And thank you to all those reading and talking about Ben and Allegra:
And thank you to all those reading and talking about Ben and Allegra:
The papers back home call Ben Potter a hero of the Philippine-American War, but he knows the truth. When his estranged brother-in-law offers him work slashing sugarcane, Ben seizes the opportunity to atone—one acre at a time. At the hacienda Ben meets schoolteacher Allegra Alazas. While Allegra bristles at her family’s traditional expectations, the one man who appreciates her intelligence and independence seems to be the very worst marriage prospect on the island.
Neither Ben nor Allegra fit easily in their separate worlds, so together they must build one of their own. But when Ben’s wartime past crashes down upon them, it threatens to break their elusive peace.
Ben Potter is not your typical hero. I don’t say this because of his checkered past, which he has. No, I mean his unusual talent for a male lead in a historical romance: Ben sews.
Ben is the grandson of a self-made tailor and the son of an industrious seamstress. He grew up working in his family’s shop. He was supposed to inherit it—before the Spanish-American War broke out, that is. (Before Ben, like so many other young men, were persuaded by the sensationalist press to “liberate” the Cuban people from Spanish tyranny. That’s not how it turned out, by the way.)
Ben has opinions about the fit of suits. He sizes a man up by his “well-molded shoulders” and “perfect trouser break.” He is the one who visits the tailor several times to make his suit fit. “Even so, the collar did not feel right,” he thinks to himself, and after that he makes his own work shirts. Fashioning a doll for his niece is no sweat, and a sewing machine makes dresses for the doll even easier and faster.
Could there really be a Singer on a hacienda in Bais? Yes! The Singer Sewing Machine company had actually been selling their products in the Philippines since 1882, predating the American colonial period. According to Pinoy Kollektor, over a quarter-million units were sold by 300 Singer outlets in the Philippines by 1912, adding 1500 jobs to the economy.
The Singer showroom on the Escolta was one of the most photographed landmarks on the street, probably because the Americans who saw it assumed it arrived with Dewey’s navy. (Of course they did.)
Ironically, one of the reasons that Americans desired an empire was to sell their goods in Asia—particularly in China, but in the Philippines too. Did they need military conquest to do so? No. As Private First Class Reginald “Malik” Edwards, a Vietnam vet, said of that subsequent war, “Sometimes I think we would have done a lot better to by getting [the Vietnamese] hooked on our life-style than by trying to do it with guns….Blue jeans works better than bombs.” In this case, Singer sewing machines would have worked better than Colts and Krags. Ben certainly would have preferred them.
Final note: for more beautiful, historic Singer photographs, check out the website of Pinoy Kollektor.
NECRWA 2013 in Burlington, Massachusetts, was the first romance writing conference I ever attended, and I will not lie: it was scary at first. I really did not have any friends yet, I was new to the industry, and I had to learn some difficult truths—primarily that the Big Five were not interested in historical romance set in the Gilded Age Philippines. At all. No matter how much they liked my writing, either, as one agent and one editor told me after marking up my pages. Would I be interested in writing a Regency duke for them?
(They were accurately representing the dominant historical chronotope in bestselling romance. I am not defending it, but I have come to grips with the fact that my heartfelt debut story of Georgina and Javier will never be sold in Walmart.)
And yet I have come to realize that meeting with an editor or agent is a great way to get a pulse on the market. I no longer pin my hopes and dreams on traditional publication, and yet I still take advantage of traditional A&E appointments. I put together genuine pitches for what I hope to work on next, and I get ten minutes of helpful feedback. If the agent or editor wants to see a partial or full, I absolutely follow through to see where it goes. Take your ten minutes! And check out who’s coming this year:
(For total transparency’s sake: I am the 2019 Agent and Editor chair of the conference. You’ve been warned.)
But back to my 2013 story: do you know who got me through my initial tearful disappointment? The wonderful friends I made at #NECRWA13! Many of them had never met me before that day, but they sat with me and helped to soften the blow when the very real anvil of publishing flattened me on the pavement. In my six years of conference going, my conclusion has not changed: NECRWA is one of the friendliest regional conferences around.
NECRWA has also become more inclusive, especially in the last three years—whether inclusion means indie versus trad writers, smaller subgenres, or diverse fiction and specifically #ownvoices. Check out the workshops below:
Finally, we have a banging book event. It’s called the T.G.I.For Literacy Book Signing, and for the low, low price of $20 per author, half of which goes to a literacy charity, you can join too! It is free to the public, and there is no book fair with a longer table of gift baskets. At least, I don’t think so. I was the emcee for this event last year, and I think we had over 60. Sixty baskets. That’s a lot of free books.
Are you sold yet? You should be! Please come join us next month. Find the registration links on the NECRWA homepage. And come introduce yourself to me in person—I’ll be one of the conference committee wearing a tiara. (Haha, if you know me, you know how funny that is. I coach American football FFS.)
I am so pleased to be offering a smattering of workshops all over the East Coast this year. Here they are, with descriptions:
First, I will be reprising my study of historical romance at the New England Chapter of Romance Writers of America on May 19, 2019:
Over eighty percent of bestselling historical romance books published in the first half of 2018 were set in Britain, either during the 19th century or the medieval period. These two fabricated chronotopes are selectively accurate to history and narrowly focused on high ranks of the nobility—in other words, they are “escapism.” This presentation will consider what escapism means in this context, who it serves, and who it harms. While any reader can enjoy a good duke Regency every once in a while, the net impact of the most popular chronotopes may be to corrode our understanding of history, marginalize anyone writing from a wider palette of settings and characters, and exclude authors of color.
I originally gave this talk at IASPR 2018 in Sydney, Australia. I will expand my comments a bit because I have more time, and I will answer any questions the NECRWA folks have. Guests are welcome (for a nominal $5 fee to the chapter).
My other speaking engagements this summer will be more focused on history itself and historical research:
On Friday, June 21, 2019, bright and early at 8am (!), I will be presenting at the Historical Novel Society North America conference. My talk is entitled, “Schoolbenches and Trenches: The Philippine-American War Setting”:
Liberate and uplift? Or conquer and oppress? The revolutionaries of the eighteenth century became the redcoats of the twentieth, fighting a war to seize the Philippines (1899-1913) as the first step toward overseas empire. Enter the American Century, complete with debates over transpacific trade, immigration, Muslim separatists, and national security—all issues that resonate for the modern reader. Historian, teacher, and author Jennifer Hallock will explain why the U.S. colonized the Philippines, how this experience still shapes both countries now, and how it creates engaging American historical fiction.
I have given this talk to libraries and school groups in both the United States and the Philippines. Here’s an interesting twist: my Manila audience knew they had been an American colony—putting them ahead of far too many Americans!—but they had not been taught about the Philippine-American War itself or many of the controversial policies the Americans used to pacify the islands. If you want to know more, check out my history posts on this website.
Finally, I will be a part of two workshops at the Romance Writers of America national conference in New York City, this 24-27 July 2019. In addition to being invited to take part in a Gilded Age panel (more on this to come!), I will be giving my own researching workshop:
How do you write authentic characters who are nothing like you? Through lots of research, of course. But beware—flat descriptions from encyclopedias won’t cut it because they reflect only the most common experience. The best characters are the outliers: the unusual, precocious, and maybe even dangerous heroes and heroines. Learn how to find inspiration from free sources online, such as books, memoirs, documents, newspapers, magazines, advertisements, maps, photographs, clothing, artifacts, personal papers, and videos. Though this workshop’s emphasis will be on historical research, especially the 18th through early 20th centuries, it will include tips and tricks for all authors. Just like the Hunger Games series used allusions from ancient Greece to Vietnam, true stories inspire the best fiction, no matter what genre.
I hope to see you this year at one of these conferences or workshops. If you would like me to bring one of these closer to you, please contact me at jen at jennifer hallock dot com. And happy writing!