Wednesday, March 29, 2017

My Muse: A Trickster Extraordinaire!

Bugs Bunny

"Your book is a trickster!"
– Book-Birthing Rule #9, Birthing Your Book…Even If You Don’t Know What It’s About

The “trickster” exists in many cultures. In myth, think leprechauns (Ireland), coyotes (U.S. Southwest), the Greek god Dionysus and the Hawaiian/Polynesian demigod Maui. In literature and popular culture, think A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s Puck, King Lear’s Fool (along with every court jester ever conceived), Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Bart Simpson, the Pink Panther and Bugs Bunny.

In short the trickster is an archetypal figure that dupes its victims into doing its bidding. Mischievous by nature, it will lie unashamedly and break any rule to get its own way. 

Coyote Medicine CardTo date, I have written five books on writing and each includes some version of what I say in Birthing Your Book’s Rule #9: “As you craft the book you think you are writing, [your book and your muse] will often trick you into writing something you never expected to write, something you never thought you wanted to write, something, perhaps, that is uncomfortable to write.”

When the idea came to me for The Emmeline Papers, the third book in my award-winning Sara Stories, it was going to focus on one of the minor characters in After Sara’s Year: Mac's quirky, eccentric, single-minded Aunt Emmeline Mandeville. The idea for the story arrived nearly fully formed (or so I thought), along with the title. 

Had I been smart, I would have remembered not only my Book-Birthing Rule #9, I would have recalled how that same tricksterish rule played out in Sara’s Year, the first of my Sara novels.

When I sat down in a Santa Monica Starbucks to begin Sara’s Year, I also had a concept and a title. The title never changed, but my original idea vanished within minutes of launching into that first day’s writing.

Q in Star Trek: TNGBecause, like lightning, a trickster never strikes twice in precisely the same place or the same manner, my experience with The Emmeline Papers was entirely different, if with the same ultimate effect: The title has not changed but everything else about the book has!

Part of the impetus for that change came from a book that I was asked to not only edit and design but contribute to, an anthology titled Still Me…After All These Years: 24 Writers Reflect on Aging.

I began my first draft of Emmeline the same way I began my very first novel: in a writing workshop I was leading. This time, I was teaching at Unity Santa Fe, not in my long-ago Toronto living room. And this time, I assumed that I knew what I was doing. (Never assume anything!)

Twenty-three years earlier at that Toronto workshop, I had felt guided to participate in a writing exercise that I was facilitating. The result eventually became The MoonQuest, and that evening’s writing would become an integral part of the novel.

Still Me coverWith Emmeline, I set out to begin a novel whose plot I believed I knew. Within a few weeks, however, I had trashed that opening scene and begun again, from an entirely different premise.

(This time I didn’t dare fight the title, which insisted on remaining intact. With Sara’s Year I did fight it, only to discover in the final scene of the first draft why that title was perfect!)

What happened to me that changed the Emmeline story? Author Karen Helene Walker, who had conceived and was compiling the Still Me anthology, sent me the first of its essays to edit.

Those, along with the essays and poems that followed in the ensuing weeks, moved me, inspired me, made me laugh, made me think and, in a few instances, made me cry. As a 62-year-old, I also recognized myself and my experiences, joys and concerns in many of them.

But the Still Me essays did more than that. The more I read, the more I began to think about Emmeline and her “papers” in a whole new way. It didn’t take long before I realized that the book I thought I was writing was to be something else altogether — something more engaging for its readers and, for better or worse, more emotionally and creatively challenging for its author.

The Emmeline Papers coverIronically, The Emmeline Papers is not a book about aging. All tricksters move in strange and mysterious ways, and my trickster-muse is no different. Aging is a component of Emmeline, but the story is more about many of the things that we experience regardless of our age. It’s about hopes and dreams. It’s about mortality and death. It’s about fear and courage. It’s about loss. It’s about relationship. It’s about life. It’s about many of the themes addressed — both touchingly and humorously — in Still Me…After All These Years. (And for fans of Sara’s Year and After Sara’s Year, it’s about far more than Emmeline: All your favorite characters are back for this third installment of the series.)

It will be a couple of months before you can get your hands on The Emmeline Papers (I’m aiming for a late spring release, but you can preorder your copy now). However, Still Me…After All These Years is available today and well worth the read, regardless of your age. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a contributor!

The Pink PantherAnd what about my contribution? It also links back to The Sara Stories. It’s called “It’s Never Too Late to Follow Your Dreams” and it tells the story of how I came to write Sara’s Year. A series of age-related health scares forced me to ask myself the question many of us of a certain age find ourselves asking, even without medical prompting: “If I’m to die sooner rather than later, what is it that I want to make sure I do before I go?”

It won’t surprise you (though it did surprise me!) to discover that it’s a question that also pops up in The Emmeline Papers.

As I move forward with Emmeline, I continue to be struck by the creatively tricksterish wiles of my muse and I have to wonder whether the fourth and final book in The Sara Stories (as yet untitled) will bear any resemblance to my current notion of it!

Meanwhile, The Emmeline Papers continues to unfold, thanks in some measure to the gifted and engaging contributors to Still Me…After All These Years!


Mason Canyon said...

The trickster can lead one to interesting places. So glad it lead you in the direction it did. Thanks for being a part of this tour.

MC Book Tours

Pat Garcia said...

I am looking forward to reading The Emmeline Papers. The fact that Still Me...After All These Years has effected your idea about the book and brought you back to your own premises in Birthing Your Book is in my opinion a synchronicity phenomena that helped broaden your vision.

Shalom aleichem,
Pat Garcia

Karen Walker said...

Wow. Just wow. I don't know why I am still boggled by how the universe works. I'm so glad your deciding to help and contribute to the anthology helped in some small way with your current book. Your writing always has and always will inspire me in so many ways. Thank you so much for everything you've done, including this wonderful post for the book tour.

Valerie Capps said...

Good morning! I'm stopping by on Karen's book tour. After my retirement a couple of years ago, I too realized that "It's never too late to follow your dreams." Your essay reinforced that for me. My writing follows your Rule #9 without much input from me. I used to attempt to write stories but I eventually gave up trying to tell tales by myself. After meeting my characters, I learned the process worked better (for me) if I just followed them to see where they would take me. Thank you for being such a big part of the "Still Me..." anthology. It's been a pleasure getting to know you, and the other contributors, during this process.

Mark David Gerson said...

Mason: Oh, that trickster/muse! You don't know the half of it! LOL

Mark David Gerson said...

Pat: Thanks!! Only two chapters left in Emmeline's first draft. I might even get through them today! (Of course, lots of revision work after that. But it's still a milestone!

Mark David Gerson said...

Karen: It was an honor to work with you on Still Me and, as I noted in the blog post, quite an unexpected gift!

Mark David Gerson said...

Valerie: Thanks, Valerie. There were so many great contributions to the anthology. Yours was certainly one of them!!

Karen Walker said...

Pat, you might want to think about reading Sara's Year and After Sara's Year before Emmeline. They're wonderful stories and characters I've grown to love and care about.

Mark David Gerson said...

Karen - I know that Pat has ordered After Sara's Year (although I don't know whether she's read it yet) but I'm not sure about Sara's Year. Thanks for the recommendation!

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Great post! I think a trickster is part of all our lives; the only difference lies in how we choose to react to him. I'm not sure if my muse is a trickster, but like me, she sure does like to take the scenic routes. It may take us longer to accomplish our goals, but we sure enjoy the view along the way.

Mark David Gerson said...

Susan: Thanks. And, yes, our response – to whatever – is key!