Monthly Archive for January, 2012

the secret city

While I listen to baristas at Starbucks complain about various aspects of their job–a chronically late coworker, the lights being too bright early in the morning when the shop opens, the difficulty of scheduling their shifts and days off–I find myself thinking about an article in the New York Times this week about the atrocious working conditions in the Chinese factories that manufacture most of the world’s electronics, including Apple computers, iPhones, and iPads.

I am no Apple fanboy, but even I admire the beauty of their products, for their simplicity and elegance if not for their shininess. Their machines are audacious: complicated devices carefully designed to seem as though they aren’t machines at all. The practically seamless casing suggests that the Macbook Air sprang forth from Steve Jobs’ head, perfectly formed. Obviously numerous engineers were involved in developing products like the iPad, but to hold one in your hands, to examine how it was put together, to feel the heft of it, it might as well have been hewn from stone like humanity’s first attempts at fashioning primitive knives. But how were they actually put together?

People often describe Apple machines as “sleek,” as in “smooth and glossy as if polished” (adj., Merriam-Webster.) But sleek is also a verb that means “to cover up: to gloss over” (Merriam-Webster). And that may be the most accurate description yet, because now many more people are talking about the fact that the factories where Apple products are made–where they’re assembled by human hands, just like our first tools–are abusing workers with long shifts, unsafe conditions, and cramped quarters, to name a few of their human rights violations. Hard to believe that something as beautiful as an iPhone has such ugly origins, isn’t it? That the pure white sheen of the Macbook hides such a dark truth.

Regardless of whether Apple really attempts to address these problems at the factories it contracts to build their devices, rather than just catalog them to save face, they’re complicit in every one of those human rights violation–as are we all. And it isn’t just Apple, it’s practically every electronic device we use on a daily basis. Note that complicit does not mean responsible, but certainly part of the problem.

In an odd bit of synchronicity, I first became aware of the situation only a day before the story appeared in the Times. After many months of falling behind on the NPR program This American Life, I listened to an episode titled “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory” (Jan. 6, 2012), in which Mike Daisey performs an excerpt from his one-man show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” It’s about what he did when he found out about the existence of these Chinese factories: He went to China and lied his way into the factories to see firsthand where Apple’s products come from, and he interviewed dozens of workers–some of whom were underage girls age 12, 13, 14–to find out what those computers really cost.

I don’t know what I personally can do to improve working conditions in China, or what any of us can do. Raise awareness, I suppose. Put pressure on Apple and other American companies. Get the government involved? As horrible as the factories’ treatment of their employees is, they exist in a country with very different values from ours. The factories create jobs that wouldn’t otherwise exist, and they do provide  opportunities for better lives, though not without incredible risk of causing disfiguration, disability, or even death. Then there are the suicides, 12 in 2010 alone.

We can, perhaps, decide with our dollars, just as the corporations do when they give places like the factories at Foxconn their business. But are we willing to pay even more for the new iPhone, if production costs rise because Apple decides to spend more to make sure they’re made right? Humanely? I’m not suggesting anyone boycott the companies that make our tools, because that won’t necessarily solve the problem either. Mike Dailey suggests we simply try to improve conditions over there, the way they were improved over the course of a century at home. It isn’t simple, but it’s a step in the right direction. It might, at least, ease our consciences a little.

And maybe that’s what the fuss is over. Though I was horrified that this is happening, I wasn’t really surprised. We know sweatshops exist. Is this any different from pressuring Nike or K-Mart to become more involved in regulating conditions in their factories? I’m almost ashamed because I was more shocked that, as Daisey points out, all of the “crap” we buy–the technology we’re so proud of, the tools we depend on, the machines that epitomize modern society–is made in a place most of us have never heard of. The idea that an largely unknown city of 14 million, Shenzen (aka “China” as in “Made in”), is responsible for handcrafting every piece of electronics we use is bizarre and mindblowing.

Either we knew this place had to exist, deep down, or we didn’t want to think about it.

However you respond is a personal decision. This is not a call to action but a call to think. As I type this blog post on my laptop made in “China,” and check Twitter on my Droid phone (not an iPhone, but just as surely made over there, on the other side of world), I’m still struggling to wrap my mind around this. I already know that I’m not going to give up the things that make my life easier, what many probably refer to as “necessities,” but now I know where they came from and who they came from, and I’m not sure what to do with that knowledge. It’s like taking a bite of an apple from the Tree of Good and Evil; there’s no going back once you learn about the evils of the world, and maybe you just have to live with it.

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thanks for playing!

The YAmazing Race with MGnificent Prizes is officially over!

Thank you to everyone who participated, whether you made it all the way to the end or not. I’ve enjoyed all of your comments about the race and Fair Coin here and on Twitter and I hope everyone had a lot of fun. I know the Apocalypsies enjoyed it. Now that you’ve heard about 50+ of our books, which are you looking forward to and why? (You don’t have to say Fair Coin—honest.)

There will definitely be more of these interblog events throughout the year to celebrate all our young adult and middle grade debuts in 2012, and I’ll be offering other opportunities to win some Fair Coin swag in the next couple of months, too. So stay tuned!

We now return this blog to its regularly scheduled programming, already in progress.

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The YAmazing Race With MGnificent Prizes

Greetings, intrepid internet traveler. And welcome to my stop on the YAmazing Race with MGnificent Prizes! You are now caught up in an epic blog hop hosted by more than 50 authors with young adult and middle grade novels debuting in 2012. As you make your way across the web, pay close attention at each stop and you’ll have the chance to win a prize pack that includes free books, gift certificates, swag, and more. One lucky person will win a coin that will magically grant an exclusive sneak peek at my upcoming YA novel, Fair Coin.* If you’ve accidentally stumbled into this race, please visit the Apocalypsies website to read the complete rules and start the race from the beginning.

FAIR COIN by E.C. Myers

Sixteen-year-old Ephraim Scott is horrified when he comes home from school and finds his mother unconscious at the kitchen table, clutching a bottle of pills. The reason for her suicide attempt is even more disturbing: she thought she’d identified Ephraim’s body at the hospital that day.

Among his dead double’s belongings, Ephraim finds a strange coin—a coin that grants wishes when he flips it. With a flick of his thumb, he can turn his alcoholic mother into a model parent and catch the eye of the girl he’s liked since second grade. But the coin doesn’t always change things for the better. And a bad flip can destroy other people’s lives as easily as it rebuilds his own.

The coin could give Ephraim everything he’s ever wanted—if he learns to control its power before his luck runs out.

Right. Hope you got all that. Remember, you have to complete all five (5) quizzes in order to be eligible for a prize pack. Good luck!

Feel free to hang out here and take a look around. Maybe subscribe to my blog, say hello in the comments, or follow me on Facebook, Goodreads, or Twitter. (Links are in the column on the right.)

When you’re ready to move on, make with the clicky to be whisked away to the next stop on the race: Suzanne Lazear’s website (http://www.suzannelazear.com/). Thanks for coming by! Be seeing you.

____________________________________
* Not an Actual Magic CoinTM, but a coin-shaped USB flash drive pre-loaded with an except from Fair Coin.

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book jackets, milestones, and millstones

I guess I haven’t seen many authors blog about their book jackets, but this feels like another milestone to publication that I’d like to share—plus I’m just so pleased that Fair Coin is more than a pretty face and my first novel won’t be naked out in the world. (If you buy the book and strip it down to the bare hardcover in the privacy of your own home, that’s your business.) Let’s consider this a bonus cover reveal:

The beautiful cover art is of course still by the amazing Sam Weber, the fabulous jacket design is by Jacqueline Cooke, and the author photo is courtesy of Monika Webb. (OK, it’s a little weird to have my picture on a book, but at least it isn’t on the back cover!) The copy is probably too small to make out on the back and flaps, but you can read it all here.

I suppose the next big milestone for me is holding the final book, when I will likely find out if this book jacket is waterproof. That’s what it’s for, right?

Another recent milestone was the ARC (Advanced Reading Copy). I know some people have received galleys and review copies already; I’ve seen pictures of them online and they look real pretty and distinctly, wonderfully book-like. Some people are even reading the actual words on the pages inside those covers right now, which doesn’t make me nervous in the slightest.

These are some of the many steps that foreshadow a book appearing on store shelves. There are lots of others, all the way back to the beginning. After the writing, there’s the revising. And the revising and the revising and the revising. Then there’s the agent querying process, and going on submission, and oh yeah, some more revising. There’s also a lot of waiting. And waiting and waiting and waiting…

But in the months leading up to publication, in many cases following years of writing and waiting and worrying–things finally start to happen, weirdly all at once: each moment a small but tangible proof that your book is real, a cherished marker of progress toward realizing a dream. You get to see cover sketches, cover art, cover copy. Last month, one of the big milestones I was looking forward to came around: copyedits.

Yeah, I was actually happy to receive them. How foolish! But I still remember watching my writer friends toil over their copyedited pages and wanting to be at that stage of publication too. I was a little disappointed that the copyedits were electronic with tracked changes; though I’m happy to save a tree, I felt deprived of the ritual of working through a stack of paper with a pencil, approving changes and stetting as authors have done for years. One thing hadn’t changed though: the requisite short turnaround time. As I dropped everything else to read through the exhaustive notes, I was struck by two thoughts:

1) How can there still be mistakes in this manuscript?! I and several others had read and edited the book many times, and yet my attentive copy editor, Gabrielle Harbowy, discovered some embarrassing continuity errors and a host of other minor problems.  I am extremely grateful for all her excellent catches, which have helped make the book as good as it can possibly be.

2) This is the last time I will read this before it’s published. This was kind of a relief, to be honest. I love my book, but as I just mentioned, I’ve read it so many times. It’s time for someone else to have a chance at it, eh? If a novel is like your child, eventually you want it out of the house, off to college or wherever, seeking its destiny without you.

I soon discovered that I was completely wrong about #2, because there was one more milestone ahead: page proofs. Proofreader Julia DeGraf was our last line of defense, making sure that Fair Coin really is as perfect as these things ever get. Don’t underestimate the value of a good copy editor and proofreader! Because the author, editor, and agent have probably read the book repeatedly in various incarnations, we’re no longer able to see all the tiny little flaws as well as a trained, fresh set of eyes can.

This time, I’m pretty sure, I won’t have to read this particular novel ever again if I don’t want to, except for snippets here and there at readings and stuff. And I think that, too, is a milestone worth celebrating.

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suddenly it’s 2012

December sort of disappeared in a blur of travel, holidays, and writing business–which had little to do with the actual act of writing and, in fact, conspired to prevent me from blogging as much as I’d intended. (More on that in my next post.)

I’m often concerned that if I don’t blog about something in a timely fashion, that the window of relevance (as relevant as any personal blog can be on the internet) closes and then I lose all interest in that particular post. This may be one reason why I have taken to Twitter–144 characters or less and I’ve just about said my piece and moved on; I’m busy, but not so busy that I can’t fire off a tweet or twelve a day. I’ve been keeping a list of topics though, and I will probably go ahead and post about all those things anyway as time allows, even if they seem like mostly filler.

My main reason for being incommunicado for so long probably won’t garner any sympathy either; C and I finally went on our honeymoon, to beautiful Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

Where we soon made a new friend:

My favorite part of the trip was not drowning. It’s not so much that I don’t like water, but that it doesn’t like me, at least judging by its repeated attempts to kill me over the years. C enjoyed herself scuba diving and with various water sports, and I was perfectly happy to lie by the beach with a stack of YA novels and a steady supply of island drinks. Bliss. It also was unexpectedly refreshing to be cut off from the internet for a week, like some kind of detox program. As far as I can tell, all of you got along all right without me.

In some ways, the Sandals resort we stayed at reminded me of the Village from The Prisoner crossed with Gilligan’s Island. There was even giant chess.

Other highlights included riding horses through the ocean (perilous!), climbing Dunn’s River Falls (harrowing!), and snorkeling (amazing!) along a reef on the best-named ship ever.

I finally dragged C away from the sand and surf so we could make our flight back home just in time for Christmas. Then I had a few days of work before we flew off again to Jacksonville, Fl. for our friends’ New Year’s Eve wedding. (It was a beautiful ceremony and reception with floating lanterns to send the happy couple off, a la Tangled.)

Anyway, I’m pretty much back now but preoccupied with revising Quantum Coin and spreading the word about Fair Coin and working and reading for the Andre Norton Awards and blogging here and in various other places around the internet. Stay tuned–I have a lot of catching up to do. In the meantime, here’s a bonus picture of Bach, who was clearly very happy to have us home again.

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