Neal Pollack on Rebounding From Massive Hype and Six-Figure Deals to Online Publishing

This post by Nathan Rabin originally appeared on The A/V Club on 3/14/13.

In Money Matters, creative people discuss what they’re not supposed to: the intersection of entertainment and commerce, as well as moments in their lives and careers when they bottomed out financially and/or professionally. 

The artist: Neal Pollack appeared in the national consciousness as part of the talented group of writers and editors that gravitated to McSweeney’s, Dave Eggers’ publishing empire. In 2000, The Neal Pollack Anthology Of American Literature—a collection of satirical pieces centering on the fictional “Neal Pollack” persona, a larger-than-life spoof of macho world-beaters like Ernest Hemingway and Norman Mailer—became the first book published by McSweeney’s publishing arm. (The book was later re-published by HarperCollins.) A satirical rock novel, Never Mind The Pollacks, followed in 2003, and was followed by 2007’s Alternadad, a memoir about his experiences raising his son. Alternadad generated tons of publicity and human-interest stories about hipster parenting, in addition to generating interest from the television and film industries. But the book’s sales failed to match its buzz, and television and film adaptations didn’t pan out.

Pollack published a yoga memoir, Stretch, in 2010, but over the past two years he has devoted much of his time and energy to writing mysteries for new publishing paradigms. In March of 2011, Pollack self-published the Kindle release JewBall, a period basketball mystery that attracted the attention of Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer mystery imprint, which reprinted it as a download and a paperback. Pollack followed it up with another mystery for Thomas & Mercer, in this case a yoga-themed book called Downward-Facing Death that Amazon released in serialized installments; it’s now available in its entirety as both a Kindle release and a paperback. Sequels to both mysteries are in the works.

The A.V. Club: What was your relationship to money as a child? 

Neal Pollack: When I was 7 years old, we moved to Paradise Valley, Arizona, which is a very wealthy suburb of Phoenix. In fact, I’d say it’s a very wealthy suburb of Scottsdale. And this wasn’t the Paradise Valley that was described in—this is a very dated movie reference—Pump Up The Volume, the Christian Slater movie. This was the town of Paradise Valley. In the movie it was called Paradise Hill. The town of Paradise Valley that attracted such exclusive real estate that there’s not commercial real estate in it to this day. It’s best known as where Camel Back Mountain is, and there may be a couple of boutiques on one of the streets and then there’s the Barry Goldwater Memorial. So that’s where I grew up. My father was a hotel executive and, at the time we moved there, there were no paved roads in the section where we lived. Every house had to have acres of desert land, and that’s still the case. Not our immediate next-door neighbors, but the family down the dirt road were the heirs to the Campbell’s Soup fortune. They were billionaires, multi-billionaires. My family wasn’t anything like that, but my dad had a very good corporate executive job.

Then, in 1979, he lost that job. We suddenly went very quickly from being upper-middle class to really struggling financially. And that had a big impact on me, because I watched my parents really struggle with having to pay bills and buy groceries and find work.


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