Essential History for Sugar Moon

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I began writing Sugar Moon in 2013. I began writing this blog in 2016. In both cases, that’s a long time ago. It includes years of writing about the Philippine-American War, and in particular the Balangiga incident—a central event shaping the character of my redemption-seeking-hero Ben Potter.

Let’s say you know nothing about what happened in Balangiga—or even nothing about the Philippine-American War. Don’t worry, you won’t need to in order to read Sugar Moon. But let’s say you’re a history geek like me? Well, I’ve written a lot of content just for you!

I have tried to organize this by the most logical questions. Read the captions, and if you want to know more just click on the link below the image. Geek out!

Question 1: Where is this book set?
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Most of the Sugar Sun series takes place in the Visayan Islands in the central and southern Philippines.
Question 2: Why were Americans in the Philippines?
Question 3: What happened in Samar?
Question 4: What else do I need to know about a soldier’s life in 1901?
Question 5: What else should I know about the world of Ben Potter?
Question 6: What should I know about the world of Allegra Alazas?

And you can find out more about Allegra, her home, her family, and her background by reading through these annotated glossary posts:

Question 7: Where can I find some excerpts from this book?

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Question 8: What are people saying about Sugar Moon?

Reviews on Amazon and Goodreads help new readers find my books, and I appreciate the time it takes to write them. Click on the image below to read some of my favorite excerpts.

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I hope you enjoy the book too! I wish you a great history-ever-after!

The Sugar Sun series locations

Want to learn more about the setting of the Sugar Sun series? Click on any of the graphics below. To find these places on maps of the Philippines & Manila, click here to go straight to the bottom of this post. Enjoy your visit!

Bais-Negros-Oriental-Location-Sugar-Sun
Sugar country founded by Spanish & Chinese mestizos in the 19th century. Come for whale sharks, stay for the pretty.
Dumaguete-Negros-Oriental-Sugar-Sun-Location
Beaches, mountains, sugar, missionaries, & sinners. This town is still one of my favorite cities in the Philippines.
Escolta-Manila-Philippines-Sugar-Sun-Location
The Fifth Avenue of old Manila, a place to buy harness and hardware, dry goods and diamonds, and more.
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While you’re on the Escolta, don’t forget to get some ice cream, fresh bread, or delicious coffee at Clarke’s.
Hotel-Oriente-Manila-Sugar-Sun-locations
Learn about the real Moss & Della: manager West Smith & wife Stella of the troubled, faded glory Hotel Oriente.
Luneta-Manila-Philippines-Sugar-Sun-Location
The place to see and be seen in old Manila. Mosquito free! Then the Americans went and ruined it.
Balangiga location for Sugar Moon in Sugar Sun meaty historical romance series
This town is a case study in occupation & a name that every American should know. Essential reading for the upcoming novel, Sugar Moon.
Malecon-Manila-Philippines-Sugar-Sun-location
Where you might play, race, or even fall in love: the beautiful shoreline of Old Manila before the Americans got a hold of it.
Intramuros-Manila-Philippines-Sugar-Sun-location
A medieval walled city plopped into the tropics: complete with moat, cathedral, and cannons. What more do you need?
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Named after Saint James the Moorslayer, but the most famous man to be slayed from this prison was a smart young doctor (and bestselling author) named José Rizal.
Manila-Port-Philippines-Sugar-Sun-location
See how the shoreline of Manila was changed in the first massive infrastructure project of the American Philippines.
Benguet Road location for Jennifer Hallock Sugar Moon
The Americans found a perfect place to wait out the steamy Philippine summers. But how to get there—alive?
Catbalogan-Philippines-Samar-Sugar-Sun-location
Explore this beautiful town at the center of piracy, two anti-American wars, and a grand celebration of peace.


In case you want to know where these places are:

Philippines-Sugar-Sun-series-locations-map
Most of the Sugar Sun series takes place in the Visayan Islands in the central and southern Philippines.

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Go back to the top.

Sugar Sun series glossary term #29: daigon (or daygon)

Christmas in New Hampshire feels surprisingly quiet this year. The holiday season traditionally begins the day after Thanksgiving on “Black Friday”—marking the start of the shopping season, which will bring stores out of the red and into the black with holiday sales. Recently Black Friday has become Black-Thursday-the-hour-after-you-load-the-dirty-plates-in-the-dishwasher. And then this year I noticed advertisements for Christmas-themed books, movies, and products on or before Halloween.

Amateurs.

The Philippines celebrates the longest Christmas season in the world, starting on September 1st—when you’ve officially entered the “Ber” months—and lasting through the beginning of January. (Or Easter, according to how long some of my neighbors had their decorations up.) Once September arrives, stores break out the holiday albums, parols are offered for sale alongside highways, and malls get so crowded that you literally cannot drive by them. Seriously, don’t plan on it. And if you do, don’t fight the standstill. Just put on some good tunes, sit back, and relax. You’re going nowhere quick.

This may not be a picture of me driving by SM Southmall in Christmas season, but it is close enough. Photo by Matzky.
This may not be a picture of me driving by SM Southmall in Christmas season, but it is close enough. Photo by Matzky.

But here’s the secret: if you want to drive anywhere in Manila during Christmas season, do so on Christmas Eve. The roads are deserted. The toll booths are unmanned. Skyway is free for everybody!

This “good night,” Noche Buena, is the real holiday. The day begins with a midnight (or pre-dawn) mass called the Misa de Gallo, or mass of the rooster. (Because by the time you leave church, the roosters are crowing.) The evening is for family dinners, and by midnight on Christmas Day the faithful head back to mass.

There is one tradition that may have gotten lost in big city life in Manila and elsewhere: pastores, or shepherds. This pageant-carol of the Nativity drama came from Mexico, thanks to sailors on the Spanish galleons. Its details, though, soon varied by region. The villains could be anyone from the devil (in half-man, half-monkey form) to King Herod to snooty homeowners.

A cultural dance performance at the 2015 Daygon performance in Dumaguete. Photo from Dumaguete.com.
A cultural dance performance at the 2015 Daygon performance in Dumaguete. Photo from Dumaguete.com.

Today, in many places, the daigon has become a set piece dancing and singing performance. But in the early 1900s Visayas, the daigon (or daygon, from “starting a fire” or “lighting up”) was more like what I described in Under the Sugar Sun:

Javier guided Georgina to a house with a pronounced balcony, the perfect place to start the daigon. Mary, Joseph, and a chorus of shepherds and angels were already assembled. Mary was dressed in a blue and white gown, her “pregnant” belly stuffed full of pillows. The band fell silent as the holy couple sang a plea for shelter to the owners of the house. One did not have to know Visayan to understand the girl’s predicament.

The owners of the house responded in turn, and Javier translated in a whisper. “They are saying that the house is already bursting with people.”

Then Mary sang again. “She is promising them heavenly rewards,” he explained. “I think a literal translation is that ‘their names will be written in the book of the chosen few.’”

“It is beautiful,” the maestra whispered. “What did the people in the house just say?”

“They have turned her down. They said their house is not for the poor.”

“How awful.”

He found Georgina’s innocence endearing. No doubt she knew the story of the Nativity as well as he did—probably better since she actually went to all the novenas—but her rapt expression made it seem like she was hearing the story for the first time.

They trailed the crowd to the next house, where Joseph begged for a place for his wife, “even in the kitchen,” but was told that the mansion was “only for nobles.” When Mary insisted, the doña threatened to let loose her dogs on them.

Georgina looked around, noticing that they were almost at the school building. “They will not sing to us, will they? More importantly, I do not have to sing back?” She looked truly alarmed.

“Do not worry. They will finish before that, at the ‘stable’—by which I mean the town church, San Nicolás. The crowd and the band will amble on, though, begging for refreshments, so we should prepare.”

Georgina’s eyes lit up. “Your aguinaldos!”

He laughed and squeezed her hand on his arm. “Exactly—including your favorite: chocolate.”

There is a fair amount of seduction over food in that book, even at fiesta. Maybe especially at fiesta!

For a young woman, landing the role of Mary was like being crowned the homecoming queen, though she had better be able to sing, too. Fortunately, my character Rosa Ramos was both pretty and talented:

Singing had pulled Rosa through her childhood. Instead of being just the daughter of a disciplined maid and an undisciplined field hand, her voice had made her the best known fifteen-year-old in Bais. Out of all the girls on all the haciendas, she had been cast as the Virgin Mary in the local Christmas pageant. It said something about her life back then that she could not have imagined anything so grand anywhere in the world. She could have been crowned queen of Spain and still not been as happy as she had been that night.

That was a little holiday gift for you—a taste of Tempting Hymn. Here is another gift: the lighting of the huge Christmas tree at Bais.

I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas (Maligayang Pasko!), Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and Happy New Year.

Featured image of the 2010 nativity from the Dusit Thani hotel in Makati, Metro Manila. Creative commons photo courtesy of Daniel Go.

The History Games: Micro-History Models

What is micro-history, you ask? It is the investigation of small units in history—an individual, a small village, a family, or a school, for example. Why is this important? Because large trends, the kind of history you get in encyclopedias, smooth out history to give you only the most average experience. And who likes to read about average? No one!

You want to read about the outliers, the dangerous, the obscure, the interesting! Part of what authors are selling is the chance to live someone else’s life for a little while. Maybe your character is Marianne, a half-Jamaican hotelier seduced by a spy during the Crimean War; or Lily, a diplomat’s daughter who rescues a wounded American Marine in the Boxer Rebellion in China.


Either way, flat descriptions from encyclopedias won’t cut it. You need to mine primary sources for the convincing details of everyday life. Where else would you learn how Marianne chased off a thief with her rusty horse pistol, primed only with coffee? Or how Lily saved her favorite pony from becoming dinner for starving Americans in Beijing?

Marianne and Lily are not typical, but they are believable because they are based upon real people—real outliers. My inspiration for Marianne came from The Wonderful Adventures of Mary Seacolewhile Lily is based on Laura Conger in Sarah Pike Conger’s Letters from China. Cool books! Where did I find them, you ask? At the end of this post, you will find a handout detailing many wonderful places to find free primary sources on the internet: books, articles, artifacts, photographs and videos (if available), illustrations, newspapers, and more, all from the time period itself.

But how do you use this information to create realistic characters and believable conflict? And how do you know what facts to use and what to make up? I came up with five models to help you figure it out:

The Ice Cube Tray Model

My fake characters Marianne and Lily are based upon the broad outlines of real people—one or two sides of a mold—but if I actually wrote books for them I would pour in all the individual hopes, dreams, and even humor that I needed. Here is an example from my writing: I found the original inspiration for my character Allegra Alazas of Sugar Moon from a single lantern slide found at the Philippine Photographs Digital Archive. Why did this image speak to me? Because the half-scowl on the woman’s face seems to say, “Mr. Photographer, you and I both know that you are an idiot, but I am just polite enough not to say it out loud.” Based on what I could discern from the photo, I thought that maybe this woman would have been educated in Manila at a fancy convent school. So I found a few of those in another primary source, a Commercial Directory of Manila in 1901. And what would the woman in the photo say to Sister Elenteria in their Artificial Flowers class? Well, if you know Allegra, you know that she told the sister where exactly she could put her artificial flowers in a country with bountiful natural ones. And Allegra was born.

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The Straitjacket Model

What if you don’t focus on the outliers you like? There always will be archival sources that represent the worst of a chosen era, and these constraints can give you what you need for a foil or villain. I did this for Archie Blaxton, the man you loved to hate from Under the Sugar Sun and Tempting Hymn. I took every horrible thing that came out of an American’s mouth (or memoir) about the Philippines, and I gave it to Archie—and also to the Stinnetts, who were partly modeled after the Coles, teachers in Leyte. (See photo of Mary Cole below.) I call this model the straitjacket.

Straitjacket-Micro-History-Jennifer-Hallock

The Open Flame Model

Real history can also provide conflict, too. Why did Georgina Potter head to the Philippines in Under the Sugar Sun? I found a newspaper article in the Manila Times archive about an undelivered letter. The letter fell into the hands of the wrong person, a teacher, and without any other idea of what to do with it, the teacher sent it to the Times. Since the letter was opened (by accident), the paper could tell its readership that it was written by a very worried sister who did not know what had become of her brother. And I thought to myself, “Where was this brother? What was the sister going to do next? What would happen when she actually finds him?” Good conflict adds heat underneath your character’s feet. I call this the open flame.

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The Millstone Model

For Sugar Moon, I gave my hero, Ben Potter, a troubled past. He was traumatized caused by a real event: the 1901 attack at Balangiga in which 48 American soldiers were killed. Ben’s memories will be shared in flashback form because they shaped Ben into the man he is, for better or worse. (Most of you would say worse, but give him a chance. Or second chance. Well, okay, third.) Ground down by the millstone of war, he is someone new because of this real event. It is a big part of his internal conflict.

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The Fridge Magnet Model

Finally, I use real vignettes and anecdotes throughout my books. A lot of people remember the snake scene in Under the Sugar Sun, and I wish I could take full credit for it. But that really happened to a real American on one of his first nights in the Philippines in the early 1900s. He even had to buy a replacement snake, too! There’s some stuff you cannot make up, and you shouldn’t have to. But you do need those little details that make your book convincing.

Consider this: when you walk into a house, where do you find the small details important to that family’s daily life? On their fridge. (Or their medicine cabinet, but shame on you!) Therefore, I call this the fridge magnet model. These little snippets tell your reader more about a character or setting than Mr. Exposition ever could. For example, the snake story told me how clever rural Filipinos were to use one pest to control another; and it told me that Georgie, for all her pluck, wasn’t going to get anything right her night in Bais. Her “fish out of water” anxieties will be essential to her later conflict with Javier.

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Conclusion

Whenever I approach a primary source, I think: how can this event advance my story or my character development? And you need to be thinking this, too. No matter how much fun it is to research—no matter how many rabbit holes you want to fall down—everything should move your book forward. Stay focused on these five models. I hope they help!

By the way, here is the handout of websites that I cover in the workshop’s “how to” portion: Hallock Micro-History Researching Tips. Happy researching!

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Sugar Sun series map(s) #2: The Visayas

Sugar-Sun-series-Philippines-Visayas-map
Most of the Sugar Sun series takes place in the Visayan Islands in the central and southern Philippines.

While most of the action in Hotel Oriente takes place in Manila itself; and Tempting Hymn is centered in DumagueteUnder the Sugar Sun and Sugar Moon bounce around: from Manila to Dumaguete to Bais to Cebu to Catbalogan…and a little more. (What bang for your buck! What punch for your peso!) With new books in the series, there will be even more locations to explore. Still, this should help you set your itinerary for now. Enjoy!

Maybe I should get a kickback from Negros tourism? I’ll take my pay in bodbod, tsokolate, and rum, please.