Egypt, and the Thoughts of a Random American

Like many all over the world, I’ve found myself glued to the news feeds this past week, watching the protests grow and unfold in Egypt. Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian “President” who was been in power since 1981 (30 years!), is now hanging by a thread.

Cairo is almost 7,000 miles away from my own city, Seattle, and I will freely admit that I am no expert on Middle Eastern politics. But as an American, when I hear the voices of the protesters, I hear the same yearning for freedom and opportunity as when I read the opening paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence. In another time, another life, the man at 0:45 in this video could have been one of the founders of my own country.

Perhaps I shouldn’t phrase it like that. I know America isn’t exactly a popular subject in the Middle East. Hopefully things have improved a bit since the dark days of the Bush administration, but American governments have been practicing realpolitik in the region for decades, and we still are. We shore up autocrats like Mubarak in order to ensure a stable flow of oil, and try to secure peace with Israel. Egypt in particular has been the recipient of many billions in military and economic aid, culminating in the following picture:

I’m not angry at my government for attempting to protect its interests in the Middle East… although that picture does suggest that money has been funneled to the wrong places.

Up until now, Mubarak has seemed like a necessary evil, someone who provided stability and at least partial liberalization (he was no Saddam Hussein). But now that the Egyptian people are so clearly demanding that he go, it is time for America to decide whether to continue to engage in games of realpolitik, or to fully embrace the principles that our own country was founded on: like freedom of expression; like the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It seems to me, from my vantage point 7,000 miles away, that the people marching across Egypt now share the same sort of radical idealism that fueled America’s founders. This is not an Islamist uprising in Egypt; this is an uprising for freedom, this is an uprising to throw off the shackles of oppression, and in my opinion, we should support it wholeheartedly.

That’s not to say I think America should get involved militarily or anything; that would be a complete disaster. This is Egypt’s revolution, for better or worse. It seems that the best we can do is provide moral support to the protestors, and exert what diplomatic influence we can in favor of a peaceful resolution that ends, hopefully, with Mubarak stepping down.

But I have no control over what my government does tomorrow and in the days to come; my own inability to do anything but watch events unfold is something I find incredibly frustrating. I’ve been doing what I can to help spread the word… one of my Tweets today got re-tweeted about 100 times, but even then I don’t exactly have a loud voice.

If I could, I would be marching in the streets of Cairo today. I don’t have to be an Egyptian to appreciate the yearning to be free. The voice of this Egyptian girl, calling by phone to a voice-to-tweet service from Cairo, is more inspiring to me than any speech by any American politician I have ever heard (and was also the subject of my Tweet that got circled around a bit):

Voices from Egypt

Whatever happens on Tuesday and beyond in Egypt, I hope it ends in democracy. Not democracy from the barrel of a gun, as George W. Bush and the neoconservatives tried to impose in Iraq, but true democracy, democracy that lives up to its name: power of the people.

And to hell with American realpolitik. In the long run, a government that truly serves the Egyptian people will be in the best interests of everybody.

Yes, I’m an idealist. But so was the person who wrote the two paragraphs below. Seems like they could apply to Egypt, don’t they? Or Tunisia. Or any of countless autocratic and repressive regimes around the world.

———————

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

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RustyCon Report, and Related Ramblings

On Saturday, I spent the day at RustyCon, a small science fiction convention hosted near the Seattle airport. By small, I mean probably not more than 500 attendees, which makes it easily the smallest convention I’ve ever attended. However, it still felt reasonably dense, because it was pretty much clustered into one wing of conference rooms at one hotel. This was not another NASFIC, where a tiny con got spread out over two hotels and a massive convention center.

There seemed to be a general steampunk theme to the con (most of the costumes certainly fit the category), an impression which was reinforced by the massive inflatable steampunk-style airship in the main corridor:

Personally, I’m not sold on steampunk. I mean, some people are huge fans, and more power to ’em, but as for me… it’s an interesting style, but it’s just one style. Fandom represents a huge variety of interests and passions, yet steampunk seems to be increasingly dominating the con scene. Maybe it’s just that steampunk costumes are good looking and relatively easy to put together; I’m tempted to do one myself, just so I have something more interesting than street clothes to wear to cons. But I still like to see more variety in the costumes and the styles at a con… although it could just be that I’m spoiled by Dragon*Con.

Despite my complaining about steampunk, the highlight of the afternoon was a reading by Phil and Kaja Foglio, who write and draw the steampunk webcomic Girl Genius. They recently came out with a novelization of the first three comic books, called Agatha H and the Airship City, which is sitting on top of my to-read list. Still, I’m afraid that reading it may be a letdown. I’ll never be able, even in my head, to duplicate the voices that Phil uses while he’s reading out loud. He’s the best oral storyteller I’ve ever heard, and Kaja is pretty darn good too.

Afterward I went to a panel on “Promoting Yourself via Social Media,” in which a bunch of authors, none of them younger than their mid-40s, talked about how odd this social media phenomenon was and lamented how much time you have to spend nowadays on the Twitters. About halfway through, the panel got hijacked by a marketing consultant in the audience, who went into her own philosophy on social media, which I would sum up as “Ask them what kind of soup they like!”

I didn’t feel like I got much out of that panel. Admittedly, I haven’t spent a great deal of time promoting myself on the Internet, because I feel like I need more of a product: in other words, more stories, preferably on websites that aren’t my own. I do have a “social media infrastructure” in place: a Twitter feed on which I try to be entertaining and responsive, and a blog where I try to post stuff that is hopefully interesting to read, even for someone who doesn’t know me very well. But until I hit some success with my writing, I’m basically just another random dude on the Internet, and no one’s going to care what I have to say on Twitter or Facebook or even the blog, really.

Of course, the writers on the panel did have “product” to push, in which case my main advice to them would have been: make it easier for people to connect. Include your website and Twitter account on everything you do. At cons, have postcards to hand out with your book cover on the front and your website on the back, or even just business cards, so people who might not want to spend fifteen or twenty bucks on a book right then can nevertheless engage with you, particularly now that they’ve seen you on a couple panels, maybe asked you a couple of questions, and know who you are.

Once they’re following you on Twitter or Facebook, don’t just post crap. Be funny and witty (this should be easy… you’re a writer), link to blog posts, mention cons or events you’ll be attending, and by then they’ll be fans and will have no problem buying your next book (or even your backlist). At least, that’s how it’s worked on me. At the con, I picked up Brave New Worlds, an anthology edited by John Joseph Adams, mainly because I’ve been following his Twitter feed, which in turn got me to buy his book. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the anthology had stories by Cory Doctorow, and Philip K. Dick, and Neil Gaiman, and various other illustrious authors in it… and hey, look, now I’m promoting it myself. Social media at work!

Of course, this is just my own take on the subject; it’s not backed up by studies, or marketing experts, or even my own success. I haven’t succeeded. But based on what I like to see as a fan, I can extrapolate what I think would be a successful strategy as an author or editor.

Next up was a panel on E-books vs Paper, which basically reached the same conclusion as everywhere else I’ve heard:
-E-books are here to stay
-The Kindle/Nook/etc is convenient and awesome but DRM and occasionally incompatible formats are still a stumbling block
-Paper books probably aren’t going away anytime soon
-E-book piracy sucks

Whenever I think about the format wars and the ramifications this debate has on the publishing industry, I could easily give myself an ulcer worrying about what to do as a new author. So I’ve decided to pretty much ignore this debate for the time being and work on improving my writing… once I have something to market, then I’ll worry about it. Yeah, yeah, I know… create the product and market it afterwards… what an old-fashioned way of thinking.

Later, I went to what turned out to be the main highlight of the evening: a geek-themed burlesque performance by The Tempting Tarts. Didn’t know tribbles could be incorporated into an erotic routine? Ha ha, goes to show what you know!

After an overpriced meal of fish and chips at the hotel bar, I stuck my head into a few of the room parties, but nothing was particularly engaging, so I left. I still need to work on my conversation skills at cons… my experience at most of them has been that unless you already know people, it’s hard to meet new folks, particularly if: you’re not a panelist, you’re as shy as a typical geek, and you’re not in costume. Most people are already hanging out with friends, and, well, most aren’t that interested in striking up conversations with random strangers. Of course, now I’ve just descended into the Introvert’s Lament, which means I should probably wrap up the blog entry.

The one-sentence version: RustyCon was all right, but personally, I prefer larger cons with more variety.

Happy New Year!

“A problem well stated is a problem half solved.” -Charles Kettering

Happy New Year, everyone! I usually don’t do New Year’s Resolutions, but I figure New Year’s is as good a time as any to set some goals. Most are goals I already have, but I’ve found that if I can clearly articulate what I want to accomplish, it’s often easier to follow through. (Hence the quote.) A lot of people are scornful about New Year’s Resolutions– I used to be one of them– but really, they’re just a tool, and how effective they are depends entirely on how you use them. So I don’t make resolutions simply for the sake of having resolutions, but I do use them to articulate goals and reflect on long-term plans.

First, though, a quick look back on 2010. Last year was without a doubt one of the craziest years I’ve ever lived through. If you told me on January 1 that I would end the year living in a tiny apartment in Seattle, I probably would have laughed at you. But it’s been a good year, mostly.

Ways 2010 Was Awesome:

-Moving to Seattle, and thus breaking out of a years-long career and personal rut
-Three words: Cross-country road trip
-Summer trip to Europe
-Started writing more regularly
Lots of sci-fi conventions
-Managed to network at said conventions, to the point where I’m on a first-name basis with several published authors and editors
Several great backpacking trips

Ways 2010 Was Not So Awesome:

-Unexpected deaths in my own and friends’ families
-Saying good-bye to everyone in Raleigh (yes, one event can make both lists)
-Failing to sell my house in North Carolina
-Not finishing my novel
-One word: politics

So there you have 2010 in a nutshell. All in all, I call it a very good year. Heck, the first bullet point in the “awesome” list alone would have made it a good year. But now on to this year.

Goals for 2011:

-Finish the first draft of aforementioned novel
-Write at least one short story every quarter
-Submit those stories to Writers of the Future, and magazines if/when they don’t win
-Get out and date. I’m tired of being single.
-Finish online classes and become a certified hypnotherapist (I should really do a blog entry on this)
-Attend the World Science Fiction Convention in Reno in August
-Also attend Dragon*Con in Atlanta in September
-Keep doing photography, both studio and outdoors
-Go on some West Coast backpacking trips

There’s another category of things I’d like to do, but these are not 100% in my control, so I don’t feel right making them goals. But if I pursue the goals above, I’ll hopefully increase the odds of them happening. Let’s call them hopes:

-Get a story published
-Be able to leave Software Development behind as a career
-And on a more personal note: Fall in love

So there you have it: my own goals and hopes for 2011.

Happy New Year, folks. May 2011 be everything you hope for.