A framed reproduction of Picasso’s Don Quixote hangs on the wall of writer Mark Newhouse’s office and explains his approach to life. “I’m driven like Don Quixote,” he says. “I keep pushing myself and challenging myself all the time.”
Mark’s latest challenge was bringing to life a new children’s coloring book, Passover Puppy. It follows on the heels of Dreidel Dog, a children’s book about a dog and a dreidel and the meaning of Hanukkah.
“A person from the Temple Shalom store asked if I had a book for Passover and I didn’t. So, a couple of months ago I wrote a poem about a dog and Passover. I contacted illustrator Dan Traynor, whom I’d worked with before. He loved it, but said if the illustrations were done in color it would take forever. I said let’s do it as a coloring book.”
In the rhyming book, a mischievous puppy learns the meaning of Passover when he is caught trying to gobble up matzoh from the family table. One of his other children’s holiday books is Santa’s Speeding Ticket. He gave copies to local police to use as a fund raiser. He has a large selection of about 20 books, including his latest, available on Amazon.
Mark and his brother, Jeff, grew up in New York, the sons of German Holocaust survivors. His mother had lived through Auschwitz and his father through Buchenwald.
“They came here when I was about two years old. They had absolutely nothing. My father was given $5 from the Jewish Agency.” Eventually, after selling newspapers on the street for a time, his parents prospered.
“But they had a terrible marriage and ended up getting divorced. I had a very troubled childhood because of that. And that’s one of the reasons why I turned to writing – to solve my problems by writing about them and by creating the world as a better place. It was kind of therapy. I didn’t have grandparents or relatives. My mother had a big family, but they were all killed during the Holocaust. I really didn’t have anyone to talk to, so I would talk to my paper.”
As a youngster Mark decided he wanted to be a lawyer.
“I was maybe in fifth grade when Perry Mason was on TV. I read every Earl Stanley Gardner book, every Sherlock Holmes book I could find. I had a goal and I think that kept me on the straight and narrow when a lot of my friends fell to the side, drugs and alcohol became a major problem. I knew I had to get good grades. I knew I had to go to college.”
After high school Mark joined the reserves and was assigned to a tank unit, training as a tank commander.
“I’m the last person that you would want commanding a tank. I have the world’s worst sense of direction.” He ended his four-year stint as a training NCO in Manhattan.
Instead of becoming a lawyer, Mark went on to a 32-year career as a teacher on Long Island after graduating from SUNY Old Westport.
“I loved what I was doing. I taught sixth grade and I always wanted to work with the poorest readers.” He also taught as an adjunct professor at his alma mater and extended his writing career. “I worked with some under achieving students and I felt that the textbooks were really not reaching and motivating them. So, I created my own books, my first was a series on science.”
This was the beginning of the Newhouse’s award-winning Rockhound Science Mystery series which will soon be coming out with in new edition. “Children would do fun science experiments like making orange juice ice pops, so not only do they read and learn, but they made ice pops and then get to eat them.”
He also worked with Newsday on a fund-raising educational series about Ethiopia. Students read news clippings about the country and answered questions. Parents and friends contributed money for each correct answer and the funds went to help feed Ethiopian children.
September, 2011 was a memorable month for Mark and his wife, Linda. “On the day after 9/11 we learned that Linda had breast cancer.” When her treatments were successfully completed in late January 2012 Linda said that she wanted to travel to Florida to visit her mother and to introduce Mark to The Villages.
“It was about 5 p.m. and we were dancing in Spanish Springs Town Square. I looked in her hazel eyes and said, ‘This is where you belong.’” They soon bought a home on Tierra del Sol Golf Course and later moved to the Village of Virginia Trace.
These days Mark is at work on several projects including children’s “dog” stories for other holidays and a book that he looks upon as his opus, an historical fiction novel set during the time of the Lodz Ghetto in Poland under the Nazi occupation. He is a member in three writers groups, an active member of the Florida Writers Association Youth group of middle and high school writers and heads up a group of writers that specializes in stories for children.
He was also co-founder of the Writers League of The Villages and has led their Book Expo since the inception a dozen years ago.
“I’m happy to say that Jim Meyer will be taking over for me for the next Expo on Dec. 8 at Eisenhower Rec Center this year.”
Mark has also recently started a publishing venture, AimHi Press, with his son, Keith. His other son, Josh, is a media expert in Tampa.
In between books and other activities, he and Linda are avid theater-goers and Mark golfs with friends. Their trophy is an old golf club cover. “The original cover was lost – it looked like a fish – and we bought another in a thrift store for $5. It looks like an ugly frog. No one wants to win it!”
John W Prince is a writer and Villages resident. Learn more at www.GoMyStory.com.