It Made the Grade

December 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

…for one reviewer at least.

Making the Grade, my police procedural starring a female protagonist, earned a very positive review recently by an Australian book reviewer.

Here’s what he wrote:

“Ever wondered what it is like to be a rooky police detective? What if you were the first woman detective on staff? What if your first case was a no breaks murder by a bona fide psychopath? Shannon Lynch is on her first day of duty as a detective and she immediately feels that her new workmates don’t really trust her and wont until she proves herself. She knows this is a serious job and she is determined to meet the standards. Her new boss, Lieutenant Keller, says he at first will not appoint Shannon to a partner, but attach her to two other detectives, Al Joiner and Chuck Miles, to basically just observe. Shannon is not impressed and Joiner and Miles’ reception of her leaves her even more peeved. Peter Pollak has written a novel that grips the reader right from the start guiding them through the working of a case that takes the police to standard and not so standard territory.

“This is a `hard boiled’ police yarn ideal for any reader wanting to be entertained. While Pollak’s approach to police work is standard, giving us some idea of the routine of a police job, the events are hardly standard and are narrated in an exciting style. Pollak surprises us, shocks us and keeps us on tenterhooks. Most of the book is written from Shannon’s point of view, however, at key points we also see into the lives and thoughts of other characters. This gives variety and depth.

“From the start we gain a liking for Shannon and in time we come to understand Joiner and Miles. These characters ring true and are well crafted. While the style is `hard boiled’ we still feel that Shannon and her partners, and even the perpetrator are real. They are not in any way larger than life. Shannon slowly evolves over time developing into a more complex view of her work and life. Joiner and Miles also change, though to a lesser extent.

“Making The Grade is chiefly about success. What is success? How do we get there? What should be our mental attitude to both success and failure? So much of modern society revolves around this issue and the topic arises early, when we are young. We may consider ourselves beyond that but we all have to take tests, keep our jobs, be accountable to our friends and family.

“Indeed a second issue is friends in trouble. Some people are pure users and others are not. How do we decide who to help and who not? Pollak does not give us any pat answers, but instead chooses to raise questions in our mind. Life is never easy to navigate.

“Closely connected to friendship is the issue of loyalty. Once again it is recognised that life is complex and there are no easy answers.

“As I have indicated the book has a lot to do with a woman trying to make it in a man’s world. Feminists will not be offended by the novel, but Pollak is not issuing standard polemics. Pollak recognises that there certainly IS a male power system, but once again life is seen to be complex. This is definitely not a cut out detective story with cut out opinion. Shannon is a feisty capable woman, but she does shed a few tears (though she certainly struggles for control with fortitude). She never was and never will be a stay at home with the kiddies `little woman’.

“Pollak has got the psychology of his novel right. Most of all this is not your standard out there over the top psycho. The killer could easily pass for any man in the street, except of course when he is in the act of actually killing someone. Martha Stout is a psychologist who is successful both as an academic and in a flourishing clinical practice and her book The Sociopath Next Door makes it clear that these people are very good at appearing normal and even helpful. Indeed a sociopath could be living next door to you and you wouldn’t even know it. Pollak’s killer certainly fits this picture. The details I have mentioned and others make it clear that the author has certainly done his research on this one.

“The law is of course an institution of society and Pollak invites some contemplation of the matter. What is the purpose of the law? The philosopher Michel Foucault has challenged the law, saying it is another power system used to manipulate the masses in such a way that ruling elites are reinforced. Would we, however, survive without it? Once we step out of our comfortable lounge room into the hustle of everyday living we may learn that life can be unpleasant, dangerous. Even the `safety’ of our homes is not an assured fact.

“Close to the discussion of the law and society is that of bureaucracy. Organizations certainly can put ridiculous restraints on people, but then again some order is needed to make systems work.

“At 255 pages this book is excellent for a weekend read on the patio. It is interesting and entertaining, with some excitement and characters that are believable. Making The Grade can be read purely as light entertainment, but also has some depth if you care to look for it. Don’t get me wrong: it is not a boring philosophic tome. All in all the book is a great read, especially for those interested in police yarns.”

If you haven’t read Making the Grade, you can find it in digital format on the Amazon website. Click here.

Signed paperback copies are available at The Book House in Albany, NY, The Open Door in Schenectady, NY, at Greetings & Readings in Hunt Valley, MD and at Mysteries on Main Street in Johnstown, NY. Mysteries will mail out copies. Links to all four stores can be found in the “where to buy” section of my website.

Unsigned copies can be found at Ukazoo Books in Towson, MD and Antigone in Tucson, AZ or ordered from the Amazon or Barnes & Noble websites.


Celebrating Independent Bookstores: Schenectady’s Open Door

August 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Like most men, I typically wait until the last minute to purchase birthday and holiday gifts. But when my company, Empire Information Services, Inc. (today: readMedia, Inc.) was located in Schenectady, NY, I could always find something–whether I needed an anniversary present for my wife or a birthday or holiday present for my kids–at the Open Door Bookstore and Gift Shop.

Also, like most men, I’d probably never walk into a gift shop on my own for fear I’d either break something or have to ask what something was, and we men don’t like to ask for directions when we’re lost or what something is that’s prominently displayed in a gift store.

Thank goodness shopping for a non-book gift at The Open Door is not intimidating at all and the clerks are always happy to answer even the dumbest questions.

According to Janet Hutchison, the current owner, The Open Door was founded as a children’s bookstore in 1971 and has always been at its current location on the corner of Franklin and Jay streets in downtown Schenectady. Janet and her husband purchased the store in 1983 and have expanded it to accomodate the transition to carrying a larger selection of books as well as the gift section, which now includes jewelry and toys.

No doubt the Hutchison’s have entertained suggestions that they move to the suburbs or to a mall, but they’ve stuck with downtown Schenectady through thin and thinner. These days a local resident tells me things are looking pretty nice downtown and parking is not a problem. There’s a free 2-hour parking lot west of the store that runs between Union St. and Liberty and some decent places to grab lunch on Jay Street and around the corner on State Street.

Janet has graciously set up a date for me to sign copies of The Expendable Man and Making the Grade at the store. Richard Russo, Bill Kennedy and many others have done the same over the years. I’ll be there Saturday, Sept. 8 from 1:00 to 2:30 PM. But if you can’t make it during those hours, I’ll try to keep the store stocked with copies of both books.

So, if you need a book or a gift and you haven’t been in downtown Schenectady for a while, you can’t go wrong at The Open Door.

A Hard-Earned Self-Publishing Lesson

May 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

I learned another lesson the hard way about the pitfalls of self-publishing.

When you get your proof copy from a traditional publisher, you usually don’t have to check if the font you’ve chosen and font size are correct, but when you self-publish that’s one more area where problems can crop up. Here’s what happened:

I use CreateSpace for the print edition of my books. Using their document template in order to format my Word file into the correct page size, I submitted my second novel, Making the Grade, to CS using their submission system. It took a few attempts to get my Word document to flow properly into their template so that the page numbering and other formatting elements looked the way I wanted them to look, but I was pretty confident that I had it right.

When I submitted the file to CS, I assumed nothing would be changed. What I did not know, however, was that CS converts Word files into PDFs (if you don’t do it yourself). For some reason, when they did that to my document, it changed the font size from 11 to 12 points. Now you may think that’s a minor point, but it isn’t. As a result of the font size change, the pages of the book didn’t flow as I intended.

CS help documentation suggests authors do their own PDF conversion, but they don’t tell you that when you’re submitting your file. Apparently they know problems like this can happen, but INHO they haven’t gone far enough to warn authors.

The fact that they didn’t warn me or catch the problem themselves makes me a less than satisfied customer as I ordered copies to distribute to reviewers and bookstores before a reader pointed out the problem.

Why do little things like typos my proof-readers overlook and the wrong font size bother me? As someone who self-publishes, I feel the need to produce as professional a document as I can. My goal is 0 defects.

If you order a copy of Making the Grade today, the formatting will be correct. If you purchased a copy with the incorrect formatting — the way to tell is there’s a single word on Page 8 — and if you’d like a corrected copy, contact me and I’ll send you one for no charge.

If you’re an author or would-be self-publisher, recognize that each and every detail can become an issue in the process. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t self-publish. It just means that you’ll need to allot sufficient time to check each and every item in the process.

Expendable Man Price Reduction

May 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

In honor of the release this month of Making the Grade, my second novel, I have lowered the price of the print edition of The Expendable Man to $11.99.

Print copies of The Expendable Man are available online from the CreateSpacBookstore, from Amazon, and from Barnes and Noble’s online store.

Print copies of The Expendable Man are also available from the following bookstores:

Digital copies for the Kindle, IPad, Nook and other readers are available as well from their appropriate dealers or from Smashwords. Search on my name or the title. Digital copies retail for $4.99.

Editing Making the Grade––My Second Novel

April 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

After I paid good money for my first novel to be proof-read, a woman who had been an editor found 10 typos; months later another careful reader came up with 8 more. Many were minor––a missing comma or “feel” when I meant “fell,” but naturally, as I am about to embark on publishing my second novel, I want to do everything I can to avoid a repeat.

A writer has to focus on the story. Crafting a story that is unique and holds the reader’s interest is not easy. Writers with many notches on their sixguns sometimes shoot blanks.

Then one has to deal with the grey areas of English grammar––when to use a comma, how to handle quotes, capitalization issues as well as issues of literary style––how to present dialogue without saying “she said” after every quote, and so on.

That’s why writers need editors––especially self-publishing writers who don’t have the benefit of an agent and a publishing house.

Recently I tried to drum up assistance in proofing Making the Grade by offering a signed print copy to anyone who would buy a digital copy for $0.99 and send me a list of the mistakes.

Few responded, but a suggestion was made that I liked: break up the manuscript (or should it now be called a compuscript) and distribute it to those willing to read a few chapters.

So here’s what I’m offering: Proof-read a few chapters for me and not only will you get a signed copy of the finished product, but I’ll gladly edit an equivalent number of pages for you.

Use the contact form on my website ( to let me know if you’re interested.

P.S.: If you purchased a copy of The Expendable Man and would like me to send you the list of 18 typos, use the same method to contact me.

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