The Teacher, The Traveler & The Writer: Mark Niemann-Ross


Mark Niemann-Ross teaches online, paddles an ocean kayak, travels from Wisconsin to Oregon and has no pets. He writes about technology on technology and the unexpected collisions between them.


1.  When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

MNR: I never realized I wanted to be a writer – it was just something I always did. I’ve become more disciplined about the process and have set up goals for how much I want to write.

2.  How long does it take to write your book(s)?

MNR: As long as it takes. I don’t feel like the quantity of writing is something I necessarily control. The words show up and I write them down. It’s kind of like getting letters in the mail – they show up, then I read them. I don’t have expectations for how much mail I’ll get over time and I don’t have expectations on how much I’ll write.

3.  What is your work schedule like when writing a book?

MNR: It depends on when the words show up. I make a point of checking daily to see if there are words to be written. If they are there, I get busy.

4. Where do you get your ideas or information for your book?

MNR: I currently spend a lot of time thinking about three things: 

  • R, a big data/machine learning language
  • Raspberry Pi, a single-board computer
  • Senior / Elder care. My mother-in-law is aging, and I spend a lot of time helping her out.

The stories I write spring from those domains. 

5. When did you write your first book?

MNR: Stupid Machine was my first formal book. It took me five or more years to write it – and re-write  – and revise – and tear it up and start over.

6. What do you do when you’re not writing?

MNR: Paddle a kayak, play jazz bass, be social. 

7. What does your family think of your writing?

MNR: They’re amused and supportive. We don’t depend on my writing for income, so it’s pretty easy to view it as a hobby that sometimes draws attention, occasionally some income.

8. What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your books?

MNR: The characters in the books continue to amuse me. I invest a lot of time learning about them and exploring their back story. The more I learn, the more they become autonomous. It’s actually a bit creepy.

9. How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

MNR: I’ve written two proper books: “Stupid Machine” – a murder mystery solved by a refrigerator, and “Patches Catches the Sargo County Cattle Rustler” – a kids book about a clever border collie. Ask me for my favorite when we’re in private – I don’t want to offend either of them.

10. Any tips/suggestions on getting started?

MNR: Write something. Put your name on a piece of paper. Write a stupid sentence. Then another. Erase the first, then write another. Do that enough times and you’ll have a book.

11. What do you think makes a good story?

MNR: Tell me something that could happen. Then describe something that happens. It’s easy. Except for the surprising part. That’s hard. Then tell the story with half the words you used the first time.




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