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A Bibliobiography: The life story of my first novel so far

During my young adult creative writing class, I decided to finally write the book that I had been waiting 12 years to write. When I was finishing my undergraduate degree in art studies, I did extensive research on an obscure topic, nineteenth century women artists in the Philippines. With its difficulty, the topic raised as many questions as answers, questions research could uncover no answers to, given the few extant sources and the fact that not one of the subjects was living or had left any detailed record of her life and thoughts. I knew I could only attempt to answer these questions through a fictional work.

It should have been a cinch to write, since I had already done much research, but I lacked a plot and characters. I made a false start once, but although I completed the story, I detested it as too dreary and cynical and unimaginative, doing little more than framing the facts of my research as fiction. It was only after years of reading historical fiction and nonfiction that the right characters and situation came to me. I conceived it as a YA novel, probably since most of the historical fiction I'd read recently was YA. My husband and I buy and borrow lots of YA because he's a high school English teacher, and with an active toddler to look after I found it much easier to read short YA novels than the tomes for adults. Easier to write too.

For my class, with my very organized teacher Heidi Abad, I found myself using the system I ahd worked out when I was writing light romances to share with my friends in high school. I churned out a chapter a week. Whenever I got stuck, I would immerse myself in more reading about the period and would usually find some fascinating thread of information to incorporate that help me keep going. Failing that, I would refer to one of my historical YA books for inspiration on where to lead the narrative.

I received top marks in my class for the novel. Encouraged by this, I decided to submit it. I continued to tweak it now and then for a few months and submitted it to two contests and one publisher. Each time I met with failure.

My friend Honey, about this time, took a job with Flipside, a digital publisher. I thought of mentioning the novel to her. But I hesitated. I had dreamed of it too long as a print volume; besides it grated on my sense of aesthetics to have a historical novel published as an eBook. When she asked me if I had a YA novel, I answered yes but planned to submit another that I had been working on. I thought if a publisher was waiting for it, then I would be pressured to finish it. But with my work for my MA class piling up around me, I realized I couldn't prioritize finishing my new martial arts novel (begun as a birthday present for my husband last year and as yet still unfinished). And so I gave her my historical novel.

It was accepted but required revisions. These revisions had to wait until after the birth of my son in February and my final revisions of my class requirements. I worked on it for two months, then sent it back to Flipside. There were plenty of little details that needed to be refined, the title, chapter breaks and titles and such. But when I was sent the cover illustration, all my doubts about publishing with them were dissolved. Illustrator Adam David's vision of a woman with a partially cut-off face in a frame was almost exactly how I'd envisioned the cover of my book, now entitled Woman in a Frame.

By now the book has been out for several months. I've encountered a number of challenges in marketing it, not the least of these the fact that many of my friends are wary of eBooks, including the teacher who gave me top marks for it. I can't really blame them as I myself hardly ever read eBooks except for research purposes until I had a story published in the Alternative Alamat Anthology the year before.

I missed having launch parties and signings which I experienced when print anthologies with my stories in them were published. But in a way marketing the eBook is easier for me as public appearances are difficult for me with two children. It has also had the benefit of forcing me to maintain contact with the world. When I had my older child, I let checking email and Facebook lapse. Advised by my publisher to maintain an online presence on key sites to promote my book, I found social networking fulfilled my need for socialization which was so difficult to do with a new baby.  I was amused to find I actually had an Amazon author page (from when Alternative Alamat was published) and didn't even know it. I enjoyed updating it and looking for other potential ways to market my story on the Web. Looking for material to post on it, I was pleasantly surprised that an old friend had written an article which mentioned me. This encouraged me to seek out more old friends on Facebook. A wider network widened my awareness of marketing opportunites. I accepted a friend's invitation to join Wattpad and posted a historical story you can read for free as a sample. I was delighted when an Arab girl asking for historical fiction recommendations in a forum showed an interest in my eBook.

My eBook could be no further from Fifty Shades of Grey, being principally about an innocent girl in the nineteenth century and her experiences as an artist and the sister of revoulutionaries. And, so far, Woman in a Frame is hardly a runaway bestseller. But I am thrilled that people from anywhere on the globe can read it and thus learn more about my country's culture and history. Plus, I can send it as a very personal Christmas present overseas without worrying about shipping costs.