Read the series that Courtney Milan called “meaty historical romance . . . must-reads.” And “Like nothing I’ve ever read before.”
*All books are standalone HEAs (happily-ever-afters) and do not have to be read in order.
The Oriente is the finest hotel in Manila… but that’s not saying much.
Hotel manager Moss North already has his hands full trying to make the Oriente a respectable establishment amidst food shortages, plumbing disasters, and indiscreet guests. So when two VIPs arrive—an American congressman and his granddaughter Della—Moss knows that he needs to pull out all the stops to make their stay a success.
That won’t be easy: the Oriente is a meeting place for all manner of carpetbaggers hoping to profit off the fledgling American colony—and not all of these opportunists’ schemes are strictly on the up-and-up. Moss can manage the demanding congressman, but he will have to keep a close eye on Della—she is a little too nosy about the goings-on of the hotel and its guests. And there is also something very different about her…
It is 1902 and Georgina Potter has followed her fiancé to the Philippines, the most remote outpost of America’s fledgling empire. But Georgina has a purpose in mind beyond marriage: her real mission is to find her brother Ben, who has disappeared into the abyss of the Philippine-American War.
To navigate the Islands’ troubled waters, Georgina enlists the aid of local sugar baron Javier Altarejos. But nothing is as it seems, and the price of Javier’s help may be more than Georgina can bear.
Jonas Vanderburg volunteered his family for mission work in the Philippines, only to lose his wife and daughters in the 1902 cholera epidemic. He wishes his nurse would let him die, too.
Rosa Ramos wants nothing more to do with American men. Her previous Yankee lover left her with a ruined reputation and a child to raise alone. A talented nurse at a provincial hospital, she must now care for another American, this time a missionary whose friends believe her beyond redemption.
My wonderful trip to Manila may be over (sigh), but that doesn’t mean sabbatical is over. In fact, since I don’t start the day job until September, I still have half a year left. What will I do with all that time?
I am currently editing Sugar Moon, Ben Potter’s redemption story. What woman is strong enough to bring this man to heel? There’s only one. Allegra Alazas, Javier’s spitfire cousin. This story is a grittier and more suspenseful than the others. Interested? Look for a late 2017 release. (Then, yes, Sugar Communion is next. That’s Andrés’s story. He’s a tough one.)
I also have some great reader and author events coming up. In addition to attending RT Booklovers Convention for the first time, I am helping to plan a smaller, more intimate conference right here in the Boston area. I am the assistant chair of the New England Chapter of RWA®’s Let Your Imagination Take Flight 2017conference. In addition to all the amazing workshops, we have a big signing on the night of April 7th. Your favorite authors will be there, there will be over 20 baskets of books and goodies to win in our free raffle, and there’s a cash bar! See more details at the linked pages or in the banner at the top of this page.
By the way, I will be donating another #MabuhayLove basket to the raffle. The books might be slightly different (I picked up new ones in Manila!), but the concept is the same: emotionally-satisfying, beautifully written global romance.
Finally, I will be doing my research workshop one more time. It’s called The History Games: Using Real Events to Write the Best Fiction in Any Genre. The Hingham Public Library has invited me back to speak to their patrons on April 22nd at 1pm. As with all events I do for libraries, it is free! If you’re in the area, come check it out.
Thank you all for helping make my sabbatical the best year ever! Another big thank you to all the authors and readers who welcomed me so warmly in Manila. It was thrilling to meet all my #romanceclass friends in person. You guys are truly the best.
And, in case you missed it, Tempting Hymn is out and has been getting some nice buzz on social media. Thank you to all those who have helped others find my books by leaving a review. I really do appreciate the time it takes to share your thoughts.
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…!
Once upon a time, Catholic-Protestant strife scorched Europe. In the seventeenth century, for example, about eight million people died in the Thirty Years War, almost a tenth of the estimated total population. Germany’s male population was cut by nearly half. There were also civil wars in France, England, Scotland, and Ireland, killing millions more. The Troubles in Northern Ireland in the late twentieth century were less deadly, but still deadly.
So intra-Christian conflict is not that unusual. Yet, far away in the Pacific, Spanish rule kept the competition away from Philippine shores. From northern Mindanao on up, there was no choice but Catholicism. When a hundred or so Yankee missionaries arrived on Philippine shores around 1900, though, things changed. There was no armed conflict, but the competition was still fierce. At least, the Protestants thought it was fierce. But over a hundred years later, only a small proportion of the Philippine population identify as Protestant—between two and ten percent, depending on whether you include independent nationalist movements with the American imports. Yet, despite this relatively small number, early American missionaries still had a significant impact on the face of Filipino society.
American Protestants did not want to see the return of the Spanish friars who had fled the country in the 1896 Philippine Revolution, and so they spread themselves out as widely as possible throughout the islands, taking up positions in vacated towns. They divided the large islands among themselves: the Presbyterians got Negros and Samar; Panay went to the Baptists; Mindanao went mostly to the Congregationalists; and Luzon was split between the Presbyterians, Methodists, and United Brethren. Only the Seventh Day Adventists and Episcopalians did not ratify this agreement.
Silliman University in Dumaguete was begun by the Presbyterian missionary couple David and Laura Hibbard. In my Sugar Sun series, I’ve renamed the school Brinsmade and taken a lot of liberties with the characters, but it’s not all fiction. A lot of the general priggishness that comes out of the mouth of my character Daniel Stinnett, president of Brinsmade, is stuff American missionaries really said or wrote down. In my new novella, Tempting Hymn, you get a very intimate look at what these communities might have been like. My hero, Jonas, is a good man whose ecumenical faith will be challenged by some of the more small-minded missionaries with whom he works. It was important to me that Rosa and Jonas find common ground in a world complicated by church politics and colonial attitudes. I sometimes get to write what I wished had happened in history.
And, it is true, the missionaries did do some good work. First, they could be more inclusive than normal colonial officials. They offered opportunities for Filipinos to join their ranks as members, ministers, and missionaries. At Silliman, a Filipino had to pass an examination and earn the members’ vote, but if he or she (most likely he) did so, he could be tasked to spread the word throughout the rest of Negros and Cebu islands. By 1907, only six years after the founding of Silliman, there were five ordained Filipino ministers. They could preach in their vernacular languages—in fact, it was encouraged in order to reach a wider audience.
The other key advantage of the missionaries’ presence were the services they provided, particularly in education and health. Silliman was a school, after all. The American missionaries understood that the Thomasites, the American public school teachers, were doing good work, but they still thought that a secular curriculum was incomplete. David Hibbard integrated religion into the regular coursework and included several prayer sessions a week, including three commitments on Sunday. But Silliman’s reading, writing, and arithmetic education did not suffer because of it. In fact, his students had good success in finding employment in the new colonial government:
One boy, Andres Pada, who came to us a raw unlikely specimen three years ago has been appointed an Inspector of the Secondary Public School building and is giving good satisfaction. Another boy named Apolonario Bagay has been appointed as overseer of the roads for a portion of the province and is doing good work there. Four or five of the boys have gone out this year as teachers in the public schools of the province, and though they have not had enough training to do very good work yet, I have heard no complaints.
Okay, that seems like being damned with faint praise, but it was quite complimentary by American missionary standards. And Silliman was so popular in the region that they had more applicants than they could handle. They had to turn away boarders and take only “externos,” or day students. The local elites embraced the Hibbards and Silliman in general. In 1907, Demetrio Larena, the former governor of Negros Oriental province (and brother to the mayor of Dumaguete), converted to Presbyterianism. Silliman is now one of the best private universities in the Philippines, and it might have grown strong partly because of the very favorable town-gown relations, right from the start.
American missionaries did more than educate, though. They also brought medical personnel to Asia. Interestingly, several of these doctors were women. In the Presbyterians’ list of new missionaries in June 1907, there were three single female doctors—two were sent to China and one to the Philippines. Another woman physician, Dr. Mary Hannah Fulton, started a medical college for women in China. One female doctor, Rebecca Parrish, will be the model for a future character of mine, Liddy Sheppard, heroine of Sugar Communion. Parrish founded the Mary Johnston Hospital and School of Nursing in an impoverished area north of Manila, and she would give 27 years of service there before retiring. In 1950 Philippine president Elpidio Quirino bestowed upon her a medal of honor for her work. I’ve taken some liberties (as I do), but her passion for providing a safe place for women to give birth will translate to my heroine, Liddy.
Of course, you might wonder why Christians would want to spread their faith to other Christians—until you realize that, at the turn of the century, many American Protestants did not think Catholics were Christians. They put “papists,” as they called them, right along side infidels, idolators, and heretics. Reverend Roy H. Brown said:
Three hundred years have passed since this people first heard the Gospel from the Catholic Priests, and yet their condition morally is appalling….Saints and Mary are revered and worshiped while Christ is forgotten, and His place usurped….They know nothing about Christ or the Bible; their religion is a mixture of paganism with Christianity with the religious nomenclature.
This bias included a proscription against marriage to Catholics. In the Presbyterian version of the Westminster Confession of Faith at the end of the nineteenth century, it said that those who “profess the true reformed religion should not marry with infidels, Papists, or other idolaters, neither should such as are godly be unequally yoked by marrying with such as are notoriously wicked in their life or maintain damnable heresies.” Since they did not consider marriage a sacrament, you did not have to marry in a church—but the church was still going to tell you whom to marry. I fudged the rules a bit in Tempting Hymn when I allowed Jonas to marry Rosa, a Catholic, though his Presbyterian friends are none too happy about it. (And, you may remember that in Under the Sugar Sun, Georgina and Ben’s parents’ Catholic-Protestant marriage had been a scandal back in Boston.)
There were some more progressive missionaries, of course. In fact, the first Presbyterian missionary to arrive in the Philippines, Rev. Dr. James D. Rodgers, said that the purpose of the mission was “to help Christians of all classes to become better Christians.”
Still, in the end, the Protestants had more in common with each other than with the Catholics. And since the enemy of my enemy is my friend, the American denominations—the Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ, Evangelical United Brethren, Philippine Methodists, and the Congregational Church—would decide to merge into the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). It was their hope that this would provide more unity to fight the Catholic front.
It was not very successful. These more traditional churches would end up losing the war to the nationalized independent churches (like Iglesia ni Cristo), along with the Seventh Day Adventists and more recent missionaries like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But, in the end, numbers may not matter. The real impact these missionaries would have would be social and academic, not spiritual.
Tempting Hymn is about two people of faith—different faiths, actually, which is one of many obstacles the characters must overcome. Jonas is an American Presbyterian missionary, and Rosa is a Filipina Catholic nurse. The book has spiritual elements, but it is not an inspirational romance. (In other words, there is explicit sex. Yay!)
No matter if you are a religious person or not, good music is good music—and that includes hymns. At the school where I teach, we have all-school chapels four mornings a week. The prayers are interfaith and the talks secular, but we sing from the Episcopalian 1982 Hymnal at the end of every service. After a while, a person gets to have favorites. She might even recognize hymns by number.
It was during Lessons & Carols—which is a Christmas-time chapel on steroids—that the idea for Jonas and Rosa’s story came to me. I still have the program I ruined with all my scribbles. When ideas come, you do not wait two hours to go home and write them down. No, you borrow a pen and write furiously throughout the entire concert. Was that a little rude? Yes. But, in my defense, I think the choir would have really appreciated how much their singing moved me. When I finished the book, I knew what the epilogue scene had to be: my favorite solo that opens Lessons & Carols, sung in my imagination by Rosa.
I chose the other hymns in the book based upon their beauty and meaning. I had to be historically accurate, of course, so I worked from the 1895 revision of The Hymnal, approved by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Most of the hymns below can be found by the identifying number given.
Prologue: “Amazing Grace.” This is one of the few not included in the hymnal mentioned above. Though this early 19th century song was included in earlier Presbyterian versions—for example, it was hymn number 519 in the 1874 Hymnal—they omitted it in 1895 for reasons I cannot fathom. But I still used the song. Jonas would have certainly learned this song from older versions, and he would have sung it often for his daughter, Grace. Now the song is the single most frequently sung hymn in the Presbyterian Church USA, with more than sixty-six percent of their congregations singing it twice or more per year. For your listening pleasure, I chose Elvis Presley’s version (below) so that I could showcase a male voice. (And, if youwant to hear the bass of the tune as a solo, listen to this version by Acappella with Tim Faust.)
Chapter Two: Number 589, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” The reader may not recognize the middle verses I used in this scene, but they will likely recognize the title of the song. Everyone from Mumford & Sons to the Christian punk band Eleventyseven has covered it. Sufjan Stevens has a wonderful version in his Complete Christmas Collection, but that video was removed from YouTube. Instead, I found this version by Sarah Noëlle, which is lovely:
Chapter Three: Number 524, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.” I fudged the history here just a bit. The 18th century words for this song are correct, but do not try to sing the notes printed there. This hymn really did not catch on until the tune Cwm Rhondda was written, a year after my character Jonas sings it in the book. I hope you will forgive the anachronism. As befits a Welsh tune by a Welsh composer, the version I have chosen to post here is sung by the Tabernacle Welsh Baptist Church, Cardiff:
Chapter Five: Number 98, “The Spacious Firmament on High.” This is, without doubt, my favorite hymn—and yet it seems to be the least popular to cover. The reason I love it may be the same reason most choirs do not: it is very deist in theology, with a vague “supreme architect” Creator fashioning the universe of planets, stars, and orbs. Moreover, the hymn is by Hadyn. It’s gorgeous! I chose an a cappella version (by a group named Acappella) because it allows you to hear the bass clearly, though the beat is a little fast:
Chapter Seven: “Adoro Te Devote.” Since this is a Catholic hymn, you will not find it in the Presbyterian hymnal. The mass described in this chapter was a Tridentine Mass (pre-1962 Second Vatican Council), which means it would have been all in Latin, and the hymns would have been Gregorian. Have you listened to Gregorian music? Beautiful, but not catchy. And Latin. Did I mention the Latin? Of the various hymns I listened to, this one has the most identifiable melody, probably because the music was not written until after the seventeenth century. Therefore, it was the best choice for Jonas to sing on the fly:
Chapter Eight: Number 24, “Abide with Me.” I used this song as both a hymn to be sung by Jonas while he fixes the mill, and also, later, as a chapter title. It is the kind of hymn that I think a man with a natural bass would enjoy singing because it stays within his range. The lyrics also tell the story of the big decision he is about to make. The version below is sung by George Beverly Shea:
Chapter Twelve: Number 304, “The Church’s One Foundation.” In the story, I make a point of the different directions the bass and sopranos go in this song—opposite, but complimentary. To hear the bass part only, listen to this great tutorial by BassHymn:
To hear all the parts together, I have chosen a video by King’s College Cambridge:
Chapter Twelve (again): Number 692, “Now the Day is Over.” I found this hymn in the Children’s Services section of the hymnal, and it fits perfectly as a lullaby. This version is by Pat Boone:
Chapter Nineteen: Number 276, “Gracious Spirit, Holy Ghost.” I chose this hymn because of its paraphrasing of the Apostle Paul’s I Corinthians 13. You know the passage I’m talking about:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things….And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
I wanted this sentiment in hymn form, which is surprisingly hard to find. Here, at least, is the common tune used for the hymn:
Epilogue: Number 696, “Once in Royal David’s City.” Sitting through this service in December 2013 gave me the seeds of Rosa and Jonas’s story, so I end the book (and this post) with the real deal. No substitutions. In this, the 2015 Groton School Lessons & Carols service, the soprano solo is sung by Phoebe Fry, Form of 2017 (and Barnard College class of 2021). She is a talented singer-songwriter in the folk-pop tradition, so please check out her amazing songs. (The orchestra prelude is wonderful, but you can skip right to the hymn at minute 12:15.) Enjoy!
Thanks for listening, and I hope you enjoy Rosa and Jonas’s story. It is about finding a home for love.