Yesterday’s Enterprises

Yesterday was a good writing day. In addition to editing a 9,000-word short story, brainstorming for a new steampunk story, and adding about 500 words to my novel, I also received notice that one of my stories sold! Woot!

It’ll be appearing at Every Day Fiction, a website which publishes daily flash fiction. (That means stories with less than 1,000 words, not stories about people exposing themselves… although there are probably websites for those, too.)

I don’t know when the story will be appearing yet, but needless to say I will post a link when it does.

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Photography at Mukilteo Lighthouse Park

It wasn’t my intention to do two photo-heavy blog entries in a row, but I ended up spending most of the afternoon with the Seattle Flickrite Meetup Group at Mukilteo Lighthouse Park, about half an hour’s drive north of Seattle, and wanted to post some of my better results. As in the last post, I’ll be linking the pictures to their super-huge original versions on Flickr.

I’ve been teaching myself photography in much the same way I explore new cities: I get lost and see where I end up. I start with some basic knowledge and then spend a lot of time seeing what works and what doesn’t.

This probably isn’t the most efficient way to learn photography, but it’s fun, and it prevents me from taking things too seriously. Writing is what I want to do for a living– photography is what I do for fun. (Although, come to think of it, this is largely how people learn to write, too.)

I’m much more of a nature photographer than a people photographer, and generally I prefer close-up shots to long distance. Mountains looming in the distance have a certain majesty that I’ve never seen recreated in a photo… not that this stops me from trying.

At Mukilteo, my favorite subjects were the birds and the waves. Since this was Puget Sound, and not the Pacific Ocean itself, the waves weren’t that high, but still– where a rock or a piece of driftwood jutted out of the water, there was a chance for some decent action shots.

Catching waves at the right moment is largely a matter of luck; I kept the shutter snapping through the action and hoped I got the exact moment when the splash was at its peak. Without a digital camera, I would have had to try and manually time it… egads!

Catching birds in flight worked on basically the same principle as the waves– keep the shutter snapping.

There was other wildlife, too, but it was harder to spot.

Looking in the opposite direction, the sky was an unusual color for February in Seattle, but nevertheless welcome:

Between Mukilteo Park today and downtown Seattle yesterday, it was a rather photography-intensive weekend. But it’s been a very writing-intensive week (and next week promises more of the same), so it’s been a nice change of pace.

If you’re interested in seeing the whole Flickr set from Mukilteo, here it is.

Today was a Good Day

Note: Clicking on any of the photos in this entry will take you to a super-large version of the picture. If your Internet speed is slow, you probably shouldn’t click.

Just felt the need to exude some general warmth and satisfaction on my blog, because today was a good Saturday. It was a cloudless Februrary day (rare in Seattle), and as I drove to a nearby mall to meet with my Writers Group I got great some great views. On the left where the Olympic Mountains about thirty miles to the west, and on the right were the Cascades about thirty miles to the east. Here’s a quick shot of the Cascades I took from the car window:

I’ve lived in Seattle for almost four months, but every time I see mountains in the distance (which is a fairly frequent occurrence), my brain still goes, “Holy shit, look at the mountains!”

Probably a dangerous instinct, at least when I’m driving, but I love it. I guess I’m making up for thirty years of living in flat places.

At the Writers Group, my latest finished short story got good feedback. This isn’t the story I’ve been tweeting about lately; this was just an 800-word piece of flash fiction. But still, the feedback was generally positive, with a few good suggestions for improvement. This is my favorite sort of feedback to get: zero suggestions for improvement isn’t good (after all, that defeats the point of Writers Group), but if the feedback is more on paragraph and sentence level edits than global issues, then I feel like the story is on the right track.

In the afternoon, I walked down to Pike’s Place Market for a late lunch, where my table was right at a window looking out over Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. (If you look closely at the photo, you can also see flying saucers forming up for invasion… what? No, that’s not a reflection. Don’t be silly.)

Much of the rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around the various cool little shops that inhabit Pike’s Place Market, and also eating more. There’s a dessert place called The Confectional, and once I saw those magical four words, strawberry white chocolate cheesecake… seriously, I don’t think there are four words in the English language that are more likely to make me shell out money. Later, I had a smoothie at another place that was also good at stringing together nouns in a mouthwatering, and somewhat more healthy, manner (banana pineapple strawberry apple). Both were as good as advertised.

There were also some Native American drummers playing nearby, and I stopped and listened to them for a while, leaning over the nearby railing occasionally take pictures of the Seattle waterfront. (Note: If you only click on one super-large photo on this page, make it this one.)

I hung around a while longer, because seeing the sunset over Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains is another sight that does not get old.

When I got back to the apartment, I even managed to be productive for a few hours and get some work done. All in all, an Extremely Good Day.

And just because, one last shot of the downtown skyline from the waterfront.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

After blogging about Egypt, I felt like I needed something a little more light-hearted. So I decided to partake in the Romance Blogfest, put on by Jordan McCollum. Her instructions are as follows:

The theme is Love at first sight . . . or not so much. Post a first meeting between two characters who will fall for each other (even if it doesn’t look like they will at the time!).

You may write a new scene on the topic, OR you may post a scene from your WIP.

So for the first time ever, I shall post an excerpt from my 15-months-in-progress novel on the blog. It’s not strictly a meeting, but it’s the first time the female protagonist lays eyes on the male protagonist, and yes, they do eventually fall in love– it’s complicated, of course, but such is the nature of love.

But it’s definitely not love at first sight. The initial emotions are, shall we say, somewhat more acrimonious.

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Iliya stood on the roof of a building just outside the castle walls, blending into the crowd. She chuckled to herself. The Emissary would probably not be pleased that she was up here, even though several other people were sitting there casually, including two other women. A bunch of kids were sitting in a row across the front, dangling their feet off the edge, and yelling happily at the crowd that stretched out below them, lining the street. There were thousands of people here; she hadn’t known there were this many people in all of the Ama’s City, but they had come, seemingly out of nowhere, to be here today.

She had tied her hair back into a simple ponytail, so she looked more like one of the villagers instead of a servant of a high-ranking official. She also wore a pair of pants instead of her usual robe. Since there was no business in the castle for which she needed to follow the Emissary around today, she fully intended to enjoy her free time.

Someone taped on her shoulder, and Iliya turned and grinned. “‘Bout time you showed up.”

Erysa stood next to her. “Fahru said to blend in,” she whispered. “The roof is blending in?”

Iliya shrugged. “Hey, I’m blending in.” She gestured to the people surrounding her. “Besides, this is my day off. He can’t order me around today.”

Erysa had also dressed in pants and a shirt, and she chuckled. “Fair enough.” She sat down, leaning her elbow on the slanted roof. “We can blend in together, like a couple of Skylands peasants.”

Iliya sat down next to her. “The atmosphere here is quite a change from when we first got here, isn’t it?”

Erysa nodded. “I don’t see any signs of the Fatigue anywhere. Everyone’s healthy, and happy, smiling and laughing…” she grimaced. “If we were somewhere else, I might join them, instead of wishing for their kingdom to burn.”

Iliya nodded. The mood of the people reminded her of the Spring Rites back home in Elairyn, when the end of the winter storms and the bursting forth of new life was celebrated. Not only did the whole city celebrate, but many of the merchants from the Outer Reaches sailed in with their families to partake as well. The Spring Rites had been the last thing they did in Elairyn before leaving for the Skylands, and for a moment, a pang of homesickness gripped her.

“Look,” Erysa snapped Iliya out of her daydream, and stood up. “Is that them?”

Iliya stood and squinted in the direction her sister was pointing. Far beyond the village, near where the mountain slope turned more gradual as it joined the grassy steppes, she could see a cloud of dust being kicked up by a long line of horses. “Looks like it,” she said. “They’re a ways off. I’d say they’re still a couple miles away.”

One of the kids noticed where she was looking and followed her gaze. Both she and her sister had great eyesight, but the kids’ were almost as good, and the boy jumped up in excitement, barely preventing himself from sliding down the roof. “It’s Satoro!”

Excited murmurs ran across the crowd.

“Where?”

“Where are they?”

“I can see them, on the other side of the village!”

“Are they almost here?”

The excited yelling slowly died down to a steady murmur as people realized that the approaching soldiers were still a ways off. As the soldiers got closer, the path took a curve and she lost track of them, her view blocked by a grove of trees at the edge of the village. After fifteen or twenty minutes, the crowd had mostly grown silent but an excited, nervous energy ran through it that she could feel, and in the distance, she heard the crowd erupt in cheers. The cheering continued and got louder, and then she saw them. Rounding a corner was a procession of soldiers in full battle armor, banners flying tall from their polearms, which they hoisted high into the air. Their armor was painted in black and dark reds, with intricately detailed carvings and workmanship, as was the usual custom for Skylands mages. In front was a man riding a magnificent brown horse, which lifted its hooves high with every step and kept its head raised up, as if it knew it was carrying one of the most important people in the Skylands. The horse’s rider wore a helmet with large, fearsome horns and an ugly mask, and he nodded from side to side at the people he passed. He wielded a sword which he held high, waving it slowly over the heads of the crowd.

So this was the famed Satoro Kei. Iliya felt a fierce anger rise up within her at the sight. Maybe it was the casual arrogance as he rode on his horse and soaked in the cheers of the crowd; maybe it was the sight of the Skylands banners flying high in the air. In her mind, her memory flashed back to that night when her city burned, when another Skylands mage stood over her, sneering at her dismissively: “get out of Elairyn, girl.” She clenched her fist. She hadn’t gotten out of Elairyn; instead, Elairyn had won that battle, and now it had successfully placed assassins in the very beating heart of Sky.

She felt a strong grip on her hand, and looked down. Erysa was also staring at the procession, with the same dark look on her face. Iliya gripped her sister’s hand. She knew they would probably be conspicuous, as the only two people not cheering, but she didn’t care. She wanted to take her father’s sword and slam it through his face mask, the way she had done to the mage who killed her father.

Behind Satoro, armored warriors tromped down the path, two by two. There were sixteen of them in total, a surprisingly small force. Iliya wondered if she and her sister could take them all. Probably, given the element of surprise.

At the foot of the castle steps the procession stopped, and Iliya saw the stablemaster, Jiro, step forward and take the reins. Satoro bent his head and took off his helmet, revealing a young, smiling man with shaggy brown hair. He slapped Jiro on the shoulder and grinned, talking to him for several seconds as the rest of his soldiers rode up. Iliya was amazed at how young he looked; she had pictured Satoro as an older man, possibly with a goatee and an evil gleam in his eye. This didn’t fit her picture at all. As he handed off his helmet to a nearby servant, several kids from the crowd darted up to him, and he knelt down, gathering as many as he could up in a group hug. She spotted Kaena among them, and Satoro tussled her hair as he walked up the steps. He waved at a friend in the crowd, stopping several times to say hi, then at the top of the steps, he turned, and waved his arms one last time, causing the crowd to erupt with a massive cheer.

“For the Skylands!” he cried, and Iliya winced as the resounding cry echoed from the entire crowd.

“FOR THE SKYLANDS!”

The only thing keeping her from jumping off the balcony and killing Satoro right then was her death grip on Erysa’s hand. When Iliya finally released her fingers, it took her a few minutes to shake feeling back into them.

———————————————————–

Ahh, can’t you just feel the romance in the air?

Here’s hoping you have a happy Valentine’s Day, preferably uncontaminated by murderous rage.

Egypt Part III: Final Thoughts

As those of you who are not Amish hermits already know, on Friday Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak fell from power after thirty years. Like a lot of people, I’ve been glued to the news, and my two primary sources of news have been two places I’ve never turned for news before: (1)Twitter and (2)Al-Jazeera. Without a doubt, searching the #Egypt and #Jan25 hashtags on Twitter gave the fastest, most up-to-date picture of what was happening on the ground in Egypt. Often, things I saw on Twitter would then show up on the Al-Jazeera newsfeed fifteen or twenty minutes later. I occasionally checked CNN or Fox News, but mainly just to see what angles they were taking in their coverage.

I wanted to write one last post as a transition back to the normal content of the blog, where I prefer to talk about writing and science fiction conventions and post interesting pictures. I don’t want this blog to become about politics, or the philosophies of democracy, or the big news events of the day. But three of my past four blog entries have been about precisely those topics, because for the past few weeks, the people of Egypt have been telling some incredible stories.

The story that drew me in the most, as evidenced by my previous two blog posts, was the story of Mona Seif: a 24-year-old activist caught up in the midst of things in Tahrir Square, whose voice alternated between hope and terror as events unfolded. But there have been other stories as well:

Ayman Mohyeldin, Al-Jazeera’s on-the-ground correspondent, who made it into Tahrir Square almost every day and at one point was arrested by the Egyptian Army.
Wael Ghonim
, the Google executive whose arrest was caught on video (at about the 1:15 mark), and whose release several days later sparked new life into the protest movement.
Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian journalist living in America who posted almost nonstop through the whole thing, and whose reaction to the fall of Mubarak touched everyone who saw it.

Of course, towering above it all was the story of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian war hero who became a president, who became a dictator, who became a national disgrace.

Those are just some of the stories that I’ve been able to follow. There are hundreds of Egyptians dead, most brutally murdered by their own government, who have stories of their own. Most of those stories, the rest of the world will probably never hear, and that makes me sad.

But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: these types of stories fascinate me, and draw me in as a writer and a storyteller. Too often, we leap for the commentary, or the larger meaning, or the political implications, and we don’t listen to what the stories of the people themselves can teach us. I said this about the Afghan girl Aisha, back when her story made the cover of TIME. And I say it again now. The real truth of an event lies in the stories of the individuals, not in what some pundit or news anchor is interested in spinning. And thanks to Twitter, the Egyptian Revolution allowed more of us to see more of these people’s stories than ever before.

Another thing I’ve said before, but will keep repeating: stories humanize people. They teach us to have empathy for people who are different than we are; they let us see things through others’ eyes. Maybe that’s why the outpouring of stories from Egypt is so refreshing; Muslims and Arabs are so often de-humanized into stereotypes in the American media, that it’s nice to see confirmation of what I firmly believe: that across the world, people really aren’t so different from each other. And also, that people usually aren’t the stereotypes and simplistic images they’re portrayed as. Especially when there are 80 million of them, as there are in Egypt.

There’s one last thing I want to mention, and it’s on the subject of idealism versus realism. A lot of people have pointed out, correctly, that Egypt has a long way to go before it has a working democracy, and there is plenty of room yet for things to go wrong or even totally off-track. They fear that Islamic extremists will take power, or that a new military dictatorship will take hold, or that Egypt will renege on its peace treaty with Israel and plunge the region into chaos. To be honest, I feel like those people have been paying too much attention to what pundits have been saying and not enough to what Egyptians have been saying. But that aside, there is this deep-rooted scorn of idealism in certain parts of American (and, indeed, world) politics; the beliefs that things do not get better, or that fighting for change is asking for trouble.

But there are enough naysayers in the world, in my opinion. I’ll choose to be one of those people who does believe that things can get better, that the world can improve. Indeed, that it is improving. I’ll stand with Mona Seif and Wael Ghonim, not Matt Drudge and Glenn Beck. And I will usually choose to believe the best in people. It’s the lesson I glean from the stories I hear and read. And if that makes me a naive idealist, well, I can think of worse ways to go through life.

The story of Egypt’s fight for democracy is a long, long way from over; even as I wrote this entry, tensions are persisting, and the military and the protesters are at odds. No doubt there will be problems ahead. But on Friday, the people got to have their say. And I feel privileged that I got to watch it happen. Even it was from 7,000 miles away.

Coming this April…

This evening I noticed that I had received an e-mail from Eirik Gumeny, the editor at Jersey Devil Press. Jersey Devil Press is a small independent publisher which publishes a monthly magazine of short stories, and a dead-tree anthology once a year. The e-mail was not unexpected; I had sent them one of my short stories, titled Armageddon’s Jester, a couple of weeks ago.

So when I saw the e-mail the first question that popped in my head was, “Hey, I got a response. I wonder if it’s a form rejection or a personalized rejection. Boy, I hope it’s personalized.” (Non-writers out there may never understand this mentality.)

So I opened the e-mail. “Thanks for the submission,” it started.

Meh, okay, sounds like a form rejection.

“We’d love to publish ‘Armageddon’s Jester’ in the April issue…”

Hey, I thought. This isn’t a rejection at all! It’s an acceptance! Woot! My first story acceptance!

To be honest, I hadn’t been too optimistic about finding a home for Armageddon’s Jester. It’s kind of an odd story which doesn’t really fit into a category. Luckily, on the “About Us” page, Jersey Devil Press says, We want the stories that don’t fit into the traditional definitions of speculative fiction or literature. We want funny and we want ‘What the fuck was that?’

So apparently Armageddon’s Jester was weird enough for them, which makes me happy. I’ll link to the story when it goes live on their website– probably around late March.

Egypt Part II: After the Violence

In my last entry, I posted the following link. It’s an Egyptian woman named Mona Seif, calling into a Speak-to-Tweet service which allowed people in Egypt to post voice messages to Twitter via phone after the regime cut off Internet service. If you haven’t listened to it, please do.

Voices from Egypt- Mona Seif

I thought the hope and determination in her voice was incredibly inspiring; she seemed to be speaking for a whole generation of young people, and indeed a whole nation, that yearned to be free. Above all, she was confident. She told the outside world not to worry, that she wasn’t scared, and there was tremendous optimism in her voice.

Just a few minutes ago, I found the following video on Youtube. I’m pretty sure it’s the same person, Mona Seif, trapped in Tahrir Square as Hosni Mubarak’s thugs turned a nonviolent protest into a battle, and a dream of freedom turned into a nightmare of brutality and gunfire.

I had previously said that at least Hosni Mubarak was no Saddam Hussein; in light of recent events, I have to retract that comment. Mubarak is just another evil dictator, cut from the same cloth. America has supported Mubarak in the past, for the sake of peace, but now we see how interested in “peace” Mubarak really is– he’s willing to turn a peaceful demonstration into a massacre, if it means he gets to stay in power just a few more months.

America and the rest of the world should do whatever it can to ensure that Mona Seif’s dream becomes a reality. The sooner the better.