Category : Blog Challenge

What I Learned From This Year’s A-Z

The month of April has come and gone, which means

a. I’m another year older

b. I’ve attended yet another awesome Writer’s Day AND

c. The A-Z Challenge is finally over!

1. Thank God it’s over.

2. I wonder what theme I’ll use again next year.

As you can see I find myself being pulled into two different directions.

On one hand, the A-Z was as hectic (and as crazy) as I expected it to be.

On the other hand, I was more prepared this year. I had finished writing and scheduling all but one post (I had to wait for Writer’s Day to happen before I actually wrote a report on it) before April even began.

This left me with 21 days (not counting weekends) to visit all 1944 blogs that had signed up for the challenge. This was not exactly a requirement for the A-Z, but I thought I’d do it anyway to challenge myself. I started visiting 75 blogs a day, then it grew to 100. Sometimes I got to visit as many as 150 blogs a day.

Of course the amazing A-Z hosts made it a point to clean up the list, so in the end, I only had to visit 1722 blogs.  And I did manage to visit all of them—with a whole week to spare.

What I Learned From This Year’s A-Z

1. Preparation is key, but preparation = a lot of hard work.

This means a few sleepless nights, and many, many stressful moments. It helps that I had my martial arts class so I could release the stress in a physical and concrete way.

2. I am capable of  many new ideas.

I spent the 2nd week of March racking my brains for possible topics, before finally deciding on a different theme each day of the week.

The A-Z Challenge made me realize that I’m capable of writing on just about any topic. Having the themes really did help, as I knew what topic to focus on and write about.

3. I am capable of proper time management.

I had planned to start writing my posts early since I knew it would make it easier for me to schedule them ahead of time. I thought I would start writing an extra post as soon as March appeared on the calendar, but of course I was wrong. I had a million other things to do and I had to finish all my March posts before I started writing my A-Z ones.

In the end I had only the last two weeks of March to write my A-Z posts—which meant I was writing anywhere from 2-4 articles per day. All this while fulfilling my accounting responsibilities at work. My bosses allow me to do my own thing, but only if it doesn’t interfere with my actual 9-6 job.

4. I actually like writing and scheduling my posts ahead of time.

Before I started this year’s challenge, I usually wrote my articles on the day I was supposed to post them. I would often show up to work pondering what I would write about that day, and wondering if I would be able to post it before lunch.

Because I had scheduled all my posts for April, I actually had some extra time to do other things (besides visit blogs of course). I was able to fulfill my responsibilities for the two writing organizations I belonged to (CBW-LA & SCBWI), and I was also able to work on my own manuscript.

Thanks to my experience with the A-Z challenge, I have decided to make sure I schedule most of my posts ahead of time.

5. I am capable of visiting 100 blogs a day.

How did I manage it? Well, being a fast reader does help—and most of the blog posts I encountered were short. I was able to visit around 50 blogs in an hour.

It’s time consuming and sometimes draining (all that information!), but now I know I have no excuse not to make time for my wonderful bloggy friends.

6.  I hate word verification.

Visiting 100 blogs a day and leaving appropriate, unique comments—while at work–  means I have no time to spare. I waste valuable seconds reading those unreadable word verification codes and typing them out, sometimes several times. I’d get frustrated and often annoyed when I had to type the code 4 or more times in a row because I couldn’t get it right. And every time the computer would accuse me of being a spammer or of needing an eye exam, because obviously I wasn’t doing it right.

7. I love reading and writing quality posts.

I find myself drawn to blogs with a lot of quality posts. I enjoy entertaining, informative or educational posts—articles which the writer definitely put a lot of thought and effort into writing. It not only gives me things to think about, but also gives me material to relate and respond to. My comments are often longer when I read posts that strike a chord with me.

8. There are a lot of amazing bloggers and writers out there.

And I want to be friends with them all! I am lucky to be a part of such an amazing and supportive community.

On that note, I have one last thing to say:

I have an award to give away, and this one is special because I made it myself and I intend to share it with all of you who have survived through the challenging A-Z Contest.

I hereby bequeath The Blogging Nut Award to all those who have survived the A-Z Challenge!

I vow to get to you each and everyone of you again to give you the award personally, but please feel free to grab the award from this page once you read it. God knows you deserve it! After all, you wrote 26 incredibly awesome posts and managed to visit most, if not all the people on the list. And even if you didn’t make it to the end, you still deserve this award for at trying.

Congratulations all of you!

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Origins Post

Thanks Alex, DL & Katie for hosting the Origins Blogfest! I’m eager to share my writing story, but I’m more excited to read about how everybody else got started writing.

I’ve enjoyed books since I could read, but I didn’t become an actual book addict, a bibliophile, until I hit the age of 9.

The thing is, I never went anywhere for summer vacation. Come school time, when the teacher asked what we did for summer breaks, my classmates always had something interesting to say. They went on summer vacations with their families, exploring various hotspots in the Philippines.

All I did was stay at home those two months and try not to go crazy with boredom.

Sometimes I’d stay with my grandmother in the province. The word “province” is misleading. It conjures up images of green fields and wide meadows. When we Filipinos talk about the province – we’re actually referring to rural places which television signals rarely reach (unless you were rich and you could afford a big satellite dish, or cable), where you have to walk a mile or more to use the telephone, where computers and internet connections are a mere dream and where the toilet is just a hole in the ground.  In other words, most provinces back home are so far off from technology you feel like you’ve stepped back into the dark ages.

I was fortunate enough that our house in the province had a flushing toilet and tons of books.  We had television in the living room but it was just for display as we couldn’t afford cable.  My grandmother would take her portable radio outside and listen to some soap operas while she worked on the garden.  While there were other kids in the neighborhood, I never socialized with them because they spoke a different dialect and sign language was not something they taught at school.

So I was left to my own devices. I had to find various ways of entertaining myself. When I got tired of catching dragonflies and fishing for tadpoles in our small fishpond, I’d go back into the house and find a book to read. Other children might curse the fates if they were placed in my situation. I really can’t complain. The lack of technological distractions, social contacts and updated toys left my mind wide open to imagination.

Photo credit:

So although I never really went anywhere, my summers always felt packed with adventure.  My books took me sailing on pirate ships, swimming in the open seas (even if I didn’t know how to swim), flying spaceships, and meeting monsters from another realm.

Eventually my love of books led me to another passion–writing. I discovered that I could create my own worlds, have amazing experiences and even take other people with me on these adventures. I started writing—and poetry was the first genre I loved. I still have my 3rd grade journal, where I wrote tons of poems about my friends, my teachers and my school.

The writing bug bit me hard, and soon even poetry wasn’t enough. I started writing short stories, poems, journal entries, notes, letters—even novels.

I wrote my first novel when I was in the 7th grade. I didn’t have a computer back then, so I used my aunt’s old typewriter. Clean, white, copy paper was something of a luxury for me, so I typed up my story on old term papers or scratch papers.  (My aunt was an English Teacher and she often brought home a lot of scratch papers to recycle).

My novel was an epic love story spanning centuries, with an element of reincarnation and a sprinkling of drama. I had no clue what I was doing back then, no idea of outlines or characterization or research. I had a vague idea of plot and I just wrote whatever came to my mind. I finished the draft in a month, thankfully I didn’t run out of typewriter ribbon in the process. I shared it with a few friends, who of course said it was good. (They were friends after all).

I continued to write all throughout High School, even winning a few writing contests here and there. The medal I’m most proud of earning was one I had won at an environmentally themed writing contest. Many high schools joined the competition, and we representatives had to sit for two hours in a room and come up with an essay according to a theme they had just given at that very day. My English teacher hadn’t told me much, only that creativity was the biggest criteria for judging and that I should keep that in mind. So I did. I let my imagination roam.

I finished my piece in an hour—this including the editing and rewriting phase. My English teacher was a bit nervous because I was the first one who submitted my entry. A few days later, I found out I won first place.

Winning that one contest changed my whole perspective on things. It made me believe I could one day make a career out of writing. And from then on, one of my dreams was to get published and become an author.

I forgot about that dream until 2008, when the itch to write again became unbearable. Since then, I’ve written 8 drafts of a middle grade novel, 2 drafts of a YA novel, joined SCBWI, started my own blog, founded my own writing group, attended several writing conferences and book signings, and devoured tons of writing books and books in my genre.

And I’m still going. I think this pretty much proves how crazy I am about writing, and how serious I am about trying to achieve my dream of getting published.

Writing has always been a friend to me. It has kept me company during hot, solitary summers and has pulled me through awkward adolescent years and even more awkward adult years. Writing has been a crutch, a shield, an inspiration and a blessing. It has kept me from going crazy on days when I feel so alone in the midst of a thousand people.

Writing has given me escape from boredom, freedom from rules, and a life worth living. Even when I abandoned writing for years, it remained a constant friend. It’s time for me to repay the favor and take it as far as I can go.

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A (True) Philippine Ghost Story

To celebrate her 4th year of blogging, and her 300 followers, bloggerific writer Bish Denham is having a Halloween giveaway.

Congratulations, Bish!

She is giving away some awesome prizes: an ARC of Jessica Bell’s book THE STRING BRIDGE scheduled for release November 1st, DOGSLED DREAMS by Terry Lynn Johnson, AND a tatted bookmark made by Bish herself.

Naturally, I just had to join in the fun! The challenge is to write and post, in 300 words or less a real life Halloween/ghost memory or a fictional story. Working  the number four and/or 300 into the story would make it even more special!

So here it is–my ghost story.


Way back in the 80’s, my mom had purchased some land in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, a province in the northern part of the Philippines.

My parents fenced the lot in, and built a small bungalow, thinking it would be a great place to settle down.

Our land in Nueva Vizcaya

The two- acre lot had tons of fruit trees, fertile land for planting vegetables,  a small fishpond—and a resident ghost.

The locals called our bungalow “the white house”—not only because it was painted chalk white, but because they swear that a “White Lady” roamed our land.  (A White Lady is a type of female ghost, usually appearing in flowing dresses. They are often seen in rural areas associated with some local tragedy.  In the Philippines, white ladies are popular ghost topics).

During the Japanese occupation (1942-1945), an army of Japanese soldiers made their way to Bayombong. There, they took whatever they wanted—whether it was a house, land, food—or women.

The Japanese Imperial Army in the Philippines

One of their victims was a young lady named Priscilla (not sure of this name), who lived a simple farming life. They used her, killed her family, and eventually hanged her from a tree.

The land my mother had bought was where Priscilla had been born, lived a short life, and died a violent death.

People who live nearby avoid walking by our house at night if they can help it. They say Priscilla appears around midnight from the giant mango tree in the back of the lot.

Giant mango tree in the back of the lot

She is a lost soul, roaming the night, seeking justice or maybe revenge.

I’ve never encountered her, but many guests who have stayed in our bungalow for a little vacation, have definitely seen her.

My uncle Warren was one of them. He got up one night to use the restroom. As he stood groggily over the toilet, a sudden chill came over the air, and his hair began to stand on end.

When he looked up, he saw a young lady in a white dress hovering two feet from where he stood. She looked like she was hanging from some invisible tree. She glared down at him with fierce eyes, and a slightly mad smile playing on her lips.

Swallowing a scream, he ran from the toilet back to the guest room, and prayed for the first time in so many years.

I grew up hearing many other stories like these. I’m not surprised that Priscilla would mostly appear to men, since men had been the sole instrument in her gruesome death. I hope her soul finds the peace she deserves, but as far as I know Priscilla still roams the night.

Picture from Supernatural TV series

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A-Z Day 26: Zamm

Zamm is one of the characters in my novel URTH.

Zamm also happens to be my real life cousin. You may have read about her in my previous post on Past life Readings.

Yes, she’s the same Zamm who gave me a Past Life Reading using her tarot cards.

Ate Zamm(Ate, pronounced Ah-te, is a Filipino term used to refer to an elder sister, or one whom you consider an elder sister),  and I grew up together in the same house, along with our other cousins. My childhood memories are fuzzy, but I’m almost sure that she baby-sat me on days when my Grandma and aunts were too busy with chores.

Ate Zamm with her arm around me, and my other cousins Ely and Ric

Although we grew up together, Ate Zamm and I never really bonded, until I had immigrated to the US and she had moved to New Zealand.  It was very strange, but in some ways the distance brought us closer together.

Thanks to Skype, and hours of conversations, we discovered that we had the same interests in business, photography, arts, language, the metaphysical and the mysterious.

Ate Zamm is the eldest cousin in my mother’s side of the family, and she’s also the most talented and the prettiest. She is amazing painter (you can see her paintings HERE)  and tarot reader, and also has the voice of an angel (she had a music album out in the Philippines way back when).

I’d like to think that because of our shared interests, we’re the most similar among all the cousins—but I certainly don’t have her beauty, my voice sounds like croak next to her soprano,  and while I can draw, my sketches are doodles compared to her paintings. Anyway, I’m just happy we’re related. J

So how did my talented cousin come to be in my book?

When I first started writing my fantasy novel URTH, I needed advice on what tarot cards would symbolize particular events in my main character’s life.  Naturally, she was the one I bugged for information.

The tarot reader in my story was supposed to appear only in one scene, but she had other ideas. She became one of the most interesting characters in my book, and as such needed an equally impressive name. Zamm was the perfect monicker, and so with my cousin’s permission, I used her name, and some of her traits, as a basis for my character.

Much like my cousin Ate Zamm, my character Zamm breaks the Psychic stereotype. There is nothing scary or contrived about her, and she certainly doesn’t read the cards and announce your impending death.  On the contrary, she is a source of information and wise advice.

Zamm the character has green frizzy hair, and she has a bit of a fondness for furry creatures (bunnies in particular). She also happens to be a druid; and she owns a shop called Z.A.P.S (short for Zamm’s Amazing Psychic Shop).

Zamm befriends the heroes of my story. She becomes an elder sister figure whom the kids look up to.  Will, Finn, and Taylor hang out at her shop all the time.  Sometimes the children help her around the shop, but most of the time they just like to eat biscuits and drink tea, and listen to Zamm’s stories. They also like to ask Zamm all sorts of random questions, and Zamm, being  a walking encyclopedia and a lover of trivia, eagerly answers them.

Although she doesn’t know that she does, Zamm helps Will, Finn and Taylor in their quest to save the Otherworld of Urth, and their own world of Earth in the process.

While it started out that art  imitated life in the form of my character Zamm, it seems that life has begun to imitate art.

When I first created Zamm the Character, my cousin Ate Zamm hadn’t yet established where she wanted to proceed with her tarot reading skills. Now, like my character, Ate Zamm has her own Tarot Shop.

If you ever find yourself in Wellington, New Zealand, be sure to check out her shop on Plimmer Place.

Her tarot readings are not only bound to amaze you, they’re also bound to give you some great insight into your own personality or the path you need to take.

Aside from the great reading, you’ll get to meet the wonderful person who inspired my one of my favorite characters in Urth.


And that’s the end of the A-Z Blogfest! It has been one crazy ride. I am thankful for all the online friends and followers I’ve made. I hope to keep you all informed and entertained in my succeeding posts. :)

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A-Z Day 25: Yellow Symbolisms

In her book Symbols * Images * Codes: The Secret Language of Meaning in Film, TV, Games, and Visual Media, author Pamela Jaye Smith discusses the symbolism of Color.

She writes:
Humans perceive only a small portion of the light in the universe. Our visible spectrum is limited to the rainbow of colors but does not include ultraviolet, infrared, and the myriad of other wavelengths. Different wavelengths affect our brains in different ways, a fact that is no doubt the basis for the ritual and subliminal use of color by most cultures throughout time.

The day-night quality of our earthly existence may be the reason we often assign goodness (sunshine, visibility, comfort) to white and evil (darkness, secrecy, danger) to black. Vampires reverse this, and sci fi stories speculate how a two-sun system or other arrangement might affect psychology, sociology and religion.

Colors describe emotions: She’s blue, he’s green with envy, they saw red, a black mood, purple with rage.

Whether by psychological affinity or astonishingly strong coincidence, colors have taken on character…
…Yellow symbolizes sunlight, warmth, awareness, lassitude, bright intelligence and cowardice.

In media, colors can be used to signal specific moods for characters, elicit certain reactions from the audience, emphasize a shift in emotions or situations, or to show contrast between characters and/or situations.  In the Sixth Sense, for example, red often meant “undead nearby, beware!”

According to Pamela Jaye Smith, we can use colors to add depth to our own writing. We can do this by including emotionally descriptive words (grim gray, bouncy yellow, monkish brown), or by linking colors with other senses (piercing yellow, screaming orange). lists down several interesting facts about the color yellow.

In Egypt and Burma, yellow signifies mourning.

In Spain, executioners once wore yellow.

In India, yellow is the symbol for a merchant or farmer.

In tenth-century France, the doors of traitors and criminals were painted yellow.

Hindus in India wear yellow to celebrate the festival of spring.

If someone is said to have a “yellow streak,” that person is considered a coward.

In Japan during the War of Dynasty in 1357, each warrior wore a yellow chrysanthemum as a pledge of courage.

yellow ribbon is a sign of support for soldiers at the front.

Yellow is a symbol of jealousy and deceit.

In the Middle Ages, actors portraying the dead in a play wore yellow.

To holistic healers, yellow is the color of peace.

Yellow has good visibility and is often used as a color of warning. It is also a symbol for quarantine, an area marked off because of danger.

Yellow journalism” refers to irresponsible and alarmist reporting.

What other things/themes might the color yellow symbolize? Do you see how the color yellow might be used as a symbol in your own writing?

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A-Z Day 24: Xena

Xena: Warrior Princess was one of my favorite TV shows growing up.

Played by Lucy Lawless, Xena is a fictional character who first appeared as an outlaw in the 90’s TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. She appears in a few more episodes of Hercules, eventually becoming one of the good guys—and also gaining a lot of fans in the process.

A spinoff series was subsequently produced, and Xena: Warrior Princess, ran for six seasons (1995-2001).

Here’s a brief summary of the plot from wikipedia:

Xena, haunted by her past (as a warlord), determines to end her warrior ways. As she stripped off her armor and weaponry and buried them in the dirt, she saw a group of village girls attacked by a band of warriors. Among the girls is a young woman named Gabrielle (played by Renée O’Connor). Xena saves the girls, leaving Gabrielle in awe of the Warrior Princess’ abilities. Gabrielle begs to be Xena’s traveling companion, and over time, Gabrielle becomes Xena’s dearest friend.

Friendships were the most important thing to me when I was in High School, so I loved goofy Gabrielle’s relationship with tough gal Xena. Gabrielle was constantly causing trouble, as I remember, and always in distress, but she brought out Xena’s maternal instincts and was a loyal and true friend.

I also enjoyed the mythological and fantasy elements shown throughout the series, as well as the theme presented for each episode.

Xena was no damsel in distress, in fact, she did all the saving in a brave, kick-ass way.  She stood up for the rights of innocent folk and overcame the most difficult of obstacles. (And she had awesome fighting skills).

Xena was the kind of woman other women wished they could be– strong, independent and powerful. I was a shy kid, and watching Xena outwit and outmaneuver guys twice her size, and battle scary  monsters made me want to be just as strong and tough.

It’s no wonder that some people have written books based on her character.

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A-Z Day 23: Writer’s Day

I attended my first ever SCBWI Writers’ Day two Saturdays ago, on April 16, 2011.

I was nervous and excited. SCBWI events always rock, so I had no doubt it would be a blast; but events like these are three times better with a friend around, and I didn’t know if I’d meet anyone I knew.

My fears vanished as soon as I entered the school grounds. The first people I met were two of my wonderful groupmates from last year’s Working Writer’s Retreat – Claire di Liscia Bard and Kristen Kittscher.  We chatted for awhile and caught up on each other’s writings while waiting for the registration tables to open.

I also had the pleasure of meeting YA author Lisa Gail Green. I follow her blog , and she follows mine, and it was great  to meet her in person.

After getting our nametags, Lisa and I headed to the registration booth where they gave us an SCBWI blue bag and a folder containing our schedule for the day, along with various other materials.

I didn’t eat breakfast so I was happy to discover that the organizers were providing coffee, tea and snacks for the whole day. I grazed on donuts and pastries and drank my fill of tea as I chatted with people Lisa and other people I met through last year’s Working Writer’s Retreat, like organizers Edie Pagliasotti and and Marilyn Morton, Eloise  Freeman and even Stephanie Dreyer, who also happens to be a member of my writing group TCBWG.

I also browsed through and bought several of the books for sale. I was excited to get them signed by the authors (who also happened to be our speakers for the day).

At 9 am, the program started in earnest. Edie and Claudia, Regional Advisers of the SCBWI-LA, welcomed everybody to Writer’s Day and said a few announcements. They then introduced our first speaker for the day, the beautiful Margaret Miller, editor of Bloomsbury Books.

Margaret talked about what to expect before, during and after working with an editor. She took us through her version of the writer’s bill of rights and gave us some valuable information, which we would never get anywhere else. Margaret’s talk roused us all, and she got quite an avalanche of applause when she finished. Questions poured out from all over the floor and she answered them all patiently.

After a fifteen minute break, Newberry award-winning author Susan Patron spoke about “Finding Heart to Unlock the  Story.” She spoke of her writing journey from librarian to Newberry Award winner, and the various lessons she learned along the way. Her speech was so inspiring, it left us all in awe.

Susan pointed out the Clairbourn School Crest with its motto written in French across the middle:

“Verite Sans Peur” – “Truth Without Fear”.  She smiled and said how apt it was that we writers gathered for Writer’s Day under that logo. “It takes courage to write,” was among the many powerful and thought-provoking words we heard from her that day. She shared so many wonderful “quotables” that I had to struggle to write them all down.

When Susan finished her speech, the room burst out in an applause that took minutes to die down.

The winners of the SCBWI –LA 7th Annual Scholarship Contest were announced before lunch. The theme this year was “Cinnamon”. Writer Tracy Holtzer won for her piece, and Illustrator Cristina Forshay won for her submission.

The boxed lunch the organizers provided was simply wonderful. I had so much food in the box that I ended up taking it home for next day’s lunch.

The organizers also provided great food for the vegetarians and vegans in the group.

Stephanie and I chose a shady spot under a tree for our lunch.  We were joined later on by Kristen and her friend, and all four of us eagerly spoke about all the amazing things we had learned so far.

A loud bell signaled the end of lunch. While the published writers in our group broke off for their own session with Judith Enderle, Stephanie Gordon and Julie Williams, the rest of us piled back into the gym for our own session with author Tony Johnston.

Tony  gave an emotional and heartfelt speech on the importance of capturing emotions on the pages of our work. She gave us poignant examples from her own books, and shared with us the stories behind her own stories.

“Keep alive to everything and a story will find you,” Tony constantly reminded us. She also shared with us some wonderful writing quotes that she had collected over the years.

Rachel Cohn, author of popular YA books (like Nick and Norah’s Playlist), spoke about how to grab teenagers attention from page one.  “Don’t give readers a chance to walk away,” Rachel reminded us.

Our last speaker was the energetic Bruce Coville, fantasy author and founder of Full Cast Audio. “Fantasy is about building dreams, and life is built on dreams,” Bruce told us. After sharing with us his views on the genre of fantasy, he gave us great tips on how to improve our own fantasy stories.

Immediately after Bruce Coville’s wonderful talk, SCBWI-LA Regional Advisers past, present and future gathered in front and spoke a little bit about their experience, and what the SCBWI has meant to them all these years.

Present RA’s Edie  Pagliasotti and Claudia Harrington announced that they would soon be handing over the reins to future RA’s Lee Wind and Sarah Laurenson. As a symbol of their ascent  to the SCBWI-LA “throne”, Claudia gave Sarah a tiara, and Lee a scepter.

Not to be outdone, Lee presented the outgoing RA’s Edie and Claudia with a gift bag full of trinkets for each of the senses.

We gave all the RA’s a big round of applause for their valuable contribution to the SCBWI, and a standing ovation for outgoing RA’s Edie and Claudia.

The whole ceremony made me feel strangely emotional, and I felt extremelylucky to be a part of the SCBWI family.

After the RA presentation, Edie and Claudia, still a bit teary-eyed from a show of everyone’s appreciation for their ten-year service, announced the winner of the Sue Alexander Service and Encouragement (SASE).

We applauded loudly when she called on Lee Wind to accept his award. Surprised, and definitely moved, Lee said a few words about what the SCBWI family means to him.

Finally, author and Contest organizer Candace Ryan stepped on the podium to  announce the winners of the annual Writer’s Day Contest.  Categories included: Middle Grade; Non-fiction Picture Book; Non-fiction; Picture Book; Young Adult, and Poetry.

I suddenly remembered that I had sent it the first chapter of my MG novel Urth, as my first ever entry for the Writer’s Day Contest.

While Candace read the blurb (and handed out certificates) for the honorable mention, second place, and first place winners for the Picture Book category, I nervously played with my pen.

I realized I shouldn’t even be nervous. There was no way I would ever win the contest. I began to relax and settled down to cheer the winner for the MG Honorable Mention Award.

Then Candace read the blurb for the 2nd place winner of the MG Award. And I froze.

“Urth opens with a boy at his father’s funeral, and even though the point of view is third person, the author manages to thoroughly create the sensations of Will’s grandmother tapping his knee to cue him to give his speech, the squelching of his shoes in the damp grass as he walks forward, and his efforts to un-crumple the paper and read the words he has written in memory of his dad. But there’s more going on here than a funeral. This story gets off to a strong, surprising start as Will is jerked away to learn that he’s been chosen to save another world, then returned an instant later—winding up in the grave on top of his father’s coffin after a so-called earthquake. Will is an appealing character, and I found myself wanting to know what happens next.”

My fellow Westside Schmoozers and seatmates clapped eagerly when I stood up to receive my certificate. It was the certainly the highlight of my day.

Still giddy from  my award, and grinning from ear to ear, I found my way to the authors’ table to have the books I bought earlier signed. It perfect end to an amazing day.

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A-Z Day 22: Vacation


1: a respite or a time of respite from something : intermission

2 a : a scheduled period during which activity (as of a court or school) is suspendedb : a period of exemption from work granted to an employee

3: a period spent away from home or business in travel or recreation <had a restful vacation at the beach>

From the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

I haven’t had a proper vacation since—well, it’s been so long since I’ve had one, I can’t even remember the last time.

Because of the ever falling economy, financial constraints, and a general lack of time, I’ve had to content myself with STAYCATIONS.

staycation (also spelled stay-cationstacation, or staykation; known in the United Kingdom as a stoliday or holistay) is a neologism for a period of time in which an individual or family stays and relaxes at home, or vacations in their own country, possibly taking day trips to area attractions. Staycations achieved popularity in the US during the financial crisis of 2007–2010.[1][2]


But sometimes, staycations aren’t enough, and the need to get away, to see new sights and experience new things is stronger than the need to save money.

So I’m happy to announce that after years, I finally get to go on a real vacation—meaning one that is far, far away from home, and one that is longer than a weekend.

Thanks to some money saved up over a period of years and very generous help from the best ever friend in the whole wide world Maiko, I’ll be going to England next month.

Why England? Well, for one reason, I’ve always wanted to go there. The bigger reason, however, is that I want to walk the roads and streets my own characters from URTH travel in their everyday storybook lives.

Of course, finding funds was only part of the problem. The biggest hurdle was actually planning the trip.  Fortunately, I love organizing anything, so the task wasn’t all that stressful. Well, okay, so it was VERY stressful, but I enjoyed it anyway.

I discovered many useful online sources in the process of planning for my trip to the UK. I’m going to share them here along with a list of steps I took in order to plan my vacation.


1. The first thing to do when planning a trip, is to find out what documents you need for traveling. If you’re a US or Japanese citizen, and you’re only going to the UK for less than three months, then all you need is a passport.

But if you’re a US Greencard holder, aside from your country’s passport, you’ll need to get a UK Visa.

If you wish to expedite your visa process, you can use I’ve used their services, and they’re pretty good.

2. While waiting for your UK Visa (if you need it), you need to do a little reconnaissance on the area you wish to visit. You can’t plan your itinerary unless you know what attraction sites there are in London, for instance, or what activities you can do while you’re there.

Here are some books/websites to help you find out about London  in general.

Daytrips London by Earl Steinbicker

Rick Steve’s England 2010

3. Once you have an idea of the places you wish to visit and the sights you wish to see, and the activities you’d like to do, you can start planning your itinerary.

One very useful online source for planning any trip is

From their website:

TripIt turns chaos into order by making it easy for anyone to:

  • Organize trip details into one master online itinerary — even if arrangements are booked at multiple travel sites
  • Automatically include maps, directions and weather in their master itinerary
  • Have the option to book restaurants, theatre tickets, activities and more right from within the online itinerary
    • Safely access travel plans online, share them, check-in for

Using, you can add all the activities, booking references and whatever other information you might need for the trip. Once you’re done planning your itinerary, you can simply print a copy via the website, or if you have a smartphone—you can easily download the Tripit app and carry a digital copy of it on your phone.

4. After planning your itinerary, you need to start looking for proper accommodations. I used to book all of the hotels I’ll be staying at. With, you can use specific categories like price range, hotel type, ratings, even hotel facilities (like internet services, fitness rooms etc), to search for available hotels in whatever area you wish to stay in.

5. After booking all your accommodations, you can either plan your own trip routes, or book a standard tour with a reliable tour company.  I decided to save myself the headache and booked several pre-planned day tours. Booking pre-planned tours not only saves time (especially if you only have a week or two to explore the UK), it also saves money on transportation.

Booking the tour with a company also allows me to hit up three places in one day with ease.  I had no desire to drive around the UK and wish to avoid hopping from one form of public transportation to another as much as possible.

I booked daytrips to Warwick, Stratford Upon-Avon, Oxford and  Leeds Castle, Dover,  & Canterbury using

They also offered a cheap half a day trip to Windsor Castle, and Runnymede which included a traditional Fish & Chip lunch at a local pub, so I booked that as well.

The most important part of my trip is seeing Stonehenge, as it is where my story unfolds. has a Special Access Tour that allows tourists to go within the stones after hours.

Of course, being a Harry Potter fan, I had to have some kind of Harry Potter tour. offers many thematic walking tours around London for as low as 8 gbp. Naturally, I signed up for the Harry Potter walking tour.

6. There might be days where you wish to explore London on your own. In this case, you would need access to public transportation., much like mapquest or googlemaps, gives you directions from one place to another. However, unlike the other two, gives you step by step instructions on how to get from your hotel to the attraction sites. This includes how many miles/minutes you have to walk to the train station, what time the bus/train comes, and your ETA at the station and so on. and are two very helpful sites in terms of transporation. These sites allow you to purchase a prepaid travelcard which you can use to pay for your passages in various trains, buses and railway lines throughout the UK.

The London Pass Travelcard, which you can buy from either webite, not only pays for your underground train/bus/tram/railway fares fora specific number of consecutive days, it also allows you to get into many of the popular tourist attractions sites around London for FREE.

The Oyster card, available on, is an electronic, prepaid, pay as you go card that calculates the cheapest fare for your journey and caps when a daily limit is reached.  The great thing about the Oyster card is that it never expires and you can easily reload it with more funds.

I ordered my London pass travelcard and Oyster card from and (with free shipping) received it within four days.

7. Another thing you have to think about when going there, is how you’re going to keep in touch with your family members back home.

If your SIM-card based phone (Meaning you’re an AT&T or Tmobile customer) is unlocked, then you can easily buy a SIM card when you get to the UK and have your own number.

There’s no need to worry if your phone is locked. If you’ve been a customer for at least a month, simply call AT&T or Tmobile, let them know you wish to unlock your phone.

When I called Tmobile and asked for an unlock code, they asked for me to first of all, verify my account. Then they asked for my phone’s IMEI number (which you can find at the back of your phone underneath the battery or through the About your phone tab in your smartphone’s settings menu) and email address. They emailed me the Unlock Code along with instructions the following day.

Once you get to the UK, you can buy a SIM card from a vending machine at some of the airport terminals, or at a phone store.

But if you want to get your UK SIM card before you leave for the trip, you can purchase one online through

8. The very last thing to do is to purchase your roundtrip plane tickets. Make sure you have all the necessary travel documents (ie passport and visa) and the necessary funds before you purchase your plane tickets, as airlines don’t exactly give out easy refunds. is a great website for finding the lowest airfare. It has a smartphone app as well, and is the only site I actually use to book flights.

Well, there they are– the steps to planning a trip for the UK. It may seem like a lot of hard work, and indeed, it is; but it’s always better to plan ahead.  You can always be flexible and spontaneously rearrange your itinerary once you get there, but if you go there with absolutely no idea of what you want to do–you’ll be wasting valuable time figuring out where to go, instead of actually going there.

I’ve been planning my vacation for about two months now. It’s a lot of hard work but I think it’ll pay off in the end.

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A-Z Day 21: Urth

I’ve been pretty quiet about the story I’ve been working on simply because at the time that I was writing it, I knew that in the revision and editing process, a lot of things about my story would change.

Now that I’ve finished editing my book for the 7th time (actually, hundredth time if I count all the little edits I’ve made while writing the story), and am in the process of querying, I feel more sure about sharing a little about my story with you.

Although my story begins in the modern-day LA, and moves to modern-day England, most of my characters’ adventures take place in the Otherworld of Urth.

In most fantasy novels, a map is necessary in order to navigate the completely new world created by the author.  So in order to help me keep track of my characters, and the plot, I created a map of URTH.

The map is kind of crude because I didn’t exactly use the latest drawing software. I simply made do with Microsoft word and its various clipart, drawing tools, and art functions.

When I wrote this book, I made sure every single name I used—for characters, objects, places and even the book title itself—has a meaning.

But while the map is helpful, it doesn’t exactly tell you what my story is about. So here’s a little synopsis to explain things further:

Eleven-year old Will is the Sage of the Prophecy, the only human born with the ability to command the six elements.

The problem is, he doesn’t know.

As far as Will is concerned, his biggest challenge is adjusting to a life without his father in the boring town of Amesbury, England, and getting along with his reserved and super religious grandmother.

A series of ominous events that begins with a gnome’s appearance at his father’s funeral, and ends with a narrow escape from two-headed hyenas drives Will into embarking on a quest to decipher the gnome’s mysterious message. Along the way, he befriends Finn, a blind artist who can locate missing things with his mind, and Taylor, a thief who can unlock any door.

Among the trilithons of Stonehenge, the three friends uncover a hidden Gateway into a troubled realm. Ravaged by earthquakes, mudslides, and land pollution, the Otherworld of Urth is in chaos. Behind each disaster is the Gatherer– a powerful Craftmaster, using his power of Darkening to create discord between humans and nature spirits called elementals.

To stop the Gatherer, Will must not only train in martial arts, he must also learn Urth Magic. But before he can master the earth elements, he must go on a quest to find the Map, the Key and the Staff of Power foretold in the prophecy. Without them, Will’s true gift– the Power of Illumination– cannot rise.

Overcome with self-doubt, and still grieving over his father’s death, Will struggles to complete his quest.  But time is running out. Earthquakes continue to ravage the land, and a war is brewing between humans and elementals. Worse, the Gatherer, growing stronger with every new Craft he steals, is getting closer to taking the Talisman of Urth—the ultimate source of the Urth elementals’ powers. Will must remember his father’s lessons and face his fears, before the Otherworld of Urth—and his own world of Earth, is destroyed.

I don’t know if my book has commercial value, or if any agent will think it worth representing,  and any publisher think it worth printing; but I do know that I absolutely love the story I’ve written. It is a story that has taken hold of my imagination, and of my heart.

Whether it gets published or not, I know that I will  continue writing the other books in the series. I have a need to finish the story because I want to know what happens next to Will and his friends. I want to know how they overcome the obstacles in their path, and I want to know if they end up happy—or not.

I need to finish the story, because until all my characters have said their piece, they won’t let me have my peace.

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A-Z Day 20: Thief Archetype

I started the Archetype Series with a discussion on archetypes and Characters, and the archetype most commonly seen in media:

The Hero Archetype

I also explored the following archetypes:

The Bully Archetype

The Mentor Archetype

And now it’s time for another edition of the Archetype Series!


*NOTE: Expect this introduction at every archetype spotlight article. It’s a great way of reminding us what we can gain when we study archetypes.

Just to refresh your memory, let me define archetypes again. An archetype is an original model of a person, ideal example, or a prototype after which others are copied, patterned, or emulated; a symbol universally recognized by all.

Archetypes are scattered everywhere in media. Many writers use archetypes because they provide a guide for the readers to understand the storyline better. As writers, it’s important that we understand the many archetypes out there. Why? Because when we understand the definition and function of an archetype, we may:

  1. tweak the definition to suit our storyline
  2. break the rules of what a particular archetype is supposed to do to spice up our story
  3. apply a particular perspective to the archetype according to the message of our story. For instance, we may have an anarchist Mentor, a feminist Knight or a Freudian Hero

(If you are so inclined and have time at your disposal, might I suggest that you read or re-read my article on Archetypes and Characters?)

Now that you have a good idea of how archetypes can help us writers, let’s get to know the Archetype in today’s spotlight.

The Thief

Here is what archetype guru Caroline Myss has to say about The Thief Archetype:

Thief (Swindler, Con Artist, Pickpocket, Burglar, Robin Hood)

The Thief is thought of as a nocturnal, hooded figure who slips silently into places and takes what he wants. In the hierarchy of thievery, the most respected is the Jewel Thief, associated with glamour, class, and sophistication.

Caroline Myss also lists down where the Thief Archetype appears in myth and religion, as well as where this archetype appears in modern day films.

Religion/Myth: Raven (Among Northwestern Indians, a helpful thief who stole the moon and sun from the Sky Chief and placed them in the sky); Prometheus (in Greek myth, hero who stole the sacred fire from Zeus and the gods); Autolycus (grandfather of Odysseus renowned as a thief who stole the cattle of Eurytus); the Good Thief (in the New Testament, one of two men who were crucified with Jesus, repented, and asked for forgiveness).

Films: James Caan in Thief; Vittorio Gassman and Marcello Mastroiani in Big Deal on Madonna Street; Jean-Paul Belmondo in The Thief of Paris; Sabu in The Thief of Baghdad (1940); Steven Bauer in Thief of Hearts (shadow); Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves; Angelica Huston in The Grifters (shadow).

Thief Functions

The great thing about Caroline Myss, is that she not only defines what the Thief Archetype is, but she also goes on to explain what this archetype’s function is, in its deepest level:

Symbolically, theft can take many forms, including plagiarism, stealing ideas and even affection. Taking what is not yours because you lack the ability to provide for yourself implies the need to learn self-respect. This archetype prods you to learn to generate power from within. As with so many archetypes that initially strike you as completely unrelated to who you are, this archetype should be evaluated from its symbolic meaning. You may never have stolen one thing at the physical level, but you also need to take into consideration your emotional and intellectual arenas.

Thief Types

Caroline Myss also lists down several types of thieves, as they appear in history, and as they are portrayed in the media:

The Good Thief

The Good Thief steals on behalf of others, as in the case of Robin Hood, and appears to be relieved of all wrongdoing because of his benevolent motive to be of service to others, but often that is just a rationalization.

The Bank Thief

The Bank Thief maintains a degree of respect because the target is corporate and impersonal and the implication is that the thief has an intelligent and strategic mind.

Bonnie & Clyde

Ocean’s Twelve

The Italian Job

The Street Thief and the Pickpocket

The Street Thief and Pickpocket, on the other hand, rank lowest because they rob ordinary individuals and their methods yield small gain.

Street Thief


I would like to add another particular Thief type that I’ve seen in the media.

The Art Thief

If I were to define this type, I would say that the Art Thief is similar to the Bank Thief, in that his target is also corporate, and he possesses an intelligent mind capable of  cunning strategy. I think, however, that the difference ends there. While the Bank Thief steals for practical, financial reasons, the Art Thief steals for purely impractical and metaphysical reasons. They steal not out of want, but because they crave the mental challenge, and appreciate beauty.

The Thomas Crown Affair


Thief of Mine

In my own book, I make use of this archetype as well.  One of my characters, is a “Bank Thief” of sorts. Only, instead of stealing into banks and grabbing cash and jewelry, she steals into a particular bookstore to “borrow” books.  And since I’m thinking of turning this book into a series, maybe she’ll eventually steal something more valuable to her than books—perhaps the protagonist’s heart? Or maybe not.

Now that you have been acquainted with the Thief Archetype, look back at your own story. Do you have a Thief character? What type of Thief is she/he? How does this Thief affect your protagonist’s journey?

Additional Links

Caroline Myss’s Gallery of Archetypes

A list of movies showing various Thief Archetypes:

A Quiz on you can take to find out what kind of thief you are:

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