Author Interview – Jeff Pollak
One of the favorite things we do is author interviews with authors that are new to us. It’s always exciting to meet new people and get a peek into their life and writing. Jeff Pollak is another new author to us. What fun to interview a retired lawyer.
Jeff Pollak, the author of First Second Coming and sequels to come, was raised in the Riverdale section of the Bronx by a single mom and two grandparents who lived eight floors up. After graduating from college in Buffalo, Jeff headed west to Los Angeles for law school and spent his entire legal career in and around civil litigation. Now retired, writing fiction is Jeff’s new passion.
Interview Conducted By Sherry Terry
TNR: What drew you to write in the supernatural/romantic suspense genres:
Jeff: Nothing. When I first started writing First Second Coming, I thought it would be a magical realism story. Somewhere around the third or fourth draft, I realized it wasn’t MR, but didn’t know what genre it was. So I began to research genres to see what fit. That led me to conclude the novel could be either urban fantasy or romantic suspense, or both. That remained my conclusion through the next five drafts. My publisher convinced me that instead of urban fantasy, the book should be considered supernatural suspense. So I’ve inadvertently wandered into two genres I had no idea I’d publish my first book in. The fantasy is still there, by the way, we’re just not marketing it that way.
TNR: What was the hardest thing about writing your supernatural/romantic suspense book?
Jeff: Finding the time to write while working full-time, sometimes much more than full-time, as a trial lawyer working for myself. I started the book in 2014 and worked on it evenings and weekends except when I was in trial or had family or other commitments. When I retired in 2018, I was on my seventh draft and deemed the book ready for a professional editor, so writing FSC took five years of primarily part-timing the work to get the story finished.
TNR: You are not alone. It took me 10-years to write a draft of a story I felt was good enough for critiques. How much research do you do?
Jeff: Plenty. Regardless of the genre, I thought I was writing in, I wanted as much realism in First Second Coming as I could get. This was especially challenging regarding the religions that make appearances in the book since my familiarity with most of them wasn’t enough. I bought and read books on them and on many different perceptions of God, while writing.
I did a lot of internet research on these subjects and even attended the World Parliament of Religions in Toronto in 2017 to speak to as many religious followers as I could find to get impressions of how my book would be received or to discuss points of their religions that I needed to know about. Over the course of the seven-day parliament, I must have spoken to five hundred people, and I still found time to peruse the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The professional editor I hired mentioned to me in her editorial report that I’d convinced her I’m an expert in religions. That comment was very gratifying.
TNR: Do you work to an outline or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?
Jeff: A mix of both. For FSC, I prepared an initial bullet-point outline. For each chapter, I’d have two to four bullet points to remind me of the things that chapter had to cover to advance the story. I free-styled the dialogue and narrative, at least until my female MC, Brendali Santamaria, began to tell me what was really happening in the chapter.
Once I began to hear her telling me what the story actually was, I gave her a semi-free will. I became more of a transcriber than a writer at that point, taking down whatever Bren passed along to me. By the time I reached the end of the first draft, I had a novel rather different, but better, than my outline.
TNR: What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing vs. traditional publishing?
Jeff: I think the question derives from a false premise – that every writer has the same desires regarding publication. Some people write as an avocation, not for publishing. Others want to publish. Still others are somewhere between these two poles. Business acumen or time constraints play a role, too, in that some people don’t want to take on the burden of marketing in addition to writing, so they want traditional publishing or nothing.
Age also matters, in that the big traditional publishers take forever – well, up to five years – to publish a book. The question also omits the fact that traditional publishers include not only the big ones but small or regional presses, hybrid publishers, and (don’t go here, anyone) vanity presses. With all that said, my own perspectives on advantages and disadvantages have very little value, since they are unique to me and not a generalization. Each writer contemplating publishing should research the many options that exist these days, determine which one(s) fit them best, and then go in that direction.
TNR: Great advice! Do you have a good or bad story regarding publishing?
Jeff: Here’s my good one. The writer’s conference I attend yearly – Southern California Writers Conference, which I highly recommend to anyone – has a feature called the Advanced Submissions, which is a fee-based thing. You pay $50 for a fifteen-minute get-together with your chosen agent, editor, fellow writer, or publisher.
The chosen individual gets the first ten pages of your story in advance of the conference, marks it up, and gives you feedback. If you’ve selected an agent and you’re very lucky, you might get a request for the full manuscript if there is one, or a request that you send it to him or her when the MS is ready.
In my case, I requested one agent in 2018 who I never got to meet because her flight was grounded by bad weather. In 2019 I paid for two conferences, one with an agent, the other with a publisher. The agent lost her father and didn’t show up, but she contacted me to ask for the full manuscript. I did meet the co-founder of a publisher I’d been angling toward over the prior months, who told me she wanted to publish the story based on what she’d read and what I’d done to get to know her company.
So, after about six months of querying, I had a publishing offer and my first agent’s request for a full manuscript, just like that. It took me two months to decide which way to go, but I took the publication offer and I’m very happy I did.
TNR: What do you think of “trailers” for books, and will you create one for your work?
Jeff: I’ve seen some very impressive trailers for books, but haven’t investigated the cost. I also haven’t seen anything quantifiable that can assure me that a trailer is worth the cost. So I’m very on the fence on this one. I’m doing something slightly different because I’m fortunate to have a niece who is a professional animator. She’s going to prepare a brief animation for my author’s page that will (hopefully) be ready by First Second Coming’s publication date, August 1st. It’s not a trailer so much as a treat for those of my future readers who enjoy animation.
TNR: What a great idea! So, what do your fans mean to you?
Jeff: As this is my first book I don’t yet have any fans, but when I do I will treat them like I treated my legal clients. Those clients meant everything to me since I was working for them and sworn by contract and law to do my absolute best from start to finish – in legal parlance, to be a zealous advocate. Converting that to publishing means, to me, that I must write the best story I can, recognize that the reader has chosen to devote a certain amount of time to my characters and story, show my appreciation for that and make the reader happy he or she spent that time with my tale rather than with the story in the next office (or shelf).
TNR: I like how you think. If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would they be and why?
Jeff: Although I would love to have dinner with my three favorite deceased authors – James Clavell, Frank Herbert, and Tom Clancy – I chose living ones so that the ghosts of those authors of yesteryear aren’t jealous of the meal I assume they can no longer eat.
The living authors I would select are Daniel Silva for his ability to integrate current events into his page-turner suspense stories, as I am doing in mine; David Mitchell for his stunningly brilliant writing and the equally off the charts plots and characters, and Iain Pears for the depth and details he builds into his novels and his ability to write in multiple genres. I’d invite Neil Gaiman and Haruki Murakami to the dinner, too, but the table only accommodates four people.
TNR: If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Jeff: I’d pick pizza. Aside from the nutrition, I’d gain from the basic ingredients (cheese, starch, sauce), there’s a great deal of variety in the items that can be added. So I could have a Hawaiian pizza – my favorite style – one day; a classic pepperoni pie the next; a barbeque pizza after that, etc. I thrive on variation so this choice would give me a different meal for every lunch and dinner every day for a month. I’d skip breakfast to keep the calories down.
TNR: I feel the same way about sushi! Thank you so much, Jeff. I had a blast interviewing you and good luck with your book.