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.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Halloween Book Trail--The Galaxy Hunt!

Hello everyone, and welcome to the Halloween Book Trail! I'm Beth Revis, author of the Across the Universe books. My most recently book The Body Electric came out earlier this October, and it tells the story of what was happening on Earth while Amy and Elder from my first series were in space. It's about a girl who can peek inside other people's memories using tech from a futuristic world, but someone's messed with her memory first. You can win a signed copy of The Body Electric--as well as books from the other authors participating--by completing the Halloween Book Trail!

The Body Electric takes place in Malta, an island nation in the Mediterranean. In my version of Malta, several hundred years in the future, the two main islands have been connected by a bridge city with towering glass sky scrapers, android servants, and innovative resources. Malta of today is very different--it is a beautiful mix of ancient and modern, with lovely resorts next to archaeological sites, medieval labyrinthine catacombs beneath a bustling city.

So today, for the Halloween Book Trail, I thought I'd tell you all about some of the interesting spooky ghost stories of Malta and comparing them to the legends we know!

One of the things I love about ghost stories is how similar they are across all cultures. The details change, but there are many stories that are similar. In my area, there's a common story of the hitchhiking lady. A person--usually a young man--picks up a beautiful lady hitchhiking on the road. When he takes her to the house, she gets out, leaving behind her coat in the car. The young man returns the next day to give the lady back her coat, but the only person who answers the door at the house is an old woman who says her daughter was killed on the road decades ago.

In Malta, there's a similar tale--but with a few different twists. In this story, a young woman dressed in a traditional g─žonnella, covering her hair. She is still very beautiful though, so when she asks some soldiers to walk her home, they agree. At her house, she takes off her g─žonnella, revealing her beautiful hair--and in the light of her house, also revealing a wealthy, gorgeous house. She invites the soldiers to stay, but they decide to leave...although once they're back out in the street, the soldiers realize they left behind a possession in the house. When they return the next day, though, the house is dilapidated and run down, totally abandoned. [Source]

I just love that this story is so similar to the legend I know from my area--but twisted a bit. In America, where highways reign, of course it's far more likely for the connection to be made while driving than while walking on the considerably smaller island of Malta. In the American legend, the lady leaves behind a possession--in the Maltese, it's the young men. But even though the stories are so similar, they're also unique to each area. 

Another legend that stretches across cultures is the White Lady. Areas throughout the world, particularly in Europe, have their own variation of the White Lady, a ghost that is often surrounded by a local legend of tragedy and is a harbinger of death. In medieval UK, the story was that the White Lady appeared in the house of a family in which a person was about to die. In the United States, the White Lady walks the road or through the walls of the house where she was killed. In the Philippines, many of the towns have their own local version of the White Lady, sometimes popping up in the rearview mirrors of cars, but disappearing when the driver turns around. 

In Malta, the White Lady is specific to Verdala Palace. According to the legend, a young woman was forced into a loveless arranged marriage. On the day of her wedding, her father tells her she is to obey her new husband in everything. Instead--she jumps out of one of the palace windows, killing herself. 

The Maltese legend, interestingly, gives the reason why the woman is white is dressed in white--it was her wedding day when she died. [Source]

Even within Malta, there are two versions of the White Lady--another one in the city of Mdina (which is featured in The Body Electric!) tells of a woman who appears always at eight in the evening. She is sweet to children, telling them to go home and kissing them goodbye. She tells teenaged boys who are unlucky in love that they will find another...or they can go with her. For the elderly men, she merely tries to lure them into her "shadow" to become a part of her ghostly entourage. [Source]

Malta is a fascinating country--and you can see why I chose it as the setting for The Body Electric! I hope you've enjoyed learning about these legends--and if you pick up The Body Electric, I hope you enjoy finding the details of Malta within the pages! 

I'm the last person in the Galaxy branch of the Book Trail--to continue the hunt, find out more, and start a new trail, CLICK HERE.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Favorite Fall Reads + Giveaway: THE BODY ELECTRIC

To wrap up my favorite fall reads week, I figured I should answer the same questions I'd posed of everyone else--even if that makes me pick between warm apple pie and pumpkin spice!

I've been talking a lot about my newest book, so I don't want to bore you guys with repetition. But I will say that if you're the kind of person who really hates fall--you miss the warm sunny days and you'd much rather be on the beach--then this book's for you :) The Body Electric takes place in Malta, a Mediterranean island, in early summer--so the weather's perfect, the sky is blue, and there's not a raindrop in sight. And if you're sick of pumpkin spice and apple pie (*gasp*), Ella's favorite food is a local delicacy called pastizzi, which are sort of like savory danishes, all butter and cheese and flaky crusts.

And also there's explosions and twisty mind games and some kissing, so.

In the effort of fairness, here's my answers to the questions I posed the other authors! Read on to find more and to enter to win a copy of The Body Electric AND all the rest of my favorite fall reads! 

It's a beautiful (or rainy!) fall day--what book do you most want to curl up with and read all day?

Right now, I'm on a huge fantasy kick. I've just started Mary Pearson's Kiss of Deception, and you already know I loved Marie Lu's The Young Elites. I am also seriously considering taking a week to re-read all the book in Rae Carson's Girl of Fire and Thorns.

I love fall thunderstorms, but if I can't listen to one, I turn to music. What are you listening to right now? 

I typically listen to music that I can drown out. I've been known to listen to one song on repeat for hundreds of times, and lately I've really been into ambient noises, such as this mix of sounds that might be in the Gryffindor Common Room.

But I also like movie soundtracks. A really good on is for the recent film, Maleficent. I couldn't find any legit YouTube videos of the actual soundtrack, but here's the feature song from it. Download the whole soundtrack, though--it's amazing!

And speaking of Lana del Ray, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that she has a beautiful song, "The Body Electric." I actually didn't name my book after her--I named it after the Walt Whitman poem--but this song is amazing.

Pumpkin spice latte or warm apple pie?

YOU CAN ENTER TO WIN THIS AND FIVE OTHER BOOKS RELEASED THIS FALL! Contest is open internationally; prize won't ship until November, when all the books are out.

To enter, just fill in the Rafflecopter below.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Favorite Fall Reads + Giveaway: GIRL ON A WIRE

I first met Gwenda when we both signed up for an amazing writing retreat led by MG and YA author Alan Gratz. At the retreat, the focus was revising novels, and Gwenda and I were part of a group that swapped whole manuscripts. Gwenda's manuscript was an early version of Girl on a Wire.

Even reading that first draft, I could tell that I had something special in my hands. There's so much to love here. Circuses are rife with stories, and the perfect setting for this novel that focuses on Jules, a girl who dreams of walking across higher and higher wires. There's forbidden romance, a family curse, a touch of magic realism, and a ton of action.

Girl on a wire is a beautifully written blend of everything that makes for a great book. I held my breath for Jules every time she went on the high wire--and when she got close to Remy!

So, I asked Gwenda a few questions about fall! Read on to find more and to enter to win a copy of Girl on a Wire AND all the rest of my favorite fall reads! 

It's a beautiful (or rainy!) fall day--what book do you most want to curl up with and read all day?

My reading whims are so changeable, who can say? But I definitely associate Shirley Jackson with fall, so I might curl up and reread We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Or a series that I love and want to just luxuriate in, like Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels books or Kristin Cashore’s Graceling Realm books. Fall is a truly great season for reading, with that slight chill in the air, or blustery rain outside that makes you want to stay in.
I love fall thunderstorms, but if I can't listen to one, I turn to music. What are you listening to right now? 

I have put TV on the Radio’s newish track “Happy Idiot” on repeat a ridiculous amount lately.

Pumpkin spice latte or warm apple pie?

Oooh, torn! But pie, because PIE. Especially with good vanilla ice cream. I do like a PSL every once in a while though.

YOU CAN ENTER TO WIN THIS AND FIVE OTHER BOOKS RELEASED THIS FALL! Contest is open internationally; prize won't ship until November, when all the books are out.

To enter, just fill in the Rafflecopter below.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Favorite Fall Reads + Giveaway: THE MAP TO EVERYWHERE

Honestly? It takes a lot for me to recommend a middle grade novel. YA is much more my wheelhouse, and I'm always just so hesitant to pick up MG. The story has to be the best of the best, the characters have to grab me from page one, the novel has to be funny and adventuresome and magical and basically everything. My standards are crazy high.

So when I tell you that The Map to Everywhere is one of the best MG novels I've read since HARRY FREAKING POTTER, that means that this book is really, really special.

And I mean it. I don't even know how to describe this book other than I cannot remember being as in love with a MG novel since the first time I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. This novel features two amazing kids on an amazing adventure that has more creativity in one page than some books have in an entire volume. And it's got fantastic illustrations. And it has a character with a backstory so heartbreaking I cried. And is features one of the best friendships I've ever read about. I cannot say it enough. You want to read this book.

The Map to Everywhere is the combined genius of veteran YA author Carrie Ryan (of zombie fame) and her husband, John Parke Davis. So, I asked Carrie a few questions about fall! Read on to find more and to enter to win a copy of The Map to Everywhere AND all the rest of my favorite fall reads! 

It's a beautiful (or rainy!) fall day--what book do you most want to curl up with and read all day?

Happily, I just had such a day this weekend and I spent all Saturday afternoon reading The Martian by Andy Weir. I couldn't put it down! I already have my next scheduled all-day read: Never Judge a Lady by her Cover by Sarah MacLean :) But of course on my nightstand right now: The Body Electric. You may have heard of it?

Beth's note: Remind me to slip Carrie a $20 for that sly reference :)  

I love fall thunderstorms, but if I can't listen to one, I turn to music. What are you listening to right now? 

This is going to sound totally random, but I've been listening to a lot of Pentatonix. It all started, as many good things do, with my love of Pitch Perfect - lol. I was visiting Ally Carter and she showed me the Pitch Perfect Starships video and that just got me hooked on a capella which led me to Pentatonix. They're even better with the bass cranked up :)

Pumpkin spice latte or warm apple pie?

Warm apple pie. With ice cream.

YOU CAN ENTER TO WIN THIS AND FIVE OTHER BOOKS RELEASED THIS FALL! Contest is open internationally; prize won't ship until November, when all the books are out.

To enter, just fill in the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway