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Peter Balaskas Author of The Grandmaster Shares His Thoughts

Click Here To Purchase From Amazon The Grandmaster

Author: Peter A. Balaskas

Publisher: Bards and Sages

ISBN: 9780615147437

Today, Norm Goldman, Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com is pleased to have as our guest, Peter A. Balaskas, author of The Grandmaster.

Good day Peter and thanks for participating in our interview.

Norm: 

What makes you want to write? Was there anyone who really influenced you to become a writer?

 

Peter: 

I have always been interested in storytelling since I was a little boy.  I used to draw pictures on my notepad, which contained fantastic stories involving monsters, spaceships and battles of all kinds. I also learned how to read at a very young age. But it was a fascination for film that stimulated my love for storytelling, especially the Ray Harryhausen movies such as King Kong, The Sinbad Series, and Jason and the Argonauts. And I would usually re-create those scenes with my crayon drawings.

It wasn’t until high school that another “Ray” heightened my desire for storytelling: Ray Bradbury. His two books, The October Country and The Martian Chronicles planted a seed within my soul to tell the stories that I wanted to share, especially when it came to taking normal characters and placing them into extraordinary circumstances.

Bradbury led to Harlan Ellison, Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Heinlein, Stephen King, Isaac Asimov and other well-known authors that dealt with the Fantastic. I was mainly a reader until my Junior Year in college where I started taking creative writing classes. And the moment I wrote my very first short story---which, ironically enough, was a Wagner Institute story---my need to create stories came into fruition. After many years of writing workshops and simply experiencing life itself, I think I’m in my creative groove. But I have a lot to learn when it comes to honing my craft.

Norm:

Was The Grandmaster improvisational or did you have a set plan before you sat down to write it?  What inspired you to write The Grandmaster and how did you come up with the ideas for it such as the paranormal and the golem?

Peter: 

 It all started when I began studying for my Masters in English (double emphasis in creative Writing and Literature) from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles (Fall of 1999). The first class I took was “Literature of the Holocaust,” and we read the works of Primo Levi, Elie Weisel, and other writers who were survivors of the Holocaust. I have always been interested in World War Two, but the Holocaust fascinated me in terms of its historical and sociological impact on the human race. One of our assignments was a creative project and we were supposed to utilize what we learned from the semester into our project. Originally, I was going to write a supernatural short story that takes place in a concentration camp.

Now, before I entered the program, I had written and outlined a few pieces that dealt with the Wagner Institute. I even have a character bible for this series of stories. Some of them have been published already: “A Bottle of Jyn” (which is considered a preface to The Grandmaster) is being sold as an e-book through Bards and Sages, “Lessons in Aviation” is published on-line through Sage of Consciousness, and The Chameleon’s Addiction is published on-line through Bards and Sages. In all of these stories, I mention Doctor Johann Wagner, but his character was the only one that I didn’t have a history for.

Which brings me to The Grandmaster. I suddenly realized that this project was the perfect opportunity to create the spiritual foundation of the Wagner Institute: Dr. Johann Wagner. I researched all the background history regarding the Holocaust: camp life, locations, and key dates.  I also researched documentation regarding the supernatural and paranormal, and I wanted to incorporate my fascination with this subject matter within the context of The Grandmaster, especially the Jewish legend of the golem. I created the list of characters and outlined the entire book---most of my works are outlined.  Many writers frown on this, but it helps me with my stories. After the outline was created, I let the creative process begin. It has its own schedule; I can’t force “the muse,” so to speak.  

Norm:

In fiction as well as in non-fiction, writers very often take liberties with their material to tell a good story or make a point. But how much is too much?

Peter:

I feel if the author does his homework on where the story takes place, as well as show a little creative restraint regarding how the characters interact (especially if your characters are based on historical figures), then your story can shine on its own merit without appearing self-indulgent or amateurish.  The best examples I can give for this are Caleb Carr’s The Alienist and James Lee Burke’s Two for Texas.

In both novels, Carr and Burke captured periods of history with such incredible detail that it was as though they were taking literary snapshots of the times. But what made the stories believable were not only the descriptive settings, but also the characters.  They were consistent to those particular time periods, no sense of anachronism at all. And what made the magic of the stories come to life even more was they incorporated historical figures as supporting characters. Carr featured a young Teddy Roosevelt; Burke had Sam Houston. And those character interpretations were believable, especially when they interact with the fictional protagonists of the works. When the reader starts to believe in the characters and the dramatic situations, then the author has done his job in creating a believable story. I tried to do the exact same thing with The Grandmaster in terms of the setting, the characters, the dialogue, and how the story comes together.  

Norm:

You write with a very vivid and descriptive style. Do you use any particular techniques to help with your writing or to help flesh out descriptive imagery? Are there any writers you admire or look to for inspiration?

Peter: 

Thank you very much. Whenever I’m doing first person narration, like what I did with The Grandmaster, my character would describe in a way that was consistent with his or her background and time period.  For instance, Johann Wagner’s descriptions should have a vivid, yet poetic flavor about it. He is educated, cultured, and even has a romantic nature about him. A character who is born on the Brooklyn streets wouldn’t utilize that kind of elaborate description, although he could still have certain sense of style in terms of how he speaks and, especially, how he describes a scene.

Detective and crime stories are good examples of that. I basically, for lack of a better term, hear the “voices” inside my head and place them on paper. But again, researching the background of the character helps with how he dresses, how he acts, and most appropriately, how he speaks, especially if he is narrating the story. Many authors in my genre have been huge inspirations when it comes to my writing style (Bradbury, Ellison, King), but other authors outside my genre have been helpful as well, such as John Steinbeck, Louise Erdrich, and John Irving. When it comes to my writing, these are my teachers.

Norm: 

Does The Grandmaster have a broader mission than simply entertaining or storytelling? If so, can you talk more about that mission and what you hope readers will take away after reading the book?

Peter:

I only have three goals when it comes to any story that I write: to make it believable, enjoyable and somehow have it impact in a way that I would never predict.

With The Grandmaster, my initial goal was to show a typical battle between good and evil.  It wasn’t until after I completed the piece that the main theme stems from the very first line in the book:  “The eyes of the demon have returned!” It’s a story about conquering one’s demons, both in a figurative and literal sense.  The reader has the opportunity to see how Wagner confronts both forms of demons during two moments in his life.

As a younger man, he not only faces the literal demon in the form of Karl Reinhardt, but also a figurative demon called doubt: doubt in his faith, his people, his own purpose. Although he seems to conquer both demons during that time, Wagner---as an older man---then discovers through his journal writing that both forms of his demon appear again. But in this case, it comes from his memories of the Holocaust. And it’s through this portrayal that I hope will inspire anyone to learn from the pains of the past, not allow them to taint the purity that every human being has, and spiritually evolve as time goes on.  But again, this message was not planned.  It very much manifested and grew on its own.

Norm: 

 How did you go about creating Dr. Wagner and Colonel Reinhardt?

Peter:

Stemming from what I described about the “demons of the past,” Wagner and Reinhardt are the archetypes of survivors in the truest sense.  Both experienced loss, alienation, and cruelty. Both also possess supernatural powers. And because of their respective cultural backgrounds, both are outsiders. However, the difference between the two is one chose the path of perseverance and compassion, whereas the other allowed his anger and pride (two of the deadliest sins) to consume him. And it’s through these conflicts that the voices of Wagner and Reinhardt came out as two distinctive types of survivors. One is filled with a spiritual tenacity, the other is filled with self-loathing.

Norm: 

In the last year or so have you seen any changes in the way publishers publish and/or distribute books? Are there any emerging trends developing?

Peter: 

Speaking as a publisher myself (www.exmachinapress.com), I have noticed an increase in small publishing presses trying to market their work first on a local level, then work their way up regionally when word about them travels around. This is what we are trying to do with my publishing company, Ex Machina Press.  We focus on marketing our titles through the LA Community with the help of major festivals (most notably The LA Times Festival of Books), as well as utilizing simple word of mouth and networking with other small publishing houses. It usually takes any small self-owned business 4-7 years to break even. If the founders of these publishing presses can hang in there, to harness their passion but still maintain the clarity of what they are doing and how they are doing it, they can make their businesses thrive.

I have also heard about how the e-book will replace print within the next 10-20 years. I find that extremely hard to believe because I feel the number of people who love the tactile sensation of holding a book is too high.  Fifty to sixty years ago, it was thought television would replace radio. Although the technology has changed over the years, radio is still going on strong. I feel that there will be an equal demand for both print and e-books.

Norm: 

What's your advice to achieve success as a writer? 

Peter:

In my opinion, the only kind of success a writer should seek is totally creative.  You don’t go into this field for the money; that’s extremely unrealistic. Obviously, my goal is to eventually live on my fiction writing. But realizing the odds of this happening, I have a full time job to maintain a decent standard of living. My only focus is to grow as a writer, to be true to my characters and the stories that stem from their actions. To have fun in the process, and to be patient when the work “doesn’t appear quite right.” 

And when it does come out the way I envisioned it, it’s essential to remain humble and grateful for my talent. I consider it to be a gift.  James Lee Burke once said that true artists believe their talent comes from a source outside from themselves, a higher power, for lack of a better term.  To expand on this, my talent comes from a higher source and is harnessed through my imagination, my “creative lens,” so to speak. And if I can keep that lens clean of any smudges such as arrogance, pride, envy, etc, than it is reflected in my work, which will hopefully evolve as time goes on. And with that creative evolution come spiritual evolution and that is how success is truly attained.

Norm: 

On reading your bio, I noticed you have contributed essays and poetry to several literary journals. How beneficial is it for a writer to contribute to these journals?

Peter:

I feel it’s extremely beneficial to submit your work to as many journals and magazines as possible. Even if they are non-paying publications, you are getting your name out there.  You are expanding your horizons in terms of professional and creative contacts. Obviously, try the paying publications first. But if your work gets rejected, don’t snub your nose at the idea of a “two complimentary copy only” deal. Some writers have a problem with this; I don’t. The mission of the writer is to create their work and get it noticed out there for as many eyes to see. 

Norm: 

How did you feel when you learned that The Grandmaster won 3rd place in the 2006 Bards and Sages Speculative Fiction writing contest? What is the Bards and Sages Speculative Fiction writing contest?

Peter:

I first learned about Bards and Sages Publishing when I found a submission call for short fiction---it was for an anthology they were putting together. I discovered that they publish Speculative Fiction (Science Fiction, Horror, Suspense, etc), which caught my attention because that is what I generally write. I submitted my gothic horror novella, The Chameleon’s Addiction. Julie Dawson, the editor, immediately replied and said that although my piece was too long for the anthology, she did consider it a publishable piece.  Therefore, they offered to publish it on-line on their website.

After that, I checked in on their website from time to time and I noticed that they were holding a Speculative Fiction Novella Writing Contest and the top three places get published in an anthology. I immediately thought of The Grandmaster. I entered my short novel to two other contests, but no luck. I thought I had nothing to lose with Bards and Sages. I submitted my work, thinking that the results would be the same. During Thanksgiving Week of last year (2006), I got an e-mail from Julie informing me that The Grandmaster won third place. I not only received a gift bond, I was told that my story would be published as its own title, and that it would be published as an e-book, printed book and possibly an audio book (in 2008).  I was ecstatic because The Grandmaster was key in my evolution as a writer. And the fact that I got the acceptance letter on the seventh anniversary in which I wrote the first draft (November 1999) added to the moment even more so. It felt like providence, in a way.

Norm: 

How important is it for aspiring writers to go to conferences? How do you know that a conference is worth your time and money?

Peter:

I am ashamed to say that I haven’t attended any conferences.  However, I have attended the Maui Writer’s Retreat two years ago and I found it to be one of the most important experiences in my development as a writer. I took the Speculative Fiction Course, and the exercises not only helped me with my writer’s block, it helped build up my confidence in my writing. My first collection of short stories was the result of that Retreat. Although it was expensive, it was worth every penny.

I can share with you what I heard about Writer’s Conferences: find those that fit your needs the best. From what other writers told me, it is best to attend conferences that not only help you in your craft, but also networking with other writers who are in the same field or genre that you are presently in. It is always essential that people do their homework about a particular conference before making any financial commitment whatsoever.

Norm: 

How can readers find out more about you and your endeavors?

Peter:

My writer’s website is presently under construction, but it’s still accessible: www.peterabalaskas.com. It should be fully operational by mid to late September. However, if people want to know more about any current events, as well as the links to some of my works that have been published on-line, go to my business website (I’m the Editor and Manager of an LA based publishing company called Ex Machina Press, LLC, which is the parent company of the annual fiction anthology Silent Voices: a creative mosaic of fiction. www.exmachinapress.com). Look under Staff Publications and you’ll have a chance to see more of my work. I also have a MySpace page: www.myspace.com/zardozrising

Norm: 

Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered and what is next for Peter Balaskas?

Peter: 

From an editor’s standpoint, I’ve been busy reading submissions for our next volume of Silent Voices: a creative mosaic of fiction; the featured authors for that book are Liam Callanan, Alex Espinoza, and Emily Rapp. From a writer’s standpoint, I’m seeking an agent for my first short story collection, the one whose work stemmed from the Maui Writer’s Retreat. It’s called In Our House and they’re a mixture of horror, suspense, theological and historical short fiction. It’s a nice “grab-bag” that I hope will appeal to many types of readers.  In the meantime, I have also begun my second short story collection.  The previous book was mainly grounded on the supernatural; the second one is composed of science fiction. 

Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.

Peter:

Thank you, Norm, for all your support and your thoughtful review of my work. It does a writer’s heart good.

 Click Here To Purchase From Amazon The Grandmaster

To read Norm's Review of The Grandmaster CLICK HERE

 

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