There is no doubt about it, there are some great authors out there just waiting to get discovered. Paul Mark Tag is one of them. He has just released his third book, a series of very well constructed short stories.

I had the opportunity to ask Paul about his latest book, writing in general. and the state of the publishing world.

You were right, The Errant Ricochet is unlike your two other books.  As I understand it, these were mainly stories that you penned prior to Prophecy and Category 5, basically they come from the period where you were honing your craft.  Can you tell us a little about history of these stories?

First, thank you, Simon, for this interview opportunity.

When I first decided to take seriously my goal of writing fiction (about twelve years ago), short stories seemed to be a natural form with which to start.  When I’m asked at book signings about where someone should begin, if considering fiction, my stock answer is to write short stories.  Many fiction readers probably think that the shorter the piece, the easier it is to write.  It is not.  This form really takes some getting used to because every word counts.  Importantly, the skills required to make a short story compelling translate directly to the long form.  And from a practical point of view, when you’re learning to write and making mistakes right and left, you have far less invested in a short story.

In terms of the periods for the stories in my book, they extend from the mid-1950’s until the present.  I like to combine actual historical events with made-up fiction.  For example, a focal point in the title story, The Errant Ricochet, is the 1912 sinking of the Titanic.  A Matter of Honor, although set in 1959, recalls the horrors of World War II.  In others, although set during a given period (e.g., The Curious Miss Crabtree), I feel that the story has a timeless quality to it.

Several of my stories have been published in literary magazines.  When you’re just starting out, literary magazines are a good place to achieve some initial literary success.  Be forewarned, however: the competition is stiff.  You learn to develop a thick skin from all the rejections that are part of the learning experience.

The one complaint that I have about this book is that it is too short!  Did you consider penning some additional stories to make it a bit longer?

The short—and honest—answer is no.  I had spent a five-year period when short stories were all I wrote, when I was learning the craft of writing fiction.  By the time I was ready to put them together as a package to publish, I had moved on.  By then, I had completed two novels and had begun the third.  Maybe it’s just an indication of my limitations, or a one-track mind.

Once you had decided to go ahead with this compilation how long did it take to complete?

All of the stories were in near-final form since most of them had been submitted to literary magazines.  Still, when I decided to publish them as a group, I spent months rewriting and improving them.  I was surprised to find instances where I said to myself, “I wouldn’t write that sentence that way now.”  Hopefully, that means that I have matured as a writer.

Are you getting some positive feedback from readers?

Since the book has just recently come out, I haven’t yet received much feedback.  What I have received, however, has been positive.

What I found curious is the lack of ‘weather’ related stories.  With your background, I had expected some.

Weather is not the focal point of any of my stories, but it does play a role.  For example, Jimmy Boy evolves as a man and woman weather Hurricane Iniki in Hawaii in September of 1992; during that same story, the protagonist recalls her experiences during the “Surprise” hurricane of 1943, an actual event.  The Errant Ricochet, which begins during the summer of 1955 (the original title by the way) recalls the heat of that summer, the two hurricanes (Connie and Diane) that made it to Pennsylvania, and the massive February ice storm of the following year.

Still, I guess your point is that none of the stories use weather as the character, only as a backdrop.  I made up for that deficiency, I think, in my first novel, Category 5, where the title refers to a certain intensity of hurricane that the bad guys are intent on creating.  Even there, though, I see weather as mostly a backdrop for the plot and character development.

Compared to delving into genetics and the genome in my second novel (Prophecy), in my third novel, which I’m writing now, I am returning to a meteorological theme.

Your resume is looking pretty darn good right now.  I remarked in my review that it is high time one of the mainstream publishers took a long hard look at your work.  Are you pursuing that direction?

I would like nothing better than to find an agent who will pursue a traditional publisher for me.  I gave it my best shot for both Category 5 and the sequel, Prophecy.  I queried 151 and 123 agents and publishers, respectively, for those books.  For The Errant Ricochet, I made the decision straightaway not to even try to find an agent, my thinking being that a collection of short stories from an unknown author would prove even more difficult to market than a genre novel.  Consequently, I’ve used Print on Demand publisher, iUniverse, to publish all three books.

All of the above said, you can be sure that I will be trying my darndest to find an agent and publisher for my third novel, which I’d say is about a third complete.

This book is a bit of a family project.  I noticed your niece is credited with the cover photography, and a very nice piece of work it is.  Is she a serious photographer?

My niece, Rachel Tag, is an artist and professional photographer in Chicago.  I gave her my title story from The Errant Ricochet and asked if she thought one of her photographs might be a candidate for the cover.  I think that both of us were initially skeptical at how this might turn out.  After Rachel spent weeks sifting through her vast library of pictures, we decided that this particular photo represented the book the best.  With iUniverse’s adaptation of the photograph into the book cover that you see, I couldn’t be more pleased.

What is your next project going to be?

As mentioned above, I am working on my third novel.  I don’t have a title yet, but it will be a second sequel to Category 5.  In the first books, Victor Mark Silverstein has been the protagonist, with Linda Kipling his faithful associate.  Those of you who have read either Category 5 or Prophecy know that Kipling has become a very strong character in her own right.  As a result, Kipling will be the lead in novel three.  Silverstein will take the subservient role that Kipling has had in the first two books.

You asked about weather-related stories above.  After I wrote Category 5, I could not think of another weather-related topic as good as the one I had developed for that book.  Subsequently, Prophecy explored another topic.  For book three, I’ve decided to return to my roots, meteorology.  Global climate change is the topic of the decade, it seems, and I would be a fool not to consider it in a story line.  It took my primary reader, Robin Brody, and I months to come up with an exciting enough premise to form the backdrop for a complex thriller.  I need to mention one thing.  As we all know, there is a lot of discussion regarding what is doing what to the environment.  In my book, however, there will be no such subtlety; the bad guys, for their own personal gain, are planning serious damage to the planet.  We can only pray that Kipling and Silverstein decipher the clues and save us all from a worldwide disaster.

What else should we know about Paul Mark Tag?

You can get a sense of my books, check out my biography, and read several short pieces on writing, by going to my website, www.paulmarktag.com.  My e-mail address is there.  I’d love to hear from anyone who just wants to write or who needs advice based on my own experiences.

Oh, there is one more thing I didn’t mention!  I’ve begun putting my work on my website in the form of Podcasts.  For example, five of the fourteen stories from The Errant Ricochet are included.  You can either listen to them live or download them for later.  I’ve also just started recording chapters for my first novel, Category 5.  On my home page, just click to the right of “Podcast Readings?”

Again, Simon, thank you so much for having me as your guest.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and good luck with your future projects. I will be keeping my eye out for the next installment.

Simon Barrett

http://zzsimonb.blogspot.com

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