Aspiring writers need to do some homework


October 29, 1990|By Joyce Lain Kennedy | Joyce Lain Kennedy,1989 Sun Features Inc.

Dear Joyce: I have not seen you comment on fiction writing as a career field. Despite the emphasis on film and television, my dream is to write a novel, particularly a mystery or a thriller. I'm not sure where to start. -- D.L.

A confession -- I'd like to write a thriller too, but I haven't done it. So I asked someone who has.

Dan Pollock's first novel, "Lair of the Fox," is a totally absorbing suspense story that rips open with Kurdish terrorists storming a sailing vessel being used to make a film. Murder and mayhem follow. A U.S. diplomat offers to negotiate for the hostages when a world-famous British actress, who stars in the film, exchanges herself for the film crew.

After that, your eyes are krazy-glued to the pages as Pollock allows the reader to furrow deeper into the action and, with the hero and heroine, hang over the cliff again and again. Having read hundreds of thrillers, I was riveted to the plot by Pollock's fresh slant on terror and intrigue. We thriller buffs have been wondering what will happen to the genre now that KGB officers aren't such obvious literary antagonists and Mideastern villains have become too familiar. Pollock answers that question by setting his tale in Eastern Mediterranean geography and particularly in Istanbul.

Has he been there? No. Dan Pollock says he was able to transport the reader to an exotic world by immersing himself in geographic research -- travel books, newspapers, maps and even National Geographic.

How did the suddenly hot 46-year-old writer of novels (he's finished another) get started? It didn't happen overnight. He worked in the word world, specifically as a newspaper syndicate editor, for nearly 20 years. During that tenure, Pollock spent most evenings and weekends slaving over a hot word processor. When he wasn't writing he took writing classes and attended writers' workshops. Pollock labored long in the vineyards of creative endeavor learning his profession.

He learned something else too -- who was who in publishing. After 20 years in journalism, Pollock became, if not an "insider," then certainly one on the periphery of publishing. A contact sent him to an agent who read 100 pages and said, "This is great stuff."

Anybody's first novel is unimaginably difficult to sell and Pollock's was no exception. After failing to peddle that first 100 pages as a paperback original, the agent counseled the writer to set the work aside and start another project. Pollock did so and was startled six months later when the agent sold the book, on the basis of those same 100 pages, to a small New York publisher, Walker and Company, as a hardcover. So Pollock picked up "Lair of the Fox" again with a vengeance, eventually taking a couple months' leave of absence to finish the two-and-a-half-year effort.

Success! Walker brought the book out last year. The reviews were so good, Harper Paperbacks bought the thriller and has just released it in what is called a "mass market" format -- which means it will be sold in those wire book racks you see everywhere.

Not every successful novelist serves the apprenticeship Pollock undertook. But most, after narrowing themselves to a particular genre, quickly learn that creativity isn't enough.

Dan Pollock says you can't afford to overlook two vital skills: interesting publishers in and marketing your work. Two new guidebooks can give you a more sophisticated grasp of these functions: "How To Write a Book Proposal" by big-league agent Michael Larsen and "The Writer's Guide to Self-Promotion and Publicity" by book-promotion pro Elaine Feldman. Both are products of Writer's Digest Books, (800) 289-0963 or (513) 531-2222.

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