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Melissa Salva, Contributor
 
October 18, 2008

Tough Love

Publication Date: March 2004
Price: P150.00
Available at your favorite magazine stands 

Mia is a 23-year-old web designer, karateka, and self-styled manang who likes to play it safe.

With clothes...
If not the comfortable training suits, only buttoned-up tops that don't show too much skin, skirts that fall below the knees, and pants safe enough to run in will do.

With web design...
Can you say, "Predictable?"

With karate...
She's managed, to her karate teacher's surprise, to rise to the rank of brown belt without having joined a single tournament. Her biggest fear? A bloody or broken nose.

And when it comes to love and relationships...
She'll share afternoon lattés and a kiss with a perfect stranger in a foreign country (using a fake name, of course).
She can even imagine getting it on with her training buddy and devoted best guy friend (well, sometimes).
But she'll never, ever, risk getting her heart seriously broken.

All that is about to change.

Read excerpt
Read about the author

Excerpt

Are you too manang for your own good?

Symptom #3 (and, for Justine, the deciding factor): at the ULTRA oval where I did my daily 10 rounds with my karate classmate and training buddy Carlos, I found myself the object of an urgent plea. I don't know how Carlos and I got from running like steam engines to me sitting on the slightly-overgrown grass with him, holding his hand, and telling him as kindly as I could that no, it really wasn't going to work out. And the inevitable happened - my verbalizing the crap guys hate hearing, all that crap about being loved but loved on a deeper level, i.e. being loved as a brother.

"I don't want you to love me, I want you to be in love with me," Carlos said.

I didn't know what to do, and it wasn't for lack of trying. We did try going out a couple of months ago, but it just felt too weird. It was like playing house with an older brother. I had trained with him too long and knew him too well. For crying out loud, I sometimes felt his sweat on my skin during training but it was never, ever sexy.

Justine's diagnosis: When it comes to relationships and possibly love, I'm not out there enough. Even if ending up saying "Oops, wrong move" comes with the territory. After all, who gets true love - or good sex for that matter - on the first try? Too inhibited for my benefit. Self-controlling to a "fucking fault."

Daredevil in disguise

"Of course, there's no proof of the kiss," I told Justine the night I got back.

My suitcase didn't make it to my room - it lay splayed by the doorway, the contents spilling out like some roadkill's guts. Justine couldn't wait to see my purchases and for some reason, I found myself sharing her excitement. I gamely unzipped my luggage for a round of show-and-tell; first the purchases and pasalubongs, and then the photos.

"I believe you," she said, staring open-mouthed at the image in the digicam and stepping over paper bags literally blocking the hallway to the kitchen. It's not really a hallway, more like a narrow four-step passage to what isn't really a kitchen, more like an all-purpose main room crowded in by my mom's old sala set (completely out of place), Justine's mom's old round dinner table, Justine's computer on an antique rolltop desk, and a hodge podge of mismatched chairs. All works well for Justine, but one reason I live in my room is because it's not the main room.

"He's cute, isn't he?" I asked, feeling a bit disoriented by the mess. I was mentally calculating how much time it would take to get everything in order - two hours max if Justine gave the whole Leon thing a rest soon.

"Cute is a word you use to describe your grade school crush. This guy is 27 years old. He's not cute. He's hot!" Justine commended me on my performance as a romantic heroine, complete with lovebird pictures and with my hair tied to one side too.

"You were holding hands!" she exclaimed. "You look like you're seriously dating him. Like a real couple." She looked away from the picture to study me. "You're not going to write him, are you?"

I didn't answer, but Justine already knew even before she asked. "Take the chance, Mia. He sounds like a great guy."

"But what if he's not?" I folded the empty shopping bags and began piling them in one corner.

"How will you know if you let him disappear?"

"I'm not getting together with a guy who picked me up. That's not how I operate."

Read synopsis
Read about the author

Author interview

by Maan Geronimo

Who hasn't been scared of taking that leap of faith? Or of doing something for the very first time?

In Tough Love, Melissa Salva tackles the issue of taking that all-important risk, which will ultimately decide what a young woman truly wants in life. Join us on this road to self-discovery through Mia's eyes and find out how her story can empower women from all ages.

Please give the gist of Tough Love for our readers.

Tough Love is about Mia, a web designer in her early twenties who is also (although secretly) an aspiring athlete. She shares a condo with her fashionista best friend and practices karate with a training buddy who imagines himself as the yardstick by which all her love interests should be measured. By nature, Mia is afraid of taking risks, and is perfectly happy with the status quo, where the stakes are small and the outcomes predictable.

She reaches a turning point when events conspire to push her out of her comfort zone, and to trust things which are not sure. The result is a preview of what she had been missing--more stimulation as an artist, glory in competitive sport, and an exciting love life. Now she has to decide whether she is willing to give herself to the moment, to take that leap of faith--to get what she's always been aspiring for.

Is the story autobiographical? Is Mia based on your own character?

Some scenes were taken from my life, but the story has been too embellished and has taken too many odd turns to be considered autobiographical. I did a lot of tweaking with pivotal scenes and dialogue so that Tough Love would be a fun read and hopefully, kilig.

Mia's character flaws are based on mine; but her capacity for daring is purely fictional. If I were a character in a chick lit novel, I think I'd enjoy being her.

What gave you the inspiration to write Tough Love?

I wanted to read about a character in the chick lit genre who was more empowered, and whose life was more than just men and clothes. I wanted girl power, and the voice of a young woman.

Which character in the story do you identify yourself with and why?

I think by now it's pretty obvious that I identify with the protagonist. Fleshing out her character was the easiest thing for me to do, because at the time I was writing the book, I was struggling with similar issues. But I wanted Mia to find a way to be self-actualized. I couldn't do the same for myself, so I was idly thinking, if I wrote about it, maybe it would happen for me as well.

Why karate as the focal point of Mia and Leon's love story? Have you taken up karate or it's your dream to take up Karate? Your "battle scene" with Leon, has it ever happened in real life?

I wanted a sport to provide the "go, girl!" element of the story. And a girl excelling in a martial art has a strange sexiness to it.

As a martial art and sport, karate demands a certain kind of discipline. It has a strict code of etiquette which I felt I could use to heighten the internal conflict of the characters. I thought it would be perfect as a backdrop to the story.

For example, in Mia's karate school, to fraternize with a senior was something close to sacrilegious--it just wasn't done! And for her to have that relationship with one of the highest ranking seniors was just the kind of situation that would force her to choose between a love she's not sure about and something she's been training for for such a long time. And as someone who is so square, it's a tough choice for her to make.

Incidentally, I've been practicing karate for about seven years so I guess it was only a matter of time before something that is such a big part of my life made its way to one of my stories. As for the "battle scene," when you're staring at someone you absolutely like (but can't have) your brain tries to console you by giving you...visions. Delusional, but if you have a good imagination and care very little about what's real or not, it's gratifying nonetheless.

Is Leon someone based from your past?

Yes. He's a nice, mysterious guy who always keeps going abroad.

If ever a movie version of your book was done, who would portray the main characters and why?

Hopefully Mia would be portrayed by someone who knows martial arts moves or can learn how to do so, like Carrie Ann Moss or Sandra Bullock. But the actress also has to be able to portray Mia's sense of humor the way Kate Hudson played her character in How to Lose a Guy in 10 days. She also needs to look in her early 20s. I don't watch a lot of TV--does anyone fit the bill?

Justine could be played by a younger version of Rufa Mae Quinto because she's wacky-sexy. Carlos is eye-candy and could easily be played by the hottest young actor. Leon could be a slightly taller, more athletic version of Robin da Roza.

Whew...This is why I'm not a casting director for a living :-)

What can readers learn from Tough Love?

The things we pine for desperately rarely come without great risk. That stroke of daring, that leap of faith, can change us more than we can imagine. Even if we don't end up with what we originally wanted, what we have in the end will always be worth writing.

Are you doing a new book or a sequel to Tough Love?

I'm doing personal writing projects--a non-fiction piece which is starting to grow into a novel. I'd love to write a sequel or another book for Summit.
About the Author

When did you start writing? Is writing a passion for you?

I've been writing since I was five. My first grade teacher told my parents I was a poet, and unfortunately I overheard her. So I've been writing since. I like writing pieces that make people laugh, or make them go, "wow" -- I had a lot of fun (and practice!) in high school because I had a captive audience and my classmates had broad taste.

Writing is a passion, but not a career. Not yet, anyway.

What books are you currently reading? Who are your literary influences?

In random order: The Anatomist by Federico Andahazi, Nothing But You: Love Stories from the New Yorker (edited by Roger Angell), and I'm re-reading A Natural History of Love by Diane Ackerman. I'm also reading The Twits by Roald Dahl. I love children's books!

I'm not sure who my literary influences are, but the way I write has been influenced by my classes under Canadian fiction writer Isabel Huggan, and Irish poet Martin Anderson. They were both guest lecturers at the University of the Philippines a few years back.

What are your tips to aspiring writers?

One of the things aspiring writers love to do is to show their work to experienced writers and ask if they should continue writing. This might not be the best approach for people who feel passionately about writing. They might have as well asked if they should continue breathing or not. An aspring writer owes it to herself to keep writing. And to keep reading, so that she knows what other writers are doing out there. 

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