A lot of us are in the midst of writing new (or completing old) projects for the challenging NaNoWriMo month. Some find it too challenging, others a great way to write to a deadline, while others utilize the month for beginning or finishing a project. No matter why you participate, the structure gives us all a commitment to write at least 1667 words a day.
Obviously, there are other commitments – work, home & family – but making time to write is a bonus. We have the ‘excuse’ that we must write in order to achieve the goal of 50,000 words. Once our family understands your need for this writing time, why not carry it on after November?
With a full month of specified ‘writing time’ becoming the ‘norm’ for those around you, why drop it after November. If the family can accommodate you for one month, why not twelve?
Writing is our passion. We need to write. So make the time to do it. Wake up earlier, go to bed later, write while waiting for children’s activities to finish or write a scene in a small notebook in your purse waiting at appointments. There are always opportunities to allow your Muse to create. You may have to be creative in how we work it out, but it is worth investing in your writing time. It is a writing commitment.
Weather can have quite an effect on our writing as it influences us emotionally and physically. Each season has its benefits.
Spring brings hope of warmth and plans conjured for outdoor pursuits, clearing of winter’s destruction and planting for summer blooms. It is also a time when a new project or idea may come forth. Use the short days and early evenings to plot, plan and create.
The sunshine and heat of summer tempts us outdoors to the wonderful variety of activities and abundance of the season. Looking at our writing area sends sharp pangs of guilt into our sub-conscious. I should be writing is its taunt. Remember experiences count as research so enjoy your summer. Find a quiet nook to write in the early mornings, or in a hotel lobby observing guests going back and forth or curling your toes in the sand on a beach. People watching is a trait a writer should indulge.
Fall (Autumn) with its burst of colour and chilly winds encourages warmer clothing and the last hurrah before the winter. The seasonal change turns our thoughts inward to postponed projects and the opportunity to begin them. Plotting, character development, and the first lines into a new story warms our Muse.
In Alberta, my homeland now, winter is severe. We experience extreme cold, lots of snowfall and limitations on outdoor pursuits. Obviously, some people relish the opportunity to ski, snowboard, sled etc. but for others it is a time of indoor pursuits and a hibernation mentality takes over. Secluded in your writing area, your focus can dwell on your writing, ignoring the cold, harsh weather outside.
As writers, we learn to use emotional, social, and climatic insights and feelings to the benefit of our craft. It gives us an idea how weather can effect a character’s situation or show the passing of time.
This particular subject is close to my heart as I begin a detective series. As a free flow/panster writer, I always let the characters take charge. However, now, I have to plan a plot arc across three books. So let’s see what is required for a book series.
Firstly, know what makes writing a series different. A series has a multi-novel continuity with longer-term, series wide developments. The ending of one book should also be the hook for the following book and there should be a central conflict and tense that sustains interest. Create a compelling title for the series and each book in the series.
Secondly, there should be subplots that propel each book forward to the larger or main conflict. These subplots create smaller rises and falls in the story tension. This allows each book to have its own self-contained struggle and opportunity for growth of the characters.
You need to create a compelling central conflict for the series but also have secondary obstacles to the main characters path, with additional complications that delay the main resolution. Also move your characters through multiple settings with distinctive interests, surprises and challenges. In short, create a fictional world readers want to return to.
To aid your series ensure you outline the series in advance, enabling you to understand how each book relates to another. Establish your central characters early, however reveal their backstories gradually so your readers become engaged in their lives. Give them faults, show how their environment affects them and decide how they will change from book to book. You can also change the cast of your characters as the series continues.
Make sure you give each book in the series a strong central event. Remember that each book should stand on its own to a degree. A reader should be able to start with book four and not find the story so bewildering that they’re completely lost. To make each novel in your series work well as a standalone work – have a strong central event and image for each book and create a secondary conflict and partial resolution for each novel. This can be by your characters acquiring a skill, conviction or strategy. With the introduction of tension with uncertainty and unknowns the reader will want to know what comes next.
Plan in advance.
Provide a resolution of part of the narrative at the end of each story but carry elements over to the next book.
Maintain an overarching plot and character arcs. Give your characters time to develop over the series.
Maintain consistency with backstories, attributes, settings and plot from the previous books. Keep a record of details and timelines so you can reference it as you write.
Weave reminders into each novel to a lesser degree.
Do you have any tips you can share in regard to writing a book series?
We all need to refresh our writing Muse, so this past Thanksgiving long weekend, I enjoyed two day road trips to Miquelon Lake Provincial Park. The first was on Saturday and then again on Monday. Both trips were a discovery of back roads and nature. It was chilly and breezy but glorious colours of the season were enjoyed.
There was plenty of wildfowl, a friendly squirrel, a couple of muskrats and evidence of a busy beaver too.
Although, I did some research for my detective book series and compiled a file folder of research, I did not write. We all need downtime.
However, I may write a short story on the unusual sight of a beaver lodge with a satellite dish! It’s too good not to.
Inspiration does come from anywhere and everywhere.
Not until I was a teenager when I wrote my first complete novel (“Caged-In World”—which later served as a very rough draft for my first published novel, “Darwin’s Paradox”). My first published work was my non-fiction article “Environmental Citizenship” which appeared in Shared Vision Magazine in 1995. My first fiction work was a short story entitled “Arc of Time”, which was published in Armchair Aesthete in 2002. However, I told stories long before I wrote them and long before any of them was published. I told stories in the form of cartoons. Since I was a small child, I wanted to be a cartoonist and write graphic novels (back then I knew them as comics). I created several strips with crazy characters that I drew, blending my love for drawing with my love for storytelling.
What made you decide on science fiction as a genre?
That goes back to my love for comics. I wasn’t much of a reader as a kid. While my older brother and sister devoured The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series, I secreted myself in the back corner of Williams General store and read Superman and Superboy, Supergirl, Batman, The Fantastic Four, Flash, Magnus Robot Fighter and Green Lantern. I was obviously enamoured with the fantastic. When I earnestly started to read things other than comics, I came across the SF classics: Huxley, Orwell, Heinlein, Clarke, Silverberg and Asimov to name a few. Bradbury sent me over the moon and his “Martian Chronicles” made me cry. I wanted to write like him and move readers like he’d done with me.
The reason I continue to write in this genre is because of its ability to encompass the creative imagination and application of metaphor to story. Given its wide range of possibilities in creating a believable reality of the fantastic, science fiction provides a compelling platform for metaphoric storytelling. Possibilities for powerful archetypes abound. Where else can you make water an actual character?
Was the ecological aspect of your stories a gradual realization or your primary objective?
My primary objective was always to tell a compelling and meaningful story and hopefully to move readers. The ecological aspects slid in unannounced like a shadow character. It made sense: the environment and how we treat it (and ourselves by extension) has always been something important to me since I was a child. So, while I was writing science fiction, it was also eco-fiction. When the brand became more known, I realised that this was the kind of science fiction I was writing most of the time.
Do you prefer writing novels or short stories?
I love writing both forms. Each form challenges in a different way and each lends itself to a different kind of story. Since I was a child, I had wanted to write novels. But as I got older and became familiar with the publishing industry, I learned that one of the best ways to get exposure and credentials to successfully publish a first novel was to get known as a published short story writer. So, I started writing short stories. I didn’t write them very well at first; they read like novel-wannabies. And that’s exactly the feedback I got from the magazines I submitted to. Then I figured it all out and I started to sell my short stories. Lots of them. And reprints too. They’ve even won some awards! When I published my first novel in 2007, I didn’t stop writing short. While my love for the novel drives my writing (I have published nine novels so far), I love the short form for its challenges and need for discipline and its powerful platform of “short.” I am particularly proud of my two latest shorts: “Alien Landscape” in The Group of Seven Reimagined (2019); and “Out of the Silence” in subTerrain Magazine, Issue 85 (2020).
Does your teaching aid your writing or the other way around?
Both. I teach writing skills to scientists, medical students and engineers. I also teach creatives who are learning to write long and short fiction. What I find is that my writing and publishing experiences—both the successes and the failures—help me share more practical lessons with my students. Experiences with my students also help my writing. In fact, my latest non-fiction book—the third book of my Alien Guidebook Series on place as character (“The Ecology of Story: World as Character”)—came largely from my experiences with my students.
Do you prefer writing fiction or non-fiction?
I love both forms for different reasons. If I had to pick one from passion, I’d pick fiction and its expression of my imagination; if I had to pick one from utility and general satisfaction, I’d pick non-fiction for how it responds to and communicates reality. Having said that, they are more like each other than many readers realize. Both tell stories. Both use compelling narrative with a tease or hook and final conclusion. Both require research. Both must create a believable “reality” and both dispense truth—in non-fiction truth is literal and in fiction it is metaphoric. But then there are hybrids out there such as creative non-fiction and diaries or journals. And finally my latest piece of fiction—“A Diary in the Age of Water”—that reports on real events and real people.
Can you tell us about your newest book “A Diary in the Age of Water”?
The book is essentially a journey of four generations of women, who have a unique relationship with water, during climate change and water shortage. The book spans over forty years (from the 2020s to the 2060s) and into the far future, mostly through the diary of a limnologist (someone who studies freshwater), which is found by a future water-being. During the diarist’s lifetime, all things to do with water are overseen and controlled by the international giant water utility CanadaCorp—with powers to arrest and detain anyone. This is a world in which China owns America and America, in turn, owns Canada. The limnologist witnesses and suffers through severe water taxes and imposed restrictions, dark intrigue through neighbourhood water betrayals, corporate spying and espionage, and repression of her scientific freedoms. Some people die. Others disappear…
How did you come up with the concept for the book?
It started with a short story I was invited to write in 2015 about water and politics in Canada. I had long been thinking of potential ironies in Canada’s water-rich heritage. The premise I wanted to explore was the irony of people in a water-rich nation experiencing water scarcity: living under a government-imposed daily water quota of 5 litres as water bottling and utility companies took it all. I named the story “The Way of Water.” It was about a young woman (Hilda) in near-future Toronto who has run out of water credits for the public wTap; by this time houses no longer have potable water and their water taps have been cemented shut; the only way to get water is through the public wTaps—at great cost. She’s standing two metres from water—in a line of people waiting to use the tap—and dying of thirst.
“The Way of Water” captures a vision that explores the nuances of corporate and government corruption and deceit together with global resource warfare. In this near-future, Canada is mined of all its water by thirsty Chinese and US multinationals—leaving nothing for the Canadians. Rain has not fallen on Canadian soil in years due to advances in geoengineering and weather manipulation that prevent rain clouds from going anywhere north of the Canada-US border. If you’re wondering if this is possible, it’s already happening in China and surrounding countries.
Is there anything else you would like to mention or advise your readers?
I’m often also asked why I chose to write the fiction book as mostly a diary. I was writing about both the far and the near future and much of it was based—like Margaret Atwood and her books—on real events and even real people. I wanted personal relevance to what was going on, particularly with climate change. I also wanted to achieve a gritty realism of “the mundane” and a diary felt right. Lynna—the diarist—is also a reclusive inexpressive character, so I thought a personal diary would help bring out her thoughts and feelings more. There’s nothing like eves-dropping to make the mundane exciting. The diary-aspect of the book characterizes it as “mundane science fiction” by presenting an “ordinary” setting for characters to play out. The tension arises more from insidious cumulative events and circumstances that slowly grow into something incendiary.
Where can readers find your work?
In the usual places: in the local libraries or book stores, on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and through the publisher. You can also go to my writing / coaching website www.ninamunteanu.me where I keep an updated publication list and a bookstore window to other bookselling outlets. Most of my books are available in several formats: print, ebook, audiobook.
Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and award-winning novelist and short story writer. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Nina’s non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. “A Diary in the Age of Water” is her thirteenth book.