Monday, March 02, 2015

#buqoYA: Finishing a Portrait of Jade

#buqoYA class pic (not a complete one, though) last Feb. 28, 2015. We had cupcakes!

I am a fan of Mina V. Esguerra's workshops. I've only just completed one in the past: #buqosteamyreads. I came away with two short stories, both over 5,000 words.  I tried joining a #romanceclass and a #flirtsteamyreads class but these two are still in draft and outline mode. I'm not sure when I'll finish them because a) life got in the way (yes, excuses, excuses) and b) I already missed the bus. Deadlines are deadlines, after all.

Okay, first of all, what is #buqoYA? It's an online YA (young adult) story writing class moderated by Mina V. Esguerra (with two optional face-to-face classes) sponsored by buqo (a Pinoy digital bookstore, see more below). It started last January 19 and ended last February 28 2015. The goal: finish a story, not less than 5,000 words, based on an assigned trope (trope = a significant or recurrent theme; a motif. In other words, a familiar theme that one can find in literature).

My number one reason for loving writing classes like #buqoYA: I am a working mom. Huh? What does that have to do with writing a story? It just means I'm busy. I have a regular job* and I have two young kids. I do a lot of balancing acts. I need structure to finish anything. I need to be accountable to someone, too (like Mina, for instance). I also especially like the way Mina gives me an assigned trope. It's like fate dealing me a hand (or like life, pretty much!). This kind of structure doesn't clip my creative wings. It actually gives me flight! It's narrow enough to challenge me and yet broad enough to take on any number of characters I can create. I just love this kind of assignment.

Other things that helped: detailed discussions on each trope (I really appreciated the face-to-face class where we got to interact with screenwriters, Chacha Sawit-Esguerra and Anton Santamaria), having team mates to cheer us on (my good friend, Ines Bautista-Yao was a fellow trope mate!), and (this one is new from Mina) challenges along the way to spur us to really think through our stories (and submit on time!).

The result: a story that reached more than 15,000 words. I've called it A Portrait of Jade. It's gone through a lot of draft titles already, from The Color of Complicated to Semi-Precious to, finally, A Portrait of Jade. I have my beta readers to thank: Liana, an editor I trust, Ricky, a friend who also happens to be an artist, and my fellow trope mate, Ines. With all of their input as beta readers, I think the story improved a lot (it was their input that got me editing the existing story and writing another 2,000 words).

So, how did I finish? Apart from loving my main character, Jade, I really wanted to get to the bottom of the story. I wanted to understand how such a talented artist could be so insecure. I really liked how Mina requires all of us to write about a main character who is "not ordinary." It's easy to start with a blank canvas: a Hello Kitty without a mouth, a character that anyone can . So, I liked how I needed to come up with someone who's both interesting and still developing. I honestly thought I wouldn't be able to finish my #buqoYA story. A fellow #buqoYA classmate and I were joking about how we, married (and older!) women, found it easier to write steamy reads versus YA. Teens are hard to figure out! But then, of course, as we wrote, we remembered that we were teens once, too. So, surprise, surprise. I ended up writing something longer than both my #buqosteamyreads stories combined. It helped that I learned stuff from Mina's other classes: 1) writing in acts and scenes (these gave my outline a fixed structure -- more of the acts, I was a bit more flexible with the scenes) and 2) reading from Mina's reading lists (they really help!). 

I'm excited to see my fellow #buqoYA classmates' stories on buqo over the summer! Congratulations to everyone! Thank you, classmates and beta readers! And thank you, Mina! I'm looking forward to finishing more stories under your classes.

*Disclosure: I work for Hand.Interactive, Inc., the company behind buqo, the Pinoy Digital Bookstore and Reading App. I also happen to be a writer. :-)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

#2 of 36: Why I Liked Mindy (And Of Course, Eleanor and Park): A Book Review of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Why I Liked Mindy (and Of Course, Eleanor and Park)

I loved this book. I didn't expect to like it from the blurb (reminiscent of Jane Eyre, for me. Why cheer on two unlikable and unattractive characters?). Hahaha. What a shallow reader I am. It turns out, Eleanor & Park is something that I should have read long ago. It was so authentic. It sucked me right in. I, somehow, could identify with Eleanor: that home situation where you're always walking on eggshells. I know that. Rowell had that uncanny ability to zero in on a Romeo & Juliet episode in my life and make it literature.

A friend of mine recommended this book. As in, "read it naowww!" she said. According to her, the book combined the passion of first love with bullying and racial discrimination. Yes, on those three points. Plus, I saw in it added dimensions of family dysfunction and identity building. It hurt on so many levels but it fascinated me, too. The shifting POVs definitely helped improve my appreciation of the story. Also, the fact that it was set in 1986 was a bonus. The 80s were my growing up years. There was so much I didn't appreciate based on E and P's playlist.

My favorite character? She was a side character, not one of the main characters. But I very much loved, Mindy, the mom of Park. I especially loved the part when her feelings for E took a turn for the better. It can easily be missed. That's why I loved the subtlety of how Rowell described that scene. It was through Park's eyes: no judgment, no interpretation.

All in all, highly recommended book. The thing is, I feel like the last person on Earth to have read this book because everyone is already on Rowell's third or fourth book. Oh well. Better late than never. I am now a fan.

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 29, 2015


Photo of kulintang (creative commons license) attributed to Phillip Dominguez Mercurio.

I was just crying over this. Too many people have died in Maguindanao.

Note: The kulintang is made of eight gongs. Each of them has a name.

This is for all the fallen.


by Justine C. Tajonera


A shadow passes,
grass in the sun,
blood in the soil.


A flock of birds
cannot hide the sound
of bullets.


The tarmac is quiet.
Forty-four coffins
are wrapped in red cloth.


Was the sound
of the bullet
louder than her scream?


The wind whistles
through broken grass
that will grow again.


The palay grow on
one stretch of land.
Grains of rice fall like rain.


The mangroves are
full of fishes
and hiding children.


Trees stretch
from graves.

Friday, January 23, 2015


kalachuchi/ frangipani/ plumeria - by Renesis (wikimedia commons)


by Justine C. Tajonera

Halfway down the steps, toward
the gate, the kalachuchi tree that bends
over the small pond in the cemetery
comes to mind. She is waiting
for me. I look forward to that
day. It's just that I have so much
to do. Not enough days to watch them
fall asleep. Not enough nights of reading
to them in bed. We haven't walked among
the ruins in Mycenae yet, he and I.
I watch at the threshold. Time to cross
over. It's just another door.

Monday, January 12, 2015

#1 of 36: Here's to Love, A Review of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

The Statistical Probability of Love at First SightThe Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished most of this book on a Sunday night (I bought the book on the 8th but I didn't really start reading in earnest until yesterday, the 11th). It was a reading assignment for a YA writing workshop that I'm participating in. I didn't expect all the tears especially because I did a lot of eye rolls at the beginning of the book. At first I didn't get why Oliver, the love interest, was into Hadley, the protagonist. After a while, though, I started enjoying the whole thing. Most of the love story progresses in the air, literally. It's been a fantasy of mine to fall in love on a plane, on a trip abroad, alone. Of course it never happened. This story is probably a proxy.

More than that (the love story), I loved the back story of Hadley and Hadley's broken-up parents (and come to think of it, Oliver's parents too). I, too, can't forgive Hadley's dad for what he did. But I do get that children from a broken home need to move on. I guess that was why I kept crying. It was the father-daughter relationship that really moved me.

Lastly, Oliver grew on me. Well, no really. I just imagine Benedict Cumberbatch's sexy British accent and I'm already half in love with him. Haha! This was a great, light read to start off my 2015. Here's to love!

Note: BTW, if you're wondering what the #1 of 36 means --> I just gave myself a 36-book challenge this year. Now, that might not seem like much but it's going to be pretty busy. I think 3 in a month is already a stretch. Hopefully, I surpass this.

View all my reviews

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Claiming of Alexandria (An Essay)

Note: This essay of mine was published in Pen & Ink, The Philippine Literary Quarterly, Book 3, 1998, pp. 134-138

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside, 
planted an impression along the verge. 

-       Billy Collins, “Marginalia”

In one of a collection of essays by George Steiner, No Passion Spent, he writes that “marginalia are the immediate indices of the reader’s response to the text, of the dialogue between the book and himself.” I cannot agree with him ore. But beyond that, I must say that marginalia are more complicated creates: they not only chronicle the affair between text and reader, but guide us into a web-like universe of multiple texts and readers. I know this because I have lived intimately with marginalia my whole life.

I grew up tracking and receiving a trail of things my dead mother left me: a gold pendant, several trinkets in her wooden jewelry box, a stainless steel watch that a neighbor in his sixties found “cute.” But most treasured of all were the things she made with her hands: odd and vivid paintings, that battered old photo album where she left a spontaneous essay on the inside covers (philosophic questions and reflections written in staccato, the most beautiful thing I had ever read and the closest I had come to poetry), and lastly, the precious, frantic notes and studies on the margins and fly leaves of her novels.

I grew up reading my dead mother’s scribblings—the almost desperate, spidery red writing—lining the books that would later become my favorites: the Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell. And in that cozy, textual world I would imagine the three of us in my grandmother’s living-room where my mother’s paintings hang: Durrell with crossed legs, in rumpled, travel-worn clothes, smoking; my mother in her favorite polka-dot mini-dress, also smoking; and myself, in jeans and sandals, waving away their collective smoke and enjoying the conversation immensely. Now, that’s marginalia for me.

Like a tête-á-tête, there in the borders, written precariously, were the token notes, the intricate little clues she had gathered chapter after chapter, each discovery punctuated by an exclamation point as eloquent as her breathless “Wow!” Among the cream-colored pages I found tantalizing statements like “Pursewarden’s tendency?” I could almost imagine her raised eyebrow, as if any moment she might jab me in the ribs and ask her favorite author in a low whisper, “Is it true?” These breathed life into my first encounter with literature. I have, in fact, joined the fray, by adding my cautious and conservative blank ink next to her (flaming) red scarlet question: “This is Clea’s letter now so it pertains to Clea’s would-be affair,” as if to lightly chide her for her over-excited reading.

I share a conspiratorial smile when I read I read what my mother wrote: “This is me!” This, in reference to that awful, heartless woman who laughs at love—the original Justine (Hosnani), the defiant anti-heroine of the quartet. “Your mother was maldita” explained an aunt. (This was before she supposedly softened up with motherhood). I laugh at that and hear my mother’s laughter. Beautiful, gamine, free-spirited, vain, independent, intelligent, and above all, in possession of a self-deprecating humor…None of these descriptions had been volunteered by my father. These were things she left behind in her marginalia, in the generous light-hearted strokes of her handwriting, in her free and unique penchant for the lower-case. I have formed a kinship with her books. They offer me more than a voyeuristic glimpse into a private conversation between reader and text: they have opened their arms to me because they are places my mother walked. Somewhere in the corridors, she grabs my arm and brings me back to her girlhood home where we can huddle with Durrell and “talk art.” There it does not matter that I have craved her maternal tenderness all my life.

She writes, boldly underlined: “…shocking grotesquerie of purgated love.” And in another page, quite wisely, she states” There is mystery after mystery but never for mystery’s sake. Mystification is one of the principal strategies by which Durrell communicates his sense of relativity. There are truths in abundance, but there is NO Truth.” Sometimes I imagine that she knew I would tread the same ground. But that is what we all feel when we read or write marginalia. It is a moment of tender revelation for us, or shocked discovery when we take our pen and dare to write our rage, our understanding, our sadness. They are written not only for ourselves but for the next reader. “I cannot help it, it must be said.” There is nothing shy, nothing restrained in the writing of marginalia. They are stories beside the story.

Dozens of stories wait with bated breath to be told along the invitingly blank spaces of a book leaf. Inscribed in a thousand and one varieties, these proofs of readership beckon to us, meriting more than a cursory glance. They awaken the romantic beneath our leathery skeptic selves. They teach us to grow away from the clean, freshly-cut leaves of new acquisitions toward the musty, ink and oil-stained appeal of a book with a past. Nothing compares to the serendipitous joy of discovering a musty, old tome that belonged to—what luck!—a favorite writer, a former professor. And also we find those rare ones, painful, lines crowded in a corner: “I bought this book when my mother died.” Beside it are dried teardrops, marked by three irregularly shaped, blue-edged spots.

Through the books my mother left me I have come to realize the weight of having been named. For names have so much to do with life. A book is not possessed until it is branded by the name of its owner, it gains its face from the stamp, and the bookplate that marks it purchased, given, received.

When I was small my yaya told me I was named after an Egyptian princess. That suited me just fine. And I was, in fact, quite proud. But the books in my possession always hinted at more. And then I finally understood later on: Justine was no Egyptian princess. She was a self-torturing Jewess who happened to live in Egypt. She was a wounded woman, a woman who could wish that love were another word, perhaps evol; part of “evolution,” inverted the way God can be reversed to “dog.” I could not understand why she named me after this woman. Much later, I realized that I was actually named after her stepdaughter (the offspring of Nessim, Justine’s husband, and Melissa, Darley’s mistress), the blank child, the one Darley chooses to name after Justine, as if to redeem her.

In the ritual of naming, of being hailed, I saw another facet of this woman: Ditas, my mother. A side I did not know and did not wish to know. For she was a wounded woman as well, a woman full of rage and sorrow, a woman capable of predicting her own death (I heard she only gained ire by this). A woman who quarreled with my father constantly and wallowed in self-pity. If I cringed at being named after Justine Hosnani, then I cringed even more at this dark side of my mother. She shared not a few things in common with the original Justine. My questioning was in fact a terrible accusation against her: How could you be this cruel, tortured woman?

I feel her answer. I feel it in the very desperation of her writing: the angry redness, the manic haste. It is the same desperation with which she sought to be loved. And there it shines, rising from behind the complex shadows of characters, the mystery of all that is written and left to be read: that she has loved, and this is what she has reaped. Imperfect as she was, I need no more explanations about her self-perceived failures. All is forgiven in the face of this love.

Alexandria has become my spiritual birthplace. Never have I lived more intensely than in the span of time it took me to read and countlessly re-read the favorite four books of my mother. I will never forget those first few lines read at four years old: “The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind…a sky of hot nude pearl until midday, crickets in sheltered places…” I was forever enthralled and I knew that I would read these books relentlessly through life.

The colors, sounds, and textures of Alexandria are forever described in my mother’s voice, as though she were leaving me a metropolis as inheritance. And truly, I have inherited that city. Beside Cinderella in kindergarten I had Justine (on which you will still find my childish scrawl), believing them both to be princesses in the happily-ever-after. In between Nancy Drew books there were nights I silently grieved for an English schoolteacher hidden away on an island, remembering a woman with a low, harsh laugh. As I trudged through Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy in high school I began to realize, with shock, the true nature of my namesake. And in full-fledged understanding as a college student I began to appreciate the complexity, the amazing richness of a city as beautiful and ugly as its inhabitants. Throughout this life-long affair my mother greeted, me, talked to me, wept with me. I was led through Alexandria’s gates on the arm and under the aegis of an intensely beautiful woman, a woman from whom I inherited, both literally and figuratively, my eyes.

Durrell writes: “The central topic of the book is an investigation of modern love…it would be worth trying an experiment to see if we cannot discover a morphological form one might appropriately call ‘classical’—for our time. Even if the result proved to be a ‘science fiction’ in the true sense.”

And from Alexandria my mother found herself and harvested my name. Peering through the many fictions of truth and love that both of us have gained. And I am the luckiest, because in the last instance, my mother left me with a gift more potent than blood: in her marginalia she stamped her life—complex, rich, not without a great amount of pain…but always a surrender to love. Like the madmen and the prophets who have emerged from that ancient city we bear its searing mark.

I have met the beautiful girl who had written so poignantly on the margins of my favorite books; I have met her as my mother and myself. And how vastly my loneliness deepened because of the many spaces she filled in my heart and in my life! Paradox, yes, and wonderfully so. In the realm of marginalia there is no time.

It is a room in my grandfather’s house in Cebu where my mother’s paintings hang, where Lawrence Durrell points outside the winder and says, “Ah, here comes your mother and Justine Hosnani! Look how dusty they are from walking in the market stalls!” and I sit smiling in anticipation of the watermelon ices I am sure they have bought for me.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Join The Pinoy Book Drop 2014

This month is National Reading Month! That's why the Filipino Reader Con is held in November and that's why there's an Aklatan (Indie Publisher Fair) and a Philippine International Literary Festival (all being held at Bayanihan Center, Pioneer St., Mandaluyong City this week).

So, what is this Pinoy Book Drop all about? The concept is simple. It's all part of sharing a reading experience with others. BTW, there's a hashtag for that, too, from DepEd (Department of Education) called #ShareABookPH.

My first book drop happened today at Starbucks, Robinsons Pioneer. The two books were: 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People by David Niven, Ph.D. I got this book from a friend and I'm passing it on to others...hopefully so more people will be happy. The second book was an overeager purchase during a Scholastic sale. I bought The Amazing Days of Abby Hayes by Anne Mazer (sounds like Gone Girl's Amazing Amy, right?) together with other loot, thinking that I'd save it up for my daughter. The thing is she's three and this book might gather a lot of dust before she lays her hands on it. So, I'm giving it away for other young readers.

I hope my books find good homes.

So, c'mon and join the the fun!

These are the mechanics from the Filipino Reader Con website:

1. Pick a book (or two, or three, or yes, four!) that you wish to give away, or that’s okay for you to part with, for one reason or another. Make sure to check the pages for important stuff – anything you may have inserted there and forgotten but you may want to hold on to.

2. Download and print the customized bookplate that you’ll find below these instructions. It doesn’t have to be in color – black and white will work just as fine! Paste or stick one bookplate on a clear page or area of the book/s that you wish to give away. Yes, you can sign your name there, too, if you want.

3. Leave or “drop” the book/s in a public place, or basically any place where people are sure to see them: in a café, in the office, at a restaurant, the gym, it’s up to you. (Well, maybe not inside a bookstore, yeah.) You know where someone is likely to see the book/s and pick it up, yes?

4. Before leaving the book/s where you “dropped” them, take a photo. If you’re leaving two or more books, be sure to take note of the date, time, and place where you left each one.

So how is everyone going to know that you have dropped a book somewhere? You can do any of the following:

(a) If you have a Twitter account, just tweet the title of the book, where and when you dropped it, and attach the appropriate photo. If you dropped two or more books, tweet about each title separately.

(b) You can also post about it on Facebook – on your own profile/timeline, if it’s set to public, OR on the Filipino ReaderCon page itself. Same details apply: title of the book, place and date of the drop, and photo. If you’re dropping two or more books, you have the option to include all the books in one go or post about the books individually. It’s up to you.

IMPORTANT: Please use the hashtags #pbdrop and #filreadercon and don’t forget to tag us at @PinoyReaderCon for every tweet!

5. The actual dropping of books will take place until the Filipino ReaderCon on November 14, 2014.

6. On the other hand, if you’re one of those who are lucky enough to find a dropped book, we encourage you to tell us all about it, as well! Tweet and Facebook any dropped book that you find – same instructions on using the hashtags #pbdrop and #filreadercon and tagging us at @PinoyReaderCon apply. ;)

Click on this link to get the special bookplate from FilReaderCon that you can use with your book drop.

Search This Blog