The Honesty of Indie Publishing

"It’s not for me" or "It doesn’t fit my list." These were the comments I received on my quest to find an agent for my debut novel. So who were these agents that dismissed my hard work in a few words?  I was left to ponder…were they opposed to the idea of a fast-paced novel based on the controversial topic of climate change, or possibly they had no personal interest?  Maybe the idea seemed too outlandish and they felt it was a subject better left for climate scientists, or Al Gore.  After all, I had purposely picked the topic of extreme weather to write an international thriller because no one has successfully done it and it had breakthrough potential.

But have you ever looked at the process of traditional publishing?  It’s a ridiculous business model.  First, you have to find an agent who makes a decision from a one-page query letter whether they want to represent your book or not; and the odds are overwhelming against you because agents are risk adverse…and with good reason, the closure of independent bookstores have diminished the traditional market for “mid-list” books.  The reality is that you are lucky to get a “one line” response because the majority of agents don’t respond at all.

But should an aspiring author give up at that point?  I don’t think so!  Where would we be without independent movies where people put up their own money because they believe in what they’re doing?  Of course, the Indie Publishing industry has become more problematic because people can publish crap and put it out there for everyone to read - free.  There is no quality standard and it gives the Indie publishing industry a bad name.  In frustration most readers don’t want to read anything that’s independently published - and that’s too bad because there is quality work being done and maybe it could help change the world. 

Climate Change and the Political Divide - where is the independent American spirit?

Republicans are more likely to disbelieve in the effects of global warming, while Democrats are more likely to believe in it. A study from Michigan State University, from 2001 to 2010 showed the partisan gap widen by 30% over that time period.  http://bit.ly/ns5N4J

Since when did scientific issues get assigned to a particular party affiliation?  I remember back in the 70’s, when Governor Tom McCall (a Republican) sponsored the Oregon Bottle Bill and Beach Bill, among other environmental issues.  It was a debate about science and issues, not about the party.       

I suppose the big divide happened when Al Gore became the spokesperson for human caused climate change; while Bush’s constituency from Texas had a vested interest in keeping the status quo. Now, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is saying a significant number of climate scientists have manipulated data http://gocl.me/o4qoVe only adding more fuel to the fire.

So what happened to the great American independent thinker? The one that reasons things out for themselves?  Does everything, even the scientific method, have to be connected to a political party?  I sincerely hope not.  We have already proven how polarized and dysfunctional our political system has become.

Can we begin to separate ourselves from partisan politics and think for ourselves?  

Climate Change – Too many Facts and Not Enough Inspiration?

Everyday there seems to be a new study to add to the growing pile of information on human caused climate change. It seems that many of us thrive on these facts, while others use them as further proof that scientists and statisticians are out to deceive the world.  At this point, I don’t believe that any study would convince those entrenched in their position to change their minds.  Of course we need research, but isn’t it time that we look to the creative community to provide inspiration?

So quick, name a movie that has environmental considerations. I remember in the early eighties China Syndrome (1979) and Silkwood (1983) that were based on problems in the nuclear power industry.  Then came A Civil Action (1999) and Erin Brokovich (2000) when pollution by corporate industry was a huge issue.  So after 2000 it gets harder… One immediately thinks of An Inconvenient Truth (2006) but it is a documentary, based on facts.  Or how about considering Avatar (2009) because the inhabitants are trying to protect their moon Pandora?

Maybe I’m missing something.  It seems that there is an incredible amount of concern about extreme weather and we have a polarized debate around climate change.  Technical specialists are so numerous it is hard to count, but where are the creative people who can inspire and motivate people through novels, film, theatre and music?  They seem to be conspicuously absent. 

For some reason, it doesn’t appear that sustainability has infiltrated popular culture. Do people find it too difficult a subject or fear that it won’t be a box office draw?  Who knows, but I can’t believe that if some really creative people put their minds to it they couldn’t come up with some incredible work.  

So what do you think? In addition to all the studies and facts that we are bombarded with, shouldn’t we have a little more inspiration? 

The Evolution of Sustainable Thinking

I have to admit that I’m not much of a “joiner” of causes.  My interest in sustainability came from a practical, business approach.  Since I worked at Nike as a global brand director, I was able to work with talented people in design, marketing and development in the Women’s and Kids Footwear businesses.  Our job was to be ahead of the trend and anticipate consumer needs. 

In modern times educated people have worked for clean water and healthy living conditions, but in the 80’s the publicity of abandoned toxic waste dumps, Chernobyl’s nuclear power accident, and the world’s population reaching 5 billion people, amongst other issues contributed to rising concerns. In our focus groups with teens, kids, mothers and other women there was no way to find out about health and fitness trends without the subject of the environment coming up.   We noted their concerns, but our focus was on bringing the best possible performance products to market.

In the 90’s the trend became even more widespread because consumers and many employees were concerned about the depletion of the ozone layer, potential cancer causing agents, etc.  Up until then my division had still been focused on designing and producing the perfect product, but since we were also working with the factories on the development side we were beginning to become aware of the inefficiencies and waste that we were creating. Maybe the pattern of the shoe could be adjusted to get better yields…both a good business and a waste reduction scenario.  Could we improve health of workers and improve environmental performance by using water-based cements?  Could shoes be recycled?  The questions turned into objectives that became part of our overall business plans.   

As time went on we worked harder to make the best products for the athletes and fitness consumers, but also at becoming a better organization.  We found that the more we became educated about sustainability, the more it related to our business goals, and the better we related to our consumers.  

Polarized Opinions and Climate Change

“If I don’t agree with climate change, why should I read a novel called Battered Earth?”

A question I’m often asked.

First of all, the book is fiction.  It is an international conspiracy thriller that is meant to be entertaining with a relevant theme.  The plot is driven by extreme weather, a climate forum, nerve gas and extremists…all things that exist in the world today.  (Do you have to believe in witchcraft to read a Harry Potter book?)  But even suggest the possibility of climate change through a book title like Battered Earth and many people become defensive.  Why is that?

It seems that we only want to surround ourselves with ideas that support our established opinions and beliefs.  After all, finding like-minded people to agree with us has never been easier.  Just do a search on the Internet and we find plenty of information, blogs, facts, etc., to confirm our “brilliance.” 

But the scarier question is why have we become such a polarized society, where public opinion is divided and then goes to the extreme? We are separated between likes and dislikes, democrats and republican’s, I’m right/you’re wrong thinking without looking for common ground. Look at how many talk show hosts and radio personalities use polarizing marketing tactics to increase their ratings…and it works!

My worry is that society is becoming paralyzed by warring factions. We are so confident in our position that we fail to accept conflicting information even if there is value in it. Even worse, people make accusations and resort to name-calling when responding to a position they don’t like.  Shouldn’t we look to understand the other side’s point of view, instead of over reacting?  Isn’t that what the democratic process is built on?

So my hope is that all sides can at least read a fiction novel based on an important topic, but maybe I’m naïve…

Important Links:

http://www.worldweatherpost.com/2011/04/20/climate-heats-up-political-divide/

Perseverance is a great element of success. If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Storms of 2011 and Our Battered Earth

It might seem unusual to have a fiction novel with a suspense theme that is woven around extreme weather, but so far 2011 has already proved to be a year of exceptionally violent and destructive weather. The outbreaks of tornadoes in April across the Southeastern US and the Joplin tornadoes have resulted in 544 deaths in the US alone. In addition, heavy rains, combined with the melt off of a large snow pack have caused extensive property damage. The resulting heartache is almost difficult to comprehend. With these horrific events happening in the US, and around the world, there is no doubt about the relevancy of the topic. But how do we explain these extreme weather events? Most of us turn to the scientists, who base their findings on statistical trends; but they say there is not enough data. We will have to wait decades, or even longer to get an answer.

Photo Credit: http://truthseekerblog.com/2011/05/25/losses-and-questions/

Photo Credit: Truthseekerblog

One has to wonder, by the time we have concrete data will it be too late to reverse the situation?” Some scientists have been willing to hypothesize on the growing evidence that human-caused global warming is contributing to the extreme weather, but the doubters consider them charlatans. It seems that people have become polarized, not looking for common ground. So why not try to reach out to individuals to inspire and motivate them through stories they can relate to? It seems a logical step to challenge talented authors and directors to develop creative work on this controversial subject. So while we continue to debate the cause of the awful storms, the people most affected will pick themselves up and get on with their lives, showing the remarkable resilience of the human spirit. Meanwhile the bigger question remains, “Will we be ready if the storms continue to intensify?”

For more information, visit:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=noaa-makes-2011-most-extreme-weather-year

http://www.newsweek.com/2011/05/29/are-you-ready-for-more.html

10 plays

Radio talk show on Battered Earth aired 7/10/11

Extreme Weather & Personal Stories

Have you ever been terrified by an extreme weather experience?  We probably all have, but the intensity and frequency seems to be increasing, impacting more people’s lives in a tragic way.

Photo Credit: Dr. Stephen Dann, Flickr

Since my Dad was an airline pilot, I heard a lot about the weather.  He told me of the violent storms he encountered in his many travels.  I still recall a specific incident when a flight attendant hit the cabin ceiling, breaking her arm in unexpected turbulence on the way to Tokyo.

I also remember visiting my cousins in Minnesota when a minor tornado hit.  Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest I had no idea about the ferocity of the storms.  The terror that the Joplin residents must have felt, or all the others who have experienced the severe storms that have occurred this year, is almost unimaginable.

Since I’ve always been fascinated by storms, it is no coincidence that my book Battered Earth delves into this phenomena.  In the second chapter of the book, the main character experiences her plane being hit by lightning when taking off out of Seattle.  This incident was real, having happened to me when flying out of Portland, OR.  One of the editors wanted me leave out the scene, or tone it down, because it seemed unbelievable… 

I hope more people tell their personal stories about extreme weather because it can reach people on an emotional level, and in many cases may be more influential than scientific evidence.  

About “Battered Earth”

Is it possible to write a best-selling novel with a climate change/severe weather theme???

That is what I set out to do when I began to write my debut novel, Battered Earth.  Since my observation was that adult fiction bestsellers seem to be stuck in a rut, my goal was to write a fast-paced novel around this socially relevant issue.  I felt it was time for some fresh themes and excitement, but also draw people in and make them think.

Battered Earth is not a doomsday book, or an environmental handbook.  Instead it is an intelligent, international thriller designed to be more like a “Da Vinci Code” or a “Bourne Identity” with a sustainability theme.  It takes place in the near future, where unpredictable and violent storms increasingly plague the earth.  The timing is right for this novel, with all the recent tornadoes, floods and other incidences of extreme weather that have created so much devastation and heartache.   

In the novel, Nicole Hunter is a talented but idealistic director of a richly endowed foundation who is disillusioned because she has to help people after they have been harmed.  Her counterbalance is Oliver Odin, an international agent sent to investigate ominous threats in the Stockholm area.  The evidence leads him to the strong-willed Nicole and a group of brainy scientists.  The book is international is scope, beginning in Stockholm and ending in St. Petersburg, with segments in Seattle and London.  The result is a suspenseful story, with plenty of international intrigue, but it does have a social conscience.   

I sincerely believe that infiltrating popular culture with important concepts will help the acceptance of some of these ideas.  I also think it is important to have positive approach and show the perseverance of the human spirit.  So I ask again, can a fiction novel create dialogue about climate change?  I hope so.  Let me know what you think!