Q: You got the idea for your first novel while participating in the National Novel Writing Month. How did that event help convince you that you could write fiction?
P.G.: I started to write with a limited idea. I hadn’t figured out how the book would end, or how much of the story would progress. When I started to write it though, everything just flowed. Pieces of the story appeared on screen, and characters that seemed minor turned out to be much more important. In the process of putting pen to paper on that first draft during NaNoWriMo, I discovered my real passion for writing, more than any of the economics or social policy classes that I was taking in graduate school at the time. After that, I couldn’t give it up, so I had to keep writing.
P.G.: My protagonist Petra Shirazi has pieces of me and my background. She grew up in Kuwait, as did I. She spent some time in New York, and studied at Penn, as did I. Beyond that though, our backgrounds diverge. Petra’s heritage is Iranian and American, while both of my parents are Indian, and I spent much of my early childhood in Canada. Our professional backgrounds are completely different—she went straight into spycraft, and I’ve worked mainly in international development and business strategy. I have, however, used much of my experience traveling as part of her job and character development.
Q: Your most recent novel is entitled The Confluence. What is it about and what compelled you to write that particular story?
P.G.: The idea for The Confluence came to me during a World Bank mission in Sudan. The setting there is what inspired me. I had many expectations of Khartoum, the capital, all of which were completely contradicted by the city itself, and I found myself imagining a story set there. After that, the pieces fell into place.
Q: Do you ever full stuck or experience writer’s block? What tricks have you learned to keep writing?
P.G.: There are definitely times when I feel stuck in a story, but I push past them by setting a minimum word target for myself, typically 2,000 words. When the target is set, I always meet it, even if some days that takes two hours and on others it takes most of the day. I’ve found that the concrete goal helps me get around all the distractions of the internet, phone, and life in general, and stops me from getting stuck in writer’s block.
Q: How do you know when a book is ready to meet the public?
P.G.: To some degree, I always feel as if there is more editing that I can do on a book. I do revisions on my own, I have beta readers, and my editor does three rounds as well. By the time that I get there, I feel as if the book is as close to ready as it can be. After that I do a last read through, before I bite the bullet and put it out into the world.
Q: The market for self-published works is extremely competitive. What have you found are the best tools to market your books?
P.G.: The best tool that I’ve found is promoting 99 cents sales through targeted mailing lists such as Kindle Nation Daily and Ereader News. The recipients of these newsletters are actively looking for new deals on books, which helps to make putting the book on sale a really effective marketing tactic.
Q: What message would you send to beginning writers?
P.G.: Remember that the most important thing you can do with your time is to write. Don’t give into writer’s block. Set realistic goals for yourself and stick to them. Don’t waste time being hard on yourself, just focus on attending to your goals.
Remember that writer’s block is a construct. Everyone procrastinates. It’s part of human nature. I believe that writer’s block is a form of procrastination. What’s much worse about it is that we as authors have empowered it by calling it writer’s block. We’ve made it excusable. I believe the only way to get past it is to sit down at your computer (or other writing vehicle) and put in the time.
Thanks for sharing.
Peter G. Pollak