One Year of Blogging

Well, one year ago today I put up my first post here. I haven’t made any attempts to publicize the blog, other than sharing it with friends and occasionally posting a link on other sites. So it remains my own little quiet corner of the Interwebs, where I can ramble about whatever I want, fine-tune my writing skills, and share the details of my writing and my travels with whoever cares to read.

Here are some numbers from the 365 days the site’s been up:

64 Blog Posts
8 Short Stories Submitted to Magazines
Of those:
5 Rejections (3 Personal Notes, 2 Form Letters)
2 Responses Still Pending
1 Magazine Closed Before Replying

Also:
4 Backpacking Trips
3 Science Fiction Conventions
2 International Trips (1 of which I still need to catch up on) spanning 4 countries
1 NaNoWriMo completed

150,000ish words written (just a guess, really, between blog, novel, and short stories)
1831 Visits to the Blog By People Who Aren’t Me
681 Photos Uploaded to Flickr

It’s been a busy year. Next year is looking to be even busier; it starts (much like last year did) with Dragon*Con, coming up next weekend in Atlanta. This time instead of just Saturday-Monday, I’ll be there Thursday-Monday! Yay! In the interests of saving money, I’m sharing a room at the Hilton with 7 other people, so yeah… gonna be interesting. But if I could survive staying in shelters on the AT, I’m pretty sure I can survive 8 people in a hotel room for 4 days. (Note to self: Bring earplugs. And Febreze.)

One last note on the blog. Here are the top few search engine results that have brought people here over the past year:

offthewrittenpath
time magazine afghan girl
scott siegler
jennifer blanc
off the written path
avatar pocahontas comparison
cyborg deer
nasfic report

Clearly, if I want to bring more attention to the blog, I should write a story in which Scott Siegler and Jennifer Blanc attend NASFIC in order to rescue an Afghan girl from an evil cyborg deer with the help of a bunch of people cosplaying Na’vi.

Hmm… maybe not. Thanks for reading, everyone!

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Short Story Posted on Hennen’s Observer

I recently submitted a short story to a site called Hennen’s Observer. It’s sort of a combination of newspaper and literary magazine, publishing a mix of factual articles, short stories, and poetry. Every month, the best web submissions are compiled in the print publication, and if a story or poem makes the print publication, the author is paid professional rates.

Hennen’s Observer is somewhat unusual in that you can read all the submitted stories online, regardless of whether or not they get published. So if you want to read my contribution, you can. It’s called “Storytellers”, and it’s here: Link

It’s one of the most personal stories I’ve ever written. It deals fairly overtly in religion, but I’d like to think that its appeal is independent of any specific faith. When I wrote it a couple of years ago, I was struggling to come to terms with my own beliefs, and basically it’s an exploration of one possible idea of God.

I don’t know yet if “Storytellers” will make the print publication. If it does, I will naturally be posting about it here, probably in ecstatic terms.

NASFIC Report: Great People, Sparse Con

It’s funny how less than a day after complaining about my insecurities in regards to socializing and meeting people, I found myself hobnobbing with all sorts of cool people at the launch party for Mary Robinette Kowal‘s new book “Shades of Milk and Honey.” I hadn’t read her work yet; however, she’s made several appearances on Writing Excuses, and I recently learned that she grew up in this area. We even graduated from the same high school– go Enloe! So despite being stuck at work all day (escape plans were foiled by meetings, darn it), I headed over to NASFIC that evening to check out what was going on.

Most of the people there were published authors, editors, or spouses of said authors and editors. I felt out of place; “underdressed”, at least in terms of professional credentials. Nevertheless, no one seemed to mind, and no big burly bouncers were checking SFWA membership cards, so it was cool. Many of the people I had seen at the Bull Spec launch party two days ago were there, and I was able to have decent conversations with several folks I hadn’t been able to chat with at that event, including Sam Montgomery-Blinn (Bull Spec‘s editor), and John Kessel. I also met Gwendolyn Clare again, had a long chat with James Maxey, and met several other authors as well. When I got a chance to talk to Mary, we reminisced about Enloe, came to the consensus that it was too long ago to remember more than a couple teachers’ names, and had a brief discussion on the mechanics of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock. You know, important writing stuff.

On Saturday I actually attended the con, and in the morning I ran into James again, who invited me to lunch. This was how, a short time later, I found myself having lunch in a group of 7 people: 5 professional authors, an editor for Baen Books, and lil’ old me.

Later, at dinner, I found myself sitting with James, his girlfriend, Gray Rinehart (the Baen editor from lunch), Ed Schubert (editor for Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show) and Doug Cohen (editor for Realms of Fantasy). Again feeling professionally inadequate, but mostly just reveling in it now, and generally managing to ignore the butterflies in my stomach– which were mainly the result of general shyness anyway.

Oh, and panels… yeah, I guess there were panels. They were all right. There was a Masquerade, too, which I showed up late to and took some pictures of at the end (full set, such as it is, here). But if it weren’t for the meals and the party, I’d say the con was a letdown. It was WAAAY too spread out; it could have comfortably fit in just one of the three venues. I never thought I’d miss the crammed, chaotic vibe of ConCarolinas, but I did. It seemed like it was about one-third the size in ten times the space.

All in all, a great con, just completely not for the reasons I expected.

Ahh, Irony, how you make life interesting.

Reporting Live-Plus-Two-Days from the Bull Spec Launch Party

The more local events I go to, the more I realize how large and thriving a writers’ community there is in the Raleigh-Durham area, especially for the speculative fiction genres. For the past couple of years, my primary contact with other writers has been my own writing group, which, don’t get me wrong, is great, but is more geared toward general fiction than sci-fi and fantasy.

But I got a great look at the community on Wednesday, when I went to the launch party for the second issue of Bull Spec. Bull Spec is a local magazine that publishes sci-fi and fantasy short stories, interviews, critiques, and is also a great window into the local writing scene. It seemed like almost everyone who attended was a writer, busy discussing their latest novel or short story. I recognized a few of the people from the writing panel I attended a few weeks ago, including James Maxey and Mark Van Name. I also saw John Kessel, a prolific local writer who happened to be my professor for a Science Fiction class I took at NCSU oh, eight years ago.

But of course the main focus was on the magazine, and there were six panelists who spoke, including Professor Kessel and the editor of Bull Spec, Sam Montgomery-Blinn. (Sam had actually rejected one of my stories for inclusion in Bull Spec that very morning– but he did take the time to send me some detailed feedback, so I guess he’s cool.) The other four panelists were contributors to the issue, including Gwendolyn Clare, Paul Celmer, Natania Barron, and Joseph Giddings. Gwen and Paul had short stories in this issue; Natania and Joe had written reviews, although Natania’s reading was from one of her stories. It was a steampunk involving girls with guns, aliens,and the Wild West– what’s not to like? Actually, all the readers were excellent; I bought the magazine and went home so I could finish the stories which had been left tantalizingly unfinished.

On a personal note, the event taught me something else: my networking skills need work. I’m introverted by nature, so this kind of thing doesn’t come naturally to me to begin with, but it’s worse talking to published authors and editors. I want to come across as a serious aspiring professional rather than just another random fan, but I’m not really sure how to do that. So after I get past the pleasantries, my brain tries to lock up, apparently operating under the theory that it’s better to shut up than risk saying something dumb. If I do overcome that, I’m in danger of rambling, afraid to stop talking for fear my brain will take over again and freeze everything up. (I probably shouldn’t admit it, but my brain operates the same way when talking to women. Stupid brain.)

Nevertheless, despite my personal neuroses, I did meet several people, and definitely hope to continue attending local events like this. As it turns out, I’ll get a chance this weekend, except the size of the event is multiplied by several orders of magnitude: the North American Science Fiction Convention (NASFIC) is in downtown Raleigh this weekend, spanning two hotels and the Raleigh Convention Center for four days. There’ll be lots of authors and editors there, conducting various writing panels and workshops, as well as the usual con-related goings-on: costumes, gaming, movies, the works. Should be fun.

The real question is, do I play hooky from work on Friday afternoon and check it out early?

Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Here’s hoping my co-workers don’t read this.

*shifty eyes*

Aisha’s Story

In the eleven months I’ve posted to this blog, I’ve thus far managed to avoid political topics. But now I’m going to tread the line, because while the topic is definitely political, I feel like this should really be a humanitarian issue first.

On the cover of TIME Magazine’s August 9th issue is a picture of an 18-year-old Afghan girl named Aisha. She was treated like a slave by her husband and his family, and suffered horrible abuse and beatings at their hands. Last year, she ran away… and soon after, the Taliban came knocking on her door, demanding that she be punished for doing so.

The judge, a local Taliban commander, was unmoved by her story of abuse so severe that she feared for her life. Perhaps he didn’t even let her speak, but regardless, he certainly didn’t care. So while her brother-in-law held her down, her husband took a knife and proceeded to cut off her ears and nose.

Now her face is on the cover of TIME, and Aisha has become a pawn for both sides in the ongoing debate about the war.
-The pro-war camp claims that this illustrates why we need to stay in Afghanistan and continue combating religious extremism.
-The anti-war camp claims that this illustrates how little has changed despite almost 10 years of American soldiers fighting and dying half a world away.

To me, the TIME magazine cover drives home a different point: if we had wanted to win the war on terror, we should have focused on helping people like Aisha in the first place.

The breed of religious extremism which led to Aisha’s mutilation is the exact same breed which led to airplanes being flown into buildings on 9/11. But we don’t see it. Maybe it’s because Aisha is just a poor woman from Afghanistan. Maybe it’s that she isn’t one of us. But even when confronted with her picture, we tell ourselves it’s not our job to protect her– we’re over there to protect Americans. Afghan women have suffered for generations. They suffered before we got there, and they’ll still be suffering after we leave. It’s not the jobs of American soldiers to solve her problem. We’re here to fight terrorism.

But terrorism is an idea, not a person, and all the weapons in the world won’t kill it. To combat terrorism, you have to combat the conditions that allow it to thrive: you have to combat the hate, the ignorance, and the extremism in which it takes root. And if we had engaged the local population, if we had treated them like human beings worthy of our help, instead of treating them as inconvenient obstacles on our way to hunt down Osama bin Laden, I believe we would be much further along in alleviating the causes of both suffering like Aisha’s, as well as the suffering which came to our shores on 9/11.

We should have focused much more on helping the Afghans build schools, medical clinics, and improved water systems. Above all, by far, the schools. We should have focused on educating children, especially girls, who form the backbone of families, and who will be largely responsible for raising the next generation of Afghans.

To make a long story short: we should have built less predator drones, and more classrooms.

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times’ most recent column explains it thus:

Over all, education has a rather better record than military power in neutralizing foreign extremism. And the trade-offs are staggering: For the cost of just one soldier in Afghanistan for one year, we could start about 20 schools there. Hawks retort that it’s impossible to run schools in Afghanistan unless there are American troops to protect them. But that’s incorrect.

CARE, a humanitarian organization, operates 300 schools in Afghanistan, and not one has been burned by the Taliban. Greg Mortenson, of “Three Cups of Tea” fame, has overseen the building of 145 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan and operates dozens more in tents or rented buildings — and he says that not one has been destroyed by the Taliban either.

Aid groups show that it is quite possible to run schools so long as there is respectful consultation with tribal elders and buy-in from them. And my hunch is that CARE and Mr. Mortenson are doing more to bring peace to Afghanistan than Mr. Obama’s surge of troops.

It seems to me like Greg Mortenson (link) is one of the few people who’s figured out how to win the war on terrorism: by engaging with the people. And his schools are not seen as instruments of foreign oppression, because they are built and owned by the local community, and because all the schools are built with the blessing of the local elders. Mortenson’s model works, and that’s because at its root it’s about treating people with respect, not dehumanizing them in the name of war or conquest, as is so often done.

Whenever we’re fighting a war, we always dehumanize the other side. Even in a war where we’re ostensibly trying to help the local people, there’s still a tendency to pull back, to not treat them as entirely human, especially amongst those of us who view the war from afar. That’s why the only statistic we hear with any regularity is the number of American soldiers dead, as if it’s the only true measure of the war’s cost. The number of civilians killed is less important, almost an afterthought, especially to the pro-war camp. And the number of children who get to go to school, or the number of people with access to medical care, or clean water, or simply the opportunity to build better lives, does not even enter it to it.

I’ve said in previous blog entries that one of my favorite things about stories is that they help us relate to people who aren’t like us, and help us empathize with people who we might otherwise ignore. Aisha is a great example of this. I find myself interested in her personal story, and the causes of it, and what we can learn from it. I don’t want to lose track of it in the rush to just spin her story as propaganda for one side or the other– but of course that’s what happened amongst the political commentators, both left and right.

It’s unfortunate. We may dehumanize the other side in war, but in the war on terror, “the other side” is mostly just the people we should have been helping from the beginning.