An Interview With Paul Mark Tag, Meteorologist Turned Author, About Prophecy
I recently had the pleasure of reading Paul Mark Tag’s second novel Prophecy, and it is a riveting page turner. The concept behind the plot is just wild enough to give you pause for thought. When I read a great book, and Prophecy certainly qualifies in the category, I just feel the urge to track down the author and have a chat. Paul was gracious enough to agree.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
First of all, Simon, thank you for this opportunity.
Although I’ve lived in California since the early 1970s, I grew up in Pennsylvania. There, I took advantage of my closeness to Pennsylvania State University, majoring in meteorology for three degrees. My entire career has been with the Navy, where I worked as a research scientist, delving into areas as diverse as weather modification, numerical weather prediction, and artificial intelligence. I came to California when the facility I was working at in Norfolk, Virginia, closed. I retired from the Naval Research Laboratory in 2001 to write fiction fulltime. You’ll notice that the two principal characters in my novels, Victor Silverstein and Linda Kipling, work where I did. In fact, Silverstein has my old office. I try to interject one other interest of mine into my novels. Early in my career, I spent two years studying magic so that I could pass the professional magician test for joining the Magic Castle in Hollywood. Whenever I can, I weave magic into my stories.
My wife Becky is originally from Kansas. She puts up with my writing by tolerating my strict schedule and agreeing to go with me to locations important to my book. For example, we spent a week in Bermuda finding the locations (someone had to do it) for various chapters in my first novel, Category 5. For Prophecy, we did the same in Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania. When we locate suitable sites for my chapter scenes, I take the GPS coordinates. If you go to my web site, you’ll see Google Earth pictures for most locations in my books.
By the way, for more information on me (and my books), please visit my web site, Paul Mark Tag.
Where did the idea for Prophecy come from?
It came from a lot of brainstorming with my primary reader, Robin Brody. After I completed Category 5, my first novel, I started looking for an exciting topic for novel two. At the time, I couldn’t think of as good a meteorological subject as I had used in novel one. So, Robin and I spent months coming up with a new topic. The result was a “prophecy” gene, which meant that I had to do a bunch of research into genetics and the genome, so that I could explain the premise with some sort of scientific clarity.
ESP was something that was of great interest to the major players during the Cold War; do you think it is still being pursued?
Sorry, but I can’t shed any light there. I must add, though, that as a writer, I can give my imagination free rein. From my viewpoint as a scientist, however, I don’t give much credence to ESP. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t things out there that we don’t understand. But, in relation to the basics of science, composed of physical laws and principles that have been painstakingly developed over centuries and which provide the basis for modern scientific understanding, there is little to suggest such capability. In Prophecy, I allude to this. The Amazing Randi, magician turned cynic, has made a profession of debunking the supernatural. I think it is noteworthy that no one yet has laid claim to his offer of one million dollars: to anyone who can demonstrate in a laboratory setting (designed and administered by Randi to prevent cheating) the ability to divine random symbols on a hidden display. With all the soothsayers that seem to be out there, I think that this statement speaks for itself.
One aspect that is a common theme among authors is to base their characters on real people. I see that prior to writing you were a meteorologist, are there other likenesses between you and Dr Silverstein?
I wish! To make things interesting, you make characters larger than life. Dr. Silverstein has a photographic memory and has a genius IQ. I could have used those qualities. And, he has a fascinating background as an African-American who grew up with white parents. Of course, he knows he’s smart, but he’s also arrogant and has little tolerance for fools. I hope that I don’t have any of these latter qualities. All of this said, Dr. Silverstein does work for the Naval Research Laboratory as I did and, in fact, has my old office. His background in numerical modeling, satellite meteorology, and artificial intelligence does mirror my own.
I loved the idea of the “prophecy gene,” and given today’s scientific wonders I have no doubt that it could be cloned if found. But how useful would it be? As you say in the book, the predictions are often fuzzy and very unclear. Would this be something that governments would seek?
I think that a “prophecy gene” is in the realm of science fiction. It’s easy to have fun with it in a novel and create interesting scenarios for its use, but I don’t think it’s possible. From stories we’ve heard in the past concerning such research in the government, I guess it wouldn’t surprise me for a scientist to make a proposal to research such a thing and have it funded.
I’d like to go off topic for a minute, and talk technical. My mother always told me not to judge a book by its cover. I disagree, the cover tells you a lot about the inside. You opted to take the “Print On Demand” path, and that is a path that often leads to problems. Yet Prophecy is technically perfect, the typesetting, layout, and editing is flawless, how did you do it?
Thank you so much for that last compliment; it means a lot to me. I will answer your last question and then back up to address the print on demand (POD) path that I took for Prophecy.
In terms of the final product, iUniverse did a great job in doing the typesetting and layout. In terms of the content and editing, I first have to thank my personal team of reviewers who found numerous errors and kept me on the straight and narrow. After they had had their final say, and before I sent the manuscript to iUniverse, I spent months proofing the final manuscript before I sent it off to iUniverse; I’d say I went through it between ten and fifteen times. The initial editorial review from iUniverse was excellent as well, pointing out inconsistencies, etc.
Finally, I hired a copyeditor (through iUniverse) who did an outstanding job of standardizing everything according to the Chicago Manual of Style.
Oh, one more thing. You mentioned the cover. I must credit entirely the artistic design staff at iUniverse. My original idea was to use a photograph of the graveyard for the “unknowns” from the Johnstown flood. Wisely, the designer assigned to me said that was hardly an appropriate cover for a thriller. They alone came up with the idea of the double helix. After they suggested that, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it. It was perfect.
Now, concerning your mention of the POD route that I took. Prophecy is the sequel to my first novel, Category 5. I tried to find an agent for Category 5, but was unsuccessful and turned to iUniverse. I was a new author and figured that it would be tough. However, by the time I had completed Prophecy, I had sold over a thousand copies of Category 5–which isn’t bad for a first-time author doing all his own publicity. So, I figured that I’d have no problem finding an agent for Prophecy. I was wrong. After 123 queries to agents and a few publishers, I gave up. Not one of them would end up reading the manuscript. Those who would talk to me said that it was next to impossible to get a publisher interested in a new fiction author. So, I returned to iUniverse.
Prophecy is your second adventure into the book writing world, does it get easier or harder?
In terms of the creation and writing of the story, it seems to be about the same. It took me 2½ years to write Category 5 and about the same for Prophecy. What was nice about my first book was that I had no marketing duties. With two books now, it seems that I spend half of my time doing marketing, and that’s not nearly as much fun as writing.
Simon Barrett is an adult educator in Calgary, Alberta. With the 11 months a year of winter, he reads a lot of books! He is also a contributing editor for Blogger News and maintains a personal blog at Simon B.