Monday, December 24, 2012

Beat the Christmas Frenzy and Find Your Focus

Sammy in his element

How many of you are still running around preparing for the Christmas celebration or secular family festivity? Buying that last minute gift you’d forgotten or were chasing down since a bazillion days ago? Or making last minute changes to your travel plans, house-cleaning for guests, mailing of cards or parcels or meal preparations?

Well, you’re reading this blog post … That means you’re sitting down and taking a minute to relax and regroup. That’s good. Remember to breathe… while I tell you a story…

I’d just finished a three-day drive through snow and rain storms from Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, to Toronto, Ontario, where I’m staying for two days before catching a flight to Vancouver to spend Christmas with my son and good friends on the west coast. Talk about fast living.

I move around a lot these days. It helps me to appreciate some of the most simple things in life and reminds me of what I love most about Christmas: how it focuses my heart and reconnects me. I don’t mean just with relatives and friends either, although the season certainly does that. I’m talking about my soul and the universe itself.  Before I became an itinerant, Christmas bustled with my responsibilities as primary caregiver, social coordinator and hostess of major parties. After I’d said goodbye to our visiting friends and done the dishes and tidied the house, after my husband and son had gone to bed, I sat in the dark living room lit only with the Christmas Tree lights and the flickering  candle, and listened to soft Christmas music. My male cat found his rightful place on my lap and settled there, pinning me down with love. And there, as I breathed in the scent of wax and fir, I found myself again.

Most of us think of Christmas as a busy time, of getting together (often dutifully) with family and friends, exchanging presents and feasting. Christmas is certainly this, but that is only a shallow view of a far deeper event; and I don’t mean only for Christians.

Whether celebrating the holy light of Hannukah or the birth of Jesus, or the winter solstice, this season provides us with the opportunity to meditate on far more than the surficial nature of the symbols we have come to associate with the season: the Christmas tree, presents, turkey dinner, Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas—most of which originate from pagan tradition, by the way.

Says Lama Christie McNally (author of The Tibetan Book of Meditation), “once you dive below the surface, you will discover a beautiful clear place—like a diamond hidden beneath the rubble. It is your own mind, uncovered … Tibetans say we have only just begun the process of awakening—that we still have quite a way to go in our evolutionary process. And it has nothing to do with building spaceships or computers. The next step in our evolution takes place within.”

Christmas is, more than anything, a time of embracing paradox. It is an opportunity to still oneself amid the bustle;  to find joy in duty; to give of one’s precious time when others have none, to embrace selflessness when surrounded by promoted selfishness, and to be genuine in a commercial and dishonest world. 

If one were to look beyond the rhetoric and imposed tradition, the Christmas season represents a time of focus, a time to reflect on one’s genuine nature and altruistic destiny. A time to reconnect with the harmony and balance in our lives. 

A time to sit with our cat, pinned with love, and write our next novel.

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, December 13, 2012

Inner Diverse by Nina Munteanu released by Starfire

Full cover art for "Inner Diverse" Book 2 of trilogy

Book Two of Nina Munteanu's Splintered Universe Trilogy, "Inner Diverse" was released today by Starfire World Syndicate with cover art done by Costi Gurgu.

In Book Two of this metaphysical space thriller trilogy, detective Rhea Hawke continues her quest for truth and justice in a world that is not what it seems. Rhea's relentless search takes her to the far reaches of the known universe from the treacherous Boiling Seas of the Weeping Mountains of Horus to the blistering deserts of Upsilon 3. Amidst the turmoil of an imminent extra-galactic war, Rhea holds the key even as those she trusts betray her. No one is what they seem in this fast paced second of three books.
“Nina Munteanu is not only a master of metaphor, she is a creator of fantastic worlds and cultures. She combines her biological background with the infinite possibilities of the cosmos and turns an adventure story into a wonderland of alien rabbit holes. When the action starts it goes into hyper-drive, and her protagonist, Rhea Hawke, is a fresh and multi-faceted heroine.   A fascinating and enthralling read.”—   Craig H. Bowlsby, author of Horth in Killing Reach and creator of Commander’s Log.
“Hawke is a maverick in the Wild West tradition, up against the world; and a genetic mystery with lethal powers. As always, Munteanu sticks to science in her storytelling, and clips along a brisk pace.”—Lynda Williams, author of the Okal Rel series. 
"Am supposed to be recording some pick ups today and working on some accents for three of the audiobooks I'm finishing up but instead I get myself sucked into book two of Nina Munteanu's Splintered Universe trilogy!"—Dawn Harvey, voice artist.
Full cover art for "Outer Diverse" Book 1 of trilogy
For more on Costi Gurgu, the impeccable artist of the Splintered Universe Trilogy, see my previous interview with him here on The Alien Next Door.

Here's a short excerpt below on his Triptych design for the trilogy:

SFgirl: you came up with a “Triptych” design for the Splintered Universe Trilogy. What inspired you to come up with it and what do you like about it?

Costi: There is the danger of spoilers in this answer. The fact is that your main character, Rhea, undergoes a certain evolution from a regular human being to… let’s just say something else. And that evolution has three parts, one for each book of the trilogy and it also has a touch of divine. So, the triptych design, so often used for religious paintings, fits like a glove on the entire concept.

Costi was nominated as a finalist the Aurora Prix Award, Canada's top award for works in the genre of the fantastic, in the category of Best Artist for his work on Book 1 of the trilogy, Outer Diverse.

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.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Nina Munteanu Interview on Speculating Canada

What does science fiction and ecology have in common? And what can they do together for humanity and the planet?

Derek Newman-Stille of Speculating Canada challenges author and ecologist Nina Munteanu with awesome questions on the nature of speculative fiction and the literature of the strange and fantastic.

On the topic of who exactly is Nina Munteanu: "I'm a bit of a bohemian and enjoy wandering the world in search of the strange and wonderful."

On the topic of curiosity's role in creating a better future: "Curiosity feeds our souls. It slows us down so we can pay attention. It teaches us to be interested in the world, to observe and feel. It helps us crawl outside the box, peer around corners into dark alleys where thrilling adventure lurks."

On the role of SF: "the literature of the fantastic: speculative literature, science fiction, fantasy...explore--nay--celebrate and bridge the gap between logic and imagination, the mundane and the extraordinary, the known and the strange, order and infinite possibility.

On the role of speculative fiction: "Speculative fiction predicts consequence to current conditions. It projects into the future or alternate reality from current paradigms in science, technology, and society. Speculative fiction uses the premise, "What if?": "What if this continued?"; "What if we used that this way?"; "What if this caused that?" It provides the proverbial canary in the mine on society. Speculative fiction doesn't just 'tell us'; it can 'show us'."

About balancing her science and her fiction: "My fiction and my ecology have co-evolved in a synergistic way. My interest in ecology stems from my interest in preserving this planet as well as my fascination for how Gaia works; these themes pervade most of my fiction and much of my non-fiction articles and essays...Both ecology and science fiction explore consequence in a big way."

On how these two pursuits influence the other: "Writing science fiction has opened the doors of creative problem solving in my scientific pursuits; and my science has opened windows of possibilities in my writing."

On the role of SF in raising environmental awareness: "Science fiction is the literature of consequence that explores large issues faced by humankind; it can provide and important vehicle in raising environmental awareness."

On her interest in the outsider, as featured in Darwin's Paradox and The Splintered Universe Trilogy: "I find the concept of the outsider fascinating from a psychological perspective. How we treat the unknown (e.g., with suspicion and fear or with wonder and curiosity) tells so much about who and what we are."

On the role of media in influencing what society considers socially desirable or the biases that develop: "We are a fickle, multiplexing culture who want it now, fast, easily digestible--and already summarized. Letting others decide for you what is newsworthy is so dangerous; it spawns gossip and feeds into propaganda."

On the influence of her Canadian identity in the worlds she creates: "Canada is a truly multi-cultural country and serves an excellent fractal microcosm for writing about mixed civilizations in the universe."
For the complete interview go to Speculating Canada.

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, November 14, 2012

2012 World Fantasy Convention in Toronto

On November 1-4, 2012 I did a cool thing: I participated in a world event about the fantastic. Since its inception in 1975 in Providence, Rhode Island, World Fantasy Convention (WFC) has been held in a different location in the world each year (next year the WFC will be held in Brighton, UK, returning for the first time to England since 1997 when London hosted the WFC). This year, World Fantasy Convention happened on my doorstep: Toronto, Canada. Despite being primarily an author of science fiction, I just had to go. Besides, I’d just released my first fantasy novel “The Last Summoner” (Starfire), currently enjoying some popularity in Canada and the United States.
Themes & Other Terribly Wonderful Things
This year Northern Gothic and Urban Fantasy were featured themes.  Special guests included the current deans of urban and gothic fantasy: Patricia Briggs; Charles de Lint; Larry Dixon; Tanya Huff; and Mercedes Lackey; with author guest of honour Elizabeth Hand, recipient of the previous year’s world fantasy award for her novella “The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon”.
Convention Chair Peter Halasz and his team of volunteers pulled off another awesome convention. Toastmaster Gary K. Wolfe officially opened the convention Thursday evening to an enthusiastic crowd. Events included an art show and auction, the 2012 World Fantasy Awards and banquet on Sunday to announce and celebrate the winners.
The World Fantasy award for best novel went to Lavie Tidhar’s “Osama”, published by British small press PS Publishing. Tidhar’s story, said to stretch the boundaries of the genre, beat out stiff competition from Stephen King’s “11/22/63”, George RR Martin’s “A Dance With Dragons”, Jo Walton’s “Among Others” and Christopher Buehiman’s “Those Across the River”. For a full list of nominees and winners of the 2012 World Fantasy Awards, you can go to the Tor site. 
2012 World Fantasy Awards and Lifetime Achievement winners included Alan Garner and the prolific and well-loved George R. R. Martin.
The con also hosted an immense book signing, in which zealous book collectors had a field day. Snaking line-ups of eager readers with stacks of books under their arms cued for the likes of Elizabeth Hand, Patricia Briggs, Larry Dixon, Charles de Lint, Mercedes Lackey, Patrick Rothfuss, Tanya Huff, Guy Gavriel Kay, Jo Walton, Alan Garner, Joe Haldeman, Robert J. Sawyer, Julie Czerneda, and so many more (too many to name them all here). 
Panels & Other Possibilities
Between important meetings at the Hotel’s Spirits Lounge and the nearby Fox & Fiddle drinking establishment with friends, colleagues, future colleagues and strangers who would soon be friends, I attended a few choice panels. Panels were wonderfully diverse and interesting. Subjects included the obvious media topics of Urban Fantasy and Steampunk but also explored more erudite literary areas such as editing, self-publishing and the moving target of other publishing paradigms. 
A panel entitled “New Twists on Accepted Myths” moderated by publisher Virginia O’Dine and made up of authors Marie Bilodeau, Mercedes Lackey, and anthropologist Meg Turville-Heitz, had me both laughing and thinking with the lively banter between authors, publisher, and academic. Panelists happily wandered rich territory from the traditional application of classical “King Arthur” to the irreverent slanting of Ragnarok.
L.E. Modesitt and Karen Dales
Several panels were devoted to the blur in fiction between reality and the fantastic. In an early morning session that was mysteriously well-attended, called “Reality Made Fantastic or Fantastic Made Real”, L.E. Modesitt moderated an eclectic and international panel of authors, academic and literary agent.  He asked panelists Isobelle Carmody, Sally Harding, Karl Schroeder, Delia Sherman, and Greg Wilson to discuss topics from world-building, urban settings and characterization to why there is always a bowl of unrecognizable green dip in the hospitality suite at world fantasy cons.
Marie having a "Kobo moment"
Several panels discussed the changing face of the industry. Panelists including seasoned professional editors such as Ellen Datlow and Gordon Van Gelder to academics such as Robert Runté discussed topics that ranged from the role of the editor to e-publishing and the rising wave of self-publishing. At some point, discussions naturally slid to personal gripes about anything from devices like Kobo and Kindle to why you should love—or hate—Amazon and the alien-wisdom of Apple.
Hospitality & Why I Really Came
Suzanne Church & Anita Hades
Speaking of the hospitality suite—well, I was a paragraph ago—the food and drink provided to attending members was outstanding. The suite, large and cozy with French-style furniture and tiny tables, became a focal center for foraging nomads. Most times, I had to pick my way through the snaking line of outstretched legs as parked members blithely ate and chatted in the hallway. The suite was a microcosm of the convention, where members met, drank coffee, visited over food and traded stories from around the world.
It is called a World Fantasy Convention, after all. I met people from Sweden, the UK, Iceland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Israel, Australia, USA, and Canada. We discussed anything from the mysterious green dip and American politics (no connection, really) to why American writer Suzanne Collins’s “Hunger Games” became so popular in North America but not so much in Europe and Asia.
Radio host Winifred H. Smythe
I met old friends I hadn’t seen since I moved from the west coast to the east coast of Canada and renewed my contacts with colleagues, editors, publishers and fellow authors.
In a way, the World Fantasy Convention is really a giant annual business meeting. It is a place and time for professionals in the realm of the fantastic—authors, publishers, editors, reviewers and artists—to congregate at an excellent venue and trade ideas, stories, and history, conduct business, make new contacts, network generally, and have fun. It is an opportunity for those involved in the world of speculative, fantasy, and science fiction literature and art to renew, cross-pollinate and come away changed, vitalized and...well...fantastic.  
I traded my business card with more people than I can remember, discovered some interesting opportunities, and counted my experience at this year’s world fantasy convention a great success. I was feeling pretty fantastic.
Next year, Brighton!

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.