The Secret Origins of Prodigy

Prodigy - Edward MullenRecently I was asked: “Where did you come up with the idea for Prodigy?”

I thought it was an interesting question and that others would like to know, so here is the tale of how Prodigy came to be.

When I started writing my debut novel The Art of the Hustle, it was just a side project, something to keep me busy. I had no idea at the time that I wanted to be a writer and hadn’t really written fiction. In fact, I kind of stumbled into writing. The Art of the Hustle originally began as an inspirational email I wrote to a friend who was suicidal. I told him a story from my past and highlighted some of the troubled emotions I had gone through in hopes it would help him get through whatever he was dealing with.

When I was done the email, I realized I had written a huge amount of text, and I wanted to do something with it, turn it into a story perhaps that others could read. I sent the short story out to a few other people and the response was really positive. They all wanted to know more.

I kept writing my story, which followed my life pretty closely. I had so much fun writing the book that I completely re-evaluated my life choices. At the time, I was studying for the LSAT and was trying to get into law school. I decided that maybe a career in writing would better suit my personality.

I decided to write a second book, but if I was going to be serious about being a novelist, I should be able to write about anything. Sure, I could write a story about my life, but what about something I’ve never experienced? I accepted the challenge and deliberately wrote a story from a female perspective, set 100 years in the future, and who has a form of autism that makes her exceptionally brilliant.

At the time, I had just got my iPhone and was blown away by the technology. I had never seen anything like it and it captured my imagination. I particularly found the iBooks app of interest. I couldn’t believe I could access nearly any book ever printed on a such a small piece of metal and glass that could sit in my hand.

Naturally, I asked myself, ‘What’s the iPhone 100 going to be like?’ In other words, what would be better than this? I then thought, instead of reading any book, wouldn’t it be cool if you could just download any book you ever wanted into your brain and it would forever be in your memory. And if that’s possible, you could do that with any piece of information. What if everyone did this, what would that do to society? What if we all became enlightened, rational, and kind?

And so the story began to swirl around in my head. I had some concept of perfect civilizations from political science and philosophy classes I had taken, so I set out to theorize my own version. This was also fueled by my frustration at home stupid us humans can be. So my society had no crime, no poverty, no corruption… The only problem was, there was no conflict for our hero to go through. I then created a controversial law called The Child Rearing Act and opened with scene that suggested society wasn’t so perfect.

To pay homage to Plato — an ancient Greek philosopher — I reference his masterful work, ‘The Republic’. Milo finds a paperback copy at one point and reads from it. Some others have pointed out that there are a lot of Greek references in the book. Yes, I know! This is deliberate. I borrowed (stole) the concept of the guardians from Plato, called a character Archimedes, and made about two dozen other references.

So there it is, that’s how Prodigy became a real story. I’m so glad it resonates with so many people. I really enjoy the characters, especially Alex, and would love to see her on the big screen one day!

Thanks for reading, I appreciate you.

Edward

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How to Introduce Backstory Without Boring Readers

How to introduce backstory without boring readersI get a lot of questions regarding writing advice. While I’m no expert, I certainly have some opinions that I’m more than happy to share. Recently, I was asked:

“How should I go about adding background information about characters, setting, and whatnot, while making it seamless and natural to the storyline, and engaging for the reader?”

I would advise not to go too crazy in the beginning. In other words, it may be best to keep the backstory to a minimum in the first couple of chapters. Offer as little backstory as necessary, just enough to provide context, but not enough to make it a slog to get through.

Reading an entire novel requires a huge time commitment and a lot of effort, and there are a ton of other forms of entertainment competing for the reader’s precious time. What a lot of readers do is read the first couple of chapters and see if the book is heading in a direction that will entice them to continue reading. If not, they abandon it and pick up something else. So more than any other time, the opening must be awesome, and backstories are generally not awesome, so save it for later, if at all.

buildings

In my book Prodigy, I have an intro, which I was not a fan of, but I just found it to be the best way. I basically set up the entire context of the story in one go. This is the point of an intro so I don’t think the reader minds as much. It’s when you begin your story, introduce your character, and then ‘info dump’ by stating everything about her.

An example of bad background info would be, “Amy sat quietly in class, listening to her teacher drone on. She was reserved ever since the accident last summer, where her and her friends went camping and accidentally killed a guy…” this may be okay, but not in chapter 1.

I consider it bad because upon first mention of Amy, it’s ‘dumping’ the backstory onto the reader. Your reader doesn’t care about Amy yet and at this point has nothing invested in her, so why would they care about her backstory? If you were to ask me, I’d say have Amy do something interesting, make the reader care about her, and then fill them in on some other details piece by piece – definitely not all at once, and definitely not in the first chapter.

girl reading

You may also do a prologue. In the Art of the Hustle for instance, I have a prologue of the main character when he is rich. He’s being interviewed on some talk show and the interviewer asks him, “How did you become a billionaire, where did it all start?” And then I open with chapter one as this young broke kid finishing high school. I think this was way more compelling because the reader knows he eventually becomes rich, but doesn’t know how. As the story unfolds, the reader is trying to guess how he becomes rich.

As the story progresses, I try to use dialogue as much as possible to introduce backstory. This seems natural since characters meeting for the first time don’t know much, if anything, about each other. So naturally they would ask questions that would reveal their backstory. Even then, I wouldn’t get too crazy with it. I may do a bit and then back off out of fear that the reader would get bored.

Batman / Bruce Wayne dead parents

photo credit: Frank Miller

So let’s say you are writing Batman and you open with an epic fight scene (usually a good way to hook the reader). Then you could have Bruce back at the bat cave, looking at a photograph of his dead parents and Alfred come in and say something like, “Today’s the twentieth anniversary of your parents’ death,. You would have made them proud, Bruce…”

In this example, we’ve seamlessly worked it into a piece of dialogue that naturally fits the scene. It seems organic and not shoehorned in.

So to reiterate, my preference is to provide background information sparingly, work it into the story as seamlessly as possible (e.g. through dialogue), and try to avoid ‘info dumping’ at the beginning of the book.

I hope this helps. If you have any other questions, let me know.

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How to Transition Smoothly Between Chapters

How to Transition Smoothly Between Chapters I get a lot of questions regarding writing advice. While I’m no expert, I certainly have some opinions that I’m more than happy to share. Recently, I was asked:

“Are there any ‘good’ ways to have smooth transitions between chapters so that the story flows in an understandable way for the reader?”

First we need to understand that there are two different types of transitions that can occur when a chapter ends:

A.) transitioning from one scene to a completely different scene

B.) transitioning from one scene to a continuation of the same scene, but just in the next chapter

Biker through tunnel

In scenario (a) if there are large gaps of time between the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next, then I usually say something like, “The last 6 months had been rough for Joe. He kept his head down and worked hard…” This is my “establishing shot” so-to-speak. It provides context for the reader and lets them know that the scene has now jumped. The next paragraph after that, I will have Joe doing something and engaging in a new scene.

My book The Art of the Hustle does this quite a bit since I cover 10 years in the book. In one scene, there was so much of a gap (like 4 years), that it was weird to just transition from one chapter to the next so I made a new part. So the book starts out with Part 1 – Chapter 1,2,3,4…. then about halfway, I introduce Part 2 and mention that it has been 4 years later. man walkingIn some cases, it may be more fluid to not have a chapter break, but instead just have a text break. So an example would look like this:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.

***

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.

With this technique, you don’t have to be all that smooth since the separator lets the reader know that you’ve transitioned into a different scene. If the gap in time is not that large, say the character is at work in one chapter, and then at home in the next chapter, I may just say “Joe was exhausted. He sat on the couch as he usually did after his shift and watched sports highlights…” hot air balloon at nightScenario (b) — a continuation of the same scene, but just in the next chapter — is much easier. I actually prefer this ‘cliff-hanger’ technique as much as possible to encourage people to continue reading. TV shows often end this way as well. So if a chapter ends like, “Joe turned around and was shocked by who was standing before him.” I’ll end the chapter there so the reader wants to keep reading to find out who was standing behind Joe.

Then, in the next chapter I would begin by saying something like, “Joe couldn’t believe his eyes as he was now staring at a man he long presumed dead…” So basically you just pick up where you left off. In fact, I often write the scene straight through and then later pick some moment which I feel would make a good cliff-hanger and then end my chapter there.

Some writers have an ‘A’ plot and a ‘B’ plot and they stitch it together like a zipper. So in my above example, you would say something like, “Joe turned around and was shocked by who was standing before him.” End chapter. Then the next chapter would be the ‘B’ plot — a completely different scene altogether.

Then once that chapter ends, you pick up where you left off with the ‘A’ plot. I tend not to do this, but it can add more excitement as the reader now has to read an entire chapter just to get back to where they left off in the story. Blog banner

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Hachette Book Group’s #WhereIWrite Project

Edward Mullen Where I Write

As part of Hachette Book Group’s #WhereIWrite project, I will be broadcasting LIVE on Periscope, Monday July 6th at 5:30 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. If you have Periscope and Twitter, be sure to log in and view my LIVE broadcast. If you want to see where I write and ask me some questions in real time, get the app, figure out how it works, and spend a few minutes with me next Monday!

About the Project:

“#WhereIwrite is a global project started by the Hachette Book Group that aims to celebrate writers and the places where they create. Each month for the rest of the year, Hachette will be turning over the keys to their project to various other publishers and writing platforms to allow their creators to share the spaces that inspire them to create the content their readers love most.”

Thanks,

Edward Mullen

https://twitter.com/writermullen

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Travel Like a Pro

Travel like a pro

I often take for granted how much work is involved in planning a trip. I hear from friends how they saw my pictures from South East Asia or Europe and wish they could do the same. When I ask them why they can’t, their responses can be surprising. Many of them say that it’s too complicated or too expensive, or they’ll come up with some other equally valid reason for not exploring the world. I agree that travelling can be both complicated and expensive, but hopefully reading this post will help. I’ve outlined the process that I go through when booking “complicated” trips.

Let’s begin.

1         Decide where you want to go

When planning a trip, naturally the first thing you want to do is decide where you want to go, which for some is harder than it is for others. I’ll take for granted that you can figure this one out on your own.

With any trip, there are basically two options:

  • Go somewhere new
  • Go somewhere old

For the purpose of this post, I’ll assume you’ve selected to go somewhere new since that is the most complicated of the two choices. Knowing exactly where you want to go is different than just having a general idea of where you want to go. For example, “I want to go to Europe” vs “I want to go to London” — two common statements; two totally different procedures!

2         Figure out dates

Once you’ve decided where you want to go, you have to determine the dates. This actually entails two decisions:

  • When in the calendar year you want to go;
  • And for how long

Booking a trip that is less than one week, and to only one city, is very different than booking a multi-city trip that’s over one week long.

PRO TIP: If you have a bit of flexibility on your dates, sometimes flying one or two days earlier/later can affect the price significantly, and on some sites, you can view the fares of multiple dates at once which is very convenient when you’re looking for a good deal.

3         Look into finances

Deciding where and when is a start, but you have to determine whether you can afford to go. I assume that if you are serious about planning a trip, you have a little money stashed away, otherwise it’s just a sort of wishful thinking exercise. The point is that often we don’t know how far our money will go. Two thousand dollars for instance is enough to travel some places, but not others.

Looking into finances comes into play in three main ways:

  • How much luxury do you want in your trip?
  • What are the exchange rates (i.e. how far will your money go once converted)?
  • How expensive is the country you want to go to?

The biggest expenses are flight and hotel. Certain parts of the world are cheaper to fly to from where you are than others, and this can vary drastically. You can also take advantage of flight deals if you are flexible about dates.

Hotel prices vary a lot. In developing countries for instance, you can get a room for $20/night vs metropolitan cities that could cost $200+/night.

4         Look at weather

Looking at weather sounds pretty straight forward, right? You may want to go somewhere sunny and pack appropriately. Going to Mexico for instance with a luggage full of tank tops and board shorts will not be good if it’s raining the entire time.

However, there is one very important aspect of looking into weather — you want to see what is the best season to go. There are three travel seasons:

  • Low season refers to really miserable weather conditions, few tourists, really cheap, and overall a bad time to visit. Picture Hawaii during monsoon season = not good.
  • Shoulder seasons refer to an off-peak season usually spring and fall when airfares and accommodations tend to be cheaper. It is ideal for when you want to go somewhere and see some things for a relatively low price. As an added benefit, you often experience fewer crowds. The downside is that the weather may not be suitable.
  • Peak seasons are more popular times to go when the weather is nice or when it conforms to common holiday cycles i.e. summer and Christmas. As the laws of supply and demand dictate, when an influx of buyers desire something of a fixed quantity, the price goes up. In other words, what you gain in terms of good weather and time of year, you lose in it being more expensive, having more crowds, and more sold out accommodations and activities.

PRO TIP: If there is a particular natural attraction you want to see (as in, in nature), check when is the best time to see THAT since it could be that it’s in the low season for that region, but that particular attraction looks best then.

My colleague was telling me how when she went to China, she really wanted to see this particular forest that had lots of nice plants. They go all the way to China just for this one thing and when they got there, none of the plants were in bloom! Aside from being really disappointed, they also wasted their precious time and money to visit a place at the wrong time. Don’t let this happen to you!

5         Look at if there are neighbouring cities/countries to visit

If you spend a bunch of your hard-earned money and effort to travel abroad, why not see what else is in the neighbourhood? This also relates to how long you want to spend in one place and also how much time and money you have. Nevertheless, it’s good to optimize your trip.

6         Look at airfare/accommodation deals

When trying to find the best deal on flights, you can use sites like Kayak or Google flights to help track flight prices and alert you when there are sales.

Sometimes you can find airfare + accommodation deals, which can be worthwhile to consider. If you are travelling from Europe within Europe for instance, you can get some great weekend getaways that are flight/train + hotel for cheaper than booking them separately.

Also consider looking for blogs/Facebook groups/etc. that showcase deals from your local airport (i.e. YVR deals).

PRO TIP: If you are thinking of visiting multiple places, then sometimes it’s cheaper to fly to one airport than another from your home. For example, say you want to go to Paris but there’s cheap flights to London, you can fly to London instead and just take a train to Paris.

7         Look for a convenient hotel

If you want to visit several places, plan out a rough itinerary before booking your hotel. See if it’s better to have one hotel as your base and just do a day trip to the other city/country, or is it better to book a new hotel in each city/country.

Use tripadvisor for advice and prices on hotels. However, if you go to a different site directly, the prices are sometimes cheaper.

PRO TIP: If you plan on doing one-way flights to places, switching orders of cities can make a huge difference in flight prices.

8         Look into Visas/shots/customs

Visas:

BEFORE you book your flight, you must ensure you’ll be able to enter the country! Obtaining a visa can be a lengthy process, often more than one month. If you don’t have a visa, you may not be allowed into the country and they will put you on the next flight home – at your expense!

Shots:

If you need shots, you also need to account for adequate time. Be aware that it may take several months for some vaccines to reach their maximum effectiveness, so you may need to have it done at least two months before your trip.

Customs:

As a general practice, it’s always good to know a little about the local customs. You can research online or buy a book that tells you everything travellers need to know. You never want to inadvertently be rude when you visit a particular country. In Buddhist countries, it’s considered rude to point with your feet. In Japanese culture, it’s considered rude to tip your waiter, and stick your chopsticks straight up in your rice. In other places, your clothing may be offensive.

Also, if you could learn a few phrases in the local language, it will go a long way. Phrases such as: ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘where’s the bathroom?’, ‘how much?’, ‘yes/no’, ‘I need help’, etc. are common phrases. A lot of cultures want to see you at least make an effort to speak their language. Once they see this, they are usually a lot more willing to help you out.

9         Look at things to do, including where to eat lunch and dinner

While it’s not necessary to do every bit of research before you book your trip, you should have a general idea of what you want to do. Once you’ve booked your trip, you can delve back into the research.

If you go to a new city, check if there’s a free tour you can join that will give you an intro to the city. If you would rather have a private guide take you around, this can be arranged as well. It costs more, but they can be well worth the money. Guides can often get you better rates, translate for you, negotiate for you, educate you on the sites, find bathrooms when needed… and you will be travelling around in an air-conditioned vehicle all day and don’t have to worry about transit.

Know what you want to do:

If you have an idea of what you would like to do on your trip, then it makes it a little easier to plan. Just figure out where those activities are located, and plan a route that is convenient and efficient.

Don’t know what you want to do:

If you have no idea what activities are available, then you can do some quick research to see what there is to see and do (forums and travel blogs are good for this). Keep in mind where those activities are located since you’ll need to plan a route that is convenient and efficient.

PRO TIP: If you have just a few days in a city, you can google “(#) days in ____ (city you’re visiting)” and see what comes up. There are lots of guides available online and checking out a few of them can give you an idea of what some of the top sights are.

10    Look at transit/transportation

We’re nearing the end of the process!

Renting a car:

If activities, shops, and restaurants are really spread out, and public transit is too complicated or inconvenient, it may be best to rent a car. It’ll cost you more, but then you’ll have a lot more flexibility and convenience, especially in terms of what hotel you want to pick.

Public transit:

If you opt for a cheaper hotel that’s further away from everything, at least ensure there are places nearby to eat, convenience shops, and it’s close to transit with easy/fast connections to the sights you want to see.

PRO TIP:

If a lot of attractions are near the city centre and you can walk to a lot of them, then when you look at the hotel, you have to take into account how much you save from staying further away vs how much more you would spend in transit costs (or parking costs if you’re driving), not to mention your convenience.

11    Book trip

Before you book your trip, you want to go through the following checklist and ensure everything has been thoroughly researched and considered:

  1. Decide where you want to go
  2. Figure out dates
  3. Look into finances
  4. Look at weather
  5. Look at if there are neighbouring cities/countries to visit
  6. Look at airfare/accommodation deals
  7. Look for convenient hotel
  8. Look into Visas/shots/customs
  9. Look at things to do, including restaurants
  10. Look at transit/transportation
  11. Book trip:
    • Flights
    • Hotels
    • Trains

PRO TIP:

You’ve likely done a ton of research by now and have everything finalized. What I like to do is compile all the notes that are relevant to the trip into a brass-fastener folder. You can have everything you need from activities, restaurants, pre-booked tickets, maps, foreign language cheat sheet, copies of passports and credit cards… As you progress through your trip, you can remove (tear out) the pages and discard them, leaving only the pages needed for the remaining days.

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How I Almost Died in China!

died in china

I was in China recently and I nearly died… maybe not actual death, but something that felt close. We were in this small village just outside of Lijiang and had stopped for lunch. The restaurant was a bit questionable, but considering the village I was in, it seemed par for the course. The bathroom for instance was a stand-alone bathroom that had a squatter toilet and a sink, but the sink didn’t work. There was a soap dispenser on the sink, but you needed to go outside to wash up. I suppose that was the first red flag.

The second thing that alerted me that this restaurant had unsafe food preparation practices came when Sarah pulled a long black hair out of the large communal rice bowl. I had just scooped my rice, but had yet to eat it. Thinking I was ahead of the game, I ate the standard foods that I had been eating for the past two weeks – fried chicken and steamed vegetables – both I would consider as fairly safe. I always try to be cautious of what I eat while travelling. Fruit and rice are common cesspools of bacteria that I try to avoid.

After lunch I felt great. The tour continued onto a small village that was really beautiful. The landscape was fit for some stunning photos, which we took lots of. There was a stream that ran along both sides of the old street, and the architecture looked like it was a thousand years old.

China 1144

Along the way, I spotted a bathroom, but for some reason the door was locked. I didn’t even really have to go, I just like to know where the bathrooms are in case of an emergency. Sarah and I decided to get off our feet for a bit and enjoy the scenery. She was reading a book on her phone, and I watched a lady scoop water out of a stream with a bowl and splash it on her garden. There was something hypnotic about her rhythm and how skillfully she was able to distribute the water.

China 1185

Upon sitting, my stomach started to feel a bit funny. At first, I thought it was hunger since I hadn’t eaten that much during lunch. I had an apple in my backpack, so I fetched it from my snack bag and began eating it. Within a short while, the pains got worse and I stressed my urgency to Sarah that I might need to locate a bathroom quickly.

I wouldn’t say that I felt nauseous, but there was a hint of that. This added an extra step to my already hurried pace. I found an external bathroom where the door lead to the outside, kind of like a motel for bathrooms, and it was up a flight of stairs. At the bottom of the stairs, a worker was scooping feces out of a hole and into a bucket. Sorry, I don’t have a photo of that. As you can imagine, the smell was absolutely horrendous and did nothing to help my ailing condition.

I held my breath, walked up to the bathroom, and locked the door behind me. The bathroom was one of those stand-alone squatter deals and was just as disgusting as the other public toilets I had been accustomed to in China. Also, I should mention that whenever you are in a public toilet, you have to bring your own toilet paper, and you also cannot flush the paper. There is always a small basket in each stall where you are to discard your waste paper. This makes the room smell lovely!

China 845

So there I am, I found a bathroom, and I have a nice comfortable squat. Everything was standard procedure, nothing to cause concern. I had been in China for two weeks at this time and up until that point, I felt fine. I didn’t have diarrhea or upset stomach at all. I took pride in that for some reason.

I left the bathroom, walked past the guy with the mud bucket, and proceeded to find Sarah. It started to rain so I took out my rain jacket and put it on. I still didn’t feel amazing, but assumed the prior stomach pains I had were now resolved. I met up with Sarah and walked with her in an out a variety of shops. She was looking for some kind of pastry and couldn’t make up her mind as to which one to get. The whole time, my condition was worsening. I told Sarah that I needed to sit down.

I found a wet step outside of the pastry shop and sat in the rain, huddled up. By now, I was feeling a bit feverish and my stomach pains had gotten worse. The hint of nausea was still there, but never did I think I was actually going to vomit. I felt it was a mental thing and if I didn’t focus on it, it would go away.

After a few minutes of sitting, I decided I should head back to the bathroom. If you listened to my story from Bagan Myanmar (Episode 15 of The Edward Mullen Podcast) you’ll know that I am a bit paranoid about not being close to a bathroom.

SAMSUNG CSCI advised Sarah of my decision and headed down a narrow street in this quaint village to where the bathroom was located. As I approached closer, the damp smell of raw sewage filled the air and hit me like a punch in the face. I made my way past the man with the scoop and walked up stairs into the same stall I had used on my first visit. This time, as soon as I closed the door, I immediately projectile vomited and made a huge mess everywhere. I did that a couple more times and then proceeded to squat. Like a raging river, the most vile liquid gushed out of my body. I’m talking pure liquid. Not the prettiest image, I know, but I have to do the story justice.

So I’m in the bathroom and I completely murdered this poor stall. I stood up and turned around to look at the damage. It was total, unrelenting annihilation. I felt so bad that I actually grabbed a nearby broom and pushed as much vomit as I could into the centre of the porcelain receptacle and then proceeded to flush several times.

SAMSUNG CSCI felt reasonably better, but still didn’t feel good. I exited the stall and was outside in the rain. As I had done upon the first visit, I went downstairs and washed my hands in the separate sinks they had. I walked past the bucket guy, down the narrow street, and back to where I had last seen Sarah. I couldn’t find her, but I found the two guides that were in charge of our tour group. I told them of my illness and they said it was altitude sickness and that what I was feeling was very common. I hadn’t read up on altitude sickness, but I was sure it was food poisoning from lunch. When I told them that, they looked at me like I just admitted to kicking a puppy. They were like, “Food poisoning!… No, this is definitely altitude sickness.” For the record, it was food poisoning.

I sat on the same wet step for another couple of minutes. My hood was up to protect me from the rain and I had my hands were stuffed into my jacket pockets. After a few minutes, I decided that the bus would be a more comfortable place for me to sit and relax. I advised the guides to inform Sarah where I was going, and stumbled back to the bus. I felt I could vomit at any moment if I paid enough attention to it so I tried to keep my mind clear of those thoughts. Just in case, I was looking for a spot to puke. The streams that ran along both sides of the street seemed like a reasonable spot, but I didn’t know if it was the town’s drinking water. What kind of asshole would I be if I hurled in the town’s drinking water?

SAMSUNG CSCIt was a bit of a walk to get to where the bus was parked. I had to walk down a long and winding road, but I eventually found it. When I got on the bus, there were some of my other tour mates there. They told me I looked like crap and I explained to them how I was feeling. I spared them most of the gory details, but mentioned I had gotten sick.

Thinking the worst was behind me, I reclined my chair and tried to get comfortable. I didn’t last more than two minutes before I got up and searched for the bathroom. Fortunately, there was a bathroom by the parking lot, but it cost one Yuan, which was like 20 cents Canadian. Not a big deal, but I wasn’t sure if I had any Yuan on me and I don’t really like asking people for money, even if it’s pennies.

In the sleeve of my sweatshirt was a small zippered pocket. By chance, there happened to be a roll of small bills that I put there a few days ago. I usually let Sarah keep all the cash, but I must have bought something and stuck the change there without really thinking. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me. I approached the bathroom, paid the lady, and found a stall — same squatter toilets, same disgusting smell.

China 1118I’ll spare you from all the graphic details, but it was really, really bad in there for me. It was coming out of both ends and was relentless. I was in a lot of pain. After a while I went back on the bus, reclined my seat for two minutes, and then ran back to the toilet. I paid my money and found myself back in the same stall. For the next several minutes, I felt like I was exorcising a demon. I’m talking every last ounce of fluid from my stomach and bowels was coming out. I had nothing left in my stomach and was puking small amounts of this thick yellow mucous.

I’m not a religious person, but I tell you what, I was praying like a nun in there. I mean, pants around my ankles, in a fetal position, praying to God to relieve me of this pain. I was like, “I’ll go to church, I’ll knock on doors and spread the good word, I’ll do anything! Please make me well again, I can’t take it anymore!” And guess what? God didn’t answer my prayers.

SAMSUNG CSCI must have been in the bathroom a long time because by now the tour group was all back on the bus and were waiting for me. Several men from the group came in to check on me, and then Sarah came in. I had run out of toilet paper a long time ago and after telling Sarah I was dying, I asked for more paper. She found my stall and passed some under the door.

Eventually, I staggered out of the bathroom, probably looking like hell, and made my way onto the bus. It was about 4:00 p.m. and I was eyeing the taxis. I asked if I could take one back to the hotel because there was no way I could continue on to the next adventure. I was done. I needed to lay down and be near a bathroom. The local guide told me that we’ll take the bus into the city and drop me off. From there, I could take a taxi and it would be much cheaper. So that’s what I did.

I had a small garbage pail on my lap and used it several times on the way to the city. I had learned that another person on the tour was experiencing what I was going through and for some reason that made me feel better. I wouldn’t wish what I had on anyone and I’m not sure why it made me feel better, but it did. I guess in those moments, I didn’t want to feel alone. So there was me, this other sick lady, Sarah, sick lady’s mum, and our national guide, Jeff. We all got dropped off at some random hotel in Lijiang. While our guide hailed a taxi, I ran into the hotel and had several more pukes and diarrheas. When I came down, we got into a taxi van and drove to the hotel.

I was wearing sweatpants, a hoody, a toque, a down vest, a down jacket, and was under two down blankets, and I was still cold. I laid in bed, shaking, and wishing I would get better. Moments later, Jeff came into my room and said, “I think we should go to the hospital. Urgently.” I was happy to just lay in bed, but he sounded pretty convincing. In fact, his tone and word choice scared the heck out of me. I thought for a moment I was dying.ChinaHospital

Me, Jeff, and sick lady found a taxi and drove to the People’s Hospital of Lijiang. Sarah and sick lady’s mum took a separate taxi and met us there. While on our way, sick lady was puking into a bucket and moaning like she still had a demon in her. She told me, “This isn’t altitude sickness” in which I responded, “Yeah, I know.” She then said, “They’re just trying to save face.”

When we arrived at the hospital, we had to walk through a bunch of buildings to get to the ER. Inside, I laid on a metal bench and closed my eyes. Shortly after, Sarah and sick lady’s mum showed up and asked me how I was feeling. I told them I was dying. Yes, I’m a little dramatic!

China 1995

It took forever to get to an actual hospital room where medical things could happen to me. In the meantime I visited the bathroom several more times. When I got to the room, there was a messy bed waiting for me. This thing had blood stains on it and looked like they had just dragged some poor soul out of it minutes before, but I didn’t care. I laid down on the blood stains and tried to get comfortable. I shared the room with sick lady and one other random Chinese person. The entire time, sick lady was incessantly moaning, making the whole experience much worse than it needed to be.

By now, it was quite late in the evening. The sun had set and we were all pretty worn out from the day. Me and sick lady were the only ones lying down, which I felt bad for. As I looked around the room, I noticed faded paint on the walls, large cracks in the ceiling, and equipment that looked like it was from the 50s. In fact, it felt like I was in a war museum, the kind where they show you an old hospital from World War II. It was janky as hell, but that was probably standard for China. No offense.

A nurse eventually came to check on me. Jeff told her everything that was wrong and then she withdrew blood from my arm. The results of the blood test took over an hour, but when they came back, they revealed that I was severely dehydrated – big surprise right! I then had another needle stuck into my arm, this time it was for a large IV bag. There were four bags that I had to have slowly drip into my arm through a thin tube. At the rate of the drips, I estimated it would take at least two hours for one bag to drain into my arm. And there were three other bags! I did the math and figured I would be in the hospital until about 3:30/4:00 in the morning. I settled in for the long night and tried to get some sleep.

China 1996Jeff stayed awake and spoke with the nurse every so often. The local guide came in at some point, but then she left. Then another lady in plain clothes came in for a while to check on things, but then she left as well. Meanwhile, my mouth was desert dry as I was instructed not to drink or eat anything. I kept envisioning being back home, going into my fridge, and chugging an entire gallon of cold juice. Not to be dramatic, but I felt like if I didn’t get some water in me, I would be dead within the hour.

I asked Sarah to give me just a small cap of water and she obliged. She took off the cap from a water bottle, filled it with water, and poured it into my mouth. It’s funny how we take the smallest things for granted. I swear, the moment that wonderful liquid hit my mouth, I was in heaven. I immediately asked for another cap, then another. I didn’t care about the doctor’s instructions, I was dying! The last mouthful I just let swash around for a moment to keep my mouth moist, and then I swallowed.

I was trying to be as disciplined as possible and fight off the insatiable thirst I was feeling, but self-preservation is a powerful motivator. After ten minutes I asked Sarah for another cap. They always came in threes and the last cap always lingered in my mouth for a bit just to savour it. As soon as I swallowed, I counted down another ten minutes until I could ask again. The entire time, my body was sore, my stomach hurt, and I was visualizing cold glasses of water being poured into my mouth. I didn’t make it to the ten minute mark. After about eight minutes, Sarah was standing over me pouring caps of water in my mouth. I thought spacing them out every so often would be good enough and wouldn’t hurt anybody. Then I got greedy.

bottled-waterThe next time I asked, only about five minutes had passed. Then two minutes after that, I had convinced myself that I was better and able to drink as much water as I wanted. I told Sarah to give me the bottle and I proceeded to chug it like a dying man in a desert. As one might expect, all this water was not good for me. Soon after, I needed to go to the bathroom, quite urgently.

Going to the bathroom presented a bit of a challenge. First, I was connected to an IV bag, which was not on a stand that could be wheeled around. It was connected to a hook that dangled from the ceiling. I advised Jeff of my situation and told him I’d just carry the IV bag. He then said that would not work because the bag needed to remain at a certain elevation. Being a nice guy, he offered to hold the IV and accompanying me to the bathroom. Bless his heart.

Not actual image. Photo courtesy of www.medicaldaily.com

Not actual image. Photo courtesy of http://www.medicaldaily.com

I slowly rose from the bed and squeezed into my shoes. Together, Jeff and I walked down the long hall toward the bathroom. When we entered the bathroom, there was a squatter toilet, a urinal stall, and a regular sit-down toilet – all out in the open with no privacy. There was another guy in there at the time, but he was at the sink if I remember correctly. Jeff asked me which one I needed, and I opted for the squatter toilet. For some reason, I had grown accustomed to them. Sit-down toilets are good for slow, relaxing bathroom situations, but this wasn’t one of those times. I got about a foot from the squatter toilet and immediately expelled all the precious water that I had been sneakily consuming for the past hour. Next was the other end. With Jeff standing at arm’s length in front of me, I pulled down my pants and released a fountain of liquid. Never once did Jeff complain or say, “Ah, come on dude, seriously!” No, instead he stood tall, holding my IV bag like a champ, and then handed me toilet paper. Again, bless his heart.

That situation I described happened three more times throughout the night and each time, Jeff had my back. I thanked him profusely and made a mental note to remember this moment for when I would decide how much to tip him at the end of the tour.

China 1998We walked back to the room and I crawled into bed. I wasn’t able to sleep, although I tried. At one point, Sarah crawled into the disgusting bed with me and tried to get some rest herself. Never once did I feel comfortable. I had my eyes closed mostly, and whenever I opened them, it was to check the IV progress. I’m not sure if me watching the IV made it drip slower, but it seemed like it was taking forever. At a certain point I think the IV had stopped and we had to call a nurse. She opened up the flow so it dripped faster, but that made my vain swell up and feel like it was going to explode. I trusted she knew what she was doing and I tried to ignore the discomfort.

As I expected, we didn’t end up leaving until around 3:30 am. Sick lady and her mum had left hours before so when we left the hospital, it was just me, Sarah, and Jeff. My arms were draped across their shoulders and they were helping me walk as if I was a wounded comrade in war. I used the time to thank Jeff and Sarah for what they had done for me. We waited curbside for less than a minute before a taxi showed up and took us back to the hotel.

SAMSUNG CSCBack at the hotel, I settled into bed and tried my best to put this horrible experience behind me. Jeff accompanied us to our room and made some kind of salty beverage that was supposed to help restore my electrolytes. I slowly sipped it and was able to keep the fluid down, but it did nothing to make me feel any better.

I slept decently for a few hours and in the morning, I decided to skip breakfast. Jeff called me and asked me how I was feeling. I explained to him that I still wasn’t feeling good and told him I was going to skip the day’s activities. Sarah was a bit tired, but other than that she felt fine. She went out with the rest of the group and I laid in bed all day.

Jeff called me around noon and offered to bring me some food for lunch. I declined, but it was a nice gesture. He told me that many other people had gotten sick and were also at the hotel resting. Sometime in the afternoon, Sarah came back to check on me. I hadn’t moved all day and was still feeling awful. She then went outside of the hotel to look for some crackers and juice for me. She returned shortly after with saltine crackers and a Vitamin Water. I slowly nibbled the crackers—the only thing I had eaten in the past 24 hours—and chugged the Vitamin Water.

That day went by and I had skipped breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I was fatigued and still feeling nauseous. I didn’t feel good while standing and I only felt slightly better laying down. The next morning, I went to breakfast in the hotel and just ate some fruit and a piece of toast. I also had a couple glasses of juice. There were no activities scheduled for the day, which was good, but at around 2:00 p.m., we had to catch a flight to Chongqing. I remained close to a bathroom at all times and had to use it on several occasions. The bus ride to the airport was about an hour, and then the flight was about two hours. I kept it together and didn’t have any emergencies.

We landed in Chongqing at night and I had skipped lunch, which was greasy KFC—probably the right call!  From the airport, we boarded a tour bus and drove through the busy metropolis to our cruise ship. The local guide was at the front of the bus and was explaining to us that Chongqing has over 32 million people—almost as much as the entire population of Canada! She said that there were a lot of factories there like Ford and Apple. With such a dense population, the traffic was really bad. I’m assuming the pollution was bad too, but it was night time so I didn’t notice it.

China 1190We arrived on the cruise ship about one and a half hours later. I felt really fortunate to get sick when I did (as opposed to some other time) because for the next five days I could just rest in my room on the ship. No other time during our trip would have provided me with this opportunity. We were constantly moving from place to place and it would have been really hard on my system. For the next three days or so I took it easy, mostly remaining in bed. I slowly regained my appetite. First, I was eating just small portions of plain noodles without any sauce, and then by day three on the ship, I was feeling much better and my appetite had fully returned.

SAMSUNG CSC

I’ve had food poisoning before, but nothing like this. It was really nasty. China was an amazing experience and despite this incident, I really enjoyed my time there.

For more stories from my trip to China, or other travels, check out Episode 20 of The Edward Mullen Podcast.

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Prodigy Eternal – Chapter One

The highly anticipated sequel to the cult-classic Prodigy will be available in eBook stores soon!

One year has passed since Alexandra Gray became the symbol of hope for society. Sheathed in the undercurrent of Tokyo, Alex has remained out of the public eye, desperately trying to reclaim a piece of her old life, all the while searching for her purpose.

Becoming close with a group of rogue hackers, Alex is offered a chance to escape the burdens of fame and slip back into a life she once knew. But upon placing her trust in the hands of people with ulterior motives, she discovers the misstep could have serious repercussions on the world — consequences far more dire than even her betrayers may realize. Now it is up to Alex to contain the situation and undo the damage that she has inadvertently caused. Standing in her way is an elusive and powerful foe who will stop at nothing to avenge a wrong that has been committed against him.


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Chapter One

Tokyo — 2119

The constant awe and admiration of staring eyes had become too much for Alex to bear. She had been hiding for the past year, moving from place to place and trying to find purpose. While discovering what the world had to offer beyond the confines of her home in Megalopolis, Alex mainly ended up in population-dense cities since they provided the best cover.

With a proper disguise, she integrated inconspicuously among the people without the risk of being identified. There were a few instances where savvy pedestrians would stare at her face for a little longer than she felt comfortable with. Their curious eyes would study her flawless bone structure and wonder if they had inadvertently stumbled upon the famous and elusive Alexandra Gray. But before they settled on a conclusion, Alex would vanish like an apparition, leaving them with nothing but doubt and a fleeting memory.

Reports of sightings would invariably emerge with people claiming to have had genuine encounters. Tall tales and rumours travelled through close circles of friends and eventually spread out like a virus, infecting the ears of anyone with an interest. With each story and occasional blurry image that was captured, her legend grew stronger. Having one of the most recognizable faces on the planet didn’t make lying low any easier. Even the best disguises were not immune to the diligent observation of those who were on the lookout for her.

Hiding behind large sunglasses and a full head wrap, Alex approached a market in the busy Shinjuku district of the Japanese metropolis. Fully immersed in the orderly chaos, she slinked her way through the crowds of people until she reached a vendor selling frozen fish. Amongst the chatter between customers and merchants, haggling over prices, Alex heard a siren in the background and tensed up. She was not wanted by the authorities, but the discomfort of knowing she had broken several laws with impunity never left her. The sirens faded and the voice of a shouting man flooded her ears.

“Miss, hello, do you want to buy?” the vendor asked.

Alex snapped out of her daze and regained her focus.

“You want to buy fish?” the man asked.

“I’m just looking, thanks,” Alex said politely.

“Next customer, please!” the man shouted.

Everything about Tokyo was unique. It was unlike any other spot she had been, and she felt more like she had landed on another planet than in another city. The customs and behaviour of the people were noticeably different. Despite what she had learned at the Facility, the once touted ‘global super-culture’ was showing signs of divergence. The architecture was similar to her home of Megalopolis, but distinctive at the same time. Tall glass-covered structures stretched up beyond the clouds and out of sight, while colourful lights and floating holograms sparkled across the night sky.

Alex manoeuvered past the fish vendor and squeezed through a barking herd of customers. As she made her way to the subway, a familiar face on a large screen caught her attention. The sound from the news broadcast poured out from concealed speakers and into the crowd, but no one seemed to be paying any attention. Alex stopped and watched, even if it would only be for a few moments.

“Hi, I am Marika Martens for the Global News Network, and we are gearing up for what will be a historic event this weekend. This Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of when our planet was saved by the heroic Alexandra Gray. There have been many rumours and speculation as to Miss Gray’s whereabouts, but one thing is for certain, history will forever remember this young prodigy.

“Joining us live is one of Alex’s closest friends, Milo Rion. Milo, welcome to our program.”

“I’m happy to be here, thank you for having me.”

“Milo, you are one of Alex’s closest friends and have become somewhat of a celebrity yourself. How has your life changed since that fateful day, and how do you intend to celebrate this Saturday?”

“I appreciate some of the spillover attention I’ve received, but that has mostly died down now. I get the odd person recognizing me here or there, but honestly my life hasn’t changed all that much. I’m still picking away at my school requirements with the hopes of graduating soon. As for how I intend to celebrate — I don’t know, I haven’t really given it much thought. I’m just thankful to have had Alex as part of my life for as long as I did. So I suppose more so than other times, this Saturday I will be reflecting back on some of the special moments we’ve shared together.”

“I’m sure you get this question all the time, but I have to ask — where is Alex?”

“You know, I wish I knew, but we haven’t spoken in a long time. I hear the rumours just like everyone else and am left to wonder where she is and what she has been up to.”

“If she is watching this, is there anything you would like to say to her?”

“Alex, if you’re watching, I just want to say that I miss you very much and I hope you are safe.”

A single tear emerged from behind Alex’s glasses and rolled down her cheek. She wiped it away and sniffled.

“We’re now going to play a clip from Alex’s last public appearance, where she addressed millions of adoring fans all over the world.”

I stand before you completely humbled. I didn’t ask for any of this attention and praise, but I am truly honoured you herald me as your saviour. The truth is, I was just one small part of a much larger operation. I could not have done it without my mother, her friends, as well as my two best friends…”

As the footage played, Alex was nowhere in sight, having dispersed into the crowd like a whisper in the wind.

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