Welcome to the thirty-second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with suspense author Peter Pollak. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello Peter. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Peter: I first wanted to become a writer about the time I stopped wanting to be a professional baseball player. I wasn’t ready, however, to produce anything worthwhile. I had to learn how to write, which I did initially for academic and for newspaper audiences. Writing non-fiction carries over I believe to writing fiction because you learn how to present information concisely, how to make a convincing argument, how to structure your presentation and how to use vocabulary properly. When I retired a few years ago I decided to take my desire to write fiction seriously.
Morgen: I think any kind of writing helps another. The more you write, the tighter you get (certainly in my case anyway). What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Peter: My debut novel, The Expendable Man, is a suspense story. I’m working on a mystery and have started more than one fantasy novel. As you can see my problem is not a lack of ideas, but the need to make choices and stay focused.
Morgen: Some of the authors I’ve interviewed to-date have said they switch projects when they get stuck (mostly in answer to the writer’s block question) but it doesn’t work with everyone. What have you had published to-date? How much of the marketing do you do?
Peter: The Expendable Man was published earlier this year (2011). Since it is self-published, I’m doing all the marketing myself. I’ve put out press releases, contacted independent bookstores, started a blog about writing (which is hooked into Twitter) and I’m working on public appearances – book signings and talks to book clubs and other organizations.
Morgen: I’d be interested in knowing where you sent the press releases (overseas? online?). I really like your book cover, by the way. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Peter: I don’t have an agent. If I were much younger, I might have gone that route, but I’m not as much interested in earning a living with my writing as gaining satisfaction by producing quality stories which people enjoy reading.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Peter: Before it came out in print my book became available in e-book form with the help of Smashwords. Contrary to what others report, I’m selling more print than digital copies. That may be a function of how I’m marketing the book. I’m not certain. I have the Kindle software on my Mac, but I have such a large (and growing) pile of books printed on paper to read that it may be years before I buy an Ipad or a Kindle.
Morgen: Ah, a fellow Mac fan. 🙂 What are you working on at the moment / next?
Peter: I started two mysteries some years ago and have picked one to finish. I call it “In the Game”. I’m finding that writing a mystery is harder than writing suspense. I’ve gained a tremendous appreciation for good mystery writing. My deadline for finishing the book is the end of the summer.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Peter: I have an established work pattern. I start each work session by editing what I wrote the previous session and then add on to it. I try to write every day, but I don’t beat myself up if I miss a day or two.
Morgen: As long as it stays at two? 🙂 What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Peter: IMHO writers block is what happens when you put undue pressure on yourself. I did a lot of sales in my business career. I learned that I did a poor job of selling when I focused on why I needed to make the sale instead of whether I could meet the needs of each customer. The same holds true for writing. When I focus on what the reader needs to know in order to enjoy reading the story, I have no problems “producing”.
Morgen: IMHO? Ah yes, in your humble opinion. No, I agree. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Peter: When I started trying to write, I would get an idea and run with it. Every time I would come to a dead end. Ideas are not stories. Unless I know where my story is going and how I’m going to get there, I’m lost.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Peter: Many. I’ve gone back to some earlier attempts and tried to make them work. Most of them have no future because they were just an image or an idea. Ideas are cheap. Don’t fall in love with a character or idea. Try to be objective. If something is not working, ask yourself why. Read Michael Chabon’s essay “Wrecked” or Lynn Freed’s “On False Starts” in Writers Workshop in a Book if you suspect you’ve spent too much time on trying to make a story work.
Morgen: Yes, I have a few of those. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life Peter?
Peter: I love the satisfaction of hearing from people who like what I’ve written. Next to that I love the satisfaction of having moved a story closer to the goal posts. I wish I didn’t have to spend so much time learning how to market my self-published works, but I know that’s unrealistic and probably wrong-headed.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Peter: Find three or four other writers to critique your work in exchange for agreeing to comment on theirs. When you agree to critique someone else’s work, you see things you overlook when you read for pleasure. That will help you with your own writing. Also, tell those who read your work they can’t use the work “like” when they report back to you. In other words, ask for concrete comments, such as “I didn’t understand George’s motivation when he dumped Mary” or “Why do I need to know so much about the house Jeanne and her friends are living in?”
Morgen: What do you like to read?
Peter: Fiction – speculative fiction, fantasy and mysteries. I don’t read a lot of contemporary “literary fiction,” although I have read some recently that I thought were excellent, including David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone.
Morgen: David Mitchell’s book was one of Jane Davis’ favourites too (Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast special episodes 24-26). Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Peter: I have mentioned in my blog (http://expendableman.wordpress.com) some books by writers on writing that are like receiving on your birthday the gift you hoped your parents would buy you. I learned the most from those by Ursula LeGuin, Michael Chabon and Stephen King. Both Eats, Shoots and Leaves (by Lynn Truss) and How to Write Killer Fiction (by Carolyn Wheat) offer excellent advice.
Morgen: Ah, Stephen King again, he’s popular with my interviewees (especially his ‘On Writing’ book). 🙂 In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Peter: I’m in the USA, but I have no thoughts about whether that helps or hinders my opportunities to gain an audience. Typical American, I suppose.
Morgen: Not necessarily, typical human perhaps? 🙂 Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Peter: My favourites are Goodreads’ Author’s Feedback Group and the Fiction Writers Guild on LinkedIn. The discussions are on point.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Thank you Peter for adding me to your ‘Literary Links’ page. 🙂 Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Peter: We are in the beginning stages of a revolution in the world of publishing, one impact of which is that people who want to write have more opportunity today to find readers than ever before. I believe this period will produce great writing, which people will still be reading 100 years from now. We should all feel very excited and get to work.
Morgen: Absolutely, I am / I will. Thanks again Peter.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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