While I was drafting Under the Sugar Sun,I made character sketches and background briefers on the whole Altarejos and Romero family tree. Before I even knew the end of my book, I knew who this family was.
Let’s look at Javier’s household a little more closely, in the center lower portion of the family tree. Wait, you’re thinking, isn’t Javier an only child? If you remember, he is the only surviving child. Lourdes’s other three died at birth or in infancy—a tragedy that would have been all too common at this time. In Sugar Moon, we learn a little more:
The last delivery had been so traumatic that it almost killed the doña, too. Left with only one healthy son for all her effort, Lourdes had spoiled him with indiscriminate love until young Javier was hustled off to boarding school to grow up. When Javier returned home for his first vacation, he found a new little “sister” in the bedroom next to his.
That “little sister” is really his cousin, Allegra, the heroine of Sugar Moon. Her true story is not really even on this tree:
Early in Under the Sugar Sun, while Javier was flirting with Georgina at the Luneta, he explained that Allegra’s real father was a Spanish friar:
“My aunt never made a public accusation, of course. And my grandparents managed to marry their daughter off to a respectable, if not terribly intelligent, man. Unfortunately, even he could add. My aunt named the baby Allegra, hoping her husband would believe the child a miracle of rapid gestation. As you might imagine, their marriage was not a happy one.”
In fact, the marriage was so unhappy that Allegra’s mother, Raquel, ran off with a Spanish soldier. Horatio Alazas returned the child that wasn’t his to the Romeros—he had given Allegra a last name, and he believed his duty done. Lourdes took her sister’s child as her own, and that is how Allie ended up at Hacienda Altarejos. This whole backstory was inspired by a real Filipina friend of mine who raised not only her sister’s children, but one of their children, as well. Anything for family.
And then, of course, we have Padre Andrés. In Tempting Hymnit explains:
The biggest secret of the Altarejos clan, though, stood at the front of the nave: Padre Andrés was the late patriarch’s bastard son. Since the priest’s legitimacy was never openly questioned, neither was his ordination—but no one who looked at Don Javier and Padre Andrés side-by-side could miss the fact that they were brothers.
More about Andrés’s family will be coming in the upcoming Sugar Communion (expected 2018). I know this is eagerly anticipated by a few readers. I promise that I’m working on it!
One day I might tell more about Lourdes and Lázaro’s marriage, but suffice it to say that Lázaro Altarejos came by adultery honestly. From Under the Sugar Sun:
[Javier] sat in the heavy wooden chair in his office and examined a painted miniature of his grandfather, the first Altarejos hacendero—though Altarejos was not even the Spaniard’s true name. When Capitan Hilario Vélez y Perales resigned his Army commission in Manila, he had balked at the idea of returning to his sowish wife and homely children in rural Altarejos, Spain, so he reinvented himself as an eligible feudal lord on the new frontier of sugar. Hilario “de Altarejos” eventually dropped the preposition from his nickname, won himself a thousand acres of virgin soil for saving the life of the alcalde-mayor, “married” a lovely mestiza who never knew that she was only a mistress, and planted himself a legacy.
That’s the Altarejos clan. Soon I will be making family trees for Javier and Georgina’s children…and more! I can’t wait.
For Javier’s report card, I researched elite education in the Spanish-era Philippines and the program at San Carlos in particular. Detailed biographies of José Rizal and issues of Solidaridad newspaper (out of Madrid) were very helpful. I even looked up the style of Spanish report cards. Grades were, from best to worst: sobresaliente (outstanding), notable (remarkable), bien (good), suficiente (sufficient), insuficiente (insufficient), and muy deficiente (very deficient).
Note: If you cannot read the print of the report card well, there are close-ups below.
You will notice that Javier was not a great student as a young, spoiled boy. Actually, he failed his first year! (See where it says “suspenso”? And see how the courses repeat from 1883-1884 to 1884-1885?) Eleven-year old Javito was not happy to leave his luxurious life as the only child of a prosperous hacendero to attend a strict Vincentian Catholic school. He was certainly ill-equipped for life on his own, as he recounts in Under the Sugar Sun:
[Javier] had not lifted a finger in his house until he left for boarding school. And he meant that—not a finger. What other boy would have gotten a skin rash from not rinsing off his soap? One who had never bathed himself before, that’s who.
Javier was also bullied at first by the older students. A miserable child does not study. This was the result:
As Javier grew and got used to school, though, his grades improved. He was a smart young man who simply needed to apply himself. (Wow, how many times have I written that on a real kid’s comment?) Javier will apply himself…until he gets caught sneaking out to a brothel (with half-brother Andrés in tow). Deciding that Javier needs to grow up, his father sends him to military school in Spain. From there, he makes his way to King’s College, London, where he earns a degree in law. These years in England (and later France!) give him the skills and experience to woo Georgina, so it all ends well.
More of the Altarejos brothers’ history will come to light in Sugar Communion (anticipated 2018), so stay tuned!
I spent the last two weeks of February on an amazing trip to the Philippines. Packing everyone I wanted to see into 14 days—plus romance events!—was a little insane, but I made the most of every minute.
I started the business end of things with an appearance at the Philippine Romance Convention 2017, hosted by the Romance Writers of the Philippines at Alabang Town Center—a mall that happens to be my old stomping grounds. I was honored to sit on the Steamy Romance Panel with Mina V. Esguerra, Georgette S. Gonzales, and Bianca Mori. These are three outstanding authors. Mina’s Iris After the Incident is such an important, sex-positive, feminist contemporary romance that I wrote a whole blog post about it. Georgette writes intense romantic suspense that tackles politics, corruption, and more. And Bianca’s globe-trotting romantic suspense Takedown trilogy is like a cocktail of Ocean’s 11 and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but with more sex. It goes without saying that this was an amazing evening.
While I was there, author Ana Valenzuela and I grabbed a coffee at Starbuck’s so we could chat. That chat eventually turned into this hugely flattering article in the Manila Bulletin, the leading broadsheet newspaper in the Philippines.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before that came out, I was able to do some awesome traveling that provided me inspiration for both my current Sugar Sun series and my anticipated second generation series, which will be set during World War II. I headed to Corregidor with three great friends: my amazing hostess and great friend, Regine; my former student and now accomplished Osprey pilot, Ginger; and Ginger’s husband, Tread, also an Osprey pilot.
Even though I have been to the island several times, even staying the night before, I find each return trip gives me new ideas. I pick up different tidbits on the tour every time. This time, in the Malinta Tunnel, I heard about the crazy parties the Americans threw at the very end, when they expected to be defeated any day. They needed to consume their supplies before the Japanese arrived, and they really needed to get out of that tunnel at night. What happened under the stars, on the beach, when no one was watching? Yep, that is romance material, if I’ve ever heard it. A celebration of life in the midst of death.
Only a few days later, I was on the other side of the channel, on the Bataan Peninsula. This, of course, is the site of the infamous Bataan Death March, where 76,000 Filipino and American soldiers were force marched over 100km without food or water. Tens of thousands died. This is not good romance novel material. But each marker we passed was a reminder of the sacrifice of others who came before.
Regine and I had gone to Bataan to see some even older history—particularly the heritage homes being preserved at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar. On the one hand, I loved this place. It is a resort made up of bahay na batos, bought and moved from all over the Philippines. And, with no other cities or villages in sight, you can almost imagine that this is what Manila looked like during the time of the Sugar Sun series—if you squint your eyes to avoid seeing the ATM machine hidden in the bottom floor of one of the houses. The guides are informative, and the location by the sea is breathtaking. And, if given the choice between having a house moved here and letting it deteriorate or be bulldozed, then the choice seems obvious. With all these homes in one place, a person can truly appreciate the proud architectural tradition of the islands.
However, there are down sides, too. First, these homes are not in their original context, to be appreciated by those who have some claim over their heritage. They are also glorified hotel rooms, rented out for exorbitant prices by the park’s creator. Unlike a national museum, this park is for profit, and it is not cheap to get to, nor stay at. Therefore, the history of the Philippines cannot be equally shared among all Filipinos. Also, the location by the sea is questionable because the salty air will accelerate deterioration. Finally, there are a dozen building projects going on at a time, and meanwhile those already built or moved are degrading. It feels a little like a resort built by someone with ADHD—once one thing is halfway done, it gets pushed aside for a shiny new toy.
But, it is beautiful. And I got to see a recreation of the Hotel de Oriente! I felt like I should be giving out copies of my novella at the door—but, alas, I did not have any with me. The building looked accurate on the outside, but there are no surviving photos of the inside, so they have improvised. And while I applaud them hiring all local craftsmen to do the ornate inlaid woodwork, this interior makes the a Baroque palace look minimalist. Still, I was thrilled to be there. It was a huge rush.
These amazing trips led up to the big event: the combined lecture of “History Ever After” at the Ayala Museum and the release of Tempting Hymn! It was such an amazing day. I talked for an hour about the history of the American colonial period, the Philippine-American War, and the Balangiga Incident. I wove in information about all my characters, even showing character boards with the casting of famous movie stars in the roles of each hero and heroine. (Piolo Pascual as Padre Andrés Gabiana was a special favorite.) I gave some special attention to the new novella, and then I signed and sold all the books I had brought with me. (One whole piece of checked baggage was just books!)
What a fantastic day, and I have to thank the whole #romanceclass crowd for coming out. You guys were amazing! Thanks to Mina Esguerra and Marjorie de Asis-Villaflores organizing the event. It would not have been possible without you. And thank you to my wonderful friend Regine, my advisor, therapist, and accountant—as well as the best hostess ever.
Regine and I spent my last evening in Manila at Intramuros at the 8th Annual Manila Transitio Festival commemorating the 100,000 dead in the Battle of Manila, 1945. Under the leadership of performer and popular historian extraordinaire, Carlos Celdran, we made wishes on the walls of Intramuros, listened to great music, ate great food, and even drank some buko (young coconut) vodka. Yum.
While much of this trip was devoted to writing, one of the truly best parts of being back was seeing my wonderful friends again, including people who have known my husband and me for over 20 years. The Philippines are beautiful, but it is the people who make this place so unforgettable. The fact that two of these people, Ben and Derek, now own three of the best bars in Manila doesn’t hurt, either!
Amazingly, I survived this whirlwind trip, but it only made me anxious for more. I cannot wait to go back. I need to write more books to justify the next trip, so off I go to write, write, write…!