HOW I BECAME A WRITER
(A CAUTIONARY TALE!)
Dream Dreams, See Visions
I woke in the middle of the night. Some mysterious compulsion had propelled me, still asleep, from bed to desk. I found myself at my Kaypro, a prototype computer cased in grey steel that looked more like a portable sewing machine than the sleek digital devices of 21C Canada.
Up to this point, in my early thirties, I’d been acting, directing film, TV and theatre. I loved what I was doing and made a decent living. But something was missing.
I come form a long line of story tellers, the most prominent of whom was my grandfather, Daniel Lochland MacPherson. (See gallery, right)
Danny Lochie was born late in the nineteenth century in Caledonia, Prince Edward Island, to second generation Highland Scots Gaelic speaking parents. He didn’t need to speak English until his early teens, when the dominant English speaking culture pressed in from every quarter.
His was the Highland Scots Gaelic bardic tradition, out of which he evolved to became an elder, a chalice, the living memory of the Gaels of PEI. He contained the culture, spoke and sang their history, tale and song rooted in traditions old as memory.
It was Granddad’s voice that first provoked me. He called. I responded. I listen still.
Time had lost all significance that cold morning at my Kaypro. I was compelled to ride the updraft of a rising spiral. I eventually re-materialized. I glanced at my watch. It was 1 p.m. I hadn’t moved for eight hours. I was still in my bathrobe. I’d forgotten to turn up the heat. I was chilled to the bone
“Imagination is the outreaching of the mind. It is the individual’s capacity to accept the bombardment of the conscious mind with ideas, impulses, images and every sort of psychic phenomena … It is the capacity to ‘dream dreams and see visions.’
– Rollo May, The Courage to Create
I had written ten pages of alarming dialogue. A man named Slater had buried another man named Davis up to the neck below the high water mark on a Nova Scotia beach. And the tide was coming in.
I had dreamed dreams. I had seen visions…
I lay there thinking, “God help me! I’ve become a writer!”
Warm Wind in China, a play in two acts about fidelity and desire in the time of plague, and a new career, were being born.
In Warm Wind In China, “Stetson’s mind casts itself delightfully back, and up … his sweet prince is sung to rest as if by angels.”
– Dawn Rae Downton, The Canadian Theatre Review
In quick succession, two more full length plays emerged: Queen of the Cadillac, and Sweet Magdalena.
Since that day in 1986, I’ve written twelve full-length plays.
I’ve published two novels. (see Bookstore) Novels number three and four are in the works. As is a new play in two acts for five actors, working title, Two Monkeys, One Grape.
Several of my published essays on writing and the arts in general have been well received. I have spoken on a variety of topics in several countries. I’ve conducted international workshops and seminars. I’ve taught creative writing at two prestigious universities and worked with new and established writers wishing to acquire craft skills in Drama and/or Prose Fiction.
I’ve also written four bi-lingual multi-media shows. The most recent, and easily the most spectacular, is the HD projected, 3d animated, laser beam sound and light show, Northern Lights/Lumières du Nord. Winner of the International Festival and Events Association’s 2015 prix d’Or, Northern Lights/Lumières du Nord is a beautiful, luminous ode to the recently refreshed nation of Canada, projected on the Centre Block, Parliament Hill, Ottawa. NL/LdN opened this summer and played to almost 270,000 million people (7,000 per night). Produced by Idées au cube for Heritage Canada, Northern Lights/Lumières du Nord show runs nightly July through early September until 2019 and is free of charge. (YouTube teaser)
Elevation and Expansion
Both occur during story research and character exploration. When the characters insist the time has come to tell their tale, the story forms and the plot is devised. In due course, the first draft is teased from the imagination, shaped by the rational mind and committed to text.
The task is not to ascend mountains then descend the far side, but rather to select a single peak in a sky-raking chain. Attain its summit. Expand into the paralyzing view. Fix your eye on the far horizon.
E.M. FORSTER tells us the function of all art, particularly writing, is expressed best with two simple words: only connect.
Dramatists (playwrights, writers for large-and-small screens, gamers) and novelists give form to the stories our readers and audiences feel floating free, individually and in the collective unconscious.
This might be the story teller’s job description: connect the major characters in your work to each other and to every member of your audience, to every reader. Connect the images, symbols and urges of the collective unconscious to the living, spoken word. Connect the word to the action on the stage, the image on the screen, the thought to the page. Connect the theme and its symbols to the working metaphor.
Then, in your search for heaven, let all hell to break loose.
The writer’s job is two-fold. First and foremost, we entertain. Then we enlightem. It’s our task hold up a 3d mirror, to feed souls, to rouse the sleepers and to free imaginations.
We connect physically, spiritually, intellectually and, most importantly, emotionally with live audiences in the living theatre, on television, in the cinema, on digital screens, in the mysterious power of an image, in the mesmeric pages of a book.
I’ll leave the last words, for the moment, to Rollo May:
“It (the courage to create) is the capacity to consider diverse possibilities, and to endure the tension involved in holding these possibilities before one’s attention. Imagination is casting off mooring ropes, taking one’s chances that there’ll be new mooring posts in the vastness ahead.”
“Though not all of the plays that have won The Governor General’s Award for Literature have been magnificent… this year’s GG winner, The Harps of God, truly deserves the accolade; it is a terrific read, and theatrically its ambitions are breathtaking”.
– Gaetan Chalebois, Hour, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
“In The Harps of God, Kent Stetson creates a new theatrical language – both authentic to the Newfoundland idiom and as powerful and economic as poetry. An epic tragedy in three acts, the play explores faith and meaning and pays tribute to the survival of a people and a nation. With this masterful work, Kent Stetson has raised the bar to a new level in Canadian playwriting.”
– Jury Citation
The World Above the Sky charts an arduous journey through Nature-gone-unnatural … The reddened sands and foaming seas of his constructs churn into a phosphorescent cosmos of grace. Sail as far as you like… you should be so lucky as to drop anchor in The World Above the Sky.”
– Porter Anderson, Village Voice, NYC, CNN, National Critics Institute of the USA.
… a mixture of the magic mysticism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and black humor of Joe Orton. It succeeds in mixing fire and ice. An evening to remember.”
– Ray Conlogue, The Globe & Mail, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
“Just finished Meat Cove. What a fine piece of work. The prose is crisp and strong, often funny. The meditations on good and evil are wise and world weary, which is a mark of the best writing in the genre … I read it with increasing speed as the peril increased. The young victims are so beautifully drawn that you ache for them, and are surprised by their pluck and courage.”
– Tom Gallant, Writer, Singer, Master Mariner.
“Through his character and kindred devices, Stetson makes his play – Horse high, Bull Strong, Pig Tight – as thoughtful and intelligent as it is amusing. Stetson’s dialogue is sharp, his descriptive imagery is painterly in its artfulness whether he’s evoking the fiery demise of a tarpaper shack or the sparkling ascent of partridges emerging from a snow bank.”
– Sean McQuaid, The Buzz