November “Member of the Month” : Mark Neherby admin Featured Members. Posted on October 22, 2011.
If you have attended any Write on the River event or conference the past few years, you’ve probably met Mark Neher. His intelligence, friendliness, and positive good nature are infectious, and his laugh-out-loud writings are popular crowd favorites at our “Four Minutes of Fame” Writers Meeting Writers public reading events (click here to see videos of these events, including excerpts of Mark). Always quick with a handshake, a word of encouragement, or a self-deprecating joke, Mark’s face is a familiar and welcome one at any gathering of local literati. Behind his ready smile and arched-eyebrow humor, though, there lies an unmistakable seriousness and sensitivity. His is clearly a seeking soul, and it expresses itself through thoughtful words. The author of two books (Target Practice, available on Amazon by clicking here, and Saturday Morning Sins, coming out soon), Mark has taken full advantage of all that Write on the River has to offer to advance his craft and network with other writers. Write on the River is proud to make Mark Neher our very first “Member of the Month,” and he was gracious enough to thoughtfully answer all of our questions. If Mark is a stranger to you, attend any of our events and he isn’t likely to be for long.
WOTR: How would you describe your writing?
I would like to think my writing is lovable, cute and fun, like a brand new puppy, not quite housebroken. I write humor as well as emotional essays with a spiritual outlook. It is natural for me to combine the two. Humor with a gut and a dark side is funnier. Serious emotional explorations with humor are more approachable. My goal has always been to lay my words down in a way that makes them easy to digest. I am not seeking literary review as much as I am seeking an audience who is moved. To laugh, to cry, or to throw my work in the trash, it’s all okay as long as I’m not boring.
WOTR: You are a writer with two published books; how did you feel about the publishing process?
That is a difficult question. Writing is art. Publishing is business. The reality is when the two are combined, the corresponding feeling can only be described in terms that are scatological and cuss-worthy. Two agents in the same room will give conflicting advice. What one editor thinks is brilliant, another thinks is the definition of cliché. Queries, cover letters and beggarly attempts to validate your voice may be necessary, but they are not always fun. Seeing your words formatted and bound in a book with an artistic cover and having strangers want your signature on the inside cover, now let me tell you— that is fun.
WOTR: How many WOTR conferences have you attended? What are some of your best ‘take aways’ from them?
I guess I’ve been to three, but it seems like more because I have immersed myself into the writing community and it seems like I’ve been a part of it forever. That’s the thing. You write your whole life, telling stories about little things and big things and you do it because you have no choice. It is who you are. Without expressing my feelings on paper I begin to fear I will disappear. We think we are alone and nobody understands. And then we find a community of refugees slightly off the main path. They are just like us, and now we are home.
Everyone has a story worth writing. The only thing that makes us different—those of us who write—is that we are compelled. Not just to tell a story, but to get it right. I have heard good advice in the unique style of many presenters. I have had moments when I realized a seminar gave me a gift I could not get any place else, but there is no question, the greatest benefit to me personally is the sense that I belong. We have the right to write, despite the impossibilities of success that are the underlying current we all swim against. That part is nonsense. Expressing yourself and being willing to share your words is the pinnacle of success as far as I’m concerned. Everything else is gravy, a lottery ticket and a grand prize.
Traditional success will come if you’re good and lucky, real success comes every day if you are paying attention. I’m already famous to the people who love me, mostly for my ability to ramble on and on. What’s the next question?
WOTR: Have you attended any other WOTR events?
All of them I was aware of, all worthwhile.
WOTR: What is the most challenging aspect of being a writer to you?
With so many words and sentiments available, the choices are hard to make sometimes. It’s a lot like music; sharps and flats, white keys and black. What does it take to create a melody that gets stuck in someone’s head? I am finally convinced—even though I’ve been writing my whole life—that my prose will never be perfect. I give myself permission to break the rules on purpose. The readers that ‘get me’ are my audience, but the rest of the population is welcome to read something else. My life is too close to its final pages to worry about anything that would ruin this climactic stage of my journey that I’m trying to enjoy. Still, I want my words to be the best they can be, in my voice. And that is a challenge.
WOTR: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a writer?
When a young woman told me that reading my memoir saved her from constant thoughts of suicide— that was about as much as I could ever hope to accomplish. Then I heard another person say my story caused them to reconsider the course of their life, another person, after reading my first book, felt the need to repair damage they had done to others. And then there are those who said my book made for a great weekend read and they laughed so hard they couldn’t stop. If you can make one person’s life better—for one day, or forever—every day is Christmas.
WOTR: Who are some of your favorite writers and who do you compare your writing to?
My favorite books of all time are the dictionary, any set of encyclopedias, the Bible and any other book of reference. I love facts and statistics. My brain has a few defects that make it remarkably easy for me to focus on information and incredibly hard to concentrate on fiction. My mind wanders, and my own stories take over. So it’s a bit embarrassing to admit, I’m not an avid reader. On the other hand, I love movies because I am dependent on the visual imagery. Sounds lazy huh, let me explain.
The best stories I have ever heard were narrated by my father around a campfire. He never had a chance to edit. The story was the key, not his grammar. I love Mark Twain (my hero) and Stephen King (my idol), but some of the members of WOTR can stir me just as much in real time at the writers meeting writer’s events. My writing has been compared to David Sedaris—like he might write if he was heterosexual—and Wally Lamb’s book Wishin’ and Hopin’.
WOTR: To you, what is the main benefit of having an organization like WOTR in the area?
I’ve probably covered that, except the price of gas, hotels and the pride I feel as a 54 year Wenatchee native who is happy there is more going on here than fruit fetish, hockey, arena football, and a bunch of other hobby worthy pursuits that don’t yank my chain.
WOTR: What advice would you give to someone just starting their writing journey?
Two things. First; write as much as you can. Open the floodgates whether it’s good or not. When I’m on a roll I write about a thousand words a day for weeks at a time. Some of it is crap, but I keep the door open that way. Most people aren’t as compulsive as I am. Forty words a day will keep the door open too.
Second; believe in yourself. You write because you have been given a gift. Most likely there are people you know who have other talents that you admire. How do they do it? They are amazing.
But you have this gift and the goal is to share it. It is yours to give away. Wrap it in fancy ribbon and silver bows, or put it in a paper sack and leave it on someone’s doorstep. Just don’t be selfish with your words or they might just echo in your head while your bucket list is hanging in the balance.
WOTR: Why do you write?
I probably covered that too, due to my blabber-mouth. Why do I breathe? It irritates those few who wish I would stop, and gives me another day to say thanks for the pain and hardship that provides a dark canvas for such light to illuminate the big picture. Life is beautiful. And at its best and worst moments, hilarious, depending on which tense you are living in.
Man cannot live on bread alone. Unless it’s the expensive stuff that has all the funky seeds and grains mixed in, or comes in the form of a stout wheat beer. It would be a shame not to leave some bread crumbs for those young Hansels and Gretels who haven’t found their way home yet.
Equal rights for writers! It is not a choice, we were born this way.
WOTR: So what are you working on now?
I am currently halfway through my first novel, a coming of age story entitled ‘The Bait Shop’. I also have another humorous collection of short stories in the vault. My first book ‘Target Practice, My Life in the Bullseye is available on Amazon.com and my second, ‘Saturday Morning Sins’, should be available in December 2011. A signed copy of both can be obtained by contacting me at email@example.com.
Thanks, Mark, for the insight and inspiration. Stay tuned to find out about our December Member of the Month. Happy Writing!