Retired teacher Mark Reimer first appeared on Mennotoba in 2017 to talk about the Manitoba to Ecuador project. More recently, he has just released his first novel The Four Horsemen. We’re excited to catch up with Mark to about his new book and see what he’s been up to!
1) What’ve you been up to since you retired from teaching?
I’ve retired from teaching twice; once in 2017 and then again in 2021. I spent three months in Ecuador immediately after retiring in 2017 and spent another three months there to start 2020. I led a three week tour of Ecuador which allowed me to create work for many of the Manitoba to Ecuador project participants from over the years. After the tour I did a one month reading program with students aged eight to 13. That was awesome! and as soon as I can go back, I’ll be repeating that program. I’ll also be looking to organize another three week tour for early in 2023, and another one in the summer of 2023. The early in the year tour will be for business and retired people, and the summer one for teachers. Many of the initial Manitoba to Ecuador project participants are now working so I’m trying to find ways to support their jobs. Anyone who is interested in volunteering (for a minimum three week period) once travel can safely be started again, let me know, and I would be happy to get you set up.
2) What inspired your book The Four Horsemen?
For decades I have loved reading and talking about faith, exploring varying perspectives on faith and observing how my students, neighbours, friends and family responded to social issues based on their own unique faith perspectives. When I was encouraged to write a book about my faith, I wasn’t so interested in a “here’s my faith story” kind of book. When Eldon and Shelleen, two friends of mine, finally convinced me to start writing, I divided my faith story into six different parts, and applied each of the books key characters as a reflection of one part of my faith story. In addition, I morphed about another five to 25 people I’ve met in my life into the making of each character, and then let the characters take over the story. I definitely used my life experiences to fill in the plot.
3) How has your background helped, hindered, or influenced your writing process?
I’ve been a voracious reader since I was eight, and have loved words, ideas and books since then so being a reader for decades has certainly influenced my grasp of language, vocabulary, story flow, character development and that part of the writing process. I have also drawn heavily on my own experiences and observations about life as it has unfolded around me to direct my story. I am the son of a preacher and missionary parents and was raised in the church, so the metaphors of the four horsemen were an easy idea to describe the human conditions and conflicts that the characters would encounter. Also coming from a religious family, living a very religious town, teaching in religious communities has piqued my interest in how peoples’ religiosity has directed, even forced, chosen life paths and I wanted to include those stories. Studying writing and writing theory as an academic equipped me with an understanding of the drafting process, so asking for feedback, re-writing, and then re-writing some more, and then some more, was familiar and delightful territory, even if hard work.
4) Some people try to match up each family member in your novel, with people from your own real life family. What’s your response to this assessment?
My father was a preacher, a teacher at a bible school on the edge of Steinbach, married with kids when his first wife died, and then remarried and continued to build his family with more kids. As that is part of the front end of The Four Horsemen, I understand some peoples’ desire to see my family story in the book, but that foundational structure is as far as it goes. One reader told me I got my family story all wrong if I was trying to write autobiographically as the characters didn’t resemble anyone in my family. And they shouldn’t either, at least no further than casual similarities between people that is. Not one of the characters in the book is drawn from my family, other than myself. I appear in all six characters, but no one else from my family does. I have had people who have read the book say to me, “I was Benji. The dark spaces he occupied was my story.” That sort of response has been common from people who have been a part of the evangelical world at some point in their lives, or known someone else who was. The characters are recognizable as people who walk the streets around us, but are not recognizable as my family.
5) I googled it. There are many ways to purchase your book. Which are your top 3?
My preferred way for people to purchase the book is to contact me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org) and order a book for $20. I will deliver it to their hands if they live within a 60-70 kilometre radius of my house. For an additional $5 I’ll mail it anywhere in Canada. This price is better than FriesenPress or Amazon, plus it allows me to receive more money from each sale. My goal is to sell 167 copies to recoup my cost of printing, after which all money goes toward educational objectives with the Manitoba to Ecuador project. I’ve sold over 130 copies already so I’m almost there! Second best is for those preferring a digital copy and those can be purchased for the same price from any of Amazon for Kindle, Barnes & Noble for Kobo, Nook, Google Play and Apple Books. Third option I’d say is going to FriesenPress and buying from them as they are the publishing company who helped direct me through the self-publishing process.
6) Any more writing projects in the works?
I am 26,000 words into my second novel, a story about kids attempting to survive an abusive home. This story also is growing out of my experiences as a teacher and person with people whose life paths have crossed mine. I’m hoping to finish the first draft by the end of this year. Many people have asked me to write stories from the Manitoba to Ecuador Project, stories that have shaped my life for the past ten plus years. I have three short stories for a collection already completed with ideas sketched out for at least an additional three more. And then I will go back through the Manitoba to Ecuador blog to find reminders of other events, characters, or ideas about which to write. I don’t have a timeline for this collection to be completed.
Mark is giving away 5 free digital book downloads of ‘The Four Horsemen’ from Apple Books. To enter, simply comment below this article on Facebook or Twitter or email Mennotoba (email@example.com). (Contest not affiliated with Facebook or Twitter).