San Diego author pens fantasy story about Filipino family in debut book

Tracy Badua’s journey as a writer started with plenty of printer paper, staples and tales of her stuffed animals getting haircuts or doing their best in a dance competition. Today, she has “Freddie vs. The Family Curse, ”her debut novel de ella being released May 3, the story of an unlucky boy from an unlucky family who finds a way to break that generational curse with the help of the spirit of an ancestor and a bit of Filipino World War II history added in.

“The idea of ​​a World War II-era item needing to be returned to its owner had been at the back of my mind since 2017. That year, Filipino World War II veterans were finally awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their service, and this was huge, welcome news for a lot of folks I know. My father’s father was a survivor of the Bataan Death March, of which we get a glimpse in the book,” she says. “The bones of ‘Freddie’ really came together once I thought about combining the supernatural with the historic.”

A lawyer by day, working in housing policy and active in the Filipino American law community, Badua, 36, lives in Linda Vista with her husband, their young daughter, and their Maltese (with her own Instagram account, @sandydogmillionaire). They’re expecting their second child later this summer, and her second young adult novel by Ella, “This Is Not a Personal Statement,” will follow in January 2023. She’ll also be at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore at 6 pm May 3 for an in-person and virtual discussion and book signing. Badua took some time to talk about “Freddie,” the kinds of stories she loved as a kid, and her struggles in the kitchen.

Q: Can you talk about writing a story that centers a Filipino character and culture, specifically? What kind of difference do you think this kind of representation makes in children’s books?

A: When I first sat down to write this book, I had what I thought was a simple goal of telling a fun story about a Filipino American kid who must return a treasured heirloom to save his family. The more I wrote, the more I found ways to incorporate tidbits of my own childhood into the story: everything from superstitions to growing up in a multigenerational household to using Danish butter cookie tins to hold sewing supplies.

Freddie isn’t meant to be a character who represents how all Filipino American kids grow up, but there sure is a lot myself in the world he inhabits. It’s my hope that readers of all backgrounds see something of themselves in the story, too. Maybe they’ve had plenty of bad days just like Freddie, or they’re star break-dancers like his cousin, or they, too, have run out of glue the night before a big project is due. Seeing and maybe relating to the many dimensions of all kinds of people is so valuable for shaping how we approach our world.

Q: I’ve read that you grew up in a superstitious home? What are some of the superstitions you recall from your childhood?

A: I was lucky enough to have my grandmothers live with us for a good chunk of my childhood, and they’re the root of some of these superstitions and lovely traditions. They’d caution against sweeping up at night because we’d “sweep out the fortune,” a ritual enforced in the household in “Freddie,” too. I’ve had a couple of readers, both of Filipino descent and not, point out that this was something their families practiced. I’d like to think there are folks who, ages ago, all over the world, just got sick of being the ones to clean up after a long day of work or school and meal preparation and concocted this “bad luck” element as an excuse to turn in early.

One of the traditions we continue is to set out an “atang,” or offering, at the beginning of our big family parties. We take a little bit of every dish being served and set it out for any spirits who may be joining us. “Atang” is actually one of the first Ilocano (Filipino dialect) words my daughter learned because we set a strawberry out in the garden “for the spirits,” and for a while, she kept wanting to leave fruit outside. But it turns out the local gopher population, and not spirits, seemed to be benefiting most from this, so I quietly let that practice of these smaller offerings fade.

Q: What would you say are some of the lessons of Freddie’s story? What do you hope young readers take away from the book?

A: At its heart, this is a story about a kid who finds his own way to be brave, so I hope that young readers who’ve had some tough times — though hopefully not a full family curse — take some heart (or at least a couple laughs) from Freddie’s journey. Even though the solutions to a lot of life’s problems may not be as simple as an attitude change, sometimes every little bit of sun can help when you’re trying to chase away the shadows.

What I love about Linda Vista …

I love being so close to the beach and other fun or gorgeous outdoor areas. When we started staying at home during the pandemic, having these safe outings a few minutes’ drive away was so valuable for both the toddler and me. I also love that we’re near so many amazing places where I can snag delicious meals, which is a must for a busy mom who has realized that cooking is n’t her greatest strength. We’ve also got a couple of local breweries that are both kid- and dog-friendly, and these are perfect default outings when my brain is fried from work and writing.

Q: What was your process like for writing this book?

A: I’m that kind of person who needs some sort of roadmap before I sit down to work on something. I knew I couldn’t be trusted to keep on task without an outline, so I sketched out the bones of this story on paper first, then got to work drafting. Then here’s where it gets chaotic: I was pregnant at the time, and I somehow got it into my head that I should have a draft done before I gave birth so that I could revise while on maternity leave. I bet every parent out there right now is laughing at how naïve I was. To reach my goal, I wrote evenings, free moments on weekends, and during long commutes on the train, and those rare, uninterrupted kinds of chunks of time are when I get most of my writing done these days, too.

I may have gotten a very rough draft down before my baby’s due date, but it took many more months of polishing before it was anywhere near ready to land in my agent’s inbox.

Q: Can we expect to see a follow-up to this story? Whether that be more of Freddie or maybe a focus on Sharkey or another character?

A: “Freddie” is a standalone novel, but I have the very beginnings of a possible Sharkey story in my brain! I have a couple other projects I need to focus on for a while, but I wouldn’t say no to diving back into Freddie and Sharkey’s world.

Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

A: A lot of writing centers advice on how important it is to find good critical partners, and I agree with this wholeheartedly. I consider myself so lucky to have connected with amazing writers who take the time to provide thoughtful, respectful feedback, and also let me vent or ask questions about the publishing process. We may not all write in the same genre, or even for the same age ranges, but the support and friendship have been priceless.

Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?

A: For as much as I mention food in my works (especially in my forthcoming novel about a Filipino-Indian fusion food truck) I’m not a great cook. I can follow a recipe here and there, but Filipino dishes have proven tough for me! This made me especially homeick when I lived across the country in Washington, DC, and tried to recreate even the easiest meals myself. I am so lucky that my parents, brother, and mother-in-law occasionally pack home-cooked goodies for me (probably because they know about these sad kitchen skills).

Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.

A: My ideal San Diego weekend would likely involve a nice coffee or morning sweet treat, some time in the sun with my favorite people, and maybe a relaxed evening with a locally brewed craft beer, a movie on-demand, and my dog ​​snoring next to me on the couch. Importantly, on this ideal weekend, I’d also somehow magically be on track for all of my work and writing deadlines, and my toddler would be cooperating during meals and nap times.

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