Name for a Dog

A dog’s name is infinitely harder to find than grace. Grace, which I continue to write about week after week on these e-leaves, is in every breath we take and every blink we make.

But a dog’s name? It should be there somewhere.

I am not talking about this dog.

This friendly biggie just happened to walk to where I was. I posed long enough for a friend to take my photo because this is easily the biggest dog that came within petting distance. The real big ones are untouchable on  National Geographic, the pages of Encyclopedia, and the internet.

For one of my writing projects for children, I am creating a dog character. And this huge dog seems like a good benchmark for a pet that kids (or kids at heart) would love to play with, and talk with, and discuss things with.

The dog in my imagination is white as clouds, with a spot of black shaped like a heart. It's a bit bigger and furrier than this one and just as cuddly.

Now, if only I could find a name for it!


Two Books, Two Sleepless Nights

“Buy it,” Anna said when she spotted A Thousand Splendid Suns on the shelf. “I couldn’t put it down,” she added.

A cursory reading of the rave reviews on the back cover (second book by Khaled Hosseini) didn't bite. I wasn’t keenly interested. I avoided books with depressing subjects. What has happened and been happening at Afghanistan is, at best, disturbing.

But I trusted Anna’s taste. By taste I mean, she likes many of the books I like and she shares the values I hold dear. Anna is a fellow believer of unlimited grace coming from everywhere, books among them. But, “couldn’t put it down”?! I have a great appetite for sleep; I catnap all the time.

In short, I bought it. 

After supper that night, I decided to read just the foreword and one chapter—like a sampler—as I am wont to do when I buy books. The rest of the pages I usually savor slowly over the next few days.

That was my undoing. After the first chapter, I rushed to the next, and the next, and the next. Suddenly, my clock said 3 AM, and I had an 8 AM class the next day! It took gargantuan will power to put it down in favor of what was left of the night.

Every bit of the rave reviews is true. The book is riveting, with excellent story-telling that weaves together characters and events in a seamless, surprising manner. Nothing is predictable. And the emotions it elicits are raw and unsettling.

I rushed to the nearest book store the day after I finished A Thousand Splendid Suns and bought myself Hosseini’s first book, Kite Runner. Only on page 104 and already, I had cried 104 buckets of tears.

Two books—worth the dark circles around one’s eyes.


The Egret in My Garden

When you’re sick and you have no energy—or desire—to move, you stare into space.

I was sick all right but I didn’t stare into space. This egret kept my fevered eyes transfixed for, oh, maybe a few hours for three straight days . . .   

Instead of staying in the bedroom cooled by a humming air conditioner, I decided to stay in the veranda cooled by whistling, and sometimes cooing, fresh wind—and marvel at this man-made egret.

Sometimes it spun around quickly, sometimes it swiveled from side to side, and sometimes it just turned slowly with the tempo of the wind. This graceful bird was hand-carried by my sister Aie all the way from Germany. She said it is no ordinary bird. It was painstakingly made by people with Down Syndrome.

As I stared at this simple representation of creation, I Imagined how it must have been so slowly drawn, cut, planed, smoothened, and painted by bare, unprofessional hands. And how it magically landed in my garden.

It’s like getting sick and getting well, I thought. It takes time to get to the promise of the ending we hope for. Each critical, small step has to be fueled by grace.


Book Fair Fever

Fever indeed! Literally.

Two days after the wonderful book fair, just when the second semester begins, I am down with a fever. Not too high, not even 38 degrees centigrade, but fever nevertheless. And those .7’s and .8’s can really bog you down. Enough to keep you so lethargic you don’t want to do anything but lie down and sleep.

So here I am, still in bed for three straight days. The cough has loosened, and the headache has dulled, but the fever is a tad too stubborn.

And so I stay in bed, as my doctor advised, take my fluids and fruits and now, anti-biotics—and rest. How much rest can one have?! I just have to post this one blog and then back to sleep.

I will be better tomorrow. My prayer warriors have been begging heaven to heal me. And grace never fails.


Youngest Fan

Fan?! Now that’s a word I am not very comfortable in using. It is a bit too presumptuous for someone who went into writing with no illusions of coming into fame or fortune.

Instead, I refer to those who like my books as readers. Even if some of them say when I meet them, “I am a fan.” To which, I cringe.

But at the fair, I don’t think I can refer to a six-month-old baby as a reader, can I? So let me refer to him as a “fan.” His name is Sebastian and he came with his parents, grandparents, uncle and auntie. In short, he came with the whole family! And this whole entourage bought for Sebastian my latest children’s book. Easily he was the youngest, er, fan who came to the OMFLit booth.

Until the fourth day. A young father came to the OMFLit booth looking for me, and wouldn’t leave till he met me. (I was on what we call in this country, a CR break, or a short trip to the bathroom.) He had earlier heard me on radio extolling the benefits of reading. So he bought all my children’s books and wanted my signature on each one of them.

“It’s for my baby girl,” he said.

“What’s her name?” I asked, my hand poised with my signing pen on the air.

“We don’t know yet. She will be born in November, two months from today,” he said grinning.

“O,” I said. It’s the best word that comes to mind when I am overwhelmed.

“I want your books to be my wife’s and my gifts to her when she is born.”

“O.” My eyes pooled.

Now, can a “fan” come any younger? There is only one word that can take the place of “O.”

Grace. Overwhelming grace.


Busy Book Body

I'm headed to the Book Fair for the 4th straight day. Can't have any post till after tomorrow when the Book Fair closes.


More Shameless Plugging

Big Brother, a story of two brothers (one with Down Syndrome) will also be available for the first time at the International Book Fair. Palanca award winner. For children ages 8 to 80.

Come to the OMFLit booth for big discounts even on new titles.

See you there! September 12-16, 2008. SMX, Mall of Asia.

Book signing and book reading:

* September 14, from 2:30 PM
* September 15, from 10:00 AM 


Shameless Plugging

Here I go again inviting everyone to come to the International Book Fair (Sept. 12-16, 2008) where my new books will be released for the first time.

Two days to go! I am resisting the call to be modest at this time, mea culpa. I am posting a portion of the header of my publisher’s website.


Gifts of Grace 3 Is Born!

Joins 1 and 2

My third book in the Gifts of Grace series will be off the press in time for the International Book Fair on September 12 to 17. It went through the eye of a needle.

Let me change that to a metaphor that is closer to home: It’s like giving birth to a child, thrice.

First, writing. You go through months of uncontrollable writing—akin to an insatiable food binge. Everything seems scrumptious and you can’t pause lest you miss out on the whole spread. In the case of Gifts of Grace 3, there are chapters that have been written and re-written for years. Finally, after the last chapter is done (deadline, not appetite, completes it), you send it to your publisher.

Second, publishing. In the publisher’s office, the manuscript goes through review, review and more review, then finally, editing. The details you are not privy to, but you know. The references have to be triple-checked, and the subheads, blurbs, and paging have to be just so. And the cover! The templates, the photos—they need to be re-worked and re-analyzed and researched by committees. Before it goes to press, there are four to five layers of proofreaders, including you.

Third, launching. Here, a marketing guru, or a magician, has to have his head on broad shoulders, not necessarily his. He has to have a magic wand. Books are unlike your shampoos and soaps which are part of the repertoire of daily living. Books are, well, books. Out of 85 million Filipinos less than 2% read them on a regular basis.

And so here it is! Together with its soft launching at the fair (there will be a scheduled formal launching, to be announced later) is the re-launching of Gifts of Grace Books 1 and 2:

Published in 2002 and 2003 respectively, they will sport a new look and a new section called “Reflections.”

How does it feel to have a book published? Ask any mom about how it is to give birth to one’s precious child. Now, triple that wondrous, glorious feeling! Why, it calls for a triple thanksgiving. Please come to the Book Fair and celebrate with me.


For more details please check out the announcement at omflit.com. Let me post the ongoing promotion of OMFLit’s new titles:

Just post this image in your blog, Multiply, or Facebook with a link to www.OMFLit.com and send the webpage link to Promo@OMFLit.com.
We'll randomly select 5 winners who will each get to pick one newly released book of their choice.


How Not to Get a Passport

From green (old) to maroon (machine-readable, new):  
It wasn’t going to be an easy day. I’d be dealing with the government—the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). I had to renew my passport, the one that got hacked in Philippine Immigration during my last travel abroad. It therefore needed changing. A new system required one to appear personally; I prayed for a good amount of grace to sustain me.

(For the record: I am a good citizen. I pay my taxes, vote, and rise when the National Anthem is sung, cross the street only on pedestrian lanes, and don’t badmouth my government among foreigners or in foreign countries.)

I donned my crispiest blazer. By experience, if I dressed up like a CEO, the usually grumpy guards doffed their hats, stressed salesgirls smiled, and taciturn tellers said, “Ma’am.” True enough, the guards didn’t inspect my bag and I was ushered to the right gate.

The DFA building is old and decaying, and always packed with a sea of humanity. With or without blazer, one isn’t spared of the heat and crowd and the musty smell—a lethal combination of dust, sweat, damp rag, and toilet bowls that don’t flush.

One is also not exempt from the three long rows of creaking, chipping chairs reserved for passport applicants.

My travel agent was solicitous, totally deserving of his fee. He reserved a seat in the middle row. Then like an explosion, an old man, directly behind me, started berating the young man in front of me. “I don’t owe you anything! I don’t have to do this! I am only doing it because of your grandmother! You are taking too much of my time. And you don’t deserve it! Bang, bang, bang!” He seemed ready to run amok.

The young man blanched and said humbly, “Yes, I’m sorry sir.” But the older man spewed more lava like a raging volcano that had been dormant for a hundred years. I rose and moved as far away as possible. My agent ran after me and begged, “Ma’am, please stay in line. It’s almost your turn.”

When my name was called, despite my blazer, the document officer behind the jail-like bars said very respectfully, “Sorry, Ma’am, your passport photo is unacceptable. Your bangs are covering your forehead.”

Of course! They’re called bangs, aren’t they? I’ve been wearing bangs since the creation and now you want to get rid of it! I screamed, silently of course.

My agent quickly said, “I’ll go with you to the Rush-ID booth, Ma’am. It won’t take long.”

Inside the Rush-ID booth, there were more people than there was room. Soiled, once-dark blazers hung from nails for those who didn’t look like a CEO. I refused to do anything with my bangs—the photographer patiently brushed them up. And as coup de grace, he said, “Please take off your earrings, Ma’am.”

First my bangs and now, my earrings!—the two things I can’t leave home without. And the horrid photo cost twice that of my original photo with bangs.

Getting out of the booth was harder than getting in. I was shoved and pushed by now fellow CEO-looking frantic passport applicants chasing deadlines. My sneezing fit had gone from worst to impossible.


At the finish line one hour later, I peered again at the face in my new passport photo and I knew I had lost me. Someone said, “Ma’am, your new passport will be ready in ten working days.” That important little book, which will take me outside the country, doesn’t have me!


“I’ll see myself out,” I told my agent who couldn’t keep up with my brisk pace, the result of daily morning walks.


I had to break free from that torture chamber masquerading as DFA.

By grace, I lived to blog and laugh about it.