Monday, October 24, 2016

Attending Ines Bautista Yao's Writing Young Adult Fiction Workshop

It all started with K-pop.

One of my coworkers is a huge K-pop fanatic. Since we live in Iloilo and most concerts are held in Manila, she starts saving money months in advance—for tickets, airplane fare, hotel rooms, even official light sticks. The works. Now, you’re probably wondering what K-pop has to do with writing and, well, me. Don’t worry. I’ll get to my point.

When the aforementioned coworker left for Manila to attend a BTS concert earlier this year, I took a long, hard look at my life. Every time people from #romanceclass posted about a writing workshop or other writing-related event, I always came up with one excuse or another, some reason why I couldn't muster the courage to just go. I was too busy with work. Plane tickets were too expensive. I was too shy to interact with these amazing writers I only followed online.

After seeing my coworker invest so much time and money in something she was passionate about with a capital P, I decided to take the leap, too. Just in time, Mina V. Esguerra posted about a young adult fiction writing workshop, one to be taught by Ines Bautista-Yao who wrote the wonderful When Sparks Fly. I jumped at the chance and signed up right away.

So, last September 3, 2016, I found myself in O2 Space Solutions with about fifteen other people that included Mina V. Esguerra, Jay E. Tria (who I will forever associate with Kim’s leader-of-the-band voice), book bloggers, Wattpad writers, and even teachers from various universities.

Ines Bautista-Yao discussed various things about writing young adult fiction, like what questions to ask to get to know your characters better or how to figure out what you want to say through your novel. She even asked us why we want to write young adult fiction in the first place and what it means to us. Every time we covered one topic, we’d stop to talk about it and toss around some ideas.

Writing is often a solitary activity, so the discussions were my favorite part of the workshop. I loved hearing what other writers think about young adult fiction, but I loved listening to them talk about their works-in-progress and ideas for future books more. I’m not at liberty to talk about their ideas, but let me just say that you people have a lot of great reading to look forward to once they’re done.

A few things that stood out for me during the discussion:

1. I used to choose places for my scenes when writing without considering how they would affect my characters, but hearing Ines Bautista-Yao talk about a setting’s importance made me think twice.

The question she asked that’s still stuck in my mind: Where is the lighting coming from? The lighting in a scene, whether we’re talking about blinding daylight or cold fluorescent lights, can have a huge impact on its mood, on how it conveys what your characters are feeling. So cool.

2. One of the other participants asked if you can mention real places (restaurants, stores, malls, etc.) in your book without getting sued. Jay E. Tria then gave us all a brilliant piece of advice. Paint in broad strokes. If I remember correctly, she said that you can describe an actual place without naming it in your book.

For example, if I want my characters to stop by Starbucks on their way to work, I can describe a coffee house with a poster of a delicious strawberry frappe on the wall. That way, I can change certain details about the location as I see fit. Also, if I describe something incorrectly, readers who’ve been to the place I’m talking about won’t find it jarring.

3. Mina V. Esguerra warned us against using the word “typical.” We all define how things “typically” are based on our life experiences, education, and a multitude of other factors. It's not surprising that our definitions will be different. You might think a “typical” teenage girl is sweet and innocent. For someone else, it means someone who giggles and talks a lot.

There was one point where Mina V. Esguerra asked all the attendees from the Manila area what “typical” traffic is like for them, and they all said about 2 – 3 hours. When she got to me, the only person from Iloilo, I said about 30 – 40 minutes. Nothing could’ve been a clearer example. LOL.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Review | Weightless by Kandi Steiner

Hot damn. That was an amazing book.

Those were my first thoughts after I finished reading Weightless. When I purchased it a few months ago, I thought the cover was beautiful, but the back blurb was sooo vague. A brilliant decision on the author’s part. I went into the book without any idea what it was about.

And it completely blew me away.

Natalie Poxton has been dumped by her first love, Mason. When his skinny new girlfriend makes fun of her weight, she takes up her mother’s advice and decides that the first step toward getting him back/moving on (she hasn’t decided yet) is to lose weight. Her gym trainer turns out to be none other than Rhodes, Poxton Beach’s scowling bad boy. Soon, weight isn’t the only thing Natalie’s losing. With the bad boy’s help, she’s ditching her insecurities, too, and gaining confidence and maybe a new love in the process.

Yes, Weightless is indeed the story I summarized in the above paragraph.

It’s also so much more than that.

Natalie was such a frustrating character in the beginning. She was insecure, had no idea how to defend herself, and desperately wanted to get back some boy who wasn’t even that wonderful to start with. But the thing about sticking with frustrating characters is it’s so much more rewarding when they start changing.

You can’t help but cheer them on as they slowly grow a backbone, and that’s how I felt about Natalie. There were certain times when I wanted to beat her over the head with a Lost DVD (you’ll get the reference if you’ve read the book), but I clapped my hands together every time she took a self-improving baby step.

Rhodes and Natalie were scorching hot together and practically set my Kindle app on fire, but the author took their love story—the rest of the book, to be honest—to a whole other level.

I once read a quote about how relationships are supposed to lift you up, not weigh you down, and I thought of it while reading about Rhodes and Natalie. They were two damaged people who helped each other see beyond their issues.

The concept of another person “fixing” someone else usually doesn’t sit well with me, but I didn’t mind it at all in this book. In fact, I like the idea of a give and take relationship where you help each other become the people you’re supposed to be. Love in its truest sense.

Their relationship felt real. In all the right heart-hitting ways. Like something you might be lucky enough to find in real life.

And the ending! I love endings where seemingly unrelated pieces in the story come together and blow you away. There will be no spoilers in this review, but please believe me when I say that you’ll flip through the book again once you’re done reading it to marvel at all the seemingly unimportant details you missed.

Weightless was such a satisfying read. I can’t believe it took me so long to read it. I was sweating at the country club and falling in love with Rhodes (SA-WOON) right along with Natalie, and only a truly epic book can suck you into its world like that. Rest assured that I’ll read my way through Kandi Steiner’s backlist and purchase anything she comes up with in the future. I already have her newest book, A Love Letter to Whiskey, in my to-be-read pile.

Good times ahoy!
© Clarisse David
Maira Gall