Why The Edwardian Philippines: Guest Post by Author Jennifer Hallock

I’ve been hearing about author Jennifer Hallock for a while now, mostly from fellow Filipino romance readers. I was intrigued from the first time I found out that she writes historical romance set in the Philippines. I’ve been meaning to read her books for the longest time and finally found time to start Under the Sugar Sun, which is still my current read. I find the Philippine setting so refreshing compared to other historical romance reads! I asked Jennifer why she chose to write about this setting, and she was generous enough to write a guest post about it. Please give Jennifer a warm welcome and find out why her historical romances are set in my home country! As always, I hope this guest post will also encourage more readers to pick up her books. 🙂

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Why The Edwardian Philippines
by Jennifer Hallock

I am often asked why I set my romance novels in the middle of the Philippine-American War. Why not Regencies, which are far more marketable? I do love my dukes—I do. But, as you will see, I’m just too much of a history geek to pass up the complex, conflicting legacy of the Americans in the Philippines.

What’s wrong with Regency? Well, nothing. But do you ever wonder the odds of throwing a rock in a Regency romance and hitting a duke? Just exactly how many dukes were there in 1814? Only 25, actually—and only 576 peers above the degree of baronet. This means that out of a British population of almost 19 million, there was one duke for every 756,000 Brits, and one peer for every 33,000. That’s not many—but that’s their appeal, I suppose. Dukes are the billionaire trope of historical romance: desirable, virile, chiseled, strong, and dominant. But were they these things? Let’s start with: were they even young? Dukes in 1814 averaged over 50 years old—my hasty calculation based on Wikipedia peerage lists. And given the average Regency diet and sedentary lifestyle, the rest of the conceit might not hold up, either. But nevermind, because Regency romance has become a world unto itself—a fantasy of masked balls, flavored ices, and daring carriage races through the park. As escapism, these books have huge appeal.

For those of us who like a little more authenticity, historical romances set in Europe and the United States are growing more diverse. Authors like Beverly Jenkins, Courtney Milan, Alyssa Cole, KJ Charles, Rose Lerner, andAmara Royce, to name just a few, are more inclusive as regards to race, class, sexuality, and nationality. They bring a more representative picture to the romance reader.

English-language books with geographic diversity—set outside North America—are harder to find, though not impossible. Take Laura Kinsale’s sweeping love story, Dream Hunter, set in the Syrian desert — with nary a sheikh trope in sight! Or consider Jeannie Lin, who writes Tang dynasty historicals that make the China of a thousand years ago feel both fresh and familiar at the same time.

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It’s fabulous stuff. You get to travel in your head for (nearly) free! So, of all the places you could travel, why choose the Philippine-American War? How about because it is the most important war that America forgot? It’s barely studied in US high schools today, but that’s a mistake. It was a watershed moment that launched the American Century. Before the Philippines, the US swore off overseas possessions and entanglements. Not interested. But when America seized the Philippines in the Spanish-American War (1898), everything changed. The US began to talk about a special mission to shape the world in its own image—but not before engaging in vigorous internal debates over national debt, trade agreements, nation-building, immigration, and the use of military force. Do these issues sound familiar? They should. The America of today was defined by what happened in the Philippines. George Santayana said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But it is not good enough to just remember the past. You should experience it yourself. That’s the garden where empathy grows. That’s where you get all the feels.

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And you need the feels. Writing happily-ever-afters is a needed tonic to digest all this history. As author Alisha Rai tweeted, “our basic genre requirement…[is] that there’s no black moment that love cannot overcome.” Thus, I wrote a story about an American schoolteacher, one of a thousand sent to the Philippines to establish the first co-educational, secular public school system in Asia. (When I began Under the Sugar Sun, I was also an American schoolteacher in the Philippines. “Write what you know,” as they say.) My heroine, Georgina Potter, represents the best of what America has to offer, but it may not be good enough for Filipino nationalist Javier Altarejos—a sugar baron who is better educated, better traveled, and a better linguist than the Yankee colonial officials sent to “civilize” him. (Their word, not mine.) As Georgina questions her country’s agenda, so does the reader. And, of course, love conquers all because—hello!—romance!

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With the exception of the prequel novella, Hotel Oriente, all my books are interracial romances. These couples forge a path that is not easy, but totally worth it. This moral of multiculturalism is a little advanced for the time period—a deliberate anachronism—but no more so than any of the little lies in Regency romance. My latest novella, Tempting Hymn, is about finding love in the time of cholera*, colonial inequities, and church politics. It is a story of second chances, redemption, and compassion. Because today, in a world of fake news and a remorseless internet, we need empathy more than ever. And love. We need lots and lots of love.

*With my apologies to Gabriel García Márquez.

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Jennifer Hallock is author of the Sugar Sun historical romance series, set in the American colonial Philippines. At her day job, she teaches a trimester course to high school seniors called America in the Philippines, a part of a larger sequence on the history of American imperialism. She studied Southeast Asian history at university and grad school, and then lived and worked in Manila for four years.

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Chasing Dreams: Guest Post by Rachel Neumeier

Chasing Dreams logo

Chasing Dreams is a feature about pursuing a career path that you’re passionate about and going after your dream job.

Rachel Neumeier is the author of several fantasy novels such as the Griffin Mage series, The City in the Lake, House of Shadows and The Floating Islands. In a previous Chasing Dreams guest post, she mentioned in a comment that what worked for her was to let her hobbies take over her life. I was immediately curious and of course, I asked her if she’d be willing to write a guest post for the blog. She graciously accepted so here we are with some lovely words from Rachel.

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Rachel Neumeier

Photo from Orbit Books

Chasing your dreams is probably better than standing still, all things being equal. Doing stuff to make your dreams come true seems decidedly more likely to get you somewhere than just sitting around waiting for the universe to drop ’em in your lap, all wrapped up with a nice bow.

But having said that, I’m not a hundred percent sure that it makes sense to chase all your dreams. At least not with equal dedication.

Modern American culture tells us that we can have it all – that any Real Woman can have a perfect relationship / fabulous kids / beautiful Martha Stewart home / amazing career. You know. Have it all. Which sort of implies that there must be something wrong with you if you can’t seem to get your life to be quite that perfect by the time you’re, say, thirty – American culture also suggesting pretty strenuously that the young are definitely more perfect than the middle-aged.

I’m pretty sure modern society isn’t doing us any favors by pretending all this is actually achievable. I’m not so sure it makes sense to even try to have it all. I wonder whether it might be more sensible to treat life a bit more like everything in it comes with both costs and benefits, and a bit less like it’s perfectible.

Now, I would hate to be stuck in a job I loathed. That’s why I backed away from getting a PhD: after doing a pilot study on female choice and male competition in fungus beetles, and a project on pollinator arrays of black mustard, and spending a summer looking at progression order in troops of black saki monkeys in Venezuela – anyway, after all that, I could be pretty damn sure that I truly hated doing research and that this wasn’t going to change. I mean, if you are deeply bored while studying monkeys in Venezuela, what kind of project is ever likely to work for you, right?

That’s why I switched from my PhD program to a Masters, so I could just get done and then take my life in a different direction. But that’s also when I quit worrying about finding a truly fulfilling job; all I wanted, after I finished writing my master’s thesis, was a job that would pay the bills and not be too insanely boring. And here I just want to mention that it might be worth keeping in mind that hardly anybody in all of human history has ever looked for the fulfillment of their soul from their job. That’s nice if you can swing it. But you can pour your heart and soul into plenty of other things besides your job. Your family, for example. Or, as in my case, your hobbies.

After I got my masters, I was an adjunct instructor at a community college for a few years, teaching biology and botany and horticulture. Later, I switched to working for a tutoring program, which I still do now. I help supervise the peer tutors, and I do various kinds of statistical analyses and reports, and, of course, I do a lot of tutoring – algebra, mostly, and chemistry and other sciences, and (yes) English composition. This pays better than adjuncting, and takes up less time, and I have total control over my schedule, which is a huge plus. I enjoy it, mostly, though I would be happy never again to be required to teach a college student how to add fractions. Don’t get me started, seriously.

But this is also the period in which I started to focus seriously on my hobbies. A stable part-time job that provides enough to live on? That is just perfect for letting your hobbies take center stage in your life. I started cooking in earnest, for fun as well as just because it’s so much less expensive to cook for yourself than to eat out all the time. (I think I have about seven Indian cookbooks now, and the last time I checked, I had nine kinds of rice and seven kinds of lentils in the pantry to go with them. Just for example.

And I garden. My parents (they live across the street) and I have, between us, a small vegetable garden, a small orchard, and a huge landscaped area. I’m especially proud of the magnolia walk, where we have, so far, a saucer magnolia, a Yulan magnolia, a stellata x loebneri hybrid, a M. sieboldii, a ‘Butterfly,’ and an ‘Ann.’

I also show and (attempt to) breed Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, which, for a hobby, is rather too often a brutal, heart-destroying activity, but that’s a whole different story, I guess.

And, of course, I write. Not every day. I’ll take a break for months, sometimes (assuming I don’t have an urgent deadline). But after the first press of gardening tasks has simmered down in the spring, and the semester has ended, and provided as I’m not up every two hours for weeks on end trying to save the single puppy from a litter – he died at three and a half weeks, and I can’t even tell you how horrible that was – anyway, yes, sometimes I write.

I don’t want to babble on endlessly about this, but I will just say that the same week I got the news from my agent that Harper Collins and Random House were arguing over who got my first book, THE CITY IN THE LAKE? In the news that very same week, there was a story about a guy who won millions in a lottery, and I can tell you, I wouldn’t have traded places.

One last thing. You may have noticed the lack of an important romantic relationship in all the above. I am actually so far outside the American mainstream when it comes to relationships, I would not dare suggest to anyone how to prioritize that aspect of their lives. I won’t say that it’s impossible I might someday meet someone and totally change my mind. But, see, I realized more than a decade ago that whenever someone asks me something like, “Hey, would you like to… do something, go somewhere, act like a normally social person?” My answer is basically, “Well, not really.” It turns out that I am truly very solitary by nature. My twenties and thirties would have been significantly easier if I had already recognized solitude as a legitimate choice. Being a writer helps with that, too, since now I fit neatly into a category that society does recognize – the category of “writer, eccentric.”

So it’s not that I’ve got it all. The thing is, I’m happy with what I have, and okay with not having the things I don’t have.

I definitely do not “have it made” as a writer, by the way. I don’t think there is such a thing as “having it made” for a writer these days – unless you’re JK Rowling, and I’m not sure about her. But I like where I am, as a writer. I feel reasonably confident about the future. Like everyone else, I would like access to a time machine: I would like to know now how some things I plan to try are going to work out. More specifically, I want to know that they do work out, and that I am as satisfied with my life in ten years, and twenty, as I am now. But, right now, at this moment? I still wouldn’t trade with that guy who won the lottery. Even though there is almost literally nothing about my life today that I would have predicted when I was twenty-five.

Except the dogs. There were always going to be dogs.

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The Griffin MageThe City in the LakeHouse of ShadowsThe Floating Islands

Thank you for sharing your thoughts about what it’s like to let your hobbies take over your life, Rachel. I get excited whenever I see a Chasing Dreams guest post in my inbox because everyone handles their career path differently. It’s always interesting for me to hear how other readers and writers go about this. I do agree with what Rachel said: if you don’t love your job, you can find happiness and fulfillment in other aspects of your life. I may not have my dream job at the moment and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get lucky enough to find it but I do have friends, family, my blog and my books. I would like to think that there will always be books in my life.

Interview: Hannah Harrington, Author of Saving June

Saving June is one of my favorite reads this year (read my review) so I was delighted when the author, Hannah Harrington, said that she’d be willing to do an interview on my blog. YAY for awesome authors! Saving June is her debut novel and is a contemporary YA novel focusing on Harper and how she’s dealing with her sister’s death. Saving June was released early in Australia (lucky Aussies!) and will be released in the US on November 22. Let’s all give Hannah a warm welcome. 🙂

What inspired you to focus on the themes present in Saving June – suicide, grief, road trips, music, etc.?
Everything just seemed to tie together! Music is something that meant a lot to me as a teenager. It felt sometimes like it was another way to identify yourself, by what you listened to, in the same way teens identify or express themselves by what they wear or what films they like or what books they read. For me at least discovering new music and figuring out what I liked and what I didn’t was a means to self-discovery. I think too at that age that loss – any kind of loss, not necessarily death – affects you differently, especially if it’s your first time dealing with something of that nature, and we all lean on different things. For me, music was always something I turned to a lot, whether to be comforted or just wanting to connect to something – or even just to escape for a little while. And the road trip just made the perfect frame for the story.

Music is a huge aspect of the novel. Aside from the playlists already included in the book, do you have other songs in mind that readers can listen to while reading Saving June?
I spent a lot of time putting those together and even then I’d later remember another song I wanted to include and kick myself for leaving it off! It took a lot of restraint not to just list one hundred songs, haha. If I could, I’d add songs like “One Headlight” by The Wallflowers, “Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen, “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac… those are just off the top of my head!

If you had to choose between music and books, what would you pick?
Ahh, this is impossible for me to choose! If I pick music, does that mean I can still listen to audio books? It’s the only way I can make a decision.

Clever answer to the previous question! While you were writing the novel, did you ever think that readers would develop fictional crushes on Jake? Do you have your own fictional crushes?
Ha! I did not really think that far ahead when writing Jake – I wanted to make him appealing to me as a reader, or more specifically appealing to Harper. He was the most fun character to write so I love hearing that other people enjoy him. And yes, I have fictional crushes of my own! Troy Barnes from the TV show Community (played by Donald Glover) is totally adorable to me. He is definitely my TV boyfriend.

Saving June is a contemporary YA novel and I’m always curious about what other books authors can recommend in their own genre. What are some contemporary YA novels that you love?

I love contemporary YA – it’s what I read most growing up, and I still love it now. Some recent favorites have been Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers, Wide Awake by David Levithan, and The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty. All of them are wonderful!

Are you working on another book right now? Can you please tell us more about it?
Right now I’m preparing for my second book, SPEECHLESS, which will be released by HarlequinTeen in September 2012. It’s the story of a girl named Chelsea Knot who takes a voluntary oath of silence after her gossip-mongering ways yield unexpected consequences… there’s a boy involved, too, of course!

Yay, another Hannah Harrington to look forward to! Finally, Saving June has been getting a lot of positive feedback from bloggers and readers all over the world, how does it feel to have such a successful debut novel?
It’s very exciting, and humbling! It’s been a bit nerve-wracking knowing that people are finally reading it now, so to know that some people really connect to and love the story is a thrill. I can’t express how much it means to me!

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Thank you, Hannah, for being so nice and friendly and for sharing more of your thoughts with us! Looks like I have to listen to a couple more songs, watch the TV show Community, read Cracked Up to Be and Wide Awake, and TRY to wait patiently for Speechless to be released. Saving June fans, hope you enjoyed learning more about Hannah and for those who haven’t read the book, I hope this interview encourages you to pick it up. It really is a lovely book and I can’t recommend it enough.

A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.

Image from We heart it

The line above is something that I saw printed on a bookmark while browsing in Fully Booked. It’s a line from someone named Samuel Johnson. I liked it so much that I noted it down and even put it up as a status on Facebook and Twitter. It brings to mind previous discussions about being a responsible reader. Shannon Hale actually has a series of posts on her blog on how to be a reader. She had a post back in 2008 that I really liked and I’d like to quote her here:

“I’ve always believed that as an author, I do 50% of the work of storytelling, and the reader does the other 50%. There’s no way I can control the story you tell yourself from my book. Your own experiences, preferences, prejudices, mood at the moment, current events in your life, needs and wants influence how you read my every word.”

I love what she said because it gives readers a certain kind of responsibility. Liking a book isn’t just up to the author, it’s up to us as well. This is probably why I get giddy at the thought of reading a good book. I’m excited by the possibilities presented by a new-to-me book – am I going to love it and will it end up in my list of favorites? Am I going to be sucked in by the world created and am I going to be able to relate to the characters? Even if the book doesn’t live up to my expectations, I still want to read it when I get positive feedback about it because I want to find out what other people liked. I haven’t discovered the book blogosphere back when I read Shannon Hale’s post so what she said resonated with me because I felt like it empowered me as a reader. This is also one of the reasons why I feel bad when writing negative reviews. One of the main reasons why I don’t end up liking a book is because I can’t connect to the story or the characters, so that’s mostly about me and I don’t blame the author. I always acknowledge that even if I don’t like a book, someone else will probably have a positive reaction about it. The theme of being a responsible reader becomes more of an issue now that I blog about books because I feel responsible for my reviews as well. I’m thrilled whenever people say that they picked up a book because of my review but then I get scared that they won’t like it as much as I did.

To further prove her point, Shannon Hale also tackled the topic of rereads and how your opinion changes when you reread a book. This means that you changed as a person and that’s why your understanding of the book also changed, the book stayed the same. Steph has a discussion post about rereading and Tina has one as well. Check out both because they are very insightful. Have you ever experienced changing your view of a book months or even years after you first read it? That has happened to me several times. There are books that I don’t even remember reading and then enjoy as rereads. There are also some books that don’t get as much love from me as when I initially read them and I wonder what I found so fascinating the first time around. I have a feeling this is bound to happen as I discover more books. The ones that I still love after several times of rereading end up in my favorites list (and it’s a list that keeps on changing as I add and remove books). I think a mark of a true favorite is when you can read it over and over again and it never gets old. I believe that how I see a book changes depending on where I am in my life or even depending on something as fickle as my mood. You know how you sometimes say you have to be in a certain kind of mood to read a book? That certainly happens to me.

So here are a couple of questions that I’m throwing out to those who want to discuss. Do you agree with the line, “A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.” and why or why not? Do you feel responsible for your reactions to books or do you think that how good or how bad a book is entirely up to the author? Have you experienced changing what you think of a book after a reread? Are there books that you can reread multiple times and still love? Feel free to comment on anything else that’s related to this topic.

Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne Jones is the author of one of my favorite books, Howl’s Moving Castle. If you haven’t read that book, I strongly recommend it. A couple of months ago, I found out through Sounis that Ms. Jones is suffering from cancer and that it would warm her heart to receive letters from her fans. I decided to send her a card and tell her how much I loved Howl’s Moving Castle. At that time, I’ve only read Howl’s and House of Many Ways. I just got a reply from her agent yesterday. Here’s the letter, click to embiggen:

Her assistant’s agent is so nice to send a personal reply! I hope Ms. Jones is feeling better. I’m already planning to read the rest of Ms. Jones works but this letter has encouraged me to go through them sooner. I already have all the Chrestomanci books although I’ve only read Volume 1. I also have Castle in the Air but I haven’t bought a copy of Enchanted Glass and the Dalemark books aren’t available here.

Aside from being a great author, Ms. Jones also served as inspiration to another favorite of mine – Megan Whalen Turner. MWT’s latest book, A Conspiracy of Kings is dedicated to Diana Wynne Jones.

If you wish to send a letter to Diana Wynne Jones, please send it to:

Diana Wynne Jones
c/o Greenwillow Books
10 E. 53rd St.
New York, NY 10022

Neil Gaiman Book Signing

So even though I’m not a huge fan, I gave in and purchased P2,000 worth of Neil Gaiman’s books to get a book signing pass. I took half the day off from work to go to Rockwell and have my Stardust graphic novel and The Graveyard Book signed. Those are my favorites out of Neil Gaiman’s books. It was tiring but a lot of fun! 🙂 I bumped into a couple of people and I’m glad I got to meet Celina and Maricar and we talked about books while waiting for the signing to begin. Yay for new book friends! I was telling heaven_spawn that this was like a rock concert for book geeks. I wish we had something similar to the conferences that they have abroad like Worldcon, BEA or Sirens over here.

Anyway, Neil’s a really great guy. He signed the books with drawings! Check out the pictures. And he’s very friendly, he let people hug him and kiss him. I felt bad that I didn’t bring anything for him because other people brought him calamansi juice, dried mangoes, cards, artworks, etc. But maybe I can email him to thank him. Now that I attended the event, I’m a bigger fan! 🙂 And I want to have my Marvel 1602 and Dream Hunters signed.

Click the pictures to enlarge. I posted pictures of his signature in various books so you can see the different illustrations.


This is what he wrote/drew in my Stardust graphic novel.
More pictures under the cut