Sunday, November 30, 2014

Helping Bees & Helping People

If you look closely at the book cover to The Body Electric, you'll see that there are bees coming out of the main character Ella's head. If you've read the book (thank you!), you know that bees are highly symbolic to the story. It was a perfect fit for the book--after all, it takes place in Malta, which is named for the Greek word for "honey," and Ella and her friends are fighting to save their home, just like bees would fight to save theirs. And close readers of the text will notice that bees are a recurring image in the book--it's the symbol of the resistance, buzzing sounds herald doom, and Ella sees them in her mind when she goes into her mother's technology.

So, obviously, bees are hugely important to The Body Electric! And another thing that's been hugely important to me with this book is giving back. I wrote this book for you, the readers who made my dreams of publication and being a full-time writer come true. But being grateful goes past just myself, and giving back needs more than just a book.

That's why, for the entire month of December, $1 from every sale of The Body Electric will go to a very special World Vision charity. 

World Vision is a charity focused on helping developing nations and people in need, with a focus on aiding children.

The beekeeper program is particularly important and close to my heart with this program, and as soon as I saw it, I knew that I wanted to do something to help the project.

Bees are hugely important to our ecosystem, and honeybees in particular are facing some serious problems and may not survive into the future. Bees touch almost every part of our daily lives, even though we may not realize it. They pollinate the fruits and vegetables we eat, they provided Earth's first humans with some of their first forms of sugar, they continuously create a world we want to live in. We can't let them die out.

World Vision works with developing nations, identifying families who need help. They don't just give money--they help families find ways to support themselves. The beekeeper program is one such way. World Vision works to find families that are struggling and have limited access to jobs outside the home--families where the main breadwinner is handicapped, or where single mothers cannot leave the home to earn money. Bees become a wonderful source of income for these people--they can stay close to their families at home while still producing honey they can sell and generate income from, as well as benefitting the entire community's crop with bees that help the ecosystem to thrive.

While purchasing bees for struggling families may seem like a bit odd of a charity, I hope you can understand just how life-changing it could be for a family who needs them. This article describes a family whose lives were changed by the added income and security from maintaining beehives--and it will touch your heart.


And remember, every sale of The Body Electric from now until December 31, 2014, will generate $1 donation toward the production of more beehives across the world, specifically to aid people in need.

To get this project started, I pledge to donate one beehive today--regardless of sales.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Holiday Buying Guide for Writers

It's almost that time of year again! Time to buy gifts for your favorite writers in your life. :) Here's my collection of awesome ideas of things to put under the typewriter tree.


Seriously, writers? Can never have enough motherflipping Sharpies.

Be on Santa's Good List: Buy her Sharpies that color-match her bookcover. 
Alternatively: silver. So fancy. So shiny. 

Book-Scented Candles
Buy it here
Writers love the smell of books. Fact.

Be on Santa's Good List: Get him ALL THE BOOKISH CANDLES.
May require an extra-large stocking.

Fingerless Mitts
Buy them here
Look, most writers at some point in December will consider themselves to be Bob Cratchit, huddled near a candle-flame as they work tirelessly on their Ebenezer-Scrooge-like-book. Make her comfortable with a pair of hand-warming but typing-friendly fingerless mitts. Bonus points: this pair looks like they're made from dragonscales, which makes them cooler because dragons are cool.

Be on Santa's Good List: Create an elaborate plan to befriend author Jodi Meadows, who started the writers-wearing-mitts-craze and hand makes them for special people.


The Qwerky Writer
Buy it here
Typewriters are cool, but so is modern technology. This gadget combines both. A typewriter-style keyboard (complete with clacky sounds!) that hooks up to an iPad. Alternatives to this gift: the Hemingwrite.

Be on Santa's Good List: Go back in time and fund this typewriter keyboard on Kickstarter, so you'll be one of the first to nab one.

Weird Time-Keeping Devices
Buy it here
Buy it here
Buy it here
Look, when I get stuck writing, I set a timer and force myself to write while the timer's going. But timers don't have to be boring! You can get a candle that burns in exact hour increments, a cool hourglass, or a timer that looks like it's about to take off in an airplane.

Be on Santa's Good List: Accompany this gift with a Hermione-style time-turner. 

The InstantPot
Buy it here
I actually own this product, and so I can say with authority that it's my favorite kitchen device. Here's the thing: writers are forgetful. We forget that cooking requires, you know, food. And time. The InstantPot makes life so much easier. It's a (safe!) electronic pressure cooker with a ton of preset settings, so it's basically idiot-proof. You can throw in a whole frozen chicken, push some buttons, and like magic, it's done in about an hour. This product is way better than a CrockPot (which, btw, it can also function as one). The food's not mushy, and you don't have to remember eight hours ago to put crap in the pot. By the time you start feeling a little hungry, you can throw the stuff in the InstantPot and have it ready when you finish writing that last chapter.

Be on Santa's Good List: Offer to cook supper with in the InstantPot once a week. It'll make you look like a hero, and you don't have to tell the writer in your life how easy it is to use.

Don't like my lists?

Here are a few more lists of buying guides for writers:

Is your favorite author currently stuck in an editing stage 
just in time to screw up the holidays and make life miserable?




Tuesday, November 11, 2014

THE WALLED CITY: Making a Real Place Come Alive in Fiction

I was so lucky to snag an early copy of THE WALLED CITY by Ryan Graudin, and I have to say: WOW. This book is amazing. 

I think I first fell in love when Jin was running through the city. Or maybe it was when Dai entered the den of the kingpin of the walled city. But really it was when Mei Yee wasn't saved in the first chapter.

And then there's the city. Rich and vivid and so, so real. It fascinated me how Ryan was able to make the setting of the walled city come alive, and so I asked her here today to talk about it and how she came to research, develop, and write such an amazing location.

Thank you, Ryan, for stopping by my blog and sharing your story and the setting of THE WALLED CITY!


THE WALLED CITY, my YA thriller that is coming to a store near you on November 4th, is (like most of my novels) not set in America. The story’s setting is actually very, very closely based on a place called the Kowloon Walled City. This Hong Kong neighborhood reached its peak in the 1980s, when over 33,000 people lived in its mere 6.5 acres. Yes. You read that right. 33,000. It was the most densely populated place on earth at the time. There was no formal architecture—and its shanties piled up to 14 stories high, crowded so thick that sunlight couldn’t reach the streets. The reason so many people moved to this place was because it was a legal no-man’s land. There were disputes between the British and Chinese governments which meant that law enforcement had no jurisdiction within the Walled City. Its borders were filled with illegal dentists, noodle-makers who wanted to avoid taxation, and (of course) the Triad.

I first learned about the Kowloon Walled City in 2011 from a woman named Jackie Pullinger who had worked in this neighborhood for over twenty years. I couldn’t believe that this place existed, much less that I’d never even heard about it before. But I went home, started Googling and fell into a rabbit hole of research. The more I read about it, the more I knew I had to write a story set inside the city’s sunless, lawless streets.

The real Kowloon Walled City was torn down in the early 1990s (though not before its hive-like structure was immortalized in Jean-Claude Van Damme’s movie Bloodsport and several
documentaries) and replaced with a park. I was fortunate enough to take a research trip to Hong Kong and visit the site of the former Triad stronghold.

The park still holds traces of the old city. The Old South Gate, cannons, the wells where city inhabitants drew water can all be spotted throughout the park. The largest portion of what the land used to be is the Yamen, which was the building at the center of the city which was used as sort of a community center. The Yamen is now used as a museum, where park visitors can go and learn about the city that once stood there. At the park’s entrance there’s a stone etched with an elaborate cross-section of the city, showing intricate details of the Jenga-stacked buildings. There’s also a very small metal model of the city, which I enjoyed being dramatic over.

What struck me as soon as I walked through the park gates was how small the place felt. In terms of a public park it was relatively roomy, with a plethora of lakes and gardens. Yet when I thought of the space in terms of the thousands of people who teemed within its .010 square mile borders, I got more than a mite claustrophobic.

Of course, my trip to China involved more than just visiting the Kowloon Walled City Park. There was phenomenal food! I got to eat cha siu bao, the Cantonese barbeque-pork-flavored buns which Jin Ling and Dai are so fond of in the novel. I was also fortunate enough to be in Hong Kong to celebrate the Chinese New Year. They displayed one of the most AMAZING fireworks shows I’ve seen in my entire life.

Though my version of the Walled City is set in the fictional city of Seng Ngoi instead of Hong Kong, I wrote the novel so it could read as a historical fiction (ie. All of the cultural details could fit into our real world.). There were so many parts of the real Hong Kong that I was able to envision my characters in—standing at the top of Victoria Peak, taking in the lights of Hong Kong’s phenomenal neon-lit skyline, eating delicious cha siu bao as a part of dim sum, watching the New Year’s fireworks. I can only hope THE WALLED CITY will do the reverse by helping readers experience this amazing place inside its pages.