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Today marked the second anniversary of the tragic terrorist attacks that leveled the World Trade Center and scarred the Pentagon. The terrorists succeeded in changing America on September 11, 2001. Our war on terrorism is a constant topic of the news media. However, to me anyway, it seems the focus has shifted to trying to liberate Iraq and Afghanistan and seeking Saddam Hussein. The question that crosses the minds of most Americans now is, "What about Osama bin Laden, the al-Qae'da, and the Taliban?" Two years have passed and we still don't know where bin Laden is, if he's dead, or if his organization has more terror planned for us.
All of these questions are expertly woven together and answered in a fantastic tale of espionage and heroism by author J.P. McCarthy. His first novel GROUND ZERO AND BEYOND tells the story of forensic dental expert and Vietnam veteran Patrick Murphy, who's called to Manhattan after the tragedy to lead the dental ID unit in their massive undertaking of identifying those who did not survive. What he discovers changes his life forever as he begins an adventure filled with danger, betrayal, and a second chance at romance.
DS: Jim, I really enjoyed reading your novel. Thank you for this opportunity to interview you.
JPM: Well, thanks for your interest and taking the time to interview me.
DS: I think every American was touched somehow by the tragedy at the Twin Towers. What was the seed for the idea behind GROUND ZERO AND BEYOND?
JPM: Actually, I received a phone call from the FBI about 10 days after 9/11 asking me to come to NYC to help with the identification of bodies. At that time the NYC officials were expecting a lot of bodies and a call went out to forensic dentists to lend a hand. As we all know, those bodies never materialized and I was put "on call". I started thinking - "What if?" and I devised a story in my mind where a forensic dentist gets called to NYC... well, fill in the rest...
DS: I know a little about you from your biography, and it is obvious from reading the novel that you brought your own personal dental and military experience into your novel. But how much of the lead character Patrick Murphy is really based on you? Where are you and your alter ego different?
JPM: Many of my readers have asked this question. My answer: Murphy in some ways is my alter-ego - but he's also different. I was never a decorated Vietnam vet nor was I ever a famous forensic dentist who worked on the Ted Bundy case. Any writer will tell you that they write about things they know - I guess I took my military and dental forensic experiences and used them in the novel.
DS: Murphy's background is filled in by explaining his work on two very high-profile, very real serial killer cases. This adds to the realism of the story and builds up the character for us without having to read chapters just on his history. What motivated you to pick those two cases, and what experience do you have with forensic investigation?
JPM: Remember that Murphy is a world famous forensic dentist and he travels around the world talking about his experiences. It was obvious to me to use the Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer cases, because Bundy's bite eventually convicted him. Dahmer was from Wisconsin and Murphy is the Wisconsin State's dental forensic person. By the way, I knew the dentist who worked on the Bundy case. My experiences are limited, but I was extensively trained by the Army at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. in the late 80's. I'm currently on the Eau Claire Wisconsin Police staff and can be called in if they need a forensic dentist. Eau Claire has a very low crime rate, so in one respect I'm glad I haven't been called in yet - but I'm ready and able if the call comes.
DS: It's been my experience with other tales of espionage, which I'll admit is limited to movies and TV, that they rely on slick/sexy, high-tech, and over-the-top bravado. Your characters and situations do not resort to this. Also, your book is neither preachy about religion (Islam vs. Christians and Jews), nor dripping with patriotism. Was all of this intentional, and did you ever find it difficult to accomplish this?
JPM: Good question. I wanted the book to be as real as possible. The book is based on a lot of hard facts. These are real events with real people, not some superhero trying to impress. I feel it would be a crime against history if I ever changed the real facts. I took what happened and applied my own story - which by the way could have happened and maybe did happen.
DS: If I may ask, how much of your wife is there in the female lead character Marion Masterson? How does she feel about her portrayal throughout the book?
JPM: Only her first name. My wife is nowhere near the character of Marion Masterson - although when I picture Marion Masterson, I see my wife. She's short, cute, dark haired, and has a page-boy haircut.
DS: Besides these two main characters, you blended great detail of facts about real events and people (especially two of the hijackers) into the story. How much research did you have to do to make sure these depictions were faithful to those involved?
JPM: I did a lot of research on the Internet and reading eyewitness accounts of the event. I tried to put myself into the terrorist's shoes the night before the attacks. I don't think anyone can really do this - but I tried and feel that I succeeded somewhat on how the terrorists felt and why they did what they did. They did have reasons for slamming planes into the World Trade Center and it depends on what side you're on whether you agree or not. I believe it was a horrific act, but Americans need to understand why, so that they can defeat them in the end.
DS: How long have you been writing, and is this your first work of fiction? What else have you written?
JPM: I've been writing since my second year of college. I started out as a reporter for my college newspaper and graduated to Sports Editor my 3rd and 4th year. Since graduating from college I've written for several automobile newsletters and national magazines, including the Robb Report and Victory Lane Magazine. In 1991, I wrote a non-fiction work entitled, VINTAGE RACING, START TO FINISH - which was about how to get started in the sport of racing old classic sports cars like MGs, Porches, Alfa Romero's, etc. The book was a success because I sold out my first printing (about 2000 copies).
DS: Is there any other genre that you have thought about tackling next? I understand that we can expect the sequel, MURDER ON THE GREEN, will deal more with solving a murder case based on dental forensics. Will this tie back into more of Murphy's past cases?
JPM: I like writing mysteries/thrillers. Yes, the sequel is set in Dublin, Ireland and is a continuation of GROUND ZERO AND BEYOND. Murphy has to deal with a serial killer and the revengeful son of Osama bin Laden. I also have some interesting "Irish" characters. I've often thought about writing a story about my dad, who grew up poor in Boston and was a POW of Japan during WWII. He was an interesting character and I miss him dearly. I mention him in my book. He was a true American hero.
DS: Do you still work at a dental practice, and what do your patients think of your writing? Is writing taking over more of your time?
JPM: Yes, I've been working in the dental field for almost 25 years - Wow, has it been that long? My patients have been very supportive of my writing. I don't talk too much about my book, but when someone comes in with a book in their hand to read while I work on them - well, the conversation usually ends up talking about books. I ask whether they heard about my book and give them info about where they can get it. As you know, word of mouth is the big promo item to having a successful book - so I ask my patients if they like the book to be sure to tell their family and friends about it.
DS: I also enjoyed your Three-Ring Circus article you wrote for the Self-Published Authors newsletter, and I can relate as I too have chosen to walk that tightrope of POD publishing. Did you submit your manuscript to traditional houses (the elephants of that grand circus) before deciding to self-publish? Did you have an agent?
JPM: I tried to go that route, but found it frustrating and time-consuming. After a few tries, I decided that my book was timely and needed to get out there ASAP. In my heart, I feel this book will sell and will be successful. Then I can go to a traditional publisher (elephant) with a proven track record and say, "Well, let's go internationally with it!!" That's my long-term goal.
DS: Do you travel often to promote your book, or focus on other means? Where was the most exciting place you've been on tour?
JPM: I haven't been out much promoting the book. I've stayed in the Eau Claire, Wisconsin area (Upper Mid-West). I did go down to Athens, Georgia for a Harriette Austin Writer's Conference ( I was one of the guest speakers on forensics) and I did a little promo and felt the book was received very well. Right now, I'm focusing on building a "base of support" by working with my publicist, Jennifer Hollowell, developing my website and using the Internet to spread the word.
DS: How do you define "success" and would you consider yourself to be successful so far as a writer?
JPM: To me I'm very successful, because I feel my writing first of all gives me pleasure. If I can entertain others, then that's icing on the cake (don't you hate clichés). I enjoy playing with words and describing settings and developing characters. It is fun and challenging.
DS: Is there anything in particular, an author or favorite book that influenced and inspired you?
JPM: I like reading anything by Patricia Caldwell and her Kay Scarpetti novels. Caldwell uses a medical examiner in her fictional works. I'm in the process of developing a readership that enjoys reading about dental forensics. James Patterson also interests me. I like the mystery/thriller genre.
DS: What would you say has been the hardest part of writing? Has getting published been harder for you than writing?
JPM: No doubt that getting published and getting the book out there is the hardest part of writing. Any writer will tell you that writing the book is the easy part; what's hard is promoting it since there's so much competition out there. It's too bad that publishers don't give more of their time to the unknown writer. I bet there's a lot of excellent writers and stories just waiting to be discovered. But you need to understand that publishing is a business and most publishers go with an established writer before they would ever consider the works of an unknown.
DS: Do you have any advice for other aspiring authors?
JPM: Get a good publicist, believe in yourself and never give up!!!!! I know - clichés again - but very true !!!
DS: Yes, but that's what makes them a cliché; they are essential truths and advice we can all use. I am most definitely looking forward to your second novel featuring Dr. Murphy, MURDER ON THE GREEN. I wish you all the best and good luck in the future. Thank you again.