Tag Archives: Weaknesses

Jul 01

“The Expendable Man” Author Peter G. Pollak Visits with Mike Angley

MA: My guest today is Peter G. Pollak. Peter is a retired business executive who has also been an educator and editor of two weekly newspapers. He also runs a web business where he interviews people, and he writes a blog on New York State government and politics.
Welcome, Peter. Please tell us more about your background.
PP: My working titles have included visiting professor, editor, publisher, CEO and lately chairman (of the company I founded), but what has characterized my professional career has been a willingness to take a risk in order to make a difference. After finishing my B.A., I spent a year as a VISTA Volunteer. Although I went back to school and eventually earned a Ph.D. (in history and education), in between I was editor of two alternative newspapers. In 1985, I said good-bye forever to being an employee and started a press release delivery service which is still in existence (under the name readMedia). I’m semi-retired now, spending most of my time writing.

MA: With your particular credentials in business and journalism, how did you end up writing fiction?

PP: I love to read fiction. To me fiction is on par with painting, sculpture and music as a higher art form. It requires both talent and dedication and good fiction rewards the reader by transporting h/h to another reality. In doing so, the reader can experience life’s horrors and its potentials.
MA: In your novel, did you create characters based upon people you’ve known in your personal and professional life?
PP: I don’t draw on real people for my characters. I suppose my characters are composites of people I’ve met, read about or come in contact with in some other way.
MA: Tell us about your novel.
PP: The Expendable Man is a political thriller. The protagonist is thrown into a bad situation for which he is ill prepared. He not only has to find a way out of that situation, but in order to regain his life he must find out why he was put there in the first place. He must survive the crucibles of being wrongly convicted of a crime and contracting a normally fatal illness.
MA: I love political thrillers. What makes your hero who he is? Strengths? Weaknesses?
PP: At the beginning he’s all about himself. He lacks family or friend. He’s not a bad person, but one who hasn’t allowed himself to smell the roses. No one can go through hell without being changed in the process. I hope my readers see the changes that take place in his personality as he struggles to regain his health and his freedom.

MA: Every good thriller has to have a bad guy, so I assume you have a unique one?

PP: Yes, of course. There is the person who sets the ball in motion and the one who has to do the dirty work of making my protagonist “expendable.” Readers may recognize their types.
MA: I imagine you don’t have any real life experiences that you drew from to create your story, or do you?
PP: I’ve been behind bars…for a few hours. I was arrested when I was about 19 for violating a local ordinance, selling without a permit. I was trying to earn money one summer selling encyclopedias. Later I had the privilege of teaching political science 101 to inmates at more than one NYS Correctional Institution (prison). What’s worse than being locked up? Answer: facing a deadly disease. What if you had to contend with both? That’s the fate of my protagonist.
MA: Well, I never saw that coming! What are your future writing plans?
PP: I’m working on a mystery which I hope to finish by the end of the summer and then publish a second mystery set in the same city using two of the characters from the first one. The protagonist of The Expendable Man has ridden off into the sunset. I’ll let my readers imagine what his life is like, but I think readers will like the main characters in my next two novels — Jake Barnes, a retired cop turned P.I., and Karen Battaglia, recently promoted to detective on her local police force.
MA: Excellent! Any parting thoughts for my readers?
PP: If you live in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. region, I’d be happy to do a reading for your book club or other organization. Contact me through my website: http://www.petergpollak.com/

Read More

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Jan 28

Scientist-Turned-Novelist Paul Guthrie Joins Mike Angley Today

MA: My guest-blogger today is Paul Guthrie. Paul – or Dr. Guthrie – is a scientist by training and vocation. He received a BA in Physics from Cornell University, followed by a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Massachusetts. After graduation, Paul went to work for NASA at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt MD. His work was primarily in the development of computer models to simulate the chemistry of the Earth’s atmosphere in order to understand ozone depletion and climate change. After thirteen years he left NASA and joined a consulting firm in San Rafael CA, working mainly on air pollution issues for the EPA. By then he was irrevocably committed to the use of computers and the development of software. In 1999 he left the environmental field entirely and became involved in developing software for biotechnology and medical applications, which he continues to do part time. Starting in 2002, however, Paul decided to pursue another interest, that of writing fiction. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area, still married to the same person after thirty-seven years. We have two grown children.

Now that’s a fascinating biography you have, Paul. I am curious about how you found an interest in fiction with so much science in your life.

PG: I’m a scientist, with degrees in physics and astronomy. Working on issues like climate change, I was part of the collision of science, where truth (even approximate truth) is an ultimate goal, with politics, where truth is irrelevant. And I like to read. I‘ve read lots of fantasy and SF over the years, from classic “hard” SF to Tolkien, Eddings, Jordan, Martin, Stephenson, Gibson…the list goes on and on. I also like technology thrillers, like early Tom Clancy and early Michael Crichton.

MA: It’s good to have a wide breadth of interests, but how did you end up writing fiction, and why novels?

PG: My teachers always said I was a good writer, back before I chose a career in science and technology. In 2002 the medical imaging startup where I was working ran out of money and went belly up. Writing seemed like a good way to keep my mind occupied until something else turned up. Something else never did. Why novels…the form is long enough to really explore characters and story. You can say a lot of things in a novel.

MA: Tell us about your novel.

PG: “The Wrong God” crosses genres a bit. It involves something that looks like magic, elements of science fiction, some real science, politics and religion. Here’s the pitch:
Since the beginnings of history people have believed in magic, but California science writer Andy Taggart is not one of them. Until the day that John Chalk, his old friend from grad school, makes a ballpoint pen rise to stand on end – untouched. From that moment Andy is caught up in John’s mystery. Is this an illusion or is it new physics? Why can John do things that other people can’t – things that will mark him in some eyes as a worker of miracles? And why does John think someone is watching him?

Someone is watching. Wendell Murchison is possibly the most powerful man in America. He controls wealth, his own cable news network, an army of evangelical political operatives, and the President of the United States, but he wants more. From the new America of terrorist sleeper cells, detention camps and legalized torture he sees a path to levels of power not seen since the Inquisition. He would make a new all-out war of religion; all he needs is a leader – the New Prophet, John Chalk. Whether John believes or not.

When John refuses and disappears, Andy is left to face an adversary who will offer bribes, publish lies, send goon squads to beat him, whatever it takes to force him to betray John. Under constant surveillance and unsure who he can trust, Andy can’t stand alone; he has to find John. But even together, what can they do against Murchison? Levitating pens won’t stop him and there’s no point in hoping for miracles if you don’t believe in anybody’s gods.

Actually, it all grew out of a single observation. Traditional epic fantasy often involves ancient magic, with a venerable sage or a sacred book to explain the magic. My question was, how did the book get written? Who were the poor bastards who first discovered magic and had to figure out how it worked without killing themselves? Since I assumed (naturally) that they would approach it like scientists, the story became contemporary.

MA: That sounds intriguing, and it contains many of the same elements I enjoy reading about and writing with my own work. Tell us how you developed Andy’s character.

PG: Andy is kind of an almost-scientist. He has the training, but he isn’t entirely part of that world, the way John is. Andy can see the ambiguities in John’s discovery. I tend to like stories of ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges, so he had to be somewhat unheroic.

MA: Andy’s strengths? Weaknesses?

PG: Strengths…determination, loyalty, intelligence, humility, his love for his girlfriend, Rachel.
Weaknesses…fear, self-doubt, a little envy.

MA: It sounds like this Murchison guy is pretty devious…your antagonist, I assume?

PG: Oh yeah. I spent a lot of time on Wendell Murchison. My wife kept asking for more backstory. I kind of saw him as an amalgam of the kinds of people who have been involved at the intersection of great wealth, political propaganda, and the religious right.

MA: I almost hesitate to ask if any real-life experiences made their way into your story, especially given you hard science background.

PG: I guess the main influences were knowing how physicists think and approach problems, and experience watching scientists collide with politics. One other thing isn’t really central to the plot, but I’m a student and player of Taiko, the big Japanese drums. I gave that to Andy so I could try to describe it.

MA: I spent many years in Japan and always enjoyed Taiko drum performances, so I can relate to that character aspect (and a good thing you gave that to your hero!). So what’s next?
PG: I’m working on another novel that is still an untitled work in progress. It’s unrelated, more of a straight-ahead technology/political thriller. Beyond that I have notes for two more books to continue the story of “The Wrong God.”

MA: Thanks, Paul! You have a great blend of real science colliding with fiction in your work. I like the confluence of the two. For my readers, please check out Paul’s website: http://www.thewronggod.com Read More

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Dec 27

Young Adult Fantasy Novelist, Rainforest-Dwelling Writer, Tahlia Newland Guests with Mike Angley

MA: I have an intriguing guest today, so please extend a warm American welcome and Merry Christmas to Tahlia Newland. Tahlia is the author of the Young Adult fantasy novel Lethal Inheritance, the first in the Diamond Peak series.

She lives in an Australian rainforest south of Sydney and is a refugee from the Performing and Visual Arts. For 20 years, she created and performed in Visual Theatre shows and she makes Venetian style masks, which you can discover here: http://tahliasmasks.wordpress.com.

Now that she growing grey, she’s given all that up to become a writer. That is, when she’s not being an extremely casual high school teacher.

She has written scripts for theatre in education, a book of short stories for children and a few other short stories (one a semi finalist in the Aussiecon 4 Make Ready fantasy/scfi competition 2010), but her love in writing is novels.

Welcome, Tahlia! So you live in an Australian rainforest? I’m fascinated (and jealous). Tell us what you did before writing.

TN: I trained as a teacher after leaving high school, taught briefly then gave that up to become a professional dancer actor, mime and mask performer. During the 20 years that I lived off these talents, I also made masks and studied how our mind works. Specifically how what we think and how we deal with what rises in our mind affects what we feel, what we perceive, how we behave and what we experience.

MA: You’ve always been around the arts, so I suppose it was a natural decision to write novels?

TN: It wasn’t so much a decision, more something that just happened. I had wanted to write novels when I was younger, but I got into other creative areas and never had an idea that screamed to be written like Lethal Inheritance did. When the idea first came, it percolated for a while, then scenes began appearing in my mind and I just had to write them down.

MA: Tell us all about the story.

TN: Lethal Inheritance is a Young Adult Fantasy novel, the first in a four part series called Diamond Peak.

It’s a combination quest, love story and surrealistic journey into the mind, with sexy characters, flashes of humour, terrifying battles and a mix of fantasy and reality. It’s set in our world in the present day.

If last night was real then Ariel should be dead, but her mother has disappeared, there are bruise marks on her neck and that hideous beast in the photo looks frighteningly familiar.

When demons kidnap her mother, Ariel is catapulted into a mysterious realm in a hidden layer of reality. Stuck on a rescue mission she doesn’t want, she must negotiate an intriguing and unpredictable world where demons who feed on fear are hunting her, and they’re aiming to kill.

She needs help fast, but can she trust the quirky old guide who says he can teach her how to fine tune her mind into a powerful weapon? And what should she do about Nick, whose power is more than he or she can handle?

Ariel’s journey challenges her perception, tests her awareness and takes her deep into her heart and mind to confront, and ultimately transcend, her fear and anger.

MA: Nice tease! I take it Ariel, your heroine, was a carefully-crafted character?

TN: She just developed as I wrote the first two drafts. It wasn’t a conscious thing, rather she emerged from my creative mind as if she already existed.

MA: Well, that’s interesting. What makes Ariel strong as a protagonist?

TN: Strengths –she’s intelligent, willing to learn, cautious, has a sense of responsibility for her family, self reliant, determined. Weaknesses – At the start of the book, she is emotional, untrained, doesn’t believe in her own abilities, doesn’t know anything about the hidden realm, is sometimes over cautiour and naive.

MA: You mentioned a beast in a photo, I assume that’s the antagonist?

TN: Yes. Bitah the demon. He feeds on human’s fear and anger and tries to kill Ariel to prevent her from finding his master and rescuing her mother. There are various other demons and entities working for him as well, but he’s the main one she has to defeat in this book.

MA: So, I take it you haven’t been a real-world demon hunter…but do you have any real-life experiences that somehow influenced the plot?

TN: Not specifically, but my understanding of the workings of the mind form the basis for the methods the Warriors use to kill demons.

MA: What’s next in the Diamond Peak series?

TN: There are three sequels to this novel. I’ve written them to second draft stage and will work on them again once I get a publishing contract. I’m also working on another novel, that has a greater degree of romance and leans a bit more towards adults , but still deals with the mind and a combination of modern and older style realities. It’s called Captive. The main characters will remain the same and some characters who are relatively minor in this book will feature more predominantly.

MA: I have to ask, can you describe the demon for my readers?

TN: A black, flowing form, human in size and shape, dropped onto the path without a sound. Its slimy skin, hanging in folds like the fabric of a long hooded cloak, rippled from the impact. White flames, flicking like snake tongues, blazed from two slits in its hideous face, casting an eerie glow as the head swung from side to side, as if searching for its prey. Another slash of flaming white formed a thin-lipped mouth curled into a sneer. Long loose arms dangled at the creature’s sides and its clawed hands repeatedly flexed and unflexed. A putrid smell, reminiscent of rotting potatoes, emanated from the beast. Ariel’s nose wrinkled and her stomach felt queasy.

MA: Well, there you have it! Thanks, Tahlia. Folks, please visit Tahlia Newland’s website for more beastly information: http://tahlianewland.com. Read More

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