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In Conversation With Tracy Badua

I am so excited to share this interview with everyone today! I have wide ranging reading tastes, but middle grade will always be a genre that I continuously reach for. There is something to be said for revisiting childhood through these stories, and also for the strong and important messages that they convey. Remembering the friendships I had when I was the age of the characters, the mischief I would cause or get into - it truly is so special. I heard about this book while doing a podcast interview, and knew that I had to pick it up right away. A beautiful story about friendship, family, finding oneself, ghosts and food! This book made me so hungry! Freddie now has a place forever in my heart, and I just know that you will love his story as much as I did. Now, without further ado, let's get to the interview.

Ashley: Hi Tracy! Before we begin chatting about your novel, are you able to tell us a bit more about yourself?

Tracy: I’m Tracy Badua, author of the middle grade novel contemporary fantasy Freddie vs. the Family Curse. I’m also an attorney, and my day job is in federal policy and programs (I find writing for kids and young adults a lot more fun). I’ve been lucky enough to work at home lately, which means less time in cars and trains and more time writing and having fun with my family and dog.

Ashley: When did your love of reading begin, and when did you realize that you wanted to become an author?

Tracy: I fell in love with writing by first falling in love with books. My parents used to take me to the library all the time, and I’d leave with my arms full of new things to read. Eventually, with these stories swirling around in my brain, I tried writing and illustrating my own books on paper I’d taken out from our printer and stapled together. This was before I understood that books should generally have interesting characters and at least a plot. I remember one not-so-riveting tale I wrote of one of my stuffed animals going to get a haircut.

My family was so encouraging (and didn’t get upset that I was using up all our paper) with these early attempts, and they continue to be my biggest cheerleaders with FREDDIE.

Ashley: What books have had the biggest impact on you throughout your life?

Tracy: Would it be obnoxious to say all of them? I was such a big reader as a kid, to the point where my parents started taking me to a different local library because I’d zoomed through the selection at the one closest to our house. A few favorites from my youth are the Wayside School books and every Goosebumps book I could get my hands on. Then school and work reading took priority for a long while, and it wasn’t until the past few years that recent young adult books like Sabaa Tahir’s Ember in the Ashes series made me fall back in love with how wonderfully escapist and immersive “for fun” reading can be.

Ashley: Freddie Vs. The Family Curse is your debut novel! For our readers who may not have read it yet, can you share what it is about?

Tracy: Freddie vs. the Family Curse is about a twelve-year-old Filipino American boy who must team up with the World-War-II era ghost of his great-granduncle to break a family curse or risk being trapped in an amulet forever.

Ashley: Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

Tracy: 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. My father’s father was a survivor of the Bataan Death March, of which we get a glimpse in the book. The bones of Freddie really came together once I thought about combining the supernatural with the historic.

Ashley: I am always interested in learning about the routines and process that different authors have while writing their books. What did your research and writing process look like for this novel, and what are some things about the process that surprised you the most?

Tracy: I always start with an outline to organize my thoughts and, to be honest, make sure I actually have some semblance of a plot before I sit down to write. Then I research what I don’t know, which, for FREDDIE, turned out to be a lot. I’d grown up with a basic knowledge of World War II and Filipino folklore and superstition, but it was important for me to be as thorough and accurate in the book as possible. I picked up some books and documentaries, listened to the first-hand experiences of family and friends, and reached out to organizations and libraries when I had trouble filling in gaps on my own.

While I wrote, I continued to learn things about the war and my family that I hadn’t known before. For example, my research and writing process led to long conversations with my relatives about their experiences and beliefs. I have a great memory of sitting at the kitchen table, eating chocolate with my grandmother as she told me about how, as a young girl, she and her family sought safety in the forest from invading forces during World War II.

Ashley: Freddie mentions feeling cursed because of little things that happen to him – “stumbles off the school stage, randomized cafeteria jobs that always pin me with the worst tasks, and, worst of all, ending up the target of not one, but two bird poops on picture day…”. What little things happen to you that can make you feel ‘cursed’?

Tracy: The example that immediately comes to mind is how, just the other day, I crafted my perfect breakfast bowl of half healthy cereal full of flax and oats and all that good stuff, and – or course— half Cinnamon Toast Crunch. But when I went to pour the milk, it came out a little too thick and clumpy, ruining the whole mix (the expiration date on the carton said I had one more week!). Like Freddie and his curse, it’s not the worst thing in the world that can happen, but it really put a damper on my whole day.

Ashley: Near the beginning of the story, Freddie reflects that his dad gave him “…the routine warning against believing my great-grandmother’s Filipino fairy tales and not encouraging her ‘nonsense’. He and mom were both born here, and Dad says he had a hard enough time fitting in without the added layers of superstition and beliefs from overseas.” I, personally, feel that it is so important to hold onto and cherish out stories, myths and beliefs. Where we come from is such a large part of who we are, and I feel that all of the differences between us

meld together to make such a rich and layered community. Why do you feel it is important to hold onto our individual cultures and where we come from? What do you think we lose when we give those things up?

Tracy: As a kid, it sometimes feels like the differences in the way we live versus how our classmates live aren’t a good thing—you just want to fit in and be like everyone else. But one of the cool things about exploring more of the world, either yourself or through immersing yourself in books and other media, is realizing that these varied beliefs and traditions can be points of pride. There’s still room for your own growth, individuality, and critical analysis on how you decide to blend cultures, but we might lose out on—as you put it so well—on that richness of life when we entirely favor one culture over another.

Ashley: I will admit that while I have read quite extensively on the topic of WWII and that time period, I did not realize the extent of the involvement and contribution of those from the Philippines as they fought alongside the Americans against the invading forces of Imperial Japan. It was not something I learned in school here. Can you elaborate on the contributions made by the Filipinos during this time, the Rescission Act, and share some resources for people like me who would like to learn more about that?

Tracy: Over 260,000 Filipinos who served in the US armed forces during World War II were promised certain benefits as veterans. Unfortunately, after the war, the Rescission Act of 1946 resulted in those benefits being rescinded, which resulted in a continuing, decades-long fight by Filipino veterans and allies for justice.

The Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project has plenty of great resources at its website,, as well as an online exhibition and tools for educators at

Ashley: When Freddie finds the anting-anting, shenanigans ensue almost immediately. I loved this concept and found the mythology surrounding this amulet fascinating. For our readers who may not be as familiar with it, can you share more about what an anting-anting is, and the mythology behind it?

Tracy: An anting-anting is an amulet that is believed to bestow good luck, protection, or even magical abilities on the owner. Even this concept was a tough one for me to research because the assumed benefits and downfalls vary from community to community in the Philippines too.

Ashley: Circling back for a moment to beliefs and where we come from, after a disagreement with his Dad, Freddie notes that “Heritage doesn’t disappear just

because you change location. Forces can still affect you even if you don’t believe in them.” So many people, especially with the immediacy and incredibly fast paced way of living today, do not take the time to really reflect on where they come from and the things that influence the way they think, act and go about life. How much impact do you think our ancestors and cultures unknowingly have on us?

Tracy: You honed in on one of my favorite parts of FREDDIE! For me, this represents how my family’s Filipino roots continued to impact our lives and beliefs even an ocean away, and this is a theme that runs through a lot of my work. In FREDDIE and my forthcoming middle grade follow-up, I highlight how more unique parts of our heritage add vibrancy to our lives. In my young adult novel, THIS IS NOT A PERSONAL STATEMENT, I take a more critical look at some of the beliefs that can warp and turn toxic when they collide with the different priorities and situations presented by life in the US.

I know this push and pull between cultures isn’t unique to Filipino Americans either: a lot of members of diaspora communities (no matter how many generations removed) can probably relate to the idea of “well, that’s great that you can do [insert rebellious kid behavior here], but no way will that fly in my family!”

Ashley: Throughout the novel, food is mentioned a lot. I loved the descriptions that evoked so many delicious tastes and smells. Ginger is one of my favorite ingredients to us while cooking, as well as to drink as a tea. What food or dish represents comfort to you?

Tracy: There’s a Filipino chicken rice porridge called arroz caldo that is the ultimate comfort food for me. It was one of the first Filipino dishes I successfully recreated (believe me, there were plenty of failures) when I moved across the country for law school and didn’t have as easy access to homecooked Filipino food.

Ashley: Apong Rosing is one of my new favorite characters of all time. She is quick witted, tough and hilarious! I laughed out loud when someone made a reference to her age, and she had a very strong reaction! (I don’t want to give spoilers about this scene, but you readers will know it as soon as they get to it). I love her relationship with Freddie, and how she encourages and believes in him. I have two questions here for you – is Apong Rosing inspired by anyone in particular, and what do you think Freddie’s life would have lacked if she were not in his life?

Tracy: Apong Rosing is wholly a figment of my own imagination (um, in case my relatives ask…), but I do draw some of her attributes from my own grandmothers. They’re smart, capable ladies who tell it like it is, for better or worse. To be honest, if she wasn’t in the book, I don’t know how Freddie would’ve broken the curse! Having older members of the family around was important, especially because Freddie’s own parents don’t believe in the curse. She is that link in intergenerational learning that helped connect their family’s past experiences to what Freddie was going through.

Ashley: Speaking of humor, there is so much of it throughout this novel. Freddie and Sharky are always getting into binds, Ramon is sarcastic and has a fun sense of humor, and Apong Rosing is just the best. How do you incorporate humor into your work so organically as it is not only a talent but a craft?

Tracy: Whew, this took some research too! I tried to read a lot of funny middle grade to learn how to get a joke on the page and to assess what this audience may find amusing. And I of course relied on my fantastic critique partners and early readers for their initial reactions, which helped me further figure out what humor lands and what falls flat.

Ashley: This story is about accepting and loving who you are and where you come from. Freddie reflects that while he did inherit the curse from his family, he also inherited boldness and bravery. What advice would you give to people who are just starting out on a journey of self love and acceptance?

Tracy: Remember that everyone’s on a different part of their journey. It might be hard feeling like you’re not as knowledgeable or confident as others, but try to cut yourself some slack: you’re going to learn and grow in ways you can’t even imagine yet.

Ashley: I really enjoyed and appreciated the exploration of what love and affection mean. I feel like sometimes people only see the grand gestures when they think of love. In the novel, Freddie observes that he “…used to think there was something wrong with us, for not being a family that throws around I – love- you’s easily. But we joke and laugh together and ask each other a dozen times if anyone’s hungry, and I’m realizing that affection isn’t always straightforward announcements like that. It’s making sure someone has clean underwear packed for a trip, or taking a few more seconds together even though you are in a hurry, or offering to help a cousin even if it puts you in danger.” How do you show people you care, and what makes you feel cared for? For me, it is the little things like bringing me a snack, or when my husband cleans up the dinner dishes every night for me. While I can appreciate grand gestures, love, for me, is always in the little things.

Tracy: I love how you phrased that, with love being in the little things, because it can be so true!

You’re about to get an exclusive sneak peek at the first lines of my second middle grade book. Ready?

People say that home is where the heart is, but that’s a lie.

Home is where the stomach is.

I know this may not be some big, ground-breaking pronouncement, but it’s definitely true in my case. Food has a way of reminding us that someone took the time to remember our most basic needs, even when we’re not taking care of those ourselves.

I remember being so cranky one afternoon in high school and needlessly snapping at my dad for something. I went to wash my face and when I returned to my room, he’d put a snack for me on my desk (I say snack, but it was literally a full meal of tofu, vegetables, and rice). No lecturing, no comments on how rude I was: just a physical reminder that I’ve still got someone looking out for me, no matter what the issue. Any gesture that can do that – whether it’s preparing a meal, buying a book or trinket someone would like, or finding ways to give them some much-needed peace and quiet—is a wonderful way to show you care.

Ashley: Fear is a strange and powerful thing. The reflections and explorations of fear in the book were raw and real, and I really loved this aspect of the book. Freddie realizes that “Over the years, I’ve let my fear transform into its own type of monster. It sapped away my confidence to feed itself and grow large enough to cast a shadow on everything around me.” What scared you the most about writing this book and setting it free in the world?

Tracy: To be honest, I was scared readers wouldn’t resonate with Freddie and his family. There are plenty of stories out there of folks considering characters from marginalized backgrounds “hard to relate to” or something similar. This is my first published book, and there is so much of me in there (from Freddie’s upbringing to the beliefs and superstitions he and his family hold) that I worried “hard to relate to” might extend to me as a person as well. But thankfully, the reception of my book has been so warm and welcoming, and even if it wasn’t, I think the support I’ve gotten so far would’ve helped me weather even the toughest critics.

Ashley: What do you hope readers take away from this novel?

Tracy: I hope young readers who’ve had missteps, stumbles, and bad days take heart from Freddie’s journey and find their own ways to be brave. I know life isn’t so simple that an attitude change can magically fix everything, but in Freddie’s case, it helps spur him into action. Sometimes, every little step you take into the sunlight can help.

And for readers lucky enough to not have a family curse or as many bad days as Freddie, I hope they can at least share a few laughs at his funnier misfortunes (more than one incident involves underwear).

Ashley: Are you able to share anything about what you are currently working on?

Tracy: My next book is my contemporary young adult novel This is Not a Personal Statement, out January 17, 2023, from Quill Tree Books. In this book, sixteen-year-old Perla leaves home for the college of her dreams...that she wasn't actually accepted to, breaking into dorm rooms, dodging security, crashing classes, and figuring out how to actually get in next semester before she's caught.

I’ve also been hard at work on my second middle grade book. It’s also a contemporary fantasy, and it involves celebrity chefs, Filipino folk magic, and a family-owned Filipino-Indian fusion food truck! I hope to share more about it with you all soon.

Tracy has some amazing things coming up, and I cannot wait! If you would like to keep up to date with Tracy as well, visit her website at and on Instagram at @tracybaduawrites. Tracy also has a newsletter that you can sign up for to keep up to date with her latest projects.

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