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New novel ‘Balloon Dog’ securely tied to Park City

Part-time Parkite Daniel Paisner is also a ghostwriter

For information about Daniel Paisner, his podcast and his novels, including “Balloon Dog,” visit danielpaisner.com.
“Balloon Dog” is the third novel by part-time Parkite Daniel Paisner. The book is set in Park City and involves the theft of a high-end Jeff Koons sculpture.
Courtesy of Daniel Paisner

Part-time Parkite Daniel Paisner’s new novel “Balloon Dog” is set in Park City, and there is a very good reason.

“The conceit of the book was about a theft of a high-end Jeff Koons sculpture, so I needed a place where there were people with money,” he said. “I also needed a place where people had fabulous homes. That could have been beachfront property. It could have been a penthouse in the city. But if you go around the homes in the Colony, there are fabulous sculptures.”

The story also stems from the idea that works like the Koons sculpture and other valuable works of art would get moved around a lot due to the weather, according to Paisner.



“ I don’t know if any of these get moved seasonally, but I didn’t think there would be much of a leap to create one for the story,” he said. “So I wanted to find a place where there was some storytelling integrity of moving these fabulous works of art and having to move it because of the elements.”

My feeling is if there is a story worth telling, even if the person turns out to be unpleasant or difficult, it’s only a six-, eight- or 10-month ordeal…” Daniel Paisner, novelist, podcaster and ghostwriter

The story is populated by a struggling middle-aged writer who can’t gain any traction from writing his own novels.



“He makes a living writing press releases, menus, speeches and ad copy for plastic surgeons, and he is sort of figuring out how to create something of value and what all of that entails,” Paisner said. “So I wanted this one story of the art theft to bump into him in a way that readers would start to think about who decides what has artistic merit and what does not.”

Paisner has been thinking about the story for a while.

“It started with the idea of a theft, and then I thought about what happens when you have a theft of this beautiful work of art in plain sight,” he said.

While the premise sounds like it could be inspired by the true account of thieves who lifted a $12,000 powder-coated steel lion sculpture during the 2012 Park City Kimball Arts Festival, Paisner had not heard about that story.

“Even though I hadn’t known about that, things like that gets me thinking about the role art plays in our lives, and who decides what’s valuable and how they assign value,” he said. “For me, it comes down to beauty being in the eye of the beholder.”

Paisner worked on the story in the summer during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, when he and his wife, Leslie Baliff, were in town. 

“I would get up every morning and we have a deck that overlooks a little lake, and I’d sit out there and get to work,” he said. “I would also work on it when I wasn’t really working. Ideas would come to me during idle moments out riding a bike, hiking or nodding off to sleep. That’s when my mind fixes the plot points here and finds new plot points there.”

“Balloon Dog” is currently available in paperback and electronic form online and can be ordered from bookstores if there are no copies in stock.

The book is Paisner’s third novel, although he has written over 70 books. When he isn’t writing his own stories, he is helping celebrities, athletes, politicians and other people in the spotlight, write their autobiographies as a ghostwriter.

The road to that career started with Paisner’s desire to be a journalist.

“I came to awareness of reporting during the Watergate era,” he said. “Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were rock stars to me, and I thought I would work in a newsroom.”

Paisner, who splits his time between Park City and New York, worked as the editor of his high school paper and editor of his college paper while attending Tufts University in Massachusetts.

“One of the reasons why I chose the college I did was because I shopped around and sat in on some newsrooms the same way sports will reach out to coaches,” he said. “The reality was when I looked towards graduation, I didn’t love the lifestyle of a journalist, and I didn’t love the payscale.”

So he took a job as a publicist at Simon and Schuster, the renowned publishing house in New York.

“I worked there while I freelanced for the Associated Press, the New York Times and some magazines,” he said. “The upshot of that was I got to meet editors and literary agents, and I got to learn how that business worked.”
Paisner’s bosses at the publishing house saw he wasn’t that interested in calling newspapers to beg for a reporter to write about his clients and suggested he meet with Willard Scott, the Today Show weatherman, at the NBC Studios across the street.

Part-time Parkite Daniel Paisner is a novelist and also a ghostwriter and podcaster. As a ghostwriter, Paisner writes autobiographies with celebrities, athletes and politicians.
Photo by Leslie Baliff

“So I met Willard, and he poured me a couple of fingers of Jack Daniels and said, ‘Look, if Simon and Schuster sends you over, that’s OK with me,’” Paisner said. “That’s how I landed my first ghost-writing gig, which meant six months worth of work that paid me about what I was making at Simon and Schuster.”

The job led Paisner to an agent who led him to other gigs.

“Now, 30 years later, I’m still cranking out these books,” he said.

From day one, Paisner has fully embraced his title as a ghostwriter. 

“There is something pejorative about the term, and I’ve a lot of friends who do the same kind of work but stiff-arm the term,” he said. “They think it demeans them.”

The term originated in the 1920s, during an era in publishing where the writers truly were not credited for their work, Paisner said.

“We were the silent hand behind actors, athletes and politicians, who needed a little bit of help writing a position paper, an op-ed piece, whatever it was,” he said. “So it’s a little bit archaic. But I think it accurately captures what it is we do.”

Paisner started a podcast, “As Told to Daniel Paisner,” where he talks with other ghostwriters about their gigs, and has found that they, like other creatives, approach their stories differently.

“I must have done 60 of these, and each project is different,” he said. “Sometimes I work with somebody who rolls up their sleeves and wants to write. Sometimes I work with someone who talks it through and doesn’t even want to look at it when it’s done.”

Paisner also goes into every project without an agenda.

“I’ve worked with both Republicans and Democrats, and I’ve worked with people I admire and people I don’t admire that much,” he said. “My feeling is if there is a story worth telling, even if the person turns out to be unpleasant or difficult, it’s only a six-, eight- or 10-month ordeal, before the next one.”

The idea to become a novelist has always been on Paisner’s mind, insomuch that he made a deal with himself while penning his ghostwriting jobs.

“I would do one of theirs and then do one of mine, but that didn’t really work out that way,” he said. “‘Balloon Dog’ is my fourth novel, and I’ve written some nonfiction books as well, but the reality of living is you need to pay the bills.”

Paisner also approaches novels differently than he does his ghostwriting projects.

“I kind of have to have a clear head,” he said. “I can’t be worrying about bills. I can’t be worrying about a deadline for another project, and happily I’ve been able to find the time recently to lean back into this fiction work from time to time.”


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