Saturday, December 17, 2011

Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?

This piece originally appeared in December 2008 on my now-dormant New Earth Chronicles blog.

Wednesday, December 19, 2008

I'm in the video section of Target, Christmas shopping for my daughter. As I'm browsing through the movie racks, I overhear an older and younger woman discussing which DVD to buy a child on their list.

"What about Eragon?" the younger woman asks. "I hear it's good."

"Does it have magic in it? I don't want a movie with magic," the older one -- her mother? -- responds sternly.

They move out of earshot and I'm too stunned to follow.

Are we truly living in some version of The MoonQuest's mythical setting? This land where vision is outlawed and visionaries put to death, where myth and magic are forbidden, where "once upon a time" is a forbidden phrase, and where fact is the only legal tender was a creation of my imagination... Or was it?

What kind of culture have we created where children are denied magic, where fantasy is suspect and where dragons are relegated to dustbins?

Thirty years ago in an essay, author Ursula K. Le Guin asked, "Why are Americans afraid of dragons?" She concluded that most technological cultures dismiss works of the imagination because they lack measurable utility, an outlook only exacerbated in this country by our Puritan heritage.

If 30 years ago dragons were not fit for adults, are they now unfit for children, too?

While the Harry Potter books and movies broadened the reach of imaginative fiction for kids (and adults), it also expanded our hysterical suspicion and suppression of it.

The fact is, imaginative fiction opens our hearts, expands our spirit and broadens our minds in ways that nonfiction never can, and that magical/fantastical fiction can carry more truth in its castles, dragons and trolls than many pieces of so-called literature.

That's why I call The MoonQuest a "true fantasy." There is nothing factual about it. But as those two women in Target have proven, it's decidedly true.

Please "like" these Facebook pages...
• The Voice of the Muse book
• The MoonQuest movie
• The MoonQuest book
• Mark David Gerson

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Use Me

I came across this piece earlier this evening as I was pulling together some material for Acts of Surrender, my memoir-in-progress. Originally posted to my now-dormant New Earth Chronicles blog in July 2007, this piece remains as relevant today as it did back then -- for me and, I trust, for you.

Sunday, July 8, 2007 ~ Sedona, Arizona

As I watch the new movie Evan Almightywith my daughter this afternoon, tears mingle with laughter at the story of the ambitious newscaster-turned-Congressman whose life is turned upside-down when God tells him to prepare for an impending flood by building an ark.

My tears come in Evan's surrender to the higher power that always knows best, the higher power that I, like Evan, have been known to resist, curse and fight.

I have never been asked to build an ark, but I have been guided along roads that seem equally bizarre and incomprehensible, in directions that others have judged or mocked.

Ultimately, though, as with Evan and his flood, the higher guidance has always proven itself wiser and more knowing than a limited human mind that is always trying to figure things out and cling to control.

As the film credits roll, I'm reminded of the song Use Me, Rickie Byars Beckwith's ardent anthem to ultimate surrender:

Use me
Oh, God
I stand for you
And here I'll abide
As you show me
All that I must do

I'm reminded, too, of author Madeleine L'Engle's description of the Old Testament as filled with bearded prophets shouting up to the heavens, "You want me to do what!?"

Evan is just such a prophet, as am I. As is each of you. For in every moment, the God Power we carry within is calling on us to do and be the impossible, to build our own version of Evan's ark, even though it makes no conventional sense, even though we don't know where to begin or who we'll be when we're done.

I wrote about the song Use Me in a November 2006 newsletter (The Choice for God), after having cried while singing it during a Sunday service at L.A.'s Agape International Spiritual Center.

Ironically, I had just recommitted to my then-unpublished novel, The MoonQuest, not realizing that this act of recommitment would result in its speedy publication -- by me! (You want me to do what!?)

My tears then as now are the tears of truth. I know that whether I stand in the vibration of that powerful lyric, in the resonance of today's movie or at one of life's many crossroads, my only choice is the highest choice, the choice that prophets through the ages -- all the way up to Evan -- have made: the choice for God.

My God is neither actor Morgan Freeman nor some force outside myself. My God is the divine within me, the highest imperative, infinite wisdom and creative intelligence that asks of me only that I surrender and allow it to use me -- to be me -- as it guides me forward.

As I prepare to leave Sedona tomorrow for parts (yet again) unknown, I recommit to that path of surrender and know that, in so doing, I walk in the path of God. And I am never alone.

And as I continue, in December 2011, to work on the Acts of Surrender memoir I have resisted so mightily, I recognize it as the latest in a long series of arks I have been asked to construct, all of which have proven their ultimate value, despite my initial doubt.

Please "like" my Facebook pages:
• Acts of Surrender book
• The Q'ntana Trilogy Movies
• The MoonQuest book
• The Voice of the Muse book
• Mark David Gerson

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Life-Affirming Experience of Reading

With U.S. Thanksgiving over, the holiday gift-buying season is officially underway, at least in this country. And while the ebook revolution is now irrevocably entrenched (more e-readers were likely sold in the past few days than ever before), people are stilling buying the old-fashioned paper-and-ink versions, especially as holiday gifts. 

Three years ago, in the midst of the season's shopping frenzy, Sarah Bagby of  Wichita's Watermark Books posted this revelation about the gift of books and the power of reading in the store newsletter. 

"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."

• Are you still giving books as gifts? To yourself?

• What are you buying? What are you reading?

• Are you still buying hard-copy books? Or have you made the switch to ebooks? As gifts, too?

Please "like" these Facebook pages:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Mark David's Musings on Creativity

This interview on creativity, the Muse and the creative process originally appeared last month on author Bill Jones, Jr.'s blog, This Page Is Intentionally Blank

An Interview with Mark David Gerson

Today’s Fiction Friday interview is with author, screenwriter and lecturer, mentor and coach Mark David Gerson. Welcome, Mark David! 
~ Bill Jones, Jr., author of The Stream: Discovery

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 my novel The MoonQuest 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 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 written several drafts of The StarQuest book and have completed screenplay versions of both — 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 two forms (novel and screenplay) 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 novel, 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.

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’ve had similar experiences going back and forth between the The StarQuest novel manuscript and screenplay.

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.

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.

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 The StarQuest and The SunQuest! Then, like Toshar in The MoonQuest, I would be free to “move on to other realms, set off on other journeys.” 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, 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 wrote about that magical MoonQuest experience on my blog.)

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: Both The MoonQuest: A True Fantasy  and The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write are available on my website's online bookstore, as is my CD recording, The Voice of the Muse Companion: Guided Meditations for Writers. You’ll also find excerpts from all three on my site. By the way, a bonus of ordering from my website is that I can sign the books, which I’m happy to do, for those who are interested.

Hard copy versions of both books are also available online at and Barnes & Noble.

Visit my online bookstore for links to the ebook versions of The MoonQuest and The Voice of the Muse (Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iBooks) and for a downloadable MP3 version of The Voice of the Muse Companion.

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

Photo/Art Credits: Mark David Gerson by Peggy Spencer; San Padre Island National Seashore and "movie camera at dusk" by Mark David Gerson; Madeleine L'Engle by unknown; MoonQuest book cover by Angela Farley; Voice of the Muse cover and Q'ntana Trilogy artwork by Richard Crookes.

Please "like" these Facebook pages:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Word, According to Humpty Dumpty

In the beginning was The Word, and The Word was with Humpty Dumpty...

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master -- that’s all."

Alice was too puzzled to say anything; so after a minute, Humpty Dumpty began again.

"They’ve a temper, some of them -- particularly verbs: they're the proudest -- adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs -- however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!"

"Would you tell me, please," said Alice, "what that means?"

"Now you talk like a reasonable child," said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. "I meant by 'impenetrability' that we’ve had enough of that subject and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don’t mean to stop here all the rest of your life."

"That’s a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

"When I make a word do a lot of work like that, said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

What's your relationship with words? Do you take charge of them, as Humpty Dumpty claims to have done? Or do you trust in their innate wisdom?

It wasn't so much over the words themselves that Humpty Dumpty claimed mastery. It was over rigid definitions. Are you a slave to those definitions? Or are you willing to free yourself to be as creatively playful as was Lewis Carroll?

Whichever, you'll find 50 words and phrases to jump-start your writing on page 40 of The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write.

Please "like" these Facebook pages:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Writing Do's and Don't's


1. Remember: There are no rules. None.
There is no right way (including this one). There is no wrong way. There is only your way...the way that works for you, today.

2. Get out of your own way.
Ask any part of you that is logical, analytical, critical, cynical, doubt-filled or judgmental to step aside for the duration of your projected writing time.

3. Leap into the void...and trust.
Don’t worry about being polite, appropriate or correct. Don’t worry about making sense. Don't worry about the next word, paragraph, chapter or scene. Don't worry about the ending. Don't worry about the beginning. Don’t worry about anything. Just blurt it out...moment by moment, breath by breath, word by word.

3a. Listen...and always go with your first thoughts.
Second thoughts and second-guessing come from that part of your mind that is judgmental or censoring. Trust that what’s coming to you is what calls out to be expressed in this moment. Allow it to be expressed. Trust it and surrender to it. Fully and unconditionally.

4. Write.
What else is there to say?


1. Don't force your words into a straitjacket.
Instead, let your words and their innate wisdom determine the form of your work. In other words, if your novel wants to be a screenplay, let it. If your short story wants to be a poem, let. If your poem wants to be a song lyric, let it. It doesn't matter whether you've ever written a novel, screenplay, short story, poem or song. Your story, whatever it is, knows best. Always. 

2. Don't reread your work if you're feeling critical or judgmental.
Instead, wait an hour, a day, a week or a month...however long it takes for you to be able to see your work from a place of heartful discernment, not harsh judgment.

3. Don't worry about the next word, the next sentence or the next chapter.
Instead, remember that the next word will come as easily as your next breath...if you let it.

3a. Don't forget to breathe.
Instead, consider that if you're feeling stuck in your writing, you're probably also stuck in your breathing (and vice versa). Take a moment to center yourself and refocus on your breath.

4. Don't let fear, distraction, low self-esteem, doubt, anxiety, judgment, perceived lack of time, so-called writer's block or other people's criticisms or expectations stop you.
You're a writer. Just write. 

Adapted  from"13 Rules for Writing" from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write (c) 2008 Mark David Gerson

Please "like" these Facebook pages:

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Steve Jobs's True Legacy

"...the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do..."
~ John 14:12

"Follow your bliss."
~ Joseph Campbell

"Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above / Don't fence me in."
~ Cole Porter

I was packing up to leave Starbucks from an afternoon's writing on Wednesday when I heard about Steve Jobs's death. The news came to me in a terse email notice from the MyAppleSpace social network. The subject line read "Steve Jobs is dead."

Incredulous, I thought it was a hacker's prank. Only when I had double-checked the news against a reliable source could I bring myself to believe it.

Like many, I received and verified the news about Jobs on products he had pioneered. For me it was a MacBook Pro laptop and an iPhone.

And like so many around the world, I was grief struck.

Here was a man who had spent most of his life bucking the system, never letting fear or conventional wisdom get in the way of what he knew to be right and true. Nor did he ever permit the legions of critics and pundits who declared him foolhardy and misguided to stop him from following the path he knew in his heart to be the correct one.

Was he a saint? Hardly. Few geniuses are. Could he be cruel and cutting? Apparently so, for he is reputed to have had little patience for those who doubted or stood in the way of his passionate vision.

Few in the Western world remain untouched by that vision. Even those who swear they will never touch an Apple product have been affected by the revolutions in computing and music distribution that he incited.

Did he change the world? Absolutely. Did he do it uncompromisingly and on his own terms? Undoubtedly.

Is his greatest legacy the products and software systems he engineered? Not hardly.

Through the day or so following Steve Jobs's death, I was deeply moved, sometimes to tears, but the outpouring of love, respect and grief for this man. But by Friday night, as I scrolled through the unending stream of Jobs tributes and Jobs quotes in my Facebook news feed, something about it all began to trouble me.

Don't get me wrong. The sentiments expressed were true and powerful, and I clicked the "like" button on many of them.

But I began to wonder, as I read them all, how often we latch onto the words and lives of others as a way to avoid expressing our own words and living our own lives.

Back in 2006 while visiting Toronto, I was privileged to attend a Barbra Streisand concert. It was a performance that more than filled the city's vast Air Canada Centre. I wrote about that experience here two years ago, in a post titled Larger Than Life.

"Whatever you think of Barbra Streisand's talent or personality," I wrote, "when you are in her energy field, you touch that [limitlessness of your soul's natural state] and your soul cries out, 'Me too! That's who I am, too!!'

"Here in the Western world, where we have been taught to play small, we transfer all of our natural desire for the fenceless world of a life lived large to our movie stars and sports heroes.

"If we can't play out our own passion and power, we play it out through a celebrity cult that's no healthier than any other cult, one we also find in countries with charismatic leaders/dictators, in religions with unapproachable gods and in all situations where we abdicate the expression of our infinite nature to someone or something outside of ourselves."

How much of the grief for Jobs, I began to wonder, is not about the death of a brilliant man whose visions touched so many but about the death of a figure who publicly lived so much of the courage, vision, sense of purpose and uncompromising adherence to inner truth that so many of us shrink from in our own lives.

Steve Jobs was not unusual. We all have the same access to the same infinite pool of wisdom, courage, purpose and inner truth that he did...not to mimic his journey and follow his bliss, but to uncover and follow our own...wherever it might carry us.

In my novel, The MoonQuest, very much a metaphor for all our journeys, the main character, Toshar, is destined for a greatness he continues to resist. Yet destiny, as he is constantly reminded, is not cast in stone. There is always a choice.

"Every choice you have ever made," Toshar is told, "has led to this moment...of choice."

"The power to choose is always ours," I wrote in Larger Than Life. "In every moment and through every situation, we're offered the opportunity to choose our greatness, our passion, our light."

The best tribute to Steve Jobs is to not quote his words but to live them, to not restate his wisdom but to find and write your own, to not honor the choices of his heart but to listen to and honor the choices of yours, to not look backward but to live in the present moment as you step forward into the next.

It's time to awaken your vision. It's time to rekindle your passion. It's time to live your greatness.

If that becomes Steve Jobs's legacy, the revolution in each of our lives -- and in the world -- will only have just begun.

Please "like" these Facebook pages:
The MoonQuest book
The MoonQuest movie
The Voice of the Muse book
Mark David Gerson fan page

Friday, October 7, 2011

Write, Write, Write...Now!
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

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 screenplay, your theatre script, your book?

If not, close your browser and open your writing program. Or get pen and paper. Or quill and parchment, if that's your preference.

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 one word: the one word that gets you started.

• Adapted from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write (c) 2008 Mark David Gerson

Please "like" these Facebook pages:

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Q'ntana Trilogy Movies: Teaser + Website

Some of you may recall all the pieces I posted here earlier in the year about the film trailer we were shooting in March to help attract investors to a MoonQuest movie.

After many months of post-production, we have edited the footage down to a one-minute teaser, set it to music composed by the fabulously talented Mattias Holmgren and posted it to a brand-new website. The site also includes synopses of all three of my Q'ntana Trilogy stories (The MoonQuest, The StarQuest and The SunQuest), a "making-of" featurette and additional info on the project.

Although teaser and site are primarily designed to entice investors, distributors and sales agents to become financially involved with the Trilogy project, they're still public. So please have a look!

If you were involved with the trailer project or supported us through our Indie GoGo campaign, be sure to look for your name on the site's credits page. (If you notice any errors or omissions, please let me know so I can make the necessary corrections.) And if you have any comments about teaser, site or project, please feel free to post them here.

Also, if you haven't yet seen the book trailer for The MoonQuest book, check it out here.

Finally, if you haven't already, please "like" The Q'ntana Trilogy Movie's Facebook page and The MoonQuest book's Facebook page.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Whose Story Is It?

"Without characters there's no story."
Karl IglesiasWriting for Emotional Impact

"When I hit a real block, I find it’s usually because I've...said something false or made a character do what he doesn't want to do."
Anne Tyler

About two years ago, I was listening to a guest speaker -- let's call him Tom -- at a writer's group. He was talking about characters.

"In the first half of your story," he said, "let your characters do what they want. But when you get to the second half, you've got to reign them in."

Tom was pretty insistent, and it was all I could do to not jump up and shriek NO!...not to the first half of his statement, but to the second.

I was reminded of that story some months later when I began working with a new coaching client. She'd written a powerful memoir -- so powerful that it had been nominated for a literary award. Now, a fictional character had accosted her in a misty Irish glen and was insisting that she write his story.

"But I've never written a novel," she exclaimed. "I don't know how!"

"You don't have to know how," I replied. "All you have to do is write his memoir."

Thing is, whatever story we're telling -- whether it's a novel, short story, stage play or screenplay -- we're writing someone's story.

What we're writing is their story. And what we're often discovering in that first draft is not only what that story is but who that character is...who all the characters are who make up that world.
"I have never demanded of a set of characters that they do things my way. On the contrary, I want them to do things their way. In some instances, the outcome is what I visualized. In most, however, it’s something I never expected."
Stephen King

Tom's point was that we spend the first half of our story discovering who the character is. From there, we spend the rest of the story making sure the character hews to that portrait.

My point is that we may only truly discover who that character is and what she's about by writing through to the end. Why stifle the creative process just when we've finally surrendered to the story's unfoldment? Why limit ourselves and our characters by insisting that at a certain point in the draft, character and story are fixed for all time?

When I was working on the first draft of The StarQuest (the first of two projected sequels to The MoonQuest), I had a pretty good idea who the villain of the story was and to what unpleasant end she would come in the final scenes. At least, I thought I did...

Then, on my last day of work on that draft, as I was letting one of the final scenes write itself, something unanticipated happened: Instead of the ugly death I was expecting, the villain had a profoundly redemptive experience that, within a few paragraphs, had transformed her from ugly antagonist into a positive force for continuing good. I was stunned.

In that moment, I had two choices: I could follow Tom's advice and refuse the villain her redemption, or I could surrender to the character's higher imperative and permit the alchemy to occur. I chose the latter, not only because I believe my stories and their characters are smarter than I am, but because my villain's transformation supports one of the story's central themes in ways I would have been hard-pressed to consciously manufacture.

In The MoonQuest, much about the character O'ric shifted -- not only through the first draft, but through many of the drafts. He shifted not because I couldn't reign him in. He shifted because, through the writing, I began to understand more clearly who he truly was, both within himself and to the story.

In the "rules for character-building" that I use when I teach workshops on characterization, Rule #10 reads "How did John become Jane? And why is she suddenly the villain?"

Often, characters in our stories want to undergo radical changes through the course of that first draft. Too often, we follow Tom's advice and refuse them that freedom.

My view is that our job as Writer God is to give our characters absolute freedom through the entire first draft of our story...and, sometimes, beyond.

Unlike Tom, I say, Let your characters be as inconsistent and mercurial as they want to be. Let them veer off in completely different directions partway, if that’s what they choose. Let your villains become heroes and your heroes become villains. Let them change names, physical characteristics, motivations and story-significance. Let them change gender.

Only by allowing them that freedom in your first draft will you learn who they truly are and be true to their story. After all, it's their story you're telling.
I do my best work when I feel least like its source and most like its channel.
~Lawrence Block

Let your first draft, as I said earlier, be your journey of discovery: of your characters and of their story. Through that journey, you will grow into your story and its characters. You might, as I did in The StarQuest, only discover something of major significance about an important character on the final page of the draft. That’s okay. Use your next draft to bring consistency to the characters you now know more fully.

Remember whose story you're telling...and get out of the way!
"It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does."
William Faulkner

• How can you better trust your characters to reveal themselves to you?

• How can you stop trying to control your stories and, instead, let them emerge organically?

• How can you better surrender to the magic out of which all creativity is birthed?

• How can you trust that your stories and characters know themselves better than you do?

• How can you let yourself be surprised -- by your characters and by their stories?

You'll get help answering these and other questions about your writing process and projects in The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write.

Art credits: 1) Detail from the Zazzle "fictional character" t-shirt; 2) Image from the Talk Stephen King blog; 3) Detail from the cover of Karl Iglesias's book, Writing for Emotional Impact