I had the wonderful opportunity to read Toxin recently and enjoyed it immensely. Toxin has all your usual political thriller elements- government conspiracy, secret societies, terrorism, deaths of government officials. But Toxin is so much more than that. Toxin reads more like a psychological thriller as we get inside the characters and see their motivations. The main characters of the story, Jake the jr. senator and Dora the daughter of the a powerful deceased senator, almost become the story themselves because they are so well developed.
Can you tell us a little about your background.
I am a psychologist with thirty plus years experience in clinical practice. Most recently—for the past seventeen years—I’ve been the Clinical Director of a treatment program for Catholic priests and religious. I got into writing fiction as a hobby and surprised myself by liking it a lot.
You have very impressive career in the medical field, with not only your clinical practice, but you've also been on the medical and academic staffs of major hospitals. What prompted you to begin a career in writing?
The specific incident which led to writing my first book was preparing for a talk. I have some anxiety about doing presentations, so I decided to write the whole thing out and practice reading it aloud. I discovered that I actually enjoyed the writing part, if not the presenting part. I had been thinking about fiction for awhile, so I decided to give it a go.
Your novel Toxin is a political thriller, but it feels more like a psychological thriller because of the way you get under the surface of your characters and their underlying motivations. How would you classify your novel?
This is a good question. It did not occur to me that Toxin might be a thriller (or mystery or suspense) work until the reviews starting coming in. I just thought it was a way of writing that was different, since it is a first-person narrative. Once I got going on the writing of it, I had to admit it had a lot in common with political thrillers and the action did go in that direction. So a lot of the reviews made sense along those lines. I would say it’s a thriller with perhaps unusually strong character development.
Speaking of motivations, your character Isadore Hathaway is the daughter of a deceased powerful senator. She approached our protagonist Jake Telemark and revealed to him her belief that there was a conspiracy of right- wing fundamentalists trying to take over our government. She wanted his help. Jake was immediately attracted to "Dora", do you think this influenced his decision to help her? do you think that the relationship between Jack and Dora was a necessary part of the story?
To answer the last question first: I think the relationship between Dora and Jake was central to the story. They were thrown together in extraordinarily intense circumstances; they were both attractive and available; and it would have been incongruous for there not to have been an erotic tie. On the other hand—and to answer the first question—Jake knew right off that he was drawn to Dora. But he was also put off by what he saw at first as her lunacy. I think he would have helped her in the end anyway, but the attraction helped him along.
Jake, the senator/sniper, was particularly well written. He easily was able to switch roles between the junior senator from Wisconsin and his role as killer soldier. How did you develop the character Jake?
I don't really know how I develop characters. Since I write every day on a project, they come to life slowly, one and a half pages at a time. He's a quirky, unconventional guy who looks 'normal' on the surface, as many of my characters seem to be. I don't have to look too far to do 'research' on those types of people.
Toxin explores the tensions between the right-wing fundamentalists and secular America. It's about conspiracy and ultimately makes us wonder "Is the U.S. vulnerable to an attack from within?" where did you get your idea for this book? And did the present day political atmosphere influence your writing Toxin especially with the U.S. concerns with terrorism?
When I write, the first ‘inspiration’ comes with the opening chapter or two. I start writing and a dramatic scene presents itself. Then the story takes on a life of its own. I am sure, at the same time, that the current political situation had a great deal of influence. The minister who is referred to in the book, J.D. Rushdoony, is a real person who actually espoused the notion of turning the US into a religious oligarchy. And there are many who espouse this idea directly or indirectly even today. Those elements who want to tear down the wall of separation between Church and State and who want to legislate morality; those who are fanatical about single issues; those who long for some imagined past time of peace, tranquility and righteousness: all of these people are out there and have followings. Perhaps they are small, but as both the Oklahoma bombing and 9/11 reminded us, it doesn’t take a lot of people to do major damage or to disrupt the business of the nation.
Toxin is written with Jake Telemark telling us the story. Do you think writing a novel in the first person gets the reader more involved? Why first person?
I do think there is a tendency for the reader to get more involved with the narrator, since he looms so large over the entire book and all the action is filtered through him. It’s impossible to get away from him: he’s on every page.
How do you write your stories? Idea for a plot first, characters first, characters develop as the story does?
When I was a young psychologist starting out in practice, I asked an older colleague where patients came from. His response was that they “. . . came from God.” Ideas for stories seem to come in the same inexplicable way. I love playing with opening lines and opening paragraphs. If an idea is potent or fecund enough, it can blossom into a story. But then the day to day writing takes over and allows that to happen. I am a psychologist, so the people (read ‘character’) part is especially intriguing to me.
Would you like to share with us about what your next novel is about and when we can look forward to seeing it on the shelves?
My next novel, One Voice Too Many, is about a man who struggles to stay sane. He’s an average-seeming guy, but he has a dark history and some powerful internal struggles. I hope to have it published within this next year.
What was the last book you read? And what's on the nightstand now?The last few books I’ve read have been nonfiction: A Voyage Long and Strange was my last. Wonderful story. Right now I’m working on The Indifferent Stars Above, the story of the Donner party. Another great read. Neither of them is fiction.
If you could spend an afternoon with any one person, dead or alive, who would it be and why? There are a number of candidates, but I’d have to say Lao-Tsu. He was one of the first humans to comprehend the flow of life. I’d like to know how he got there so quickly.
Anything else you'd like to share with us? Only that I thought answering your thoughtful questions would be a chore, but it was actually a pleasure. Thanks for hosting this interview.
A BIG Thank you to Mr. Midden for his time in answering my questions and sharing a little bit of himself with us! To learn more about Paul Martin Midden, please follow the link to his website HERE.
Paul Martin Midden is giving away a signed copy of his book, Toxin, to one lucky tour visitor! Go to his book tour page : Toxin Tour Page, enter your name, e-mail address, and this PIN: 6371, for your chance to win. Entries from Chick with Books will be accepted until 12 noon (PT) July 26th! No purchase is required to enter or to win. The winner (first name only) will be announced on the book tour page next week.
This is the last day on The Toxin Virtual Book Tour... Here are the other stops Paul made...