Category Archives: genre fiction

2016: The Year of the Writer?

There are signs that after the dramatic 2009 digital disruption that brought in the self-publishing tsunami, the publishing industry is stabilizing. And Kristine Kathryn Rusch, a best-selling author and dispenser of cool, much sought-after advice has even decreed on her blog in a year-end post, that 2016, is going to be “The Year of the Writer”.

Kristine Kathryn Rush’s blog, click here

Hooray! Or is it too early to celebrate? KK Rusch notes that in 2015 a lot of indie writers suffered from burnout (disclosure: my case too). But she has words of wisdom to soothe the pain:

If you’re destined to be a career writer, you’ll come back to it—or rather, it’ll come back to you. One day, a story will pop into your head, a story that needs to be told. I just got an e-mail from a long-time published writer who said that very thing. For the longest time, he thought he was done writing, and now he’s turning his attention to a new novel.

So nice to hear I’m not the only one (and yes, now too I’m turning my attention to a new novel).

So why this high rate of burnout in 2015? Simple: because of marketing pressures:

  1. You have to market your book in every possible way, Twitter, Facebook, book tours, Goodreads, you name it – exhausting;
  2. You have to write your next book in the series – yes, it’s a series of course, the best way to keep your readers glued to your books – and you have to do it as fast as you can, you’ve heard that best-selling authors come out with a new book every three months (yikes, how do they manage that?) – even more exhausting, especially if coupled with (1) above.
No surprise then that authors collapse.
But as KK Rush says, why do it? The solution to burnout is simple: write what you want. And, as she notes:

It does take courage to write what you want. To follow your own creativity and see where it will lead you. To walk down a path that doesn’t exist yet.So maybe I should modify my conclusion and call 2016 the Year of the Courageous WriterBecause we’ll be seeing a lot of courage in print this year.

Ready to be courageous? Ready to do your own thing?

Well, maybe not quite yet. Also, there are many ways to deal with burnout. For example, you could step sideways – move into non-fiction. That’s what I did: since 2014, I’ve moved into a lot of non-fiction writing (mostly articles about the United Nations) and working as Senior Editor for Impakter – and it’s been a wonderful experience, I’ve come across a lot of new, hugely talented young writers contributing exciting articles to Impakter.

Impakter – The United Nations section, click here to see.

Meanwhile the number of readers on Impakter has grown exponentially, to the extent that it has become a lead magazine for Millennials, even exceeding the New Yorker…That has made my experience with burnout as a fiction writer a lot easier to bear!

But KK Rush does not stop there in her predictions. She has just published a fascinating analysis of what went wrong: “Business Musings: The Reactive Business Model“. What she is arguing is that traditional publishers, starting in the 1970’s, have been “reacting” to surprise best-sellers by imitating them.

In order to survive commercially, they’ve churned out as fast as they could books that are as close as possible to the surprise best seller. And now, indie writers have fallen in the same trap, writing in the genre that supposedly “sells”, following as closely as they can the example set by best-selling authors. And you get a slew of would-be Hunger Games, slavishly applying what KK Rusch calls the “reactive business model”. And she predicts:

More and more indie writers will leave the business if their business plan is based on the Reactive Business Model.Traditional publishers have forgotten that they used to partner with writers. Writers created the material and publishers published it to the best of their abilities. Because traditional publishers are owned by large corporate entities, the pursuit of profit has become the mantra, and if an imprint isn’t profitable in the short term (five years or so), it gets absorbed, replaced, or dissolved.
Indie writers don’t have to follow that model—and shouldn’t. They need to go back to the old model.

And of course, the “old model” – the reason writers abandoned traditional publishing and went down the road of self-publishing in the first place –  is exactly that:

Write what you want to write. Don’t think about marketing until the project—whatever it is—is done. Then consider how to market the project. Be creative in the marketing too. Don’t just imitate what was done before.

Wise words, no doubt about it. And when writing your next book, she warns:

 “Don’t act like traditional publishers and manipulate your next book to be like someone else’s success. […] Move forward in your career. Don’t look back. Following the Reactive Business Model is by definition looking backwards.

Definitely good advice.

I would only add: don’t worry about marketing at all.

I know, this may sound counter-intuitive in a time when book discovery has become incredibly difficult given the large number of available titles – more than 4 million in the Kindle store alone.

The theory that the “cream rises to the top” and that the best books will be inevitably discovered has proved wrong time and again. A book, to be properly launched, needs strong marketing. A push. And of course, be ready to do it when the time comes but don’t overdo it, and especially not at the expense of your writing time.

You can always do some more book promotion later, if and as needed. It may take longer for you to be recognized, but at least in this digital age, indie writers have an advantage over traditionally published authors of the past: their books don’t disappear from book stores after three months, digital versions stay in the cloud forever, they have a so-called “long tail” that is (eventually) working for them.

This simple technical fact ensures that your books remain available on Amazon and other platforms as long as you, the author, don’t retire them.

So hang on in there!

And Happy 2016!

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Filed under book marketing, genre fiction, Publishing, Uncategorized

Tom Chalmers, Founder of a Publishing Ecosystem – Interview

Another interview I did under my real name for Impakter magazine. Here it is:

TOM CHALMERS – A COOL ENTREPRENEUR

on 5 December, 2014

In less than ten years, starting when he was 25, he built a whole publishing eco-system ranging from fiction and non-fiction to licensing rights

Tom Chalmers is young, perhaps the youngest UK publisher in a generation. In 2005, he was just 25 when he started Legend Press, a fiction publishing house. This was soon followed by a series of publishing companies, one for business (Legend Business), one for non-fiction (Paperbooks Publishing), one for self-publishing (New Generation Publishing) and one for writer events (Write-Connections) – all of them brought together in 2011 in the Legend Times Group while a licensing platform (IPR License) created in 2012, remains completely separate.
All these endeavors run the whole gamut of publishing and cover both traditional publishing sectors and the more technologically advanced digital areas like e-books and self-publishing. IPR License that uses the Internet to reach out to clients is perhaps the most original, and certainly, in terms of travel for the staff, the most demanding.

Mr. Chalmers is a very private individual, when I asked him for a personal picture as Impakter does not use promotional pictures, he said he didn’t have any personal pics to hand and suggested to use the one where he is speaking in China. He is the kind of person who goes at it alone, doing everything pretty much on his own.

Tom speaking pic
In short, a cool, collected and determined entrepreneur. He kindly agreed to answer a few questions for Impakter and here are highlights of a long and fruitful interview.

To read the interview, click here.

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Elizabeth Jennings, Romantic Suspense Author and Founder of the Women’s Fiction Festival – Interview

Another article of mine on Impakter magazine, an interview of best-selling author Elizabeth Jennings who also founded the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera eleven years ago. I attended this year’s Festival and had a chance to interview her – she is married to an Italian and lives in Matera (see photo below, she is presiding one of the discussion panels, surrounded by writers, from left, self-pubbed American authors Debra Holland, Tina Folsom and Bella André).
 Elizabeth Jennings (in red) on the Festival’s podium presiding a panel

Creator of a Unique Writers’Conference in Italy

on 10 November, 2014 at 08:56

Elizabeth Jennings has many namesakes. If you search for her on Google, you’ll find a deceased English poet, an African-American activist and more, but there is only one Elizabeth Jennings, the bestselling romantic suspense writer who lives in Italy and created the most successful writers’ conference on the European continent, the Women’s Fiction Festival held every year in Matera, Italy, since 2004.

How come such a difficult-to-reach, small town like Matera hosts such a well-known cultural event?

Matera, with a baroque center like so many in Southern Italy, became known in 1993 when it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its “Sassi” district, one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements on earth, a spectacular series of dwellings hewn in the rock forty thousand years ago.

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But the Sassi are not the answer, though they no doubt make the stay in Matera something to remember. And neither is the fact that Matera has just been nominated “Cultural Capital of Europe for 2019”, beating Lecce, Siena, Ravenna, Cagliari and Perugia to the honor. Indeed, one of the elements that moved the European Commission to choose Matera over its rivals was the Women’s Fiction Festival itself and its enduring success.

So the explanation for the Fiction Festival is to be found elsewhere – in Elizabeth Jennings herself, her dynamism and extraordinary entrepreneurship.

Read the interview here.

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To Publish AND Perish – Will the Tsunami of e-books Destroy our Culture?

This article was published on Impakter (under my real name, Claude Forthomme):

https://i2.wp.com/impakter.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/paisaje15-1050x582.jpg

To Publish and Perish

on 20 August, 2014 at 09:00

Amazon and its 3.4 Million E-Books: the End of Culture?

For a long while now, people have debated how many e-books Amazon carried it in its Kindle Store, because Amazon has never divulged the data. Some daringly ventured the figure of 1.5 million. Wrong! The real figure is close to 3.4 million and I found it by chance, as I was navigating Amazon’s website for Amazon Associates which provides links, banners and widgets you can upload to your blog to help advertise Amazon products.
Here it is in a screen shot I took on August 19, 2014:
Look at what the red arrow points to: “Results from Amazon Kindle Store…3,376,174 . Three days later that figure had grown by over 9,000 units and stood at 3,385,243, climbing ever closer to 3.4 million. This means that everyday over 3,000 titles are added, that’s over one million books per year – and probably growing at an exponential rate that I cannot calculate for the moment; I haven’t got the data though Amazon does (I wonder whether they are as scared as I am).

Or to put it another way: It takes one hour to add 12 books, one new title every five minutes.

You can bet that in 10 years time the number of titles in the Kindle Store could be anywhere between 20 and 40 million books.

This is as many books as Google is said to have scanned globally, drawing from all the world’s libraries (the latest reported figure dates to last year and was 33 million books).

Surprised? I’m not, not really. Internet guru Jaron Lanier, in his fascinating book “Who Owns the Future” suggests that we should eventually expect as many writers online as there are readers. If he’s right (and there’s not reason to believe him wrong), we still have some way to go. But it will surely happen, and probably sooner than you think.

When that happens, what will the e-book market look like? Lanier reminds us that this is what happened to music already.

Are books like music? Not quite, books are a more complete codification of ideas, they can play on emotions the way music does (for example, a romance novel or lines of poetry) but they also encapsulate ideas and ideology (from Hegel to Marx to contemporary thought gurus, like Lanier himself).

So can we expect our culture to get crushed under the numbers?

Again, Lanier tells us how he sees the future. Books will be increasingly linked to devices – think of how the rise of e-books was linked to the Kindle. When that happens, says Lanier: “some good books from otherwise obscure authors will come into being. These will usually come to light as part of the rapid-growth phase, or “free rise” of a new channel or device for delivering the book experience.” He doesn’t say it, but of course Amanda Hocking and John Locke‘s sudden rise to fame immediately comes to mind. They enjoyed a “heightened visibility” on the Kindle, as they were “uniquely available early on on that device.” And Lanier to conclude: “In this way, an interesting author with just the right timing will occasionally get a big boost from a tech transition”.

Is that good for authors? No, says Lanier, “the total money flowing to authors in the system will decline to a fraction of what it was before digital networks.” The future reserved to authors is exactly the same as what musicians are facing today: “Most authors will make most of their book-related money in real time, from traveling, live appearances or consulting instead of book sales.”

Authors in future will be a vastly different lot from what they are today, no more hiding in the ivory tower as “independent scholars”

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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The 6-Word Novel: For Sale, Wedding Ring, Never Worn!

For Sale: Wedding Ring, Never Worn

Ok, I plead guilty: the original 6-word short story, a.k.a. the six word novel, an extreme form of flash fiction,  is Hemingway’s and it’s not about a failed relationship but a dead baby or perhaps an unborn child, precisely this: 

For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.
 
He dreamt it up in the 1920s in response to a bet with friends. He won the bet and he considered it his best story ever.
 
The 6-word flash fiction has fascinated people so much over time that today there’s a website entirely dedicated to it, with hundreds of examples, see here.
 
And now ReadWave, the cool website that draws together readers and writers with short stories (including non-fiction), has come up with a competition inspired by Hemingway’s 6 word story:
Readwave will award $100 to the 6-word story that gets the most “likes” on their site, there are still 12 days to go, but hurry! To submit your story click here.
I submitted a horror story (it was an idea my husband had, surprisingly so, he’s usually not that morbid!) and this is how it looks on the Readwave website:
 …hum. If you like it, please go over to the website here, and click the “like” button, thanks!
BIG NEWS (in case you missed it)! All 4 parts of FOREVER YOUNG are now OUT, Part 4, The Longevity Gene is here 

You can start reading Part One for free on Wattpad where I release a new chapter every day – 6 chapters published so far, click here to start reading. And if you like it, please “vote” (that’s how “likes” are expressed on Wattpad) Many thanks!

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Why Climate Fiction is Here to Stay

Climate fiction has gone viral for a very simple reason: it deals with climate change and global warming, issues that are getting worse every year. We’ve been used to dire reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for years but now we are getting one, equally somber report from the United States, long the homeland of climate change deniers: the National Climate Assessment, done with 300 experts. It’s full of information and has some amazing photos (like the one above illustrating the collapse of ice sheets – now on-going in Greenland and Antarctica and adding to sea level rise – photo source: Paul Souders/Corbis).

Things have never looked so bad, and it’s not happening in some distant, unlikely future but right now.

The New York Times reported on it (see here) and got some 1300 comments in  just a few hours. One of the commentators (who also happened to be a climate scientist living in Seattle) noted: “We are well on our way to the 6th mass extinction. Shelled animals in the waters off the coast of the Pacific Northwest are showing damage from the ocean’s acidity. Unfortunately, people don’t get into gear when they hear doomsday pronouncements.” (highlighting added)

They don’t. 

It’s hard to imagine, hard to go beyond the raw numbers and the (cold) data (or should I say hot?).

And that’s precisely why we need climate fiction – because it works on the emotions

And when you realize the problem is here and now and concerns you, well, it’s normal, it makes you sit up! 

That’s why Nathaniel Rich  cli-fi novel Odds Against Tomorrow was eerily spot on. He had imagined New York under water. When his editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux was finalizing his draft for publication, hurricane Sandy hit New York and all of a sudden, Rich’s book didn’t at all look like fiction, it looked like social realism! 

Take a close look at the book cover (I’ve added a circle and an arrow) and see what New York could look like in a not-so-distant future after yet another hurricane – because now we know without any shadow of a doubt that extreme weather events will hit us more and more often…

We have certainly covered ground in 10 years! 

Think of it, one book by a best-selling 20th century author that was in fact a disruptive and much talked-about climate fiction novel (though it came out in 2004, fully four years before the term cli-fi was coined by Dan Bloom) depicted climate activists as…”eco-terrorists”! Yet it was undoubtedly climate fiction: climate change was its central theme. I am speaking of course of Michael Crichton’s State of Fear

This illustrates well how broad a genre climate fiction really is, if it can include a book that is music to the ears of climate deniers. Because that is my point: climate fiction, whether you are denying climate change or believe in it, is here to stay – a constant source of inspiration for writers.

I would  also like to add that climate fiction inevitably will include books that go beyond climate change. 

Why? Because climate change is but one of the negative trends that will affect our future. The others are well-known and nobody disputes them: an unstoppable population explosion, rapid industrialization especially in developing countries, a world-wide rush to urbanization, increasing income inequality causing social tensions, the multiplication of local wars as weak states struggle to politically emerge and mature in working democracies.

The main point here is that all these trends are inter-linked and interact on each other, reinforcing each one. For example, industrialization of itself wouldn’t be so devastating if it wasn’t accompanied by rapid urbanization and rising population, etc etc.

So if you try to look at the future and figure out what awaits humanity in the long run, you have to take into account not only climate change but all the other trends as well – which is what I tried to do with my new serial novel Forever Young (Part One and Two are out, Part Three will be released next week.)

How well I’ve explored the future, how realistic it is, I leave it to you to judge! But do let me know what you think – the future of humanity is one of the most important issues facing us all. Your views? Do you think writers have a role to play? 


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Why Science Fiction is Important

This morning Amazon reminded me of what matters in Science Fiction and why it is not useless fantasy but a very serious literary genre that is able to raise deep existential issues and make us think

Here is what I got in my email box:

Amazon.com
Your Amazon.com Today’s Deals See All Departments
Customers who have shown an interest in classic sci-fi might want to know about this selection of popular Kindle books.
Ender's Game: 1 (The Ender Quintet)
Ender’s Game: 1 (The Ender Quintet)
Orson Scott Card
Price: $6.49
Learn more

Add to Wish List

1984
1984
George Orwell
Price: $8.46
Learn more

Add to Wish List

Animal Farm: A Fairy Story
Animal Farm: A Fairy Story
George Orwell, Ralph Steadman
Price: $7.97
Learn more

Add to Wish List

The Forever War
The Forever War
Joe Haldeman, John Scalzi
Price: $5.37

Just four book, two historical “classics”, Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, and two “moderns”, both winners of numerous awards, Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game

It so happens that two of those books are my all-time favorites (Orwell’s) and the other two are on my TBR list – I just had samples downloaded to my Kindle…which goes to show how effective Amazon’s marketing is.

Just to show you why these four books raise fundamental issues, here are excerpts of the book descriptions. Please note I’ve just retained the phrases that refer to the issues raised and italicized the high points:

Ender’s Game: “In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine…Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity…Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders.” As the Amazon.com review put it: “Yet the reason it rings true for so many is that it is first and foremost a tale of humanity; a tale of a boy struggling to grow up into someone he can respect while living in an environment stripped of choices.” (italics added)

The Forever War: “… a science fiction classic that chronicles the life of William Mandella. Due to the time distortion associated with deep space travel, he is present during both the first and the last battle of a thousand year old conflict with the alien Taurans. A masterpiece of not just science fiction, The Forever War illustrates the futility of all wars and their effect on the human soul.” (Italics added) As Iain Banks put it, this is a war novel that happens to be science fiction.

Animal Farm: “…classic satire of the Russian Revolution is an intimate part of our contemporary culture. It is the account of the bold struggle, initiated by the animals, that transforms Mr. Jones’s Manor Farm into Animal Farm–a wholly democratic society built on the credo that All Animals Are Created Equal…The climax is the brutal betrayal of the faithful horse Boxer, when totalitarian rule is reestablished with the bloodstained postscript to the founding slogan: But some Animals Are More Equal Than Others.” (Italics added)

1984: “… a rare work that grows more haunting as its futuristic purgatory becomes more real. Published in 1949, the book offers political satirist George Orwell’s nightmare vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff’s attempt to find individuality. The brilliance of the novel is Orwell’s prescience of modern life–the ubiquity of television, the distortion of the language–and his ability to construct such a thorough version of hell.”

It may come as a surprise that Animal Farm was included in this short-list of popular classic science fiction – it is more fantasy and satire than anything else, but it certainly uses the same Orwellian approach to novel-writing: logically extending to its extreme, violent version an observable current trend in human society, which is exactly what he did for 1984. And that is what makes Orwell’s writing so effective and frightening. You recognize the world he describes, and he forces you to think through all the implications of what is happening. 

The underlying message is this: if you don’t stop the trend, that is what will happen. Hell on earth.

That strong warning is at the heart of the other two books as well: the perennial futility and pointlessness of war (The Forever War), the challenge of growing up, of becoming a just person in a world ridden with small-minded jealousy and pettiness (Ender’s Game).

Yes, in my view, good science fiction, like good climate fiction, is all about alerting the readers to basic issues that threaten our continued existence on this planet. The debate is around political issues but also around bigger issues, like what is the meaning of civilization? What is at the heart of humanity?

These are very big questions normally associated with literary fiction. Yet science fiction addresses them too and does so with the additional dimension of unbridled imagination – no holds barred, everything is possible! And that makes good science fiction particularly suspenseful and fun to read…

Do you agree? Do you read science fiction and if so, why? What do you get out of it?

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Interview with the Father of Cli Fi: How this New Genre Was Born is Revealed

American climate activist Dan Bloom 
visiting a local university in Taiwan  to
do some research on climate change issues

My blog post about Climate Fiction, a “hot new genre” (here) led me to “virtually” meet  Dan Bloom, the journalist and “green” activist who coined the term “Cli Fi”. I was very happy to meet him, he’s a fascinating and somewhat explosive person, a Tufts graduate who’s worked in Alaska, Japan and Taiwan (where he now lives). And he’s agreed to answer a few of my questions here.

Claude: Dan, you coined the term Climate Fiction, cli-fi for short, back in 2008. When did the term start to catch on?
Dan: The term was modelled after sci-fi, of course, and at first it didn’t really catch on, not until 2013 when NPR did the first big media story on the cli-fi genre (see here ).
Claude: I took a look at that article, it has a great title “So Hot Right Now: Has Climate Change Created a New Literary genre?” and a striking introduction mentioning a best-selling cli-fi novel, as you can see on this screen shot:


Dan: Yes, and now the term is fast becoming a buzzword in the media, culminating in the recent article in the New York Times about using cli-fi in the classrooms to teach American students how to handle the challenge of global warming (see here ).
Claude: Yes, that’s how my attention was drawn to it, from reading it in the New York Times. I noticed the story was picked up by others as well, including Sadie Mason-Smith on the Melville House website (here). And now, according to the UN’s IPCC latest report on Climate Change, climate warming is fast getting worse because too many countries have dragged their feet for too many years (see here ) So there’s a definite need for Climate Change activism! I’d like to find out how the idea of “cli fi” ever occurred to you. Why did you coin the term?
Dan: I have been an independent deep-green climate activist since 2006 when the big earth-shaking IPCC report on climate came out and it was that IPCC report and the accompanying news media articles about the report that woke me up.
Claude: So your concern for global warming and its consequences is relatively new?
Dan: Yes. Before then, I was not thinking very much about climate issues. But I woke up in 2006. Not being a scientist, there was not much I could do to join the debate about climate change and global warming.
Claude: What was your “wake-up” moment?
Dan:  A 2008 blog post by New York Times science reporter Andrew C. Revkin on his “Dot Earth” sustainability blog. That’s what did it. He mentioned how artists and novelists can use “the arts” to communicate climate issues to a broad public. That made me think what I could do, if anything, to add to that concept of art and literature as tools of communication.
Claude: So, concretely, what was your next step?

Dan: One day while I was doing some PR for a climate-themed book by Jim Laughter, a Tulsa, Oklahoma author, for his novel titled Polar City Red set in Alaska in 2075 (the book came out in 2012, see here ) I hit on the cli fi term I had coined in 2008 to describe Hollywood movies focused on major environmental change like The Day After Tomorrow. I decided to inject the cli fi term as part of my press release about Jim Laughter’s Alaska novel. So I sent out some press releases to book reviewers and I called his novel a ”cli fi thriller” and slowly the term took on a life of its own. A few newspapers and blogs used the term in talking about Jim’s novel, but nothing more, although one newspaper in North America reviewed it.
Claude: Yes, a major newspaper too! I noticed that the New York Times has described his book as “a thought experiment that might prod people out of their comfort zone on climate.”
Dan: Right. And, in spite of relatively slow sales for that book, I didn’t give up and tried to keep the cli fi term alive with many blog posts and by leaving a large digital footprint on the internet, so that if any reporter googled the cli fi term, hundreds of items would show up in the Google search list.
Claude: And on Wikipedia. You can read about it here. But what was the turning point?
Dan: It came in late 2012, when a climate scientist in Atlanta, Georgia named Judith Curry got interested. She is not only a dedicated scientist with a keen interest in the science of climate change but also a woman with a deep appreciation of the humanities and the arts. So she did a big post on her ”CLIMATE  ETC” blog; it’s a very popular blog and she gets 300 to 500 comments on each post – the post about cli-fi novels she titled simply “Cli fi” (see here)

Dr. Judith Curry

Claude: She opens her post by noting that cli-fi is a “fledgling new genre in literature”. Then she immediately mentions Michael Crichton’s blockbuster State of Fear, a 2004 techno thriller against the backdrop of global warming. However it got panned  apparently because of gross scientific errors. She argues that a climate scientist could however pen such a techno thriller without losing his reputation and she cites Rex Fleming .
Dan:  Cli fi as a genre was certainly ‘fledgling’ back in December 2012. But Dr Curry herself changed that. She makes a list of about 20 or so cli fi novels, including big names like Clive Cussler, Ian McEwan and Barbara Kingsolver. And she included Jim Laughter’s Polar City Red and used my press release term of calling it a “cli fi thriller”. That led four months later to NPR interviewing Dr Curry for its CLI FI radio program announcing that a new literary genre had arrived. I had sent dozens of press releases to the NPR book department email address about the cli fi concept, but the station never replied to any of my appeals for an interview or a radio show about the new genre.
Claude: Par for the course, I suppose that was rather discouraging…Of course, Dr. Curry is a big shot at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Dan: She heads the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences since 2002.
Claude: Isn’t she also a rather controversial figure? There is this interesting article in the Scientific American that calls her a “climate heretic” who has “turned on her colleagues”. But that article was written in 2010 and is now probably reflecting an outdated position in the American scientific community. I rather like her position on the latest Climate Change report from the UN: she welcomes the idea of putting the Climate Change discussion behind us and focusing on the needed survival strategies rather than pursue mitigation or curbing measures… What is your take on this?
Dan: I read Dr Curry’s blog posts regularly and keep in touch with her by email from time to time, too. I deeply respect and admire the kind of scientist (and humanist) she is. She’s one of my teachers now, too.The world needs more scientists like her, who are not afraid to speak their minds and even join the debate from different sides of the table. And I am so glad she blogged about cli fi novels back in December 2012. Her post led to all this today.
Claude: You mean the interest shown by NPR?
Dan: Yes. So imagine my surprise one day in April 2013 when I see via my daily Google search for cli fi news that NPR did the story! I immediately set about doing all I could as a PR operative and a climate activist and a literary theorist to push the cli fi meme uphill, using the NPR link as the wake-up alarm. I wrote to the Guardian and asked if they could do a cli fi story for British readers. They did. I wrote to the Financial Times in the UK and asked my contacts there if they could do a cli fi story, and they did. Alison Flood, the Guardian’s book critic, did a blog post on “why cli-fi is here to stay”.
Claude: Wow, I’m impressed!
Dan: At first most media never responded to me, or even answered my email pitches. But they did line up, one by one, to add to the ”cli fi genre is rising” chorus, from Britain to Australia. I kept up the PR blitz, contacting every media outlet I could.  The New Yorker magazine followed the Brits, as did Dissent magazine last summer. There was something in the air I think, but my PR campaign was crucial. I then spent time lobbying the New York Times to report the cli fi news, and I contacted 12 reporters and met up with 6 months of rejections and emails that read “sorry not interested.” But in January 2014 I found one Times reporter I knew from earlier contacts ten years ago and I emailed him. And three months later his New York Times article came out worldwide not just in the U.S print edition and on the newspaper’s popular website, but also via the New York Times News Service which syndicated the article to over 400 newspapers worldwide, from Italy to France to Japan to Sweden.
Claude: So the New York Times article, the one I noticed, was a major turning point.
Dan: It was. Now I am focusing my media contacts on the Associated Press and Reuters News Service for wire stories about the cli-fi genre. And Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist who has a keen interest in climate change issues, told me he will write a Sunday column soon about his take on the power of cli-fi literature to serve as a wake-up call. So things are happening.

Nicholas Kristof

Claude: They sure are! I’m looking forward to Kristof’s piece, I think he’s a remarkable columnist and I totally agree with the concept that climate fiction can serve as a much needed wake-up call. We need to go beyond sterile discussions about who or what is responsible for global warming and do something about it because one thing’s certain: it’s happening! Is that why the idea of cli-fi occurred to you?
Dan: Yes, as a climate activist but also as a literary activist…My major at Tufts University in the 1960s was French literature and I spent a year in Paris in 1969 absorbing the culture and drinking the coffee — I felt that a new literary term for climate-themed novels might help serve as a wake-up call for the future humankind faces now. Besides, I’ve always loved words and word games and crossword puzzles and sci-fi. I grew up with sci-fi novels in the 1950s and 1960s. I am a big sci-fi fan. So one day, my imagination just jumped over the fence and told to make a new word and call it cli-fi and see what happens. I like to see what happens. So I did it.
Claude: So are you a writer in pectore?
Dan: No, I am not a novelist or a short story writer or a screenplay scriptwriter. I don’t have those kind of writerly skills. I am just a climate activist, first, and a lifelong reader of novels, second.
Claude: I gather that Margaret Atwood was an early supporter, though she calls her own novels “speculative fiction” rather than cli-fi — while at the same time fully supporting your creation of the cli fi genre for whoever wants to work in it.

Margaret Atwood (Author page on Amazon)

Dan:  Exactly. Margaret Atwood has written three op-eds applauding the creation of the new genre that has been dubbed cli fi, one was published in the Canada Living magazine, one was published in the Huffington Post and another was published in the Financial Times recently in London. And she has often tweeted and retweeted cli fi news links to her 450,000 followers!
Claude: That’s a lot of followers on Twitter!
Dan: So yes, Ms Atwood has been instrumental in helping to popularize the cli-fi genre, come what may. I consider her my teacher, although we have never met. My other two teachers in the cli fi project are James Lovelock, whose ideas about the Earth being a kind of Gaia goddess that needs to be respected and protected or it’s curtains for the human race, and Andrew Revkin who runs the Dot Earth blog at the New York Times and which I have followed since its inception.
Claude: Okay, now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. What is your definition of Climate Fiction?
Dan: First of all, I want to make it clear: the term I created is “cli-fi” which stands for climate fiction, of course, CLImate FIction with caps and lowercase letters, and I never use the term “climate fiction.” My PR work is not about “climate fiction” but about “cli-fi.”
Claude: I hyphenate the term by analogy with sci-fi, but I notice you don’t…
Dan:  So I want to use the term “cli fi” only in this interview and I also only use cli fi in my press releases. Why? As a lifelong journalist and PR guy, I know the power of headline buzzwords to serve as signposts along the road. So cli fi is a signpost and a wake-up call. The term “climate fiction” has been used for a long time, and I never coined that term. I just took it and tried to transform the longer version into a kind of code word and I thought of calling it “cli fi.” So let’s just talk about cli fi and leave “climate fiction” for scholars and professors to discuss. The New York Times article about cli fi just mentioned the term once in the entire 1000-word story, and not in the headline at all. 
Claude: I put it in the title of my blog!
Dan: Good! I was hoping for a headline mention of cli fi in the NYT, but in the PR business one cannot control how headlines are written or even how news articles are written. But the Times article was very important and for one special reason: cli fi has now been mentioned in the newspaper of record, The New York Times. That’s a first. This is the beginning. There is no stopping the rise of cli fi novels now.
Claude: What hopes do you have for the genre? What do you expect to achieve through it?
Dan: My hope is that cli fi will serve to bring together novelists and editors and literary agents and publishers — and readers! — as we explore the role of novelists in the ongoing debates over climate change and global warming. My hope is that the news media will start reviewing cli fi novels as cli fi novels, and stop calling them science fiction novels.
Claude: You don’t consider cli-fi as a subgenre of science fiction?
Dan: As I see things now, after several years of working on this project and getting a lot of feedback from readers and writers in both the sci-fi community and the growing cli fi community, cli fi is not a subgenre of sci-fi but a genre of its own. And sci-fi novels can also focus on climate change and still be classified as sci-fi novels, if that is how the novelists themselves want it and how literary critics see it. But at the same time, I now see cli fi as a separate genre that has attracted its own community of writers and readers worldwide. And sci-fi and cli fi are not competing genres at all; they complement each other, and they are, in a way, sister genres. I love sci-fi, and always have. 
Claude: Me too. I consider Aldous Huxley and Orwell among the greatest writers of the 20th century…
Dan: Now I am trying to popularize cli fi, too. I believe we are on the same page, sci-fi writers and cli fi writers. But one thing needs to be pointed out: While cli fi is usually filled with the moral implications of climate change issues, sci-fi is usually filled with the intention of exploring the possibilities of science and its relationship to humankind. So that is where cli fi and sci-fi go in different directions, and both genres are valid and useful.
Claude: Yes, both are useful and I love both! But what sort of future do you see for cli fi?

Dan: My hope is that a modern Nevil Shute will arise, male or female, in any country in any language, to write and publish a climate-themed cli fi novel with the same power as Shute’s 1957 novel On The Beach which served as a wake-up call about nuclear war and nuclear winter. And the movie was important, too.
Claude: The Next Big Novel that will shake society should be in “cli fi”!
Dan: Right! So I am looking for the Nevil Shute of cli fi. And to do this, I am quietly setting up what I call the international Nevil Shute Climate-Themed Novel Award to be first awarded in 2020 for the best cli fi novel in the previous ten years and to repeat the award every ten years internationally and awarding a prize of $1 million to the winner.
Claude: Hey, I’m going to candidate my soon-to-be published Forever Young! Though I must admit that cli fi is only one element, there are other things in it like the demographic explosion and growing income inequality…
Dan: Why not? You and many more writers, that’s what I’d like to see. I am now in the fundraising process of this new project, an offshoot of my cli fi PR work. I am looking for sponsors and a committee of judges to honor these kinds of cli fi novels. And I hope to see the “Nevils” — as I am dubbing the awards — keep going for 100 years, awarded every ten years for a total of ten times. And if the awards committee in 2120 wants to keep the awards going for another 100 years, I will nod yes from the grave. Literature matters. Words matter. Novels and movies made from novels can wake people up. The world is still asleep. We are facing the potential end of the human race. Wake up, world!
Claude: An impressive project! What else have you got up your sleeve?
Dan: Another thing I am working on is this: I am trying to find a reporter in New York or London who covers the book industry to find out if they can do a print newspaper or online story about how literary agents and everyone in the publishing industry view the rise of cli fi as a new genre and if they plan to use the term in future book titles or book covers. Raising the media profile worldwide of the cli fi genre is now my life’s work. And then I die. This is my way of giving back to a world that has given me so much. I go out every day to my PR office not to make money but to make a difference. I was educated to think of life this way, and now in my mid-60s, I have found a way to express myself on my own terms. I am not doing this cli fi work for myself or to benefit from it in any way. I do not want money or fame. I like to work quietly in the background and I find the internet a very pleasant place to hang my sign: “Dan Bloom, climate activist – no fees charged.”
Claude: Dan, that’s wonderful and I wish you every possible success in this most worthwhile cause. Thank you so much for joining me here and telling us about your dreams and your plans. 

I look forward to comments from my blog readers: has anyone read a cli fi novel recently? If you have, or know something about the genre that has not been covered here, please share!


Dan Bloom BIO:

Dan Bloom grew up in the Boston area, attended Tufts University where he majored in modern literature and minored in French, and has spent his adult life working as a newspaper reporter, editor and blogger in Alaska, Japan and Taiwan. He is now dedicating his life to promoting the new
literary genre of cli fi and working on it 24/7 from his “office” in a small internet cafe in southern Taiwan (as Dan does not own a computer and never has, describing himself as a Neo-Luddite.)

For readers or media people worldwide who want to contact him, his email at the internet cafe is danbloom@gmail.com and he welcomes all inquiries and in all languages. For more information, visit Dan Bloom’s bog, CLI FI CENTRAL, click here

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Climate Fiction: A Hot New Genre?

Is climate fiction really a hot new genre (no pun intended)? Something remarkable has happened when American colleges start to use climate fiction to teach how to prepare for the coming climate crisis. Expect writers to sit up and listen – especially science fiction writers.
The New York Times recently reported on it (see here) saying classes focus on a “heavy dose of the mushrooming subgenre of speculative fiction known as climate fiction, or cli-fi, novels like Odds Against Tomorrow, by Nathaniel Rich, and Solar, by Ian McEwan.”

Further down in the article, more cli-fi books are mentioned, among them Barbara Kingsolver‘s Flight Behavior, Daniel Kramb’s From Here, Hamish MacDonald‘s Finitude, Paolo Bacigalupi‘s The Windup Girl, Saci Lloyd’s The Carbon Diaries 2015 and more recently The Carbon Diaries 2017 (a British YA book).

Wow! I sat up and listened since my soon to be released Forever Young looked like it might fit the genre. 

Checking around on the Net, I visited Wikipedia’s definition (see here) and discovered that the earliest climate fiction book was The Drowned World published back in 1962 by J.G. Ballard (though it wasn’t Climate Change in this case but solar warming). Here’s the first edition (nice cover!):


I gathered  a slew of interesting articles (see below) and checked Goodreads. I found a whole page there dedicated to so-called “popular climate fiction books” (39 titles so far):

Take note: climate fiction has attracted big best-selling writers like Ian McEwan, Margaret Atwood (who famously tweeted about it), Clive Cussler and Barbara Kingsolver. They have all jumped into the subgenre and some as early as 2009 (in Atwood’s case).

The blogosphere is awash with posts (see below) and there’s one book selling website set up by a British Columbia  “micropress”, the Moon Willow Press, with a green conscience; take a look at their home page:

This site gives an interesting definition of climate fiction: 
“a genre of literature, film and other media that involves climate change fiction, which may be speculative, literary or science fiction”. 

So here we are moving away from the idea that it may be a “subgenre” of science fiction. It is also described as “bendable…not necessarily set in the future nor always apocalyptic”, and Barbara Kinsolver’s Flight Behavior is given as an example (the setting for this present-day story is the explosive invasion of Monarch butterflies into the Appalachian Mountains). 

There is at least one blog fully dedicated to climate fiction  set up by Dan Bloom, a journalist and writer who invented the term back in 2007 (on his blog and in an article in Vice Magazine) – the term was picked up again by reporter Scott Thill in 2010 in Wired.  

Here’s the homepage of Dan Bloom’s Cli Fi Central blog (to visit, click here):

The news reported on that page is of some 6,000 “cli fi” fans meeting in…2058 to discuss climate change! Yes, a little bit of irony doesn’t hurt (but only 6,000? That’s a depressingly small number…) 

Climate fiction is still very new and evolving. Dan Bloom acknowledges this and last summer summed it up neatly in this article about the origins of cli-fi and where it’s going, see here. He notes that cli-fi has recently drawn two stars who met and talked about it at the 2013 Kingston WritersFest: Margaret Atwood on her way to a likely Nobel Prize in Literature and Nathaniel Rich, “a freshman Manhattan newcomer” who’s fast spreading the word about “climapocalypse” to his (30’s) generation.

The news about climate fiction took off when the National Public Radio (NPR) and the Christian Science Monitor used the term – the story then rebounded on the UK Guardian in May 2013 (see Rodge Glass’ article here), and it was picked up by newspaper columnists in Turkey, Sweden, Lithuania, Spain and Italy. Yes, going global! 

The Guardian article got 139 comments, with most approving the birth of a new genre and some objecting that a new term was not needed. The best comment in my view comes from someone calling himself “Keyserling”:

“It’s apparent that “cli-fi” is nothing new, we just have a new buzz-word to describe it. I don’t like the term (my mind associates it with “clitoris fiction”, of the appalling Fifty Shades type). But we do need a new genre.

As the world knowingly embraces climate destruction, and we reap the whirlwind, islands will be lost, coastlines, then streets and cities flooded. Continents may perhaps become lethal or altogether uninhabitable, and eventually, a much reduced mankind may be reduced to living in polar colonies, or on space platforms orbiting our once abundant planet.

As that happens – like a global, inevitable, unstoppable, slow motion car crash – authors will more fully focus on the actual decay and destruction around them, and their observational fiction may not neatly slot into the overcrowded dystopian / apocalyptic / post-apocalyptic genres, alongside Planet of the Apes, Level 7, or The Day of the Triffids, et al.

So yeah, a new genre, to reflect new times. O brave new world!”

And another writer, Joe Follansbee, has come up with “6 rules” for writing climate fiction on his blog; briefly put, climate change has to be the “driving narrative” and it’s not to be confused with a weather event (say a tornado) which is short-term. We are speaking here of long-term climate trends that affect humanity’s future.

But the latest United Nations report on climate change has put a new twist on it: it’s no longer an “exceptional event” that would demand it be stopped but something that humanity has to learn to live with. See this illuminating article in The Atlantic. The idea is that all is not lost, we can adapt to a warming world. 

That seems to put paid to Climate Change as a primary source of high suspense for climate fiction!

I would argue that the demographic explosion, the overwhelming trend towards urbanization and growing socioeconomic inequality are beginning to look like better candidates for suspense – or at least they look like very credible sources of social tension and recurring human-created disasters (e.g. displacement and extinction of species, recurring local wars, smog-caused health emergencies, refugee crises and population displacements, spikes in food prices leading to famines etc etc). 

Add to the mix natural disasters like floods, earthquakes or tsunamis, and an already fragilized socio-political situation could easily get out of hand. 

That is a much more likely future than the one posited by Climate Change alone. That is the future I see in my upcoming book, Forever Young – set 200 years from now. Why 200 years? Because I don’t believe things will come to a head all that soon. People always cry foul and use biblical language to warn humanity of impending doom – a doom that never comes on schedule. Which is why 200 years seemed like a reasonable lapse of time…

And Climate Fiction as a subgenre? I’m not sure it’s headed anywhere…What is very striking is that as a subgenre, it hasn’t developed a recognizable style of book covers. Take a look above at the Goodreads bookshelf. Or take a look at the book covers you find on the Cli-Fi Books site, here are a couple, chosen at random:


Clara Hume’s novel takes the reader “through apocalytpic American after climate change and other ecological disasters have greatly altered the planet”:

But you wouldn’t guess that from the cover, would you?

Do you see any pattern in the design of these covers? Personally, I don’t. They’re nice covers, often with a retro charm (like Clara Hume’s), but there is surprisingly little or no reference to a doomed or threatening future, which is the least you would expect.

What do you think? I tend to believe that climate fiction might possibly merge into the “hard science fiction” genre (see here) which is based on scientific accuracy, i.e. on the best informed guess about where we are headed…At least “hard” sci fi covers have a distinct sci-fi flavor, see here for an early book in the genre:

First edition (published in 1970)

But the latest best-seller in the genre, Hugh Howey’s WOOL, certainly sports a rather bizarre cover that is a radical departure of the “classic” science fiction genre:

 
So it looks like the reverse might be happening: “hard” science fiction is merging into climate fiction… 

Perhaps this is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Some people are convinced that climate change is “the hottest thing in science fiction”, as Dave Burdick put it (see here, on Grist) and he reports the interesting observation made by Csicery-Ronay, an English professor at DePauw University in Indiana and co-editor of the journal Science Fiction Studies: “Cli-fi is getting some interest from folks who are not necessarily interested in science fiction.”

I’m very happy to hear that. Because climate fiction is not a silly fantasy. Because the whole point of it is to make us think seriously about the future of humanity and where we’re going…

One thing’s for sure: climate fiction sells as it attracts more and more people beyond strict science fiction fans. An example? Knopf’s recent acquisition of Paolo Bacigalupi’s new novel The Water Knife, to be released next year, see here (before that he was with a small press). Following on his success with the Windup Girl (200,000 copies sold), the editor at Knopf is convince his new novel is set to attract a “cross over audience” beyond Bacigalupi’s “core readers”.

Hey, are you ready for climate fiction? I know I am!

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Simenon, Some Lessons from the Grand Daddy of Genre Literature

English: Georges Simenon Português: Georges Si...We all know that Simenon is the father of Commissaire Maigret, a fat policeman in the French Brigade Criminelle with a penchant for staring down suspects, and that all through the 20th century he was considered a literary phenomenon.


But exactly how phenomenal is not so well known. 

For example, I didn’t know that he had written some 250 novels in his lifetime, plus 150 novellas as well as three autobiographical novels. Or that it took him about 10 days on average to write a book. Or that he regularly wrote (and published) three books a year. 


I recently watched on ARTE TV 7 a documentary that cobbled together a series of interviews with Simenon and snippets of the numerous films that were made from his books. 

It was an eye-opener. 

What was nice about this documentary is that you only got Simenon talking about himself and his work, no silly comments from an off-line voice. Simenon even regaled us with a couple of old childhood songs (saying that was the advantage of growing old, you could remember them). He sang in a croaky voice totally out of tune and laughingly admitted to having no ear. 

 

Here’s the link to ARTE if you want to view the film: click here. And I hope for you that the link works – it doesn’t here in Italy where I live, I have no idea why. Instead, I found this video on YouTube, done in 2003 by Arte to celebrate Simenon’s 100th anniversary (born in 1903, he died in 1989). It  does work and provides a lot of the same info:


Before I get to the gems he dropped about himself, here are some breaking news of my own about Luna Rising, not really a genre novel…Sorry about that Simenon! We are compatriots, I’m Belgian too, but we haven’t followed the same path, I don’t write detective stories (grin). Actually, my Luna Rising is the ultimate cross-genre novel, starting out as a paranormal romance and ending as a techno-thriller when Tony Luna, an American computer whiz kid finds his start-up under attack from the Russian and Sicilian mafia in an unholy alliance. The stakes rise when the woman he loves is kidnapped in Moscow… (Hello Simenon, here I get closer to you!)

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BREAKING NEWS: AMAZON COUNTDOWN DEAL for Luna Rising, the Full Saga (volumes 1-3) starting today 27 February at 99 cents and climbing by one dollar each day, $1.99 on 28 February, $2.99 the day after etc until it’s back to its original price of $4.99. Don’t miss out on the deal, get your copy before the price goes up! Grab it here

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Back to Simenon’s gems:

  • Family and religion: By the time he was 12, he realized he couldn’t stand his family or the Catholic religion, he saw them all as victims of the system and that was something he didn’t want to become, in short, he was (nearly) a born rebel;
  • Politics: He never got interested in politics because he felt politicians didn’t have power; the real power in his view, was always in the hands of big corporations and big banks;
  • Writing pulp: Colette was his mentor, the first critic of his works and she told him off for writing in a literary form; “make it simple” she chided him, “no extra words, no unnecessary descriptions, read  pulp fiction!”; he did, he read every cheap book he could lay his hands on, and within months started to produce his detective stories – the Maigret series, some 75 books – saying that they were really easy to write: the plot was pushed forward by the Commissaire himself!  
  • Writing speed: He wrote on an old typewriter, hitting the keys as fast as he could and never going back (in those days, corrections were a time-consuming process): he liked Bach fugues and all his life, wished he could write at that speed, keeping the rythm!
  • Branding and Book Promotion: He launched his first Maigret book through a fantastic PR operation: he rented a theater and threw a huge party in Paris that he called the “bal anthropométrique” asking his guests to put their thumb on real police ID cards (!); it was reported the next day in the Figaro, and voilà, his book became an instant success!
  • Literary Relationships: He didn’t like literary types – he felt they were a closed group, a mutual-admiration society that he never wanted to belong to yet he became great friends with André Gide , the grand old man of French letters. Gide astounded him with the first question he asked when they first met: “Where did you first get the idea for your ‘personnage’?” Simenon thought he meant “character” and that he was asking him about Commissaire Maigret; but that wasn’t the case at all. Gide wanted to know how he, Simenon, had come across the concept of his image – the image he projected in the literary world!

In fact, I think that is what is most interesting about Simenon: he is not only one of the founding fathers of genre literature but also a master at “brand” building. 

 

He certainly does look like everybody’s idea of a detective and a writer rolled into one!

What all this suggests for today’s digital writer is:

1. If you can, don’t stay entirely digital – try to create social events in real life with real, physical readers!


2. Pick a persona and stick to it, brand building is a daily job.

3. Read in the genre you’ve picked to write in and read as extensively as you can;


4. Write fast, write a lot (Simenon was capable of writing up to 80 pages a day) and don’t edit anything before you’re finished so that you don’t lose the momentum.


And one last thing: good luck!

 

What’s your take on Simenon’s lessons for fellow writers? And as a reader, do you enjoy him?



Photo credit: see Georges Simenon Wikipedia

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