Literary fiction, speculative fiction, and selected nonfiction

Update on The Pilgrim Mara

by Stephen Billias and Bela Breslau

Thanks to everyone who gave feedback on the proposed cover photo for The Pilgrim Mara. We got many insightful responses, more than we had received on any other post. Your suggestions and comments were extremely helpful.

In this challenging time, are you finding yourself more or less engaged in spiritual activities like meditation, prayer, or service? As you read through this update, we hope it triggers you to think about these practices and ideas. We’d be happy to hear from you on how the pandemic is affecting your inner lives.

The Pilgrim Mara, is out to just one publisher right now, a press that accepts unsolicited, un-agented submissions. Their catalog focuses on Buddhism, with books by the Dalai Lama, Pema Chodron, treatises by Buddhist spiritual leaders, writers and scholars. We hope they will add our book to their small fiction division.

As I longtime writer, I’m used to rejection. This is Bela’s first book. As I’ve said to Bela, every day that goes by is a day without a rejection. It would be incredible (and maybe slightly irritating to me) if the publisher accepted her first book (with me) on her first submission. If we are turned down by this publisher, our next step will be to do an agent search. We believe the book is worthy of mainstream publication.

Stephen and Bela
Stephen and Bela

Why did we write a book with a strong Buddhist theme? Bela and I met through the practice of Shintaido, a Japanese body movement and martial art. Underlying the martial arts techniques and movements of our practice is a profound spiritual, meditative, and transformative practice. It’s been a big part of our lives together. From 2006-2016 we founded and ran the Shintaido Farm, a center for the practice of Shintaido, in Deerfield, Massachusetts. As Instructors, we often co-taught classes. Our collaboration on The Pilgrim Mara was a natural outgrowth of our partnership in Shintaido and our lives together.

Why a Buddhist book, though? Neither of us are formal practicing Buddhists. We’re fiction writers. But our backgrounds created a good framework for writing this book. After suffering a horrific tragedy, Mara, the main character, takes several false paths before she finds a Buddhist practice that leads her to a renewed faith in life. Our exploration of Shintaido suffused our lives with concepts and deep connections to Eastern thought—concepts like Mu (Emptiness), Ten (Heaven) and Eiko (Glory). We both had satori-like experiences in Shintaido. Bela drew on one of them, takigyo (waterfall training) for a scene in the book.

In addition, Stephen worked and studied briefly at Roshi Bernie Glassman’s House of One People in Montague, Massachusetts. He was connected with Zen Peacemakers, which recently published one of his poems in their website journal. When we left the Shintaido Farm, we sold it to the Engaged Mindfulness Institute, a Buddhist training and retreat center which is expanding and doing wonderful things at the place Bela and I built. There was something beautiful and full-circle about the transition from Shintaido Farm to Windhorse Hill Retreat Center (EMI).

We have a sequel to The Pilgrim Mara in mind. Your thoughts about spiritual practice in times of crisis would inform that book. Thanks!

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