Nina Munteanu Interviewed in Canadian Romanian Newspaper “Observatorul”

Claudiu Murgan (author of “Water Entanglement”) recently interviewed me in the Canadian Romanian newspaper Observatorul.

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Gaudeamus Book Fair in Bucharest, Romania

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Nina Munteanu at Gaudeamus

In the interview, I talked about my involvement with the Toronto Romanian community through the Immigrant Writers Association and my visit several years ago to Bucharest Romania to launch my two writing guidebooks with Editura Paralela 45 at the Gaudeamus Book Fair at the Rome Expo Exhibition Centre:

“In 2011 I attended the launch of my writing guide Manual de Scriere Creativa. Scriitorul de fictiune (The Fiction Writer) in Bucharest, hosted by Editura Paralela 45 at the Gaudeamus Book Fair. Dr. Florin Munteanu, respected scientist in Complexity Theory, kindly picked me up at the airport and took me to the Phoenicia Grand Hotel where we relaxed in the lounge and discussed fractal geometry and the Fibonacci Golden Ratio over café cremes. It was a very civilized introduction to this eclectic “city of joy” and I felt strangely at home.

It was a wonderful experience, which included drinking copious amounts of Tuica with my publisher and touring the Lipscani District with George Kudor, a student of Florin’s. Florin calls Romania “the corpus callosum of the world” where east and west converge, mingle and learn. It’s no wonder that Romania is one of the leading countries in the world on complexity theory, a science that embraces the “collision” of different “worlds” to create more than the sum of its parts.”

scriitorul_de_fictiune_Munteanu_coperta1 copyFictionWriter-front cover-2nd ed-webThe Fiction Writer (Scriitorul de fictiune) was very well received by the Romanian writing community. Romanian poet and English instructor Lucia Gorea calls The Fiction Writer “the most practical book on publishing that I’ve ever read, and I’ve read them all!”

 

In the Observatorul interview, Claudiu asked me if I was pursuing other projects in Romania. I am currently corresponding with a Romanian distributor to get some of my other books translated and published in Romania. I also co-edit Europa SF, a European ezine on speculative fiction from around the world, with a focus on European science fiction, fantasy and horror.

The Way of Water-COVER copyI hope to collaborate more with colleague and friend Cristian Tamas, who introduced me to editor/publisher Francesco Verso (of Future Fiction) and Mincione Edizioni, who published my short story “The Way of Water.” I later developed “The Way of Water” in novel form and I anticipate its release next year.

I hope to do more with Dr. Florin Munteanu and Claudiu Murgan on projects to do with water—particularly on entanglement, intention, subtle energies and memory. I would be delighted if a Romanian publisher chose to translate my book “Water Is…The Meaning of Water” and publish it for Romanians.

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Gaudeamus Book Fair in Rome Expo Exhibition Centre, Bucharest

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Lipscani District in Bucharest

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Nina enjoying the book fair

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.

On Being a Canadian in The Age of Water

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself; I am large, I contain multitudes.”—Walt Whitman

nina-child01I was born on this day, some sixty+ years ago, in the small town of Granby in the Eastern Townships to German-Romanian parents. Besides its zoo—which my brother, sister and I used to visit to collect bottles for a finder’s fee at the local treat shop—the town had no particular features. It typified French-Canada of that era.

So did I.

I went to school in Quebec then migrated across to the west coast to practice and teach limnology. Given that Canada holds a fifth of the Earth’s freshwater, that also made sense.

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Sunset off Broughton, BC (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Canada is a vast country with a climate and environment that spans from the boreal forests of the Canadian Shield, muskegs of northern BC, and tundras of the Arctic Circle to the grasslands of the Prairies and southern woodlands of Ontario and Quebec. Canada’s environment is vast and diverse. Like its people.

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Nina and son Kevin explore Nature

In December of 2017 I participated in a discussion on the subject and role of water in literature in Toronto. I came to the event as a limnologist/ecologist, mother and environmentalist prepared to share how water—its meaning and our relationship with it—is used in my writing and how writing about water can help nurture a future of awareness and action.

But, as the discussion slid into the slippery subject of colonialism, I made the apparent mistake of sharing that—as a Canadian—I was proud of Canada. I was later schooled that “celebrating the nation” was considered anathema to an audience with strong anti-colonialist sentiments and a hatred for neoliberalist corporate Canada (something I share but do not obsess over); I’d obviously crossed some invisible line and I made a mental note to better assess my audience in future).

I also got to thinking about what it means for me to be a Canadian and what my pride in Canada really means. Was I being a “white-toast” nationalist in sharing a pride in my country?

Ecologist vs Nationalist

Ecology is the study of “home” (oikos means ‘home’ in Greek). Ecology studies the relationships that make one’s home functional. It is, in my opinion, the most holistic and natural way to assess where we live. My home is currently Toronto, Ontario, Canada and ultimately the planet Earth.

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country road in Eastern Townships of Quebec

Growing up in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, I’d always felt an abiding sense of belonging and I resonated with Canada’s national symbols—mostly based on Nature and found on our currency, our flag, and various sovereign images: the loon, the beaver, the maple tree, our mountains and lakes and boreal forests. Why not? Over 80% of Canada lies in the boreal zone with much of that boreal forest and wilderness (that’s some 552 million hectares). Canadians are custodians of a quarter of the world’s wetlands, longest river systems and most expansive lakes. Most of us recognize this; many of us live, play and work in or near these natural environments.

I have long considered myself a global citizen with no political ties. I saw my country through the lens of an ecologist—I assessed my community and my surroundings in terms of ecosystems that supported all life, not just humanity. Was a community looking after its trees? Was my family recycling? Was a corporation using ‘green’ technology? Was a municipality daylighting its streams and recognizing important riparian zones? I joined environmental movements when I was a teenager. I shifted my studies from art to science because I wanted to make a difference in how we treated our environment. After university, I joined an environmental consulting firm, hoping to educate corporations and individuals as environmental stewards. I brought that philosophy into a teaching career and began writing eco-fiction, science fiction and essays to help promote an awareness and a connection with our natural world. My hope was to illuminate how important Nature and water is to our planet and to our own well-being through an understanding of ecology and how everything is interconnected.

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Nina kayaking in Desolation Sound, British Columbia (photo by H. Klassen)

Merriam-Webster defines “nationalism” as: “loyalty and devotion to a nation, especially a sense of national consciousness.” This is not the same as patriotism. Nor does it describe what many think of the word, which is an extreme form of nationalism, in which one nation is exalted above all others (I can think of one nation that is overtly doing that now) and placing primary emphasis on promoting its culture and interests over others—often through isolationism, xenophobia, chauvinism and jingoism. When I think of Canada, I think of my “home”, where I live; my community and my environment. I have traveled the world and I feel a strong sense of “home” and belonging every time I return. Canada is my home. I was born and grew up in Quebec; I raised a family in British Columbia, and I lived in Ontario and Nova Scotia. Each of these places engendered a feeling of “home”. If a strong sense of “home” and belonging is nationalistic, then that is what I am.

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The Dory Shop in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Or am I something else? Perhaps, we need to redefine our sense of belonging (and pride) in a country that is not tied to some core political identity or melting-pot mainstream. Historian and writer Charlotte Gray wrote:

“we live in a country that has a weak national culture and strong regional identities …Two brands of psychological glue bind Canada together: political culture and love of landscape…[in] a loose federation perched on a magnificent and inhospitable landscape—[we are] a nation that sees survival as a collective enterprise.”—Charlotte Gray

Canada as Postnational State

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Justin Trudeau on the cover of “Rolling Stone”

In October 2015, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the New York Times that Canada may be the “first postnational state,” adding that “there is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada.” This is largely because Canadians, writes Charles Forman in the Guardian, are “philosophically predisposed to an openness that others find bewildering, even reckless.”

To anyone but a Canadian, Trudeau’s remark would rankle, particularly in a time when many western countries are fearfully and angrily turning against immigration through nativism and exclusionary narratives. A time when the United States elected an authoritarian intent on making “America great again” by building walls. A time when populist right-wing political parties hostile to diversity are gaining momentum in other parts of the world. “Canada’s almost cheerful commitment to inclusion might at first appear almost naive,” writes Forman. It isn’t, he adds. There are practical reasons for keeping our doors open.

We are who we are because of what we are: a vast country the size of Europe. A country dominated by boreal forest, a vital and diverse wilderness that helps maintain the well-being of our entire planet. A land that encompasses over a fifth of the freshwater in the world, and a quarter of the world’s wetlands. Canadians are ultimately the world’s Natural stewards. That is who and what we are.

According to Forman, postnationalism frames how “to understand our ongoing experiment in filling a vast yet unified geographic space with the diversity of the world” and a “half-century old intellectual project, born of the country’s awakening from colonial slumber.” As the first Europeans arrived in North America, the Indigenous people welcomed them, taught them how to survive and thrive amid multiple identities and allegiances, writes Forman. “That welcome was often betrayed, particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries, when settlers did profound harm to Indigenous people.” But, says Forman, if the imbalance remains, so does the influence: a model of another way of belonging. One I think many Canadians are embracing. We are learning from the natural wisdom of our Indigenous peoples. Even our fiction reflects how we value our environment and embrace diversity. “Diversity fuels, not undermines, prosperity,” writes Forman.

naturalselectionAs efforts are made to reconcile the previous wrongs to Indigenous peoples within Canada and as empowering stories about environment are created and shared, Canada carries on the open and welcoming nature of our Indigenous peoples in encouraging immigration. In 2016, the same year the American government announced a ban on refugees, Canada took in 300,000 immigrants, which included 48,000 refuges. Canada encourages citizenship and around 85% of permanent residents typically become citizens. Greater Toronto is currently the most diverse city in the world; half of its residents were born outside the country. Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa and Montreal are not far behind.

Canadian author and visionary Marshal McLuhan wrote in 1963 that, “Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity.” This is an incredible accomplishment, particularly given our own colonial history and the current jingoistic influence of the behemoth south of us.

The Way of Water-COVERWriter and essayist Ralston Saul suggests that Canada has taken to heart the Indigenous concept of ‘welcome’ to provide, “Space for multiple identities and multiple loyalties…[based on] an idea of belonging which is comfortable with contradictions.” Of this Forman writes:

“According to poet and scholar BW Powe, McLuhan saw in Canada the raw materials for a dynamic new conception of nationhood, one unshackled from the state’s ‘demarcated borderlines and walls, its connection to blood and soil,’ its obsession with ‘cohesion based on a melting pot, on nativist fervor, the idea of the promised land’. Instead, the weakness of the established Canadian identity encouraged a plurality of them—not to mention a healthy flexibility and receptivity to change. Once Canada moved away from privileging denizens of the former empire to practicing multiculturalism, it could become a place where ‘many faiths and histories and visions would co-exist.”

Water Is-COVER-webAnd that’s exactly what is happening. We are not a “melting pot” stew of mashed up cultures absorbed into a greater homogeneity of nationalism, no longer recognizable for their unique qualities. Canada isn’t trying to “make Canada great again.” Canada is a true multi-cultural nation that celebrates its diversity: the wholes that make up the wholes.

Confident and comfortable with our ‘incomplete identity’—recognizing it for what it is—is  according to Forman, “a positive, a spur to move forward without spilling blood, to keep thinking and evolving—perhaps, in the end, simply to respond to newness without fear.”

This resonates with me as an ecologist. What I envision is a Canada transcending the political to embrace the environment that both defines us and provides us with our very lives; a view that knows no boundaries, and recognizes the importance of diversity, relationship and inclusion, interaction, movement, and discovery.

 

PolarBearMum-pupsSo, am I still proud of Canada? Definitely. We have much to be proud of. We live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world and the 8th highest ranking in the Human Development Index. Canada ranks among the highest in international measurements of government transparency, civil liberties, quality of life, economic freedom, and education. It stands among the world’s most educated countries—ranking first worldwide in the number of adults having tertiary education with 51% of adults holding at least an undergraduate college or university degree. With two official languages, Canada practices an open cultural pluralism toward creating a cultural mosaic of racial, religious and cultural practices. Canada’s symbols are influenced by natural, historical and Aboriginal sources. Prominent symbols include the maple leaf, the beaver, Canada Goose, Common Loon, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the polar bear, the totem pole, and Inuksuk.

WaterAnthology-RealitySkimmingPressWe are a northern country with a healthy awareness of our environment—our weather, climate and natural world. This awareness—particularly of climate change—is more and more being reflected in our literature—from Margaret Atwood’s “Maddaddam” trilogy and Kim Stanley Robinson’s “New York 2140” to my own book “Water Is…”. Canadians are writing more eco-fiction, climate fiction, and fiction in which environment somehow plays a key role. Water has become one of those key players: I recently was editor of the Reality Skimming Press anthology “Water”, a collection of six speculative Canadian stories that explore near-future scenarios with water as principle agent.

In a recent interview with Mary Woodbury on Eco-Fiction, I reflected on a trend over the years that I noticed in the science fiction writing course I teach at George Brown College: “It’s a workshop-style course I teach and students are encouraged to bring in their current work in progress. More and more students are bringing in a WIP with strong ecological overtones. I’d say the percentage now is over 70%. This is definitely coming from the students—it’s before I even open my mouth about ecology and eco-fiction—and what it suggests to me is that the welfare of our planet and our ecosystems is on many people’s minds and this is coming through in our most metaphoric writing: science fiction.”

It is healthy to celebrate our accomplishments while remembering where we came from and what we still need to accomplish. This provides direction and motivation.

 

References:

Dechene, Paul. 2015. “Sci-Fi Writers Discuss Climate Catastrophe: Nina Munteanu, Author of Darwin’s Paradox.” Prairie Dog, December 11, 2015.

Forman, Charles. 2017. “The Canada Experiment: Is this the World’s First Postnational Country?” The Guardian, January 4, 2017.

Gray, Charlotte. 2017. “Heroes and Symbols” The Globe and Mail.

Moorhouse, Emilie. 2018. “New ‘cli-fi’ anthology brings Canadian visions of future climate crisis.” National Observer, March 9, 2018.

Munteanu, Nina. 2016. “Crossing into the Ecotone to Write Meaningful Eco-Fiction.” In: NinaMunteanu.me, December 18, 2016.

Newman-Stille, Derek. 2017. “The Climate Around Eco-Fiction.” In: Speculating Canada, May 24, 2017.

Woodbury, Mary. 2016. “Part XV. Women Working in Nature and the Arts: Interview with Nina Munteanu, Ecologist and Author.” Eco-Fiction.com, October 31, 2016.

 

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.

The Resurgence of Oral Storytelling: the Audio Book

 

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Cows pasturing in Arth, Switzerland (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Griot. Raconteur. Bard. Jongleur. Seanchai. Skop. Troubadors and minstrals. Spinner of yarns. Any way you call them they are storytellers. And storytellers have shaped our societies and reflected our cultures for all of recorded history, and before—from the time of cave paintings, songs and campfires.

Because oral storytelling is told through memory it spreads with a fluid and dynamic quality whose effect is alive, immediate and visceral.

Being Romanian Helped…

When I was a young girl, I wanted to be an actress. I enjoyed telling stories to my brother and sister. My sister and I shared a bazillion adventure stories (most of them twisted and funny) about two twin brothers and sisters who solved mysteries in outer space. Because our cast and stories were epic, we dispensed with the limitations of set (not enough dolls and stuffed animals) and went straight into the oral storytelling tradition: we liberated ourselves and shared our stories anywhere and anytime we chose. While I never did participate in theatre or drama in school, I did cultivate the art of oral storytelling. An art I may have come by quite honestly as a Romanian. Romanians are consummate storytellers; the country is brim with imaginative and compelling folktales, myth and supernatural phenomena.

Romanian oral epic includes a large body of heroic songs, fantastic and mythological songs, haiduc songs (on the exploits of heroic social outlaws), and balladic narrative songs of a more lyric nature.

When my son was growing up, I used to read him stories at bedtime. It was a time of incredible bonding: sharing stories and laughter. I did all the voices and sound effects. It didn’t stop there; soon I was making up scenarios all my own with a cast of hundreds and my son leapt in with both feet. It was like when I was younger, creating stories with my sister. My son and I created worlds peopled by fantastic characters; there was “little girl” (me) and there was Baby Poopy and Baby Bang Bang (him) and a host of others. My son played some parts (usually the rational ones) and I played others (usually the silly ones). Using Leggo, we even created a whole new twisted StarWars universe where Luke Skywalker had a falsetto voice and Darth Vader had given up his evil ways and turned into an old grumpy hermit with a flatulence problem, growing beans in his garden. There were no boundaries to our imaginative play.

The Age of Oral Storytelling

Oral storytelling is an ancient tradition and the most personal and intimate form of storytelling. The storyteller and the listeners are physically close and, through the story connection, psychically close. Storytellers bring their own personality and character to the story; they ultimately reveal and share themselves through their telling and the listeners reveal and share themselves through their reception of the story. The intimacy and connection is deepened by the flexibility of oral storytelling which allows the tale to be molded to each audience and location or environment where it’s being told. Listeners experience the immediacy of a creative process taking place in their presence and, even more than that, they experience the empowerment of being a part of that creative process (which is often interactive).

Early storytelling combined stories, poetry, music, and dance. Storytelling was natural for everyone but those who excelled at it became the entertainers, educators, cultural advisors and historians of their community. The history of a culture was handed down from generation to generation through its oral storytellers.

The 9th century fictional storyteller Scheherazade in “1001 Arabian Nights” saves herself from execution by telling tales. Centuries before Scheherazade the storyteller Vyasa at the beginning of the Indian epic Mahabharata says, “If you listen carefully, at the end you’ll be someone else.”

During the Middle Ages storytellers told their stories in market places and became honored members in royal courts. According to storyteller Ruth Sawyer, Medieval storytellers were expected to know all the current tales. They were expected to “repeat all the noteworthy theses from the universities, to be well informed on court scandal, to know the healing power of herbs and simples (medicines), to be able to compose verses to a lord or lady at a moment’s notice, and to play on at least two of the instruments then in favor at court.”

The Age of Audiobooks and iPhone

An audio book is a recording of the contents of a book read aloud. They have been around for over 70 years, but their popularity has swiftly grown to an all time high.

Ubiquitous mobile devices like iPods, iPhones have made audiobooks much more accessible and easy to download and portably listen to. Audiobooks are also valuable learning tools due to their format. They are convenient in multi-tasking scenarios.

Audiobooks on cassette or CD are typically more expensive than hardcovers because of the added expense of recording and the lack of the economy of scale in high “print” runs that are available in print book publishing. However, downloadable audiobooks cost less than hardcovers and can even be less than their paperback equivalents. Market penetration of audiobooks is still substantially lower than for their printed counterparts despite the high market penetration of the hardware (MP3 and WMA players) and despite the massive market penetration achieved by audio music products. But this is changing.

Downloadable audiobooks don’t carry mass production costs; they don’t require storage of a large inventory, physical packaging or transportation and even if “returned” don’t require a cost of physical return or destruction/disposal. Like the downloadable ebook, audiobooks are taking the storytelling industry by storm.

Amy Harmon of the New York Times recounts this scenario: “Jim Harris, a lifelong bookworm, cracked the covers of only four books last year. But he listened to 54, all unabridged. He listened to Harry Potter and “Moby-Dick, Don DeLillo and Stephen King. He listened in the car, eating lunch, doing the dishes, sitting in doctors’ offices and climbing the stairs at work.” Harmon recounts how 53 year old Mr. Harris, a computer programmer in Memphis, hadn’t read that much since he was in college. Of course, for some diehard literary types “listening” isn’t the same as “reading”.

Fortunately for Mr. Harris, the ranks of the reading purists are dwindling, says Harmon. “Fewer Americans are reading books than a decade ago, according to the National Endowment for the Arts, but almost a third more are listening to them on tapes, CD’s and iPods and iPhones.”

For a growing group of devoted listeners, the popularity of audio books is redefining the notion of reading, which for centuries has been centered on the written word. Audio books, says Harmon, have seduced members of a literate but busy crowd by allowing them to read while doing something else. “Digital audio that can be zapped onto an MP3 player is also luring converts. Audio books, which still represent only about 3 percent of all books sold, do not exactly herald a return to the Homeric tradition. But their growing popularity has sparked debate among readers, writers and cultural critics about the best way to consume literature.”

For me, the audiobook represents more. Audiobooks aren’t just another aspect of our convenient, fast-paced, multitasking culture. Audio books provide a different form of creative storytelling that is both refreshing and thoroughly engaging.

Of course, some books are better told this way than others and the storyteller’s role is paramount. Inflection, cadence, passion and voice all play a critical role in the oral narrative.

My Audiobooks

OuterDiverse-audiobook-IambikMy space detective adventure book “Outer Diverse” was originally released by Iambik Audiobooks as an audiobook, narrated by Dawn Harvey. It and its second “Inner Diverse” (and soon third book “Metaverse” of the Splintered Universe Trilogy) are now available on Audiobook.com, through Amazon and on iTunes. And I am ecstatic! When I first listened to the proof, I was blown away. It was as though Dawn had created a whole new story, as though she’d breathed life into Rhea Hawke and the myriad of alien characters in Rhea’s universe. Dawn had applied cadence, inflection, joy and humor into each character and set. Remember how Orsen Wells created mass hysteria with his rendition of “War of the Worlds”?

Give the gift of pure joy with audiobooks.

 

Nina 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.