Saturday, May 5, 2012

Author Interview: M.P. McDonald

"I think that makes the government look especially sinister to readers of No Good Deed."

I’ve read the bio on your website multiple times where you talk about growing up as the fifth child in a family of eight kids and it never struck me until just now how strange that is. (Maybe because I’m the oldest of seven myself, so it didn’t seem that different.) You mention that with a family that large, reading was one way to escape the chaos that is common with that many people living together. What other things do you think are different about growing up in a large family?

You mean other than always taking as many slices of pizza as you can load on your plate because if you don’t, you’ll never get more than one piece? I was the runt of the litter as my mom had five children in four years and three weeks—no twins—so I just tried to stay out of my older brothers’ way. I learned that lesson early when they wheeled my bassinet into the closet not long after my mom brought me home. I guess they figured my mom might forget about me if I was out of sight. 

I’m making this sound way worse than it was. Until I was almost eight, I was the baby and then my sister came along and ruined it. Good thing she was a very sweet baby, and it wasn’t long after she was born that I decided she wasn’t so bad. By the time my mom was expecting my youngest brother, I was fifteen and super excited to learn I was getting another sibling.

It sounds like you’ve always been an avid reader. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I don’t think I ever planned to be a writer. I used to say I wanted to write a book, but unlike a lot of other authors, I never wrote anything when I was younger—just what was required for homework. My hand always cramped up when I had to do a lot of writing, so I never wrote more than I had to. I took typing in high school, my senior year. That turned out to be one of the best classes I ever took as far as using the skill later in life. This was back before PCs, so typing wasn’t something you learned growing up like my own children learned. I didn’t think about writing seriously until we got our first PC back in about 1993. I started a time-travel romance book, but it was awful. I had no clue what I was doing and didn’t write more than about ten pages. I gave up on that story, but I started reading books on how to write. I also started reading fan-fiction in 1995, and about a year later I  finally started writing. Fortunately for me, someone who actually knew how to write, took pity on me and offered to be my beta reader. She pretty much taught me how to write.

You currently have three books called The Mark Taylor series that are thrillers with a small, but critical supernatural element. The first of these, No Good Deed, takes place in 2001 and 2002. The story revolves around the aftermath of 9/11, with the changes in laws, such as the Patriot Act, and the potential abuses of suspected terrorists by the government being a big part of the story. What research did you do? How realistic do you think your portrayal is and do you think situations like Mark found himself in really could, or maybe did, happen?

I scoured Google for my research. I checked the library too, but the books there were pretty out of date compared to what I found on the internet. I hit a goldmine when I searched for information on Jose Padilla, aka, the Dirty Bomber. I found links to what were then recently declassified memos between unnamed personnel inside the brig where an American enemy combatant was being held. It gave a glimpse of the day-to-day life and how even small things like books or cards were denied to the enemy combatants. Also, they were held in complete isolation, getting a whole wing to themselves. They were kept in one cell, but the cells around them were empty. I also read a transcription of an interrogation of a prisoner at Guantanamo. One thing that caught my attention was that in the memos I mentioned, it was emphasized that the American combatants held on American soil were to go by the same rules as the prisoners at Gitmo were held to. The difference was that at Gitmo, the prisoners are within hearing of each other, so they weren’t completely alone, but it also made me wonder if other things, like interrogations, were conducted the same way.

It made sense to me that if the rules regarding how the prisoners were treated were the same, the interrogation techniques would be the same. However, I never could confirm it, so what happens to Mark Taylor in my book is pure fiction based upon speculation on my part.

Your day job is as a respiratory therapist. Do you think your experience in this job helped in your portrayal of what it is like to be waterboarded?

Maybe. I do have to do what is called lavage, but mostly it is squirting saline down an endotracheal tube on vented patients. Often they are sedated. After squirting it down, I suction the tube. We do it to help clear the bronchial tubes, not to torture anyone, but it can’t be comfortable. We also squirt a little saline in the noses on infants. Babies under four months are obligatory nose breathers, so they really need to have their noses clear. I hate doing it and the babies hate it, but we have little suction thingies that we use to get the liquid right back out. It’s a necessary evil.

I had kind of forgotten this (probably blocked it out!) but I had my own little experience a few days after having surgery. I couldn’t swallow food—not even noodles from soup. It was very weird, like I had forgotten how to swallow. After not being able to eat for four days, the surgeon sent me to the ER. There, the poor ER doc was instructed to stick a scope down my nose to examine my esophagus. Normally something like that is done under light sedation. Not mine! I didn’t even get a Tylenol! Just a squirt of some numbing solution in my nose and throat. It was horrible and made me feel like I was choking. The whole time the doc was putting that scope down my nose, I was swearing I would never suction a patient again! If you’ve ever seen an endoscope, it’s about three times as thick as the suction catheters I use on patients. Not fun. That’s probably where I got my description.
When you started writing No Good Deed, did you expect it to have political overtones (or do you even agree that it does)?

No, not at all. I was just trying to make it as realistic as I could based upon my research. I wanted to see how the character would react in such a situation. When I got a few reviews that blasted the book because the reviewers thought the story was very left-leaning—it totally surprised me.

Did your research and writing of No Good Deed influence your political opinions?

I’m not super political, but I tend to vote Republican. I’m middle of the road with my political beliefs. However, when I first heard of Jose Padilla right after he was arrested, I had no sympathy for him whatsoever. I learned a lot during my research, but I still think that a proven terrorist who has killed or planned to kill innocent people to make a political statement isn’t someone I have a lot of sympathy for. It’s a very murky area for me. I don’t think the government was saying, “Whee! Now we have an excuse to torture people!” and I think that sometimes that is how it is portrayed by the liberal media.

I believe that if prisoners were waterboarded or subjected to other forms of ‘enhanced interrogation’, it was with the intent of preventing American deaths. Maybe there is a better way of obtaining information from terrorists that doesn’t involve those techniques and perhaps the government has learned from this.

The thing with my character is that he is without a doubt innocent. The readers know this from the get go, so I think that makes the government look especially sinister to readers of No Good Deed. If my beliefs show up anywhere in the book, it is in the character of government agent Jim Sheridan. A couple of the readers who blasted what they perceived as my liberal bias, mentioned in their reviews that they couldn’t finish the book. I’d like to think that if they had, they would have been surprised with how it came out.

Tell us about the other two books in the Mark Taylor series.

In March Into Hell, I explored a different aspect of Mark Taylor’s character. As in No Good Deed, I put Mark in peril, but it’s not political. Instead, I wanted to see how he would react if the media thought he was some kind of second coming. We’re always seeing in the news about people going to pray at a tree that has a gnarl that looks like the Mother Mary, or paying for a potato that resembles Jesus. I wanted to take that a step farther and make Mark the object of religious speculation. It occurred to me that his story of being an enemy combatant would have been in the news, much like Jose Padilla’s was, so he would have already been a name. An astute reporter would wonder at Mark’s penchant for rescuing people and be curious. It was a logical next step to conclude that at least some people might think he was some kind of prophet.
In Deeds of Mercy, I went back to the story in No Good Deed, and while it is more political than March Into Hell, for me, it was more about friendship and who Mark could trust.

What are your future plans for Mark?

I’ve had people request that I take it easy on Mark, so I thought I’d send him to Hawaii to become a beach bum. He might even get an adorable puppy so the story will be about Mark and his puppy bonding while playing Frisbee on the beach. Maybe a little surfing too. He just might want to keep an eye out for sharks. ;-)

Seriously, I think I’m going to have Jim officially quit his job, but continue as a consultant. That would allow more flexibility for the story. I can do pretty much anything with Mark, but Jim had too many constraints due to his job. That will allow me to take the story in more directions. Readers like the two of them, so I might team them up without Jim being the ‘boss’, so to speak. Mark was always in a position where Jim was in charge, and I might shake that up a bit. Whatever happens, you know I won’t go easy on Mark. That’s just not my style.

Have you got other books in the works or planned in addition to future Mark Taylor books?

I have two, besides the fourth book in the series. I have a poor neglected romantic thriller—or maybe it will be a thriller with some romance. It’s totally unrelated to Mark Taylor, but it has plenty of angst for the hero. I’ve put it on hold to continue writing Mark Taylor books, but I vow to finish it someday.

I’m also putting together some short stories involving Mark Taylor. Some will be deleted scenes from the books that didn’t fit into the plot, but are scenes I still liked. I don’t know about you, but I love watching deleted scenes from TV shows, so that was what inspired this. It will also have some longer short stories. For instance, I am writing one where Mark and Jessie first meet. I mentioned it briefly in No Good Deed, but this is much more detailed. It’s almost a prequel, but not quite.

As a reader, who are your favorite authors?

One of my favorite authors is a romance author, LaVyrle Spencer. She created such believable characters. They weren’t the stereotypical romance characters who are always beautiful, rich or powerful. In Morning Glory, her main character is a scraggly pregnant woman who already has two small children and a ramshackle farm. The male character is fresh out of prison (this influenced No Good Deed a bit.) and his self-esteem is non-existent.

I loved The Grapes of Wrath, but I can’t say Steinbeck is a favorite author because some of his other books are just so depressing, I didn’t like them. However, every few years, I re-read it and it’s like a new book every time.

I read a lot of James Michener and I love long epic books like the kind he wrote. Some of my favorites of that genre are Roots, Shogun, Aztec, and Pillars of the Earth.

Can you recommend two or three books by your indie peers?

Sure! One of the first Indie books I read was The Merry-Go-Round, by Donna Fasano. It’s a fun contemporary romance with a bit of sizzle. The main characters are relatable and it has well-rounded secondary characters too.

I’m on a post-apocalyptic binge right now, and have found several that I enjoyed. I really enjoyed 77 Days in September, by Ray Gorham, as well as Half Past Midnight, by Jeff Brackett and Wool, the Omnibus by Hugh Howey.

I just finished one called Land (Stranded) by Theresa Shaver. The story was entertaining.

For more M.P.

For more, visit M.P.'s blog or like her page on Facebook.


No Good Deed                  Amazon US UK  Paper

March into Hell     Review  Amazon US UK

The Mark Taylor Series: Books One and Two (Omnibus with both of books above)
                                     Amazon US UK

Deeds of Mercy    Review  Amazon US UK

Also mentioned:

The Merry-Go-Round by Donna Fasano  Review Amazon US UK

77 Days in September by Ray Gorham  Amazon US UK B&N Smashwords

Half Past Midnight by Jeff Brackett       Review  Amazon US UK Paper

Wool by Hugh Howey                           Amazon US UK B&N Paper

Land (Stranded) by Theresa Shaver        Amazon US UK Paper


Donna Fasano said...

MP McDonald has a wonderful imagination! Thanks, BigAl, for bringing us this interview. I enjoyed learning more about her.

I'd like to thank MP McDonald for mentioning my book!

?wazithinkin said...

Thank you Mary for this insightful interview, I have watched you struggle with the story lines and covers on the Amazon forums with this series. I know it is very dear to you.

I have had No Good Deed (Sept ’10) and March into Hell (Feb ’11) in my TBR pile, as you can see, for ages now. I have every intention of reading this series, but something is holding me back. They sound very intriguing, so I am not sure why I have put these off for so long.

Okay, I feel like I have confessed my sins, I feel cleansed now. No . . . I really don’t, I don’t feel any less guilty. ~sigh~

Toni Dwiggins said...

A fun and thoughtful interview--thanks.

As a fan of NO GOOD DEED--and a liberal--I want to follow up on Mary's comment about her character Jim Sheridan. The fact that I found Sheridan compelling and believable and in the end sympathetic, despite disagreeing with much of what he did, means that Mary created a character worth reading.

BooksAndPals said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

Linda, get reading. :)

Toni, I'm in the same place as you regarding Jim. While I didn't like much of what he did, at least in No Good Deed, it was always apparent that he was a good person, doing what he thought was right. As the series continues and the reader gets to know him better, he only becomes more nuanced and complex. Although Mark Taylor is the main character, without Jim the series would be much different and not nearly as good.

Walter Knight said...

I have followed Mary McDonald's progress for the last two years. Good job! Mary has a very informative blog. For us independants and small press authors, learing the publishing business is an exercise in self reliance and self help.

I admire Mary for being able to figure it all out. I am so tech challenced it hurts. My kids are my technical advisors, saving me from the evil computer.

Mary has answered a few business questions, and been approachable by E-mail. She's one of the good guys(gals).

BooksAndPals said...

I agree, Walter. She's a nice lady. (Plus, I wouldn't want to get on her bad side because she knows too much about torture. :)

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

Interesting interview, Al. Being an only child, I am curious about the connection between growing up with many siblings and torturing one's characters...


Vicki said...

”You mean other than always taking as many slices of pizza as you can load on your plate because if you don’t, you’ll never get more than one piece?

LOL I’m laughing because coming from a large family myself (eldest of six with nine years between myself and the youngest), I can well relate.

Interesting and fun interview, Al and Mary. Thanks for sharing.

I really enjoyed No Good Deed. Shades of Australian David Hicks. I’ve now bought March Into Hell.

Walter Knight said...

Back in the day we didn't waterboard our siblings, we wash boarded them. The bumps had better effect.

Imogen Rose said...

Great interview! I really enjoyed Mary's first book, and can't wait to read the rest in the series.