Thursday, May 22, 2014

Literary Fest at Gladstone Hotel May 25th

Selling books in style in the Melody Bar of the Gladstone
On Sunday May 25th the Small Press Literary Festival at the Gladstone Hotel will showcase over 50 vendors of diverse literature ranging from magazines, literary journals, chapbooks and comic books to hand-bound notebooks to write in. Several small presses will be selling anything from novels to cookbooks, providing you with a fine showcase of eclecticism and what's new out there.

Last winter I attended the Small Press Literary Festival at the posh-funk Gladstone Hotel on Queen Street West Toronto. A snow blizzard stormed through the city, wreaking havoc and sending cars and pedestrians skidding on the roads. The crowds still came.

This time, it's summer. And the crowds will still come. Why not? People can mingle with an eclectic and literary crowd who provide a microcosm of the literary scene in a venue that is both posh and funk with a great history.

The Gladstone Hotel is a Toronto Boutique Art hotel, built in 1889 by architect George Miller, who designed the University of Toronto. It's a stylish hostelry in the Romanesque Revival style and is Toronto's longest continuously operating hotel. The landmark building hosts art exhibits, live events, conferences, performances and cool festivals like this one.

For anyone interested in the literary arts, particularly for those thinking of a career in the literary arts, these locally-based venues in the heart of multiplex Toronto provide a wonderful opportunity to mingle with those engaging in original expression.

The small independent presses have always been the enabling grounds for emerging talent and originality. What is fringe today often becomes mainstream tomorrow.

The festival at the Gladstone happens from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm on Sunday May 25. The Gladstone is located on 1214 Queen Street West.

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.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Indie Book Tidal Wave…What Does it Mean for Bookstores, Publishers & Writers?

We’re all agreed: the publishing industry is in upheaval. A kind of change that ripples in fractal waves throughout its entire expression and existence.  A kind of change that creates a great paradigm shift. A kind of change that heralds in a new world.

Of course, much of this is due to a change in perspective: how we approach things and direct ourselves; the models and designs we use as our vehicles of expression; and how we apply them in relationship with our world.

So, what I’m saying is that the publishing industry is changing because we are changing, not the other way around. We are directing that change. We are directing that change every bit as much as we are directing changes in other important elements in our lives.

You don’t need to embrace new-age spirituality, mystery school teachings, non-locality particle physics, quantum entanglement or “intuitive science” to appreciate that our entire existence as a species, a living community and a planet is in upheaval.

You know what I mean. Wherever you look, it’s crazy (put your own examples here; there are too many). And in the midst of all this, miracles happen. What does this have to do with indie publishing? Well, nothing…well, everything. Let me tell you a little about me and my books…

I’ve had over a dozen books published with small to mid-sized presses as well as my own small press, recently started up. My first book made it to the shelves of big bookstores like Chapters/Indigo and Barnes & Noble. I’ve seen my books on the shelves of small indie bookstores in Toronto and Vancouver areas and in a Paris bookstore. I’ve also had the heartache of seeing too many of my books returned from these same large bookstores, no longer “stocking” a particular title (although they kept it in their online catalogue). Over the years my thinking as both writer and publisher has shifted: mostly to do with what bookstores are doing; who to publish with; and what formats to provide my readership (e.g., e-book, print, audiobook).

Along with that shift, my definition of “big thinking” also changed. The possibilities are endless in a world where an unknown individual can achieve worldwide fame through a single twitter feed.

In the first in a new series of articles devoted to “Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Indie Publishing” Dean Wesley Smith recently shared some interesting facts and opinions about how changes in book production along with reader technology has affected the industry.

He dispels the notion of many indies that their books can’t easily get into bookstores. Distribution channels for books, particularly indie books, are more than arcane. Smith advises indie publishers and writers that, “If you are already doing some things correctly, there’s a big chance your books are already in bookstores and you don’t even know it.” He’s right. I’ve published several of my books with indie publishers and both my publisher and I were unaware of some of the bookstores my books ended up in all over the world! I only found out because I frequently google my books for just such surprises. “And of course, in this new world,” Smith continues, “you don’t even know what it means ‘to have your books in a bookstore’.”

What does it mean to have your book in a bookstore? It’s in the store if it is sitting on one of the shelves, says Smith. It’s also “in the store” if it’s in the bookstore’s online database, which is where most indie books end up—virtually there, if not actually there. Considering how most people shop for books these days, and the inadequacy of shelf exposure (only so many books can appear on the shelf with their covers visible as opposed to their less compelling spine), this is not necessarily a lesser thing for the indie writer and publisher.

Ten years ago, says Smith, most bookstores used to order “to stock”. Today smart bookstores order “to replace”. This is now possible because of quicker distribution, and swift and high quality digital POD methods of book production (including neat quirky things like Espresso Book Machines or EBMs). Along with this new policy comes another potential change in the transaction model—that of returns.  Smith reports that the returns system is “drifting away and is now under 18% standard and still dropping.” They were more like 50% not too long ago, which can be potentially disastrous to a small publishing company or self-published author with small revenue-base. Smith reports that many large publishers are even offering no-return choices, usually with higher discounts, which bookstores are accepting. This is great news again to small and new publishers, who cannot afford the uncertain and sudden cost of returns. Of course, returns will likely remain as a reassurance to booksellers when picking up unknown titles. In fact, this practice was adopted to permit booksellers to carry more new and untried authors without putting them at grave risk.

Smith confirms something I envisioned a while ago: that bookstores won’t disappear; instead they will morph into a more diverse set of small and specialized stores, stocking less numbers of any one book (one or two copies tops) for show with the ability to order new books and get them quickly. This is the new model Smith talks about: stock low and order to replace. So, “instead of ten of the last Patterson, there are two of the Patterson and eight other author’s books in the same shelf space,” says Smith.

So, for indie book publishers and writers, and bookstores who carry them, we are seeing the rise of a new paradigm; new trade arrangements that include consignment agreements, small but diverse inventory, and huge opportunity.

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, May 7, 2014

Can Environmental SF Help Save Our Planet?

That is the question David Holmes at Monash University asked in his Feb 20th 2014 article in the Australian ezine The Conversation.

There is an obvious trend toward environmental premise in science fiction. In the 2009 World SF Convention in Montreal, I sat on a panel with Tom Doherty of Tor Books, who shared that, “We want to see a hero who works to achieve an environmentally sustainable world through innovation and creative technology.” I was delighted to hear that Tor was officially embracing a new kind of hero and associated paradigm for storytelling; one based on intelligent innovation, creativity and cooperation and sound environmental stewardship.

Climate change is just one—albeit a global—environmental issue referred to by Doherty. Several years before Doherty’s statement, British nature writer Robert Macfarlane submitted that writers could play a crucial role in helping us to imagine the impact of climate change. Macfarlane was referring to the power of storytelling in forming and influencing a society’s changing paradigm.

Around the same time that Doherty made his statement, environmentalist Bill McKibben shared that, “Global Warming has still to produce an Orwell or a Huxley, a Verne or a Wells, a Nineteen Eighty-Four or a War of the Worlds, or in film any equivalent of On the Beach or Doctor Strangelove.” In his article, Holmes identified the urgent need “for a narrative form that can communicate the seriousness of climate change to a broad public.”

Part of the challenge is in first defining and acknowledging this literature as its own genre or sub-genre. In 2013 Wired Magazine defined climate fiction as a “subgenre of dystopian fiction set in the near future, in which climate change wreaks havoc on an otherwise familiar planet.” Wired noted that cli-fi has already attracted well-known literary authors, including Ian McEwen, Barbara Kingsolver and Margaret Atwood.

 Climate fiction is best described as a sub-genre of the science fiction genre, itself a powerful literature of metaphor, with the highest potential to raise awareness about major social—and environmental—issues.

Many have dismissed science fiction as escapist literature (Atwood was herself guilty of this
dismissal, even as she was writing science fiction). Others may not even recognize that they are reading or watching science fiction. From its early form to its contemporary form, writers of the genre have created powerful metaphor of great scope that has examined our greatest creations and deepest choices. Science fiction is subversive literature that illuminates our history and our very humanity. It does this by examining our interaction with “the other”—the unfamiliar and unknown. A scientific discovery. An environmental disaster. A calamity related to climate change. From Shelley’s promethean Frankenstein to Atwood’s environmental dystopia Oryx and Crake, science fiction has co-evolved with its culture, subverting the status quo by pointing to choice and consequence.

Critic Frederic Jameson suggests that, “Science fiction is in its very nature a symbolic meditation on history itself.” The genre explores premise based on current scientific and technological paradigms and associated cultures and beliefs. What if that went on unchecked?...What if we decided to end this or ignore that?... These are conveyed through various predictive visions from cautionary tales (e.g., Atwood’s Oryx and Crake) to dystopias (e.g., Huxley’s Brave New World). Where realist fiction makes commentary on our current society, science fiction (and climate fiction as one of its sub-genres) takes that commentary into the realm of consequence by showing it to us in living color.

Regarding dystopian cli-fi, Margaret Atwood wrote in the Huffington Post that, while earlier dystopic novels focused on oppressive and deceptive political regimes, “now [dystopias are] more likely to take place in a challenging landscape that no longer resembles the hospitable planet we've taken for granted.”—in a world of our making.

Mary Shelley’s 19th Century Frankenstein (1818) explored humanity’s fear of the monster of difference and change; Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four (1948) was a post-war commentary on the danger of a totalitarian world where order was maintained through mind-control and propaganda; Huxley’s post-WWI Brave New World (1932) portrayed a supposed utopia built on stability through genetic manipulation at the expense of creative chaos; Ray Bradbury’s post-WWII Fahrenheit 451 explored the control of humanity through imposed ignorance. Fiction of the past two decades has shifted to reflect our emerging concerns with technology, corporate deceit, overpopulation and global environmental calamity.

A short list of eco-fiction and climate fiction written or filmed in the last several decades includes: Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach; The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard; Oryx and Crake trilogy by Margaret Atwood; Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver; Solar by Ian McEwan; Back to the Garden by Clara Hume; Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis; Odds against Tomorrow by Rich Nathaniel; Children of Men; The Day After Tomorrow; Waterworld; and Avatar. My eco-SF thriller Darwin’s Paradox examines humanity’s co-evolution with technology and nature in a climate-changed world.

I have been coaching writers to publication for over two decades and currently teach how to write science fiction at the University of Toronto and George Brown College. I’ve noticed that in a short time, an ever-larger proportion of student writers are exploring an environmental premise for their novels with imaginative sub-genres emerging. In my latest class, several students have independently classified their works as eco-punk, eco-action, environmental thriller and urban eco-fantasy. 

If an altered climate provides the overall premise of climate fiction, then its theme must relate to humanity’s part in it. If climate fiction—like science fiction—does not do this, then it is relinquishing the most potent aspect of its genre-purpose: to incite action as a result of being brought to awareness. Some will argue that simply being brought to awareness is sufficient. I submit that all too often what this engenders is alarm and powerlessness. There’s nothing worse than a story that does not provide epiphany, reconciliation, and opportunity for purposeful action. I don’t mean polemic either; I am talking about opportunity for change through a resolving story arc.

Which brings us back to the question posed by David Holmes. My answer is a resounding yes: eco-fiction can save the planet—IF it provides direction and the opportunity for resolution and triumph. Otherwise, it’s just a disaster story; something to endure. Literature can provide a loud clarion call for action, change and evolution. It always has. Think of how the cautionary tales of Huxley, Orwell, Heinlein, Bradbury and Atwood nurtured the seeds of dissent and change. Now think of how a single book—Silent Spring by Rachel Carson—helped spawn the American environmental movement of the 1960s.

Environmental fiction is growing in prominence because it needs to. Writers from all around the world are responding to this global need and leading the wave of change. It starts with genre identification. 

Below is a list of my own environmental fiction.

Environmental Fiction by Nina Munteanu:

ANGEL OF CHAOS: readers explore genetics, bio-engineering, biomimicry as well as the effects of climate change in Canada's southern Ontario. Readers learn about how plagues and viruses spread and behave and their role as aggressive symbionts in impacted ecosystems.

DARWIN'S PARADOX: readers explore not only about Darwin's paradox, but how damaged ecosystems behave. Readers learn about the fractal relationship between cells, individuals and communities and habitats, about phenomena like creative destruction, fractal ecology, ad co-evolution, not to mention intelligent viruses and the role of technology in natural evolution. For more on this book, read this review in Speculating Canada: "Patient Zero and the Post-Human".

SPLINTERED UNIVERSE: readers explore niche-partitioning and natural altruism in wild animals and Nature generally in this galactic trilogy; readers explore commensalism and compassion in Nature; they learn about behaviour modification of animals in captivity vs. in the wild and so much more. For more about this trilogy, you can read this review in Speculating Canada: "Alien Ecologies

NATURAL SELECTION: in my collection of short stories readers explore GMO, bio-technology, aggressive co-evolution, and political ramifications of climate change

For more on my thoughts on the role of ecology in speculative fiction you can read my interview on 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.