Ecology of Story: Place as Character & Archetype

tree trunks coolA novelist, when portraying several characters, may often find herself painting a portrait of a place. This is place being “character.” Place functions as a catalyst, and molds the more traditional characters that animate a story. Think of any of your favorite books, particularly the epics: The Wizard of Oz, Tale of Two Cities, Doctor Zhivago, Lord of the Rings, The Odyssey, etc. In each of these books the central character is the place, which is firmly linked to its main character. How much is Frodo, for instance, an extension of his beloved Shire? They are one in the same. Just as the London of Charles Dickens spawned Scrooge.

Place ultimately portrays what lies at the heart of the story. Place as character serves as an archetype that story characters connect with and navigate in ways that depend on the theme of the story. A story’s theme is essentially the “so what part” of the story. What is at stake for the character on their journey. Theme is the backbone—the heart—of the story, driving characters to journey through time and place toward some kind of fulfillment. There is no story without theme. And there is no theme without place.

Things to consider about place as character begin with the POV character and how they interact with their environment and how they reflect their place. For instance is that interaction obvious or subtle? Is that environment constant or changing, stable or unstable, predictable, or variable? Is the place controllable or not, understandable or not? Is the relationship emotional, connected to senses such as memory?

I discuss archetypes in detail, particularly as part of the “Hero’s Journey” in Chapter J of The Fiction Writer. In summary, archetypes are ancient patterns of personality shared universally by humanity (e.g. the “mother” archetype is recognized by all cultures). When place acts as an archetype or symbol in story—particularly when linked to theme—it provides a depth of meaning that resonates through many levels for the reader. From obvious to subtle.

A subtle yet potent example of this is provided by Annie Proulx’s novel The Shipping News; Proulx uses subtle body language of her protagonist to provide a strong sense of place. The main character, Quoyle, displays a self-conscious gesture of covering his strong native chin with his hand until he leaves New York to his homeland of Newfoundland from where he is descended— a place where he can live a natural and graceful life without apology.

In Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, Mars symbolizes a new Eden—though unimagined. Like Bradbury’s aboriginal Martians—who are mostly invisible—the planet is a mirror that reflects humanity’s best and worst. Who we are, what we are, what we bring with us and what we may become. What we inadvertently do—to others, and finally to ourselves—and how the irony of chance can change everything.

Martian ChroniclesThey came because they were afraid or unafraid, happy or unhappy. There was a reason for each man. They were coming to find something or get something, or to dig up something or bury something. They were coming with small dreams or big dreams or none at all.

The 1970 Bantam book jacket aptly calls The Martian Chronicles, “a story of familiar people and familiar passions set against incredible beauties of a new world … A skillful blending of fancy and satire, terror and tenderness, wonder and contempt.”

Written in the 1940s, The Martian Chronicles drip with a nostalgic atmosphere — shady porches with tinkling pitchers of lemonade, grandfather clocks, chintz-covered sofas. But longing for this comfortable past proves dangerous in every way to Bradbury’s characters — the golden-eyed Martians as well as the humans. Starting in the far-flung future of 1999, expedition after expedition leaves Earth to explore Mars. The chameleon-like Martians guard their mysteries well, but soon succumb to the diseases that arrive with the rockets — recapitulating the tragedies that European colonization imposed on our indigenous peoples. Colonists appear on Mars, most of them with ideas no more lofty than starting a hot-dog stand, and with no respect for the culture they are impacting and an entire people they are destroying. Bradbury weaves metaphor into the opening when the heat of a rocket ship turned an Ohio dark winter into summer:

Rocket summer. The words passed among the people in the open, airing houses. Rocket summer. The warm desert air changing the frost patterns on the windows, erasing the art work. The skis and sleds suddenly useless. The snow, falling from the cold sky upon the town, turned to a hot rain before it touched the ground.

Rocket summer. People leaned form their dripping porches and watched the reddening sky. The rocket lay on the launching field, blowing out pink clouds of fire and even heat. The rocket stood in the cold winter morning, making summer with every breath of its mighty exhausts. The rocket made climates, and summer lay for a brief moment on the land…

What unfolds is a profound and tender analysis of the quiet yet devastating power humanity can wield unawares. Bradbury paints a multi-layered tapestry of hopes and dreams through metaphor. To Bradbury everything a writer writes is metaphor. Metaphor is powerful through perspective. It makes the ordinary strange and the strange ordinary.

MemoryOfWater_Emmi ItarantaIn Emmi Itäranta’s Memory of Water—about a post-climate change world of sea level rise—water is a powerful archetype, whose secret tea masters guard with their lives:

The story tells that water has a consciousness, that it carries in its memory everything that’s ever happened in this world, from the time before humans until this moment, which draws itself in its memory even as it passes. Water understands the movements of the world; it knows when it is sought and where it is needed. Sometimes a spring or a well dries for no reason, without explanation. It’s as if the water escapes of its own will, withdrawing into the cover of the earth to look for another channel. Tea masters believe there are times when water doesn’t wish to be found because it knows it will be chained in ways that are against its nature.

ThePenelopiadWater, with its life-giving properties and other strange qualities, has been used as a powerful metaphor and archetype in many stories: from vast oceans of mystery, beauty and danger—to the relentless flow of an inland stream. Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad is just one example:

Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.

MockUpEcology copyThis article is an excerpt from “The Ecology of Story: World as Character” due in June 2019 by Pixl Press.

From Habitats and Trophic Levels to Metaphor and Archetype…

Learn the fundamentals of ecology, insights of world-building, and how to master layering-in of metaphoric connections between setting and character. “Ecology of Story: World as Character” is the 3rd guidebook in Nina Munteanu’s acclaimed “how to write” series for novice to professional writers.

 

 

 

 

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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 www.ninamunteanu.ca 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” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

Morphology 2019–Celebrating A New Marsh in Mississauga with Quotes from “Water Is…”

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March 22 was World Water Day. As with last year at this same time and place, a brisk wind followed me into the industrial brick building that used to be the Small Arms Inspection Building—now converted into a community arts and culture centre.

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Councillor Jim Tovey and Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell (photo by John Stewart)

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Plan of the conservation site

I was here to celebrate the late Jim Tovey’s dream of creating a 26-hectare park and marsh on Mississauga’s Lake Ontario shore that will connect the Waterfront Trail with Lake Ontario’s shorefront for the public.

Several dozen photographs that documented the annual and seasonal changes of the developing marsh occupied the spacious hall. The glow of evening sunlight streamed through, touching large photographs that hung from the high ceilings or were mounted on walls. Some photographs spanned over 2 by 3 metres.

Quotes from my books “Water Is…” (Pixl Press, 2016) and upcoming “A Diary in the Age of Water” (Inanna Publications, 2020) were displayed among the photographs.

Photo Julie Knox

Photograph by Julie Knox

I was mesmerized by the spectacular photographic display.

Larger than life photographs caught my attention through light, form and unique perspective. Once caught, I was drawn into their complex narrative. A narrative of morphing shapeshifters, flowing humours and tricksters in the night. Panoramas that stretched over giant muddy holes depicting an evolution of landscape from wet

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Photo by Gabriella Bank

to dry to wet again.

Tree bole, rock and rebar formed bizarre companions in murky pools that harbour life finding itself. Piles of giant boulders shouted their presence to a stormy lake. A frontend loader sat peacefully beneath a glowing sunset. Slopes of wild herbs reached into ponds as if looking for hidden treasure.  Mangled rebar contorted in a frozen ice-dance. A man’s boot tracks cut recursive patterns in the silky mud.

The photographs provided a range of perspectives over the seasons on the early phase of the marsh construction that featured aquatic habitat structures built four metres below the level of Lake Ontario. Councillor Tovey had earlier said of the construction project: “It sort of looks like a Salvador Dali surrealistic sculpture garden…and what an interesting way to really celebrate all of this.”

WaterMeanders2

The Morphology 2019 Photography Exhibit marks the third year of celebrating this morphing natural landscape through the photography of eleven creative photo artists. The opening day of Morphology 2019 was celebrated with a blessing by Cathie Jamieson, Councillor Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. Lee Tovey spoke as did members of the contributing partners and Mayor Bonnie Crombie of the City of Mississauga.

Water Is Wisdom copy

Construction of the site and marsh began in November 2016 and is ongoing and expected to continue until 2024-2026, when the site will be opened to the public. Starting in 2017, the eleven photographers toured the site to capture the seasonal and annual changes of the developing wetland. I was also invited to tour the site to glimpse a moonscape of dirt and clean rubble as dozers pushed material out to form cells and reclaim marsh habitat from open lake.

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the author and Lee Tovey overlooking one of the marsh cells

In November of 2017, I walked the undulating “moonscape” with Lee Tovey and Zoe Danahy. Rolling berms snaked around pooled and dry depressions that disappeared in the fog. The smell of rain and mud pervaded as we set out in ankle-deep mud toward the snaking berms. I scrambled over rip rap chunks larger than me to glimpse Lake Ontario—its new shoreline re-imagined. Beyond, the lake vanished in a veil of fog. I was told that on a clear day you could see the Toronto Waterfront and the CN Tower. All I could make out was a few ghost trees that marked the nearby eastern shoreline.

Lee took me along a dyke embankment of clean fill made of red brick and cement riprap from various construction sites. “Clean fill” refers to anything like brick, top soil, gravel, and cement that has been tested for possible contaminants, as opposed to plastic, glass, or metals.

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The author with Lee Tovey on riprap berm

Lee pointed left and right of us to depressions (containment cells) where Lake Ontario was being reclaimed for marsh-building. The depression on my left was still full of water; but the one on my right was fairly dry and already populated with anchored logs and shrub plantings to consolidate the wetland and provide refuge for marsh life. I could hear the large pump actively removing lake water at the south end of the evolving wetland. Beyond the high berm of human-sized riprap was the lake, its shoreline now redefined.

Water-travel

As I gazed over the brown monochromatic landscape, I imagined a tapestry of greens in Councillor Jim Tovey’s vision: 26 hectares of future wetlands, forest and meadow and beach spanning the Lake Ontario shoreline from the old Lakeview generating station to the Toronto line at Marie Curtis Park. Part of the Inspiration Lakeview development, the marsh and wetland park have now been named The Jim Tovey Lakeview Conservation Area.

WaterIs magic-photo

Morphology

Morphology was conceived by the late visionary councillor Jim Tovey who envisioned an evolving photography and writing exhibit to follow the progress of the marsh creation project of what is now The Jim Tovey Lakeview Conservation Area. Spearheaded and nurtured by Councillor Tovey, the marsh construction was part of 26 hectares of future wetlands, forest, meadow and beach. The Lakeview Waterfront Connection will span the Lake Ontario shoreline from the old Lakeview generating station to the Toronto line at Marie Curtis Park. Part of the Inspiration Lakeview development, it will restore pedestrian and cyclist access to a previously forbidden section of the waterfront to “connect 9.5 kilometers of shoreline for water’s edge experience for the public,” said Councillor Tovey.

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To celebrate the residential / park development, eleven professional photographers were invited to photograph the marsh construction during its early phases. These images, along with water-inspired narrative provided by limnologist-author Nina Munteanu, were first displayed in an exhibit during a gala event January 14 2018, hosted at the Lakeview water treatment plant. Following Councillor Tovey’s untimely passing, his wife Lee Tovey and others (e.g., TRCA, CVC, Region of Peel) are continuing the project. Morphology was displayed for the public on World Water Day, March of 2018, at the Great Hall in the Mississauga Civic Centre. Its third appearance was at the In Situ Multi Arts Festival in November 2018.

Morphology-Exhibit hall

Morphology Exhibit at the Great Hall, Mississauga Civic Centre

The artist showcase is expected to become an annual event, highlighting the progress of constructed ecosystem. Morphology features works from: Gabriella Bank, Sandor Bank, PJ Bell, Darren Clarke, Julie Knox, Nina Munteanu, Lachlan McVie, Marcelo Leonardo Pazán, Martin Pinker, Annette Seip, Stephen Uhraney and Bob Warren.
https://www.dropbox.com/s/orsich16lbqgamf/MORPHOLOGY_2019.mp4?dl=0

Nina at Morphology

Nina joyfully standing in front of a Sandor Bank photo of the marsh (photo by Gabriella Bank)

nina-2014aaaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s recent book is the bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” (Mincione Edizioni, Rome). Her latest “Water Is…” is currently an Amazon Bestseller and NY Times ‘year in reading’ choice of Margaret Atwood.

 

Eco-Artist Roundtable with Frank Horvat on Green Majority Radio

On December 8th on Green Majority Radio, artist and composer Frank Horvat hosted the second Eco-Artist Roundtable featuring visual artist Mark Adair, theatre artist Kevin Matthew Wong, and author Nina Munteanu.

In this hour-long thoughtful and insightful discussion, artists covered a range of topics pertinent to the environment from the role of the artist in raising eco-awareness to activism in art and human rights. Nina also read from her book “Water Is…”

Go have a listen.

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Kevin, Nina, Mark and Frank at the studio

nina-2014aaaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s recent book is the bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” (Mincione Edizioni, Rome). Her latest “Water Is…” is currently an Amazon Bestseller and NY Times ‘year in reading’ choice of Margaret Atwood.

“Water Is…” Appears in Morphology Exhibit at In Situ Multi Arts Festival 2018

Water meanders-diary

It was a blustery cold evening when I entered the industrial brick building on Lakeshore Drive for Day 3 of the In Situ Art Festival. I wound my way through cinderblock halls painted in pre-war colours and emerged into a large high ceilinged hall. Morphology occupied an entire 40-foot long wall. Two huge screens, showing a bird’s eye view of the marsh site as well as other images, flanked the photo exhibit.

PhotoArt2-Morphology copyThis was Morphology—created by the late Jim Tovey and continued by his wife Lee Tovey—a photo and writing exhibit celebrating the 26-hectare park and marsh creation on Mississauga’s Lake Ontario shore.

Over two dozen photographs by eleven photographers and a dozen quotes from my book “Water Is…” and upcoming novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” were on display. The photographs provided a range of perspectives on the early phase of the marsh construction that featureed aquatic habitat structures built four metres below the level of Lake Ontario. Councillor Tovey had earlier said of the construction project: “It sort of looks like a Salvador Dali surrealistic sculpture garden…and what an interesting way to really celebrate all of this.”

I’d walked the undulating “moonscape” with Lee Tovey earlier. Rolling berms snaked around pooled and dry depressions that disappeared in the fog. The smell of rain and mud pervaded as we set out in ankle-deep mud toward the snaking berms. I scrambled over rip rap chunks larger than me to glimpse Lake Ontario—its new shoreline re-imagined. Beyond, the lake vanished in a veil of fog. I was told that on a clear day you could see the Toronto Waterfront and the CN Tower. All I could make out was a few ghost trees that marked the nearby eastern shoreline.

Nina-Lee-marsh bermZ

Nina Munteanu and Lee Tovey walk the site

Lee took me along a dyke embankment of clean fill made of red brick and cement riprap from various construction sites. “Clean fill” refers to anything like brick, top soil, gravel, and cement that has been tested for possible contaminants, as opposed to plastic, glass, or metals.

photo-pj bellLee pointed left and right of us to depressions (containment cells) where Lake Ontario was being reclaimed for marsh-building. The depression on my left was still full of water; but the one on my right was fairly dry and already populated with anchored logs and shrub plantings to consolidate the wetland and provide refuge for marsh life. I could hear the large pump actively removing lake water at the south end of the evolving wetland. Beyond the high berm of human-sized riprap was the lake, its shoreline now redefined.

As I gazed over the brown monochromatic landscape, I imagined a tapestry of greens in Councillor Jim Tovey’s vision: 26 hectares of future wetlands, forest and meadow and beach spanning the Lake Ontario shoreline from the old Lakeview generating station to the Toronto line at Marie Curtis Park. Part of the Inspiration Lakeview development, the marsh and wetland park have now been named The Jim Tovey Lakeview Conservation Area.

JimTovey-Dowd-Morphology-JStewart

Jim Tovey and Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor General of Ontario

Small Arms Inspection Building

The 1940 Small Arms Inspection Building is the only surviving building on the original site of a munitions plant that manufactured guns and small arms for the Allied Forces during World War II. The 1910 water tower also stands nearby—a visible landmark. The industrial building was restored and designated an Ontario Heritage site. It currently functions as a multi-purpose site for community activities such as CreativeHub 1352 and the In Situ annual festival.

Morphology

InSitu-rhythmMorphology was conceived by the late visionary councillor Jim Tovey who envisioned an evolving photography and writing exhibit to follow the progress of the marsh creation project of what is now the Jim Tovey Lakeview Conservation Area. Spearheaded and nurtured by Councillor Tovey, the marsh construction was part of 26 hectares of future wetlands, forest and meadow and beach. The Lakeview Waterfront Connection will span the Lake Ontario shoreline from the old Lakeview generating station to the Toronto line at Marie Curtis Park. Part of the Inspiration Lakeview development, it will restore pedestrian and cyclist access to a previously forbidden section of the waterfront to “connect 9.5 kilometers of shoreline for water’s edge experience for the public,” said Councillor Tovey.

To celebrate the residential / park development, eleven professional photographers were invited to photograph the marsh construction during its early phases. These images, along with water-inspired narrative provided by limnologist-author Nina Munteanu, were first displayed in an exhibit during a gala event January 14 2018, hosted at the Lakeview water treatment plant. Following Councillor Tovey’s untimely passing, his wife Lee Tovey and others (e.g., TRCA, CVC, Region of Peel) are continuing the project. Morphology was displayed for the public in March of 2018 at the Great Hall in the Mississauga Civic Centre. Its third appearance was at the In Situ Multi Arts Festival in November 2018. The artist showcase is expected to become an annual event, highlighting the progress of constructed ecosystem.

Morphology features works from: Gabriella Bank, Sandor Bank, PJ Bell, Darren Clarke, Julie Knox, Nina Munteanu, Lachlan McVie, Marcelo Leonardo Pazán, Martin Pinker, Annette Seip, Stephen Uhraney and Bob Warren.

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East wall of Morphology Exhibit at In Situ

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West wall of Morphology Exhibit at In Situ

Water-destroys creates-Diary

Water travel-photo

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WaterIs magic-photo

nina-2014aaaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s recent book is the bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” (Mincione Edizioni, Rome). Her latest “Water Is…” is currently an Amazon Bestseller and NY Times ‘year in reading’ choice of Margaret Atwood.

 

 

“Water Is… at Banyen Books & Sound, Vancouver

BanyenBooks copy

When I lived in Vancouver—raising my family, consulting for the environment and teaching limnology—I often visited my favourite bookstore in town: Banyen Books & Sound on 4th Avenue in Kitsilano. It was a bookstore like no other, I thought. Spacious with comfortable chairs to read, the bookstore became a destination and an experience in discovery for me.

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A customer browses “Water Is…” in Banyen Books

In fact, since opening in 1970 Banyen Books has become Canada’s most comprehensive metaphysical bookstore, offering a broad spectrum of resources from humanity’s spiritual, healing, and earth wisdom traditions. Here is how they put it:

Banyen is an oasis, a crossroads, a meeting place… for East and West, the “old ways” and current discoveries and syntheses. Our beat is the “Perennial Philosophy” as well as our evolving learning edges and best practices in a wide variety of fields, from acupuncture to Zen, from childbirth and business to the Hermetic Mysteries, from the compost pile to the celestial spheres. We’re “in the philosophy business,” on “a street in the philosophy district” (as an old cartoon wagged). We welcome and celebrate the love of wisdom, be it in art, science, lifecraft, healing, visioning, religion, psychology, eco-design, gardening… Our service is to offer life-giving nourishment for the body (resilient, vital), the mind (trained, open), and the soul (resonant, connected, in-formed). Think of us as your open source bookstore for the “University of Life”.

I had long harboured romantic notions of one day seeing my own book on one of their shelves. I must have sent a compelling message to the universe, because in Autumn of 2018, this incredible bookstore agreed to carry “Water Is…

Water Is...” now sits joyfully beside William Mark’s “Holy Order of Water” and Masaru Emoto’s books on water and crystals and Wallace J. Nichol’s bestseller “Blue Mind” on water’s healing powers.

WaterIs-BanyenBookshelf copy

When I mentioned about my book being at Banyens Books, my son Kevin visited the bookstore and soon found “Water Is…” among a variety of other “savoury books”; he admitted a need for strength not to walk out of the bookstore with an armload of books. This has been my experience too.

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Kevin finds “Water Is…” on Banyen’s shelf and makes himself comfortable…

Anne, one of the directors of Pixl Press, visited the bookstore with her friend Jackie from out of town. After browsing the bookstore, they walked across the street to Aphrodites Pies and enjoyed their signature organic peach pie.

Aphrodites Pies

Aphrodites Pies on 4th Avenue

Banyen Books & Sound:
PeachPie at Aphrodites3608 West 4th Avenue
Vancouver, BC
604-732-7912

HOURS:
Mon-Fri: 10am-9pm
Sat: 10am-8pm
Sun: 11am-7pm

 

 

nina-munteanuNina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

Ecology, Story & Stranger Things

MockUpEcology-2

Illustration by Anne Moody, typology & design by Costi Gurgu

One of the lectures I give in my science fiction writing course and conference workshops is called “Ecology in Storytelling”. It’s usually well attended by writers hoping to gain better insight into world-building and how to master the layering-in of metaphoric connections between setting and character. My upcoming writing guidebook “Ecology of Story: World as Character” addresses this subject with examples from a wide range of published fiction. The book will be released in June/July of 2019 by Pixl Press.

In my lecture (and book) I talk about the adaptations of organisms to their changing environments. I describe the trophic (energy) relationships from producers to consumers and destroyers in a complex cycle of creative destruction.

Students perk up when I bring up some of the more strange and interesting adaptations of organisms to their environment: twisted stories of adaptations and strategies that involve feeding, locomotion, reproduction and shelter.

Purposeful Miscommunication & Other Lies

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Alcon blue butterfly and caterpillar with ant

For instance, the Alcon blue butterfly hoodwinks ants into caring for its larvae. They do this by secreting a chemical that mimics how ants communicate; the ants in turn adopt the newly hatched caterpillars for two years. There’s a terrible side to this story of deception. The Ichneumon wasp, upon finding an Alcon caterpillar inside an ant colony, secretes a pheromone that drives the ants into confused chaos; allowing it to slip through the confusion and lay its eggs inside the poor caterpillar. When the caterpillar turns into a chrysalis, the wasp eggs hatch and consume it from inside.

This reads like something out of a noir thriller. Or better yet, a horror story. Nature is large, profligate, complex and paradoxical. She is by turns gentle and cruel. Creative and destructive. Competitive and cooperative. Idle and nurturing.

Extremophiles & Anhydrobiosis

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Tardigrade on moss

When I bring in the subject of extremophiles, who thrive in places you and I would cringe to set foot in, students’ imaginations run wild with ideas.

I describe a panoply of weird adaptations in Nature—involving poisons, mimicry and deception, phototaxis and something called anhydrobiosis, which permits the tiny tardigrade to shrivel into a tun in the absence of water then revive after a 100 years with just a drop of water.

All this adaptation hinges on communication. How an organism or population communicates with its environment and among its own.

Examples of “strange” communication are the purview of the science fiction writer … and already the nature of our current world—if you only know where to look. The scope of how Nature communicates—her devices and intentions—embraces the strange to the astonishing. From using infrasound to chemical receptors and sensing magnetic fields. To allelopathy. Aggressive symbiosis. And so much more.

Talking Trees

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Dr. Suzanne Simard

UBC researcher Suzanne Simard, who has published hundreds of papers over 30 years of research, suggests a kind of “intelligence” when she describes the underground world “of infinite biological pathways that connect trees and allow them to communicate” In a forest.

This communication allows the forest to behave as if it was a single organism, says Simard. Her early in situ experiments showed solid evidence that tree species, such as Paper Birch and Douglas Fir communicated in a cooperative manner underground through an underground mutualistic-symbiosis involving mycorrhizae (e.g., fungus-root).

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mycelium connects trees underground

These trees were conversing in the language of carbon and nitrogen, phosphorus, water, defense signals, allelo-chemicals, and hormones via a network of mycelia. Fungal threads form a mycelium that infects and colonizes the roots of all the trees and plants. Simard compares this dense network to the Internet, which also has nodes and links—just as the forest.

Fungal highways link each tree and plant to its community, with busiest nodes called hub trees or mother trees. Calling them mother trees is appropriate, given that they nurture their young in the understory; sending excess carbon to the understory trees, which receive less light for photosynthesis. “In a single forest,” says Simard, “a mother tree can be connected to hundreds of other trees.” These mature trees act as nodal anchors—like major hub sites on the Internet—for tree groupings; according to Simard, they look after their families, nurture seedlings and even share wisdom—information—when they are injured or dying.

Fatal Attractions & Natural Bullies

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Bracken fern fronds

The “ordinary” Bracken fern thrives in a wide range of conditions on virtually every continent (except Antarctica). That’s because it plays the “long game” by having several strategies to outlive and outcompete its surrounding nemeses.

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The symbiosis of Bracken fern and ant

Strategies include a loose lifestyle such as several ways to reproduce and grow to accommodate seasons, drought and burning; a shady arrangement with the local thugs (aggressive ants) who protect it for its tasty nectar; use of cyanide and ecdysones by its young shoots; and tough carcinogenic fronds that contain glass-like silicates.

Despite its many uses by humans (e.g., used for potash fertilizer, heating fuel, roofing, bedding for animals), the Bracken fern is considered a pest. In truth, it is a hardy versatile adapter to changing environments. And that is what our climate changing world is fast becoming.

fernforestI highly recommend the works of Annie Dillard and Loren Eiseley for wonderful and bizarre examples of natural wonders that resonate with metaphor.

I also recommend my upcoming book “Ecology of Story” (Pixl Press), which will showcase a diverse set of examples from the literature of metaphoric environment and creatures. “Ecology of Story” is due for release in Summer of 2019. Look for it on Amazon, Kobo, and a fine bookstore near you. Two other books in my writing guide series include: “The Fiction Writer” and “The Journal Writer“.

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nina-2014aaaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s recent book is the bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” (Mincione Edizioni, Rome). Her latest “Water Is…” is currently an Amazon Bestseller and NY Times ‘year in reading’ choice of Margaret Atwood.

 

Creating the Ecotone at ToRo Fest

ToRoFestOn October 5, 6 2018, I participated in the second ToRo Fest International Salon of Literature, Visual Arts & Music, put on by Tradicious at the Centre for Culture, Arts, Media and Education on 918 Bathurst Ave.

After attending the gala opening on Friday, I arrived early Saturday morning and had a chance to wander the two art galleries of the fest before the crowds came. One gallery featured the deep narrative art of nine-year old Sophia Leopold-Muresan. Bright and flowing with child-wisdom, her art was playful, whimsical and thoughtful.

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Otilia Greneantu Scriuba stands next to “Fusion”

Otilia Greneantu Scriuba’s abstract art featured cultural symbols such as water, the wave, the horizontal line to convey personal and deep-rooted narratives. The description on her website reads: “Otilia’s art orients images within collages. Parts of her paintings juxtapose original disparate fragments with origins drawn from different historic epochs and through different geographical spaces. Throughout her work she employs important cultural symbols such as: the water, the wave, the horizontal line, the square, the horse, the butterfly, the fish, the egg, the shell and the feather. In addition, she uses other symbols from some of the most important artistic periods: Victoria by Samotrace, human figures by Fidias Metopes, and Venus by Botticelli. Otilia Gruneantu Scriuba creates complex compositions while managing to harmonize her found elements in a unitary image.”

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“Haunted House” by Doru Ciota

The surreal realism of Romanian artist Doru Cioata—a mix of detailed graphic design, intricate sketches and paintings—evoked a powerful metaphoric narrative. Seeing this art reminded me of the power of image in writing and my own adventure with image and writing. Several months ago, I was invited to write a flash fiction story based on a chosen Group of Seven painting for an anthology coming out next year. It was one of the most thrilling, fun and difficult projects I’d embarked on—and the most fulfilling. See my article on how visual art and writing communicate.

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Alice with “Water Is…”

The three-track ToRo Fest ran the whole day with over fifteen book launches, literary presentations—including my talk on “Water Is…”—games, poetry readings, and panels, in addition to excellent live music from piano to guitar and drums.

I participated with Costi Gurgu (author of Aurora-nominated RecipeArium) in Claudiu Murgan’s panel on publishing models: “Publishing your book is not what it used to be: think hard and pick one: traditional vs. self-publishing vs. hybrid.” Costi, Claudiu and I discussed the pros and cons of each model, providing our experiences with these publishing types.

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Costi Gurgu, Nina Munteanu, and Claudiu Morgan discuss publishing models

I reprised this subject with my lecture on hybrid publishing at the Mississauga Writers Group meeting on October 13 (at the South Common Community Centre, 11 am). I will also be giving this Hybrid Publishing lecture/workshop in the Toronto City Hall through the Immigrant Writers Association’s “writing and publishing series” of their “Learn with IWA” initiative (October 26, 7-9 pm). The lecture/workshop is open to members (zero to $10) and non-members (fee $15).

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Vali Gurgu makes her move in “Absolutism”

Professor Nicolae Gavriliu of the Antiochian House of Studies gave an interesting lecture on the theology and art of the icon. I also attended a student presentation on global issues faced by marginalized groups from Roma in Romania to married children in Lebanon.

Costi and Vali Gurgu brought their new game Absolutism, a funny card game about surviving dictatorship (which should sell very well in the USA…). Several intrepid players tried their hand at dictatorship—and slavery, depending on whether they were losing or winning. I could hear the laughter clear to the lobby. See more about Absolutism, a fascinating, clever and witty game by author-lawyers who did, in fact, survive a dictatorship.

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Ad for “Water Is…” on TTC subway

Several of my science fiction, eco-fiction and historical fantasy books were for sale and some sold out. Alice caught up to me for an autograph and joyfully shared that she’d seen the Pixl Press Water Is… ad on the Toronto subway and had told herself, “I need to meet this person.” Then she did—at ToRo!

A week prior to the festival, I was interviewed by Andreea Demirgian of “Radio Encounters” who called me “The Absolute Dame of Canadian Eco-Fiction”! I was flattered … and humbled. In truth, eco-fiction has become my passion and brand in writing. I realized only recently (in the last few years) that I’d been writing eco-fiction for twenty years but had branded my writing under science fiction. Sometimes, it takes a while to find one’s true voice–and niche. Thanks, Andreea! You can listen to the interview below:

 

 

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enjoying my flat white at the Green Beanery

After much panelling, talking, selling out of my books, and discovering delicious Romanian pastries, I slipped out into the brisk drizzle with a mission: I was in search of good coffee. I spotted the Green Beanery, looking comfortable in an old brick building on the corner of Bathurst and Bloor. I smiled; I knew I’d found my coffee haven. I ordered my favourite from the barista—a flat white— and relaxed in the funky-hipster atmosphere of the café.

It turns out that the Green Beanery is a Canadian trust, created and staffed by environmentalists at Probe International. All earnings support the charity that protects lands and people’s livelihoods. The Green Beanery promotes small coffee farmers who produce niche coffees with characteristics as distinctive and extraordinary as their local ecology and who are less likely to use pesticides or fertilizers (like their larger counterparts). Green Beanery also encourages neighbourhood-based micro-roasting in small coffee shops and local roasteries. Creating niche markets for little known coffee bean varieties helps maintain the world’s store of genetic diversity.

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Nina stands between Juliana Pacso and Crina Bud of Tradicious

As I returned refreshed to ToRo, I realized that Tradicious was doing the same thing as Green Beanery: they had brought in a diversity of international artists in music, visual arts, fiction and poetry, philosophy and even socio-politics to meet, share, and discuss. Tradicious had created an ecotone (where worlds and ideas meet, share and learn) where diversity flourishes.

Well done, Tradicious!

nina-2014aaaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s recent book is the bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” (Mincione Edizioni, Rome). Her latest “Water Is…” is currently an Amazon Bestseller and NY Times ‘year in reading’ choice of Margaret Atwood.