Pollak turns retirement into career in novel-writing
Q & A
Peter G. Pollak always realized he had an affinity for writing fiction. What he didn’t have was the time.
A 1961 Gloversville High grad who grew up both in the Glove Cities area and Northville, Pollak has produced three novels since his retirement in 2007. His latest book is “Last Stop on Desolation Ridge,” published in January, and he is working a fourth, which he refers to as a “heroic fantasy.”
He graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio with a history degree, then spent a year in Atlanta during the Civil Rights Movement working as a VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) volunteer, and eventually came back to the Capital Region, where he got his master’s and then his doctorate at the University at Albany in history and education.
Since then he has spent time teaching at UAlbany, served as the editor of two weekly newspapers, and created his own business called readMedia, a press release delivery service.
Pollack wrote his first book in 2009, “The Expendable Man,” and then in 2011 came up with another, “Making the Grade.” Both were set in Albany, while his latest work takes place in Gloversville and the Adirondacks.
Pollak is married and has two children and four grandchildren. While he lived much of his life in Albany, he now has homes in Baltimore and in Hamilton County near Lake Pleasant. When he isn’t too busy writing a book, he does produce a blog about New York state government called “The Empire Page.”
Q: What is “Last Stop on Desolation Ridge” about?
A: It’s a suspense story about a man who is found near death in the Adirondacks by a photographer, who just happened to be out taking some scenic pictures. They get the man to the hospital, but he has no memory of who he is or what happened to him. From the circumstances it’s pretty clear that someone tried to kill him, and the story is about how he deals with all this.
Q: How do you find the writing process?
A: I write just about every day, but I’m not dictatorial about it. I don’t say, ‘I have to sit and write for three or four hours.’ I work because I feel compelled to work because I enjoy it. I enjoy trying to finish a story once it gets started, and I don’t have to motivate myself. I don’t feel it’s necessary to say, ‘I’m going to write 5,000 words today.’ I don’t set any restrictions on myself because I feel I will get it done.
Q: Do you know the ending of your book before you start it?
A: I usually start a book and see where it takes me. At some point you reach a point where you need to know the ending. I’ll write somewhere between a quarter and a third of the book, and at that point I’m going to need to know the ending. You’re going to possibly waste a lot of time if you go down some path that’s not going to work. It’s not very productive, so at some point I’ll write a rough draft of the ending, and then go back to where I was, and then I’ll know where I’m going.
Q: Why didn’t you write when you were younger?
A: I’d get a good idea and spend a few days playing with it, and then Monday would come along and there was a job to do, or there was family stuff that needed to be taken care of. It was always something I wanted to do, and thought a lot about when I was younger, but I just never had the time.
Q: Why did you go to Oberlin?
A: My father saw an article in Time or Newsweek where they were rating schools, and Oberlin got high grades. I also applied at Williams, Hobart, Hamilton and a few other places, but I liked the atmosphere at Oberlin and I got accepted there and decided to go. It was quite a positive experience. They had engaging courses, students from all over, and they gave you the opportunity to explore whatever your interests were.
Q: What was volunteering for VISTA like in 1961 Atlanta?
A: It was called our domestic Peace Corps by John F. Kennedy, who created it, and we did a number of things, like putting together a training program for men on welfare to get them ready for jobs, we organized after-school tutoring activities for kids, and I also was a remedial reading instructor. It was the height of the civil rights movement, and it was certainly an eye-opener for me. There were very few black families in Gloversville, so to see the extent of racial segregation in Atlanta and the extremes of poverty was quite surprising to me. To actually meet these people and hear their experiences was life-changing.
Q: What did you do after you left Atlanta?
A: I got my Ph.D. in 1978, and then I became involved over the next couple of years with a Civil Rights group called “The Brothers.” They were an indigenous civil rights group in Albany, and I helped them start a newspaper called The Albany Liberator. The group was formed to protest the lack of hiring of black people when the South Mall was constructed.
There were a tremendous number of construction jobs available, and the black men would go over to the labor temple on Central Avenue, sit there, and never get picked for jobs. They began to protest, and as we got more attention people did start to get hired. They were successful enough that they started working on other issues, like a problem with the landlord, welfare or the police. It lasted about two and a half years and then “The Brothers” sort of fizzled out.
Then I worked with two different lobbying groups and eventually I started my own business in 1985, a press release delivery service. I was located on the corner of Lafayette and Liberty right in Schenectady, and we called it Empire Information Services. We moved to Albany in 2003 and changed the name to readMedia. I retired in 2007 but I’m still chairman of the board.
Q: Why have you gone the self-published route with your three books?
A: Well, when I wrote the first one I had no idea if anybody was going to read it. So, I decided to self-publish and see what kind of response I would get. If I didn’t get the positive feedback I was hoping for, if somebody thought it was amateurish, I would have taken up knitting or something. But I got positive comments so I kept at it. Now that I have three under my belt I’m going to look for an agent and try to get the fourth book published in the traditional way.