Interview with Nick Pollotta

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Nick Pollotta has 56 novels released under a wide assortment of pseudonyms. Specializing in Fantasy/Humor and Military/Thrillers, his books have sold in the millions, and been translated into a dozen foreign languages. A former stand-up comic, Nick still performs at SF cons just for fun, and occasionally teaches Creative Writing seminars at local colleges. He lives in northern Illinois with his wife Melissa, 14,000 books, and two cats who plan on conquering the world as soon as they figure out how to operate the can opener.nick2008

Nick, you’re one of the most prolific writers I know.

NICK POLLOTTA: Really? Try reading Alexander Dumas, he wrote six hundred novels. I’m a slug-a-bed compared to that dynamo!

VENTRELLA: But I don’t know him. Nick, I first heard of you when I read ILLEGAL ALIENS with Phil Foglio back in the 80s. How did that come about?

POLLOTTA: Funny story. I was living in Philadelphia at the time, and the local SF club, PSFS was trying to win the WorldCon for 1986. They wanted something different at their bid parties to make them stand out, so I offered to do some stand-up comedy. (I used to perform in NYC night clubs). That worked great – at first. But PSFS threw so many parties, I needed new material fast, and come up with the idea of performing a series of ‘radio plays’ live at the parties about the adventures of Phil A. Delphia, fannish secret agent 86 in his never-ending battle against The-Evil-Dr-Salvatore (one word) and his Agents of Chaos. They were an smash hit, and soon I had a cast of six, with a sound effects man, and we were playing to packed rooms. Standing room only. Phil Foglio caught a performance one night, we became friends, and soon were performing together. Naturally, we joked about turning the radio plays into a novel, and somewhere along the way that morphed into our SF/Comedy novel, ILLEGAL ALIENS.

VENTRELLA: Didn’t Phil also have a comedy troupe at the time? The Zanti Misfits? Were you involved in that? I think I still have one of their programs but I think that was at a Lunacon…

POLLOTTA: The Zanti Misfits was my comedy group, which Phil joined. After a couple of years I added radio plays (all new stuff) to the sketches, and renamed the group, The Gunderson Corporation (after our fake sponsor). “If it fits in the palm of your hand, is made is plastic, costs under five bucks, and breaks in a week – then its another fine product from.. The Gunderson Corporation!”Judgment-Night

The Gundersons had over two hundred performances at SF cons across the nation, (and for free, we did not charge for a show. This was our hobby) People came and went, including Phil when he moved away, but the group was still performing inl 2005 when our Sound Effects Master Kevin McLaughlin, a very good friend of mine, died in a tragic accident. We took a short hiatus, and it just kept getting longer. Four years later, I’m now way too busy to perform anymore, so I guess WTGC (all radio, all the time!) has finally gone off the air after 25 years.

VENTRELLA: You tend to write a lot of articles to help other aspiring writers; have you thought of producing a book of these essays?

POLLOTTA: I have considered it, but I simply do not have enough articles to make a whole book. However, they have been reprinted dozens of times, and now are posted for free on my Facebook page. What the Hell, somebody has to write books for me to read, eh?

VENTRELLA: What’s your writing process? Do you use extensive outlines? And do you plan out the series or just work one book at a time?

POLLOTTA: This depends entirely upon the project. But on average: I get an idea, flesh it out to two rough pages, then design my characters, and now do a full outline of about ten pages, or so. Next, I do chapter breakdowns, do whatever research is necessary (antique weapons, advanced physics, farming, ballet, high-explosives, whatever.) Then I book the time, sit down and charge. I am usually scheduled for a year in advance, sometimes even two or three.

VENTRELLA: I note that “nickpollotta.com” links to the “Fantastic Fiction” web page. Are you planning to have your own page or has this been just as good? Do you think a web page is important for a starting writer?

POLLOTTA: Once you have sold a book, a web page is vital to a new author. The ‘Fantastic Fiction’ web page is merely a place-holder while I change over from my old SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) web page to my new AG (Authors Guild) web page.

VENTRELLA: Of which book are you most proud? What would you like to be remembered for?

POLLOTTA: I am very proud of THAT DARN SQUID GOD and the Deathlands novel ZERO CITY. However, I would like to be remembered for my next novel – whatever it is. A writer lives in the future. We never stop trying to beat our last book.THAT DARN SQUID GOD

VENTRELLA: Your bio says you “almost” became a lawyer. As an attorney myself, I am curious as to how you escaped. Was it the lure of writing that drew you away?

POLLOTTA: Oddly enough, that was it exactly. I had gotten a scholarship, but turned it down to work as a video store clerk to have more time for my writing. Somebody very wise once said that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Sage advice, indeed. It took me many years to get here, but nowadays I start every morning with a smile, eager to get back to the computer, and start writing again.

VENTRELLA: What’s your opinion on e-books? Do you think they’re the wave of the future or a step down from traditional publishing? Should an author whose book is only available as an e-book be concerned?

POLLOTTA: According to every expert in the field, the sale of e-books have had no direct effect on the sale of traditional books. Bookies (slang for bibliophiles, AKA the readers) love to hold the actual book, to own it physically, and see it sitting on their shelf. E-book sales are gravy, but not the meat.

VENTRELLA: Here’s the question I’ve asked everyone so far: What’s the biggest mistake you have made?

POLLOTTA: Hmm, that’s a tough question. I’ve made quite a few, and suffered the consequences. However, I would say that my biggest goof was forgetting that writing is part of Show Business. Half of it is show (the art), but the rest is pure business. Learning how to write is merely half of the task. You must learn how to conduct yourself in a professional manner, never emotionally, or excitedly. Never promise something that you can not deliver. Never take anything personally. Never miss a deadline. Learn the tax laws. Save your money. Get printed business cards and letterhead stationary, not stuff you print at home on an ink jet. To be a pro, act like a pro.

It is also vital to remember that this is a small field, and you will constantly keep bumping into the same people over and over. Just because an editor is leaving a publisher, does not mean you will never see them again as, say a literary agent, as a fellow writer, or a chief editor at another publisher. The Dale Carnegie book, “How to Win Friends” is just as important to a writer as “Strunk & White: The Elements of Style”.

VENTRELLA: What is the best piece of advice you could give a starting writer?

POLLOTTA: To quote the movie, “Galaxy Quest”: Never give in, and never surrender! This is rough business, sometimes even cut-throat, and good writers who simply aren’t tough enough to withstand rejection often fall by the wayside, and disappear. You have to learn how to armor-plate your ego, and ignore the fools, yet remain open to intelligent advice, and constructive criticism. Plan for failure, but hope for success, and never stop writing!

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