I was grounded so much when I was growing up that all I had were books, usually Readers Digest books that my mom would order. Classics, Seven Wonders of the World, Ghost Stories, those kinds of titles, and the annual almanac (do they still have those?). Then one day I found this paperback with a torn cover hidden away on the top shelf in my room and the prologue and first chapter baffled and shocked 12-year-old me so much I had to read the rest of the 800 pages of that book. The book made me laugh, cry, root for the hero and then mourn him (sorry, spoiler although not exactly a spoiler when the prologue was also the epilogue). It was called The Adventurers by Harold Robbins. It was then I wanted to be a writer.
Then in 2nd-year high school (eighth grade here in the US, I think), I almost got suspended for writing this steamy (and taboo) romance drama that got circulated between classmates during homeroom. I was sent to the guidance counselor for an evaluation and then to Sister Gerri who told me that she’d pull me from Drama Club and put me into Poetry Club (I don’t think she told my mom and maybe that was the deal then) so I could channel whatever frustrations I was going through. Back then, I thought it was such punishment that I plagiarized a Shakespeare sonnet and submitted it to the club. And to my horror, they published it in the school paper with my name on it. I figured I’d probably end up doing penance by writing original stories from then on.
It’s been a tough road since those good ol’ days when I thought I could be everything I wanted. I’ve made so many mistakes along the way and through it all, books and stories sustained me. Fate led me to people who would get me into conferences that had Frank McCourt, Mitch Albom, H.W. Merwyn, Neil Gaiman, James Elroy, and Jane Smiley on the list of speakers and I even hung out with Ray Bradbury twice when I was an officer for a small South Bay writing group called Southwest Manuscripters. I learned from these people, not about publishing companies or how publishing works, but about the importance of STORY. Just tell the story and keep writing.
Put on those blinders and write.
It’s been three years since I published my first book and today, I just released the seventh, a shorter novel called Falling for Jordan. It’s the first book I’ve written where I feature my Filipino culture prominently for the first time and maybe that’s why it’s a shorter novel than most of my books. I’m sure if I’d let myself go, it would have probably hit 200K words and contain a full glossary of terms and a recipe section. The characters in it are also not perfect by a long shot, but then who is?
If I were to ask the person I was three years ago who tentatively published her first book what she thought she’d be doing three years later, I’m sure she’d never have thought she’d be publishing her seventh book—or still be writing for that matter. So if you want to write, write. Worry about the story first and then the rest later (formatting, editing, cover, etc.). Don’t even worry about the critics especially when the voice of one critic can often drown out the rest of the non-critics, the ones who actually enjoyed your stories. Don’t even worry so much about the rules like passive voice and purple prose. You gotta start somewhere and if you worry too much about the rules, you won’t get anywhere. Especially these days, when the rules that used to be in place often no longer apply.
Except for one: Just write.
And another: Keep writing.