After the winter we had in New Jersey, with record snowfall and record low temperatures, it's without surprise that spring is welcomed with open arms. Longer days, chirping birds, brighter and colourful surroundings all have a natural way of making people happier, walk lighter on their feet and seemingly more positive in their outlooks towards life.

As a teacher, it means a step closer to the summer when teachers are off and get to have time for themselves. As a writer, it means Book Expo America and the Writer's Digest Conference and, generally, more time to write and edit. As a husband and father, it means more time with my family, playing soccer outdoors with my son and splashing around in the pool.

But, as winter ends and spring begins, it's a reminder that another year is passing and we're all one more year older. With that, a new (or renewed) list of achievements and failings can accompany the changing of the season. As humans beings are wont to find flaws and as much as we like certain things, like the warmer weather and brighter days, we still find things about which to complain about those things we enjoy.  So, with that said, here are my current (things could change next year or tomorrow) top ten positives and negatives about spring. 

10 Negatives About Spring (not in any particular order)

1. Allergies

2. Bugs. I'm not scared of them. I just find them annoying, buzzing around your ears and such.

3. Bug bites 

4. Severe fluctuation in weather (day-to-day and within each day)

5. Yard work. I really hate having to do it but I like the results after it's finished. 

6. The season in which taxes are due. However, this is due to no fault of the season. If taxes were due in the winter, then I'd feel the same way about winter in this regard.

7. The looming end to the English football (soccer) season

8. Spring cleaning. This is very much like indoor yard work. 

9. Spring colds. Cold and flu should be things of winter only. Spring and summer colds, intuitively, just seem contradictory. Just say it. Spring cold. Summer cold. Worse still, they're harded to deal with because, if you're like me, you've got allergies on top of the flu.

10. Noisy and, sometimes, rowdy latenighters. Usually, those guilty of this are returning college students and high school seniors. I don't begrduge them their fun. They're entitled to it. I just wish they were a tad more considerate to those of us who have, perhaps, passed their prime and don't hangout like they used and/or have kids who they're trying to keep asleep through the night. 

10 Positives About Spring (again, not in any particular order) 

1. Warmer temperatures

2. Longer days. Goodbye standard time, hello Daylight Savings!

3. Spring Break

4. Outdoor tennis

5. Running outside

6. Nature's colours

7. Driving with the windows and moonroof open

8. It's the writer's season. Spring and summer appear to be when most of the conferences and workshops happen. Although writers write and share 24-7-365, in an odd way it feels like late fall and winter is when we cram inside and bang out on the keys to our laptops and spring is when we start to reconnect and share what we've written. 

9. Street fairs and farmers' markets.

10. Baseball. Although I'm not a baseball fan, the way I am a football (soccer) fan with a team I support and follow, there is something very special and truly American about ball parks filled with kids in helmets and carrying bats, wearing mitts and the smell of hot dogs and burgers wafting through the air. There's a tradition about it  and it's something pure, too. The unique sounds of a ball landing in a glove or coming off the bat - the ding of an aluminium one or the crack of a Louisville Slugger - is pure Americana. It's innocent and hopeful, the way spring itself is. 



 
 
Here's one for inclusion in the annals of 'mind your fucking business.'

I've waited for this to happen and it's a good thing for the person's sake she didn't confront me directly. Just short of witnessing someone actually hitting or molesting his or her own child, I'm very much an advocate of letting parents parent in their own way. Abuse and neglect are very real concerns and, as a parent and a teacher, I'm hyper-sensitive to them. But in today's world on ongoing psychobabble and knee jerk responses to everything, thanks to our undereducated readings of reports and articles on parenting in publications like The New York Times and its weekly magazine, TIME, Psychology Today, Parents, Parenting and the like, we need to stop putting the cart before the horse and ask before shooting.

I play squash every week on Sunday at 7 am. My son has swim lessons Sundays at 9:55 am at the same location - Lifetime Athletic in  Florham Park. Instead of driving to the gym for squash, back home or to my wife's work to get my son, then back to Lifetime, my son and I make a father-son morning of it. We go to bed the night before earlier than usual, get up early on Sunday and get to the gym for my squash hour. After playing, I give my son a brief squash lesson before the next players who booked the same court arrive. Then we take a short trip for hot cakes after which we return to the gym and chill before swim.

Today, as usual, we arrived and were greeted by the same employee who works the desk every Sunday. We were met with her usual smile and offerings of a good day. It was about 6:15am. After hot cakes, the same employee was at the desk and she told me of the woman who came in just after us. I wasn't even aware there was someone behind me, to be honest. I wasn't even aware there was someone behind me. From the way it was told to me, the impression I have is that the other gym member was, at best, surprised but really, I think, shocked that a six year old would be at the gym that early. There is a day care at the gym but it doesn't open until  8 am. The employee at the desk appeared to have my back. The woman apparently inquired if there were programs for kids that early. The employee did mention that the gyms (there are two basketball courts) aren't used and children could play there, if there aren't any pick-up basketball games going on. And I've seen other kids at around 7 am shooting hoops or kicking a soccer ball.

I'll give the other member the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps she was just surprised and curious but, in my experience, when people can't mind their own business it's usually to tell someone else that he or she is in the wrong. And, with my stance on parenting - let the child's parents parent the child - it's best that the woman hadn't confronted me directly. If she had, I would likely have just shaken my head and walked away. If she'd persisted, however, I would've reminded her that she knows nothing about me or my son and how he's raised and, basically, for her to mind her own fucking business.

Perhaps this entire post is me judging those who judge but I believe people really do need to remember to clean up their own backyards, not throw stones in glass houses, and be aware that if you spit in the wind it's only going to come back at them. Ironically, I turn to The Bible to help illustrate this point. I say ironically because, while religion can be good in a general sense, I think it is one of the greatest proponents of 'judgmentalism.' That notwithstanding, in Matthew 7:1-3 it says "Judge not, that ye not be judge." Hypocrisy, self-righteousness, holier than thou attitudes, closed-mindedness are, in my opinion, things that cause more problems than good. There is more than one way to do any one thing - parenting, spirituality, exercising, generosity, what have you - and I think it is worth reminding everyone to see things from other people's eyes, to walk in their shoes, practice tolerance and acceptance and to remember that no matter how wise you are, and how much of an expert you are at whatever it is you are an expert in, no one of us is wise enough or expert enough to be able to judge the heart of a fellow human being. More importantly, none of us are perfect.

So, when asked for your input, remember to give it respectfully and humbly. And, if you're not asked for it and no one's lives or limbs are in danger, mind your own fucking business.


 
 
Above, Left to right: Me, Elisa Pupko, Peter Mercurio (school principal), Honi Wasserman (school media specialist)

For years, since I was a child really, I've written. Since the early 1990s, in fact, when I was getting paid for articles I'd written as a freelance journalist, I've called myself a 'writer.' Since the mid-1990s, when I started writing screenplays, going into the 2000s, when I started earnestly writing fiction, and today, with one indie-published book under my belt and on the verge of finishing my second novel, I've been working on becoming a full-time writer. In addition to, hopefully, being able to support my family that way, I've also tried to establish, within myself and those with whom I interact - inside and outside of the writing community - a writing identity. By that, I mean for people to see me, first and foremost (outside of being a husband, father and martial artist), as a writer. I often describe myself as a "writer trapped inside a teacher's body." I'm a teacher by trade, as the saying goes, but in the land of Hard Work And Perseverance and it's close neighbor, Where Dreams Come True, one day, what I do and who I am will become one.

Well, my writing identity took a major boost last month when I spoke at my son's school. My son is in kindergarten and I was asked by one of the class moms, who's a writer herself, to be one of three speakers at the school's launch event for its annual Academic Fair. The theme this year was 'Literacy, Literacy Everywhere - Characters.' The other two speakers were Elisa Pupko, a New York-based actor and founder of Treasure Trunk Theatre in Brooklyn, and the school's media specialist, Honi Wasserman.

Each of us presented for about fifteen minutes during which we shared our own take on the theme. Honi read from Dr. Seuss and Gary Paulsen, extolling the virtue of books. Elisa shared pictures from several of her acting experiences and discussed how she uses elements like a play's setting (location, era), costumes, her characters' age, their physical appearances, limitations and their social statuses to inform her interpretation of a role she's playing.

Me, I discussed how literacy is a skill but more than that, to borrow from the rock group Queen, how literacy is a kind of magic. And, I truly, mean that. I didn't simply use such a 'ruse' to get the K-2 and 3-5 audiences to buy into what I was saying. Literacy - reading and writing - is magic. Words take you places, let you be other people, do superhuman things. And that's when you read a book. When you write something and create worlds and people and put them together in interesting, educating and entertaining ways, you become the magician. 

Picture
Left: Discussing creativity and imagination
with an excerpt from my favourite book,
The Little Prince


I explained to them that my creativity came from many places and how I expressed that creativity with poorly written short stories and unfulfilled story ideas when I was as young as nine or ten. I recalled to my listeners that my brother and I grew up playing with action figures. (I'm a guy so I have to say 'action figures' but, really, they were dolls.) We had eight inch dolls of superheroes and movie characters from The Planet of the Apes (the original) and the original Star Trek series. They were made by Mego. I also had a GI Joe and my brother had dolls of Steve Austin and Jamie Summers. For those of who too young, that would be the main characters from The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman

Anyway, at first, my brother and I played with them as they were. Captain Kirk was Captain Kirk, Supergirl was Supergirl and so on. Eventually, however, we started creating different characters for them and we would rearrange our bedroom so it would become another world. One time, we folded our mattresses and turned them into mountain ranges. One of our Klingon figures was the town's mayor. We wrote newspapers for the dolls to hold and 'read' and we even cut out tiny monetary notes. What I didn't realize at the time was that I, with my brother, was being creativity. I was even more clueless that my creativity would get me to writing screenplays and novels and speaking in front of impressionable young people. So, basically, I told them that anything and anyone can spark their creativity and imagination. 

I also emphasized that they must do everything they can to prevent from losing their imagination; to remain a child when reading and writing. To illustrate this, I read from my all-time favourite book, The Little Prince. I read from the opening section. To prevent a spoiler - and if you haven't read this wonderful book or you haven't read it in ages, make sure you do so now - I'll just say I read the part about the boa constrictor and the hat. 

Finally, I offered a bit of writing advice with a more practical bend. Since the theme was characters, I told them that character is action. I told them it's better to show their character being good - or bad - instead of merely writing or saying so.

Funnily, as things work out, as I was sharing my pearls of wisdom, I found myself feeling that I was talking more to myself than to my son and his schoolmates. Grown ups, you see, like myself can be such fuddy-duddies. We say "Stop!" and "No!" too often and we want things to be just so and exactly what and how they were intended to be. And, ironically, I think we become more fuddy-duddyish when we become parents, albeit without realizing it or intending to be. So, whether you're five, like my son, or forty-five, like me, remember these things - literacy is magic, don't lose your imagination, character is action, don't be a stick in the mud - and live by them. As writers, remembering these things is invaluable to our process and what we do. As readers, they make the book's enjoyment that much more meaningful. And, if you can enjoy reading and writing with a refreshed childlike innocence, you'll participate fully and enjoy another crazy thing: life. 

Happy creating everyone!


 
 
My Winter Games - Surviving The Snow

It's snowed more this year than it has since 2011 when we had three blizzards in the span of a week or ten days. By the end of the second blizzard, there were snow banks as tall as me at the end of our driveway. I'm 5'11 1/2" which isn't NBA proportions but I'm also not short by any means. The snow banks this year, so far, after this week of four storms, is only about four or four and a half feet high. (It's snowing as I type this post so who knows how high the banks will be by the end of the holiday weekend.) 

Anyway, with all this snow, while I've had my limit of seeing it, feeling it and removing it, I have developed an efficiency in how I clear my driveway, the walkway and the front and rear paths to my home. Two snow storms back, there was more wet snow and, consequently, a lot more ice. While clearing our driveway, my wife shoveled and I removed the mini (and some not so mini) ice boulders that the snow plows left behind. I successfully tossed about nine or ten of them (no joke) in a row into a gap, about two by two feet, at the top of the hedge separating my driveway and my neighbor's. I felt like a point guard shooting mini-jumper after mini-jumper and making it each time. 

So, this got me thinking and with it being a Winter Olympics year and being someone with an Olympic connection (I tried out for a spot on the 2000 US Handball Team), I came up with my own version of the Winter Games. To be honest, it's more World's Strongest Man than Olympics, but it was fun thinking up the events and helped make the back-breaking task of shoveling yet again less physically, mentally and emotionally painful. 

So, here are the events of my Winter Games. Feel free to comment and add your own.

1. Shoveling Events: These can be divided into categories with shovels of different sizes (shaft length, shovel width and shovel depth). There can be contests for speed, amount of snow carried in a single scoop, endurance, distance (how far and how much is retained at the finish line) and, of course, a shovel snow toss. 

2. Obstacle Course: This can, of course, be exactly what it is; some kind of race, with snow in a shovel (or some other carrier) through an obstacle course. This can also and alternately be a test of how clean a person and, in a separate event, a team can clear a driveway or parking lot in a given time with a given set of tools. 

3. Ice Toss: This can have multiple versions. Boulders created by snow plows, in varying shapes and sizes, can be thrown for distance and accuracy. In another event, the Summer Games Athletics event Shot Put can be duplicated in the winter with puts made of ice. Now, all joking aside, how cool - pun intended - would that be? Same technique, same type of shot circle, just in the snow with orbs of ice. 

4. Snow/Slush Push: This is more like the World's Strongest Men event in which contestants are strapped to a Toyota or single decker bus and they pull it as far as they can. In this event, each contestant is given a shovel and upon a "Go!" signal has to push as much of the wet snow as far as he or she can. 

So, while I enjoy the winter for the cooler temps and, of course, for Christmas and my son's joy at playing in the snow, speaking as a fuddy-duddy grown up, I've had enough. I could always move to another state and town but, really, wherever one goes there's always going to be something; earthquakes in California, sand storms in Arizona, constant and torrential rain in Oregon. So, as the snow falls and coats my car and steps yet again and as I watch the Sochi Winter Olympics, I dream of the club pool and our annual vacation to Montauk. I think of wearing shorts and a t-shirt and getting tanned. And I actually yearn for the insufferable heat, with affection, knowing I can get relief when I come home and turn on the aircon.

 
 
Picture
Happy New Year! 

2014 is upon us and 2013 is in the past. Every year, I set a goal for the number of books I plan to read. In 2013, I chose thirty and kept track of them on Goodreads, where its members are invited to participate in their own book reading challenge. So, for me, it's like killing two birds with one stone. I managed to finish forty-four books last year and, for 2014, I've set my goal to thirty-five. 

Of the forty-four I read, here are my favorites. That's not to say the other thirty-four I read weren't worth the time I spent on them. Rather, it means these ten had a major impact on me - as a writer, as a man, as a father, as an Asian-American, as a writer of Asian-American YA, whatever. Bear in mind that my list is of my favourite books, from the ones I read, in 2013. Some of them were published in 2012 or before so this isn't like a Top Ten of 2013. If you look at my list of 2012, Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes made the list. Although it didn't make this list, H. G. Wells's  The Island of Doctor Moreau was one of the forty-four I read - and absolutely enjoyed - in 2013.

As for the list below, if you click on the title, you'll find my review, either a full write-up in my this blog or a slightly more brief commentary in Goodreads.  If you've not read some of the books on my list, I hope my review will encourage you to pick it up. On the flip side, if you have any recommendations for me, please post a comment. I'd love to hear from you and, I believe, the best book recommendations do come from word of mouth. 

So, without further ado, here are the ten favourite books I read in 2013, in order with my most favourite listed at number one.

1. The Collective by Don Lee (2012, W. W. Norton & Company)
2. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce (2012,  Atheneum Books for Young Readers; originally published in 2011)
3. Xander's Panda Party by Linda Sue Park; illustrated by Mark Phelan (2013, Clarion Books)
4. Champion (Legend, #3) by Marie Lu (2013, Putnam Juvenile)
5. Proxy (Proxy, #1) by Alex London (2013, Philomel)
6. Bruised by Sarah Skilton (2013, Amulet/Abrams)
7. Fresh Off The Boat by Eddie Huang (2013, Random House Audio) 
8. Zoo Breath (A Clavin Coconut book) by Graham Salisbury (2011, Yearling; first published in 2010)
9. Dumpling Days by Grace Lin  (2013, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; originally published in 2012)

10. The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling (2012, Little, Brown & Company)

Honourable Mentions:

Guys Read: A Fistful of Feathers by David Yoo (2011, Walden Pond Press; originally published in 2010)

Are You Ready To Play Outside? (An Elephant and Piggie book) by Mo Willems (2008, Disney-Hyperion). Winner of the 2009 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award.



 
 
New Year's Eve is tomorrow and, like many of you, I'll probably stay up counting down to midnight and ring in 2014 while saying goodbye to 2013. And, like many of you and many media outlets, I'll look back on the big moments of the year; at least in terms of my life, anyway. Honestly, the year is gone and nothing can be changed but I suppose I look back to remember fond moments, to try and learn a lesson or two not to be repeated in the new year and, perhaps, even to see what might make for good writing material and story ideas. It's also interesting and, I think, worthwhile to see if I've changed in any way with regard to how I view things or in how I respond to things.

So, without further ado and not in any particular order, here are my moments, good and bad, happy and sad (in some cases both), of 2013.

1. Meeting Rod Dixon. I try to go to the New York Marathon Expo every year and this year I brought my son with me. By chance, as we strolled the aisles looking for the Timex booth and the adidas and New Balance shops, I came across a guy who was handing out 3x5 postcards of Rod Dixon, his arms raised, when he won the New York City Marathon in 1983. When the guy asked if I wanted to meet Rod (I'm going to call gim Rod and not Mr. Dixon because runners are very intimate people), I was more than enthusiastic. You see, I've run the NY City Marathon (NYCM) twice. I was supposed to run it in 2012 but Hurricane Sandy derailed that. I've also, in the late 1990s and early 2000s (there was a gap year from about 2000-2001 when I didn't run much), been a very serious runner. Apart from work, I scheduled everything else around my running. Well, I owe a lot of my devotion to running and my passion for marathoning and the NYCM to Rod. In 1983, when I was growing up in Hong Kong, I watched a sports program on a Tuesday night and it featured that year's NYCM, obviously via tape delay. Well, Rod never led at any point in that race but, when he burst through with just yards to go and won, it was - and still is - one of the most exciting moments in sports I've ever seen. He showed athleticism, persevarance, courage and good old fashioned "To hell with it, I'm going for it!" gusto. Seconds after watching the clip, at the time not fully aware what a marathon really was, I pointed to the television screen and said, "I'm going to run that race." And, like I said, I have twice - in 1995 and 2005. Unfortunately, I was undertrained in both occasions and not as fit as I wanted to be. So, I'm determined to run it again, properly this time, and after meeting Rod and speaking with him I'm reenergized to do so. Rod was at the expo promoting his Kids Marathon Foundation and having my son with me, he gently reminded me that I need to get back to fitness so my son never falls out of it. "What you do, he does," Rod said and ever since then it's become one of my my mantras. Thank you Rod. It was a pleasure meeting you. 

2. My son entering kindergarten. This, and all the paper filing and appointments to get it done, was one of the most momentous moments of 2013. For one, from a practical standpoint, it meant no more day care which, in turn, meant less money out of pocket. And, who cant stand to keep money from going out? More than that, however, it was - as obvious as it was - a sign that my son is growing up. The last five years have gone by in a flash and I can only imagine the next five going by just as quickly. Kindergarten has seen my son grow in all aspects - physically, mentally, emotionally, socially - which is expected but it's his love for school that really makes an impression on me. He sincerely enjoys his teacher and classmates and he loves learning. Making his lunches everyday, checking the work he brings home, attending Back-To-School events and Teacher Conferences, watching the winter concert are all warm blankets around my and my wife's hearts that our son is becoming a 'person.' They also make me look back when I was that age and the things I went through and, as parent, being able to guide and advise him, not from gut reaction or because a parenting book said to do it a certain way, but from experience and wisdom. From the moment my son was born, I became a father. Now that he's in school and has his own interests and friends, I'm becoming a dad. 

3. Pope Francis. Can I say it or is it too soon? I love Pope Francis. His approach to leading the Catholic Church is fresh and openminded. I love how he's focusing on the individual and not on issues. When he said that a person doesn't have to believe and can still be a good person, a spark lit inside me. His deemphasis on abortion and homosexuality is refreshing, too, as is his approach to let local churches manage their own congregations. For me, he's rejuvenated the Catholic Church and humanized it. This year wasn't the first time a pope resigned and a new one was appointed but it's the first time in my lifetime and, in many ways, it's made me feel that the Catholic Church has become more accessible and approachable. Growing up, the Catholic Church was - and I guess still is - this large, enigmatic entity with secrets and hidden practices and, of course, God. The pope, too, was someone who was supposed to lead his flock, whether he wanted the position or not, until he died. In my lifetime, Pope Francis's appointment is the fourth I've been through. For the first two - the appointments of John Paul I and John Paul II - though, I was eleven or twelve, maybe ten, and I remember my mother making me get down on my knees, with her, and pray for the pope each time. I didn't even really know what was happening. As an adult, though, watching CNN and EWTN coverage of Pope Benedict's and Pope Francis's appointments and with Pope Francis's humility and openness, the Catholic Church has, for me, been demystified and isn't as sacrosanct as it once seemed. And that's a good thing.

4. Review and endorsement by IndieReader.com. IndieReader.com is a major website that promotes independently published books. In 2013, I managed to link up with IR and my book, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, was read and reviewed by one of its staffers. Back Kicks got a 4 star rating (out of 5) and received 'approved' status to boot. This wasn't the first review my book received and it wasn't the first positive review either but it was the first review from an outlet that is seen widely by the writing, literary and publishing communities. It was also highly validating to read such a positive review and to know that this, my first novel and a very personal labour of love, has value outside my own mind and heart. The reviewer called Back Kicks "a pertinent novel" and that, to me, is much more meaningful than being told my book is good or liked or written well. Click here for the review.

5. and 6. Invitation to enter my book in the Asian American Literary Awards (AALA). This gets two spots because it impacted me in two ways - one positive and one less than positive. I don't want to say negative because, really, it wasn't but it did bum me out. The AALA is run by the Asian American Writers Workshop (AAWW), the main outlet for Asian American literature in the United States. When I received an email from one of the AALA's organising team members inviting me to enter Back Kicks And Broken Promises, naturally I was elated. I wouldn't say I felt that I'd arrived but I felt that my work was starting to get recognition. In the email, the words "your book needs to be considered" - without a doubt, an emphatic endorsement  - struck me hard. The AALA, a arm of the AAWW knows my work! For sure, some kind of breakthrough into the world of Asian American literati had been made. But, here's where the bum out takes place. The AALA does not accept self-published books; at least not those from a print-on-demand (POD) outlet. If my book was self-published through a small indie press it would still have been considered. The fact that it's POD disqualified it. I wasn't sure what to feel. I knew about this rule when I'd received the invitation and I was the one who brought it to their attenton. Part of me wishes I hadn't, to be honest. In a way, I wish I'd never gotten the invitation because, in the end, it was an unintended tease. In a way. Honestly, I'm glad I did. Having gotten it and with the strong endorsement that it came with, I did feel a win of sorts. I knew, again, that someone other than myself values my book and, as an Asian American author, who better than to value it than the AAWW and the AALA. Hopefully 2014 will see me get an agent and a publisher so my books are traditionally published and, if considered again by the AALA, they can actually be accepted. 

7. and 8. My son starting Taekwondo lessons. This is another double-edge sword of an event. I'm ecstatic that my son has started Taekwondo lessons and that he loves them. I'm also glad for the school he's going to. It's local, the masters teach a great curriculum and are excellent in their demeanour and technique, and the school is current with how things are done in The Kukkiwon (the world Taekwondo headquarters in Seoul, South Korea). The school is also affiliated with USA Taekwondo (USAT) and The World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) so, in addition to getting quality martial arts training, my son will also have the opportunity to enter the world of sports Taekwondo if his so desires. The bum out here, though, is that I am also a Taekwondo master but my son is not taking lessons from me. I don't have my own dojang (training hall) so finding a place to teach him is difficult. Also, I wouldn't have any other students and having other kids in his age-based class does help. It's a martial arts tradition, though, for a father who studies martial arts to pass his martial arts down to his children. It's a tradition, since I got my first degree black belt in 1989, I'd hoped to continue. My father didn't study martial arts so it's also a tradition I'd hoped and planned to start with my family. It was also one of my goals and dreams. Like I said, I'm overjoyed that my son is doing Taekwondo and that he's doing it where he is - there are few other places I'd prefer for him to go - but it is heartbreaking that it's not with me. A time may come when I am his teacher but, having gone through dojang changes myself, it's not the same. I've trained under many masters but I will always consider myself the student of Grandmaster Kwang Jae Lee, my first Taekwondo teacher and the one who awarded me my first degree black belt.

9. 100 and 101 wins. Of the many hats I wear, being a volleyball coach is one of my favourites. I enjoy sports and I enjoy developing athletes and, having just conpleted my thirteenth season (over four programs) coaching volleyball, I like to think I have an idea of what needs to get done on the court. Due to personnel turnover (we graduated eleven out of fourteen of the 2012 varsity squad) and other personal issues with players, the 2013 season was a struggle but it was nice to finish the second half of the season strongly and, in doing so, I earned my 100th and 101st career wins. This really is a small accomplishment when you consider other coaches have wins in the 500s and some coaches have reached 100 in less time than I did but it's still a milestone and athletes are always looking for them. It feels good, though, to have joined the century club so it's made this list of my ten most memorable or impacting events of 2013. Maybe I'll get to 200 in less than the next thirteen seasons.

10. The Collective. I'm referring to Don Lee's novel. It came out in 2012 but I didn't get to read it until this year and, boy, what a read it is. I don't think it got rave reviews publicly but, for me, it's probably my favourite and, perhaps, the best book I read in 2013. Rarely has a book tugged at me mentally and emotionally as this one did and, rarely, has a book made me cry. I cried in parts when I read Sung J.Woo's Everything Asian and, as a father, how could I not have cried during parts of The Road but Don's book just hit me at the core. I related so much with both male protags and, as an Asian American writer trying to produce meaningful work and find significance in the Asian American writing community and significance within himself, through his work, it was like The Collective was written for me and about me. When I emailed Don and shared my brief review with him, he thanked me. HE THANKED ME! What an honour. He said that my response to his book was what he was hoping to elicit from its readers. If you're an writer, especially an Asian American one, you have to read this book. Click here for Don's site.

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Honourable Mentions: I could probably find numerous events to put on this list but it would turn from a Top Ten to Top 100 and just become ridiculous. There are two other things that happened in 2013 that stand out for me that are worth mentioning, however. 1: I was featured in an article (click here) with other writers, about self-published Asian American authors in Hyphen Magazine and 2: I made a nice connection with YA author Alex London (Proxy). I wrote a review about Proxy (click here) and shared it with him. After that, we exchanged a few emails and he's agreed to look at my current manuscript. Incidentally, he sequel to ProxyGuardian, is coming out next spring. Click here for Alex's site. 

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So, that was my year of memorable moments of 2013. For 2014, there will be new ones; hopefully progressing my writing career and hopefully all positive. Congratulations to all of you on your accomplishments of the past year and good luck in the next. Happy writing, happy living and happy new year!

 
 
As 2013 comes to an end, like most people, I’ve been thinking about the events of the past year; the ups and downs, successes and failures I’ve experienced. I look back too on the goals I’d set for myself for 2013 and think ahead to the goals I will set for 2014. Looking back, while I have a roof over my head, a shirt on my back, food on the table and a beautiful wife and amazing son by my side, in terms of what I wanted to accomplish in 2013, sadly, I have to say there were more downs than ups.

Looking at my blog post on January 2, 2013, in which I wrote about the five main things I wanted to accomplish, I have to ‘fess up that I scored a resounding F! Of the five, I completed only one. I didn’t succeed in completing a finished draft (one that has gone through a couple of revisions that I’m ready to send out) of Sage Of Heaven. That was my main goal. I also failed at writing a first draft of the second book in the Sage Of Heaven series and a first draft of my Filipino-American short story collection, Five Corners. I had a weight loss/back to fitness goal that went by the wayside as well. Although, there were some stretches when things were going really well in this area. The only goal I completed was to read at least thirty books in 2013. Well, I’ve done that. I’m at forty-two or forty-three.

I think my failure at fulfilling my goals wasn’t due to a lack of desire or discipline. I get up regularly at 3am, regardless of when I go to sleep, to write. And, God, my wife and all my friends know there’s nothing more I want than to be a fit working writer. Instead, I think my failings have to do with my overestimation in my abilities to get my personal goals completed while also trying to get my family goals and current work goals in. I’m a teacher by day and writer by any other time so I have other duties and responsibilities that still need to be met. When I do become a working writer, my personal goals and my work goals will, finally, mesh. There are only so many hours in the day and, more importantly, there are only so many hours in the day that are truly yours. In my case, those hours tend to be the early morning ones before dawn.

In setting my goals for 2014, I’m going to have to remember that. I’m going to have to be less ambitious, more realistic in regarding my situation and, perhaps, even reduce the number of goals I want to achieve. I’m going to have to do this because I’ve come to realize, maybe later than I should have, that my life isn’t my own. My parents will say it never was because it belongs to God. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to my life in earthly terms. My life isn’t my own because parts of it belong to my wife, my son, my dog, my students, my athletes, my co-teachers, my friends. And, while I’m still trying to get my life to be the one I want it to be, before I get there, I’m going to have to accept where I am, which is in a life that I hadn’t planned – at least not wholly. There are parts of it that have gone just right but there are many parts that haven’t.

So, as you make your goals and resolutions for 2014, if you’re anything like me and think big while your situation, resources and the time you have are small and you’ve been less than fully successful in 2013, take stock of what you want to achieve for the next twelve months and be realistic about getting them done. Some of those goals may be able to get pushed back a year or two. Accept, too, who you are and where you are. I’ve failed in meeting all of my goals for 2013 but I’m not a failure. Neither are you.


Having said all of the above, here are my main personal goals for 2014.

1.     Finish a final draft of Sage of Heaven, book one and get it in agents’ hands.

2.     Improve my fitness.

3.     Read at least thirty books.

4.     Complete the first draft of either Sage Of Heaven, book two, Five Corners, or Aliens Among Us, book one.

5.     Get back to and maintain regular Taekwondo training

 
 
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Keeping Christmas In Christmas


Well, Christmas has come and gone for 2013 and, for many of you, so too are your Christmas trees and decorations. As for us - my family and I - we’ll be taking down our tree and decorations and restoring our home back to normal after the Feast of the Three Kings. In the Christian calendar, at least the Catholic one, Christmas ends on a week later with the celebration of Jesus’ baptism and, while I do celebrate Christmas secularly and socially like everyone else, there is part of me that, thanks to my Catholic upbringing, celebrates Christmas for what it really is - the celebration of Jesus’ birth and the resulting hope and joy that a long-awaited messiah brought the then Jewish people who would eventually become the first Christians. I’m not a ‘holy roller’ by any means. You can ask any of my friends to verify this but, let’s face it, we wouldn't be exchanging gifts and saying “Merry Christmas!” or putting up trees if there was never that first Christmas with a manger, a donkey, Mary and Joseph, a star, three wise men, and shepherds over two thousand years ago. 

I mentioned in the previous paragraph that Christmas ends on the feast of the baptism of Jesus. Some of you might be saying that it ended at 12:01am between December 25 and 26. That was Christmas Day. Christmas is a season that runs from Christmas Day to the Baptism of Jesus. And, it’s a season that fosters good will and kindness between people - although sometimes I’m hard pressed to see that at the malls and other shops during long checkout lines and around crowded display cases. I’m not perfect by any means. Don’t get me wrong. I get impatient and frustrated too but I’m proud to say it’s not because of long lines or crowds. One has to expect those things this time of year. What I get impatient and frustrated about are the fact that consumers and retailers are so quick to push the holiday season upon us for a buck - Christmas decorations have been popping up in stores earlier and earlier every year - and they are as equally quick to shut it down. A New York radio station, from about three weeks before Christmas Day, plays only Christmas music. Once Boxing Day comes around, it’s back to normal. Yes, the songs at the top of the charts help pay the station’s bills but there’s nothing wrong with playing occasional - more than occasional even - Christmas songs after Christmas Day. 

And, there’s nothing wrong about saying “Merry Christmas.” Society has become so anemic and so politically correct I have to change what I say just to keep everyone happy! Christmas is (a) a religious celebration, (b) a social celebration, (c) a frame of mind (and, dare I say soul) and NOT exclusively a Christian frame of mind, and (d) a celebration of family. The phrase “Merry Christmas” isn’t always delivered from a religious perspective and it doesn’t need to be taken with one either. When I say it, how I mean it depends on whom I’m giving it to. And, in fitting in with the season, the receiver could just take it as a wish of general good will.

So, whether you’re a Christian or not, religious or not, don’t forget about Christmas 2013 just yet. ’Tis the season, as they say, and the season doesn’t end until January 12, 2014. When you greet someone, say “Merry Christmas” and mean it. Better still, keep “Merry Christmas” in your heart and mind even after January 12, 2014. Christmas might end religious on January 12, 2014 and socially it ended yesterday (Or, did it? There are ‘after Christmas’ sales going on everyone right now, after all.) but it doesn’t have to end inside you and how you greet and interact with your family, friends and coworkers. 

To that end, I offer all of you a heartfelt thank you, for stopping by my blog, and a heart, mind and soul filled greeting - Merry Christmas!




 
 
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Daniel Altan Wing isn't the only champion here. Marie Lu is one as well - of the YA dystopian genre. She has managed to conclude the Legend series without declining the intensity of the story and without deviating from the core of her characters' - Day's and June's  - identities. She's maintained the tone of the series throughout all three books - something I felt was lost in the final books of The Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies (just for the record, though, I did enjoy those series as well; just not the third books as much I did in this one).  

Lu also manages to keep the genre fresh. With more and more YA dystopian novels coming out, and many with strong female protags and with the Legend trilogy coming out so soon on the heels of The Hunger Games and side-by-side with Divergent, Lu's voice and vision avoids the reader from developing a feeling of 'been there, done that.' 

Great stuff! I'm very much looking forward to what Lu gives us next; perhaps a Legend spinoff with Tess as the protag or something new set inside a video game. Whatever it is, I know I'll be getting a copy on release day.

 
 
Maraming Salamat! Bangon Pilipinas!

Thanks to everyone who bought and/or promoted my book, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, the last couple of weeks. Its sales rank in Barnes and Noble went up over 100,000 places last week (I don't how many units sold that is) but every unit makes a difference since, through 2014, I will be donating all royalties towards Haiyan aid. For those of you who Liked, Reteweeted, and Shared my pages and blog posts and for those of you who shared this effort in your work places, I greatly appreciate it. The people of the Philippines need our help and will do so for a long time to come. The TV news may have simmered  down somewhat but the suffering has not. Maraming salamat! Bangon Pilipinas!