Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Happy Birthday Roxy, Wherever You Are....

The puppy in this photo may resemble
Roxy, but it's not her. Alas, I no
longer have any photos of her.
Today, March 4, would have been Roxy's 20th birthday.

This cocker spaniel was my constant companion (sometimes my only companion) during the four years and thousands of miles of meanderings that led me from Toronto to Sedona, from my native country to a new one. Then one day, when it became clear that Hawaii was calling me but not her, Roxy found herself a new home and a new journey.

Leaving Roxy behind was one of the hardest decisions of my life and it presaged another even more difficult when, five years later, I would have to leave my daughter in the wake of a marriage breakup.

I tell both stories (and more) in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir, where I also reprint the farewell note I wrote Roxy in my journal. Here’s an excerpt from that note…

"Goodbye, Roxy. Thank you for all you have given me and done for me. Thank you for all you have shared with me and taught me. Thank you for all the times you have comforted me and made me laugh. You have taught me well, and I honor and love you for that.

"With both joy and sadness in my heart, I release you from my future that we may both continue to live in the present. I release you to your new family, knowing that they will love you as I have, but in their own way, and that you will love them with the fullness you have loved me.

"I honor you for your journey. I honor you for your love. I honor you for your heart, for your truth and for all that you are. I honor you, love you and release you.

"Goodbye, little one. Goodbye and thank you."

Happy Birthday, Roxy, wherever you are...

• Read more about my adventures with Roxy in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir. Get your copy today on most Amazon sites, from my website, from select other online booksellers or from your favorite ebook store.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Novel Experience

During a radio interview last spring, I was asked whether I planned to write a fourth novel. At the time Organic Screenwriting: Writing for Film, Naturally had only just come out and the idea of taking on any new book project was far from my mind. "Sure, if inspiration strikes," I replied aloud, adding under my breath, "some distant time in the future."

Soon after, though, I found myself in the midst of a series of health scares, and one of the questions I had to ask myself was this: "If I am going to die sooner rather than later, what is it I want to make sure I do and/or experience before I go?" To my surprise, the first answer that bubbled up from deep within was "write another novel."

Still, I was in the midst of preparing for a trip to Los Angeles. Now was not the time to start a novel. I would think about it when I got back.

As usual, my Muse had other plans: "The time for a new novel is now," it insisted "or, at least, next week. Start it when you get to L.A."

As crazy as that sounded – not least because I had no idea what this next novel was to be about – I did just that. One evening, after dropping my daughter off at her mom's, I parked myself at a Santa Monica Starbucks (where else!?) and began to write.

Eight months passed. The health concerns that had so concerned me dissolved and my focus turned to a different book, Birthing Your Book...Even If You Don't Know What It's About, and then to a related "rebranding" of myself as The Birthing Your Book Guru.

Little did I know that this guru's most challenging client was to be himself!

My first hint of that came a few weeks ago when I was back in Los Angeles – this time to sign books at the Conscious Life Expo. Although I was nearly 10,000 words into a different book at the time (a new memoir ironically titled All That Matters Is That I'm Writing), it was my "Starbucks novel" that claimed my attention during an odd encounter at the Expo.

The curly haired man with dark, deeply set eyes who walked up to my table never gave me his name, but something about his presence immediately demanded my attention. He ignored my greeting as he studied my display of books. Then with a gaze of almost alarming intensity, he turned his attention to me.

"What's your rising sign?" he asked with no preamble.

"Virgo," I replied.

"When do you normally write?"

If you follow my work, you know that there is little that's "normal" about my work habits. One draft or book might write itself more easily in the morning, another in the afternoon, yet another late at night. That's what I told him.

"You need to be writing two hours before dawn," he proclaimed, backing it up with an astrological explanation that eluded me.

"Oh. Yeah. Okay," I said aloud. Not going to happen, I said to myself. I'm barely functional two hours after dawn, let alone two hours before. But when the next morning I awoke at 4:30, I decided to put the mystery man's theory to the test. I found the few pages of barely started novel on my laptop and picked up where I had left off.

I have been working on the novel ever since, though not before dawn.

It has not been easy.

Each of my 11 books has found fresh challenges to throw at me, and this new novel is no different. From its scope to its research needs to its semi-autobiographical nature, it tests me in every moment – emotionally as well as creatively. And it dares me to trust more fully and deeply than I have ever before dared – to trust myself, to trust my abilities and to trust a story about which I know little, except as it writes itself through me. The result? More resistance than I would care to admit to.

I was thinking about all this last night when a friend texted me: "I just felt called to pick up a copy of Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir," he wrote. "I'm already reading it and loving every minute."

Suddenly I, too, felt an urge to open Acts of Surrender. And once I started, I couldn't stop – reading or sobbing.

Fifty pages later, I forced myself to put the book down; it was late and I could barely keep my eyes open.

What I realized, though, as I drifted off to sleep was that I had needed my own words and the example of my own life to remind me of who I am and what I’m about. I had needed them to get me past some of my resistance. I had needed them to get me to recommit to my writer self and to surrender to what can be the only thing of true importance in my life right now: this new novel.

Not for the first time in my life and probably not for the last, all that matters is that I'm writing.

Conscious Life Expo Photo:

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Déjà Vu All Over Again

To borrow from Yogi Berra, this has been a week of déjà vu all over again...sort of. Sort of, because although, on the surface it has been a week of reruns, digging a little deeper reveals it to have been more time warp than time travel.

Five years ago this week, like now, I found myself at L.A.'s Conscious Life Expo​, signing books and promoting my coaching services for writers. Five years ago this week, like now, I made a side to trip up to Ojai, in the hills above Ventura. Five years ago this week, like tomorrow, I will be returning to New Mexico via Sedona.

Of course, nothing has been exactly as it was five years ago, nor could it be.

Take my trip to Ojai, for example, which was to have focused on a return visit to Meditation Mount​, where I had such a transformational experience in 2010. Unlike five years ago, the property is now closed to the public on Mondays and Tuesdays, so no Meditation Mount!

The energy of this year's Expo, too, was different for me...although I can't quite touch what that difference was. And if, five years ago, I returned through Sedona to see my daughter, she's now in L.A. and a teenager – a very different parental experience!

Five years ago, my Expo experience sparked a move to L.A. and what I expected to be a powerful outward expansion of my work. Instead, my L.A. experience turned out to be the trigger for a return to New Mexico and a five-year period of personal and creative retreat, one from which I'm only now retreating – just as I find myself in L.A. for another Conscious Life Expo.

What does it all mean? Of course, my mind longs to make sense of the many parallels and synchronicities of the past week or so. And some sense may emerge in the days ahead. Or not.

All I can do is revel in the wonderment of what feels like a new turning point – even if I can't yet know what that turning point – and remember my own Rules #2 and #3 for Living a Creative Life:
Rule #2: Be In The Moment
What works for you today may not work tomorrow or ever again, so you might as well live in the present moment. Focus on now — on the breath you are breathing and the word you are writing. The next will always come if you don’t worry about it.

Rule #3: Listen To Your Heart 
Your heart speaks with the voice of God and the voice of your Muse (or whatever you call that divine/creative/infinite intelligence we all carry within us). Listen and trust that intuitive voice with neither judgment nor censorship. It’s wiser than you are and knows, better than you ever will, both the story you are living and the story you are writing. 

• Read more about my 2010 Conscious Life and Ojai experiences in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir

• Watch for a new book, still untitled and in its early stages, which will expand on the 13 "Rules" for Creative Living I outline in both The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write and Birthing Your Book...Even If You Don't Know What It's About

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Happy 10th Birthday, Mark David!

In January 1998 "Mark David Gerson" became "Akhneton Yoseyva," a spiritual name that, six months later, would be made legal in an Arizona courtroom. It was a powerful transformation and one that would define my life for the next seven years. 

Then one day, as suddenly as Akhneton had entered my life, he left. A few weeks later – 10 years ago today – Mark David Gerson was reborn in that same Arizona courthouse, this time not as "Mark," but as "Mark David." 

Today, on the 10th anniversary of the legal birth of my "Mark David" persona, I share the story behind my name change, in this excerpt from Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir.  

I was driving along California’s Pacific Coast Highway in early January 2005 when suddenly, as I had experienced with “Mark” seven-and-a-half years earlier, the name Aq'naton no longer fit. [I had changed the spelling from Akhneton to Aq'naton a few years earlier.] I swerved into the next pullout and, shaken, stared at the ocean, steel-gray on this overcast day. If I wasn’t Aq’naton, who was I? Was I David again? Mark? Neither felt right.

Over the next days, I called myself, variously, Mark, David and Aq’naton. None seemed to express who I was becoming. Perhaps, I thought sinkingly, nothing can.

“What about ‘Mark David,’” my friend Martha suggested, rapidly calculating its numerological significance.

I repeated it a few times. Mark David. Mark David. Mark David. It felt odd, an unusual compound name that seemed to stumble out of my mouth rather than trip easily off my tongue. Still, “Mark David” felt more right than a return to Mark, David or Aq'naton, so I adopted it...and once again reintroduced myself, somewhat anxiously, to the world.

A few days later, I drove back to the Camp Verde courthouse, to the scene of that first legal name change. In Arizona at the time, name-changes did not require legal notices in a newspaper. They involved a summary hearing before a judge. The first time, in 1998, my court appearance took place a few weeks after I handed in the paperwork, in a session filled with uncontested divorces and other quick-gavel decisions. This time, I was only passing through Sedona with no plans to stay beyond the next few days.

“I’ll be traveling,” I told the clerk when she offered possible court dates weeks out. “Are there no other options?”

“Hang on a sec,” she said, and disappeared into a back room. Five minutes later she reemerged. “Can you be back here in two hours?”

I nodded.

She grinned. “I found a judge who will give you a private hearing.”

Three hours later I was in Division Six of the Superior Court of Arizona. “Why are you changing your name?” the judge asked.

I told him Aq’naton had been a pen name and that I now wanted all my affairs back in my birth name. It was the simplest piece of a larger truth.

He scribbled something on his pad.

“Are you changing your name to avoid debts or to hide from creditors?”

“No, sir.”

He scribbled something else on his pad, signed the name-change order and passed it to the clerk. She stamped it.

It was 11:11 on January 27, 2005. Six years and eight months to the day after Akhneton Yoseyva had been legally created in this same building, he ceased to exist. Mark David Gerson had been reborn.

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

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

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!


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!


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.


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.