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WOW Interview – Dan Pollock

The Words of Wisdom Interview – a series of interviews with writers and artists, to discover their methods, dreams and inspiration.

No.5 – Dan Pollock

Dan Pollock was born in New York City to a family of writers and grew up in Laguna Beach, California. A former syndicate editor with the Los Angeles Times, Dan is the author of four thriller novels in addition to Maroc-Lair of the Fox, Duel of Assassins, Orinoco  and The Running Boy – and a specially commissioned “logistics” thriller, Precipice. I am delighted that Dan took time out of his busy schedule to give this interview.

Tell us a little about your background?

I come from a family of writers. My dad was a New York PR guy who became a Hollywood screenwriter, my brother an L.A. comedy and sitcom writer, and my mom sold some children’s stories. I served long stints on a newspaper copydesk (L.A. Times) and in PR & communications (for the L.A. County Office of Education).

How did you become interested in writing?

Despite the family influences listed above, my passion, up until about age 12, was drawing and painting, more derivatively than creatively. By mid-teens, I put away my pens and brushes and began writing compulsively—and pretentiously, exhibiting a bloated vocabulary. I wrote about all manner of things beyond my experience. I filled fileboxes full of sophomoric and unreadable verbiage. It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I figured out how to write a simple short story. I then sold a few to confession magazines like True Story and True Romance. And I was on my way at last.

What advice would you give other writers in terms of marketing and promoting their work?

Concentrate first and foremost on the writing, on telling a good story. Read omnivorously and write every day. Set daily work goals and log your output. Network, schmooze, join writers groups and genre organizations, make friends with fellow writers, compare notes. Writing is and always will be a lonely occupation (even at Starbucks), but thanks to the digital self-publishing revolution and the judicious use of social media, writers today can efficiently escape their isolation and enjoy the community of their peers like never before. Marketing? I’m getting to that. Most of what I’ve learned about book marketing has come from comparing notes with Twitter friends and e-migos. Example, spruce up your Amazon book page, especially the Book Description, which is the first thing a prospective buyer or an advertiser (like BookBub) sees. Check out how your favorite authors’ books are described. Rewrite and polish your own short description, which is like the “flap copy” on a printed book. If you need to, swallow your pride and get help. Writing copy that sells is a specialty, and one that I’m not particularly good at. Others are.

What are you currently working on?

Confession: This past year or so I’ve been spending all my time re-editing, republishing and marketing my out-of-print novels as ebooks, along with writing new self-published originals (like The Running Boy). I have a couple more oldies to refurbish, but I’m champing at the bit to start on a new blank-page project. One is a contemporary thriller with a plot so complex that I can’t remember it, and the other is set in the Balkans during the nightmarish years of ethnic cleansing. The plotting and research for the Balkan thriller are done, but I’m not sure I’m emotionally ready to submerge myself into this nightmare.

Do you have a preference for writing fiction or non-fiction?

Fiction, hands-down. Recently I waded through some of those boxloads of introspective essays from my younger years and thought, “What the hell was I thinking of?” I do enjoy writing blog posts, which for me are free-form, meandering essays on writing, sharing war stories and my opinions on good and bad writing. But I seem to have a congenital preference for make-believe over reality. Even in fiction, I’ve never followed the shopworn dictum, “Write what you know!”

How do you see the future of publishing?

It’s already here, and I love it! And I speak as a guy who has been well published at times, and wretchedly at others. In the U.S., I’ve been published by Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books and Walker, by Heinemann in the UK, Mondadori in Italy and Hayakawa in Japan. But I rejoice that the self-anointed publishing gatekeepers have been toppled and the gates thrown open. Yes, there are big-time quality-control problems, but I trust ultimately in the marketplace. As from ancient times, readers can drop their coins in the hats of the bards who best capture their attention. It’s just that, thanks to the Internet, there are so wondrous many yarn-spinners out there now. But I welcome the wide-open competition.

Who is your favourite author?

I have to say the late John D. MacDonald, since I’ve worked my way through his canon of 70+ titles several times — and have gone to school on his descriptive techniques and tricks on every reading.

Which book has influenced you the most?

Impossible to pick one. Let me instead name some cherished authors: Moses (the one who wrote the Hebrew Bible). The Gospel writers and St. Paul. Charles Dickens. J.D. MacDonald. Rudyard Kipling. Frederick Forsyth (whom I reread endlessly, just as I do MacDonald). Robert Louis Stevenson. Of today’s genre writers, I’m utterly hooked on, and keenly jealous of, John Camp, who writes the Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers crime series under the name of John Sandford. Now, since this is such a guys-only club, let me finish by saying the greatest novel I ever read was Margaret Mitchell’s.

Tell us about your writing process?

Plotting is fun, but hard work, as are casting the roles and character building. Research is an adventure unto itself, sending me down labyrinthine passages for endless hours. But the actual writing requires an all-consuming commitment of resources, a combustible process that I postpone until I can no longer stand to do so. Once I launch, I try to write every day (as prescribed earlier in this interview), and to log at least 1,000 words a day. Since I’m a compulsive rewriter, those “first-drafted” thousand may have been whittled down from four or five times that many. I log each day’s output in a month-at-a-glance calendar, which means sloth or a day off entails writing a big fat guilt-inducing “0” in that day’s square.

What inspired your interest in thriller writing?

I’ve tried my hand at other genres, from mystery to sword and sorcery, sci-fi to romantic suspense (yes, even a would-be Harlequin), but I found myself always coming back to the thriller niche, whether in bookstores (remember those?) and libraries, and in my escapist imagination. Thrillers seem, now that I think about it, to be the essence of storytelling.

Can you summarise your basic philosophy in life?

Let me dodge that one a bit by instead quoting the epigraph to my novel, Duel of Assassins:

“The only tough part [in life] is the finding out what you’re good for.” —Owen Wister, The Virginian

I think that’s plenty deep enough, and true right down to bedrock.

Published inWords of Wisdom Interviews

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