MIBF 2017 Opening day

Several days before the Manila International Book Fair (MIBF), the heavens cried. The heavy rainfall flooded the streets, stalled vehicles, caused massive traffic snarls and cancelled classes in all levels in Metro Manila.

My publishers collectively went on their knees to pray for good weather.

By grace, the sun shone for the first time on the 13th of September, opening day. Although I did not have any book signing or launching scheduled on that day, I hurried to the venue (SMX MOA), raring to see my new books (including an old one, Grace Found Me, with a new cover), caress them for the first time, and offer them to the Lord, for Whom they were written.
It also was my only chance to shop as, from previous experiences, the MIBF gets choked with an overwhelming throng in succeeding days.

I was surprised at the already dense first-day crowd. The queue to the entrance was like a snake curled many times over. I begged the guard to let me in because I had to go to the bathroom badly. He took pity on an old lady and let me in, begrudgingly.  

The first sight of a new book you slaved over for months (sometimes years) is always a crowning moment. It's like a scene in movies where a long-lost love suddenly appears from the horizon and you both run to meet each other—in slow motion and with matching music to dramatize the reunion.

I blinked back tears when I saw "Dump Truck in My Heart" at the OMF Lit Booth and "Grace under Pressure" at the CSM booth. I turned off the noise for a few seconds to thank the Lord for them.

Unscheduled book signing and photo ops happened next. The annual MIBF had raised the curtain.


67th Palanca Awards 2017

Attending a Palanca Awards Night, often held on September 1, has always been an exceptional grace for me. There I get to chat with fellow writers/readers whose passion is literature.

At the awards night this year, the guest speaker was Butch Dalisay, (a highly respected professor and author). He eloquently articulated what I have always thought of the Palanca Awards: “Writing for the truth, writing for honor and glory, writing for the love of language–these are what your being here is all about, what the Palancas have existed for these past 67 years.” 

He added, “This is especially important in these darkening times, when megalomaniacal and murderous despotism threatens societies across the ocean, debases the truth, and cheapens human life.”

This year, however, I had one tiny dread. For the first time in Palanca’s history, there was no winner in the Short Story for Children category, for which I chaired the three-man board of judges.

Although my co-judges and I were confident of our stand, there was still a possibility of censure from some quarters.

True enough, the following day, I read snide remarks on FB about the result of our judging. These spurred a writer of Rappler to message me and ask for the judges’ POV. We welcomed the interview; it gave us a chance to candidly air our side, without being defensive.

After the article was published, we were deluged with overwhelming support. Not one disagreed with our decision.

It’s been four weeks since the Rappler story and I am still getting messages from FB friends and people I have not met:

“I can't believe the judges earned flak for not choosing a winner! It’s as though they’re saying, ‘that’s only a story for children.”

“I totally respect the judges' decision NOT to compromise the standards set for the Short Story for Children category. Lowering your standards would only reinforce other people's impression that writing for children is a breeze.”

“In my book, you did the right thing.”

“That was a bold move. But am so glad you made a statement that needed to be said.”

My fervent wish as an author of children’s book is that writers who plan to write for kids should take the craft seriously, very seriously. Kids deserve the very best, and the Palanca is the perfect venue to show it.

Regrettably, this year, not one made the grade.


Rock of Ages

Silence was all I could hear while writing in the last two years. It began when my CD player, which I played all day, conked out on me.

Finally, last night, I asked Tony to please buy me a new CD player.

He said, “I’d be glad to.” All I had to do was ask.

Son #3 overheard and exclaimed, “CD players are passé. All the types of music you listen to are on the Internet, non-stop!”


Then he gave instructions on how to access hymns, Broadway songs, and oldies.

Early this morning, I did as told, and hey presto! I typed HYMNS and the first one that came on was “Rock of Ages.”
What a coincidence.

It had been one of my father’s favorite hymns and today, 35 years ago (just two days after his 70th birthday), he “drew his fleeting breath, and his eyes closed in death.”  

Written by the Reverend Augustus Toplady in 1763, this hymn would be sung softly by Dad all the time, alternating it with with "The Old Rugged Cross."  He couldn’t carry a tune—a trait I half inherited—but the words rang clear. Let me quote the last stanza: 

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyes shall close in death,
When I rise to worlds unknown,
And behold Thee on Thy throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

Today I remember Daddy and say a prayer of thanksgiving to our Rock of ages for his life.

I also say good-bye to silence while writing. I have music once again—and all the tunes I love—while my computer is on. And I can even change gears anytime.

Wow. Like discovering grace, I learned a new digital “magic” at a most unexpected hour.


Grace under Pressure:

The backstory

“Would you consider writing a book on brokenness?” Joy, Editorial Manager of Church Strengthening Ministry (CSM), asked me as she held her breath.

She didn’t have to hold it too long. I replied in a heartbeat, “One word, yes.”

Joy laughed, “The title we have in mind is ‘Grace under Pressure.’”

Anything with the word “grace” pumps adrenaline into my core. “You’re on,” I said, after which we discussed the details.

When I started writing, however, I could not reconcile the title with brokenness. Nobody ever gets broken when grace comes to the rescue, was the thought that kept me awake at night.

I had two choices, drop the title and write about brokenness, or retain the title and talk about grace coming just before breaking point. 

After much agony, I chose to retain the title, and wrote a “position paper” to present to CSM.

During our round-table discussion (with the editorial team), we sliced, minced, carved, shredded, and pureed the issue until it was crystal clear in our minds that indeed, “Grace under Pressure” is not about brokenness. Yet, pressure is just as crucial and as urgent an issue in our world today. 

So I was given the green light to write “Grace under Pressure.”

It was a bitter-sweet journey that spanned two continents. I began writing the book in the Philippines then continued writing in the US, where my husband and I spent some time.

I say bitter-sweet because as I re-lived my own anguish through the years and other people’s pressures, it felt like going through the grinding mill again—or to use a more appropriate metaphor, like being sealed in a pressure cooker, with a slim chance of escaping. 

But ultimately, and despite everything, I am a believer of and an advocate for happy endings.

I therefore ended the book thus:

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed.  We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God.  We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.  Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (NLT)

At 3:30 this afternoon, I will be at the CSM Booth at the Manila International Book Fair, SMX MOA, for book signing. Won’t you come and grab a copy?   



Dump Truck in My Heart:

The backstory

The idea for this book, which was inspired by my friend Cherry, was roosting on the back burner for three years.

One day, another friend, Luis, asked if I had an unpublished story for children. And would I send it to him? He was doing an anthology of children’s literature and looking for something fresh.

I told him to give me a day to rummage through my files. And I found this! The story revolved around coping with poverty. But this theme was not what he was looking for.    

I knew, however, that the idea had endless possibilities, if only I could sit down to re-work it. With an audacity I don’t normally possess, I called Luis, “I think I may have what you’re looking for! But I can’t send it to you yet. Can you give me two weeks?”

“I give you one,” he replied.

One week?! The shortest time (and I call that a miracle) I ever took in writing a children’s story was four months. How on earth could I write this in one week?!”

The voice inside my head whispered, You already have a manuscript, which you worked on for almost two years. That, plus one week, would be more than three dozen months. Not a short deadline at all.

I cancelled all my appointments that week, begged off from errands, and did nothing but re-think the idea and pound on my keyboard. I might have missed several meals—and never once glanced at FB. I also lost some sleep, and appreciated the fact that one does not need eight hours of snooze to stay alert.

From coping with poverty to coping with death of a loved one—it was a detour, but I had just lost a dear friend and I was in deep grief, like there was a dump truck parked in my heart.

The verse that kept me sane was, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Revelation 21:4 (NLT)

After I had two (instead of six) kids and two (instead of three) writers read it for their comments or violent reactions, I fine-tuned my 1,300-word story and e-mailed it to my friend. He said he loved it at first read. Whew!

It was published in an anthology of children’s literature (for adult readers). I thought that since I wrote it for children who might be grieving over the loss of someone dear, it should be read by them as well.

I sent the manuscript to Hiyas, my publisher of children's books. "Could you pare it down to 1,000 words for kids' easier reading?"

Today, at the Manila International Book Fair, at 11 AM, I will be at the Hiyas booth (with Dominic Agsaway, illustrator extraordinaire) interacting with kids and discussing this 1,000-word story with them.

I pray that it will help bring hope that one day, the loss of a loved one will not hurt as much—and the dump truck parked in one's heart will drive away.  

P.S.  February, 2020

The above blog post was written over two years ago, and now the message intended for grieving children is also for me. My cherished friend, Cherry, who inspired this story, had gone home to our Father a few days ago. I planned on going to her wake, but an ailment hit me and now all I have are memories. My book-reading buddy might have left a dump truck in my heart, but if I continue to celebrate her life, one day that dump truck will drive away.   


Tea Party

and Writing Workshop

I had barely breathed enough Philippine air—jet-lagged to the bone—when I rushed to facilitate what was dubbed as “Tea Party and Writing Workshop for a Children’s Cause,” less than 24 hours after flying in.  

It was a commitment I made before I left for the US, prior to finalizing my flight schedules. It couldn’t be canceled because about 40 attendees had already confirmed.

Strength, Lord, strength, was my recurrent plea.

Strength He gave me, generously. 

The event was to push-start the project of PCMN and OMF Lit to publish a devotional for adults who work with children. The day-long affair gathered a mixture of professors, grade school teachers, youth pastors, NGO volunteers for children’s projects, children’s book writers, and church VBS and Sunday school volunteers.

There was bottomless tea alright. It bred bottomless ideas and enthusiasm.

The idea is to come up with 365 daily devotions, with every writer contributing at least five. More than ever, there is a need to equip, affirm, and encourage workers for children because these are perilous times.

Many kids today are: abused and exploited (one in five have experienced violence in various forms); stressed and are digital natives; exposed to dangerous information on cyberspace; lacking in basic life skills and values. And many of them still don’t know Jesus.

This devotional is envisioned help advocates for children grow more sensitive to these little ones’ needs and be role models to them. 

A pipe dream?

Not with the Lord’s grace in empowering all contributing writers.

This devotional will be launched at the next Manila International Book Fair in 2018. If you are reading this and are itching to write, please join us. Our writing guidelines are on our FB page.

The tea party in photos:

Yes, I lasted the day, with enough strength to survive the two-hour, bumper-to-bumper traffic on our drive home.

Thank you, Lord.


35 Blogs of Memories

“What is your greatest fear?”

That was the question asked us in our Sunday school class (women’s group). 

I have actually too many tiny fears, which is a shame, because the God I believe in, and Whose grace saved me, repeatedly says: 

"I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid.” John 14:27 (NLT)

 “This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:19

“The LORD is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1

“My biggest fear is: Alzheimer’s disease. It seems to run in my mom’s family; three of her sisters had it.” There, I blurted it out to my Sunday school classmates.

I explained, "Because of this fear, I document memories—through my blog posts. Silly, but in my mind, I feel that if I write about my memories, they’d stay forever."

“But that is precisely what Alzheimer’s does!” they exclaimed. “It erases everything—documented or undocumented memories.” 

We got a good laugh over the absurdity of it all. 

With a quick change of mindset, I thought, Yeah, it’s not fear of the A-disease that made me write 35 posts about my 35 days in the US.
It was pleasure. Being with my one and only grandson and his parents that long—away from my daily grind at home—was pure, perfect pleasure.  

“Wow! Thirty-five blog posts for memories of 35 days!” one of my blog readers exclaimed when after two months, she was still reading about my and my husband’s US vacation.

“It could have been more,” I replied, “had I not been reminded by my editor of my book deadlines.” 

So what is my greatest fear?

What fear?

“. . . perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” 1 John 4:18


Only Bigger

Every restaurant to where Tony and I were treated in the US had servings so big, we always had to request for a take-home box.

On our third day of eating out, we caught on and wised up. We agreed to have a single order to be split in half. Good decision—no more left-overs. If any, it was not indecently wasteful. This arrangement was definitely nifty and thrifty.

We sometimes dined in restaurants with chains or branches in the Philippines. The menu—food, packaging, and presentation—were the same as those at home, only bigger.  Be they hamburger, fried chicken, noodles, skewered meat (barbecue), or ice cream, the servings were the same, again, only bigger.

Deserts such as bananas, strawberries, mangoes, oranges, and all the fruits we grow at home were also in America, only bigger.

Once I needed a sachet of petroleum jelly for a lesion on my foot. I looked for one in store shelves but could only find them in big bottles.

America does not carry tingi packaging specially made for Filipino needs and lifestyle.

Coming home after 35 days, I noticed that the flora (roses, birds of paradise, orchids, poppies, peonies, etc.) I gushed over in America have existed here all along. The same goes true for the trees, roads, shops, malls, trees, linens, personal care products, and everything else.

They only differ in size: in America, everything is bigger.

As I compared sizes between there and here, something serendipitous happened to me: I grew bigger eyes!

Suddenly, my pair of orbs could see everything we also have, which I glossed over before.

“Look, how lovely those trees are!” I exclaimed on our way home from the airport.

“Mom,” son #3 almost sneered, “this is your usual route.”

Traveling can both enfeeble and sharpen the mind. What I thought were bigger blessings somewhere are actually the same blessings right here.

Bigger is not necessarily better. Smaller is not necessarily poorer.

I rubbed my eyes; they’re the same pair that came with my birth, now only bigger.