A Smart Bitch Interview with Paul Tolmé

Paul Tolme, photo by Victoria SamaAfter 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 Tolmé 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, ‘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 hugger” does a lot of damage because it implies that we care more about trees than about people. I’d rather we be called ‘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.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    Excellent work, ladies!  Thanks for sharing this with us.  I look forward to hearing more about Mr. Tolme in the future.

  2. 2
    Teddy Pig says:

    Damn he’s loves ferrets and he is cute too! Oh Paul, I think you just became Romance hero fodder.

    Some guys got all the luck.

  3. 3
    TracyS says:

    I love the book Northern Lights!!  Hopefully he will too.  I have to say that I love Mr. Tolme’s writing voice.

  4. 4

    Excellent interview – and great choice of book to send him. Hope he’ll check back in and let us know what he thinks.

  5. 5
    Barb Ferrer says:

    Good questions and good answers—and I hope we hear back from him after he reads Nora.

  6. 6
    Sherb says:

    Hmmm.  Great interview and perfect book choice as it is a great example of how to incorporate research into a story without clubbing the reader over the head with it.  Too bad Nora hasn’t written anything with ferrets…


    ideas41…Hey, Nora!  My spam blocker is suggesting a ferret idea, I think!

  7. 7
    Jennie says:

    Great article, great book rec, but I’m having trouble with his comment about “I would be really pissed off, and I have been, if it was a journalist [who plagiarized], like Jayson Blair and others.”

    It seems like the old cliche about the wife being ok with her husband having casual affairs with strangers but being beyond livid because he slept with her best friend.

  8. 8
    Cori says:

    I think the idea of a journalist plagiarizing him would be more upsetting is because they’re in competition in a way he isn’t with Cassie Edwards. Not that they aren’t both bound by the rules against plagiarism, but her theft isn’t taking food off his plate or work out of his inbox the way a journalist stealing his words might.

    Great interview, and a great book choice. I love that one.

  9. 9
    RStewie says:

    Wow.  That new pic is top notch!  I’m not usually into journalists…but he’s definitely hero fodder with those “piercing auquamarine eyes”.

    spam word: single63.  Neither, actually…more like taken30…

  10. 10
    azteclady says:

    It’s a great book choice, definitely, and I certainly hope he gets hooked into romance. There’s nothing wrong with expanding one’s horizons, after all.

    On the plagiarism issue, I agree with Jennie—stealing is stealing, and while CE didn’t take food from his plate, so to speak, she still took what wasn’t hers and sold it. It’s wrong, period.

    SBSarah, perhaps you and Candy, and the Dear Author ladies should help him with the plagiarism article—you’ve done a lot of the work already.

    spamfoiler: him48. Oh yeah *grin*

  11. 11
    Cori says:

    Well sure, I don’t think anyone’s saying it’s not wrong, period. I’m just suggesting that there’s a reason beyond mere sentiment why he would feel differently about another journalist plagiarizing him.

  12. 12
    jessica says:

    Great interview, and love the book choice.

  13. 13
    hypertufa says:

    “… this was back in the 90s when the environment wasn’t a hot topic …”

    Huh? Love Canal was what year?

    I was working for an environmental engineering firm from ‘85-‘95 because there were Superfund sites and state cleanup operations going on just about everywhere. (Back when, you know, the EPA actually DID SOMETHING with your tax money and made businesses and the military clean up their messes.)

    It’s a sad commentary, but maybe the environment is a “hot topic” in newspapers and magazines now because it’s kind of too late already.

    Har. “Nature31” is my verification!

  14. 14
    C.M. says:

    ”  Wow.  That new pic is top notch!  I’m not usually into journalists…but he’s definitely hero fodder with those “piercing auquamarine eyes”. ”

    They darken to teal as he passionately argues for the plights of the ferrets!

    One must never forget the eye colour change. Come to think of it, there isn’t a romance novel that has taken this to ridiculous proportions, is there?

    Yay on the romance novel reading! We must hook him and, like a future cigarette smoker for the first time… except no poisonous smoke.

    Thank you for making this interview happen, all!

  15. 15

    “Nature deficit disorder.” I will definitely use that one. :-)

    Hypertufa, I remember the environment being a fairly hot topic in the 90s as well. But that might be because my reading material at the time included stuff like Mother Jones and the Utne Reader, a magazine whose whole purpose is to reprint articles from sources that don’t have large readerships. :-)

  16. 16
    whey says:

    Poor man, he’s become the Justin Timberlake of ferret-fangirls everywhere.

    captcha: filled69—hmmmm… (dirty, dirty blog)

  17. 17
    Becca says:

    Can I get an 8×10 glossy reprint of that photo? I’d pay (reasonable) money for it…

  18. 18
    Strategerie says:

    Devastatingly handsome and a Friend to the Animals, too? RWA needs a keynote speaker this year, don’t they?

    In the meantime, she-who-shall-not-be-named had several books for sale in the racks at the local grocery store yesterday. I’m thinking some publishers are taking advantage of the publicity.


  19. 19

    “Poor man, he’s become the Justin Timberlake of ferret-fangirls everywhere.”

    Well THANK you very much, Whey!
    Now I’ve the tune ‘Ferret in a Box’ going throough my head.

  20. 20
    smartmensab-tch says:

    Thanks Bitches for the picture!  Wow, he’s hot!

    I’ll bet he’s gotten some very interesting and imaginative e-mails…the mind boggles…

  21. 21
    talpianna says:

    *Mole wriggles with delight because she was the first one to suggest sending him NORTHERN LIGHTS.*

    Let him read a few, and then let Eric Selinger interview him for a man-to-man talk about romance novels!


  22. 22
    Katie W. says:

    *Swoon* He’s dreamy.

    And I’m writing Newsweek to tell their editor that they need to talk with him about that plagiarism series. I would LOVE to read something like that—especially considering how many emails he got from others who were victims of plagiarists.

    (Katie now runs off to write to Newsweek editor Jon Meacham…)

  23. 23
    KateyJ says:

    Crikey, my eyes zoomed to the pic first and I was all, “Why are they interviewing Alan Davies?!?”

    But then I looked twice and realized Tolme is better looking and brainier, though not as well-known perhaps.

    Thanks for giving the Bitches some time! Enjoyed the interview.

  24. 24
    Wry Hag says:


    Good interview.  I’m just perplexed about why a journalist/naturalist would want to pose for a Glamor Shot.  Shouldn’t he be, like, out in the wild, kinda dirty and sweaty and—most important in terms of image—nekkid?

  25. 25
    SusanL says:

    Thank you for the interview.  I think Northern Lights was an excellent choice.

  26. 26
    Daisy Adaire says:

    He is very nearly the perfect man, isn’t he? Hot, smart, and funny. *melts*

      I remember the environment being a much bigger deal in the ‘90s than it seems to be now. Maybe what he meant was “and this was back in the ‘90’s when the environment wasn’t a hot topic TO ME. . .”

    Verification word: eye69

    why yes, eye most certainly would.

  27. 27
    Q says:

    I completely agree and if I may add, what’s with the nighty on the US cover?  I mean, seriously, are we still in the “let me slip into something more comfortable” phase of romance novels?  Oh I can practically smell the vanilla candles…

Comments are closed.

↑ Back to Top