Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Robert J. Sawyer Shows Not Tells At Surrey International Writers Conference

In a room packed with rapt would-be, beginning and established writers, Robert J. Sawyer (“the dean of Canadian science fiction”—Ottawa Citizen) gave a great last workshop at the SIWC: “Show and Tell” (okay, that was telling, wasn’t it, Rob?). Every creative writing teacher (and Chapter T of The Fiction Writer by Pixl Press) will tell you that “showing is a lot more effective than telling”. But do they SHOW it? LOL! Rob did, with panache and humor.

The SIWC, held in Surrey, British Columbia, is an impressive writers conference, this year hosting over fifty authors, agents, editors, publishers and film makers from New York and beyond (yes, there is a beyond): the likes of Sarah Lovett, Diana Gabaldon, Bob Mayer, Mary Jo Putney, Jack Whyte, Meg Tilly, Deborah Ellis, Robert J. Sawyer and so many more congenially talked craft with students of writing, as they wandered the halls looking for their venue or ducked outside for a smoke. Writers who are serious about their craft can sign up for master classes. They can show their work to professional writers for advice. They can pitch their stories to editors and agents during scheduled times or, if they’re a little more adventurous (like me) they can do two things at the same time: have a drink and give a pitch to an agent at the bar. Much more efficient. And enjoyable (mischievous satisfied grin).

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Nina Goes to the Library & Reads a Book

I traveled a lot this past weekend, both literally and metaphorically. Between two gigs (e.g., the Surrey International Writers Conference and the Ladner Writers Festival) I must have driven 200 km and drank twenty liters of coffee. I’ll reserve the Surrey International Writing Conference for my next post and focus here on the Ladner Writers Festival.

Held at the Ladner Pioneer Library, the festival hosted six local writers, including Gordon Fairclough, Nina Munteanu, Marie Warder, Gwen Szychter, Cynthia Sully, and Louise Latremouille. The event was a “meet and greet” and included readings by some of us. We were a mixed bag, representing non-fiction works on regional history and how to run a PC, to memoirs and fiction stories of overseas life … and finally … you guessed it … science fiction thrillers.

I had a great time, I met some wonderful people, I learned a little about local history and I ate some incredible food (mugs a huge grin with watercress stuck between her teeth…). Well, writers will do just about anything when great food and tolerable coffee is offered.

p.s. Oh, by the way, how do you like my “new” look? “Does she or doesn’t she (photoshop)?” LOL! Should I or shouldn’t I? Please comment before next week when I go to the World Fantasy Convention and I shall be oh so grateful!

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

We, Robot--Part 2: Artificial Intelligence Today

Artificial Intelligence: the ability of computers to perform functions that normally require human intelligenceEncarta World English Dictionary, 1999.

Dr. Mark Humphrys of Dublin City University defines artificial intelligence as "engineering inspired by biology.” Today's robots and AI systems are no smarter than insects. Despite this current limitation, there are many reasons to sit back and enjoy the myriad of services technology has created for humanity through AI systems. AIs now play chess, checkers, bridge, and backgammon at world-class levels (e.g., IBM's chess computer, Deep Blue, beat Garry Kasparov, the world champion, in 1997). They compose music, prove mathematical theorems, synthesize stock option and derivative prices on Wall Street, make decisions about credit applications, diagnose motor pumps, and act as remedial reading tutors for elementary school children. Robots mow your lawn; conduct complex scientific research, surveillance and planetary exploration; track people; play table soccer; and act as pets. But they can't "think" like you and me. And they don't possess common sense . . . yet.

Friday, October 17, 2008

We, Robot—Part 1: Our Past, Our Present, Our Future

Mechanical “beings” have been with us since ancient times. The myths of Greece, China, the Middle East and Norse mythology have all explored the use of machines—robots—that could lessen our work. In ancient literature, the Greek god Hephaestus created mechanical servants; Jewish legend described clay golems and Norse mythology described clay giants. There was also Galatea, the mythical statue of Pygmalion that came to life. In 1495, Leonardo da Vinci sketched plans for a humanoid robot that could sit up, wave its arms and move its head and jaw.

The word robot was introduced to the public in 1921 by Czech writer Karel Čapek in his play Rossum’s Universal Robots. The word comes from robota which means “drudgery” or “hard work”.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Hero’s Journey—Part 3: The Journey’s Map

Heroism cannot be measured by the overt grandeur of the act, not even by the ensuing consequences, but by the swelling conquering heart commiting the act--Nina Munteanu

In this article I map out the Hero’s Journey for two popular mythic stories, STAR WARS and FARSCAPE using Christopher Vogler’s 12-stage description of the 3-act storyline (based on Campbell’s 8-step transformation model) and discussed in my writing guide, The Fiction Writer:


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Hero's Journey--Part 2: Archetypes

The world of fairy tales and myth is peopled with recurring character types and relationships. Heroes on a quest, heralds and wise old men or women who provide them with “gifts”, shady fellow-travelers—threshold guardians—who may “block” the path, tricksters who confuse and complicate things and evil villains who simply want to destroy our hero. Jung adopted the term archetypes, which means ancient patterns of personality shared by humanity, to describe these as a collective unconscious. This is what makes these archetypes, or symbols, so important to the storyteller.

In psychology, an archetype is a model of a person, personality or behavior. For instance, a mother-figure is an archetype. Archetypes are found in nearly all forms of literature, with their motifs being predominantly rooted in folklore.

Assigning an archetype to a character allows the writer to clarify that character’s role in the story as well as determining the overall theme of the story itself. Archetypes are therefore an important tool in the universal language of storytelling, just as myth serves the overall purpose of supplying “the symbols that carry the human spirit forward.” (Joseph Campbell).

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Hero’s Journey: Part 1, the Journey

Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost—Dante Allighieri (Divine Comedy)

Summoned or not, the god will come—motto over the door of Carl Jung’s house

According to Christopher Vogler (author of The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers) “all stories consist of a few common structural elements found universally in myths, fairy tales, dreams, and movies. They are known collectively as The Hero’s Journey.” The Hero’s Journey is essentially the three-act structure of the ancient Greek play, handed down to us thousands of years ago and consisting of Beginning, Middle, and End (otherwise known as Opening, Development, Conclusion or “the decision to act”, “the action”, and “the consequences of the action”).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Nina Goes to Vcon

I'm going to be a panelist and doing several readings at Vcon, Vancouver's prime science fiction, fantasy and gaming convention, held at the Compass Point Inn (9850 King George Highway, Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 4Y3) on October 3 to 5, 2008.

I'm not sure if you remember how much fun I had at last year's Vcon but this year they've decided to curtail my mischievous loitering in the hallways (okay, and in the bars) by assigning me to a bazillion panels. That's okay, because I like panels. And between you and me, I can do just as much mischief there... (sly grin).

I'll be doing panels on the following topics:

  • Is technology replacing ideology as the driving force in human events?--Friday

  • Growing SFF/Romance crossover market--Friday

  • Is the scientific method the death of God?--Friday

  • Blogs and the media--Saturday

  • Crafting a good sex scene and/or a good battle scene--Saturday

  • Artificial intellegence and robotics in SF and reality--Sunday

  • Beginnings, middles and ends: the challenges of longer forms--Sunday

  • Canadian SF--what distinguishes it?--Sunday

I'm also doing several readings on Saturday in addition to an autograph session and talking about my "Alien Guide" series with Pixl Press, including The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now! to be released this December.
If you live in Vancouver or just visiting, I'd love to see you at the con.
For more information on the convention, check out the Vcon website.

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.