Do you ever make imaginary friends with a character from a book? I do all the time. These are often characters I have made up in my own mind—and yet I still need to get to get acquainted with them from scratch like they’re strangers. If I have done my job right, by the time the book is ready to print, the hero and heroine are my family. I love them.
Sometimes a character does not wait for her own book. She steals the show from the first moment she is introduced. Such a character is Allegra Alazas, the fiercely loyal cousin of Javier Altarejos, and the woman who plays his matchmaker in Under the Sugar Sun.
Sugar Sun‘s heroine Georgina Potter first meets Allegra in a store on the Escolta, in Manila. As she tells it:
Señorita Allegra was perfectly happy to keep the conversation going all on her own, just as she had done for the past half hour. They had met by chance at a dry goods store, and Georgie had not been able to shake the woman since. Allegra could not believe that any American would walk the Escolta without shopping, so Georgie now found herself unfolding a delicate slip of lace, pretending to consider it despite its prohibitive price. Even though Georgie was supposed to be getting married soon, she did not feel sentimental enough about the occasion to plunge into debt over it. This treasure was not for her.
Allegra kept talking. “I have to sew my flowers on dresses now, though Hermana Teresa will jump off the Puente de España before she believes it. Yesterday she says I will fail domestic labors class. Fail! So I say it is okay—one day I will hire her as my costurera. Do you hear nuns curse before? Very quiet, but they do.”
No doubt nuns cursed around this young woman a lot, Georgie thought. Allegra looked demure but was really quite untamed. Black, roguish eyes set off her fair, delicate skin. Her pink lips were small but curvy, as exaggerated as the outlandish words that came from them.
She sounds like fun, doesn’t she? Allegra—or Allie, as she will soon be known—was inspired by the lantern slide photo above. True story. It was the look on this woman’s face that won me over. I thought her story had to be written.
If I had to cast a movie version of Sugar Moon (and I am open to offers), I would love to see Maine Mendoza in the role:
You see the resemblance, don’t you? It is all about the attitude.
Well, I’d better get back to it, or else you will never get to read Allie’s story. I had to do a massive rewrite this past winter, and I’m about 40% through the Big Edit now. There are some complicating factors that make this book tough. The history is real, and I do not want to skim over that fact. (As author Elizabeth Kingston pointed out recently, colonialism needs to be critically examined, even in romance. Actually, especially in romance. I have tried to do this, and I will keep trying—which to me means not ignoring the difficult stuff.) Also, Ben Potter has to be carefully transformed into hero material; he was not likable in the previous book. But he will be, I promise. Barring major problems, I am gunning for a September release. Fingers crossed.
Javier knows perfectly well that his piña fiber is uniquely delicate, transparent, well-ventilated, yet strong. This combination is why piña is the traditional choice for a man’s barong tagalog or a woman’s wedding dress or fancy blouse.
But fine piña is not cheap, with good reason. Every part of its production is time-consuming, starting with the 18 months it takes a pineapple plant to reach maturity. Starting at about a year of growth, the plant’s leaves can start to be cut and processed for their fibers. According to the Philippine Folklife Museum:
The green epidermal layer is scraped off the leaf with tools made from coconut shells, coconut husks or pottery shards. Extraction from the long, stiff leaves is time-consuming and labor-intensive. These fibers are then spun into soft, shimmering fabrics by hand. Because the fiber is fine and breaks easily, working with it is slow and tedious. Workers are constantly knotting broken threads.
That is not the end of the process, either. It takes weeks more to prepare the yarn and then weave it together into patterns like flowers, fruits, coconut trees, and nipa huts—whatever the artist wants. According to the Folklife Museum, it can take eight hours to finish one meter of plain cloth or just half a meter of patterned cloth.
All to make ladies look gorgeous and men look handsome? Yeah, it’s worth it.
[Featured public domain image of an early 19th-century piña scarf was a gift of Miss Mary Cheney Platt to the Met.]
Click the image below for a peek into the world of the Sugar Sun series. Experience the daigon, or Christmas pageant, with Javier and Georgina of Under the Sugar Sun. The link will take you to Instafreebie, where you can download chapter 29 of the novel in the format of your choice.
Happy holidays, everyone! Maligayang Pasko!
And have you signed up for the Sugar Sun newsletter yet? The holiday wrap-up is coming soon. Make sure to get all the latest updates on Sugar Moon by registering here!
I spent many Thanksgivings in the Philippines, and it was great. We had some fun parties, including one at our farm. The only drawbacks were that it was a normal workday for me, and I did not get to watch football live all day long. This year I have a little time off: my exams are graded and student comments written, so wheeeee! And, like in recent years, we will celebrate “Friendsgiving” in New England with two vegetarians. Meh, I’m not big into Turkey, anyway, so I’ll take it.
What would it have been like in November 1899, though, just as the Philippine-American War was moving from conventional conflict to guerrilla war? Yes, the American military had more men, more guns (though not necessarily better ones), and more bullets. And without General Antonio Luna, who had recently been assassinated, the Philippine forces lost one of its greatest strategists. But Aguinaldo made the decision to disband his forces for an unconventional conflict, and that gave the Filipino revolutionaries a new edge. For the American troops, they had to realize they might not be going home anytime soon.
While I have the advantage of hindsight and can easily say that I do not support America’s imperialist cause in this war, none of that changes history. I wonder what was going through these young men’s minds on this day. Thanks to the Philippine-American War Facebook group, and especially Scott Slaten, for posting these photos. If you are interested in this war at all, you really should follow this group. It’s free, the discussions are strident, and the photos are amazing.
These photos are also nice reminders that even in war, people celebrate holidays and birthdays. They even fall in love. (That’s where we historical romance authors come in, as Beverly Jenkins so often reminds us.) But what these men’s families wanted to know was not whether they were having a good time, but when they would be coming home. They would not get their answer for another whole year:
Since most of these soldiers had originally volunteered for what they had thought was a brief war in Cuba, this was probably a relief. Some did re-enlist as regulars, though, which meant a much longer commitment.
For your Sugar Sun readers out there, here’s a little Thanksgiving tidbit for you: Pilar Altarejos, daughter of Javier and Georgina, was born on Thanksgiving 1903. I thought that was appropriate. The couple could be thankful for being together— how romantic!—and I thought it would get Javier’s nationalist back up a little. (Yes, I’m terrible.)
Hopefully, wherever you are, I hope you have a great week. The best thing about this holiday is the reminder to be grateful for something. I am grateful for so many things, but I want to add you, my readers, to that list. Thank you for reading and for following the Altarejos clan through all its ups and downs. More adventures in love will be coming, I promise!