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


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!


Brexit indigestion

Posted in Uncategorized on June 24, 2016 by Austin Aslan

So, if you’re like me, you probably have been curious about the Brexit but not all that invested in thinking about it, because, let’s face it, the referendum was bound to fail and everyone would stop talking about it the next day, and, really, what they decide to do over there is their business. But I listened to the results coming in on the BBC last night gathering a dawning realization that history was in the works. And not in a good way. Forget the short term drama playing out in the markets. In my opinion, what we’re seeing here is a populist and nativist movement throwing facts aside and celebrating destabilization over stabilization for the sheer gut pleasure of wrecking havoc and chaos, fueled mostly by racism and protectionist tendencies in the wake of a migrant crisis, and also a genuine frustration at always having one’s fringe opinions (BUT ALSO one’s very mainstream kitchen table finances) marginalized and scoffed at. If that sounds familiar, it should. Trump and Bernie have both tapped into that same discontent and attraction to “burn it all down” as response to having your fringe ideas and your real money troubles constantly ignored. This is a dangerous and scary sentiment, and the strength of it out there in the world is cause for great concern. It’s 2016. Really? How disappointing and regrettable. But there it is. That this can go down in the UK is a serious wake up call that it can go down anywhere, even here. Our political system needs to adopt a way to make political minorities feel valued and respected, and quickly. This is a problem we all need to solve, on both sides of the aisle. I remain convinced that Trump is such a buffoon and pathological narcissist as to squander his chance to properly channel this thread in the US into real power, but that’s not going to kill the movement, and we’re in for a series of even scarier, more savvy candidates down the line who will learn how to really harness racial fear and nativism and isolationalism, and create higher and higher stakes for every successive election, until the dominance of ration and reason even in our own nation finally does snap and the high wire act plummets to its tragic and inevitable conclusion. And this is the world my kids will have to raise their kids in. I’m so disappointed in how cyclical our worst societal tendencies are proving to be. 2020 is the new 1930. WTF, world? I can only hope we learn from Britain’s mistake, and we avoid the dog’s temptation to chase down the car and actually catch it. Because, Jesus, you’re a dog and you just caught a car. Congratulations–now what?

Our night sky, and our wonder, are going extinct

Posted in Uncategorized on June 10, 2016 by Austin Aslan

Living in the nation’s proud first-designated “Dark Sky City,” I benefit immensely from enjoying a robust relationship with our planet’s view of the cosmos. I think this issue is deeply important, but so many people are acclimated to no longer having a clue what they’re missing and what’s at stake. And so many fellow Flagstaff residents take our nights for granted and complain when the city council won’t bring in an arena or more shopping malls or car dealerships. The AZ legislature is poised to renege on a promise to ban lighted billboards on our remote highways. The night sky isn’t just a pretty landscape where it’s available, though. Humanity’s very ability to collectively wonder about our place in the universe is compromised. This is a bigger deal than it might first seem. The stars are quickly going extinct from our awareness and our consciousness. We’re content to let wardens like Neil de Grasse Tyson be our gatekeepers to wonder. But each one of us across the globe should be able to be reminded on a nightly basis that we’re indeed small, and yet miraculous. We lose our night through choices, not necessity. We should all be more passionate about bringing it back to our neighborhoods. We really must protect what Dark we have left. Anyway, this is a good article on HuffPost today that glimpses into the issue…

Opal House2

This is what the night sky looks like above my house. Did you even know this was possible? What does it look like where you live?

Writing for Gore-Tex® “Experience More”

Posted in Uncategorized on May 24, 2016 by Austin Aslan

I’m beyond thrilled to announce that GORE-TEX® has asked me to join their “Dream Team” of adventure writers and photographers to collaborate on a major new creative endeavor for the online GORE-TEX® “Experience More” platform. For starters, I’ll be publishing a number of essays and photographs recounting my solo thru-hike of the Arizona Trail last fall. This is an incredible honor and privilege for me. I’m very proud to be partnering with the most amazing line-up of outdoor professionals. This feels like an awesome affirmation of the unique journey I undertook, and it’s a real hoot to officially be labeled a professional adventurer! I can’t wait to watch this project unfold and see where it leads. Please check out the first essay, now live, here. I’d love it if you’d click on the little blue “F” and “Twitter bird” icons that appear to the right margin of the article and post the link to your social media accounts! Traffic is destiny! And then come back here and let me know what you think. http://www.gore-tex.com/blog/hiking-and-backpacking/road-mile-zero-hiking-arizona-trail/


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