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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: realism, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 14 of 14
1. False Teeth and the Foreign Office

Terry Eagleton, from a review of the 50th anniversary edition of Erich Auerbach's Mimesis:

To describe something as realist is to acknowledge that it is not the real thing. We call false teeth realistic, but not the Foreign Office. If a representation were to be wholly at one with what it depicts, it would cease to be a representation. A poet who managed to make his or her words ‘become’ the fruit they describe would be a greengrocer. No representation, one might say, without separation. Words are certainly as real as pineapples, but this is precisely the reason they cannot be pineapples. The most they can do is create what Henry James called the ‘air of reality’ of pineapples. In this sense, all realist art is a kind of con trick – a fact that is most obvious when the artist includes details that are redundant to the narrative (the precise tint and curve of a moustache, let us say) simply to signal: ‘This is realism.’ In such art, no waistcoat is colourless, no way of walking is without its idiosyncrasy, no visage without its memorable features. Realism is calculated contingency.
The idea itself is as old as the hills (how old are the hills? and which hills, exactly?), but Eagleton expresses it concisely, and his examples made me chuckle.

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2. Worldbuilding

From three of the most interesting things I've read recently and, thus, started thinking about together...

M. John Harrison:
A world can be built in a sentence, but epic fantasy doesn’t want that. At the same time, it isn’t really baggy or capacious, like Pynchon or Gunter Grass. It has no V. It has no Dog Years. It has no David Foster Wallace. It isn’t a generous genre. The same few stolen cultures & bits of history, the same few biomes, the same few ideas about things. It’s a big bag but there isn’t much in it. With deftness, economy of line, good design, compression & use of modern materials, you could ram it full of stuff. You could really build a world. But for all the talk, that’s not what that kind of fantasy wants. It wants to get away from a world. This one.

Ian Sales on Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey:
There are some 150 million people living in the Asteroid Belt. The greatest concentration is six million in the tunnels inside the dwarf planet Ceres. There is no diversity. There is passing mention of nationalities other than the authors’ own – and a bar the characters frequent plays banghra music – but the viewpoint cast are American in outlook and presentation. Ceres itself is like some inner city no-go zone, with organised crime, drug-dealing, prostitution, under-age prostitution, endemic violence against women, subsistence-level employment… Why? It’s simply not plausible. Why would a space-based settlement resemble the worst excesses of some bad US TV crime show? The Asteroid Belt is not the Wild West, criminals and undesirables can’t simply wander in of their own accord and set up shop. Any living space must be built and maintained and carefully controlled, and everything in it must in some way contribute. A space station is much like an oil rig in the North Sea – and you don’t get brothels on oil rigs.

Further, what does all this say about gender relations in the authors’ vision of the twenty-second century? That women still are second-class citizens. One major character’s boss is a woman, and another’s executive officer is also female. But that female boss plays only a small role, and everything the XO does she does because she has the male character’s permission to do so (and it’s not even a military spaceship).

Paul Di Filippo on Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders by Samuel R. Delany:
Given that the book achieves liftoff into SF territory halfway through, you need to know that Delany does not stint on his speculative conceits. His hand is as sure as of old. The future history he creates is genuinely insightful and innovative. But it’s always background, half-seen. Because our heroes are living in a semi-rural backwater and are self-professed “Luddites,” their mode of life is more archaic than the lifestyles of others. But the shifting world keeps bumping up against them, rather in the manner of Haldeman’s The Forever War. Eric and Shit move ahead almost in a series of discontinuous jumps, waking up at random moments like Haldeman’s returning soldiers to find the world growing stranger and less comprehensible and less welcoming around them. It’s as if they are riding a time machin

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3. Book review: Blood Runner by James Riordan

2012 is the year of the London Olympics so, in anticipation, I shall be reviewing three books all with an Olympic theme but all of them very different.


Samuel's parents and sister die in a bloody massacre.
His brothers retaliate by joining the anti-Apartheid movement, with guns and terrorism as their weapons. But Sam decides to fight prejudice in his own way- as a runner. 
Against all odds - from a poor township childhood to the Bantu homelands, from work in a gold-mine to competing for gold - he focuses his mind, body and heart on the long, hard race to freedom...


Blood Runner ~ a tall tales & short stories review

James Riordan states at the beginning of the book that Blood Runner is a work of fiction but it is inspired by the athlete Josiah Thugwane who became the first black South African to win an Olympic gold medal in Atlanta, in 1996 - and herein lies the strength and the heart of this short but inspiring book.

Although in places the execution feels a little dry, the story of Samuel and the loss and pain he endured and his ambition to provide for his own family epitomises the struggle and horrors faced by many black South Africans during Apartheid.  Against all the odds, Samuel (and Josiah Thugwane), achieves his dream of not only providing for his family, but running for his country, being the first Black South African athlete to win Olympic gold, and meeting Nelson Mandela.

Included at the end of the book is a 'Note on Apartheid' which gives more background information on Apartheid South Africa and which also helps ground the novel in an historical context.

Blood Runner is a book about sacrifice, dedication and belief. It is an inspiring story of one boy growing up and not giving in, a boy who has a dream and a burning ambition to be the best - and against all the odds, he succeeds.


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4. "Peter Torrelli, Falling Apart" by Rebecca Makkai

I've been reading through this year's Best American Short Stories, edited by Geraldine Brooks, little by little, almost randomly, not quickly, and mostly as a reward to myself when I get other work done. I got it as an ebook, because that's a nicely convenient way to read it. What ultimately attracted me to it was that this year's table of contents is more interesting to me than any in the last few years. (Finally, a BASS that isn't a Best American Rich White People!) My favorite story so far is Rebecca Makkai's "Peter Torrelli, Falling Apart", originally published in Tin House. For me this story alone is easily worth what I paid for the book.

Before saying a few things about "Peter Torrelli...", though, I want to recommend Geraldine Brooks's introduction to you. BASS is in many ways the old guard of the old guard when it comes to self-consciously literary fiction, and the regime seems to be enforced by the publishers and series editors, as the more adventurous guest editors of the past (whether John Gardner, Michael Chabon, or Stephen King) have politely hinted in their introductions, and as the tables of contents have amply demonstrated. BASS is rarely a book you go to to find out what's new and interesting in the realm of short fiction; it's a book you read because there is a generally consistent level of accomplishment and pleasure. (True, also, of the annual Pushcart Prize volumes.) It's a rare BASS story that makes me feel like reading it was a waste of time; it's also a rare BASS story that overwhelmingly awes, thrills, inspires, or challenges me. (In that sense, "Peter Torrelli, Falling Apart" is a rare BASS story; I'd happily employ all four words to describe it. Also, and perhaps most importantly: enchants.)

What's interesting about Brooks's introduction, though, is that while she seems to be a fairly traditional reader, she is also clearly more open-minded in her approach than quite a few past guest editors. Her introduction's first pages are similar to the openings of past introductions, and then she offers specific observations about many of the stories included in the book; the really interesting bit comes at the end, beginning when she writes about George Saunders's "Escape from Spiderhead" (originally in The New Yorker), calling it "that rare example of full-bore speculative fiction to make it through the literary magazines’ anti-sci-fi force field," and says that "Coming across this story elicited the same joyful surprise I once felt when offered a glass of wine after a dry week in Riyadh." This leads her to say, "I would like to raise a small, vigorously waving hand in favor of releasing more such stories out of the genre ghetto and into the literary mainstream."

(Please, fankids, don't jump on that sentence and start accusing Brooks of somehow wanting to steal your beloved genre and suggesting that she should read at least 50 years of back issues of Analog or F&SF. No. Just: no.)

This leads Brooks to offer six, as she calls them, "carps of the day". They are:

   1. Enuf adultery eds. Too many stories about

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5. Report Realism

At Gukira, Keguro has posted some provocative thoughts on "report realism" in Kenyan fiction:

Over the past 15 years and more specifically the past ten years or so, Kenyan writing has been shaped by NGO demands: the “report” has become the dominant aesthetic foundation. Whether personal and confessional or empirical and factual or creative and imaginative, report-based writing privileges donors’ desires: to help, but not too much; to save, but not too fast; to uplift, but never to foster equality. One can imagine how these aims meld with traditional modes of realism and naturalism and also speak to modernist truncations and postmodern undecidability. However, report realism names a more historically accurate way to name a genre indebted (very literally) to NGOS in Kenya.

The report aesthetic goes beyond citing NGO facts and figures. It is concerned, above all, with a search for truth and accuracy and is threatened by imaginative labor.
I cannot comment on the specific accuracy of Keguro's observations, because I'm not in Kenya reading aspiring writers' work. But I was interested in the observations because when I was in Kenya (over five years ago, now) and talked with some young writers there, the sorts of contemporary writers they cited as inspiring them were people like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling. Indeed, that's mostly what was available for fiction in the bookstores, with most stores putting Kenyan and African fiction, if they stocked it at all, in dusty corners. Yet the writers who cited these inspirations to me were, with one exception that I can think of (someone who'd spent quite a bit of time in the U.S., in fact), writing in a very realistic, documentary manner. That can happen anywhere, though, if you only talk to a limited sample of people; I hoped (and assumed) that there were other writers out there aspiring to different sorts of writing, whether fantastical in its content or experimental in its form, because aesthetic diversity makes for healthy reading-writing ecosystems. And there is some such work being written (heck, Ngugi's Wizard of the Crow is a good example); it just seems hard for it to get attention or to be celebrated in the way documentary realism is.

I'm a dedicated (if undisciplined) reader of African fiction, and particularly Kenyan fiction, but I'm very much an amateur and obviously an outsider, so I'm wary of saying anything other than, "Go read Keguro's post," because anything I say could easily be taken as a white American guy telling African writers what to write. My desire is not to tell anybody anywhere what they should write; instead, I would hope to encourage us all to do what we can to create the space for people to write what most compells them. Great writing of all types happens when writers find the forms and styles that allow them to express their own unique experiences and imaginings.

The danger of report realism is its normative power — if writers think this is what they should write, or this is the only type of writing that will get them an audience beyond their closest friends, then it is not just limiting, it is insidious and harmful.

Those of us outside of Africa who want to encourage more attention to African writing and more opportunities for African writers sometimes reinforce such harmful assumptions. The Caine Prize is a perfect example. In my Rain Taxi review of Ten Years of the Caine Prize for African Writing, I said that the Caine Prize judges' narrow tastes are helping to limit the possibilities for writing from the continent. That was born out again during this year's Caine Prize. I don't blame the writers for that.

J.M. Coetzee was 0 Comments on Report Realism as of 1/1/1900
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6. HBO’s ‘Girls’ — Why We Have A Love/Hate Relationship With The Show

If you haven’t heard about HBO’s new show, “Girls,” directed by and starring Lena Dunham, you’ve probably been living under a rock for the past few weeks. It’s been years since we’ve seen so much virtual ink spilled over a television... Read the rest of this post

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7. Sylvia Long profile

Kris Bordessa's fabulous profile of Sylvia Long (illustrator of A Seed is Sleepy and An Egg is Quiet) is up at the Christian Science Monitor.

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8. Book Review: Build It Yourself (Non Fiction Monday)

The Do-It-Yourself bug starts early in some children. Certain projects have enduring appeal, like the old paint-your-own-room-with-markers job, or the build-an-igloo-out-of-wet-toilet-paper activity. But, maybe, just maybe, you as a guardian might prefer to channel the creative activity of your youngsters--and give them a little learning in the process to boot. So, if you have a crafty child in your home, classroom, or library, then I highly recommend Nomad Press's Build It Yourself Series.

I read Great Ancient Egypt Projects You can Build Yourself, by Carmella Van Vleet, and Great Colonial America Projects You Can Build Yourself, by Kris Bordessa. Both books follow a similar structure: They are organized around historical themes (Egypt--"Foundations of "Ancient Egypt," "Boats," "Hieroglyphs"; Colonial America--"The First Americans," "Life in a Colonial Home," "Colonial Farms and Gardens") and each chapter contains historical information and a few projects of varying complexity. Take, for example, Bordessa's chapter on "Life in a Colonial Home." In this chapter, projects include building your own model Wattle-and-Daub house, creating your own bricks, making straw ticking for a bed, making candles and candle holders, creating your own silhouette and braided rug, and making your own broom. There's something for everyone!

The Build It Yourself books also feature a number of games and toys a child can build, as well as information on the history of the toys and games and how to play them. The volumes also include brief asides on important historical figures, manners of the age, and on language. The Build It Yourself books are best suited for children ages 8 to 12 (third through sixth grades).

Now, get busy!
Personal note: PJ Hoover! There's a make-your-own papyrus section in Great Ancient Egypt Projects.

Anastasia Suen hosts the Non Fiction Monday roundups at Picture Book of the Day

4 Comments on Book Review: Build It Yourself (Non Fiction Monday), last added: 3/12/2008
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9. IF : Homage To A Tree

"Each time these blossoms open I recall the friend who gave me the saplings, and the times we used to stop and drink beneath his trees;

But those springs of twenty years ago are like a dream,

And the wine cups of those days are tea-bowls now."

~Kisei Reigen~

If you have sound, please listen to "Dream Tree" as it plays, and then "Magnolia" if you have time to linger.
Acrylic on canvas 36" x 36" for Illustration Friday prompt : Homage
(The cropping cut off the bottom shadowing a bit)

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10. President Obama’s Latent Realism

Elvin Lim is Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and author of The Anti-intellectual Presidency, which draws on interviews with more than 40 presidential speechwriters to investigate this relentless qualitative decline, over the course of 200 years, in our presidents’ ability to communicate with the public. He also blogs at www.elvinlim.com. In the article below he looks at President Obama’s trip to the G-20 Summit. Read his previous OUPblogs here.

If there was one message President Obama wanted to send to allies in his trip to the G-20 Summit in Europe, it was to say that he is not George Bush, and the era of arrogant American unilateralism is over. In Strasbourg, France, the President said, “We exercise our leadership best when we are listening … when we show some element of humility.”

Does humility engender respect or does it evidence weakness? This week in Europe, President Obama was applauded and cheered, but this soft power didn’t seem to translate to much. The score is 0-1 in Round One of Liberalism versus Realism. I think the President knows this, and is merely waiting to cash in the store of goodwill he banked this week. As the major decisions of the presidency are made quietly behind the desk at the Oval Office, not in international summits, we should not mistake Obama’s courtesies as the prologue of things to come.

The President could not have missed the setbacks he encountered in this trip. Sure, he successfully mediated the disagreement between Chinese President Hu Jintao and French President Nicolas Sarkozy so that the G-20 would “take note” rather than fully endorse a list of rogue offshore tax havens. But the American president’s new found respect for the world did not engender newfound cooperation or an increased willingness to take America’s lead. (And we should not have expected otherwise, for courtesies are exchanged only up to the point when conflicting interests are at stake.) Europe was not malleable to the president’s call for a larger global stimulus package, and far from enthusiastic at his call to welcome Turkey into the European Union.  NATO allies only agreed to sending 5,000 more non-combat troops to aid the US war effort in Afghanistan. And of course, the President stood before a crowd of 20,000 people in Prague painting a Utopian portrait of a nuclear-free world just hours after the North Korea successfully tested a long-range missile launch.

President Obama’s European trip was a very well orchestrated and executed photo-op.  There is no doubt that Europe is feeling the love, but it is unclear if she is returning it in real ways that matter. The dance of diplomatic and royal protocols may have thrilled the public and the media, but on things that matter, the president squarely confronted the limits of symbolism and gesture.

After all, the president did let slip in the same speech in which he was extolling humility that “when we recognize we may not always have the best answer but we can always encourage the best answer.” In the end, (even ) the Liberal Way  is still the American Way. And I expect, as Theodore Roosevelt once counseled, the president’s soft voice will soon be amplified by a big stick.

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11. The representation of sex, drugs and alcohol in British contemporary YA fiction

* Hi Vanessa and welcome to tall tales & short stories. Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Hi Tracy
Who am I? Well it depends how I am feeling on the day as to whether I say ‘I am a writer and an academic’ or ‘an academic and a writer.’

I lecture in creative writing at both undergrad and post grad level at the University of Winchester, which has a great Creative Writing programme.

I love writing and have an MA in Writing for Children. It never occurred to me to write for children/teenagers until I went to University at Winchester which opened a huge number of doors for me and gave me a focus.

I’ve just submitted a creative writing PhD where I’ve been exploring the representation of sex, drugs and alcohol in British contemporary young adult fiction to see if there has been a perceived change in the way it is portrayed. And because it is a creative writing PhD I’ve written a YA novel called Ham & Jam as the main part of my thesis. Ham & Jam is the story of four teenagers in Normandy on a school trip who just can’t leave behind a young girl from Afghanistan who is being sold for sex. Despite the title of the PhD this is not a story which is driven by sex, drugs and alcohol instead it is about hope and the fact everyone is not what they seem at first.

Don’t get me wrong though, my PhD is not a ‘how to write about sex, drugs and alcohol’ job. Neither is it a diatribe saying these things should not be spoken about. It is more an exploration of how authors have previously dealt with it and consequently how I handled it in my own piece. And I certainly don’t intend to preach to any authors on the right way to write about these things. They have to find the level of detail that they are comfortable dealing with.

It is Melvin Burgess that stated that young adults can deal with anything as long as it is in context and I used his book Junk (1996) as the starting point for the research part of my thesis.  It was the first British YAF that dealt openly with drug use. Gemma starts by using cannabis but then both Gemma and Tar eventually end up using heroin. There was sex in it but it was implied and stayed discretely within the sleeping bag or happened elsewhere though the consequences were obvious with a teenage pregnancy.

For my thesis I looked at a selection of YA realist novels to see how the authors approached these issues. I believe there has been a perceived shift in the way drugs and sex have been used within stories. As I said above in Junk the first you know about the main characters using drugs is when they get stoned but

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12. DIVERSITY MATTERS: PHIL EARLE discusses BEING BILLY and writing gritty teenage fiction.

In the first post of a new series, DIVERSITY MATTERS
tall tales & short stories talks to author, Phil Earle.


* Hi Phil and welcome to tall tales & short stories.
Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a thirty-six year-old dad of three, who spends the rest of his time (which isn’t much, believe me) reading and writing YA fiction. I work for a children’s publisher too, which means most of my waking hours are spent thinking or talking about kids books. I’m a very lucky bloke.


Faces flashed before my eyes.
And for every face there was a time that they had let me down.
Each punch that landed was revenge.
My chance to tell them I hadn't forgotten what they did.

Eight years in a care home makes Billy Finn a professional lifer. And Billy's angry - with the system, the social workers, and the mother that gave him away.
As far as Billy's concerned, he's on his own. 
His little brother and sister keep him going, though they can't keep him out of trouble.
But he isn't being difficult on purpose. Billy's just being Billy. He can't be anything else.
Can he?


* What inspired you to write Being Billy?

Billy had been in my head a long time before I started writing it all down. About eleven years in fact. I’d met a lot of children like him whilst working as a carer in local authority homes, kids who were angry and disillusioned with their lives. They were the sort of young people you’d cross the road to avoid, the ones you’d label as trouble at first sight.

Having been lucky enough to work with them however, and seen beyond their abrasive exteriors, I started to understand why they behaved like they did: because they’d been let down time and time again, witnessed more violence and neglect than many of us face in a lifetime.

I desperately wanted to make sense of how they viewed the world, to understand what future they saw for themselves when the rest of society had already written them off.

I suppose as well, I wanted to celebrate them, to show people what resilience and strength of spirit they had, their ability to make sense of the utter chaos they’d experienced.

* Did you do much research for your story? Do you think when dealing with issues

3 Comments on DIVERSITY MATTERS: PHIL EARLE discusses BEING BILLY and writing gritty teenage fiction., last added: 8/18/2011
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13. DIVERSITY MATTERS: COLIN MULHERN and his publisher talk CLASH & respecting the teen reader.

* Hi Colin and welcome to tall tales & short stories.
Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself?

I work full time as a Teaching Assistant in a primary school. I laugh at my own jokes when no one else does, I like throwing things in the air and catching them, currently trying to learn to ride a unicycle despite being in my forties. I love cartoons, old horror movies, and anything with Simon Pegg in.


Alex: school psycho and under-ground cage-fighting champion. 
Kyle: talented artist, smart school-boy and funny man. 
When Alex witnesses a brutal murder at the club he can't go back to The Cage, but without fighting, he starts to lose control. He soon sets his sights on Kyle, a boy he thinks can help. 
But Kyle has his own problems and he's convinced Alex is one of them. 
Boys can play dangerous games when they're scared and this one will haunt everyone involved. 
What will it take for each boy to confront the truth?


Colin Mulhern on Clash and writing for teens.

First of all, I haven’t got a clue what teenagers like to read, and I think, for writers, it’s a lost cause trying to work it out. I spent several years trying to write for teens, trying to gauge what would work. I missed the mark every time. That’s probably because the market moves so quickly. If you look at what is popular now and try to write something similar, then by time an editor sees it, she’ll know it’s going out of fashion. The only thing you can do is write the book you really, really, want to write. That’s how Clash came about – total frustration at getting nowhere for a long time. I decided to write something I wanted to read. I didn’t even plan to send it out because I never thought it would get picked up. Weird, eh?

On the subject of issues and moral boundaries, I try not to consider them unless they come into play as the story progresses. If you set out to write an “issue” book, say on a medical or mental condition, you risk it sounding like an “issue” book. There are issues in Clash, but I never set out with those things in mind from the start; I started with Kyle and Gareth getting chased by the local psycho. It grew from there. The local psycho became Alex, began to develop, and before I knew it I was writing about him just as much as Kyle. Their individual problems developed with them.

I didn’t worry about taboo subjects, otherwise a lot of Clash would never have been written. There were a few scenes that were calmed down when it came to editing, but I never really considered holding back at th

2 Comments on DIVERSITY MATTERS: COLIN MULHERN and his publisher talk CLASH & respecting the teen reader., last added: 9/2/2011
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14. DIVERSITY MATTERS: TRENT REEDY on “insider/outsider” narratives and the young Afghan girl who inspired Words in the Dust.

* Hi Trent and welcome to tall tales & short stories.
Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself?

Thanks, Tracy. It’s a pleasure to speak to you.

I spent most of my life in Iowa. I always loved telling stories, and in elementary school I used to entertain my classmates at the lunch table with long adventure stories. By an early age, I knew I wanted to be a writer. In pursuit of that goal I majored in English at the University of Iowa, enlisting in the Iowa Army National Guard to pay for my classes.

In 2004 my combat engineer was activated and sent to the war in Afghanistan. When I returned home, I taught high school English for four years. Now I spend most of my time writing at my home in the state of Washington.


Zulaikha hopes.
She hopes for peace, now that the Taliban have been driven out of Afghanistan. She hopes for a better relationship with her hard stepmother. And she hopes one day even to go to school.
Then she meets Meena, who offers to teach her the poetry she once taught her mother. And the Americans come to the village, promising not just new opportunities, but surgery to mend Zulaikha's face. But can Zulaikha dare to hope they will come true?


* What inspired you to write Words in the Dust?

My unit’s overall mission in Afghanistan was to provide security for the reconstruction effort. On one patrol to a small village, my fellow soldiers and I encountered a young girl named Zulaikha who had suffered from birth from a defect known as cleft lip. She was born with a split in her upper lip and with horribly crooked teeth. We knew we had to help this girl so we pooled our money together to pay for her transportation to our main airbase where one of our army doctors had volunteered to conduct her reconstructive surgery.

When she returned to us, I was amazed at how she had transformed. Only a small scar hinted there had ever been anything different about her. For me, she became a symbol of the struggle that all Afghans face in trying to build a new, better, more peaceful Afghanistan. The last time I saw Zulaikha, she was riding off our base in the back of a truck. She could not hear me or understand my words, but I promised I would tell her story. That promise is what led to me writing Words in the Dust.

* Some might say that a male, American, ex-soldier can’t possibly write a truthful story told from a young Afghan girl’s perspective. What made you believe you could and should write such a story?

I am well aware of the debate surrounding “insider/outsider” narratives. I would submit that if writers are limited to writing only about people who are exactly like themselves, fiction would be replaced by autobiography. Nevertheless, despite my conviction that a wr

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