound of someone bursting past the cafeteria doors to chase after someone. Everyone's attention shifted to the front of the room, where an argument was happening.

You left me, Christian. 

I said I was sorry, Kim. I didn't mean to--

You left me. You fucking left me at the fucking prom, and you didn't have the fucking courtesy to say goodbye.

TJ moved his seat on the bench, I liked how he left enough space for my skinny ass to sit down and eat my chili dog while watching Kim rake Christian over the coals.

You don't even know what happened, do you? Did you think I was going to stand in there all alone while everyone else teased me about losing my date? 

But how was I supposed to know? I mean, I didn't mean to, but I had to--

"Shit." Curly Haired Basketball Jock stared straight at me. "Kim wouldn't be like this if bakla had given her fashion tips to keep Christian from leaving her."

TJ smacked Curly Hair upside his head. "Shut up, asshole."

You don't even know, do you, Christian? I thought you were a nice guy. I didn't think you'd be a snob like your other friends.

"Ooh, burn!" Small Eyes cried out.

Look, Kim. I'm sorry you had to go through that. But you have to understand--

I hate you, Christian. I. Hate. You. 

This is the time when I should tell you that Kim had never looked as fierce or beautiful as she did when she was yelling at Christian. Her eyes were cold behind those glasses, but her curly hair was a halo around her head, and with all of her muscles flexing with tension, it really looked like she was going to rip Christian from limb to limb. The Kim that we knew was silent and shy, hiding behind her hat with the kitty-cat ears. The only time she came out like this was when she was doing cosplay, but she didn't need her steampunk-slash-anime costumes this time to come out swinging.

Meanwhile, the features that had made Christian so handsome and dashing in everyone's eyes looked dopey and weak under Kim's stare. His jaw, so strong and fine-boned at the same time, was stuck in mid-air. His eyes, which once sparkled with mischief, were hollow and soulless. Everyone could swear they could hear his breathing with every rise and fall of his chest.

You don't mean that, Kim!

Don't tell me how to feel, you jackass!

Kim--

We all heard the slosh of water and ice being thrown in mid-air. Kim must've found a half-finished drink to throw at Christian's face.

I'm going to say it again: I hate you, Christian. I never want to see your face again. Don't talk to me, don't sit next to me--and don't you even dare to try to find me online, 'cause I'm blocking you everywhere. Understand? 

But--

Goodbye, Christian. Go fuck yourself. 

All eyes were on Christian as he tried to wipe away the remains of melted ice and watered-down juice from his Gap shirt. One by one the basketball guys went to Christian's side, and the chorus of "Dude!"and "Pare, are you all right?" all but drowned out the sound of Kim's combat boots as she stomped past the doors.

I stared at the remains of my chili dog. By then I had lost my appetite.

"Brian." TJ had a hand on my shoulder. "Aren't you going to eat that?"

When I met his gaze, there was this one short moment when it seemed like we'd recognized each other for the first time. But it didn't last long. "I've gotta find Kim."

"Yeah, you do that." He slapped my shoulder again with his broad palm. "Go get her, Sprite."

I pushed my plate away, and left the table to retrace Kim's steps. But just before I exited the cafeteria, I turned my head back, and I could swear that I had just seen TJ nod at me.

Five years later, on our first anniversary as a couple, he admitted that he was looking at me all along.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Thoughts on #FeelsFest 2016

Before I begin, let me clarify that this is not an event recap for #FeelsFest. There were other things that happened on October 22, but I felt like I should share a more personal account of how I felt after going through what I believe is an unforgettable experience for me, especially as a writer.

And it's all because of this note:


(Excuse the poor lighting in the background; I was trying to take this picture from above, and there were reflections. This is why I don't do flat lays.)

This note came from Jems, who brought her #romanceclass books to be signed by authors with matching thank-you notes. I admit that I almost cried when I saw this note because this was one of the few times that I've realized that my words can have an impact on people's lives. This, more than anything, affirms the choice I made to become an author--regardless of the odds against me--because it reminds me that my work has meaning.


Here's my selfie with Jems, where we tried to fit the book into the frame. 


Another selfie with Kevin, who also brought his copy of Save the Cake to be signed.

And they're not alone; I've met people who have bought my book for the first time, and people who have always supported #romanceclass in every way. I've gotten messages from Twitter and Instagram, and there might even be a Snapchat video or two of me floating around (sorry, kids, not for me). 

The one thing that I didn't capture properly--partly because I was trying to save battery life and partly because there wasn't enough video to capture the moment (for the record: it exists--the whole segment just hasn't been edited yet), was the live reading of Save the Cake by Rachel Coates and Hervin Alvarez. Let me tell you, I was so nervous that I thought it wasn't going to push through, but once Mina read the blurb I felt a sigh of relief. Rachel did a great job of nailing Eloisa's personality (especially the part where she talks about "Armani, Armani, Armani") and Herv just captured my heart--as if his adorkable self hadn't already--by being the sweet Sean that I had always envisioned in my head. Those of you who know me on Facebook may have already seen the group shots where I side-hug the heck out of Herv, but what you didn't know was that I also got a great big hug from Rachel after the reading, too. Whatever doubts I had in mind about the reading just melted away. 

I feel like these moments have to go into my personal praise file, which I can pull up and look at whenever I get down on my writing. Now that it's a career for me, it's nice to be reminded of those moments when all of my hard work had borne fruit. The edits may be grueling and the royalty checks may dry up, but at the end of the day, I have all of this to show for myself, and it was all worth the trouble. 

So what's next after this? Well, for one thing, there's talk of another #romanceclass event in February (schedule and venue TBA), so I'll be working on getting an indie print run of Crushingly Close out before then. And way before that, I'll have NaNoWriMo and #romanceclass 2017 (yes, there's a thing) to keep me busy and sane for the next few months. Factor in the third manuscript that I'd just finished, plus my future in the academe as a doctoral student, and 2017 may turn out to be my year as a writer. But for now, I have to work on being a better writer, a better reader, and a better human being. And that wouldn't be a bad thing. 

Special thanks to everyone who has made #FeelsFest happen, including Ayala Malls and the fine folks in the #romanceclass community, for getting the word out and organizing the event. And congratulations to the authors who launched their new books on Saturday! You are all awesome. 

Note: The Road to NaNoWriMo series begins again next week, which happens to be the last day of October (Halloween!). I'll also be blogging about my book throughout November, while I still have time to write non-novel things.