Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Calling for student debt stories

I mentioned in my last post that I was on the verge of paying off my student loans. On December 3rd, I completed the transfer. I'm officially debt free.

I'm currently writing a piece about paying off student loans early (graduation was less than five years ago). Did you know that the average student debt per person in the US is now $29,400?

At the moment, the piece I'm working on has my story and my strategies for getting out of debt. I'd like to include anecdotes from other people who have paid off their student debt or are still in the process. If you're interested in sharing your story, please let me know at I'm mostly looking for Americans or people who went to US schools for this piece.

Here are some questions to give you an idea of the kind of information I'm seeking. Feel free to answer these questions directly, only answer some, or just drop me a few lines about your own student debt situation. You will remain anonymous unless you explicitly give me permission to quote you.

1) How did you decide to take on student loans? Did you feel you had any other options?

2) Approximately how much did you borrow? (Again, this is totally optional and anonymous if you want to share. I'm going to include all of my own numbers.)

3) What is your current debt status? If you're in repayment, does your debt feel manageable? If you've already paid off your debt, how did you do it and how long did it take?

4) What's the biggest sacrifice or most extreme measure you've had to take in order to make your student loan payments?

5) Was it worth it? This is the $70,000 question for me, one I'm planning to answer in my student debt piece.

Thanks in advance for your stories!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Into the home stretch...

Here's a picture from my talk at the FCC (stolen from Suvi Lampila).
There are five days remaining in National Novel Writing Month. So far I've written 43,042 words of the prequel to my post-apocalyptic series-in-progress. I hope to get another 3,000 down at my usual Tuesday night writing session, so it's safe to say I'll hit the goal by Saturday (famous last words?). Last year I managed 58,000 words by the end of the month, but in all fairness I had to spend part of this month polishing The Art of Escalator Jumping in preparation for my self-publishing demonstration. The good news is that the book has already sold enough copies to recoup my costs and has garnered a lovely review from Susan Blumberg-Kason.

In addition to writing hijinks, the end of this November will mark another personal milestone. I will pay off my last student loan. I'm just starting to get my head around what it will mean to be 100% debt free. I plan to write more about that in the near future. In the meantime, I'm trying to decide how to celebrate. Buy some new boots? Cut off all my hair? Apply for a master's program? Do you have any suggestions?

Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving and may you reach the home stretch on all your goals!

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Art of Escalator Jumping

Cover by James at
As promised, here is the novel I formatted and uploaded to Amazon in front of a live audience last night. The talk was a great success. I hope that today there are a few extra empowered writers around Hong Kong.

This is my first novel, which I wrote last spring to get over my fear of fiction. I'm quite proud of the writing, but it's too short and too niche to submit to a traditional publisher (unless love stories on escalators become a thing). Here it is for $2.99 if you want to read it.

A chance encounter on the Mid-levels Escalator in Hong Kong tips a young woman into an unexpected romance…

Octavia Chan is a reserved Eurasian woman who has a hard time standing up to her mother. Joan is driven, controlling and—for a 26-year-old back under her mother’s roof—incredibly frustrating. Octavia has recently returned to Hong Kong to reconnect with her mother when she meets Cal, an impulsive American with enthusiasm to burn.

The Escalator brings Cal and Octavia together like a mechanical sprite.

Then Joan’s tight control begins to unravel. Rather than working for a better relationship with her mother, Octavia finds herself fighting for Joan’s sanity. Enlisting the aid of a tough psychologist-turned-lawyer, a Hong Kong socialite, and a helper with a secret, Octavia must use her own kind of strength to help her mother.

But a storm is brewing in Hong Kong, and Joan has a secret too.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I'm giving a talk/demonstration tomorrow...

...on how to make an e-book. I'll format a manuscript (in a Word doc) and upload it to Amazon for the HK Women in Publishing Society--live. I've done this multiple times now because I've been writing a series of tongue-in-cheek essays under a secret pen name. Perhaps I'll tell you about them one day, but right now I'm enjoying the anonymity. My mom doesn't even know about this ;).

Anyway, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the internet and projector will work properly and that KDP won't go on the fritz while I'm speaking to a packed house.

The book I'll be uploading is a short novel (almost a novella) I wrote for the HKWiPS Saphira competition. It's wildly niche (almost all the action takes place on and around the Mid-levels Escalator in Hong Kong), so I probably wouldn't submit it to a traditional publisher anyway. I was either going to retire it to a digital drawer or have to add another 30,000 words. I'm more excited about writing new projects at the moment, but this way a few people can read it--and hopefully enjoy it. I won't be doing a lot of promotion, but I'll post the link when the e-book goes live.

Wish me luck!

Here's the event link if you want to attend

Just a quick update on Nanowrimo: in addition to polishing the aforementioned manuscript, I've written 22,000 words this November! If you have been waiting for an email from me this is why... I'll be back in touch with everyone next week.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Bookspotting and Nanowrimo

Over the weekend, I spotted a friend reading Philippa Gregory's The White Queen (I think it was the white one). Yesterday, a woman got on the train at Kowloon Bay with a battered copy of The Great Gatsby. I also spotted a schoolboy with Murakami's 1Q84. At a glance, it looked like a Chinese translation, but it could have been the original Japanese version. As usual, I spotted a smattering of Chinese books and e-readers around town. What are people reading in your general vicinity?

I'm about 10,000 words into National Novel Writing Month. I'm working on a prequel to my post-apocalyptic series-in-progress. I've had a chance to meet up with groups of writers from around HK and even had some of them over to my place for a write-in after party. Are you participating in Nano? How is it going so far?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Apocalyptic Bookspotting

It may have been a while since my last bookspotting post (no excuses here), but I have been keeping track. Each time I see someone reading on the train or in a coffee shop while I'm writing, I note it in a document on my phone. To get you up to speed: I've seen school kids reading The Last Olympian, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I've spotted textbooks on psychology, math and English. Fellow commuters have been reading Girl with a Dragon Tattoo and My Sister's Keeper. I saw a girl with a Kindle and a boy reading Frindle. I have one note on my phone that simply says north, and to be honest I have no idea what book that's referring to. Just yesterday I saw a man reading Thinking Fast and Slow while he rode an escalator in Central station--not an hour after I'd downloaded the same book on my Kindle. I spotted The Alchemists on the train and Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats in Mong Kok station. In short, reading is alive and well in Hong Kong.

For my part, I've been binging on apocalyptic fiction in preparation for National Novel Writing Month. As a direct result, I now find myself buying extra gallons of water at the grocery store and assessing my neighborhood for possible fortified locations. I have decent visibility from our apartment and there's only one entrance to the building. However, the best spot has to be the old police complex on Hollywood Road. In the event of zombies, look for me there ;).

My Nano novel will be a prequel to the series I started last year. It doesn't have any zombies. The series takes place sixteen years after the apocalyptic event, so the prequel will happen right in the middle of the disaster. Oh, and the whole thing is set at sea! I'm really enjoying the research process and looking forward to meeting up with fellow HK-based writers.

What are you reading? How about the people around you? Are you doing Nanowrimo this year?

Friday, September 13, 2013

UNSAVORY ELEMENTS edited by Tom Carter


An anthology of non-fiction by foreigners living in China.


Unsavory Elements features a diverse selection of stories about what it's like to live in China as a foreigner. All sorts of people move to China, though the balance of this particular collection tipped toward young, unattached males (at least when their unsavory adventures took place). The writers illustrate moments that will likely resonate with many: being offered large amounts of money to write someone's college admissions essay; finding unexpected camaraderie with locals through sports, drinks and food; getting lost; finding love. In truth, most of the writers are not especially unsavory. This collection could actually debunk a myth or two about expats in China. Most of them are just normal people navigating normal life issues in somewhat abnormal circumstances.

Naturally, some of the stories are better than others--or at least I connect with some more than others. Particular standouts for me were the contributions by Aminta Arrington, Michael Levy and, of course, Peter Hessler. The collection includes stories by two writers, Jocelyn Eikenburg and Kaitlin Solimine, who will also appear in the forthcoming expat women in Asia anthology I am editing for Signal 8 Press. Most of the writers have books out or in the works. Unsavory Elements is a terrific way to sample their writing style so you'll know what to buy next time you're in the China section of your local bookstore/Amazon.

I read Unsavory Elements while I was compiling the final manuscript of my own anthology. It was useful to see how editor Tom Carter (of China: Portrait of a People fame) decided to organize the stories. The collection progresses much like the life cycle of an expat, from arrivals and first impressions to deciding to go home--or stay. I particularly appreciated how he'd often pair stories, so that one tale would be met with a contrasting impression of a related event. For example, one person receives special treatment as a foreigner in one story, whereas the next experiences negative discrimination. The give-and-take of the structure reminded me of the constant search for balance that expats experience, both in China and abroad.


Unsavory Elements has an active Facebook page.


I bought the paperback at the Hong Kong launch event (I tried to insert a picture from the launch, but Blogger isn't cooperating; here are some random pictures from Shanghai instead). The Kindle edition is $14.40, making it only slightly cheaper than the paperback.


What do you think about collections that deal with the "foreigner's experience" in China and other expat hotbeds? Do you think they reinforce division and stereotypes? Enhance understanding? Both?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Bookspotting and Moving

This is before we moved in. We're not quite that neat.
My husband and I spent last weekend moving into our new apartment. Naturally, my books were the first things I carried up from the old place on Hollywood Road. I'm still rearranging my bookshelves and trying to decide how to organize everything. Books by people I know together? Travel memoirs together? Hong Kong books together? What about Hong Kong travel memoirs by people I know?! I do have a prominent spot for books that I haven't read yet, including Elegance of a Hedgehog, Love in the Time of Cholera, About a Boy and Petals from the Sky. My goal is to work through them and then move them to the appropriate shelf. Of course that would be easier if I would quit buying books faster than I can read them on my Kindle...

Speaking of Kindles, I spotted a man reading a 2nd generation white Kindle on the train this morning. Yesterday, a woman was reading a Chinese book with an eagle on one side and traditional red stamp on the other. I spotted a schoolgirl with Shopoholic Abroad by Sophie Kinsella and a Western woman with an Amy Tan novel. Best of all, I saw a young woman on the MTR with a tattoo of an open book on her shoulder. She was reading Mr. Palomar by Italo Calvino.

What are people reading in your town this week? How do you organize your bookshelves?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Bookspotting in Hawaii

I didn't keep official Bookspotting notes during our honeymoon on the island of Kauai, but there were plenty of people reading on the beach and by the hotel pool. I spotted titles by Sophie Kinsella, Tom Clancy, Nora Roberts, George R. R. Martin, and Gillian Flynn. I also saw a woman reading Shanghai Girls by Lisa See and a teen reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Non-fiction books of any kind were noticeably absent on the beach. Surprisingly, I only saw one person reading a Kindle (besides myself).

On our way back from a drive to Waimea Canyon, we stopped in a little town called Hanapepe for lunch. We found a great little bookstore, Talk Story, which is billed as the westernmost bookstore in the United States. It has a mixture of used and new (mostly local interest) books. The most interesting title I spotted was Da Jesus Book, a translation of the New Testament and Psalms in Hawaiian Pidgin. Here's part of the 23rd Psalm quoted from the book's website: 
Da Boss Above, he take care me,
  Jalike da sheep farma take care his sheeps.
  He goin give me everyting I need.

He let me lie down wea da sweet an soft grass stay.
  He lead me by da water wea I can rest.
He give me new kine life.

  He lead me in da road dat stay right,
  Cuz I his guy.

Have you spotted any interesting books lately? What kind of books do you like to read by the pool?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I'm wedded, honeymooned, and back in business!

Hello everyone! I'm back in Hong Kong, back at my day job, back to writing, and back to blogging. I'm also newly married and will very soon be moving out of the lovely little apartment that has been my home since I moved to Hong Kong three years ago. You've seen glimpses of it, but please indulge me for a moment...

Isn't it adorable?

I can't say I'll miss the tiny kitchen though.

Of course the best part is the view of the old Central Police Station (this picture was taken before it was covered is scaffolding for the renovation).

Incidentally, the landlord hasn't found a new tenant yet, so if you are looking for the perfect single's apartment, you should get in touch with Edwin the agent at 9010 2962. The good news is that my husband and I have found a terrific starter apartment to rent very close by. I'll be posting pictures of that as soon as we sign on the dotted line. By the way, if you are interested in wedding pictures, my husband would prefer not to appear on my blog, but here's one of me by Cardas Photography :). I may post more when I get the rest of them.

Although I've been caught up with non-writing and reading life lately, some of my work appeared this summer on the new Modern Love Long Distance website. As some of you know, my husband and I did not live in the same country for three and a half years of our nearly six-year relationship. Here's a Q&A about our relationship and an article I wrote about moving abroad for a partner. I will continue to write about the lessons I learned at MLLD over the next few months.

I have decided to take my husband's last name, but I plan to continue using Shannon Young as my writing, professional, and social media name. To that end, I've set up a new Facebook page as Shannon Young, the writer. If you are interested in my writing, feel free to like the page for updates. If you are only interested in the matters discussed on A Kindle in Hong Kong (bookspotting, reviews, Hong Kong, literary events) that Facebook page will remain active. In fact, I hope it will be a bit more active as I get back into the swing of things.

What's new with you? Any major life events to report? What have you been reading lately? I'm almost finished with Mad Ship by Robin Hobb.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Gone honeymooning

Hi everyone! I got married this weekend and I'm off on my honeymoon. I should be back to blogging in mid August. In the meantime, I just started contributing to a new website about long distance relationships. You can check out this Q&A for more about the beginning of my relationship with my new husband :).

Friday, June 21, 2013

Bookspotting and Scuba Diving

Island in Malaysia where I once did a trial scuba dive on Christmas Day.
A few days ago I saw a Western woman on the train reading The World of Suzy Wong. She had her hand over her mouth and a somewhat distressed look on her face, so I'm pretty sure I know what part she was reading. Yesterday afternoon, I spotted a young Chinese woman reading a Sophie Kinsella novel. Based on the cover (and some quick Amazon research), I think it was I've Got Your Number. Later, I saw a woman with a big textbook on her lap called Economics Demystified. I only spotted one Chinese book this week, and it looked like non-fiction.

I've spent almost every evening this week working on the online PADI scuba diving course and attending training sessions at a pool overlooking the Jumbo restaurant in Aberdeen. This weekend we'll do our first two open water dives (Saturday's session has been cancelled due to a typhoon warning). We will hopefully finish our open water certification in time to go scuba diving on our honeymoon this August.

Do you have any big plans for the summer? Have you tried scuba diving before?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bookspotting and Wedding Planning

My grandparents' porch, utterly devoid of stress
Over the last few weeks, I've been wrapping up my work responsibilities, finishing the edits for the Expat Women in Asia anthology, and doing a little bit of writing when I can squeeze it in. I'm trying to get all these things out of the way this month because I am getting married in July! 

Planning a wedding from abroad has not been nearly as difficult as I expected, though I'll have a lot to do in the three weeks between my arrival in the US and the actual ceremony. We are getting married in the seaside town in Oregon where my grandparents live (I've visited them there every summer since they retired from their own expat life in Asia). Because it's a small town, we have the huge advantage of not very many choices: only two florists to choose from, one photographer, two reception-compatible restaurants, etc. The disadvantage is that folks in the town prefer to make arrangements over the phone and take a long time to respond to emails. Fortunately, my mom has been calling people when necessary and I'm sure all the details will fall into place. 

Have you planned a major event long distance before? Did you find it more or less stressful than being there in the thick of things?

In bookspotting news, I saw a woman reading a book called Women Beyond the Wire on the train. A young man had what looked like a textbook called Power System something or other. Another man was carrying Thinking Fast and Slow under his arm in Kowloon Bay. This morning, a group of teenagers standing in the MTR station were discussing a textbook called Science Mysteries. This week I also spotted one Hong Kong guidebook (Lonely Planet version), a handful of Chinese books, and one novel with flames on the cover. What are people reading in your town this week?

Friday, May 24, 2013

COUNTRY DRIVING by Peter Hessler

By the road in Nevada where our tire shredded 50 miles from the nearest town


An American journalist acquires a Chinese driver's license and explores the back roads, villages, and factory towns of a changing country.


COUNTRY DRIVING is a work of narrative non-fiction divided into three parts. The first section deals with a long road trip along the Great Wall and into the remote parts of western China. Part two is about Hessler's acquisition of a little house in a village outside of Beijing and his relationship with a small family there. The third part follows the life of a bra ring factory in a boom town. Hessler's ability to drive himself around China (in rented cars) makes each section of the story possible and provides a new take on the China travelogue, which so often features train travel. Driving enables him to reach previously inaccessible areas and to experience China's rapid change literally at street level.

I've done several Great American Road Trips (two loops around the West and NY to AZ), and it was interesting to compare those experiences to COUNTRY DRIVING. In the first section of the book in particular, you get the same sense of vastness from Hessler's account of driving across China as you do when driving north through the empty center of Nevada. On the other hand, when Hessler drives into factory towns he witnesses constant change and growth, destruction and rebuilding. In the US, I encountered town after town a generation or two removed from its most recent boom period. The shuttered warehouses and silent mining communities scattered across the countryside must once have felt like the brand new industrial complexes in China, though on a much smaller scale.

Peter Hessler's ability to take the massive subject of China's booming industry and scale it down to a personal level is what makes this book worth reading. If you've been around this blog for a while, you'll know I'm a big Peter Hessler fan. His work is always detailed and well-researched, but it's his understated writing voice that is particularly appealing. He describes the people he meets in China in a respectful and warm manner. He builds friendships with his subjects, and gives human faces to the sometimes staggering statistics associated with modern China.


Here's my review of RIVER TOWN from two years ago and my account of when I shared a taxi with Peter Hessler on the way to his HK International Literary Festival event.


The Kindle edition is $9.99.


How does driving alter your experience of a place compared with walking, taking the train, riding the bus, etc.?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bookspotting and Thunderstorms

Today was my first black rainstorm experience in Hong Kong. Throughout the night, thunder overwhelmed the city noises that usually make their way into my windows, and I awoke to flashes of lightning more than once. When I got up this morning, the thunderstorm still raged and the Black Rain signal had been raised by the HK Observatory, meaning that school and my day job were cancelled. I spent the day editing essays for the Expat Women in Asia anthology in my pajamas and having lunch with my fiance in one of my favorite cafes. I've been busy with a lot of little tasks lately, and it was glorious to slow down and focus on the project I am most passionate about at the moment.

Last week I attended the launch party for Nothing Gained, where I got to meet Phillip Y. Kim, get my copy of the book signed, and chat with some cool HK publishing people. In other bookspotting news, I saw a boy on the train reading Matilda last week. Yesterday, I spotted two people reading textbooks, one with a red cover on the MTR and one with a yellow cover in a cafe. I saw two commuters reading Chinese books, one schoolgirl carrying an English paperback with a blue cover, and one Kindle-bearing woman.

I also finished Peter Hessler's Country Driving yesterday, so you can expect a review soon! What are people reading in your town this week?

Monday, May 6, 2013


Sorry for the title, folks. I could not resist.

The buzz around Hong Kong this week is all about the floating rubber duck exhibit in Victoria Harbour. I took the Star Ferry to see it on Sunday...

When we pulled up to the dock, I could see the crowds.

They lined the harbor and the top of Ocean Terminal.

And the duck gazed down on them.

I'm not sure what to say about it. I like it. I've read that the installation is meant to promote camaraderie and good feelings. Despite the crowds packed in around me, I suppose I did feel good looking at the duck. No one was pushing or shoving, which is very unusual for this corner of Tsim Sha Tsui. My fellow gawkers seemed both bemused and cheered by the sight of the big floating toy in the harbor. 

When I made my home later that night, the crowds were just as big, and seemingly just as happy.

I'm not sure what to say about it, but I think the duck is worth a visit.

Have you been down to see the duck yet? Do you think it's cute? Gimmicky? Dumb? Inoffensive? Inspiring? How did it make you feel?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Bookspotting and Selections

Over the past few weeks I've been hard at work on a few editing projects. I sent my initial selections for the Expat Women in Asia anthology to the publisher for approval. With his input, I finalized the selections and sent out notifications to all the authors. (If you submitted a piece and didn't get an email from me in the last 24 hours, please contact me!) It was a tough process because we received so many great submissions. I could have easily put together two full manuscripts, and there were some pieces that were very difficult to turn down. Nevertheless, I now have a file of moving and varied essays by 26 terrific expat women, and I can't wait for you to read them (the anthology comes out next spring).

Despite my recent blog silence, I've been spotting books along the way. There's a woman who often crosses the platform at Mongkok station with me in the morning carrying books. Recently, she was reading A Thousand Splendid Suns. Today, I spotted the Chinese gentleman with the fancy white shoes again, and he had a white Chinese paperback. I saw two people reading Kindles on the MTR and three people carrying Hong Kong guidebooks around Central. I heard from friends about how they're reading Sophie Kinsella, Hugh Howey, and Robin Hobb. In my own reading, I've been on a fantasy kick lately. After the final Wheel of Time book, I read Brandon Sanderson's Elantris and The Emperor's Soul, and I just started Hobb's Liveship series. I also read the YA book Beautiful Creatures and saw the movie. I'm finishing up Country Driving by Peter Hessler and expect to post a review soon.

What are people reading in your town? Do you read more than one book at a time?

Also, has anyone seen the rubber duck in Victoria Harbour? I haven't had a chance to get down there yet.

Friday, April 12, 2013

NOTHING GAINED by Phillip Y. Kim


The drowning of a prominent investment banker in Hong Kong forces his wife to investigate a complex weave of lies, greed, and intrigue behind the scenes of the Asian financial sector.


This debut thriller from a Hong Kong banker-turned-author gets deep into the seedy side of the finance industry in Asia. Kim draws on his experience at banks like Lehman Brothers and Morgan Stanley to create a story rooted in the post-financial crisis investment world. Jason Donahue is a star banker at a boutique firm. After he drowns during a midnight swim gone wrong, hints of disturbingly risky investments and corruption begin to surface. His wife Cheryl must delve into a world that is more dangerous than she realizes to figure out just what was behind her gilded lifestyle. When her children are threatened, she becomes desperate to learn the truth, even though she may not like what she finds.

Kim's novel explores what it means to do business in Asia. One memorable Western character tries to browbeat his way through deals like he would in New York or Las Vegas. Others understand that you have to play by certain rules and participate in unspoken rituals in order to build trust. Kim's intimate understanding of these unspoken rules sets this novel apart from other tales of corrupt finance types. There is an air of moral ambiguity that pervades the story. Although a few characters end up feeling stereotypically evil, others demonstrate surprising complexity.

Hong Kong in this story is fast-paced and glitzy. Kim takes readers from the luxury apartments of Repulse Bay to the bars of Lan Kwai Fong and over on the ferry to the karaoke brothels of Macau. He creates a vivid picture of a specific side of the city that is actually very real. I see hints of this world everyday, but this novel provides a peek into the back rooms and business deals of an elite sector of Hong Kong society. Even the most scrupulous characters must be willing to compromise their integrity in order to survive.


Phillip Y. Kim blogs at Asia's One Percent.


I received a review copy of this book courtesy of Penguin China.


Do you think it is possible to be extremely financially successful while always making ethical choices? Do you think that is different if you are in Hong Kong vs. New York vs. London vs. Singapore, etc.?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bookspotting and The Anthology

I just got back from a two-week holiday (from my day job) during which I read all of the submissions for the Expat Women in Asia anthology. If you happen to follow me on Instagram, you will know I drank way too much coffee and ate a few too many baked goods while I worked. There were 85 submissions set in 17 Asian countries for a total of 263,541 words. Needless to say, there are more good essays than we will be able to accept, and I'm currently working on narrowing down my "yes file" to a publishable size. The draft manuscript will need to be approved by the publisher before I can notify the authors of my final decisions, but I wanted to keep you all updated on the process. 

Despite all the time I spent in coffee shops, I didn't spot as many books during the holiday as I usually do during my commute. My fiance pointed out a woman reading a book by Arthur Miller at Holly Brown. We went for a foot massage in Soho where, in addition to celebrity gossip mags, they had Sophie Kinsella's The Undomestic Goddess and Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. Last night, the Women in Publishing Society had an event on the evolution of the publishing industry, and there was a table of books being given away for free. I took home Nick Hornby's About a Boy. This morning, I spotted a schoolgirl carrying an English YA novel under her arm that had a blue and silver cover.

What are people reading in your town? Are you working on any exciting projects at the moment?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bookspotting and Workshopping

This week I spotted a young man in a coffee shop carrying a book with the word Young written in bold colors on the mostly white cover. I spotted three different Chinese books on the MTR and one Hong Kong guidebook. Last night I attended a workshop at the Fringe Club for the Hong Kong Writers Circle. My friend brought along A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo. Another writer was reading The Dragon Book before the workshop began. When we did introductions, several of the writers shared what book they are reading at the moment. Titles included Conscious Living, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Nothing Gained (that was me), and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The workshop was about the ubiquitous "show don't tell" principle. It was a great way to kick off my Easter holiday, which I plan to spend writing and making the selections for the Expat Women in Asia anthology. If you are planning to submit an essay, the deadline is this Sunday!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Bookspotting and IMPRINT

This was a productive bookspotting and literary week for me. I spotted a woman on the MTR reading a book called The Blue Door. Across the train car, another woman was reading Pearl of China. I spotted two different Kindles on different days, one in the hands of a Chinese schoolboy, which I don't think I've seen before. A young girl had a copy of a Percy Jackson book, this one with the word Heroes in the title. On my way to work yesterday, I saw a man reading a Robert Jordan-sized hardback, but I couldn't see the cover. This morning, a girl sitting two seats away from me also had a thick English book open on her lap. I snuck a peak on my way out of the train and saw the title, City of Bones, at the top of the page. Finally, I received a paperback review copy from Penguin China of Nothing Gained, a new thriller by Phillip Y. Kim set in Hong Kong.

On Friday, I was the MC for the launch party celebrating IMPRINT, the annual anthology of the HK Women in Publishing Society, and the Saphira Prize for unpublished writing. Below is the quick write-up about the party I did for the HK WiPS website. There was a special surprise for me when the Saphira Prize coordinator announcing the winner mentioned that my entry, The Art of Escalator Jumping, had also received a special commendation from the judges. It was quite encouraging for me because that entry was my first novel, and I had been thinking about banishing it to a drawer. Now, I feel inspired to rework it and see if I can find it a home.

What are people reading in your town this week? Have you heard any encouraging words lately? 

P.S. I hope you've all heard by now that Susan Blumberg-Kason has signed a book deal! She's a regular commenter on this blog and a terrific inspiration to me as a fellow American writing about a love affair with Hong Kong.

IMPRINT 12 Launch and Saphira Prize Announcement

15 March 2013, FCC
By Shannon Young

The main event on the HK WiPS social calendar is the launch party for IMPRINT. 2013 is the twelfth year that members have gathered their best works of fiction, poetry, memoir and art into a collection that showcases the many talents of Hong Kong’s publishing women. To celebrate, over 80 WiPS ladies, their partners and curious creatives from Hong Kong and abroad gathered in the FCC for a crowded, joyous party.

The Hughes and Burton rooms, decorated with covers from past editions of IMPRINT, provided a cozy venue with just enough room to mingle and make regular trips to the hors d’oeuvre table.

This year’s IMPRINT bears a striking, modern cover featuring a typical Hong Kong sign, a temple door and a pair of shoes. Designer extraordinaire Tania Willis shared that the inspiration behind this year’s cover is the way writers leave behind their everyday lives like a pair of shoes when they step into their creative work. It is sure to stand out on the shelves of bookstores and personal libraries across the city.

Attendees enjoyed readings from Jessica Wang, the winner of this year’s Student Competition, and four IMPRINT contributors: Laura Besley, Mags Webster, Elizabeth Vongsaravanh and Aparna Assomull Bundro. Elizabeth made a special trip from Laos to read her poetry at the event.

The 2013 launch party celebrated a new development for WiPS, the awarding of the inaugural Saphira Prize for unpublished writing to Elsie Sze. Elsie, a longtime WiPS member and IMPRINT contributor, made a special trip from Canada to accept the Saphira Prize in person. Her novel will be edited and published by fellow WiPS members.

Thank you to all of the IMPRINT contributors, Saphira judges and WiPS committee members, past and present, who helped make this year’s launch party a success!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

WOOL by Hugh Howey


Humanity has survived an apocalypse in an underground silo, but they don't know what's really going on above the surface.


Hugh Howey's Wool has gotten a lot of attention lately, which it deserves. I recently recommended this book to my sister as the best page-turner I've read in a long time. In the five-part Omnibus edition (it was originally released as serial e-novellas) we are introduced to the silo, an underground tower where a large community survives after an apocalypse they know little (or nothing) about. Although their lives are closely regulated, a few people notice suspicious coincidences and embark on investigations that prove to be dangerous - and even deadly.

The novellas take place chronologically with intersecting characters and story lines. Each main character shares a common desire to learn the truth, though their motivations are varied and personal. The relationships between the characters are complex and often moving, even as they are dealing with issues that turn out to be much bigger than themselves. The silo itself is a fascinating place, divided into over a hundred levels and connected by a massive central staircase (there is no elevator). Everyone wears coveralls corresponding with their jobs, creating factions and identities within the larger community. It's a fresh take on a post-apocalyptic scenario that will likely appeal to people who are not necessarily hardcore sci-fi fans.

The writing style is both economical and vivid. Howey uses carefully placed details to evoke an entire world without wasting words. The inhabitants of the silo have a unique vocabulary that adds authenticity to their world. Howey tackles some big ideas through the voices of his characters, making Wool more than just a good story. He poses philosophical questions throughout the narrative that keep you reading and dig into your mind long after you turn off your Kindle.



The Wool Omnibus (1-5) is $3.99 for the Kindle edition. I would have happily paid that just for the first story.


What makes you unable to put down a book? Do you think a good novel must pose deeper questions about the human condition or is it enough for it to be engaging to the last page?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bookspotting, Instagram, Etc.

Well, I've joined Instagram. So far I've mostly been taking pictures of views and skyscrapers. You can follow me here if you want to see what I see around HK. On to the bookspotting...

This week I spotted a boy reading a Diary of a Wimpy Kid book on the MTR. I've seen that series around quite a bit recently. Later, I saw a boy reading the Chinese edition of Harry Potter while he crossed the street near my work. Not the safest practice, but I've done it too! I spotted four other Chinese books this week, and a few more that could have been in any language.

On Friday I attended the second installment of a literary salon a member of my writing group is hosting at her apartment. We read and critiqued each others work, had snacks, and enjoyed good conversation about creative non-fiction and how much to explain/reveal/hint at in the first chapter of a novel.

This Friday, the Hong Kong Women in Publishing Society will be launching their annual anthology known as IMPRINT. This will be the second year that I'll have a piece in the publication. You can read last year's essay, titled Optimism, at my writing website. There will be an open bar and copies of the collection at the launch, so good times should be had by all. I will also be MCing the event. If you're in Hong Kong, you can join the fun at the Foreign Correspondents' Club from 7-10 pm on Friday. Men are welcome too!

What are people reading in your town this week? Are there any cool literary events happening in your neighborhood?

Friday, March 8, 2013

THE POISONWOOD BIBLE by Barbara Kingsolver


A missionary family in the Congo discovers that they are ill-prepared for their work, and for the impact that Africa will have on them.


This is one of those rare novels that is dense and lyrical, and yet impossible to put down. It follows the journey of a Southern Baptist family to the depths of the Congo in 1959, where they are forever changed. Told primarily through the voices of the four daughters, with occasional, heart-breaking input from the mother, it is about being swept away in something bigger and darker and more beautiful than you could have predicted.

The father is a hard-nosed, obsessively passionate, violent man who refuses to be flexible and understand the needs and culture of the jungle village. He pits himself against Africa in the name of God's work, and his wife and daughters become the collateral damage. Meanwhile, they are affected by the people, the attitudes towards life and death, and the very atmosphere of the Congo. Spanning one intense year and then a lifetime of repercussions, the story unfolds through sickness, war, and abuse, and explores the complicated ways people are able to live with themselves.

Kingsolver's use of imagery, particular religious imagery, to weave her story is masterful. She molds language into five distinct voices, each providing a poetic and sometimes tortured perspective on the lives of women who find themselves, at least at first, in a place where they don't belong. Even the words are distinct for each character, with one making up words at will and another using them backwards, forwards, and sideways. The story is worth reading for the creation and evolution of those voices if nothing else. Beneath the language, we see the changes that take place in young women who have their entire worldviews shattered and rebuilt around them.


Barbara Kingsolver's website


I bought the e-book for a couple of dollars when it was the Kindle Daily Deal. It's currently $8.24.


According to Leah and Adah, Rachel does not change at her core throughout the whole of her life. Arguably, Nathan also does not change. Do you think this is true and/or possible given their personalities?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Bookspotting and Bangkok, Revisited

Last weekend I went off to Bangkok for a quick girls' trip full of shopping, foot massages and food. On my way there, I saw three people reading Chinese books and a schoolboy carrying a copy of The Mysterious Benedict Society. The woman sitting next to me on the Airport Express was reading a book called NurtureShock. She wasn't a native English speaker, and asked her companion what corporal punishment is while she was reading. In the airport, I saw a man carrying Deception Point by Dan Brown. On the plane, my friend was reading Wicked on her Kobo and I was reading Country Driving by Peter Hessler on my Kindle (it's excellent, by the way). My friend pointed out another Kindle reader, too. In Bangkok itself, I saw several Thailand guidebooks in the hands of tourists at the Chatuchak Weekend Market and Wat Pho. On the plane home, the man sitting in front of me was reading The Snowman by Jo Nesbo.

I'm now back in Hong Kong and back to my usual routine. This includes collecting submissions for the Expat Women in East Asia anthology and attending my regular writers' group. This evening a man near me in the coffee shop was reading Confederacy of Dunces. I'm only 8,000 words into the sequel for my Nanowrimo adventure novel. It'll be a while yet before I spot anyone reading anything by me.

What are people reading in your town this week?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bookspotting and Surprises

I just got back to Hong Kong after spending the Chinese New Year holiday in Arizona with my family. I didn't mention on the blog that I'd be going out of town because my visit was a complete surprise! Because I have such a big family (my parents + 8 siblings, 7 of whom live in AZ), I got to surprise people multiple times over two days.

I did some bookspotting along the way. While waiting for my first flight in HK, I spotted a man reading a book by Harlan Coben. On the plane, a pair of cherubic siblings were bashing each other with Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. A woman sitting near me during my layover in Narita/Tokyo was reading Life of Pi. My second layover was in Dallas, where I had to run all the way through the airport to get to my plane on time. I spotted one person reading on an iPad at the gate.

I took my brother and sister to the climbing wall at our local rec center, where I spotted a woman reading a Nora Roberts book. One of my sisters was reading Willa Cather's My Antonia for school and one of my brothers was just about to start Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. I tore through the paper-book versions of Wonder by R.J. Palacio and Torn by Justin Lee while I was at home, and I'm nearly finished with Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible on my Kindle.

My journey back to Hong Kong also took three flights, but I didn't spot as many readers. A woman in the Phoenix airport was carrying a novel by Sharon Kay Penman. There were two people reading Japanese paperbacks in Narita, but no English titles that I could see. I went back to work this morning, and spotted a Kindle and a woman reading a Chinese paperback on the way.

What are people reading in your town this week? Did you do anything exciting for Chinese New Year?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Expat Women in Asia Anthology: DEADLINE EXTENDED

Happy New Year! I wanted to let everyone know that the deadline for submissions to the Expat Women in Asia anthology has been extended to the 31st of March. We've received a lot of great submissions so far, but with so many people traveling during the Lunar New Year we'd like to give everyone a little more time to send in their work. Here are the details:

Expat Women in Asia: Call for Submissions

Editor Shannon Young is seeking contributions from expatriate women in East Asia for a new anthology from Signal 8 Press in Hong Kong. This collection will feature the writing of women who are currently expatriates or who previously lived in an East Asian country. For the purposes of this anthology, we construe East Asia to include Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and the ASEAN countries. All submissions should be creative non-fiction and/or travel memoir pieces that speak to the expat experience in modern East Asia. Potential topics include travel, work, relationships, gender roles, safety, family, and repatriation. We are looking for stories with a strong and personal narrative arc, not just travel guides or descriptions of the places you’ve lived. We hope to make this anthology as inclusive as possible, as well, and we welcome submissions from women from different parts of the world.

Contributions should be between approximately 2000 and 5000 words in length. Each writer will receive two copies of the completed anthology and a percentage of the royalties to be determined by the final number of contributors. Please send all submissions, with a brief paragraph about the author, to shannon [at] typhoon-media [dot] com. Submissions should be in Microsoft Word, .doc or .docx format, and in a standard font. The deadline for submissions is 31 March 2013. This title will be released in paperback and e-book formats in the spring of 2014.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Bookspotting and Shipspotting

MV Explorer at Ocean Terminal
The bookspotting was a bit sparse this week as I spent most of my commute with my nose buried in A Memory of Light, the long-awaited final installment in the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. I've been reading the series since I was 13, and the ending was quite moving. If you spotted me surreptitiously crying into a 909-page hardback book on the train this week, that's what was going on. I did spot a woman carrying an enormous law textbook through Central Station, and I saw a child on the train reading an English middle-grade book. There was also a man walking toward the ferry piers with an English book that had a bright yellow cover.

After work this afternoon I went down to TST to take a peek at the MV Explorer, the cruise vessel that hosts Semester at Sea and is currently carrying a group of entrepreneurs around the world. It is my newest ambition (along with one day being cool enough to speak at a TED event) to go on an Enrichment Voyage like Doug Mack, who was recently the travel-writer-in-residence aboard the Explorer

As some of you know, I am currently writing a book set on a post-apocalyptic cruise ship, so I've been taking every opportunity to go down to Ocean Terminal and spy on the big ships in the name of research (and inspiration). The MV Explorer's Open Ship event today was during my working hours, so I had to make do with the views of the ship from the harbor, terminal, and Star Ferry. I'm planning to do more thorough research aboard the Star Pisces, which does daily overnight cruises from Hong Kong.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Signal 8 Press $1.99 Sale

Just wanted to let you all know about a special $1.99 e-book sale that Signal 8 Press is holding this month. Full disclosure: I do editing work for Signal 8 Press, and it is the publisher of the Expat Women in East Asia anthology for which I have been gathering submissions over the last few months. Signal 8 Press is based in Hong Kong and specializes in books with some connection to the Asia-Pacific region, so I thought this would be relevant to the readers of A Kindle in Hong Kong.

Of these titles, I had some hand in proofreading or otherwise helping with River Dragon Sky, Watering Heaven, and Handover. I read Dispatches from the Peninsula before my affiliation with Signal 8 began, and you can find my review here. I've also written reviews of two novels by Hong Kong writer Xu Xi, who is the author of Access.

The Signal 8 book I am most excited about is The Gunners of Shenyang, a memoir which officially comes out in May. I had greater editorial input in this book, and I can promise you it's worth reading. It's like a Chinese version of the movie Three Idiots set at a university during Mao's Great Leap Forward. It's college-boy toilet humor meets desperate political resistance during some of China's darkest days.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bookspotting and Focusing

This week's bookspotting was a little sparse. A young man on the train was reading a book called Be the Miracle. I spotted one of my students reading a Chinese kids' version of Sherlock Holmes (the title was in English). Yesterday I either saw two different women on two different trains reading Kindles, or I was inadvertently following the same woman. This morning a woman in Mong Kok station had a thick paperback bound in the brown paper kids use to cover their textbooks, but I don't know what language she was reading. What are you reading? What are people reading around you?

The month of January is notoriously quiet for me at work. My students study for and then take their exams, and my classes are temporarily suspended. I spend a fair bit of time planning my lessons and printing resources for the next few months, but I also end up with a reasonable amount of down time at the office. During that time, I can either focus or I can faff around on the Internet. This year, there was very little faffing. In addition to finishing the second draft of my Nanowrimo book and planning my lessons through March, I wrote a trio of articles for a new website about long distance dating, a group of contest submissions, a million wedding-related emails, and one long-shot pitch for a large publication. I also completed this interview for the ExpatFocus website about my expat experience. (There are several interviews with Hong Kong bloggers on the site at the moment, and it's well worth checking it out.) I was on such a roll that yesterday I wrote the first 2,000 words of the sequel to my Nano novel. It's amazing what a difference it makes when I start out the month focused on one thing.

What do you do to help yourself focus on a project?

Friday, January 25, 2013



Stories of eating and cooking from an authentic Chinese food connoisseur.


Subtitled A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, British author Fuchsia Dunlop's memoir details her lifelong love affair with Chinese food. She first lived in China in the early 90s, where she found herself becoming so obsessed with the local cuisine that she enrolled as the only foreigner in a Sichuanese cooking school. She went on to write several cookbooks (in English) exploring the complexities and joys of Chinese food. The memoir details her evolution as a cooking student and her career as an ambassador for Chinese food in the West and (of course) includes recipes.

Dunlop does not shy away from some of the more unusual ingredients and nose-to-tail eating practices of Chinese cuisine, but she also doesn't make a point of emphasizing dishes that Westerners might consider "gross". She writes candidly about the tendency of travel writers to focus on innards and chicken's feet and dog when Chinese food culture is much more intricate, varied and sophisticated than a sensationalist article can portray. She writes eloquently about the intimate connection between the food and its source in traditional Chinese cooking, a connection that has largely been lost in Western kitchens.

The thing that sets this memoir apart from other odes to food is that Dunlop approaches her subject as both an academic and a fanatic. She describes each dish and cooking practice in meticulous detail, but she also reveals her unbridled passion for eating, savoring, smelling and otherwise enjoying Chinese food. I particularly enjoyed Dunlop's stories of her friendships with various Chinese cooks and foodies. She was able to build entire relationships around memorable meals thanks to the intensity of their shared passions. This is a thorough account of her life's work and, as a true expert, she acknowledges how much more there is to learn about Chinese food.

Fuchsia Dunlop's website has many food-related blog posts and information about her cookbooks.


I purchased the paperback version at Dunlop's HK Literary Festival workshop. The e-book edition apparently doesn't exist, which is, frankly, inexcusable (on the part of the publisher) for a book that came out less than 5 years ago.


What's your favorite Chinese food dish? Would you describe your relationship with food as intensely passionate? How does food affect the way you relate to people?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bookspotting and Finishing

Bookspotting is back this week with a George RR Martin sighting on the MTR. The battered paperback had a red cover, so I believe that means it was A Feast for Crows. I also spotted a schoolboy reading Rick Riordan's Son of Neptune on the train. In a coffee shop this weekend, two women were poring over notepads and a book about getting out of debt. A young man nearby was reading Eating Smoke, Chris Thrall's memoir of drug addiction and triads in 90s Hong Kong. On my way home from work today, a man walking in front of me was carrying Justin Cronin's The Twelve. My friends are getting into the whole bookspotting thing, too. One reported that she just finished reading First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung and she's about to start The Happiness Project. My fiance is listening to The Stand by Stephen King on his iPhone. I spotted two Hong Kong guidebooks this week, one in English and one in Chinese.

I've spent a fair bit of time haunting bookstores over the past few weeks waiting to get my copy of A Memory of Light, the final installment in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. The is a series of hefty epic fantasy novels that I've been reading since my dad introduced them to me in junior high. Think the entire Harry Potter series if all the books were as long as #7. Then multiply it by two. The 14th book came out two weeks ago, but the only two bookstores that had it on release day were sold out by the time I got there. I'm looking forward to finally finishing this journey that has, among other things, made it through the death of its original author (for whom I am still in mourning).

Speaking of finishing things, today I completed the second draft of the novel I wrote during National Novel Writing Month. I'm getting ready to send it off to beta readers and then start the second book in what I hope will be a 3-book series. I'm feeling rather optimistic today...

What are people reading in your town this week? Have you finished any big projects recently?

Forgot to mention that I also have a guest post about Marina Bay in Singapore over at Pens on a World Map.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Expat Women in Asia: Call for Submissions - Deadline: 28 Feb

This is a reminder that the deadline for the anthology I'm editing for Signal 8 Press is approaching. You have six weeks to send me your stories of modern expat life in East Asia. See the call for submissions below for the full details, and feel free to email me with any questions.

Expat Women in Asia: Call for Submissions

Editor Shannon Young is seeking contributions from expatriate women in East Asia for a new anthology from Signal 8 Press in Hong Kong. This collection will feature the writing of women who are currently expatriates or who previously lived in an East Asian country. For the purposes of this anthology, we construe East Asia to include Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and the ASEAN countries. All submissions should be creative non-fiction and/or travel memoir pieces that speak to the expat experience in modern East Asia. Potential topics include travel, work, relationships, gender roles, safety, family, and repatriation. We are looking for stories with a strong and personal narrative arc, not just travel guides or descriptions of the places you’ve lived. We hope to make this anthology as inclusive as possible, as well, and we welcome submissions from women from different parts of the world.

Contributions should be between approximately 2000 and 5000 words in length. Each writer will receive two copies of the completed anthology and a percentage of the royalties to be determined by the final number of contributors. Please send all submissions, with a brief paragraph about the author, to shannon [at] typhoon-media [dot] com. Submissions should be in Microsoft Word, .doc or .docx format, and in a standard font. The deadline for submissions is 28 February 2013. This title will be released in paperback and e-book formats in the spring of 2014.
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