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Stories from My Life: California or Bust, 7,000 Miles in Ten Days

Bixby Bridge_9Feb16

 

In my series, “Stories from My Life,” I have focused on incidents or experiences that are interesting, humorous, or make a philosophical point. This story hopefully falls into the first two categories.

In the summer of 1966, when I was 20 years old, a friend of mine, Neil Shirk, and I did something special: we drove from Pennsylvania to California and back. At the time we were students at Pennsylvania State University; I had just finished my junior year and, in fact, would graduate that December.

Our first step was to find a suitable vehicle to make the trip. To that end, we borrowed my mother’s Chevrolet Corvair (black, stick shift), a 1960 model I think. This vehicle was later referenced in Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe at Any Speed, in which he derided Detroit’s penchant for emphasizing comfort over safety in vehicle design. The car had a few problems but, truth be told, was fun to drive. I especially enjoyed winter driving when the rear-engine design made it quite good in snow.

In planning our trip, special attention was paid to cost. We agreed to $100 each. So how, you ask, could we accomplish this mission on so little money? Especially since gasoline was a key expenditure. The Corvair got around 25 MPG. With gas running 32 cents (over 40 in the western mountains) per gallon, this meant that half of our cash went to gasoline. To keep our trip within budget, we decided to pitch a tent at night and eat canned food that we heated over an outdoor fire. We may have stayed in a hotel once or twice. I have no memories of eating in a restaurant, although we must have had occasionally, at least for lunch.

Seven thousand miles in 10 days meant 700 miles per day, which didn’t leave a lot of time for nondriving activities. We took the northern route out and the southern back. Noteworthy stops included the Golden Gate Bridge, Disneyland, the Hoover dam, and the Grand Canyon. A special highlight for me was visiting Universal Studios in the Los Angeles area, where I saw the house used for the movie Psycho. Prior to that, I remember arriving in Monterey, California, and heading south on Route 1. The sign read something like “Curves, next 74 miles.” At the time neither of us appreciated that the views from this highway are among the most beautiful in the world. (Please see above photo of California coastline and iconic Bixby Bridge, some 15 miles south of Monterey.)

Outside of a trip to the emergency room for me, there weren’t any disasters. As I recall, I had woken up in my sleeping bag shivering terribly. Looking back, I think I had a case of hypothermia.

We arrived safely back in Pennsylvania, returning Mom’s car with four nearly bald tires. Little did I know at the time that some six years later I would be moving to the West Coast and working in Monterey.

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Stories from My Life: I Pay a Price for Ignoring my Moral Compass

Moral Compass_17Jan16

 

In my series called “Stories from My Life,” I have picked events that are either interesting, humorous, or make a philosophical point. The story here is one of the latter: it highlights what is arguably the worst mistake I’ve made in my life.

A little background to give you perspective. My mother married Father No. 1 in her early twenties, and I was their only child. As things happen, they grew apart and divorced. When I was 13, my mother remarried, resulting in Father No. 2. He adopted me, and my name changed from Paul Mark Widmeyer to Paul Mark Tag.

Until my mother remarried, I spent many a summer with Father No. 1, who lived in a neighboring state. I got to know him well, and we had a good rapport. That relationship changed dramatically after the adoption when Father No. 2 told me that I should no longer visit or have a relationship with Father No. 1. Since I was still in middle school at the time and under his control, I felt I had no choice but to do as he said.

Fast forward about a decade when I was busy earning a degree in meteorology at Pennsylvania State University. One day, I received a letter from Father No. 1, delivered through an intermediary. He wrote that he wanted to see me again and reestablish a relationship. Since it had been some years since we had last seen each other, the letter surprised me, but sounded reasonable. I was good to go.

Unfortunately (now, with twenty-twenty hindsight), I showed this letter to my parents. I still remember the uproar it caused when Father No. 2 made it very clear that Father No. 1 had given up his rights to me and that I should have no further contact. Case closed.

To be sure, I thought that Father No. 2’s edict was unreasonable. But at that point in my life (early twenties), I didn’t think that I could disobey him. However, somewhat to my credit, I chose to get a second opinion. I approached the one person at Penn State who I thought could provide some moral authority, a Protestant minister, to tell me what I should do. I gave him all the details. He explained that Father No. 2 was correct and that I owed my entire allegiance to him. But he also suggested that I write a long letter to Father No. 1, bringing him up to date on my life but, at the same time, informing him that I would no longer be a part of his life. To my ultimate regret, I did what he said.

It wasn’t many more years later that I learned that Father No. 1 had passed away; he remembered me in his will. I was aware that he had remarried. Although I knew that I was taking a big chance should Father No. 2 discover my duplicity, I took the risk and secretly contacted the second wife of Father No. 1. A lovely person, she welcomed me warmly, and I visited her at her home more than a few times. It was during one of those visits that she told me how devastated Father No. 1 had been upon receiving my letter and that he harbored resentment toward me until he died.

Looking back, who was right and who was wrong? No less than a man of the cloth had supported Father No. 2’s command. To be fair, that same minister might well answer my question differently today. But, to this day, I am ashamed of what I did. I understood that Father No. 2 was wrong to deny Father No. 1 the privilege of knowing me (his only child) as I grew up. I wish that I had had more backbone back then, to do what was just and decent.

What’s my point? In earlier blogs I have discussed a historical atrocity to which many Americans turned a blind eye. My historical novel, How Much Do You Love Me?, addresses the unjust internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II. Although that story and my personal anecdote represent two vastly different situations, one involving a presidential order fueled by the drumbeat of anti-Japanese hysteria, and the other a questionable pronouncement by a family member, both events should remind us to never neglect our own moral compass. Surely God would expect nothing less.

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1 Comment

  • Linda Beaverson says:

    Enjoyed reading this, Paul.
    I think everyone has a lot of “if only” in our lives.
    I am sure Father No. 1 would be very proud of you for all you have done in your life.

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How to Conduct a Successful Book Signing

B&N Almaden#2_13Dec15

I’ve been doing book signings for about ten years, starting shortly after my first thriller, Category 5, was published. That was back when we had two dominant bookstores, Borders, and Barnes and Noble. Borders provided me dozens of signing opportunities. After Borders withdrew from the scene, Barnes and Noble picked up the slack; they have been as good to me as Borders ever was.

My book signing skills have improved over the years, and I have learned important lessons. I am invariably told that I sell more books than any other author who visits that store. I am neither a famous author nor a celebrity. My strategies are hardly secrets, but I will share with you what I have learned.

Number 1: To sell a lot of books, you need to meet a lot of people.

The beauty of Barnes and Noble stores is that a lot of folks come in. This is important. Why? From my experience, I’d say that, roughly, only 5-10% of shoppers entering the store are a) interested in buying my particular genres of book, and b) in a mood to buy. In my case, I am hawking two separate genres: I have a trilogy of thrillers (Category 5, Prophecy, and White Thaw: The Helheim Conspiracy) and one historical novel, How Much Do You Love Me? What does this mean? It means that, unless you’re a famous author, you can’t have a two-hour signing and expect to sell many books. I stay all day. On my December 13 signing in San Jose, California, I signed books for over 12 hours.

Number 2: Ask the store to announce your book signing as often as possible over the intercom.

Some customers don’t see me when they come in and need to be reminded that I’m there. To make it easy for the store, I provide a written example of what the announcer might say. Here’s one: “We have with us today author Paul Mark Tag, who is signing copies of his latest novel, How Much Do You Love Me?, a mystery and love story that revolves around the forced internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Paul is also signing copies from his thriller trilogy, the last of which, White Thaw, tackles the topical subject of global climate change. Please drop by the front of the store and say hello to Paul.”

Number 3: Bring your own advertising.

Often, the store will put up signs anticipating your signing. But, I always bring in my large poster board that advertises my presence. On that board is a picture and description of the primary book I’m selling. I’m usually allowed to put it somewhere by the entry door. Bring your own easel. I have a neat one that folds up small.

Number 4: Advertise ahead of time.

Unless you’re famous, just go for the simple and obvious. First, I make sure that my Amazon author’s page has a listing of upcoming signings. My website, www.paulmarktag.com, has a similar listing on my Media Room page. And, importantly, a day or so ahead of the signing, I make an official announcement of the upcoming signing on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/paulmarktag. Use whatever social media tools you have available.

Number 5: Be personable and enthusiastic when talking to customers.

Other than Number 1 above, Number 5 is probably the most important of all. Unless you are excited about your book, you can’t expect customers to be. They need to know that your books will transform their lives! Okay, that’s an exaggeration. Start out by telling them about yourself and where you’re from. In the case of my thrillers, I then convince them that they’re going to have a doggone good time following the exploits of my hero and heroine and that my stories are scientifically accurate. There will be excitement to burn, and I explain that a sleepless night might follow a bedtime reading. For my historical fiction novel, I say that my book, in addition to reminding us all about the World War II travesty that was the Japanese internment, is a page-turning mystery and a touching love story for which tissues will be required by book’s end. As your customer leaves, thank him or her sincerely for buying your book. It is the rare exception when buyers of my books don’t walk away reciprocating, thanking me for our discussion and for signing their personal copy.

Number 6: Odds and ends, in no particular order:

Have a pair of reading glasses handy for the customer who wants to read the back of your book but has forgotten theirs.

Take your own pillow or seat cushion; often, you end up with a hard bottom chair.

Have reviews of your books handy in case someone needs additional persuasion.

Unless you’re on the witness protection list, if asked, always agree to have a photo taken, but preferably alongside the customer. Immediately, ask him or her to e-mail you the picture right then, ask for permission to share the photo on Facebook or other social media, and then do it. The photo you see at the top of this blog is from December 13 at the Almaden Plaza Barnes and Noble in San Jose.

This is important! Ask customers if they will share their name and e-mail address (I keep a clipboard on the table just for that purpose). I’d say that somewhere around 95% agree. Next to their name annotate which book they bought. Then, after you get home, send them a personalized e-mail thanking them for buying your book; I ask them, if they like my book, to write a review on either the Barnes and Noble or Amazon websites. Also, in the store, ask them if you can use their e-mail address should you ever decide to write a newsletter; annotate the list accordingly. This catalogue of happy (hopefully) buyers will prove invaluable when you go to advertise your next book.

Get to know store employees, by name if possible; they are your allies and will drive customers your way.

If your book has received any kind of award, don’t fail to mention it. If you have related stickers, have one on at least one book for display.

If you have to leave your station, leave a preprinted sign that says when you will be back. I have two: one saying 5 minutes and one 20 minutes. You don’t want to lose a customer because they think you’ve gone home.

Thank the staff before you leave the store. And the next day, always send a thank-you e-mail to the store manager. Although he or she already knows the book tallies, I include an itemization of books signed.

That’s pretty much it. Follow these rules and book stores will welcome you back. Write if you have questions, and please feel free to share this blog.

 

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The Japanese Internment of World War II, Part 13: The 442nd Regimental Combat Team

The 442nd in France in late 1944; image courtesy of US Army [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Following the Pearl Harbor bombing on December 7th of 1941, many patriotic Japanese American citizens wanted to enlist in the armed forces. It wasn’t long, however, because of anti-Japanese hysteria, before their Selective Service classification as IV-C, Enemy… View Article