Today we travel to La Crescenta, California to chat with Jeff Pollak about how New Jersey’s Palisades, a career as a trial lawyer, a profitable high school investment, a great sense of humor, Santa Fe, Gaby Moreno, and song titles as chapter titles come together as part of Jeff’s current and past life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was raised in an apartment building in Riverdale, where the view out the window encompassed the Henry Hudson Bridge spanning the Bronx and Manhattan, and the East River below it. Beyond the bridge I could see the Hudson River and the sheer walls of New Jersey’s Palisades. It was a priceless view that my child’s eye considered entirely routine.
Although I lost my father when I was three and my mother at age sixteen, overall my childhood was a happy one. I lived briefly with an uncle before leaving for college in Buffalo and, afterward, law school in Los Angeles. Once admitted to the California Bar, I embarked on a 35 year career as a trial lawyer.
My lovely wife, Carol, and I raised a wonderful son, Tyler. He currently works for Microsoft and lives in Seattle. At the moment Carol and I live in La Crescenta, California (a suburb of L.A.). We plan to move to San Diego before the next “fire season” starts.
What is the most inspiring thing that has ever happened to you?
One of the high school classes I took while living with my uncle was in economics. The term paper called for the class to invest an imaginary $1,000 in the stock market, track the investment for the full six month term, and write a paper on how we fared. We were completely free to buy and sell as we wished, since imaginary money was the currency in use.
As the project got underway I mentioned it to my uncle, who offered to provide $1,000 in real moolah. I invested it in a few different companies, one being Comsat – short for communication satellites, which were just getting off the ground at the time. Over the six month period I netted $30,000 and received an A+ grade. (My uncle got his thousand bucks back, by the way.) I used the rest of the money to pay my own way through my first two years of college.
Which of your personality traits have been most useful, and why?
One useful trait is the ability to stay calm under stress. That’s handy during trials. My nickname within my law firm was Zen Master, or ZM. The other trait is a great sense of humor.
In court I’d use both traits. An example: In the jury selection phase of the case, trial lawyers look for jurors who are biased and therefore unable to serve, among other things. The first time I address the jury during this process, I’d introduce myself this way: “Hi, my name is Jeff Pollak. I represent ‘X.’ I have a question that goes to your biases. Please raise your hand if you are biased against lawyers who are bald or slightly overweight.” That question never failed to elicit laughter throughout the courtroom, even from the judge and opposing counsel. Usually the jury would be on my side from that point to the trial’s end.
What’s your favorite place to visit in your country, and why?
Most Americans asked this question would probably say Hawaii, but I’ll pick Santa Fe, New Mexico. The state as a whole has unique culture, harmoniously mixing the influences of the native American Indian tribes, the Spanish settlers and the eventually dominant frontiersmen. While Albuquerque, Taos and Las Cruces have their charms, Santa Fe is the crown jewel of the state, and its capital city. Renowned worldwide for its artistic community, Santa Fe offers incredible cuisine, numerous museums, Pueblo-style architecture, a traditional plaza that dates back to the early 1600’s, and so much more.
I first visited Santa Fe during a break in law school to visit a college friend who lived in Albuquerque at the time. I was immediately enchanted, and have remained that way through every visit since. Regardless of the time of the year of my visits, I know I’m in a special place.
What do you do when not writing or marketing your books?
The main thing I do is write some more. One novel I’m working on is the sequel to First Second Coming. Earth’s Peril is the working title. The second book, called The Recycling Center, is a spin-off to First Second Coming. Otherwise, I play golf every week, weather permitting. I also watch baseball and hockey games, read books and hike daily.
Tell us about your most recent book and where we can find it.
First Second Coming, my debut novel, is a supernatural romantic suspense novel that mixes three genres – fantasy, romance and suspense. As I write this, the book has a rating of 4.8 stars (out of 5), and a 4.56 rating on Goodreads, so I’ll provide a couple of review excerpts from book bloggers and Amazon customers to give you an idea of the plot:
Nathalie the Biblioholic: “When the new God comes to Earth to issue his edict, He makes use of Ram [Forrester] and Brendali [Santamaria] and their local talk show. What does He want? For starters, He gives the world 60 days to end religious violence. . . . Amidst kidnappings, murder attempts, the mystery surrounding a terror group, and a ton of drama, Ram and Brendali find the time to fall in love. The author depicts their love as something organic and beautiful. They find joy even in the middle of utter chaos. . . .”
K. Pilai, purchaser: “I found it to be a really engaging read based on an extraordinary premise, a fantastic supernatural suspense with a great romance. The idea that the old god retires and a new one steps in is thought provoking, and the way that the humans of earth handle the situation is very well thought out. I highly recommend it!”
Samantha Turley, Blogger: “Wow, what a book. It will make you think and suck you in. The story itself was well done and kept me hanging on the entire book. This was heightened by descriptions that were distinct and a plot that was well paced. The cherry on the top was that the characters were charismatic and drew the reader in. Solid plot, fabulous writing.”
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?
When my son graduated from college in 2015, he had a well-paying job waiting for him and didn’t need mom and dad’s support. I had to decide how much longer I wanted to do trial work and what I’d do in retirement. After some reflection, I decided to try my hand at writing fiction. I’d always been an avid reader, and trial law is writing intensive, so this seemed sensible.
I set out to write as an avocation – a way to bide my time when not at the golf course. I didn’t expect to write anything that would be published someday. However, people urged me to publish First Second Coming because of its unique plot. I resisted at first, but eventually gave in.
Where did the idea for your book come from?
9/11 inspired First Second Coming. My law firm did annual conferences each May for clients in the New York/New Jersey area. The World Trade Center’s conference center at the top of the building was where we did them. I had clients in the building, some of whom didn’t survive. While I watched the WTC collapse from the safety of my home, a random thought came to mind: Earth needs a new god – a planetary turnaround specialist.
That idle thought returned in 2015, once I decided to write fiction. It had grown into a rudimentary plot, two main characters with names and full histories and three possible endings. All this spewed out in one sitting in front of a blank white computer screen.
In which genre do you write?
I call First Second Coming a supernatural romantic suspense novel, and as far as I know I’m the only one writing in this genre. Of the three genres it comprises, romance was a surprise. Brendali, my female main character, began talking to me roughly midway through the first draft. She’d narrate what was happening in the book, one chapter after another – often waking me at 4:00 a.m. to start the day. Her version of events often varied from mine but I gave her free reign, subject to my editing pen. She and Ram, my male main character, were mutually attracted. That increased the prominence of the romance aspect of the story.
What is an interesting writing quirk you have, that we wouldn’t know about by reading your biography?
In one word: music. I’m a big fan of many genres. Music gets me closer to my characters. When I’m writing a chapter that Ram’s narrating, I listen to his favorite musicians, notably Eric Clapton. Listening to any Clapton-related song gets me on a clear channel into Ram’s head. Although Brendali and I have a very strong connection at all times, I play Latin rock and pop when drafting the chapters written in Brendali’s point of view. She’s a very strong-willed character who sometimes tells me which specific songs she wants to hear. She brought one Latina singer who is a spectacular talent to my attention – Gaby Moreno. Her renditions of Quizas, Quizas, Quizas, or La Malagueña, as well as many of her own tunes, are jaw dropping.
I also use song titles as chapter titles, to give the reader a little hint about what’s in the chapter he or she is about to read.
What are you currently reading?
One of my favorite authors is David Mitchell. Fellow top-rank author Ursula K. LeGuin once described his writing as “relentlessly brilliant.” That’s true. I was introduced to him through his best book to date, The Bone Clocks, and proceeded to Cloud Atlas (made into a terrible movie) and his newest, Utopia Avenue. I’m now reading his 2010 novel, which was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, called The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet. It’s fascinating.
How do you prepare yourself to discuss your book?
I’ve been making the rounds on radio and podcasts to promote First Second Coming. To prepare for these interviews, I listen to a smattering of the station’s archived interviews to get a sense of the interviewer’s style and the kinds of questions he or she asks. From that I prepare a sheet with mock answers to the questions that get repeated across the interviews I’ve heard. That’s about it – I know my book, my background, etc. I’m nimble enough to answer any other question thrown at me on the fly.
It was a pleasure having you on MTA and wonderful to learn more about you, Jeff. Wishing you all the best, with much success with your books! – Camilla
In 2027 our New Testament God retires after two thousand years of minding the store for his employer, Milky Way Galaxy, Inc. His replacement, a planetary turnaround specialist, must decide whether homo-sapiens should be included in his plan to bring the planet back into full compliance with Milky Way Galaxy’s planetary operation standards.
The new God introduces himself to mankind by unexpectedly appearing on the Ram Forrester Hour talk show. Ram, an atheist, and co-host Brendali Santamaria, a devout Catholic, are stunned. God’s interview, beamed worldwide, shocks and infuriates viewers. They learn that a sixty-day conference will take place in Los Angeles to determine whether humans are capable of helping him implement his turnaround plan. Those attending must eliminate religious violence forever, without heavenly help, before the conference ends. Failure means humanity’s extinction.
God designates Ram and Bren as the conference’s only authorized media reporters. This assignment, fraught with peril, ignites their romance. Not only must Ram and Bren attend by day and do their show at night, they must also outwit a group of religious fanatics determined to kill them for promoting a false god. When conflicts within the conference intensify, Ram and Bren must do whatever it takes to protect their budding romance and assure mankind’s survival.
Where to find the book:
Universal book link: https://books2read.com/u/47XNMg
Angus & Robertson (Australia): https://www.angusrobertson.com.au/ebooks/first-second-coming-jeff-pollak/p/9781393998044
Connect with Jeff:
Facebook: JeffPollak, author
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