On Heat Levels and Live Readings

As a writer, there are so many authors I admire and aspire to be like. Jane Austen and L.M. Montgomery for the classics. J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, and J.K. Rowling for epic fantasies. Rainbow Rowell, Stephanie Perkins, and Jennifer E. Smith for YA. Elizabeth Gilbert and Gretchen Rubin for self-help and inspiration. And so many more!

When we talk about authors, it’s usually the foreign ones who get more credit, but there are so many Filipino authors who also write great stories. I attended The Philippine Readers and Writers Festival last weekend and it was truly a celebration of local talent.

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The panel I attended was “Clever Hands: How to Write Steamy Scenes in New Adult Lit.” Featuring local authors Brigitte Bautista, Six de los Reyes, Clare Elizabeth Marquez, C.P. Santi, Ines Bautista-Yao, and Mina V. Esguerra, the discussion was definitely eye-opening. To summarize, there are several heat levels in romance, ranging from zero (clean), one (sweet), two (sensual), three (sexy and sizzling), and four (erotic romance). These heat levels can help clarify who your readers might be, and they will affect your characters, plot, and word choices. (I’ve read books across all heat levels, but in terms of my fiction, I think I’ll stick to level one… for now. Haha!)

The authors gave great writing tips, but the highlight of the session was definitely the live readings, done by actors Gio Gahol, Rachel Coates, and Fred Lo. It was thrilling to see the written word come alive before my eyes. Check out these videos to see what I mean. (Thank you to April of The Reading Belles for uploading.)

All That Glitters by Ines Bautista-Yao, a sweet romance about college kids Carlos and Billie. I’ve read this and highly recommend it!

Bucket List to Love by C.P. Santi. I love that it’s set in Japan—and after hearing this excerpt, I just had to get a copy.

I wish I could have attended more talks (and bought more books), but sitting in on this panel was definitely worth it. It inspired me to keep reading, writing, improving—and having fun along the way!

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Travel Journaling Tips from Abbey Sy and Christine Herrin

When I turned twelve years old, my parents gave me a beautiful, hardbound journal for my birthday. It was a light shade of pink with dainty, watercolored illustrations of flowers, a cafe, a plate of food, and a bottle of wine on the cover. It also came with a matching box that had a lock and key. Since then, I began writing pages and pages of words about my life.

In high school, I started scrapbooking. I became obsessed with lettering and calligraphy (back when it wasn’t all the rage yet and all I had to guide me was an old textbook from art class). I started sorting through my photos and old magazines, and cutting and pasting them onto this huge scrapbook. Every time we went to a movie or a trip, I would save all the ticket stubs, the maps, the souvenirs. My friends entrusted me as the memory keeper—the person who had a record of all the photos from all the memorable events in our young lives. By the time I graduated from college, I had more than a dozen thick scrapbooks and albums.

But as the world moved into the digital age, these hobbies fell by the wayside. It became too tedious to print and sort through hundreds of photos on my digicam. Once I started working, I became too busy to sit down and work on a scrapbook. Whereas before, I would write on my journal almost daily, now my handwritten entries are few and far between.

When artist Abbey Sy came out with her book, The ABCs of Hand Lettering, and later, The ABCs of Journaling, I was transported back to my high school days. I immediately got a copy of both books because they reminded me of a simpler time—a time when I was able to diligently record and reflect on my experiences. To me, journaling and scrapbooking weren’t just about preserving memories, they were also about helping me figure out who I was and my place in the world.

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Fangirl moment: I’m such a huge fan of Abbey’s work!

Last Saturday, August 19, I attended a travel journaling workshop at Common Folk Coffee Bar with Abbey and Christine Herrin, another talented artist who also happens to be my former officemate. It was such a fun gathering with fellow creatives and journaling enthusiasts, and it inspired me to start scrapbooking again, especially since I have two big trips coming up!

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With Abbey, Christine, and my fellow travelers at Common Folk Coffee Bar. (Photo courtesy of Abbey Sy)

If you’d like to go back to journaling and scrapbooking (like me) or if this is a hobby you want to start, here are a few of Abbey and Christine’s travel journaling tips:

BEFORE THE TRIP:

1. Do your research. Find inspiration online. Look for places that are not only Instagram-worthy, but that you and your travel buddies will also find interesting.

2. Decide on what journal you will use. It can be any old notebook you have lying around, but of course, I would recommend journals from either Abbey or Christine!

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Enjoy the Journey travel journal, P350, available at Abbey-Sy.com (Photo courtesy of Abbey Sy)

DURING THE TRIP:

3. Remember that there are many ways to journal. For instance, Christine collects ephemera (memorabilia and souvenirs) and sticks them on her journal along with her photos. Abbey does this as well, but she also draws and paints interesting places on her journey. So there is really no right or wrong way to do it. The important thing is to find what works for you.

4. When laying out the pages in your journal, draw or stick the ephemera first before you start writing. You can also use stickers, stamps, and washi tape to decorate it.

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Stamp sets by Christine Herrin, P850 each, available at EverydayExplorers.co. She also has a collab stamp sheet with Abbey! (Photo courtesy of Abbey Sy)

5. Do your journaling before breakfast or after dinner to free up headspace. It’s a nice way to remember and appreciate what happened the previous day, while also getting ready to face the day ahead. But don’t spend too much time documenting. Enjoy the place!

6. If you don’t have time to journal during the trip, just use ziplocks to store your ephemera and then work on your journal when you get home. You can also do random stuff like take a screenshot of the weather for the day. I love Christine’s Everyday Explorers journal because it’s filled with a list of prompts that can help you document your trip in a unique and interesting way. It also comes with a box where you can store your souvenirs.

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Everyday Explorers journal kit, available at EverydayExplorers.co. (Photo courtesy of Abbey Sy)

AFTER THE TRIP:

7. If you’re fixing your journal after the trip, decide whether you will arrange everything chronologically, by place, or by theme.

8. Collect and select. You don’t have to put ALL the details of your trip. Choose the best photos and ephemera, and just write the things you want to remember the most.

9. Set aside time to do it soon after your trip—otherwise, you’ll never get around to finishing it!

10. “Don’t be too precious.” As Christine said, don’t be afraid to write on that blank page, to mess it up, and to stick things on it. It’s your journal after all.

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My travel journaling loot. I’m so excited and I can’t wait to get started!

10 Tips for a Great Interview

One of the things I love most about being a writer is meeting people from all walks of life. Whether it’s a public school teacher from a far-flung province, a running coach who guides underprivileged young athletes, or a big celebrity with multiple endorsements, each person has a unique and interesting story to tell. While I often feel inspired after each interview, there is also a huge pressure to write about the subject in a way that does justice to his or her story—and to write an article that people will want to read all the way to the end.

The key to writing a great story about a person starts with the interview. Below are a few tips I’ve learned on how to have a meaningful conversation with your interviewee. (Disclaimer: I am not a hard news reporter, so these tips will mostly apply to feature articles.)

1. Research on your subject. Before you meet the person you are interviewing, do your research. Read up on articles that have been written about her before. After all, you don’t want to write an article with information that already exists online. You need to find a different way to write about this person.

2. Prepare your questions in advance. Once you’ve learned more about your subject, prepare your list of questions according to the topic of the article you’re writing. If your focus is on a celebrity’s new movie, for instance, it probably won’t help to bring up an old showbiz issue that has already been resolved.

3. Be friendly and curious, without being intrusive. Respect your subject’s boundaries. If she clearly states that she doesn’t want to talk about a certain topic, don’t push the issue. I’ve learned that once your subject becomes uncomfortable, the more she won’t answer your questions!

4. Genuinely listen. Don’t interrupt the subject while she is talking. If she diverts from the topic, wait for a break in her train of thought before gently steering her back to your preferred topic.

5. Ask interesting, open-ended questions. If your questions are just answerable by “yes” or “no,” you won’t get the meat you need for your article. It also helps to ask unique questions that will allow your interviewee to give more substantial answers, instead of the usual spiel she gives other interviewers. (I love watching Vogue’s 73 Questions series. Some of their questions are pretty good and can be used for a standard interview.)

6. Ask follow up questions. If something isn’t clear, don’t be afraid to ask more questions. You don’t have to strictly follow your list. Sometimes the best stories come out of topics you weren’t even planning to talk about.

7. Be professional. I once went to a press conference for a popular boy band. During the Q&A portion, a lady from the press went to the mic and started gushing about the band for the next five minutes. This is probably fine at a fan meet-and-greet, but definitely not at a press con! If you’re interviewing someone you are a huge fan of, it’s okay to show your appreciation, but don’t waste his or her time with endless gushing.

8. Never make the interview about you. Many times, you’ll find yourself relating to your interviewee. Perhaps you had a similar experience to what she was talking about or you have similar views about a certain topic. Don’t hog the spotlight by talking about yourself!

9. Be open. Different people have different views. You are not there to debate with your subject. You are there to learn more about her story.

10. Enjoy the conversation. The best interviews are those where you feel like you’re just talking to a friend over coffee. So just relax and have fun!

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Throwback to 2010 when I got the chance to interview Daniel Radcliffe over the phone. As a total Potterhead, it was a dream come true! It only lasted about five minutes (and my voice got very high after he said, “Hello, Angel!”) but I think I managed to keep my composure and write a good story, which was published in Candy magazine.

On Letting Go

Have you ever had to let go of a person, a place, or a thing you loved dearly? Saying goodbye is a natural part of life. Every day, seasons change, people pass away, relationships end, things get old and have to be thrown out.

As a writer, I often have to let go of the words I love. It’s easy when the work is not my own. As an editor, I go through every article that passes through me with a sharp set of shears, snipping away at unnecessary words in order to come up with a well-groomed piece that meets my required word count.

But when it comes to my own work, it’s a painful process, like cutting off my own fingers. When I wrote the first chapter of my new adult novella a few years ago, my words were like my children. They manifested themselves in my brain and my heart, and I was so inspired as I typed them out on my computer. I carved and polished them to perfection, before sending them off into the world.

When that novella was rejected by a local publisher last year, I had to take a good long look at my manuscript, and eventually made the tough decision to let go of that first chapter—the one I had carefully crafted and poured my heart into. It was hard, but necessary, if I wanted my first chapter to be strong and exciting enough to hook my reader.

This year, I had to let go of a lot more than just my words. I said goodbye to a dear cousin who recently passed, to a hardworking and talented team that I love, to a job that was as enjoyable as it was stressful, and to a company that I considered my second home for the past twelve years.

Of course, there were tears. There was—or rather, there is—fear and anxiety. But there is also joy. And there is hope. Because when one chapter ends, a new one begins.

Sometimes, it’s easier to hold on to the familiar, to stubbornly stay rooted in one place. But every time we let go of something, we make room for new things to grow—for new people, experiences, and stories to enter our lives. We just have to learn to welcome them with open arms.

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The August 2017 issue is my last as managing editor of Good Housekeeping Philippines. After 12 years and having handled several titles for Summit Media, I can truly say that it has been a wonderful and fulfilling journey. I will be eternally grateful to all the people I’ve worked with, the opportunities I’ve been given, and the lessons I’ve learned in the process. Today, a new adventure begins and I’m excited for what lies ahead. #PassionOn