Our Deepest Fear

Swiss Alps 2

Mountains in Switzerland (photo by Nina Munteanu)

It’s not what you think it is…

There’s a poignant scene near the end of the 2005 movie “Coach Carter” where a student finally responds to Carter’s insistent question of “what is your deepest fear?”. It is a quote often mistakenly attributed to Nelson Mandela but originally written by Marianne Williamson (“A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles”). And it speaks to the artist in all of us:

swiss-cabin02

Mountain cabin, Switzerland (photo by Nina Munteanu)

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Let me tell you a story… I’ve been writing stories since I was ten years old. I used to stay up until late at night with my sister, when our parents were snoring in their bed. We told stories: fantastical stories with a cast of thousands and spanning the entire universe. When I was in my teens, I began to write a book, inspired by several dystopian movies and my own passion for saving the planet. It was called “Caged in World”. By the time I was married and had my son, I had written three entire books, none of which I’d published. I had by then sold several short stories and essays and articles to mainstream, travel and science fiction magazines. I started to become known as a reviewer and critic of movies and books. And my short stories were gaining good reputation with stellar reviews and invitations to appear in anthologies.

I began to market my first book—a medical ecological thriller—to agents and publishers. Although I got many bites for partials and even full manuscripts, none came to fruition.

Then something strange happened.

collision with paradise1Driven by something inside me, I wrote over the space of a few months a book entitled “Collision with Paradise” based on some research I’d done on Atlantis, the bible and the Great Flood. The book was important to me on a number of fronts: in its ecological message of cooperation and its exploration of new paradigms of existence. I wrote it fast and well and it hardly needed editing. Without thinking and without hesitation, I submitted it for publication. As quickly as I’d written it, I had an offer from a publisher. My first published book! My first reaction was elation. My second reaction was: What have I done? I was proud of my book and its story, but it also contained erotica. My first thought was: how are my family and friends going to react? What about my parents? OMG! Fear, not of failure but of success came crashing down on me and I felt so exposed. If I could have retracted it, I might have several times. Thankfully, I didn’t. While some friends and family did in fact shake their heads and look askance at my work (and labeled it variously), the book was very well received by mainstream critics and readers alike. It was, in fact, a hit. Faced with success, I bowed to its consequences and embraced what it brought: the good, the bad and the ugly. I was, in fact, relieved. I have many times since contemplated my actions in submitting this subversive novel that exposed me incredibly. Was it brave intuition or bold recklessness that propelled me? The point is, I’d stepped out into the light, crossed the line into another paradigm. There was no way back into the shadows. And that’s good.

Ralph Keyes, author of The Courage to Write, tells us “any writing lays the writer open to judgment about the quality of his work and thought. The closer he gets to painful personal truths, the more fear mounts—not just about what he might reveal, but about what he might discover [about himself] should he venture too deeply inside. But to write well, that’s exactly where we must venture.” If you’re emotionally or psychologically not ready for the consequences of getting published, then you will falter, procrastinate, forever fuss over your creation and convince yourself that it isn’t ready. In truth it’s you who aren’t ready. It’s you who aren’t ready to shine.

karen-sun-zermatt

Author’s friend in Zermatt, Switzerland (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Just remember that while we are born artists, it is still our choice to live as artists. Until we embrace that which is within us, we will not find our voice to give to the world. That is our gift to the world. Laurance Gartel says “to be an artist is to take responsibility for the world’s destiny. You shape it by your vision.”

The true artist is not interested in having a nice life, being comfy or fitting in, but rather sees himself as a benefactor. His goal is to make a contribution to life, and to this end there are no barriers, doors or blocks, but only wide open spaces.”—Brian Simons

 

nina-2014aaNina 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.

Learn How to Write Science Fiction at George Brown College

For those in the Toronto area, I’m teaching a 12-week course on how to write science fiction at George Brown College this spring.

Called “Creating Science Fiction”, the course runs Wednesday nights from 6:15 to 9:15 starting April 8th through to June 24th and costs $278. The course is also part of George Brown’s Creative Writing Certificate.
.
Meant for both beginning writers and those already published, the 12-week course is run like a workshop with student input and feedback on student’s WIPs. I explore with students the essential tools used in the SF genre (including world building, research and plot approaches). Students will work toward a publishable original piece by learning to generate and follow through with premise, idea and theme.
Microsoft Word - GBC-SF course-APRIL2015 AD.docx
George Brown College is located on 200 King Street, Toronto, Canada.
.
.
.
.
nina-2014aaNina 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.

The Art and Magic of Storytelling: Part 1, Sparking the Premise

Cover1_LastSummoner-frontcover copyFrom where do we get our stories?

This is a question I am asked time and again. My readers, friends and colleagues alike marvel at my imagination, and ask me how I create these fantastical worlds and situations. Cornered in a moment of inarticulate bliss (this often happens to me), I shrug and blather off some ridiculously obscure tale of luciferous logolepsy.

The simple of it is that it always comes as a spark. Followed by inspiration. And from there, a story emerges. Premise to dramatization. So, let me tell you a story about how my 2012 historical fantasy The Last Summoner —about a medieval time traveler who must save the past from the future—came to be.

It all began with the Battle of Grunwald and the Fate of the Teutonic Knights—that is, when I stumbled upon it during an Internet ramble. But, in fact, it started before that—the spark, that is.

My part in this piece of history really began sometime in 2008 with the vision of an incredible image by Croatian artist Tomislav Tikulin (who had done the cover art for a previous novel Darwin’s Paradox). On Tikulin’s website I glimpsed the image of a magnificent knight, standing in a war-littered mire and gazing up, questioning, at the vaulted ceiling of a drowned cathedral. A great light shone upon the knight in streams of white gold. It sent my imagination soaring with thoughts of chivalry, adventure and intrigue.

Who was this knight standing in the mire?…

teutons3-close1

With that image imprinted inside me, the next nexus moment came when I stumbled across a significant but little-known battle in the medieval Baltic, the Battle of Grunwald. It would turn out to be the defining battle for what are now the countries of Poland and Lithuania. On June 14th 1410, they were still part of Prussia and tyrannized by the Teutonic Order, who were Christianizing the pagan Baltic on behalf of the Pope. In truth, the Order had been for centuries gathering wealth and land for colonizing Germans in their drang nach osten; they built sturdy castles (many of which still stand today) and a force of monk warriors, feared for their cunning strategy and treacherous combat abilities.

 

The Battle of Grunwald was, in fact, an upset in history. The Teutonic Order was powerful, intimidating and extremely capable. They should have won; but the peasant armies of Prussia slaughtered the Order, killing most of its knights. Historians debate that the hochmeister’s arrogance—indeed, the arrogance of the entire Order—precipitated their downfall. They underestimated their adversaries and got sloppy. After the Polish and Lithuanian armies outsmarted the Order and slayed their hochmeister, along with many of their knights, the Order’s own peasant slaves finished the job using clubs, pitchforks and stones.

Intrigued by this little known order of religious crusaders and their bizarre fate in an upset battle with a peasant army, I pursued the premise of an alternative consequence: what if the Teutonic Knights had NOT underestimated their enemy and won the Battle of Grunwald? Would they have continued their catastrophic sweep of North-east Europe into Russia and beyond? Would they have continued their catastrophic sweep of north- east Europe into Russia and beyond? Would they have claimed the whole for Germany’s expansionist lebensraum movement, fueled by its sonderweg, a dialectic that would ultimately lead to the killing fields of the Holocaust? What if the success of the Teutonic Order helped consolidate a united fascist elite, ambitious to conquer the world? And what if, as a result, Nazism sprang up 100 years earlier?

The Last Summoner, arose from this premise. Enter our heroine, young 14-year old Vivianne Schoen, Baroness von Grunwald, a self-centered romantic who dreams that her ritter (her knight) will rescue her from an arranged marriage to some foreign  warrior. As a result of an impetuous choice, she makes the startling discovery that she can alter history—but not before she’s branded a witch and must flee through a time-space tear into an alternate present-day France ruled by fascists. There, she learns that every choice has its price.

Warrior Woman Silhouette

Spanning from medieval Poland to present day Paris, France, The Last Summoner explores the sweeping consequences of our “subtle” choices. From the smallest grab to the most sweeping gesture, we are accountable for the world we’ve made. During her 600-year journey to save the world and undo the history she authored, Vivianne learns wisdom and humility. Through the paradox of history, she learns that what might have seemed the right choice for an immediate future, turns out to be disastrous for a distant future. To win is also to lose; to save oneself one must surrender oneself; and to save the world one need only save a single soul.

knight-cameoThe knight standing in the mire is Vivianne.

The Last Summoner, published by Starfire World Syndicate, was released in 2012 and remained a Canadian bestseller on Amazon for several months. It represents my first historical fantasy in an otherwise repertoire of hard science fiction. The Polish and Lithuanians celebrate June 14th with pride, erecting mock-ups of the battle annually. Some day I hope to participate.

The cover art for The Last Summoner is that very image that inspired my story. The Universe gifted me with the chance to acquire the image from Mr. Tikulin and a publisher willing to purchase it. I’d entered my own dream.

 

 

p.s. definition for luciferous logolepsy: “an illuminating obsession with words”

 

This article first appeared on Warpworld on Nov. 30, 2013.

nina-2014aaNina 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.

Why We Need to Write

Words are a form of action, capable of influencing change—Ingrid Bengis

moss-covered everything

Moss-covered creek in Revelstoke Park, BC (photo by Nina Munteanu)

We’re all writers here… But how many of us, when asked about what we do, respond with “I write” or “I’m writing a book” or “I write stories”? I know. It’s complicated. It’s so much easier to leave that part out of our busy and serious lives. Besides, what do you say when the inevitable question of “so, what have you published?” comes up? All too often in North America, if you are not yet published you aren’t considered a writer. Until you’re published, you and your writing aren’t taken seriously. Even after I was published, my husband called my writing a hobby. He’s my ex-husband now.

Anne-walking-Cedars

Friend Anne walks among the giants, Revelstoke Park, BC (photo by Nina Munteanu)

What my ex-husband failed to recognize, but you and I know in our hearts, is that we live to write and write to live. Writing is the breath and light of our soul and the well-spring of our very essence. Isaac Asimov said, “I write for the same reason I breathe—because if I didn’t, I would die.” That was every bit as true when he was unpublished as after he’d published a bazillion books. This is more than metaphoric truth; it is scientifically proven.

Expressive writing — whether in the form of journaling, blogging, writing letters, memoir or fiction — improves health. Over the past twenty years, a growing body of literature has shown beneficial effects of writing about traumatic, emotional and stressful events on physical and emotional health. In control experiments with college students, Pennebaker and Beall (1986) demonstrated that college students who wrote about their deepest thoughts and feelings for only 15 minutes over four consecutive days, experienced significant health benefits four months later. Long term benefits of expressive writing include improved lung and liver function, reduced blood pressure, reduced depression, improved functioning memory, sporting performance and greater psychological well-being. The kind of writing that heals, however, must link the trauma or deep event with the emotions and feelings they generated. Simply writing as catharsis won’t do.

Whether you publish or not, your writing is important and worthwhile. Take ownership of it, nurture it, and hold it sacred. Command respect from others and respect all writers in turn; don’t let ignorance intimidate you to silence. My colleague, Louise DeSalvo wrote in her book, Writing as a Way of Healing:

GiantCedars boardwalk2

Boardwalk among giant cedars, Revelstoke Park (photo by Nina Munteanu)

“Many people I know who want to write but don’t or who want to write more but say they can’t find the time, have told me that taking the time to write seems, well, self-indulgent, self-involved, frivolous even. And that finding the time to write—even a diary, much less fiction or memoir or poetry—in their busy schedules is impossible. ‘I’ll write when I have the time,’ they say … What, though, if writing weren’t such a luxury? What if writing were a simple, significant, yet necessary way to achieve spiritual, emotional, and psychic wholeness? To synthesize thought and feeling, to understand how feeling relates to events in our lives and vice versa? What if writing were as important and as basic a human function and as significant to maintaining and promoting our psychic and physical wellness as, say, exercise, healthful good, pure water, clean air, rest and repose, and some soul-satisfying practice?”

tall cedar-moss

Mossy cedar, Revelstoke Park (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Of course, in our hearts we know this is true. DeSalvo adds of her long journey toward accepting writing in her life: “I didn’t know that if you want to write, you must follow your desire to write … I didn’t know that you could write simply to take care of yourself, even if you have no desire to publish your work. I didn’t know that if you want to become a writer, eventually you’ll learn through writing … all you need to know about your craft … I didn’t know that if you want to write and don’t, because you don’t feel worthy enough or able enough, not writing will eventually begin to erase who you are.”

Writing, like any form of creativity, requires faith; in ourselves and in others. And that’s scary. It’s scary because it requires that we relinquish control. All the more reason to write. Resistance is a form of self-destruction, says Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way (1992). We resist to maintain some idea of control but instead we increase depression, anxiety, and confusion. Booth et al (1997) found that written disclosure significantly reduces physiological stress on the body caused by inhibition. We were born to create. Why do we demure and resist? Because, says Cameron, “we have bought the message of our culture … [that] we are meant to be dutiful and then die. The truth is that we are meant to be bountiful and live.”

Nina-giant cedar03

Nina Munteanu in bliss with giant cedar tree, Revelstoke Park, BC (photo by Anne Voute)

Joseph Campbell wrote: “Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before.” Cameron adds, “It is the inner commitment to be true to ourselves and follow our dreams that triggers the support of the universe. While we are ambivalent, the universe will seem to us also to be ambivalent and erratic.”

Seize the muse and proclaim it proudly. I AM A WRITER.

 

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.

Celebrating 2014, the Year of the Horse

nina-2015-BWgrainJanuary 31st of 2014 begins the Year of the Wood Horse in the Chinese calendar as part of the sexagenary cycle of sixty 2-character terms. Each term (representing a year) consists of a “Heavenly stem” character and an “Earthly-branch” character; these combine to generate 60 unique terms that then repeat; in this case every 60 years. This means that the Year of the Wood Horse will only occur every 60 years.

I was born 60 years ago, so this is very much my year!

The Horse (馬 午)

In Chinese culture, the Horse symbolizes nobility, class, speed and perseverance.

The magical horse is heroic, strong and can fly. Think Pegasus, Tianma, Sleipnir, Epona’s horses, the Hippocamp, the white horse of Rhiannon, the unicorn, the dragon-horse of Xuanzang, the kelpie, and the bailongma. The white celestial cloud horse, sacred to the Chinese Goddess Kwan Yin—goddess of compassion—flies in the heavens and brings peace and blessings. The horse is linked to Varuna and equated to the cosmos. The white horse is also believed to be the last incarnation of Vishnu. Buddha is said to have left this physical plane riding a white horse.

SONY DSC

Nina hiking (photo by Merridy Cox)

Horses love to run, or fly in the case of mythic horses. They love freedom. They’re sexy, elegant and beautiful and embody the qualities of power, grace, nobility, strength, victory and freedom. In Native American lore, the horse symbol combines the grounded power of the earth with the whispers of wisdom found in the spirit wind. The Celts considered the horse noble, embodying qualities of stability, honor, trust, intelligence and strength. The horse was considered a vehicle and guide for transcendence, able to invoke courage and determination. The Celtic Ogham equates the horse with the Oak tree (a strong, stable life-affirming symbol, recognized for its tendency to attract lightning, symbolic of divine light and spiritual rebirth).

Some metaphysical writings describe the Horse as a “triangle” or “trinity” of hypostases: 1) bearing the gift of presence, elegance, and journey; 2) offering the energy of freedom, nomadic spirit, and endurance; and 3) holding the magic of telepathy and spirit messenger.

The Wood Horse (木馬 午)

Nina-giant cedar03

Nina leans against giant cedar in Revelstoke Park, BC (photo by Anne Voute)

2014 isn’t just the year of the Horse; it is the year of the Wood Horse, also called the Green Horse (wood being related to a growing tree and the color of young growth). The wood element is associated with spring, growth and vitality.

tall cedar-moss

Mossy cedar tree, Revelstoke Park, BC (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Mossy cedar, Revelstoke Park, BC (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Wood represents the first phase of Wu Xing, an ancient mnemonic for systems with five stages or movements, used to explain a diversity of phenomena from cosmic cycles to the interaction between internal organs and from the succession of political regimes to the properties of medicines. The five elements include wood, fire, earth, metal, and water.

As one of the generative cyclical engendering five elements, wood feeds fire; fire creates Earth (ash); Earth bears metal; metal enriches water (e.g., water with minerals is more beneficial to the body than pure water); and water nourishes wood.

Wood is yang in character and associated with the planet Jupiter (and Zeus, the god of thunder and lightning), the color blue, green, and the wind. It is also associated with the Azure Dragon (Qing Long) of the east, one of the four mythological creatures of the Chinese constellations. The Azure Dragon is represented in the Kiyomizu Temple in eastern Kyoto, Japan, where I visited in Spring 2013.

bamboo-close01 copy

Bamboo stand near Kyoto, Japan (photo by Nina Munteanu)

In Chinese Taoist thought, Wood is characterized by strength and flexibility (think bamboo and willow). Wood reflects qualities of warmth, generosity, co-operation and idealism. Wood heralds the beginning of life and embraces springtime and buds, sensuality and fecundity. Wood needs moisture to thrive. Wood, in turn, feeds fire. Wood burns. A Wood person is considered expansive, outgoing and socially conscious.

The wooden horse is a potent symbol. Perhaps the best known wooden horse is the Trojan Horse, used by the Greeks in the Trojan war to gain entry into Troy and destroy the city. As told in the Latin epic poem The Aeneid by Virgil: after a 10-year siege, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse—the emblem of Troy—and hid soldiers inside then pretended to leave. The horse was apparently left as a peace offering to the Trojans and to the goddess Athena to ensure safe passage home. Despite the priest Loacoon’s warning—“Don’t trust the horse! I fear Greeks, even those bearing gifts”—the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy. That night the elite force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the army, which had hidden under cover of night. The Greeks won the conflict as a result of this brilliant subterfuge. This is why malicious computer programs that trick users into running them as useful or interesting are called Trojan Horses.

Today, the Trojan Horse that stands in front of ancient Troy (Truva) symbolizes vigilant peace and freedom. It is a daily reminder to thousands of tourists of the power of deception in the guise of candy-coated “truths”. The ancient Greeks cleverly subverted a noble symbol of honor, grace and power through crafty deception. The noble Wooden Horse, like any symbol, is only as good as those who embrace its original truths and noble meanings. Think swastika, the pentagram, the cross.

Were you born in the year of the horse?

Maple-sugar spring-LR

Nina’s sugar maple in Little Rouge River woodland (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Horse years include: 2014, 2002, 1990, 1978, 1966, 1954, 1942, 1930, 1918, and 1906. Horse people are bright, cheerful, popular and fun loving (big giant grin). People born in the Year of the Horse are smart fabulous speakers who have a gift for getting through to other people. They find people and crowds exciting and love parties. Hehe… Horse’s childish innocence, sunny disposition, and natural charm attract many friends. HAR! The horse is a very intuitive animal; horse-people follow their hunches. Luckily our keen judgment and natural intuition help us make the right decisions with those crazy hunches.

Rules constrain the proud horse that needs freedom to run. Horses are elegant, beautiful and highly intuitive animals. Horse people are frank and will tell you exactly what is on their mind; they dislike hidden agendas. The Horse is complex and paradoxical: considered proud yet sweet-natured, arrogant yet oddly modest in their approach to love, envious but tolerant, conceited yet humble. They want to belong, yet they need to be independent. They crave intimacy, yet refuse to be corralled or tamed. One astrologer tells us that, “The Horse will give up everything for love.”

Nina Highland Cr 1

Nina hiking Highland Creek, Ontario (photo by Merridy Cox)

What does it all mean?…

So, what does all of this have to do with you, 2014 and the Year of the Horse? Why, nothing… Perhaps everything.

It depends on whether you are mindful of the symbols around you; whether you think and write metaphorically; whether you are fanciful and whimsical; whether you appreciate the ancient wisdom of humanity and its link to the divine… Whatever your inclination, I wish you a wonderful and productive year of transformation and wonderful surprises. I for one am looking forward to 2014. I’ve embraced it as my year with its spontaneous “horse” energy for fast action and flow—my style, actually.

I expect no middle ground. It’s a year of extremes, strong fluctuations, general chaos and great opportunity. A time of fast victories and unexpected adventure. A year to travel, especially off the beaten path. A year to connect with Nature and embrace Gaia’s radiant energy. Decisive action, not procrastination, brings victory. But you have to act fast to catch up with this horse. My book about water, which I started last year (the year of the water snake), will run its course to publication this year. It is half-written and I will finish it—and get it published—this year.

Horse energy is pure unbridled spirit. Playful, wild, and independent. Horse has a refined instinct that flows through action and movement. Leap. Fly. Follow your instincts. Chase your dream. Catch it by the tail. Finish that novel. Send it off. Present that proposal. Go to that convention. Meet that publisher or agent. Assert your honesty and openness. The horse demands it.

I wish you an exciting and wonderful 2014!

 

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.