After an article in Newsweek, a weekend of coverage on NPR, and a lot of email requesting pictures with his shirt off, preferably holding a ferret, journalist Paul TolmÃ© agreed to an interview with Smart Bitches. I’d sent a request for questions to our readers using our top-secret email list of Bitchery members, and using those questions, Paul and I chatted for nearly an hour about plagiarism, ferrets, the environment, romance and writing.
Any reader-submitted questions are notated with the author’s name in parenthesis; otherwise the question is one that either multiple people asked, or I made up. He also answered my request for a picture – one we haven’t seen before. He obliged with the one on the left, wherein he sports long hair. Try to keep from fainting, ladies.
First, and obvious question: when you found out, were you pissed off? What has the attention meant for you?
Paul: No, I wasn’t pissed off. I was miffed, but I also found it absurd, and I think that the media picked up on that absurdity. Media attention is always a good thing for a writer, and that means new projects. I’d love to do another story about the ferrets, and have a magazine send me back to South Dakota, to see how they’re doing. It hasn’t happened yet.
How did you get your start as an environmental journalist? (Radish)
Paul: I started off as a daily journalist. When I graduated from the University of New Hampshire, I got a job with the AP and I covered everything. I wrote about politics and news stories, I went to the state house in New Hampshire and Providence… but really, I wanted to be outside. I helped start an environmental and outdoors beat in the New Hampshire bureau — and this was back in the 90’s when the environment wasn’t a hot topic — because I wanted to be out of the office. I liked writing about politics, but it kept me in government buildings. I always wanted to get out. I love to follow researchers, and go snoop around in the woods. My writing career has been one long earth sciences course — all the stuff I should have learned in high school and college, but didn’t.
Now that you’ve had a glimpse of the romance world, has your idea of pillow talk changed? (Jenyfer Matthews)
Paul: My girlfriend and I had a lot of fun with the whole escapade, but the Cassie Edwards novel I bought was the only romance novel I’ve read since I was a horny young boy.
How do you answer people who ask, â€˜Why should I care about ferrets, or the environment, when there’s starving children in other parts of the world, or genocide in Darfur?’ And what misperceptions or stereotypes do you face about your work as an environmental journalist? (Darlene Marshall, Jocelynne Weathers)
Paul: I think the environment is the biggest story of our era. The planet is literally burning, and there are species going extinct — which indicates that human impact and destruction comes with great consequence. As a journalist, I live vicariously through researchers, and I get outdoors and see personally what’s happening, so it’s important that I tell people what’s going on in places that they can’t see first hand. Climate change is hugely important.
Environmentalism is denigrated a great deal — the term “tree huggerâ€ does a lot of damage because it implies that we care more about trees than about people. I’d rather we be called â€˜children-huggers’ because I’m trying to help future generations see the wonder of the earth, and I worry about the future. I’m not a worrywart but we’ve got this young generation that’s electronically plugged in, and there’s a nature deficit disorder at work in that generation.
How have these revelations and the varied reactions to them shaped your impression of the romance community? (Carrie Lofty)
I had no idea there was this massive audience who read romance novels. You have a very caring, concerning audience who are eloquent with a great sense of humor. As a journalist, I see myself as an educator, teaching public about what they don’t get to learn about first hand. I’m thankful for a job that lets me ask questions, and I’d love to write a piece about the romance novel community.
What would you like to do next in terms of your writing?
Paul: I’d love to write about plagiarism, and use my experience of being plagiarized to explore the topic. What are the rights of a writer, what recourse do writers have? I’d love to explore legal history, and examine the issue. I was wronged, but I want to quantify the experience, not necessarily pursue it legally. I’d rather go on a journalistic journey, because this experience has revealed a huge community of people — I got email from more than 100 people who told me they were plagiarized, people from all walks of life. A veterinarian told me about a piece he’d written about a veterinary medical procedure and later he found it plagiarized. It’s a little known problem with a wide impact. I’d love to write more about it. I want to explore the topic of plagiarism because of journalistic curiosity, and because how big the problem is.
What about Cassie Edwards? Would you like to talk to her?
Paul: I’d love to talk to her, have a conversation about how it happened. I didn’t want to demonize her in my Newsweek article. You asked me earlier if I was pissed off, and I wasn’t. I would be really pissed off, and I have been, if it was a journalist [who plagiarized], like Jayson Blair and others. It pisses me off if journalists betray their craft. This didn’t piss me off, but it’s probably because I’m not part of that craft, and I’m not a reader of romance.
What would you like to see happen because of this issue?
Paul: One thing that has happened is my Newsweek article has become a teaching tool. I’ve had a ton of email from high school teachers, professors and librarians saying they plan to use the story to discuss plagiarism. It’s a great opportunity for education, because it is sexy and humorous, but it opens the topic for a national teaching moment on plagiarism, and ferrets.
What’s your dog’s name?
Paul: That’s Rudy. He’s a yellow lab. We also have a second dog named Moose.
Ok, the big question: if we send you a romance to represent the best of the genre, would you read it?
Paul: Absolutely! I’d love to!
Lucky Paul! He’s in for it now. I’m sending him a copy of Nora Roberts’ Northern Lights on behalf of the Bitchery, and I expect to hear back from him to find out how he liked it.
Thank you again to Paul for his time in answer our readers’ questions, and to our readers for sending me excellent inquiries.