Monday, December 14, 2015

Rejected? Don't Feel Dejected!

The literary world is littered with later-regretted rejections. My favorite, not because it’s the most extreme but because it involves an author whose work and life have profoundly influenced mine, involves Madeleine L’Engle, author of the young adult classic, A Wrinkle in Time.

L’Engle received two years’ worth of rejections from 26 publishers for A Wrinkle in Time, which was finally published in 1962 and went on to win major awards and be translated into more than a dozen languages. 

Madeleine L’Engle was hardly unique...
"I received your rejection by email recently, which was surprising since I did not submit an application to the Art San Diego Short Film Program. Like most artists, I am accustomed to having my work rejected, but being rejected from something I did not enter is a new low."
– Shawnee Barton 

  • Theodore Geisel’s first book as Dr. Seuss was turned down 27 times before landing a publishing contract. 
  • J.K. Rowling was rejected by a dozen publishers before Bloomsbury embraced the first Harry Potter novel.
  • The original Chicken Soup for the Soul book was nixed by more than a hundred publishers before it launched a multimillion-dollar franchise.
  • Publishing giant Alfred A. Knopf passed on George Orwell’s Animal Farm, as well as on Vladimir Nabokov and Sylvia Plath.
  • Stephen King, discouraged after Carrie’s 30th rejection, tossed the manuscript into the trash. Fortunately, his wife retrieved it: Carrie sold more than a million copies in its first year; King is now ranked as one of the top-selling authors of all time. 
  • Other literary rebuffs? William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windemere’s Fan, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

"I received your rejection by email recently, which was surprising since I did not submit an application to the Art San Diego Short Film Program. Like most artists, I am accustomed to having my work rejected, but being rejected from something I did not enter is a new low."
– Shawnee Barton 

Six Tips for Dealing with Rejection

When someone passes on your manuscript, regardless of the reason, here are six ways to help you get through and past the pain. 

1. Feel What You Feel
Don’t bottle up your feelings. Cry. Curse. Scream. Throw things. Throw up. Then get past the rejection and move on.

2. Write Your Feelings
Powerful emotions birth powerful writing. Channel all you feel into one of your characters – if not as part of this story, then as part of another.

3. Take Writer's Revenge 
Write a scene where you subject the source of your rejection to something unspeakably hideous, hurtful and horrific. It’s the writer’s equivalent of sticking pins into a voodoo doll, and you'll have more fun writing it than you ever ought to admit!

4. Look for the Silver Lining
Every experience, however emotionally debilitating, contains the seeds of something positive. Once the pain begins to subside, be open to a flash of insight that will reveal the silver lining around your storm cloud of rejection.

5. Look for the Spark of Truth
If your rejection letter offers reasons for the turndown, pay attention to them and use your discernment to determine whether those reasons highlight real weaknesses that it would serve you to address in a new draft. 

6. Keep Writing
Don't let rejection stop you. Keep writing and keep seeking out ways to improve your craft. 

"I cannot read your M.S. three or four times. Not even one time. Only one look, only one look is enough. Hardly one copy would sell here. Hardly one. Hardly one."
– Publisher Arthur C. Fifield's 1912 rejection letter to Gertrude Stein

Ask Yourself These Questions When Faced with Criticism or Rejection

  1. Can I refuse to let criticism or rejection stop me from moving forward with this writing project?
  2. If I am unable to get an agent, a publishing deal or a screenplay option, can I trust that there may be other reasons why I was called to write this? Can I be okay with that? 

And Finally...

Toward the end of her demoralizing two-year period of rejections, Madeleine L’Engle covered up her typewriter and decided to give up on writing. On her way to the kitchen, she had an epiphany: an idea for a novel about failure. In a flash, Madeleine L’Engle was back at her typewriter. “That night, I wrote in my journal, ‘I’m a writer. That’s who I am. That’s what I am. That’s what I have to do – even if I’m never, ever published again.’ And I had to take seriously the fact that I might never, ever be published again. It’s easy to say I’m a writer now, but I said it when it was hard to say. And I meant it.” 

• Adapted from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write, Birthing Your Book...Even If You Don't Know What It's About and Organic Screenwriting: Writing for Film Naturally. Read more about famous rejections and how to deal with yours in any of these books.

    Tuesday, December 1, 2015

    AIDS Beyond December 1

    Although I am posting this memoir-excerpt-as-tribute on World AIDS Day, it's important to remember that AIDS/HIV is with us 365 days a year...and not only in the West and in the gay community. 

    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.

    (By the way, the Ray David Blackman character in my Sara's Year novel is a silent tribute to the three friends who were so instrumental in my coming out and so supportive in the years that followed: Roy Salonin, David Brody and Harvey Blackman.)

    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 in paperback and ebook from major online booksellers or signed by me to you from my website.

    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.

    Sunday, November 15, 2015

    My Top 10 Book-Writing Tips...

    In an interview a few days ago, I was asked whether I had any tips for writers participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, as it's popularly called. I did, and it wasn't the conventional NaNoWriMo-related guidance, which is generally geared toward the nuts-and-bolts of cranking out a 50,000-word manuscript in 30 days.

    (Yes, that's what NaNoWriMo is all about: spending November producing a novel-draft of at least 50,000 words.)

    When the interview was over, I realized that much of the advice I had offered applied to all writers, not just NaNoWriters, and that it could be distilled into 10 tips. So here they are...

    My Top Ten Tips

    1. You Don't Have to Know What Your Book Is About Before Starting.
    I have rarely known what my books were about before I began writing them. With The MoonQuest, The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write and Dialogues with the Divine: Encounters with My Wisest Self, I didn't even know I was writing a book when I started! It's those experiences that prompted me to write Birthing Your Book...Even If You Don't Know What It's About, a step-by-step guide to getting your book out, whether or not you think you know what you're doing.

    2. You Don't Need to Plot, Plan, Outline or Otherwise Prepare. 
    Of course, you can plot, plan, outline or otherwise prepare. There's no right or wrong way to write a book...or any other creative project. The only right-write way is the way that works for you on this book. (It might be different next time!) Just so you know, though, I have never outlined. Nothing. Ever. Not even my screenplays, which orthodox screenwriting lore would have you believe is compulsory. (That's why I wrote Organic Screenwriting: Writing for Film, Naturally – to free you from creativity-stifling orthodoxy.)

    So how do you begin? With one word, any word. And then another and another and another. And another. No stopping. No editing. No censoring. No going back. Just racing forward through and past the fear, anxiety and inevitable nonsense and into the story that will reveal itself to you through the writing of it, if you get out of its way and let it. That's a Cliff's Notes version of my "Writing on the Muse Stream" method. Read more about it in any of my books for writers.

    3. Forget the Rules. All of Them.
    All my books for writers include a set of tongue-in-cheek "rules" for writers. And although they vary depending on the book's theme, they all share the same first and final rule: There are no rules. Whether during November's NaNoWriMo or beyond, write the book (or short story or poem or screenplay or stage play or essay) that demands to be written as it demands to be written, not according to anyone else's rules or strictures.
    • You haven't started yet? Start today. Now. Or start on Nov. 15 or Nov 20 or Nov. 30. Just start!
    • Your book is a memoir or other non-fiction work? Or it's not a book at all but a screenplay? Celebrate the fact that you're writing something instead of beating yourself up for not having written a novel. The fact that you’re writing, that you’re moving forward with a project you’re passionate about, is more important than form, medium or genre.
    • Your draft is shorter than 50,000 words? Celebrate that you've finished your draft instead of mourning the fact that you didn't meet NaNoWriMo's arbitrary word count. 
    • You don't finish by November 30? So what! However many words you have written are more words than you would have written had you not launched the process. When the time comes, celebrate that.

    4. Don't Judge.
    Just as you're not judging your process (see Tip #3), don't judge your output. If you're participating in NaNoWriMo, you're racing against the calendar to meet a November 30 deadline (See Tips #2 and #3); you have no time to fix 'n fuss as you go. That's a good thing. The most uncreative thing you can do is edit while you write that first draft...of anything. NaNoWriMo or not, let your first draft be as chaotic, repetitive, inconsistent and illogical as it needs to be. Just get your story onto the page, however it comes out. Use subsequent drafts to polish, hone and refine your rough stone into the jewel it was meant to be. 

    5. Trust Your Book.
    Your book and its characters (if it's a novel) are smarter than you are. Get out of their way (and your own) and let them tell their story through you. Abandon control!

    6. It's Okay to Be Out-of-Order.
    Like movies, which are rarely filmed in sequence, your first (or second or third) draft may not write itself in final book order. That's okay. In this as in all aspects of your book-writing enterprise, let the bits and pieces of your book come as they come...and write them that way, knowing that the book’s innate wisdom will determine the appropriate order when the time is right. 

    7. Take Risks.
    Creative expression is about risk-taking. It's about pushing boundaries – your own as well as those of others. It’s about boarding Star Trek’s starship Enterprise, taking off for parts unknown and journeying to the edges of the creative universe.  Commit to taking more risks. Commit to the creative artist you are.

    8. Do the Best You Can, and Let It Be Good Enough.
    Your book may be excellent, accomplished, creative and insightful. It may be brilliant, compelling and universally lauded. But perfect? Not possible. It’s not possible because when we translate an idea or concept into language, we’re taking something that is infinite (energy) and dynamic (neural impulses) and converting it into something that is finite (language) and static (squiggles on a page).  The resulting “translation” can never be more than an approximation. Do the best you can, and let it be good enough...because your book will never be perfect. Ever.

    9. Write
    It seems obvious, particularly in a month devoted to novel-writing. But it can be easy to put writing aside in favor of research. It’s even easier to put writing aside while you try to figure what your book is about.

    Don’t wait to figure out what your book is about. Don’t worry about its direction, theme, structure or focus. Don’t worry about chapter breaks (my first MoonQuest draft had none). Don’t worry about what people will think of it, or of you. Don’t worry about anything. Set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and, without judging or second-guessing what emerges, let your book do its wizardly work – on you as much as on the page.

    In other words: Write...the book you didn’t know you had in you...the book you could never have imagined writing...the book you believed you could not write...the book that is yours to write. 

    10. There Are No Rules
    As I noted in Tip #3, this is the one rule that never changes. No matter what you’re writing, the only certainties are that flow is fluid, your creation is unique and your book makes its own rules. Truly, there is no universal right way or wrong way. There is only your way, the way of your book. 

    My NaNoWriMo

    You're probably wondering whether I have ever participated in NaNoWriMo. The answer is yes. Two years ago, I wrote The SunQuest, the third and final installment in my Q'ntana fantasy trilogy, during NaNoWriMo. Amazingly, I did it in 21 days. 

    But not every book can be written in 21 days...or 30. The StarQuest, The Q'ntana Trilogy's Book II, took me 11 years and two false starts to get from the first to the final word of a first draft!

    However long it takes, the important thing is that you're writing. So hurry up and finish this newsletter, open your notebook or writing application and WRITE!

    And Now, for a Little Inspiration...

    "You are a writer of power, passion, strength and courage."

    An inspiring meditative experience designed to reaffirm your innate creativity, writing ability and identity as a writer

    The audio is a track from my recording, The Voice of the Muse Companion: Guided Meditations for Writers, available on MP3 and CD on my website, from iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and CD Baby, and on Apple Music. The photography is mine; see more on Instagram (@markdavidgerson) or my photo website

    Saturday, November 14, 2015

    Reflections on the Paris Terror Attacks

    While we rightfully mourn the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris and condemn those who carried them out, let us also mourn all victims of terrorism, whatever their nationality, and condemn all terrorists, wherever they are found.

    Let us also remember that no religion is terrorist by nature. At their core, all major religions preach peace, love and brotherhood. Unfortunately, all major religions have extremists in their midst who would warp their faith's fundamental teachings in order to persecute, torture or kill.

    Those extremists live in every country, including yours and mine. They are citizens of every country, including yours and mine.

    We may slow down these extremists with our hate-filled words and actions, but we won't stop them. Bombs and bombast can never stop what our fear feeds.

    Yes, sometimes force is a necessary immediate-term response. But it's never a long-term solution. War breeds more war, terror breeds more terror and hatred breeds more hatred. Unless we commit to stopping it, the cycle is infinite.

    Only by acknowledging and owning our fears can we be free of hatred and only by walking through and past those fears can we be free of terror, terrorism and terrorists.

    Let's start today.

    Friday, October 16, 2015

    Karen Helene Walker: The Voice of Her Muse

    I first met Karen Helene Walker in a typically synchronistic fashion: On her way to a meeting of the New Mexico Book Co-op, Karen stumbled on my then-new book, The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write, in an Albuquerque bookstore. She was intrigued but didn't buy a copy. But when she arrived at her meeting, she found herself sitting next to its author (me!); I was there to announce the book's release. Karen bought a copy on the spot and soon became both a client and a friend. 

    As Karen recounts in this guest blog post, I worked with her off and on over the years that followed on the book that would become The Wishing Steps. I am honored to have been part of her journey and gratified to be able to introduce her to you today, on the occasion of the release of The Wishing Steps

    I was minding my own business. Really. We’d just arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland for what would be a two-week exploration of both Scotland and Ireland. Our driver took us to a 2,000-year-old burial site, Balnauran of Clava and I was off by myself, fascinated by the ancient history and culture and imagining what these people might have been like when an unfamiliar voice said, “Tell my story.” There was no one around me. My husband and our guide were way off exploring the cairns (piles of stones).

    Now, you have to understand, I’m 66 years old and, until that day, I’d never heard voices that weren’t my own inner ones. This was different. I wasn’t sure what I’d heard or even if I actually did hear anything, so I said, “Sorry, I’m on vacation.”

    The voice came back while standing on what was called the wishing steps in a dense forest surrounding Blarney Castle in Ireland. “Tell my story.” This time, I felt a surge of energy at the same time. Hard to ignore, but ignore it I did. “I’m on vacation. Leave me alone.”

    But when I returned home, I couldn’t forget or ignore any longer what happened. I began a journey to discover whom the voice belonged to and what story it wanted me to tell. I called my writing coach/editor, Mark David Gerson, and the first words out of my mouth were, “I don’t tell stories. I can’t write fiction. I’m a nonfiction writer.”

    I’d tried to write fiction when I went back to university in my fifties. I took every creative writing course the school had to offer and even graduated Summa Cum Laude, but when it came to writing fiction, it just didn’t come naturally, despite my high grades. My mind appears to be quite literal – it doesn’t think in metaphors and similes. I have to work hard at coming up with something that isn’t a cliché. So I was pretty convinced I couldn’t do it.

    The first thing Mark David said to me was, “Open your mind and heart to the story and allow it to reveal itself. That’s all that matters. You don’t have to map it out or outline. Just allow it to emerge, one word at a time.”

    Later on in the six-year journey I remember him saying, “Creativity is as natural as breathing, and as necessary. Just by writing from that deep place changes you and changes the world.” And when I felt overwhelmed and frightened because I had no clue what to do next, he said, “You’re in the passenger seat – the story is driving.”

    Little did I know that in that first session with Mark David back in 2009, when I asked, “What am I to do about this voice?” it would be the start of what became a profoundly healing and deeply moving spiritual journey. I believe the voice that came to me in Scotland was a Goddess. I wasn’t clear at first what story I was to tell, but soon I came to understand that I was to imagine what it might have been like when the Goddess came to the first woman in prehistoric times to share Her wisdom. And then to imagine how that wisdom continued to be shared through the Dark Times of the Middle Ages through to modern times. It also became clear that the story was not meant to be historical fiction. That was a relief. Research is not one of my favorite activities, although I did have to research some for this book.

    Allowing the voice of wisdom that came to me in Scotland to come through to tell her story didn’t happen easily. I was kicking and screaming the whole six years it took to yank this story out of me. My debut novel The Wishing Steps is the result.

    I think the reason I was called, and I do feel that this was a calling to write this book, is to share how important it is to listen to that voice of wisdom when it comes. So often we are so busy we don’t even hear it. Or we hear it but ignore it because it might be too hard or it might hurt someone we care about. It’s not a coincidence that my memoir, Following the Whispers, was also about listening to our intuition. It seems this is a lesson I must learn in this lifetime because it continues to reveal itself in everything I write. I’m so grateful this voice wouldn’t leave me alone. And as difficult as it may be to follow our inner guidance, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Have you ever heard an inner voice such as this one? If so, did you pay attention? Please share some stories about voices of wisdom in your life in the comments.

    Karen Helene Walker is a widely published essayist and author of the 2009 memoir, Following the Whispers. When she isn’t writing, you will often find Karen performing in nursing homes and retirement communities as part of the Sugartime or Sophisticated Ladies musical groups, traveling with her husband of 20 years, Gary, or relaxing with a good book at their home in Albuquerque, NM. Be sure to visit Karen's website and blog. (Photo of Karen: KM Photographic)

    Get The Wishing Steps Online Today – in Paperback or Ebook 

    Saturday, October 3, 2015

    Happy Birthday to Me!

    As I write in Acts of Surrender: A Writer’s Memoir, birthdays for me have always been more about the transformationally personal than about big crowds and noisy parties.

    Shortly before my 21st birthday, I came out as a gay man; shortly after, I moved into my first apartment. Just before my 30th, I lost my mother’s wedding band at Stonehenge – a symbolic break from her influence (I had been wearing it as a memento since her death six months earlier). On my 40th, having sold or given away most everything I owned, I moved to Nova Scotia.  A few weeks before my 42nd birthday, I launched a new life in Sedona; four weeks after my 50th, that life abruptly ended.

    Now, today, on my 61st, I once again leave the crowds behind in favor of a quiet birthday celebration…a shared birthday celebration. Shared with whom? With Sara’s Year, my 12th book and fourth novel, which launches officially today.

    As I noted in last month’s issue, Sara’s Year emerged from a series of health scares that prompted me to ask what I wanted to be sure to accomplish if I were to die sooner rather than later. It’s not surprising, then, that a “death and rebirth” theme figures prominently in the story, even if it wasn't consciously planned. Given that, what better day to birth the book than my birthday?

    Here’s another birthday parallel, one that makes today’s book launch even more apt: Just as we emerge into the world naked and vulnerable, we authors are similarly naked and vulnerable when we release the murmurings of our heart to the world. If each new book I write takes me deeper as a writer, then each new book also reveals more of that depth to you. That makes Sara’s Year my most “naked” book yet!

    “Walk the earth naked, clothed only in your truth,” I write in Dialogues with the Divine: Encounters with My Wisest Self. How perfect, if somewhat scary, to be spending my birthday in my creative birthday suit!

    Help Me Celebrate with a Gift That’s as Much for You as for Me: Order Sara’s Year TODAY!

    Why today (apart from the obvious)? Amazon and other book-site rankings are affected not only by the number of books ordered but by how close together those orders are. That means that a bunch of book orders over a single day or two has a more dramatic impact on rankings than the same number of orders spread over several weeks.

    Here's where to find Sara online...

    Amazon: Kindle/Paperback
    iBook store
    Sara’s Year is also available as an ebook in the Google Play, Kobo and Nook stores and as a signed paperback from my website

    Friday, September 18, 2015

    "It's Never Too Late to Follow Your Dreams"

    One of the first questions I asked myself, as I dealt with a series of health scares last year was, “If I’m to die sooner rather than later, what do I want to be sure I do before I go?” To my surprise the first response that bubbled up from somewhere deep within was, “Write another novel.” So, parking myself at a Santa Monica Starbucks (where else!?) a few weeks later, I switched on my laptop and began to write...even though I knew nothing of the story I was being called to.

    Eight months and a different book later, I found myself back in Los Angeles, this time to sign books at the Conscious Life Expo. It was there on the second day of the event that a stranger marched up to my table, scrutinized me and my book display, and with a gaze of alarming intensity, asked me for my rising sign.

    “Virgo,” I told him.

    “When do you normally write?” he asked next.

    There’s little you can call “normal” about my work habits. One draft or book might write itself more easily in the morning, another in the afternoon, another late at night. That’s what I told him.

    “You need to be writing two hours before dawn,” he declared, backing it up with a complex astrological explanation that I pretended to understand.

    “Not going to happen,” I muttered. I am barely functional two hours after dawn, let alone before. Yet when the next morning I awoke spontaneously at 4:30, I put my visitor’s theory to the test: I found the few pages of my barely started novel and continued where I had left off.

    Through the months that followed that peculiar encounter (though rarely before dawn), Sara’s Year revealed itself to me with a speed and clarity that I had rarely before experienced in my writing, often through the meaningful coincidences that Carl Jung termed “synchronicities.” There were many – far too many to chronicle here – and each left me more in awe than the last. 

    Of course, I had many moments of resistance, as I often do when launching a new project. But as with every other of my books, I found ways to surrender to the greater wisdom of the story and, in so doing, write my way through and past my apprehension.

    The result is a story I am profoundly grateful to have been chosen to write and one that has left all my advance readers clamoring for a sequel. It's also one that continues to remind me – as I hope it will also remind you – that it's never too late to follow your dreams!

    Special Offer for My Blog Readers!

    "Unlived dreams. Family secrets. Betrayal. And characters who haunt you long after you’re finished their story. You won't be able to put this book down!"
    – Karen Walker, author of The Wishing Steps

    "A masterful journey with a brilliant cast of characters. What an adventure!"
    – Carolyn Flower, author of Gravitate 2 Gratitude

    Thursday, July 30, 2015

    Free Your Stories, Free Yourself!

    "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."
    – Zara Neale Hurston

    What stories are you carrying inside you that are yearning to be freed onto the page?

    What stories are you carrying inside that, once freed onto the page, will also free you?

    Whatever they are, write one of them. Now.

    Write your story, and feel the healing freedom that all creative acts inspire.

    • Need help getting going or keeping going? Look for my books and recording for writers, all designed to help you reawaken, access, experience and express your innate creativity! You'll find them online on Amazon and on all major ebook and music-download sites. And check out my free videos on YouTube.

    Tuesday, July 14, 2015

    You Can Write!

    Close your eyes and remember. 
    Remember the stories you invented... 
    Remember wonder and imagination... 
    Remember make-believe...

    You can write.

    If you can read these words, you can write.

    You're saying "I'm not creative" or "I can't make up stories" or "I don't know how."

    Well, you are, you can and you do. And you can do it without struggle.

    Whoever you are, whatever your background, whatever your education, you can write – in ways that bring meaning to your life, in ways that touch others.

    The ability exists in all of us. We were born with it, with a unique voice, a unique way of seeing and describing the world, a unique palette of textures, images and hues with which to express what we feel, what we see, who we are.

    As children we concocted imaginary places and playmates, soared with seagulls, raced with tigers. Close your eyes and remember. Remember the stories you invented. Remember wonder and imagination. Remember make-believe.

    Watch your children, or your neighbor's children. Listen to the timeless stories they weave. We all crafted similar riches as children but, somehow, life got in the way. We grew more self-conscious. We were told not to make up stories. We feared being different. We were taught to write a certain way. We grew older, busier, more cautious. Slowly and without our being aware of it, the door to our creativity edged shut.

    Now we wonder whether the key is lost for all time. It's not. That key remains within your grasp, always. It's your birthright. It's your story, your voice. And it has value.

    There are many ways to unlock that door...

    • Start by letting the child you were back into your life – not to displace the adult you've become, but to enrich it.
    • Start asking how and why again.
    • Slow down.
    • Run your hand over a tree trunk.
    • Inhale the perfume of an autumn evening.
    • Get up early and watch the sun rise.
    • Study people. See how they walk. Hear how they talk. Make up stories about them.
    • Pretend you're on vacation and start a journal, recording your impressions of people and places as though seeing them for the first time.

    Try writing for 15 minutes without stopping, without thinking, without editing. You'll be amazed at how much you can write in such a short time. You'll be amazed at how good it is. (I call that "writing on the Muse Stream.")

    Don't censor yourself. Give yourself permission to write nonsense. Give yourself permission to begin without knowing where you're going. Writing is a voyage of discovery. Be open to the journey.

    Look for books and groups that support your creativity, that let you tap into the writer you are. Find a quiet place and quiet time where you can write regularly. Find a quiet place within yourself.


    The stories are there.

    • Need more help? Look for my books and recording for writers, all designed to help you reawaken, access, experience and express your innate creativity! You'll find them online on Amazon and on all major ebook and music-download sites. And check out my free videos on YouTube.

    Photos: #1 Wikimedia Commons; #2 - Crystal Cove State Park by Mark David Gerson

    Wednesday, July 8, 2015

    Dare to Feel. Dare to Connect.

    "Go to the emotional epicenter, where it hurts most, and write on. If you dare."
    ~ Bill Donovan, editor/publisher, Creative Screenwriting

    "Only connect."
    E.M. Forster

    The call to write is a call to share our emotional depth with others. It's a call to be vulnerable. It's a call to connect.

    Thing is, we don’t touch others at a deep level when we connect mind-to-mind, though that connection is a powerful and important one. We touch others at a deep level when we connect heart-to-heart.

    Unless we write from our deepest heart, unless we tell the stories that move us, we will never move our readers.

    I spent the first chunk of my writing career avoiding writing from what Bill Donovan calls the "emotional eipcenter." I observed and reported, intellectually and dispassionately. I told stories, but without heart.

    In not revealing my feelings (at times, not even to myself), I failed to engage my readers in any but superficial ways. I failed them and I failed myself.

    I didn't connect.

    Do you want to write truth, the truth from which both powerful fiction and nonfiction arise? If you want to write truth, if you want to write words that will touch the deepest emotions and connections and truths of your reader, then you must write what your heart calls on you to write. You must go where you've never dared go before -- in your writing, certainly; in your life, perhaps.

    You must, as I write in The Voice of the Muse's "Thirteen Rules for Writing," go for the jugular, for your jugular: "Go for the demon you would run from. Go for the feeling you would flee from. Go for that emotion you would deny. Once you put it on paper, you strip it of its power over you. Once you put it on paper, you free it to empower your work."

    You free it, as well, to empower your readers. You empower them to feel their emotions, to be vulnerable and to share their stories.

    "We tell our stories in order to live," Joan Didion writes in The White Album

    We tell our stories, too, to connect.

    There is neither life nor connection outside the heart.

    • Where are you refusing to be vulnerable in your writing?

    • Where are you afraid to reveal your feelings, perhaps even to yourself?

    • In what ways are you reluctant to connect, heart-to-heart, with your readers?

    • Where, right now, can you go for the jugular – your jugular – and dare to write from your emotional epicenter?

    Adapted from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write © Mark David Gerson

    Part of answering the call to write and birthing the book that's inside you involves tapping into that emotional epicenter. That's some of the work I do as a writing/creativity/life coach. Need help getting there? Drop me a line.

    Photo by Mark David Gerson: Tonopah, AZ 

    Tuesday, June 30, 2015

    It's Time to Stop Hating the Haters

    I don't often see the ignorant rantings of homophobic, misogynistic, antisemitic and islamophobic haters on my social media news feeds anymore – either because they have unfriended me or because I have ceased to follow them. But I'm disturbed to be seeing instead the hateful rants of people justifiably concerned about the blowback from the Supreme Court marriage equality ruling on Friday. 
    Concern is justifiable. Even anger is justifiable. But when the hated start hating in return, we become no better than those who hate us. 
    Sure, the pastor who threatened to burn himself to death if marriage equality became the law of the land and then didn't is a hypocrite, and he deserves to be mocked. He doesn't deserve to die or to be helped on his way. 
    Mock, too, the Donald Trumps of the world who defend "traditional marriage" from the "sanctity" of their third marriage. But, again, we lose more than we gain when we attack these hypocrites with vicious language. 
    What about county clerks whose deeply held religious convictions make it difficult for them to perform their license-issuing jobs? They ought to follow the lead of Juli Luke of Denton, TX, who told her local paper that "as an elected public official, my personal belief cannot prevent me from issuing the licenses as required." Those who choose, instead, to resign should be respected for the sincerity of their beliefs instead of being attacked or called names. But even those who choose to flout the law needn't be vilified with violent language. Criticize and mock them. Sue them. But stop the hate. 
    The "NO H8" graphic doesn't specify who should and shouldn't be hated. While it refers to California's Prop 8, it doesn't state "it's not okay for you to hate me but it's fine for me to hate you." It just states, simply, eloquently and inclusively, "No Hate."
    Let's take the essence of that message to heart. Let's stop stooping to the haters' level. Let's end all bigotry, not just bigotry directed toward us. Let's demonstrate that hate, however it's expressed and whoever expresses it, is destructive. Let's remember that hate has consequences. Always.

    Sunday, June 21, 2015

    For Father's Day: A Tale of Love &Reconciliation

    Few of the stories I share about my father in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir are flattering. Physically and emotionally absent in my early childhood and dead before my 14th birthday, Sydney Gerson was not the kind of parental figure one thinks of as, well, much of a parental figure. 

    On top of that, it turns out that he was probably not my natural father, something I learned long after all the principals in that drama – him, my mother and my natural father – had passed away (another story I tell in Acts of Surrender). 

    And yet I carry his name, and of the three fathers I have experienced in my life, he is the only one I ever think of as "Daddy." 

    So on this Father's Day, nearly a half-century after his death, I share this tale of love and reconciliation, adapted from Acts of Surrender... 

    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 today — August 11, 1968.

    © Mark David Gerson

    • • • Get your copy of Acts of Surrender today – on most Amazon sites, from select other online booksellers, from my website (signed to you, while supplies last) or from your favorite ebook store

    • • I share a different kind of Father's Day story – this time I'm the father – in this Acts of Surrender excerpt on video: "Guinevere, My Daughter" –

    • Photos (long before I was born) – My parents, around 1940 or 1941, and a family gathering in the later 1940s

    Tuesday, June 9, 2015

    Your Story, Your Life

    "What you have lived is unique. What you have learned through your years of living is beyond price. And the value of all you share through your words, and of all the ways you awaken and grow through your words, is incalculable."

    You are a storyteller — not because you are unusual (though your experiences may well be), but because we are all storytellers. We each carry an infinite potential for self-expression-through-story that, if we open to it, can reshape our lives and the lives of others in ways we cannot begin to imagine.

    In a sense, we are also all memoirists. From the moment the first caveman returned from a day’s hunting and grunted his experiences to his mates over the cooking fire, we have been not only telling stories, but telling our story. From the moment of our first newborn gurgle, we have been communicating something of our brief life. From the moment the first diary entry reflected back on days, months or years past, we have been unconsciously crafting memoir.

    Yet writing a memoir involves more than reciting dates, facts and what-happened-next’s. A memoir is an intimate journey into what underlies those dates, facts and occurrences.

    A memoir is also not autobiography. Autobiographies are vast and encyclopedic. Even should it span your life from conception until last week, a memoir is both more subjective and less comprehensive than any autobiography. Like an Impressionist painting, it includes more shade and texture than detail, more personality than panorama.

    Nor is a memoir simply a published journal. While it may draw on your journals and may even quote from them, a memoir is more focused and less self-indulgent. It’s a story built, however unconsciously, around a theme. It’s a story that transforms the personal into the universal. It’s a recounting of your experiences that transcends your experiences. It’s a story designed to be shared.

    Perhaps you have come to this book willingly — in order to leave a legacy for your children or grandchildren. Perhaps you hope to communicate your story to a larger audience — to strangers, as well as to family and friends. Or perhaps you come to this memoir-writing journey, as I did to mine, reluctantly, doubtfully, skeptically. Perhaps you don’t believe you have stories worth sharing, stories that others would want to read, stories with the potential to inspire. Of course you do. We all do.

    Here’s the thing: What you have lived is unique. What you have learned through your years of living is beyond price. And the value of all you share through your words, and of all the ways you awaken and grow through your words, is incalculable.

    It’s true for you. It’s true for me. It’s true for everyone.

    It doesn’t matter whether you are eager or resistant, overflowing with anecdotes or unsure where to find yours. Whoever you are, whatever your experiences, whatever your perceived writing ability, From Memory to Memoir will connect you with the stories you remember and, perhaps even more important, with the stories you have forgotten...with the stories you are keen to tell and, perhaps even more powerfully, with the stories you are reluctant to reveal. It will serve up the inspiration guaranteed to get you writing and keep you writing, the tools and techniques guaranteed to help you craft a rich, compelling narrative, and the support guaranteed to sustain you from the initial word of your book’s first draft to the final word of its ultimate draft.

    That’s why you are here. That’s why I am here.

    So what are you waiting for? Turn the page and join me on this adventure of a lifetime...this journey into the experience of your own creativity as, together, we write the stories of your life.

    © Mark David Gerson All Rights Reserved

    Get your copy of From Memory to Memoir today --
     on most Amazon sites and in Kindle, iBook, Google Play, Kobo + Nook stores worldwide

    Wednesday, May 27, 2015

    Only You Can Write the Story That's Yours to Write

    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"

    Only you can write the story that's yours to write. Have you begun? If so, it's time to continue. If not, close this browser window and begun. How? With one word. Any word. And then with another...and another...and word following the next until the story is done.

    Need help, motivation or inspiration? 

    • Pick up one of my books for writers in paperback on most Amazon sites, from select other online booksellers or from my website, or download the ebook from any major ebook seller. 

    • Looking for more personalized attention? Drop me a line to learn more about more one-on-one services for writers.

    Sunday, May 10, 2015

    You Know You're Writing the Right Story When...

    synchronicity (n) The simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection. Meaningful coincidence. Used especially in the psychology of C. G. Jung.

    More than any other writing project I have tackled, Sara's Year, my new story-in-progress, has bombarded me with so many meaningful coincidences that my once-mighty resistance to this novel-plus-screenplay has pretty much crumbled.

    In case you missed my recent posts about the project, here as well as on Facebook and Google+, here's a recap...

    Sara's Year is set in Montreal over a 50-year period between the 1930s and the 1980s, with a brief but significant episode in postwar Halifax. Not only is this story more directly autobiographical than anything I have ever written (other than my Acts of Surrender memoir, of course), it's also more creatively challenging than anything I have ever attempted. In addition, it involves considerable research because of its real-life setting and one real-life character.

    Given all that, it's no wonder I was so hesitant when my Muse came knocking at my door! It didn't help that the first scene I wrote veered in such an unexpected direction that it was eight months before I returned to the manuscript. More accurately stated, I was nudged back to the manuscript by the first in a long and still-unfolding series of synchronistic events that eloquently and unequivocally demonstrated that this was my story to I'd better get on with it!

    It all began a year ago when, facing a series of health scares, I asked myself: "If I'm going to die sooner rather than later, what is it that 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." Soon after, with a vague sense of the story and a working title, I launched Sara's Year in a Santa Monica Starbucks.

    Eight months later, I was signing books at the Lighted Bridge Communications booth at the Conscious Life Expo in L.A. when a man walked up to my table and, with a gaze of almost alarming intensity, asked me for my rising sign. "You need to be writing two hours before dawn," he proclaimed when I answered "Virgo." The next morning I woke up unexpectedly early and returned to Sara's Year, although any thought of a consistent predawn writing routine quickly evaporated.

    After one of my first Facebook posts about the project, referencing Montreal's legendary Baron Byng High School (many well-known Canadian cultural and political luminaries were graduates, as was my mother; even William Shatner attended for a time), my sister messaged me. Did I know about the famous student murals at Baron Byng? Our mother's signature was on at least one.

    No, I hadn't known. But a Google search turned up a 66-year-old article about the murals and about Anne Savage, the longtime Baron Byng art teacher and well-known Canadian artist under whose tutelage they were created. That day, Savage became a key secondary character in Sara's Year, my fictional pseudo-Baron Byng was replaced by the real thing and my version of the school's student murals became part of the story.

    There have been too many Anne Savage synchronicities to chronicle in this post, but here are a few...

    • I was out for a walk one day when it occurred to me that one of my best friends in high school might have had an Anne Savage connection through his mother. Ann Peterson was Art Supervisor for the same Montreal school board as had been Savage after she left Baron Byng. "Anne Savage was my mother's mentor," Greg wrote me. "She was really responsible for getting my mother the job."

    • One of Anne Savage's artist colleagues and friends was Arthur Lismer, for three years principal of Halifax's Victoria School of Art and Design. By the time I discovered this, the school was already playing an important role in Sara's Year. (By that point in its history and my story's chronology, the school had been renamed the Nova Scotia College of Art (it's now NSCAD University).

    • When I needed an excuse for one of my characters, an NSCAD professor and Anne Savage fan, to find himself in Montreal in 1956, I discovered that Savage had a one-woman show in the city that year. Perfect!

    Which brings me to the many Halifax/NSCAD/Anna Leonowen synchronicities. Here's a sampling...

    • I was researching NSCAD to make sure it was around in 1946, only to discover that it was founded in the late 19th century by Anna Leonowens (the real-life Anna of The King and I). Once I discovered that the original Anna and the King of Siam movie premiered in 1946 and that The King and I musical premiered 10 years later (again, perfect timing for events that needed to play out in both those years), the two films (and Anna herself) became key elements in the story.

    • On a side note, I also discovered that post-Siam Anna not only lived in Halifax, she died and was buried in Montreal.

    • While I was waiting for my team of volunteer researchers to find out for me when and where those films premiered in Halifax (the original film) and Montreal (the musical), I placed them in the theaters that would best serve the geography of the story: Anna and the King at the Capitol and The King and I at the Palace. When the research results came in, I discovered that the films had, in fact, premiered in those theaters.

    The King and I opened at the Palace in Montreal exactly 27 years before the day I had already selected as the relevant character's funeral, an anniversary that also now plays into the story.

    • In my nearly 18 years living in the U.S., I have never knowingly met anyone from Nova Scotia. One morning, about halfway through the first draft of the novel, I attended a workshop at the Apple Store. One of my fellow participants introduced himself as a Halifax native!

    Where is Sara's Year today? I finished a first draft of the novel last week and am about a dozen pages into a first draft of the screenplay. Meantime, those "meaningful coincidences" keep showing up, which is just as well: Every time I feel discouraged about the project (often) or doubtful about my ability to carry it off (even more often), another synchronicity presents itself to remind me that I am writing the right story!

    • What about you? What synchronicities have shown up in your life recently, whether as part of your creative life or not? Post your story as a comment on the original blog piece.

    • UPDATE: Sara's Year is finished and out, and it's attracting not only rave reviews but awards! Look for it in paperback or ebook from your favorite online bookseller or signed by me to you from And watch for the reader-demanded sequel, After Sara's Year, coming in late 2016!

    #1 – This prototype cover featuring an image of Montreal's distinctive staircases is only being used to keep me inspired as I move forward with the project. It is not the final cover. (Credit:
    #2 – Me at the Conscious Life Expo, February 2015 (Credit:
    #3 – Baron Byng High School
    #4 – Artist Anne Savage
    #5 – Now Halifax's Five Fishermen restaurant, this building was home to the Nova Scotia College of Art during Sara's Year
    #6 – Montreal Palace Theatre (Credit: McCord Museum)