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Former Teacher’s Debut Novel Draws from Real Life

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Mark Reimer Book Crop
Mark Reimer, who formerly taught in Niverville, is about to release his debut novel.

Mark Reimer’s life hasn’t been without tragedy, but he has taken the combination of joy and sorrow he’s experienced and channelled it into crafting a novel that draws on the character traits of some of the amazing people he’s met in his lifetime.

Reimer grew up in a blended family. His father, Reverend Ben D. Reimer, lost his first wife, leaving him with eight children to raise. His dad then remarried and the new couple had three more kids, including Mark.

“When I was young, I had many social strikes against me, so it was easy to lose myself in reading,” says Reimer. “I read voraciously and fell in love with words, ideas, stories, books. At age nine, my father bought our family a card game called ‘Authors.’ There were 12 authors, with four of their titles that made up the game. I used that game as my reading list, and sought out those books and began dreaming of one day having a card with my name and the title of my book on it.”

Reimer says he wrote many short stories to pass the time as a grade school student, then resumed writing short stories while in his thirties.

Eventually he began writing collaboratively with his mother, Margaret Reimer, whom he calls a gifted storyteller. Together they wrote for the annual Christmas writing contest hosted by The Carillon.

In 1989, Reimer was hired to teach at Niverville Collegiate and taught there for ten years. He describes his time there as the highlight of his more than 35-year teaching career.

“I felt that the rapport I was able to create with students was my strongest asset at that time in my career, and I invested major amounts of energy into understanding and trying to be supportive and encouraging to students in my class,” he says. “I started a program called Peer Counsellors, which trained student-selected classmates to listen and know when to refer others on for additional support or help. I built connections with students at that time that continue to this day, with some being casual acquaintances on Facebook to others whose friendships continue to inspire me in my present life choices. I feel very fortunate to have spent ten years teaching in a Grade 7 to 12 school so that I could get to know students from when they were quite young and see them grow up through high school. Those extended years of connecting with students is what made my time in Niverville so special. I have not taught in another place where I had that sort of extended connection to my students.”

After retiring from teaching, Reimer travelled to Ecuador where he started the Manitoba to Ecuador Project in 2011. Then, finally, he had time to start writing.

“I have some friends who know my family’s story—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and they encouraged me to write it in such a way that I could also address the evolution of faith that they observed all around them,” says Reimer. “That resonated with me, as I have lived in and taught in highly religious communities and have frequently had questions addressed or conversations with students about their lives and observations too.”

Reimer wanted to write fiction, but he had so many family members, loved ones, and former students whose stories he wanted to use. He needed to figure out how to write this book without revealing secrets or offending friends.

So, he says, he settled on what he thinks of as a winning strategy.

“I would use what I know, with sufficient adaptations and adjustments to the stories so that no one would be able to point to a character and say, ‘I know that person!’ or ‘I am that person! What am I doing in this book?’”

For the foundation of the story, Reimer used his own family structure—a preacher father who is left to care for children alone after his wife dies.

“Walter Rempel is a preacher in the book. He is not my father, or at least not only my father,” Reimer says of his book’s main character. “He represents all the people who I’ve met whose faith is a ‘certainty’ that has all the answers to all the questions. Elizabeth is not my mother, in that she asks questions and pushes against the status quo of beliefs. None of the children in the story are fully me, nor my siblings. To quote movie disclaimers: any similarities between these characters and characters in real life is purely coincidental. Although it’s not really coincidental. I’ve blended between five and 25 people I’ve encountered into each one of the characters in the story. I’m hoping that the characters will feel familiar to the readers who might be able to say, ‘I’ve met someone like that’ and that familiar connection might then serve to draw them further into the story.”

At least one of the characters became a source of personal healing for Reimer. He was a foster parent for a time in the 90s, and he lost his foster son to suicide.

“While writing, I found myself weeping even before I realized I was writing elements of my foster child’s story into one of the characters.”

The title of Reimer’s book is The Four Horsemen, and he chose that title for some very specific reasons.

“The four horsemen of the apocalypse were standard teaching ideas in my home when I was growing up, as a way of linking the biblical book of Revelation to the world in which we lived,” he says. “The usual symbolic meaning of those four horsemen are war and conquest, plague, famine, and death. Traditionally they are used to explain the coming of the end of the world. In my book, those large, expansive reaches are redefined to become familial and social conflicts, which then become the framework of the conflicts faced by the fictional Rempel family.”

The novel takes place in southeastern Manitoba, in a small, conservative, religious area. It will ring many bells for local readers.

But the themes of the novel are heavy: one character needs to learn to accept her sexual identity in an intolerant church, another character is abused, and there is stress in the large blended family.

Ultimately, Reimer says that his novel is about “navigating faith when the reality does not fit comfortably with church teaching.”

Reimer is currently waiting for a confirmed date for the printed copies to arrive. Once he has this date, he will confirm more of his launch and marketing plans.

He plans to have at least one event in Niverville, as a local couple have agreed to host a reading in their backyard some time in early September when in-person meetings are once again permissible.

He is also considering a “Thank you for the memories, Niverville” event combined with a reading/launch event. That celebration would also be held in early September, following the Labour Day weekend.

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