Archive for December, 2011

Thank You, 2011

Wanna win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of Ellen Degeneres‘s Seriously, I’m Kidding and Jane Lynch’s Happy Accidents?  Click on this link.


Ang hindi lumingon sa pinanggalingan, hindi makararating sa paroroonan –

“One who doesn’t learn from his past, cannot hope to succeed in the future.”

— an old Filipino proverb

It’s my last post for the 2011 and before I start writing down my goals/resolutions for the New Year, I’d like to look back at all the writing milestones I’ve passed, all the goals I’ve achieved, and all the lessons I’ve learned.

February 26, 2011

I joined a 5K run for the first time—and survived.

At the 5K Run

March 2, 2011

My two best friends knew I had finished the 8th draft of my MG book and helped me celebrate by taking me to Union Cattle, and—giving me an advanced birthday present of a netbook!

Enjoying my new netbook

April 16, 2011

I attended Writer’s Day for the first time ever. I got to listen to awesome speakers  such as editor Margaret Miller and authors Susan Patron, Bruce Coville, Rachel Cohn and Tony Johnston.

As an added bonus, I won 2nd place in the Writer’s Day contest for my middle grade novel Urth.

April 21, 2011

Every year since I discovered it, I try to attend the Renaissance Fair. It’s a great place to hang out with friends and a great source of ideas & inspiration for my fantasy novels. This year was no different. I had my usual fill of turkey leg and enjoyed exploring the dusty grounds with my friends.

Enjoying the turkey leg at the Renfair

April 23, 2011

Author Aura Imbarus met with our writing group and talked to us about writing, publishing and her memoir, Out of the Transylvania Night. It was a great session and we learned a lot from our talk with Aura.

TCBW with Aura Imbarus

April 26, 2011.

I celebrated another birthday.  A milestone indeed.

Birthday cake

April 30, 2011

This year’s LA Festival of Books was at the USC Grounds. I went with good friends Lissa and Lena. I attended an awesome fantasy panel comprised of authors Megan Whalen, Rick Yancey, and one of my favorite authors Jonathan Stroud.

LA Festival of Books YA Fantasy panel

I also got to meet fave fantasy authors Garth Nix and Sean Williams, who signed my copy of Troubletwisters.

With Sean Williams and Garth Nix

May 2, 2011

IWOSC’s organized a great agents panel and I got to listen to Jennifer Rofe, Ashley & Carolyn Grayson, Taylor Martindale, Paul Levine, Greg Gertmenian & entertainment lawyer Ivan Hoffman.

May 4, 2011 – May 13, 2011

I had the trip of a lifetime with bestfriend Maiko. Tanks to the generosity of my aunt JD—who shared some of her Wheel of Fortune winnings – I was able to fulfill a lifelong dream to explore England and see Stonehenge up close.

Maiko and I at Stonehenge

June 9, 2011

I met Amazing Race contestant, travel photographer/ blogger and author Deborah Cloyed.

With Deborah Cloyed

June 18, 2011

I made some awesome new writer friends at the first ever LA Kidlit Drink Night at Pink Tacos.

June 28, 2011

I attended the Screenwriting panel at Barnes & Noble, Santa Monica and made some great author connections. I love Pamela Jaye Smith’s writing books and was excited to finally meet her in person. I was also very grateful to have met Scriptwriting consultant and author Kathie Fong Yoneda.

With Pamela Jaye Smith & Kathie Fong Yoneda

July 6, 2011

Author DJ Machale, is one of my favorite fantasy authors and I was happy to get the chance to see him again at the Cerritos Library Authors Faire.

With DJ Machale

August 5 – 7, 2011

The SCBWI Summer Conference was one of the highlights of this year. It was SCBWI’s 40th anniversary and they put great effort into making it one of their most memorable conferences yet.

I learned so many different things, made new friends—

With B.L. Sauder, Sophia Chang & Melanie Abed

And got starstruck when I met incredibly awesome authors Laurie Hals Andersen, Libba Bray,  Deborah Halverson, Gary Paulsen, Norton Juster and Richard Peck.

With author Libba Bray

With author Norton Juster

with Laurie Hals Anderson

with Deborah Halverson

With Gary Paulsen

With Richard Peck

August 20, 2011

After taking my belt test for my martial arts class on July 9th, I got my orange belt certificate.


Getting my orange belt

August 24, 2011

Scriptwriting consultant and authors Kathie Fong Yoneda and Pamela Jaye Smith  showered our writing group with writing tips and shared their knowledge on the industry.

August 21, 2011

I flew up to the Bay area to spend the day with some old schoolmates. We ate, reminisced about our high school days, ate and I bought a whole bunch of books from Borders’ store closing sale.

With High School friends

August 26-28, 2011

For our best friend Lena’s birthday, we went to Catalina Island.

At Catalina Island with friends

It was my first time in Catalina, and my first time Kayaking too.

Kayaking for the first time

I took my first ever blogging break in the month of August to do my own version of nanowrimo. I finished an entire first draft of my new YA in four weeks—just in time to attend the Working Writer’s Retreat.

September 9 – 11, 2011

I attended the Working Writer’s Retreat for the second time. I met some incredible people and received great feedback for my YA.

Here, too, wonderful Regional Advisers Lee and Sarah asked me to join SCBWI-LA Board as the Contest Coordinator. Naturally, I said yes!

September 18, 2011

I was ecstatic to receive a personal invitation from Newberry winner and one of my favorite authors,  Susan Patron to attend her book launch. She launched the 3rd book in her Lucky Series at the Skylight Bookstore in L.A.

with Newbery winner Susan Patron

October 2011

October was booksigning month for me. I dragged whoever I could drag (usually Lena or Maiko) to attend various booksigning events with me.

October 2nd – Rick Riordan

Rick Riordan

October 4th, Ellen Degeneres

Ellen Degeneres

October 16th, Jane Lynch

Jane Lynch

October 23rd – Gretchen McNeil,  Elise Allen, Stasia Kehoe,  & Allen Zadoff

Gretchen McNeil,  Elise Allen, Stasia Kehoe,  & Allen Zadoff

October 22, 2011

The Torrance Children’s Book Writers, had our first ever officers meeting. We made some great plans for the future and even got to design our group’s logo.

I also managed to sneak in some time to attend the Kidlit Halloween Party to see some of my SCBWI friends.

With author Kristen Kittscher

October 23, 2011

I attended my first ever SCBWI Board meeting and loved it.

November 2011

November was a month for traveling and touring.  Maiko, Lena and I toured our city of Los Angeles since I was using it as a setting for my new YA book. So far we’ve seen the Flower District, Jewelry District, Fashion District, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, El Pueblo, Silver Lake & Echo Park area.

Pershing Square

The three of us also traveled to New Orleans to attend our friend Cesar’s wedding.

French Quarter, New Orleans

November 12, 2011

This was the first time our second scribe (aka vice president) Lucy Ravitch headed one of our writing group’s sessions. I was happy to be in the background for once, assisting Lucy as she lectured on writing picture books.

Picture Book Bootcamp with Lucy

December 2, 2011

Together with Maiko, Lena, Lissa and Kristen, I attended Marie Lu’s Legend book launch at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore.

With Marie Lu

December 3, 2011

I had fun with friends at SCBWI-LA’s holiday party at the Wellesbourne.

December 10, 2011

The Torrance Children’s Book Writers had our first ever holiday party. Here we  launched our new name and logo.

Torrance Children’s Book Writers  soon to be Children’s Book Writers of Los Angeles

I end the year with gratitude and humble amazement. I am grateful for all the things I’ve accomplished, lessons I’ve learned, the wonderful people I’ve met and all the amazing experiences I’ve had this year.

Thank you 2011!

Hello, 2012!

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My Favorite Gifts–and a Giveaway

Hello all! I hope you had a blast this Christmas.

I had fun as usual celebrating with family and friends.  Last December 24th, we ate, watched a movie, ate, played games and ate while waiting for 12 Midnight.

Playing Christmas poker

As soon as the clock struck 12, we all opened our presents.

Christmas presents under the tree

A fun kind of chaos ensued. Wrapping paper flew all over the place, boxes were ripped open and there were exclamations of delight and joy at the presents we received.

Tita(Aunt)  Badette unwrapping my present

Of course, we had to give each other hugs and thanks for every present we opened–that was tricky considering the floor was flooded with opened gifts and wrapping paper.

Maiko getting a big surprise

Christmas always makes me feel like a kid again and no matter how old I get, I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling excited during Christmas. I love getting things on my wishlist as well as presents I never expected.

Christmas gifts from family and friends.

Some of my favorite presents include a brand new monitor and a dual monitor stand, a stuffed toy dragon I’ve been looking for for ages, a Bird Pick tea infuser, camera bag/tripod set, a space pen, a swiss knife,  and –my favorite of all, a signed Collector’s Edition copy of Ender’s Game. These are xmas presents which I never ever dreamed of getting and sometimes feel like I don’t deserve. I am truly grateful for these as well as for all the other gifts I received. I seriously love every single one of them.

But more than getting gifts however, I love watching my loved ones’ faces as they open presents I carefully selected for them. I particularly love it when they get something they absolutely love.

It was certainly a fun event. I was happy to have my sister join us for Christmas. (She missed last year’s celebration because she was in Mali for the Peace Corps. She’s going back there next week though. I can’t wait to have her come home for good. )

I was really sad that our parents weren’t able to join us for the usual Christmas chaos. My mom had just taken on a new job in San Jose and was working through Christmas.  I hope we’ll be complete for next year’s celebration.


I’d like everyone to get the chance to win a copy of the two awesome books I’m giving away, so I’ve updated the rules of the Contest.

I’m giving away an AUTOGRAPHED  copy of Jane Lynch’s Happy Accidents


an AUTOGRAPHED copy of Ellen Degeneres’s Seriously, I’m Kidding.

Both books are awesomely funny reads and AUTOGRAPHED by these wonderful personalities.

I hope you join this awesome contest. Click on this link to view the contest rules.

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Funniest Christmas Ever–Share Your Story & Win a Prize

Hey all, I was supposed to start this last Monday, but I thought that blogging about the recent tragedy in Philippines was important. If you haven’t heard about the typhoon that took 952 + lives, and are interested in helping out, check out my post:

Thanks to all those who donated and all who sent their prayers out to the victims and their loved ones.

Despite the recent tragedy, there is still much to be thankful for this Holiday Season.

I thought I’d spread a little bit of joy around with a Holiday Giveaway!

I got to meet two of Hollywood’s top comediennes this year, and would like to share the experience with you, at the same time. I decided to hold the FUNNIEST HOLIDAY CONTEST.

Here are the PRIZES:

2nd Prize Winner: AUTOGRAPHED COPY of  Jane Lynch’s book (aka Coach Sue Sylvester from Glee) Happy Accidents.

1st Prize Winner: An AUTOGRAPHED COPY of Ellen Degeneres’s book Seriously, I’m Kidding.

That’s right, these are AUTOGRAPHED by Ellen Degeneres and Jane Lynch. And the books are seriously funny!

Here’s how to win:

Tell me why you’d like to win a copy of the book the comment box below.

I’m giving extra points if you tell me a funny holiday story.

That’s it. I’ll pick the winners based on a random draw.

Of course, I like to give extra points, If your story makes me laugh out loud, I’ll add another slip of paper with your name on it to my drawing bowl.

Here are other ways to increase your chances of winning:

  1. Follow my blog via the google friends connect/ facebook button (I’ll add 4 slips of paper with your name in my drawing bowl for each follow). Please make sure you leave a comment below telling me that you just followed my blog.
  2. Encourage a friend to follow my blog (3 slips of paper). Likewise, leave a comment letting me know that your friend followed my blog based on your recommendation.
  3. Share the link to this post on facebook (1 slip of paper).  Share the link on my comments box as well.
  4. Share the link to this post on twitter (1 slip of paper). Share the link on my comments box as well.

The contest will run from today December 21st, 2011 to January 7th, 2012, and is open to everyone. (Even international participants)

I’ll announce the winners on Monday, January 9th, 2012.

Good luck everyone!

I wish you all the Merriest Christmas and the most Prosperous New Year ever!

Photo from

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A Plea for Victims of the Philippine Typhoon Sendong

I was going to post about something fun today, but with the recent news about the Philippine storm, I thought it best to save that for tomorrow.

It’s 6 Days before Christmas. While some of us are worrying about what to wear to the next holiday party, or stressing about last minute shopping, halfway around the world in the Philippines, 47,000 will spend Christmas at an evacuation center grieving for lost or missing relatives.

Tropical typhoon Sendong ravaged the southern islands of Mindanao last Friday. A month’s worth of rain poured in just 12 hours, causing flash floods, uprooting trees, carrying away vehicles, destroying homes and taking lives.

13 southern and central provinces were hit badly, affecting about 143,000 people. 7,000 houses were either badly damaged or completely swept away by the raging waters.

village destroyed

There were no flood warnings that night, and the sea was at high tide.  Most people were already in bed, unaware that in a few minutes, everything, including their lives would be taken away from them.

As of today, 927 are confirmed dead, with hundreds still missing.  Officials said that the high death toll could be due to the fact that a lot of people had come home to visit relatives and spend Christmas with their families.

All morgues in the affected areas are full and no longer accepting bodies. Coffins and bodybags are in short supply, and morgues are using plastic bags or whatever is available to take care of the bodies piled outside their doors.

Some bodies still remain unclaimed hinting at the fact that entire families could have been wiped out.

Bodies piling up

Bodies are still being fished from the water by the Philippine coast guard. With the death toll continuing to rise, villages  are now planning mass burials.

Grieving survivors are frantically searching, hoping to give their dead loved ones a proper burial before their bodies are lost in a mass grave.

A father grieves for his dead child

While the dead are free of mortal concerns, survivors are still trying to come to terms with the loss of their homes, livelihood and loved ones.

47,000 people have fled to evacuation centers. UNICEF estimates that about 35% of evacuees are children, some of who might be the only survivors of the deadly storm. Evacuees are struggling with several issues such as the lack of running water and hygiene problems. They are also in dire need of clothing, blankets and shoes for young children.

typhoon victims queue for supplies

6 days from now, I will be opening preents and sharing a wonderful meal with my loved ones.  7298 miles away, in the country of my birth, people will be spending their first Christmas without a meal, without a home, and without their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives and children.

In the true spirit of the season, I extend now, a plea for the victims of typhoon Sendong. $10—even $5 will go a long way in those ravaged towns. If you are not able to, heartfelt prayers and positive thoughts are also most welcome.

Here’s a list of where you can send your donations:

Philippine Red Cross.

The Philippine Star also lists down other ways for you to send help.


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We (Torrance Children’s Book Writers) had our first ever Holiday Party on December 10th , 2011. It was a potluck affair, and everyone brought special dishes to share with the group.

Wonderful potluck food

We all sat around the table getting to know each other in a more social setting, and exchanging tales of writing woes and writing joys.

Holiday lunch

Once we were all stuffed to our ears, we started our program. We began by introducing ourselves to the group. I thanked everybody for making time to join us despite their busy holiday schedule. We had some new faces in that day, so I also introduced our officers so they would know who to approach if they needed something.

I also told our newer members a little about the group’s history and what we do. I told them that I had started the group a year and a half ago because I was pining for a writing group in the area that would support people like myself, who aspire to be published in the world of children’s books. I wanted a group that would provide mini-class sessions to teach me not only about the publishing industry, but also about writing itself. Since there were none in our neighborhood, I decided to create one to see where it would take me. My teaching experience kicked in and I figured I could maybe learn more about writing by teaching about writing.

Our writing group has grown and with it our dreams. There’s so much more we want to do for our members including more class sessions, more helpful handouts and worksheets and more writing events. This takes a lot of time, which we are more than willing to give–and money, which unfortunately we don’t have much of.  We’ve already  started the process of applying for a nonprofit status, and we hope that once that has pushed through,we can start trying to get a little bit of financial help so we can do more for our members.

My officers and I have kept busy while waiting for that nonprofit status to come through. We’ve come up with a new slogan and logo for our group based on our group’s new name (which I had used when I sent in the non profit application).

At last Saturday’s party, we launched our new name, logo and slogan.

Presenting our new slogan and logo

Next year, our name will officially change from Torrance Children’s Book Writers to Children’s Book Writers of Los Angeles, or CBWLA. This is the name we are using in our current nonprofit application, and the name which we hope future authors in our group will mention as inspirational in their careers.

After presenting our new logo and slogan, we moved on to the fun part of the party—the games.

The first game was human bingo and our members had to scramble all over the room asking people to sign in squares describing a certain trait they might have.

playing human bingo

The amazing Lucy finished all her squares first and won the tote bag. Amazing, considering she won the game while holding her daughter Ella (cutest baby ever!)

Lucy won the tote bag for human bingo

The second game was the funnest ever. The Gift Wrap Race rules were simple:  form a group of three and work together to wrap the box as quickly as possible. The catch? They had to do it one handed!

The Gift Wrap Race

The winners of the race received this stainless steel water bottle with our name and logo.

The final game was a bit more challenging. Each group was given a riddle sheet. The riddle contained words with alternate titles for several well-known Christmas songs.For example, I Spied My Maternal Parent Osculating was also another name for I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. Each group had 8 minutes to fill in the proper title beside the riddle.

Members playing Yuletide Carol Riddler

The group with the most number of correct items won the prize–mousepads!

Yuletide Carol Riddler Winners

Our program ended with the white elephant gift exchange.  White elephant is a gift game that involves picking a number, opening your chosen present in front of everyone else, and waiting nervously to see if someone else would steal the cool present you got or if they’d go for a new one.

white elephant gift game

The holiday party was a fun success and I only wish more people could’ve come! The food was yummy, the games entertaining, the prizes worth keeping and the people worth knowing.

And we got to help our local library by donating old books!

Books our members donated for the holiday book drive

Here’s hoping next year will be just as fun!

Torrance Children’s Book Writers soon to be Children’s Book Writers of Los Angeles

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Marie Lu’s Book Launch of Legend

Last December 1st, 2011, my friends and I attended debut YA author Marie Lu’s book launch at the Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in Redondo Beach.

I was so ecstatic to discover that Mysterious Galaxy, a bookstore that specializes in science fiction, mystery, fantasy and horror books, (and my favorite bookstore ever) opened a second branch in Redondo Beach.

Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, Redondo Beach, CA

I was even more ecstatic to be present with good friends Maiko, Lena, Kristen and Lissa, when Marie Lu launched “Legend”– her debuting YA Dystopian Novel.

Here’s Amazon’s Book Description of Legend

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths – until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

No wonder there was a lot of buzz on the book. The concept is at once intriguing and exciting!

The store was packed with Marie’s avid supporters by the time we arrived there at 7:30pm.

fans and supporters

Marie seemed both nervous and excited as she introduced herself to the crowd. She said she was born near Shanghai, but moved to Texas with her parents. She lived there until she went off to college at the University of Southern California (USC). She fell in love with  L.A. weather and decided to settle here. She said that in her “past life”, she was an art director at a video game company.

She read a little bit from the book, and then went straight to the question and answer portion. The audience seemed shy, so Marie encouraged questions by giving away a limited edition of her book to the first person who asked her a question. Hands shot up after that, of course–and the audience quickly warmed to asking the young author about her book.

YA author Marie Lu

Someone asked how she came up with the concept for Legend . Marie explained that she got the idea when she was watching a movie version of  the Broadway play Les Miserables. She thought it would be interesting to create a teenage version of Jean Valjean and Javert and have them face off against each other.

Marie said that she had a hard time writing June because she was an analytical, practical girl–far removed from her as possible. She had been writing Day for years, so she found it easier to write in his perspective.  Someone asked if she based her characters on real people. She said that her characters were a mix of herself, and people she knew, particularly her boyfriend, Primo. She also said that she decided to name the dictator after her boyfriend, since Primo meant number 1, and seemed to be the perfect despot name.

Another person asked whether the book had been optioned to be made into a movie. Marie confirmed that CBS Films had acquired the rights to the film and are currently developing the screenplay.

I asked her to tell us about her publication. She said she’d started writing when she was 14 years old. She often woke up at 2am just to get some writing in.  She said the second book she had written had gotten her an agent, but that it was never sold. She eventually parted ways with that agent and wrote two more books, before she found another agent who sold  Legend.

Marie Lu, photo by Dianne Garcia

Marie answered all the questions about her book and writing process patiently. When the questions began winding down, she offered a UK edition of the book to the person who asked her the last question.

My hand shot up faster than a speeding bullet ( those martial art lessons are finally paying off), and I asked her what her writing process was like. She told us a little bit about her writing rituals, and said she usually wrote in the afternoons because her mind was a bit foggy in the mornings.

Afterward, everyone lined up to get their books signed and their pictures taken with Marie.

Marie Lu signing books, photo by Dianne Garcia

I thought Marie would forget to give me the copy of the UK edition, which I had won, but as soon as I stepped up to the table, she handed it to me.

I had a really great time listening to Marie and I’m eager to start reading my copy of her book!

Myself with author Marie Lu

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Winner of the Year of the Golden Dragon Book Giveaway

Boy it is pouring here in Los Angeles today!

Ah but the rain won’t stop me from going to work (I have no choice, really ) or from announcing the winner of the Year of the Golden Dragon Book Giveaway!

Congratulations to fellow blogger Bish Denham! Email me so I can mail you the book. :)

Tune in Wednesday for my post on Marie Lu’s book launch of Legend.

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November 19, 2011, Saturday

Saturday was all about our friends Cesar & Jessica—and rightly so since we had flown in to New Orleans specifically to attend their wedding and join in celebrating their matrimony.

Wedding entourage, photo by Julie Nguyen

The wedding was held at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church on Canal Street. You can see more pictures of the church here.

St. Anthony de Padua Church, photo from

The elegant atmosphere of the church only added to the beauty of wedding. The most beautiful part of the wedding, however, was finally seeing our two friends exchange vows at the altar.

Cesar and Jessica exchanging wedding rings, photo by Maiko Morotani

Cesar made a handsome groom and Jessica a beautiful bride! After years of being together, it was about time those two sealed the deal with rings, and a kiss. We were all so extremely happy for them.

Mr. and Mrs. Fajardo!

Their reception was held at the Southern Oaks Plantation about half an hour away from the main city proper. It had a beautiful fountain right in front of the main house.

Southern Oaks Plantation

A band played lively songs as guests piled inside. They increased their volume when the bride and groom arrived in their limo. Yummy New Orleans food was overflowing at Cesar and Jessica’s wedding. The reception didn’t include a traditional sit down dinner, (though there was a permanent table at the corner of the main ballroom where guests could get desserts, or a warm slice of roast beef and sweet potato salad) instead,   servers roved the room offering various appetizers and finger foods to guests.  I thought it was a clever way of serving guests. Most of us were bursting by the time the fourth server approached us. At one point, we went outside to the pool area to hide from the servers who kept on offering us food.

A traditional Filipino wedding always involves dancing so right after the new bride and groom had their first dance together, and their first dance with their parents, everybody started grooving to the music.

The wedding cake was gorgeous too. I hear it was yummy, but I didn’t get to try it. I was already so full from all the food and I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to fit in my clothes the next day. :)

wedding cake

The wedding reception ended at around 6pm, and the hired bus brought us back to our hotel. We rested for a little bit, freshened up and headed out for a late dinner at 9pm with some friends. They had heard us raving about Drago’s so they decided to try it too. So Maiko, Lena and I went back for our second serving of Charbroiled oysters!

Drago’s charbroiled oysters again!

After dinner, Maiko, Lena and I separated from the rest of the group and headed for Frenchman Street, which we heard was where we could find various jazz clubs.  All the free entrance clubs were packed, however, and we didn’t want to pay a cover charge, so we ended up listening outside the bar. I thought this was better anyway because inside was just too crazy with drunk people, and cigarette smoke.

We also listened for a while to this strange but entertaining band playing on the street corner. Sweet Street Symphony dressed in various ragtag outfits and played a combination of jazz and folk music.

Sweet Street Symphony, photo by Maiko Morotani

We didn’t stay too long on Frenchman Street however, as the smoke and the drunk people were getting on our nerves. :S

November 20, 2011, Sunday

Our flight out was at 3pm, so we had a bit of time to explore more of New Orleans.

We got up at 8am, and took the tram to the French Market.

New Orleans tram, photo by Maiko Morotani

French Market

The French Market was a great place to shop for souvenirs–and xmas presents. I wish we had come here on our first day so I could’ve done my souvenir shopping here instead of a the French Quarter. There were more interesting things for sale here–and at cheaper prices. And the vendors here accept credit cards as well as cash!

Wares being sold at the French Market

Maiko and Lena even bought some beautiful artwork from one of the vendors here.

Maiko and Lena purchasing some artwork

We explored the market, and its surrounding shops. I went into The Little Toy Shop on Decatur Street and bought myself a knight on a horse–a little figurine to inspire my story-writing process.

At the Little Toy Shop on Decatur Street, photo by Maiko Morotani

Decatur Street was a fun place to explore.

Decatur Street

But soon our stomachs were rumbling and we knew it was time to head down to St. Louis Street. On our way there, we passed by Cafe du Monde, and Jackson Square–where the artists sold their colorful artwork,. even on a Sunday.

Artwork for sale along Jackson Square

We had made reservations at Chef Emeril’s NOLA restaurant. But we got there a few minutes too early and the restaurant doors were still closed. So we went next door to the New Orleans School of Cooking and bought some pralines.

New Orleans School of Cooking, photo by Maiko Morotani

When NOLA finally opened, we went inside and quickly got seated.

Maiko, Lena and I at NOLA Restaurant, photo by Maiko Morotani

Since it was our last day in New Orleans, we decided to splurge on lunch and order whatever we wanted.

Lunch at NOLA

The food there was absolutely amazing and we gobbled everything up with no regrets.

We peeked in at the Spice and Tea Exchange Shop right across NOLA, before we headed back to the hotel to collect our bags.

The Spice and Tea Exchange Shop

New Orleans was a fun city to visit and explore and I hope I get to visit again one day.

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*Please join my Year of the Golden Dragon book giveaway. It’s a great book and I’m willing to ship it anywhere in the world!*


Last November, my two best buds and I flew from L.A. to LA to attend a friend’s wedding.

Yup, that’s Los Angeles to Louisiana.

New Orleans, to be exact.

It’s a fascinating city, to say the least. The city has an eclectic mix of modern sights and old world charm. NOLA’s French, African, & Caribbean influence is apparent in its food, music, culture—and souvenirs.

November 18, 2011, Friday

Thanks to Lena, we all got to hang out at the Delta Sky Lounge before our flight. We had our fill of unending snacks, and drinks. I can understand how businessmen and women who have to fly regularly become Sky Lounge members. The lounge was a wonderful experience, and a great place to relax and wait for our flight.

Delta Sky Lounge snacks

We took the redeye flight Thursday night so we could have the whole Friday to explore a little bit of New Orleans.

The first order of the day was to try out New Orleans’ famous beignets. Beignets are fried donut holes sprinkled with powdered sugar.  We went to the famous Cafe du Monde. It took us several minutes to find a seat as the place was crowded.

Cafe du Monde

The customer service there wasn’t so great. There were a lot of servers just sitting around taking breaks instead of clearing out much needed tables–but the beignets were good, at least.

After a late breakfast of beignets and hot chocolate, we took a walk around the French Quarter.

Jackson Square, and the St. Louis Cathedral in the distance

We stopped for a few minutes to watch a street performer near Jackson Square.  He was pretty entertaining–very funny and skilled at riding a tall monocycle and juggling knives!

Street performer juggling knives

We made our way to the St. Louis Cathedral shortly afterward.  The St. Louis Cathedral is New Orleans’ most notable landmark, and has the honor of being the oldest cathedral in the whole United States.

Inside the St. Louis Cathedral

The St. Louis Cathedral was just as beautiful inside, as it was outside.  Being Roman Catholic myself, I made sure I said a little prayer before we left to explore the rest of the French Quarter.

Jackson Square was alive with music and people when we visited that day. Street psychics had set up tables and chairs right in front of the cathedral, offering to read passing people’s fortunes.

Street psychics

We saw street musicians and performers at almost every corner we passed.

The white lady haunting the streets of New Orleans

Street musicians

We even bumped into the old devil himself. He welcomed us to New Orleans and even posed for a picture. Of course, we had to give him a small donation for his time, but the picture was worth it.

A devil walking the streets of New Orleans

Pirates Alley is a small alley beside the Cathedral where one can find small shops to visit. Of course, I didn’t go there for the shopping. I went there to find Faulkner House. Nobel Laureate William Faulkner rented rooms on the ground floor of the building in 1925. It’s the exact same space that houses the bookstore today.

Faulkner House, Pirates’ Alley

Bourbon Street is one of the most popular and historic streets in New Orleans.  People who’ve experienced Bourbon Street at night swear that its 10x crazier than Sin City Las Vegas. Strippers, hookers, booze and bras are a common sight at night, and the streets smell like beer even in the daytime. We decided to take a walk through it, while it was still relatively safe.

Posing by a sign on Bourbon Street

I’m so glad we did, because we came upon Cafe Beignet.  Cafe Beignet is known for its beignets, of course.

Statues in front of Cafe Beignet

They were even featured on Food Network’s Best Thing I Ever Ate Show. We sat down there to have a late lunch and to enjoy a little jazz music. The singer Elaina and her band were very good and we couldn’t help but bob our head to their music.

Jazz singer Elaina and her band

At Cafe Beignet, we had our 2nd beignet for the day. Surprisingly, iIt was much better than Cafe du Monde.

We continued our tour of the French Quarter after lunch. We entered an interesting shop which sold all kinds of masks, and bought some masks which were on sale.

Shop selling masks of all kinds

In every new city I visit, I always make it a point to visit a local bookstore to buy a book as a souvenir. I especially love bookstores that sell a lot of old leather bound volumes. Crescent City Books on Chartres Street, was one such bookstore. I bought a special edition of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight there. (Of course, two days later, I found out that she had passed away.)

Crescent City Bookstore and its resident cat

We headed back to our hotel to take a nap before continuing our tour of the city. (That’s what we get for taking a red eye flight!)

As soon as we woke and freshened up, we headed for Drago’s Seafood Restaurant.  We ordered stuffed lobster, veal cutlets and charbroiled oysters to share.

I have to say, I became an instant fan of their charbroiled oysters!

Drago’s famous charbroiled oysters

After a very filling (and very yummy) dinner, we headed toward the Ritz Carlton Hotel on Canal Street. Maiko is a big jazz fan and she wanted to take us to the Davenport Lounge so we could listen to some good jazz.

The lounge was filled with people listening to Jeremy Davenport and his band. Some people were actually dancing up front to the music.

Jeremy Davenport and his band

At the lounge, we gave in to temptation and had our 3rd beignet for the day. We were so full, but we were very glad to have ordered them. They came with three dipping sauces (chocolate, caramel and vanilla cream) and were just the best beignets we had had that day.

Best Beignets ever at the Davenport Lounge

We headed back to the hotel around 11pm to get some much needed rest. We needed to get ready for our friends’ wedding the next day, and for more adventures in New Orleans.


Tune in again on Friday for Day 2-3 of our New Orleans trip

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L.A. Tour Day 3: El Pueblo, Little Tokyo

The new YA Urban Fantasy Novel I’m writing is set in Los Angeles, so I’ve been taking my friends along for a tour of L.A.

In case you missed our last two adventures, here they are:

LA Tour Day 1:  Flower Market, Jewelry District, Chinatown

LA Tour Day 2: Silver Lake/ Echo Park/ Fashion District

Now on to LA Tour Day 3!

November 26, 2011, Saturday

Union Station

Our first stop for the day was Union Station. Union station opened in 1939, and  was the last of the Great Railway Stations built in the US.

Union Station, photo by Maiko Morotani

It is located in the northeastern corner of downtown L.A., right across from the historic El Pueblo District. Union Station’s services include four Amtrak long distance trips from L.A. to Chicago, Seattle, Chicago via San Antonio and New Orleans, Metrolink services to various L.A. counties, Metrorail services to various points in downtown L.A. and several bus and coach services.

Union Station Trains

We parked at basement of the building right behind Union Station and made our way up some stairs to the East Portal. I was pleasantly surprised at how clean and beautiful Union Station was.  Lena, Maiko and I decided to check out some of the trains. We made our way up one of the long, narrow tunnels and took a few pictures of the trains parked there. There were no attendants to ask for tickets and people could easily go in and out of the tunnels to have a look at the trains.

Tunnel leading up to the train station, photo by Lena Chen

The station is very clean and very pleasant to look at. They offer places for passengers to buy food such as Wetzel’s, Subway, Starbucks and Famima. They also have their very own restaurant and bar called Traxx-which open at later hours.

Famima, a small family mart, and a couple of convenience shops are located within the lobby area, for passengers. The waiting area itself has a relaxed and easy going atmosphere. People can sit in one of the many leather seats provided for in the lobby.

Union Station waiting area

Right outside the Union Station building is a sundial dedicated in memory of Gilbert Arnoll, General Manager of the Union Station from 1924-1938.  Etched around the marble sundial are some words of inspiration: “Faith to believe, Vision to See and Courage to Do.”

Sundial in front of Union Station

El Pueblo

After exploring the Union Station, we made our way across the street to the El Pueblo District. El Pueblo is the oldest district in L.A. and is actually where the city of Los Angeles was born 230 years ago. Spanish explorers discovered the area near the river in 1781.  Led by Governor De Neve, 44 pobladores first settled in the newly established pueblo, which they called El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles.

Not so hidden garden in El Pueblo, right across the Union Station

Lucky for us, those 44 settlers decided that the area was worth living in. Without them, L.A. would never have been born. Even better, their future descendants decided that the name El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles was too long and shortened it to Los Angeles.

Plaque commemorating the 44 pobladores, who were L.A.’s first settlers

The El Pueblo plaza is a small, open space surrounded by tall trees. There are a few benches all over the plaza where one can sit and watch the many people coming and going in the area. At the center of the plaza is a gazebo  where performances and celebrations are often held in the pueblo. A statue of King Carlos III of Spain stands off to one corner, right beside the plaque commemorating the 44 pobladores.

Gazebo in the middle of the El Pueblo central plaza, photo by Maiko Morotani

The first ever Fire station in Los Angeles can also  be found in the El Pueblo district–right across the plaza.

Firehouse No. 1, photo by Maiko Morotani

Beside Firehouse No. 1, Strangely enough is the Chinese-American Museum. It is one of the few reminders that the Chinese immigrants had originally settled within the area, before they were relocated to their current home in  Chinatown.

Lena, Maiko and I also got to visit the oldest church in L.A. The La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Ángeles (The Church of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels), was founded in 1814, and finished and dedicated in 1822. Thankfully, this Catholic church also has a shorter version of its name.

Also known as La Placita, this little mission church is divided into small sections. Directly outside, on the side of the church is a small grotto, and a covered area where children  gather for their first communion or other sacraments.

La Placita Church

But the most popular spot to visit in El Pueblo is Olvera Street. it is the oldest street in Los Angeles, and is named after Agustin Olvera, the first ever County Judge.

Olvera Street, El Pueblo

Olvera Street is a vibrant and colorful Mexican marketplace, with over 70 merchants selling their wares. Here one can buy anything from tiny Mexican flags to ponchos and luchador (mexican wrestler) masks.

Olvera Street store selling masks

Also on Olvera Street, is the Avila Adobe–the oldest house in Los Angeles. It was built in 1818 by Francisco Avila, a rich cattle rancher. Today it has been preserved as an historic monument. Everyone is free to walk in (There are no entrance fees) and see how the house might have looked like  in the late 1840’s.

Avila Adobe kitchen

After being transported back in time via the Avila Adobe’s wonderfully preserved rooms, we explored the rest of Olvera Street, then headed to our next destination.

Little Tokyo

Lena found a good parking spot in the Weller Court building (It was about $3 for the whole day).  The first thing we saw when we emerged form the parking structure was a rocket dedicated to Japanese-American astronaut Ellison Onizuka.

Rocket dedicated to astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka

There were several shops along the Ellison S. Onizuka Street / Weller Court area. We ventured into one that sold various Japanese toys and bought shirts featuring our favorite cartoon character Totoro.

We then headed for Daikokuya, a Japanese restaurant known for their ramen. The wait was almost an hour long, as the restaurant was small and the line outside was long.

Daikokuya Ramen Restaurant, Little Tokyo

While we waited for a table to open, we walked a few shops down to Fugetso-Do, a family-owned confectionery store. The shop opened in 1903 and business is still going strong. They are known for their mochi (rice cake) and manju (Sweet-bean filled rice cake).

Fugetso-Do Confectionery shop

We bought some mochi for dessert, and headed back to Daikokuya. We finally got a seat a the counter and ordered their special ramen. The service was pretty fast and we were having lunch about 8 minutes after giving our orders.

Daikokuya lunch

After a filling lunch, we walked to the Japanese American Museum. We paid the $9 entrance fee and enjoyed the various exhibits they had on display. Photography wasn’t allowed in the museum, so we had to content ourselves with just absorbing as much of the artwork as we could.

Japanese American Museum, photo by Lena Chen

We particularly enjoyed learning about the history of Japanese Americans in the US. Many of the items from that era was on display. It made me kind of sad to learn of how the Japanese civilians were treated in the US during world war II. Some volunteers had stripped down one of the old bunkers used in a Japanese Concentration camp and re-built the frame right in museum’s  second floor lobby. I could only imagine the kind of life the Japanese must have lived in the concentration camps in those days.

Another exhibit which I really enjoyed was Patrick Nagami’s Desire for Magic Exhibition. I became an immediate fan after viewing his various photographs and artwork.

After a little tour of the museum, we walked across the street to the Japanese Village Plaza.  The Yagura Fire Tower marked the entrance the small shopping complex filled with stores selling every imaginable Japanese product.

Yagura Fire Tower, Japanese Village Plaza, Little Tokyo

In the plaza we watched a curious street musician, who was featured in America’s Got Talent and the Jimmy Kimmel show. This Japanese one man band played several instruments all at once–including a harmonica, marracas, tambourine, drums, keyboard, guitar, and chimes–all while singing! We listened for awhile as the performer played various English and Japanese songs.

One man band

While window shopping, we got hungry and stopped for a snack at Cafe Dulce. Maiko bought some Vietnamese coffee (supplied surprisingly by Silver Lake’s Lamill Coffee House–which we had visited in one of our tours). I fell in love with the buttercream stick which we tried.  It was absolutely yummy.

Lena and I wanted some tea so we went back to the Japanese American Museum–where they had the El Chado Tea Room.  El Chado had hundreds of tea options and we had a hard time picking what to order.

The tea came in cute little teapots,  and we enjoyed a few sips, vowing to return to sample their high tea tray offerings.

Tea at the El Chado Tea Room

We rested our feet for awhile, before we headed back to the car, and towards SAN DIEGO to attend a friend’s birthday dinner. Yes, that day was looong, but also fun. I was especially grateful to Lena, who (as defies Asian stereotype by being a great driver) drove us everywhere the whole day.

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