Te Amo, Barcelona!

WHEW. We're back, people!

It's taking me a little longer than I expected to recover from this whole trip--I'm still sleeping pretty badly, but then again, I may just be a bad sleeper. But Barcelona was a magical city, the sunlight that falls here is just fantastic, giving everything a softer glow. Unfortunately, we were very badly pickpocketed here! It was a dim start to an already wild trip on the way. It changed a lot of our plans, and I like to think we ended up with a better trip than we planned. 

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Experiences you can't miss:

  • Eat a cone full of Manchego cheese and Iberico ham from La Boqueria at the end of La Rambla. But make sure you keep an eye on your bags!
  • Snack on the salted caramel ice cream from my new favorite place to eat--El Nacional on Gracia.
  • Catch a game of football (we watched Spain vs. Morocco!) at a local pub, or have some Crema Catalana, mmmm!
  • Wake up at eat from your local Churreria
  • Pay homage to Picasso at the Picasso Museum in the old Gothic quarter, and check out his famous Les Menines interpretation. 
  • Make a wish at the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's man made forest. 
  • Have some arroz negra from the food court of El Corte Ingles on Playa Catalunya along with a glass of sangria. The view is also pretty fantastic!
  • Check out Barna Paper and Barna Art which has a pretty amazing selection of art materials. Make sure you grab an Escoda brush too, as a special souvenir. At the end of that road is the Casa de les Punxes, a castle in the middle of the city. 
  • Explore the Gracia neighborhood, which includes a stop at Onna Coffee. 
  • Make the journey to Montserrat for amazing, sky high views. Be ready to face your fear of heights!

 

Packing for Europe!

My parents have been married for thirty years. 

Can you believe? Thirty crazy years with ten kids, one (or more) dogs, and more papayas and mangoes than anyone can eat in a lifetime. My parents’ anniversary has always been a huge celebration for us because 1) it always falls on a holiday, 2) it's my Dad's birthday 3) they consider it the day our family was born (awww). 

So when we were deciding what to do for the big 3-0, they only asked us for one thing—a cruise. It's one of their favorite things because my Dad loves to lie in bed and watch the Love Boat, my Mom loves to swim, and of course, the food. The Mediterranean cruise has been on their must do list for awhile now, so this was the perfect excuse!

Of course, we kids saw it as an opportunity to really dress up. We grew up pointing cameras at each other, so of course you gotta look good. 

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If you were wondering why I put up a lot of pictures of myself on my own moodboard, it's because I inspire myself. CHOS. 

It's mostly because the clothes I buy aren't Googleable--you can't trace them to a brand, or the brand has stopped selling it, making a legit blogger-like board impossible. I did however, have my own pictures of myself in these awesome clothes. So there. The bottom left picture is funny because I ordered that earring online thinking I was buying a pair, when it fact they were selling it per piece. Weird. 

The photo on the right is of fabric that my aunt posted, which I then asked if she could turn into a dress. 

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I don't have a picture of my earrings because I haven't decided yet! How do you choose among your favorites? How do you even pack them for a trip to make sure they don't get damaged? It's still a thing I'm figuring out. 

The clothes, in the meantime, came pretty natural to me. I've always lived in dresses, and have been wearing the flowy boho aesthetic since I decided on it in my second year of college. You see the red fabric on the upper left? My aunt turned it into the CUTEST DRESS. I can't wait to wear it. 

I've been on enough cruises to know the importance of a tote bag to put all your things in as you move around the boat. Our resident book printer, JMD Copy Prints, does tote bags now! So I had to bring mine. 

And yes gurl, she's wearing a bikini! First time! God I hope my boobs don't pop out or something huhu. 

I've always been a less is more, mix and match kind of packer. So my bag has (more or less) two formal dresses (with one casual-ready), three regular dresses (including my airport wear), two fun tops, three plain tops, one pair of shorts and one skirt. Hopefully that equals enough clothes for the two week trip? 

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Now for the more important part--the books and the art stuff. So crucial!

The Art Stuff
I got one of those Japanese multi pocket kits from National Bookstore and filled it with everything I need to paint on the go. My Moleskine watercolor book (with a Hulyen sticker!) a mechanical pencil, an eraser (yup that's not a white pencil!), a ruler, an Isabey size 0 travel mop brush and an Escoda Prado Size 4 Travel Brush are my travel weapons of choice. There's also a little glass jar in there for my water. The palette is all ShinHan colors that I filled in for a workshop a couple of years back, but I like that this palette has the essential colors (and then some) and large wells. I carried this kit around in Hong Kong, and it seemed to do just fine. 

The Books
See this is one of the reasons why I never understood the 'Death to the Kindle' crowd. Because can you imagine bringing 100+ books on a single trip? I don't think so! I'm bringing along a couple of print books as well, but it's more because I don't have the digital copy. If I did, I would leave my print ones at home. (oh hey they're all written by women!) 

Obviously I am an overpacker afraid of getting bored at sea, but it's always best to over prepare, don't you think! I CANNOT WAIT to share photos of my trip with you guys, and obviously, these places are going to end up in books, one way or another.

I'm ready. 

*cue panic*

 

 

Sydney Love

If I wasn't a fan of avocado before, I definitely am now. I loved the city's chill vibe, I loved the food and I definitely loved the coffee. There's just something about how they managed to bring together the city life and the quiet loveliness of different plants that makes Sydney feel like my happy place. 

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Chasing Mindy: Cover + blurb!

Let it be said that uploading books to Amazon is not easy, and not good for panick-y people like me! After announcing on Twitter that Chasing Mindy is coming out on April 15, after a series of hijinks, it's now out on April 1. No pre-orders, no April fools jokes. 

It'll just be there, out in the world. 

Now before I bury myself in my covers and weep at my own silliness, I thought I would send you guys the full cover, and the blurb for this little Paris book that I've written, re-written and flipped over. 

See you on April 1!

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Mindy and Javier are not friends, okay. 
Despite their mothers’ matchmaking, they’ve managed to stay out of each other’s way. Until Mindy goes to Paris for a week, and her mother insists she meet up with Javier. He’s in Paris to study, really looking forward to see you, she says. Watch over each other.
No thanks. Javier is taciturn and boring, Mindy is dramatic and has a tendency to yell at things when her eight siblings are brought up. It’s not a great combination. 
But things start to look a little different under the Paris lights, and what felt like hate feels a lot closer to love. 

I hope you guys get a chance to read it, because my tech blunders aside, I really enjoyed the entire process behind this book. It follows If The Dress Fits as Book 2 of the City Love series, but this can certainly be read as a standalone!

Newsletter Exclusive: Max + Martha

This is a snippet from a series of shorts that I wrote documenting Max and Martha's trip to Europe. Newsletter subscribers get the whole ebook for free, so I've included a sign up link at the end of this short story so you can get it too! Happy Valentines Day! 

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Vienna

You know what people don’t tell you about going on vacation in Europe? How hard eating is going to be. 

I’m a rice and ulam kind of girl, plus soup if I was feeling extra hungry. But here, in this beautiful, old continent, rice wasn’t exactly standard fare. 

We arrived in Vienna exhausted and hungry. After a quick Google search and directions from the front desk, we found ourselves at Rathausplatz, a park that was just adjacent to the city hall. It looked like no city hall I had ever visited. 

From where I was standing, Rathaus was a gothic dream come true, with tall spires that reached up to the sky, each detail carved delicately into the building. It looked like a castle, and in the darkness of the night, the purple lights from the music festival against the sepia stones made it look like a princess’ castle with a clock face. A huge screen was set up facing the plaza, with rafters and proper seats for the film viewing. 

Where we were standing, we were standing in a food park. Now this was familiar territory. Seats and tables filled the central area, surrounded by big, colorful booths advertising their food—Aperol spritzes, ice cream, sliders, Chinese food, steak, kebabs, hotdogs, and other food I didn’t quite recognize. I was focused, letting my nose dictate my steps, feeling a little disoriented with the new smells and sights. 

“Why is everybody advertising Weiners?” Max suddenly asked, unable to hide his childish laugh at the term. 

“It’s German for Viennese, you perv,” I elbowed him, thankful nobody could understand us as we continued talking in Filipino. It was like a superpower, one that we both took advantage of. 

“Alright,” Max announced, clapping his hands together. “Let’s imagine we’re on our first date.”

“What?” I asked, momentarily distracted by a Chinese food stall…oh my god, they had fried rice. I missed fried rice!

“Martha, focus,” He said, pulling my shoulders and kissing my forehead, which was pretty effective. “Let’s pretend that you and I are hanging out in any old food park, getting to know each other romantically for the first time. What would we do?”

“Well, first of all, we would be holding hands,” I said, holding my hand out for his, which he slid easily into mine. This still didn’t come naturally to us, but I wasn’t worried. “And maybe we would go around the booths twice, debating our choices.”

“Sounds like a plan,” he said, swinging my hand as we walked towards a bight green stall that advertised ‘authentic german spatzle’. The cheese sauce against the potato pasta was practically calling my name. 

“God, I’m going to get so fat on this trip,” I grumbled, almost salivating at where the chef was preparing the food. Cheese and potatoes, was there a more classic combination than that? 

But the amount of cheese and potatoes on the plate suddenly made me think of all the croissants and cheese I ate in Paris. I thought of the sinful little strawberry frasiers I’d eaten. The way my pants were actually getting tighter. 

Then I thought about Cafe Demel, which the Internet bragged had the best hot chocolate in the world. I could skip that, couldn’t I? 

“So am I,” Max said, tugging my hand a little. His brows were furrowed with concern. 

“But…the carbs.”

“Martha,” he laughed. “You once told me that if you’re going to get fat, you might as well get fat on really good food. So are we having spatzle for dinner?”

Ack, I shouldn’t. I should look for something healthy, like a salad. I was going to be in Europe for a while still, I wasn’t going to run out of encounters with german and wiener food!

“Yes please. But let’s add a tomato or a lettuce leaf or something on the side so we don’t die too early.”

“You’re an easy date to please,” he grinned, kissing my forehead again as we stepped in line to order our food. I scanned the plaza again, and saw that there was a gorgeous circular structure across the street, creating a perfect backdrop against the food park. It looked like a theater. It looked like a dream. 

“This is the best first date I’ve ever been on,” I said, wrapping my arms around Max’s waist, because everyone else around us seemed to be doing the same thing. 

Back home I would have pouted at couples doing this in public, but here, thousands of miles away and without any prying eyes, it felt just right. I think we needed this, him and I just needing some time to be Max and Martha. Learning how to hold hands when we walked, to hug each other and kiss each other’s forehead when we felt like it. 

“So tell me about yourself,” Max said, reciprocating my hug. “Brothers? Sisters?”

“One sister,” I said, looking at him slyly as I played along. “Too many titas.”

“Isn’t that always the way?” He asked, and we both laughed, a sound that was familiar and new at the same time. 

We started to talk about all the things we enjoyed—he talked about the book he was currently reading about the provenance of art pieces (‘I picked it up in Paris’, he said proudly, even if I was there when he bought it from Shakespeare and Co), and I told him about the movie I watched on the plane on the way to France, even if he’d seen it too. 

We looked like any other couple on a date in just any other city, and that was a comforting thought. 

Armed with our cheese and caramelized onion spatzle and two glasses of Aperol spritz, we settled into the seats in front of the Rathaus, spending our first night in Vienna watching a compelling ballet about war, leaning against each other and falling into comfortable companionship. 

It stuck me that I’d never had this with anyone before, and here I was now, having it with Max. I was happy, full and just a little tipsy from the Aperol. Suddenly the carbohydrate content of our dinner didn’t matter so much. 

“Let’s get fat together,” I told him. The f-word sounded weird on my tongue, I’d associated it with negative things for so long, and saying it now in this context was…nice. New. 

Even in the dark of the evening, the light that glowed from Max’s face could have powered the entire MuseumsQuartier. I gave in to the urge to kiss him.


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Shanghai Calling

Happy 2018 everyone! The Christmas/New Year/Birthday season is always my favorite time of the year, only because there are so many things going on, and so many things to be grateful for--this trip included. Shanghai isn't new to me, but something pulled me toward it when we were choosing our yearly family trip. Maybe it was the cold, more likely it was Shanghai Disneyland. But in the end, it was a great way to spend time as a complete family, and to discover new corners of the city. 

And YES you will see Shanghai in a future book! I have really really specific plans for specific characters in this city, you'll see!

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Experiences you can't miss: 

  • Jostling with the crowds on The Bund after a few happy hour drinks at The Long Bar at the famous Waldorf Astoria
     
  • Buying cute little tin cans of floral or fruit teas from Tianzifang while chomping down on candied kiatkiat then visiting the basement shops at the SML Center next door to buy the cutest insulated tumbler ever. 
     
  • Having a cup of coffee at the 5th floor cafe of the 1933 Slaughterhouse. Don't let the name fool you--it's now a gorgeous brutalist art space, and the cafe has an actual garden, I was dying. 
     
  • Spending an entire day at the 'No. 1 Water Village'. Venice has nothing on the extremely well-preserved Zhouzhuang. Plus the whole place has a creepiness factor that just makes it more worth the trip. 
     
  • Taking a picture with Kylo Ren at Shanghai Disneyland. Riding the Tron Light Cycle at Disneyland. Dropping your jaw at the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Shanghai Disneyland. Just. Shanghai Disneyland in general. 

Thanks for Everything, 2017

Hello and welcome to 2018! It's been one HELL of a year in more ways than one, but I wanted to sort of end it on a happy note. 

I joined this group of writers who joined the #WriteAway retreat last October, and everyone's been all over the group talking about their 'word' for 2018--something like a theme for them to look forward to. I've never been that introspective (except now, obviously), but I realized that 2017 was a test in patience. Patience for things that I know will happen to me, for things that haven't happened yet. Maybe things I waited for this year will happen next year, maybe they won't. But I'm glad I have something to show for it at least. 

And I made it in collage form. 

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Things I'm Grateful For 2017:

  • Publishing the Queen's Game. A Filipino royalty romance has long been running around my mind, but it wasn't until we went to Batanes that it fully formed. This book went through so much, it almost became something else completely. But I'm glad I made it the way I did, and on my own terms. Now it's being live read (again!) very, very soon. 
  • Playing with watercolors. Last year I was wondering why I should bother with this particular skill if it wasn't going to make me money, but I realized it doesn't have to be. I can paint because I want to, whatever I want. Last year I was terrified of painting landscapes, but with a little bravery and practice, I enjoy it a lot now. 
  • #romanceclass--my happy place, my safe space. This group changes lives, makes everything better. 
  • Writing more books! This year I wrote Making A Scene (which will be part of the #romanceclass Flair imprint), The Queen's Game, Baking Me Crazy, a book about London with lots of food in it, Chasing Mindy, a book about a two crazy kids visiting Paris together and maybe, maybe, a single parent romance. It's been a prolific year for someone who only published one book, but you see what I mean by patience? 
  • Travelling. I mentioned somewhere before that at the start of 2017 I felt so grounded. There were days where I would feel the routine settling into my skin like dust, and some days it made me want to scream. But it made actually going on the trip all the more sweet. 
  • Launching a book--in bookstores! Was something I almost forgot, and ironically, it's been a goal for so long. I'm not going to talk about how that makes me feel. But It's good to know that goals change. 

Designing The Queens Game Freebies

Have you heard, have you heard? One month from now, we'll be flailing in feelings for #FeelsFest2017! To be held on October 14, 2017 at Commune Cafe, it's going to be an afternoon of books, live readings and lots and lots of giggling. Very obviously, I can't wait. Not just because of the readings and seeing the community again (we're getting nametags this year and THANK YOU), but also because it's going to be the first time that The Queen's Game will be sold at the event! It's a little launch party for Princess Nina and Prince Felipe too. 

To mark the occasion, I decided to design a little sticker for anyone getting a print copy of the book. I love designing book covers and freebies almost as much as I love writing the books, so I thought I would walk you through my design process and help you get a bit of inspiration to try it out yourself!

Ready? Okay!

Step One: Gather Inspiration 

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This is usually where a Pinterest board comes in handy. Look at your reference material (in this case, the book itself) and from there try to gather pictures that you can use as inspiration for your design. I was looking at the pretty chocolate packaging from Demel (a chocolaterie from Vienna that's been around since the 1800s and kept the original packaging!) and a couple of other things that have been floating around my radar. Plus Van Gogh's Sunflowers, because, well. Sunflowers. 

Step Two: Start Sketching!

From the inspiration board, i knew I wanted to try making a round sticker. I knew I wanted to use flowers, for Felipe too. So from there, and using the ideas from the inspiration photos, I made a few sketches. Experiment with different styles, explore what kind of text or look you want for your sticker. No need to be super detailed here yet, just try to narrow it down to what you really want. 

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Step Three: Final Drawing

Look at your sketches and see which one you're most comfortable working with. Some artists try to redraw their favorites into bigger pieces of paper to really plan out how it's going to look, and you're free to do that too, of course! But since this is a 'quick' version of my usual process, and I was limited by the place I was in (hospital rooms do not make you productive!), I settled with a pen an ink drawing on the notebook I had on hand. 

 Take a photo of your final drawing, preferably in black and white with really good lighting. This is where your phone's photo editing apps can come in handy, if you prefer to do this digitally. Or else, make a final drawing on your paper and paint away!

Take a photo of your final drawing, preferably in black and white with really good lighting. This is where your phone's photo editing apps can come in handy, if you prefer to do this digitally. Or else, make a final drawing on your paper and paint away!

Step Four: Painting 

You can color or paint your sticker design any way you like, of course, but for this one, I played around on the Procreate App. It's really the best drawing software on the iPad that I've tried, and even the best artists out there use it too! It's definitely worth a try. 

Check out the video below to see how I did it! (note how I had to use a picture of a circle to make a circle in the app hahaha). 

Step Five: Import to Photoshop, clean up

Procreate has a PSD export option, which saves me a lot of time and heartache. If you did this manually, scan your art into Photoshop, and make some final adjustments. Make sure you delete the background layer and save to PNG! 

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And that's pretty much it! I'm still deciding if I should go through a printer or just print them on my handy dandy printer here at home, but I'm really happy with how it turned out. People who purchase a copy of the Queen's Game will find this freebie stuck inside!

Got any questions about my process? Leave a comment below. :) 

Paris, Ooh la-la!

I thought that I already knew everything about this city. But I'm almost happy to find out that it's not quite true. I also told myself that I would one day write a story set in Paris, but that has yet to pass. We'll see if I can make it work. 

But until then, these are just some of my favorite photos from Paris. I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I loved taking them. 

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Experiences you can't miss:

  • Cafe-side sideway glances at Parisians and tourists alike from Saint Germain. 
  • Be a cliched tourist and wait for the Eiffel Tower to sparkle from the Trocadero Gardens. 
  • Pay proper homage to Manet's Olympia at the Musee D' Orsay and find out why I love her so much. 
  • Walk through the Opera Garnier and wonder that it's like to perform there with all the gold. 
  • Gasp at the sight of the Saint Chapelle
  • Sit on the green chairs at the gardens and chill for at least an hour. Preferably with a Brioche Doree pastry and a coffee in hand. 
  • Get foot blisters from walking.