Thursday, May 31, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth: Innocence has a Power Evil Cannot Resist

Do you believe in the collective conscious? How about coincidence? What about fate? I find so often that events, occurences, observations happen around me as though out of design, as if they are connected like the gossamer web of a spider. For instance, when I'm doing research for a book on a particular subject, certain opportunities and events present themselves as if conspiring in favor of that subject, at which point I usually have a eureka moment of enlightenment. Part of that is, of course, because I'm more open to it, more receptive, unwittingly looking. But not all...What does this have to do with "Pan's Labyrinth", you ask? Well, I've been dwelling of late on the phenomenon of individual and intellectual freedom (e.g., censorship, book banning and burning)...then, the film my family picks up at the video store is "Pan's Labyrinth"; and I make the connection. "Pan's Labyrinth" is about an individual's choice to bravely and defiantly act--from the heart--against authority rather than blindly remain obedient. The cruel beauty of "Pan's Labyrinth" shows the power of innocence over evil and the triumph of imagination over prosaic servitude.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bookseller burns books to protest low readership

WOW! I can't believe I'm still on this train of thought...but, thanks to blogger Joshua Varney (Cubicle Denizen), who sent me this news clip from the Houston Chronicle, I couldn't help myself...It is so...well, you decide what it is. The story that ran in the Chronicle May 28, 2007 told of a Montana used books seller, Tom Wayne, who, after trying to give away surplus books from his store to no avail decided to burn them instead.

"This is the funeral pyre for thought in America today," Wayne said as he lit his first batch of books outside his store. He quoted a 2002 study by the National Endowment for the Arts that revealed a reduction in 'reading for pleasure' by adults from 57% (in 1982) to less than half. Having supposedly exhausted his efforts to divest himself of these surplus books, Wayne added about the book burning, "'s a good excuse for fun." AAK! Why don't we just roast some marshmallows while we watch and tell ghost stories...

One of the horrified spectators, Marcia Trayford, paid Wayne $20 to carry away an armload of books. "I've been trying to adopt as many books as I could," she said. Among them, ironically, Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities. I found it ironic, too, that she used the word 'adopt', which breathes life into each book, echoing what Ray Bradbury said in my previous post.

When Josh fed me this story, he mentioned e-bay, charities, etc. Surely Wayne hadn't even begun to exhaust the possibilities for finding these books a home! What about shipping them overseas? Another spectator suggested that Wayne "made the point that not reading a book is as good as burning it." I'm sorry, but I don't get that message at all. Wayne's inept and destructive act of futility only further illustrates a feckless mentality that unwittingly condones censorship and lack of reading. He would have elevated himself to a hero and made a more powerful statement to America if he'd done something positive instead; presented a solution instead of a feeble complaint.

I liked the comment to the story by patrickindallas the best: "It has finally been proven. Just being around books does NOT increase intelligence."

Thanks for the story, Josh!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Fear Behind Censorship: Mob Mentality

"He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from opposition: for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself." -- Thomas Paine

The American Library Association defines censorship as "the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons--individuals, groups or government officials--find objectionable or dangerous. It is no more complicated than someone saying, 'don't let anyone read this book, or buy that magazine, or view that film, because I object to it.' "

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Book Burning

In his 1821 play, Almansor, the German writer Heinrich Heine (referring to the burning of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, during the Spanish Inquisition) wrote: Dort, wo man Bucher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen --"Where they burn books, they will end in burning human beings." A century later, on May 6th, 1933, Heine's books were among the thousands of volumes publicly hauled out and burned in the streets by the Nazis in Berlin's Opernplatz. A violent outburst that, in fact, did foreshadow the blazing ovens of the Holocaust.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Banned Books--How many did YOU read?

This Friday, in keeping with a literary theme, I've linked you to a Forbidden Library. This library boils overful with an oozing cornucopia of 'demoralizing', 'blasphemous', 'racial', 'offensive', 'obscene', 'anti-Communist', 'Satanic', and 'anarchistic' literature. Ah, yes, you say! How subversive. Check it out! Its librarian, Janet Yanosko, has indexed books by author and title with explanation of why the book was banned along with her own amusing rather pithy remarks. You'll find books that people found offensive like:
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: a book on censorship gets censored!

  • James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl: promotes drugs and disobedience

  • Where's Waldo by Martin Handford: for nudity

  • 1984 by George Orwell: for being pro-communist

  • The Lorax by Doctor Seuss: because it criminalizes the logging industry

  • Zen Buddhism: selected writings by D.T. Suzuki: because it portrays Buddhism as appealing

  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut: for its foul language
Books have been banned (and burned) on many occasions by many societies over humankind's history of existence for various reasons. Books considered critical of governments or societies with power were a common target. So were books that dealt with criminal matter or promoted views counter with popular worldviews, or were considered distasteful or disturbing.

The Bible, the Qur'an and other religious works were banned (and burned) over the years. In Medieval Europe, the Roman Catholic Church dealt with dissenting printed opinion through a program called the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (index of prohibited books). Okay, here's a partial list I got off Wikipedia with reasons for banning. I've bolded the ones I've read. How many did YOU read?
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: for portraying animals and humans on the same level
  • The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine: banned in UK for blasphemy in 18th C
  • All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remaraque: banned in Nazi Germany for demoralizing and insulting the Wehrmacht
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell: banned for anti-Stalin theme
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: banned in some U.S. schools for use of racial slurs
  • Bible: banned by the Index Librorum Prohibitorum in Catholic Church
  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell: banned in South Africa for using the word 'black'
  • Brave New World byAldous Huxley: banned for centering around negative activity
  • Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer: banned for sexual content
  • Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: banned in some U.S. schools and libraries for sexual situations, immorality and other themes of impropriety and anti-Christian sentiments
  • Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau: banned in U.S. during McCarthyism
  • Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel: banned because of hardcore graphic sexual content
  • The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: banned in anti-Communist countries during the Red scare
  • Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak: banned in USSR for criticism of the Bolshevik Party
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: for issues on censorship
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway: banned in Spain during Francisco Franco's rule for its pro-Republican views
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: banned in part of U.S. because of the use of the word 'nigger'
  • Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: banned in some U.S. schools for use of the name God and Jesus in a vain and profane manner along with inappropriate sexual references
  • Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift: banned in Ireland as wicked and obscene
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare: banned in Ethiopia
  • Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: banned in some U.S. school libraries for use of witchcraft and supposedly Satanic views
  • King Lear by William Shakespeare: banned in UK out of respect to King George III's aleged insanity
  • Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence: banned in U.S. and UK for obsenity
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis: challenged in part of U.S. for depicting graphic violence, mysticism and gore
  • The Lorax by Dr. Seuss: banned in parts of U.S. for being an allegorical political commentary
  • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury: challenged in U.S. for profanity
  • Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler: reproduction and sale is forbidden outside Germany, Austria and Netherlands for promoting Nazism
  • Le Morte D'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory: challenged in UK as 'junk'
  • 1984 by George Orwell: banned in USSR for political reasons; banned in U.S. for being pro-communist and for explicit sexual matter
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck: banned in some U.S. schools and libraries for promoting 'euthanasia' and for profanity
  • The Odyssey by Homer: Plato suggested expurgating it for immature readers and Caligula tried to suppress it for expressing Greek ideals of freedom
  • On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin: banned in various places for promoting the evolutionary theory
  • Paradise Lost by John Milton: listed on the Indx Librorum Prohibitorum in Rome
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: challenged due to racial themes
  • Ulysses by James Joyce: banned in U.S. for its sexual content
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe: banned in southern States and Czarist Russia for racist portrayal of African Americans and use of word 'nigger'.
Okay, so I read a lot of them. Does that make me a subversive? How about you? I find it interesting to note that books published as recently as "Harry Potter" are banned as wicked or even evil.
This all begs the question of what art truly is and should be. Susan Sontag suggested that "real art makes us nervous." The genius of art skirts the edge of propriety and comfort to ask the questions that help us define our own humanity. Oscar Wilde remarked, "an idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being an idea at all." Benjamin Franklin suggested that, "if all printers were determined not to print anthing till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed."
Henry Steel Commager eloquently stated that, "censorship...creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion." John F. Kennedy further added that, "...a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people."
Lillian Hellman, who was subpoenaed to appear before the House of Un-American Activities Commitee in 1952, exclaimed, "I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions."
Live and write from the heart.

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.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Useless Literary Information

Lately I've been reading "the Book of Useless Information" by Noel Bothman & The Useless Information Society (Yeah! They even have a whole group devoted to collecting this stuff!)...What did you say? Get a life? Remember, I'm the same person who reads the dictionary in her spare time... Anyway, here are a few bits of useless literary trivia that just might tickle your fancy; they did mine. Did you know (or care) that:

  • Bambi was originally published in German in 1929?

  • General Lew Wallace's best-seller, Ben Hur, was the first work of fiction to be blessed by the Pope? I just hope my book gets blessed by the reader...

  • an estimated 2.5 million books will be shipped in the next year with the wrong covers? Yike! Better not be mine!

  • During his lifetime, Herman Melville's timeless classic of the sea, Moby Dick, sold only 50 copies? worries for my book--it won't be a classic, not of the sea anyway...

  • Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein (presumed to be the first science fiction novel) at the age of nineteen? Upstart!

  • Virginia Wolf wrote all her books standing up? Hmm...try writing while weaving around traffic and carrying on a conversation with your teenage son as the radio blares with Mega Death, Virginia!

  • In 1898 (14 years before the Titanic sank) Morgan Robertson wrote a novel called Futility, about the largest ship ever built that hit an iceberg in the Atlantic on a cold April night? Oohh! Sure hope my book, "Darwin's Paradox", doesn't predict our future: a multiplex, technophile society, reliant on artificial intelligence and plagued by a technologically-induced disease, and fast growing infertile...

  • Goethe couldn't stand the sound of barking dogs and could only write if he had an apple rotting in the drawer of his desk? Really! I'm not making this up! But it does explain his writing, doesn't it?

  • And, last but certainly not least, Isaac Asimov is the only author to have a book appear in every Dewey decimal category? He's my hero...

So, how useless is useless? If it entertains you, makes you raise a brow or your lips quiver with a half-smile, then perhaps it's not so useless, after all. More like celebrating the incredibly wondrous and paradoxical world we live in. The Society's one edict is that the piece of information not be 'boring'. While Society members might yawn at the fact that the Mississippi River is 1,171 miles long, their eyes light up when they hear that in the Nuuanu Valley of Honolulu there is a river that flows upward. I concur! It is a gorgeously incomprehensible world we live in, richly festooned with the simple complexities and colours of nature's genius.

Friday, May 18, 2007

My 50 Favourite Science Fiction Books -- CONTEST!

In keeping with my Friday tradition of a blog or website showcase, here's one for today: I recently discovered this great site called "The Library Thing". It's basically a virtual library where you can catalogue your books and chat with other readers about the subjects in literature that rouse a passionate interest in you. This is what The Christian Science Monitor said: "Library Thing" appears poised to turn the cataloguing of books into a form of communal recreation." Over at blogsite, Postcards from the Mothership, this was heard wailed: "Oh, my God! I have not been this excited about the Internet since I 'discovered' blogging!" So, I eagerly created my virtual LT library and graced it with 50 of the science fiction books I most enjoyed reading. Head on over and check them out (Nina's LT catalogue) and see if any of your favourites and mine match. Let me know by posting a comment. Of course, I shamelessly included the books I wrote in there. Why not? If you don't like what you write, then why write?


For a chance to win a copy of "The Best of Neo-Opsis Science Fiction Magazine" Anthology (pictured in the link), tell me which book(s) in my library don't fit the mould (i.e., aren't science fiction). If I agree, then I'll add your name to a pool from which I'll randomly draw one out for the book at the end of the month.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

I Think, Therefore I DO

Here’s the fourth way to teach ourselves and others about being a good environmental citizen, based on a paper by Blumstein and Saylan, entitled “The Failure of Environmental Education (and How We Can Fix It)”.

4. learn and teach critical thinking. Blumstein and Saylan assert that “environmentally aware citizens must be able to evaluate complex information and make decisions about things that we can’t currently envision.” They also sadly concluded that our current science education is uninspired, students being required to learn facts without being given the ability to manipulate and analyze them. “Without the ability to ask questions, identify assumptions, and make well-reasoned decisions, we’re left with a population ripe for exploitation by less than honest industries and politicians.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Lightness of Being Geographically Illiterate.

In my last post I gave you the first way that you and I can teach ourselves and our children about environmental citizenship. Here’s the second and third way, based on a paper by Blumstein and Saylan, entitled “The Failure of Environmental Education (and How We Can Fix It)”.

2. learn and teach that nature is nonlinear and inter-relational. What this means is that nature doesn’t react the same way all the time. It has thresholds over which rapid change can occur. Like a dam breaking. Because every living thing is connected and interacts in a community (including humans!) the effect of one change may spill into several changes, like the branches of a tree. Remember, the butterfly effect of my previous post…Blumstein and Saylan give the example of the return of the wolves to Yellowstone Park. Their return changed the behavior of their prey: deer, elk and moose chose to spend more time in the open, where they could detect their predators. This caused a reduction in grazing of willows, which exploded and created habitat for songbirds. So, the introduction of wolves increased the songbird diversity in Yellowstone. Very coolicious!

3. learn and teach a world view. Most of us North Americans know little or world history and many of us are geographically illiterate according to a recent poll (Trivedi, 2002). Remember my comment to “think and act locally”, which helps empower you? According to Blumstein and Saylan, it’s important also to maintain a “world view” to provide context for our local actions. This makes sense. In order to be motivated to do those local things, we need to understand their implications on a planetary scale. We need to understand that all these little things we will change a world paradigm. Otherwise why do them? We need to understand context and scale. How does our personal story fit into the larger global story? Find out WHY it’s important to recycle, compost, drive less, consume less…then tell others. 'Nuff said!

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.

Environmental Education: Who, Me?...

In my last post I talked about environmental citizenship. So, I figure each of us has a personal responsibility as a caretaker of planet Earth. I recently read a cool paper on environmental education and, even though it was aimed at educators, I saw its relevance to YOU and ME. In other words: what can you and I teach ourselves and our children about environmental citizenship?
In their paper entitled “The Failure of Environmental Education (and How We Can Fix It)”, Blumstein and Saylan (Plos Biology, May 2007) discuss seven ways to improve environmental education to promote environmental citizenship in individuals. I’m going to look at four in my next few posts, the first one being:

1. Learning and teaching others about over-consumption. The magnitude of our impact, discussed by ecologists Holdren and Ehrlich, depends on population size, affluence and technology. As countries develop their environmental footprint expands and consumption rate becomes more important. What Blumstein and Saylan say is we need to teach ourselves about how to conserve consumable products. We need to teach our children where and how resources come from—that food, clean water, and energy don’t come from supermarkets, taps and power points.

Monday, May 14, 2007

What's an Environmental Citizen?

In the spirit of my last post, this one explores environmental citizenship: what it is and how we can promote it in our daily lives. According to Environment Canada, being a citizen: is “not just about voting or carrying a passport, it is about recognizing one’s membership in the community of all living things and acknowledging responsibilities toward this community.” The Oxford Dictionary defines the word environment as “surrounding region or conditions, especially circumstances of life or person or society.” This definition presents infinite possibilities just begging for interpretation. How many of us, for instance, fail to acknowledge our home as part of the environment?

Embracing environmental citizenship is not as easy as following green-fad prescriptions. It involves a personal acknowledgement, a fair amount of soul-searching, and a gradual shift in self-perspective. At the heart of this shift in environmental view are four key perspectives to nurture: self-esteem; an eco-centric view; optimism; and a local perspective. Dr. Val Schaefer of the School of Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria, says: “Being a good environmental citizen […] is not only recycling or taking the bus. It’s to do with how you deal with another person, whether you respect that individual and his or her views.” Dr. Peter Ballin, of Vancouver Community College, emphasizes that we must first respect ourselves, then one another, other creatures and the planet. It begins with a strong sense of self and belonging to the community that extends from one’s family outward to the community of life. Ballin reminds us that “someone who’s a good citizen doesn’t take himself or herself out of the picture.” Someone who’s a good environmental citizen doesn’t take himself or herself out of the environment.

Friday, May 11, 2007

What's Your Ecotype?

Every Friday I'm going to focus on a website or blog of merit in the ecological or writing field. Today my focus is on the environment, with two neat people I met today for lunch: Ian and Carol Parnell of, an independent consulting and media company dedicated to communicating the science and human values behind sustainable resource management. They develop and produce multi-platform content with a special focus on ecological themes. Ian is a systems ecologist and Carol is an award-winning writer and producer with a long history of multi-platform productions. They are doing the coolest things to get the word out about appreciating and working in our environment in a sustainable way through the entertainment and media sector. Check out Ian's blog on the website, called "What's your Ecotype?". Start with his February 9th post and then try to answer his question. His posts are a running dialogue of practical ideas on how each of us can make a difference. Remember that old, now somewhat hackneyed phrase, "Think globally; act locally"?...Ian and Carol's company is helping to illuminate and educate AND MOTIVATE individuals to act locally. The global part comes naturally; don't think about it or it'll just make you wilt under the pressure. Think of it as taking care of your pennies and the dollars will follow. Ecologists use the term "cumulative effects". I use the term, "The Butterfly Effect", coined by chaos theorist, Edward Lorenz, who presented the notion of "a flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil setting off a tornado in Texas". No matter what term you use, know that every small thing you do or decide on, will make a difference. And that's oh, so cool!

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Writers Conference

As a part-time writer and scientist, and a mother, I have to balance my life with my art as well as the business side of my writing with its muse-side. A large part of that consists of attending conferences and conventions on writing, science and science fiction. But I can only afford to attend a few each year. Nancy Kress was the reason I went to “Write On, Vancouver” held by the Vancouver Chapter of the Romance Writers of America. She’s the author of 23 books (11 of them science fiction, including her ‘sleepless’ trilogy beginning with “Beggars in Spain”).
Nancy Kress is an elegant, warm-hearted lady who quietly radiates class and great presence. In several workshops, Nancy tirelessly and cheerfully tackled some of the most difficult and daunting elements faced by published and unpublished writers alike. Topics included: writing Page One; plotting strategies; and what makes us write in the first place.
Quoting Proust to Falkner, Nancy enthralled a crowd of writers and readers with a presentation that educated, illuminated, and inspired. “All of us are tightrope walkers,” she said. Writers strive to balance art with life and personal taste with societal tastes. "Fiction is about stuff that gets screwed up...every novel is a war," she added and, quoting Susan Sontag, suggested that sometimes, “real art makes us nervous.”
Here are some of her tips on Writing Page 1:
>Introduce an individual character (usually the main protagonist) DOING something
>Orient us in time and space
>Use concrete details to help visualize the scene (including smells!)
>Create an interesting first line (hook).
Nancy shared four approaches to plotting. The one that was most familiar to me and worked best for my current novel was based on the ‘Hero’s Journey’, using mythical archetypes and adapted for writers by Christopher Vogler. Here are the nine steps:
1. Ordinary World
2. Call to adventure
3. Crossing the threshold (into the special world of the story: “a fish out of water”)
4. Tests, allies, rivals, and enemies
5. Approach to first climax (of 2)
6. First climax
7. The road back
8. Second big conflict (climax)
9. Denouement

I came away from the conference all jazzed and vindicated in my choice. Thanks, Nancy!

If you’re interested in more details, pick up Vogler’s book or just google “hero’s journey” and you’ll find lots of good information. You can also find my own example of a “Hero’s Journey” as applied to “Farscape” in the Scapecast podcast (March 16,07; episode 25, and in a later post on this blog.

I also cover this popular plot approach in my upcoming writing guide The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now! (Starfire World Syndicate) to be released in 2009 and available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Chapters. It also forms part of my lecture series and online writing classes and workshops called "The Writer's Toolkit" that I give throughout North America and Europe. The workshop series will be available in a DVD set in summer of 2010 and you can purchase it through Amazon or The Passionate Writer.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Write On, Vancouver

I'm heading to the Romance Writers of America Greater Vancouver Chapter Conference, "Write On, Vancouver" this weekend (May 4-5, 2007) at the Inn at New Westminster (Quay, that is). Head on over if you're a reader (and writer) of Romance. Nancy Kress, accomplished SF and mystery writer, who has written many a piece on how to write (particularly in Writer's Digest Magazine) will be the principal speaker there. Some of the topics she'll cover include that daunting first page and plotting. Editors and agents will be attending too. Meet some local Romance writers, pick up their latest books and get them signed (:-) and meet other avid readers and writers in training. Get tips, network, or just have a great time. It starts at 5 pm on Friday and ends with a gala dinner at 6 pm on Saturday. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Darwin's Paradox available for pre-order at Amazon

The cover of my new book, "Darwin's Paradox" is out and it's BEAUTIFUL! Don't you agree? A large part of the story takes place within the self-contained megalopolis, Icaria (formerly Toronto), where people live contentedly inside and connect via underground trains and giant malls (sound familiar?) Note that most of the buildings are in a state of ruin, overrun with vegetation; only some of the larger buildings remain in good shape. They are Icaria, thrusting up through the decrepit chaos of the past like a rising phoenix that soars into a blushing sky. The cover art was done by the accomplished Croatian illustrator, Tomislav Tikulin (, whose art work I find transporting, evokative, eerie and thoughtful. I am honored that "Darwin's Paradox" is graced with his vision.

"Darwin's Paradox" is now available for pre-order at or