"It's a matter of death...and life!" When Emmeline Mandeville spends the final months of her 93rd year reflecting on her eccentric, iconoclastic past, she can't know 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.
We all make the occasional choice that we later later regret. But what if it wasn't a "wrong choice"? What if there's no such thing as a "wrong choice"? Sarah and Sadie can't answer those questions with any more certainty than you or I can. But I do know that in my own life, every seemingly wrong turn has, in the end, had some rightness about it. It may not be immediately apparent. But when I look for it, it’s always there. Given Sadie’s history of poor choices (even more of them are chronicled in “After Sara’s Year”), it was hard for the author in me to imagine how there could be any rightness about them as I began “The Emmeline Papers.” Yet, no one was more amazed than I was to discover that there was! I love creative surprises like that, which is why I avoid outlines. I’d much rather discover the story and its characters the same way you do: from page to page!
Like Emmeline, I also prefer to launch each new year – both my birth year and the calendar year – by inaugurating a new project or by spending part of the day as I would choose to be spending the year ahead. If in The Emmeline Papers, the title character finds herself launched, somewhat grudgingly, into writing, I'm a more willing author. So it should come as no surprise that I generally choose to spend part of both my birthday and New Year's Day on a book or other writing project, with a little help from some celebratory bubbly. After all, one is never too old, or young, for champagne!
It's easy, as we age, to spend more time looking backward than looking forward. After all, once we move into and past middle age, the odds are fairly good that we have more years behind us than will have ahead of us. Even at 92, however, Emmeline Mandeville is more focused on the present than on the past, more interested in living out whatever time she has left than on concerning herself with an illusory afterlife. "Whatever fixed time remains to me is as precious as all the years that have preceded it, and I am determined to live it out as uncompromisingly as this decaying body will allow." I'm not 92, and my body is not decaying – at least not any more quickly than any other 63-year-old's. But Emmeline's attitudes toward life and living were a powerful gift as she revealed herself to me on the pages of this book, inspiring me to do my best to live as uncompromisingly as she did. I definitely want to be Emmeline when I grow up!
That's 90s as in age, not as in the 1990s, and the nonagenarian in this first-person excerpt is the feisty, eccentrically iconoclastic Emmeline Mandeville, who is as unashamedly sexual at 92 as she was at 19, back in the final years of Victoria's reign. Emmeline was a minor character in my novel After Sara's Year, but she was pushy enough that she wasn't shy about demanding a book of her own! If the Emmeline Papers is not all about her, her frank and touching musings on life and aging frame the story of the friends and lovers who find themselves living in her London townhouse 14 years after her death. Even if no author (like no parent) should ever declare a favorite offspring, I have to confess that Emmeline is one of mine!
Art plays a key role in all my Sara Stories novels. Three of the main characters in Sara's Year, After Sara's Year and The Emmeline Papers are artists, and in each of the books, one well-known real-life artist is a powerful inspiration to at least one of the protagonists. In Sara's Year, it's Montreal's Anne Savage, herself a character in the story. In After Sara's Year, it's Quebec's Paul-Émile Borduas. And in The Emmeline Papers, it's Holocaust survivor Naomi Blake. In one of the serendipitous acts of synchronicity that occurred so often while writing each of the Sara books, I discovered that "View," the sculpture commissioned from Blake for the Queen's Silver Jubilee, sat in London's Fitzroy Square only after I placed much of Emmeline's action in a house just off the square!
Marc-Allan Cameron hasn't felt alive in thirty years. For Sadie Finkel, it's been more than fifty. When life comes knocking, will they let it in? ––– A spellbinding addition to the award-winning Sara Stories
Cemeteries play a pivotal role in all of my Sara Stories novels. Both Sara's Year and After Sara's Year begin and end in a graveyard, and The Emmeline Papers opens with a death. But that doesn't make any of these stories morbid or depressing. Quite the reverse: Although death shows up in all three novels, each story is a powerful affirmation of the good that can flow from adversity, perhaps no more so than in After Sara's Year, where Sadie experiences an unexpected and profound transformation...in spite of herself. And it all starts in a cemetery.
Mac may be a fictional creation, but both Anne Savage and Paul-Émile Borduas were real artists based in Montreal, where much of the novel takes place. Savage, in fact, taught high school art to my mother and her “The Plough” hangs where I placed it, as does “Abstraction verte”: in The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Still, my Savage and Borduas characters are as imagined as my Mac character is, even I as did my best to portray them as accurately as my research made possible and as the story would allow. “As the story would allow” is an important qualification. I’m writing fiction, so my “real-life” characters exist to serve my story, not the other way around. Including historical characters in a work of fiction is a delicate balance. Even as you need them to move your story forward and, perhaps, to give it added verisimilitude, you owe it to them to be true to who they were. I believe you also owe it to your readers to indicate where you have strayed from recorded history, which is why my Sara Stories include an “author’s note” that separates fiction from fact. In this excerpt, for example, all Borduas’ quotes are real; the context is imagined. But I needed him in Halifax, so that’s where I put him!
When I wrote Sara's Year, the first book of what is now The Sara Stories, there were no "Sara Stories." As far as I was concerned, my tale of Esther, Sarah, Mac and Bernie was a one-off. The book had come to a satisfactory conclusion and I had no plans to spend any more time with those characters. Then I released Sara's Year and started hearing from readers. That they all loved the book was gratifying. That they wanted more was startling. My first response was "no way." But then the Sara's Year characters I thought I was done with started haunting me, teasing me with more bits of their story. And After Sara's Year was born!
Esther and Sarah share a single passion: to be the best they can be – on an epic scale. That's easier dreamed than done in Jewish Montreal on the eve of World War II. Fifty years later when death takes Esther, her son and her old friend must each decide whether Esther's abandoned dreams will defeat them or spur them on to triumphs of their own.
I never imagined, when writing Sara's Year, the profound impact the story would have on readers. Yet not long after the book came out, I received a message on Facebook from a woman in her early 70s. "The minute I finished Sara's Year," she wrote, "I went and signed up for an art course. It's something I've always dreamt of doing but never did. Your book made me realize it's not too late. I can't wait for the first class!” I've heard similar stories from other readers, readers of all ages who were so inspired that, like Sara, they rekindled long-ago dreams they believed to have been lost for all time or, like Bernie, they discovered dreams they never knew they had. As an author, I couldn’t ask for more gratifying validation than that!
Frank Littleton's experience with Sarah in his 1930s English class is one I encounter often as a writing coach: Our orderly brains always want to start every project at the beginning and work methodically toward the end. Creativity is rarely that orderly. If the writer is lucky, the beginning shows up right where it ought to: in the opening sentence of our story. Sometimes, however, it shows up later. Much later. Sometimes, it doesn't show up until the end! I was lucky with Sara's Year, luckier than my fictional Sara(h): I knew what the book's opening scene would be before I started. Yet that hasn't always been the case. With The Emmeline Papers, third book in my Sara Stories series, no opening I tried felt right...and I tried a bunch. In the end, I started the story elsewhere and found my beginning sometime later. With The MoonQuest, the opening scene of my first draft turned out to not be the opening scene of the ultimate book. With The Way of the Fool, I intentionally began somewhere in the middle because that's the part that came to me first. Frank Littleton was right: Books start for the writer wherever it is they start!
Anne Savage and her 1935 painting, "Quebec Farm," play pivotal roles in Sara's Year over the story's 50-year timespan. While my Anne Savage is fictionalized, the real-life Anne Savage was a well-known Montreal artist and educator, who just happened to have taught my mother! Curious about Savage and her painting? Visit the Sara's Year Pinterest board at www.pinterest.com/sarasyear.
When I found myself in the midst of a health scare last year, one of the questions I had to ask myself was, "If I’m going to die sooner rather than later, what do I want to be sure I do before I go?" To my surprise, the answer was "write another novel." Although I had a vague idea for an opening scene, what emerged in that first day’s writing stunned me. I didn't expect Bernie to be a principal character (he is) and I never expected him to walk out on his mother's funeral, which he does in this opening-scene excerpt. That surprise was the first of many as Sara's Year poured out of me with a speed and clarity I had rarely before experienced in my writing, each surprise leaving me more in awe than the last. While there were too many surprises to chronicle here, I will share one: Although I knew the book’s title that first day, when I wrote the opening scene in a Santa Monica Starbucks, it made no sense to me. It continued to baffle me through the entire first draft…until the final scene emerged. Only then did I understand why it was “Sara’s Year.” Why? For that you’ll have to read the book!
Learn practical, fun techniques guaranteed to get your stories on paper. Weave worlds of wonder beyond your conscious imagining. Discover how to write naturally, eloquently and without struggle. Whether you’re a seasoned writer or just starting out, whatever your genre or form, The Voice of the Muse will deepen your creative experience and awaken you to new skills, new stories and a renewed confidence in your innate gifts. You'll never feel the same about writing again! ••• Two-time award-winner.
All my books for writers include a set of so-called "rules" for writers. And although they vary from title to title depending on the book's theme, they all share the same first and final rule: There are no rules. After all, creativity is about innovation, about blazing new trails and breaking new ground. So how can there be rules? I grew up surrounded by shoulds and musts, imposed directly by teachers and indirectly by family and societal expectations. The result? A creative blockage that didn't really unjam until my 30s. It was from that experience that this and all my "rules" evolved. Whatever you're writing, whenever you're writing it, listen for the book (or short story or poem or screenplay or stage play or essay) that demands to be written. Then write as *it* demands to be written, not according to anyone else's rules or strictures.
When people ask me why I write, the only answer I can come up with is, “because I can’t not.” It may sound flippant, but it’s true. As much as I love all the books I’ve written (don’t ask me my favorite!), the act of writing does far more for me than the finished product ever could. Dorothy Parker is reputed to have said, “I hate writing; I love having written,” and I understand where she was coming from. Writing can be hard work. Not coming up with the stories or finding the right words. (I show how easy all that can be in this book.) What can be challenging is the personal transformation that is always part of the process when you write from the deepest places within you, when you write from your authenticity, when you write from the heart. When you do all that, you don’t write what you know; you write to discover what you know. And that can be as emotionally challenging as it is creatively satisfying. But here’s what I know about my call to write: The sentences I write are the seams that hold me together. Perhaps, that’s the real reason I write. Perhaps, in the end, it’s the only reason. What’s yours?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines discipline as "the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience." And most books, workshops and teachers seem to subscribe to that definition, insisting that the only way to get a book or screenplay finished is by adopting an ironclad, “butt-in-the-chair” routine that churns out a certain number of words, pages or scenes per day, preferably at the same time period each day. If that works for you, great. It has never worked for me. To date, I have 17 published books and three optioned screenplays, and I have written all of them with the "heart discipline" I describe in the excerpt. It’s the same approach I encourage my clients to adopt when I work with them as their writing coach. Instead of insisting that they set ambitious goals, I urge them to set super-easy goals. You see, the easier your goals, the more likely you are to attain them, the better you will feel about yourself and about writing, and the more you will write. It’s a setup for success, not failure, and it’s all about “heart discipline.”
One of my favorite revision tools is also the simplest: reading aloud. Reading aloud forces me to slow down, to pay closer attention, to really listen — to the rhythm of my sentences, the music of my language, the logic of my narrative. In a way that silent reading rarely accomplishes as effectively, reading aloud identifies those places where I haven’t used quite the right word, have overused a word, have left out a word, have misspelled a word or have transposed words. Reading aloud can even help with punctuation, showing me where I need commas, have misplaced commas or have inserted too many commas, or where I have mistakenly omitted other key punctuation, such as periods and quotation marks. Most importantly, perhaps, when I’m able to read aloud intuitively and from a place of deep connection with my story (fiction or nonfiction), it alerts me to where something just doesn’t feel right, even if I can’t immediately identify what that “something” is. Perhaps reading aloud works so well because it takes us back not only to childhood bedtime stories but to that deep storytelling past we all carry as part of our emotional DNA. In fact it’s such a powerful tool that I often read aloud as I’m writing, which can get me some pretty strange looks in cafes!
There's a lot more about the Muse Stream in this and all my books for writers. But in short, as the excerpt suggests, writing on the Muse Stream is writing without stopping – for any reason. By keeping your pen moving across the page or your fingers dancing across the keyboard, you not only banish your inner critic but you travel beyond your conscious imagining into those realms of magic and wonder where the heart of your creativity resides. I have written all my books, screenplays and stage plays on the Muse Stream, so I know it works! The Muse Stream also forms the foundation of all my books for writers, not to mention all my classes and workshop. Why do I call it "Muse Stream"? Because I believe that when we surrender to our Muse, creativity pours through us as effortlessly as water in a free-flowing stream.
I don't know about you, but what I write never seems to be more than a pale, imperfect rendering of what I imagine. Even after so many books, I still find it frustrating! That's why I keep turning back to this chapter in The Voice of the Muse. It reminds me that however magnificent our language is, words can only ever approximate the infinite sweep of the imagination. It also reminds me that my job is not to be perfect but to let the imperfection of language give readers the space to have their own imaginative journey. If the perfectionist in me isn't happy about this, the creator in me knows that perfectionism serves neither me nor my readers.
A book of profound and transformative inspiration celebrated by readers around the world. This is a book you will return to again and again, each reading propelling you forward on your journey of self-mastery as it awakens you to deeper levels within yourself and to a deeper understanding of the world in these times.
We live in a divisive time, a time when wars are fought not only with arms on the battlefield and with weapons in our cities but are propagated around the world on the internet with words spoken in fear, mistrust, anger and resentment. Yet if it is true that nothing can exist outside us that doesn't already exist within us, then all the violence in action and word that we experience in our world exists in some measure inside us. And if it is true that our outer world is nothing but an expression of our inner one, then the only way to bring peace the outer one has to be to find that peace within us. As it states elsewhere in The Book of Messages, "You ask how to bring about peace? Begin by bringing peace to your own heart." That is as challenging some days for me as I know it must be for you, but true, lasting peace must always begin within. It is the only way.
I never wanted to be a writer. In fact, I never thought I was creative. Yet here I am, author of nearly two dozen books, creator of four screenplays and someone who helps people around the world as a coach and workshop facilitator to awaken, access, experience and express their creativity. I share that not to brag about my accomplishments but because, at least in my life, those accomplishments are eloquent proof of the truth of this excerpt: Where I was most self-conscious for so many years turned out to be my greatest gift, not only to myself but to others. Of course, if my creativity is no longer what I'm most self-conscious, this message reminds me that something else is! So it's once again time for me to do what this message urges: peer into the dark closest of my reluctance and the clammy cellars of my fear and own the power I am reluctant to acknowledge.
Like the main character in my first novel, The MoonQuest, I have spent much of my life in fear. The difference between who I was before my mid-thirties, when I experienced a life-changing spiritual and creative awakening, and who I am today is that I no longer let fear paralyze me. How? By no longer giving in to it...by moving forward in spite of it. That doesn't mean that I treat fear as my enemy. Rather, I do my (imperfect) best to treat it as an old friend who is determined to protect me from danger and I ask it to learn new ways to keep me safe...ways that speak to who I am now instead of to who I was when I needed protection in the past. It's that practice that has freed me into a life filled with more gifts than I could enumerate here, including the gift of this book.
It can be hard to see ourselves as others see us, to see for ourselves the light we radiate and the strength and courage we project. I know that it's difficult for me some days to not only acknowledge praise but to see myself as worthy of that praise. It's so much easier to cower in the face of criticism than to accept myself as brilliant, radiant, powerful and empowered. Yet that's who I am and that's who you are. And it's time to embrace it – for ourselves, for each other and for the world.
So many of the writers and other creative artists I work with as a coach and workshop facilitator come to me because they're blocked. Some don't believe they're creative. Others don't believe they're creative enough. Still others have let some person or experience stifle them. I, too, know what it's like to be silenced: From my early childhood until my early 30s, my creative expression was also shut down. Even now, after 11 books and 3 screenplays, those primal fears sometimes reemerge. When they do, words like those in this excerpt end up being as much for me as they are for you!
Get the stories of your life onto the page today! Share your wisdom naturally, spontaneously and without struggle. Craft rich, compelling stories regardless of writing experience or perceived ability. Engage, entertain and inspire with eloquence, confidence and ease. Whoever you are, whatever your experiences, whatever your perceived writing ability, From Memory to Memoir will connect you not only with the stories you remember but with the stories you have forgotten. 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.
In Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film "Rashomon," a violent crime is experienced by four individuals: a “perpetrator,” his two “victims” and an “objective” witness. As the film progresses, each character describes what happened, and it’s not long before we discover that each description contradicts the others. It’s not possible for any two versions to be true, let alone all four. Which is accurate? When it comes to memoir-writing, it doesn’t matter. My sister and I grew up in the same house, yet we each described conflicting versions of the same incidents, convinced that ours is the accurate one. My mother would have had her own take on those same situations, just as my daughter will recall some of our experiences differently than I do, and her mother’s version will be different still. All we can do when writing a memoir is to be as honest as we can and free others to tell their own versions of the same story if they choose. As with Rashomon, some of those accounts will contradict the others — and that’s just fine!
One of the things I’ve discovered through my decades as an author is that every book is its own entity, independent of the writer. Every book has its own vision for itself, independent of the writer. Every book has its own imperative, independent of the writer. We writers exist solely to translate the energy of that vision and imperative onto the page, to take what is invisible to the naked eye and make it manifest. When I began my “Acts of Surrender” memoir, for example, I had no theme and no title. All I had was a powerful call to write a memoir and a chaotic mishmash of unrelated stories. But if I’ve learned anything through my creative life, it’s that the story knows best. Always. And that’s just as true with memoir as it is with fiction. I’ve learned too that if I start writing, the story will show itself to me, in the writing of it…which is what happened with Acts of Surrender: As I wrote, I discovered themes in my life I hadn’t known were there. And as I surrendered to the experience, the chaos dissolved and the book’s perfect form, shape, structure and title emerged, as if by magic. I may have owned my story, but my memoir clearly owned the book!
My memoir (Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir) contains quite a few stories with the potential to embarrass or annoy. And while I was writing and revising it, I had to keep asking myself whether those particular stories belonged in the book and what the implications might be of including them. In the end, though, I had to follow my own "rules" and trust my intuition to know which stories supported the book's themes and needed to stay, which stories might be too hurtful and could have names changed and which stories were superfluous and had to go. The result? Minimal blowback: One old friend was deeply hurt about something I wrote but, in the end, understood why that story was important to the narrative. And the book has received terrific reviews and reader feedback, largely because of my openness and honesty. Your readers want you to be truthful and vulnerable. That's what they're looking for when they pick up your book!
I often hear that question in memoir-writing workshops and it's one I always answer with some version of this excerpt from From Memory to Memoir. Then one day at the end of one of those workshops, a little voice whispered, "It's time to write your memoir." And before I could stop myself, I found myself asking that same question! It's true that we teach what we need to learn. It's also true that we teach what we need to remember. And I needed to remember my own oft-repeated words! So I wrote my memoir (Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir), and then I wrote this book – for you, of course...but also for me!
The Deeply Personal Becomes Profoundly Universal in This Inspiring Journey from Fear to Fearlessness. *** Who is the Divine? It is that still, small voice that is not at all small. It is the soul-fired passion that lives in your heart. It is your Wisest Self. Let Mark David Gerson’s compelling inner odyssey inspire your own. *** Includes a guide to launching a conversation with your Wisest Self
I have never been able to compartmentalize my life the way so much of the world seems to demand. You know: Monday through Friday for work and weekends for “living.” From the moment I surrendered to it in my early 30s, my passion for creativity has pretty much defined my life. That’s probably why I have spent most of the years since working from home and being self-employed, doing my (imperfect) best to trust that my unconditional surrender to the expression of my heart’s desire will support me, which it has…if not always comfortably or conventionally. For all that my books cross genres and appear to be wildly dissimilar, they are really all the same: Whatever its topic or story, each of my books has as its core theme that unconditional surrender to the passion of creation. How could it not when that is how I do my best (also imperfectly!) to live my life.
Opportunities for growth arise out of every breath when we are open to them. Often they arise most clearly when we step into the stillness. For me, this place of stillness was a sparsely furnished one-bedroom flat in Penetanguishene, Ontario, across the road from the spirit-filled waters of Lake Huron's Georgian Bay. It was there, in 1997, that the unexpected journalings that would ultimately coalesce into Dialogues with the Divine began to take shape. The winter of that unintended retreat and the writings that emerged from it would turn out to be profoundly transformational, inspiring me to push through and past many of the deeply rooted fears that we all share, among them the fear of my own light and power. When I left Penetang seven months later, I found myself launched on a roller coaster of an adventure that I could never have planned or predicted...an adventure that would not have been possible without these "Dialogues."
The books we don't expect to write can show up for us in any moment that we are open to them. Often, like our opportunities for growth, they arise most clearly when we step into the stillness. For me, an opportunity for both growth and new creation arose most powerfully and unexpectedly in the fall of 1997 in a sparsely furnished one-bedroom flat just outside Penetanguishene, across the road from the spirit-filled waters of Ontario's Georgian Bay. That's where this book I didn't know I would write happened to me...
The 'dialogues' in this book emerged from the silence and solitude of a frozen winter's retreat 100 miles north of Toronto. I was in Penetanguishene for many reasons; one of them, to write a fourth draft of my novel, The MoonQuest. On this particular afternoon, I found myself stuck, unwilling to follow the very advice I had by then been teaching for a few years: to abandon control, get out of the way and let the story tell itself through me.
When Q’ntana’s first Elderbard dies, he cannot know that he will be called back from the stars centuries later to challenge the fallen Dreamwalker whose evil has terrorized the land for generations. As the two bitter rivals face off in a battle of wits and wills that only one can survive, whose vision will triumph? *** Part III of an epic, time-twisting fantasy series spanning three generations and hundreds of years, as one nightmare villain pursues eternal dominion over a brutalized land and its people.
The hero of The SunQuest was something of an enigma to me. What does it mean to be reincarnated into the same name, the same body and, in a sense, the same biography? And what does it mean to live "once at the beginning of time and once again at its endpoint"? I had no answers to those questions when I wrote those words for The SunQuest's preface, excerpted here. Yet, one of the joys of writing without planning, plotting or outlining is that I discover the story and its characters the same way you do: from word to word and scene to scene. Having Ben's story revealed to me as I wrote The SunQuest was particularly fulfilling, as it not only brought to completion the cycle of my Q'ntana Trilogy stories, it did so in a way I could never have imagined when I was penning The MoonQuest, the first in the series. For me, that's one of the things that makes writing fiction so rewarding!
I know I didn't...at least not until it happened to me. It's no coincidence, of course, that it happens similarly for Ben, whose fictional story closely resembles my true one. Not surprisingly, there are also parallels between my story and My'leen's. If for My'leen the potential stumbling block is an age differences, for me it was something more fundamental: For the previous two decades, I had self-identified as a gay man. Suddenly, to my amazement, I had fallen in love (at first sight) with a woman! Yet what Ben points out to My'leen was as true for me as it is for her. "Love matters," he insists." Only love."
So much about the Q'ntana stories mirrors my own life and journey – metaphorically, of course, as I have never lived in a land with two suns, nor have I ever embarked on a Moon-, Star- or SunQuest. A truth in my life that transcends metaphor, however, is how little I know in each moment...and how much better it is for me that way, despite the inevitable frustration. That was certainly true of these Q'ntana stories, which birthed innocently in a writing class I was teaching and then went on to consume the next 20 years of my life. Like Ben in this excerpt, had I understood the full import of those first Q'ntana words, I might have let that knowledge interfere with the unfolding of The MoonQuest, The StarQuest and the SunQuest, a trio of stories that continues to bless me in so many ways.
Travel back in time to the Q'ntana before The MoonQuest. Here, despite the yoke of a ruthless brutality, a legend will not die…of the Heart of the Star and of the Fair One who will rekindle it to return peace to the land. ••• Part II of an epic, time-twisting fantasy series spanning three generations and hundreds of years, as one nightmare villain pursues eternal dominion over a brutalized land and its people.
I had lots of fun creating Tom Dirqs or, rather, letting him reveal himself to me. My characters, you see, are real people. At least they are to me! I simply close my eyes and let them materialize. Sometimes, they show up fully formed. Other times, it takes a while longer before I'm able to get a clear picture. Although Tom Dirqs fell into the latter category, one thing was clear from the outset: He would not be Tom; he was Tom Dirqs. "A full package," as he exclaims to Q'nta. I'm a full package too: My first name isn't Mark; it's Mark David. You might think I named Tom Dirqs as some sort of statement about my own compound name. You'd be wrong. I don't name my characters any more than I create them. They are who they are. "It's not Tom Dirqs I want to be," he insisted to me when he first showed up on the page. "It's Tom Dirqs I be." I loved him for that because it's the same for me: It's not Mark David I want to be; it's Mark David I be!
I didn't know Q'nta's story any more than Q'nta (in her amnesia) knew her own when I began writing The StarQuest. Even though The StarQuest follows The MoonQuest in my Q'ntana fantasy trilogy, its plot is largely independent of its predecessor's, and the story so challenged me that I started the first draft three times over 11 years before finally finding my way to the end. Despite my many false starts, though, every draft of The StarQuest began with this scene, so symbolic of the way I write: moment-by-moment, word-by-word, freeing the to story reveal itself to me in the writing of it the same way it reveals itself to you in the reading of it!
"This place" is The Coil, a serpentine tunnel that The StarQuest's three protagonists must travel in order to successfully complete their quest. I didn't know what Q'nta's greatest fear would be when she stepped into The Coil. When I found out, I was as stunned as she was, as I saw that Q'nta's nightmare was also mine. Like Q'nta's, my stories are the blood and air that course through me; without them, I would be barely alive. Perhaps that's why the power of storytelling is such a potent and persistent theme for me – not only in The Q'ntana Trilogy books but in all my books.
Turning his back on king and family, a reluctant Toshar must embark on a perilous, uncharted journey to restore hope to a savaged land and light to its darkened moon. A gripping and epic adventure rich with universal truth. •••Part I of an epic, time-twisting fantasy series spanning three generations and hundreds of years, as one nightmare villain pursues eternal dominion over a brutalized land and its people.
It’s March 28, 1994. I’m teaching a writing class this evening and I need to come up with some ideas. I settle into my favorite armchair and shut my eyes in meditation, but when I open them a while later, I still have no compelling program. Then my eyes light on "The Celtic Tarot." It's been sitting across the room for several days, ever since I brought it home from a Toronto bookstore, where it so seduced me that I couldn’t not buy it, even as I failed to understand the impulse. Now I do. I’ll have each student draw, closed-eyed, one of the deck’s cards. Then with their eyes open to the chosen card, I’ll lead them through a guided visualization into writing. I never write in workshops I’m teaching, but this class would be different. Once my students are writing, an inner imperative insists I draw a card of my own. I reach into the deck, pull the Chariot and, without full awareness of what I’m doing, begin to write. A year later in rural Nova Scotia, on the anniversary of that Toronto class, I complete the first draft of my first book — a novel I never planned to write, a novel I knew nothing about except as I wrote it word-by-word: "The MoonQuest."
I didn't realize, as I was letting the first draft of The MoonQuest pour through me, that I was writing a metaphorical memoir...that Toshar, this young man who discovers the power of storytelling and the potency of his own voice, was me and that I was doing it through this, my first attempt at novel-writing. As if that weren’t astounding enough, I later discovered that I had also been writing my first book for writers – also in metaphor and equally unwittingly. Toshar’s astonished description of how the story found him could have been mine, about how The MoonQuest (a story I never planned to tell) found me. It could also serve as the philosophical foundation of everything I have written, coached and taught about writing ever since, which, in the end, always distills down to these four words: “The story knows best!”
There is no halfway in between when it comes to trust, insists M'nor (the moon) in The MoonQuest. "You either trust or you do not," she says. If I had to distill a single theme from all the seemingly disparate books I have written, this would be it. Even after the phrase showed up again in The StarQuest and The SunQuest, I didn't realize just how deeply that pattern threaded not only through my writing but through my life. It was when I was writing my memoir that I finally got it. It was in that moment that I also knew the memoir's title. What could be more appropriate for a book chronicling a life of trust than "Acts of Surrender"!
What do you do when you’re invited to dine with cannibals? That’s Yhoshi’s dilemma in an early scene in The MoonQuest. Do you eat what your hosts are eating? And if you don’t, do you risk finding yourself working up a sweat in one of those man-size cauldrons? The good news, as Yhoshi soon discovers, is that even though his Tena’aa hosts want everyone to fear them as vicious man-eaters, they are vegetarian…and gentle. They’re also terrible teases. I had lots of fun with that scene, not only because Yhoshi needed a good prick to his ego. But when you’re fashioning a hitherto-unknown world from scratch, everything is made-up…including the food! And that’s great fodder for the imagination.
When I began work on The MoonQuest's second draft, I was living in rural Nova Scotia, renting a cozy apartment in Ron and Carole MacInnis's converted farmhouse. Halfway through that summer, Ron rescued two orphaned baby raccoons. He set up a bed for them in a kitchen corner and bottle-fed them as conscientiously as any mother would. As they gained confidence and started to wander around the property, they would often jump up on my lap while I was sitting outside writing. Sometimes, they slept. Other times, they scooched up my arm, kneading and sucking on my skin while making contented nursing sounds. As they sucked and I wrote, the dog of my first MoonQuest draft became Nya the k’nrah of my second!
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Back when I was growing up, I remember always being urged to be conscious of my missteps but rarely pressed to pay more than glancing attention to my achievements. It’s not that I was taught to belittle my successes. But I was rarely encouraged to celebrate them. The emphasis always seemed to be on what was missing, what was broken, what was lost. Hardly ever was it on what was present, what worked, what was gained. Maybe it’s human nature to dwell on what we haven’t accomplished and to ignore or belittle our achievements. Or maybe it’s education and socialization. Regardless, my decades as a creativity and life coach have shown me that most of us share some version of my early experiences. As a result, we spend much more of our time and energy on our perceived failures and missteps than we do on our successes. That practice is not only counterintuitive, it’s counterproductive. That’s because, as the maxim says, “energy flows where attention goes.” In other words, the more we focus on our success, the more success we experience. It stands to reason, then, that the most effective way to attract the success we desire is to focus on the successes we are already experiencing...to not only acknowledge them but celebrate them…to celebrate ourselves!
Billionaire businessman and visionary Sir Richard Branson can often be heard encouraging budding entrepreneurs to “celebrate all the little wins” as one way to foster a sense of accomplishment. That's important advice for anyone seeking to be more successful. That’s why Step #11 in The Way of the Imperfect Fool is all about getting you to not only pay attention to your achievements, even the smallest ones, but reward yourself for them!
One of the most enjoyable things about writing this book was researching real-life stories to illustrate each of the 12½ steps on The Way of the Imperfect Fool. I scored a double-header with Bill Gates: He took a huge risk when he dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft, which made him the perfect poster boy for Step #5. But he's also a great example of Step #1 (Break the Rules), given then he rarely attended his Harvard classes!
If The Way of the Imperfect Fool is about anything, it's about intuition – listening for it, trusting it and following it...even when it makes no conventional sense. It's that innate faith in his intuition that not only guides the tarot Fool whose archetype lies at the foundation of this book but also guided me in its creation: When I started out, I had nothing but a title, a sense of my own perfectionist tendencies and a certainty that those same tendencies had often gotten in the way of my success. From that starting point, I turned the project over to my inner Fool and let my intuition do the rest! (If the Getty curators had done something similar, perhaps they wouldn't have dropped a reported $12 million on what is widely believed to be a fake!)
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I have experienced many crises of faith over the years but few as intense as the one that washed over me during a 2018 MRI: By the time I left the hospital, I was viewing every life choice I had ever made as a terrible mistake. It took a dream three days later to jar me out of it. And I didn’t even remember the dream until I glanced at the clock in my car the next morning and noticed that it was 11:11. In the dream it’s 11:11 on November 11, Remembrance Day in my native Canada, and I suddenly remember that I forgot to pause for the traditional moment of silent remembrance. The dream, I realized in that moment, was a call to remember who I am: not the Mark David Gerson who was flailing in despair, but a powerful being of light, a courageous journeyer traveling the Way of the Fool.
In 2010 I made one of the toughest choices I’d ever made: I decided it was time to make the move to Los Angeles that I had been contemplating for several years. The only problem was that the surer I felt about LA, the more my Albuquerque life shut down. Book sales dried up and coaching clients wrapped up their work with me. In fact, no money at all was coming in. How would I finance a move to California? I felt paralyzed, impotent, angry and scared. “You have to give notice on your condo,” a friend insisted. I knew he was right, yet I didn’t see how I could give up my home when there was no money to move and no money to land. Still, I knew in my heart that the only way to live was to leave, to take the Fool’s leap of faith off the highest cliff I had ever encountered and to trust that I would be supported. My miracle showed up within the hour, in the form of a call from LA, from someone I barely knew. Toward the end of our conversation, I mentioned that I was preparing to move to LA — on faith. “I’ve got plenty of space,” he surprised himself by saying. “Stay with me.” His street name? Spirit.
If I were to choose an archetype to describe my life’s journey, it would be the Fool, a tarot character often pictured stepping off a cliff into the unknown. His may be a leap of faith, but it’s never blind faith. For he knows that even as he trades the certainty of solid ground for the mysteries of the void, the infinite wisdom of his infinite mind will guide him forward. It's the Fool's unshakable ability to trust and his deep well of inner certainty that help keep me going on my most stressful days. So it's not surprising that I was drawn to the archetype of the Fool as a way to help you to stop worrying about your life and starting living it!
As I wrote the words that I excerpted for this book bubble, I was sitting at a picnic table overlooking the Willamette River in Portland, OR. It was a glorious spring day, not too hot, with a cool breeze whispering at me through the trees. The river was sparkling with reflected sunlight, I was surrounded by the lushness of spring-awakened verdure, and despite the low rumble of city sound, the air was alive with birdsong. I could have filled a whole book with the magic and miracle of that moment, and it was from that place of awareness that The Way of the Fool's Step #10 – Embrace the Magic – was born. That's because I realized that when I open my eyes and mind to the miracles always present in my life and to the magic always present in the world around me, I am able to dissolve the stress and anxiety that too easily infects me. What about you?
Funny thing about this books's Step #10: The Way of the Fool was the first of my 16 books to not demand that I "embrace the mystery" while writing it. ••• You see, with all my other books I began writing with only the vaguest sense of what they would be about. I never planned, plotted or outlined. The Way of the Fool was different. The idea for the book came to me nearly fully formed: I knew the title, I knew how the book would be structured and I had a pretty clear sense of the content. As a result here was no mystery to embrace, to surrender to or to unravel. Sure, there were things I discovered along the way...like that 12½th step! But knowing so much so clearly at the outset was probably why the book wrote itself in record time: precisely 10 weeks from the moment of conception to the day of publication. ••• Yet even I if was spared Step #10 while writing the The Way of the Fool, I have been called to "embrace the mystery" countless times in my life. I have also lived each of The Way of the Fool's other 11½ steps multiple times over the years. Hell, I've lived all 12½ of them this week, including #10!
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It wasn't long after I started writing Birthing Your Book that I came across the statistic I mention in its Bublish blurb: "82% of Americans say they want to write a book someday." Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised ...but I was! After all, that's about 250 million wannabe authors!! Of course, the more dramatic statistic would be the tiny number who sit down to start writing a book and the even tinier number who ever finish. Because even if writing a books is a potent fantasy, it takes passion, commitment, determination and resilience to take on the long-term enterprise that is book-writing. What it doesn't take, however, is an English degree (I don't have one) or a comprehensive idea/detailed outline (I've never had either when starting a new book). In fact, believe so strongly that anyone can write a book – even if they start out without knowing what that book is going to be about – that I wrote this one!
I was living in Nova Scotia, taking an unplanned hiatus from work on my first book (The MoonQuest), when I happened to read my horoscope in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald: "Lose your mind and follow your heart," Libras were counseled to do. It was apt advice for a newbie (but not young) novelist who was struggling to control a story he didn't understand, to surrender into a story he thought he knew nothing about. Of course, I knew the whole story...but I knew it in my heart, not in my head. And it was only by losing my mind and following my heart that I was able to write it. A few weeks later I returned to the novel. A few months later, I finished my first draft. And today, the story that lived in my heart has won multiple awards and is on its way to the big screen as an epic fantasy film!
I saw a meme the other day that urged writers to "edit without mercy." Once upon a time, I was that kind of slash-and-burn editor – on my work as well as on others'. Then I realized that if I was beating up my manuscript, I was also beating myself up. After all, what is my work if not an extension of me? It was then that I knew I had to find a new paradigm. Now, whether working on my manuscript or yours, I view the process as an act of re-vision: of revisiting the original vision for the work and gently, compassionately and, yes, mercifully, honing and shaping it as a jeweler would a gemstone. For that's what your work is: a precious jewel that needs loving, respectful attention, not brutal, mean-spirited abuse.
I never know what my books will be about when I start writing them. All I know as I begin to write is that I'm writing, is that I'm answering the call of my Muse. With three of my books, I didn’t even realize I was writing a book when I started out. With this book, all I had when I began was a title, a philosophy and 20 years' teaching, coaching and writing experience. No outline. No chapter listing. No direction. Nothing. No, that's not true. I had trust in the superior wisdom of this book that was calling me and a willingness to surrender to that wisdom. In the end, that's what Birthing Your Book is about. That's what birthing all my books has been about. That's what birthing any book is about.
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As I discovered in my 30s when I finally moved through my own longstanding creative blocks, when we say “no” to fear, we say “no” to writer's block. It really is as simple as that. Not easy, perhaps, but simple. It isn't easy because we are saying “no” not merely to one kind of fear. We are saying “no” to every kind of fear: fear of success, fear of failure, fear of ridicule, fear of shame, fear of praise, fear of consequences (both those we can identify and those we cannot). We are even saying “no” to the fears we don't consciously know we have. The good news – at least it was for me – is that we don't have to be fearless. I know I'm not. What we have to be is resolute. What we have to be is committed. What we have to do is not let fear stop us. Even in the midst of our fear, we have to let the words flow as freely as our breath flows. We have to “let.” When we do that, we say “no” to fear…and we say “no” to writer’s block.
In the decade before The MoonQuest urged itself onto me, I was a freelance writer and editor. Most days, I sat at my home-office desk and prepared articles, brochures, reports, speeches and advertising copy that reflected someone else’s thoughts and ideas, and I did it to meet someone else’s deadlines. With the creative awakening that ended that way of life, I found that the only way I could banish old associations that felt anything but free-flowing was to break all the patterns of my previous writing world. First I abandoned the computer, composing The MoonQuest’s early drafts with pen and paper. Next, I abandoned my desk, bound as it was to the soul-numbing words that had so recently comprised my livelihood. On those days when I needed a more dramatic break from the old to connect with my nascent story, I drove down to the ocean and let the crashing Atlantic surf tell me what to write next. A one-day change of habit and venue was generally all it took to put me back on track.
From some untouchable moment in my childhood until my 30s, I refused to see myself as creative. In reality, I was blocked. Why? There are many reasons why we hold back from expressing ourselves, as the writing exercise in this excerpt will reveal. In my case, I was so terrified of being judged that it felt safer to stifle myself. So, my answer to the question posed in the exercise would be "safety." My unconscious belief was that not writing kept me safe. Once I began to recognize my fear of judgment for what it was, the walls that had blocked me from my creativity began to dissolve.
Finally! A book for screenwriters that focuses on creativity, not rules! Writing for film doesn’t have to feel like an engineered exercise in story-building. Rather, it can be a story-freeing adventure, one that retains all the magic, wonder and awe of movies and make-believe. Learn to craft engaging, compelling, entertaining stories for the screen...spontaneously and without struggle, whether you're a seasoned screenwriter or just starting out. Be the storyteller you are: Go Organic: Write Your Screenplay the Natural Way!
Although I had written my first novel, The MoonQuest, on what I call the “Muse Stream,” I wasn’t convinced, when I began my film adaptation, that this technique would work as effectively with a screenplay. I was wrong. As I’ve discovered over the years, there is no medium or genre unsuited to the Muse Stream. Despite its non-prose structure and strict format requirements, a screenplay is no less about igniting imagination and freeing up flow than any other creative enterprise. And imagination and flow is what the Muse Stream is all about. Still, I was gratified to have director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather) validate my view in the interview I quote in the book!
"When people see the nice books with the nice white pages and the nice black writing," Margaret Atwood once wrote, "what they don’t see is the chaos and the complete frenzy and general shambles that the work comes out of." That "complete frenzy and general shambles" is called a first draft, and my early drafts are perfect illustrations of what Atwood was talking about. The first draft of my novel The MoonQuest, for example, ran 400 rambling, repetitive, contradictory and chaotic pages – all crammed into a single, seemingly endless chapter. My early screenplay drafts have been no less messy. Whether I'm writing fiction or nonfiction, a book or a screenplay, my first draft is always a journey of discovery. It's when the story or idea or theme reveals itself to me...if I get out of my own way. It's when the characters start to come to life...if I let them. And it all plays out in the frenzied chaos of that first draft.
When I looked for a book to help me write my first screenplay, all I could find were bookstore shelves crammed with rules, formulas and templates. "No!" I cried. "Storytelling is about creativity, not engineering." So I ignored the books and their rules and wrote my screenplay my way, using the same intuitive tools I have always used. Later, after my first three scripts were optioned, I knew it was time to share my myth-busting approach...and Organic Screenwriting was born. (You're probably wondering whether my methods work. Remember that first screenplay? Optioned, along with its two successors.)
When I confess, during screenwriting workshops I’m facilitating, that I never outline, there are two opposing reactions from the group: a disapproving gasp from more conservative screenwriters and relieved sighs from the outline-challenged. I've always found myself in the second group. Even in school, I never outlined. Well, that's not entirely true: I wrote my essay first, then I crafted an outline to go with it. All these years later, I still find outlines suffocating and have outlined neither my books nor my screenplays. For me, trusting in the flow of the story as I write it always produces better, more imaginative work.
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I'm always amazed when authors who are clearly eager to sell their books using social media set up profiles that are are anything but social. The have no profile pic, for example, or the avatar they choose to display reveals nothing about who they are to potential readers. Maybe it doesn't show their face or they look angry or unhappy. Or the photo is poorly lit or out of focus. Or it shows their book cover instead of them. As I note in the excerpt, I like to think of social media as a giant online cocktail party. Don't you want to see who you're talking with at a party before you strike up a conversation? Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google or just about any other social network, the first thing that people see of you online is your profile picture. First impressions matter!
If you have read any of my books on writing, you will know that my first “rule” for pretty much everything is that there are no rules. Creativity is about innovation, which means it can’t be about following someone else’s way of doing things. It's pretty much the same in the social media world. How could it not be when you're dealing with a blend of people (inconsistent, mercurial) and technology (dynamic, revolutionary). The good news is that you already possess the skills you need to navigate through this sometimes murky sea. It’s the same skill set you use in writing and in life: an amalgam of flexibility and adaptability, instinct and intuition, creativity and innovation. So my Rule #2 isn't a rule at all. Like all the rules in this book, it's a guideline that I encourage you to adapt to your needs and make your own.
Mark David Gerson never wanted to be a writer, never believed in a world beyond that of his five senses. But when life began to chip away at his sense of self with a relentlessness that he couldn't ignore, he found himself launched on a spiritual journey that would redefine everything about him -- multiple times. It was a journey of surrender that ultimately birthed a timeless fantasy series...and a new life he could never have imagined.
Are you convinced that you lack the time to write? I often hear that from students and coaching clients. But you *do* have the time to write. Everyone does, even in the midst of the overwhelming calendar of obligations and commitments we all juggle daily. How? Do what I describe in the excerpt: Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier than needed and write in bed before you get up. That doesn’t work for you? What about during your coffee break or lunch hour at work? If you take public transit, what about during your commute? What about 15 minutes before you turn out the lights at night? You could liberate even more time by cutting down your TV time, your mindless web-browsing (don’t be embarrassed; we all do it!), your video-gaming, your gym time or your time focusing on the news. Pay attention to how you spend your time during the week and start looking for ways to make writing a priority in your life. Believe me, it works. I’ve got The StarQuest to prove it!
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 writing, opting instead for subjects like math. That way I minimized the dangers of not only being wrong but of being judged harshly for having been wrong. But my Muse had other plans, as I write about in this excerpt. Starting in high school when I was pushed into doing the publicity for two theater productions, I was slowly, subtly and unconsciously transformed into the writer I never thought I wanted to be, and within a decade I was freelancing full-time as a self-taught writer/editor. Still, it would take another decade before I moved from a teller of others’ stories as a newspaper, magazine, government and corporate writer to a teller of my own — as author of my first novel, The MoonQuest. What I have discovered over the years is that the call to write is one I can’t ignore. I can’t not write any more than I can’t not breathe. As painful as were the decades of creative drought that preceded The MoonQuest, it’s those years that ultimately fueled all the passion that has followed: my teaching, my speaking and, of course, my writing.
For all its picture-postcard beauty, Hawaii was a difficult place to live...and not only because it was so expensive. Some metaphysical writers link each of the Hawaiian islands to one of the chakras — from the first or root chakra for the Big Island, through the second or sacral for Maui, all the way up the chain to the seventh, the crown chakra, for Niihau. The root chakra governs identity, security and survival; sexuality, fertility and creativity are the domain of the sacral chakra. We lived on both the Big Island and Maui during our three and a half years in Hawaii and, on each island, I experienced chakra-linked upheavals that felt as explosive as the volcanic eruptions that originally created the islands.
Without dishonoring those who lost their lives on 9/11 and in its aftermath, I'd like to focus, instead, on life and the miracle of birth. For it was on a different 9/11, two years before the Twin Towers came down, that my daughter was born...in true Virgo fashion, right on her due date : at 9:11 on 9/11.
Intuitive signs take many forms; some subtle, some less so. Nearly a decade after the event chronicled in this excerpt, I'm still not sure why I needed that level of violent disruption to end my 33-month full-time road odyssey and launch me on a new set of more stationary adventures. But apparently, I did! Sometimes it takes getting slammed across the side of the head by a cosmic two-by-four to get our attention...or, at least, mine!
It was on July 9, 1997 that, without consciously knowing what I was doing, I left my native Canada and launched into a new adventure in a new country. It would be nearly a decade before I set foot in Canada again. That single of "act of surrender" – turning south toward Minnesota instead of continuing west toward Winnipeg – would be the first of many over next ten years. In that time, I would call three U.S. states home; would marry, become a father and divorce; and would launch another open-ended road odyssey, this one lasting 30 months instead of the three that initiated my life in America.
I couldn't know, on July 1, 1997, that it would be my final Canada Day in my native country. I spent it camping in a provincial park near Thunder Bay, Ontario, little knowing that the open-ended road trip I had launched a few weeks earlier would soon not only carry me into the United States but keep me there. It would be nearly 10 years before I set foot in Canada again – a decade during which I would call three U.S. states home, would marry, become a father and divorce, and would launch another road odyssey, this one lasting 30 months instead of the three that in 1997 initiated this Canadian's life in America.
It took all the courage I could muster at age 20 to call Gay Montreal and stammer 'I-I think I'm gay' into the phone and then take the bus downtown and purposefully talk about it, face-to-face, with a gay man. That was my first coming out; there would be four more: at 39 when I reluctantly dropped the 'gay' label, at 43 when I married a woman and came out as no-longer-gay to my gay friends, at 50 when I lost the 'married' label, and at 54 when I came out all over again as a gay man. But the first 'coming out' is always the toughest...
Many of the stories I tell in Acts of Surrender were difficult to revisit and painful to write; none more so than this one, about saying goodbye to my five-year-old daughter. Ten years after that unexpected farewell, I still get teary rereading it. ••• A few months prior to that awkward parting, I had a presentiment that I would not get to see my daughter grow up. At the time, I couldn't imagine what might bring that to pass: my marriage was secure and my daughter was healthy. What could rip us apart and keep us separated? ••• In the end, we never know what challenges life will throw at us. In the end, we must find a way to transform those challenges into opportunities. I didn't get to see my daughter grow up. But I did get to father a beautiful child who, even at a distance, has been an incredible teacher to me. For that I will always be grateful.
Few of the stories I share about my father in Acts of Surrender 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, he was probably not my natural father, something I learned long after all the principals in that drama 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."
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