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Marc Mason is a freelance writer based in Tempe, AZ.

Friday, June 01, 2007  
So, I found out that one of my mentors died on Wednesday.

Mark Harris was never quite the great American novelist. For sure, he wrote a couple of great novels, and a few good ones. He also wrote a couple that stunk. But he was certainly a *writer*, through and through. He woke up in the morning, and his first thought was to write. During the day, he was thinking about writing. When he went to bed, he had the proverbial notebook next to it, ready to write something down if it popped into his head.

I took four or five classes with Mark, and they all worked along a similar line: he encouraged everyone in his classes to write two pages a day. They didn't have to be great pages. They didn't have to be pages to keep. Harris felt it most important to work on your craft; that, and that, in order to get to the good pages you had in you, you had to get the bad ones out of your system.
The university never quite seemed to give him the full respect that he deserved. There were always other writers around, younger ones capturing a bit more of the field's imagination (Ron Carlson, among others), and in the late 90s, he had begun to fade in his output and reputation. His major works, like BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY, were far behind him. But his passion for writing never seemed to diminish, and I respected that.

He had his quirks, and shamefully, early on in knowing him, they were easy to make fun of. He wore thick, bottle-bottom glasses, but with a twist: they had a flip-up element. While many people who wear glasses have a sunglasses element that flips down to cover their eyewear, Harris' flip brought down a second glasses lens that seemed just as thick as the bottom one. He also had one hand gesture that he seemed to prefer using, a "point" that never quite became a point. By the time I finished my final class under his tutelege, I found everything about the man charming; maybe I had needed to grow into my appreciation for him.

I never did quite get the hand of writing two pages a day back then, though I put it into practice when cranking out the first draft of my first novel a bit back. I'm also trying to put it into practice right now while working on another project. Have to get those crappy pages out of my system, after all.

He had left ASU a few years ago, and I don't think I ever really took the time to properly thank him. So today, I am. Thank you, Mr. Harris. Thank you for the interest and time that you gave me and countless other young writers. Thank you for the joy in the words you wrote. And thank you for the smiles you brought to our classrooms. Rest in peace... and may Heaven supply you with an endless ream of paper. Two pages a day in eternity should see you back at the top of your game in no time at all.


12:17 PM

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