Italy: Protest Against Monti Government Is a Failure, Here's the Evidence

Italiano: Sciopero generale contro la manovra ...The way protests looked in Italy at the time of Berlusconi (September 2011) Image via Wikipedia
Everyone expected social tensions to rise in Italy, following  on the austerity measures the Monti government had to adopt to address the catastrophic debt situation.

Yesterday, 9 March, was meant to be a major protest accompanied by a general strike of the "metal-mechanics". The first BIG mass protest since the Italian trade unions had planned on a general strike two months ago. It involved one of the three big unions, CGIL, the leftist union (Italian General Confederation of Labor) plus a smaller union, FIOM, the trade union that recently walked out of the FIAT auto industry contracts offered by CEO Marchionne.

FIOM has always wanted to become the 4th big union in Italy but so far hasn't made it. Now that it's out of FIAT, it finds it has problems financing itself (FIAT has traditionally provided funding to the unions it is involved with). And yesterday, as it turned out, the big leftist party in Italy, the PD (it is in fact supporting the Monti government measures) did not participate. The only politicians who turned up were small fry: Di Pietro, a maverick leading the small, inconsequential IDV party (Italia dei Valori) and Vendola, an ambitious extremist on the Left that most people shun.

FIOM claimed its general strike at FIAT was adhered to by 70% of workers while FIAT itself reported only 5 to 7%. I leave you to imagine who's right.

What about Piazza San Giovanni in Rome, where the major meeting of all the protesters had been organized?

Italian newspapers this morning (as I write this post) show pictures of streams of people filling the streets and walking to Piazza San Giovanni, waving red flags and chanting.

Fine. Streets are narrow, they're filled much more easily than a big open Piazza  like San Giovanni. I was curious because the amount of noise I could hear from my flat sounded subdued. I walked over around 2 pm as the concluding speech was delivered.

Small wonder the noise was contained: very few people had actually turned up.

Here's the photographic evidence - something you will not see in Italian newspapers (they were careful to photograph streets filled with people walking together and agitating red flags). Look at this photograph I took while walking up to San Giovanni:

This is hardly a packed piazza with standing-room-only the way I remembered it when people protested against Berlusconi a couple of years ago. That time I hadn't even been able to cross the avenue and walk up to the Church, it had been a wall of people! And it has nothing to do with the turnout on September 6, 2011 when Berlusconi tried a "manovra finanziaria" to impose austerity measures (see picture at top of post).

Yesterday there was so much space nearer to the podium (right side of pix) and in front of the Church that people walked about and laid on the grass, soaking up the sun:

Feels like a Sunday outing... It was nice and warm, a perfect day for a chat with girl friends:

People certainly had fun preparing for it, some even did a purple octopus  holding onto puppets of politicians (Monti is on the right):

There were the usual t-shirt vendors - this one doesn't seem to have done much business:

And a lone, bearded beggar as people were leaving the piazza (but he seemed by-passed by most people in a hurry to grab lunch - it was already 2:30 pm at that point):

 No doubt this kid had a whale of a good time, beating the drum:

But children were in a minority - so were young people. My impression was that most people there middle-aged or old:

The few young all seemed to belong to extremist groupings, like the No TAV people (those who want to stop the construction of a High Speed train linking Northern Italy directly to France):

There's a pile of garbage dumped in the forefront of this picture, see it? Admittedly, this time the mess was relatively contained (as the noise was) but still...Everytime there's a mass protest organized in Piazza San Giovanni I feel sad.

Very sad.

It seems like such a shame to reduce to shambles with garbage (and worse - there are never enough public toilets) a lovely piazza, surely one of the high points in the city for tourists. Perhaps more importantly, San Giovanni is the Church of the Bishop of Rome, and the Bishop is none other than the Pope - hardly an appropriate place for mass protests (considering a hospital is near-by and the noise can be deafening).

There are many other places in Rome that would be more appropriate (ranging from the Circo Massimo to places outside the Raccordo Annulare, including the one Pope John Paul II used). Yet politicians on the Italian Left have traditionally considered Piazza San Giovanni as theirs to do with what they please...and if the traffic in town grinds to a halt because of a mass protest in San Giovanni, politicians certainly don't care. They've got their "auto blu" (blue official cars) and bodyguards and go anywhere they please. It's us, poor citizens, that have to pay: we get the noise and the dirt; we have to pay the extra police to maintain order and street cleaners to clean up the mess.

That's democracy for you!
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7 Tips to Make Your Free Book Downloads a Marketing Success

Brian Writes a BestsellerImage via Wikipedia
Writers are convinced making their book free for a short while will propel their books to the best seller lists and it's all to the readers' advantage. Free books! Why would writers want to give away their books? To expand their audience...

I just ran such a free promotion (form 7 to 9 March for my new collection of short stories DEATH ON FACEBOOK) and I wanted to share with you what I learned about free promotions so far and how to run them. I used the KDP Select feature that allows you 5 days of free promotion every three months, but I'm certain that what I'm saying here applies to whatever system you use to give-away your books. 

First, as the promotion is on-going, keep an eye on it. Amazon tells you how many free downloads are made by the hour (that's on your "reports" board) and calculates your ranking overall in the free books available in the Kindle Store, and if you've classified your book in a genre, it also gives you the ranking every hour. 

If you've picked a genre where there's little competition, for example "techno thrillers", you can easily shoot up in the top 100 and become a "best seller" overnight. Ok, it doesn't mean much because it's the "paid in Kindle Store" list that really counts, but it certainly is a boost to the ego! My DEATH ON FACEBOOK shot up to  #19 in the literary fiction category. It didn't stay long there, and went back up to 25 or so, but at least I broke into a top 100, even a top 20! And I felt really good: this was the "literary" list which has the reputation of being a tough one to climb (lots of titles in it because, in a sense, unlike a sub-genre, it rakes in a lot of titles). Actually, if you want to hit #1 all you need do is get your book classified in an obscure genre... 

No need to get too excited: that's a fleeting moment of fame if there ever was one! Amazon's computer refreshes the data constantly so it's like riding a toboggan.

Whether DEATH ON FACEBOOK will get anywhere in the "paid" rankings has yet to be seen - first the promotion must end. I'll keep you posted, but here I wanted to explore what makes for a successful promotion.

Let me start by saying that I wasn't sold on the idea of a free promotion. I couldn't see the point. People download free books, yes, but do they read them? There is that terrible equation lurking in the back of my mind: free means without value.

Is making your book free equal to making it worthless?

David Gaughan recently reported on the astonishing success of one of his writer friends with a book that has most certainly a great title: "That Bear Ate My Pants". Several of my writer friends told me of their success, claiming that hundreds of free downloads were followed by a bump in sales the next days. Still dubious?  Here's another remarkable success story reported by Rob Blackwell: How KDP Select Made Me a Best Selling Author.

Okay, so what do all these success stories have in common?

1. A great title - the book cover doesn't matter as much. People have no time to check it out - remember downloading a free product on Internet takes a few seconds, it's done on an impulse. Rob's title was good: A Soul to Steal . I'm not asking you waht you think of mine!

2. An effective pitch line - when promoting your book, you need to catch the readers' attention fast, with four or five words. I played with the words in my book title: "who's dead on Facebook, find out!"That was good and short, easy to use in tweets.

3. Get reviews if you can: this is tough because you're promoting the book precisely because it's new, you haven't had time to gather reviews or "likes" on the Amazon site. I was lucky that my book immediately attracted the attention of two very talented fellow writers, Oscar Sparrow and Emma Calin (whom I've met on Internet), and they immediately posted fantastic reviews that made me blush. But reviews do help, and so do the number of "likes": that's something people see when they download the book.

4. Hard marketing work -  first you ought to plan on it in advance. Get your freebie announced all over the place in appropriate online sites like Pixel of Ink (email form on site), Ereader News Today (use the admin addie on their Contact page), Kindle on the Cheap (email form onsite), WLC's Friday announcement of freebies, Free Kindle Books and Tips or post on the Authors on the Cheap on Facebook on the days it's free. I must confess I did none these except for Pixel of Ink and that didn't work: my giveaway period came and went and they never announced it. My form had been duly compiled in advance but maybe it fell through in the clouds of Internet...

So that's one area where I didn't play my game right. I ended up left with just my own devices: my contact list (which I forgot to use!) and my friends and followers on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Google+. 

So yes, you'll find you are tweeting like mad (scheduling tweets so that they are not bundled together and spam people) and posting everywhere. Your only hope is that your followers and friends will retweet. Use whatever reading club you belong to, whatever social media you've joined! And of course, use your blog to announce the freebie. 

Be prepared for a lot of glitches! So play on many different boards.  I had just joined PINTEREST, a new site that's catching on fast. And small wonder, it's great fun: it's not based on words and messages but on images - as everyone knows, pictures are a favorite on Internet. You get to pin pictures you come across the Internet organize them by boards and share with your friends. If you're intrigued, here are the boards I just started: http://pinterest.com/claudenougat/ . 

I don't know whether it works for a free promotion but it might if you organized a board around it. Take a look at my boards,  you'll see there's one titled "books worth reading". It would be fairly simple to start a board built around a single book title. Haven't had time yet, but I will certainly do so: I can just see a DEATH ON FACEBOOK board filled with  lots of weird, terrifying pictures! And include in there a poster announcing your giveaway (you can do one quickly with felt tipped pens and take a picture of it). Try to make it eye-catching or humourous!

And, by the way, make your promo messages as personal as you can, nobody likes to be spammed!

5. A sufficient time for promotion: 2 days is a minimum, 3 days is better. Five days? I don't know. I've tried 3 days this time and it seems to work - but my blog, where everyone expects me to post twice a week had begun to suffer (today is Friday). So you need to push your free promotion without forgetting your blog!

6. Schedule the promotion away from busy times: Pixel of Ink, warns that on the first of the month there's a glut. Maybe so. In any case, it seems to make sense to offer the book free during the week: just like people reads blogs more during the week than on week-ends, the promotion will reach more people during the week.

7. Remember to promote after the free period is over: this is a point Rob makes in his blog post, and perhaps the best source to consult on how to do this is Jeff Bennington's guide.

So, yes, a free promotion is not exactly a time for the author to sit back and do nothing! Indeed, as reported by J.D.Currie on his blog  - he's one of the many writers who have participated in KDP Select's free promotions - results can vary enormously between authors: some are extatic, others are disgruntled. Who knows why...Currie reports that the positives outweigh the negatives. 

One important difference in results seems to hinge on whether you have more than one book for sale. Best of all if your books are in a series: then giving one away, boosts the others. Makes sense. Obviously, that's exactly what I'm hoping for: if you liked DEATH ON FACEBOOK, you're going to be curious and want to check out FEAR OF THE PAST!
I'm keeping my fingers crossed...

Long-term effects of free promotion? The results aren't in, nobody really knows (or don't want to tell). Logically, free promos provide a bump in sales - whether the bump is transformed in a steady rise is a question of luck. And yes, the quality of the work matters. After all, we are talking about literature, aren't we?

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Somebody's Dead on Facebook, Find Out!

Cover design by Claude Nougat
My new collection of short stories is out: Death on Facebook. Find out who's dead on Facebook! And find out what makes for good story telling in our Digital Age...

I've made it easy for you to check it out: Death on Facebook, Short Stories for the Digital Age will be FREE on Amazon Kindle from 7 to 9 March, starting Pacific Time (so keep that in mind if you live in Europe!).

Click the link to download the book: Death on Facebook, Short Stories for the Digital Age

TODAY, March 8, is Women's Day: 2 more days left for free downloads - till  9 MARCH! And the first story in the collection, "Death on Facebook", is dedicated to all the women around the world who face culture clashes (in this story, she is from India). Just got some fantastic reviews: "a classic short story writer"..."If Kindle can re-kindle and heat the fire of the short story, then this is the collection that may do it"..."In this wonderful collection, the reader is dropped into the action across cultures, generations..." If you like it, please remember to click the "like" button and spread the word, share the love. I am so grateful to you, my readers!

This short story collection is my writer's MANIFESTO!

Or put another way: my stories follow specific rules that I believe make for a good short story adapted to our digital age.

A manifesto? I know that's a big word, but it expresses what (in my view) short stories should do for you, the reader, in our day and age. More on that in the page I've just dedicated to Death on Facebook under the Blog's title, look it up or click here if you're interested.

Here I'd like to tell you about the quandary a writer is in whenever s/he tries to sell short stories. We're told there's no market for them. You can go to the magazines, but half of them are shutting down and most don't pay or pay abysmally (like $10!). Publishers won't touch short stories with a ten foot pole unless you're already a New York Times best-selling author and/or you've been published by the New Yorker...

What to do?

Fortunately e-readers, and especially Amazon with its Kindle Single program, have changed that. You don't need a 500 page novel to get published and reach out to your readers. A short story collection, too small to make a printed book can be sold digitally (mine is some 22,000 words - about 45 printed pages).

Moreover I'm convinced there's a place for short stories in everyone's lives, especially in our globalized, digital world. We multi-task like mad and often don't have time for a long, relaxed read. We're waiting at the doctor's or bored commuting on our daily train and a short story, read in ten minutes, can be a welcome relief from the tediousness of the moment. Flip open your Kindle and relax. A short story has the power to take your mind off, make you dream, make you smile...

If that's the case and I'm right about when one tends to read a short story, then certain rules should be observed to ensure the reader has a good experience:
1. A fast, snappy opening, a maximum of ten words to grab your reader's attention.
2. A well-paced plot and no back story - or a bare minimum, enough so that the reader has a clear image of who the protagonists are and what they're doing. The suspense has to be maintained at a high level.
3. A surprise ending, good and short, no elaboration. It has to leave you, the reader, thinking about the story (and of course, wanting to read more).

That's why I've sub-titled my book "short stories for the Digital Age". They're not unfocused, atmospheric pieces like poems. Some short stories are like that, mine are not. And that's deliberate: I wanted to write them following the above-mentioned rules. Don't misunderstand me, I love atmospheric short stories but the moments to enjoy that kind of literature are getting fewer and fewer in our frenzied lives. When you stand in line at the post office, you're not in the mood for poetry...

So the way to go is short and punchy. These are hard rules to live up to. If you're a writer, you might want to check and see if I've done them justice.

If you're a reader, forget the rules and read the stories and let me know if you enjoyed them! I don't ask for reviews (I'd love them of course!) but I know your time is limited: if you can, just click the "like" and "tags" buttons on the Amazon site, I'll know that I've met your expectations. Nothing would make me happier. Or drop me a line. I'd love to connect with you!

Free from Wednesday 7 March to Friday 9 March included.

For more information about the author, visit Claude Nougat's Author Pages on:

For more information about Death on Facebook, click here.
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Writers' Chat with Magda Olchawska on Filmmaking and Writing

Differences, Similarities and Where Filmmaking is Headed

Literature has been radically changed by filmmaking.  Before the advent of films, novels were full of detailed descriptions and back stories. The great writers of the 19th century, from Dickens to Tolstoy are prime examples of this. No more. Successful novels nowadays are all based on the "show, don't tell" rule that implies a minimum of description and a maximum of dialogue and action. 

Today, I'm having an unusual writers' chat about filmmaking with Magda Olchawska who's that rare bird: both a writer and a filmmaker.  Here she is, smiling in her garden:

Magda has directed The Man with the Spying Glass and 9mm, both award-winning short films and some of her film work can be viewed on her website:  www.magdaolchawska.com. Plus she is the author of Mikolay & Julia Adventures series for children, available on Amazon  with more books scheduled to come out in March. Magda's next film is about human trafficking and how this illegal “business” profits not only criminals but also people in the public eye (this is a work of fiction: there are no similarities to any real life characters). The film will commence shooting in May 2012 and will be available at the beginning of 2013.

So here’s our chat, published simultaneously on our respective blogs:

Claude: To write a novel takes very little investment beyond buying a computer and linking up on Internet. My biggest effort so far has been to set up a blog, trying to write two posts per week - a daunting challenge as it takes time away from creative writing. Though blogging is arguably a good exercise for a writer, keeping her nimble with the writing pen. As a film maker, life is different. You are immediately confronted with the challenge of raising the necessary funds before you can even think about starting to shoot the first scene. What has been your experience in this regard?

Magda: You are absolutely right. Filmmaking is a very expensive, time consuming and energy consuming activity. Pretty often filmmakers don’t see their finished film for two years, if not more. It’s a long process to ready a script, then shoot it and edit the whole thing. As a writer you are pretty much on your own. When you are making a movie, you have to deal with a bunch of different people. Harrowing work but the thrill of seeing your movie up on a big screen is indescribable.

Claude: How do you get the funding you need?

Magda: At the moment there are  two ways of getting funding for a movie. Investment (popular in US) or some sort of Film Institute funded production (popular in Europe). Many established filmmakers have access to either investors or money from several film institutes across Europe.

Claude: But what about young film makers starting out like you?

Magda: Oh, most of us spend our own money! Or we have to run campaigns on crowds funding websites such as Indie GoGo or Kickstarter. A lot of fantastic movies have been made through crowdfunding. Movies that otherwise wouldn’t have a slightest chance of being produced neither in Europe or US.
I’m going to run a campaign for my new movie on Indie GoGo as well.

Claude: Why Indie GoGo rather than Kickstarter? Why not both?

Magda: It’s simple as a European I can’t run a campaign on Kickstarter. Kickstarter is only for US citizens. Indie Go Go is more flexible.

Claude: What other advice do you have for young filmmakers?

Magda: At the moment, in my opinion, with such an easy access to any kind of equipment, if someone wants to be a filmmaker they should just make movies and practice.

Claude: Maybe work for an established film director? How do you feel about that? Have you ever worked for someone like that – someone important in the filmmaking industry?

Magda: I never worked for anyone important in the industry. If you get the opportunity to do it you should. However I wouldn’t  waist time chasing those opportunities.

Claude: Don’t you have to build up contacts in the industry – go to film festivals? I know that as writers we all try – within the limits of our budgets – to attend writers’ conferences …

Magda: Yes, I go to a lot of film festivals. I do enjoy film festivals ‘cos they’re real celebrations of film and filmmakers, especially festivals in USA. I think European festivals could learn a thing or two from their friends across the pond.

Claude: Like what? What is it that Europeans could do better at their film festivals?

Magda: Make a “big fuss” about filmmakers attending the festival (please do appreciate us and our films: without our hard work you wouldn’t have a festival) , treat us better and don’t ask us to pay for festival passes. The most filmmakers friendly festival I’ve been to is the Newport Beach Film Festival. It also would be nice if European festivals concentrated a bit more on European films and not limit themselves to those made by established filmmakers.

Claude: Wow, life for a young filmmaker sounds harder than for an aspiring writer! What about inviting writers to film festivals and maybe film makers to writers’ conferences? Do you think that would work? Would it provide some needed cross fertilization between the two industries?

Magda: This is a brilliant idea. I think it could make writers & filmmakers life much easier.

Claude: Yes, I’ve always felt bridges should be built between literature and filmmaking – institutional bridges that would help draw attention to new books that are highly “filmable” and that would give those writers with the necessary visual imagination a chance to work on film scripts. But tell me, Magda, I’m curious: since you're both a writer and a filmmaker, how does your writing impact your film making? I know that when I write, I literally "see" the story unfold in front of my mind's eye and try to write - at least the first draft - as fast as I can to keep up with the action. Do you feel the same way about writing or do you view it is a totally different activity from film making? Do you write you own scripts or do you use others and get a team together to write the film? In your experience, what works best?

Magda: I write my own scripts. I have to say that writing has chosen me. While writing, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a story, a book or a script, I see everything in my mind. Just like you do. However when it comes to filmmaking seeing and writing and executing afterwards on the set is a totally different story. Each scene is going to be shown from various angles and you don’t write this in a script. But I have to think about this before I make a movie. Movies are made by  large teams of people and each person brings something different to the whole experience.

Claude: So what is your job as a film director?

Magda: My job is to give everyone instruction and tell them, which way we are all going so we take the written words and turn them into a picture. When I’m on a set I’m a 100 % filmmaker but off the set I’m more of a writer than a filmmaker.

Claude: Film making involves a lot of people beyond the script writers. That's very different from a writer's life. For us writers, life is lived largely in isolation, in our ivory towers dreaming up novels. I know because that's what I do and that's what I like best about writing: the time I have alone in front of my computer, time to let my imagination go. That of course doesn't make it any easier for me to change gears and start promoting my books: a writer is uniquely unprepared to do marketing. But a film maker like you, Magda, has to interact with all sorts of people on a daily basis or the film doesn't get done and doesn't get distributed! Does this constant interaction with people help you bring your film to a happy conclusion or is it a cause of delays? How do you survive the film maker's life as a writer?

Magda: I do spend a lot of time in isolation, just writing and coming up with the stories. However once the pre-production period begins (this is the time when all the important stuff is being done such as getting actors and crew and secure all the equipment so we can go into the production) I have no time for writing and spend most of my time on the phone or sorting out stuff I didn’t think of while I was writing.

Claude: With the digital revolution, the writer’s life has been radically changed. All of us, indie writers but traditionally published writers too, are pushed into the driver’s seat when it comes to marketing. Willy-nilly, book promotion eats up our writing time.  Any similar change in filmmaking?

Magda: The times have changed for indie filmmakers as well and just like writers we need to promote and distribute our own movies.  The promotion of a movie begins when the pre-production begins. The big studios start promoting some of their movies way before they even know who is going to make it or star in it. Just to make the general public aware of the upcoming movie.

Claude: That’s amazing, that means starting the promotion at least two years ahead! As a writer you start promoting only once the book is published…But do indie filmmakers like you do the same?

Magda: We do. With my last short film I spent a year promoting and screening it at various film festivals. With feature films filmmakers often spend 2-3 years promoting the movie. You spend a year making the movie, then another two years promoting it. To have any kind of balance and sanity (three or more years on a project can drive anyone insane) filmmakers do other stuff too. I started writing.

Claude: Magda, I'd like to explore with you for a moment the content of films. Movies are often based on best-selling novels - for example, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, a film that was made several decades after the novel had come out and become a cult book or Stieg Larsson's immensely successful Millenium trilogy. The latter inspired film makers twice: in Sweden an early version was made, followed now by a big Hollywood remake. Indeed, remakes abound in movie-making. Yet, at the same time, movies can be very innovative and sometimes make you feel they are ahead of literature. For example, there have been of late a series of films featuring older people, retirees that face challenges in their second life - a subject often played out in a humorous way. Films featuring old actors are making it to top rankings in the box office: for example, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith (both 76), Helen Mirren (65), Meryl Streep (62) Sylvester Stallone (64), Liam Neeson (58) and I'm sure you can think of many others. Plots are focused on the mature (for example the current hugely successful Margaret Thatcher's biopic) or the retired and aging, like the 2010 hit "RED" which stands for "retired and extremely dangerous". That's something new, an area so far largely unexplored by novelists. We have a huge wave of Young Adult Literature, we are still waiting for a Baby Boomer Literature! Actually that’s what my next novel, A Hook in the Sky, is going to be: a BB novel!

Magda: A BB novel? Never heard of that!

Claude:  Yes, a Baby Boomer novel! My protagonist is just retired and looking for what to do with his second life while his marriage collapses. I think a lot can happen in the last stage of life – which lasts now longer than ever before and with more people than ever entering that stage. It could be the next wave in novel writing! What in your view, Magda, is the next big wave of movies? Where is the next big audience likely to come from? I'm thinking of how Hollywood is trying to get baby boomers back in the movie theatre, producing films to their taste. "True Grit", the "King's Speech", "The Fighter", "Black Swan", "The Social Network" have all been surprise hits at the box office and reaped Oscars. As the New York Times put it (see article in NYT, Feb 25, 2011), they've become hits "based on wit and storytelling, not special effects". So much for 3D! What is certain however is that pointless gore and violence and wild, unrealistic flings of fancy are gone. What is your opinion, Magda, where is film-making headed? What sort of film would you like to make, assuming you had endless pots of money at your disposal?

Magda: In my opinion there is room and audience for both “True Grit”, which I loved and also “Fast & Furious”, which I didn’t see. "The King's Speech", "The Fighter", "Black Swan" are considered independent movies because they weren’t made by any of the big studios. The big studios still think that the cinema audience is 16-25 years old. So I expect many more indie movies on bigger budget than a shoe string are going to be made.

Claude: But what about you? What kind of movie do you want to make and why?

Magda: I want to make challenging movies that will make a difference in human life. Adapting a well-known novel is an easy option for Hollywood as they already have an audience for certain films such as “The Hunger Games” or “Harry Potter”. Hollywood is more than certain to see the books’ fans in the theaters, eager to spend their money on tickets and popcorn. Even if it is just to confront their expectations. But in general a film is art as much as a book is.

Claude: Sure, movies are the 7th Art. But how do you decide what is art?

Magda: Depends on tastes of course. Some people prefer “Twilight” and others choose  Dostoyevsky.

As an audience member I do hope to see more challenging movies with actors not only in their teens but also mature actors, especially women. For I reckon this is another problem Hollywood doesn’t know how to deal with. Europe is a bit better when it comes to ageing actresses and writing scripts for them. But still it’s far from I would expect.

Claude: Let me move to another question. There's a movement in Poland as well as in many countries in the East European region, to explore the recent past and try to come to terms with the Communist inheritance, essentially to learn how to avoid making the same mistakes and falling back into non-democratic authoritarian system. Books and films are beginning to come out about this. What is your take on this? Would you consider exploring this theme either as a writer or as a film maker or both?

Magda: Well, more as a writer than a filmmaker. I was born in 1979, I was a kid but I still vividly remember the tanks on the streets and constant shortage of food. Yes, it’s true that a lot has been said, written and turned into a movie. I don’t think we should ever forget this part of our dark history.  However, I think that a lot of people my age have different worries and I’m not trying to be disrespectful to anyone and to the victims of the communism in any country.

Claude: Successful films have been made mostly in Germany so far (about the East German experience) but also in Poland. According to an article I read in the New York Times, there’s an on-going revival of interest in the past under the impulse of the newly established Institute of National Remembrance. They have a pretty big budget – some $65 million says the NYT – and the Institute has recently financed a “remembrance” film.

Magda: Yes, I hear what you’re saying. But the Institute of National Remembrance, which in Poland has been and still is used as a political tool, isn’t very much respected, at least not in the part of Poland I was born and brought up. I was born in Wroclaw. This part of Europe was German for 500 years and Wroclaw was one of the very last cities defended furiously during the World War II by the Germans. The city was destroyed by both the Germans and the Soviets who were planning to flatten the whole city but eventually “only” did 70% in. During communism, Wroclaw citizens were often severely punished for having been “German” in the past, as if it were their fault.  People in Wroclaw are a mixture of German, Polish, Chech and also Ukrainian culture. They are very independent in their thinking. When I hear the Institute is spending $65 million,  I get seriously pissed off  because Poland can’t afford that at the moment.

Claude: It’s a lot of money for cultural activities that could be better defined…

Magda:  I would rather see the money going towards educating young people, running proper cultural centers and keeping the children hospitals open, not closing them down. It is pretty difficult to get to the hospital if you don’t know the right people. The average salary in Poland is 800 EURO (this are just statistics, if people have 400 EURO it’s considered a lot) and everything in Poland is about three times as expensive as in Germany or the UK. My mom, after 30 years of work, is entitled to a 100 EURO pension! So the country called Poland in the middle of Europe isn’t as wonderful as our politicians would like Europe or the USA to believe.

Claude: This is terrible!

Magda: Young, educated people are still leaving the country for they don’t see a bright future for themselves or their children.

Claude: Same dreadful situation in Greece: the young are leaving to seek out jobs abroad…

Magda: So to answer your question. Communism was horrible and it destroyed people and the country as a whole. I guess Poland will have to struggle with the communist inheritance for generations. But instead of talking about the past over and over again I would rather talk about the future and think how we can make Poland and Europe a better place. We can’t be constantly defined by our past.

Claude: I agree, let’s think about the future. Let’s make Europe a better place for everyone, Poland included. And Greece included too. Instead of remembering the past, let’s remember the future…Yes, I know, I see the look in your eyes: that’s the title of Part 3 of my novel Fear of the Past. Indeed, that’s what I intended it to mean: whatever we do today determines the kind of future we’ll get. By the way, I’m curious, what is the title of your next film? Dealing as it does with human trafficking, how will you express that in the title?

Magda: The title of my film is “Anna and Modern Day Slavery”

Claude: Thanks for the chat, Magda, it’s been an eye-opener for me. Pity this is only a virtual chat and that you’re in Wroclaw and I’m in Rome or we’d go out and have a pasta and a bottle of wine and drink to the future of Europe!

Magda: I’m with you on that. Let’s move on and build a better future for a strong united Europe. We shouldn’t think about our differences but what unites us. United we are strong! And I’d also like to thank you so much Claude for this lovely chat. I’ve learnt a lot and you always keep me informed with the current affairs. I would love pasta and a bottle of good wine or maybe lovely coffee somewhere in wonderful Vienna!

Claude: Vienna? Why not, great! That’s the beauty of Europe, isn’t it, all that good food and cheer!

My thanks go to Magda for participating in this chat and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did! By now, I'm sure you're curious to see her film work. 

Here's a link to one of her short films, the one called "9 mm": click here

There's a trailer but to see the film, you have to sign up for her newsletter (the film is very short: about 8 minutes). Do it and don't worry, she won't spam you with her newsletter, because it's really worth seeing the film as a whole. Very atmospheric, a beautiful love story (in Polish with sub-titles) not to be missed!

Below, a picture of Magda at the beach (looks cold!): once you've seen her film, you'll understand why she likes this kind of landscape...

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Self-Publishing in the Digital Age: How the Wrong Marketing can Kill Your Book

English: From the public domain book, "Th...Dickens: the Myth. He achieved Eternal Fame with his Pickwick Papers published one chapter at a time in a monthly magazine (Image via Wikipedia) Don't we all wish we could duplicate that!

Newbies beware!  The wrong marketing strategy can kill your book. Self-publishing is not all roses and the learning curve is very, very steep.  We've all heard that the DIY road to publishing is just a matter of hard work: write a great book, produce it professionally and sell it like a marketing guru! Then run laughing to the bank and watch your account swell and swell, right? All you need to be is a Digital Age Dickens!

Wrong! It's not that easy. Of course not all of us are Dickens. But just look at a situation where in principle you, the author, have everything under control:
1. You've written a great book. It's in top shape, editing-wise and content-wise, real bestseller stuff: check. 
2. You've converted the files to digital professionally and got a great book cover (you've heard that's important even in the digital world): check.
3. You've got a blog going and a reasonable presence on Internet, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and even in reading communities like Goodreads: check.
4. Publish, market and win fame!

Not so fast. Consider my experience.  I think (but perhaps I delude myself) that I'm an entrepreneurial, risk-taking individual. So after a couple of years of queries leading me nowhere - querying is hell and it sure looks like a lottery! You get a distinct impression that agents don't go past the first five words - I decided to take the big jump into digital self-publishing. I went to BookBaby for file conversion and putting the titles on my book (just the title because I'm a painter and did the illustration), figuring they were the professionals and I wasn't. That was my first mistake. It meant I put someone between me and Amazon (to the extent that I can't get my sales number directly!) so I lost right there a big piece of control.

More traps opened up under my feet as I tried to market my book. I figured I should (1) write a trilogy because that's what was selling (vide Amanda Hocking's Trylle Trilogy) and (2) classify my book in a "hot" genre, and of course like everyone and his uncle I picked YA. 

Nine months later (meaning now) I realized the mistakes I'd made. My book, sure, is a coming of age story but it doesn't fit the YA audience strictly defined (meaning 14-18 years old). People likely to enjoy my book are adults, mature types, not young adults unless you define them as being between the age of 18 and 25. Then I compounded the mistakes by coming out with the three books at three months' intervals! I should have waited to finish all three and then uploaded them on that virtual shelf within maximum a month's time between each - just like Dickens came out with his Pickwick Papers a chapter at a time, yes, but on a monthly basis (since he published them in a monthly magazine).

So now I have to take big decisions: should my book Fear of the Past be considered a trilogy or a novel? Is it YA or literary? 

OK, after a lot of anxious self-searching and questioning, here's the verdict: it's a novel and not a trilogy. Because if you stop at the first book you only get one third of the story arc: the protagonist comes of age only in the third book. Ergo, call Fear of the Past a novel. That to me was a compelling reason to retitle the book and adjust the cover accordingly:

And yes, it's more literary than YA...I'm humbled by this because classifying my own work as literary sounds like I'm immodestly shooting for the stars. But believe me, I don't delude myself into thinking I'm another Dickens. Of course, I'm not. But the book doesn't fit any genre (it's historical, paranormal, romance, techno-thriller, coming-of-age...). Not only that, but it is experimental in at least two ways: in part 1 (or book 1) Forget the Past, it includes playwriting techniques along with standard novel writing (playlets are inserted right in the text); in part 2 (or book 2) Reclaim the Present, it moves between two points of views both written in the first person because when the protagonist is trapped in the mind of his great-great-grandfather, the world around them is seen from two different first person points of views, quite a feat to pull off without confusing the reader!  

Lesson in all this? The learning curve is so steep that one can make very serious book packaging/marketing mistakes and that's where the experience of a good agent could be really helpful...I know that I now regret I never had the ear of a friendly, experienced agent. She could have helped me and prevented me from mis-marketing my book and wasting time. Because even those who dare to self-publish need advice!

Alan Rinzler in his excellent blog, the Book Deal, recently investigated the question with 4 major literary agents: Candice Fuhrman, Andrea Brown, Andrea Hurst and Bonnie Solow. This is a post you want to read. It gives the point of view of agents on the question and the conclusion is inescapable: literary agents still act as "gatekeepers" for authors seeking traditional deals. They have a role as long as publishers are paying advances and publishing books, but also - and this is the novelty - as advisers to self-published authors: they can help with the editing and even the publishing process. This latter activity has raised some eyebrows: many have argued that was going against their basic agent role as go-between the author and publisher. 

But who ever said that a literary agent had to be just a go-between? I believe agents in this new digital age would have a very real role as publishing consultant/adviser. What is your take on this? I'd love to hear your views and if you've made marketing mistakes like I have, please share and let us know what you've learned!

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When Malware Hits Your Blog, Don't Panic! This is What You Can Do

When malware hits your blog, a nasty warning sign appears telling your readers to stay away from your site. It just happened to me and I confess I panicked!

Here's the warning:

Frightening, isn't it?

The warning is still appearing today (February 21) for those of you who use Google Chrome as a browser - on other browsers (like Firefox) it doesn't appear.

I immediately checked what could be done, followed Google's directions and they verified that there was no longer any malware present on my site.


I thought I'd share my experience with you so that the same thing doesn't happen to you.

First, as mentioned in the warning, you want to stay away from the incriminated site: www.idealog.com.

Second, don't panic and follow Google's directions to diagnose the problem and remove the malware. Click into the warning sign and indicate you are the owner of the site. That will direct you to a webmaster page where you'll be asked by Google to prove that you are indeed the owner. That can be a little tricky, there are several ways to do this and I had to try each one out until I found the one that worked for me (it involved pasting a metatag provided by Google into my site's HTLM). Sounds complicated but it really isn't.

The diagnostic was then run on my site and it was determined that no malware was present on it. So I didn't need to proceed with the steps to remove it but should you need to do it, even that is easy to do following their very clear directions. I also did a quick check to find what other sites might be helpful in case of malware, and this is one that looks very informative: securelist.com

But for me, the damage was done...In one day I lost about half my regular traffic! Of course, readers run away, rightly scared, and I can understand that.

Yet, recently my traffic had really shot up and I was so pleased... I had been nominated as a candidate for the Kreativ Blogger Award by author Emma Calin whose witty blog is really worth following. And then I was nominated to the Versatile Blogger Award by Kelley on her attractive Call Me Bookish blog. Kelley is very active: she reviews books, writes for fun and produces educational app content for @BallpointNews... All my heartfelt thanks go to my wonderful blogger friends who nominated me!

By the rules governing the Awards, I was supposed to respond by revealing secrets about myself, things that no one on Internet knew about me...7 secrets for each award, 14 in total (or perhaps more, I lost count)! Honestly, now that I've been hit by this cyber attack I feel like the proverbial turtle, pulling my head and arms in my shell... But now, you know something about me that you probably never suspected: that I really hurt when something like this happens! That's because I am very attached to you my readers...

How long will it take my blog to recover? I don't know, but I count on you all to come back and do tell me that you like me, even if I don't reveal dozens of secrets about myself!

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The Americans Have a Tea Party, the Europeans a Beer Party: Angela Merkel's!

A peculiarity of our times: extremist political ideologies. They used to rise mostly on the left (Hitler and Mussolini were both socialists). Now they emerge on the right. The Americans have a Tea Party, the Europeans have a Beer Party, with Angela Merkel calling the shots.

Both parties are totally convinced they're right and everybody else is wrong. Both have one goal in mind: curb the role of government.

Who's behind the European Beer Party? Angela Merkel, of course. The European press is full of her - even staid financial newspapers like the Italian Sole 24 Ore. Here's their cover picture of their week-end magazine IL (it came out last Saturday):

Note the subtitle: MUTTER MUTLOS: "Mother Without Courage". For some Germans, she's too soft on fellow Europeans - the reason why she's taken on the battle against bailing out the Euro: she has no intentions of losing her political majority. Indeed, a majority of Germans (some 60%) see no reason why they should bailout Greece or anybody for that matter - forgetting that all these Southern Europeans they despise are major markets (correction here: some German insustrialists do know this and are not all that happy with Merkel). Consider the spread of Germany over Europe. Ten million Germans go to Spain every year for their vacation. German Deutsche Telekom controls the Greek telephone company and German Fraport has acquired 55% of Athens airport.Over 1,400 German enterprises are present on the Italian market, selling for a total €73 billion. Germany holds €123,5 billion of the French public debt.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea: European economies are deeply interlinked. The Euro is just a reflection of that inter-linkage - no, not a reflection, it's more than that. It makes exchange and trade easier, faster and less costly. Just like the American dollar links big, rich states like Texas or California with small, poor states like West Virginia or Mississippi. Which is why the German idea that the Euro was a non starter because it linked countries as diverse as Germany and Greece is plain wrong. Yet some important German intellectuals like the writer and poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger hold just that view! How can they?

It is astonishing how ignorant people are when it comes to economics. And that ignorance is reflected in the politicians they elect. Look more closely at Merkel, here's another amazing photo (still from IL Magazine):

She looks so young, doesn't she? She looks just like an East German University student! But she was actually much older on that picture, already 38. It was taken in May 1992, some 20 years ago, when she had just been appointed by Helmut Kohl as his Minister for Women and Youth. Note the somber, serious look:  there's the shadow of the Soviet Empire on that face - East German bureaucratic Kultur. There's also a hint of Lutheran austerity. Her father was a Lutheran minister, and no doubt her mother who taught Latin was a very serious person too.

But look closely at her eyes:

Do you see any light in them? Nothing? Grim determination, yes. Imagination? Mmmm, no comment. It should come as no surprise that she studied (and majored) in physical chemistry...numbers, formulas, no knowledge of human nature or history. Not exactly the best preparation to understand economics...

Have Angela Merkel's eyes improved with time? Let's take a look at them up close (still using the IL Magazine cover image):

Bright blue! Her eyes look more vivacious, don't they? But look again: this photo was very carefully taken, with two lights on the left and right of her face, to give it balance. The lights reflect in the eyes - two bright spots on the right and left of the pupil - thus ensuring that special brilliance. But if you move down to the mouth, you see she's not smiling:

There's a grim set to her lips and small wonder. Even her best friends misbehave, like the President of Germany, Christian Wulff, engulfed in a corruption scandal. No, the message is clear. Toe the line, kiddies, behave! Your government budget is like your household budget: it has to balance out, for the individual: every month, for the government: every year!

I've written elsewhere that the two kinds of budget are not identical, far from it. The public budget belongs to a community not a single individual family and it has to be balanced over time, not every year. When I say "over time", I mean the medium to long term, at least 10 years. Anything else makes no sense at all.

Not so for the European Beer Party. It has embraced the German ideology of balanced budgets and taken Greece as an emblematic example of immoral profligacy and corrupt government practices based on clientelism and privilege. Austerity is not just the Beer Party's key slogan. It is a comprehensive set of measures to balance budgets and use as a bludgeon to whip not only Greece but all wayward Euro-zone members and force them to toe the line of fiscal discipline.

The most recent and biggest Beer Party victory came when 24 EU members at the last Euro Summit agreed to write the principle of balanced budgets into their constitution (the UK is famously among those who have opted out).

The Beer Party is playing a tough game: last Sunday (February 12), while the street was up in arms, the Greek Parliament voted austerity measures at the behest of the European Union, IMF and European Central Bank. The Greeks were told that if they didn't vote, they wouldn't get their €130billion bailout in time to avoid default and that the European Finance Ministers would hold a meeting Wednesday (February 15) to decide on it.

Wednesday came and went and no decisions. Now the Greeks are told that a decision would come at the next Eurogroup meeting on Monday February 20... Maybe so, maybe not. This is disgusting brinkmanship at the expense of Greece whose economy has shrunk since the crisis started by some 15% and whose unemployment rate has shot up steadily, now hovering around 20% and twice that level for the young. Indeed, young Greeks are trying to flee Greece and find jobs abroad if they can...

In times of recession and economic contraction, austerity is a recipe for disaster. In Greece's case, the numbers are now in to prove it: as the economy contracts, tax revenues are down and the deficit grows bigger. At this rate, the debt problem will never be solved. Incidentally, things aren't going much better for Ireland or Portugal...

What's needed is economic growth: without measures to restore growth, the spiral can only accelerate down. Fortunately there's one politician in Europe who keeps saying that, and it's Italy's Prime Minister Monti. He's the only one who makes sense against Merkel's austerity obsession - but then he's not a politician, he's an economist and a technocrat...

This said, there's little doubt that Southern Europe is paying the price of wanting to have its cake and eat it too. Tax evasion and the "submerged economy" are so large that there's not a chance to ever balance the budget without cutting into the practices of bloating the bureaucracy to satisfy nepotism, of padding public pension funds, multiplying fake invalidity payments, handing out free medecines that are then traded for a profit etc etc Personally, I would give priority to fighting tax evasion and forcing businessmen out of the submerged economy rather than slap on higher indirect taxes on everybody (which give additional incentives to take refuge in the submerged economy). And I would give priority to reforming the bureaucratic apparatus and welfare system, to weed out the more obvious cases of systematic corruption and theft.

So Merkel is not totally wrong. And her insistence on austerity might really help put the European House in order. Let's just hope that she'll relent and allow for Euro-salvaging measures like quantitative easing before the European House collapses...Also because if Europe collapses, there's a real danger of contagion, and America could plunge back into recession.

Hey, we're all in this together!
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