Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Japan

I don't usually blog about my travels in detail but I received a bunch of questions about my recent trip to Universal Studios Japan's The Wizarding World of Harry Potter that I decided to just write about it here.

Some quick details: My friends and I stayed at a small hotel along both Osaka's Chuo and Sennichimae lines, which was just a quick ride to Universal City. We headed to the JR Osaka Loop Line's Nishi-Kujo stop, and then crossed to the JR Yumesaki platform heading to Sakurajima. Universal City is two stops away from Nishi-Kujo and the entrance to USJ is a few hundred meters outside the station.

Prior to going there, we had already discussed being at USJ by 8:00 AM. Unfortunately, we were still at Nishi-Kujo station by that time, so we knew we were running a little later than schedule. It turned out that the few minutes weren't a problem. We decided to purchase our tickets at Hotel Kintetsu Universal City, which is the nearest hotel to USJ and was on the way from the station. The ticket counter opened at exactly 8:30, but since we were third in line, we got our tickets right away.

We already had our tickets by the time we passed this arch.

I don't know how early the main ticket booth opened, but by the time we got to there, there were already lines at the counter (but all moving quickly). But no, those were not the long queues you should be wary of. Everyone else was now queued up by the gates, waiting for them to open. There's a special line for guests who can enter earlier; just be sure to find the correct lines. We were there on a Thursday and though the website said that the park opened at 10:00 on that day, we were let in by around 9:15 (9:00 for the special pass holders).

Once the gates opened, there was a mad dash to the Harry Potter area, located near the lakeside (turn right after Main Street or just follow the crowd). From reading a few early blog entries AND USJ's official site, we all knew that there were timed tickets to the Wizarding World attraction. So when everyone started running, we ran for it as well. My friends and I got separated at this point and I belatedly realized that we had not discussed where to meet once this happened. I just kept running to the area and looking for a kiosk or ticket machine with a long line.

There was none I could see.

At this point, I had stopped to catch my breath and was now just walking along Forbidden Forest. I was still in a hurry wondering: (1) where my friends were, and (2) where the ticket machine was.

Past the Whomping Willow, still no queue.

Already inside Hogsmeade, still no queue. (Also, you don't think I took these photos while I was running, right?)

More alarmingly, still no sign of my friends. People were running deeper into Hogsmeade and towards Hogwarts Castle, so I decided to ask one of the attendants around.
Me: (in English) Is there a ticket for this area? (Because hey, everyone said there was!)
Attendant: (looking surprised by the question) No, no ticket. (Maybe she was thinking, What the hell are you doing here if you don't have a ticket?)
Me: (thinking, hmmm maybe she didn't understand me. Time to bring out my laughable Japanese) Uh... koko... kippu... arimasu ka?
Attendant: (in English) This area, no tickets.

Twilight Zone. Okay, no tickets. I'm not going to question the fates. I was already in, right? (But why were people still running?)

Just follow the signs!

I thanked her and jogged to the castle anyway, since I saw people heading there. That's when I foundnd the longest queue I've seen so far. And finally, my friends were there! We lined up and soon realized that the queue was for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride and a trip through Hogwarts Castle. I didn't want to go on the ride, so I went through the separate entrance for those who just want to go on the Castle Walk. You get to walk through the same thing that the ride-goers go through before the Forbidden Journey starts, but since there are less of us in our lane, we weren't rushed by the attendants.

Once we were through with the Castle Walk, we decided to explore the rest of Hogsmeade. From butterbeer to robes to owl posts to wand selection, there was a surprise waiting at every corner.

We did not expect the long line at Honeydukes so we decided on lunch at Three Broomsticks first. The meal is more expensive than usual, but I thought the serving size was just right and the interiors made it feel like you were really there.

Details are everything!

Finally, when we got to Honeydukes, we made a beeline for the chocolate frogs and peppermint toads...

only to find out that there are small kiosks outside that sell the more popular items like the frogs and the every-flavored beans.

But then again, who would pass up the chance to enter Honeydukes, right?

So the timed entry tickets? Not yet applicable for early park-goers, it seems. I think it depends on how many people are in the attraction before any sort of timed entry applies. If you're there when the main gates open, I suspect that you could still enter the Wizarding World without running from the main gate. But please note that we were there on a Thursday in the fall, which could have been part of the off-peak season. I don't know how applicable these tips are if you're heading there around the holidays. The golden rule is still the earlier, the better, which is also a good way to avoid the crowds. The timed entry tickets seem to take effect later on, maybe when the attraction is at full capacity or maybe an hour or so in the day. In any case, when we left, we already saw that the area had been closed off and attendants would look for the guests' timed entry tickets before allowing them into the Harry Potter world.

If you plan on going to USJ, make this attraction your first stop. The place is beautiful. Not everyone gets the chance to walk through the pages of a beloved story and this experience just made Harry Potter come alive for me. I didn't regret a single minute.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Kitchen When It Sizzles Blog Tour + Giveaway

Title: The Kitchen When It Sizzles
Author: Chrissie Peria
Date of Publication: August 16, 2014

About the Book:
Olivia Nadal is an almost perfect girl with an almost perfect life. She has stunning good looks, an exciting job that pays well, men lining up to date her, and a homey little condo she calls her own. The only thing keeping her from perfection is her utter inability to cook.

Enter Nate Olivarez, a hotshot chef who's filling in for Olivia's cooking instructor. Sparks fly when they meet, but a fling with the visiting hottie is the last thing Olivia needs. But as things keep heating up in the kitchen, she can't help but wonder. Can things work out between her and Nate? Or is the sizzle all set to fizzle?

You can purchase the book through any of the following links:
The Book Depsitory

Today, we've asked Chrissie herself to talk more about her latest novella. Little did we know that after she released her indie novella All's Fair in Blog and War last year, she would take on a steamier piece!

What prompted you to write a more mature story?
The Kitchen When It Sizzles started as a short story for Mina Esguerra's #steamyreads writing class. It was outside of my comfort zone, but it sounded like a fun challenge to take on, so I signed up. Then the 5,000 word short story exploded and the next thing I knew, I had a full novella. I find it funny that the short story ended up longer than my first book which was intentionally written as a novella. I lay the blame on Nate and his food.

Do you have pegs for your characters?
Yes! Olivia is a compendium of a lot of the AEs I've worked with during the advertising days. Miss Julia is a bit of Julia Child and a lot of Nora Daza (a woman who mesmerized my generation with her cooking show). And Nate---Nate is Adam Levine in chef's whites. Or rather, out of them. I am a fangirl, hear me roar.

How different was your writing process for The Kitchen When It Sizzles compared to writing your first novella?
The main difference between writing The Kitchen When It Sizzles and All's Fair in Blog and War was not having a deadline, other than my self-imposed ones. I allowed myself a little more leeway with editing Kitchen Sizzles. I had time to do more rewrites. And coming from my first novella, I learned to be less attached and more ruthless when it came to revising, trashing whole chapters without batting an eyelash. Whole characters, even. But I'm happy with how it turned out.

What should readers expect from your third book?
I have a couple of projects simmering in the backburner, so I'm not quite sure what will come out next. I'm heavily leaning towards another sweet contemporary romance, but a YA project and a steamy story are struggling to convince me otherwise. They all have romance angles though, so the one thing sure in the third book will be a whole lot of kilig. I hope everyone looks forward to it!

About the Author:
When not obsessing over fictional people doing fictional things, Chrissie obsesses about food: the eating, the cooking, and the procuring of it.

An advertising copywriter in her past life, she now spends most of her time writing, taking photos, cooking, and babysitting a tiny human and a curly-haired dog. She still plays with dolls and she thinks that bacon is the answer. Her first book, All's Fair in Blog and War, is a finalist in the 2014 Filipino Readers' Choice Awards.

Contact Info:
• Blog:
• Facebook:
• Twitter:
• Goodreads:

Now show her some love by joining in this awesome giveaway! You can get a chance to win the following prizes, which I bet are all Nate-approved.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Weekend Prompt | Sept 27-28

After watching Rurouni Kenshin The Legend Ends and all the trip-planning that my friend Liv and I have been doing, I've noticed how many things and tidbits about Kyoto interest me. There's a place in particular that I want to visit but... never mind. We'll see how it works out when I post this week's fic. Happy weekend everyone!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Weekend Prompt #3 | The Lucky

The Lucky

When the phone rang, we thought we were the lucky ones.

Mother was already insisting that we pack even before the call was over. Carl and I both decided it was futile to bring our usual stuff, the ones that accompanied in sun and shadow, the ones that could still bring traces of the fallout with us. So we dug inside our deepest closets for old clothes and unearthed memories, a life interrupted. I reached for the yellowed albums and the pictures that hung on our walls.

"Leave them," she snapped. "We don't have a second to lose."

We were ready in ten minutes, in slightly new hazmat suits, huddled in the dark living room and mentally counting down the minutes. Mother had already locked each door behind us. We heard the rumbling of a large truck, we ran outside. The house was in a sorry state, with aluminum foil on the windows and broken plumbing, but it had been ours and that was all that mattered to me.

Carl left his guitar on the porch. I ran after my brother, fingers reaching towards the truck that would take us to safety. What we didn't know was that it was already inside, racing through our bloodstream, counting down each precious minute of our borrowed breaths.


Copyright 2014
Sept 23, 2014

NOTE: This prompt came from a college friend.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Weekend Prompt | Sept 20-21

Last week was a really busy week for me, which was why I was a few days behind with posting. Hoping to get some work in this weekend. But if you're not as busy as I am, please check out the 35th Manila International Book Fair at the SMX Convention Center, Mall of Asia. I visited it during opening day with my students and came home with eight books (three for me), three magazines, and a treatise on textile conservation.

Also, I was chatting with an old friend when he mentioned #weekendprompt. His, but then I thought, why not mine? I think prompts should come from everywhere. Plus it seemed like a good one, especially in this weather.

Let's hope your weekend's better. Stay safe and dry, everyone!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Weekend Prompt #2 | Noticed


Masayuki keeps the end of his tie in his left pocket; keeping it company is the list of complaints that he has about Kashima. He takes great care not to let her see it--not that he has any difficulty expressing his displeasure at nearly everything she does.

#5. She flirts with every girl in sight.
Thankfully not Sakura or Seo, but maybe it's more to their credit than Kashima's. It grates on him daily, this ability of hers to make a girl swoon or send her into excited fits. If he liked a girl (not that he did, mind you) he thinks that he'll be more straightforward about it. None of these flirtatious gestures or honeyed lines. Those are just too much like the plays he puts on, a pretense for an audience, someone else's words on his lips. He'll be different. He'll just tell her directly: 'I like you. Will you go out with me?' Yep. Sounds right. He does not care for swooning.

#7. She never pays attention.
Someone once told him that Kashima was his favorite headache, but that's giving her too much credit. Masayuki has had it with the reprimands. Some days he admires her carefree ways but on most, he finds that she is too much for him to handle. She doesn't listen anyway. Maybe directness is a virtue, but only in all things not involving Kashima.

#10. Her legs are too long.
Masayuki can blame his own build--too short, always too short--but this is Kashima's list and he'd rather take it out on her. Her legs make catching up with her a logistical nightmare. She'll already be halfway across campus by the time he pauses for breath. Her legs were slim and shapely but dug into the ground with the power of an athlete, kicking up dust with every elegant stride, and he's chasing, always chasing.

#14. She does not mind inconveniencing him.
Like now. Her head on his lap is heavy and she's rolling around as if trying to find the best position. He stiffens when the back of her head brushes too close to him, but then she is rolling again, this time too close to the edge of the seat that he wants to reach out and pull her back. She is thoughtless and inconsiderate in most things, and not even his arm across her shoulders--dragging her to rehearsals, pulling her back from a throng of adoring fans, or keeping her from falling while a King Game is going on--is enough to anchor her to him.

#20. Her legs are too long.
Her skirt is hiked up above her knees, and Masayuki tries not to look. Instead he closes his eyes and imagines himself elsewhere; older, maybe, or more sophisticated, and this time when he tells a girl, 'I like you. Will you go out with me?' she does not say a word. Instead she lifts one creamy leg off the bed, her skirt gliding across her thighs, waiting for him to notice her.


Copyright 2014
Sept 18, 2014

NOTE: This was written in response to a Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun prompt.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Weekend Prompt | Sept 13-14

I love anime and one of my latest faves is Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun. Here's an interesting article to help explain my obsession.

Curiously, I'm more drawn to a minor pairing than the mine one, and it turns out I'm not the only one. This couple topped a recent poll as the readers' favorite pairing. I like how deceptively simple their relationship seems on the surface (she's the playboy school prince; he's her club senior and clearly fed up with her antics). But watch a bit more and you see their careful dance around each other, despite their blunt words and harsh actions.

So here's my latest prompt, the official art that accompanied the poll. This will be my last anime-related prompt/fic for this month (though to be fair, the first prompt wasn't anime-related at all, just the resulting fic), I promise:

Yup, my mind went there.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Weekend Prompt #1 | In the Company of Fish

In the Company of Fish

A flash of orange, and the fish swim away into the folds of the silken kimono. The merchant eyes his customer as he tucks the kimono out of sight, aware that while the man's interest has been baited, there is still the question of price between them.

"The sleeves of this furisode are exquisitely made," the customer concedes in a manner that the merchant would almost consider gracious, if it weren't for the brisk tone often used by men who are not easily won over.

"I am pleased that you think so," the merchant says instead. "Suzuki-sensei will be most humbled to learn that his fine kimono has been met with such regard. His skill is unparalleled in the area--"

The man abruptly brings out more coins than what the merchant is prepared to ask. "Tell Suzuki-sensei that I look forward to seeing more of his fine merchandise."

The merchant, having expected a long and exhaustive debate over the value of the kimono, suddenly finds himself at a loss for a response. He brings the kimono out once more and wraps it into a tidy package. He bows deeply, belatedly. "Thank you for your business." As the gentleman leaves, the merchant is left to wonder the fate of those fish with a man whose eyes seem so cold.


The man doesn't anticipate his intended's reaction, beyond the customary refusals. "You don't like it?" Only he says it more like a statement, each word heavy with its own certainty.

"Of course I like it," she begins tentatively, but he knows that slight crease in her forehead. It warns him that an impassioned speech is on its way and she does not disappoint. "I've never owned anything quite like this before! The fabric is gorgeous and the colors and ... oh! Everything's so rich and vibrant." Her finger traces a reluctant path over the the kimono's details. "But that's just it, I suppose. This is much too rich for me. I suppose I want something I can be more comfortable in, something that suits me."

"I was under the impression that you young ladies enjoyed turning men's heads with such a display of color," he tells her.

The crease in her forehead deepens; he realizes he has blundered onto some mistake. She carefully puts the furisode aside.

"How easy it must be for you to decide my wants," she says almost glibly, but he senses her anger. He is uncomfortable in this skin, the comforter. Instead, he bides his time and waits for the squall to disappear from her eyes.

"If you do not appreciate the kimono, it will be easy to exchange it for another," he replies calmly. He does not understand. Her tone up until now has been perfectly neutral, her questions perfectly valid (why, indeed, the rain asks as it falls in slow random drops outside, as if unsure whether today is the right moment to turn into a summer torrent--why, why, why), but he has a feeling that their world is poised at an equinox not of his own choosing.

"Don't," she says firmly, folding the garment into her arms, gentler than he has ever seen her move. "I am honored by the gift, but perhaps I do not wish to turn young men's heads as you so delicately put it. If I may excuse myself?"

He watches her go. He does not understand why his chest seems to tighten at her admission (no, not true, it is but a fool's notion that there is any emotion processed outside his mind), as if the fish from her furisode have silently navigated the room and floundered, lost, into the chambers of his heart.


The rain forgets details. It only remembers grand things: a tree twice touched by lightning, a deep scar made on the bank where the river once swelled. It does not remember the stone on which a little girl once tripped or how that girl's lips (now a woman) is the shade of a persimmon that has bruised itself easily on the hard earth.

Some days, he wishes to be the rain.


In the end, she wears the furisode to the harvest festival. When she moves, hundreds of sunset fish jump and hide beneath a shower of cherry blossoms. His strides are long and measured but it is an effort to keep up with her. Does he imagine the mischievous rise of her lips, smoothed back before he can contemplate what it means? Or does he remember the girl she once was, the one he thought would welcome him back and let him settle into her life without any complaints?

"Why do you think that you must be responsible for my happiness?" she asks him suddenly. He blinks, unsure of the question's origins, uncomfortable with its implications. But still, she forges on. "Who told you what I need to be happy?"

"I am sorry." He says the words a year too late, but here they are nonetheless, stumbling after them on an uneven autumn road. He had thought the furisode would be a step towards penance but he is slow in contemplating his faults, especially where she is concerned.

"You are not the same man who left," she tells him. "I am not the maiden you left behind. We do not have many obligations left to each other, you and I."

"Even to make you happy?"

"Autumn does not seem like such a good time to start," she notes. He hears it in her voice, the unspoken admonition, the blame, the regret.

"I will walk with you to the temple," he says. He wants to reach out for her but he is afraid that all he will touch are scales, too quick and slippery to hold.

She nods. "I will see myself home."


Copyright 2014
Sept 9, 2014

NOTE: Furisode - a colorful kimono worn by single women especially on festivals and other occasions. The long and flowing sleeves are said to be usually colorful to attract men.

This was written in response to this prompt.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Weekend Prompt | Sept 6-7

As a personal challenge, I'm going to start posting little prompts here and hope they help me write something before the weekend is over. I'm thinking tonight it'll be Jim Croce's Lover's Cross. My friend Ilyn tweeted the most beautiful part of the lyrics a few minutes ago and it reminded me how deftly a song can capture a specific experience:

'Cause baby, I can't hang upon no lover's cross for you

My favorite lines go:
And you were tryin' to make me your martyr
And that's the one thing I just couldn't do
'Cause baby, I can't hang upon no lover's cross for you

'Cause tables are meant for turnin'
And people are bound to change
And bridges are meant for burnin'
When the people and memories
They join aren't the same

It's Friday night; let's see where this goes. Join me?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Dressing for the Heat

Because Hot Like This takes place at a commercial shoot with a tropical resort and casino in the backdrop, we got excited over planning the dresses and outfits that the female characters would wear. Think of it as packing for a trip -- but without having to worry about whether a dress will fit us or not!

When planning our collaborations, Chrissie, Miles, and I usually set up a Google spreadsheet that contains all the info we need. Think of it as our working encyclopedia. It usually contains character info: ages, families, backgrounds. Even when they end up not being used, we usually have details like this stored away. For Hot Like This, we even had pegs for the resort, and more importantly, for the characters' clothes.

We felt clothes were important here because 1) they added detail to a characters' actions and thoughts; 2) they played a crucial role to Elaine's transformationl and 3) we had to work out certain mechanics for certain steamy scenes. So it was very important that all three of us had a clear picture of what we were writing about. We picked the clothes based on what was required of the scene and what felt natural to the character.

The Cover Dress
Our primary requirement is that the back should be striking. A backless dress similar to what Ginny wore in All I Want for Christmas wasn't going to work for Elaine's manang personality, but we tried to push the envelope as much as we could. It also needed to be something that fits the beach scene. We're glad we found this: it keeps Elaine covered up but it's not really that conservative. It's sexy and flirty, perfect for her first date with Luis. Miles did a good job of tweaking the dress (like straightening the hemline and adding more fabric to the bodice.) We loved the color -- it's cool to the eyes and it captures the summer vibe we were going for.

The Maxi Dress
Elaine is a fan of maxi dresses, and if she had her way, these are all she'd wear at the beach! Don't get us wrong; we don't have anything against maxi dresses. :) We ended up picking this floral bohemian dress. It has a nice, fun print that Elaine would go for. We may not have described it fully in the story, but we all had this in our heads.

The Cocktail Dress
For the makeover and casino scene, we picked a dress which Miles found on Pinterest (but one we could never identify). We liked it because it hugged her body in just the right way, something that Elaine's other outfits didn't quite do. We thought it was elegant enough for the finale. Or, as Bern would say, "Joseph Gordon-LoveIt!"

Dia's Bikini
We wanted something sexy but still classic for Dia's commercial shoot. Chrissie and I both worked in advertising before and we've had our fair share of selecting swimsuits for various shoots. Real estate? Check. Alcohol? Check. We knew we wanted something that was sexy and high-end but didn't scream gold-digger. So we ended up with Lanvin! Expensive enough, right?

What do you think of their dresses? Were they similar to what you had in mind while reading the story? Let us know what you think!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Scribbled: Hot Like This

Late last year, when my friends and co-#romanceclass authors Chrissie Peria and Miles Tan and I wrote a holiday short story called All I Want for Christmas, we already knew that we'd be writing a follow-up featuring the other characters. We initially planned a May release for Hot Like This but with scheduling things, we ended up releasing last June 21. Hey, it's still summer in the US and the heat in Manila still hasn't let up! If you've read All I Want, then you're already familiar with our next pair.

Ma•nang |má•naŋ| noun. origin: Filipino

1. older sister
2. conservative woman
3. Elaine Antonio

Self-proclaimed manang Elaine Antonio is restrained, cautious, and used to taking care of people. Gorgeous Brazilian-Japanese model Luis Inoue is laid-back, impulsive, and totally out of her league. But when they're thrown together at the same island resort one summer weekend, things unexpectedly heat up.

Elaine knows that once the vacation is over, they'll be returning to their two very different worlds. Is this destined to be just a summer fling? Or will she finally learn how to take a risk for love?

Hot Like This is longer than our first collaboration, but we still did it in the same style. We each took a character and wrote from that person's perspective, then we went around tightening the narration and dialogue up after we had the basics down. It's exclusive to Kindle for the next three months, but All I Want for Christmas will be free elsewhere. Expect to see it on other sites (even our own blogs) soon!

We couldn't have done Hot Like This without the help and support of Mina E, Tania A, Gail D, Osing B, and Dia P. (Dia, by the way, won a 5x5 Podcast promo run by Tania and Mina, and we ended up naming one of our characters after her!) We're also very grateful to everyone who has liked, shared, retweeted, reblogged, downloaded, and reviewed our short story.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Jenny Han in Manila

I was very excited when I heard that Jenny Han was coming to Manila. National Bookstore has been bringing in a lot of YA authors recently, but this was the first time that I was determined to show up. Loaded down with books, I trooped over to the book signing at National Bookstore Glorietta last Saturday, June 21.

Jenny Han in Manila

The Summer series marks one of the rare moments when my sister's tastes coincided with mine. She made me get all three books and was disappointed when I wouldn't spring for a hardbound. When I found out that Jenny Han was coming here, she was the first person I texted. I promised that I would head there to get a book signed for her and so last Saturday, I was there bright and early (lined up at 8:30 am for the 2:00 pm signing and got number #128).

There was a good crowd at NBS. Fans showed up in book t-shirts. Some showed their devotion by lining up at 11:00 pm the night before (there were free hot drinks for the first 30 people in the line, courtesy of Jenny, I heard). While the crowd may not have been comparable to some of the other book signings held in recent months, it's always good to be in the company of fellow fans and readers. I ran into some old friends and made new ones, and we filled in the waiting time with conversations about our favorite books and our TBR lists.

Waiting for the book signing to start

The afternoon began with a short Q&A. I wasn't able to get all of Jenny's answers' verbatim, but she talked about:

• her mentors, including David Levithan
• her favorite books, like The Time Traveller's Wife and the Hunger Game series
• the Burn for Burn series and writing with her best friend Siobhan Vivian: "I'm the good girl; she's the bad girl."
• the Summer series being optioned for TV
• diversity in literature: "Lara Jean is Asian because it was natural for the character... I believe in diversity in literature. It must reflect what we see in the world (paraphrased)."

One of the best things I heard from Jenny was when she said that '(her) priority is to write an honest and truthful story.' I missed recording the first part of her interview but here's the part that I did manage to catch(not verbatim, but pretty close):

Q: Do you have any advise for aspiring writers in the audience?

Jenny Han: My advise would be to do exactly what you are doing which is reading a lot and hearing other people's voices but trying to figure out what your voice is. I think my advice would also be to have a lot of adventures and to get your heart broken a couple of times because it's very good material for you. All those emotions, you can pour that into your writing.

What is your writing process? How does it work? Do you sit down and write every single day?

JH: No, not when I'm on the road and not when I'm on deadline. When I'm on deadline, I write a lot, a lot. (And right now, I'm on deadline. I'm going to be late! I'm going to blame you guys.)

You're writing P.S. I Still Love You right now. So will the ending still change or do you know who she'll end up with?

JH: It's still very malleable right now. We'll see. We'll see.

Are there any other series or trilogies or stand-alone books that you're dreaming up?

JH: Always. I have a few more books in my head that I've sold recently but it's still all being formed.

Your books have inspired some fanfiction. Do you ever read fanfiction? How do you feel about it?

JH: It always feel a little weird, yeah, because I think that for the writer, you write the story and then you kind of have to say goodbye to it, in a way and let it be what it's going to be. And then people can, you know, write fanfiction, or kind of imagine their own endings to it but I think that once it's in the world, it's no longer just yours so you just have to divorce yourself from that.

Do you read your own book reviews? How do you feel when you hear what people say about your writing?

JH: I think it's almost like the way that life is, when you kind of remember the mean things that people say about you and the nice things, you're like 'Yeah, yeah, yeah,' you don't really believe it. So I try not to read reviews too much. It can be difficult, especially when you're writing a series, to hear outside opinions because you're just trying to finish and do what you want to do. But the temptation is always there to look and see what people are saying. I often succumb to that.

Jenny talking about her books and her writing process

Soon the floor was open to fan questions:

I would just like to ask, of all the characters you've created, who can you say was closest to your heart and why?

JH: Probably of all the characters I've ever created, I'd probably say, it's a book that you guys may or may not have read -- it's for younger kids -- it's called Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream, and it's about a little girl and her grandfather. That book is dedicated to my grandfather who passed away and that's very close to my heart. It's that story and those characters, a little girl and her sister and her grandfather.

Will you ever write a spin-off of Jeremiah for The Summer I Turned Pretty series?

JH: I don't think so, because I felt like Jeremiah, in my mind, is doing fine. He's happy, he's good, and I feel like his story is pretty much closed for me. I have a lot of stories that I want to tell and I want to keep going and doing new things.

But Jeremiah is fine. Don't worry about him. He's living a happy life.

If you were to describe your latest book, To All the Boys I've Loved Before, since there were cookies there, what cookie would you choose to describe your book?

JH: For that book, I might choose to describe that book as a lemon cookie. A little bit sharp, mostly sweet and sunshiny, but I think it's kinda like a warm, sunshiny book.

Your books are all about first love, first heartbreak, first crush, and do you believe that you can get over a first love and if you don't mind, who was your first love?

JH: Oh my gosh! (crowd shrieks in delight) I think that you can get over your first love but I think a part of them will always reside in your heart. But I think it's almost like the dream that you had of them but not the real person. Who they were to you at that moment and who you were at that moment.

My first love was a guy -- I'm not going to say his name because --

(Interviewer recites a list of male characters that Jenny has written: Reeve, Alex, Jeremiah, Conrad? Who's Conrad?)

JH: Yeah, this is like a Conrad-ish guy and once in a while, he will still show up in my dreams to haunt me. And I'm like, 'What are you doing here?' But it will always be the high school version of him, not the person he is now. I think that it's the nostalgia of that.

You mentioned earlier that Ashes to Ashes is coming out this September. Can you tell us a little more about it?

JH: Fire with Fire ends in a sort of fiery place. I'll say that there's another death to come, a beloved character. And I can say that it definitely gets a bit juicier with the romance as well. It gets a little scary and it also gets a little bit steamy.

Before the book signing, Jenny thanked the fans, "It's just so overwhelming. I feel that my heart is just like overflowing with love from you guys, and I'm so grateful and thankful. Thank you so much for the love."

I asked her to dedicate We'll Always Have Summer to my sister CJ

I ended up having four other books signed: my Summer series and a copy of To All the Boys I've Loved Before

With friends, author Mina V. Esguerra and PBBY chair Tarie Sabido

With fellow book blogger Camille

Thank you, Ms Jenny Han!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

One Foot in Front of the Other

I would have loved to say that the reason I haven't been posting regularly is because I've been traveling, but the truth is I've just been preoccupied with a lot of other things. I've been a bad blogger. Still, my year has been dotted with some short trips here and there, proof that I've never really been one to stay put. Finally writing this post has been good for me. It was real. It happened. It feels like a lifetime ago, but it happened.

(Warning: This post is image-heavy)

Singapore (January)
I was on a plane bound for Manila on New Year's Day and I want to think that it set the tone for this year's travel plans. Two days after that, my youngest sister CJ and I headed to Singapore. It was both my graduation present to her (she started college last fall) and a chance for me to visit some dear friends.
No trip is complete without a visit to Clarke Quay. We headed there for a short walk on our first night and then returned a few days after to take the river cruise.

It was my first time at the Botanical Gardens. I would love to bring my mom to this place.

My sister insisted on getting a henna tattoo at Little India. She even brought her own design.

We headed to Chinatown on our last day. I insisted.

Taken at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. I've been there a few times before but this was the first time I found out its name.

Macau (March)
This was a bittersweet journey for me. At first, I was excited for a very brief shake-up-the-weekend trip with my long-time travel buddy Liv (and new friend Mark).
Casinos everywhere. Of course we had to try one.

We stayed only a few blocks from Senado Square so this was a familiar sight. We passed by the Square whenever we went out or came back to the hotel.

Good morning, sunshine.

Liv took this photo in front of the Macau Tower, showcasing different artists' work celebrating the Year of the Horse. This was one of my favorites.

Ruinas de Sao Paulo, gutted but still standing.

One of my best friends--light of my life, heart-sister--was in the hospital before I left for this trip. Macau was one of the places that we had always talked of visiting but we never really got the chance to start any concrete plans. So I took photos and filed notes away, chronicling my trip for her, thinking of all the things I would tell her when I returned. At about four-thirty AM on the day that I was supposed to return, I woke to missed calls and messages and I knew that she had gone on a different journey without me. I still miss her.

La Union (April)
Every year, I only make one New Year's resolution (I believe in focusing). This year's went to seeing more of the Philippines. When my good friend and neighbor Mac invited me to go to La Union for Visita Iglesia, I jumped at the chance. I was still reeling from many things and I thought this was a good opportunity for me to find a little breathing room. Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera so my photos ended up being mobile device-grainy.
Little town, it's a quiet village...

At the first church we visited. It had plenty of painted leaves and forests on the walls that it made me feel at peace.

Plenty of these old churches had these steps (or are they buttresses?) built against each side.

I liked the contrast between the dusty-looking brick church and the green that seemed determined to break through. Rally, heart.

Quezon (May)
I checked off something on my bucket list when another old friend (classmate of many years) Camille and I headed to Lucban, Quezon for the Pahiyas Festival. We tease each other about being kaladkarin (literally easy to drag along) and in the past few months we've been hoarding up on cultural experiences. Visiting Lucban was a nice change of pace and I would love to return to Pahiyas (time to befriend a local!) in the coming years.
The Pahiyas is definitely the most colorful festival I've seen.

Like seriously colorful. This is edible decor.

Even our food was colorful.

Pahiyas is a time to be grateful for the bountiful harvest, so it was common to see houses decorated with wheat and vegetables.

I didn't want to leave without taking a photograph of Mt Banahaw. My final opportunity came while we were speeding back to the tour bus on a tricycle. Camille held me while I leaned out to take this shot.

I wonder what sort of adventure the rest of the year has in store for me. Liv and I have another trip planned; Camille and I have been plotting one (it would be the first time we'd fly together) since the beginning of the year. But time is such a curious construct that all these really do feel like they were part of another life, and all the plans that we're making now still seem to be so far away. What I do know is that I wish I can always keep going somewhere, 'one foot in front of the other, through leaves, over bridges.'