Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Life-Affirming Experience of Reading

This week I have been reminded time and again of the experience that literature brings to life.

You would think that in this 11th hour of holiday hubbub, shoppers would be frantic to buy whatever books remain on the shelf. But no, the readers who are giving books as gifts are very particular about the gift of language. They are calm and methodical in their quests for the perfect book, patiently listening to my staff about this storyline or that plot twist. . . .

So in our busiest season, I've realized just how much literature has a calming effect. We read so that we can have the life-affirming experience that reading a book brings. And that's why we give the gift of books.

~ Sarah Bagby of Watermark Books, Wichita, Kan., in her store's e-mail newsletter

Are you still giving books as gifts? To yourself?

What are you buying? What are you reading?

Photo: Watermark Books & Cafe, from Watermark's MySpace page. Thanks to the Shelf Awareness newsletter for this story.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Implausible Miracle of Movies

The world of novels, there's corruption and mediocrity, but in the end it's still a republic of letters.

But film is a tyranny, and the tyrant is money.

The great thing is that, in spite of that, impossibly, some people keep on smuggling out messages of hope from the other side, past the tyrant.

I mean, there shouldn't be one good movie made given the way it's structured, and yet there are many good movies made. That seems to me to be implausible and marvelous at the same time.

~ Richard Flanagan, screenwriter, Australia

The creative process is a miracle. Let the miracle unfold and trust in the magic of creation -- the magic that gets your words onto the page and the magic that gets those pages out into the world.

Don't worry about how the miracle works. Just sit down to write and let it.

Photo -- ABC Local Radio: Jane Munro.
Thanks to
Creative Screenwriting magazine's CS Weekly newsletter for the quote.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Everyone Loves Coffee...

And no one loves coffee more than longtime coffee connaisseur Susan Zimmer.

Zimmer self-published I Love Coffee!: Over 100 Easy and Delicious Coffee Drinks and, pumping lots of caffeine into her sales efforts, moved more than 40,000 copies of the book. With that kind of high-octane record, literary agent Albert Zuckerman easily brewed up a publishing deal for her with Andrews McMeel Universal.

There are now more than 100,000 copies of Zimmer's I Love Coffee! in print in five languages.

“Success," says the Calgary author, "is finding your life work in the work you love to do. Then do it with passion (disregarding the opinion of others). Focus on your goal, and never, ever give up!"

Thanks again to John Kremer of for alerting me to this inspiring story.

Just for Fun

Here's a fun little video I created at with the help of Florida's orange growers.

Create Your OwnOddcast Powered

Create Your Own: When you click on "create your own" in the video box below, you're prompted to pick a persona and voice and type in up to 500 words. The result is a video like the one below. You're then able to email it, post it to a social networking site or post it to your own web site.

If you do create your own, feel free to leave a link in the comments to wherever you've posted it!

Thanks to John Kremer of for sharing this with me.

Mark David Gerson's The MoonQuest Wins 2008 New Mexico Book Award

Mark David Gerson’s win, for The MoonQuest: A True Fantasy, was announced on November 21 at an Albuquerque awards banquet designed to honor authors in more than 30 categories from New Mexico and beyond.

His award, in the statewide contest, was in the Fantasy/Science Fiction category.

The MoonQuest, Gerson’s first novel, is part of a fantasy pantheon that includes The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.

It’s the compelling tale of a young bard’s quest to restore vision and imagination to a mythical land where stories have been banned and storytellers put to death.

This is The MoonQuest’s fifth award and its second this year. In March, it won a Gold Medal for Visionary Fiction in the Independent Book Publisher Awards.

The fantasy, popular with adults and young adults alike, has also been recognized in the USA Best Book Awards (visionary fiction), the Reader Views Awards (young adult fiction) and the New Mexico Discovery Awards (unpublished fiction). This is its first fantasy/science fiction prize.

As well, The MoonQuest has been lauded by U.S. critics as “an evocative and emotionally moving tale of adventure” (Midwest Book Review) and “an exceptional, timeless novel” (The Mindquest Review of Books). Library Journal praised it as an “emotionally solid tale” whose “songlike prose [offers] a match for its ethereal characters and allegorical message of inner truth.”

For Gerson, who moved to New Mexico in 2005, this award carries particular significance. “This is where I finally finished The MoonQuest,” he says. “It’s also where I finished my second book, and hope to complete my third!”

Gerson is also author of The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write (LightLines Media 2008), based on his 15-plus years of teaching creative writing in the U.S. and Canada. He is now seeking a producer for his screenplay adaptation of The MoonQuest and is working on a sequel to the novel.

This is the second year for the New Mexico Book Awards, established to acknowledge the best in New Mexico books. Over the next year, The MoonQuest will be featured, along with other winners, in special displays in bookstores and libraries across the state, including in all New Mexico Borders outlets.

Both Gerson’s books are available from and other online retailers, from the publisher at and at selected U.S. retailers coast-to-coast.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

You Are a Writer

You are a writer of power, passion, strength and, yes, courage. For writing is an act of courage...

Find some place where you can relax, be comfortable and remain uninterrupted for five to ten minutes. Then click here and listen to words that will uplift you, inspire you and remind you what it is to be the writer you are.

Then return here and leave a comment to share your experiences.

This guided meditation is one of 10 on the 2-CD set, The Voice of the Muse Companion: Guided Meditations for Writers, available from LightLines Media and

The Voice of the Muse Companion CD set works in conjunction with or independently from the book, The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write. Click here for other excerpts from both.

Special holiday offer from Lightlines Media: Order The Voice of the Muse book and CD together and pay shipping only for the book.

CD Cover by Richard Crookes

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Why Do You Write?

A Guest Post by Julie Isaac

Why do you write?
What do you love about writing?
Why did you start writing?
What do you get out of writing?
What do you want to give others through writing?

The answers to these questions are what motivate us to sit down and write, are what get us to put writing first and everything else second.

When was the last time you sat with these questions and answered them? Do it now, and make a list of your most compelling answers.

Keep a copy of that list with you, and one where you write. When you're procrastinating, when you're writing tweets instead of your novel, when you're stuck, read your list. Read it slowly and really feel your answers.

Julie Isaac, the founder of and author of the upcoming book, "Unleash Your Writing Genius," posts daily creativity tips for writers on Twitter.

Read Julie's review of my book, The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write.

Note from Mark David

When I first read Julie's "tweet" on my Twitter page, I knew I had to reply. This is the answer that (to my surprise) came out of me:

Why do I write? Because I can't not write, anymore than I can't not breathe.

Why do you write? Please share your thoughts, reasons and perspectives here as a comment.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cities Literate

A study by Central Connecticut State University names Minneapolis America's most literate city for 2007, up from second place in each of the two previous years and replacing Seattle, former champion.

Washington, Atlanta and Pittsburgh also lost ground in the annual rankings, while St. Paul, Denver, St. Louis, San Francisco and Boston all moved up and are now rated more literate.

When it comes to bookstores per 10,000 population, though, Seattle is still tops, followed by San Francisco, Minneapolis and Cincinnati.

Here's the full 2007 Literary Top 10:

1. Minneapolis, MN

2. Seattle, WA
3. St. Paul, MN
4. Denver, CO
5. Washington, DC
6. St. Louis, MO

7. San Francisco, CA
8. Atlanta, GA
9. Pittsburgh, PA
10. Boston, MA

Click here for the top 69 on the list and for links to other breakdowns, including by newspaper circulation, education level and library resources.

Are you a writer living in one of the top literate cities? Does a good city for readers mean a good city for writers?

If you're not in one of those cities, how do you think your city rates -- for readers and for writers? Would you consider moving to a more "literate" city?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Read to Write

"No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance."
~ Confucious

There are three reasons why it's important for a writer to read.

1) The reason set out by Confucious.

Reading expands us as human beings, as conscious beings and as writers.

Writing is most often a solitary act, one that can pull us out of the maelstrom of daily living and into a monastic place of creative retreat. Whether or not we're in the midst of a writing project, it's important to be part of the shared world of creation and imagination inhabited by fellow artists.

Read, listen to music, view art. You'll learn more about the human enterprise and about yourself from those sources than from all the newspapers and magazines on the planet.

It doesn't matter what you read (or view or listen to). Whether you read in your genre or another, you'll connect with the heart of creation and the Creator of heart and art.

2) Craft.

Once again, genre doesn't matter. Depth of topic doesn't matter. What does matter is that you read good writing by accomplished writers.

Osmosis is one of the most powerful learning tools available to the human heart and mind. When we read good writing, we absorb the author's craft and technique. We sense at a deep level what works and what doesn't. Without having to know or understand how or why, without needing to analyze or parse, the power of the words we're reading finds its way into our writing.

You won't be copying. You'll be absorbing, filtering and adapting. You'll be learning -- in the easiest and most fun way imaginable: by doing nothing other than enjoying another's words.

2) Blatant self-interest.

Do you want to be read? Do you want your words to find an audience? If you as a writer aren't reading, what sort of example are you setting for your readers?

The creative/literary community isn't a one-way delivery system. It's a bustling marketplace of ideas and concepts where readers not only learn and grow from writers, but where writers learn and grow from readers and from each other. If we write, in part, to be heard, then we must also be prepared to listen.

Again, genre and subject are less important than engagement, than opening a book -- any book -- and surrendering to the words and imaginings of a fellow artist.

Right now, I'm reading The Lighthouse by that master of mystery, P.D. James -- reading for pleasure, learning with pleasure and engaging in the world of words.

What are you reading now? Why is reading important to you? What books have you read this month? Share them here if you choose or join one of the online readers' communities (Shelfari, Goodreads, etc.).

If you're not reading, visit your local bookstore or public library and discover the words and worlds that are waiting for you on its shelves. Or start with some of the authors whose links you'll find on this blog. Or, if the world of storytellers and storytelling is important to you, discover what life would be like if it vanished, in my novel, The MoonQuest: A True Fantasy.

Whatever you do, step beyond the walls of your creative enterprise and engage!

Reader image found at Julie's Realistic Fiction Web Site; Confucious quote found at A Starry Night Productions.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Arkansas: Where Stories Come From?

Story, Arkansas, where bikers are bards.

Then, if you drive down the road a spell, you find what you need to get that story on the page...

Okay, we've discovered where the Why ("Y") resides. All we need now is the Who, How, Where, What and When....

I discovered these towns and signs in western Arkansas two days ago. (It's a 55-mile drive along Hwys 27, 88 and 270 to get from Story, through Pencil Bluff to "Y" City.)

I also once slept in Story City, Iowa (itself in Story County) and have photographed and drawn the Book Cliffs of Utah and Colorado. What writerly locales have you found?

Photos by Mark David Gerson

Monday, October 6, 2008

Surrender to the Journey

In June 1997, I embarked on an odyssey whose consequences I could never have predicted...or imagined. I had been back living in Toronto for only a short while when a voice in my heart urged me to pack all I owned (not a lot) into the back of my Dodge Caravan and head west.

At other times in my life, I would have doubted the message, questioned my sanity. On that sunny morning, I knew my only choice was to trust and follow my heart.

For three months I journeyed. I traveled north and west from Toronto along the rugged, forested shores of Lake Huron and Lake Superior, then south and west, crossing Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Oregon. From the Oregon coast, I slipped south into California, then shot back east, across Nevada and Utah, before dropping into northern Arizona.

Throughout those months, I never planned my next stop. When I tried, my plans were nearly always thwarted by some seemingly outside force. Mostly, I let my heart control the steering wheel and I followed wherever it took me.

It was a magically transformative experience, though not without stress, for it was difficult at times to surrender fully. Part of me longed to plot out an itinerary, to know where I would drive the next week, to know where I would end up. The greater, more courageous part of me trusted in the infinite wisdom of the journey.

Through all the unexpected stops, unanticipated detours and unpredicted forays into uncharted territory, all I could do was trust in each moment and believe that the story I was living would reveal itself -- through the living of it.

It did -- magnificently.

On the morning of the full moon in September, after 90 days of journeying, I drove into Sedona, Arizona. I expected this to be another whistle stop on the road to wherever. Instead, one week grew to two, one month to seven. Before I knew it, I had a new country, a new wife and a new baby on the way.

Had I given my brain-mind the control it sought, I might never have left Toronto, might never have launched a journey that gifted me with so much richness.

Part of what prepared me for this odyssey was The MoonQuest, the novel whose early drafts I had already written much as I lived that journey: moment by moment and word by word, ignorant of the outcome but trusting that one would emerge.

When we surrender to our heart-mind, trusting that the outcome will be more wondrous than anything we could consciously imagine, it always is.

As you write, let your pen carry you as my Dodge Caravan did me -- in trust and surrender. Let it carry you to the story you didn’t know you knew as, breath by breath, you move toward an outcome that has yet to reveal itself.

Ironically, I find myself on a similar journey 11 years later. With most of my belongings in storage, I am once again allowing a MoonQuest-like odyssey to carry me where it will.

Tonight it has carried me to Marshall, Texas, for reasons I can't yet know. Tomorrow, I will continue to allow my story to unfold moment-by-moment, toward an ending that has yet to be written.

Here’s a suggestion: In today's writing, notice all the times your mind edges (or leaps) ahead of the word you're writing. Be aware as that controlling part of yourself reaches forward to find out what's coming next, where you're headed, how it will end. Notice when this happens, but don't judge or punish yourself. Simply return your focus to the word of the moment. Return to it gently, lovingly, reassuringly. And continue writing, in the moment, letter by letter and word by word.

This piece was adapted from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write

Photos by Mark David Gerson: #1 Toronto's CN Tower, #2 Pyramid Lake, Nevada, #3 Sedona's Red Rocks

Share your adventures as part of the Harry Potter Adventure of a Lifetime Contest on the Discovering Dad blog

Friday, September 26, 2008

Mastering Your Character's Voice

A Guest Post by Chris Soth

"Every profession is a conspiracy against the layman."  
~ George Bernard Shaw

What did old GBS mean when he said this? Well, everybody who does a job, especially a specialized and high-paying job, is at great pains to keep their trade secrets to themselves, lest the secrets become widely known and the entire profession is demystified to the point that...anyone can do it. Then the initiated have just lost a good thing.  

Lots of people do this. In many professions. I used to work as a professional magician and, man, there's a conspiracy. If you've ever performed a magic trick for an audience you will definitely be thinking "I can't believe they're buyin' this." For about the first dozen times.  

But the conspiracy issue, especially the one going on among screenwriters, is the stuff of another newsletter.

Why do I bring this up now?

Last week, I put together a quick list of things that might influence a character's "Voice"...their own unique way of speaking, which sets them apart from all other characters in the script, and from speakers of their own language as well.  While I'm sure it's not complete, here it is again:

What will have an influence on a character's use of language?

1. Their job.

2. Their socioeconomic status and educational background.

3. Their cultural and ethnic background.

4. Any other languages they may speak and whether English (I'm assuming most of us are writing in English....) is their first language.

5. Who they're talking to in this specific scene...and what they're talking about.

Let's look at just that first one: Their job.

What's one of the fastest ways for a professional conspiracy to wall out the layman?  Create its own language. A specialized lingo. It's  own...jargon: the specialized or technical language of a trade, profession, or similar group.

No quicker way to make us outsiders feel dumb than to start speaking your own language that they don't speak -- and no faster way to make us outsiders think that the speaker is smart, inside and in the know…smarter than we are.  

Plumbers...see Volume 14 of the Kinsley Manual (email me if you know what I'm referencing). Doctors: "amytropic lateral sclerosis." Computer technicians: "54 gigs and skuzzy drive"...ok, I'm making most of these up.

Do you think screenwriters don't have their own jargon? Drop the phrase "slug line" at a party of non-writers or film people and see what happens...

I wrote something set on a moon base we don't have people who live on moon bases just yet, so I either had to make up the language I figured they'd speak, or have them speak plain old Earth-bound English.

But since I've always loved the space program, it didn't seem like too far a stretch that the first moon settlers would have come out of that program --

-- and that comes out of aviation. And those aviation characters are a bunch of can-do, rugged individuals whose very speech pattern, slang and word choice bespeak great bravery and derring-do.

So, I reread The Right Stuff, and every other book I could get on the space program, especially the moon missions.  

And boy, did I find a rich world of jargon. "A-OK" comes from the space program. "You are go for launch." And even "blast-off" and "splash down."  And the world is rife with cool acronyms too: EVA, SST and a bunch of others where I also don't know what they stand for... point is, I had found my way into these characters and their world that was rich, colorful and fun for me to write as well. And that quickly set them up as cool and least for me.  

So, if it wasn't obvious...every screenplay takes place in its own world, and every world has its own language. You may co-opt it from our world to a degree, especially where the worlds overlap, as I did in the example above. But be sure to craft it to be specifically the world of your movie – ie, in the screenplay above, I had to ask myself: "Moon dwellers were probably astronauts/aviators at one time and that influenced how they talk...but then what happened to their language?"   

One caution...and one tip...

Some professions have a jargon so dense that only the initiated speak it –- and understand it. It really is a foreign that it contains words we don't understand. You run the risk of losing your audience here, just as much as if you were showing them an unsubtitled film in a language they don't speak or understand. You can't do that...and yet, maybe, you can't have the character speak in layman's terms, he just wouldn't...what do you do?

Have a translator character repeat the line right after – get credit for the rich language and teach your audience to use it themselves.  For example:

Houston, we are go for extra-orbital
lunar injection!


Or have the characters translate for themselves-– if they're speaking to a layperson. So, walk the line between specialized language and everyday language – a tricky balance, but worth while in the end!

Chris Soth is a USC screenwriting MFA with two produced credits and 28 screenplays to his name, and the founder of He teaches his own "Mini-Movie Method" based on USC screenwriting techniques and runs a screenwriting mentorship program at

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice...
~ Mary Oliver, from her poem "The Journey," collected in Dream Work

Only you can write the story that's yours to write. And write it you must, regardless of the voices, inner and outer, that cry out for you to stop, that claim they're trying to save you.

There is no salvation in stopping, in turning away, in listening to those voices, however sensible they seem.

Your only salvation is the word that must emerge from the prison of your fear and into the light of your potential. This word, and now this one. And now this one.

One word following the next and the next, crashing through what you think you know -- about yourself and the world -- and carrying you into the Kingdom of the New, that wondrous realm beyond your imagining that has been waiting for you since the beginning of time.

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do...
~ "The Journey"

Photo of Mary Oliver and her dog, Percy: Beacon Press

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Write What’s Right...for Right Now

If you find yourself feeling blocked on a particular project, ask yourself whether what you’re writing is the right idea for you right now.

Perhaps it’s the right idea for someone else but not for you. Perhaps it will be the right idea for you at some future time. Or perhaps this project was right for you when you began it, but is no longer.

It’s possible that you’ve outgrown it. It’s also possible that you haven’t fully grown into it.

I was 100 pages into the first draft of The MoonQuest when I set it aside for what turned into a five-month hiatus.

The day I returned to the book, I was afraid to reread those 100 pages. I was afraid the manuscript wasn’t any good, and I was afraid I had outgrown it and would have to abandon it.

What I realized, once I began reading, was that I hadn’t been ready to continue with The MoonQuest and that’s why my Muse had cut me off when it did.

As it turned out, five months away from the book gave me the life experience I needed in order to be able to carry on. I began writing that same day and three months and 300 additional pages later, the first draft was done.

Sometimes, what seems a block is a matter of timing. Sometimes, it’s just not the right idea. When we drop a project or leave it incomplete, we don’t always know into which of those two categories it falls.

If your discernment tells you to let the project go, don’t mourn the perceived waste of time and energy. Trust that you will either return to it when the time is right or that you’ve gained all you needed from the experience and can now move on to other writing.

A wrong idea isn’t necessarily wrong for all time. But if it’s wrong for right now, let it go and free yourself to write what’s right. For you. Now.

Adapted from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write. For excerpts from The Voice of the Muse book and CD, click here.

Photo: My daughter, Guinevere, in her MoonQuest t-shirt.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Write, Write, Write

The only thing that matters is that you write, write. write. It doesn't have to be good writing. As a matter of fact, almost all first drafts are pretty bad.
~ Walter Mosley, This Year You Write Your Novel

Just write. Just get words onto the page.

It doesn't matter what you write or how you begin. All that matters is that you do begin. All that matters is that you write one word and then another. And then another.

However you begin, your first words will take you where you need to go, as long as you answer the call of your Muse, as long as you listen to your story, as long as you free your words onto the page and go wherever they carry you.

There's a time to revise, rework and reword. That time is later. Now is the time to write, to begin.

Have you begun? Are you writing your story, your poem, your book?

If not, close your browser and open your word processor. Or get pen and paper. However you prefer to write, write. Just one word. Any word. Then another. And another.

It's time to begin. Now. All it takes is the one word that gets you started.

Photo credit: David Shankbone

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Writing as Self-Discovery

"Most writers write to say something about other people -- and it doesn't last. Good writers write to find out about themselves, and it lasts forever."
~ Gloria Steinem, Revolution from Within

Writing at its best is an act of self-discovery and revelation. Where are you hiding behind your words? Where are you letting yourself shine through them?

There's a difference between self-indulgently puking your life onto the page and using your life and emotions to connect with your readers. Don't censor yourself, but learn to discern when your experiences have universal value and when they serve only you. Both deserve to be written. Only the former deserves to be shared.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Writing as Pilgrimage

"Don't be fooled into thinking you are supposed to arrive at a destination. It is the going that is central, the you that is going. Your pilgrimage is really about yourself observing your own transit across the landscape."
~ Richard Leviton, "Designing Your Pilgrimage"

Writing is also an act of pilgrimage.

We set out on a journey, often intent on a particular direction and destination. Yet if we're true to our art and to our heart, we free the story to carry us where it will.

The resulting journey is one that reveals not only the story we're writing but the one we're living.

When we listen for the stories that move through us, we also discover the story that is us.

How has your writing been a pilgrimage? What has it taught you -- about yourself, about your work, about the world?

Photo by Mark David Gerson: Sandia Mountain Road, Albuquerque, NM

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Risky Writing

"If 20 percent of the people aren't against you, then you're not going anyplace interesting, whether you're name is Martin Luther King Jr. or whether you're a dorky management guru [named Tom Peters]."
~ Dorky Management Guru Tom Peters

Creative expression is about risk-taking. It's about boarding the Starship Enterprise, taking off for parts unknown and going where no one has dared to go before.

When you do that, chances are that not everyone is going to like what you've written. Chances are someone is going to hate what you've written.

It's all right to offend people, to push people's buttons, to take them up to that ledge on which we, as artists, live...and then to give them a gentle nudge. Art is about pushing boundaries. It's about forcing people (including the artist) out of their comfort zone and inciting them to reexamine their beliefs and rediscover who they think they are. Sometimes, it's about getting people mad at you.

"You've got to go out on a limb," American humorist Will Rogers is reputed to have said, "because that's where the fruit is."

Where are you going out on a limb and taking risks with your writing? Where are you clinging to the tree trunk and playing it safe?

Where are you willing to get people riled up? Where are you holding yourself back for fear of being attacked?

Commit today to taking more risks, to going out on a limb. Commit today to letting yourself be judged...and letting it be okay.

Photo Credits: #1 Tom Peters by Allison Shirreffs; #2 Will Rogers from

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Free Your Characters. Free Your Story.

“God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. ...”
Your act of creation is like God’s in Genesis, an act of allowance, of letting...of surrender. Surrender to the story that calls to be written, surrender to how it calls to be written, surrender to the lives your characters choose to live. For, if you’re writing fiction, those lives are your story.

Just as the Creator in most religious and spiritual traditions allows you the free will to live your imperative and forge your story through the living of it, your call is to allow the beings who leap from your heart, mind and vision the same freedom. Gently guide when necessary, but allow them -- and yourself -- to experience their story as it writes itself onto the page.

Your job as creator is to let your characters and their story emerge from the formless void and to breathe life into them so that they -- and you -- can experience all they have come onto your page to live.

Let there be light...and there will be.

Where are you allowing your characters free will and where are you forcing your will on them? Where are you allowing your story to take shape and where are you insisting on taking control?

What works in your creative life also works in your daily life. Where are you trusting that your life story knows best? Where are you insisting that you're smarter than your story?

• Adapted from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write (LightLines Media, 2008). Click here for additional excerpts and purchase information.

Photo by Mark David Gerson: Bald Eagle State Park, Centre County, Pennsylvania

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Contests from Writer's Digest

Time is running out for these three writing competitions from Writer's Digest magazine:

~ WD Popular Fiction Awards: Entries accepted in Romance, Mystery/Crime Fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Thriller and Horror. Deadline: Nov. 3, 2008. Details here.

~ Writer's Digest Poetry Awards: Any style, as long as the poem has fewer than 33 lines. Deadline: Dec. 19, 2008. Details here.

~ Writer's Digest Short Short Story Competition: Fiction that's "bold, brilliant...but brief." Deadline: Dec. 1, 2008. Details here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Do Ask, Do Tell: Mark David’s Writing Habits

Everyone approaches the writing process differently. Everyone has a different way in to the blank page. Truly, there is no right or wrong way. Here's a peek into my writing it is right now...

1) Do you write on the computer or longhand?

All of the above. But no quill, despite the graphic illustrating this post!

I wrote The MoonQuest entirely in longhand, though each evening I input up that morning’s output so as not to be faced with having to type up the whole thing when I was done. I write about that experience and why it was so important for me in The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write, which itself was written partly in longhand and partly on the computer.

These days, I do most of my writing directly on the computer...unless I’m stuck, in which case pen and pad are great unstickers.

2) Is coffee or tea part of your writing routine?

Even though I have an expresso machine at home, I don’t make very good coffee. A Tazo green tea blend (Zen) at home and soy lattes when I work in a café, a favorite thing to do (see #7).

3) Do you write best during the day or at night?

I wrote the first 100 manuscript pages of The MoonQuest in bed, before getting up. It was the only way I could guarantee that I would get to the writing. Most of the rest of the book was also written in the morning, before the day’s distractions set in. (See I Can’t Write Until I...)

Parts of The Voice of the Muse were written in the car on my way to work (mornings).

I still prefer to write in the morning, but do some of my best writing late in the afternoon, which is when I'm writing this.

4) What's your favorite genre to write in?

Anything inspirational and anything about writing. I also write fantasy (The MoonQuest) and essays. I don’t really choose my genres, though. They choose me...and I surrender. For example, I never expected to be writing fantasy...until The MoonQuest started spilling out of me. Who knows what I’ll feel called to write next!

4a) Favorite genre to read?

I spent many years devouring contemporary and older classics -- American, Canadian and European -- and have plowed through a lot of young adult fantasy, as well as books about spirituality, creativity, metaphysics and personal growth. These days, I read lots of mysteries and thrillers.

5) Do you use a pencil, pen or computer to revise/edit?

Unless it’s a short newsletter or blog piece, I almost never revise and edit onscreen. I much prefer hard copy and pencil, not pen.

6) Do you have any unusual writing quirks, traits or routines?

Earlier in my writing life, I would set up a little altar -- consisting of favorite crystals, art and other (legal) mood-altering devices. I even carried a portable version of my altar with me in the car if I thought I would be writing there. Now, I rarely need that sort of help getting into a meditative space for writing.

7) Do you prefer writing from home or writing in a cozy café?

I have favorite cafés I’ve worked from over the years. But I do better with fiction from home.

Here in Albuquerque, my favorite café is the Satellite Coffee on Montgomery Ave. When I lived in Santa Fe, I often hung out at the café in the downtown Borders.

8) Do you prefer music or silence while your write?

Both. Depends on my mood. When it comes to music, I prefer something meditative if I’m writing fiction. I’m a bit more flexible with other kinds of writing.

9) What's your favorite motivational writing quote?

Mine, from The Voice of the Muse: "The story knows best." It's proven itself to be true more times than I can count -- in my writing and in my life. So has this one, which also appears in The Voice of the Muse: "Rule #1: There are no rules. There is no right way. There is no wrong way. There is only your way."

10) Do you have a favorite bookmark?

Any scrap of paper!

11) What's your favorite fictional character of all time?

I hate “favorites” questions! I’d have to say that my favorite fictional character is the one who is engaging me in a given moment.

12) Who's your most admired living writer today?

See #11.

What are your writing habits? How have they changed over the years? Please share them here or post them on your own blog.

Thanks to writer L.J. Sellers for inspiring this post.

Friday, August 8, 2008

25 Words to Live By

It wasn't until two days after the deadline that I got around to responding to the 25 Words of Work / Life Wisdom challenge put forward by fellow blogger Liz Strauss last month. But it's such a good exercise -- in writing and in life -- that I tried it anyhow. Now, I want to share it and invite you to try it, too.

Here's Liz's idea (slightly modified):

1) Look for something you see too much or too little of, something you're feeling right now or someone/something you would like to describe.
2) Without thinking too much as you do it, write a sentence or two about it.
3) Count the words you have written.
4) Trim the sentence until you have 25 words -- no more, no less. Notice how your idea changes as you distill it and how your feelings change with each rewrite.
5) For a little extra fun, create a Wordle word cloud with your 25 words at

Because it's too late to be part of Liz's project, I invite you to post your sentence here -- or to post it on your own blog and include a link to your blog in the comments here. Include a link to your Wordle word cloud, too.

It's a great writing exercise, but it's also a great experience in both distilling and discovering what you think and what you believe.

Here's mine:
Today I remember that surrender is the key to writing and life: trusting that all is in divine order in every moment, in every breath.
You'll find more examples on Liz's site as well as at the Remarkable Parents blog.

Give it a try. It's both fun and enlightening!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Eternally Yours

"That’s the glorious thing about putting something on paper. Even when you’re gone it’s still there. Your words and thoughts. What you liked and didn’t like. The characters you create never die. They live and speak and love and hate forever. The written word is eternal."

~ Andrew J. Fenady, A. Night in Hollywood Forever

Writing as a form of eternal life was important to Fenady's private-eye-turned-writer protagonist, A. Night. Does the eternal nature of the written word inspire you or scare you? Do you like the thought of your thoughts, beliefs and characters of the moment living on forever?

What's important to you about writing? About being a writer?

What do you like? Dislike?

What do you wish you could change? What are you glad is eternally yours?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Whose Book Are You Writing?

"The books that I have written in an attempt to give readers 'what they want' have done relatively poorly.

"The books I’ve done with little or no regard for market considerations and popular appetites have had the greatest critical and commercial success. I do best when I write my book, not someone else’s."

~ Lawrence Block, Spider, Spin Me a Web: A Handbook for Fiction Writers

Whose book are you writing?

Remember, what the market is looking for today may not be what it will be looking for when your book or story is done. But what your heart calls for you to write in this moment may be just what others’ hearts will cry out to read in two months, six months or a year.

Write your story today, and let the market take care of itself.

Photo from Lawrence Block's web site

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Call to Write

Have you heard the call? Have you heard the call that thrills as it terrifies you?

Have you heard the call to set something down on paper? To tell a you think you do not know?

To inspire ways you do not yet understand?

Have you heard the call? The call of your Muse? The call to write?

Of course you have, or you wouldn't be here, reading these words.

Discover what that call is about and explore what it means to you in "Have You Heard the Call," a free 11-minute excerpt from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write that I read on the July 26 edition of the Authors Read radio show. Click here for the complete excerpt.

All any of us can do who are called to this journey is place one word after the next and then another and then another, allowing the power of our pen -- or of our fingers skipping across the keyboard -- to chart the way, pen stroke by pen stroke, pixel by pixel, moment by moment, breath by breath.

Hear other excerpts from the Voice of the Muse book and CD.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Cut the Fat

"Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very'; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be."

~ Mark Twain

Have you used two or three words -- or sentences -- where one would do?

Keep your work lean and trim. Say more with less.

Look for words like “very,” “actually,” “really” and “quite.”

More often than not, actually, they are really quite unnecessary.

Can you put the previous sentence on a diet and trim it from 10 words to four?

Adapted from Rule #9 in "Eighteen Rules for Revising Your Work," from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write (LightLines Media, 2008)

Photo: Mark Twain -- damning his very's?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

LA Times to Shrink Sunday Book Review?

The Los Angeles Times, already facing cutbacks, will cease publication of its standalone Sunday book review section at the end of July, Publishers Weekly reports today in its PW Daily newsletter.

The article quotes Nancy Sullivan, the paper's corporate communications director, as confirming the move, which will reduce dedicated book review staff from five to three and move book news and reviews to the calendar section.

An e-mail signed by Steve Wasserman and three other former book review editors calls the plan a "philistine blunder that...will further wound the long-term fiscal health of the newspaper."

For her part, Sullivan insists that the L.A. Times "remains committed to book review coverage. What form that takes," she added, "is what’s under evaluation."

According to PW, the changes will not affect the popular and long-running Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, scheduled next year for April 25 and 26.

Image: Part of the logo for the 2008 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Is book coverage at the Times flying away?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Gift of Your Words

"Everyone of us has a gift to give. And when we give that gift, we really co-create Heaven on Earth."
Rev. Mary Omwake, Leadership Council, Association for Global New Thought

Among your many gifts, if you're reading this today, is a gift to ability to communicate, to weave worlds of wonder with your words.

Of course you possess that gift. We all do. But you have chosen to let that gift possess you, to devote at least some hours of your week to a pen-and-paper or keyboard-and-screen communion with your Muse.

Or have you?

When you allow the voice of your Muse free access to your heart and mind, writing becomes a transformative act, one that transforms you and, through you, the that, through the simple act of surrendering to your passion, helps co-create Heaven on Earth.

How are you giving that gift today? How are you honoring your gift, your Muse? If you haven't yet, take a moment -- today, now -- to give the gift of your passion, to free the voice of your Muse onto the page and into the world.

For help acknowledging and unleashing your creative power, listen to "You Are a Writer," one of the tracks from The Voice of the Muse Companion: Guided Meditations for Writers.

The 2-CD set, recorded by Mark David Gerson against a backdrop of Michael McDade's original music, is available online from either Amazon.comor LightLines Media.