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An Interview with Dan Bloom

I’m pleased and honored that Dan Bloom agreed to do an interview for gzeiglerbooks.com.

Dan is the man—with the passion and the plan—who planted the seed that is blossoming into the Cli Fi meme. Dan was recently quoted in a Time magazine article (May 19 issue, both online and print editions) as the person who coined and popularized the phrase CLI FI. He also suggested to me that my thriller, ”The Straw That Broke” be included on the website clifibooks.com as a new entry in the emerging CLI FI sub-genre.

Dan is an independent climate activist, a longtime journalist and student of the media, and a veritable PR machine for the issues for which he feels great passion. He works out of a cyber cafe in Taiwan. I call Dan the “networking cyclone in the Taiwan cafe.”

Gregory: Dan, you are appearing on my blog at the same time you are being quoted in Time magazine. What does being in Time magazine feel like?

Dan: To be honest, I really feel that this is not about me. I dropped my ego in 1983 after a near fatal plane crash in Alaska…living on borrowed time since then…lucky to be alive! I’m not selling anything so the TIME quote means only one thing to me: it is good for the Cli Fi movement. I want nothing from it, but to see CLI FI take off and touch people via books and movies—my little gift to the future.

Gregory: Dan, you don’t own a computer or have an office. You work in a noisy smoke-filled cyber cafe in a small town in south Taiwan—how on Earth did you manage to pitch your CLI FI story to the world’s major media such as the recent article in Time magazine?

Dan: I first coined the term, Cli Fi in 2008 in a blog post about a screenplay I was informally ”pitching” to some film producers in Los Angeles. Nothing came of our exchange. But once I got the Cli Fi term into my PR head, I started thinking about how it might be useful as a new genre of literature and movies.

I used the term Cli Fi in a few op ed pieces I wrote for newspapers and websites in Asia and Hollywood in 2011. In 2012, I used Cli Fi for a novel I was promoting titled Polar City Red and that was the first time the term appeared in print in newspapers and on real websites. And then in late 2012, a climate scientist in the USA named Judith Curry who runs a climate blog called ”CLIMATE ETC” ran a long blog post titled simply “Cli Fi” in which she enthused about 20 or so Cli Fi novels she had made a list of, one of which was the book I had been promoting, Polar City Red.

And then, out of the blue, NPR in Washington did a big radio story interviewing Dr Curry and cli-fi novelists Barbara Kingsolver and Nathaniel Rich and the NPR story was headlined on the show’s print website as something like “A hot new literary genre takes off — cli fi.”

Like I said, Greg, I had no idea NPR was doing the story and I was surprised and delighted they used my term in their headline and in the story. That radio program went viral in April 2014 and led to all the future coverage later in the Guardian in London, the New Yorker magazine, The New York Times, Dissent magazine, the Huffington Post and three op ed pieces by Margaret Atwood in which she used the Cli Fi term. So NPR really made all this happen.

About a week after the NPR story aired, I went into full speed PR operation and immediately started the 24/7 PR machine that I have been running since May 1, 2013, without missing a day.

I have using my informal, amateur, PR skill to try to popularize Cli Fi as a deep-green climate activist and literary provocateur, to serve as an alarm about the dangers humankind faces in regard to climate change and global warming. So I didn’t create the Cli Fi term as a marketing tool but more as a way to wake up people who are still sleepwalking towards the Climapocalypse.

How did I manage to attract the attention of many of the world’s media outlets—mostly, Lady Luck and a lot of help from friends in the newspaper business in the USA and the UK.

Gregory: Is your PR style traditional press release, or do you use some kind of Guerilla Theater approach?

Dan: My style is email press releases with lots of typos and unformatted line breaks and sent every day for a month until the recipient either replies to me ”yes” or ”no”, or blocks me completely from their accounts. It happens. But I need to get this story out. So I do what I have to do. It works.

Gregory: Considering your success, students of PR could learn much from your methods. What can you share from the past 12 months as you steered your CLI FI project into the global media?

Dan: Just a few words of encouragement: never give up, don’t take no for an answer, be polite, and when you do something wrong always apologize. Don’t think of it as “work.” Think of it as a mission, a battle, a dream that you want to see come true.

Gregory: You are obviously a guy with vision (even through the cafe smoke). What future interviews or initiatives are you anticipating?

Dan: I am seeking more media coverage in the BBC, CNN, AFP, and Associated Press wire service and Reuters, too. My goal is to make Cli Fi such a popular term that everyone on Earth knows it. And this will take at least ten more years of constant PR work.

As for new projects, I am planning to set up an international literary award called the Nevil Shute Climate Novel Award with the first award going to the best current Cli Fi novel in 2020 and then every year thereafter. The prize for “The Nevils” will be one million dollars (US).

Gregory: Wow. That’s ambitious but as I get to know you better, not in the least bit surprising. I’ll start working on my entry today. Anything else you want to add, Dan?

Dan: Yes, Greg, I have a question for you now. The title of your Cli Fi thriller is “The Straw That Broke”. Is the title taken from the old saying that something is “the straw the broke the camel’s back” and can you explain how that title fits the theme of your novel?

Gregory: Ah-ha, it’s the old interview the interviewer technique. The Straw That Broke refers to two things. A straw is a tunnel into a body of water. The straws sucking water out of the Colorado River are a central focus of my thriller. Also, The Straw That Broke refers to the “last straw” environmentally speaking. As in, we either get some of these issues right, soon—such as management of the Colorado River (named America’s most endangered river by the American Rivers Organization)—or it will be too late. The Camel’s back will be broken.

Gregory: Thanks Dan for your time and trouble. You are an inspiration.

Xeriscape in New Mexico

I fear for my friends and family who are dealing with high winds, high temperatures, drought and fires in California. My thoughts and best wishes to weather the storms are with them and all their neighbors. Prayers would be appropriate in this time of dire need (or perhaps a rain dance).

Although I was bucking Santa Anna winds (from the Northeast) all the way to Albuquerque, the Bambi Winnie (19′ Airstream) tracked like a dream over the 3-day, 800 plus mile journey.

Lo and behold, I find myself parked right next to my friends’ house and they are the poster kids for xeriscape. Note the gravel and stone surfaces and cistern catching rain water. They also have beautiful raised bed gardens demonstrating the efficient use of mulch and drip irrigation.

The term xeriscape was first used in the mid-80s, but folks we are looking at the future—at least in the drought-stricken southwest.

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Correspondence with Robert K.

I heard from an 8th grade reader recently. Robert K. got my email from Travels With Max and contacted me on his own initiative. Robert has decided he wants to read Travels with Charley also. That makes an author’s day. I wanted to share my email exchange with Robert.

Since you put your email in the book how many emails do you get a day? Not as many as I thought I would get after putting it there. I know many people who have told me they enjoyed Max immensely but few have emailed.

And when you got Max what were your feelings? Max was the cutest little puppy you have ever seen. I surprised my wife by giving him to her in a picnic basket. But he was always her dog, never mine—until the trip that is.

If you could go again on that same trip would you? I loved it. I really did. I would do it all over again but only IF my wife, Dimmie would come along for the whole trip.

Ok off topic with the book but have you been to Florida? Yes. Interesting state but not my favorite.

I usually read fiction books and this is probably my 4th nonfiction book I have read and this one I actually like. I’m really pleased you like it, Robert.

Read On, Robert!

Book Note: I’m reading With No One As Witness by Elizabeth George. I think it is my third George murder mystery. Suffice it to say, I would kill to be able to write murder mysteries like Elizabeth George.

Santa Barbara a success!!

This is my Last day in Santa Barbara. Dimmie joined me for a week and we camped on the bluffs above the breakers at El Capitan State Beach north of Goleta. We had an event at the Book Den on Sunday 5/4. We visited Driggs friends, Hunter and Corey, and Jackson friends Max, Maria, three-year-old Joy, and dog Zoe.

Speaking of friends, I feel I’ve added to my cadre of friends—a group I hold almost as dear as family. I met Gail Steinbeck for wine and snacks at Pierre LaFont Wine Bistro in Montecito. She knew everyone in the bar (and heartily greeted them all) and I felt like I had known her forever. We really hit it off. She is a wonderful, high-energy women who as it turns out, is producing films these days. Gail hinted that perhaps we would work together in the future. She also helped me get my books into Chaucer’s bookstore on State Street.

And from from another dear friend. Marty Brisbois had this to say, “Read your blog re: water unawareness in LA. You must remember, most of the residents are transplants to our state. We natives are well aware that we live in a desert. We’ve got to EDUCATE. Start with the kids. Think about that YA version of STRAW. Carl Haisson has done a great job with HOOT and FLUSH.”

Good points all, Marty. And you know I’m a big believer in education. My statement was prompted by my observation that there are no signs anywhere in SoCal that I have observed in three weeks of visiting (and I have been on college campuses, in RV parks, and in State Park—as well as in stores and libraries) that urge volunteer conservation of water. I even witnessed an LA RV Park watering grass at 2 pm on a 92 degree day. MY thought is that if we are going to cope with a drier future, conservation has to become as institutionalized and automatic as our now customary bans on public smoking. I’ve been informed that there is an upscale neighborhood in Santa Barbara County that is about to run out of water yet people continue to water their estates with no concern for the fines. Perhaps consequences have to get tougher.

Living in an Airstream has given me an idea. When Dimmie and I are “primitive” camping (no power or water at the site) we are aware of every drop that goes in (and out of) our trailer. We are physically involved with both ends of the process. When we rely on our solar panel charging our batteries, we are given only so much electricity each day. Charging a device like an iPad in the morning might mean no juice left over for reading by trailer lights at night. This is a form of self-imposed rationing but boy dies it cause us to be conservative in our use. Perhaps there is a real-world application.

On to Albuquerque with a stop in Flagstaff at Mountain Sports where Lisa Lamberson, the General Manager tells me they want to carry Straw.

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Gail’s husband, Thomas Steinbeck, and me at Pierre LaFont’s in October, 2009.

Straw in LA

As you might imagine, for a country boy like me, Los Angeles can be a little daunting. Last night after driving for one hour and fifteen minutes (on three separate freeways) to Pages Bookstore in Manhattan Beach, I was somewhat amazed to still be in the same “city.” I could probably cover close to one third the width of Wyoming in that time.

That said, I did make it to both Chevalier’s Bookstore (4/27) and Pages (4/28) by the appointed times. Thank God for my GPS. The employees of both of those stores were very accommodating and helpful. One of my fellow authors at Pages was a young autistic woman who had published a book about her struggles with autism. It was very powerful. That said, there did not seem to be much awareness of southwestern water issues in the audience.

Even though this blog is my soapbox, I’m always a little hesitant to scramble up on it. But, I’ve got to say this about the good folks of Southern California—I have seen zero evidence, even in the form of requests to voluntarily conserve water, that people are aware that California is in a severe drought. I guess, as long as water is running out of the tap…

On to Santa Barbara!

Book Note: I just finished Stephen Kinzer’s The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles and Their Secret World War.
It is a book every American should read so our country never repeats the history (and insanity) of the Cold War.

My Clifibooks.com post

Mary at Cllifibooks.com was kind enough to list The Straw That Broke on her website and invite me to be a guest author. Here is my post before Mary’s edits and alternations.

(But first a Max note. I spoke with ninety-five eager eighth graders at Oak Grove Middle School in Jamul, CA on Tuesday, 4/22. The students are starting to read Max as a culminating project before graduation. Many will read Charley as well. Gifted teacher Marty Brisbois showed me the projects from last year when the kids worked in teams comparing the two books. They were amazing! The theme is, “In Search of America. In Search of Self.” Read On! Mighty Oak Grove Eagles.)

Here’s my clifibooks.com guest author post.

The Future Looks Drier for the Colorado River Basin

Nearly every climate change model puts a red bulls-eye on the Colorado River Basin, suggesting profound temperature increases over the coming decades. It’s going to get much hotter and drier. The future of water – and life – in the West will be very different from anything we’ve come to expect.

National Geographic News Watch “What Does Climate Change Mean for Water in the Colorado River Basin?” By Jennifer Pitt of the Environmental Defense Fund.

John Wesley Powell, the one-armed civil war veteran who first explored the length of the Grand Canyon in 1869, presaged the view quoted above. Powell, an advocate of conservation and land preservation, cautioned the attendees at an irrigation conference in 1883, “Gentlemen, you are piling up a heritage of conflict and litigation over water rights, for there is not sufficient water to supply the land.”

In my opinion Powell was a prophet. He would deny that, stating that he was simply a scientist reacting to scientific observation and data.

Inaccurate data is where we first got into trouble with the Colorado River. The Colorado River Compact of 1922—an agreement among the states and regions touched by the basin’s waters—divided up the river’s flow between an upper basin, a lower basin, and Mexico. The total allotment of the Colorado River Compact was based on the Reclamation Service’s estimated flow of 17.5 million acre feet per year. After six years of negotiation (and some pressure from Congress), resulting, for instance, in California being granted much more water than either Arizona or Nevada, the compact was ratified and all seemed settled. As Marc Reisner reported in Cadillac Desert, “And it did settle things, temporarily at least, except for one small matter: the average annual flow of the Colorado River was nowhere near 17.5 million acre feet.”

After fourteen dry years, the Colorado River is experiencing the worst drought and the lowest flows in twelve centuries. Lake Mead is reaching forty-five percent capacity. Rationing is eminent. For the first time, in 2014, federal authorities are going to reduce the flow from Lake Powell to Lake Mead. According to the New York Times, “A 100-foot drop (in Lake Powell) would shut down generators that supply enough electricity to power 350,000 homes.” A 100-foot drop in Lake Mead will put the surface below Las Vegas’s highest intake tunnel or “straw.”

The American Rivers Organization recently named the Colorado River the most endangered river in America because of mismanagement. Forty million people rely on the Colorado for their livelihoods. Current demands on the Colorado are not sustainable. Conflict among communities and between states—the sort John Wesley Powell augured—is inevitable.

The Colorado is one of the most dammed and diverted rivers on the planet and yet more dams are planned. And according to the Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study (December 2012) there is not enough water in the Colorado River to meet the basin’s current water demands, let alone to support future demand increases from growing populations in an era of climate change. As is, the mighty Colorado is reduced to a trickle by the time it reaches the Gulf of California in Mexico.

There are two encouraging developments on the lower Colorado. Although there is money available to dam and divert an upper section of the Gila River in New Mexico (the Gila joins the Colorado near Yuma, Arizona) studies are showing that watershed restoration, conservation, agricultural conservation and effluvia treatment can realize as much water as a destructive and invasive dam.

And even during the worst of the drought—and possibly because of cooperation that the drought made unavoidable—Francisco Zamora, who works for the Tucson, Arizona-based Sonoran Institute, and colleagues from several other environmental organizations on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, have recently focused their considerable energies on the last one hundred miles of the river. One hundred years ago, wetlands and cottonwood, willow and mesquite forests covered nearly two million acres. It was a bird and birders paradise. Over the last fifty years the river has only occasionally reached the sea. The lower Colorado has been like an animal in a cage slowly strangled by human hands. But every human travesty has its offsetting triumph. The good people working for the delta today have brokered an international deal for the history books that is returning water to the lower stretches of the river. Some communities, named for their proximity to the Colorado such as San Luis Rio Colorado are seeing water for the first time in seventeen years.

Those two powerful examples of conservation and restoration are a beginning—a trickle. Now the drier (and dire) situation on the Colorado River demands a torrent of enlightened management and realistic allocation.

Gregory Zeigler’s environmental thriller, The Straw That Broke is a modern allegory addressing critical water issues in the west.

Team Cli-Fi

Wow! I’ve gone from not knowing what the cli fi genre was five days ago to being a member of Team Cli Fi, thanks to Dan Bloom, the man I call the networking typhoon in a Taiwan cafe. Here’s how this remarkable small world story (thanks to technology) evolved.

Before we even knew that Montana journalist and author, Todd Wilkinson had written such a positive review of “The Straw That Broke” in the Jackson Hole News & Guide (4/16/14) we heard from an expat blogger in Taiwan who is known as the father of a new literary genre called cli fi (climate fiction). He posted Todd’s article and included a statement saying “The Straw That Broke” is a must read in the new cli fi genre. The cli fi meme has been discussed in the NYTs and on NPR referencing works like Kingsolver’s “Flight Behavior” as an example of climate fiction.

Here is the link to the Dan Bloom cli fi post. Check it out.
http://northwardho.blogspot.tw/2013/07/cli-fi-guy.html

Dan is a climate activist with a keen sense of the power of the internet even though he does not own a computer and works out of an internet cafe. Thank you Dan for welcoming “The Straw That Broke” into your newly coined and very important sub-genre of fiction, and for teaching me so much in such a short amount of time.

Real Men Read Fiction

Since reading a few years ago that women consume 85% of all fiction, I have wanted to create an attractive bookmark with the words, “Real Men Read Fiction” and offer it to any male I saw with a novel in hand. Thanks to my friend, James Mathieu, my experience last night was reassuring.

James invited me several months ago to attend his April men’s book club meeting with the “The Straw That Broke” as the selection of the month. I have done many book clubs but this was my first men’s book club. It was an enjoyable and stimulating evening with a dozen very well-read guys. This is what one participant had to say about the evening (and also agreed to post as an Amazon review): “Gregory Zeigler joined our men’s book club in mid-April. I had thoroughly enjoyed “The Straw That Broke” and was pleased to find Zeigler a stimulating and lively presenter as well. Greg elucidated his passion for the Colorado River and his strong belief in the message his environmental thriller/modern allegory is carrying to the reading public in this time of horrible drought and seemingly limitless demands on a severely over-taxed Colorado River Basin.

The discussion ranged from water issues to Straw’s strong characters and powerfully evocative western settings. The book was enjoyed by all. Several members of our group suggested Zeigler get busy on his sequel so we know what happens next to heros Susan Brand and Jake Goddard and the few villains from Straw still at large.

In short, “The Straw That Broke” kept my interest as a page-turner tale of deceit, murder and abduction while giving me much to ponder about the future of water and inevitable conflicts over water in our predictably drier future. I could have used a little less tying up of loose ends after the shattering climax but that is somewhat to be expected with such a complex tale.

I give “The Straw That Broke” five stars and recommend it to women for it’s strong and varied female protagonists and to men (who Zeigler reported statistically read little fiction) because it is a damn good read!”

I couldn’t have written it better myself.

Book Note: If nothing else my recent visit to China brought home how little I knew about this mysterious land. I think it is safe to say that is true of most westerners. Upon return I immediately picked up “Things That Must Not Be Forgotten” by Michael David Kwan. It is an elegant, lovingly rendered memoir of Kwan’s childhood in China during and just after World War II. It’s not fiction, but still I’m learning a lot.

Vietnam (at last)

First, the 31st. That was the day eight courageous and creative fellow cruisers intent on learning and growing joined me for a memoir writing workshop in the Observation Lounge on Deck 11. Our writers ranged from an aspiring children’s author to a retired businessman with an interest in corporate communication (and with a wonderful story to tell about his time in Korea, fifty years ago and while on this cruise). All eagerly shared their stories as we worked our way through my handout entitled, “Zeigler’s Guide to a Successful Memoir.” An hour was way too little time together but I’ve managed to connect on shore and and on board with several of the participants. (My thanks to you all for enriching this experience on the high seas.)

And now, April 1st—my daughter Jamie’s birthday and my first time in Vietnam. The unsettled feeling in my stomach harkening back to the buddies I lost in this neck of the woods forty-five years ago was quickly alleviated by the beauty of the monoliths of Ha Long Bay in Northeastern Vietnam and the warmth of the people. Dimmie and I were strolling on the beach when we were briefly adopted by a group of university students on a field trip. Several of the girls were eager to try out their English and pose for photos with us. One of Dimmie’s new friends took her by the hand and walked a short ways down the beach.  Several of our abiding memories from this trip will be the times we ventured away from the ship’s planned excursions and off the beaten path—and I have no doubt our time with that group of warm and welcoming young adults from Hanoi will be foremost among them.

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Cruising to Shanghai…

…again. This will be our second stop in Shanghai on our Regent Seven Seas Voyager cruise of Asia. On our first visit—although I enjoyed the colorful downtown harbor as viewed from the veranda of the boat—I couldn’t really explore the city thanks to a little case of Mao’s revenge. We just left Seoul, Korea for the second time and enjoyed completely different sites and sights on the second visit so it did not feel redundant at all.  I’m looking forward to the exotic and international city of Shanghai.

I’ve been invited by very talented Cruise Director Ray Solaire (A.K.A. Captain Hook) to offer a writing workshop to fellow guests on the 31st. I’m looking forward to that.

Book note: My friend Tom Jackson recommended the mysteries of Chinese writer, Qui Xiaolong. I read both Don’t Cry. Tai Lake an eco-mystery, and The Mao Case. I enjoyed both and learned a great deal about the mysterious and ancient land called China. I recommend the works of Xiaolong as much for the poetry and philosophy, as for the elements of mystery.