17 May 2014

Interview with Michael Balkind and review of his great novel “The Fix”

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After reading several of Michael Balkind’s books I was lucky enough to get a preview of “The Fix”  long before it was published. It was finally released this month. Here is my review, followed by an interview with Micahel Balkind, one of the two authors.

Colt has everything a young man can want: a promising football career, a beautiful girlfriend, and every hope for the future. fix
As many sportsmen these days however he becomes corrupted by greed, a taste for money and luxury and influenced by the wrong kind of people. Falling for their charms and talk of easy money he begins gambling and becomes entangled in a net of traps and pressure that threatens everything in his life.
At the very beginning I found myself a little disappointed because – after having read Balkind’s thrillers – I wanted a murder or another mystery, which Balkind does so well. But just as he did in those thrillers, Balkind is no one-trick pony and seems determined to change direction in each of his books. So it took me a while to see where it was going and just when I thought I knew there was another surprise towards the end.
I am not a huge fan of sports and am a stranger to gambling, however, the passages about this have importance so the reader can see the game’s logic. I am pleased to say that I found the unexpected depth and drama very much to my liking. We get deeper into Colt’s character and see how quickly the traps around him snap him shut in his predicament, which he now needs to solve one way or the other.
Unlike many materialistically spoilt players that we know as a klischee from the newspapers Colt resolves to learn from his mistakes and face the consequences and fight for his life back.
There are some inspirational and warming scenes in the book, the writing is very well done and the pace very apt for the set-up of the entrapment. Very well informed and knowledgeable about football and gambling, Balkind and Burr have written a great book which gives great insight into the psychology of a gambler, the mechanisms of game fixing and underworld operators. A masterful and compelling read.

Michael Balkind

Interview with Michael:

Michael, how did you come to writing in the first place?  

I have wanted to write a novel for as long as I can remember, I just never had the time. That problem was fixed when I lost a business to a bad partner about 12 years ago. Having lost everything I had – financially, that is – I couldn’t sleep at night. Three kids, a big mortgage, and an empty bank account can have that effect. When you’re up in the wee hours every single night, worrying about…well…everything, writing can be very therapeutic.

What inspired you to write about the characters, gambling and game fixing?

The fact is, the concept behind The Fix was not born in my mind. It was the brainchild of my co-author, NBC Sports/Golf Channel Host, Ryan Burr. Ryan had read and endorsed my first novel, Sudden Death, while he was an anchor at ESPN. He enjoyed the book so much that he approached me to write The Fix with him. I loved the concept the first time he pitched it to me and after our first meeting he supplied me with a couple of pages of notes and I proceeded to write two chapters. I asked him to evaluate / critique them, just to see if I was in a direction he could live with. I asked him not to hold back with his comments and that I’d be happy to re-write looking for a voice that could work for both of us. His immediate comment after reading them was, “Don’t change a word!”

Did you have any connection to the game?

I have to admit that while I am a sports nut, the only connection I have to playing football was my freshman year of high school. And quite frankly, I wasn’t quite big enough to play very often and I became rather bored of collecting splinters in my butt. Soon afterward I was introduced to the game of lacrosse and went on to play through high school and college.

That said, I am an avid fan of college and pro football.

Did anyone influence you / encourage you to become a writer?

                Just my own nagging, inner voice

What do your family or friends say about your books. Do they mind you taking so much time to write?

While I believe my wife and kids are somewhat proud of my work as an author, they get a little fed up when I mention my writing. You see, I have this obsession, I kind of challenge myself to hand a book marketing card (business card with my book info) to almost anyone who comes within my reach. You want to see eyes roll? Watch my wife or my son when I hand a card to a stranger or to someone in a restaurant or anywhere else we may be. Not a pretty sight! But hey, who else is going to market my work? That’s right nobody, until now, that is. Now I have a partner in crime – my TV host, co-author, Ryan Burr.

Do you identify with any of the characters?

I think there is a little of me in many of my characters. Especially, Reid Clark, my protagonist in my original series. Although he is named after my son, he often tends to act as I would. Except for his initial, rather hostile characteristics in my first novel, he thinks and acts kind of like me. Now, if I could only be a professional golfer and have a bank account like his, I’d be all set. Oh well!

What would your character(s) say about you?

“Would you please grow up already!”

“What you’re going to kill me? Don’t be an idiot! You better keep me alive for another book! Your writing needs me!”

“Not again, you sadistic maniac – don’t’ tell me that you’re really going to have me take another bullet? Haven’t I been shot enough already!

What do you like best about writing? What’s your least favourite thing?

Like – I am happiest when I am in the throes of creating another tale. Going anywhere I want – meeting anyone I’d like – doing anything I want to do – of course it’s all in my head, but it feels very real while it’s bouncing around in the grey matter.

Dislike – As essential as editing and re-writing are, they are not my favourite things to do.          

How long did it take you to write?

Writing the initial draft of The Fix was a lot of fun – and therefor pretty easy and quick. Some first drafts can take me a long time. Not because I get stuck – so far writers block has yet to hit me (yes, I am knocking on wood (my head) as I type this.) But, since I have two kids in college and another just out of college, as well as a mortgage – and since I am not on the NY Times bestseller list, I have to keep a day job (selling Solar Energy Systems) to pay the bills. The day job definitely interferes with my writing career, but at the moment, I have no choice. 

How did the collaboration go between you and your writing partner?

It turned out that we were a pretty good team. I didn’t really need him that often after he supplied the original notes. Which is a good thing, because as a daily television host, he is extremely busy. I wrote the story and emailed it to him regularly. When I needed his input on specific things, we would speak on the phone or email. Then, we got together occasionally for editing meetings. 

One perk to having a TV personality as a partner – He actually got me interviewed on ESPN by another anchor, to discuss my first novel, Sudden Death. We did the interview and it aired on Master’s Saturday, which was amazing because much of the story takes place at the Masters Tournament. Sales of Sudden Death surged.        

Did you do a lot of research for the book?

Tons! – As bestselling author, journalist and broadcaster, John Feinstein’s quote on the cover of The Fix says, “I love a… mystery that feels real.”  I believe a lot of research is needed in order to make a novel feel real. I think I spend about 30-40% of my writing time doing research.

Would you say your book has a message and if so how would you describe it?

Yes – It has a strong message, maybe better described as a life lesson. The main characters in The Fix both have big gambling problems. One is a hard core sports gambler when the story opens. Readers get see what gambling has done to his life and how he can’t stop no matter how badly it is ruining his life. The other main character starts off vehemently opposed to gambling, but slowly succumbs to its lure. Readers will watch as he puts everything he has worked so hard for on the line as his addiction consumes him. The quick buck might be fun to make, but is it worth throwing away one’s future for, especially when that future has the potential, in this case, almost guaranteed potential, to earn millions.

How did you choose the cover for the book?

As I write my novels, I’m always thinking of the whole package – the cover, the marketing pieces, the movie (if/when it happens.) I usually spend a little time sketching a cover concept that I may hand over to the graphic artist who will create the final cover. In the beginning of my writing of The Fix I found a picture online of a football being torn in half with money flying from within. I immediately knew that we could build a cover around it that would bring home the whole concept of the story within. I really like the work my cover artist did with this one.

How do you write? What is your writing environment like?

Although I write anywhere & everywhere. Most of my writing is done on my laptop while sitting in my favourite recliner. Once in a while, I’ll listen to some background light jazz or classical music, but usually I prefer silence. That way I can hear my characters as they help me write my story.

How many rewrites did it take you?

I’m really not sure how many, but I am constantly editing and cleaning as I write my first draft. I also regularly consult with my wife as I write. Then, once I finished the story and did a few rounds of my own editing, it went into my wife’s very capable hands for a full edit. After she was done, I had two more editors run through it. After that, I gave it to many beta readers for evaluation and suggestions. Then, it received the final editing and polishing by my publisher’s managing editor. It takes an awful lot of editing, cleaning, and polishing before one of my novels is allowed into the hands of my readers.            

What is your advice to new writers?

I run into people all the time who ask, “How should I get started – should I write an outline or not?” I usually answer them by saying, “Just sit and start throwing words on the page. Write whatever comes to your mind. If your story is meant to be, then it will soon begin to write itself.” Although that may sound a little strange, it’s how I began. And it’s usually how I begin each new novel. It’s not that I don’t have an outline, it’s just that I don’t need to write it down – at least not in the beginning. Usually, if I do have a written outline, my characters encourage me to stray from it anyway. The best part about writing is that the author gets to travel anywhere he/she wants to go, meet anyone he/she desires, do anything he/she pleases. I don’t know any other passion, hobby, or business that allows one such freedom.  Just sit and write, and more importantly, have fun.

Also, as many people will tell you, don’t try to write something because you think it will sell. Write about something you know. In my case, I have found a topic that not only do I know, but I happen to be really passionate about too. It makes my work a whole lot more fun.

Who are your favourite authors?

                Yikes! That’s always a tough question for me to answer because I have so many.

Robert Ludlum – I fell in love with his novel, The Bourne identity. It convinced me to start writing. It just took a few years for me to get started.

Ken Follett – I’m amazed that such an extraordinary espionage author could just turn the channel one day and begin writing truly amazing, epics of historical fiction.

Roald Dahl – James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Novels just don’t get any better than those.

J.R.R. Tolkien – The Hobbit – Bilbo Baggins is one of my all-time heroes.

                Carl Hiaasen – His novels always makes me laugh!

What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?

I am reading Russell Blake’s, JET, on my iPad.  Blake is phenomena in the indie writing world. He was featured in The Wall Street Journal for publishing something like 25 books in 30 months. He also was asked to co-author a book with one of my favourite authors, Clive Cussler.  

I read books in all formats. While I really love the look, smell, and feel of a traditional paperback or hardcover (I have hundreds in shelves next to me as I write this,) I also like the convenience of our Kindle & iPad – especially being able to increase the size of the text – allowing me to read without glasses – that’s Sweet!

What is your life like outside of writing?

                First, I am a family guy. I love doing just about anything with my wife, kids and our dog, Bode. Whether it’s a meal together or a hike in the woods, our conversations are always interesting and enjoyable (yes, Bode joins for meals and discussion too – well, maybe not. But he does love to hike with us.) Golfing and skiing with my son is also is at the top of my list. When I’m not writing or hanging out with the family, I am usually out selling Solar Energy Systems. You see, although my books make me a few shekels every month, the income doesn’t quite cover a mortgage and three college tuitions. (Now it’s time for each of you to say, Hmm, maybe I should buy one (or all) of Balkind’s books.J) Education is a great cause – no? And I really treasure every new reader and fan I get. 

What makes you laugh?

                Our dog, Bode!

                Tuition bills!

                A little beer, wine, or cognac, once in a while.

What (not who) would you like to take to a lonely island?

Since I’m guessing there isn’t any electric power on this island, I would take a bunch of note pads and lots of pens. As I mentioned earlier I am happiest when I am writing. Might as well be happy all the time.

Who would you like to invite for dinner?

Uh oh – another tough one. While I could name so many brilliant and interesting people I would really love to meet, I think I would have to say, my dad. We lost him when I was eight years old and I really have no memory of him whatsoever. I would love to have known him and really wonder how different my life would have been if he was alive

Hot or cold?

Okay, since you asked – I have to admit, I am a bit of a foodie! I have belonged to a gourmet club for years. I love to create new dishes and try to perfect those that my family enjoys the most. As for your question, for me, it’s more about the taste, look and consistency to me than it is the temperature. Sorry to disappoint!

Salty or sweet?

                How about both. Sweet and savoury combine really well in some dishes. Especially desserts

What would your friends say are your best and your oddest quality?

That’s easy – everyone thinks I’m really hilarious. Oh wait… Sorry, got that one wrong. It’s mostly me who thinks I’m funny. Most others roll their eyes at my jokes. Especially my biggest critic, my son!

Most do think I’m pretty creative and almost everyone agrees that I’m can sell just about anything.

Tell us about your other books?

So far, all my books are mysteries and while they are not about sports, they do have a sports theme.

Sudden Death is about the top golfer on the PGA tour, Reid Clark. Reid receives a death threat at the Masters Tournament and hires a team to help protect him and hopefully catch the culprit, before he gets killed.

Dead Ball, the sequel to Sudden Death, takes place at AllSport. A high end training facility where inner-city, young adults who have shown professional sports capabilities, are invited to train. The combination of big money, and trainees with questionable backgrounds proves to be lethal. A dead body is found by secret service agents on the first page. And finding the killer takes the reader on an action packed journey from New York to L.A., from Caracas, Venezuela to the top of Mount Everest in the Himalayas.

Gold Medal Threat is a mystery for kids. The protagonist in this book is Casey Clark, Reid Clark’s son. Casey, along with his friend Johnny, fly to watch the summer Olympics in Australia, where they overhear assassins discussing “taking out” a young gymnast. The boys team up with two Australian teenage girls, Chelsea and Samantha, and the team puts themselves in harm’s way in attempt to foil the crime – before it’s too late.

How do you handle criticism of your work?

Criticism from my editors is always welcome. Without it, my work could never reach its full potential.

Yet, criticism from reviewers is never fun to receive. While, over the years, I have become less distraught over bad reviews, they always make me cringe a little. I have learned though, that you just can’t please everyone!

Tell us one weird thing, one nice thing, and one fact about where you live.

Weird – We live in the suburbs, less than an hour north of New York City and yet, we have no town water or sewer system and the town does not pick up our trash. Therefore we have our own well, our own septic, and private trash pick-up. All this while we pay just about the highest property taxes in the country. So – you’re probably asking why we live here. Look at my next answer.

Nice – Our town is quant and really beautiful. Our home is nestled in on about 1.3 acres of heavily wooded, very private property. We have an excellent school system that our kids have flourished in. Our neighbourhood is about as friendly as one gets.

Fact – In 1897, our town, Katonah, was literally moved. The former site was flooded by the construction of the Cross River Reservoir (part of the NYC water supply) 50 buildings were rolled on logs pulled by horses to its present site.

Who would play your characters in a movie?

                Zac Efron could play main character Colt Walker

                Alec Baldwin or James Caan could play Coach Belmont

                Paul Giamatti, Nicholas Cage or Billy Bob Thornton could play referee Frank Gastner

What is your next project, when can we read it and where can we find out about it?

My current project, Stealing Gold, has been in the works for years now. My two latest releases interrupted my writing of Stealing Gold. I was asked to write Gold Medal Threat and then, The Fix while I was about 75% done with the first draft of Stealing Gold. Now I am undertaking the difficult task of finishing Stealing Gold. Jumping back into the story has been rather daunting. But, having done lots of re-reading and getting re-acquainted with my characters and plot, I am almost ready to continue the story from where I left off.

Michael Balkind is the author of the Deadly Sports Mysteries as well as other novels. His novels are endorsed by literary greats including James Patterson, Clive Cussler, John Feinstein, Andrew Gross, John Lescroart, Wendy Corsi Staub & Tim Green. He has appeared on ESPN’s The Pulse and Sportsnet’s Daily News Live and was featured on the cover of Publishers Weekly. He has co-hosted and is a regular guest on The Clubhouse radio show. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America and The Metropolitan Golf Writers Association. Balkind graduated from Syracuse University and currently resides in New York.

Website:        www.balkindbooks.com

Facebook:     Michael Balkind – Mysteries & More

Twitter:         @michaelbalkind

The Fix, Sudden Death, Dead Ball, and Gold Medal Threat are all available in Paperback and eBook.

Author page at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/MichaelBalkind/e/B003IUJKQE/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Author page at Barnes & Noble:           http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/michael-balkind/2098368

Also available at Apple, Smashwords, Kobo, Diesel, Sony and most other eBook stores.

Michael Balkind   Author of Sudden Death – Dead Ball  – Gold Medal Threat   www.balkindbooks.com
“You like golf, you like murder mysteries – – then Sudden Death is your book!”James Patterson   

 “Gold Medal Threat is finely crafted & suspenseful…”Tim Green 

“Pure fun, pure intrigue. The action never stops till a fascinating climax.”Clive Cussler 

 “Listen up, fans!…Balkind knows sports & mysteries, too.”John Lescroart    

written by
Christoph Fischer was born in Germany in 1970 as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. ‘The Luck of The Weissensteiners’ is his first published work. He has written several other novels which are in the later stages of editing and finalisation.
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