Introducing Allegra Alazas

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.

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.

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.

Lantern-slide-inspiration-Allegra-Sugar-Moon

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.

Sugar-Moon-Teaser-SilhouetteIf 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.

Sugar Sun series glossary term #34: piña

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.

piña glossary for Sugar Sun series by Jennifer Hallock
From left to right: 19th-century piña shawl from the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Philippine-German mestiza wearing a baro’t saya from the Philippine Photographs Digital Archive; and a piña blouse, also from the Met.

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.

piña making for Sugar Sun glossary
Turn-of-the-century photo of girls weaving piña from the Philippine Photographs Digital Archive at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

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.]

Thanksgiving Over There in the Philippine-American War

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.

Thanksgiving Philippine-American War for Jennifer Hallock Sugar Sun series

30TH VOLUNTEER INFANTRY REGIMENT: Thanksgiving dinner for the men of Company “D”, 30th Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the outer Manila trenches at Pasay. The photo was taken on November 24, 1899 and shows the men sitting down to their meal laid out on a long bamboo table protected from the hot sun by a canvas awning. The Soldiers from Company “D” are wearing their blue Army service shirts and campaign hats. Some of the men wear a special red kerchief around their necks, which later became a hallmark of the regiment and earned them the nickname, “The men in the crimsom scarves.” Company D was lead by Captain Kenneth M. Burr throughout their tour in the Philippine Islands. Photo and caption uploaded by Scott Slaten on the Philippine-American War Facebook Group.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.

Thanksgiving Philippine-American War for Jennifer Hallock Sugar Sun series

30th INFANTRY REGIMENT, USV – Thanksgiving Day at Pasay, outer Manila trenches with the 2nd Section, Company G, 30th Infantry Regiment USV, November 1899. The photo shows the men with their Krag rifles stacked on the street of their small camp. Note the sign for the 2nd Section in the middle of the photograph. Photo and caption uploaded by Scott Slaten on the Philippine-American War Facebook Group.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:

Washington Post for Jennifer Hallock Sugar Sun series

From the November 22, 1900, edition of the Washington Post.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!

Sugar Sun series location #8: Malecón

One thing that hasn’t changed in Manila since 1900 is the traffic. One anonymous visitor said about the end of the evening on the Luneta:

…there is a crack of the whip and a grand hurrah and one mad dash for the different homes. I wonder there are not dozen smash ups each afternoon, but there are not. I used to melt and close my eyes, expecting to be dashed into eternity any moment, but I have learned to like it, and I don’t want any one to pass me on the road.

We’ve all been there.

A vintage postcard of the Malecón.

Some park goers did not wait for the end of the evening to race, though. With the old shoreline, the water went right up to the walls of Fort Santiago—or almost. There was a single open road there, called the Malecón, where carriages practically flew:

The two vehicles ate up the open road. Georgie did not consider herself a coward, but she was torn between fearing for the horses’ safety and for her own. Maybe sensing that, Javier put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer to his side. It was too cozy by half, but it steadied her enough to make the frenetic motion bearable.

The two nags kept changing the lead. One would break out in a small burst of speed, and then slow in recovery while the other made his move. They had at least a mile to go until the “finish” at Fort Santiago, and it seemed that Georgie’s original prediction was on the mark: the sole surviving animal would win. It was less a race than a gladiatorial bout.

Under the Sugar Sun

You can find Malecón at location 5 on the map below. (These maps of Manila and the Visayas, which you can find in Under the Sugar Sun, were a suggestion of a faithful reader, Priscilla Lockney. Awesome, right?! But when I tried to find maps from before the port expansion that changed the shoreline, it was a challenge. I ended up making my own from a rare Spanish map reprinted in the Harper’s Pictorial History of the War with Spain, Volume II. I was almost as proud of these as I was of finishing the book.)

Manila-map-1902

The Malecón ran from the Luneta along the bay, “under the yawning mouths of the old muzzle loaders” to Fort Santiago (see 3). It seems like a strange place for romance, but it was that, too. Maybe it was the electric lamp posts installed in 1893, part of a half a million peso city improvement project. Maybe it was the company:

Georgina looked up. This close, she could see honey-colored circles in Javier’s brown irises. They looked like rings on a tree. Did she see in them the same fire she felt, or was this a part of the show?

Gently Javier tilted her chin up, his lips now inches away. No one had ever tried to kiss her, not even Archie, whose amorous attentions had all been by pen. She thought about resisting, but that was all it was, a thought. Javier’s breath was clean. Only the smallest bite of scotch lingered from lunch. Given her past, Georgie had never believed alcohol could be an aphrodisiac, but on this man the crisp scent was provocative. He smelled of confidence and power, yet his lips looked surprisingly soft—

Under the Sugar Sun

Luneta driveway Malecón Manila photograph
“Luneta driveway” taken by a US soldier. Available from University of Michigan Philippine Photographs Digital Archive.

More Sugar Sun teasers

It’s a hot summer! The Sugar Moon teasers have been so popular—and so much fun to make—that I have a few more for you from the rest of the series. Enjoy!


Hotel-Oriente-Teasers


Under-the-Sugar-Sun-teasers


Tempting-Hymn-teasers


I will continue to create more for the #TeaserTues (#TeaserTuesday) and #ThursdayBookTease hashtags on Twitter, and I will post everything I make on both my instagram and Pinterest pages.

Note on all images used: All are either CC 2.0 licensed photos (which I may use with attribution, so check the fine print on the photo) or are released free of copyright (CC 0.0) and found at Pixabay, Pexels, or Unsplash.