Renowrites blog!

Author of YA novel "Enlightenment" available March 2019!

Booktalk in Los Angeles CAo

ᜊ ᜆ ᜎ Booktalk at Philippines Expressions Bookshop in San Pedro on Saturday 8/31/19 had me in a great mood when a reader came up with a copy of Enlightenment from her library for me to sign. Memorable times with Tita Linda Nietes, Robert, MariLu Morris! Great to hang out with my homie Rex Sampaga and spent time exchanging stories with Eliseo Art Arimbulo Silva, Abe Pagtama and entrepreneur and writer Gabe Pagtama who has a new release on the Watsonville Riots. As I make my rounds to different bookstores and festivals around the country, I’m encouraged by the support and acceptance of Enlightenment and The Bathala Series in the literary world. Here’s to Philippines Expressions Bookshop for offering me and other Filipino authors a platform for our stories! #renowrites #authorlife

Advertisements

Filed under: Writing, ,

The Crossroads

I caught an actor acquaintance’s online post about possibly moving out of California. It made me reminisce about my crossroads when I decided to leave my entertainment jobs (of course I had to have multiple gigs to make ends meet) for a stable career.

My crossroads came in the year 2000, when I got married with a baby on the way! And why do I hear Conan O’Brien in the background in the “In The Year 2000” bit?

Anyway…

In 1997, I moved from my home state of Michigan and deferred on a job offer from a firm in New York City. The job paid peanuts, but it had a starting salary enough to pay rent in a studio, provided benefits and damn it…I would live in New York City!

But I chose another opportunity on the West Coast.

From 1997 to 2000, I worked at Classified Records, an independent label out of the San Francisco Bay Area that released music by recording artists of various genres. I also deejayed in the Bay Area nightclub scene and auditioned for bit roles between SF and LA.

I had an intense connection with Classified pushing Filipino American talent, as the majority of the roster shared my Filipino ethnicity. Jocelyn Enriquez. Pinay. Julie Plug. Drop n Harmony. Officially, my job title entailed working retail and radio promotions. Off the record, I was the sometimes soundman for artist performances. I dropped off CDs (yes CDs) to retail stores around the Bay. I represented the label at various Filipino American events nationwide. Even more Filipino talent came out of the woodwork. Kai. One Vo1ce. Premiere. Devotion. Simple. Do any of these groups sound familiar to anyone now (they better LOL!).

I threw myself into work with 16 hour days, leaving the office only for label events, deejaying gigs or auditions (no one knew I auditioned because I didn’t land any roles, but I loved auditioning)!

I made just enough to pay Bay Area rent. Everything else I charged on my credit cards. As in everything. Gas. Food (but not groceries, because I ate out almost every day).  I even had a car loan for this awesome Geo Tracker that didn’t have air-conditioning or power steering. I had to roll my windows down manually!

I had chased a dream of bringing Filipino talent to the forefront of American consciousness. For this dream, I sacrificed financial stability. I was digging myself into major debt. My earning potential with my B.A. degree was 3x-4x the amount I earned in entertainment. By the year 2000 (Conan O’Brien reference again anyone?), I had a lot of financial making up to do.

2000 was a major pivot year for me – a crossroads. Do I keep pursuing my dream full-time? Or start a new career in a stable field? I agonized over this. Day and night. I was a failure if I chose stability. So I went down the middle.

But when we knew we would be parents, I made a commitment not to fail in providing for my family. So I got a full-time job and started an online store and record label of my own called Rhythm Drive Records. We hit some Bay Area notoriety with Malyssa and Alvendia. These side-hustles weren’t sustainable however.

As I settled into life outside the entertainment industry, some pretty amazing things happened. As in American Idol. Reality TV and social media!

Talent of all walks of life received exposure, and this included Filipino American talent. Artists like Jasmine Trias. Camille. Thia Megia. Jessica Sanchez. Sway Penala (from Sixth Day and Drop n Harmony). Then the Jabbawockeez became American icons! Then Vanessa Hudgens became an overnight star in Disney’s High School Musical series! Then Melissa De la Cruz became a star author! Comedians like Rex Navarrete, Joey Guila and JoKoy! Black Eyed Peas I Gotta Feeling! Bruno Mars! More recently, Angelica Hale! WHAT!

In my world, it was OMG! The dream I was chasing was happening in front of my eyes! What was this dream? Let me italicize it again for dramatic impact. I had chased a dream of bringing Filipino talent to the forefront of American consciousness.

By 2006, I started auditioning again. I flew to Utah for a high school musical audition (yeah, I didn’t get it, but I had so much fun). I auditioned for roles in the Bay Area acting scene. I even got signed to a talent agency. I landed auditions, my most memorable playing a chef in an ESL series (This…is…how…you…cut…to…may…toes).

The dream that drove me in entertainment became a reality! But disappointments persisted. Where aren’t there more Filipino American stories? Besides the Debut and Lumpia, why weren’t there any Filipino American movies? So I made a commitment to write.

And write.

And write.

And write.

And throughout these 18 years, I have written stories that the general public hasn’t been exposed to. But I keep writing.

I realize that failure is a perception people have of others. It is not how I should perceive myself. I say “should” because I have days of doubt, no doubt (two doubts for comedic relief). These days are the toughest, but will be the days I remember if the masses approve of my art. I think back to my crossroads. the day I thought I left the industry is the day it really all began.

Today, I stand stronger. Filipino Americans are out there in the arts. Singers. Actors. Broadway.

Now I invite Fil-Ams to tell their stories, and not just through Facebook posts or Instagram stories! Get your stories published. Stories that can stand the test of time.

“Enlightenment”, the first novel in the Bathala Proverbs, is available Filipino American month. It’s a story I can’t hold back any longer. It’s time for this story to be heard.

img_4620-1

Filed under: Filipino American, Writing, , ,

Enlightenment

I ask this question to any debut novelist: Is traditional publishing worth it if you are not a celebrity or established writer?  My experience has proven having stories built around Filipino American protagonists is not supported by the Big 5 publishers and not compelling for the majority of literary agents. I understand agents approach any new author with skepticism, yet sometimes I wonder if the ancestry of my characters plays a role. Perhaps it’s my writing…duh! But then I wonder if there’s something else.

There are exceptions such as “Somewhere In Between” by Melissa de la Cruz, yet I wonder if this title is considered a big seller compared to the Descendent books? There are other Filipino writers published by traditional publishers; Mia Alvar. Jessica Hagedorn. Tess Uriza Holthe. I admire them beyond imagination!

Perhaps I don’t see the full landscape. I’m a minnow swimming in the dark seas of the world of publishing, but I notice anytime I state my characters are Filipino American, the agents and fellow writers I talk to seem uncomfortable. As in the excitement dissipates and I’m left wondering  if I should follow the numerous suggestions by the literary “professionals” to change my characters to white, black or Hispanic.

Yet I refuse because being Filipino American is my voice, my being, the only perspective I know. Yes, I want to sell to a mainstream audience, but I’m hoping my stories themes are universal enough to attract readers of all backgrounds.

I guess I’ll find out shortly. My debut novel “Enlightenment” will be released at the start of 2018.  The book’s cover is complete and will debut on my Instagram renowrites during Filipino American month.

Keeping my fingers crossed.

 

 

 

Filed under: Filipino American, Writing, ,

Something In Between

Something in BetweenSomething in Between by Melissa de la Cruz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book in a day. My emotions were up and down with each page as I was strongly affected by a novel written about a Filipino American family. The title of the book “Something in Between” encompasses an emotional feeling for many 2nd generation Filipino Americans. We were raised in America, yet love our homeland unconditionally. We are held in high regard for our strength in English, yet a disappointment for our weakness in Tagalog and other dialects. We have American swag, yet a Filipino hue. Fil-Ams are so diverse in experience and perspective and there is finally a novel that encapsulates one of many Filipino American experiences,  This is a rare novel with a Filipina American as the main protaganist, and therefore, an emotional read for me.

Jasmine de los Santos wasn’t just a character, but in my eyes represents a young me. Yes I’m male, but the struggles and pain she felt in the novel resonated with the uncertainty I felt as a Filipino American teenager. I know there are more like me who can relate to this gray area feeling. Although I can only speak from my limited Filipino American self, I have a feeling this is shared by many American children of first generation immigrants.

I felt every aspect of Jasmine’s Filipino family and her struggles as a Filipino American teenager. In my mind, Melissa de la Cruz’s writing style in this novel gives readers a snapshot of what it’s like being Filipino American. Things happen quickly and it’s not served on a silver platter. Filipino American lives are jumbled, constantly switching between our “Filipino” and “American” identities. It’s an internal switch, undetected by most, unless you are attuned to this push and pull.

The author gives a realistic view of the general theme of immigration in America. There was an air of uncertainty throughout the book, yet their resolve to keep going and using humor as a coping mechanism kept me turning the page.

And the foundation is a love story between Jasmine and Royce, a love story on the cusp of sappiness until it’s pulled back just enough for me to read on. I can see some readers growing annoyed at Jasmine’s up and down feelings, but I didn’t look at this way. Jasmine was going through teenage love, and as we all can probably agree on, teenage love is an emotional ride of extreme highs and lows.

Thank you Melissa de la Cruz for writing this, for garnering support from Harlequin to publish this book. I’m strongly affected by “Something In Between” and highly recommend.

View all my reviews

Filed under: Writing, , , ,