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Portrait of an award-winning short-story contest writer

By Julie Price, jprice@VenturaCountyStar.com
November 28, 2004

A high-powered corporate and labor attorney in the biggest law firm in Manila, she was a beautiful young Filipino divorcee with a toddler daughter when, in 1993, she was swept off her feet by a handsome foreign consultant from America whom she met at a client's office.

It sounds like fine fodder for good fiction, but that's the real-life tale of Victoria Smith of Agoura Hills, winner of the Ventura County Writers Club's fifth annual short-story contest.

A lovely leading lady in her own right, the well-spoken Smith went on to marry her American beau and move with him to Canada and then the United States -- settling last year in Agoura Hills, where with her husband's blessing she began to truly follow her passion to write by joining the Ventura County Writers Club and writing fictional pieces in earnest. This was her first time entering a short-story contest.

Selected from among 115 entries, Smith's sexually charged tale of marriage, fidelity and other matters of heart and soul, titled "Portrait of the Other Lady," made it through the tiered, blind judging of the Writers Club -- which narrowed the field to the top 10 -- and The Star, which selected Smith's story as No. 1.

(No. 2, "A Promise to Eloise," is a story of enduring love and the cycle of life, by Greg Elliot of Agoura Hills. No. 3 was "El Norte," a modern-day tale of an adolescent Mexican boy desperately seeking a new life in America, by Mary Ann Holstrom of Santa Susana.)

The winners were honored with cash prizes -- Smith earned $500 -- and plaques at the Writers Club's fifth annual Write Fest writers conference Nov. 20 at the Clarion Palm Garden Hotel in Thousand Oaks. A beaming Smith and her family were in attendance.

"I'm just so proud of her," said Steve Smith, Victoria's husband of 10 years, who stayed for the awards ceremony, then dutifully took their children -- 14-year-old Francesca, an Agoura High freshman, and Travis, 7 -- to In 'N' Out Burger for lunch.

"My husband is a darling," Smith said during an earlier interview. "He's a dear heart."

Supporting her fully in her decision to give up law to write, she said: "He was so sweet. He said: 'Honey, don't feel guilty that you're not earning money. Consider this my gift to you, that you could do this for yourself.' "

She seems to have earned the gift. Hard-working all her life, Smith, the eldest of 10 children, is a dedicated sister and daughter who, by tradition and her high-paying job, has resolutely helped support her family in the Philippines.

She was 33 when she and Steve moved from her tropical native land to the cold climes of Alberta, Canada, and then Michigan, where she entered the master's of law program at the prestigious University of Ann Arbor. Just after earning her law degree, she became pregnant with Travis.

She gladly shelved her career to become a full-time mother and, eventually, to blissfully settle in sunny California.

Though she lives in relative comfort, her culture and her conscience have driven her over the years to bargain-shop, often at flea markets (like the lead character, Sandra, in her short story) and often on the eBay online auction site; that is where she found the two paintings that inspired her award-winning story -- a reproduction of the sensuous 1864 Franz Xaver Winterhalter oil "Portrait of Madame Rimsky-Korsakov" and an untitled portrait of an old woman from eastern Europe. But, Smith said, her sexual tale of a middle-aged woman in a dull marriage is not autobiographical.

She added, however, that she is proud to take bold writing strokes as a Filipino writer.

"Filipinos by nature are a very timid culture in terms of speaking out," she said. "I acknowledge humbly that I am one of a few among my countrymen -- of course, I am an American, but I am one of a few (native) Filipinos -- who do speak out."

As for Smith's future, she said, she intends to take the California bar exam in February 2006. "But to tell you what," she said, "this whole writing thing has totally grabbed my heart, and I feel like my passion is in that right now. It's something I could do that would still develop my talents, use my talents without having to work outside the home.

"I was always in love with writing," she said. "A law career does not allow that."

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