Jenny Santi Reveals the Secret to Happiness

Another one of my articles just published on Impakter:

on February 1, 2016 at 5:00 PM

Jenny Santiborn and raised in the Philippines and now living in New York, has become something of a guru in the philanthropy community. When she was only twenty-eight, Santi headed for five years Philanthropy Services (Southeast Asia) for UBS, a Swiss global financial services company and the world’s largest wealth manager. Currently, a philanthropy adviser to some of the world’s most generous philanthropists, celebrity activists and foundations, she also shares her insights with the mainstream media, including recently with the New York Times, and has a new book out, “THE GIVING WAY TO HAPPINESS: Stories and Science Behind the Life-Changing Power of Giving” (Tarcher hardcover; published Oct 27, 2015) that is fast becoming a best seller on Amazon. She holds an MBA from INSEAD, went to the Wharton School as an exchange student, and attended New York University’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising, where she is a Chartered Adviser in Philanthropy.

In “THE GIVING WAY TO HAPPINESS,” Santi shares a growing body of scientific evidence that links giving with happiness, and helps the reader reflect on their own personal experiences in order to determine what and how to give. The book is filled with inspiring, personal stories of generosity that Santi has collected in interviews with, among others, Djimon Hounsou, Isabelle Allende, Goldie Hawn, Christy Turlington-Burns, Petra Nemcova, and Mo Ibrahim. For example, how supermodel Petra Nemcova overcame the tragedy she endured while vacationing in Thailand in December 2004 when her fiancé was swept away by the tsunami and never seen again while Petra broke her pelvis and was told she might never walk again; or how Joshua Williams who was only 5 years old when he started his foundation, turned into the “philanthro-prodigy” from Florida.

Impakter recently interviewed Jenny Santi and here are highlights of our conversation.

How did you come to the world of philanthropy, what were the events or people in your life that sparked your interest in charity work and giving? 
Jenny Santi: Kids don’t really say, “I want to be a philanthropy advisor when I grow up.” It’s such an unusual job in a nascent field. My journey to what I do now was not a straight line but a series of dots that I have only recently been able to connect.
To read the rest of the interview, click here.

And if you have a minute, please help me with this "cover war" organized by Author Shout and vote for my book "Gateway to Forever", I'd be most grateful! The "war" is on all week till Sunday February 13, and you can come back and vote every day, that would be great, many thanks. Just click here, it will take you to the Author Shout website.


Only 40 Self-Published Authors are a Success, says Amazon

The cat is out of the bag, finally we know exactly how many self-published authors make it big: 40.

Yes, that's not a typo.

40 self-published authors "make money", all the others, and they number in the hundreds of thousands, don't. This interesting statistic, recently revealed in a New York Times article, applies to the Kindle Store, but since Amazon is in fact the largest digital publishing platform in the world, it is a safe bet that self-published authors are not doing any better elsewhere.

"Making money" here means selling more than one million e-book copies in the last five years. Yes, 40 authors have managed that, and have even gone on to establishing their own publishing house, like Meredith Wild. Her story is fully reported in the New York Times, here, and well worth pondering over.

That story reveals some further nuggets about the current fluctuating state of the publishing industry: it seems that last year, a third of the 100 best-selling Kindle books were self-published titles on average each week. Conversely, that means legacy publishers only raked in two-thirds. Perhaps this is not such a surprising result, given their habit of pricing e-books at stratospheric levels, from $12 to $16 or more compared to self-published authors who deem that $3 to $5 is the "right" price...One has to wonder why publishers do this, even at times pricing e-books more than their own printed versions of the title. Perhaps they are afraid of digital?

The digital market is indeed scary, primarily because of its dimension: over 4 million titles today in the Kindle Store, compared with 600,000 six years ago (again, the data is from the same article). This means "book discovery" has become the number one problem. How can your book stand out in such a vast crowd?

There are many answers in the industry (and savvy marketing certainly has big role), but some of the more ground-breaking solutions come from the successful self-published authors themselves, like Meredith Wild and a few others that have (more or less) followed her example, like Bella Andre, Barbara Freethy, H.M.Ward, C.J.Lyons. They have struck deals with Ingram Content Group, a major book printer and distributor, thus getting their novels in bookstores, big-box stores and airports. Because,let's face it, when you're selling big in the digital market, you don't want to lose out in the printed one: 36% of book buyers still read only print books (according to a 2015 Codex Group survey - for more about how print books hold their own, see this article).

What does this mean in terms of the future of the industry?  According to David Montgomery of Publishing Technology:

“There isn’t one book market anymore: there are two, and they exist in parallel. One continues to be dominated by major publishers, and increasingly uses agency pricing as a strategy to support print book sales. The second publishing market is almost exclusively made up of e-books, and is driven by Amazon-published and KDP content sold at a substantial discount to the product produced by traditional publishers.” 

And he foresees a growing divide in 2016 between the two markets. Yet the success of Meredith Wild and the other authors like her suggests that something else might be happening: self-publishing could be encroaching in a territory that used to be seen as exclusive to legacy publishers.

Time to celebrate? Not yet. There is a caveat and it's a big one: only 40 such authors are likely to bridge the divide. In fact, writing is a poor man's occupation. As Publisher's Weekly noted in an article published last year: the majority of authors earn below the poverty line. The statistics are grim:
Given that a single person earning less than $11,670 annually sits below the poverty line, 56% of respondents would qualify, if they relied solely on income from their writing. The survey also indicated that not only are many authors earning little, they are, since 2009, also earning less. Overall, the median writing-related income among respondents dropped from $10,500 in 2009 to $8,000 2014 in 2014, a decline of 24%. (highlight added).
That's way below the poverty line! Small wonder that most authors depend on another job to survive...

So if you're not selling your books, take heart, you're not the only one. If you're considering becoming a writer, think twice, it won't make you rich. To be honest, if I could do my life over, I wouldn't go into writing (though I love story-telling), I'd go into...film making! That is the art of the future, people don't read books, they go to the movies, they binge on TV series, they play video-games. And in all these - movies, TV, games -  good story-tellers are more needed than ever...

No, the art of writing is not dead, it is just undergoing a change of venue!

Feel like giving me a hand? I'd be most grateful! Vote for my book cover Gateway to Forever in this on-going "cover war" at Author Shout (note that for a limited time only it's available for 99 cents, get your copy with my thanks!):


Tax Evasion: Why Not Follow the Irish Model?

Europeans - and now Americans too - are all griping about Ireland, how it is a tax haven for big corporations seeking to shield their profits from fiscal authorities. Only a 12% levy! Neat, cool.

The most recent "scandal" (if you will) is the Johnson Controls and Tyco deal: here we have a big American corporation divesting itself of its American nationality and happily becoming Irish...to avoid taxes of course. And needless to say, Johnson Controls is only the latest one joining the jolly band of tax evaders that include just about everyone in Fortune 500, from Microsoft to Coca-Cola, from Google to Amazon and Facebook.

Europeans are no less unhappy - ever since the Great Recession started, they haven't been able to bring Ireland to heel. No fiscal union here! Ireland got € billions of European bailout money but it never agreed to (really) align its tax rates with the European Union. Not a bit. The Irish are Irish and don't care about the rest of Europe.

I have a simple solution. It's based on the true and tried strategy of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em".
Why doesn't every country in the EU align itself on the Irish tax rates? And the US too?  Of course, the Irish might suddenly find that they're not a tax haven anymore - but so what?  The more, the merrier. Everybody pays 12% (instead of 23% and more).

Ah, I can hear you object, treasuries would go dry, budgets would collapse, states would go broke. Would they now? Are you sure? What about all the money that would be recovered from tax evasion? Billions and billions. In the UK alone, it is estimated that some £35 billions have been lost to the state through people not paying as much as they should. And the situation in the US is ten times as bad:

Now if tax rates were reasonable, the way they are in Ireland, people would start paying taxes, corporations would stop playing fiscal games (like the "tax inversion" one). State budgets would eventually balance and we'd reach fiscal paradise.

Why not try this simple recipe? But politicians, I'm afraid, hate innovation and don't have that kind of courage...


Cool: You can Embed Your Book in Your Website or Share Directly!

I'm so excited by this discovery that I thought I'd share it with all of you! Amazon provides you with a real EASY way to embed your books in your website.

Here is the result:

See how clever? Not just the image of a book cover, but an inter-active icon that lets you read a preview of the book!

To do this, all you have to do is to go to the Amazon book page of your choice and go down to the "share" line on the right hand side, below the buy button. Click "embed", copy the URL or HTML code and paste it wherever you like, and you're done. Here are the Amazon explanations:

For more on how to do it, go here.

Happy reading!


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 1970s, 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!


2015: What Went Wrong, What Went Right and What Next

Year end is the traditional time for stock-taking. It is also a special moment for getting together and getting in touch with all those we've lost sight of...I can't do a full stocktaking in a blog post, but at least I can try to share with you, my friends, what stayed with me this year and what we shall soon put behind us - and what may be in store. Hopefully, something good...

First, what went wrong. This is not an exhaustive list, just what was most striking:

  • theocratic terrorism: in Syria and attacks abroad - at Charlie Hebdo first and the Paris attacks in November, but not only. Attacks were experienced everywhere, in the US, in Libya, in Lebanon, in Africa, not forgetting the tragic war in Yemen, the list is long;
  • a tsunami of refugees: 4 million Syrians fleeing their homes, one million headed for Europe and among them, "economic migrants" from places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, desperate people looking for jobs; 
  • "European Project" slowdown:  EU politicians continue to mishandle the Euro crisis and fail to address the refugee crisis; as a result the political landscape is polarized, with  a lurch towards a conservative right (Le Pen in France, UKIP in the UK...) closing the continent on itself and a counter-movement to the political left, with populist parties (Syriza in Greece, Podemos and Citizens in Spain, Cinque Stelle in Italy...) contesting austerity policies;
  • The rise of China: causing instability in East Asia, still supporting a backward-looking North Korea while expanding its presence in the region, with military outposts in the sea across from Japan and a brand new infrastructure development bank that has worried America (and the World Bank) but won the support of Europe; 
  • The rise of the Russian Bear: a return to Soviet imperialism Putin-style has squashed opposition at home and led to new military adventures abroad, in Syria after Crimea and Ukraine; causing inter alia growing tensions between Europe and Russia as the problem of Ukraine and Crimea festers on and the Minsk 2 ceasefire accord stall;
  • financial turmoil: with unresolved sovereign debt crisis in Greece and a looming collapse in Puerto Rico, hedge funds take a beating;
  • extremists in the Republican party: several tough-talking presidential candidates led by an irrepressible Donald Trump leave the rest of the world wondering (with trepidation) what American leadership will look like if ever one of them wins. 
 Syrian migrants cross under a fence as they enter Hungary at the border with Serbia. Photograph: Bernadett Szabo/Reuters
Next, what went right (up to a point):
  • COP 21 and the Paris Agreement, opening the way to a future where mankind might at last begin to address the climate change challenge; and this comes right on top of the UN General Assembly - 193 countries in the world - adopting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals intended to promote peace and eradicate (most of) poverty by 2030; yes, this was decidedly a pivotal year for the United Nations; now much depends on whether business will follow suit, but it is in the cards: the number of business leaders expressing support has never been so large; civil society, NGO watchdogs are also keeping an eye out to make sure that governments don't renege on their promises...
  • Dawn of a liberalizing transition in Latin America, where (among others) Venezuela's opposition might make its voice heard while Cuba is pursuing its open-door policy with the United States;
  • A last-minute reset in Europe, with (finally) a (belated) EU decision to address the refugee crisis in a collegiate manner - so far, only Germany had shown open generosity, even Sweden has started to close its doors; on the economic front, removal of austerity measures is unfortunately forestalled by powerful financial lobbies: investors don't want to lose money, the political-financial complex is alive and well... 
  • America's economic recovery from the 2008 Great Recession further consolidated with the Federal Reserve finally raising its key interest rate... but it's happening in a climate of uncertainty: this is the weakest recovery to date on record, the middle class has lost its position in American society to the ultra-rich and lost its way as jobs don't recover;
  • Accelerating progress and inequality: on the plus side, more discoveries and innovations are made than ever before in technology and science, as the CERN in Geneva plumbs the depths of physics and astronomers uncover the secrets of planets and exoplanets in outer space; on the minus side, it's happening at a cost, as many jobs that used to belong to the middle class are threatened by the rise of Artificial Intelligence, read: computers and robots (e.g. driver-less cars that will replace truck drivers); the unresolved questions: will our future be in the hands of robots or computer scientists? Are the benefits of further advances in technology going to accrue only to those who can afford them, i.e. the ultra-rich? 

UN Secretary General at COP 21 in Paris - Impakter 

What next?
  • More refugees? Let us hope that Europe will pull its act together and find a morally acceptable way to handle the crisis, a way that will preserve its economies and respect its values; and let us hope that America and Canada will follow - so far, both are even more closed on themselves than Europe, with Canada the only country showing generosity now that Trudeau has become Prime Minister.
  • A rebirth of the "European Project"? That, for now, looks highly unlikely - it is not only linked to a satisfactory solution to the refugee crisis but also to an acceptable outcome of the upcoming UK in-out vote and a final resolution of the Greek crisis;
  • A solution in Syria? The UN Security Council has finally passed a long-awaited resolution that may open the way to negotiations and a political settlement; it would be important to see progress on this front: it would help to address terrorist-fomented instability elsewhere, starting with Libya and Yemen;
  • More democracy in Latin America? Not yet in the cards for Venezuela, but the continent is moving in the right direction with Cuba opening up.
  • A benign China aware of its carbon imprint and wishing to be friendly with neighbors and traders? Hidden behind its Internet firewall, China is hard to decipher yet trying hard to guide the world its own way, if the world will let it...
  • Technological solutions to mankind's problems, starting with climate change? Bill Gates is betting on it with one billion dollars. But technology is not all "good", Artificial Intelligence is scary, it's our "biggest existential threat" as Elon Musk once famously said in a talk at MIT -and he too believes in supporting the right kind of research to ensure ethical choices are made.  The nightmare of a world falling in the hands of the very few made globally powerful by technology, the very few who might escape Earth to another planet once (and if) it becomes unlivable, could well remain the stuff of science fiction rather than reality...
Yes, maybe mankind will not disappear yet, maybe the Earth won't turn arid like Mars, maybe we all have a future after all.

On this note of hope, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

See you next year!


What Really Happened at the Paris Climate Conference - and What Next

Impakter just published one of my articles about the United Nations - this one about the results of the Paris Climate Conference:


After the Copenhagen fiasco in 2009 when no agreement was reached, the subject of climate change looked dead and buried. Yet, this time in Paris, something positive happened at COP21. That’s the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP), i.e. the countries that have signed onto the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) back in Rio, at the 1992 Earth Summit. It took twenty-three years to get from there – in Rio – to here in Paris.
So, was COP21 a success or yet another failure? Actually, it was both
On Saturday, December 12th, at 7:30 pm, after 11 days of negotiations between 195 countries, including a 24 hour delay and a last minute panic caused by a typo in the text that suggested that one sentence in the agreement was binding when it was intended to be voluntary, an agreement was reached, met by a standing ovation.  Called the “Paris Agreement” by the French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius and President of COP21, it was agreed to by “consensus” as is the habit at the United Nations, even though one country, Nicaragua, insisted that its perplexities be put on record.
In the photo: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attend High Level Closing of the Summit of Local Leaders hosted by Ms. Ann Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, and Mr. Michael Bloomberg, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Cities and Climate Change – Photo Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
If you listen to French President Hollande or the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, it was a huge success, a “historic” agreement, the start of a new era. President Obama concurred, seeing the accord largely as a personal victory, the result of his agreement last year with President Xi Jinping of China to reduce greenhouse gas emissions  and  of the new regulations he issued this year to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. “We’ve transformed the United States into the global leader in fighting climate change,” he told the New York Times.
Yet, the deal falls far short of what is needed to slow global warming and reverse the environmental damage already done.
The rest on Impakter, to read click here.


Mass Shootings and Gun Violence in America

Following the San Bernardino massacre, the Washington Post has published on its Wonkblog an article with the arresting title: "We’ve had a massive decline in gun violence in the United States. Here’s why." 

And just in case you thought this would be a general analysis of gun violence in America unrelated to mass shootings, leave that thought behind. The article explicitly starts off with a tragic picture of the aftermath of the San Bernardino shooting (my screenshot):

This is counter-intuitive and it really muddles up the issue: mass shootings are on the INCREASE in the US and this is a fact nobody should lose sight of. American society as a whole may be less violent than it was 20 or 30 years ago, but it's a helluva more dangerous place to live for the average citizen.

According to this article, there are 5 reasons why gun violence has declined over the past three decades:

1. More police officers on the beat;

2. Police using computers to collect data on crime and to direct their officers' efforts more efficiently;

3. Less booze - Americans drank 21 percent less alcohol in 2000 than in 1980, though consumption has increased since then (by how much the article doesn't say)

4. Less lead - the article reports that: "After the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970, refiners were required to sell unleaded gasoline. Jessica Reyes, an economist at Amherst College, has argued that the children born after that law took effect breathed in less lead from car exhaust and that their brains were healthier as a result. She has estimated that the removal of lead reduced violent crime by no less than 56 percent. Other researchers are skeptical that lead could have caused such a large decline in U.S. violence, but many agree that the Clean Air Act had some effect on crime." 

5. A better economy - here the article wavers somewhat and notes: "The authors of the Brennan Center report conclude that the increase in household income can probably explain about 5 percent to 10 percent of the decline in crime, similar to their estimate for alcohol. Yet economic factors seem more likely to affect rates of property crime than violent crime, and the relationship between the economy and the rate of gun violence in particular isn't clear." Indeed, not clear at all.And no surprise there, considering the ups and downs of the US economy since 1980, not to mention the 2008 Great Recession, the rise in income inequality and the slow collapse of the middle class...

So yes, the concept of a so-called "better economy" is not particularly germane to the argument, and even the article's author has his doubts about this one.

But how about reversing the argument? 

Isn't it absolutely extraordinary that there have been more mass shootings in the US than there are days in the year - 355 so far in 2015 - even though there are "more police on the beat", that the "police uses computers", that Americans imbibe "less booze" and breathe "less lead"?

Could it be that too many people in America buy machine guns - war weapons really? 

How about following the example of Australia that has simply banned the sale of such weapons? Hey, my American friends, it works!  


The Weather War: UN Report Shows Toll of Climate Change

On 23 November, just a week before the opening of COP 21, the Climate Change Conference in Paris, the United Nations issued a fascinating (and scary) report showing the unexpected toll of climate change over the past 20 years (see here). The author of the report is the UN's office for disaster risk reduction (UNISDR). Headquartered in Geneva with 5 regional offices, UNISDR is an organizational unit of the UN Secretariat, headed by Margareta Wahlström and tasked to support the implementation, follow-up and review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 that was adoped by UN Member States in Japan in March 2015.

Margareta Wahlstrom, presenting the report. She is  Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Disaster Risk Reduction, appointed since 2008. A citizen of Sweden, she started her international career with the Red Cross (1995-2000).

Did you know that over the past twenty years, since the first Climate Change Conference (COP1) in 1995, over 600,000 people have lost their lives and over 4 billion have been injured  in weather-related events? Losses to property are of course commensurate and enormous: 87 million homes were damaged or destroyed over the period of the survey; the total cost of property losses – including from earthquakes and tsunamis – is between US$250 billion and US$300 billion annually (a UNISDR estimate, noting that loss data is systematically under-reported).

The numbers are mind-boggling.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that weather-related events account for 90% of disasters. We always think of disasters in terms of war and other human-related causes (and of course, those are the worst, on ethical grounds because they could be avoided) and we tend to accept passively disasters caused by climate change.

But we shouldn't. The pace of climate-related events is increasing: An average of 335 weather-related disasters were recorded per year between 2005 and 2014, an increase of 14% from 1995-2004, and almost twice the level recorded during 1985-1995. That is truly scary.

Yet, there is a silver lining in all this. In the upcoming Climate Change Conference, we have a chance to finally do something constructive. This report proves that, in purely economic terms, engaging in measures to control gas emissions and reduce global warming results directly in lives and property saved. And that translates into an automatic reduction in the costs of controlling climate change. So it's not a straight exchange, one on one, between economic growth and climate change control. By choosing to curb emissions, even developing countries would find that they are enjoying a better quality economic growth.

And then there's the moral question. Do we really have the choice of sacrificing lives to the God of Economic Growth and the Golden Calf of Profit?

Adoration of the Golden Calf by Poussin


The Key for Peace: The Indispensable Role of the United Nations

Once again, one of my articles, just published on Impakter, with a remarkable introduction from the Editor (he is a millennial, a man deeply concerned about the issues of our time, value-driven like his whole generation, and this too is reason for hope in a better future). This is the beginning, to read the rest, go on Impakter, click here.



Note from the Editor: In these hours, following the tragic killing of innocents in Paris and Beirut,  our thoughts are with the people of France and Lebanon.
Impakter is a global publication. Our team comes from every corner of our beloved World. We represent the citizens of the World. Furthermore, our aim is to express that through this publication. Today we want this thought to reach higher than ever before. 
We believe that the current events taking place during the G20 could potentially be a significant milestone in our human history. A unprecedented event. The G20 could potentially regroup all the citizens of the World.  All united into delivering a safer and united future for all the generations to come.
The road is full of challenges, but  we will all walk through it under one flag, that of Peace. This is without a doubt a key turning point in our history. Like the Phoenix, we are to be reborn from the ashes of our World’s darkest hours.
Now, more then ever, we must move upwards and onwards. 
This is a first analysis of what might be happening next.


Once the United Nations Security Council is unblocked, we can hope to see an end to the Syria crisis. So far, because of Russia’s repeated use of its veto power at the Security Council, supported by China, its usual ally, the international community has not been able to move forward in a concerted fashion. Syria, after three years of a devastating civil war, is now pounded by Russian and American forces and their respective allies, but they haven’t agreed on common objectives: Russia supports Bashir al Assad, the United States targets Daesh, a.k.a ISIS or IS. But now things are changing.
On Sunday 15 November, at the G20 meeting in Turkey, a major political decision was reportedly taken, a page in the difficult relationship between Russia and the West appears to have been turned. It seems that Putin and Obama had an eye-to-eye talk that lasted half-an-hour and their meeting was caught on Turkish television.
Negotiations under the aegis of the United Nations between the Syrian opposition and the regime [meaning Bashir al Assad] and a cease-fire
A White House spokesman said afterwards...


Climate Fiction Update, it's Now Eco-Fiction

The thread discussing climate fiction on the top-rated SFF World website is still on-going! If you haven't read it yet, click here to see it. It has now veered to discussing what makes for a good story based on  an eco-fiction premise. And here I thought the thread had been winding down! But it hasn't, you're still in time to join the discussion and post your comment.  I'd even posted this comment that I thought would be my last:

I do hope that one lasting result of this excellent debate on SFFWorld is that we can put to rest the discussion around cli-fi vs. climate fiction vs. eco-fiction! 

I vote for eco-fiction, particularly since it has shown to have proven historical antecedents - wow, back to 1971, as Burt pointed out, and with a string of big names from Asimov to Vonnegut to Steinbeck...That's impressive and yes, I would certainly also sign on to that pitch Burt quotes: 
"Eco-Fiction is a provocative and poignant collection of short stories that issue a plea to each individual to recognize his inevitable place and vital responsibility for the future of man on earth." ​
Indeed, our responsibility "for the future of man on earth" is vital. This is what Mary and Bert do so beautifully: fighting for a better world with "provocative and poignant" stories - they, and all the other authors mentioned in this thread...

By the way, let me close by saying that I am looking forward to Ecotones!

Yes, I do think the debate around what to call a book set in a post-climate change world (or in the midst of the worst of it) has been laid to rest. And I much prefer the discussion around what makes for a good story. I was introduced to a soon-to-be published anthology of eco-fiction, called Ecotones, and I'm looking forward to it.

Here it is on Kickstarter, seeking to gather funds by 1 December:

Hurry if you want to help them! I did, they're half-way there. And you know how Kickstarter works, don't you? If they don't reach their stated goal (in this case £1,000) they don't get the money, Kickstarter cancels the whole campaign and doesn't take any money you have contributed. Here's the message you get once you've paid in:

Nice, isn't it? I hope they make it! These are both talented and dedicated writers, deeply engaged in our future - but then, aren't we all? Aren't we all worried about global warming, pollution, wars, the end of civilization as we know it? Don't we all want to pass onto our children and grandchildren a beautiful and safe and just world?

Bless you all!


Climate Change and the Price of Survival

BOOK REVIEW - BACK TO THE GARDEN, by Clara Hume, published by Moon Willow Press (2013) Available on Amazon, click here

BREAKING NEWS: On the forum of top-seeded SFFWorld, there's an on-going debate on climate fiction where Clara Hume intervenes as Guest Host, using her real name, Mary Woodbury, along with two more Guest Hosts, Brian Burt, author of the Aquarius Rising  trilogy and myself under my pen name Claude Nougat. To see or join this stimulating debate now, click here.

Climate change usually inspires the direst of dystopian fiction: end-of-the-world situations, cities under water, people desperately seeking safety and fighting for survival while children and the elderly are the first to die...With Clara Hume's Back to the Garden, you get that but you also get much more and something that is very different.


You get a breath of fresh air, a glimpse of hope even though in that book, as in all other climate fiction novels I've ever read, the world is overheated and overrun with lawless gangs as society as we know it has collapsed.

What this book tells us is: maybe mankind can survive after all...but at what price! Back to the Garden is like going back to square one, the start of civilization. All technological advances are lost, there is no electricity and little fuel left. This is a world of growing scarcities. But is that "garden", the one in the book, a new, revised garden of Eden?

Maybe it is, and that is a comforting thought: what we have here is dystopia with a smile.

And that's what makes Back to the Garden very different and really worth reading.

And pondering over.

This is the story of a trip across a devastated, post-apocalyptic America told from multiple points of view, one for each traveler, and each one is an engaging character. We soon find ourselves liking them, feeling their pains, their hopes, their loves. This is a very human tale, some die and we cry, others live on in spite of dreadful obstacles, and they all finally get "back to the garden" - but I stop here, I don't want to give away the story and ruin the suspense, I will not tell you about this garden, pick up the book and find out!

One commentator on Amazon (see here), made the interesting comparison with Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, noting that while Steinbeck depicted a cross-country trek of people driven from home by the Great Depression, Clara Hume's characters are driven by Climate Change. The comparison is apt, although the story is in fact very different (as are the characters). But we are indeed at a literary level, this is a beautifully written novel.

The author (Clara Hume is a pen name) is a young woman deeply committed to fighting climate change and preserving our environment for future generations. She maintains a vibrant website Eco-Fiction  that acts as a hub for a community of people eager to debate environmental themes, including climate change, in both literature and the arts.

Here's the landing page, and you can glimpse a series of interviews of climate fiction authors:

The site is an outreach project run by Moon Willow Press, an independent small press in Canada (British Columbia) with a mission to "help sustain forests while celebrating the written word". On the site, we learn that "MWP has planted over 1,000 non-invasive trees in ecologically and economically rough areas since 2011. The press prints only on recycled, hemp, and forest-certified fiber."

Here's their opening page (screenshot, there are three images that keep changing, I caught this one about the "Blue Dot Run Team"):

Well done, MWP, this is a social-minded business, it is currently open to submissions for both fiction and non-fiction books. And of course, MWP is the publisher of Back to the Garden and numerous other climate fiction novels - reads that anyone with an environmental conscience and a concern about man's survival on this planet should not miss...


What Turns a Police Thriller into a Bestseller? Lessons from Faceless Killers

Discovering Henning Mankell (here)

Let me start with a confession: I'm not a habitual reader of police thrillers and murder stories. Like everyone, I've read Agatha Christie when I was young, I've gone through all the classics from Arthur Conan Doyle to Ngaio Marsh but I'm not a fan, call me a dispassionate reader.
Why? Because too often, I can see through the plot and it all looks depressingly formulaic.

When Henning Mankell died this month (see this excellent article in the Atlantic Monthly, here),  I was reminded of his stature in Scandinavian literature - the Atlantic Monthly calls him the "dean of Nordic Noir", with 30 million copies of his Kurt Wallander series sold since the first one came out, 25 years ago, in 1990.

Of course, I'm familiar with the character of Kurt Wallander, an ordinary, middle-aged policeman working in a small town in Southern Sweden, having seen several episodes of a series featuring him on ARTE TV. But now I wanted to find out more, I thought I would try and uncover the roots of his success by reading that first book in the Wallander series, the one that "made it", with the arresting title Faceless Killers.

Here's what I found - the main "lessons learned" to ensure that your next thriller is going to rise above the genre and make it as a global bestseller.

As you will see, there are only two rules to follow.

First, let me say it's a great read, the pace never slackens. When it does slow down - as inevitably it must if you're following a police investigation step-by-step, an indispensable aspect of making this novel realistic - then Kurt Wallander's personal life butts in. He has problem with his senile, grumpy and lonely father, a landscape artist endlessly painting the same landscape, his cool wife Mona who has just left him, causing him to dream of making love to a black woman (inexplicably black but then dreams are not always explainable) and his complicated daughter Linda, an independent young woman who lives with her boyfriend from Kenya and can't make up her mind about attending college. You get the sense that Kurt Wallander, ordinary as he is, has in fact a complex life and you, the reader, feel for him.

This observation leads directly to:

Rule #1: establish empathy with your main character - even if this is a police procedural and the implications are that police procedures and the thrill of the chase should trump characterization.

To transcend the genre and establish credentials as a genuine, world-class work of literature, follow Mankell's example: develop your main character. Kurt Wallander soon becomes someone you feel you know, someone who goes through the same (often depressing) experiences so many of us go through our lives as a marriage grows stale, as a child turns into a rebellious teenager, as a parent slowly sinks into old age.

The other striking aspect of Faceless Killers is its social dimension. 

This is a book that has deep roots in Swedish society, and by extension, in the society of any advanced country that calls itself (like Sweden) a democracy, that believes it has humanitarian traditions. And it's a book that does not shy from raising deep, uncomfortable questions. In fact, Mankell himself had lived in Africa and brought his own views to his books and the character Kurt Wallander. As he explained on his website,
“Racism for me is a crime, and therefore it seemed natural that I wrote a crime novel. It was after that the idea of a policeman was born.” 
The book is peppered with Mankell's personal opinions about racism and how refugees are viewed and ill-treated in refugee camps in Sweden. One, a Somali, father of nine children, while walking alone down a country lane near his camp, gets his head blown off  by a ruthless killer with an accomplice in a near-by car ready to whisk him away from the crime scene.

But the book does not merely "show", Mankell is not afraid of "telling", here are some examples:
  • [One character says:] "We have a refugee policy in this country that must be followed." [The other answers:] "Wrong. It's precisely the lack of  refugee policy that creates chaos."
  • [Then this character amplifies his thinking]: "Right now we're living in a country where anyone with any motive at all can come in anywhere in this country at any and in any manner. Control of the borders has been eliminated. The customs service is paralyzed. There are plenty of unguarded strips where the dope and the illegal immigrants are unloaded every night."
Sounds familiar? Yes, it's amazingly relevant to our own times and the current migrant crisis in Europe. Germany expects to have to take in one million refugees this year, Sweden less of course, but it is still a favorite destination of the millions of migrants pouring into Europe through Greece, the Balkans and Italy - most of them from war-ridden countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Sudan (Darfur, remember it?)

I wonder if any of those migrants has read Faceless Killers?

The book gives you the whole range of feelings - pro and against - caused by waves of migrants, here are a few more samples:
  • "For brief moments [Wallander] could also detect contradictory sympathies in himself for some of the anti-immigrant arguments that came up in discussions and the press while the trial was in progress [trial about the murder of the Somali man]. Did the government and the Immigration Service have any real control over which individuals sought to enter Sweden? Who was a refugee and who was an opportunist? Was it possible to differentiate them all?"
And then comes the conclusion, one that is haunting all of us these days in Europe as we watch waves upon waves of migrants entering the continent:
  • "How long would the principle of the generous refugee policy be able to hold without leading to chaos? Was there any upper limit?
Indeed, that is precisely what we wonder about now. And we are all like Kurt Wallander, who, as Mankell writes:
  •  "He realized that he harbored the same vague apprehension that so many other people did. Anxiety about the unknown, about the future."
This is what makes this book so extraordinary, and enables it to rise above the "genre" of mysteries, leaving behind the usual tropes and reaching out to the level of "real" literature - not pure thrills, not entertainment for the sake of entertainment but applying a lens to reality that makes you understand reality better, and perhaps in a way you have never understood it before. In short, great literature.

And this brings us to:

Rule #2: Root your story in reality - address real life issues.

In this case, migrants, what to do with them, how to integrate them in our society. In a globalized world shaken by war and injustice, this is the kind of issue that will stay with us a long time. Think of it, Faceless Killers was written 25 years ago, yet the issues it raises are incredibly relevant to our situation today.

From BBC article: "What can Europe Achieve?" (see here)

You may wonder whether those two rules actually apply beyond thrillers and mysteries.

Of course they do!

In my view, applying those two rules to any genre novel will lift it to the level of
     (a) a bestseller; and
     (b) literature with a capital "L".

You may make a lot of money with strictly genre books, selling by the millions like 50 Shades of Grey did, but you won't reach the top. To achieve that, as Menkell shows, you need to go beyond mere thrills and open the doors of the real world for your readers, you need to make them think.

And you may ask, what is the benefit for you, the writer? Not much beyond some splendid obituaries like the one Henning Mankell got in the Atlantic Monthly or the New York Times and of course, why should you care?

But if you're an activist who would like to see the world become a better place, then you do care. I know I do. How about you?