Many thanks to Multitaskingmommas for hosting my blog tour visit and giving me the opportunity to share an exclusive excerpt of my latest release, Mayon. This historical novel was originally published by Dreamspinner Press in 2012. In this second edition, published today under the imprint of DSP Publications, you can expect some additional content in the form of a prologue as well as a thorough reedit. The year is 1946 and the setting is the Philippines, a country I called my home for thirty years. The beautiful new cover was created by Catt Ford. Kudos to J for the consistent good work in organizing all my blog tours.
The Philippines, 1946
After being discharged from the Marines, John Buchanan is offered a position as overseer for plantation owner Ignacio Saenz. The offer is unexpected, considering he knows nothing about coconut farming, but the presence of Mount Mayon, an active volcano within sight of the property, tips the scales in Ignacio’s favor. Finally John has a chance to put his lifelong passion for vulcanology into practice.
Gregorio Delgado, the current overseer, takes exception to this turn of events. He views John as an interloper and Ignacio’s offer as a thinly disguised excuse to marry off one of his six daughters. What neither of them expects is the powerful physical attraction that simmers between them. Could John be a kindred spirit, or is he just using Gregorio for his knowledge of farming to ingratiate himself with his potential father-in-law?
As John and Gregorio begin a tour of the haciendas, John discovers he has far more in common with his new acquaintance than he thought possible. Torn between honor and desire, John struggles to define who he is and what Gregorio could mean to him. Like the unpredictable volcano, equal parts beauty and danger, Gregorio becomes an obsession that could erupt at any minute and destroy them both.
A few minutes on horseback altered John’s mood from wildly aroused to sensibly cautious. How in the hell had he let things get out of control so quickly? Whatever happened to the bargain he’d struck with God while bombs exploded and bullets whizzed by his head? The one in which he’d sworn to lead a normal life once the war was over. That included a wife and possibly children. The days of seeking pleasure for pleasure’s sake were over. He didn’t die in the war, and he couldn’t use that possibility as an excuse any longer. During the times he’d prayed for help, courage, or survival on the battlefield, he’d offered to turn over a new leaf and stop his clandestine encounters with men.
He straightened up in the saddle, unconsciously hoping that a shift in body language would work on his brain as well. It was nonsense to dwell on the sudden and dangerous attraction blooming between him and Gregorio. More than nonsensical, it was probably wishful thinking on his part. The guy was a natural flirt. John had seen him exhibit the same playful behavior with the Saenz women as well as the audience who’d watched him dance the night before. What made him think that Greg—John refused to even think of him as Goyo, a ridiculous name, unbecoming the man he was getting to know—shared his aberrant nature? He would probably lop off his head with the same bolo he’d used to cut down the coconuts if John even suggested such a thing. He vowed to put a lid on his unnatural feelings and make every effort to concentrate on his immediate task: assess the farms and figure out if he could do this for a living.
Thirty minutes later, he set eyes on his first hacienda. He’d expected something grandiose, in the tradition of the American South’s Tara-like homes, but there was nothing more than a few huts built in a semicircle around a small bodega made of hollow blocks of cement.
“This is it?” John asked in disappointment.
“The haciendas in Sorsogon are much larger,” Gregorio explained. “One of them has a two-story house, complete with a wide wooden veranda.”
“That’s good to know.” John stopped talking when three men and an assortment of ragamuffins came out to greet them. A few women trailed behind the group. All of them were barefoot and dressed in clothing that had seen better days. The children were practically naked, but they appeared healthy enough. They didn’t have the gaunt faces and distended bellies of the slum kids he’d seen in Manila. This motley group was obviously well-fed.
The men greeted each other in the local dialect, and John was introduced in turn. After dismounting, they began the short tour, and he listened to Greg’s accented voice while keeping his eyes away from the attractive face to avoid any more distractions.
During the dry season, roughly from November to May, harvested coconuts were sun-dried on the raised wooden racks Greg pointed out. Once typhoon season started, the kilns took over. He showed John the two ovens fueled by discarded husks.
“Smoke drying is more practical,” Greg said, “but it produces the darker variety of copra and doesn’t command as high a price as the sun-dried product. However, this is the Philippines, and to expect the sun to shine 365 days of a year is unrealistic.”
John picked up a shriveled brown thing curling in on itself, looking more like a gnarled root than a coconut. He sniffed and recognized the same subtle odor wafting off Gregorio’s hair.
“Once the drying process is complete, either by sun or artificial means, the meat can be removed easily,” Greg continued, walking him around a small pile of burlap sacks. “Then they’re stuffed into these bags and transported by carabao-driven carts to the loading docks in Legaspi.”
“It seems like a lot of work for such a small harvest.”
“It is, but the men are used to the pace and grateful to have jobs providing food and shelter for their families.”
John noted the raised huts, a familiar sight on most of the countryside. They were called nipa huts because they were constructed of the long feathery leaves gathered from the palm tree bearing the same name. The trees grew anywhere there was soft mud or tidal water and were a most versatile plant. The leaves were used for thatching, basketry, and even wrapping tobacco. The flower clusters could be tapped before blooming to yield a sweet sap one could convert into vinegar or an alcoholic beverage called tuba. The young shoots of the nipa palm were also edible, and the flower petals could be infused to create an aromatic tea. Despite their flimsy appearance, the nipa huts were able to withstand the torrential rains and wind buffeting the region four months out of the year. If a particularly bad typhoon passed through and literally blew the house away, it wouldn’t take much effort to rebuild, since the raw materials were readily available.
John continued to listen while Greg explained the entire process of yielding one bag of copra. He showed John the primitive tools used to scrape out the meat and the way it was done. The iron scoops were either held by hand like big spoons or attached to a wooden bench set low to the ground, which was straddled like a horse. Once the meat was removed, the small piles were shoved into sacks and weighed before heading out to buyers, near and far. Most of the copra was already contracted before harvesting.
Greg patiently enumerated the many uses of the versatile coconut once the meat had been extracted. The empty shells could be converted into household utensils, such as bowls, or turned into charcoal to fuel the kiln. The fibrous husks could be stripped and converted to tough rope called sennit or used as is to polish wooden floors. The fronds of the coconut trees were routinely employed for basket or mat weaving. There wasn’t one part of the tree left unused, and its tolerance to harsh weather was legendary. It could withstand high winds and sandy soil, salt water and drought. Owning a few trees guaranteed one would never starve, and those who were fortunate enough to own vast hectares were considered wealthy.
“How old were you when you began to help Ignacio?” John asked.
“I followed him around when I was a small boy and learned by watching and listening. By the time my mother and I left Legaspi so I could attend college in Manila, I’d become an expert in copra. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, we came back here to be closer to my grandparents.”
“Are they still alive?”
“No, they died during one of the air raids.”
“That’s rough…. Who takes care of your mother now?”
“You earn enough?”
“It’s really none of your business, unless you’re trying to find out what Don Ignacio will pay you for overseeing his properties.”
“Honestly, Greg, the only reason I’m here is because of the proximity to Mayon. I have little to no interest in coconut farming.”
“What did you just call me?”
“What’s wrong with Goyo?”
“It sounds like a toy.”
Review by: multitaskingmomma
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars
I read Mayon a few years back because the title lured me in. It's my country's most beautiful volcano with the almost perfect cone. It's on our stamps, on our tourism paraphernalia, it is a symbol of the country's people. That it's setting is a coconut plantation comes home to this reader.
Mickie B. Ashling wrote a story that is quite believable. Of John, an American, hired by the landowner to manage a huge hacienda and is faced with the difficult task of working with Filipino laborers and their unique psyche, as well as having to deal with an almost angry Gregorio, the overseer, who saw his opportunity for a better life threatened by the presence of the former Marine.
I didn't focus much on the romance that developed between the two men, my attention narrowing in on the authenticity of how the author portrayed the land and its peoples. I read was a beautiful, if not too realistic view of a country and how it used to be. The words spoken were not Googled and used in a way that clued me in, this author knew the language - well, at least the dialect of the region which is similar to mine.
Her portrayal of an American gringo hiding in the open with his Filipino lover is also quite realistic. John's decision in the end is the 'surprise' in quotation because I expected it to be. Take note, this is not a story that is fiction in nature and should be dismissed as fiction. These things happened and not imagined. They happened and continue to happen.
I loved reading Mayon. I truly did. For those who are curious of how it was and how it still can be, Ms Ashling succeeded in writing about a people, culture and country that I have not seem before coming from (sorry in advance to Mickie) a gringo.
Beautifully raw, sweet, real: Mayon.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mickie B. Ashling is the pseudonym of a multifaceted woman who is a product of her upbringing in multiple cultures, having lived in Japan, the Philippines, Spain, and the Middle East. Fluent in three languages, she’s a citizen of the world and an interesting mixture of East and West. A little bit of this and a lot of that have brought a unique touch to her literary voice she could never learn from textbooks.
By the time Mickie discovered her talent for writing, real life got in the way, and the business of raising four sons took priority. With the advent of e-publishing—and the inevitable emptying nest—dreams of becoming a published writer were resurrected and she’s never looked back.
She stumbled into the world of men who love men in 2002 and continues to draw inspiration from their ongoing struggle to find equality and happiness in this oftentimes skewed and intolerant world. Her award-winning novels have been called "gut wrenching, daring, and thought provoking." She admits to being an angst queen and making her men work damn hard for their happy endings.
Mickie currently resides in a suburb outside Chicago.
Three winners will win a DSP Publications gift certificate OR one of two e-copies of Mayon. Contest open internationally. Must be 18 or older to enter.
Feb. 22 - The Novel Approach
Feb. 23 - Multitaskingmommas
Feb. 24 - Love Bytes
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Feb. 26 - Prism Book Alliance
Feb. 29 - MM Good Book Reviews