Stories from My Life: I Pay a Price for Ignoring my Moral Compass
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.
How to Conduct a Successful Book Signing
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.
Comparing U.S. Reaction to Pearl Harbor to San Bernardino: Similarities?
In light of yesterday’s 74th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, it seems a good time to recall that tragedy and relate it to events occurring now.
Three U.S. ships afire at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941: the USS West Virginia, Tennessee, and Arizona. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia and the National Archives and Records Administration.
I spent two years researching and writing an historical novel, How Much Do You Love Me?, which revolves around the Japanese internment of World War II. It is both a mystery and a love story, my purpose being to shine a light on this historical travesty. If you read my book, you will understand why the internment occurred, how it was executed, and the impact that it had on 120,000 West Coast Japanese Americans. In several Barnes and Noble book-signings this holiday season, more than one person has recognized the analogy to events happening today, most recently the San Bernardino shootings. Is there a similarity to what happened in 1941? Let’s compare the details.
Point Number 1: The attack on the Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbor was completely unexpected and, as memorably stated by President Roosevelt at the time, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America….” The shootings in San Bernardino on December 2 were also unexpected, with fourteen people murdered and twenty-one injured.
Point Number 2: The Pearl Harbor attack was perpetrated by a nation state whose ethnic group was a minority in the United States. The San Bernardino attack was conducted by two individuals who were radicalized extremists who claimed to be Islamic. Islam is a minority religion in the U.S.
Point Number 3: Not long after Pearl Harbor, certain public officials stoked anti-Japanese hysteria, resulting in an intense fear of anyone who looked Japanese, particularly on the West Coast where most lived. In the same way, Republican Presidential frontrunner, Donald Trump, has followed suit. He now recommends that Muslims be prevented from entering our country. What his anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim statements have done is to fuel fear of the Muslim population in the U.S.
How will this play out? I can tell you what happened in December 1941. Almost immediately following Pearl Harbor, FBI agents fanned out, questioning and searching the homes of Japanese Americans. And little more than two months later, on February 19, national hysteria led President Roosevelt to take action that sealed the fate of all West Coast Japanese Americans. He did this even though the head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover himself, did not believe that Japanese Americans posed any threat. Executive Order No. 9066 led to the internment of some 120,000 people. As I state during my signings, “if you were of Japanese ancestry and lived on the West Coast in February of 1942, you were forcibly removed from your home and taken to an internment camp.” Two-thirds of those interned were American citizens, whose rights were ridden roughshod over.
The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II is a stain on the historical consciousness of the United States. (In 1988, President Reagan signed legislation that apologized.) Most of the time our country has acted honorably, both in peacetime and in war. However, there are instances when we have acted neither nobly nor fairly and for which we need reminding so as not to repeat our mistakes. The unjustified internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was one of those times.
Will anxiety stoked by politicians cause us to vilify our Muslim minority, as we did with the Japanese Americans? I think not. I’m confident that politicians and others with a public voice who remember history will counter the hateful rhetoric of those who have forgotten American values and democratic principles.
Please feel free to share this post and to write to me.
Stories from My Life: To Russia with Love
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Stories from My Life: Close encounters with the grim reaper
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The Japanese Internment of World War II, Part 14: War’s End/Reparations/Final Thoughts
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The Japanese Internment of World War II, Part 13: The 442nd Regimental Combat Team
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Stories you can listen to, #13: Heaven First
In my continuing series of short stories, Heaven First is sentimental and schmalzy. I may be wrong, but I think I got the idea for the approach for this story from a James Bond book; after a dinner party, Bond hears the fascinating story about a guest who had been sitting next to him. If you… View Article