The Writer-Editor Relationship, Part 2: Editors Preparing Writers

Alvar in spring, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

In my previous article, “Five Things Writers Wish Editors Knew—and Followed,” I focused on clarifying expectations between editors and writers from the writer’s point of view.

Part 2, this article, focuses on this same relationship from the editor’s point of view. If you are a writer, this article serves as a workable checklist of what you should expect from a good editor.

Realizing Expectations

Indie authors often come to editors with unclear and, at times, unreasonable or unrealistic expectations on services. Many writers know very little about the kind of editing we do and the different levels of effort (time and associated fee) required. They do not understand the difference between “copy-editing” and “structural editing”, particularly as it pertains to their own work. In fact, many indie writers don’t even know what their MS requires. This is because of two things: 1) they can’t objectively assess their own work, particularly in relation to market needs; and 2) many authors have not sufficiently considered their “voice” or brand and matched it to a relevant target market. Both of these will influence how the writer comes into the relationship and the nature of their expectations.

It is best to be “up front” with everything, from understanding a writer’s work and market expectations to establishing your fees, your time, and the nature of your services. This is why a savvy editor will ask for a one to several page example of the author’s writing prior to offering their services and finalizing the nature of a potential relationship. Such an exchange may, in turn, include a sample of the editor’s work for the writer to assess. This exchange helps clarify the process for both parties.

A savvy editor will want to establish with the author the following things prior to taking him/her on as a client and embarking on the actual editing task:

  1. The nature of the writer’s work: a writer’s work should harmonize with the editor and achieve a good fit; e.g., I edit fiction and non-fiction; however, I do not edit horror, because I simply can’t relate to it and don’t care for it.  More on this below.
  2. The author’s expectations and target market: this is key to establishing the kind of editing required for the author’s piece. Is it good enough to just copy-edit or will the piece require substantive edits to succeed in the identified market? This often requires open and frank communication between editor and author.
  3. Nature and time of submission: on which the schedule is based.
  4. Schedule and deadlines for deliverables: based on the editor’s realistic timing (including other work) and the nature of the editing job (to be established by some reliable means).
  5. Nature of communication: form and frequency; partly to ensure that the writer does not abuse the communication stream with a barrage of emails, e-chats, phone calls, etc.)
  6. Nature and cost of deliverables: e.g., use of track changes; inclusion of summary letter; follow up meetings, etc.
  7. Mutual agreement on fees, fee structure and payment details: what, how and when.
  8. Inclusion and nature of contract: this may include an NDS, if desired.

By clarifying these, you and the author create a new set of realistic agreed-upon expectations.

Fitting Writer with Editor

The right fit for editor and writer includes more than harmonizing genre, writing style, and content. The fit includes personality. A professional editor and writing colleague of mine recently shared on our list-serve about his experience as both a freelance and publishing house editor. The editor shared that a majority of writers responded to his edits with comments like, “finally, someone who just comes out and plainly tells me what’s wrong!” However, others complained: “why are you so mean?” The editor admitted to using humor liberally in his assessments and was described by one of his clients as “playfully harsh.” While the work of this editor is no doubt impeccable, the added humor may not be a good fit for some writers, particularly those who are not highly confident in their work.

Knowing your own brand of editing and being up front with it is part of achieving a good fit with a writer and can avoid huge headaches down the line for both of you.

Toward Honesty & Moral Integrity

I and some of my editing colleagues have run across several cases of indie writers who have come to us with “already edited works” that they believed only needed proofing or minor edits, but in fact called for substantive editing and story coaching to fulfill market requirements. The previous editor had either done a poor job of editing or the author had done a poor job of incorporating the edits. Either way, I was now in the position to inform this author, who had already spent several thousand dollars on edits, that his work required more than a “trim job off the top” to meet the standards demanded by the market.

My colleague suggested that it is unethical to copy-edit a manuscript that obviously requires structural editing or has serious “story” problems. I’m inclined to agree. The key lies in the expectations of the author and his/her intended market. This is where the editor’s knowledge of “matching work to market” becomes a critical part of the relationship with the author, whether you take him/her on as a client or not. I talked more about this in an article on Boldface: “The Moving Target of Indie Publishing: What Every Editor (and Writer) Needs to Know.” Honesty is best. Following the path of moral integrity may not put food on the table; but it will maintain your reputation as an editor of quality, which will keep the roof over your head.

Below is a mock email of a general response to a writer’s inquiry for help on their MS:

Dear Alice,  

Thank you for your interest in my editing services. I am still taking on clients and would be happy to help you.  

In your initial letter, you included a brief description of your story. It sounds intriguing and interesting. Science fiction is my passion (I’ve published nine SF books so far).  

Before we proceed, I need a few things from you to ensure we are a good fit and to help me do the best I can for your project. First, can you please send me a short sample of your work (2-3 pages) and a very short summary. From this I’ll be able to confirm the kind of editing that best suits your project. For the kinds of editing/coaching services and associated fees please refer to this page on my website: xxxx.  

Can you also answer the following questions?

1. (If they haven’t included the genre or a short premise, I ask them for one).
2. How do you intend to publish this book (traditional, indie, self-publish)?
3. Who would you say is your intended audience and market?
4. Is his book a sand alone or par of a trilogy or series?
5. Is the book complete (firs draft or higher? If not, how much is written?  

Based on this, I will suggest the kind of editing (and coaching) required to best fit your needs. This may be one or a combination of the following: 1) an evaluation/assessment at $xx/page; 2) copy-editing (with some substantive editing) at $xx/page; or 3) story coaching at $xx/hour. As outlined on my webpage (xxxx), I provide digital commentary (line by line) in your manuscript (in Word through track changes) accompanied by a summary letter with recommendations. You can find examples of what I do on this page of my website: xxxx.   Once I’ve determined what services best suit your work and you are in agreement with the service and fees, I will draw up a contract for you and I to sign. The contract will stipulate a reasonable schedule that you and I can agree on for the process and deliverables.  

Once the contract is signed by both of us, I would ask that you send me your material along with Paypal payment for the first half of the agreed total fee by the date marked in the contract.  

I look forward to hearing from you.  

Best Wishes,

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

The Writer-Editor Relationship, Part 1: Five Things Writers Should Look for in an Editor

Alvar at spring, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

As indie publishing soars into new heights and successes, writers are looking more and more to freelance editors to help them create works of merit that will stand out in the market. Whether this process is seamless and productive or fraught with difficulties relies on the relationship established between editor and writer—at the outset and throughout.

The writer-editor relationship—like any relationship—works best when communication between parties is transparent and clear. What ultimately drives misunderstanding—or its corollary, harmony—is “expectation” and how it is met. Clarifying expectations on both sides is paramount to creating a professional and productive relationship with few hitches.

Clarity of expectation, honesty, and mutual respect are key features in a productive and successful writer-editor relationship. Writers expect editors to inform them if their expectations are out of line, and writers rely on editors’ honesty and transparency to let them know if they are comfortable with the task being asked of them. This, of course, is predicated on the editor’s full understanding of what that task is; again, it is the responsibility of the editor to determine the scope of work from the author—just as a doctor will ask key questions to diagnose a patient. If an editor has reservations, caveats, or limitations with the project, these should be shared upfront. Honesty is always best, and it should start right from the beginning so that mutual respect is cemented.

Below, I list five things that writers should look for and expect from a good editor. Each of these five items can be determined at the outset, when you and your potential editor first meet. Consider that first meeting as an interview for both of you, to determine if you are a good match.

1. The editor will preserve the writer’s voice through open and respectful dialogue: Losing your voice to the “hackings of an editor” is perhaps a beginner writer’s greatest fear. This makes sense, given that a novice writer’s voice is still in its infancy; it is tentative, evolving, and striving for an identity. While a professional editor is not likely to “hack,” the fear may remain well-founded.

A novice’s voice is often tangled and enmeshed in a chaos of poor narrative style, grammatical errors, and a general misunderstanding of the English language. Editors trying to improve a novice writer’s narrative flow without interfering with voice are faced with a challenge. Teasing out the nuances of creative intent amid the turbulent flow of awkward and obscure expression requires finesse—and consideration. Good editors recognize that every writer has a voice, no matter how weak or ill-formed, and that voice is the culmination of a writer’s culture, beliefs, and experiences. Editing to preserve a writer’s voice—particularly when it is weak and not fully formed—needs a “soft touch” that invites more back-and-forth than usual, uses more coaching-style language, and relies on good feedback.

An editor colleague of mine consistently accompanies her edits with the question, “Does this change preserve your meaning?” This prompt both focuses on “voice” and reminds the writer that the editor is considering it, which fosters a nurturing environment of mutual respect. Editors who are not familiar with working with writers in the early stage of their careers may wish to defer to one who is more experienced. This is something you should ask when you first find an editor.

Editors also need to consider how the author’s narrative voice harmonizes with the standard in the author’s targeted genre and niche market. Pursuing respectful and open dialogue about how the author’s voice fits or doesn’t fit that standard is another responsibility of a good editor and one an author will come to rely on—particularly early on in their career.

2. The editor understands—and embraces—the market and genre of your writer: Writers are often told to write what they know. This edict applies equally to editors: edit what you “know” and understand. Each form of writing—from literary and genre fiction to journalism, the memoir, and technical writing—encompasses an overall style, culture and vision, associated language, and even “jargon” that is important to understand to succeed with readers. Even writers who subvert the trope need to first understand what they are subverting, and so does the editor.

I write and edit science fiction and fantasy. I do it very well, because I have a passion for the genre and I intimately understand its world and language, including where the boundaries lie and where the risks—and sublime nuances of originality—also lie. I worked as a scientist for over 20 years and have published papers in peer-reviewed journals, so I am comfortable editing technical and scientific papers. I live that world. On the other hand, I do not read, nor do I understand or care for, the horror fiction genre. Not only would I do a lousy job editing a work of horror, but I wouldn’t provide the discerning editorial advice to best place that work in the horror market. It is in the area of market niche that one editor will shine over another based on their familiarity with, and current activity in, that industry sector. This is ultimately what writers are paying for: the multi-layered understanding of the editor that comes with a full embrace of that world.

Your potential editor should ensure a good fit and the best chance for success by not taking on work in a genre with which they are neither familiar nor comfortable. Which leads me to the next point:

3. The editor is honest and practices moral integrity: they don’t take on a writer’s work unless they like and believe in it: When I was starting out as a writer with my first novel, I shopped it around to many agents, hoping for representation. While the book was eventually published with great success, many agents had rejected it. Literary agents take on clients and shop their books to publishing houses. They usually charge a percentage of the take and are not paid (if they are good agents) until the book is sold to a publishing house. Payment, therefore, is predicated on success. In many cases, an agent would respond with good things to say about my first manuscript but would not take it on, citing this common phrase: “It just didn’t excite me enough.” I was initially puzzled by this response. If they liked it, why didn’t they take it on? But “I like” isn’t the same as “I’m excited.” I soon realized the importance that excitement played in the agent’s business. They were my advocate, after all. If they weren’t eager about the book, how could they sell it to someone else? And if they couldn’t sell it to someone else, how could they get paid?

While the editor is usually paid up front and/or upon deliverable, they fulfill a similar role: that of advocate. If an editor takes on a writer’s work without enjoying it or believing in it, they are much less likely to do a good job. And both lose when that happens.

When we just do a job for the money and not for the passion of doing something well, we run the risk of losing on all fronts. We run the risk of being dishonest in our assessments and then doing a shabby job. And then losing our reputation. Editors need to be an advocate and be honest; sometimes, that means saying “no” to a project and explaining why. As a writer, you are entitled to working with an editor who enjoys your work.

4. Editor edits professionally and appropriately to promised deliverable: In my capacity as writing coach, I have met with several writers who have complained that their work had been insufficiently or inappropriately edited. This can occur for several reasons: (a) lack of time; (b) incompetence; or (c) inappropriate match-up.

  • Lack of time

As a writer, I once experienced an insufficient copy edit by a freelance professional editor. In fact, this particular editor was a good editor and had impeccably edited a previous work of mine. When I submitted my “edited” work to a beta reader, he pointed out many places that my copy editor had missed. A few is OK, but she’d missed many. From subsequent correspondence, I deduced that my editor had been overrun with other projects and had skimmed mine a little too fast. Unfortunately, this was unacceptable, given that I’d agreed to pay her a professional rate for a specific deliverable: a copy-edited, proofed, and publication-ready manuscript.

The ultimate message here for editors is, don’t take on a writer’s work and make promises of delivering until you know what you’re getting into and know that you can do it in the time you suggested. Honesty is best here. If an editor is too busy to meet the specified deadline, they need to say so and refer the writer to another respected editor if they can’t wait. A smart editor knows they aren’t “losing” the client. But that editor I mentioned in the previous paragraph did. It’s best to create a contract with the editor that is mutually beneficial, transparent, and detailed with reasonably scheduled updates, etc.

  • Incompetence

Unfortunately, most editors who are incompetent are unaware of it. One of my professional writer-editor colleagues at SF Canada invoked the Dunning-Kruger Effect (“at a certain point, people who really don’t know something don’t know that they don’t know it”) to share her story of what passes for editorial input in “an age of homonym errors.” She suggested that some self-appointed editors are convinced they have significant skills but allow a large error rate.

This is where organizations like Editors Canada become invaluable. Editors Canada certifies editors for skills in various editing fields and forms (that is, structural-, stylistic-, and copy editing and proofreading). Professional editors can be variously certified, and should ensure that they make this known to the writer; many writers not only don’t understand the various editing forms (for example, copy editing vs. structural editing), they also don’t necessarily recognize competence until after the job is done—when it’s too late. You, the writer, are entitled to ask your editor for references, testimonials, certifications and other forms of proven experience before signing on with them.

  • Inappropriate match-up

This is similar to point 2, which talks about matching writer and editor through genre and market. A good fit also includes temperament, schedules, communication style, and other considerations that will affect the editor-writer relationship and the natural progress of the project. As editor, I have encountered a few clients whose communications with me created tension and misunderstanding. We mutually agreed to terminate our arrangement early on, which saved much tension and grief. The transparency of the relationship allowed us to recognize the mismatch early on and attend to it before it became problematic and wasted both our time and efforts. You can prevent this to some degree by researching the editor’s style and experience with other writers. Many editors—like me—put their testimonials, experience, and even editing examples on their website. Another way to achieve match-up success is to get a referral from a trusted writer friend.

5. The editor keeps the relationship—and language—professional and respectful: Without necessarily expressing this, the majority of writers—particularly beginning writers and, by default, indie/self-published writers—seek a professional editor who will treat them with respect. What this translates into is the use of professional language, tone, and behaviour. You aren’t looking for an editor to be your “friend.” You are also not looking for a professional editor to validate your work or you as a person. As a writer, you seek a professional editor to give you honest and helpful advice that will help you create the very best work you can for eventual publication.

Simple. Not so simple.

As an editor who is also a writer (who gets edited a lot), I provide rationale as much as I can for the suggestions I make to writers and I do it through professional language, tone and behaviour. I am friendly but I keep it professional. This helps establish and maintain a respectful and collaborative relationship between author and editor. Think of it as a doctor-patient relationship; I’ve dropped doctors like hot potatoes who are not willing to sit with me as an equal and discuss their prognoses. I want to know why, and ultimately, it’s my decision. The editor is an expert, but so is the writer.

In the final analysis, the writer-editor relationship is foremost a professional one. As an editor, I feel it is my duty to promote integrity and respect with the writer, and this hopefully within a safe and nurturing environment for the achievement of mutual excellence. As a writer, I expect my editor to be respectful and act as advocate to my work. I offer my respect on their expertise with communication.

I’ve been edited by many editors, including freelance editors with Editors Canada to publishing house editors throughout North America and beyond. A good editor is like gold in your pocket. They can help you improve your work beyond your own imaginings. In the end, every decision remains yours. While I normally take most of my editor’s advice (usually 95% of the time), I often find the odd place where their suggestion does not fit the heart of my writing. Then I simply say “no.”

Alvar in spring, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

When Water Speaks: quotes from A Diary in the Age of Water

“As Nature tames a lake over time, one thing replaces another. As it undergoes a natural succession from oligotrophic to highly productive eutrophic, a lake’s beauty mellows and it surrenders to the complexities of destiny. Minimalism yields to a baroque richness that, in turn, heralds extinction. The lake shrinks to a swamp then buries itself under a meadow.”

Lynna Dresden

’A Diary’ is a brilliant story…Munteanu writes with fresh, stimulating style.”

CRAIG H. BOWLSBY, author of The Knights of Winter
Outlet of Thompson Creek at sunset, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

When the Permafrost Thaws…

Ice and snow cover the Otonabee River in winter, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

In my upcoming novel “Gaia’s Revolution,” one of the protagonists, Damien Vogel, contemplates in 2022 a key event from 2020 that only a few seem to take seriously:

In Siberia in June 2020, record heat of thirty degrees Centigrade, over the average of 11 degrees, collapsed permafrost and caused oil tanks in Norilsk to rupture. Over twenty thousand tonnes of diesel spilled into the Pyasina lake and river system. Damien remembers looking at the veins of red on satellite images from space. That disaster is just the beginning of what the ‘sleeping bear’ of methane hydrates promise to unleash when the permafrost reaches a critical thaw and those hydrates awaken. Melting permafrost is a quiet sleeper in the climate change procession, he considers. At a microscopic level, in the chemistry of the water and in the change in the atmosphere, a time bomb is ticking.

A decade later, Damien’s twin brother, Eric, notes that:

“Back in the ‘20s scientists started noticing major permafrost melt on the Siberian Shelf,” Eric goes on. “The melting released hydrates, which set the oil and gas companies frothing at the mouth with joy and the climate scientists spinning in a panic because of what they knew it meant for the planet. It was the harbinger of the largest methane ‘burp’ ever.”

Eric then adds:

“Permafrost thaw kicked us into this devastating global warming, Dame, and everyone—even the climate modellers—ignored it, because they didn’t have enough data. Gott verdammt! They’re all still asleep, Dame!”

In his book The Treeline, Ben Rawlence writes about the ongoing extinction of indigenous peoples in the north as the treeline migrates northward into tundra and the permafrost and sea ice change and go extinct themselves.

Ice fragments on the Otonabee River, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Methane & The Clathrate Gun Hypothesis 

Because methane is present in much smaller concentrations many scientists have mistakenly deemed it as important as carbon dioxide in the climate change equation; however, it is becoming obvious that methane poses a real and largely unacknowledged danger. Methane is twenty times more efficient in trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Permafrost—which is currently melting rapidly in the north—contains almost twice as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere. In the rapidly warming Arctic (warming twice as fast as the globe as a whole), the upper layers of this frozen soil are thawing, allowing deposited organic material to decompose and release methane.


The clathrate gun hypothesis is the notion that sea temperature rises (and/or drops in sea levels) may trigger a catastrophic positive feedback on climate:  warming would cause a sudden release of methane from methane clathrate (hydrate) compounds buried in seabeds, in the permafrost, and under ice sheets.

Something of this nature has already occurred in Siberia in 2020. In his book The Treeline Ben Rawlence reports the following warning by Dutch scientist Dr. Ko van Huissteden, a leading authority on permafrost:

“It is hard to measure methane release … [but] some studies have suggested that an unstable seabed could release a methane ‘burp’ of 500-5000 gigatonnes, equivalent to decades of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to an abrupt jump in temperature that humans will be powerless to arrest.” (Wadhams, 2015)

Creation of gas hydrates requires high pressure; water; gas—mainly methane—and low temperatures. Three environments considered suitable for this process to occur include: sub-seabed along the world’s continental margins; permafrost areas on land and off shore; and a process for storing methane hydrates: ice sheets. As long as the climate is cold and the ice sheet stable, the gas hydrate zone remains stable. As the ice sheets melt, the pressure on the ground decreases; hydrates destabilize and release methane into rising seawater and finally into the atmosphere.

A recent study in Science revealed that hundreds of massive, kilometer-wide craters on the ocean floor in the Arctic were formed by substantial methane expulsions. Because methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, temperatures would rise exponentially. Once started, this runaway process could be as irreversible as the firing of a gun—and on a time scale less than a human lifetime.

The sudden release of large amounts of natural warming gas from methane clathrate deposits in runaway climate change could be a cause of past, future, and present climate changes.

Latest research on the Greenland ice sheet and elsewhere throughout the Arctic has revealed major methane discharges in Arctic lakes in areas of permafrost thaw. Scientists are exploring areas where methane is bubbling to the surface and releasing to the atmosphere.

If human emissions continue at their current rate, rapidly changing ocean currents and retreating ice sheets may uncork methane from under ice caps, ocean sediments and Arctic permafrost, causing a jump in radiative forcing. Even if rapid ice sheet disintegration were to scatter large amounts of ice into the oceans, the net cooling effect would be strongly countered and likely overwhelmed. The areas that did cool would likely trigger severe weather outbreaks.

As I write, we are pumping out CO2 into the atmosphere at a rate 10 times faster than at any point in the past 66 m years, with the resulting sea level rises, extreme weather events, heat waves, droughts, unseasonal storms, and stress on biodiversity around the globe.  Research published in the journal Nature Geoscience demonstrates that “the world has entered ‘uncharted territory’ and that the consequences for life on land and in the oceans may be more severe than at any time since the extinction of the dinosaurs,” writes Damian Carrington of The Guardian.

In an interview with Guardian reporter John Abraham, Woods Hole expert Robert Max Holmes, exhorted:

It’s essential that policymakers begin to seriously consider the possibility of a substantial permafrost carbon feedback to global warming. If they don’t, I suspect that down the road we’ll all be looking at the 2°C threshold in our rear-view mirror.

Ice break up on the Otonabee River in early spring, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)


Hansen, James and Sato, Makiko; Update of Greenland ice sheet mass loss: Exponential?; (26 December 2012).

Adams, J., M.A. Maslin and E. Thomas Sudden climate transitions during the Quaternary; Progress in Physical Geography, 23, 1, 1-36 (1999)

Andreassen et al. 2017. “Massive blow-out craters formed by hydrate-controlled methane expulsion from the Arctic seafloor,” … 1126/science.aal4500

Carrington, Damian. 2016. “Carbon emission release rate ‘unprecedented’ in past 66 m years.” The Guardian, March 21, 2016.

Hansen, James and Sato, Makiko. 2012. Update of Greenland ice sheet mass loss: Exponential?; (26 December 2012).

Portnov et al. 2016. Ice-sheet-driven methane storage and release in the ArcticNature Communications 7

Rawlence, Ben. 2022. “The Treeline.” Jonathan Cape, London. 342pp.

Sachs, Julian and Anderson, Robert. 2005. Increased productivity in the subantarctic ocean during Heinrich events; Nature 434, 1118-1121;(28 April 2005).

Sojtaric, Maja. 2016. Ice Sheets May be Hiding Vast Reservoirs of Powerful Greenhouse GasCAGE.

Wadhams, Peter. 2015. “A Farewell to Ice.” Penguin.

Flowing water in a river, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

This entry was posted in booksCanadaChoices for WaterClimate Changeeco-fictionecologyenvironmentSciencesustainabilityThe FutureWater Is and tagged arctic ice meltArctic OceanBen Rawlenceclathrate gun hypothesisClimate Changeeco-fictionecologyenvironmentGaia’s Revolutionglobal warmingice sheetsmelting permafrostmethanemethane clathratesmethane hydratespermafrostpermafrost thawrunaway climate changeScienceThe Treelinewater. Bookmark the permalinkEdit

When Water Speaks: quotes from A Diary in the Age of Water

“[My] paper on stream periphyton in Hydrobiologia could have been controversial and ultimately rejected by the scientific community; instead, it demurred to traditional science and was embraced as ground-breaking.”

Lynna Dresden

A Diary in the Age of Water is“A chilling but believable portrayal of what might happen as fresh water becomes more scarce.”


“Evoking Ursula LeGuin’s unflinching humane and moral authority, Nina Munteanu takes us into the lives of four generations of women and their battles against a global giant that controls and manipulates Earth’s water. In a diary that entwines acute scientific observation with poignant personal reflection, Lynna’s story unfolds incrementally, like climate change itself. Particularly harrowing are the neighbourhood water betrayals, along with Lynna’s deliberately dehydrated appearance meant to deflect attention from her own clandestine water collection. Her estrangement from her beloved daughter, her “dark cascade” who embarks upon a deadly path of her own, is heart-wrenching. Munteanu elegantly transports us between Lynna’s exuberant youth and her tormented present, between microcosm and macrocosm, linking her story and struggles-and those of her mother, daughter, and granddaughter-to the life force manifest in water itself. In language both gritty and hauntingly poetic, Munteanu delivers an uncompromising warning of our future.”

LYNN HUTCHINSON LEE, multimedia artist, author, and playwright
Snow melt in marsh by country road, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

When Water Speaks: quotes from A Diary in the Age of Water

“During spring thaw or fall turnover, the thermocline erodes and the changing temperature forces a lake to mix, revealing her secrets.”

Lynna Dresden

“Munteanu’s experience in bridging the worlds of biology and writing makes A Diary in the Age of Water unique in being strong and focused from both the scientific and literary perspectives.”

Overflowing marshy creek in Trent Nature Sanctuary in spring, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

When Ice Shapes Art…

Ice sheet with embedded pancake ice breaking into fragments on the Otonabee River, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

It’s spring and every day on the river is different. One day the ice thaws. The next day it reforms only to thaw again.

Ice sheet stitched together by ice pancakes and fragments, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

I love watching the process of ice pancake formation and reformation on the Otonabee River. It starts with primordial ice-froth, which then coagulates into ice sheets. These sometimes look like fabric or white felt.

Giant ice fragments with embedded pancake ice break off ice sheets in spring on the river, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Then entire sheets break up into long fragments like giant pieces of glass shards, all floating down the river, little opaque pancakes embedded in clear glassy sheets. And the water beneath is the darkest blue.

Ice pancakes glued into an ice sheet by clear ice formed around them (photo by Nina Munteanu)
Ice sculptures form as wave-induced ice shuga collide and form strange shapes, Otonabee River, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

The Sound of Snow…

Heavy snowfall where I live in Ontario (photo by Nina Munteanu)

I currently live in Ontario, Canada, where the four seasons are still distinct and winter comes with signature cold temperature well below zero degrees Centigrade along with lots and lots of snow. I grew up in Quebec, where the snow often piled up higher than I stood tall. Temperatures often went into the minus zero teens and twenties with wind chills reaching minus thirty degrees. This called for the right equipment. Insulated coat or jacket, snow pants, wool toque and mittens and/or gloves that are also well insulated. And, of course, warm snow boots.

Nina on a walk during a snowstorm, ON (photo by Merridy Cox)
Country road in the Kawarthas, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Nina’s car on ‘walkabout’ through Kawartha country after a fresh snowfall, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Farm in the Kawarthas, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Cows on a farm in the Kawarthas, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Country field in Kawarthas, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)
School kids heading to class after a fresh snow, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)
The Rotary Trail after a fresh snowfall, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Heavy snow falls on a trail in the Kawarthas, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

Since moving to the West Coast then back east to Ontario, I’ve come to realize that I love winters. I love how snow covers everything, how it quiets the landscape and changes it in subtle ways. I love the frigid wind, how it bites the face with invigorating energy, reminding me that I am so alive. I love the sounds of winter, of walking on snow, crunching and squeaking, of the howl of the wind and the creaking and groaning of the trees, or the cracking and booming of the ice forming and reforming on the river.

Bridge over creek in Trent Nature Sanctuary during heavy snowfall, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Jackson Creek after a fresh snowfall, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Woman and her dog walk through cedar swamp forest after a fresh snowfall, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Riparian forest clothed in fresh snow, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Riparian forest after a fresh snowfall, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

I am currently finishing a fiction book that takes place throughout Canada, but predominantly in northern British Columbia and the arctic of the Northwest Territories. My main character, a Gwich’in scientist, explores the land during a time of climate change, and much of it involves the expansive vast snowfields of northern Canada in which she describes the look, smell, feel, and sounds of snow. She thinks with great fondness of home in the Arctic where snow prominently features and, bringing in all her senses, of course, includes sound:

There are many different kinds of snow, and any native of the north can recognize them. We can not only tell something of the quality of weather from it, but also its history. Without having experienced the day or history of the place, we will know simply from walking through it. For instance, on a minus twenty-degree Centigrade day, when the cold bites your face and your breath coils out of your mouth like steam, old snow shines under a raking sun like an ice sheet. As though clear plastic was stretched over it. Sometimes, a hoar frost will form on the glassy thin layer, adding more glitter. Walking through it creates a symphony of crunch, pop and skittle sounds as each step breaks through the thin brittle layer into soft snow underneath. The scattering flat shards tingle like glass across the glistening ice-snow sheet.

Fresh snow that has fallen on a frigid night of minus fifteen degrees in a drier climate is fluffy, individual snowflakes glinting like jewels in the sun, and emits a high-pitched squeak and crunch as your boots press down on it. The colder the temperature, the higher the squeak. I just made that up. I’m not sure if it’s true. But considering the relationship of harmonics with temperature, it’s plausible.

Squeaky snow is the snow of my home up north, where it arrives in a thick passion in October with the winter darkness, and where a constant minus 16°C to minus 30°C pervades until spring, six months later. The snow resembles powdered sugar, glittering like millions of tiny mica flakes under the moonlight of an arctic winter night. It covers everything, the ground, the trees and tiniest vegetation with a white blanket of snow. And when the wind teases the trees, they rain glitter-dust. In places where the north wind freely drifts across open landscape, sastrugi form; frozen wavelets, mini-barchans and dune chains that resemble the wave ripples of a sandy white beach. In some vast open areas, the wind will sculpt a frozen sea of irregular ridges and grooves up to a metre high. Mary’s friend Jem from Igloolik calls these snowdrifts qimugruk, whose distinctive shapes become permanent features of the snowscape, with tips always pointing west-northwest. Igloolik hunters use these uqalurait to set their bearings when travelling across the expansive tundra, particularly during poor visibility from storms or darkness.

Tracks through a small path by the river, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Snow drift on a trail by the river, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

One of the sensitivity readers for the book, anthropologist and Gwich’in scholar Ingrid Kritsch, related to me an interesting account during attempts to open up to oil and gas development the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge–a critical area where the Porcupine Caribou herd calve. “To many Americans, it was just a big, white, barren expanse of unused lands,” said Ingrid. “She recalled a Senator speaking for development on these lands. The Senator held up a blank sheet of white paper and claimed ‘this is what the area looks like!’

The vast snowfields look nothing like that…

Snow drifts in Ontario (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

…Now, don’t forget to play in the snow…

Author’s son and friends play in fresh snow on Christmas in BC (photo by Nina Munteanu)
Nina Munteanu reads a book with her cup of tea in +8 degree C, ON (photo by Merridy Cox)

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.