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In Conversation With Paul Mark Tag Author of Retribution Times Two and Many Several Other Thrillers
From:
Norm Goldman --  bookpleasures.com Norm Goldman -- bookpleasures.com
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Montreal, QC
Friday, December 17, 2021

 

Author: Paul Mark Tag

Publisher: iUniverse

ISBN:978-1-6632-2226-8

Bookpleasures.com welcomesas our guest, Paul Mark Tag. Paul received multiple degrees in thefield of Meteorology from Pennsylvania State University. He workedfor the Naval Research Laboratory as a research scientist for overthirty years before leaving his job to write fiction full time.

In 2002, Tag started hisfirst novel, a thriller entitled Category 5, which tookadvantage of his knowledge of meteorology and weather modification.Prophecy and White Thaw: The Helheim Conspiracy completedthe trilogy.

After penning How MuchDo You Love Me? that explored the travesty of the JapaneseInternment, Tag returned to the excitement of writing thrillers.

Retribution Times Two is the sequel to the trilogy andcontinues the original character set.

Tag lives with his wife,Becky, in Monterey, California

Good day Paul and thanksfor taking part in our interview.

Norm: Whatdo you consider to be your greatest success (or successes) so far inyour writing career?


Paul: As an aside, Norm,I’m reminded that this Bookpleasures interview is my second withyou. In 2007, you interviewed me after I had completed the first twothrillers in my trilogy. I thank you for this repeat opportunity. Ireally appreciate it.

Greatest success? I’llset the bar low. I’d say that my greatest success has been—to mysurprise—my learned ability to fashion together a string of words,sentences, and paragraphs interesting enough to hold a reader’sattention.

In my previous career as aresearch scientist, I wrote many papers and journal articles. I cansay, without fear of contradiction, that no one would ever haveargued that anything I had written was a page-turner. Fictionrequires a different mindset.

Norm: Whatdo you think most characterizes your writing?

Paul: As a card-carryingVirgo, I have been cursed since birth. Typical for those of the Virgosign who must deal daily with the need to be neat and organized, Ithink that trait manifests itself in my writing.

There is usually a lot ofdetail that I painstakingly go over...and over...and over again tomake sure that all is correct.

My approach coincides witha favorite quote of mine. I don’t remember who said it, and Iapologize to that writer. He or she said, “I’m not much of awriter, but I’m one hell of a rewriter.”

For me, getting that firstdraft down is the most challenging step in the process. Once done,though, I really enjoy searching for the slightest error ormiscalculation.

Norm: What did you findmost useful in learning to write? What was least useful or mostdestructive?

Paul: I had the goodfortune to have Arline Chase as a mentor during my first years ofwriting fiction, back when I wrote short stories exclusively.

In addition to studyingbooks on writing fiction, Arline taught me most of what I know. Interms of switching from technical writing to fiction, the biggestchange for me was to avoid the passive voice.

Beyond the passive voice,there is one rule that Arline left emblazoned on my brain. That wasthe need to foreshadow. She emphasized that foreshadowing can besneaky (in fact, that is the best kind), but it has to be there. “Youneed to play fair with the reader,” she kept telling me.

What I, the writer, amstriving for is that pivotal moment when the reader slaps him orherself on the forehead and shouts: “Of course! Of course! Whydidn’t I see that one coming?”

In How Much Do You LoveMe? there is a secret that isn’t revealed until the book’send. All of the clues are there for the reader to diagnose themystery, but you have to pay attention.

Least useful or mostdestructive? That’s a tough one. I guess the one concept that we’dbe better off not having invented is Writer’s Block.

Even suggesting that thereis such a thing does a disservice to the budding author. I don’tthink I’ve ever run into this problem.

That doesn’t mean that Ihaven’t been stymied at the get-go by the overall concept or ideabehind the book. For me, that process can take months or more. Butthat problem occurs well before any writing takes place.

Norm: Doyou write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two?Please summarize your writing process. 

Paul: Here is my take onthat question. In the early 2000s, I had the opportunity to attend acouple of writing conferences. I still remember this one sessionwhere there was a clear line drawn between two philosophies.

On one side stood the“outliners.” They swore that the only way to write a book was tooutline the story, beginning to end. That outline could be dozens ofpages long, they’d say!

On the other side, staringdown their opponents were the “make it up as you go” folks. Theircommon refrain: “Are you out of your mind? If you outline the wholestory, you have eliminated all opportunity for innovation as thestory develops.”

Not to be outdone, theoutliners come back with their own retort: “Yeah? How much time doyou waste rewriting sections that you had to toss in the trashbecause one of your brilliant ideas did not work out?”

To be sure, bothapproaches can work. A new author needs to learn what is best for himor her. I can imagine a combination of the two techniques working formany.

If I may, I’d like toexpand on this question through my own experience. Based on what younow know about me, which approach do you think I use? Nine out of tenwould say that my Virgo-like nature would dictate that my preferredapproach would be to outline. I could easily agree with you, but thenwe would both be wrong.

Unbelievably, I make it upas I go—and I rarely need to backtrack. How can that be? I’vethought about this, and I think that I know the answer: I cheat!

Give me starting andending points, and I am off and running. But here’s where I have toacknowledge that I’m probably closer to the outline method than Icare to admit.

My secret is this; it’sakin more to playing chess than writing. After finishing a chapter,in my mind I lay out every possible path for going forward. Thisoccasionally happens while I sleep. By the time I start writing thatnew chapter, I’ve already decided how it will evolve. As I developthe options for moving forward, my goal is to make sure that the pathI choose is exciting (particularly for a thriller), interesting, andrational.

Norm: Howdid you become involved with the subject or theme of RetributionTimes Two?

Paul: Retribution TimesTwo is a sequel to a trilogy involving two Navy scientists (andseveral minor characters) who often find themselves called upon tosave the world.

We all know the oldsaying, “You write what you know.” My background in meteorologyspawned books one and three (Category 5 and White Thaw: TheHelheim Conspiracy), where hurricanes and climate change are thefocus.

For Retribution,before I started, I had already decided that this book would be acontinuation of the Silverstein/Kipling trilogy.

To provide interest andallow for more offshoots in the story’s development, I added a newprotagonist, Dmitri Smirnov, a Russian spy, who teams up with theAmericans. Different from the trilogy, I also decided to up thesuspense by addressing not one, but two, crises simultaneously facingthe U.S. Different from my earlier thrillers, I split up theSilverstein/Kipling team, one for each crisis.

Norm: What were yourgoals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel youachieved them? 

Paul: As you know, in thesecond half of the book, Russia and the U.S. face a nuclearconfrontation. My intention throughout the story was to make thereader appreciate that in the end, people are people, and that,ultimately, we all want the same thing. It was fun playing around onboth sides of the U.S./Russia fray. I’m hoping that a Russianreader of my story would say that I had played fair.

Ultimately, my goal for myreaders is to have a darned good time and enjoy visiting differentlocales.

For example, all mythrillers cover significant portions of Planet Earth. Although Icannot say that I’ve personally traveled to all locations in mybooks, I’ve visited most. For example, the first two chapters inRetribution start out in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and Havana,Cuba.

My wife and I havetraveled to both cities, and I have imagined the action unfoldingthere. If you go to my website, you’ll find a Google Earth photofor every chapter location in the book. (I doubt that a non-Virgowould ever go to such trouble.)

Norm: Howmuch of the book is realistic?

Paul:When I’m asked at book signings what a thriller is, I emphasizethat it is a fast-paced, world-hanging-by-a-thread type of fiction.But then I make the following distinction: often, the premise of thestory is incredible, but plausible. In other words, whatever happensin the book is probably never going to happen in real life, but itmakes sense that it could happen.

Ifyou’ll permit me, I’d like to make this point by way of myprevious thriller, White Thaw: The Helheim Conspiracy.

There, oldschool Nazis crate up a nuclear reactor and transport it to Greenlandwhere they plan to use the heat from the reactor to melt a glacier.The resulting fresh (as opposed to salt) water is released to thenorthern Atlantic Ocean.

By doing so, they intend to disrupt the GulfStream, which carries heat from the tropics to the North Atlantic.Doing so would cause an environmental disaster; the mild climates inEngland and to the east would. change dramatically. This premise isnot from my imagination, but from scientists who worry about theeffects of melting Greenland ice.

Now,could you do, technically, what is suggested above? Probably not, butit seems plausible. I ran the concept by an acquaintance, Dr. KonradSteffen, a world famous glaciologist, and he blessed the idea. Thatmade me feel good.

Allthree of my trilogy books have an incredible, but plausible, premise.For Retribution,that distinction may be a bit blurred. I’ll leave it to those whoread my book to decide how incredible the premise really is. I fearthat it is not as unrealistic as I would hope.

Norm: Whatwas the time-line between the time you decided to write your book andpublication? What were the major events along the way?

Paul:The date on my computer for the first chapter in Retributionis October of 2017.

Priorto that, it took some four to six months working with my primaryreader/consultant, Robin Brody, to create the premise for the book.

Thedate for the last chapter I wrote was August of 2019, which meansthat it took two months shy of two years to pen the first draft. Ithen spent about a year refining the manuscript, based primarily onmy ten “first-readers” who had never before seen the manuscript.

Duringthat process, Retribution shortened in length from 120,000 to 105,000words. I removed (hopefully) most excess verbiage, nonrelevant sidestories and, most importantly, logic holes.

Therewas one final step that needed doing; finding a publisher. I had beenfortunate to have a traditional publisher for my previous novel, HowMuch Do You Love Me?

Unfortunately,that publisher had no interest in thrillers. So, starting in July of2020, I spent three months writing formal query letters to literaryagents who were interested in thrillers.

Iqueried 164 of them. Of that number, roughly 40% replied, allnegatively. What I’ve been told by several sources is thatpublishers these days, particularly the big ones, are looking forsure-fire money-makers and are unwilling to take chances with newauthors.

Longstory short, I published Retributionwith iUniverse. I must say that theexperience was a positive one.

Theywere attentive to my needs, and not only produced a good lookingbook, but also a cover design that I’m particularly proud of. Retribution cameout in print in June of 2021. All told, it took nearly four yearsfrom start to finish.

Norm: How did you goabout creating the characters of Dr. Victor Mark Silverstein and Dr. Linda Ann Kipling? As a follow up, is there much of you in thesecharacters?

Paul: Those characterscame to life in the first book of the trilogy: Category 5. Ithen continued them in the remainder of the trilogy and inRetribution.

Because “you write whatyou know,” their general backgrounds and work environments aremodeled after my own when I worked for the Naval Research Laboratoryin Monterey, California.

Their imagined offices arewhere I worked. Other than these general details, there is little ofme in the characters.

To further answer yourquestion, though, my intent was to create characters who are biggerthan life. One who is the epitome of that goal is Dr. Victor MarkSilverstein, my principal protagonist.

Norm: Infiction as well as in non-fiction, writers very often take libertieswith their material to tell a good story or make a point. But howmuch is too much?

Paul:For nonfiction, I understand that movie makers, for example, whenthey adapt a true story for the screen, often add or modifycharacters and story lines to produce a more interesting story. Isuppose that is acceptable as long as those additions don’tdominate or become the overriding theme.

Infiction, I’m not sure how you define “taking liberties.” Frommy point of view in writing thrillers, I would say that liberties aretaken to excess when the story evolves into another genre: forexample, from thriller to fantasy or science fiction. I say that onlybecause I think that the thriller genre should stay true to theaxiom, incredible but plausible. Still, who am I to say that doingotherwise is a bad thing?   

Norm: Forthose interested in exploring the subject or theme of your book,where should they start?

Paul: Retributionis a made-up story about two individuals who swear retributionbecause of incidents from their past, in which they think they’vebeen wronged. In one case, it is the U.S. Civil War.

The second retributionalso concerns a war, but more specifically one in which enemy bombingkilled my character’s family.

The reactions of my twoantagonists fall outside the normal realm of what people do whenthey’ve been wronged.

In essence, they becamevigilantes to create their own retribution. Because civilized societyhas built-in systems and procedures to impose “justice,” most ofus accept our society’s methods and obligations to punish crimesthat fall outside human mores.

I’m not an expert on thepsychological reaction of humans to tragedy. If anyone is interested,the following article may be a good place to start: Revenge and thepeople who seek it by Michael Price of the American PsychologicalAssociation. Just search for this title on Google.

Norm: Where can ourreaders find out more about you and Retribution Times Two?

Paul: Probably on my WEBSITE There you will find hundreds of blogs,many relevant to each of my books, but others related to writingfiction in general. For the latter, I also address topics such asbook signings, getting published, and so on.

Norm: What is next forPaul Mark Tag?

Paul: If I’m to writeanother thriller, it all hinges on me and my co-reader developing akiller premise. Once I know the beginning and end to the story, therest of the process is straightforward.

Norm: As this interviewcomes to an end, what would you like to say towriters who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keepcreating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matterenough to share?  

Paul: You have to believein yourself and keep trying. And if you’re interested in fictionspecifically, my advice is to start out by writing short stories.

That’s what I did forfive years before I tackled a novel. Short stories are bite-sized, soto speak; if one isn’t working out, you can just toss it. Yearsago, a reviewer of one of my short stories encouraged me by sayingthis: “If you can write as good a short story as this one, you areready to write a novel.”

And, please, don’t thinkthat it is easy to write a good short story. It isn’t! I’mreminded of a relevant quote from Mark Twain. “I apologize for sucha long letter—I didn't have time to write a short one.”

Norm: Thanks once againand good luck with all of your future endeavors

Follow Here To Read Norm Review of Retribution Times Two

 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

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