Thursday, November 18, 2010

Birth of a Book

You don't have to know how your story will end before you begin. You don't even have to know how it will start. All you need to do is begin. All you need to do is place one word after the other...and trust...

It's March 1994. I see The Celtic Tarot in Toronto's Omega Centre bookstore and it so seduces me that I can't not buy it. Days later, I use the deck in a writing class I'm teaching: With eyes closed, each student draws one of the major arcana cards and then, with eyes open to the chosen card, is led through a guided visualization into writing.

Generally when I teach, I don't write. I watch the students and hold space for them.

But this night's group is different. These five women are a subset of a larger University of Toronto class that I have just led through ten weeks of creative awakening. They don't require my usual overseeing and so, once they're settled into writing, some inner imperative has me draw a card of my own: The Chariot.

That same imperative has me pick up a pen and push it across the blank page. What emerges is a surprise: the tale of an odd-looking man in an even odder-looking coach that is pulled by two odd-colored horses. I know nothing about this man and his horses. I know nothing about this story. All I know is what emerges, word by word, onto the page.

Next morning, I'm drawn back to the story. I add to it. I keep adding to it daily, almost obsessively, rarely knowing from one day to the next (some days from one word to the next) what the story is about or where it is carrying me. A year later in Amirault's Hill, Nova Scotia, on the anniversary of that Toronto class, I complete my first draft of The MoonQuest.

It's May 2007, many drafts and years later. I'm in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a few weeks from seeing the first printed copies of The MoonQuest in book form.

I open my email to a message and image from Courtney Davis, the British artist who created the Celtic Tarot deck, now sadly out-of-print. The image is The Chariot card, which I haven't seen since I gave away my copy of the tarot deck in 1997. Davis has sent me the image so that I can write a caption for an upcoming retrospective of his art.

When I see The Chariot for the first time in a decade, I'm startled. Even though the cover designer never saw the tarot card and knows nothing of The Celtic Tarot or how it inspired me, there's a definite connection between the two. Not only are the horses identically colored, they are identically placed. There's even a tiny chalice just above the wording on the card. Apart from that, the two images just feel the same.

Today, The MoonQuest is an award-winning book on its way to becoming a movie. And although the story's opening has changed since that 1994 writing class and although the odd-looking man has been superseded in importance by other characters, The Chariot's inspiration is still evident throughout The MoonQuest's story -- a story that knew itself far better than I did...a story that knew me better than I knew myself...a story that insisted I trust it to reveal itself to me, moment by moment, word by word...a story that never let me down.

• How can you trust your stories to reveal themselves to you?

• How can you surrender to the mystery of the blank page? Can you do as author Ray Bradbury suggests: jump of the cliff and trust that you'll sprout wings on the way down?

• Can you write the story that wants to be written by you, even if you don't yet know what it is?

• Can you start? Now?

Art Credits: The Chariot tarot card by Courtney Davis; The MoonQuest cover by Angela Farley.

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