Peter J. Wacks, born Zarathustra Janney, then quickly reminted the next day to a sane name on his second birth certificate, never really recovered a sense of normalcy in his life. Peter (or Zarth, whatever, it’s cool) has travelled to thirty-seven countries, hitchhiked across the United States (very funny, no, he didn’t hitchhike to Hawaii), and backpacked across Europe. He loves fast cars, running 5Ks, space travel, and armchair physics. In the past, Peter has been an actor and game designer, but he loves writing most and has done a ton of it, which can be found by Googling him, or checking his Amazon page. Even if it seems a little cyber-stalkery, don’t worry, go for it! Since he doesn’t think anyone really reads these things anyway, he will mention that strawberry daiquiris, Laphroaig, great IPAs, and really clever puns are the best way to start conversations with him. On a last note, his most recent novel is about a magical Ben Franklin, and was released by Baen in 2020. You, know, if you’re actually reading the author bios and notice this. If you aren’t, this just got slightly uncomfortable. Are you still there? The bio is over. Read the next one.
His and Bryan Thomas Schmidt’s story, “It’s A MUD, MUD World”, appears in the Weird World War III anthology.
Tell me about yourself. Where are you from? What’s your background?
Hi there! I’m Peter. It is actually difficult to answer the question where are you from, because it has many answers. I’ve lived in the U.S., Canada, Germany, and Denmark and travelled to an additional 33 countries. Even in the U.S. I’ve lived in 6 different states and travelled to all 44 of the others. I guess I really try to be from everywhere. Right now, I happen to park my laptop at a docking station in California, or, depending on the week, in Colorado. I’ve been in entertainment and creative fields my entire life, starting as a child actor at age 6. I’ve been an actor, game designer, poet, essayist, novelist, editor, magician, and more-depending on my mood.
I guess the best way to define myself is that everyday I am hungry to experience or learn something new.
What kinds of stories do you write? Why?
I love this question! The defining quality of the stories that I write is that I hate formulas, and I avoid writing into specific well explored territory. It’s nearly impossible to define the kind of story I write, other than to say it is usually the story in the anthology that stands out as very uniquely different. Different isn’t always good, but at least it helps people stop and blink. An example of this is that once, when challenged to write a Space Opera; I wrote a story about an aria being performed which told the story of a space battle. Another example: my time travel novel can be ripped apart and the 13 chapters can be read in any order and still result in the three act structure of build up, conflict, resolution. Even if it is just as simple as presenting a comedic story amidst very serious counterparts, its the thing I love do.
Which of your short stories is your favorite? Why?
Okay, I’m going for a shameless self plug here. What I should say is that the story in Sean’s upcoming Weird War III anthology is my favorite. (Not naming it because I’m not sure if you’ve done the Table of Contents reveal yet, Sean…) Instead, I’m going to put out there the shortest story I’ve ever had published: Shotgun Wedding. It is a 1 page post apocalyptic bromance, and I wont give you more than that. It appears in the charity anthology Surviving Tomorrow (Google it). It was rewritten so many times it’s almost ridiculous, because I wanted to see if I could fit all the elements and hooks of a story into a one page story, and still have room for the reader to like the character. I think I succeeded, and the pre-release reviews so far have been mentioning the story so I feel like others feel the same way.
Tell me about a time you almost died.
Which one? Ha. Alright, this summer, amidst the COVID 19 craze, my first hardcover released from the marvelous Baen books—Caller of Lightning (think Ben Franklin at Hogwarts). (See how I put in a detail important for the story but ALSO a shameless plug?) Right as I was gearing up to start promoting the book in late April, I developed a fever. Then I started having trouble breathing. Then my muscles started aching at the bone level…
After being diagnosed with the global freaking pandemic, my life fell apart, in ways. I could only focus for about 90-120 minutes each day. If I tried to read or sit at the computer I’d start to have trouble breathing or fall asleep. But it was only supposed to last a week or two, so I tried not to worry—we still didn’t know better. My case lasted a little over 5 weeks before I was finally allowed to emerge from quarantine. At times, my O2 was as low as 68%—a level that should have had me in a coma. I was paranoid, full of anxiety… it was hell. And I couldn’t write more than a couple minutes a day.
And yet here I am. I do have post illness complications, and I am still shaking them off, going through a kind of slow physical therapy to try to regain my brain and my vascular strength… but let me tell you this: there is nothing like being on the losing side of the pandemic curve to make you get your crap together and decide to go out and kick some arse.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Okay. Craziest, stupidest, bone-headedest…. and appropriate to the upcoming anthology:
When I was 14 years old I was in Leningrad amidst Gorbachev’s Perestoik—it was the year before the renaming of the city to St. Petersburg. It was an amazing experience. Seedy looking guys on street corners would offer you 300 Rubles to the dollar—at a time that the banks were offering 3 to 1. They were using a special technique called an Elmsley Count to make it look like they were giving you that many Rubles, when in fact you’d get a random 60 or 80 Rubles. As I ALSO knew how to do the same count, I would negotiate with the con-men and usually walk with about 100 per dollar. To give you a metric – the single most expensive bottle of vodka I was able to find, behind the locked cabinet at the store, was about 350 Rubles. It was very good. I was living like the Dread Pirate Roberts in Patagonia, feasting every night, the best entertainment, and all for less than my $10 weekly allowance for full chore completion.
So one night, having had a nip of that very fine bottle of Vodka, I wandered out onto the streets of an asleep Leningrad until I came to the Hermitage Museum at the Menshikov palace of Peter the Great next to the Neva River. In my tipsy 14 year old brain I decided that since the building was Peter’s winter palace, and MY name was Peter… I should take a memento home. On the front entrance of the building, suspended over the entry between two beautiful ornate lampposts in the plaza, hung a giant red Soviet flag with a fringe along the edges. I glanced around once, made sure no one was overtly watching and at about 3 in the morning, I scaled the side of the building to the flag pole and stole the flag. I should be rotting in a prison in Russia, but somehow, I ghosted into the night with my stolen flag and got it all the way back the U.S. Not by far… but it was the supidest AND the craziest thing I have ever done.
Each of the stories in this volume evoked certain themes and emotions that can sometimes be approximated with music. The below video is the editor’s best interpretation of the feelings and themes that this author’s story evoked. Please note that this is only the editor’s interpretation. The author did not know this portion of the blog post existed until the editor published it.
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