Booktalk : Monday 2007 June 11

The books brought and discussed this month were:

* MVP (Written by Douglas Evans, illustrated by John Shelley)
* The Quarreling Kites (Written by Lin Acacio-Flores, illustrated by Hermes Alegre)
* One Foot, Now The Other (Written and illustrated by Tomie de Paola)
* The Dragon Who Couldn’t Breathe Fire (Time-Life series on values)
* The Sign of the Seahorse (Written and illustrated by Greame Base)
* Hoppy no Atarashii Uchi (Story and pictures by John Shelley)

Below is a more detailed report from Nikki Torres about our June Booktalk/Critique.

Beaulah Pedregosa Taguiwalo
RA, SCBWI Philasia


A hen party – this if often what a SCBWI Booktalk reminds me off, and the last one held last June 11 was no exception.

As has happened many times before. all the people who attened were women. We came, we got down to the all important schmoozing and when we were certain that no one else would arrive, we started the serious business of the Booktalk. Of course, by the time this happened, we were all quite friendly with each other. This is the power of chit chat.

I started the talk with MVP, a book illustrated by John Shelley and written by Douglas Evans. After introducing myself (Nikki Garde-Torres, writer, ARA), I told everyone how John Shelly had gifted me with this book right after the wonderful workshop he conducted for us last May. He had actually given me a choice of books and I chose the one which I felt my twelve year old daughter would enjoy reading. MVP, which stands for Magellan Voyage Project is the story of a twelve year old boy who joins in a competition to circumnavigate the globe in 40 years. It follows him though the trials of travel. In the end, winning ceases to be the major goal, rather, finishing the race is an act of triumph in itself. The illustrations were in black and white and were quite whimsical, they truly enhanced the story. All of use agreed though, that the title was rather boring and made it sould like a book about sports. We felt that Magellan Voyage Project would have been a much better title.

Gina Lopez followed. She is a dentist turned chef and caterer and one of the three ladies present who were taking part in a Creative Writing class taught by Barbara Gonzalez. Her book was Lin Acasio-Flores’ The Quarelling Kites. It told the tale of the relationship between fathers and sons through inanimate objects – kites. She loved the illustrations which were actually paintings done by Hermes Allegre. For Gina the story was a bonus because the illustrations were just so beautiful.

At this point Beaulah mentioned that some people think the kites in the story alluded to homosexuality – something that most of us found shocking. Beaulah said it may not be true at all in this case, but the point is, a book is never finished until it’s read. The reader “finishes” the book and “finishes” the story. Because each reader is unique, the book is a unique experience with each reader, and even with each time the same reader reads the same book.

The next person who spoke was Len Manuel. She is 57 years old, has three chidlren, and has just finished a certificate course in early childhood development. She was also in the creative writing class as Gina. The book she shared was “One Foot, Now the Other” by Tomie de Paola. It dealt with a granchild and his relationship with his grandfather who had recently suffered a stroke. Len was surprised that it was possible to have a children’s book on this topic. She was even more surprised at how well it was written and illustrated. Beaulah mentioned, not for the first time, that Tomie de Paula is a SCBWI board member and that he started his career as a liturgical illustrator.

We had two “Vivian”s that night. Our first Vivian, Vian Hermo spoke next. A long time staff member of the Westin Philippine Plaza, she has just recently liberated herself from work and is now part of the trio who were taking the same creative writing workshop. Unfortunately, she did not bring a book that evening but she promised to bring one the next time. We will hold you to that promise Vivian!

The other “Vivian” was next. Her name is Vivienne Magalindal, and she is a multi-linguial storyteller. Her story was “The Dragon Who Couldn’t Breathe Fire”, a book that is part of a Time-Life series on values. In this case, the story dealt with the beauty of being different. Vivienne has a soft spot for this topic, especially because she is a member of the ADHD Society and is a high-functioning person with ADHD herself. For Vivienne, being different is what makes us the same. She loves the clean lines of the illustrations which she said are in direct contrast to the drawings in some Pinoy cartoons. The illustrations are indeed well done, with colors which normally one would not think of for children. Like grey, for example. It was a pity that as part of a packaged series, the author and illustrator are not acknowledged on the book cover.

Next was our friend from the Manila Women’s Forum (MWF), Marianne Stanley. She was also an attendee of the John Shelley illustrators workshop that we hosted last May 26. Originally from New Zealand, Marianne has been in the Philippines for four years now and teaches in various International Schools. The book she brought was “The Sign of the Seahorse”, written and illustrated by Greame Base. I was sitting right beside Marianne and I must say that the illustrations for the book are fabulous – topped only, for me, by the beautiful, beautiful poetry in which the story is writtem. The entire thing is in verse and it is lovely. If I had been given a choice on which book brought there that evening I would borrow – it would have been this one. I can spend the entire night just reading it out loud.

Finally, it was Beaulah Taguiwalo’s turn. Being an illustrator herself, she chose a book that was written and illustrated by John Shelley, in Japanese – Hoppy no Atarashii Uchi (Hoppy’s New House). The book was also given to her by John, and also discussed by him in his Powepoint presentation about his works. Beaulah noted that just as John said in the workshop, many of his illustrations are drawn from what he has experienced in his life and seen in his travels. A tree in a forest in England, for example, or his fellow students at his dorm. She related how John, who had stayed in Japan for 20 years, was proudly not of the Manga school of drawing. Rather, he has retained his very detailed, very British style. Beaulah said it is very apparent that John is highly skilled at freehand drawing. It is something that Beaulah said she’d naturally note, as she herself has a great love for illustrating too. For her, being awake means she is either reading or drawing. It’s easy and it’s fun for her, she says, so she believes that is what she is meant to do.

True to our commitment, we proceeded to the critiquing portion of the evening. Everyone was first reminded of some ground rules, and then we turned our attention to a manuscript that was presented that evening. It was a story in progress, written by Gina. We told her what we liked about her story, and also what we felt could be improved. In the end, we all agreed that she already had what was the most imporant – a very compelling story. Gina took all our comments well, which she wrote down in her notebook/journal – something that the rest of the people around the table apparently have with them too, most of the time. For Gina, her notebook/journal is where her thoughts, future stores, and perhaps even a recipe or two resided. Congratulations to you, Gina, for having the courage to share your work. We look forward to seeing you and your story in our future meetings, and we look forward to eventually seeing it in print!

We still had one manuscript to discuss, sent by Chiles Samaniego. But since we were running out of time, we decided to save it for the future. Thus ended another enjoyable SCBWI meeting – a Booktalk and Manuscript Critique combined. See you next second Monday next month, July 9!

Dominique Garde Torres
ARA, SCBWI Philasia

June 23, 2007 at 1:41 pm Leave a comment

Writing workshop, 2006 Nov 11 : Alice McLerran

By Dominique Garde Torres (Nikki)

Another workshop done.

As I settle down to write this entry, I realize that it’s been a long time since we updated our blog. No excuses – this is one thing I cannot pin on typhoon Milenyo, nor on my work at the CCP, nor even on the SCBWI activities I have been so busy with. Just really on the extremely busy state my mind has been in for the past few weeks.

Yes, I have been using a bit more of my brain power than usual. And this is all the fault of Chris Eboch, who gave a workshop earlier this year and Alice McLerran who gave another workshop just last Saturday, November 11.

Chris, through all of our long, long hikes, spoke to me about nothing and everything and in her quiet way encouraged me to speak up, express myself and write. Alice, through her many, many personal anecdotes has given me truly valuable tips on how to write.

As I told Beaulah, at the end of the day, I felt immense satisfaction with both women and with both workshops – but the flavor was somehow different for each. The visit of Chris of course was recorded almost minute by minute in 5 entries in this blog. So now, I proceed to Alice.

Preparations for this workshop went quite smoothly. I know it is patting myself on the back, but by this time, Beaulah and I have evolved a routine for the preparations, one which allows us enough time to get things ready to our satisfaction. Camping out at Figaro in Greenbelt (NOT Glorietta), we made our plans and without much fuss executed them. We sent the e-mails, made announcements, booked venues, accepted payments and spoke to caterers – almost all these activities we managed to do at “our” corner table in the little coffee shop. Sometimes, for a change of pace, we would stay at McCafe. The waiters grew used to us and would even direct various registrants to our table.

See, that was all we needed to put this workshop together : a table at a coffeeshop which was WiFi ready, and our cellphones. In between our marathon meetings, we e-mailed each other (5 to 10 messages a day) and texted many, many times.

Things were going so smoothly that I think we decided to rock the boat a bit and (a) have Beaulah form a family owned publishing house, (b) print six editions of one, wonderful book.

Actually, the book was in the picture from the very beginning. We knew we would be doing it and thought we knew the preparations needed. And so we dove into the exciting, exhilarating world of publishing.

To begin with, Beaulah had already gotten Alice M’s permission to illustrate and translate her beautiful story “The Mountain That Loved the Bird” into five Filipino languages (Tagalog, Iloko, Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a, Binisaya). This plus English meant we were going to launch, on November 11 as part of the workshop, six books and introduce Mother Tongue as a publishing house.

So we went to our sources and found translators for each edition. As each translation was finished, we found still other friends who would back-translate to English, just to be very, very sure that the poetry of Alice’s language and the beauty of her story was captured accurately. In our conversations with these artists, we learned that there are some words which are really, really hard to translate: cellphone, copyright, published by. And, we found that there are phrases in the local dialects which capture the meanings of Alice McLerran so wonderfully.

And then, there were the endless trips Beaulah had to make to the printer – to negotiate, to barter for more time, to supervise. Thankfully, Mark and Homer were also there to help.

The morning of the workshop dawned bright and early. The threat of a new typhoon never materialised and the day was actually quite sunny. As organizers, we were at the venue by 6 am, Alice came by 8. By 8:30 as instructed, the workshoppers were there, and by 9:15, we started.

Here I am below with Beaulah and Alice, having an early morning meeting.


In the morning, Alice shared stories of her life as a writer. Through her many, many colorful tales, we learned. I don’t know what the others learned but I certainly got a bit more focus to my writing after finding out how Alice worked. I also found little bits and pieces of what I had been doing wrong (or not quite right), and just as important, I found out that I was not hopeless after all, and that some of the devices I used to encourage myself and my daughter to write were also used by this brilliant writer and teacher as well.

Alice, a very opinionated yet gentle lady, had a million stories to tell. Not every story was meant to teach I think, there were no hard and fast morals here, but certainly they were all quite entertaining. It became my unhappy task to signal her, “Alice, time’s up,” or “Alice, lunchtime.” Sigh…. It sure made me feel like the dragon lady.

The afternoon was devoted to group critiques, preceded first by the entire class talking and commenting on Carla’s manuscript. After that, it was the launch of “The Mountain that Loved the Bird.”

I must be honest and admit that as Alice read the book, and later as Hermie read the Iloko translation, I had to stop myself from crying. Quite apart from the pathos and the beauty of the story itself, the experience of having, in some small way been part of the birth of this book just hit me. I am not prone to public displays of affection but for one of the very few times since Beaulah and I met in 1987, I had to go over and hug this woman, in gratitude for having given me the opportunity to be part of this project and out of sheer joy that the books, which up that morning were still at the printer, were finally, actually done. Wow! and again wow!

Here below are Alice and Beaulah signing copies of their book.


As always with these activities we made many new friends and strengthened our ties with some old buddies. Jane and Euly of Filipinas Heritage made our lives easier by providing us with everything we needed at the venue. Cindy and her husband Resty of Goblet Catering were a new and delicious discovery. My tokayo, Nikki Dy-Liaco showed up with cheer and copies of her award winning book. Our hardworking and greatly rushed translators – Hermie, Genevieve and Grace came to share wonderful readings from the book they had worked so hard on. Carla Pacis, initially surprised that she alone would be critiqued by the entire group, gamely read her story and accepted all comments with grace. The young ladies of Miriam, our ever present pre-school and grade school teachers, writers, illustrators, people from advertising, Jitz and Neni Aguirre, a mother and son team, and the cheerful team psychologists, so many professions were represented – all came and all shared. Other old buddies, Neni, Lina, Karina were roped into being “leaders” of each group discussion, something they did with more than competence.

Here below is one of the group discussions, with Alice in attendance.


Finally, there were the translators – Rene (I wish you had been able to come), Grace of the gentle voice, Genevieve who could concentrate through the din of McCafe, and Hermie of the boundless enthusiasm. Bravo to all of you and to my buddy Dingdong and my Daddy too, who in one morning helped out with one aspect of this book.

Of course, there were glitches. Murphy’s Law will always apply. But between myself and Beaulah, her two sons and the rest of her household who came to help, all was resolved, and in the end, we achieved what we wanted. Manuscripts were critiqued, we learned quite a bit from Alice, and six editions of The Mountain that Loved The Bird weres launched. Mother Tongue was presented to the world for the first time.

And so ended another activity of SCBWI Philippines! Tomorrow, Beaulah and I meet to discuss 2007. Watch out everyone, there will be many more activities like this and, God willing, many more books from Mother Tongue.


February 5, 2007 at 12:26 pm Leave a comment

Booktalk, 2006 Oct 9 : Light, and pigs

By Dominique Garde Torres (Nikki)

Beaulah and I suspected that it would eventually be a Booktalk with just the two of us. With the messiness of everyone’s schedule this was bound to be the case sooner or later. And that is what we thought would be on October 9.

Much to our surprise, two people showed up. Patrice Hill came and wanted to stay, she even brought a book with her. Unfortunately, after registering for the November workshop and chatting for a bit she had to leave for another appointment. Darn!

However, just a few minutes before Patrice left, David Larkin, writer, illustrator and publisher of The Modern Teacher came. So now there were three – Beaulah, Nikki and David.

I started the booktalk with Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Ring of Endless Light.” L’Engle is a writer I fell in love with as a teenager and who my eleven year old now enjoys as much as I did. The choice of this book was a no brainer for me. You see, one evening, as I was watching television, my daughter ran upstairs. Fifteen or twenty minutes later, she came down and presented me with the first poem she had ever written (or at least the first she ever showed me). This poem was inspired by “A Ring of Endless Light.” So, as I said, no brainer. I had to share the book that unlocked the door to my daughter’s literary creativity.

Briefly, this book tells the story of how a 15 year old, Vicky Austin, copes with the death of a dear family friend. As the story continues, she must, along with her other siblings, cope with a dying grandfather. Complicating matters are the three young men who are after Vicky’s heart – Leo the boy next door, Zachary the handsome but dangerous young man and Adam, the calm would-be scientist. In the end, Vicky gets comfort from an unexpected source – dolphins who are being studied by Adam.

Like all of L’Engle’s books, this one focuses on the inter-relation of all living creatures, human and non human and their ability to communicate. As always, the author is not afraid to touch on painful realities, such as death. Again, like all of L’Engle’s books, this is part of a series – each of her books deal with specific characters. Young people reading these books are spurred to read the next in the series to see how each character grows and develops.

In closing, I shared my Ruth’s poem. Below is an excerpt:

The world is like a pool of light
In the middle of it all it shines so bright
A light that sparkles in the breeze
A world that dances like the trees

Within this light we see
A mixture of feeling of people and me
A circle of happiness, anger and feeling
Within a mixture of love all in all completing

…So in a galaxy so full of light
The world is like a pool of light

Dave was supposed to be next. Unfortunately, he had forgotten to bring a book for children. Instead he had The Modern Teacher with him. This was a family publication meant for teachers around the country. It had about 60,000 subscribers.

So Beaulah then stepped up. She had actually brought three books, all on pigs, all published within a year of each other in 1989 and 1990. We briefly discussed what could have happened in those years that brought this resurgence of pig stories.

The tome she chose to share was Rene Villanueva’s “Ang Unang Baboy sa Langit.”. As Rene mentions in his book of essays “Personal,” this was his very first children’s book. Rene of course, is one of the country’s most prolific writers with over 50 stories and 30 plays as well as 29 Palanca Awards to his name.

How “Ang Unang Baboy…” came to be is an interesting story in itself. The Philippine Board on Books for Young People which was founded twenty years ago used to have a story telling hour at the Luneta. One day, the story teller for the day ended her stint rather quickly, leaving the children present wanting more. PBBY founder and now National Artist for Literature told Rene to tell the children another story. And so, literally off the top of his head, Rene told this story, inventing it on the spot. Later, it became, for Rene a simple matter of writing is down. And, as with many of his works, winning an award for it.

The book tells the story of a pig unlike any other pig. He is clean, he is respectful and he understands his role in life – to be lechon and chicharon. As such he earns the ire of the other pigs. In the end, he is slaughtered, and does become both lechon and chicharon. What is unusual is that he ascends to heaven – the first pig saint.

The book has parallel text of English and Filipino. It interested Beaulah to note that the story, the illustrations and the lay out of the parallel text were all copyrighted to specific people. The Filipino version seems to target anyone from 3 to 8 years of age who could listen, but as with many of his works, Rene did not hesitate to use complex words and ideas. It is hilarious and in many instances, irreverent.

The ideas are the kind which will encourage young people to ask questions. As simple as the story is, the tendency is to keep processing it and to keep on asking questions. Published in 1990 by Cacho Publishing, it is part of the Trampoline series, which is their line of affordable books, which at that time was priced at P50 and and below.

Beaulah also briefly spoke about “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” as told to Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith (Viking, 1989). It is a re-telling of the story of the three little pigs from the point of view of the wolf. The wolf contended that he was innocent and that he was framed. This sparked a discussion about point of view. Someone said that it actually is an interesting exercise for future story tellers. In one workshop, Rene Villanueva himself used it in one workshop, where he asked children to re-write the Cinderella story from the point of view of one of the other characters. The results were hilarious.

Thus ended out Booktalk. Come to the next one, second Monday as usual, November 13. As usual, from 6 to pm at Figaro in Greenbelt 3.


February 5, 2007 at 12:05 pm Leave a comment

Booktalk, 2006 Sep 11 : Neither floods…

By Dominique Garde Torres (Nikki)

Among the things I love about the booktalk is the fact that neither floods nor national holidays nor the possibility of terrorism have ever caused us to cancel one. Thus, on February 13, the day before Valentine’s, we had our biggest turn out ever – this was when Lara Saguisag was our guest speaker. I didn’t think that we would get many people, considering how seriously Filipinos prepare for Valentine’s but I was obviously wrong. And on September 11, a day of infamy, a day where all the security guards of the world are warned to be extra vigilant, we had another booktalk.

Aside from Beaulah and myself, three old friends came – Steve Lupton who taught English to Korean students, Nikki Dy-Liaco, recent National Book Awardee for best Children’s Book and Patrice Hill, a teacher at the International School. All three had attended their very first booktalk in February – Lara’s day. So as they joined us at our table, the conversation went to “Oh, were you there as well?” and “I was seated against the wall, where were you?”

As always, it took a tiny bit of effort to pull ourselves out of our schmoozing and chitchat mode and into the business of talking about the books we had brought. Getting to know each other is really as much fun as getting to know our books.

I went first. The book I had with me was William Pene Duboi’s THE TWENTY ONE BALLOONS. First published in 1947, it received a Newberry Award at that time. My mother bought this book for me and I loved it. Now, several decades later, I bought book for my daughter and she loves it. Sigh…the power of words and how a good story really transcends generations.

In any case, I gave a very brief and I must say disorganized description of what the book was about. It was really about a little bit of everything – a bit about travel, a bit about volcanos (it talked of the explosion of Krakatoa), a bit about science (lots of wierd inventions) and quite a bit about government (the island was run by a “restaurant” government). The illustrations were wonderful – Beaulah the visual artist noted several technical details that set them off from simple run of the mill drawings. We entered into a brief discussion of 1947 – the post war years simply because the rather utopic government described in the book could have been a reaction to the times.

In the end, we all agreed, it was an excellent book and Patrice promised herself she would buy the tome.

Patrice came next. She had Jerry Spinelli’s STARGIRL. This was a coming of age novel, about a young girl in a typical American High School. An extraordinary young woman (high school students would probably use the word “wierd”), Stargirl never quite fit in with the “in” crowd. Nevertheless, she had enough charm of her own and in the end, won the admiration of the narrator of the story, a young man from the same high school. This book dealt with the issues of conformity and non-conformity for adolescents. It is unique in that it showed not just the female side of the issue, but the boy’s side as well.

As with many stories brought to the booktalk, this one spawned a conversation which was not necessarilyu just about the book.

We wondered if children read what their parents read. We spoke about the influence of American publishers – after all, they get to choose what books are put out in the market. Finally, we asked ourselves if computers and TV are a threat to reading. For answers to these and other queries – attend the next booktalk. Or rather, if you wish to air your opinions on these very provocative topics, join us next time – we would love to hear your two cents.

Steve Lupton, poet and teacher was up next. His book was THE HUMOROUS VERSES OF LEWIS CAROLL. As a poet, Steve loved this book because the poems told the story in verse. And they managed to do this while keeping a distinct rythm. Beaulah noted that a publisher had said that “if you’re going to submit, don;t submit in rhyme.” Steve had already realised this, and in fact had written a poem entitled “Poetry Doesn’t Sell.” Not to be discouraged, Steve told us that a publisher had already accepted five of his poems and was asking for more. OK Steve, we look forward to seeing your published works someday – perhaps you can share them with us at a booktalk in the not too distant future!

Beaulah, the hardworking RA took the floor. She shared what was actually a set of 26 books published by the United Kingdom’s National Literacy Association. These books, one for every letter in the alphabet, was designed for volunteers to read aloud to young children. It is designed to go with UK’s school curriculum. The first part of each book is simple. As you turn the pages, the story gets more ivolved and the spelling gets more complicated. From letter A to letter Z, the same progression shows. Some of the characters are similar in each book.

In the discussion, we agreed that these books would also be excellent for ESL (English as a Second Language) students. It was also noted that when we think of children’s literature, we tend to think in terms of fiction when in fact, the bigger market is in non-fiction.

If this evening had a featured artist it would most definitely have been Nikki Dy-Liaco. (From hereon, she will be referred to as Nikki D. since she and I have the same nickname). Nikki’s first book, THE YELLOW PAPERCLIP WITH THE BRIGHT PURPLE SPOTS won the 2005 PBBY-Salangga Prize. A few weeks ago, it was the recipient of the Manila Critics’ Circle Award for Best Children’s Book. As Patrice said, “What a success story!” On our request, this was the book that Nikki D. shared.

A very simple story, the book tells of the adventure of a yellow paperclip with purple spots. This small piece of metal had travelled far and wide and held much more than a simple bunch of papers together.

Nikki shared stories on “how this book was made” with great candor. Apparently, she a former boyfriend in college at the Ateneo made it a habit to speculate on where various paper clips had been. They made up stories about these simplest of tools and even had a jar where they deposited their precious chidlren, I mean paper clips. The happy ending to this story is that her ex stood at her side during the Book Awards and they finally closed their own story happily.

When the time came for her to write a story for submission to the Salangga awards, she turned to Becca, the daughter of a friend. She just started floating ideas to Becca who rejected each one. Until they came to the paperclip. Together, they put together an entire story of where a paperclip had been. It was also Becca who, in the end, gave the paperclip her color.

Naturally, Becca is a major character in the book and her ex-boyfriend Glenn is acknowledged for his contribution to the story.

This was a rather heartwarming end to another satisfying evening. On the side, I think Patrice has contracted Nikki to speak before her students. Nothing like a real live succesful author to inspire young people!

See you at the next booktalk! Second Monday as usual, October 9.


February 5, 2007 at 11:45 am Leave a comment

Joy Flies in the Philippines! A writing workshop

By Dominique Garde Torres (Nikki)

Here I am, doting mother to a budding writer on one hand, hardworking SCBWI volunteer and ARA on the other hand. That being my life, I had to stay home last weekend because of the illness known as a domestic crisis. In my case, let me just say that I needed to closely review how my house helper is doing and maybe micro-manage things for a day or two. I discovered a few things, and I will not go into details, but you can only imagine the rest of the drama.
In any case, it was rather frustrating to be home, training a new maid on the how and when I want my clothes washed and receiving multiple messages from Beaulah about how the population for our forthcoming workshop has grown. Amazing, but they’re signing up in clusters! And it’s only September! I bet October will bring in even more, and so will November – even up to the last few days before final cutoff. That, we know by experience.

The workshop that I speak of is, of course, “Joy Flies in the Philippines!” a writing workshop with Alice Mclerran. Alice wrote, among others, The Mountain That Loved a Bird, Roxaboxen, The Year of the Ranch and the twin books, Hugs and Kisses. At this workshop, Alice will first speak about herself as writer, will move on to the writing process and finally, a good two hours will be spent talking about the works – and works in progress – of the workshop participants!
Finally, at the end, Alice and my SCBWI partner Beaulah will speak of how the idea of Philippine editions of The Mountain That Loved a Bird came into fruition.
Wheww! Quite a lot for a single day. November 11 – this is the day all this happens. This is also the day I finally take my courage in my hands and submit a work for critiquing. There: I’ve said it in what is a very public blog. No backing out for me now.
For this and many other reasons, I am very, very excited about the writing workshop. The other reasons being that I was in on it from the start of planning onwards. It can get very, very frustrating to miss even one day of working towards the goal of making sure that all is well.
But, as Beaulah says, the Chinese character for crisis is the same as the character for opportunity. On the day I had to stay home to attend to domestic matters, my 11 year old daughter decided to take her courage into her own hands and write her very first poem. With the confidence of the young, she took this poem and showed it to me. Call me a doting mother, but I think the poem was wonderful. I am so very, very proud of her and staying home – while unfortunately missing the registration of a cluster of our workshop attendees – became much, much more than worth it. I will never again be silly enough to regret spending a day at home.
What could possibly warm a mother’s heart more than reading her child’s words? And what better motivation for a mother to attend SCBWI activities and to tend to her own writing, than the courage of her child to put her thoughts on paper? It was a better than excellent young adult’s book that inspired my baby to write this. Working with people who produce such beauty, giving birth to more and more words is beyond enjoyable now.
Before a turn into a maudlin, doting mother, let me invite all of you to attend “Joy Flies in the Philippines!” Slots are still available.
The registration fee is P1,750 if paid by October 16, or P2000 if paid by November 3. There’s a P200 discount as well for current SCBWI members. Either mail a crossed check payable to Beaulah P. Taguiwalo at No. 21 Everlasting Road, Pilar Village, Las Pinas 1750 MM or pay to me, Nikki, or to Beaulah anytime from 4 to 8 pm, every monday at Figaro, 3rd level Greenbelt 3, Makati. Just lets us know! E-mail me at or Beaulah at or call me at 0917-6671267 or Beaulah at 0917-787-4956. 


Joy in the Philippines! A writing workshop with Alice McLerran – photos and info


September 21, 2006 at 1:12 am Leave a comment

Putting the Story in History

Workshop with Chris : 2006 Aug 15 & 16
3rd of 5 Installments
By Dominique Garde Torres (Nikki)

Author’s Note: These are my personal impressions about the writing seminar with Chris Eboch, which was sponsored by the Philippine chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) in Manila on July 15 and 16, 2006. Chris is the Regional Advisor for SCBWI New Mexico, and the author several of books including The Well of Sacrifice, a young adult historical fiction set in 9th century Guatemala. – Dominique Garde Torres (Nikki)

I fully intended to take part in this workshop not just as an organizer but as a participant as well. In my mind, I wanted to take full advantage of whatever the privileges of ARAship are and learn, learn, learn!

Foolish thought. Murphy’s law stepped in and I simply could not focus completely. My apologies to Chris. But my eyes and my ears had to be kept peeled for the movements of waiters and other staff, the needs of the participants and the facilitators, registration matters, etc., etc. It didn’t help either that I had set up my household as such an absolute autocracy with myself at the helm that even as all this was going on, I was getting a million and one calls from them as well about everything from homework to laundry schedules. Sigh….

Anyway, I shall do my best to recount the events of the 15th and the 16th.

Having a “full time” or should I say fully involved staff of 2 for an activity like this is doable but not always practical. A few days before the start of the workshop, my memory and Beaulah’s were going haywire and we kept getting confused with the numbers. Did we have 40 or 42 or 50 or 60 participants? Telephone calls, text messages and e-mails from last minute registrants – and would be registrants – added to the confusion. But again, we were happy. We felt so popular! We finally pegged the food and seminar kits at a number that we felt was safe.

So in they came, a mixed group of writers and would-be writers. We had teachers, retirees on their second careers, published and unpublished writers, publishers, marketing people and illustrators. Unlike myself and Beaulah, the majority were not SCBWI members. In fact I would venture to say that for many of them, this was the first they had heard of the organization. I believe, I truly believe that one and all came with minds open to new possibilities.

Beaulah, the indefatigable RA, started everything with introductions. She introduced herself, she introduced Chris and she introduced the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Then Chris took over and that was that.

Okay, okay. Then Chris took over and started in her rather quiet manner to share herself, her talent and her knowledge with us – at that time a room full of strangers and almost strangers.

Quiet or perhaps serene – these are the words that I would use to describe the way Chris Eboch spoke. She was not a very emphatic person, her voice was never raised. In her entire stay, I never heard her say anything in a very loud manner. She spoke with a very even cadence, her words were measured out with care. At times, she would flash a smile. Sounds corny but this smile, close lipped and rare as it was, did light up her entire face.

This did not mean she was a pushover. On the contrary, she made her views known in a very definite manner and there was never any doubt as to what her opinions were. In any case, she was very thorough in all that she chose to do.

She introduced herself, making sure to stick to the details which were pertinent. In other words, no juicy little tidbits about her love life or anything like that. Even when she mentioned her sort-of-pet duck, Pete, it was to illustrate a point about writing history!

Then she got to know her students. Basically, she learned which ones wrote fiction and which were interested in non-fiction.

Having armed everyone with these very basic but necessary details, she proceeded to the lessons.

She spoke of definitions, specifically the meaning and components of historical fiction. She gave words of encouragement, assuring one and all that there was room in the international market for more works.

She went through each book that Beaulah had sent her and:

a) defined it as a work of either history, historical fiction or of another genre altogether;

b) on the second day gave her very gentle and tactful critiques of each work.

She spoke of the possibility of writing works which could tie in with school curricula, of stories that could entertain even as they taught lessons, and of the use of language and vocabulary. She even gave helpful tips on maximizing the use of specific computer programs!

Dialogue was discussed along with the need for research and sources of stories. The preferences of some editors came into the conversation, followed by the process in the US through which one could get published.

Setting, description, action and again, dialogue. In just one and a half days, we delved into these topics and with her help, gained more than a modicum of understanding of how these elements could push a story forward.

Naturally, Chris also made everyone write. And write. And write. At the one or two exercises which I was actually able to take part, my fingers, long accustomed to typing started hurting. I was no longer used to gripping a pencil for such long periods of time!

As if all this were not enough, Chris still found the time to segregate the fictionists from the non-fictionists for special lessons. And to critique a few works. And for morning, afternoon and lunch breaks. Breaks where we continued to learn, this time from each other as we “networked” and gossiped in the manner of all students when released from the classroom.

All in a day and a half! Whew!!

In the end, most of us came away satisfied. I hasten to add that this is not merely my opinion. Ever concious of trying to improve for the next activity (calendar it: November 11, with Alice Maclerran) we distributed evaluation forms after the workshop. We got no complaints at all about Chris, a few comments about the tiny bathroom and many, many calls for more such activities.

Of course, at the end we had our group picture taken. If you look at our “class picture,” it’s nearly a sorority. But one and all, even our very few men, had big smiles plastered on. I am excited to find out in the next few months, which of the 41 will remain in our sphere, will become SCBWI members, will get published, will remain friends. In my mind, I see myself a year from now staring at the class picture and saying “Oh yes, her book launch was last….” or “I just attended the baptism of her child,” stuff like that.

Special thanks again to Ani and her mom Lyn, to Neni, to Guia Yonzon for the comic books given away to everyone, to Rochelle for helping with the registration, to Adarna, Anvil, UST, St. Scholastica’s College and Southville International Colleges. Beaulah and I may have been at the forefront but without all of you, it would have been much duller, much less exciting and certainly less succesful. My personal and most sincere thanks.

Photos to follow soon! Click the link below as well for more on the event.



September 16, 2006 at 5:30 am Leave a comment

Booktalk, 2006 June 12 : Graphic Novels

By Dominique Garde Torres (Nikki)

img_3441-books-v03.jpgA month before this, when we first discussed the idea of focusing on graphic novels in the next Booktalk, I must confess that I was enthusiastic but nervous. I have always thought of myself as a person who loves words but who is, shall we say, challenged in the field of visuals. You can tell by looking at my room, my desk, even the way I dress. Making things pretty or expressing myself through drawings or something visual just has never been my thing.

After much thought and some introspection, I convinced myself that (a) because of my exposure to three or four graphic novels, (b) my basic ability to be opinionated about anything, (c) the fact that I possessed one of the very best written graphic novels of all time and loved it, (d) a book is a book is a book… I decided that I would brave the session.

Here is what happened.

There were nine people who took part in the Booktalk that evening.

Beaulah, the indefatigable Regional Advisor of our SCBWI chapter, started things off with a brief introduction about the SCBWI, a short description of what the Booktalk is like and what we hope to achieve, and a short mention of the writing workshop that we have scheduled for July. A teacher at heart, Beaulah also made it a point to set a working definition of “graphic novel” for the evening: a novel with sequential printed images, all dealing with a single story or moving towards a single ending. She emphasized “sequential art,” and both Ani and Addison across the table nodded vigorously.

Three Incestuous Sisters

img_3443-ani-v04.jpgFirst to talk about the book she brought was Ani Almario – children’s book publisher, teacher and owner of a brand new pre-school, girl about town who seems to have a finger in so many many pies. The book that she brought was “Three Incestuous Sisters” by Audrey Niffeneger. While she was not quite sure if it was a graphic novel or simply a story with many illustrations, she nevertheless shared it with us because she enjoyed it so much. It’s about three sisters whose incestuous relationship was actually not sexual; rather, it referred to their extreme closeness. For Ani, not only is the book very unique, it’s also good for young adults 16 years old and above. Naturally, the question about the proper age for certain books was pointed out by Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, recently retired img_3443-bleps-v04.jpgfrom her 30 plus years of service at International School Manila.

An Urban Fairy Tale

After Ani, we had Bleps – a very young, very shy, very quiet illustrator, and a member of Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan (Ang InK). She shared Lawrence Marvit’s “An Urban Fairy Tale.” It’s about a typical girl, typically longing for her prince charming to come and sweep her off her feet. Her prince charming, when he did show up, was a…….robot! This piece of information alone is actually enough to send me running to buy this particular book.


Karen Kunawicz, a writer whose columns my husband and I used to read, followed. She introduced us to “Jam” – a series of magazines/comic books for tween girls that she and her all female group produced. Dealing with Pinay Power, Jam has four different storylines about four different heroines, written by four different women. In the course of our conversation, we learned that the series is sold directly to schools as well as in img_3444-karen-yvette-neni-v04.jpgNational Bookstore, and that it is the direct competitor of “Witch,” another graphic/comics magazine for girls.

The Life of Gree the Wanderer

Yvette Tan, a writer and a member of GMA 7’s webteam had “The Life of Gree the Wanderer” – a very cheerfully illustrated book by Sergio Aragones. She has had this particular tome since she was in high school, many years ago in 1995. Apart from the illustrations – which reminded all of us of Asterix – she thought the whole book was very well written.

Goodbye Chunky Rice

After Yvette, we heard from Neni Sta. Romana Cruz. Neni has worked for the longest time at the media center of International School Manila. No, she is not a librarian, she says; she just worked with books. This lovely gentlelady (if there is gentleman, there MUST be an equivalent title for women, I insist) shared Craig’s Thompson’s “Goodbye Chunky Rice” – a rather poignant story of loss and friendship. Taking her responsibilities as a part of the Booktalk very seriously, Neni actually marked certain pages and read from them. Neni is strange – she said she didn’t understand the graphic novel at all but as she spoke about the graphic novel that she brought, she nearly cried over it. It seemed, to me at least, that she actually understood it very well.

“Blankets,” also by Craig Thompson was mentioned at this point. Beaulah had brought a copy that was lent to her by a friend, and it was passed around, examined, and commented on. Both Neni and Beaulah said they would have wanted to talk about “Blankets” too, if there was time and people were allowed to talk about more than one book.

Monkey Vs. Robot

Throughout the entire Booktalk, I was privileged to sit beside Addison, a former member of InK and now a freelance artist. Privileged, because Addison was literally a living, breathing encyclopedia of knowledge of all things pertaining to graphic novels and comic books. He knew everything – from copyright ownership to which writer was the protege of whom. As he sat beside me, he kept muttering bits and pieces of comics and graphic novels trivia. So if there is anything missing in my notes here, it’s your fault Addison! I was so busy listening to your fascinating trivia I’m sure I must have missed a word or two or three. But Addison DID know his stuff.

Anyway, Addison shared with us a book with no words at all: “Monkey Vs. Robot” by James Cacharca. Very simply, it was the story of img_3446-addison-nikki-ria-drix-v03.jpghow monkeys fought against robots over the possession of a hill. In the initial edition, everyone died, monkey and robot alike. In later editions, a monkey survived.

The Watchmen

After Addison, it was my turn. I had Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s “The Watchmen.” I love this book. It was given to me nearly 20 years ago by an old boyfriend. When we broke up, I returned many of his gifts but I kept this book. When he first gave it to me, I was a bit skeptical about whether I would like it or not since I was never a fan of Batman or anyone in a cape. I ended up reading it till I finished at 2 am. Wonderful book, fantastic writing. It speaks about vigilantism and alternative futures. It had a story within a story within a story.

I do not know if this or any of the other novels shared that evening would be good for children. I only know that my daughter shocks me with her choice of reading material and with the stuff she chooses to watch on TV. I guess if I see my Ruth reading this, the best I can do is make myself available in case she has questions about the rather dark material.

And God Cried Too

Next was Ria, obviously a book lover. She arrived, together with her boyfriend Drix who was happy to be dragged along, and between the two of them they had one book: “And God Cried Too” by Rabbi Marc Gellman. Not a graphic novel, but one for young people nevertheless, this book was written in reaction to the events following 9/11. In this book, the Rabbi encouraged children to ask question which would stump even God. At the end of each chapter, there was a section on things to think about.

The Upturned Stone

Last, Beaulah shared one of the three graphic novels that she brought for the evening – “The Upturned Stone” by Scott Hampton, a story that she first found in Heavy Metal Magazine. Beaulah said that the first time she saw this story, she was spellbound by the illustrations. The whole story was a breathtaking series of paintings, all done in a soft, watercolor style. But dark – like the story itself. When Beaulah mentioned that Hampton is regarded as the creator of the first continuing painted comic, there was Addison again, nodding vigorously across the table in complete and happy agreement. img_3447-ani-beau-v03.jpg

Beaulah said she did not even read the story the first time; she simply gazed at the illustrations, frame by frame from beginning to end. She felt that the pictures by themselves already told the story quite well. Of course, when she took the trouble to actually read the text, the story revealed more of itself. And for her, it’s quintessentially Young Adult. For one, the protagonists are a group of ten-year old boys. Another detail that Beaulah mentioned is that among notable graphic novels, “The Upturned Stone” is an example of a creator-owned project. Meaning, Hampton himself owns the rights to the work. Recent news has it that it was being optioned for film production.

Of course, this is not all that happened at the Booktalk. We were continously reaching across the table to get hold of each other’s books, opening them, caressing the pages, scrutinizing the paper, and actually reading them as if we had the time to finish before the coffee shop closed for the night. And, we were busy making friends, learning of each other’s other businesses. From Addision, we learned so much. I wish I had had the time to record all of his “Ma’am, kaunting trivia lang po….” And I was personally happy to meet Karen, a person whose work I had read and admired long ago.

What are the words that I would use to describe how I feel about this Booktalk? Satisfying, enjoyable, a great learning experience.

See you on July 10, at the next Booktalk!


August 19, 2006 at 10:50 am Leave a comment

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