As writers and authors, learning new skills, keeping ahead of genre evolution, trope changes and writing methods is vital for our continued improvement as a wordsmith. With the industry changing so quickly, we need to be ahead of the game.
The best ways to do this are:
Join a writing group
Read articles on the book industry
Take courses and workshops
Attend writing conferences
Subscribe to industry newsletters
How do you keep current with the writing industry?
This past weekend, I virtually attended When Words Collide and attended as many sessions as I could, while also being a co-presenter and panelist. Although, there was information I already knew, there were also those little nuggets of wisdom, insights and knowledge that made each session a gem. My notes were prolific and my follow up to action each gem will take several weeks.
There is always something to learn, whether you are just starting out on your writing career or have years of experience. We can have tunnel vision and ease into a ‘comfort zone’ so easily, when there are so many other calls on our time.
Some things can be scheduled monthly, such as updating your website or blog with current information. We don’t want a visitor to read upcoming events from 2018! Modify your bio to include your latest book, current WIP progression and appearances etc. Don’t leave your blog stagnant – post content regularly. (This can be once weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or even quarterly – just a known routine, so followers will know when to expect you to post).
We all have several social media accounts, so make sure they reflect the latest news, images etc. so they are in line with your current activities. This makes your author platform current. Also check links to ensure they are working properly or direct to a new site, if a change occurred. Refresh content and images so your platform doesn’t look dated or tired. Renew your copyright dates for all content across platforms on 1st January each year – this is one that can be missed very easily.
Can you share tips on what you do to stay updated and improve your writing skills?
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.
It can be argued that speeches are not strictly a literary genre, however a speechwriter requires the same writing skills and experience in formulating a well structured and informative speech for a diverse range of people as a non-fiction author covering a specific topic.
The definition is: a speechwriter is someone hired to prepare and write speeches that will be delivered by another person. They are employed by a variety of people, such as senior-level elected officials and executives in the government as well as in the private sector. They can also be employed to write for weddings and other social occasions. Speechwriters specialize in a writing style that merges marketing, theater, public relations, sales, education and politics all in one presentation.
The actual process of writing a speech has several steps. Initially, they need to meet with the executive and the executive’s senior staff to determine the broad framework of points or messages that the executive wants to cover in the speech. With this information they will then research the topic to flesh out this framework with anecdotes and examples. They must also consider the audience for the speech, which can range from a town-hall meeting of community leaders to an international leaders’ forum. Once this framework is created, the speechwriter blends the points, themes, positions, and messages from their research to create an “informative, original and authentic speech” for the executive. This draft is then presented to the client and the executive (or the executive’s staff) make notes, revisions or changes to it. If the speechwriter is familiar with the topic and the positions and style of the executive, only small changes may be required.
Credit for speeches is mainly contributed to the person making it rather than the speechwriter, much like a ghost writer. Their name may never appear in public or a credit given on paper. However, a good speechwriter will be known for their work in select circles, such as in a government setting.
Have you written speeches? Was it for a person setting or for a client?
I came across this article today and it resonated with me. We all aspire to become an excellent writer and hold famed authors up in our esteem as the ‘perfect’ writer or writers. However, not every work they produce is ‘perfect’. This not only shocks us but also gives us solace in the knowledge, even our heroes can fail. I have found a decrease in quality to be most prevalent in long sagas or series. Does the author become disillusioned or bored with the stories? A seven book deal may sound wonderful at the inception but by book five, is it still enjoyable?
As I was interviewed yesterday I left the word of the day off my post so we can look at two words today.
Rhetoric – definition: the art of using language skillfully
English: Cobbe portrait, claimed to be a portrait of William Shakespeare done while he was alive Lëtzebuergesch: Uelegporträt vum William Shakespeare am Alter vu 46 Joer, gemoolt 1610 zu Liefzäite vum Dichter, haut am Besëtz vum Konschtrestaurator Alec Cobbe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We all endeavor to be skillful with our words when writing, whether it is fiction, poetry or non-fiction. Conveying an idea or an image in as few words as possible is certainly an art. Such as, instead of using ‘the sky was pink in color as if made of candyfloss’ we can just say ‘ the sky was blush’. Our readers will have the same image with either one but the second sentence is tighter. The art of writing has changed over the decades as our world has altered from polite conversation over afternoon tea to the rushed technological conversation we now experience. Language, I believe, has suffered as we endeavor to ‘text speak‘ in the belief it is allowing us more ‘time’. However, how much true understanding and emotion are we loosing by shortening everything into acronyms? These are open to misinterpretation not only as the actual ‘letters’ may be misunderstood as to their meaning but also without inflection of any kind the messages can convey the exact opposite response than was meant.
Obviously we can not speak like William Shakespeare all day long, although I know a few people who would love that! However, communicating with wonderful language evokes an emotional response from whoever is listening. Will we ultimately loose verbal language to text speak and only experience proper language through the written form? I certainly hope not although there have been documented instances of the youth of today compiling exam papers purely in acronyms and worse still thinking it was perfectly acceptable. I have to count myself lucky to have a 17 year daughter who loves Shakespeare and reads excessively.
Prescience – definition: knowledge or awareness of a thing before they exist or happen
We have all experienced déjà vu at one time or another. There are many trains of thought as to what this phenomenon actually is but to have foresight is rather a different thing all together. Maybe it is a person’s ability to gauge the emotional, physical and spiritual atmosphere around them that gives them this awareness? There are many old tales of an elder able to predict when a storm was coming as they ‘could feel it in their bones’ or they knew the sex of a baby prior to the birth. With the knowledge that the human brain is not used to its full capacity, could it be that we all have some capability of prescience?
There have been movies made, such as Foresight and Premonition, that use this phenomenon to good effect. How would it feel, though, to actually ‘see’ the future? Would you want to? As a young girl I foolishly agreed to be part of a wigi board reading in the art room of my secondary school. The metal window frames were almost impossible to open and close with a struggle as they had layers of paint on them and each window had a heavy blackout blind on it. We closed all the windows, drew the blinds and sat in a circle. There was a lot of giggling and messing about until the pointer moved! Suffice to say we all stopped laughing. One friend became very tense, then fainted. When she woke up she was absolutely convinced she has seen her father die. A very frightening experience and one I will never repeat. My friend kept waiting for her father to look as old as he had in her vision…how horrid is that? I don’t think it is beneficial to know our future – let’s enjoy the here and now.
Do you have a foresight experience you would care to share?