EXCERPT and GUEST POST
by Peter G. Pollak
House Divided is the latest thriller by Peter G. Pollak. The author stops by to share an excerpt from the book as well as a special guest post.
Leonard and Alison Robbins disagree about how big a mistake their college student daughter is making by joining the radical Students for Palestinian Justice (SPJ).
Alison believes Courtney needs to be allowed to make her own decisions, but retired CIA agent Leonard, who heads up a counterterrorism task force, fears she’s in over her head. Neither, however, foresees the real danger their daughter faces.
Anti-Israeli terrorists are recruiting SPJ members to bomb Jewish organizations and they have their sights on Courtney.
If Courtney doesn’t see the truth in time, it will be up to her parents to stop the terrorists before their daughter becomes their latest victim.
“You did what?” Leonard Robbins asked his daughter, not sure he heard right due to the din in the Manhattan restaurant where he and his wife were celebrating Courtney’s twentieth birthday.
“I said I joined Students for Palestinian Justice.”
Leonard threw his hands into the air. “Why?”
“You’re the one who taught me to root for the underdog.”
“The Palestinians like to pretend they’re the underdog, but don’t ask them what they’re doing with all the money they get from us, the United Nations, Qatar, and even from Israel.”
“But, Dad, the Palestinians are not occupying Israeli territory.”
“Courtney, you should know the history of that region better before–”
“Len, not now,” Alison Robbins said, placing her hand on her husband's arm. “It's neither the time nor the place.”
Leonard frowned, but deferred to his wife. “You’re right. Sorry.”
The silence that followed was not broken until three members of the restaurant wait-staff arrived, one with a candle in a large cupcake. Leonard detected a look of annoyance from his daughter, as if she thought this was another example of their treating her like a child. Yet, she couldn’t help but smile when the waiter lit the candle and led a funky rendition of the happy birthday song.
Courtney puffed up her cheeks and blew out the candle to applause from diners at nearby tables.
Alison removed a small gift-wrapped package from her pocketbook and handed it across the table. “Happy twentieth.”
Courtney slid the ribbon off the package and tore the wrapping paper off the box. It was a dark blue velvet jewelry store box. She extracted a set of four silver bracelets. “Mom, you shouldn't have.”
“Those were the ones you wanted, right?” Alison asked.
Courtney nodded. She put them on and raised her arm to show them off.
Leonard waited a few seconds before he pulled an envelope out of his jacket pocket and handed it to her. “Just don't donate any of this to the Palestinians.”
Courtney opened the envelope. “Thanks, Dad. In other words, they can have my body, but not my money?”
“When you put it that way, I'm not sure which is worse,” Leonard said.
“Enough, you two,” Alison said. She waved down the waiter. “We should be getting back to the hotel. I'm sure your father wants to go over his talk one more time.”
“I do,” Leonard said.
“You’re not nervous, are you, Dad?”
He chuckled. “Hardly. Besides, you probably have some school work to do.”
“Not on my birthday! Sue Philips is waiting for me. We're going out.”
“Then we won’t detain you any longer,” Leonard said.
“Should I hail a cab?” Courtney asked.
“No need, dear,” her mother replied. “We drove over in our van, but you can help your father maneuver his wheelchair out the front door while I pay the bill.”
Praise for the Book
"Whew! What an exciting ride. I sailed through the short, dense chapters of House Divided impatient to know what happened next. The research is amazing. Very authentic and authoritative. [...] Highly recommended." ~ Judith K. White
"This is by far his best book to date. The characters were well drawn and the plot had a valid premise. [...] I finished it in a couple of days and enjoyed it immensely. Thank you for an insightful and knowledgeable read." ~ Classy's response
"Peter Pollak's books all have a plot that carries the reader to have difficulty putting the book down." ~ jyanno
"I enjoyed this story immensely and I would recommend it for not only its entertainment, but it was extremely educational." ~ Joan A. Adamak
"The book was an attention grabber from page 1. The political intrigue in this story makes you want to not put it down. It was a well-written, enticing plot that kept the reader wanting more! Mr. Pollack's characters come alive for the reader and easily become your neighbors & friends. I strongly suggest putting House Divided on your reading list." ~ Barbara B Sullivan
Guest Post by the Author
As I read more and more beginning authors, I often see a problem that occasionally comes up in my own writing – character inconsistency. This occurs when the plot requires a character to act in a way that conflicts with the previous description of his/her personality. I’ll cite examples and suggest some ways to avoid this problem.
Example A: You’ve described Ben as a kindly old man living in your protagonist’s neighborhood, but a few chapters later you need him to race out of his house cursing your main character when a vampire chases her through his backyard.
Example B: You describe your protagonist Mary as smart and sophisticated, but then you have her to fall into bed with Bill hours after they meet at a party.
Example C: You describe two brothers as always fighting over the smallest thing, but then your story requires them to work together and nary an unpleasant word is heard.
In real life people are inconsistent. We behave one way with family, another at work, and another with our peers, but in novels, inconsistencies have to serve a purpose. In my second example, it’s okay for Mary to think she’s smart and sophisticated if the point of the story is to show that she really isn’t. On the other hand, if you show her getting involved with Bill on a lark, but want her to act sophisticated before and after, your readers might not be willing to go along.
Inconsistencies can be fixed if you’re paying attention and catch them. In my first example, you can say Ben is kindly except he’s fiercely proud of the flower beds in his backyard. Then when the kids run through them, we’ll buy his anger.
The problem of inconsistency stems from two writing weaknesses – not knowing your characters well enough and not having thought through each step of your plot. If you don’t know whether a character is sophisticated or smart, you might play her one way in one scene and another way when it suits the needs in a later scene. You can also run into problems if you reach a point in your story where you need a character to act in a certain way without having laid the foundation for that behavior. If a major character is involved and you don’t go back and leave some breadcrumbs (hints), your readers may not follow.
One more example. In a draft I just read, the day after an extended family is attacked, they are welcoming when a stranger approaches. The author doesn’t want the family to kill or scare him off, but it’s likely they’d insist he keep his distance until they know what they’re dealing with. The welcoming behavior suited how the author wanted the story to go, but it introduced an inconsistency in how people behave that readers will find troublesome.
To avoid inconsistencies you need to know your characters and how they fit into your story. One way to do this is write a biography of each important character – not for insertion into the story, but so you know those characters well enough so that you don’t have a vegetarian pig out at a barbeque.
That also suggests you think far enough ahead in your story (a technique known as "plotting") so that you don’t trap yourself by requiring a character to act "out of character". Remember, while your characters are there to service your plot, they must also be true to themselves – i.e., how most people would behave unless you’ve laid the basis for unusual behavior.
Inconsistencies can be a creative tool when used intentionally, but when they sneak in, they can undermine your story and send your readers to the TV.
About the Author
A native of upstate New York, and graduate of Oberlin College (B.A.,1965), and the University at Albany (M.A., 1970 & Ph.D., 1978), Peter G. Pollak is at work on his sixth novel – his third political thriller.
In his work life, Pollak was a journalist, having edited two community newspapers, an educator, having taught at Empire State College and the University at Albany, and an entrepreneur, having founded a press release distribution service in 1985. He was active in numerous business organizations, including two terms on the board of Sales & Marketing Executives International (SMEI) and retired in 2007.
Pollak maintains a website where he posts book reviews and other commentary on his blog. He is active on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media venues. He divides his time between Howard County, Maryland and a summer home in upstate New York.