Neal Pollack’s body of work defies easy categorization. He broke through with a book of fictional first-person essays (The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, 2002) and has written about rock and roll (Never Mind the Pollacks, 2003), yoga (Stretch, 2010), current events (Beneath the Axis of Evil, 2003) and fatherhood (Alternadad, 2010).

His latest book, Jewball, is his foray into genre fiction and is characteristically tough to categorize. It’s a noirish tale based on historical figures from pre-World War II Jewish semi-pro basketball in Philadelphia, the Nazi Bund and organized crime. It was the perfect book, Pollack says, to experiment with e-book publishing. It was released online this week, with a print-on-demand version in the works.  

For links to Jewball and Pollack’s other books visit nealpollack.com.

So you are releasing Jewball as an Internet-only release?

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Initially I was going to do it as an e-book, and I’m still doing that for sure, but it’s kind of apparent that not everyone is ready to go with an e-book yet. Not everyone has a Kindle, not everyone knows about the free Kindle app on the smartphone, the iPad. Plus, not everyone wants to read books on their phone. I think the time will come when that’s the vast majority, but it’s not here yet, so we’re gonna do a print-on-demand edition as well and sell that through Amazon.

Have you been dissatisfied with traditional methods of publishing? Does electronic publishing offer you something traditional publishing doesn’t?

I wouldn’t say dissatisfaction is my main reason for doing this. My main reason for doing this is wanting to try something different and wanting to see how this new technology works. And I had this book that, if I’d gone the traditional publishing route, I wouldn’t be talking to anyone about it for the next 18 months. I started it in February, finished it in May, I finished my copy editing three weeks ago, and now we’re talking about publishing it. It sped up the process so much that it’s kind of hard to resist at least trying it.

The thing that publishers can do that I can’t is distribute the book in stores and to sort of make people aware of it through the traditional distribution channels. They could get me booked into book fairs and things, but, in my experience, that doesn’t necessarily move product. I don’t think corporate publishers were going to leap at the chance for this book. I think I probably would have sold it, but I wouldn’t have sold it for much money, so that being the case, I don’t think that whatever publisher I sold it to would put that much effort into it. It’s a good book on which to experiment.

Do you think this is a good method for you as someone who jumps between genres?

I would say “eclectic.” That’s not really the label you want as a writer, but it certainly applies to me. I think a book like this lends itself well to e-books because the e-books that sell well on Kindle tend to be genre-ish and tend to be short. People who read e-books want books that are short that they can read on a plane flight. They buy in bulk almost. They just read and read and read. You’re not going to read a 1,200-page William Vollmann book on your Kindle.

What makes you write any particular book? What draws you from project to project?

I’ve been an NBA fan most of my life, I’ve been Jewish all of my life, and I had never heard of this era of Jewish basketball that was so prominent. And it was—not a secret, but not as well-known as the relationship between Jews and baseball. I was just really taken by the descriptions of the culture I was hearing. And the more I looked into it, the more I realized I could craft an interesting story set in this world. And I’d always wanted to write something that had a noir feel to it. And the subject matter and the time period just lend itself to that. I wanted to make it read like the kinds of books I liked. I wanted to write it like the kinds of books I like to read.

Did you want to alert people to this history or was it just a good story?

I don’t know. To me, this is more just about story and characters and scene and mood. I have no real interest in being the guy who reclaims the lost legacy of Jewish basketball. There’s already been stuff written about this, there’s already been a documentary. So it’s not like I’m first through the gate. I just wanted to tell an entertaining crime fiction story that used this as a backdrop.