On the rebranding of hurtful names

Posted in Social Justice on August 30, 2017 by Austin Aslan

I know a little about this debate. In 2007 I successfully organized a grassroots campaign to rename a Sacramento middle school and county park. Charles Goethe was a rich American eugenicist who helped fund the involuntary sterilization of over 20,000 black women throughout CA in the 1920s. A group of school administrators in low-income inner-city Goethe Middle School, which served a majority black local population, were outraged when they learned of the namesake’s history. We got the school’s name changed to Rosa Parks, and later changed Goethe County Park to River Bend Park. goethe_photo2

These efforts were popular and received very little push back. But the opposing forces employed a familiar argument: the slippery slope. Where does the madness stop? Are Washington and Jefferson next? It’s a ridiculous argument on every level. In point of fact, our effort stopped with Goethe. There was zero appetite among any of the activists to target larger historical figures. Anyway, I’m proud of the ridicule I personally received from right-wing radio on account of this worthy campaign to make public spaces less oppressive and hurtful for significant portions of local citizens. Listen to the idiotic rant of the talk show host, as he calls me a “thin-skinned candy ass” by name, and then blithely makes the argument that Goethe was only caught up in something that was “popular” during his day, so, bankrolling a eugenics experiment not his fault? (I think he was poorly trying to equate Goethe with Washington, et al, who owned slaves when it was “socially acceptable” to do so. That comparison is strained, of course, as Washington and Jefferson, et al, are known historically for so much more than tossing big sums of money around Sacramento and doing experiments on vulnerable women.) Also, I’ll link to a Wall Street Journal article that was written about our effort. Tamara Keith, who’s now big on national NPR, also did a ten minute story on this campaign when she worked at KQED. So, it got plenty of coverage. This whole debate is certainly nothing new.

WSJ article: “The point is to close these hurtful chapters in this country’s past” said Austin Aslan, a community organizer who campaigned against the Goethe name. “It’s part of the great reconciliation this nation is going through.”

(PS. The efforts to wipe away Goethe’s name from Sacramento are some of my proudest campaigns back when I was a professional community organizer. Of course, these efforts were only successful b/c of the passionate activism of several dozens of local community leaders and churches.)

 

 

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Spring 2017 YA Scavenger Hunt

Posted in Uncategorized on April 4, 2017 by Austin Aslan

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Hi! You found your way over to Austin Aslan during the Spring 2017 YA Scavenger Hunt! Congratulations. You may have arrived here via Kat Ellis. Awesome. (And my Team Gold #YASH host is Corrinne O’Flynn. Check it out!) If you happen to not know what the heck I’m talking about, Go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. And if you’re experiencing any technical glitches, don’t worry, Glitch Happens. Go here for some tasty medicine.

So, here’s the deal. I actually have some very exciting book related news to share. But… I can’t share it yet. This is STILL true! I will be able to share more very soon, so stay posted. Meanwhile, instead of slowing down your blog hunt with a fluffy, superfluous blog post (which you’d just skim anyway), I’ll get on with the show.

144 (ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY-FOUR)

You’re welcome.

AND NOW FOR THE MAIN EVENT! I’M HOSTING Amy Christine Parker!

I’m very excited for Amy Christine Parker, the YA author I’m hosting for this scavenger hunt.

Amy has provided me with some real gems of bonus material for you to study.

 

Seven Smash & Grab “Behind the Scenes” Secrets

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  1. While researching the book, I toured a local bank and spent time in the vault, handing cash with dye packs inside, investigating the teller stations, and looking over the paperwork all bank employees fill out when a robbery occurs. Weird fact: Nearly every teller in that bank had witnessed a robbery while on the job.

Side note: Dye packs are put into certain stacks of cash so that if a robbery occurs, they will detonate and mark the robber with dye, making it easier for police to find them. This picture shows a detonated pack.

 

  1. I got the idea for the movie dumbwaiter that leads to the basement where the bank vault is from the bank manager during my tour. She worked in an historical bank that had one to transport cash from the bank’s main floor to the vault.

 

 

  1. I choose one main song for every book that I write. It represents the thoughts and feelings of my characters and so I play this song over and over obsessively. For Smash & Grab that song was Dangerous by Big Data.

Music Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8b4xYbEugo

  1. I rewrote the opening scene eleven times before getting it right.

 

 

  1. The original opening scene involved a motorcycle race down the same spillway used for a chase scene in Terminator 2. If you’ve read Gated, you know I reference Terminator in the first chapter. What can I say? I’m a fan. Also, I had an intense teenage crush on Michael Biehn (Kyle in original Terminator).

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  1. The book was loosely inspired by actual teen bank robbers. You can learn more about them here.

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  1. Lexi’s group of friends is a nicer, more likeable, less spoiled version of the real life kids in the Bling Ring—a group of LA kids who snuck into famous actors’ homes and successfully stole their stuff and later became the subjects of a movie made by Sofia Coppola.

 

 

Real Life Bling Ring:

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Best of luck, Amy! And best of luck to you, fearless hunter. Before you scurry off to visit the next author on the hunt, LH Nicole, please feel free to peek around my entire site for a while and follow the links to my two YA survival-disaster sci fi novels, THE ISLANDS AT THE END OF THE WORLD and THE GIRL AT THE CENTER OF THE WORLD. And please leave a comment below, let me know you stopped by!

And please check out my recent photo essays for Gore-Tex(R) chronicling my epic two-month, 800-mile Arizona Trail thru hike. And be sure to follow me on twitter, tumblr, instagram and facebook to follow my adventures in real time!

MOVE ALONG FOLKS, YOU’VE ONLY GOT FOUR DAYS TO GET THROUGH THIS!
Please continue your delectable YA Scavenger Hunt by visiting the next lovely author: L.H. Nicole. Go! Do it! DO IT NOW!!!

 

Speechless

Posted in Uncategorized on January 29, 2017 by Austin Aslan

I’m usually good with words. I make a living formulating written sentences, at any rate. So when I shamefully admit that President Trump holds this bizarre power to render me speechless, I’m being somewhat rhetorical, yes, but I want you to pick up on my full meaning.

I’ve spent the past three months avoiding politics the way I might avoid the physical location of a loved one’s murder. It was too painful, too raw. I couldn’t, wouldn’t, talk or think about it. Period. I think I was in a clinical state of shock. I mean that literally. I knew what was coming and I knew to be petrified. From the moment I switched off the television on election night all the way up through inauguration, I understood in my marrow how frightening the reality of a Trump Administration would be. My news black-out wasn’t a failure of citizenship. My knowledge of Donald Trump and of American party politics was more than sufficient on its own to carry me, like gravity pulling a car running on fumes toward the gas station at the bottom of a hill, beyond the event horizon of election night to glimpse what an epic cataclysm the next four years could become. From Trump’s relationship with the press to his unscrupulous ties to foreign interests in conflict with our nation’s security to his psychopathic narcissism to the joy he takes in first making enemies and then casually ripping them to shreds, it has always been clear to me that we’d be entering a horrific, scary-as-hell moment in history.

We had literally handed over the White House to Heath Ledger’s Joker. Why would I want to watch that train wreck?

Days before the inauguration I tried very, very hard to strike a hopeful tone. I genuinely wanted our nation to succeed and to communicate that I was open to being surprised and even challenged by this fresh start. I offered the Trump Administration the benefit of the doubt. What in God’s sullied name was I thinking?

My fellow Americans of all stripes and creeds, it’s only been ONE WEEK. Trump has far exceeded the horrors of my imagination. This is where I get tongue-tied. I don’t even know where to begin: his calculated and diabolical campaign against facts and media dispersal? His willingness to stop scientific communication dead in its tracks, even when it concerns data that could help CHILDREN suffering from asthma? Actually moving forward on building a ridiculously expensive symbol that has zero functionality along our borders? Green-lighting RAIDS to tear our nation’s families in two? Actually making religious litmus tests for entry, much less membership, a real thing? IT’S BEEN ONE WEEK. I’m beginning to truly wonder which countries we’ll be at war with by this summer.

Here’s the rub, and what I should be leading with: What I’m most frightened of is the background radiation of Trump’s approach to governing. It’s not supposed to work, and the very fact that he won the Oval Office demonstrates that he’s capable of defying political gravity. But, conventionally, he can’t get away with what he’s doing. It’s not supposed to be possible. What literally keeps me up at night is the fear that he proves this convention wrong. American politics has always been an august and disciplined exercise in building consensus, adding friends and allies. Politics by the very definition of the word is an additive pursuit. You build coalitions and you find clever ways to create conduits of inclusion. You make your tent bigger. Trump has been in office for one week and every single action he has taken has been some form of kicking people out, punching them while their down, slamming the door in their face, and lighting fuses in people’s pockets. Name ONE action he’s taken that’s remotely reconciliatory to his political foes—who outnumber him, by the way.

Unless our politics is really THAT broken, by November of 2020 Trump should be polling in the low decimals. I HAVE to have faith that our nation won’t forget this past week. I need to believe we’ll hold Trump and his pack of wolves accountable for their simple breach of decorum–of this past week alone! Politics of Napalm can’t be allowed to work. It can’t last. It can’t be allowed to stand. If Trump’s legacy includes any victories whatsoever from JUST THIS PAST WEEK, the United States of America has lost something lasting in its heretofore noble fiber. We experience a very real degradation of our moral righteousness and our sacred code. The shining beacon of light on the hill that President Reagan once spoke of will have gone out. We’ve never been perfect, but we will now utterly lose the authority to point fingers and declare injustice in the rest of the world. That is a very real loss of righteous power. If this is God’s chosen nation, then we have undeniably failed Him. It’s an absolutely horrible, terrifying outcome. We’ve never been closer to failing the American Experiment. These are the stakes. After ONE WEEK, this is where Heath Ledger’s Joker has drawn the line in the sand.

After what happened in November, I don’t know whether or not we collectively have what it takes to win our moral high ground back. This is the question that keeps me sleepless and speechless. And I don’t even think we can wait four years to see what the answer is.

A Trump-era data point for your consideration

Posted in Uncategorized on January 22, 2017 by Austin Aslan
I want to relate to you a true story that my eleven-year-old daughter, Ariel, experienced this past Wednesday, January 18, 2017, on her Flagstaff bus ride home from middle school. I hope it’ll generate support and awareness from all stripes; my daughter will be looking on.
She took her assigned seat in front of a high school guy who’s proven himself to be crass and obnoxious time and again. Two Navajo middle school girls boarded the bus, and the older boy behind Ariel called out loudly for all to hear, “Get off of here, this is a white bus!” Then he turned to his laughing friends and said–and this is dead true: “Are y’all ready for Trump’s inauguration?” Ariel says that she was clenching her fists and in shock the whole way home, but didn’t know what else to do. She said they joked about the bus being for “white people only” much of the ride.
 
This is clearly and incontrovertibly a data point that echoes a growing narrative to suggest that Donald Trump is re-normalizing overt racism in our very neighborhoods. This is really happening, folks. Poo-pooing it as Thin-Skinnery is an act of complicity. But I trust my broad social network to show solidarity, here; I really do. What are your thoughts/reactions? And keep it real; no trolling, please.

My take on the next four years

Posted in Uncategorized on January 19, 2017 by Austin Aslan

Here’s my take on the next four years: I’m hoping for the best, but I’ll not rest. I’ll end this on a surprising note to some friends on the right, but let’s be clear: In many aspects, Trump is a known quantity and we can expect epic disasters out of him. I think he’ll forever tarnish the majesty of our nation’s presidency with dangerous and reckless new precedents. This absolutely weakens America for the next generation, and it’ll be disappointing to live through. I think Trump poisons the Republican brand moving forward, the party will rue the day it allowed him to define Conservatism. He’s a tax-evading, helicopter-commuting, serial rapist who considers being peed on by prostitutes as a fun way to blow inherited riches. If you’re cool with him making headlines in front of your kids for the next four years, then you’re willing to compromise more for partisan politics than I am. We’re not going to have much in common on that front. Personally, my long, dark winter of a pity party is over. The circus show of the transition era is behind us. President Trump is now a reality. I will be present and engaged in my duty as a concerned citizen opposing horrible policies. BUT…here’s the pivot. Here’s the honest truth: I’m genuinely interested to see how this forced experiment plays out. I’m genuinely curious to see how an Exxon-Mobil exec does as Secretary of State. I’d like to give a conservative Iowa governor a chance to go to China and surprise us. I think Nikki Haley will do her job at the UN in good faith and that it may result in unpredictable positive outcomes long term. Our Democracy is a study in compromise, and balance arises out of the push back from all corners of our national debate. I authentically celebrate that, with pride and patriotism. I’m rooting for, and open to, good results from Trump’s never-before-tried brand of directorship. There are too many facets to this to name them all, but the bottom line is that I’m adopting a wait-and-see approach before casting judgement. This isn’t to say I’m oblivious to Trump’s mortal flaws and his selfish pomposity, or the insidious motives of numerous members of his team. But if you and I can’t approach this experiment in a spirit of authentic curiosity, then we’ve completely blown the lesson of November’s brutal schlacking by a vigorous minority of real, good faith Americans who used the system to send a message. If that message turns out to have traveled through a vacuum, then nothing moves forward at all, and I, for one, am not willing to cut off my nose to spite my face and the faces of my children who are the ones who really inherit this quagmire our nation is in. It bears mentioning, though, that this spirit of curiosity and hopeful citizenship should flow both ways. Those who elected Trump should work tirelessly to keep him acting in middle-America’s best interests (he will stray). You forfeit your gains if you let your guard down and blindly praise everything he’ll do while mocking the concern and anger of progressives. You, too, have an obligation to reject the absurd notion that things you don’t like to hear must not be valid or true. Facts exist. Science merits an august and enlightened place in our debates. You’re a damned fool if you dismiss out-of-hand the wisdom of our nation’s educated class, our scholars. Elites are athletes who run marathons in less than two-and-a-half hours. Stop vilifying me and my wife and our closest friends. We sit in your pews. We also live paycheck to paycheck. Those of us with higher education were born in the same trenches as you, and we don’t gather on the weekends to conspire to oppress the masses with pagan heresies. It’s a grave and terrible mistake to wantonly misunderstand the rigorous discipline of the Scientific Method, and to falsely perceive it as an enemy or a threat to your value system. That said, I full well understand that many liberals take the most cynical and pretentious position possible when it comes to looking down on rural Americans, small town Americans, Christianity, and other belief systems. These people need to shut their stupid pieholes and sit on their hands for a spell, imagine their lives in the shoes of an Oklahoma farmer as much as they haughtily demand the farmer do the same of an inner-city minority mother. And all of us–ALL of us–need to turn of the goddamned tv and passionately reject the 24-hour “news” culture. We need to stop forwarding political links to each other and pretending we’re somehow advancing the ball. Reject news as entertainment. This behavior does more harm to our collective soul than anyone in the Oval Office ever could. Anyway, these have been my thoughts during my silence over the past few months. I present them for your consumption out of dumb habit. But don’t expect me to weigh in very often on these matters via Facebook moving forward. We need to be showing up in real life in our local communities if we’re to heal. Meanwhile, I really do wish our country the best as we approach 2020. Wish but verify. I’ll be there, old school, pushing for my ideals in ways that are not boasted of on social media. I hope to see you with your bootstraps on, too. We’re all in this together.

Let the #PitchWars begin!

Posted in PitchWars, Writing on July 19, 2016 by Austin Aslan

ltrNcrop1amaste!

To all you hopeful, prospective #PitchWars contestants out there: welcome! May you find all that you’re looking for—and all that you never knew you needed—through this wonderful platform. I’m excited to participate this year, to pair up with the perfect match through this process, and I’m as eager as you are to find out who that will be!

IMG_7724-Edit-3I am the author of the highly-acclaimed sci-fi eco-thriller The Islands at the End of the World and its sequel, The Girl at the Center of the World, published by the incomparable and preeminent Wendy Lamb at Random House. The Guardian recently ranked my debut novel as a top-ten read in the awakening genre of climate fiction, and Kirkus Reviews hailed the series opener as a “Best Book of 2014.” I earned a master’s degree in tropical conservation biology while living with my wife and two children on the Big Island of Hawai`i. A Northern Arizona native and long-distance backpacker, I can often be found exploring the world’s last wild places while sleeping on a punctured air mattress. Follow my globetrotting and outdoor adventures on both Facebook and Twitter at “Laustinspace,” and PLEASE CHECK OUT MY ESSAYS on the Gore-Tex® “Experience More” blog.

I’m naturally attracted to a wide variety of material. But I think my mentee will best be served if I strive to focus my mentoring in the direction of what I’ve proven to be best at writing myself, namely: YA oriented toward survival/disaster, dystopia, and/or eco-thriller. Your novel can be set in any time period: past, present day, the near future, or the far future—the key is that it feels gritty and grounded and sensual (note: that’s sensual, not sexual). The material should have a redeeming undercurrent to it, without feeling at all preachy or smelling too strongly of an agenda.

I’m going to gravitate toward material that comes with a compelling initial hook (the elevator pitch has to impress me and make me curious). Make sure you have an original idea! The genres I mentioned above all suffer from too much of the same.

I need the author to have a sense of voice. (What does that mean? I don’t know. I know it when I see it. If that doesn’t make any sense to you, you should be concerned. Voice is the DNA of your novel.)

The sample must showcase well-drawn characters who act logically and who pop out at me. I preach that plot is what gets in the way of what characters want. What is happening in a novel should  primarily be a function of who your characters are and how they uniquely effect the world around them. What fingerprint does your main character indelibly leave in your world? The days of books being interesting simply on the merits of their new gimmick are far behind us (ex: (and not to bag on Clarke, but…2001: Space Odyssey, Childhood’s End), and natural disaster-y movie violators which rely only of FX to carry their weight: Transformers, Dante’s Peak, Armageddon, Twister, Day After Tomorrow etc.)

In terms of story and narrative, I’ll forgive a lot as I scan initial pages, but a generally-clean edit is elemental (I don’t have time to fix punctuation and spelling errors–if you’re proud and serious about your material, that will have been taken care of long before your ms reaches the likes of me). A really sloppy voice or little command of sentence structure will quickly earn a pass. The story has to feel anchored immediately. I need to be grounded, know where I am, what’s going on, and why I should care.

I’m an okay copy editor, but I notice trends in errors and understand how grammar is supposed to work. There will likely be repeated errors in any ms, and I’ll address these with a few examples and lessons for how to fix the problem, then expect the author to weed all similar incidents out during the next revision. I’m far more interested in troubleshooting the content of the story, the elements that are lacking or weak, of discussing how to make plot and characters stronger and more vibrant, and how to tighten, tighten, tighten. I suspect there will be room for three rounds of revision in the two months. I personally work fast. You as the author should take more time, really try on what we discuss, and create distance between revisions for the sake of clarity.

I have no favorite child, and the best books I’ve read are all unique enough to defy direct ranking against each other. But for what it’s worth, my best reads have all been somehow transcendental, somewhat epic in form, and illuminate something profound of the Human condition. 100 Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera fit the bill. LOTR does, too. Brothers Karamozov. stephenkingThe Gunslinger and The Shining. Cloud Atlas, for its sheer versatility. And one of the few series I read over and over again: Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea books. Simply sublime. I don’t know what these books do to my own writing, except to humble me, and ignite my love for the written word. I will be most enthusiastic about a match that does the same. Forget the fact that I got published first; I have every reason to hope that your project will humble me and teach me. I firmly believe that I’m likely to get as much out of this collaborative experience as you will!

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New Arizona Trail essay published on Gore-Tex®…

Posted in Uncategorized on July 13, 2016 by Austin Aslan

I’m thrilled with the reception my latest Arizona Trail essay is receiving on the Gore-Tex® “Experience More” online platform. Link to it through the Gore-Tex® Facebook page, and if you “like” what you read, let them know! Thanks!

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FGORETEXna%2Fposts%2F10154191659981203&width=500

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