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Carle Place Author Paul Mila’s Life Above, Below Sea

Local writer, photographer, coach recalls aquatic adventures

Carle Place’s Paul Mila, an author, certified diver and tennis coach, recently answered a few questions for The Westbury Times regarding books, blogging, family and underwater photography.  

When, and why, did you start diving and taking pictures?

“Ever since watching Sea Hunt in the 1950s and Jacques Cousteau’s underwater explorations in the 1970s, scuba diving has always captivated me. But I never tried it until my wife Carol and I went to Cozumel on a vacation in 1999 with our neighbors, the Catalanos. Our all-inclusive resort offered a free scuba lesson, so I tried it and was hooked like a fish.

“Descending into Cozumel’s warm, gin-clear water was like diving into a giant aquarium. We were surrounded by schools of tropical fish, accompanied by a curious sea turtle, and mesmerized by colorful corals and sponges. As soon as I returned home I enrolled in dive classes at Scuba Network and received my basic Open Water Certification, and eventually an Advanced Diving Certification.

“That first dive in Cozumel was truly a life-altering event, which ultimately led to writing books, learning underwater photography, and experiencing amazing adventures, such as diving with sharks and humpback whales, among many other sea creatures. Most recently, I started publishing a monthly online newsletter called The Sea-gram.”

How many people get the Sea-gram each month? How long has it been around?

“I began writing the Sea-gram two years ago, August 2009, after someone at a writer’s seminar suggested blogging as a way to increase book sales. Blogging did not interest me, but then this same person suggested writing a newsletter. Having written financial newsletters during my corporate career, I liked the idea. So my goal was to write an entertaining newsletter, where I could also educate readers about conservation issues related to the ocean. So I say that Sea-gram is for ocean lovers, divers and ‘deep-thinkers.’ It is gratifying to know that teachers download Sea-gram for classroom discussion topics.

“I started sending the newsletter to a list composed of email contacts and people whom I had met while diving, about 450 in all. Now the list is nearing 1,000 and the interesting thing is that readers are located not only in the U.S. and Canada, but also Central and South America, the U.K., Europe, Asia, Asia/Pacific, Australia and New Zealand. I think the fact that Sea-gram has a worldwide audience is pretty cool.”

What are some of your most memorable experiences since you’ve been diving?

“There have been many, but several come to mind:

-Being surrounded and bumped by Caribbean reef sharks during a shark-feeding dive in the Bahamas.
-Being caught in the middle of a barracuda attack in Cozumel, as they tore apart and devoured an injured fish.
-Free diving (not using scuba) with humpback whales in the Dominican Republic and Tonga in the South Pacific, and being so close to these magnificent giants that you make eye contact.”

What was your motivation to write your books?

“I’ve always had a creative side, and loved writing. In school, math was Greek to me. I always wanted to write a novel, but had no idea what to write about. During that first dive lesson in Cozumel many years ago, our dive instructor was a woman with a very interesting background. I learned she had left her home in California, settled in Cozumel, and had become successful, eventually starting her own dive operation – a very difficult accomplishment for a non-Mexican, especially a single-woman. I thought she would make a good model for a strong female fictional character, using those ‘life-points’ as the skeleton of the story. That was the genesis of Dangerous Waters.

“While my motivation was to write entertaining fiction, I also wanted to use my stories to educate people about the ocean and the threats ocean creatures face. So my second book, Whale’s Angels, was an anti-whaling novel, weaving real life events into the story. My third novel, Fireworks, was written as a tribute to the sacrifices made by our service men and women fighting terrorism, using Cozumel and New York as background for the story.”

How have you achieved the balance between family and other passions?

“Our family moved to Carle Place from Mill Basin, Brooklyn, in December of 1986, with our two daughters, Christine, 6, and Laura, 4. They entered Cherry Lane School at mid-year, hit the ground running and never stopped, both graduating from Carle Place High School as valedictorians in 1997 and 1999 respectively. Christine attended Cornell, and now works for CitiBank. Laura went to William and Mary, and is now a middle school Spanish teacher in New Jersey.

When we moved to Carle Place, I was working for Chemical Bank at the Jericho Quad, and Carol was returning to teaching after taking time out to raise the girls. Carol currently teaches elementary school in Mineola. I retired from MasterCard in 2002, but I’m always on the go: working part-time Scuba Network on Old Country Road, where I also teach underwater photography, coaching middle school tennis at Carle Place, managing a condo rental in Cozumel and writing adventure novels (three books so far, working on number four, and also tackling a nonfiction project).

“I want to advise people not to wait to follow your passions. I’ve learned that our lives can ‘turn on a dime’ and we don’t know how long we have to fulfill our dreams.”

For archived issues of The Sea-gram, visit www.sea-gram.com, and for more information about Paul’s books, go to www.milabooks.com.