The “rare” interview in the title of this post is one done by Shanaz Radjy and it’s about me. I normally don’t like to talk about myself but this time I must. Because the person who interviewed me did a superb job, it’s actually much more than an interview, it’s a full portrait of my life as a writer.
Shanaz, who describes herself as “an adventurer, foodie, bookworm, and horse-lover” is an incredibly talented writer, based in Portugal; with her husband, she has cofounded what she calls “an eco-tourism project” – it’s actually a lovely “eco-lodge” opened to nature lovers, a restored stone farm in a beautiful, wild mountainous setting, “off-the-grid”, as she says, with plenty of animals and fruits and home-grown vegetables.
Appropriately called Casa Beatrix, you can find all about it here.
Disclosure: I met Shanaz a few years ago and we happily worked together when I reported on the wonderful Women’s Brain Project and had a long and fascinating talk with founder Maria Teresa Ferretti who’s an Alzheimer specialist. The aim of their project is to generate scientific evidence to understand how sex and gender difference impact brain and mental disease. If you’re curious about that article, click here.
And here is the opening of that interview:
Reconnecting with Claude Forthomme
Claude Forthomme and I crossed paths when I was the Head of Communications for the Women’s Brain Project, and we collaborated on a piece on brain health for Impakter, where she is a Senior Editor. A few years later, after I finally read her book “Crimson Clouds” (yes, I have a monster TBR pile), I reached out to interview her.
One of the things I find fascinating about her is that she has done so many different things, and yet one of the red threads throughout the years has been her love of the written word.
Once a Writer, Always a Writer
Technically, Claude started her writing career when she was eight years old. She published a newsletter for her parents, an 8-10 page booklet complete with clippings, drawings, and articles on what she considered the big news of the day.
By the time she was 15, she had written her first novel: a murder story set in Colombia, among the mountain rebels. It’s one of many pieces that sit in literal or digital drawers, gathering dust.
A Citizen of the World
Born in Brussels, Claude’s father was a diplomat. She spent her childhood in Sweden, Egypt, Columbia, and Russia before graduating from Columbia University with a degree in Economics. After graduation, she worked in banking and publishing before teaching at the college level.
In 1979, Claude joined the United Nations, stationed at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, Italy.
Claude went on to direct the UN/FAO Office for Europe and Central Asia, with US$ 35 million in aid projects aimed at aiding the transition of Eastern Europe to a free market system. She also put food safety on the global agenda, organizing 48 countries at a transcontinental meeting in Budapest.
What’s in a (Pen) Name
In 2009, when she started her blog, Claude decided to publish under the pen name “Claude Nougat.” It was an inside joke, dating back to her teenage years. One day, her father mused aloud about nougat, wondering why it existed in two such extremes: soft and gooey and dry and crisp. Claude said she had the answer. Then, she explained that eggs were integrated differently in each – an explanation she’d made up on the spot.
Since that day, whenever she offered up one of her theories to explain something, Claude was told she “nougatized” it. An appropriate pseudonym, therefore, for a fiction writer.
Read the rest on Two Drops of Ink: A Literary Blog, click here.
Louisiana Catch by Sweta Srivastava Vikram, published by Modern History Press, 268 pages. Out on: 10 April 2018
This is a remarkable novel, a book for our #MeToo age.
To some it may look like another women’s fiction title, but it’s not. It goes beyond the recurrent themes of the genre – marriage, friends and the search for happiness, showcasing a strong woman who overcomes multiple obstacles. It brings home the universality of #MeToo, not an issue exclusive to America: It has become a number one issue around the world, India included. And it is a great read, the work of an exceptionally talented storyteller, with finely observed characters, unexpected twists in the plot and a deeply satisfying ending. This is a not-to-be-missed novel, including for those who do not normally read in the genre.
In my view, this book does something more: It adds a much needed, broader dimension to the #MeToo issue, shifting the focus squarely on sexual abuse. It’s not just a matter of recalling episodes of unpleasant groping and being threatened or blackmailed by an alpha male that can kill your career, your reputation or any hope you have for happiness. It is that too, of course, but it goes beyond. Sexual abuse is the one aspect of sexual violence that is unequivocally indefensible and morally deeply wrong, with no ifs and no buts.
And it does this in three ways.
One, the major event around which the story unfolds: A world conference on sexual violence against women – to be held in New Orleans, hence one of the reasons for the book’s title. There are others, and I shall come to them shortly. Ahana is charged with the organization of this conference, a task that is a big challenge and that pushes her to her limits. The conference logo she’s picked, No Excuse, is striking. In two words, it tells us we are facing the next level after #MeToo.
Two, the major themes in the novel: sexual violence against women and stalking/bullying on social media (in this case, in an online therapy group). These are deeply serious issues you find every day in the news headlines, yet they are lightly woven in the plot. And the author manages the feat of adding a new urgency to them – this is done through two intriguing characters, two diametrically different men, who erupt in Ahana’s life as she tries to organize the conference. And here we get to the other reason for the book’s title: Both men are from Louisiana, including the catfisher. And right until the middle of the novel, we can’t tell which of them is actually a ‘good catch’ for Ahana and who is the one ‘catching’ her in his net. One of them is not what he seems – hence the suspense.
Three, the viewpoint: The story is told from Ahana’s standpoint and Ahana is special. Highly educated, she comes from a wealthy upper-class Delhi family. She lives in two worlds, the traditional Indian one with all its customs, including the food and the gossiping “aunties”, and the Western one that she has been educated in. Tall and beautiful, an athletic yoga-practitioner, Ahana is recently divorced from Dev, a good-looking man but a sexually abusive husband.
Ahana is someone you grow to increasingly like and care about, and you find yourself wanting to tell her to stop, to be more careful about sharing personal stuff online. People throw up smoke screens, will Ahana see through them? Believe me, it’s a page turner.
Reading the book, I became curious about Sweta Srivastava Vikram, an author capable of creating such stunningly realistic characters, both Indian and American. If you peek at her bio, you discover she is of Indian origin, but she lives in America and has known entrepreneurial success in her own life just like Ahana. She has already had eleven books published, establishing her as a major poet – with only one of them (a novel) published in India, and she has won several awards.
Louisiana Catch is the first novel you publish in the United States. And you now live in New York with your husband. What inspired you to write this book? Any connection with your move to the United States?
Sweta Srivastava Vikram: Louisiana Catch is my 12th book but debut U.S. novel. My poetry books have been published in the U.S. before, but the novel is exciting on a whole different scale.
Louisiana Catch didn’t happen directly as a result of my move to the Big Apple. I moved to NYC about 20 years ago…
BIO:Sweta Srivastava Vikram, a graduate of Columbia University, was featured by Asian Fusion as “one of the most influential Asians of our time”. She is a best-selling author of 12 books and a five-times Pushcart Prize nominee. She is also a mindfulness writing coach, social issues advocate, and a certified yoga & Ayurveda counselor who helps people lead creative, productive, and healthier lives. Louisiana Catch is her debut U.S. novel and featured on U.K.’s list of “Books to Read in 2018.” Born in India, Sweta lives in New York City with her husband and in her spare time, teaches yoga to female survivors of rape and domestic violence.
Today there’s another one of my articles up on Impakter magazine. It’s about human trafficking and Magda Olchawska’s amazing film that brings home all the pain of modern day slavery that is affecting millions of people, as many as the population of New York and Hong Kong combined!
Here is the start of the article, with Paula Preston, the lead actress in the featured image.
INTERVIEW WITH MAGDA OLCHAWSKA, DIRECTOR AND PRODUCER OF ANNA & MODERN DAY SLAVERY (out in 2017)
Seven years ago, I met Magda Olchawska by chance, through our common love for literature. But Magda is not just a Polish writer living in the UK and the proud mother of an 8-year old boy, she is also a talented filmmaker. She moved to London at 19 and graduated from London College of Communication (LCC) in 2004, starting on a career in filmmaking.
At the time we met, she had written the first in what became a series of seven children’s books, and she was busy making an indie micro-budget feature film about sex and human trafficking, called Anna & Modern Day Slavery.
Anna & Modern Day Slavery official poster
Magda had always been “passionate about making films that make a difference”, as she put it, and this was a subject that deeply moved her, she wanted to do her piece to fight the scourge of modern-day slavery. Her objective was not only to raise awareness about sex and human trafficking but also raise funds to help small charities working on the ground with trafficking victims.
She did the film as an indie, writing the film script, pulling together cast and crew, including some remarkable actors like Paula Preston and Pawel Palcat, and organizing the shooting in Poland in the summer of 2012.
IN THE PHOTO: Magda Olchawska (center) on the set, directing her film in Poland (SOURCE: M. Olchawska, Mayan Films)
It took four more years of “post-production” and editing to finalize the film and finally bring it into the indie film circuit. To finance her film, Magda resorted several times to crowdfunding and has become something of an expert in this form of financing.
I had a chance to talk to her about her long, tortuous journey in making this, her first feature film.
If We Were Gods by Adam Karni Cohen, published by The Endeavour Press, July 2017 Book Review and Interview
When I started reading If We Were Gods, I was wondering how Adam Karni Cohen, the author of this remarkable and bizarre love story-cum-family saga, could ever pull off the heavy referencing to the ancient world of Greek and Roman mythology. I was ready to be bored and expecting to classify this debut novel as yet another pretentious failure from an aspiring writer.
I was wrong, of course. This is the work of a master story-teller. Don’t be put off by the Roman gods roaming around in this book, they are not a bore or a waste of time. There’s nothing academic or pretentious about them. The gods you encounter here don’t slow down the storytelling, what they do is add a new dimension to it, refreshing and amplifying a common tale in our times. A love story between two university students from different countries and different cultures, in this case, Italy and the UK. We have Claudio Collina, son of a Verona industrialist, who came to study engineering in the UK and Jennifer who is an English med student. Claudio is a pivotal character, loaded with an intellectual baggage shaped by ancient Rome, he is the one living the ancient myths. He befriends Chris, another British med student, and soon this becomes a “classic” love triangle.
Adam Karni Cohen took literally the classic element in this love triangle and elevated it to the main theme of his novel – thus turning it into something entirely new.
You don’t need to know anything about the triangle of love between Vulcan (the god of fire), Venus (his wife) and Mars (her lover) to enjoy the book. And as you read on, you discover that the author has woven more than a love story, this is the saga of two families, one in England, the other in Italy, and it spans decades and generations, as the story turns on Jennifer’s children, Anna, eighteen and her brother Sam, fourteen.
Sam is a particularly endearing character who, to alleviate the boredom of a summer vacation, plays at being a “detective”. He delves deep into his mother’s personal papers and there are times you feel like telling him to stop. But his relentless curiosity moves the plot forward and you come to enjoy the way the author delicately draws this teenage boy, with all his flaws, misguided ambitions and yearning to be loved.
This is an ambitious novel, finely structured and with multiple points of views. Remarkably, one key character central to the plot is one we never meet but only hear about: Claudio’s father, Federico Collina, who sounds like a ruthless startup entrepreneur (not an entirely lovable character but very real). He has an outsize effect on his children, Claudio and Melissa, shaping their destinies.
If this all sounds complicated, it isn’t. The author pulls it off brilliantly, aided by a real talent for both story-telling and mastery of language. The reader is drawn in, the pace is relentless, this is a page-turner and a deep plunge into the human condition.
After reading it, I wanted to talk to the author and he kindly agreed to answer my questions.
Question: Literary agent Donald Maass wrote in his famous guidebook “the Breakout Novel” that a “truly BIG book is a perfect blend of inspired premise, larger-than-life characters, high-stakes story, deeply-felt themes, vivid setting and much more”. Your book checks all the boxes. Can you tell me how you came to your “inspired premise” and “larger-than-life characters” – in other words, why the mythology, why Claudio?
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.
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.
Here’s another one of my articles published on Impakter – under my real name, Claude Forthomme. Find out about a neat new publishing services website where you can find all you need (if you’re a self-published writer). I interviewed one of the two founders, Richard Fayet:
Reedsy is a startup aimed at the publishing industry. At the Women’s Fiction Festival, a writers’ conference held in Matera, Italy, I met Ricardo Fayet, Reedsy’s Chief Operating Officer and had a chance to chat with him. The website is still in beta version, here is the landing page: www.reedsy.com.
Note the lovely design with soft colors, attractive and friendly. You can open an account as a writer or as a “freelancer” or both. A freelancer is someone providing services as copy or development editor, book cover designer, illustrator etc. Even though this is still in beta version, the list is already quite long, over 100 names, and most are obviously affirmed, experienced professionals. One can filter by genre, which is very useful for a writer looking for help to finalize a particular book in a particular genre. Considering Reedsy is still in a beta phase, this is a remarkable achievement. Of course there are still some bugs and that’s normal, it’s early day. For example, the feature to enable writers to look for more specific professional help is not yet activated, but it soon will be.
Question: Richard, I just joined your site and navigated it a bit. In a few words, can you tell us what Reedsy is about, what is its role in publishing?
Answer: Reedsy is the future’s publishing house. We support independent authors in publishing their own work. We want those authors to earn a living wage from their books. We want to help them publish their best work by connecting them with the best freelancers in the publishing industry, and by giving them the best tools to work with. And, one day, we want to do this all over the world.
Q: So you are aiming directly at supporting self-publishing that, according to some professionals in the industry, will soon become a larger market than traditional publishing. One famous UK literary agent even foresaw that in five years 75% of all books would be self-published. Why is something like Reedsy needed?
You wouldn’t have needed a service like Reedsy ten years ago when there were just a handful of publishers – editors and designers looking for work knew where to go. Now, in a post-Kindle world, we want to make sure the best freelancers are aware of all the independent authors who want to work with them, and that those authors know which freelancers they want to work with and which ones they want to avoid.
Couples engaged in the same occupation are rare and don’t always have a happy life together. It may be harder for writers than for other artists to achieve serenity in their life as a couple – perhaps because writers are more given to analyzing their feelings and expressing them into words. That can easily turn into a source of friction as famously happened with Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, when she wrote The Mandarins, a barely concealed critique of Sartre and his group of existentialists whom she felt had cut her out.
…Bob Rector! His recently published book, Unthinkable Consequences, is steadily climbing the ranks of romantic suspense novels, are definitely an exception: I know from reading “Confessions” that they are very close to each other and have always been, including now that they are suddenly finding themselves in the situation of writers married to each other.
Yet, before they met, they had pursued completely different career paths. Bob had been into musical video production, documentaries and script writing. Marsha started as an operating room nurse but quickly became restless for adventure. She began to travel, using part time nursing to support her habit, and met Bob at the end of one of her journeys. He was directing the feature film, “Don’t Change My World” at the time. She immediately became fascinated by the filmmaking process and became Bob’s right-hand-gal for years. She worked herself up to the position of Producer which culminated in the production of Letters from the Front, a most unusual and arresting play written and directed by Bob, which toured the world with great success for 15 years.
Today, I am honored to interview them: Rome calls Chattanooga, choo-choo!
Yes, I live in Rome and they live in America and we have never met anywhere else but on the Net. I see this as a unique opportunity to find out how Marsha and Bob have moved from a situation where he was the artist and she was the business manager to the present one where they are both writers.
Claude: Marsha and Bob, this is a question for both of you: for the first time in your life, you find yourself in the same line of work, writing books. And pardon my curiosity, how do you get along? Do you help each other? Do you avoid each other?
Marsha: I can’t help but laugh when I read this question, Claude! We get along (as Forest Gump said) “Like two peas in a pod.” We are always there for each other and it would never occur to me to avoid Bob. He’s too delightful to avoid!
Bob: We’ve always enjoyed working together. I think we bring out the best in each other. Traditionally, I’ve always been the writer, but Marsha has developed, through our mutual work, keen storytelling skills that I learned to respect. Marsha neglected to point out that for years she was an accomplished film editor and, as one of my blog posts points out, nothing develops story telling abilities like hours spent at the editing table.
Claude: Marsha, you told me that you are producing an audio version of your book. From your own life as a theater producer, you knew actors and I’m sure Bob, with his long experience in video production, could also help. How did that work out?
Marsha: First off, it was a delight to have Della Cole read my book. She starred in Letters from the Front for years and is also a dear friend. She is a top voice talent and she knew many of my stories from first hand experience. She also runs one of the top acting schools in the southeast, YourAct. The tricky part was in post production and, frankly, Bob saved my… well, he saved the project! He is a fantastic editor and finished the audiobook in style. It will be available through Amazon soon and I’m really excited about it!Claude: I’m looking forward to hearing it! Bob, your book came out a couple of years later than Marsha’s and you had ample opportunity to observe her working at book promotion. Were you able to profit from her experience?
Bob: Unthinkable Consequences was a project that simmered on the back burner for a couple of decades. Marsha’s success with publishing and promoting her book was what convinced me to finally finish mine and publish it. By that time Marsha was already plugged into social media and I benefited from her experience.
Claude: I’d like to know how you organize your working life and whether you have advice for other writers: how much time do you devote to creative writing, how much to book promotion?
Marsha: I wish I could say I’ve found all of the answers in how to time manage promotion and writing, but I haven’t. I’m still trying to wrangle the beast of marketing my book without it taking up every minute of every day.
Bob: We have both tried various approaches with e-marketing our books, some with success, and some without. It’s a tedious and sometimes frustrating process because it’s all new. And most of us at this point are making it up as we go along.
Claude:I am asking because book promotion in my own life is interfering with my writing, sometimes much more heavily than I would like. Do you ever feel any frustration, any desire to shut down the Internet?
Bob: I can answer that with two words: hell yes! But Marsha and I are in this for the long haul and we certainly know about long haul projects. Ultimately we’re going to have to develop our own methods for marketing, just as we have in the past. How much the internet will be a part of that is still a question, but I firmly believe you should use all resources that benefit you in achieving your goals.
Marsha: Well said, Bob. I’d like to add that about a year ago I begin a process of trying to discern which activities on the internet were helpful and which were just time wasters. And I’m speaking here about the bottom line: selling books. Social media can give you the impression you are getting a lot done because you are posting and tweeting and sharing and it’s all so busy, busy, busy! At the end of the day, does it sell books? If so, I continue to do it. If not, I move on. But, do I have time for writing? Not much.
Claude: Same here! I’d like to probe a little deeper into your working life as a couple, if I may. Do you discuss book ideas together? Do you read each other’s drafts and critique them? Do you even listen to each other’s advice and act on it (grin)?
Marsha: As Bob mentioned earlier, we enjoy working together and collaborate very well. Yes, we read each other’s drafts and critique them. I can say without hesitation that my Mutinous Boomer book would not have taken the shape and form it did without Bob’s input. We always listen to each other’s advice and usually take that advice because we are working on such a level of trust. However, occasionally one of us will feel passionately about what we’ve written and the author always has the choice to keep it as is.
Bob: From the beginning of our relationship we had to learn to work together as pros first and a couple second. I did not want Marsha branded as ‘the director’s girlfriend’ as the reason she was in the business. So I was very tough on her, tougher than I would have been on an employee, but she understood why and simply upped her game until she became well-respected within the business and us being a couple was no longer an issue. We still work that way and never allow personalities to get in the way. Our goal is to produce the best work we can. And neither of us has much tolerance for people who don’t operate on this professional level.
Claude: I don’t either! And it is natural of course for the two of you to collaborate. But are there things you would neverdo together?
Bob: I won’t eat tofu with her. Marsha won’t join me in spitting, belching and farting, but other than that, we both enjoy football and baseball, the great outdoors, time with our kids (grown!) and consuming adult beverages, preferably in exotic locations.
Marsha: Ha! True that! I’d say the only professional area that we operate separately is that Bob is a whiz with the computer and manages all our tech “stuff” and graphics. But, when it comes to making a call on a potential client or sponsor, it’s me who walks through the door. Bob would hate it just as much as I hate dealing with computers!
Bob: That’s because Marsha is like Sara Lee, nobody doesn’t like her!
Claude: I’d like to knowwhat writers have influenced you the most and why. Marsha, you wrote what is basically a memoir yet with a totally new twist – giving us an extraordinary sense of life seen from an unshakeable optimistic standpoint. Did you believe you were into something entirely different from anything you’d ever read or did you have a model in mind?
Marsha: Thank you, Claude, for those kind words about my book. Besides novels, I’ve always read books that teach about how to grow spiritually, everyone from Dr. Wayne Dyer to Deepak Chopra to the great Granddaddy of them all, Norman Vincent Peale. The Power of Positive Thinking is real and is a real force in my life. However, I had a different and more personal story to tell than a how-to type of book. Mine is very conversational in approach (quite female!) and, no I didn’t really think about doing something entirely different. I was just telling my story as honestly as I could.
Claude: How did the word “parable” end up in the title? Was that your thought from the beginning or was “Confessions” the main idea? And I’m curious, will there be a follow-up to your “Confessions” or something totally different? I expect you still have a lot of confessions up your sleeve!
Marsha: My book started as The Parable of the Tomato Plant and as it grew into something bigger, it just didn’t seem right to remove it from the title. My original idea was a series of vignettes that illustrated how spiritual lessons are part of our daily lives, if we take a moment to see them. When Bob read my first draft, he loved the stories, but he said he thought it would leave the reader frustrated because I had introduced so many interesting characters, but had not completed their stories as I moved on to the next vignette. It was then that the organization of my book took shape and “Confessions” AND “Mutinous” seemed appropriate! And, yes, I do believe I have another Mutinous Boomer book in me, but not just yet…
Claude: Any plans other than writing yourself, like reviving Letters from the Front? I’ve only read it but I’ve enjoyed it immensely, it’s a great play and I’d love to see it produced again. In our world tired of wars, that’s exactly the kind of play that needs to be seen.
Marsha: The reason I said I wasn’t concentrating on writing another book just yet is that we have decided that it is time for Letters from the Front to be out touring military bases again and we intend to make that happen. Our audiences always described it as “from the heart” and “healing” as well as “incredibly entertaining!” With so many of our troops returning home after multiple deployments, they need something as positive and encouraging as Letters from the Front and we intend to be there for them and their families. We miss them and we miss the show.
Claude: Bob, you’re an incredibly versatile artist, from music videos to cartoons that you have drawn yourself – yes , I’ve seen your remarkable and very funny cartoon. I can’t resist inserting it here:
And of course, you’ve done film scripts and theater plays, and now a romance that is also a fantastic page-turner, it’s so fast-paced. The dialogues are superb which is of course what one would expect coming from a talented playwright like you. What writers, or should I say artists, do you consider as models to follow in your widely diverse endeavors?
Bob: The storyteller who has without a doubt had the greatest influence on me is Walt Disney. He understood character and plot construction and the workings of the human heart better than anybody. And of course he was a master showman. As for writing, from books with great scope and adventure I think Hammond Innes is probably the best and certainly influenced writers like Clive Cussler and Ken Follett. In the genre I’ve written in, Dashiell Hammett is the acknowledged master, followed by Earle Stanley Gardner and later by John D. MacDonald, who is my personal favorite.
Claude:I know that you feel like playwriting is not “fully appreciated” in the writing world – though I beg to disagree, I love playwrights and consider some of them as the greatest writers ever, from Shakespeare to Arthur Miller. I’ve been wondering why you feel that way. Have you had a particularly disappointing experience in the theater world and is that why you’re into novel-writing now?
Bob: That’s a complicated question and definitely hits a nerve. As you know, most of my background was in the world of films. So when I stumbled into the world of theatre, I was surprised at how ego driven it was and the amount of snobbery that was prevalent. Particularly towards someone who had not “played by the rules.” But since Marsha and I produced this play ourselves, we could basically tell everybody to go to hell, and did. The fact that our show was so successful only ostracized us further from the theatre establishment. So I was a little put off when I first joined ASMSG that playwrights were not included. As for writing Unthinkable Consequences, it was a project I’d tinkered with for years and finally decided to complete, but not because of my experiences in theatre. I just wanted to finally get it done.
Marsha: I’d like to interject something here, Claude. It would be difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it the incredible impact that Letters from the Front has on its audiences. Why? Bob Rector. How he walks the audience into the lives and hearts of the characters is no less than genius, and I’m not exaggerating when I use that word. I’ve never been more proud of Bob than when the curtain went up hundreds of times to audiences that could only respond with standing ovations.
Bob: Okay, lets all sing together now: We belong to a mutual admiration society, my baby and me. Before we move on, Claude, I’d like to say something about playwriting that the painter side of you will appreciate. You are familiar with the challenge of painting with a limited palette. Playwriting is very similar in that you virtually have nothing more to work with than dialogue to develop characters and advance the story. I encourage all writers to try writing a play at some point because it will hone their storytelling skills in ways that will only benefit their novel writing.
Claude: I agree, good dialogue is key and writing a play is the way to hone that skill.Do you plan on a sequel to Unthinkable Consequences or are you ready to write something entirely new?
Bob: I have no plans for a sequel and very little interest. I’ve told the story, it’s finished, and so am I. As for other projects spinning around in my mind, I’d have to live to be 500 years old to do them all.
Claude: I know what you mean, but I hope we’ll soon see another one of your projects! Bob and Marsha,there is one thing that brings you together now, the world of indies and self-publishing: you’re both self-published authors. How do you feel about the world of indies, would you do it again or would you seek a traditional publisher for your next book?
Marsha: No question about it, I would self publish again and I will. Why? The big publishers are primarily interested in putting their money and time into established authors. I have seen quite a few indie author friends I’ve grown to know on the internet to get publishing deals. They end up working just as hard as the rest of us, marketing their books and trying to sell them, but splitting the sales with an agent and a publisher who are doing virtually nothing to promote them. This isn’t an easy path. We are on the forefront here – the beginning of the way it will be done from here on. I’m glad to be in on the ground floor.
Bob: Marsha’s right. This is a ground floor opportunity and that makes it both exciting and frustrating. There’s lots of very talented and energetic people involved and I am inspired by them, and have made lots of friends. Who knows how the world of indie publishing will eventually shake out, but I know I want to be a part of it and maybe in some small way, help make the baby grow.
Claude:I’m sure you can help “make the baby grow” but like any parenthood, it is frustrating at times! Thanks so much for responding to all my questions. Just a last one before we close, and I take the inspiration for it from one of the author interviews you did, Bob: if money was no object, what would you do with your life beside write?
Marsha: Money no object? I love that question! I would have a home on Lake Como, be able to travel to wherever I wanted, make sure my sons had what they needed to pursue their dreams and insure that Letters from the Front was entertaining the troops and their families (and veterans!) for a long, long time. Besides that? I’d have clothes designed just for me, I’d have…. I guess you get the picture. I’m ALL about enjoying life!
Bob: We have known so many people who look at life as a contest that must be won. Marsha and I look at life as an adventure that must be lived. So if money was no object, I’d spend as much time as possible with Marsha at Lake Como and we’d make ourselves real nuisances dropping in on you and Giuseppe and drinking up as much of your wine as possible. Other than that, as Marsha said, just enjoy life and spend as much time with our family as possible.
And many thanks to you Claude for your valuable help as a beta reader on Unthinkable Consequences. You definitely helped me shape it into a much better book. We enjoyed doing this interview with you and wish you every success with the launch of your Forever Young series.
Claude: Many thanks to you both, and Giuseppe and I are looking forward to drinking our Lake Trasimeno wine with you next time you come to Europe!
Bob and Marsha in Pompei, looking happy…not yet Lake Como!
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and he welcomes all inquiries and in all languages. For more information, visit Dan Bloom’s bog, CLI FI CENTRAL, click here
Reblogged from author Bob Rector’s blog, see here. He’s just launching a round of interviews of authors – so keep an eye open on his blog, more interesting interviews are sure to come!
I’m very honored to have drawn his interest. He is a remarkably talented writer himself, the author of Letters from the Front, a show that became known as the World’s Most Decorated Play and that entertained America’s troops around the world for fifteen years. Most recently, he has released a smashing novel of romance and suspense, Unthinkable Consequences (see here) that is climbing the Amazon ranks at a fast pace and has already garnered 19 reviews, all of them 5 stars and well-deserved too! For more about Bob Rector, click here. And here’s the interview, with lots of arresting questions:
It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you the very talented author/artist Claude Nougat. Not only is she a gifted storyteller, she also provided invaluable editing advice to me while I was in final preparation of my manuscript for Unthinkable Consequences.
Claude you are an accomplished author with several books in release, but before we start discussing your word-craft, tell us a little about your background. I guess you could say I’m a world citizen, I really don’t have roots anywhere. Born in Belgium, raised in Sweden, Egypt, Russia, France, Colombia and finally reaching the US when I was 17 – picking up on the way many languages and forgetting them in turn. What’s left is French, Italian, Spanish and of course English that I learned attending classes at the American Embassy in Moscow. My formative years as an intellectual took place in America, at Columbia U. I graduated in economics not because I particularly liked the subject but because my father felt that studying anything else would be a “waste of time” (what I really wanted to study was paleontology, I love old bones…) Once out of school, I travelled the world over for the United Nations, giving management advice to aid projects in difficulty, a fantastic job. It put me in touch with so many different people – a very enriching and full experience that lasted 25 years till I retired in 2003.
I happen to know that you are also a very talented painter. Do you find that it compliments your skills as a writer? If so, how? Painting and writing seem to call on diametrically opposed segments of the brain: the mode of concentration is totally different – painting is more intuitive, it sort of “happens” on the blank canvas. You could argue that a book also happens on a blank page, but it is a long haul, not like a painting that can be done in a few hours. A book can take years in the making – my first one (now out as “Luna Rising”, a Sicilian family saga) took 30 years in the making, from the first moment I thought of it (when I walked into a dusty men’s club in Sicily full of old men playing backgammon – they all looked like ghosts) to its most recent incarnation (now out in a brand new edition). A painting only takes a few days, in that sense, a painting is more like a short story or a poem…
Two of your works that I truly enjoyed are Crimson Clouds and Forever Young. Give us a brief description of each.
So happy you enjoyed them! “Crimson Clouds” is about the anxieties of restarting one’s life after retirement. Robert, the protagonist, in his early 60’s, a brilliant manager, he’s still young and attractive and has a lovely and much younger wife who’s carved out her own success as a dealer of contemporary art. But when he decides to renew with a childhood dream of being an artist and produces paintings that are dreadfully academic (a little like my own!), his wife is horrified. They fight over art but what is at stake is their marriage and they separate. He goes to Italy, has some love affairs but his wife wants to save their marriage and comes back to him…
“Forever Young” is set 200 years from now, when the Earth is dying and only the ultra rich, who can afford the costly and exclusive Age Prevention Program (APP), enjoy a perfect life in their gated communities, looking young till the day they drop dead. The book has three major characters, forming a love triangle: Jamie, a young investigative journalist from the World and US Post (the New York Times and Huffington Post rolled into one), his partner Lizzie, a professional golf player (she’s a descendent of the mythical Tiger Woods), and Alice, a beautiful Swiss nurse and an outsider: she yearns to join the APP and is in love with Jamie. There are two options to survive the extinction of life on Earth, both opened only to APP members: fly to another pristine planet similar to Earth or take refuge in Antarctica, the last virgin continent, and wait for the end to come, getting ready to re-settle the Earth afterwards. What will our threesome do?
Why do you write? Tough question. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t write!
What appeals to you most about crafting a story? The suspense. Digging into another person’s head. Figuring what happens next. If I know ahead what’s going to happen in my story, I don’t feel like writing it at all. I’m my own first reader!
What writers have inspired or influenced you most and why? All the classics, especially the Russians – I consider Gorki’s Dead Souls an absolute masterpiece, it’s got everything I love, the characters, the social comments, the way a light is thrown on society – much more effective than any sociological critical essay. The same can be said of Bulgakov’s The Master and Marguerite: literally insane fantasy and the most effective and devastating comment ever made about Communism and men’s tendency to fall into dictatorship. But I also like the French, Voltaire’s Candide and Camus’ novels for the same reason I like Gorki. Also the English, in particular the sci-fi masters, Aldous Huxley and Orwell though this is an area where there are lots of remarkable American writers too, from Frederik Pohl to Philip K. Dick and most recently, Hugh Howey. Actually, there are lots of amazing writers alive today from Penelope Lively to William Boyd, David Lodge, Louis Begley, Deborah Moggach, Tracy Chevalier, Siri Hustvedt…
If your writing was music, what would it sound like? Good God, I have no idea! I guess, cool jazz…
What comes first for you, plot or character, and why? Character, no question about it. The plot comes next, it develops out of a character’s strengths and weaknesses, yearnings and fears. The setting is often what challenges the characters and pushes them to their (internal) extremes but the challenges also come from relationships between characters.
Tell us a little about how you formulate your plots. I don’t formulate them at all. I have a general idea and jump in. As I write, it all unfolds in front of my eyes like a film.
Talk a little about themes. At what point in your writing process do you address them? Never. I don’t believe in writing with a theory in mind that you want to develop. The themes come naturally as a side-effect of the plot and characters. Forever Young really deals with major issues threatening life on earth but I hope that doesn’t show. The intention is to entertain, not teach or preach.
Tell us a little about how you create your characters. Observation. People around me are warned! But most of all, I draw characters from my own inner self. Whatever looks logical for the character, given who he/she is, gets written down. The characters dictate the creation, not the other way around. I’m sure you know what I mean, because I can see that’s how you create your characters too.
Which characters have you created that are most vivid to you, or continue to reside in your heart? The young man in Luna Rising, he is stuck in his life, he hates it and he’s trying to get out of it. Obstacles on his way, coming from the ghosts in his family, are so numerous that he is forced to become a hero or…die! Contrary to a lot of my readers who disliked Kay, the wife in Crimson Clouds, I actually love her. That’s why I rewrote Crimson Clouds (now the second edition of what was originally called A Hook in the Sky). I wanted to make it clear that for her, winning back her husband is a huge undertaking and he’s constantly cutting her down. So I added whole sections to the book giving her side of the story. And I also love Alice in Forever Young: she’s the outsider who should be in, but is constantly left out. But that doesn’t discourage her, she’s a brave, determined woman – at any rate, that’s how I think of her and painted her (at your behest!) and I’m thinking of using that portrait as a book cover…
Portrait of Alice at dawn – oil on canvas by Claude (2014)
You definitely should! Talk to us a little about writing good dialogue. Bob, I think that’s where you’re the master! In any case, I follow your system: see the people talk, hear them talk (go in a trance if necessary!), take time to speak the dialogue out loud, and you’ll hear it when it’s too long or repetitive or useless. Then, there’s only one solution for it: cut, cut, cut!
I agree. For every line of dialogue that makes it on the page, I probably toss a dozen more. Do you have personal, social, or political convictions that worm their way into your writing? If so, give an example. I suppose I do though I try very hard to not let them “worm” their way in. Yes, because they can be truly worms that punch holes in the plot. I am convinced that much of contemporary art is not good and I guess that worked its way into Crimson Clouds (mainly in the form of fights between Robert and the women in his life who are all contemporary art fans). Likewise, I’m convinced that income inequality is a major evil of our time and it’s become one of the premises of the brave new world you find in Forever Young.
What do you find most difficult about the craft of storytelling? Avoid repetition. Not talk down to the reader. Realize that they’re bright and don’t need to be either lectured to or have to be told anything twice. So again, I cut!
Amen! Talk to us about your greatest “Ah-ha!” moment when you read over a passage or chapter and said, “Wow, that’s really good!” Are you speaking of my own work? I don’t have such moments, ever, when it comes to my own writing! Other people’s writing, yes. Right now I’m into Siri Hustvedt The Blazing World and there are a fantastic succession of such awe-inspiring moments! Just to quote one (out of a dozen or more) when she describes the protagonist’s father: “Harriet’s father was physically awkward, prone to self-conscious pats of his daughter’s arm or quick, hard hugs that were more like speeding collisions than expressions of affection…He liked to expound to us on philosophy…He believed in tolerance and academic freedom…But it is not what is said that makes us who we are. More often it is what remains unspoken.” That last sentence is fantastic!
Many writers create different working environments or conditions that help them focus on the job at hand. Tell us about yours. Nope, sorry to disappoint. No special environment. I work wherever and whenever I can, in between womanly tasks like cooking or making beds. I leave the gardening to my husband!
We’re in agreement, although I don’t make beds. Don’t see the point. What frustrates you most about being a writer? The marketing. I hate book promotion but it’s a necessity – especially in today’s environment, with millions of books available on Amazon with just a computer click.
Yes, I think most writers would agree with you on this. Do you think male and female writers approach storytelling differently? If so, how? I never thought it was a gender thing. For me, it’s not and I don’t believe there’s any gender determined difference. Character-wise, sure. I should think we’re all different in the way we approach work, whether it’s writing, painting, music or economic analysis.
If a young person just starting their working life said to you they wanted to be a writer, knowing what you know now, what would you say to them? Hey, that’s a tricky question! I don’t think of myself as a guru… On the basis of my own experience, I would say, be ready for the long haul, chances are that your first book won’t make a ripple. So don’t get bitter about it, it happens to all of us. Be ready to befriend your competition. Actually, a lot of writers see other writers as rivals and that’s totally wrong. Writers are terribly different from one another, there’s space for everybody, and we can help each other!
Great advice, Claude. As always, I enjoy your stimulating views on writing. Thank you for participating.