Bitchin' Blog Posts
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 wasnâ€™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. Iâ€™d love to do another story about the ferrets, and have a magazine send me back to South Dakota, to see how theyâ€™re doing. It hasnâ€™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 Providenceâ€¦ but really, I wanted to be outside. I helped start an environmental and outdoors beat in the New Hampshire bureau â€“ and this was back in the 90â€™s when the environment wasnâ€™t a hot topic â€“ 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 â€“ all the stuff I should have learned in high school and college, but didnâ€™t.
Now that youâ€™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 Iâ€™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 thereâ€™s starving children in other parts of the world, or genocide in Darfur?â€™ 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 â€“ 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 whatâ€™s happening, so itâ€™s important that I tell people whatâ€™s going on in places that they canâ€™t see first hand. Climate change is hugely important.
Environmentalism is denigrated a great deal â€“ the term â€œtree huggerâ€ does a lot of damage because it implies that we care more about trees than about people. Iâ€™d rather we be called â€˜children-huggersâ€™ because Iâ€™m trying to help future generations see the wonder of the earth, and I worry about the future. Iâ€™m not a worrywart but weâ€™ve got this young generation thatâ€™s electronically plugged in, and thereâ€™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 donâ€™t get to learn about first hand. Iâ€™m thankful for a job that lets me ask questions, and Iâ€™d love to write a piece about the romance novel community.
What would you like to do next in terms of your writing?
Paul: Iâ€™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? Iâ€™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. Iâ€™d rather go on a journalistic journey, because this experience has revealed a huge community of people â€“ 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 heâ€™d written about a veterinary medical procedure and later he found it plagiarized. Itâ€™s a little known problem with a wide impact. Iâ€™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: Iâ€™d love to talk to her, have a conversation about how it happened. I didnâ€™t want to demonize her in my Newsweek article. You asked me earlier if I was pissed off, and I wasnâ€™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 didnâ€™t piss me off, but itâ€™s probably because Iâ€™m not part of that craft, and Iâ€™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. Iâ€™ve had a ton of email from high school teachers, professors and librarians saying they plan to use the story to discuss plagiarism. Itâ€™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! Iâ€™d love to!
Lucky Paul! Heâ€™s in for it now. Iâ€™m sending him a copy of Nora Robertsâ€™ 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 readersâ€™ questions, and to our readers for sending me excellent inquiries.
Filed: Interviews & Smart Responses