Friday, October 25, 2013

Guest Post Author Cindy Lapena

How/why did you start to write?

I started writing simple rhymes, stories, and essays when I was very young and had a whole notebook of poems by the time I was 10 years old. I knew I had a knack for it because the words came out very easily and the sentences just flowed. I never had problems with composition classes and enjoyed all my writing assignments as much as I enjoyed reading. I imagined, from a very young age, that I would be a novelist and a poet and read all kinds of literature for enjoyment and to remind myself that one day, my work would be in books that other people would read.

How did you become an author?

By the time I was in sixth grade, I decided I should be part of the school paper and contributed poetry. In high school and college, I was on the school paper and learned a lot about journalism and publishing, and continued writing for or editing newsletters and academic publications throughout my career as a teacher. In my work with theatre, I also wrote several feature articles, interviews, and press releases that were published in national newspapers and magazines.

What was your first published piece?

Besides all the work I published in school papers, my first professionally published work was a booklet published by the Fund for Assistance to Private Education in the Philippines. A friend of mine, who was also a professor and a published author asked me to write on one of the topics I delivered in seminar-workshops around the Philippines: How to Write Behavioural Objectives. It was my first paid work outside of school publishing and I was very proud of it.

Where was it published?

The funny thing is, while it was published in the Philippines, where I came from, I never saw a copy of the booklet. Apparently, it had been distributed all over the country in private schools mostly outside the National Capital Region. I only found out about that when, while giving a workshop in one of the southern provinces of the Philippines, I found out that most of the participants knew me by name, because of that pamphlet. It seems to have been a “bible” of sorts for teachers looking to improve their syllabi and lesson plans.

How long ago?

That was back in the mid-80s.

What did you do before embarking on your writing career? Was it an asset to your writing? How?

Writing has always been a big part of my life, just as reading. Unfortunately, when I was ready to choose a University course, there were no Creative Writing degrees available in the Philippines. I chose a course in Communications Research instead, which was the newest and hottest course related to writing—and would have brought me to a career in Communications, possibly journalism and broadcasting, or something of the sort. Two days into the course, I received a telegram from the National Science Development Board offering me a full scholarship with a full allowance and expenses if I took an Education degree in either Mathematics or Physics. It was my big opportunity to become independent, so I took Mathematics (I had a horrible experience with my high school physics teacher and I hated writing up lab reports) with Education. That, of course, had nothing to do with my writing, except that I became very active with school journalism during a time when freedom of speech was curtailed in the Philippines. (I was so close to getting arrested as a result of writing too freely.) Once I graduated, I was invited by the principal of the high school I had graduated from to teach, but she wanted me to teach English because she knew that it was my forte. That led to a Master of Arts degree in English Literature with a specialization in Drama and focus on Creative Writing. How that happened is another long story. Since then, I have taught High School, College/University, and adult/professional learners. I had a 5-year stint as an indexer and abstracter, writing material that can be found on online databases such as Infotext and Ebsco. I have worked in theatre in nearly all areas from acting to directing, almost as long as I have been a writer, although I have earned more from my writing than my acting or production work.

Around 2006, an old friend of mine, who had been my teacher in high school, then the principal when I taught there, and then the dean when I taught in the college department, asked me to join a team of talented teachers to write a series of textbooks in English and critical thinking. I co-authored the first volume with another friend and former co-teacher who had moved to Australia, so we completed the project via email with him in Australia, me in Canada, and my friend as series coordinator in the Philippines. The project is currently with a publisher and will, hopefully, be finally published for school year 2014-2015, after so many obstacles with the publishing industry that got in the way.

My first major success as a writer was winning the 3rd place in the 2007 Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, the biggest and most prestigious Literary Awards in the Philippines, for the full-length play The Piano. I submitted my entry in April 2007, then moved to Canada in July of the same year, so I never got to attend the Awards Gala because I received the news when I was already in Canada and I could not afford to go back.

Last year, I became a Canadian statistic when I was laid off from a full-time teaching job. I was taking on freelance writing and editing jobs online when I came across the National Novel Writing Month challenge and decided I would do it this year, since I had the time anyway. I completed my first novel as a result and am working on revising it while looking for a publisher. I have since decided to focus on my writing and my art full time and believe I am ready to launch myself as a business very soon. 

 Meanwhile, I took a manuscript I had completed in the Philippines (one of quite a few) that was a compilation of games, activities, and projects that I had used to make my English classes more lively and interesting. I have turned it into a 5-volume series: 101 Fun Games, Activities, and Projects for English Classes by Cynthia Lapeña that I very recently published in two editions: a Kindle edition, available on Amazon, and a full-colour print edition, available on both CreateSpace and Amazon. I also have a workbook series for Pre-School that I prepared when I was homeschooling my youngest son, and, because only the 1st book of the 4-volume series was published, I plan to work on it for publishing as well on CreateSpace and Amazon as my next big project. I also plan to put together some volumes of poetry to bring to local publishers.

My first novel, The Lost Amulets, is the first book in the series that I call The Amulets of Pangaea. I tried to see how it would fare in the Next Best Author Series and, while I did not make it past the first of three rounds, I have received so much positive feedback from other authors that I know it’s just a matter of finding the right publisher. Besides being an adventure involving teenagers, it is a fantasy tale that brings to life creatures, characters, and stories from Philippine myths and legends. I intend to incorporate elements from Philippine myths and legends as an alternative to the current book offerings that are satiated with all kinds of vampire, werewolf, and zombie stories. My oldest son, Kitt Lapeña, is with me on this project, having agreed to create the cover art for the book.

Here’s the blurb:
If you are looking for something totally new, interesting, and awesome, The Lost Amulets is just the book you want to see. Ms. Lapeña makes use of folklore from the Philippines, where she was born. She wants to introduce a whole new class of fantasy creatures to the world while sharing myths, legends, folktales, beliefs, and superstitions from the Philippines.

The Lost Amulets is a YA fantasy adventure story about four teenagers who are recruited by Littlefolk to find their missing king and three amulets that will restore natural order to the parallel world Dapit-Adlaw where fantastic and mythical beings exist. They encounter these beings, both good and evil, and race against time to solve the riddles and find the amulets that will help to restore vital elements in Dapit-Adlaw. Their final mission is to release the God of the Hunt from a curse. As the children make many new friends and help defeat the followers of the evil Tasu Wey, they discover strength and build confidence and the 16-year-old lead character, in particular, learns to accept that mythical beings and magic do exist. 

The Lost Amulets is the first book of the series The Amulets of Pangaea.

And here is the awesome cover I designed with artwork my son created:

What inspires you?

Everything inspires, but mostly people and all the things they go through. I love people watching and write poems or makeup stories about them. I watch nature and I am inspired to write poetry. My life is so full of experiences and encounters of all sorts that it is an endless source of stories to tell. I have ups and downs and I write about those. I read almost incessantly—you can’t tear me away from books, and all those inspire me—either to write something better or something similar to what I like. Most of all, I love myths and legends, and my first novel makes use of those. I have so many ideas about books I would like to write that I will have things to write about well into my old age. I have also shared so much as a teacher that I want to share my inexhaustible collection of teaching ideas with other teachers, so I write teaching resources and textbooks.

Please share one of your successful author platform building techniques

The publishing industry today is very different from what it was before the Internet became huge. Nowadays, authors need to promote themselves using every possible means. So far, I began building my platform when I started a blog, then joined Facebook, and recently, Twitter. I connected with everyone I could whom I had met in the past and constantly try to build new connections, join groups, and make new “friends” and acquaintances. Once you’re online, you need to make yourself heard, so I keep on writing. Every time I write something, I publish it on my Facebook author page (Cindy Lapeña) and my blog (Cindy Lapeña: Creativity Unlimited) with over 14,700 views to date, and then post links to it in all my groups, on my FB wall, and on Twitter (@mimrlith). The trick is to keep on writing regularly, keep on publicizing, and offer something useful, entertaining, or thought-provoking each time.

Parting words

I always tell my students, workshop participants, mentees, and just about anyone who comes to me for help or advice to never give up because success does not always come instantaneously nor when it is there, does not stay by itself. You need to keep on working at it to remain successful. I believe in doing what I am passionate about, doing what I enjoy, and if it can become my source of income and support as well, then all the much better! Over and above that, I tell everyone that nothing is impossible as long as you can imagine it because your creativity is limited only by your imagination.