Tracy Badua was a "best-selling author" even as a child.
"Back then, I stapled together printer paper and handwrote stories about my stuffed animals, and I sold those books to my neighbors and family," the Filipino-American writer tells PhilSTAR L!fe.
She was clearly drawn to books but noticed—even at her early age—a glaring issue: if literature is indeed a mirror of society, how come she never saw herself reflected in the books she read as a kid?
"Growing up, I didn’t have much access to children’s fiction that featured Filipino-Americans, let alone Filipino main characters, so that’s who I wanted to put front and center in my own work. There’s something so wonderful about seeing someone like you in popular media, and readers have reached out to me to let me know how much they connect with my characters," Tracy explains.
Since there weren't many Pinoy protagonists around, the only thing left to do was to create them herself.
The award-winning author has since come of age to unironically popularize Filipino-American realities through fiction.
Her young adult novel This is Not a Personal Statement, for instance, touches on the concept of "utang na loob" in the context of American academic environments.
The writer's latest work The Takeout similarly features local folk magic and Filipino-Indian fusion cuisine. This draws direct inspiration from her Pinoy roots as well as her husband's Indian-American background.
But before she could even connect with readers, she first had to learn the ropes of publishing and connect with anyone in the business who could give her work a shot.
"I started writing with the goal of traditional publication seven years ago and quickly realized how much work I had ahead of me. Writing fiction is such a wholly different experience than reading it or even engaging in the kind of legal writing I was used to in my day job. I took writing courses at a local university, joined organizations like the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (which has chapters worldwide), and read craft book after craft book to figure out just how to write for young readers," Tracy reflects.
The young adult and children's books author even scoured through publishing and writing-related podcasts to familiarize herself with industry terms and processes.
As any writer can relate, her story started out with the usual disappointments that eventually slow-burned into sustained success.
"There are so many talented writers out there with engaging, well-written work, and distinguishing my own book required a lot of effort and patience. I did get plenty of kindly worded rejections, and I found myself worrying about the quality of my work, whether the US publishing market had a place for my books, or, worse, whether diverse stories like mine were somehow a fading trend," Tracy traces her humble beginnings.
Her first obstacle was trying to find a literary agent who would pitch her stories to publishers and arrange the sale. Although this proved to be quite a challenge at a time, it was dwarfed by her much bigger hopes of realizing the literary representation she needed growing up.
"I kept at it though, and eventually, an agent saw promise in my story about a cursed Filipino-American boy. After plenty of manuscript polishing and offer negotiation, Freddie was acquired by Clarion Books, and then I was lucky enough to have plenty more books follow suit," Tracy celebrates.
Now, the California-based author and lawyer looks forward to releasing two more titles, Thea and the Mischief Makers and Airbnboo.
It was her debut work Freddie vs. the Family Curse, however, that most notably won her the Golden Kite Sid Fleischman Humor Award, of which she gave her charitable award to the Filipino American National Historical Society.
Achievements notwithstanding, the accomplished author feels she has a lot more work cut out for her professionally.
"Even as my journey has progressed from trying to nail down basic story structure terms to navigating book promotion on social media, I still feel like there’s so much for me to learn. I’m so thankful–and honestly still can’t believe it sometimes—that I have multiple books out in the world, with more out in the coming years," Tracy expresses her gratitude.
In dedication to the community
Tracy recalled from her experience how "incredibly supportive" the Filipino and Filipino American children’s literature community was throughout, whether it was about publishing process guidance, opportunities for writers, or simply messaging words of affirmation.
She said she tries to do the same by mentoring and uplifting others in their community.
"For example, I’ve mentored a Filipino American middle-grade novelist through the popular Pitch Wars mentorship program for unpublished writers and have been part of several book launches of Filipino and Filipino American authors. I’ve also consulted with my publishers to try to engage artists, readers, and audiobook narrators of Filipino descent where possible and appropriate, to ensure the authenticity of the work and provide opportunities for members of the community," Tracy noted.
All of her achievements paid off in the long-term for her as well as other Filipino and Filipino-American writers "carving out a solid space for our stories in the US."
Tracy thus gave a shoutout to her Philippines-based children’s book author colleagues Gail D. Villanueva, Rin Chupeco, Caris Avendaño Cruz, and Mae Coyiuto, as well as other internationally based authors of Filipino descent like Elisa A. Bonnin and K.S. Villoso whom she said are "definitive proof that it can be done, and done successfully."