Q&A with Paul Amirault
Here's an interview I did with author Mercedes Fox about The Man Who Sent the SOS: A Memoir of Reincarnation and the Titanic. Mercedes got me to talk about my favorite book (coincidentally, written by a British author who shares my birthday, January 3rd); my favorite summer; and what makes Titanic's chief Marconi Officer Jack Phillips an interesting historical character.
If you've got a few minutes, check it out!
Oh, and if you're wondering about the photos accompanying this blog, they're ones I took that reminded me of my favorite author's most famous work. Any guesses? :)
Q. (Mercedes Fox) When did you decide to become a writer? A. I’ve always been a big reader, and thus, a fan of great storytelling. I wrote my first short story when I was a pre-teen. Later, I developed a love for movies, and chose to get a degree in film and TV production. This led to a professional career producing and writing documentary-style TV shows, although my love for books remained, and I always knew I’d return to it one day. I’m just glad that day has finally come!
Q. How long does it usually take you to complete a book? A. My first book (“The Man Who Sent the SOS”) took me twelve years to write, so I’m hoping this doesn’t become a pattern. :) But seriously, the reason for the delay was not that I’m a particularly slow writer, but rather, that I wasn’t just writing the story, but living it as well. It simply took the time that it did.
Q. Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just seeing where an idea takes you? A. I’m definitely an outliner. I prefer to know where I’m going! Also, I think outlining is crucial when you work in the non-fiction arena, since you generally have too many choices regarding material, and it’s imperative to organize the information so you can present it to your readers in a cohesive way.
Q. Give us an insight into your main character. What does he do that is so special? In The Man Who Sent the SOS, the main “character” (other than myself) is Titanic’s senior wireless operator, John “Jack” Phillips, who’s obviously a historical figure. The thing about Jack I found most interesting is that he’s somewhat of an enigma to historians. On the one hand, he’s credited with saving the lives of hundreds of Titanic passengers (and crew) by summoning the ship that ultimately rescued them. On the other hand, he’s also blamed for contributing to—or, in certain circles, even causing—the disaster by mishandling key ice warnings that were sent to Titanic in the hours leading up to the collision. (At least two messages involving drifting icebergs in Titanic’s path were reportedly received by him, but never forwarded to the bridge, which meant the crew was unaware of the imminent danger, and thus unable to take preventative measures.) So, given this contradictory information—which made Jack the literal definition of a “flawed hero”—I was definitely interested in learning his side of the story. (Which I eventually did, during past-life regressions, although the main thing I discovered was that a lot of what is presently “known” about him is actually incorrect.)
Q. What is one great lesson you have learned as a writer? A. How important pacing is to good storytelling. During the course of editing “The Man Who Sent the SOS,” I discovered that my prose became more powerful with each non-essential adjective or adverb I stripped away from the text. Previously, I’d known I was a somewhat sparse writer—in fact, my high school English teacher once remarked that my writing resembled Hemingway’s—but still, I discovered that streamlined sentences, in addition to propelling the story forward, actually imbues the text with an unexpected sense of power. Hard to explain, but true.
Q. If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why? A. This is hard, because there are so many books I love to the point of envy! However, if I had to pick one, I’d say J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.” The world he created (using just words) is unparalleled. In fact, for much of my life, I’ve re-read the trilogy every year or so, and think of it as a vacation, since it so vividly transports me back to Middle Earth.
Q. Tell us something unique about you. A. I’m a former Yellowstone National Park Ranger. In 1984, during the summer between my junior and senior years of college, I lived and worked at the park’s west entrance, in West Yellowstone, Montana. I was a Gate Ranger, and it was my job to sit in a little booth and collect admission fees, as well as distribute passes, maps, and information to visitors. It was the best summer of my life!
Paul Amirault is a television producer, writer and photographer. His first book, The Man Who Sent the SOS: A Memoir of Reincarnation and the Titanic, is on sale now.