Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Scribblers Retreat Writers’ Conference

I recently came back from Georgia, where I participated in the May session of Scribblers’ Retreat Writers’ Conference. I gave one-on-one lunch consultations on writing and publishing in the conference hotel’s bar—er—restaurant. Let me put it this way: my sessions were well attended! (Smug grin)…The conference took place at Sea Palms Resort on Saint Simon’s Island, and proved to be a refreshing treat in southern warmth and gentile hospitality. I was just one of the conference’s participating authors but they made me feel like I was the guest of honor.

The May conference is one of a series of four conferences held throughout the year (I’ll be giving a session in the SF stream in August, alongside Jack McDevitt—after World Con in Montreal). The May conference was about writing “How to” books; Dr. William Rawlings gave the keynote, setting the pace for a great conference.

I was late, as usual (my close friends who know me from another dimension understand “Nina time” and nod slowly with quiet understanding) and made an unwitting “entrance” to the opening ceremony. A distinguished and impeccably dressed lady waved me enthusiastically to her table and I concluded that she must be the conference coordinator—she wasn’t; she was one of the island’s icons and most respected citizens.

I was too ignorant to be suitably flattered at the moment and cheerfully took my seat, eying the fresh salad and the chocolate cheesecake that had already been placed at each place as a tantalizing prelude to delicious things to come. For some reason, art gallery owner and international socialite Mildred Huie Wilcox decided I was interesting (or was it my goofy lost puppy-dog smile that caught her compassion): she later invited me to her plantation house for some champagne and a tour of her incredible place. Mildred owns the Left Bank Art Gallery, Saint Simon’s first gallery that features dramatic coastal landscapes and scenes from around the world. More on this fascinating lady and her art in a subsequent post!

Saint Simons Island is a golden gem along the southern Georgia coast, about half an hour from the Florida border. Upon crossing the causeway across a wide expanse of coastal marsh that links Saint Simons to the Georgia mainland, I descended into history. Called San Simone by 16th Century Spanish explorers, the island is the year-round destination for visitors who want to sail, fish and walk along its miles of beaches. The island is dotted with old plantation ruins, reminders of its historic plantation days, when “tabby” mansions of antebellum cotton and indigo plantations dominated.

I drove along roads beneath rising arches of majestic Live Oak trees (Quercus virginiana), Georgia’s state tree. These are huge trees, with crowns that can reach 150 feet across. Trails of irish moss hung like green tinsel off their sturdy noble limbs. The moss swayed in the warm sea breeze that brought with it the intoxicating scent of white oleander.

On the first evening I was there, the conference organizers invited us over to one of their houses for a home-cooked meal. I was treated to some original southern comfort including pecan smoked BBQ pork, butter beans and collard greens, potato salad and deviled eggs (OH! They were good!), cornmeal bread, biscuits and gravy, and North Carolina pound cake.

I found the Georgians on Saint Simons Island to be some of the nicest people I’ve met. They exude genuine warmth, with a relaxed uncomplicated and open attitude that lacked any cynicism. I found them joyful and ready to see the best in you. Most of all, I was struck by their elegant and rustic charm. This would seem to incorporate an oxymoron, a paradox; but most things worthwhile do just that, don’t you think? Take their attractive lilting accent, for instance. It combines refined elegance and “homespun” country life in a speech that flows like a languid river meandering through an ancient valley. It is slow and measured, with its Rs remaining soft—almost non-existent—and broad vowels that yawn like the open marshes of the Georgian coast. The Georgian accent reflects the natural cadence of the bucolic landscape, the flow and ebb of its vast coastal marsh and a sensual connection to their environment. Here are some great examples of “Georgia Speak”: “theyu” for there; “griyuts” for grits; “piactuh” for picture; “ruhhnin” for running; “fanger” for finger; “down the road apiece” for a little ways down the road; and “Yalls is fixin’ fer sum trouble” for you’re in trouble now!

1. Georgian mansion
2. Sea Palms Resort, Saint Simons Island
3. Dr. William Rawlings and yours truly
4. Frederica Road, Saint Simons Island
5. Marcia, owner of Hattie's Books, showing off The Fiction Writer and Darwin's Paradox

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.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Piet Voute—Blending Vision with Craft

Well…It’s been a while since I took anyone up on Vinny, my ship, for an interroga—er—interview. And Harry, my robot, was getting bored. So, I thought I’d interview my neighbor (since I AM the Alien Next Door), who happens to be a crack animator. He’s a high school student, his name is Piet Voute, and he taught himself how to use the super-cool free animation software, Blender.

Just like all his predecessors, Piet took to the crystal transporter with style and no ill effects…unlike yours truly, who emerged from the transported onboard Vinnie rather pale and weak and desperately needing a drink. My robot Harry gave Piet a Doctor Pepper then handed me an orange juice (not what I had in mind, but I didn’t complain.) We settled into some plush seats in the aft lounge and I began my interroga—er, interview.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Love’s Labor Lost: Those Who Prey on Love

Oh, brave new world that has such people in it!—Miranda in “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare
Many of us, particularly in North American and European cultures have decided to bring a friendly animal into our lives and households: either a dog or cat or other furry creature that draws out our affections and unconditionally provides us with so much more back. There is a catch, though. And a cost.

I’ve shared my home with a cat (or two) since the late 1980s…not the same one; each has passed on and a new one has come into my life, filling my heart with joy. My previous two cats lived 19 and 18 years before passing on. My current cat is a healthy eight years old. When my son and I brought him home from the adoption centre, we had tacitly agreed to take responsibility for his welfare. We fed him, took him to the vet for his annual check-up and provided him with our unconditional love. He loved to go outside and we let him, knowing full well that there were dangers from predators (e.g., coyotes and eagles hunted near our place) other cats and accidents with cars etc.