Friday, December 25, 2015

How NPR's April 20, 2013 radio segment led to the rise of cli-fi worldwide

I never planned to be working day and night, 24/7, on the rise of a once-unknown [and seemingly unpronouncable (for *some* people)] genre that I dubbed, in what Motherboard's Brian Merchant characterized once as ''Dan Bloom's semi-goofy coinage'' of  ''cli-fi.''  Here's some background:

That I now find myself spending the last years of my life working to raise the profile of this literary and cinema genre in English-speaking countries, from Australia to America, and from Britain to India, with stops in non-English countries as well, from France to Germany, from Sweden to Taiwan, is not something I ever planned or thought about. [I was prepared for this, but I never saw it coming.]

The cli-fi meme fell into my lap on April 20, 2013. That was the day Angela Evancie's NPR radio segment hit the airwaves nationwide -- and hit the Internet and social media worldwide via the NPR website transcript of the 5-minute segment -- and after that day, the genre caught fire. On its own, by itself, aided by NPR and those who picked up the NPR link and spread it far and wide. For my part, I went right to work 24/7 sending out press releases about the rise of cli fi to editors and reporters at dozens of newspapers in the USA and the UK, where I was able to suggest news stories about the rise of cli-fi for their staff writers to report in the Guardian, the New York Times, the BBC, the Associated Press and Reuters, among dozens of newspapers and magazines, from the Atlantic to The New Republic and Salon and Slate. And they did!

This cli-fi work I am doing now just fell in my lap. Previously, I had used the term in some blog posts about future cli-fi Hollywood movies, in an online advert looking for a producer to make a cli-fi movie about my polar cities concepts, mostly blog posts that nobody read ....but my most visible use of the cli-fi term, was in some press releases for a cli-fi novel that a friend of mine in Tulsa had published in 2012, in press releases and blog posts and tweets where I called his novel, POLAR CITY RED, which I had commissioned from the author, Jim Laughter, "a cli-fi thriller."

That was in  early 2012. His novel was written in 2011, and while it was awaiting the light of day in paperback form, I posted dozens, hundreds, of  Twitter PR tweets for Jim's novel and social media picked up a few my tweets about the term, with the most important pre-NPR tweet coming from Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood's Twitter feed. She retweeted a tweet she found online. The rest is herstory.

Yes, in December 2012, climate scientist blogger Dr Judith Curry did a big blog post on her CLIMATE ETC blog titled, simply, "Cli-Fi."

On her blog, she discussed cli-fi as a rising new genre, listing over 25 novels, including Laughter's POLAR CITY RED, which was the first novel anywhere to actually call itself a cli-fi novel before and during publication. Until Polar City Red was published, no other novel or movie anywhere was ever called cli-fi by its author or publishers or producers.

I was the first PR person to use the cli-fi label for novel in progress [in 2011] that was set to be published [in early 2012.] And I never expected or planned or dreamed of using ''cli-fi'' term after working on the publicity for POLAR CITY RED.

I was surprised as anyone else by NPR's radio segment, since NPR never contacted me about the upcoming freelance assignment it had handed over to freelance radio reporter Angela Evancie. She never contacted me either, although she later told me she had read my blogs online that mentioned the cli-fi term, but felt that my work with Polar City Red's PR was not germane to the radio segment she wanted to do.

Her focus was on Barbara Kingsolver and Nathaniel Rich. Not Jim Laughter.

So on that day in April of  2013 when I saw the NPR link online, I almost fell off my chair. What a complete surprise!

But seeing how NPR had written and broadcast the segment, which was very well done, and seeing how social media was picking up the NPR link, I knew it was time to start focusing on ways of bringing the cli-fi term up to date and in line with literary theory and Hollywood productions. In this way, because of the NPR broadcast, my life changed overnight. I suddenly found myself with a cause, a topic, a meme, to promote. And so I set about promoting it as best I could, without an office, without a secretary or funding or sponsorship. I didn't even own a computer at the time. (I still don't.)

So credit April 20, 2013 and NPR's genre-shaping Cli-Fi segment as starting the current cli-fi meme worldwide. Meme, motif, genre, buzzword, whatever you want to call it, cli-fi is here to stay. And in just 30 months, it has taken the world of letters (and cinema) by storm. Thank NPR for putting cli-fi on the world's agenda. And thank Angela Evancie for starting a fire under it all.

And thank the NPR editors and headline writers for writing a headline that resonated worldwide and is still resonating, even today, as the cli-fi genre continues to grow by leaps and bounds and has found acceptance from Princeton to Harvard, from the New York Times to the BBC. Did my PR contacts worldwide help boost the profile on cli-fi? You betcha! No PR, no cli-fi.

Before the NPR broadcast, cli-fi was an invisible, unknown, unarticulated term. I myself  had no idea it would go where it has gone today. But I am glad, as a PR operative,  to be part of the global community working on this meme and keeping it alive, and hoping it will lead to a powerful communication tool across nations and across the world. I think cli-fi has long life ahead of itself -- at least another 100 years.


So Hot Right Now: Has Climate Change Created A New Literary Genre?

NPR: ''Odds Against Tomorrow is the latest in what seems to be an emerging literary genre. Over the past decade, more and more writers have begun to set their novels and short stories in worlds, not unlike our own, where the Earth's systems are noticeably off-kilter. The genre has come to be called climate fiction — "cli-fi," for short.''


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