Interview with Dan Pollock

What inspires you to write?
I write mostly action-adventure and foreign intrigue thrillers–the kind of books that I like to read. My first published thriller was set in exotic locales that, at that time, I’d never laid eyes on–Istanbul and the Eastern Mediterranean. Yet Lair of the Fox went on to earn accolades from the likes of Clive Cussler and the late Ross Thomas, and critical praise from the New York Times, the L.A. Times, and Publishers Weekly. Even better, everyday readers agreed–and I’ve never looked back.
Describe your writing process.
I begin with a central idea and let my subconscious churn up related ideas that seem connected, I fill up dozens of 3×5 card with these fragments, the way many screenwriters do, and then assemble these in a sequence, which I then expand into a narrative. Eventually I work up a detailed outline, with likely chapter indications. While this is going forward, I am reading and researching voraciously. When all this becomes unbearable, I finally start page one. Four or five pages a day are all I’ve ever been able to average. With extensive rewrites and revisions, this usually produces a full-length thriller in a year.
Do you listen (or talk) to your characters?
I’m always listening to my characters and trying to channel their thoughts, emotions and voices.
What advice would you give beginning writers?
Write every day, striving for quantity over quality at first. This is how facility with the tools of the trade is acquired. Study the writers you admire most, and read voraciously. I don’t believe you have to write what you know. I am not a man of action, but I write about them; I do work to make the action and the background authentic, however. It’s never easy, but it is always fun.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
After many years of being rejected, I finally got a novel accepted by a small publisher. Good reviews got me a paperback reprint sales, and even better reviews got me a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books and the bonus of writing fiction full-time. Alas, best-sellerdom did not ensue, and with a growing family I was forced to take a day job again and put my writing on the back burner. All these years later, I find self-publishing a satisfying alternative to running the gauntlet of New York publishers, who are looking for brand-name writers.
What social media platforms do you use?
Twitter (@danielpollock) is the only social medium I spend time on. I don’t know how much it’s helped me sell books, but it has helped me relieve the isolation of my trade and enjoy the sympathetic company of writers all over the globe. I’ve learned a lot from these folks—most usefully about marketing. In growing my followers, I pursue those who follow other writers I admire.
Do you do book signings, interviews, speaking and personal appearances?
Back when I was published by Pocket Books and Harper Paperbacks, I did a lot of signings, interviews, book chats, etc. These days most of my reader interactions are done online, via interviews like this one, while I concentrate on writing and self-publishing. Any future online or personal appearances will be noted on my blog,
How does your book cover creation process work?
Originally my book covers were done entirely by my publishers—and quite well. But one of the joys of indie publishing is that a mid-list author like me is not shut out of crucial decision-making meetings. For my thriller covers, I have worked with a couple of talented graphic artists. I offer my ideas, but try not to be too limiting.
What writer support groups do you belong to? Do they help with the writing, marketing and the publishing process?
I’m a member of the International Thriller Writers and the Mystery Writers of America. Both organizations offer marketing tips and opportunities to members, but so far I’ve profited far more from the advice of colleagues I’ve met on Twitter.
Do you think your editing background gives you an advantage in creating a well-structured book or do you have someone else do the editing?
While my editing experience can be an advantage, it also slows me up. I tend to rewrite and edit as I go, often sentence by sentence. I don’t recommend this kind of compulsive second-guessing. Better to get that first draft down as fast as it flows.
How can a sedentary type compete with all the ex-Delta boys, SEAL Teamers and Recon Marines lately populating the action-adventure and techno-thriller genres?
It’s called research, which I’ve always loved doing, even before the Internet. Let me quote the late great Mario Puzo:
“I wrote The Godfather entirely from research. I never met a real honest-to-god gangster. I knew the gambling world pretty good, but that’s all. After the book became famous, I was introduced to a few gentlemen related to the material. They were flattering. They refused to believe that I had never been in the rackets. They refused to believe that I had never had the confidence of a Don. But all of them loved the book.” (The Godfather Papers, p. 36)
Of course today, thanks to the instant omniscience of Google, there is a temptation to lard up the narrative with too much impressive-sounding detail, like the following passage from ex-Navy SEAL Richard Marcinko:
“My black, knee-length Pakistani ‘pasha’ tunic covering the carbon-colored, custom-suppressed Heckler & Koch USP 9mm in its ballistic nylon thigh holster, a titanium-framed Emerson CQC6 combat folder clipped to my waistband next to the Motorola beeper…”—Richard Marcinko (Rogue Warrior: Green Team, co-authored by John Weisman, p. 3)
“The novelist is ill-advised to be too technical,” W. Somerset Maugham wrote in his autobiography (The Summing Up). “The practice of using a multitude of cant terms is tiresome. It should be possible to give verisimilitude without that, and atmosphere is dearly bought at the price of tediousness.”
As a final note, Clancy, the master of technical verisimilitude, enjoyed occasionally taking liberties with facts and indulging his fancy. An example occurred in his 1989 thriller, Clear and Present Danger. Clancy wanted a bomb that exploded silently. When the latest in weaponry wasn’t up to his standards, he simply invented his own hardware. He called it the “Hushaboom.”
“I got the idea from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” Clancy told an interviewer.
(Philip Morris Magazine, summer, 1991)
Published 2017-08-18.
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