I first met Mark Button on Twitter. We were talking as we all prepared for the 2011 The Spirit International Amateur Golf Championship, and met in person while in Trinity, Texas. We sat, chatted for a bit, and become quick buddies. We have stayed in touch ever since. I knew he was a writer, but had no idea he had written a book. And the book is really good. It’s such a great concept too… “Finding Ti Ming & Tem Po”. It’s the story about these golf gods that appear in dreams to help children find their timing and tempo. Couldn’t have picked a better name. Like I said, we have stayed in touch and it only made sense to interview him. He also plays golf… go figure. It’s my absolute pleasure to sit with and to introduce you to Mark Button, author of “Finding Ti Ming & Tem Po.”
We connected a LONG time ago on Twitter, but met for the first time in November at the 2011 The Spirit International Amateur Golf Championship. How did you get involved with The Spirit?
I’ve covered the past three Spirit Internationals for Houston Links and Texas Links Magazines. Covering amateur golf is our bread and butter, and the Spirit is the most unique amateur events in the world.
Where are you originally from?
I grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, home of the University of Kansas. Yes, I’m a proud (and sometimes obnoxious) Jayhawk. Rock Chalk!
You write for Texas Links. That’s pretty sweet… how long have you been writing for them?
I started working for Texas Links in January 2008. I’ve been covering Texas golf since 2005. I got my first job as a sportswriter in 1995 at the Press-Register in Mobile, Alabama.
Do you get to pick what you want to write on, or do they give you a topic each issue?
Well, I’m the editor of DFW Links and Houston Links magazines. Along with my publisher, Kevin Newberry, we plan every issue and assign all the stories. So you could say I typically pick most of the topics about which I write. Not always, but most of the time.
Since you write about golf… do you play golf?
Absolutely! I’ve been playing since I was 14. That’s a long time. I grew up about 3 outside of Lawrence, and we had about 3 acres of land. I was a tiny kid, and my mom didn’t want me playing football in junior high. So she dug up some holes in our backyard, stuffed empty coffee cans in the ground and built me a little par-3 course. She bought me a used set of clubs – just a driver, 5-iron, 7-iron, 9-iron, wedge and putter – and turned me loose. I loved it… but I still played junior high football, too.
You wrote a book! How cool is that? Tell me a little bit more about the idea behind the book. Where did the concept for “Finding Ti Ming and Tem Po – The Legend of the Golf Gods” start?
Thank you! I’ve always wanted to try writing some fiction. I actually have another book I’ve been working on for year. It’s about halfway done and has nothing to do with golf. And it’s definitely not for children. But “Finding Ti Ming & Tem Po” is all about golf – golf and life. It’s the story of the mystical golf gods, Ti Ming and Tem Po, and how they come alive in the dreams of children to teach them how to become champion golfers by swinging the club with perfect “timing” and “tempo” (get it?). More importantly, the golf gods teach their believers all the values the game of golf teaches, such as honesty, sportsmanship, respect and sound decision-making. It’s a magical story filled with character-building lessons.
I LOVE the names… Ti Ming and Tem Po. I can’t believe someone else hadn’t thought of that. Are there more characters running around in your heard or is that it?
I can’t take credit for inventing Ti Ming and Tem Po. That honor goes to Paul Buckley, a New Orleans businessman. I met Paul through work in 2009. He told me about the golf gods and I asked him if I could try writing a children’s book about them. We’re now partners in the Ti Ming and Tem Po business. He has a bunch of cool golf gods products available at www.puttential.com.
Blair Howard from About.com wrote a review of the book. Looks like he liked it! Did you send him a copy, or did he just do that and inform you after the review was written?
I’ve been lucky enough to have had several positive reviews written. They’re all available to read – along with more information on the book – at www.timingandtempo.com. Blair Howard was one of the many writers I’ve reached out to in search of reviews. I did send him a copy of the book, but his opinions expressed in the review are his alone. Of course, I was thrilled that he enjoyed the book.
To me, it’s proof that even though I wrote the story for junior golfers (kids aged 8-17), it’s a book that will be enjoyed by anyone who loves the game, regardless of age. I think the parents, aunts and uncles of junior golfers will especially appreciate messages told through Ti Ming and Tem Po.
You also write a golf blog. Where do you come up with ideas for new blog posts?
A lot of time I have opinions and story ideas of golf outside the realm of Texas. We don’t always have room for that content in the magazines. So I started the “Chasing Birdies” blog to release some of my hot sports opinions on golf and occasionally just anything rattling around in my head. Check it out at http://birdiechasing.blogspot.com. Texas Links also just launched a new website at www.mytxgolf.com, and I’ll be blogging there, too.
As you know, I am a HUGE Tiger Woods fan. In all honesty, do you think he will break the record?
I do think he’ll eclipse Jack’s record of 18 major championships. Tiger had a rough stretch during the past 2 years, but he really showed me something at the Presidents Cup last September in Australia. He’s only 36 years old, and he has a lot of great years ahead of him. If he stays healthy, I can see him winning 3 times on the PGA TOUR this year, including the Masters. He’ll get to 19 majors within the next 10 years for sure.
You used to work for CNN… and I read CNN.com every single day. Why in the world would you leave a job like that? I bet that was a ton of fun.
Well, I promise you that I didn’t leave willingly! I was an online producer and sports columnist for CNN/sportsillustrated.com in Atlanta from 2000-03. When I was hired into that department, we had a staff of 60 writers and producers. About a week after I was hired, AOL and Time Warner merged businesses. It was a disaster, their stock prices plummeted. The layoffs came soon after. I was one of the last in the door before they started letting people go.
They chipped away at our staff for three years. By the time my number finally came up and I was laid off, there were only 12 people left in our department. They’ve since bolstered their staff numbers again, and CNNSI.com became the SI.com we know today. Those 3 years were some of the most fun in my life. I loved that job and still have great friends there.
Since you play golf… what’s the best golf course you have ever played?
That’s a tough one. I’ve been very fortunate with my job. I’ve played just about everywhere you could want to play in Texas. The two courses in Texas I haven’t played but want to are Colonial Country Club and Crown Colony Country Club. I’ve had invitations to play both, but work got in the way both times.
Some of my favorite Texas tracks are Carlton Woods, Walden on Lake Conroe, Timber Creek, Old American Golf Club, The Dye Course at Stonebridge Country Club and Redstone Golf Club. All that said, I’ve never had more fun playing golf than at Memorial Park Golf Club in Houston. The traditional parkland course is a public facility and was built in the 1930s. It used to host the Houston Open.
There’s something really special about walking the same fairways that Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Jimmy Demaret, Arnold Palmer and so many other greats played on as well. It’s a straight-forward course; everything is right in front of you at Memorial Park. If you hit a good shot, you’re rewarded. But the greens get lightning fast late in the year. You have to roll the rock with confidence to shoot a good score.
Let’s go back to the book for a second. What is that process like? Walk me through that from the concept to the actual finished product.
After I got Paul Buckley’s permission to write a manuscript about Ti Ming & Tem Po, I gave myself 3 months to finish the first draft. I started on August 1, 2009. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I woke at 5:30 AM and made myself sit and write until 7 AM, when I put it away and started my real job with Texas Links. I used nights and weekends to go back and edit what I’d written, but I always tried to plow forward on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
About 45,000 words and 43 short chapters later, I wrote the words “The End” on October 30, 2009. I finished exactly one day short of 3 months. Then Paul and I spent the next 2 years shopping the manuscript around to publishers. We got rejected a ton, but we also had a couple offers. Paul had a relationship with Dr. Bob Rotella, the world-famous golf psychologist and best-selling author of “Golf is not a Game of Perfect” and many others. We gave Dr. Bob a copy of my manuscript, and he loved it. He ended up writing an amazing foreword section for it.
Last summer, we struck a deal with Author House in Indianapolis, and they published the book. It’s available at www.barnesandnoble.com, www.amazon.com and www.authorhouse.com. It’s available for Kindle and Nook readers, and we’re getting into select Barnes & Noble stores, too.
People can buy statues of the golf gods. Do you have Ti Ming and Tem Po sitting somewhere at home?
I do,; they watch over me while I work. When I met Paul Buckley, he was an ambassador for the Audubon Golf Trail in Louisiana. I was on a golf writers’ trip with several other writers from across the country. On the last 3 days, they staged a golf tournament for us. I somehow played well enough to win, and my trophy was the statues of Ti Ming and Tem Po. When I called Paul to thank him, that’s when we started talking about the possibilities of a children’s book.
I see you’re a dog lover. What kind of dog(s) do you have?
Well, that’s another tough one. I lost my best friend last October. Jack was a 15-year-old Welsh corgi. He was the coolest, smartest, funniest dog anyone could ever hope to meet. I rescued him from the Corpus Christi Humane Society back in 1999, when I was writing for the newspaper down there. We had 13 fun-filled years together, and I feel blessed for every minute he was in my life.
When he passed, I wrote about him on my golf blog. If you Google my name and “Chasing Squirrels” you can read all about Jack. He was an amazing friend. The best.
I’m probably not ready to get another “forever dog” just yet, but I recently took in a foster dog named Brody. He’s an 11-month-old lab-shepherd mix, and he is hilarious. He weighs 45 pounds, but he’s still a puppy, afraid of everything. He reminds me a little of Jack in that Brody is very mellow and full of love. If anyone is interested in adopting Brody – he’s neutered, house-trained, has all his shots and would make an amazing addition to someone’s family – please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You seem to be pretty active on Facebook and Twitter. How has social media sites like that changed the way you do business?
I believe social media is all about having a conversation. Engaging your audience and listening to them, interacting with them. Through Facebook, Twitter and other venues, we can talk to our readers and get the word out about everything we do in Texas Links Magazines and www.mytxgolf.com. I know you were tweeting like a madman at The Spirit last fall, and I did a little of that, too. I’ve made an effort to be as active in social media as my schedule allows. I’ve made some great friends and business contacts that way.
Do you feel like blogs, and the ability to easily share the content, has made you a better writer? Do you think more people see your work than ever before?
I think so. Before we launched our new website, my content only came out once a month in the magazines. I had an audience across the state of Texas, but they only heard from me once a month. With my Chasing Birdies blog and the www.mytxgolf.com blog, I can write more often and get real-time news and opinions out to the readers.
Who designed the cover to the book? (Very well done by the way… it looks great.)
Thanks! The beautiful cover art was done by the great Ralph Chabaud, a famous New Orleans artist.
You graduated from William Allen White School of Journalism. What sort of classes does a journalism major take?
Geez, you’re taking me back now. I barely remember college! I actually started out as a business major. I wanted to be a chef and work in hotel and restaurant management. Then I took my first college math class and realized I would never make it through business school. I had a love for reading and writing that dated back to junior high, so I tried switching my major to English. That didn’t last, either. I got my first “A” in college when I took a philosophy course in the second semester of my freshman year. So I switched my major again, this time to philosophy. What the heck was I going to do with an English or philosophy degree?
Finally, a good friend told me finding your major can be as easy as combining your interests. What did I like? I loved sports and I loved to write. Oh, sports writing! Ding, ding, ding. So I got into the Journalism School at Kansas, started writing for the University Daily Kansan newspaper and the rest is history.
Everything is bigger in Texas… is that true?
As you said, Dr. Bob Rotella wrote the forward. Do you know him personally?
I do now. I didn’t at the time. He is an amazing man and very generous with his time, obviously. I’ve read several of his books. I highly recommend “Golf is not a Game of Perfect” to every single golfer who wants to improve.
There are some PGA TOUR players involved with this project. David Toms is one of the original students. Who else has their finger on the pulse of the golf gods?
Along with Dr. Bob, David Toms was one of the first to read the original manuscript. He is a personal friend of Paul Buckley’s and a true believer in the golf gods. Charlie Epps, also known as “The Golf Doctor”, is another believer. Charlie is the golf teacher of Angel Cabrera, who won the 2007 U.S. Open and 2009 Masters.
So this is your first book… what’s next? Is there another book in the works?
Depending on the popularity of this one, I may write a sequel. I’ve already mapped out an outline for it. Anna, one of the characters in “Finding Ti Ming & Tem Po”, finds out the origins of the golf gods. I have a few other ideas for books, but they’re mostly in the planning stages.
You are into music. What sort of music do you listen to?
Is it lame to say I listen to everything? I know, I know. Everyone says that. I do have a wide collection in my iTunes. Everything from jam bands like Widespread Panic, My Morning Jacket and the Grateful Dead to classics like the Beatles, Van Morrison and Rolling Stones. I’m really into “alternative country” like Wilco, Son Volt, Jason Isbell, the Drive-By Truckers and the Old 97s. I also have a huge crush on Norah Jones. Her music puts me in a mellow trance. I like to listen to Norah on my iPod when I’m hitting range balls. Her songs have perfect tempo. (Ti Ming and Tem Po, that is.)
When I work, I like to write while listening to jazz – Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Thelonious Monk. But I have a long history of loving rap and hip-hop, too. I’m a huge fan of Jay-Z and Kanye West, but I got my start in rap music when a friend handed me a cassette tape of N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton in 1988. That tape changed everything for me.
I like pretty much everything except house/techno music and heavy metal. But in the right situation, I probably can dig those, too. Music is like art to me. It’s all subjective.
A lot of authors will do a book tour, going from bookstore to bookstore signing copies of the book. Is that in the works?
Yes, I’m working on that right now. I should be announcing my first signing at a Barnes & Noble in the Galleria Area of Houston.
What would you be doing if you were NOT writing… could you imagine a life without it?
I’d probably be digging ditches back in Lawrence, Kansas. I did that for a few summers while I was in college. I was horrible at it.
Below is a short passage from the book. Care to provide any personal feedback on this section of the book?
“Jack went back to his bag and exchanged the 5-iron for his pitching wedge. He blasted the ball back out into the fairway from the sand trap. He then hit his third shot, an 8-iron, to about 10 feet. He rolled in the putt, and the gallery all ran toward him. He looked back, and Ti Ming and Tem Po remained back near the fairway bunker. Tem Po smiled and jumped up and down. Ti Ming simply grinned and rubbed his beard.”
That’s a dream sequence from Chapter 6. Ti Ming and Tem Po were teaching Jack about decision-making. Jack wanted to rip a 5-iron from an iffy lie in a fairway bunker when he had a two-shot lead on the final hole of a tournament. Jack figured out the wise choice was to safely get out of the sand trap with an 8-iron. So that’s what he did. He went on to make par, win the tournament and learn a valuable lesson about decision-making.
By the way, I didn’t name that character after my dog. My sister’s youngest son also is named Jack – my awesome nephew – and many of the characters in the book are named after people close to me in real life. There’s a character named Jeremy, who is Jack’s best friend in Part I. In real life, Jeremy is Jack’s brother and my other amazing nephew.
What’s next for you… what does 2012 have in store for Mark Button?
Hopefully a lot of book sales! We’ve got a lot going on with Texas Links, so I know I’ll be busier this year than ever before. With the new website, I’ll be able to blog from the events I cover.
Do you consider yourself a writer, a blogger… or both?
I consider myself a knucklehead who loves to tell stories. I’m very, very blessed to have a job in which I get paid to write. I’m probably the luckiest guy in Texas.
Thanks for taking the time to sit with me Mark. This was a ton of fun. In all of the interviews that I do, I always give the artist the last word. An author is an artist in my book. Go.
Thanks, Ricky. As far as the book goes, it’s a story that anyone who loves golf will enjoy. It’s meant for junior golfers, but it’s also dedicated to the child inside every adult who loves the game of golf. Now that it’s available on Kindle and Nook for less than $4, I hope everyone who loves golf has a chance to read it.
I’ll take the rest of this space to thank you, Ricky, for your interest in me and “Finding Ti Ming & Tem Po, Legend of the golf gods.” It means the world to me for people to take time out of their busy lives to read the book to even talk to me about it. I want to thank everyone who has bought the book. I get my first sales report at the end of February, so I’ve had no idea how the book is selling up to this point.
I’m keeping my expectations low, but I’ve been completely humbled by the amount of supportive feedback and positive reviews I’ve received. I’m one thankful dude, that’s for sure. Like I said above, I’m probably the luckiest guy in Texas. Thanks again, Ricky. Best of luck with all your projects. I’ll see you all on Twitter!