Better At Weddings Than You Blog Tour: Food Inspiration

Mina V. Esguerra is a prolific Filipino romance author and the founder of #romanceclass, a community of Filipino romance authors who publish books independently. I have featured her books and her writing countless times here on my blog, and I’m delighted to be part of the blog tour for her latest release: Better At Weddings Than You. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and I need to work on a review to share more of my thoughts about it. Aside from romance books, one thing that Mina and I share is our love of food! I noticed that Better At Weddings Than You had references to some restaurants and certain dishes, and I thought it would be a great topic for a guest post. I hope this guest post will make you curious enough to read the book when it comes out, and also to try the food mentioned here! 🙂

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Food Inspiration: As featured in Better At Weddings Than You
by Mina V. Esguerra

My books are not about food, but they may as well be. I write contemporary romance but I also love food… and I keep talking about it. Especially when I’m writing anything set in the Philippines. With Better At Weddings Than You, the premise that the main characters Daphne and Aaron worked in the wedding industry formed the “menu” for this book. Here’s a selection and the real-life counterparts!

  • Christmas Eve dinner (Real thing: Spiral Restaurant at Sofitel Philippine Plaza Hotel)
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Daphne and Aaron meet over Christmas Eve dinner at a fancy hotel restaurant by the Manila Bay, and if you’re familiar with the area it’s an easy guess that it might actually be Spiral Restaurant at the Sofitel. If you know me at all, then you’d be sure — I adore the large restaurant, the seafood, salads, meats, and the cheese room.

  • Tea shop meeting (Real things: Rustic Mornings and TWG)
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So the tea shop I describe in an early chapter of the book doesn’t actually exist (that I know of) but it’s based on the many small restaurants popping up in the city. It would have a look similar to Rustic Mornings by Isabelo in Marikina, but with a tea list that would remind you of a page from the menu of TWG. Just a page, because TWG of Singapore’s full menu would be too much for a quaint neighborhood tea place!

  • Caterer Food Tasting scene (Real thing: K by Cunanan)

How do you choose your caterer for your wedding? You taste their food. While planning my own wedding I (seriously) sampled the menus of three caterers, and one of the visits kind of went like the scene in my book. K by Cunanan is one caterer you’d encounter in the industry, and they did our wedding. We loved the food and their reception venue styling.

  • Chicharon salad (Real thing: Chef Sharwin Tee’s Tempura Bacon Salad)

In one scene, Daphne gets to reveal something about herself and I get to describe a decadent salad. Everything I said about the salad is directly from a food memory – of eating my friend Sharwin’s Tempura Bacon Salad at his restaurant. I replaced the bacon with chicharon though. If you can make this salad happen, let me know! I think it works well with a fruit vinaigrette, by the way.

Believe it or not, I had to edit this list so I don’t go on and on. Thank you, Chachic, for giving me the space on your blog! Better At Weddings Than You comes out April 15 and its Amazon link is here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XKS8Y1T

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Book Description:
Daphne Cardenas is the best wedding planner around, and everyone knows it. That’s why her friend Greg hired her as an emergency replacement one month before his wedding—because he fears his fiancée Helen is falling for the guy they first hired for the job.

Aaron Trinidad is new to the wedding industry but years of conference planning and loads of charm make him good at it. Really good at it. Planning the wedding of his friend Helen should be easy, and it is. To be unceremoniously fired isn’t good for his new career, but the chance to learn from the best might be the silver lining.

Aaron and Daphne have chemistry, but there’s history with Helen that at least one other person considers a threat. Who’s the planner who can fix this impending disaster?

(Part of the Chic Manila series, but can be read as a standalone.)

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Author Guest Post from Thessa Lim

Hello, bookish friends! Today, I have a guest post from Filipino author Thessa Lim. Both Thessa and I are based in Singapore (and also studied in the same university) but we’ve yet to meet. Hopefully we can do that soon. 🙂 She has recently launched her debut contemporary novel in her Of Heads and Hearts series. I’ve received a review copy of it but because of my huge TBR pile, I have no idea when I’ll be able to read or review it. But because I’m always interested in promoting Filipino authors, I invited her over on the blog to give all of you a better idea of what her life as a writer is like. Please give Thessa a warm welcome!

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All in a Day’s Work
By Thessa Lim

thessa-lim-1

Since I’ve published my first novel, people have been asking me how I find the time to write. At first, it might seem like a writer is able to set a whole day simply and purely for writing. He would just drive to a nice café and write effortlessly as inspiration runs loose in his head. But a lot of writers maintain day jobs and have families to tend. And so here goes my version of a working-mother-slash-writer’s day.

thessa-lim-3The Early Morn Apparition – My day as a writer does not start at eight a.m., with me lounging next to my laptop, having a slice of toasted baguette and a cup of hot cocoa on hand. It starts at three a.m., which is when I usually rouse into some state of consciousness after having put my little boy to sleep five hours back. My husband is out like a light too. Yes! I position my Lenovo Yoga at the foot of the bed, sit on my son’s little blue chair, turn on my book light, and start working. I look pretty much like a White Lady staying by people’s bed at night, but my husband knows better. So if he somewhat awakens while my mouse goes a-clicking, he doesn’t scream. Although it is spent in semi-darkness, this is my writer’s me time. It’s like gold.

thessa-lim-2The Lunch Hour Rush – I grab my tablet, hurry out of the office, and head to the nearest café. While silently condemning the customer before me in the queue for taking time with his order, I check that my favorite spot is free. I then quickly chope it. Later, I settle down at the table and take a bite out of a cheap eat from the menu. Didn’t I just have this the other day? I scan the food list again for more scrumptious offerings. I see the prices. This’ll do. Nomnomnomnom.

thessa-lim-5The Final Fix at EOD – I step onto the station’s platform. Two trains going in opposite directions whizz by. I glance at the clock. Fifteen minutes before I definitely have to head home—this window is good enough. I sit on a bench. After ten trains have come and gone, I’ve either edited half of a chapter or added in a couple of paragraphs. I then squeeze into a train with the rest of the throng and continue tapping on my device’s screen, like a freaking nerd who won’t give it a rest, balancing the gadget so that I could work on it without hitting other people.

I reach home, where my husband and son would be — my two other great joys.

My days are hectic, tiring. And while I look forward to more leisurely days, I’m grateful that I’m inspired, able to write, and able to publish.

This is my writer’s daily grind. What’s yours like? 🙂

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Thessa is the author of the book Of Heads and Hearts in the Metro, a new adult fiction for women set in modern-day Philippines. The book, which revolves around the struggles and triumphs of four Filipinas and which is the first installment in the Of Heads and Hearts series, reveals the life-saving element of friendship and the intricate dynamics within it. To know more, visit her website at http://www.thessalim.com or like her Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/ThessaLimOfficial.

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Sola Musica: 5 Songs from My Sola Musica Playlist by Mina V. Esguerra

SOLA MUSICA will be released on August 28. To celebrate, I’m hosting guest posts from the authors throughout this week.

A beach cove, a hot summer weekend… SOLA MUSICA is where everyone’s going, to enjoy the best new music from all over. Bestselling Filipino YA/chick lit authors Mina V. Esguerra, Marla Miniano, Chinggay Labrador, and Ines Bautista-Yao each tell a story about this festival: the music, the people, the hearts that will soar (or break).

Sola Musica

GEORGIA LOST AND FOUND by Mina V. Esguerra
Georgia wants to finally talk to Ken about this “thing” that’s between them, but he seems intent on avoiding it, even if they’re spending a weekend at a music festival together.

Author links:
@minavesguerra
minavesguerra.com

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5 Songs from My Sola Musica Playlist by Mina V. Esguerra

I need music when I write. For people who wonder how someone like me can keep writing about people who aren’t real… don’t underestimate the power of using music to set you in the right mood. This includes placing yourself in someone else’s shoes, imagining someone else’s life, even if it’s someone you just created.

For practical reasons, music also helps me focus on the story at hand. I’ve written from my dining table, a coffee shop, the waiting area of my office building, and while the location may be inconsistent, the right music can at least bring me back to the right frame of mind.

Sometimes I have songs I keep going back to, even before I write, just to get myself back to that same emotional spot. I prep for angry breakup scenes with P!nk, love scenes with Portishead, epiphanies with Ivy.

For Sola Musica, my story “Georgia Lost and Found” starts off on the road, and flashes back to different times in Georgia and Ken’s lives when they’ve been on the road together. I liked imagining that each time was different, because they felt differently toward each other every time. I put together a playlist of songs I consider to be great driving music, taking a person through different moods. Sometimes you need the music to keep you up, or get you grooving, or simply be part of the atmosphere.

Here are some songs from the playlist you might want to start with:

1. Myriad Harbour by The New Pornographers

2. Burn by Ellie Goulding

3. Hard Out Here by Lily Allen

4. Give Me Love by Ed Sheeran

5. Fidelity by Regina Spektor

And here’s the complete Georgia Lost and Found playlist on Spotify: https://play.spotify.com/user/minavesguerra/playlist/7CtpyLFqykZH9AXDhBcS5K

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Salamat, Mina! I agree that music is important in setting the mood. I also love books that come with playlists. 🙂

Sola Musica: Beach Trips I Love by Chinggay Labrador

SOLA MUSICA will be released on August 28. To celebrate, I’m hosting guest posts from the authors throughout this week.

A beach cove, a hot summer weekend… SOLA MUSICA is where everyone’s going, to enjoy the best new music from all over. Bestselling Filipino YA/chick lit authors Mina V. Esguerra, Marla Miniano, Chinggay Labrador, and Ines Bautista-Yao each tell a story about this festival: the music, the people, the hearts that will soar (or break).

Sola Musica

SPECTATORS by Chinggay Labrador

Jack is the go-to behind-the-scenes guy for electronica group, Box Trap, and finds himself inexplicably drawn to the lead singer he’s tasked to work with.

Author links:
@superrrfudge
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Beach Trips I Love by Chinggay Labrador

I used to be the biggest anti-beach person. I didn’t like getting sand on my legs, the sun beating down on me, and the fish freaked me out. A couple of years ago, I decided to turn things around, one beach trip at a time. It’s taken me on tons of incredible adventures, trying out surfing and snorkeling, and has also gotten my skin about five shades darker (haha!).

All the beaches I’ve visited came in handy when Mina, Ines, Marla and I came together to work on Sola Musica. While we agreed to set it in an imaginary cove in Anilao, I definitely pulled inspiration from my favorite places. Happiness does come in salty water!

salty water

Anvaya Cove

This is my go-to spot when I want a quick escape from the chaos of Manila. I love coming here on quiet weekdays, laying out on the sand, taking a dip in the pool, playing pingpong, riding golf carts around the casitas, and just chilling with friends and family. This beach, though small and private helped me situate Sola Musica’s wide and expansive Pebble Cove in my imagination.

anvaya

La Union

Since taking a shot at surfing, I’ve been to the popular wave-ridden beaches of La Union for a FLOW Boho surf yoga samba retreat, and a Roxy surf camp. I love staying at Flotsam & Jetsam for its casual vibe, delicious pizza, creative drinks, and all the colors that encapsulate the free spirit of surf. Plus, there’s no resisting this gorgeous sunset.

la union

El Nido

Nothing has been quite as breathtaking to me as the limestone cliffs and crystal blue waters of El Nido. I went on vacation with a huge bunch of friends to this island and was floored by all the scenery. One of the charms that the place had was its town—walking through the small streets, riding large tricycles and taking the jeep. This definitely inspired the treks that Jack would take between the water and his hotel in the book.

el nido

Anilao

I kicked off the start of 2014 with a day trip to a small island in Anilao. This was a groundbreaking trip for me because it was my very first time snorkeling—a huge deal because of my consistent fear of fish swimming all around me. It was great that I’d actually been to the place where we were setting our story in (although I’d be hard pressed to find a musical festival on this tiny island!).

anilao

Honolulu

I’m proud to say that I surfed my first real wave in Hawaii! Granted, I only stood up twice and was terrified of the urchins underneath my feet, but it was a proud moment for me. If not for the friends I made in this popular hotspot, I don’t think I’d ever find the guts to go for it.

hawaii

Byron Bay

I went on a life-changing trip to Australia last year and met a group of amazing people. Every beach story in my mind, I dedicate to this group of like-minded good-hearted people, especially to Justin (seated at the center) who passed away a few months after.

australia

Bali and Lombok

This was my last beach adventure, with the super fun girls of FLOW Surf Yoga Samba. It was such an adventure to walk and hike to beaches day after day, seeing the huge waves and meeting tons of people. Indonesia definitely has something different to offer beachcombers, but the trip also made me thankful that I live in a place where the best beaches are just a short ride or flight away from home.

bali

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Salamat, Chinggay! Your post makes me want to go the beach. I haven’t gone on a beach vacation in ages.

Interview at Pinay.com

Pinay.com is a website that focuses on Filipino women. They have a feature that highlights female Filipino bloggers all over the world. Here’s a brief description:

Blog Count is a series of conversations with Pinays all over the world. We like to share with your our conversations because we think these Pinays sparkle and shine.

I have an interview over there if anyone cares to drop by and find out more about my reading and blogging life.

Pinay feature

Women in SF&F Month Guest Post

I’m baaack from my vacation! But I also went straight back to work, which is why I haven’t had the chance to update the blog. I had an amazing time in Europe and would love to talk more about my experience once things have calmed down over here. In the meantime, I wanted to let you all know that I have a guest post for Women in Sci-Fi and Fantasy Month over at the Fantasy Cafe. My friend Kristen has organized a month-long celebration of women in speculative fiction.

SFF Women

I had a hard time deciding what to write about and you can drop by Fantasy Cafe to see what was the topic that I finally chose. I was telling Kristen that I was amazed at the amount of work that must go into organizing a month-long blog event (I’ve only been able to come up with week-long events) so it would be great if all of you can give her Women in SF&F blog event some love. 🙂

Andrea K. Höst Week

And All the StarsTouchstone TrilogySilence of MedairVoice of the LostChampion of the Rose

Andrea K. Höst is one of my favorite recent discoveries. I’ve loved her novels And All the Stars, the Touchstone trilogy and the Medair duology. When Rachel Neumeier informed me that she will be hosting an Andrea K. Höst week, I jumped at the chance to contribute. I think it’s awesome that Rachel is hosting this blog event because I would love for more readers to discover Andrea’s novels. Today, I have a guest post about thoroughly enjoying the romance in Andrea’s books. I have kept my guest post free of spoilers, so go ahead and check it out even if you haven’t read any of the titles mentioned. I hope it helps convince more of you to give them a try.

EWein Special Ops: A Sense of Place

For the last guest post for EWein Special Ops, we have the Elizabeth Wein herself sharing something about her writing. Plus an exclusive artwork that hasn’t been published anywhere else before.

YAY, EWein! *claps enthusiastically*

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A Sense of Place
by Elizabeth Wein

I’m writing these words from Scotland, on the western edge of Europe. I don’t know where Chachic will be when she posts them for the world to read: Manila in the Philippines? Singapore? Somewhere on the Asian side of the Pacific Rim, anyway. I know for a fact that two of the contributors to this wonderful and flattering celebration of my books are based in the United States and one is based in Canada. Never mind the content of this week’s Book Nook postings—just think about the origins. What you’re reading here this week is coming from random points all around the world, and you’re reading it at a different random point somewhere else on the face of the global map. I think that’s pretty cool.

I am not a cartographer and I am not really a map nerd, but I have never written a novel—or even a short story—without referring to a map. A real one. I drew my own maps for my Aksum books, and I am extremely proud of them, especially the one of South Arabia which appears in The Lion Hunter and The Empty Kingdom.

You can read the books without the maps, though. They don’t really matter, except in that they are a physical and visual manifestation of the setting. It is the sense of place that counts.

My favorite books have always been those that have a strong sense of place. When I think back to the fantasy writers who shaped my teenage reading, the ones that leap immediately to mind are Alan Garner, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Ursula K. LeGuin, and guess what? The books I loved best by these writers all include maps. Garner’s show a landscape based on a real place; Tolkien’s and LeGuin’s show imaginary countries, but that doesn’t make the settings for their fantasy worlds any less real in the context of their books. The world almost becomes a character in the novel itself. Setting shouldn’t just be there as a backdrop; a good sense of place will make a setting, fictionally speaking, into a living, breathing organism like our own planet, and the author’s love for and familiarity with the world of his or her creation guides us through the unfamiliar landscape like a virtual map.

The fictional worlds I love best stand on their own, even after the story’s characters have moved on to Westernesse or the Dry Land. You could set your own story in any of these places, celebrating the world the way fanfiction celebrates fictional characters.

ewein alderley edge 1984

That’s pretty much what I did with The Winter Prince. I set my first novel in the same landscape where Alan Garner set his first novel, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. Alderley, elder lea, Elder Field—“the Edge over Elder Field” is “Alderley Edge,” get it? To be fair, I claim some right to this landscape myself. I lived for a year in a house which still stands on the “site” of my fictional Arthurian “estate at Camlan.” My father read Garner’s Weirdstone aloud to me before I could read, under the shadow of the Edge itself, and this magical landscape got under my skin and stayed there. My ancestor did not carve the Wizard’s Well or design the stone circle there, as Alan Garner’s did; I do not have Garner’s blood right to that landscape. But as Lleu comments when Medraut shows him the rippled roof of the caves under the Edge for the first time (just as my father long ago showed them to me), “Dare anyone say he owns this?”

Lleu and Goewin’s fictional Elder Field of The Winter Prince is not Susan and Colin’s fictional Alderley of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, any more than Alan Garner’s childhood is my own. But Garner’s connection to the real world he lives in, and the way that connection shapes his imaginary fictional worlds, became a lifelong influence on my own writing.

It’s interesting how “place” can also influence the creative process as I’m shaping a story. When I was writing Code Name Verity, I reached a point where all I really wanted to do was write about Scotland, where I live now. None of the action of Code Name Verity took place in Scotland at that point, and there wasn’t any reason for it to. But I was letting my Scottish narrator have quite a bit of free rein with the telling, and there was much about her that I didn’t yet know, so I figured we could both write about Scotland for a while and see where it went. The scene-setting—with its branch line railway and haunted castle and the one flight in the book that I actually made myself—was sheer indulgence. The plot points that came out of it—a key character recruited to RAF Special Duties—were integral to the novel. I hadn’t seen either narrative device coming. But how wonderful, and amazing, that they can work together like that.

Goewin and Lleu. Artwork by EWein.

Goewin and Lleu. Artwork by EWein.

It seems appropriate, when so many people have come together from such immense distances to celebrate my work here, to have had this chance to celebrate and share with you some of my thoughts regarding the notion of place within the story.

I also want to thank Chachic for bringing together this stellar group of writers and readers and friends who have spent this holiday week, in various corners of the world, thinking and dreaming and writing about the worlds I have described in my books—some of them harsh, some surprising in their beauty, some embellished by my imagination, but all of them rooted in truth. It is just humbling to read your words of praise and encouragement. It means that my own words are not just being thrown out there into a vacuum. You are passing them on.

Happy new year to all readers all across this world!

With love & gratitude, E Wein

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Thank YOU, EWein! I love the sense of place that well-written books can give its readers. And I love maps in books. I even took a picture of the one inside The Lion Hunter and The Empty Kingdom:

Lion Hunters map

This concludes EWein Special Ops. I hope you all had fun going through the posts. The giveaways are still open until next week, click here to check them out.

EWein Special Ops

EWein Special Ops: Why I Love Elizabeth Wein’s Aksum Books (and why you should too)

R.J. Anderson the author of middle grade faery novels (Knife, Rebel and Arrow, Swift and Nomad in the UK; Spellhunter and Wayfarer in the US) and the YA paranormal thriller Ultraviolet and its sequel Quicksilver. I know that she’s a fan of Elizabeth Wein’s writing because I’ve seen her recommend it several times.

Please give a warm welcome to R.J.!
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Why I Love Elizabeth Wein’s Aksum Books (and why you should too)
by R.J. Anderson

RJ AndersonIt’s all Megan Whalen Turner’s fault.

Not that I’m complaining, I hasten to add; Megan is to blame for a number of quite excellent things, including her own very fine series of Thief books. But if it hadn’t been for Ms. Turner recommending a semi-obscure author named Elizabeth Wein way back in 2010, I would likely never have read The Winter Prince and A Coalition of Lions and The Sunbird and The Lion Hunters and The Empty Kingdom, and my heart might still be in one piece instead of a million little ones all crying “Medraut!” and “Goewin!” and “Priamos*!” and “Telemakos!”.

(Oh, who am I kidding. I would still probably have come across Code Name Verity eventually, and there was no way my heart was going to survive THAT.)

On the plus side, however, I can now look on all the accolades for Verity and Rose Under Fire with some smugness, because thanks to Megan, I was a fan of Ms. Wein’s writing long before most of her current readers had even heard of her. Yes, that’s right, I am a hipster Elizabeth Wein fan, and proud of it.

But seriously, if you’ve read and loved Verity and Rose’s stories, with all their vibrant humanity and sparks of wry humour, their flawlessly realized historical settings, their soaring triumphs and moments of shattering devastation — the latter often revealed so subtly that they slip right under the reader’s emotional guard — then you owe it to yourself to read Ms. Wein’s earlier books as well. It’s one of the great tragedies of publishing that the Aksum series went in and out of print with so little notice, but fortunately all five are still available as e-books, or you can find them through used book dealers if you look hard enough.

Like Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, the Aksum series is historical. But in this case Wein goes back all the way to Arthurian legend — specifically the story of Mordred, here called Medraut, and his twin half-siblings Lleu and Goewin. The first book, The Winter Prince, deals with Medraut’s bitterness toward his privileged half-brother and his temptation to betray him for the crown; the second, A Coalition of Lions, shifts to Goewin as she sets out on a desperate voyage to Aksum (ancient Ethiopia) to escape her vengeful aunt Morgause; and the third, The Sunbird, introduces us to Telemakos, the mixed-race son of an Aksumite princess and one of the most earnest, clever, fiercely courageous and altogether loveable young heroes in YA literature. The Lion Hunters and The Empty Kingdom continue Telemakos’s adventures as he grows toward manhood and finds his place in the world.

As in Megan Whalen Turner’s books, the Aksum series focuses on harsh political realities in a world where spies, assassins, and ambitious nobles abound; like Turner’s hero Gen, Telemakos becomes a key player in the great game. And as with Turner, it’s hard to say exactly what age range these books would be best for. They’re short enough (and Telemakos at least starts out young enough) for Middle Grade, but there are all kinds of nuances to the story and the relationships between characters that only a perceptive YA or adult reader is likely to pick up on. And for all the clarity of their prose, they’re simply too rich to digest in one narrative gulp: they’re the kind of books that not only reward, but practically demand, re-reading.

Be forewarned: if Code Name Verity made you gasp and cry, these books will devastate you in a whole new range of ways. But as all true fans of Elizabeth Wein know, the privilege of meeting her characters is worth all the pain their hardships make us feel. And no matter how long and rough the road they (and we) must travel, Wein never forgets to remind us of the things that make suffering bearable: the love of family and friends, the light of newfound wisdom, and somewhere in the near or far distance, a glimmer of hope.

Trust me. Read the Aksum books.


* (Seriously, do not even get me started on how much I love Priamos or how hard I ship him with Goewin. I could go on all day.)

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Thank you, R.J.! I love that you mentioned both Megan Whalen Turner and Gen in this post. I do hope your post manages to convince more readers to pick up EWein’s Lion Hunters books. 🙂

EWein Special Ops

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.