by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism
Dr. Knight: Would you please share with us your call to work in the area of writing?
Mark: My primary occupation is teaching high school students history (social studies) and mentoring new teachers in Los Angeles. I write in my free time.
My writing journey began when I started to record my experiences in a Vatican seminary; I wrote a sort of "journal" to reflect on this time of my life and understand how the pieces of my life fit together. When I finished, I showed this manuscript to my sister, and she said, "This is good. You should get it published". I had my doubts but went ahead and sent it to a few publishers. The Chicago Review press picked it up and published it soon after. The book is called "That Undeniable Longing: My Journey to and from the Priesthood.
After that, I had another book come to me about two soldiers in ancient Rome; the story began to play out in my imagination when I completed my first book. This story started when my friend, living in Rome, told me about these two 4th century men. "The last recorded words they said to each other," my friend recounted, "were: 'If we submit to this, we will be together forever in paradise.'" I began to wonder what type of life they lived to have been able to say this to one another. This curiosity resulted in my first historical novel, "I am John, I am Paul: A Story of Two Soldiers in Ancient Rome."
My experience of love and loss led me to write a book of poetry: "Loving, Hoping, Believing." It was the same process: every day, a poem would come into my imagination, already composed; I would write it down until one day it stopped. At that point, I gathered them, and the book was published.
I then wrote a sequel to the first book; rather than a Vatican seminary, the title is "Lessons and Beliefs: Searching for Love in the Gay World." I had many experiences in relationships, love, and commitments; I began to wonder if each relationship and experience contained a lesson. I set out on a quest to explore the beliefs and lessons held in each romantic involvement. The result is this book.
I then traveled to Athens, Greece. In "The Dog on the Acropolis," Draco is based on a real dog that I met on the Acropolis. One evening, I walked up the Acropolis, towards the Parthenon, to see it at night. About halfway up, a black Labrador mix dog met me on the steps. I stopped and looked at him, and he at me. Then he came to my side and accompanied me up the steps. Once we got to the top, he scampered away. The next evening I decided to climb those steps again, and I met the same black dog on the way. He trotted beside me as I made my way up to look at the shining city below. Once we arrived, I looked at the dog, and he looked at me; I realized that he probably lived on this hill. I wished I had a snack to give him, but I didn't have anything on me. I reached down and scratched his head. Then, as I gazed at the city below, the dog disappeared.
As I made my way down the hill, the story of the dog on the Acropolis came to me.
My latest book is She Seduced Me: A Love Affair with Rome. This book is not a history book, though it contains history; it is not a guide book, yet it includes travel tips. The book is not a memoir, though it consists of the author's experiences, and it is not a book of historical fiction, yet it contains episodes of history that bring the past to life.
There are stories from street performers, restaurant owners, and the ghosts of ancient figures such as Nero, Augustus, Livia, and others.
Dr. Knight: Please tell us the significance of your college years in formation.
Mark: When I was 19, I moved to Rome, where I lived in a seminary and attended a pontifical university. I wanted to explore the path to the priesthood. I ended up living in Rome for eight years, and though I changed my path, the time I spent in that city left an indelible mark on my life. Wherever I go, wherever I live, I always feel called back to Rome. In that city was born my love for history and culture. Rome's influence can be found in my works of historical fiction.
Dr. Knight: We have so many levels of writing in the United States. Could you tell us about your structure?
Mark: I always write from inspiration and never from a structure. Sometimes a story appears in my imagination, already completed. Other times it comes to me piece by piece. But when I sit down to write, I am unsure where it will take me or how the story will develop.
My method is to write down what I see play out in my imagination without worrying about structure, grammar, or logic. When I have completed the entire book, and only then do I go back to correct spelling, grammar or change the order of paragraphs. This method works for me.
Once I have the first draft completed, the rest is easy.
Dr. Knight: You were called by God to be a writer to inspire others. What is the significance of your call to be a follower of Christ in regard to writing?
Mark: Each can be a channel through which peace, serenity, meaning, and happiness come to others. Through my writing, I try to convey that living a sense of gratitude is the way to be a vessel of these things for others.
Dr. Knight: You spent formation finding out your abilities and gifts through discernment. How was your discernment helpful to you personally?
Mark: Discernment, for me, means recognizing that life is a gift and then deciding what I want to do with this gift. It could be answering a vocation, being of service to others, or doing something meaningful that makes a difference. What it boils down to, for me, is to become the man that I can admire.
Dr. Knight: Do you think/feel that your life is somewhat a mosaic of your different gifts? Have you always worked in writing areas? About writing about Rome?
Mark: I love history, teaching, art, music, and travel. Writing brings all these interests together and allows me to share my experience or explore stories with my readers. I haven't always worked as a writer, and I do not support myself through publishing, but it is a passion and part of who I am. As far as writing about Rome: some of my books are about Rome and others about other aspects of life that I want to share.
Dr. Knight: What do you want the readers to understand after reading this interview about working in writing? About engaging people to live a life of writing?
Mark: Writing is a passion, like playing a musical instrument. But just like a musician, there are not many writers who can support themselves only from their published works. I would say to stay engaged in life without retreating into one's computer too much because stories are born in the real world.
Dr. Knight: What are some of the challenges of the future Church in regard to writing?
Mark: I think there is a difference between an ideological stance and one based on a faith/encounter with Christ. When I embrace an ideology, I assume a series of beliefs and behaviors to organize life and judge others. When faith is an encounter with others and Christ, I realize the truth of the words of Pope Francis "Who am I to judge?"
Writing that communicates real human experience, with its hopes and failings and triumphs, is meaningful. Some church leaders can learn from the life of Caravaggio, whose life was full of contradictions, yet he perceived something about Christ that few have.
Dr. Knight: What are some of the joys you've experienced in the area of writing? Is it difficult to network with people in this area?
Mark: The joy is the completion of a book and seeing it published. It is like giving birth to a child; you don't know how it will grow and who will embrace it, but you are happy to release it into the world.
It is challenging to network with people, especially if one is not imitating the latest best seller in one's writing. It is a slow process. I don't like being on social media, but it is a necessity for today's writing.
Dr. Knight: As a person who spends his time writing what are some of the duties that you perform/pray each day?
Mark: I am a full-time teacher and mentor for new teachers, so I do not write every day. I write according to inspiration. When I do not have a book in my imagination, I wait until one comes. For example, I have about ⅔ of the draft of a book completed, which will be called "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy". It will be a book of history, culture, funny stories, and experiences. The only part lacking is the interviews with Puglia residents, which I hope to complete in a few months.
Dr. Knight: Thank you so much for offering us this interview and letting us see all the good works that people involved/engaged in writing do for us all.