Thursday, May 26, 2016


This is a slightly edited version of piece that I originally posted to Facebook on May 24. Click here to view the original post and its comment stream.

If you  I have just unfollowed another Facebook friend because of a vicious, vitriolic post attacking one of the Democratic candidates. This one was venomously anti-Sanders from someone who is vehemently pro-Clinton. But there have been just as many, if not more, from Sanders supporters. That both sets of attacks have been far more searing than anything coming from the Republicans should concern anyone who cares about the future of this country, not to mention the future of political discourse. (See "Don't Be a Hater."

Unlike those whose posts I have reluctantly chosen to mute, I see the many positive qualities in both Democratic candidates; I also see the many flaws in both. As I view it, both are qualified to be President, either would bring unique skills, passions and gifts to the Oval Office...and neither would be perfect. Whichever one would ultimately make it to the top job would alternately delight and infuriate their followers; that's the reality of politics.

It's also important to note that neither would damage this country, its citizens and its world standing and reputation the way a Trump presidency would, if Donald Trump's public rhetoric is to be believed.

One side note: Anyone who thinks you can equate a Clinton presidency with a Trump presidency has not been listening to Donald Trump and the Congressional Republicans or to their the KKK, for example, which has trumpeted its support for Trump in the hopes that he will put Jews in their place. A Republican presidency and Congressional majority would destroy American's remaining international credibility, would do its best to dismantle what little social safety net we have, including Obamacare, and would continue to strip women and minorities of their rights, making certain that those changes are upheld with Supreme Court appointments.

I understand the passionate yearning for radical change, and I share it. However, if Trump and the Republicans are elected because those who should be opposing them are instead opposing each other, we will all get radical change – just not the kind any of us desires and definitely the kind it will take generations to overturn.

I also understand that the political process is fraught with passion, and that's a good thing. Passion fuels change. But wouldn't it be better to channel our passion constructively, using it to broadcast the solid qualities of our candidate rather than misusing it in vicious attacks that are too often grounded more in rumor than truth?

If all elections are important, this one is perhaps more important than most. Let's keep the debate alive, but let's dial up the r-e-s-p-e-c-t and crank down the vitriol, which seems to grow more rabid as each day brings us closer to the Democratic Convention. This country deserves more. We deserve more. 

I welcome your comments as to why your candidate is the best choice or what your experience has been with the campaign so far. Negative comments, simplistic comments or those that simply say something like "your candidate is no good" or "your candidate should drop out" will be deleted.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

How I Tried to Give Up Writing...and Failed

"I can't do this anymore. It's too emotionally draining. As soon as I finish with this draft, I'm closing the door on my writing 'career.' I'm not a writer anymore. It's over."

It's August 2013, a few weeks before my 59th birthday, and I'm about two-thirds through a first draft of my stage-musical adaptation of The SunQuest, the third story in my Q'ntana Trilogy. I've been at this nonstop for six weeks now. I started with The MoonQuest, the first story, and have continued straight through The StarQuest and into The SunQuest. I still have a fair bit of work left on this trio of initial drafts and I'm beyond burnt out.

For more than two decades, I have treated writing as a spiritual pursuit, writing from the deepest inner places I have been able to access and, as the title of my memoir suggests, surrendering more and more fully with each project to what I view as my highest imperative. This is also what I've taught – in my books for writers as well as through my coaching, classes and workshops.

But on this day, it feels as though I have sacrificed too much for too little return: My book sales are poor, my coaching income is negligible, I no longer have a home or car of my own and the emotional pain of digging so deep has grown unbearable.

On this day, my only commitment is do whatever it takes to finish this draft of The SunQuest so I can bring my trilogy of stage musicals to completion.

Two weeks later, as soon as I ring down the final curtain on The SunQuest and my Q'ntana musicals, I declare to my housemate and my closest friends that I'm on strike. "If I'm going to return to writing," I insist, "something has to shift. Otherwise, I'm giving it up. The work is much too hard for so pitiful a payoff."

My friends, some of whom are writers themselves, make sympathetic noises. I'm certain that they don't doubt my sincerity, but I suspect they doubt my determination. "Let them doubt," I mutter as I settle into a diet of Netflix movies and murder mysteries. "If nothing changes, I'm not going back."

My sole concession is to a pre-strike interview I conducted with New York Times bestselling mystery author J.A. Jance the previous month (see below). Because Jance was so generous with her time, I commit to editing the interview and posting it to YouTube as the sole writing-related interruption to my job action.

About 34 minutes into our recorded conversation, as we're talking about craft, I tell Jance how much I love that she never outlines her books because I don't either.

"I have to sort of step out with faith," she says, "that if I can write the first sentence of the book, I can eventually get to the end of it."

"Shit," I say out loud – not to J.A. Jance in the interview, but to the recording I'm editing. The moment she talks about the faith that gets her from her first sentence to her last, I know that my strike is over.

My creative and spiritual lives have always been inextricably linked, and both have been built on a solid foundation of faith.

My faith, as I describe it in Acts of Surrender, is not about submitting in any kind of demeaning fashion to some white-bearded, white-robed gentleman peering down from on high. "Rather," I write in the book, "I acknowledge the existence of an infinite mind whose wisdom transcends my conscious thoughts, and I do my best to defer to it. Whatever [that infinite mind] is – and I don’t pretend to have solved the theological and scientific question of the ages – it is something that is both within me and of which I am part. Whatever it is, it is definitely smarter than I am, and that is where my surrender is directed."

As J.A. Jance's words echo in my heart and mind, I realize that if the deepest part of me has determined that I am a writer and that my writing (and all that derives from it) is the most important part of my being, I can't walk away from it. I can't abandon my faith and I can't stop surrendering to it. I am a writer. Period.

I would be lying if I said that I never again doubted and never again half-wished that I could turn my back on the sometimes-onerous demands of my Muse. But every time I'm tempted, I remember my 2013 writer's strike and the words of faith that aborted it.

In the end, as I'm reminded over and over and over, all that matters is that I'm writing.

The writing has definitely continued since my failed strike; if anything, the pace has picked up. Although I have yet to return to my Q'ntana musicals, I am now at work on my 13th book, After Sara's Year, a reader-demanded sequel to last year's award-winning Sara's Year, itself a story about never giving on your dreams. 

After Sara's Year will be available later this year; meantime, pick up the Sara's Year, the  first installment in what is now The Sara Stories! Look for all my books in paperback or ebook from your favorite online bookseller or signed by me to you from my website.

From my interview with J.A. Jance (if the video doesn't play from the player, click here)...
"I hated outlining in 10th grade geography class and I hate it now. Because I write murder mysteries, I usually start with somebody dead, and then I spend the rest of the book trying to figure out who did it and how come. I have to sort of step out with faith that if I can write the first sentence of the book, I can eventually, 100,000 words later, get to the end of it."

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Act of Surrender That Created Acts of Surrender

In this excerpt Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir, I share the act of surrender that helped birth my memoir into the world...

It’s May 6. I have just finished breakfast, and as I stare into my empty coffee cup, I contemplate my immediate future. It has been less than twenty-four hours since I completed a final draft of my novel The SunQuest and, along with it, an odyssey that has occupied nearly one-third of my life: Eighteen years ago I surrendered to the words that would become the first draft of The MoonQuest, a story I knew nothing about, a story that would launch a fantasy trilogy that I did not yet know existed. Now that I have written “The End,” both to The SunQuest and the trilogy, what’s next for me?

As I stare into that coffee cup, I am certain that another draft of this memoir, of Acts of Surrender, must follow The Q’ntana Trilogy on my creative agenda. How can it not when The SunQuest is, among other things, about Ben’s coming to terms with his past? How can it not when Ben’s story, like Q’nta’s and Toshar’s before him in The StarQuest and The MoonQuest, is also my story? Hardly a day went by, while I worked on The SunQuest, that I failed to notice a parallel between Ben’s life and mine, between what he discovers through reliving his journey on the page and what I have already discovered through living mine on these pages. 

At the same time, I ask myself: Wouldn’t it make sense to wait a month before taking on a new draft of Acts of Surrender? Between the Q’ntana screenplays and novels and the early drafts of this memoir, I have been writing nonstop for nearly two years. Maybe it’s time for a break. Besides, I have a business trip to Las Vegas coming up in a few weeks. Wouldn’t it make sense to wait until I get back? 

You would think that after writing three fantasies where conventional sense is an elusive commodity, not to mention penning two drafts of a memoir that exposes similar threads in my own life, I would have more sense than to ask questions about sense. Apparently, I don’t.

The coffee cup is still empty, and my mind wanders, away from my creative life and on to my life — not that it’s altogether possible to separate the two. I have now been back in Albuquerque for eighteen months. A 2010 move from here to Los Angeles ended after ten weeks, when I felt a call to return to New Mexico. Through this, my third sojourn in Albuquerque, I have become aware how much my life here has come to resemble my 1994-95 time in rural Nova Scotia: a hermit-like existence where little occurs beyond my writing. In Nova Scotia, my focus was on the first two drafts of The MoonQuest; once they were finished, I found myself back in Toronto, my monkish tendencies forgotten.

There is, however, one significant difference between these two periods in my life: In Nova Scotia, I had no conscious desire ever to leave. I thought I had rebirthed myself on the East Coast and, when the call came for me to go back to the big city, I was initially startled and dismayed. Here in Albuquerque, I have never stopped longing to get back to L.A., to resume a life that has felt on hold since I returned here. 

Suddenly, the opening scene of The MoonQuest pushes my mental wanderings aside. In it, the dreamwalker Na’an interrupts an elderly Toshar, who has long resisted writing his story. 

“It is not for me to boast of my exploits,” Toshar argues. But Na’an is firm. “It is your story to tell,” she says. “It is for you to fix it in ink, to set the truth down for all to read.” 

I cannot move on to other realms and set off on other journeys until I have told my story, I hear myself speak out loud, paraphrasing Toshar’s thoughts in The MoonQuest. The words catch in my throat, and I’m gripped by an emotion so strong that I find myself on verge of tears.

I can’t know what those other realms and journeys might be. I can’t know whether, in another parallel to my time in Nova Scotia, they will mark the end of my creative retreat and launch me back into the world’s bustle — this time to L.A. instead of Toronto. What I can do is recognize the charge I experienced and the truth that underlies it: Like Toshar, I must tell my story, this story, or I will not be free to move forward with my life. 

I know one other thing: Whatever the “sense” of the matter, I cannot wait a month to begin. In the act of surrender that is the book, I must make Acts of Surrender my primary focus, and I must begin that realm where all stories begin: Once upon a time...

• An excerpt from Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir (c) Mark David Gerson, available in paperback and ebook from your favorite online bookseller or signed by me to you from my website.

Photos: Coffee mug and L.A. billboard by Mark David Gerson. Flag is the Nova Scotia provincial flag. MoonQuest book cover designed by Angela Farley. Acts of Surrender book cover: Ojai, CA; photo by Sander Dov Freedman.