Tag Archives: adventure

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 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

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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.

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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.

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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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Discovering Mystery in the Ancient City of Riga, Latvia

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In March 2014, Sarah and I set off on another adventure – this time to Riga and Jurmala, Latvia. Riga is renowned for many things, but it can now boast the prestigious honour of being labelled one of the European Capitals of Culture for 2014. Needless to say, we were excited to travel to the beautiful and historic city.

We arrived by bus in the evening just as the sun was descending over the horizon. The warm colours of the sky made us forget that it was freezing cold. As we came properly prepared for the weather, we stopped to take a few photos of the red and orange sky before proceeding.

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With our heavy backpacks in tow, we were eager to find our hotel. Sarah had printed a map from the Internet, which proved very quickly to be useless. We remained on the main street, walking along the sidewalk with the water and sunset to our left. Eventually we found a Wellton Hotel (not the one we had booked), and figured we’d ask them for directions to our hotel. As it turned out, we were not very far from our hotel at all. The receptionist assured us we just needed to follow the road for another two blocks and then turn left and we couldn’t miss it. Sure enough, we found our hotel.

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After checking in, we set our bags down and immediately went back out to explore the city. By this time, the sun had completely receded and it was now night time. The starry sky provided the perfect backdrop to the ancient architecture and cobblestone streets. Despite it being below zero, we happily snapped more photos of the rustic buildings.

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The following days and nights were filled with awe-inspiring discovery. At one particular church, we found an odd-looking boulder with a face carved into it. Upon reading the blurb, it turned out to have quite a fascinating story.

It was called The Stone Head of Salaspils. The origin and time of this idol are unknown. The earliest information about it can be traced back to mid-nineteenth century. As the story goes, a farmer from Salaspils discovered the stone idol on his property in 1851. The head went on display at a museum until 1875, where it then disappeared for the next 125 years. It finally resurfaced in the year 2000, when it was found buried in the yard of the church where it now resides. The origins and disappearance still remain a mystery to this day.

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How to Build an Audience as a Writer

The following is a list of advice that can improve your writing.

1069921_10100669193867131_531800510_n1. Practice Makes Perfect

Think about how much practice it requires to be really good at something. If you want to be exceptional, then you need to put in the same effort into your craft as Kobe Bryant puts into basketball – you need to write and edit everyday. To give you an idea, I write or edit around 11 hours nearly every day. There’s a really good quote I like to use often, it’s from Steve Martin’s book Born Standing Up – he says, “Be undeniably good.” If you are undeniably good at what you do, then people will find out about you.

2. Take Your Time

A common mistake a lot of new writers make is they release their work too soon. RESIST THE URGE TO DO THIS!! To give you an example of what I do, I wait at least a year before putting any book or short story out, but usually longer. From the time I write something until the time it goes public is around two years. This is such an important point and should not be overlooked. Trust me, you need some separation from your work and within that time, your skills will have improved. You’ll go back to stuff that at a time represented your best work, but a year later will be complete rubbish. So if you want to make the maximum impact with your writing, it has to be good, and a story hot off the press usually isn’t good.

3. Make a Good First Impression

You’ve heard the saying ‘You only get one chance to make a good first impression’. Make sure your writing is very polished. You won’t be able to do this on your own so you must get editors to review your work. This also applies to the cover art as well. Make sure the product you’re representing is indistinguishable from a professional book. If your writing is of a poor quality, and then your next book is the best book ever written, you may not get that second chance from people.

4. Expose Yourself

If you’re writing for the sake of writing, that’s great, but most of us want others to read our work. There’s nothing wrong with that, nor is there anything wrong with trying to make a living from your art. However, to do this is very difficult. To build your fanbase, you must first reach some kind of audience – a large number of people who will evaluate your work and decide whether or not they like it. One way to do this is to be featured on a website that reaches a lot of people. You want the spotlight on your book for as long as possible to give people a chance to read your words. If your book is featured and appeals to people, you may even make a ‘trending’ list or a ‘hot’ list. This is also a great way to gain exposure. It also helps if you can be number one on those lists, but anywhere in the top ten is good.

Edward Mullen Prodigy #1

Another great way to expose yourself is to have multiple avenues where people can access you, and don’t be afraid to give your stuff away for free. Be active on as many social media accounts, respond to fans, have a podcast, have a YouTube channel, a blog, and be candid. People are usually really good at spotting fakes. If you want success in anything, you have to be authentic to who you are. Don’t be afraid to expose your personality and even your insecurities, because those things are what make you unique.

5. Explore the World

Writing well is not only about constructing grammatical sentences, your ideas have to be engaging and interesting for people to read. Interesting ideas, interesting points of view, and interesting ways of describing things comes with life experience. As a teenager or young adult, your experiences may be limited so I encourage you to experience new things. While you are exploring the world, remember to be observant and take notes. Observe how people behave, how systems work, what the inside of an office building looks like, and capture your ideas in digital form or on paper for later review. The more experiences you have, the more reference points you will be able to draw from in your writing.

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