Sunday, January 26, 2014

What to Want: Down Romance's Memory Lane

I came across this line from The Millions' Tumblr:

“Even though girls inevitably move on— whether to Harlequins or Anna Quindlen or Don DeLillo—for many of them, their first favorite author, the one who taught them what to want and what to envy, is likely to have been a ghostwriter hired by a team to distill the essence of middle-of-the-road idealized teenage life.”

I definitely agree.

Get ready, this will be a long post.

The Sweet Valley series was such a big part of my growing up years. I remember reading my first one (SVT #17, Boys against Girls) thanks to a classmate who brought her books on a fourth-grade field trip. I think nearly every girl there managed to borrow at least one book and I was pretty happy with my choice. Eventually I would move to teen series like Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High.

My favorites:
Sweet Valley High
#49 Playing for Keeps - The one where Jessica pretends to be demure and snags a really decent guy. [Spoiler alert] They break up after a few books, but it was one of those few times where I got kilig over Jessica's boy. Unfortunately though, it was just not meant to be. Moral: 'Conceal, don't feel' didn't fly for Queen Elsa; neither would it for Jessica Wakefield or anyone else.

#39 Secret Admirer - The one where Liz's editor Penny Ayala falls in love with a pen pal. Only the pen pal is fabricated by a bunch of jerks. One has a conscience though, and tries to make amends with Penny in the end. I really enjoyed reading the exchanges between Penny and Neil (conscience guy and the jerks' whipping boy designated letter writer), and I thought he redeemed himself in the end. What's interesting is that Neil's character and choices are eventually brought up in a later story. For a secondary character, I thought his portrayal in the books were pretty consistent. Moral: Do not wear madras to an eyeball.

#17 Love Letters - The one where you begin to sense a pattern in the books I like. In this one, the twins' neighbor Caroline fabricates a pen pal whose romantic letters are the talk of the school. I realize that a lot of these plots won't work so much in this day and age (said pen pal's identity could have been easily verified via Facebook), but I could relate to Caroline's loneliness and need for friends. Moral: Always have a Plan B. Or Z.

#28 Alone in the Crowd - The one where the singer/songwriter writes a song and gets a boyfriend. Lynne Henry was born a few decades too early; I think she wouldn't have been at a loss for friends now. SHe would make a great hipster. Not that hipsters are depressive, though. I remember a lot of moping around but Lynne got a boost of confidence in the end. A lot of people criticize SVH's penchant for makeovers as a solution to real-life issues, but in Lynne's case, I was Moral: Music (and makeovers) will save the world. (I was sarcastic about the 'makeovers' part, just in case you missed that.)

Sweet Dreams
I just have to include my SD titles, though they're not exactly written by 'the ghostwriter hired by a team' that the quote refers to. Reading Sweet Dreams made me feel grown up. I read my first one in fourth grade and my mother did not approve of my reading choices. So I had older busmates and titas who would slip me copies that I would then hide under my bed. The first ones I ever read were Wrong Kind of Boy by Shannon Blair and Ten-Speed Summer by Deborah Kent.

Some I loved because of the romance:
#145 Crazy for You (Jahnna Beecham)
This is one of my mega-faves. Piper Elliott finally gets the chance to work at a country club, which hosts a fancy masquerade ball. She is determined to make this the summer she hooks up with her crush David. There is always some kind of twist in their stories (Jahnna Beecham is a pseudonym for a husband-wife team) that made it slightly less predictable than most of the other Sweet Dreams stories. Of course, I read this when I was really young but I had a schoolgirl crush on Piper's friend Max.

#63 Kiss Me, Creep (Marian Woodruff)
I remember reading this and enjoying the banter between Joy Wilder and Richie Brennan (JW + RB). The two are always at each others' throats. Joy's no fan of Richie but when she gets stranded with him, she begins to change her mind.

#113 Private Eyes (Julia Winfield)
Christine is investigating some thefts at school, and Andy offers to help. But the more she investigates, the more it seems like Andy's the culprit. I love mysteries thanks to Nancy Drew, but I have a babaw reason for liking this--we share the same nickname.

I also loved the summer-oriented stories. When I was younger, I spent every summer in my family's province, so I had an affinity to these girls who would almost always hate being shipped off to some small town on a family vacation/unexpected family crisis.
#13 The Summer Jenny Fell in Love (Barbara Conklin) - Jenny doesn't leave their house for the summer, but what changes it is her mom's decision to take in boarders. Cliff and his mom move in, and Cliff's older brother ways put a damper on Jenny's plans to enjoy the summer. I didn't expect to like this when I first read it, but over the years, their story has stayed with me.
#75 First Summer Love (Stephanie Foster) - Lynn and her family has to share a summer house with Jody and his family -- which brings unexpected chaos into her life. I think Jody's such a feminine name, but I didn't let this affect me from enjoying how things blossomed between the two of them.
#53 Ghost of a Chance (Janet Quin-Harkin) - JQH taught me that not all stories had to have that perfect happy ending. (Actually, no, I learned that from Hans Christian Anderson, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and Daniel Keyes, but JQH did her part, too.) Meredith takes care of a crippled aunt for the summer and meets sailing enthusiast Nat. But Meredith has a boyfriend that she left behind. It sounds simple and uncomplicated but it really highlights how a point of view can change in just a few weeks.

Some of them I liked because of their writing-oriented stories:
#12 Night of the Prom (Debra Spencer) - The girl was the editor of her school paper, and I could relate to that! She and Michael have a nice friendly dynamic to them.
#146 Gifts from the Heart (Joanna Simbal) - This was special to me because the girl wanted to be a writer and I romanticized the idea of writing a manuscript. Plus it had horses! In one particular scene, Torie reads her story out loud and Kyle happens to hear it. Later he corrects her writing by citing lunar positions. This story is why I get anal about certain things when I'm writing, like making sure I check out the tidal charts when I have two characters walking by the beach.

Finally, no SD faves list is complete without mentioning Sherri Cobb South. I just love love love these romances. She wrote great stories with relatable heroines, cute hook-ups, and managed to do this by employing different romance tropes: Bickering Couples, Mistaken Identity, All It Takes is a Makeover, Love Right Under Her Nose.
#176 Wrong Way Romance
#186 That Certain Feeling
#192 The Cinderella Game
#214 Don't Bet on Love

'What to want and what to envy' so the quote says, and my girlish dreams and wishes did grow out of the highly romanticized ideals I read about in these pages. I wanted to be someone who was constantly surrounded by friends and was positive and was passionate about something. I dreamt of romances that grew out of friendship and concern (a summer fling was icing on the cake). Even if I have moved on to other reading choices, I'm not ashamed of what I used to read because they became the foundations of my romantic paradigm -- both in my reading choices and in real life. So much of this is fabricated and idealized, but even without knowing it, here was where I began to demand and expect, to judge and differentiate, to learn and settle. I'm no longer the same girl I was when I read these, but some things have definitely stayed.

I also asked book blogger Monique what her favorites are. Monique has the most extensive Sweet Dreams collection I know! You can check out the rest of the titles here. In the meantime, I'll let her do the fangirling over some of my favorite Sheri Cobb South books.

Monique's Top Ten Favorite Sweet Dreams titles (no particular order, except for #1, haha)
1. Wrong-Way Romance by Sheri Cobb South (#176) – I love Darby and Bruce: I love their squabbling, I love how they hated each other at first sight, I love how they are always seemingly thrown together by people and circumstances, and how they had no choice but to fall in love. I always remember the line, “it’s just a fender bender” and how Darby used to call Bruce a “Neanderthal.” Hands down, my favorite SD title of all time.

2. Questions of Love by Rosemary Vernon (#86) – It was the very first SD title I ever read, and I love it not only because it introduced me to the series but also because I love the couple there. They were their school’s representatives to a major quiz bee, and they were teammates at first until it came to a point when they had to compete against each other.

3. Lovebirds by Janet Quin-Harkin (#68) – JQH, I realize now, is one of my favorite SD writers. I love how she creates way-too-kilig scenes that I keep imagining in my head, and many of those scenes are here. The setting of the story is in the Australian outback; the female protagonist (I forget the name, I’m sorry, huhu) is forced to take a vacation with her documentary filmmaker father, who is scheduled to take films in the outback region. The guy of her dreams happens to be in the crew, and many things take place while they were out in the wild.

4. Dear Amanda by Rosemary Vernon (#33) – The female protagonist is the identity behind the Dear Amanda advice column in her school paper, and she answers the problems sent to her by the readers. I love this book because I used to be part of our school organ in high school and I also dreamed of doing the same advice column (someone else was writing it already). Also, I loved that the story didn’t merely focus on a love interest, but on family as well.

5. Comedy of Errors by Diane Michele Crawford (#195) – Hilarious! I was literally laughing out loud as I was reading this book because I remember how Stephanie (yes! I remember a name!) almost always seemed to find herself in an embarrassing situation whenever her love interest is around. It didn’t help that Stephanie’s own family was a hilarious bunch, so I totally love this book.

6. That Certain Feeling by Sheri Cobb South (#186) – This involves a love interest who wants to be (or already belongs to, can’t remember which) in a fraternity, or a clique of some sort. Our heroine is supposed to do some stuff for him as well to help him out. Mostly, what I remember from this book is being kilig from imagining the girl wearing the letterman jacket of the boy. Haha, so high school. Chris: The girl is Penny, the guy is Woody, and the task involved was to get Woody's playbook (both are from rival schools). My nerd is showing!

7. The Cinderella Game by Sheri Cobb South (#192) – There’s a pageant being held in town, and the female protagonist is a seamstress employed for the summer by the pageant organizers. Hot guy waltzes in with a piano to be used during the pageant proper, and what follows is a long-winded case of mistaken identity. I love the thrill and the suspense, the big reveal in the end, and how everything wraps up so nicely, too.

8. Exchange of Hearts by Janet Quin-Harkin (#61) – The female protagonist is an exchange student from Europe who’s going to spend an entire school year in a high school in the Midwest, staying with some country bumpkin-ish family. Being an exchange student and all, of course we know how this will end but what happens for an entire year is something to remember.

9. Night of the Prom by Debra Spector (#12) – I remember my prom nights in high school. Hehe. When you’re in high school and at that certain age, sometimes the prom is kind of a big deal. Barbara, the female lead, is the newspaper editor, so she’s known for being one of the intellectual, do-gooder types in school. And then Michael asks her to the prom... ;)

10. Three’s A Crowd by Alison Dale (#166) – It’s about the hazards and disadvantages when a couple hangs around too much with one of their siblings (or other close friend). Unlike the other books, the couple in this one doesn’t take too long to get together, and they only encounter conflicts later. I can’t remember if it’s the guy or the girl who had a sibling that tags with them way too much, thus the title. But I remember how much I appreciated this one because I could imagine how difficult it would be to choose one over the other.

Now it's your turn! What are your favorite SVH/SD titles? Or if you're from a younger generation, do you have favorite books from a romance franchise?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Time out for some music

I've laid this island sun a thousand times
I'm on it but I'm going strange
This island's chills and shell cover me
With winded rock and skies I've yet to see

I tried, I even sent in friends
They did it as a favor, 'cause I'm not that way
I am the autumn in the scarlet
I am the make-up on your eyes

I land to sail, island sail

- The Breeders, Off You

Friday, January 17, 2014

Author Interview: Ami Granada

Fellow #romanceclass classmate Ami Granada released her novella, Unspoken, close to the end of 2013. It's the story of free-spirited travel writer Georgina, whose perfect world is rocked by the return of a guy from her past. Now Ian is everywhere -- at work, on her trips -- and it's taking all of Georgi's willpower to resist falling under his spell again.

I asked Ms Ami (it's what I've called her since!) a few questions about her novella and she was gracious enough to answer them here:

Q: Do you have real-life inspirations that you've included in this book?
A: Georgina is a hodge podge of my favorite characters in movies and books, like Kathleen Kelly(You’ve got mail played by Meg Ryan), and my doppelganger who lives in a parallel world because although I am a travel writer (in hiatus) and have gone to Macau, I am not the character. My life is exciting in a very ordinary way, I have kids, I write and my best friend is also a travel writer.

Q: Georgina works for a travel magazine and you've really captured her job well. Do you also work for one? How have your experiences helped you write this book?
A: I contribute to magazines like Cruising, Manila Bulletin, and the now defunct Women’s Journal. I know what is possible and what is not. But of course I can always push boundaries because the excitement of what can be, the string of possibilities, is the core of romance.

Q: Do you have any writing habits?
A: I write 500 words a day, more or less. It has helped me finish the novel. When I can’t write, I tell myself it’s going to pass. Just wait. Because I know it will always be there. I can’t let it go. And writing is a craft which I have to learn. For now it’s a hobby because I have not reached my goal of ten books. When I reach that, I can call it a passion.

Q: What kind of characters do you like reading/writing about?
A: I like feisty women and men who can deal with them, woo and win them.

Q: Are you working on your next novella? What will it be about?
A: I’m working on Romancing Stone. It’s about a girl named Colette, an events specialist who’s trying to live independently from her parents. She had recently been dumped by her boyfriend. Her new job as events specialist entails working with models, divas, and her client, the shockingly handsome Stone.

About the Author:
Ami Granada first discovered books when she was 3 years old, when her family had a short stint in Cotabato, Mindanao.Her first books were Dr. Seuss' Cat in the Hat and Aristocats. Her family moved back to Manila when she was 6. She is an English teacher and has been teaching at the Manila Japanese School for 16 years. She co-authored a World Literature textbook, Breaking Grounds, in English.

She also writes lifestyle and travel articles for Manila Bulletin. Her poetry, articles and stories have been published in several magazines. She has written two Filipino romance novels and one romance novel in English.

Monday, January 13, 2014

2014 Reading Challenge

My reading resolution this year will be simple. Here are some books that, for one reason or another, I've put off reading. This 2014, I'll try not to let my excuses get the better of me:

1. IQ84 by Haruki Murakami - My main excuse for not reading this book sooner was that the family's copy was at my cousin's apartment and it seemed redundant to have another copy of a book that took up a lot of space! I wasn't eager to read an ebook copy of a Murakami book, but I vow that this will be the year for me to finally pick it up when I'm in Katipunan.

2. The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo - I've heard nothing but good reviews about this book. A fantastical take on an Asian historical tale. Sold.

3. The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken by Tarquin Hall - I must have the print edition of this one, since I already have the first two. A digital version won't do at all.

4. The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch - I was a fan of his Gentleman Bastards Sequence, but it's been a while since I read the last story. I want to reread the first two books before I attack this latest one, which was released just last year.

5. The River of No Return by Bee Ridgeway - A time-travel story with both adventure and romance.

6. Errantry by Elizabeth Hand - Ms Hand is one of my favorite authors but I have yet to read her collection of short stories.

7. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki - Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, this novel has been on my TBR list for a while now. Just never found the time.

8. Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray - The first book made me shiver in delicious horror and I'm looking forward to the next installment in the Diviners series.

9. At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson - I sampled this on Kindle and I just love what I've read so far. But I've been putting off buying a copy since I'm watching my credit purchases. If I can find a copy at Fully Booked, I'm grabbing it right away.

10. Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker - It's been on my wish list for a while now but I just keep on setting it aside in favor of other books. I hope this year I'll stick to my guns and read it.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Year in Review

I don't really write out a list of resolutions for the new year. What I do is to pick one goal and make sure that I stick to it. My goals are mainly hobby-oriented so that I can really gauge whether I've been successful or not. Over the years, they have ranged from entering contests (2010) to joining an astronomy group (2011) to getting published (2012).

In 2013, the goal was daunting: really publish my own book. It was an old goal that I failed to see through last year. A story of mine was included in a published anthology, so I thought mission accomplished; I could rest on my laurels. But I ached to have that one book that belonged to me and me alone, so when Mina V. Esguerra opened up an online writing class on Facebook, I was on board with the idea.

Because of that, 2013 turned out to be a really good writing year. Thanks to #romanceclass, I was able to release my first contemporary romance novella, Cover (Story) Girl in August. A few weeks after the e-book release, I had a few copies printed, which found their way to readers, giveaway winners, an online bookstore, and even brick-and-mortar shops in Aklan. The reviews and the feedback have been very encouraging. It introduced me to new people and new friends, pushing me to be more active on social networking sites like Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. The class joined local book fairs and helped us connect with readers and even meet some industry bigwigs. I definitely wouldn't have predicted that last January.

Towards the end of the year, I collaborated with fellow #romanceclass writers Chrissie Peria and Miles Tan to write a holiday short story called All I Want for Christmas. It was the first time that the three of us have decided to enroll in Amazon's Kindle Select program and we were surprised by the results. At our highest ranking, we were #7 on the Kindle Store's Top 100 Free Titles, in the Women's Fiction NA/College list, #11 for Holidays, and #17 for Women's Fiction Romance. It even landed us a guesting stint at 5x5 Podcast! It was a holiday thank-you for our readers, but in the end we also felt very grateful to everyone who helped spread the love.

One of my speculative short stories, 'Rubbed Out Sky', is forthcoming in the maiden issue of Plural, the online prose journal of MFA grad students from De La Salle University. Please watch this space for more news.

What's nice about 2013 was that Cover (Story) Girl even made it to some readers' lists for their favorite reads/honorable mentions of the year:

GMA Network Lifestyle Section
I Like It Dog-Eared
Bookish Little Me
Book Junkie Joint

Despite all the challenges that 2013 has brought with it, I'm grateful that the writing part has been smooth sailing. I'm crossing my fingers that 2014 will be just as good!