Sunday, June 25, 2017

When Storytelling is "a Matter of Death...and Life!"

"My characters are as real to me as any flesh-and-blood personage, and I am grateful to them for continuing to live out such fascinating lives and for continuing to compel me to tell their stories." 

When the first words of what would become my first novel surged out of me 23 years ago in a Toronto writing workshop that I was facilitating, I couldn't know how much my life was about to change.

Within seven months, I would sell everything I owned, buy my first car and move a thousand miles east to rural Nova Scotia. A few years after that, I would sell up again and find myself living in a new country, embarked on a journey that I could never have dreamed up in my wildest imaginings.

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises would be the one that continues to astound me: I became an award-winning author and optioned screenwriter.

The child I was would never have wanted to be a writer. The child I was didn't believe he was creative and wasn't interested in being proven wrong. The child I was didn't trust his imagination, wasn't even sure he had one.

Yet, as I chronicle in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir, my Muse had other ideas, fiendishly applying its tricksterish ways to bamboozle me onto the writerly path I have been following since the morning after that Toronto workshop, when I picked up those rough jottings, curious to see where they might lead. They led to The MoonQuest, which like all those Biblical "begats" have carried me forward to what is now my 15th book and sixth novel.

I shared a bit about the peculiar genesis of that novel, The Emmeline Papers, in my most recent newsletter. In short, it was neither a book I expected to write nor the book I thought it was going to be once I started writing it. Not for the first time, my characters had their own idea of the story they wanted from me.

6 Characters in Search of An Author posterIt's a situation that reminds me of Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author, a stage play where six strangers interrupt a theatrical rehearsal and introduce themselves as unfinished characters who are seeking an author to finish their story. Like Pirandello's, my characters are as real to me any flesh-and-blood personage and have no hesitation in hijacking my writing enterprise to demand that their story be told – their way.

I'm not complaining. Their way has consistently proven itself to be more entertaining, inspiring and captivating than mine could ever be. From a writer's perspective, their way has also been consistently more challenging.

The Emmeline Papers was no exception. Both in terms of craft and content, the story never stopped challenging me – pressing me not only to sharpen my storytelling skills but to dig deeper and deeper within myself for the not-always-comfortable emotional truths that it required and demanded. I should have expected no less from a story that, early on, gave itself the tagline "it's a matter of death...and life!"

Until now, my novels have revealed little of themselves to me in advance. I don't outline, and I generally discover the story I'm writing much the same way that you discover it as its reader: page by page and chapter by chapter. After Sara's Year, my fifth novel, was the first to divulge its ending to me early in the process.

With The Emmeline Papers, the story was considerably more forthcoming – once it had shanghaied my initial concept, that is, and replaced it with its own!

My original idea was to weave two interrelated threads: the story of the eccentric, singleminded Emmeline Mandeville and the story of how copies of her memoir happen to fall, independently, into various related characters' hands.

In The Emmeline Papers as it wrote itself through me, Emmeline spends the final months of her 93rd year reflecting on her iconoclastic past, never imagining  how profoundly her reminiscences will weave through the lives of the men and women who find themselves living in her house a decade and a half later.

If you have read my earlier Sara stories, you will recognize those men and women as Sara, Mac, Bernie, Erik and Sadie. However, you needn't have read Sara's Year or After Sara's Year to laugh and cry your way through the The Emmeline Papers. Nothing about Emmeline requires any prior knowledge of its characters or their previous exploits.

About those characters: I can't begin to tell you how grateful I am to them for continuing to live out such fascinating lives and for continuing to compel me to tell their stories – their way.

I foresee one final installment in these Sara Stories. In fact, if you promise not to tell anyone, I'll share a secret with you: I have already written the opening paragraphs of an opening chapter to this next novel. This time, I have neither title nor concept. This time, all I have is a character and a time frame. Who knows whether either will prove to be accurate!

But that's a story for another day. Today's is The Emmeline Papers, and I'm excited to be able to share it with you – especially as early reviewers have uniformly praised it as "brilliant"!

Although the book launches officially on July 9, the 20th anniversary of my arrival in the US, I am asking you to preorder your copy today. Why?
• All ebook preorders are counted as opening day sales, and it's those numbers that can propel a book to bestseller status on Amazon and other sites
• I have a limited number of paperback copies available for preorder, and I'd hate for you to miss out!

Here's what to do:
• Preorder The Emmeline Papers in ebook today from any Kindle, iBooks, Google Play or Kobo store, and get your copy delivered on July 9
• Preorder your paperback copy of The Emmeline Papers from my website and there's a good chance that you will be reading your signed copy before it's available for general release!

One final note: Just as I am fussy about my first name (it’s "Mark David," not "Mark" or "David"), Emmeline is particular about hers. Emmeline pronounces it so that it rhymes with mine not with mean.

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