Sunday, October 29, 2023

Q&A with Mark David Gerson



Mark David Gerson is the author of the novel The MoonQuest, the first in his Legend of Q'ntana series. His many other books include The Voice of the Muse. He is also a coach and screenwriter.


Q: What inspired you to write The MoonQuest?


A: I like to joke that The MoonQuest snuck up on me, beat me over the head and took me hostage before I was even aware of what was going on! I say that because this was not a book I ever planned to write.


It was a sort of creative “ambush,” and it happened during a writing workshop I was facilitating. Until that evening, I had never written during one of my workshops.


This time, though, once my students were writing, an inner imperative (the spirit of The MoonQuest?) insisted that I do the same exercise. Within moments, I found myself writing about an odd-looking man in an even odder-looking coach pulled by two odd-colored horses.


The following morning, intrigued by the experience, I continued with the story, not knowing from one day to the next — sometimes from one sentence to the next — what it was about or where it was going. I simply followed where the story took me.


And a year later, on the anniversary of that workshop, I completed the first draft of my first book — a novel I never planned to write, a novel that, about a third of the way through that first draft, titled itself The MoonQuest.


In one of her memoirs, Madeleine L’Engle wrote this of A Wrinkle in Time: “I cannot possibly tell you how I came to write it. It was simply a book I had to write. I had no choice.”


That’s how I feel about The MoonQuest. It was a story I had to write, even as I had no idea what I was doing or what the story was about as I was doing it!


Q: How did you create the world in which the novel takes place?


A: Many fantasy authors develop their fictional worlds in meticulous detail before they start writing. Take J.R.R. Tolkien, for example, who was renowned for that level of exhaustive planning. However, as you’ll likely conclude from my answer to your previous question, I did nothing similar. Not even remotely!


You could say that Q’ntana, the land where The MoonQuest takes place, created itself as I wrote it. Or that it already existed deep in my unconscious mind and the act of writing brought it to the surface. Either is possible.

But my favorite explanation is that, in some metaphysical sense, Q’ntana is a real place that began to reveal itself and its story to me on the evening of that writing workshop.


Creation is a mysterious force. No one really understands where stories and their fictional settings come from. As for me, I act as though my stories are smarter than I am, which is why I get out of their way and let them tell themselves to me as I write.


Getting back to your original question, when it comes to the worlds and settings of my stories, I let them show themselves to me as I write.


Q: I think I know the answer to this based on what you’ve already said, but did you know how the story would end before you started working on it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: Hell, I didn’t even know that it was going to begin, let alone how it was going to begin…or end! I have written more than 20 books over the years, and I haven’t planned, plotted or outlined a single one of them. Nor have I known before starting out how any of them would end.


In one case, in fact (The StarQuest, the second book in this Legend of Q’ntana series, which will be out in the spring), the ending that emerged was not the one I had come to expect.


In fact, it was so startlingly different from anything I could have consciously imagined that I feared that if I kept it, I would have to rewrite the entire manuscript to make it work.


Yet when I read the complete draft, I discovered to my absolute astonishment that nothing of substance needed to be changed. Somehow, the story had written itself to that perfect ending.


And it was a perfect ending, one that was truer to the book’s theme (also not consciously crafted) than anything I could have tried to figure out intellectually.


My stories are smarter than I am! So I just get out of the way and let them flow — from first word to last.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: Thats always a tough question for me to answer as an author because every reader comes at every book with a unique background, a unique set of circumstances and unique expectations.


Of course, I hope readers will be drawn in by a compelling story and will, when they reach the end,” close the book with a mix of satisfaction and regret. Hopefully, that regret will be eased by the knowledge that more Legend of Qntana books are in the pipeline!


At the same time, for those who are open to it, The MoonQuest covers some serious territory — the dangers of book-banning and censorship (including self-censorship), for example, the consequences of stifling both imagination and independent thought, and, of course, the power of storytelling.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m a writer who likes to juggle multiple projects at once. Currently, I'm working on a fifth story set in the Qntana universe. (As I mentioned, Book 2, The StarQuest, is due to be released in paperback, ebook, and audiobook in the spring.)


I’m also working on a new memoir and an expanded edition of one of my books on writing. And I have a couple of other manuscripts that Ive started — both nonfiction and non-fantasy fiction — that Im eager to get back to.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb