Monday, December 15, 2014

A Dream Come True...Literally!

It's 3:30am on December 6 and I have just woken up from a terrific dream. In it, a friend calls me to tell me that I have just won a "Canada Book Award" for The MoonQuest: my first book and the first installment in my Q'ntana Trilogy of fantasy novels.

In my dream, the award is to be presented by Peter Gzowski, whose daily Morningside program on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's radio network was for 15 years a national institution.

As I reflect back on the dream in those pre-dawn hours, I figure that it must have been symbolic. After all, Gzowski has been dead for over a decade, and I haven't been in touch with the friend who alerts me to the award for even longer.

I have had prescient dreams in the past, but they're rare...and they have generally predicted bad news. In one, I dreamt that a friend called to tell me her husband had died. A few months later, he did. In another, I dreamt that my wife had left me. Very soon after, she did. (I tell both stories in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir.) 

But most of my dreams have been more metaphor than fact. So I have no reason to treat this one as literal. Besides, there's no such thing as the Canada Book Awards. Right?

Still, I'm grateful. I'm going through powerful shifts, changes and "upgrades" these days, and the dream suggests a positive outcome. On top of that, my dream mind is remarkably considerate: To make sure I see the dream as representing current success, The MoonQuest is displayed with its new cover.

In fact, I'm so pleased with the dream that I write about it on Facebook: "There's no such thing as the Canada Book Award," I write, "but it was still a pretty cool dream to wake up to. BTW," I conclude, "had it been real, the award would have been The MoonQuest's sixth!" Then I go back to sleep with visions of Pulitzers dancing in my head.

Cut to this morning, nine days after the dream, when I receive an email from...The Canada Book Awards!

"Congratulations!" it begins. "Your book (The MoonQuest: The Q'ntana Trilogy, Book I) has been chosen as a Canada Book Award-winner!

Huh?

It turns out there is a Canada Book Award...and I really did win it!! Just like the dream said! And to return for a moment to last week's Facebook post, this Canada Book Award, being real, is The MoonQuest's sixth literary prize!

Wow!!

While I'm grateful for all my books' awards, this one is particularly sweet: The MoonQuest was birthed in Canada – just as I was!

A few weeks ago, I jokingly dubbed 2015 "The Year of The MoonQuest." Maybe it wasn't a joke after all...!

• Find out for yourself why The MoonQuest has won, now, six awards and garnered more than 30 five-star reviews on Amazon! Get your copy today – on most Amazon sites, from select other online booksellers, from my website or from your favorite ebook store. And watch for The MoonQuest Movie, coming soon to a theater near you!

Photo of Peter Gzowski: CBC Archives


Thursday, December 4, 2014

AIDS Beyond December 1: A Tribute

I thought about posting this memoir-excerpt-as-tribute on World AIDS Day earlier this week, but decided to wait. After all AIDS/HIV is with us 365 days a year, and I knew that plenty of others would be focusing on the issue on December 1.

I'm old enough to remember the first public awareness of AIDS in the gay community – first the fear and panic, then the extraordinary coming together in the face of tragic loss.

I'm also old enough to have lost too many friends to AIDS in those early years, when no one really understood what was going on or why.

One of those friends was  Roy Salonin, so important to my own coming out all those decades ago in Montreal. Today I honor Roy with this excerpt from my Acts of Surrender memoir. Wherever you are, Roy, thank you!

But I also want to honor those more fortunate than Roy, those many have not only survived but have continued to live – and live passionately – with HIV. May they always remind us to celebrate life, whatever our age and HIV status...whatever our age and health status. And may they always inspire us to make this the last generation to have to know AIDS.

Gay and Jewish
Adapted from Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir © Mark David Gerson

One evening in 1975, with my mother and stepfather safely out and my bedroom door firmly shut, I again dialed the number for Gay Montreal. This time, I forced myself to stay on the line.

“Good evening, Gay Montreal,” a pleasant male voice answered.

“I-I think I’m gay,” I stammered after saying nothing for what seemed decades but was likely little more than a breath.

Charles was a pro, expertly navigating me through my fears, reassuring me that I wasn’t alone and inviting me in for a counseling session.

Next afternoon, freshly showered and looking my twenty-year-old best, I walked into the Peel Street greystone that housed Gay Montreal. Compassionate and to the point, Charles looked me up and down and asked, “Are you Jewish?”

Having been born into a generation of Jews with a contemporary knowledge of the Holocaust and firsthand experience of anti-Semitism, I couldn’t help but react inwardly to Charles’s question with a genetic spark of paranoia.

Trying to wipe my upbringing from my mind, I nodded.

“Then you’ve got to meet Roy Salonin!” he exclaimed.

I raised my eyebrows.

“Roy Salonin. He runs a gay Jewish group. It’s called Naches.” He pronounced it na-kess. Charles scribbled a phone number on a scrap of paper and shoved it across the desk at me. “Call him,” he insisted.

Next I knew I was back on Peel Street, Charles having already faded into some recess of my past. Cars pushed past me up the steep hill. Crushes of McGill students swallowed me up and spit me out as they rushed to class. I was oblivious to it all. A gay Jewish group? A gay Jewish group? Called Naches? Talk about chutzpah! Naches is a Yiddish word that expresses the joy a parent only gets from children. For a moment, I wondered how much naches I would bring my mother when I told her I was gay. Only for a moment. With my next breath, I felt calmer and more alive than I had felt in months. A gay Jewish group!

For the next eight years, the group that Roy Salonin had created formed the cornerstone of my gay experience. I attended weekly meetings and became one of the group’s organizers. I demonstrated with fellow members to protest police raids on gay bars and bathhouses. I wrote provincial and national legislators on behalf of the group to press for equal rights. I manned the Naches booth at the city’s early Gay Pride celebrations. I let my name be used in articles in the Montreal Gazette and Canadian Jewish News, then sifted through the resulting answering machine messages — all ugly or obscene.

The hateful comments didn’t matter. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I belonged and was comfortable with who I was. No one was going to take that away from me. 


Read more about my many coming out-type experiences – and much more – in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir, available on most Amazon sites, from selected other online booksellers, from my website or from your favorite ebook store.

Photos: Roy Salonin's square on the AIDS Memorial Quilt; "Peel Street Golden Square Mile 1" by abdallahh from Montréal. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving – From 1994 to 2014

Whether you are in the U.S. or abroad, I wish you a day filled with grace, blessed with joy and radiant with love! You are all very much part of the cornucopia of abundance that I'm grateful for – today and every day. Thank you!


Although I emigrated (accidentally) to the U.S. in 1997, my first American Thanksgiving was not the one I spent in Sedona, Arizona that year. My first American Thanksgiving took place three years earlier, in rural Nova Scotia. 

During a time in my life that was already a retreat, I had booked a week’s getaway at Nova Nada, a community of hermit monks tucked away in a remote Nova Scotia hunting lodge. The monks, mostly American, spent the bulk of their time in solitude, sharing only two dinners each week in community. The week I was there, however, two communal meals became three — to accommodate U.S. Thanksgiving. 

I write about how difficult it was to leave Nova Nada in this except from Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir.
"It snowed early on December 1, the morning I left Nova Nada. It was the first snow of the season and a sprinkling that made the drive out even more treacherous than the drive in had been. I had not wanted to leave and asked what might be involved in joining the order as a monk. I had felt safer at Nova Nada than I had ever felt, cocooned from the very world that I knew would soon urge me back to Toronto. Even as Brother Brendan and I discussed my options that final morning, I knew that I couldn’t stay. If I did, I would be running away — from the world, from a passion I couldn’t yet articulate and from a destiny I could not yet touch. When I pulled back into my driveway a few hours later, I knew I that I would never go back."
Read more about my accidental immigration, my time at Nova Nada and my ultimate return to Toronto in my Acts of Surrender memoir. Get your copy today on most Amazon sites, from my website or from your favorite ebook store.

"A masterful work from one of today’s masters."

Photo: One of the Nova Nada cabins. Photographer unknown. My edit.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mark David's Musings on Creativity



This is an updated version of the interview on creativity, the Muse and the creative process that originally appeared a while back ago on author Bill Jones, Jr.'s blog, This Page Is Intentionally Blank





An Interview with Mark David Gerson

The Blank Blog: It’s hard to pigeon-hole you with just one label. You’re author, motivational speaker, screenwriter, mentor, photographer. … How do you see yourself? Is one of these titles more “you” than another?

Mark David Gerson: I’m so glad you’re finding it hard to pigeon-hole me. I hate being slotted into categories and file folders! Seriously, whatever else I have done in my life, it all and always seems to come back to writing. As for the form (author v. screenwriter), I’m not sure that matters so much as the storytelling aspect of the enterprise.

In fact, now that I think about it as I write this (I do some of my best thinking while writing!), perhaps “storyteller” is the common factor in each of those labels. The bottom line is, whether I’m writing, speaking, coaching, mentoring, drawing or photographing, what I’m really doing is telling stories. From that perspective, the death of storytelling that figures so prominently in The MoonQuest, the first book of my Q'ntana Trilogy of fantasy novels, takes on an even more significant and personal dimension.


TBB: For those who haven’t yet read The MoonQuest, can you tell us a little about the story?

MDG: Imagine a land where storytelling is banned, where storytellers have been put to death, where dreams and visions are outlawed, where imagination has been stripped from the land and its people. This is the Q’ntana of The MoonQuest, a land where, as Toshar, the main character, puts it, “‘once upon a time’ is a forbidden phrase and fact is the only legal tender.” In this land, legend has it, the moon has been so saddened by the silence and tyranny, that she has cried tears that have extinguished her light. As a result, the moon has not been seen for many generations. The MoonQuest, then, is the journey undertaken by a reluctant Toshar and his three companions to restore story and vision to the land and to rekindle the light of the moon.


TBB: The MoonQuest has won awards and accolades. Now, I see it is part of a trilogy, which can be both exciting and challenging. How do you balance ensuring you have new stories to tell, with keeping the tone and quality of the original book?

MDG: Yes, The MoonQuest has won five awards, including an Independent Publishers Award Gold Medal IPPY and a New Mexico Book Award. And while no one writes for the awards, they are still wonderfully gratifying and validating.

Fortunately, that balance you asked about is not part of my job description. My job is to listen for the stories that already exist in the airwaves through which my Muse broadcasts and then to put them into words to the best of my imperfect ability. Or put another way, my job is to write the book my story wants written — the way it wants it written.

While I knew from the outset that The MoonQuest would launch a trilogy, and even knew the titles of the sequels early on, I had no idea what The StarQuest and The SunQuest would be about or how they would work with The MoonQuest story. Now that I have completed the two sequels — in other words, now that I finally know the story! — I’m amazed and in awe. My mind could never have worked those puzzle pieces together on its own. Which is why, when it comes to writing, my credos are “the story is smarter than I am” and “the story knows best”!


TBB: Can you tell us about your venture into screenwriting and filmmaking? How was the transition from book to film?

MDG: I’m finding the whole process of working with the same story in multiple forms (novel, screenplay and, now, stage musical) fascinating and illuminating.

I wrote the first draft of The MoonQuest novel in the third person. But all subsequent drafts, as well as The StarQuest and SunQuest novels, are in the first person. Writing screenplay adaptations offers me the rare privilege of telling the same story twice, each from a different point of view: first person in the novel, third person in the screenplay. Adapting the stories a third time, for the stage as a musical, offers new storytelling opportunities and challenges.

As well, each version has fed the others. I wrote the first draft of The MoonQuest screenplay when I thought I already had a completed, publication-ready draft of the novel. But some of the changes I made in the story for the screenplay were so compelling that I went back and retrofitted them into the manuscript. I had similar experiences going back and forth between the The StarQuest and SunQuest novel manuscripts and screenplays. With The SunQuest, I wrote the screenplay first – so that was an adaptation in reverse!

I had never adapted a novel for film when I began The MoonQuest script, let alone tackled any kind of screenplay. And although I read some great books and received some terrific and inspiring instruction at The Screenwriters Conference in Santa Fe (where I was, a few years later, gratifyingly back as an instructor), I approached the adaptation the way I approach all my writing: by trusting that the story itself would guide me. Which it did…well enough that a production company is seeking to produce my screenplay. (I write more about that process in Organic Screenwriting: Writing for Film, Naturally.)


TBB: You must be pretty busy with all your interests. How do you balance your time?

MDG: I take the same intuitive approach to my life as I do to my writing. While other coaches and instructors recommend applying a regular routine to creative production, that never works for me for very long. Rather, I remain as in-the-moment as I can and follow wherever the inspiration leads me — in my life as well as in my writing. That way of living and writing is both exhilarating and, at times, terrifying. But it does keep things in an organic balance!


TBB: In your book, The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write, you have a chapter entitled, “Thirteen Rules for Birthing Your Book.” I won’t list them all here, because folks need to buy the book. My favorite is “Your book is older than you think.” Can you expound on that a little here?

MDG: My point with this so-called rule (“so-called” because my Rule #1 for everything is that, truly, there are none!) is a version of what I said here earlier, that our stories exist in the airwaves around us. More often than not, they’ve been hovering there for a long time, patiently waiting for us first to take notice, then to take action…“to allow the ideas of your heart,” as I put it in The Voice of the Muse “to find expression through your mind.” That allowing is important. As I suggested in answer to your previous question, creation (like life) is not about forcing things to happen. Creation is about listening for those timeless stories and then letting them sift through us onto the page. Like the God of Genesis, our job is to let creation happen.

By the way, the response to those 13 rules for book-birthing has been so encouraging that I am now working on a new book for writers, Birthing Your Book...Even If You Don't Know What It's About. It will be out this fall.


TBB: I love to ask writers this one. What book(s) do you wish you’d written? Why?

MDG: I could say that I wish I had already written and completed my next novel, a period piece set in my native Montreal. But that wouldn't really answer you. Seriously, though, that’s a question I’ve never considered. And while there are many, many authors I admire and many, many books I have loved over the years, I’m not sure that there any I wish I’d written, because that would mean I would have to have been someone other than myself with a voice other than my own to have accomplished it. With that disclaimer out of the way, the one book — or series of books — that leaps to mind are the Narnia books, probably for their engaging blend of adventure and subtle spirituality.


TBB: For those of us with very shy muses, how would you suggest we coax ours to cooperate more readily?

MDG: You may not like this answer… Muses are never shy. It’s writers who are deaf or, rather, choose not to listen. Muses are never uncooperative. It’s writers who refuse to cooperate. Muses never hold back. Writers hold back all the time!

In those moments when you believe your Muse is not working with you, it’s important to look within. What are we not willing to hear? Which story are we refusing to write? What are we reluctant to face within ourselves that would emerge in a story we are doing our best to ignore? Which belief or way of life is our Muse challenging? Where are we not surrendering unconditionally to our Muse, and to the story it has for us?

Answer those questions, move forward in your writing from those answers, and I’m fairly certain you’ll never encounter a shy, uncooperative Muse again!


TBB: Being a photographer as well as a writer, like you, I take a lot of inspiration from photographs. In effect, the camera is my muse. How did you create the world in The Q’ntana Trilogy?

MDG: I’m not sure I can answer the question, for reasons that may have already become apparent from my previous answers. I didn’t consciously create the Q’ntana worlds. I allowed them to spill through me onto the page. I didn’t plan, plot or prepare. I simply wrote and the worlds created themselves through the words that found their way through me.

In fact, I had no plans to write a MoonQuest, nor did I have a conscious desire to write a fantasy novel, let alone a trilogy. The MoonQuest birthed itself during a writing workshop I was facilitating when, in an unprecedented in-the-moment inspiration, I did the same exercise I had presented to participants. What I wrote that evening became the opening scene of the first draft of a novel I knew nothing about. From there, I just kept writing, discovering the story as I went along, until I was done. The StarQuest and SunQuest stories emerged similarly. (I write about that magical MoonQuest experience in my memoir, Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir.)


TBB: What do you like most about your work? What do you want people to take from it?

MDG: In The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write, I encourage readers to abandon control, because trying to control the creative process is, at worst, a sure ticket to writer’s block. At best, it produces unimaginative, formulaic results. The same applies in our lives. The more control and rigidity we apply, the fewer miracles we experience.

I love that my work is about inspiring people to open to that kind of freedom, the freedom to live and create from the deepest heart of our being, the freedom to be in the moment — in our lives as much as in our creativity. For isn’t life the ultimate creative act?

If you take one thing from my work, I would hope it would be to see the possibility of that freedom and to discover some first steps toward achieving it.


TBB: You are granted one wish, and are allowed to choose any writer, living or dead, as your mentor? Whom do you choose?

MDG: I’d probably choose Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time. I didn’t discover A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels until I was an adult, when I also discovered, through her nonfiction writings, L’Engle’s deep spirituality, one that informed her creativity and her life. While L’Engle’s spirituality found its expression through the Episcopal Church and mine is largely unstructured, she was a profound influence on my writing and my life. In a sense, she already was a mentor without knowing it. Now, if she were still alive, I’d just like to thank her for that.


TBB: How can readers find your work?

MDG: You'll find all my books  – my three Q'ntana novels, my four books for writers and my two memoirs – on most Amazon sites, from select other online booksellers and in all major ebook stores. And my recording, The Voice of the Muse Companion: Guided Meditations for Writers, is on CD on Amazon (and on my website) and as an MP3 download from iTunes, Google Play, Amazon and other online music sellers.


Finally, you can find/contact me through my website and blog and through Facebook and Google+.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Specters in the Steam Room

An improbable, otherworldly experience in a hotel steam room heals the emotional abandonment I have felt from my father for as far back as I can remember. I tell the story in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir, from which the following is excerpted... 

It's August 11, 1997. After nearly two months of full-time road travel, Roxy (my cocker spaniel) and I check into the Shilo Inn in Boise, Idaho. Once I get Roxy situated, I change into my bathing suit and settle into the white-tiled steam room that is a fixture in many of the chain’s properties.

I have no plans, other than to shut my eyes and relax into the steam. But after a few minutes, I feel another presence in the room. I open my eyes and peer through the clouds of steam. I see no one.

“Hello?”

No answer.

I close my eyes again. Immediately, I sense a white-robed man staring at me from across the room. He is tall, dark-haired, with a trim beard and mustache and a muscular build. A gold coronet rests on his head.

“Who are you?” I ask silently.

“My name is Arctur,” I sense rather than hear.

“Right,” I think dismissively. My mind is playing tricks on me.

“This is no trick. I am Arctur,” he repeats.

A silent conversation ensues, but for how long I cannot say. Time has no meaning among the mystical swirls of steam.

“There is someone here who wants to speak with you,” Arctur says after a while.

I wait.

“Because this is so close to the anniversary of your father’s death...”

Suddenly I sense my father’s presence. My heart starts to race.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be the father you wanted me to be,” I hear my father say. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you in all the ways you deserved.”

I begin to sob.

“But I loved you and still love you,” he continues. “And I’m so proud of what you are doing and who you are becoming. I couldn’t be a role model for you, but you are now a role model for me. I’m watching you. I’m with you. I’m learning from you. Thank you.”

Moments later, still crying, I sense that Arctur and my father have left. I open my eyes. The steam room is empty. I wipe my face, collect myself and return to my room.

How close to the anniversary is it? I fire up my laptop and open my file of significant dates.

As close as it can be. My father died 29 years ago — on this day.


Adapted from Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir
© Mark David Gerson

Get Acts of Surrender today
– along with my other books – 
on most Amazon sites, from select other online booksellers, from my website
 or from your favorite ebook store



Photo: A Gerson family gathering long before I was born. My father is in the left foreground. Today, August 11, 2014, is the 46th anniversary of his death and the 17th anniversary of our Shilo Inn reconciliation.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Encounters with My Wisest Self

Just over a month ago, a UK fan of my Acts of Surrender memoir sent me a note on Facebook: “You mention Dialogues with the Divine in your memoir,” she wrote, “but I can’t find it anywhere. Where can I get a copy?”

“Unpublished,” I wrote back, “and likely to remain so.” Even as I hit SEND, though, I began to suspect that this reader had been channeling my Muse and that it might finally be time to dust off Dialogues with the Divine. To be honest, I wasn’t initially keen on resuscitating a manuscript that was even more personally raw than Acts of Surrender had been. Then I reread my original Foreword, and I was hooked. Several intense weeks of editing later, Dialogues with the Divine: Encounters with My Wisest Self is out! Here's an excerpt from that Foreword, altered little since I wrote it in 2000.

The “dialogues” that make up my newest book — which is also one of my oldest — emerged from the silence and solitude of a fiery autumn and frozen winter. It was October 1, 1996 and I had just moved a hundred miles north from Toronto to Penetanguishene, a summer-resort town on the shores of Lake Huron. For the fifth time in two years, I had packed my few belongings and followed my heart along the asphalt road of my soul’s journey.

Why was I there? If I needed a reason for the world, it was to work on The MoonQuest. Whatever else materialized, I hoped that a fourth draft would. After all, my novel's earlier drafts had been largely written during just such a time of retreat.

Although The MoonQuest was a constant theme during those five months, I made little progress on it. Instead, even as I struggled to move the novel forward, other words came, and I soon found myself being propelled on an unexpected journey of healing through writing.

Mine was a heart-sickness — neither physical- nor life-threatening. But it was soul- and spirit-threatening. For without trusting that it was safe to let the world more fully into my heart and my heart more fully into my words, I could never take my writing and life to deeper levels, never fully live the precepts I taught in my seminars and workshops.

If you have followed my words here and elsewhere, you know that I have always believed that creative writing is a metaphor for creative living, that the principles that work for one unfailingly work for the other: faith, trust, surrender and openheartedness; vulnerability, truthfulness and flow. And, of course, being in the moment.

Opposing all of these is fear.

If fear no longer paralyzes me, as it once did, it still occasionally slows me down. It’s the core issue of our time, triggering everything from writer’s block to war. It’s the only barrier to flow — of words, of abundance, of life, of love.

Many layers of fear had dissolved for me by the time I installed myself at 296 Champlain Road two days before my 42nd birthday. But more healing awaited, as it always does.

Opportunities for growth arise out of every breath when we are open to them. Often they arise most clearly when we step into the stillness. For me, this place of stillness was a sparsely furnished one-bedroom flat across the road from the spirit-filled waters of Georgian Bay. Sharing my rear wall was a larger house, home to Angela and Jim Emery and their nine-year-old son, Jeremy. Jeremy instantly adopted me, and and his outpouring of unconditional love was among the first challenges — and opportunities — of this journey. Others followed in rapid succession, relating as much to my life as to my writing.

Meditative or inner dialogue is a technique I have often taught in my workshops. Once in a meditative state, you ask a question and then allow the answers to emerge through what I call “writing on the Muse Stream” — letting the words flow through you onto the page, without stopping for judgment, censorship, editing, correction or second thoughts. Whether you believe the answers come from God, your Muse or a deeper part of yourself, they do come…when you let them.

My first written words of that five-month retreat came as inner dialogue, though not one that my conscious mind had initiated. Instead, as I sat in meditation one morning, I heard the words, “I just want to say something.” It was an echo of a recent nightmare and when I engaged it in conversation, I discovered a part of me that I had unwittingly denied.

By mid-January, these occasional dialogues were surging out of me, sometimes two or three times a day, and “dialogue with the divine” had replaced “inner dialogue” as the heading in my journal.

Generally, the first words of dialogue came the moment I closed my eyes. When that happened, I reached for my pad and, eyes still shut, recorded what I heard, sensed, experienced. More often than not, the power of the words evaded me. At times I resented them. In that respect, I was no different from my writing-workshop participants who, when writing for the first time from a place of heart and truth, often reject their work as meaningless or pedestrian. It wasn’t until later, as I typed and read over the day’s writing, that I began to sense its transformative power.

Through this ongoing dialogue and the experiences that sparked it, I began to open my heart wider and wider still, to trust deeply and more deeply still, to surrender more and more completely to a wisdom and divinity I had never before acknowledged. Through them I began to embrace more fully my vision, my power, my strength and my truth. Through them I began to discover new ways to write, new ways to teach, new ways to live, new ways to be.

I had set out to write a different book. I tried to write that other book. Instead, Dialogues with the Divine appeared — not initially as a book, but simply as an outlet for all that floated into consciousness.

Who is the Divine? What was the presence I engaged when this book spilled out of me? It is the presence that resides in all of us…the light that shines in and through each of us…the presence that infuses everything and everyone at all times and in all ways. There are many names for it: Muse, God/Goddess, Infinite Mind, Great Spirit, Higher Self or, as I put it in this book’s subtitle, Wisest Self. In short, it is the Divine, part each of us and all of us, yet, at the same time, something of which we are all part.

Who was I speaking to? Who was speaking to me? That still small voice that is not really small at all. It is the largest, deepest, truest part of ourselves, if we but open to it. It is the divinity we all share, the divinity we can all touch as we write and live.

My dialogues with the Divine began out of need — not the need to write a book, but the need to reconnect with my heart. I share them with you now, knowing that my words are your words, my fears are your fears, my strength and courage are yours, as is my love and wisdom. For we are all one beneath the skin of individuality. We are all one in the divinity and divine presence of love.

Who is the Divine? It is you, me, God, the flowers in your garden, the trees in your yard, the kitten that cuddles on your lap as you read these words. It is the very words themselves. May they move, guide and inspire you as they did and still do me. And may you move from them to your own direct links with your own divinity.

Adapted from Dialogues with the Divine: Encounters with My Wisest Self 
© 2014 Mark David Gerson

– along with Acts of Surrender
The MoonQuest and my other books – 
on most Amazon sites and in all major ebook-stores


Photo: The house at 296 Champlain Road in Penetanguishene, Ontario where Dialogues with the Divine was born. I lived in the front granny flat, which was originally built as a country store.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

An American Anniversary

It was on this day in 1997 that, without consciously knowing what I was doing, I left my native Canada and launched into a new adventure in a new country. To mark my 17th anniversary in the U.S., here's an abridged version of how I chronicled that experience in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir.

"Sioux Narrows Provincial Park sits on one of the thousands of picturesque inlets that comprise Lake of the Woods, a vast lake system that straddles the Ontario-Minnesota border west of Thunder Bay. In the summer its shores are lushly green, and haunting loon calls from mid-lake usher in its otherwise-silent dewy mornings. That’s what I woke to on the morning of July 9, 1997 — unknowingly, my last as a Canadian resident.

"After scribbling a few postcards, I broke camp and drove five minutes south into town to mail the cards. My plan was to return to Transcanada Highway and the Winnipeg Folk Festival, which was to open a few days later. Once again my car had its own plan. Without fully realizing what I was doing, I turned right instead of left out of the parking lot. My new direction was south — toward Minnesota, the United States and, unbeknownst to me, my new country.

"The signal from CBC Radio, my constant companion on this open-ended road odyssey, was still strong as I crossed the border at Baudette. But as I continued southwest toward Bemidji, it grew weaker and weaker then stuttered into solid static.

"Canada was gone.

"In that moment, I knew that I was, too — for good."

© Mark David Gerson, from Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir

It would be nearly a decade before I set foot in Canada again. Through those ten years I would call three U.S. states home, would marry, become a father and divorce, and would launch another open-ended road odyssey, this one lasting 30 months instead of the three that ultimately initiated my life in America.

Read more about the many acts of surrender that have comprised my journey in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir, available on most Amazon sites, from other online booksellers and from all major ebook-sellers. And read more excerpts on the book's Facebook page.


"A dynamic read for the creative spirit within each of us. Positive inspiration at its best."

"A book that has the power to awaken, empower and inspire anyone who reads it."
– Melissa Shawn, Austin, Texas

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Renewing the Past, Stepping into the Future

These are the final hours for the original edition of my award-winning first book for writers, The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write. By the end of the day (perhaps even by the time you read this), a new, expanded edition – complete with new cover – will have superseded it.

Just as I had mixed feelings earlier this year when I let The MoonQuest's original cover go in favor of its current updated look, it's with a certain ambivalence that I bid a grateful farewell to the original edition of The Voice of the Muse.

The MoonQuest and The Voice of the Muse were my first two published books, my first two literary babies. But they – and I – have grown up and matured in the years since their original release. It's now time for that maturity to be reflected in their public face.


The MoonQuest's cover – like its StarQuest and SunQuest sequels – now better reflects the dark, dystopian reality of the worlds in which they are set. It's a world where the story's colored horses are not the fairy tale-like creatures they appear, at first glance, to be on the original MoonQuest cover. Magical they may be, but Rykka and Ta'ar are also sentient beings of immense power – for good, fortunately!

In all other ways, except for an inside-the-book redesign and the inclusion of a long-requested guide to the pronunciation of the story's sometimes-challenging names, The MoonQuest is unchanged.

The same cannot be said for the new edition of The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write.

The cover, of course, is a radical departure. Gone is the Muse figure so evocatively designed by Richard Crookes, even as, on the new cover, the Muse's ocean of stories remains – Malibu's El Matador Beach, in this instance. Replacing the Muse on the new cover is a current photo of me, not for any egotistical reasons but as a way of empowering myself to more clearly take ownership of the book and its sometimes radical concepts and to match the look, tone and feel of my other books for writers.

But there have been changes inside the book as the well. The Voice of the Muse is now 20 percent longer and, I hope, 20 percent more effective!

What has changed?

  • I have expanded the section on craft, "Breathing Light and Life into Your Writing," with two new, full-length meditations to help you deepen your explorations and expressions of character and setting.
  • I have added a new section to help you cope with something all writers dread but must inevitably face (“On Rejection”). 
  • I have expanded what to me is one of the most important sections of the book, “Living Your Creativity,” to help you more effectively apply your passion for creativity to the rest of your life.
  • I have remedied my only regret about the original edition by inserting a chapter on how reading makes you a better writer...and a better person.
  • Finally, I have expanded many of the exercises, updated the technology references and made a host of other minor and not-so-minor tweaks to the rest of the text.
It has been quite the journey, reexperiencing a book I had not read cover-to-cover since proofing the final first-edition galleys nearly seven years ago. In revisiting it, I was reminded that its first words were originally intended not for you, but for me.
I didn’t set out to write this book. It crept up on me when I wasn’t looking, when I didn’t know I was writing it. Many of the essays in this volume began as journal entries, self-motivating vignettes penned during a time when I needed inspiration.  
I need that inspiration again today, as I launch into a new novel – my first since The SunQuest and a radical departure from my fantasy trilogy.

The Voice of the Muse wasn't the only one of my books I have reread over the past six months. Rather, it was the last of them. Since December, I have reread all three Q'ntana novels, my Acts of Surrender memoir, Writer's Block Unblocked and The Book of Messages. (My other two books, Organic Screenwriting and From Memory to Memoir, were written and published during that same period.) It has been an instructive, not always comfortable exercise – sort of like watching your life flash before your eyes, but via the written word!

The Voice of the Muse, however, is the only one of my books that I have altered, and I didn't do it lightly.

A book is a photograph in time, an expression of who the author was when he or she wrote it. His life, her world view, his thoughts, her philosophies, his prejudices, her quirks – they are all captured in a fixed, freeze-frame moment. Authors change and grow; the words, paragraphs and pages of their books cannot.

Perhaps they should not. In one sense, revisiting and updating a six-year-old book  as I have done with The Voice of the Muse – is like Photoshopping an old picture to make its subject appear fresh and contemporary. Wouldn’t it be better to leave the old book alone and write a new one that better represents who I am today?

That was my initial thought as I began to reread the book. In that moment, releasing a new edition felt almost fraudulent, as though I would be manipulating history.

Yet the more I read, the more I realized that The Voice of the Muse has grown with the times. Somehow, it has not only remained relevant over the years but has grown even more relevant.

In a world where public schools are being stripped of their arts programs and creativity is continually devalued in favor of “utility,” it has never been more important to rekindle passion, foster intuition and encourage self-expression. The Voice of the Muse still does all that and remains, to my astonishment, as cutting edge as ever.

At a personal level, this Voice of the Muse reunion of mine has been more than the step back in time I expected it to be. As I have read and reread the book in preparation for this expanded edition, I have discovered new depth and meaning in its words, words that, as I already pointed out, were originally intended for me. Apparently, they still are.

I suggest in all my books for writers that our books, screenplays and other writing projects are sentient entities with minds and imperatives of their own. This latest experience with The Voice of the Muse has once again proven that to be true.

I'm gratified to have been given the gift of its words, not once but twice. And I'm excited to be sharing this new edition with you!


  • The new paperback edition of The Voice of the Muse is propagating through Amazon's websites and search engines right now – a curious process that produces strange glitches and odd hiccups, so be patient! (If it's not currently showing on my Amazon author page, alongside all my other titles, it's a temporary anomaly that will soon correct itself. You can get around it by using this direct link.) Over the next weeks and months, the new, expanded paperback will also be available through other online booksellers and by special order from your neighborhood bricks-and-mortar store.
  • At this writing, a few discounted copies of the original Voice of the Muse paperback are still available on Amazon.com. If you want one of them, don't wait. Unsold copies will be withdrawn from sale by week's end. You'll find them through this link.
  • The new Kindle edition is currently available, and your purchase of the new paperback edition on Amazon will get you a Kindle copy for only US$1.99 through Amazon's Kindle Match program.)
  • The new Kobo, Nook and iBook editions will be available in the next days.
  • The Voice of the Muse Companion, my recording of meditations that are included in all my books for writers, continues to be available (with its original cover, for now) as an MP3 download on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and CD Baby. The original 2-CD album is also sold on Amazon.com.

Photo by Mark David Gerson: El Matador Beach, Malibu, CA, where the new Voice of the Muse cover image was shot by photographer Kathleen Messmer. Visit my gallery website to browse or buy this and more of my photos and artwork.

• Let's Be Friends! Please look me up on Facebook, Twitter and/or Google+.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Mark David Gerson: A Writer's Life IV




This is a slightly edited version of an interview that Sandy S. Bazinet conducted with me a few months back. Read the full, original post on her blog






What motivates you to write and how did you get started?

I like to joke that my muse tricked me into writing and, in a sense, that’s true. In public school and through most of university, I did everything I could to avoid anything creative, including writing. I opted for math and science courses and steered clear of any non-mandatory courses that involved self-expression.

But my muse had other plans, as I write about in more detail in my memoir, Acts of Surrender: A Writer’s Memoir. Starting in my final years of high school, when I was somehow pushed into taking on responsibility for the publicity for two musical theater productions (and had, of course, to write press releases and other promotional material) and carrying on through my first two post-college jobs (in public relations), I was slowly, subtly and unconsciously transformed into the writer I never thought I wanted to be. When I quit that second job after five years, it was to freelance full-time as a self-taught writer and editor. Still, it would take another dozen years before I moved from a teller of others’ stories as a newspaper, magazine, government and corporate writer to a teller of my own stories, as a novelist.

What I have discovered in the interim is that I can’t not write. I can’t not write any more than I can’t not breathe. I have no need of external motivation. It’s a call I can’t ignore (even on those days when I might prefer to). And it’s a call that I know is heard by others, which is why I titled my second book, The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write.

What’s most rewarding about writing?

I have two complementary answers to that question. First, writing from a place of total surrender to the work opens me to parts of myself and parts of the world that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to touch. While that’s not always a comfortable journey, it’s always a transformational one and it’s always rewarding. Second, it’s rewarding to know that the work I produce from that way of creating inspires others to do likewise.

What’s your favorite genre and why?

It’s not so much that I have a favorite genre. It’s more that I am drawn to a particular kind of story, regardless of genre — be it in a book, on a stage or in a movie theater: stories that are life-affirming, stories that offer hope, stories that empower, stories that inspire. Those are the kinds of stories I seek to create as well as consume.

Where do your characters come from?

My characters don’t have to “come” from anywhere because, in a sense, they already exist. These are not fictional characters I’m writing about. To me, they are real people — as real as I am. My job as writer is to be their chronicler and biographer, listening for their voices and their stories and setting those to the page for others to read.

Who is an author who inspires you and why?

It’s difficult to single out any one author as an inspiration. But if I must, it would be Madeleine L’Engle. L’Engle is best known for her young adult Wrinkle in Time books, which I didn’t discover until I was in my early 30s — during a time for me of powerful spiritual and creative awakening. But Madeleine L’Engle also wrote several novels for adults, as well as a series of memoirs. All Madeleine L’Engle’s books and stories are infused with the qualities I referred to in my earlier answer: They are life-affirming, empowering, inspirational and hopeful. It’s those qualities — in both L’Engle’s books and her life — that continue to inspire me, not only in my books and my life, but in the ways I teach and coach.

What are you writing now?

I thought I would be taking a well-deserved breather after having completed two new books for writers and having written them back to back – From Memory to Memoir: Writing the Stories of Your Life and Organic Screenwriting: Writing for Film, Naturally.

But because I can't not be writing for long, I have just started my fourth novel! Also, one of these days soon I will return to the stage-musical adaptations of my Q’ntana Trilogy of fantasy stories, The MoonQuest, The StarQuest and The SunQuest, that I began last fall.

What kind of book would you like to be known for?

Be it through my novels, screenplays, stage plays, memoir or books for writers, I would hope to be known for work that inspires, motivates and empowers, for work that encourages people to reignite their passion and creative potential, for work that gives people the courage to believe in themselves and in their creative power.

What has writing taught you about yourself?

My answer to this question is very much linked to my answer to your previous question. That’s because I would wish for my writing to do all the things for others that it continues to do for me. Writing has rekindled a passion for creativity buried so deeply that I didn’t even know it was there. Writing has taught me to believe in my creative potential. Writing has taught me to believe in myself.

How has your life experience influenced your writing?

I would like to answer this question with a story. Again, I tell this story in more detail in Acts of Surrender, but here’s the capsule version…

It was March 28, 1994 and I was leading a writing workshop in Toronto. After I guided participants into a writing exercise, a little voice — the voice of my muse — urged me to do the same exercise myself. I never write during a class I’m teaching, but the call that evening was so insistent that I didn’t dare ignore it. What came out of me in the next twenty minutes would be the opening scene of the first draft of a novel I knew nothing about, a novel that would reveal itself to me in the months of writing ahead as The MoonQuest.

I wrote that first draft in the third person, thinking it was just a story — a story that spoke to me powerfully…but still just a story. Then, a few days before I completed that first draft, I woke up knowing that when it was time to write The MoonQuest’s second draft, I would have to do it in the first person. I also knew why: This fantasy tale set in a make-believe place and in a mythical time where stories were banned and storytellers put to death was my story. Yes, it was told through the metaphor of fantasy, but it was still a very personal story. I knew, too, that I would have to own it and own that fact about it if I were to give it the life it deserved. In one way or another, all my subsequent books have also been distillations of my life experiences.

Another story…

I spent most of my youth and early adult years being creatively blocked. It took a lot courage and some outside help to free me of those blocks. It also took The MoonQuest  Yet, as painful and challenging as those blocks were, they would ultimately feed all my work in the years ahead: all my writing as well as all my teaching. In short, there is no way to separate my creative life from the rest of my life, which is why the 13 “rules” for writing that I include in some of my books are almost identical to the 13 “rules” for living that I have also written about. Why do I put “rules” in quotation marks? Because the first rule in both cases is that there are no rules…not in creativity and not in life!

What encouraging advice can you offer new writers?

This is advice for all writers, not just new writers: Trust your story and trust that your story knows itself better than you do…than you ever will. Trust, too, the chaos of creativity and the magic of creativity. Trust your own creative process. Trust your intuition. Trust yourself.

Where can readers find your books and learn more about you and your work?

All nine of my books are available in both paperback and ebook editions from Amazon and many other major online booksellers and ebook-sellers. My recording of guided meditations for writers is on Amazon.com on CD or as an MP3 download; MP3 versions are also sold on iTunes, Google Play and CD Baby.

For more about me, visit my new website or look me up on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

Bibliography

  • Organic Screenwriting: Writing for Film, Naturally
  • Writer’s Block Unblocked: Seven Surefire Ways to Free Up Your Writing and Creative Flow
  • From Memory to Memoir: Writing the Stories of Your Life
  • The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write
  • The Voice of the Muse Companion: Guided Meditations for Writers (recording)
  • Acts of Surrender: A Writer’s Memoir
  • The Book of Messages: Writings Inspired by Melchizedek
  • The Q’ntana Trilogy: The MoonQuest, The StarQuest, The SunQuest