More Magic, More Empthy, More Urgency

What if nature-based fiction works better than most any science course we ever took? What if it delivers more magic, more empathy, more urgency, and more wisdom than a cross-section or diagram ever could?

When authors use the natural world to illuminate what is most human and inhuman about our species, they also take us on field trips we need to take.

When I travel to speak about my work, I also bring along a handout on nature based fiction that shares this wealth.

Here’s some of what I share. There’s more on my website.

“Deep in the forest a call was sounding, and as often as he heard this call, mysteriously thrilling and luring, he felt compelled to turn his back upon the fire and the beaten earth around it, and to plunge into the forest, and on and on, he knew not where or why; nor did he wonder where or why, the call sounding imperiously, deep in the forest.” Jack London, The Call of the Wild

“The sigh of all the seas breaking in measure round the isles soothed them; the night wrapped them; nothing broke their sleep, until, the birds beginning and the dawn weaving their thin voices in to its whiteness.” Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

“The clouds were building up now for the trade wind and he looked ahead and saw a flight of wild ducks etching themselves against the sky over the water, then blurring, then etching again and he knew no man was ever alone on the sea.” Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

“As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country, as the water is the sea. The red of the grass made all the great prairie the colour of wine stains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running.” Willa Cather, My Ántonia

Appreciating moose, even at the end of their lives. (Researching the hunter registration station for a “Deadly Trespass” chapter.)

“When he says ‘Skins or blankets?’ it will take you a moment to realized that he’s asking which you want to sleep under. And in your hesitation he’ll decide that he wants to see your skin wrapped in the big black moose hide. He carried it, he’ll say, soaking wet and heavier than a dead man, across the tundra for two—was it hours or days or weeks? … It’s December, and your skin is never really warm, so you will pull the bulk of it around you and pose for him, pose for his camera, without having to narrate this moose’s death.” Pam Houston, Cowboys Are My Weakness

Jackie helps me release trout back into the river.

“I wasn’t really breaking the law. Maine’s a practical state. My ancestors knew they couldn’t slap a deed on something that slithers through fingers, so they made rivers and trout public property and left it vague how we’d get to them. … Behind Carla Monson’s gate, spawning trout had to be flinging themselves upstream under fall leaves as orange as their cold, swollen bellies. They were my kind of invitation.” Sandra Neily, Deadly Trespass

Reading Suggestions (Reviews are in quotes. My personal notes are not.)

Heat and Light, Jennifer Haigh. “… when an author can tell a beautiful and compelling story about fracking, well, you know you are in the presence of something special.”

Breaking Point, C.J. Box. Two EPA employees are murdered. Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett thinks it might be Butch Roberson whose dreams of retirement income are shredded when the EPA declares his lands a wetland.

Winter Study, Nevada Barr. “Soon after Anna Pigeon joins the famed wolf study team of Isle Royale National Park in the middle of Lake Superior, the wolf packs begin to behave in peculiar ways.” All of her mysteries are set in vivid and various National Parks. All rip nature onto the page.

Skinny Dip, Carl Hiaasen. “…is about “a young, handsome marine biologist whose expertise is marginal and a crooked farm tycoon who owns large vegetable fields which he relentlessly pollutes with fertilizer run-off.” Hiaasen’s best-selling satires pit Florida’s outdoors against relentless stupidity.

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth, Christopher Scotton. “The events of this fateful summer will affect the entire town of Medgar, Kentucky, beset by a massive mountaintop removal operation that is blowing up the hills and back filling the hollows.” NY Times raves: “a page turner.”

A Night Too Dark, Dana Stabenow. Alaska’s many natural resources provide conflict in most all her novels from mineral wars to fishing turf battles, to big oil up against native tribes. “Her over 17 novels about the Aleut PI Kate Shugak are an outstanding series. She’s 5 foot 1 inch tall, carries a scar that runs from ear to ear, owns a wolf/husky dog named Mutt and tries to survive the worst Alaskan wilds throw at her.”

The Monkey Wrench Gang, Edward Abbey. In it, Hayduke says “No one knows precisely how sentient is a pinyon pine, for example, or to what degree such woody organisms can feel pain or fear, and in any case the road builders had more important things to worry about, but this much is clearly established as scientific face: a living tree, once uprooted, takes many days to wholly die.”( In my novel, Deadly Trespass Patton says it’s, a “classic hymn to lawbreaking on behalf of the natural world.”)

And more: The Overstory, Richard Powers * Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens  * Bearskin: A Novel, James A McLaughlin * Barkskins, Annie Prouix  *  Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver   *  The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories, Sarah Orne Jewett  *  Watership Down,  Richard Adams  *  The Beans of Egypt Maine, Carolyn Chute  *  The Weight of Winter, Cathie Pelletier  * Massacre Pond, Paul Doiron * The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah

Sandy’s novel, “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine,” won a Mystery Writers of America award and was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest. Last year, she was nominated for a Maine Literary Award. Find her novel at all Shermans Books and on Amazon. Find more info on the video trailer and Sandy’s website.  The second Mystery in Maine, “Deadly Turn,” will be published in 2019.

About Sandra Neily

Sandy’s novel “Deadly Trespass” received a Mystery Writers of America award, was named a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, a finalist in the Mslexia international novel competition, a runner- up in Maine’s Joy of the Pen competition, and recently, an international SPR fiction finalist. Sandy lives in the woods of Maine and says she’d rather be “fly fishing cold streams, skiing remote trails, paddling near loons, or just generally out there—unless I’m sharing vanishing worlds with my readers. "
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4 Responses to More Magic, More Empthy, More Urgency

  1. louy castonguay says:

    This is wonderful stuff.  Loving it.  Just learned about Maine Crime Writers.  Two posts, so far, both wonderful.  My Mysteries are sort of outdoors, and I’m sure this will add more “magic”.  Thanks.  

    • sandra neily says:

      Thanks so much Louy! We are an eclectic group and happy to reach out and share. I see you are working on a series. You know about Maine Writers and Publisher’s upcoming event, CrimeWave? I am also on a o-budget but it is so worth it. Good luck!

      • louy castonguay says:

        So sorry I missed your reply. And now, I guess I didn’t know. Really just getting to know about some things better.

  2. susanvaughan says:

    So many wonderful nature passages in literature. And so many ways humans and nature connect. Thanks for sharing this.

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