Mark David Gerson is the award-winning author of more than a dozen books, including the popular Q’ntana Trilogy of fantasy novels, two critically acclaimed books on writing and a memoir. His screenplay adaptations of the three Q’ntana books are on their way to the big screen as a trio of epic motion pictures and he is currently adapting the Q’ntana stories for the musical stage.
Author page on Amazon
What motivates you to write and how did you get started?
I like to joke that my muse tricked me into writing and, in a sense, that’s true. In public school and through most of university, I did everything I could to avoid anything creative, including writing. I opted for math and science courses and steered clear of any non-mandatory courses that involved self-expression. But my muse had other plans, as I write about in considerable more detail in my memoir, Acts of Surrender: A Writer’s Memoir. Starting in my final years of high school, when I was somehow pushed into taking on responsibility for the publicity for two musical theater productions (and had, of course, to write press releases and other promotional material) and carrying on through my first two post-college jobs (in public relations), I was slowly, subtly and unconsciously transformed into the writer I never thought I wanted to be. When I quit that second job after five years, it was to freelance full-time as a self-taught writer and editor. Still, it would take another dozen years before I moved from a teller of others’ stories as a newspaper, magazine, government and corporate writer to a teller of my own stories, as a novelist. What I have discovered in the interim is that I can’t not write. I can’t not write any more than I can’t not breathe. I have no need of external motivation. It’s a call I can’t ignore (even on those days when I might prefer to). And it’s a call that I know is heard by others, which is why I titled my second book, The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write.
What’s most rewarding about writing?
I have two complementary answers to that question. First, writing from a place of total surrender to the work opens me to parts of myself and parts of the world that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to touch. While that’s not always a comfortable journey, it’s always a transformational one and it’s always rewarding. Second, it’s rewarding to know that the work I produce from that way of creating inspires others to do likewise.
What’s your favorite genre and why?
It’s not so much that I have a favorite genre. It’s more that I am drawn to a particular kind of story, regardless of genre — be it in a book, on a stage or in a movie theater: stories that are life-affirming, stories that offer hope, stories that empower, stories that inspire. Those are the kinds of stories I seek to create as well as consume.
Where do your characters come from?
My characters don’t have to “come” from anywhere because, in a sense, they already exist. These are not fictional characters I’m writing about. To me, they are real people — as real as I am. My job as writer is to be their chronicler and biographer, listening for their voices and their stories and setting those to the page for others to read.
Who is an author who inspires you and why?
It’s difficult to single out any one author as an inspiration. But if I must, it would be Madeleine L’Engle. L’Engle is best known for her young adult Wrinkle in Time books, which I didn’t discover until I was in my early 30s — during a time for me of powerful spiritual and creative awakening. But Madeleine L’Engle also wrote several novels for adults, as well as a series of memoirs. All Madeleine L’Engle’s books and stories are infused with the qualities I referred to in my earlier answer: They are life-affirming, empowering, inspirational and hopeful. It’s those qualities — in both L’Engle’s books and her life — that continue to inspire me, not only in my books and my life, but in the ways I teach and coach.
What are you writing now?
For the first time in my writing life, I’m working on multiple projects at one time. I’m partway through my third book for writers, a book on memoir-writing, which I hope will be out later this spring — From Memory to Memoir: Writing the Stories of Your Life. I’m also putting together my second recording of guided meditations for writers, The Storyteller’s Companion. As well, I’m working on stage-musical adaptations of my Q’ntana Trilogy of fantasy stories, The MoonQuest, The StarQuest and The SunQuest.
What kind of book would you like to be known for?
Be it through my novels, screenplays, stage plays, memoir or books for writers, I would hope to be known for work that inspires, motivates and empowers, for work that encourages people to reignite their passion and creative potential, for work that gives people the courage to believe in themselves and in their creative power.
What has writing taught you about yourself?
My answer to this question is very much linked to my answer to your previous question. That’s because I would wish for my writing to do all the things for others that it continues to do for me. Writing has rekindled a passion for creativity buried so deeply that I didn’t even know it was there. Writing has taught me to believe in my creative potential. Writing has taught me to believe in myself.
How has your life experience influenced your writing?
I would like to answer this question with a story. Again, I tell this story in more detail in Acts of Surrender, but here’s the capsule version…
It was March 28, 1994 and I was leading a writing workshop in Toronto. After I guided participants into a writing exercise, a little voice — the voice of my muse — urged me to do the same exercise myself. I never write during a class I’m teaching, but the call that evening was so insistent that I didn’t dare ignore it. What came out of me in the next twenty minutes would be the opening scene of the first draft of a novel I knew nothing about, a novel that would reveal itself to me in the months of writing ahead as The MoonQuest. I wrote that first draft in the third person, thinking it was just a story — a story that spoke to me powerfully…but still just a story. Then, a few days before I completed that first draft, I woke up knowing that when it was time to write The MoonQuest’s second draft, I would have to do it in the first person. I also knew why: This fantasy tale set in a make-believe place and in a mythical time where stories were banned and storytellers put to death was my story. Yes, it was told through the metaphor of fantasy, but it was still a very personal story. I knew, too, that I would have to own it and own that fact about it if I were to give it the life it deserved. In one way or another, all my subsequent books have also been distillations of my life experiences.
I spent most of my youth and early adult years being creatively blocked. It took a lot courage and some outside help to free me of those blocks. It also took The MoonQuest. Yet, as painful and challenging as those blocks were, they would ultimately feed all my work in the years ahead: all my writing as well as all my teaching. In short, there is no way to separate my creative life from the rest of my life, which is why the 13 “rules” for writing that I include in some of my books are almost identical to the 13 “rules” for living that I have also written about. Why do I put “rules” in quotation marks? Because the first rule in both cases is that there are no rules…not in creativity and not in life!
What encouraging advice can you offer new writers?
This is advice for all writers, not just new writers: Trust your story and trust that your story knows itself better than you do…than you ever will. Trust, too, the chaos of creativity and the magic of creativity. Trust your own creative process. Trust your intuition. Trust yourself.