Category Archives: Vuto

Fundraiser for Malawian Women and Children – Donate and Win!

As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I think about my time in Malawi a lot. I don’t think anyone can have such an experience without it affecting them throughout the rest of their lives – which is one of the reasons I wrote my book Vuto, inspired by my experiences in the country known as the Warm Heart of Africa.

My intention with the novel has always been two-fold:

  1. To open readers up to a culture and a people they may have never known about before.
  2. To give back to the Malawian people.

It’s time to kick that second purpose into gear!

Current Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) are doing some fabulous work in-country right now, especially with initiatives aimed at youth and women. Two projects that particularly excite me are Go Girls! and Hope Kit:

Go Girls! Community Mobilization

According to PCV Tyler Walton, “HIV rates in Malawi are upwards of 10% of the population and the risk for contracting the virus is even higher among adolescent girls. These risks come from gender roles, gender-based violence, high dropout rates from school, economic inequalities, physiology of disease contraction, and many other factors. Go Girls! uses local youth groups to lead community mobilization meetings and facilitate community discussions on how to best address the issues in a locally appropriate manner. Our current project is targeting six villages and we hope to expand if our pilot project is successful.  With this pilot we have the opportunity to reduce vulnerability for over 500 adolescent girls, increase rates of those completing school and reduce overall HIV rates in the local community. Every 20 cents can change the life of one girl.”

Hope Kit Training

Hope Kit is an interactive training program that targets youth with HIV prevention messaging,” Walton explains. “We are hoping to do a training of trainers with two leaders from 10 different youth groups. These new trainers then go back to their communities and do out reaches with their youth groups, spreading valuable information about making healthy choices and avoiding contracting HIV. Peace Corps has already provided 10 Hope Kits for this training and we just need a small amount for additional supplies. This will be the second implementation of this project. In the first, eight other youth groups and two schools participated and in their community interventions they reached over 1,500 people! With 60,000 people in our catchment area, we know we can do more!”

I’m partnering with Tyler to make a difference. Today through July 4th, every dollar donated will earn the donor one entry to win a prize pack that contains an autographed copy of Vuto, a bookmark, tote bag, postcard and poster.

Not only that, but I will match every dollar donated as well.

Interested in participating? Send a donation to through PayPal today.

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, AIDS, Social Justice, Vuto, Women, Writing

Preparing for NaNoWriMo

It’s that time of year again when writers the world over decide whether or not they want to take the November challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

Known as National Novel Writing Month – or NaNoWriMo – I took the challenge for the first time in 2008 when I wrote the first draft of what would become my novel Choice. I found the experience to be exhilarating and the set word count to be a great motivator.

The 50,000-word goal breaks down to about 1,666 words to write each day, which I found doable in the morning, over my lunch break and in the evenings. I had such a great time during that first challenge that I have taken it three more times since in 2009, 2011 and 2012.

My 2011 draft become Vuto, the novel published this past July that was inspired by my time in Malawi, Africa, as a health volunteer with the U.S. Peace Corps.

While I completed the challenge for the drafts I wrote in 2009 and 2012, I was not happy with the way my novels turned out those years. In 2012, the premise of The Pileup came to me after I was nearly hit by a driver who was texting on their cellphone. But when all was said and done, I didn’t like the histories I gave to most of the characters in my novel and I have put it on the proverbial shelf — perhaps I’ll circle back to it one day.

As for 2009, I am planning on taking the basis for that novel and reworking it in NaNoWriMo 2013 to create a more fleshed out, robust novel that will approach the 100,000-word mark instead of the 50k. I think this will challenge me more as a writer with several books already on the market and, since the NaNoWriMo challenge is whatever you want it to be, this is the way I want to go into it this year.

Feel free to friend me through the NaNoWriMo website – my user name is WriterGrl313.

Here’s to another great month of writing!

1 Comment

Filed under Choice, NaNoWriMo, Vuto, Writing

VUTO Book Trailer

I am so thrilled to report that the official Vuto book trailer is now live! A big thanks to the wonderful Kevin Beaty for his work on this project. I hope you enjoy:

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Books, Gender, Politics, Vuto, Women, Writing

A Malawian Birth

The following is an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote after my return from Malawi, Africa, as a health volunteer with the U.S. Peace Corps. This experience directly impacted my decision to write my novel Vuto. Enjoy!


I had been in Malawi, Africa, for just over two months. At the time, I had already seen a slew of images I had never so much as imagined before: coffin-making shops, one after the other, down a village street; barefooted children playing with plastic bags and hangers in the dirt; albino beggars littering the roads of the country’s capital.

But this day, in August of 2007, I was given the opportunity to experience a live birth in the middle of an African village.

I had never seen a child being born in the United States, let alone in a Third World country with the bare minimum of medical care. The nurse at the clinic was younger than I was at 23. The mother was even younger. At 17 she had already had one child before who had died within a week of being born. Her skin was dark and coarse from years of tending the soil, pumping endless buckets of water, and walking the hard dirt roads without shoes. She was already six hours into her labor when I showed up to observe.

“Will she mind that I’m watching?” I asked the nurse.

“You are white. She will think you are a doctor,” she told me.

“Where is her family?”

At this, the nurse laughed at me. “There is no family. She must do this alone.”

In Malawi, and other parts of Africa, the birthing process is a journey the mother must make by herself. It is a test of strength. Even though this woman – or girl, rather – was calling out for her mother, the nurse told me she did not really want anyone to come to her aid. If a blood relative was there, it would be a sign of weakness. Not even a friend was allowed at her side.

She squirmed and moaned on a makeshift gurney, a sarong the only thing covering her. Within another hour, the nurse told me she was ready to push.

My mouth fell open and I strained for a closer look. The crown of her baby’s head emerged from between her legs. Within minutes, the head was out, then the shoulders and, finally, the entirety of a brand new baby girl entered the world.

The umbilical cord was cut by the nurse with a rusty razor the mother had brought with her. The baby was swaddled in a sarong, also brought by the mother for this purpose.

The placenta was pushed out and, five minutes later, Mom was up, cleaning herself of blood, amniotic fluid and feces. She was preparing herself to bring her daughter home.

Still in shock, I asked, “Why isn’t she happy?” I was the only one in the room with a grin on my face.

“Nobody knows how long she’ll live,” the nurse told me. “They will not name her for another week. If she dies before, the father will not consider her his child.”

The alienness of this world enveloped me then. A potential miracle turned tragedy to me was only reality to the Malawians.


Purchase Vuto today!

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Vuto

The VUTO Playlist

There is many a writer I know who records their playlist for each book they write – a list of the music they listened to while writing each individual novel. I am a writer who must have silence to write. However, I listen to music constantly when I don’t have a pen in hand and oftentimes that music speaks to my writing.

I thought it would be fun to share with you a playlist of the songs that spoke to me most during the time I was writing and editing Vuto. Three bands particularly stood out for me over this period of time: Imagine Dragons, Hanson and Walk Off The Earth.

Click on the name of the band to listen to the song, or the song title for the lyrics:

1)      Imagine Dragons, “It’s Time”

2)      Hanson, “Great Divide”

3)      Walk Off The Earth, “Red Hands”

4)      Imagine Dragons, “Bleeding Out”

5)      Hanson, “World’s On Fire”

6)      Walk Off The Earth, “REVO”

7)      Hanson, “Fire On The Mountain”

8)      Imagine Dragons, “Demons”

9)      Hanson, “Never Let Go”

10)   Hanson, “Strong Enough To Break”

Vuto is now available for purchase at Rocket Science Productions, and the iBookstore.

Leave a comment

Filed under Vuto, Women

VUTO Release Day!

Hello readers and please join me in celebrating Vuto Release Day!

Everyone who purchases a book from today, Monday, July 22, 2013, through Friday, July 26, 2013, who provides me with a copy of their receipt will receive an autographed Vuto bookmark!

So head on over to Rocket Science Productions, or the iBookstore and get your copy today!

Email your receipt to along with your mailing address to receive your free autographed bookmark post-purchase.

Leave a comment

Filed under Vuto

VUTO Endorsements

One of the many ways I prepared for the release of my third novel, Vuto, was to reach out to fellow authors, as well as readers to request endorsements for the book. I sent advanced review copies to anyone who was interested and, if they wanted to once they finished reading Vuto, they sent me back several sentences of recommendation for the book.

The following are the endorsements that have come in thus far for your consideration if you are still on the fence about reading it yourself:

Purchase Vuto now at Rocket Science Productions, or in the iBookstore.

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Vuto, Writing

VUTO Sneak Preview

Vuto is available for pre-sale before it’s official release on Monday, July 22nd!

You can pre-order the book at my publisher’s site HERE.

You can also find it in the iBookstore and on

Vuto Banner

If you’re thinking about buying it, here’s a sneak peak of the first chapter to help you decide:



I knew the pains in my belly and what they meant. I had already done this two times before. That did not make it easier.

“Mama! I want my mama!” I cried, knowing she was not there, knowing she would not come and knowing I should not be calling for her.

I whipped my head back and forth as another pain ripped through, staring for a moment at the white girl in the corner, looking at me as if I was some angel.

“Aaaaaagh!” I screamed and she flinched, but stayed just the same.

A familiar face was better than none.

I could hear her whispering in broken Chichewa, “What does she say?” to Nurse Leoni, who was helping me along.

“She is calling for her mother,” Leoni told her.

“Then we should go get her mom,” the girl replied. I would have laughed if I was not being torn apart from the inside out.

“She cannot. She must do this alone.”

I pushed hard, the chitenje I had wrapped around me came unfurled and fell to the ground. I lay, naked, for the world to see.

I felt the head between my legs and knew it was only moments before I would meet my baby.

“One more push, Vuto, just one more big push,” Leoni told me.


I felt the pressure ease and heard a tiny wail.

No more words were spoken.

Leoni took my baby, cut her cord with rusty scissors and wrapped her up tight in two chitenje. After passing the placenta, I got up myself, the soreness something for me to overcome and not linger upon. I cleaned myself and took my baby, not even five minutes in the world, and looked over at the girl in the corner before leaving.

She had tears in her eyes and I could not understand why.

This was every day.

This was life.

This was Malawi.

This was Africa.

Did she not know that this child was not really alive yet? Did she not know it would take two weeks before I could name her and her father would acknowledge her?


Order Vuto today by clicking HERE.

Follow @AJWalkley on Twitter for updates about the Vuto release.

Like A.J. Walkley on Facebook for the latest endorsements and reviews as well.

1 Comment

Filed under Africa, Vuto, Women

A Tribute to VUTO’s Kickstarter Backers

As promised, this blog is dedicated to all 197 of my amazing, wonderful and incredible Kickstarter backers! This campaign would not have been as successful as it turned out to be without each and every one of you. I am so grateful to you all and cannot wait to get the rest of the Kickstarter rewards into your hands — especially Vuto itself!

Listed in alphabetical order, thank you and zikomo kwambiri to:

  1. Adrian B.
  2. Alexander Keely
  3. Ali Rakowski
  4. Alice Simmel
  5. Alicia Winkley
  6. Alison Adams-Woodford
  7. Alissa Collins
  8. Alli C. Nelson
  9. Allie Trimble
  10. Amanda G.
  11. Amber Y.
  12. Amie Begg
  13. Amy Lopes
  14. Andrew Walkley
  15. Angela Gallo
  16. Angieleigh
  17. Anita Little
  18. Ann Rockwell
  19. Anna Sloan
  20. Anora McGaha
  21. Anthony K.
  22. Anthony Mathenia
  23. April D.
  24. Beatrice Z.
  25. Ben Walkley
  26. Beth Vandemore
  27. Betsy Nudell
  28. Brenda Lochinger
  29. Brittany McCutcheon
  30. Bundy Kim
  31. Camela Logan
  32. Caroline Newbould
  33. Caz
  34. Chloe Jenkins-Sleczkowski
  35. Christopher Hammers
  36. Chris McCrory
  37. Cory Aikman
  38. Cozi Orlen
  39. Dana Bilder
  40. Danae Markland
  41. Dani Shay
  42. Daniel Head
  43. David Baron
  44. David Talton
  45. Dawn
  46. Debbie Simon
  47. Deborah Bloom
  48. Derek Carranza
  49. Dian Thalman
  50. Diana N.
  51. Don Walkley
  52. Ed Israel
  53. Edward Payson
  54. Eileen Mullan
  55. Elissa I. Burr
  56. Elizabeth Russolesi
  57. Elvis Mendoza
  58. Emily Bahl
  59. Emily Rose Bainton
  60. Emily Walkley
  61. Emmy Swain
  62. Erin Cole
  63. Francesca DeCarli
  64. Francis Foy
  65. Frank Monahan
  66. Gay Gasser
  67. Hannah N.
  68. Heidi Ruby Miller
  69. Henoch Derbew
  70. Ivana Savic
  71. Ivana V.
  72. J.J.
  73. Jack Shannon
  74. Jacob M. Burch
  75. Jamie DeLoma
  76. Jamie Justesen
  77. Janet Rustow
  78. Jarrett A. Young
  79. Jason Inman
  80. Jenny I.
  81. Jesse
  82. Joan
  83. Joey Biagas
  84. Johanna Simmel
  85. John T.
  86. Jonathan W.
  87. Justin R. Simmel
  88. Justin Zagri
  89. Karen Di Prima
  90. Kelly G.
  91. Kelly Chesson
  92. Kim Estes
  93. Kim Rippere
  94. Kristen W. Terry
  95. Kristin Jekielek
  96. Lacey Tallmadge
  97. Laura Holmes Weber
  98. Lauren C.
  99. Lauren B.
  100. Lawrence W.
  101. Lindsay M.
  102. Liz Feola
  103. Liz Gilbert
  104. M.
  105. Maria M.
  106. Mary D.
  107. Mary S.
  108. Max Lee
  109. Meg Eilenberg
  110. Megan Kettmann
  111. Megan Rose Dickey
  112. Melina Marini
  113. Melissa Ross
  114. Meredith Hancock
  115. Meredith Smith
  116. Michael Weiner
  117. Miguel Tanudra
  118. Molly S.
  119. Nancy Fletcher
  120. Nancy Gardiner
  121. Nate
  122. Nicole B.
  123. Nina Antonsen
  124. Patricia W.
  125. Patty Ayres
  126. Paul N.
  127. Pepe L.
  128. Peter Drummond
  129. Peter Zarcone
  130. Rachel Grice
  131. Rebecca Stafford
  132. Rex Pickett
  133. Robert Rodi
  134. Ryan Burns
  135. Ryan J.
  136. Sam Osborn
  137. Sara Caldwell
  138. Sara Jane
  139. Sarah Feola
  140. Sarah Shapiro
  141. Shawn Michael Werner
  142. Sir Ethan J. Simmel
  143. Spring B.
  144. Stefanie Dinneen
  145. Stephanie M. Wytovich
  146. Stephanie Puszka
  147. Steven Correa
  148. Steven Ratti
  149. Summer Duncan
  150. Susan Ingalls
  151. Susan Self
  152. Susan Yolen
  153. Tim Walkley
  154. Todd Walton
  155. Tony Brasunas
  156. Travis Betz
  157. Vina Perez
  158. Zach Lahey

NOTE: Unlisted backers preferred to remain anonymous.


Filed under Social Media, Vuto, Writing

10 Things I Learned From Kickstarting My Book

Going through my first Kickstarter campaign, I learned a lot that I wanted to share with others considering this route to crowdfund a project – while these tips are slightly skewed to fiction projects, any and all can apply to any platform:

1. Reaching out personally to friends, family and fans is ESSENTIAL.

The first half of my funding that came in the first three days of my campaign launch was solely due to personal messages I sent via gChat, gMail, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Goodreads utilizing direct messaging. It might feel strange initially to send what could be construed as solicitations to people you may not have actually seen or spoken to outside of the Internet in years – but it pays off. It can also help reconnect you with those people.

For authors, utilize your Author Page on Facebook to reach out to fans personally in this way as well. They’ll feel connected to you and will be more likely to donate with that first-person touch point.

Also, while updating your status on Facebook and tweeting about your project is important, most times these updates can get lost in the feeds of your followers with all of the other updates coming through. You might think that posting 5+ times a day is enough, but I found that even with public updates, when I reached out to individuals, they were unaware I had a Kickstarter going on. This is why personal messages are all the more important.

I sent out 1,000+ personal messages within the first week and a half of my campaign – and then I retraced my steps to retouch those who didn’t answer my first message. This also proved to be important as some of those who got my first message forgot to actually click through to my Kickstarter page or had gotten distracted and let my request go by; this second touchbase garnered in more funding in the second and third weeks of the campaign. Within the last three days of the campaign, I circled around yet again for a third, final touch to those I had still yet to hear back from. This proved effective once more, friends thanking me for the reminder and pledging in the final hours.

2. Talk about your Kickstarter until you’re blue in the face…and then talk some more.

By the end of the first week, I already felt like a broken record talking about my project – but I knew there were still plenty of people who didn’t know about it that I needed to reach. So, I kept talking. And emailing. And messaging. And tweeting. And blogging.

The experts don’t lie when they say that the first and last weeks of a campaign attract the most donations. By the second week, there was a big drop off in the frequency of donations coming in – but this just propelled me to keep publicizing the project all the more.

3. Reach out to blogs – and blog yourself!

I have had my previous books reviewed on a variety of book blogs in the past. I reached out to every single one to see if they could feature my Kickstarter project in any way. A few were reluctant to publicize such a request – but they were happy to feature an interview or guest blog about the book itself. Even such blog posts where Kickstarter wasn’t specifically mentioned helped me publicize my book more, which led to an increase in donations as well.

As a blogger for The Huffington Post, I also wrote up two different blogs in the hopes that they would be accepted – neither of which were TOO self-promotional, but did mention my Kickstarter at the end. Both ended up being published within hours of one another and definitely helped increase the publicity to a larger audience.

I would also recommend lining up about 10 blogs to feature your project, interview you or even review your book prior to launching your campaign. This will save you ample amounts of time reaching out to people once you’ve launched, freeing up time for other outreach activities.

4. The more creative your outreach, the better!

I created homemade bracelets in the colors of the Malawian flag (the country in which my book takes place) and offered them to backers of a certain threshold. I made flyers with a QR Code that went directly to my Kickstarter site and passed them out at cafés and local independent bookstores in my area.

I tried to spice things up a bit by creating new rewards mid-project to try to keep the initial momentum going — a tactic I HIGHLY RECOMMEND! For instance, once I hit $3,500, I posted an update letting everyone know that if we could get to $4,500 by the close of the campaign, I’d film myself making a traditional Malawian meal from scratch and send it to all backers. Once that goal was met, I set another stretch goal of $5,000, letting everyone know that if we hit or exceeded that amount, I would publish an eBook all backers would receive for free of several short stories and poems I’ve written over the years.

Just before we hit the last week, I sent an update to my current backers letting them know that a pledge increase of just $7 would get them a tote bag with my book cover on it. In the final week, I let backers and potential donors know that the next 10 people to donate at least $50 would receive an advanced reading copy of Vuto prior to release.

All of these mid-campaign rewards definitely led to more donations, as well as pledge increases.

I also made sure all of my social media platforms were leading people to my Kickstarter page. I updated my Twitter background to my book cover; added the cover to my Facebook banners; and my web designer was able to quickly turn around the following update to my website’s homepage, taking people right to my Kickstarter page by clicking on the bug in the corner of the below image:

5. Think about when you’re asking people to donate money.

My Kickstarter went live on Tuesday, April 9th – four days before most people would be getting paid. This being the case, several people I reached out to assured they would donate once they had their next paycheck in hand – yet that didn’t always happen. Despite the fact that funds aren’t taken out of anyone’s account immediately, people will be more willing to donate once they’ve been paid – think the first of the month or the 15th of the month.

Also be sure to let people know that any money pledged won’t be taken out of their accounts unless the project is fully funded, and then only after the campaign has ended.

6. Don’t just keep tweeting out the link to your project; let people know what the project is about and give more details.

Reveal more tidbits about your writing process, the plotline of your novel, rewards you are offering, etc. Keep things new and interesting for those who are following your campaign closely, mixed in with messages regarding donation for those who are just seeing your tweet or update for the first time.

I highly recommend using the Project Updates you can send out via Kickstarter for this purpose. Backing projects myself, I’ve been surprised at how little this feature is utilized — but keeping your backers and potential backers apprised of what’s happening in your campaign, as well as providing more information, is quite important for retaining those backers and attracting new donations.

7. Figure out which hashtags will garner the attention of the audience you are looking to target with your project.

While there are some who feel as though blind-tweeting people using choice hashtags that speak to your project’s content is not a best practice – I’d beg to differ. I definitely got a handful of donations by targeting those on Twitter who were tweeting with hashtags like #peacecorps, #malawi, #africa, #womensfiction, #amreading and #amwriting – all topics related to my book. This tactic likely won’t garner an overflow of backers, but it could fill in some of the gaps.

8. Use the Kickstarter Status Board!

I wish I had known about this amazing tool much earlier on in my campaign, instead of when I did – with only 5 days left! Nevertheless, the Kickstarter Status Board is a must to determine where backers are coming from in order to tweak your outreach. You can download it into your browser’s toolbar, add your Kickstarter URL and continually check back to see your progress at any point.

9. Start a Facebook Event for the final 24-hour countdown.

Every hour on the hour for the last 24 hours of the campaign (minus when I was asleep), I updated the Event page with blogs that had picked me up over the last 30 days, interviews, images of the rewards and general updates regarding the current pledge level. This created even more excitement in the final hours of the campaign, and even led to some new pledges and pledge increases.

10. Make sure to update your page before the campaign ends.

Once the project has reached its deadline, you will not be able to update the main Kickstarter campaign page again. This page remains up and live online after the deadline, considering that you will be sending out surveys to backers regarding their rewards, as well as Project Updates as you fulfill those rewards and see your project through to completion. I updated my page the night before the end of my campaign, thanking all of my backers right at the top. I wanted that to be the message everyone who came back to the page in the days, weeks and months to come would see.

There will probably be even more to share as I continue this process, fulfilling rewards and completing the publication of Vuto. I hope the above will help others planning on Kickstarting or crowdfunding a project — fiction or otherwise!

Have you crowdfunded a project before? Do you have any additional tips or tricks to share? Please do so in the comments below!


Filed under Advice, Books, Guest Blogs, Interviews, Vuto, Writing