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Sunday, June 16, 2019

Meet Mark Fiore- Quarter 2 2019 Creative Non-Fiction Essay Contest Runner Up!

Congratulations to Mark Fiore and Legacy. and all the winners of our 2019 Quarter 2 Creative Non-Fiction Essay Contest!

Mark's Bio:

Former California native Mark Fiore now lives on the slopes of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, in southern New Mexico, where life is saner, the people are nicer, and the writing juju is excellent. So much so that after forty-plus years of near-daily journal writing, he finally got up the nerve to proclaim himself a writer and DO something with all those journals.

Mark has worked with mythologist Michael Meade and the Mosaic Multicultural Foundation in support of their work to develop mentoring relationships and forms of community healing through innovative workshops and retreats that inspire personal growth and leadership development. The non-fiction epistolary account of his efforts to live an authentic life can be found in You Are Loved, an Email Memoir, which he co-authored with writer Lisa Lucca. Before adopting his pen name, Mark was a contributing writer for The Good Men Project. Two of his essays about growing up male can be found here and here. Additional examples of Mark’s writings can be found at

He is currently writing the follow-up story to You Are Loved, sifting through forty-three journals in search of insights and observations about life, love, and God that might be of help to anyone who’s felt as confused and ungrounded in their lives as he once was. He wants everyone to know that he’s not kidding about the desert writing juju thing.

If you haven't done so already, check out Mark's beautiful essay Legacy and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations Mark! I thoroughly enjoyed your story; thank you for submitting to our Creative Non-Fiction Essay Contest and congratulations on being a Runner Up! 

Thank you for writing this essay - I love the message! Were there any fears you had to overcome in order to submit this essay? How did you overcome those fears and/or obstacles?

Mark: My only real concern was the degree to which my story would connect with WOW’s readership. One of the guidelines for this contest was to “gear your writing toward women readers,” so a father’s story of the journal he wrote to his daughter during the first sixteen years of her life would have to first make an impression on the contest judges before fans of the website would ever see it.

I submitted the essay to the contest in the previous quarter and requested an editor’s critique. Chelsey Clammer was the editor who came back with not only crazy-smart feedback on how to make the piece better, but also some very complimentary impressions of my writing style and writer’s voice. The infusion of inspiration and encouragement I received from Chelsey bolstered my confidence tremendously, and after tweaking the essay based on her feedback I re-submitted the piece in the following quarter.

Placing in the top ten of WOW’s non-fiction essay contest mirrors back to me that, at some level, women have indeed found something in this story they can connect with. At the very least I would expect memories and/or emotions regarding their own father/daughter relationship to come up, especially for those women who had or wish they had a father who fought to preserve a loving relationship with them in spite of any obstacles, which is the core theme of my essay.

WOW: We sure have some amazing judges and I'm glad Chelsey's feedback was inspiring! What have you found to be most helpful in your writing path?

Mark: I have a very long history of journal writing, which means eighty-something percent of what I’ve written over the years has been read only by me. This is not a great trajectory to maintain for anyone looking to be a published writer. Though I much prefer the organic and more intimate experience of pen-to-paper writing, I discovered it had become something of a liability: when it came to writing with a keyboard and typing into a doc, my writing voice was stiffer, more formal, and at times so calculated that I would get disgusted with myself and abandon whatever I’d been working on. Then I’d reach for a current journal and effortlessly write pages about my stupid writing aspirations and what a hack writer I really was.

I decided the best way for me to break out of this rut, this habit, was to go much more public with my writing, which is why I started submitting 800-word essays to a local bookstore’s monthly “Story Slam” event. Those events had a contest/competition element to them: the event coordinators would toss out a one-word prompt (“Hustle”, “Snake”, “Legacy”, “Superstition”, “Covfefe”), anyone could enter, and the submissions would be blind-judged by the bookstore staff. From the dozens of submissions, only six or eight authors would be selected to read their strictly-timed five-minute piece in front of a live audience.

Those monthly story slam events impacted my writing for the better in two ways: First, it forced me to make friends with my laptop and begin seeing it as helpful tool for composing stories, not just an annoying slab of soulless, plastic push-buttons. I bookmarked and opened tabs for a thesaurus, a dictionary, and punctuation rules; I incorporated my musician sensibilities into these writing sessions, using my computer as an instrument that supported me in finding the right mood or the proper tone for my compositions, taking more care with my word choice, working and re-working a sentence or a paragraph until I nailed exactly what I wanted to say.

Second, writing for those story slams jump-started the much more enjoyable habit of reading my work out loud. This not only helped to confirm whether or not I’d found the right words, but, like walking through a mine field, I’d occasionally stumble upon an honest emotion I hadn’t detected on the page -- just below the surface of a sentence, in the middle of some paragraph -- and blow myself up with tears. It bewildered me. It also made me a regular at the story slam events: over the next twelve months I was chosen to read eleven of my stories, several of which I could not read aloud without (BOOM!) having to pause and collect myself.

WOW: That last paragraph - absolutely beautiful! Your talent shows through - even in this interview! Your writing is very moving.

Where do you write? What does your space look like?

WOW: At the far end of a tiled hallway I turned a guest bedroom – a ten-by-twenty rectangle - into an earthy, cozy den: my writing room. Most of the hardwood floor is covered with a thick area rug in rusty browns and olive greens; similar colors apply to an overstuffed chair and matching ottoman placed diagonally in one corner of the room, next to a small antique table topped with a banker’s lamp -- my reading spot. To one side of this vignette is a 12-string guitar on a stand; to the other side is a 6-string. Both guitars are kept tuned and ready to play, which I tend to do in those moments when I’m stuck or frustrated with my writing but want to keep the creativity in the room.

Backed against one long wall is a comfortable Mission style futon couch which can double as a queen size bed. To either side of the couch is an antique lamp. Displayed on the wall above the couch are four framed dream collages from recent years, all of which have a section devoted to writing goals.

Directly across from the couch and facing the opposite wall is a spacious Mission style desk where I do my writing. Above the desk, also framed and at eye level, is the current year’s dream collage, where I can look up from a given writing project and read a reminder to myself that “the world does not need another mediocre book”.

My laptop is tethered to a large desktop monitor tucked into the upper left corner of the desk, as well as an excellent five-speaker system. No, not for gaming videos: when I’m writing on my laptop the monitor is off, but the speakers are playing the sound of a light, drippy rain. When I’m putting pen to paper for journal writing I’ll switch on the monitor and have it display an eight-hour HD video of a remote, lush forest stream with waterfalls. Also on the desk are: a dimmable, height-adjustable lamp, a stack of five journals titled according to subject matter (music, God, relationships, etc.), a couple of yellow legal pads, and a square, wooden pencil holder, stuffed with a six-month supply of 1.4B Paper Mate Profile pens. When writing at my desk I get plenty of natural light and high-desert air from the large windows to my immediate left.

Pre-dawn is my favorite writing time, which means it’s dark outside, which is why the four lamps in the room are fitted with amber-tinted Edison bulbs. In the two or three hours before sunrise, with its solid oak Mission furniture and earth-tone fabrics, my writing den positively glows with warmth and comfort when bathed in this light. And if it should be raining or snowing while I’m writing in those early morning hours, wild horses couldn’t drag me out of that room.

WOW: I'd ask you for a photograph of your space to add to this article, but you describe it so well I'm sure readers have the perfect picture in their minds! (another testament to your writing skills)

You already mentioned how journaling is part of your life, but tell us more: what role has journaling and/or writer's groups played in your writing life?

Mark: I’ve been journaling almost daily for more than half my life, though I have no idea where that compulsion came from. My first journal – six-by-eight inches, thick leather, unlined pages, cover embossed with the image of an oak tree -- was a Christmas gift from a girlfriend. Six days later I wrote in it for the first time: a twenty-nine word sentence reporting that the girlfriend wanted me to move out. The next entry comes three days after that – January 3rd -- describing how happy the two of us are to snow ski and party with friends in a mountain condo. The last entry is dated October 1st of that same year, by which time the girlfriend is gone, my father has passed away, and I’ve taken his final piece of advice to quit the restaurant business and be a drummer, not a chef.

Journals, from that point on, became the most effective therapist imaginable: a safe, reliable, non-judgmental container where I can speak my entire mind and download my each and every thought, belief, or emotion, without being interrupted. As when in the presence of a good listener, this allows me to unravel the messy knot of feelings I’m sitting on at any given time and find my own words that, on a good day, bring clarity, comprehension, and understanding.

All of this to say that journaling has been my practice of getting to know myself and my way through a fatherless life by instinctively and organically writing about it. It’s fair to say, then, that the writer I’m currently showing up as has come from that. The “Legacy” essay certainly did.

As for writer’s groups, I’ve participated in a few and have enjoyed some more than others. I’ve noticed, though, that beginner-level writers seem more interested in validation that critique, as do good writers who lack confidence in their work. There’s no mistaking the difference between a beginner writer with healthy self-confidence, and a more experienced writer trying to hide their insecurities behind a projection of false or forced self-confidence: you can see it in their eyes, their faces, and their body language when it comes time for that twenty minutes of group attention to be focused on them and whatever piece or project they’re wanting feedback on. Trying desperately not to hurt another writer’s feelings by parsing words of criticism makes perfect sense, however, if your impulse is to blurt out what a piece of shit you think their writing is, and I for one have been fortunate enough to have never belonged to a writer’s group willing to be THAT honest.

But these days I prefer to write and submit when I want honest, real-world feedback as to how my own writing is coming along.

WOW: Thank you for such a great insight!

What’s next for you? What are your writing goals for the remainder of 2019 and beyond?

Mark: In 2012 I co-wrote an epistolary memoir with Lisa Lucca – WOW’s 1st Place winner of their 2018-Q1 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest – which, through a nine-year email exchange, tells the true story of how, with Lisa’s support, I got through a dysfunctional marriage and found my way back to a much more authentic life. You Are Loved . . . an email memoir (available on Amazon) is full of the kind of writing I did in my journals: off-the-cuff, first-draft, honest communication about love, parenting, and life purpose, which I sent to the one person I trusted most, have known for more than half my life, and now live with in southern New Mexico.

There’s quite a love story embedded in that narrative, and my writing goals for 2019 include my intention to finish writing it. It’s under way, and all that remains is to keep coming back to my cozy den in the pre-dawn hours, flip on the rain sounds, and write my ass off. Lucky for me that I have forty-something journals to sift through should there be a need to recall the details of how I came to live the excellent, deeply rewarding life I’m currently living.

WOW: Thank you so much Mark - I've really enjoyed our time together and look forward to hearing more from you in the future! Congratulations again!

Interviewed by Crystal Otto who just keeps on keeping on!

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