Flamethrower Interview: Mary Marks, author, quilter, grandmother and community activist


Mary Marks is a retired grandmother living in the San Fernando Valley who, at the age of 70, is embarking on an exciting new adventure as an author.  Her first book, Forget Me Knot, will be published in 2014 and she is currently working on books 2 of her 3-book deal.  A long-time community activist, Mary is the epitome of a Flame Thrower: she recognizes the individual’s ability to make a difference in the world and she’s passionate about leaving her contribution.  Although she’s always been a lay-person writer keeping journals, writing letters to politicians, etc., it wasn’t until 8-years ago that she began to seriously consider writing a novel.  After overcoming many writing hurdles that would have stopped a less-determined individual in their tracks, she submitted a many-times-edited manuscript to a writing contest where she won 3rd place.  This quickly led to both an agent and a book deal.  Her first novel is a “cozy mystery” about a retired grandmother who loves to quilt, like Mary herself who has made over 100-quilts, and solves murder in her spare time.  You can find out more about Mary and her book at MaryMarksMysteries.com

Ember Living: What is your mission, life’s work, purpose for living?

Mary Marks: My mission is definitely “family first,” above everything else, and then the larger community.  Not just the community in which I live, but the human community.  I’ve been a volunteer all of my life in some capacity or another.

EL: How did you figure out/choose a mission for your life?  How old were you when you chose it and how long did it take you to get to the point where you felt like you were realizing and living your mission?

MM: I grew up as an extremely disadvantaged child.  Sometimes there wasn’t enough food to eat, sometimes I didn’t have shoes.  I also had very dysfunctional parents: an absent father and a mentally-ill mother.  Life was sad.  I remember vowing to myself, even as a very small child, that I would take care of other people.  I didn’t like to see other people suffer the way I was suffering.  I also survived polio which left me with some physical handicaps that made me more sensitive to others with physical limitations.  I am also very sensitive to abuses of power and the government not responding to the needs of its citizens because the government wasn’t there for me when I was a child.  I really felt like I was making a contribution to society duding a period in my life when I decided that I would open up my spare bedroom to whomever god brought into my life and for about 5-years I housed people for as little as 1-night and one-time for over a year.  Being able to help people like that made me feel very blessed.

EL: Tell us about one (or more) speed bumps that you hit on the way to figuring out and/or realizing your mission.

MM: As a struggling single mom I had to feed and clothe my children and there were lots of obstacles in achieving that.  I’m having a lot more fun as a grandmother than as a mother.  Being a mother was a lot of work.  When I was a single mom it was more “survival first” than “family first.”  At the age of 36 I realized that I couldn’t make enough money, we were just scraping buy, so I went back to school and got a master’s degree, while working and raising kids and it was very hard and it never felt like there was enough time to spend with my children.  But I had a mantra during the hard times which really helped.  It was Psalm 121: I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you– the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm– he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.  I found a lot of strength in that Psalm.

EL: What words of wisdom would you give to someone who is searching for their life’s purpose?

MM: Don’t waste your life waiting for something to happen, live in the present, live in the moment because it’s all you have.  You can find meaning in the moment, in everything you do.  You don’t have to wait for some grand event, it’s the sum of all the little things in life that give it meaning.

EL: What is your favorite guilty pleasure?

MM: Computer games by far.  Hidden object and adventure games.  I buy hundreds of games every year.  I love the quest, good vs. evil, and the narrative.

EL: What is your favorite book?

MM: I’m not a bible person per se, but again and again I’ve turned to The Bible in my life, so I have to say the Bible.

EL: If your life had a theme song, what would it be?

MM: You know, when I was younger my life was filled with music, but I used it as a crutch so that I wouldn’t feel alone.  I was afraid of silence.  But now I like myself, and I like my company, so I don’t have any music.

EL:  What motivates you?

MM: When I get a good idea, or if I think of something funny to write.  I love to laugh.  Hopefully my readers will be amused and maybe even laugh out loud.  I’m also motivated by anger usually caused by an injustice that I perceive.

EL: Any fears left to conquer?

MM: The ultimate fear (death) and even that isn’t so much of a fear anymore.

EL:  What do you do to unwind?

MM: Computer games.

EL:  What most stood in the way of you realizing your mission?

MM: The struggle to survive. I saw an ad in the paper for a new master’s program and that’s what inspired me to better myself so that I could provide for my children as a single mom and realize my goal of “family first.”

EL: What tools did you need to acquire along the way to realize your mission? 

MM: More education, more resources.  I also had to sacrifice for a period of time (when getting my master’s degree) in order to provide for my family in the way I desired.

EL:  What who how did you find you find the courage to blaze your own trail?

MM: I grew up in an era and family where girls were not valued.  Aside from motherhood, nursing, teaching or secretaries, there were not many options.  I saw a lot of injustice in the fact that my brothers and classmates had choices that were not open to me.  When I was in high school I wanted to do a project for the science fair and the teacher refused to help me because I was a girl. It was unjust and made me angry and I decided that I would do everything I could to get somewhere in this life and I wouldn’t settle for less than I was capable of achieving.