Hi Shealea! So glad to be here. If I weren’t a writer, I would probably be working in IT. I graduated with a Computer Science degree, so the tech path was one that I took, but then I found myself in marketing and communications. In a way, I still write for a living, but the fiction I do on the side. The day job helps me fund my book obsession and all other indie writer expenses.
I’ve read that you’re a huge fan of peanut butter! So am I, really. What’s your favorite peanut butter combination (i.e. what do you usually pair peanut butter with)?
Peanut butter and banana! Sometimes, when I have it at home, I put strawberry jam with it. I also love anything Reese’s peanut butter.
As an author, you must be an avid reader as well. What are your favorite books? Maybe you can share two or three. Also, what are some romance novels you would recommend?
It’s very hard to name my absolute favorite books so let me just pick three that I’ve reread several times: Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road (sigh/tears/love), Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever (sa-woon), and Mira Grant’s Feed (zombies and blogging, weee). Oh, and the last one I read that I really liked was The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord.
As for romance, I have a lot, but so it won’t take me forever to list them, I’d recommend Fairy Tale Fail by Mina V. Esguerra, Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare, and Cover (Story) Girl by Chris Mariano.
What first inspired you to start writing?
Elizabeth Wakefield from Sweet Valley. I “met” her when I was in Grade 3 and her dream was to be an author and later I thought, maybe I could do that, too.
What are the three most significant lessons you learned about the whole writing, editing and publishing process?
One: your first draft will always be crappy. The important thing is you write it down first, worry about how to make it good later. I get so caught up in my writing insecurities sometimes especially when I’m surrounded by other great authors, but I’m reminded that everyone’s first draft sucked. On editing, it’s to trust your editor and your gut. Your editor’s comments are all suggestions, and at the end of the day, you make the final decision. And finally, in publishing – get it out as fast as you can. Once you’re done with editing, it’s so easy to try to make it as perfect as possible by reviewing it over and over again…but you have to let go of it. And best to let go of it as fast as you can.
Do you have other stories and/or writing projects you’re currently working on? Can you tell us something about them?
Right now I’m working on a collection of friends-to-lovers short stories because it’s my favorite trope. My short story, It’s a Match, is going to be part that collection. This one will be out on April. After that, I’ll be working on Meah’s book, which I hope to release by October.
To be completely honest with you, Keep the Faith is the first #romanceclass novel I’ve ever read. I’m really glad I did because I enjoyed reading it! But anyway, for those of us who aren’t entirely familiar with this community – including me, can you give us a bit more insight on #romanceclass and what it’s about?
Yay, I’m so glad you decided to give #romanceclass a try, and that you enjoyed the book. #romanceclass started as a romance-writing class facilitated by Mina V. Esguerra (author of Fairy Tale Fail, Interim Goddess of Love, and more books) in 2013. The goal of the class was to write a contemporary romance novel in English in 3 months, and then authors have the choice to pitch the stories to publishers, or to self-publish it. I think about 13 of us published from that class? Mina had more workshops later on, some for YA romance, some for fantasy/science fiction, steamy romance, and later #romanceclass turned into a community of not just romance authors but also readers. We now have 100+ books in our online catalog, a mix of indie- and trad-published, with more being written and published almost every month.
Can you tell us about how the story first started? What inspired you to write it?
Keep the Faith started as a National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) project in 2010. Back then, I was still reeling from Ondoy from the last year, so I wanted to write a story about a girl who survived a flood – both figuratively and literally. Years later, after I had published my first book, Fall Like Rain, I knew I wanted to give the other characters a story their own stories, too.
In your novel, which character was the easiest to write about? And which character did you have the most difficulty with?
The easiest was Nico because I had a very clear idea of him when I started writing. And maybe because I’m already a little in love with him when I first wrote him, haha. Interestingly, the hardest one was Faith, partly because her story hit a little bit too close to home sometimes, and sometimes she just refused to talk to me. This happens.
Are any of your characters based on yourself or people you know in real life?
Faith’s original character was based on one of my college friends, although her character has evolved in time that she’s not really like her anymore. I think I’m in a little bit of my main characters? I do base the secondary characters on friends and people I know – sometimes even using their names. For example, April, Faith’s friend at work, was based on my former boss, and Faith’s sister Joy was based on one of my friends in my church community.
I’ve noticed that you used Faith’s occupation as a community development worker in creating a metaphorical parallelism with her experiences (be it heartbreak-related or in relation to her personal growth) in the story. Was that intentional?
I got this idea from my best friend, who’s a community development worker. During the times I was consulting with him about my plot, he likened the entire disaster relief, rehabilitation, and recovery process with how we deal with setbacks and yes, heartbreak. So yeah, it was intentional, because Faith’s career in dev work was a big part of her.
There are hints of Ilonggo used in some of the dialogue. Is Ilonggo part of your heritage? What prompted you to include this culture into your plot?
No, although I wish I knew how to speak Ilonggo! I haven’t even been to Iloilo yet (but I will be there later this month!). I can’t really remember why I made Nico Ilonggo – I think it was when I decided that Faith would be coming from a relief mission in that region.
There is a very Christian feel and aspect in your characters’ lifestyle and even with the romance. Is there a particular reason for that?
Yes, it’s because I am a Catholic. I grew up in a Catholic family, where everyone must be in church on Sundays, and prayers are the norm, and I’m also an active member of Catholic community, Singles for Christ. Some of the first romance books I read were classified as Christian romance, and I longed to have something in a local setting. And because we don’t have that, I thought, why not write something? Nothing preachy (I hope I wasn’t!), but you know, have characters whose faith also plays a big part in their life. I wrote more about it on Bookbed here.
What main message would you like your readers to take away from your novel?
That heartbreaks don’t last forever. It may seem like it, if you’re in the midst of it, but it will end. You just need to give yourself a bit of space and time to heal by looking at the truth in the eyes, surrounding yourself with good people, and taking it one day at a time.
What is your favorite quote from Keep the Faith?
My favorite is the last bit of Faith’s conversation with Meah, because…well, it’s so simple, but also very true.
“How do I fix things with him?” I asked, sighing.
Meah smiled. “You start with the truth.”
Thank you so abundantly much for your time! Your experiences as an independent Filipina author are very encouraging to aspiring writers such as myself.
As I’ve mentioned earlier in the interview, Keep the Faith is my first ever #romanceclass read (read my book review) — not only that but it also the first novel written by a Filipino author that I’ve read in a very long while. As embarrassingly shameful as it is, I am not really exposed to much local literature, especially those that are self-published. I’ve always wanted to start actively supporting the community of our local writers, but I didn’t really know where exactly to begin with. Most PH publications aren’t largely displayed in local bookstores, and it was, regrettably, easier to pick up international titles.
However, after my reading experience with Tejano’s novel, my desire to read more locally published novels has been effectively reignited and refueled. I can definitely see myself scouring through shelves in search of more #romanceclass books!
Anyway, here’s more information regarding Keep the Faith:
As a community development worker, Faith was quite familiar with heartbreak and recovery after all the time she spent on disaster relief missions. So when her five-year relationship ends right before she left for a mission trip to a typhoon-stricken town in Iloilo, she tries not to make a big deal out of it. How can she be broken up about a breakup when she’s with people who literally lost everything?
But now that she’s back, all Faith wants is for her life to go back to normal and have people stop looking at her with pity. Never mind that she still has a lot of questions about the breakup, or that she feels a tiny ache every time her ex comes up in conversations. She’s okay now, and happily distracted by Nico Tamayo, the attractive new guy at work.
With new possibilities in the horizon, Faith thinks she is well on her way to moving on. But when her past comes calling back to her, will all the good things in her present be enough to keep her on the path? Or will she finally learn that there was more to heartbreak and recovery than what she knows?