You Made Me A Criminal

We have a great guest today – fellow mystery writer and all-round nice Brit, Simon Wood. Please make him feel welcome TKZers!
Clare

Some people give me odd looks after they’ve read something of mine. They see me, they read the stories and they merge the characters and me together and see the same person. They don’t see easy-going, Simon. They see evil-doing Simon. I’m not evil doing. I’m actually very nice. I rescue animals off the street, I pay my taxes and I’ve never held up a bank (well, not in California and besides, I was very young).
 
Consider this quote for one of my books: “Simon Wood is a criminal genius. We should all be glad he’s writing this stuff and not doing it.”
This isn’t the kind of quote I should have on a tee shirt when I visit the FBI.
That’s the problem. Readers blur the lines between the characters we scribblers create and the scribblers. I’ve been told on several occasions that I’m not a nice person based on my stories. I’ve been asked if I’ve cheated on my wife when they’ve read about a character’s infidelity. As shocking as these statements can be, I can understand them. I’ve said myself. When I tell a story, I don’t base my characters on people I know or people I’ve read about, but I place myself in the shoes of those characters and view the world how they view the world. So for all intent and purposes, I am the good guys in my stories and I’m the bad people in my stories.
But that doesn’t make it me.
I’m not living out my fantasies on page because I fear capture if I committed them in the real world. I’m not outlining my future crimes. I’m not a depraved person getting my kicks on paper. I’m nice, easy going, animal rescuing Simon. But I can conjure up crimes and motives for killing and invent people react to those circumstances and I am empathic to their sensitivities. If I was faced with the crisis of conscience that a character is faced with, I can see their point of view and follow it. That character can be a good person doing the wrong things for the right reasons or a bad person doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons. I can see it from their perspectives. But am I like them? No. Would I act like them if their position? Perhaps. But the people on the page aren’t me. A lot of writers I’ve met and befriended are nothing like the people they write. Most horror writers I know are some of the most down to earth people I know. Eavesdrop on conversation at any World Horror Convention and you’re going to hear them talking about pets and their kids and not how to dismember a body a dozen way from Sunday.
Granted, characters are the writer’s alter egos and altered egos. They are the people they would like to be, possibly, but they are also the kind of people we wouldn’t like to be. But at the end of the day, there is a big distance between the writer and his darker characters—well, certainly in my case. I can’t speak for everyone.
I will no doubt be in for an interesting time with my new book, NO SHOW. Seeing as the book is inspired by something my wife did to me (or more accurately, didn’t do) on my first day in America, I’ve already had a few emails from people wondering if I’m getting back at her with this book.  For the record, no.  I got a book out of it, so I’m grateful to her—now.  🙂
At the end of the day, I’m a storyteller and like Marvin Gaye says, I need every kind of people to tell my tales and that includes the bad ones. So the next time you read a nasty character and you start comparing the writer to that character, put some distant between the two. I know we do.



BIO: Simon Wood is a California transplant from England who’s been a competitive race car driver, is a licensed pilot, and an occasional PI. He shares his world with his wife, Julie, and their longhaired dachshund and five cats. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines anthologies, such as Seattle Noir, Thriller 2 and Woman’s World. He’s a frequent contributor to Writer’s Digest. He’s the Anthony Award winning author of Working Stiffs, Accidents Waiting to Happen, Paying the Piper and We All Fall Down. As Simon Janus, he’s the author of The Scrubsand Road Rash. His latest novel, No Show, is out now. To learn more about Simon, visit his website.

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The Care & Feeding of Authors

Okay, I’ll admit this reads like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, but hang with me on this post about writer’s life.
Bears in Alaska are heading into hibernation. The reason I know this is because one of my crazy sisters is hunting brown bear in the Aleutian Islands. She’s been sending photos and funny text messages over her 10-day adventure. She’s not hunting. Her husband pulls the trigger. But being the trooper she is, she dons the appropriate layers against the cold and rain to trudge alongside him, lugging water and food. For added color, she met an interesting man on this hunting expedition—a Romanian billionaire traveling with his body guard. (I’m not the only one in my family who should be writing fiction.) And because she’s my dear sweet sister, she brings books of mine to give away. The photo below is of a woman at the lodge they stayed while they hunted. She is holding my young adult book – In the Arms of Stone Angels (Harlequin Teen, Apr 2011), a cold case murder mystery for teens.
The reason I’m sharing this family story with you is that bears going into hibernation reminded me how I get when I’m in the middle of a project. I’m totally oblivious to EVERYTHING. I’m so vexed on the characters and the world I’m creating that I go without eating or eat weird stuff, forget about sleep, and my capacity for coherent conversation is limited—unless its dialogue.
Simon Wood was a guest on TKZ not long ago. Once he shared a funny story with me about how his wife caught him on the sofa watching TV when he should have been writing. He had eaten a bag of chips and had cats sleeping on his chest. Seeing the look in his wife’s eyes, he headed her off by saying he was deep in thought—that he was actually working. (Yeah, right.) But seriously, this is how it can be for a writer. We never stop working. So I’m fairly certain Simon had his brain “sweating to the oldies” as he gorged on Cheetos and snagged quality cat time.
In truth, Simon might have been indulging in another bad habit of author behavior. Snackage. Authors eat stuff and may not even pay attention to what it is. Like drones or Zombies, we are fixated on what’s in our head. It’s nothing personal, but dirty dishes in the sink, dog hair on wood floors, and a growing mass of dirty laundry become invisible. Personally, I call that a gift, but my husband has a different perspective.
So I’ve turned over a new leaf and after John Gilstrap’s fine example of slimming down and focusing on his health, I am in week 2 of a change in diet. Mostly it’s vegan. I eat raw and cooked veggies and legumes with plenty of fruit. No dairy. For those who know me, this is a HUGE change. Before, I considered meat as dessert. I would rather eat meat than even indulge in something sweet. But I’m outing myself on TKZ to say that I am committed to eating better and taking care of my health.
Anyone have a good vegan recipe?
Seriously, I have been more focused on cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients. My husband and I actually sit at the dinner table to eat instead of plopping down on the sofa with the TV on. We have semi-real conversations over dinner and not just talk about how to kill people and get away with it (a real crowd pleaser). We may even indulge in a glass of wine now and then. I’ll soon add a regular exercise program into this and not just limit my cardio to fast moving fingers over a keyboard.
For those of you smarter than I am, how do you stay healthy with your hectic schedules? What’s your routine? And I would seriously like to hear if you have any good vegan recipes that aren’t loaded with cheese.
Reckoning for the Dead (Adult thriller, Sweet Justice Book #4) – HarperCollins, Sept 2011 Now Available.
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Truth and Consequences

by Simon Wood

I put myself in a tricky position with my latest book, DID NOT FINISH. With most of my books, it’s inspired by something that happened in the real life. But whereas there’s usually a little distance between myself and incident, this time there wasn’t. I was there at the time of the incident.

In the 90’s, I was a competitive racecar driver. At the end of my third season, one of the drivers threatened to kill another driver unless he let him winning the championship deciding race. Word of this threat spread through the paddock like wildfire. No one took the threat seriously. It was just talk. That went out of the window when those two driver touched wheels during the race and the threatened driver died. Some odd things happened in the aftermath of the crash, such as edited TV coverage and a seemingly nonexistent police investigation. It was all very puzzling to a number of us who’d heard and seen things.

I’d always said I would write about the incident, but writing the book proved much harder than I’d ever expected. The problem was that I was too close to the source material. When I wrote about viatical settlements for ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN and a series of suicides for WE ALL FALL DOWN, I spun a story around some very bare facts to construct a book that had very little in common with the facts. The problem with the early drafts of DNF was that it was autobiographical which made the novel very dull as it was way too personal and to be frank, not that entertaining. My problems were compounded by my thinly veiled attempts to hide the identities of actual people. I had hoped that in the 20 years since the actual incident went down that many of the characters were still very much involved with the sport. Then there was the victim and his family to consider. I’m sure they wouldn’t appreciate me raking up old memories. At the end of the day, as much I think I know what happened, I only had my perspective on events and not a complete picture and to make any insinuation was reckless. The upshot was the book ground to a halt

After a long chat with my wife, we got to the heart of the matter—stop trying to rewrite history and write a novel. I had to do what I always do when I use something real to write a work a fiction. Incorporate the essence and leave the rest. Once I unshackled myself of any responsibility to tell the truth, the book became easier to write. I developed characters with some real depth and history. The plot went off in a direction that real life never went. And all in all, I have a book I’m very proud of.

The tough thing about writing, even with fiction, is that it’s a role that comes with responsibilities. You can’t just say anything and say it’s okay because it’s made up. Words are as powerful as bullets and you need to be careful where you aim before firing. And that’s the truth.

Simon Wood is an ex-racecar driver, a licensed pilot and an occasional private investigator. Simon has had over 150 stories and articles published. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and has garnered him an Anthony Award and a CWA Dagger Award nomination, as well as several readers’ choice awards. He’s a frequent contributor to Writer’s Digest. He’s the author of WORKING STIFFS, ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN, PAYING THE PIPER, WE ALL FALL DOWN, TERMINATED and ASKING FOR TROUBLE. As Simon Janus, he’s the author of THE SCRUBS and ROAD RASH. His latest book is DID NOT FINISH.

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The Anarchist in Me

by Simon Wood

Today TKZ is delighted to welcome fellow thriller writer and anarchist Simon Wood. I toured with Simon back when Boneyard was released, and in spite of that we remain friends. I highly recommend signing up for his newsletter, it’s easily one of the most entertaining out there…

I saw my author-friend, Tony Broadbent, not too long ago. We hail from the same hometown back in the old country. We got to chatting and he gave me a pat on the head and told me, “You’re like the Gary Oldman of the mystery world.”
Gary Oldman is one of my favorite actors, but I wasn’t sure of the correlation and asked, “Is that a good thing?”
“Yes,” he exclaimed. “There’s a lot of anarchy in your writing.”Picture 220.jpgHow su
bversive, I thought. I’m a rebel without an agenda. Mother will be delighted.

Well, the little exchange got me thinking about my writing. I don’t think people hit the keyboards with an agenda or a theme tucked under their arm—or if they do, it sort of sticks out. Agendas and themes develop on a subconscious level. Well, they do for me. I don’t go out of my way to put a slant on my stories. I just try to entertain, but inadvertently, I show a little leg now and again. So, I looked for the anarchy. And I think I saw it in the shape of conflict.

Stories require conflict. It’s a driving force that characters and stories thrive on, especially in mysteries and thrillers. The nature of the genre means there are going to be casualties and collateral damage. So, I like to inject my stories with a lot of conflict. The problem is that I’m quite a literal person and I think about things in very pure terms. Blame my engineering background. When I think conflict, I think about it in its most basic of meanings—total annihilation. Everything my lead character holds dear is under attack. I create this person so that I can destroy them. I place them and their world in an ivory tower, then go about stacking as much C4 explosive around the foundation as possible to blast it all apart. It only seems fair, doesn’t it? Conflict by its nature is salt to a wound. Character assassination is key for me. Only by putting everything in a protagonist’s world at extreme risk can the character grow. There can’t be a comfort zone or a safe haven for this person. Wouldn’t you want to read about a character in a situation like that?

I flicked through some of my stories to see what I did to my characters and the annihilation is always there. Characters are put through the wringer and their lives will never be the same. This theme continues in my latest book, Terminated. I’ve really gone to town on the story’s protagonist, Gwen Farris. Her reputation is destroyed, her home life obliterated and she’s framed for crimes she didn’t commit. Everything she holds dear is in shambles, but if she’s to fight back, she has to develop into someone she’s never been before. Her life will never be the same and there will have to be a lot of rebuilding by the end, but she’ll be a stronger and more courageous person for it.

So I guess I do have anarchistic bent. Sorry. It wasn’t intentional. It’s just the way I tell ‘em.

Yours destructively,
Simon Wood

Simon Wood is an ex-racecar driver, a licensed pilot and an occasional private investigator. He shares his world with his American wife, Julie. A longhaired dachshund and five cats dominate their lives. He’s had over 150 stories and articles published. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines anthologies, such as Seattle Noir, Thriller 2 and Woman’s World. He’s a frequent contributor to Writer’s Digest. He’s the Anthony Award winning author of Working Stiffs, Accidents Waiting to Happen, Paying the Piper and We All Fall Down. As Simon Janus, he’s the author of The Scrubs and Road Rash. His latest thriller, Terminated, is out in mass paperback. Curious people can learn more at www.simonwood.net .

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WORK THOSE L’IL DOGGIES

by Simon Wood

Today TKZ is thrilled to welcome Simon Wood, a darn good writer who I was fortunate enough to tour with last summer (I can still recite his “one time I literally ran into an assassin” story by heart). He shares a unique take on what we’ve been discussing quite a bit lately, creative ways for authors to earn a living in the digital age.

The writing world is an odd industry, but no different from any other. I think writers sometimes forget that our stories are commodities. A writer’s body of work doesn’t lose its value. Therefore, stories should be worked for all they’re worth.

I didn’t look at my work this way until I heard science fiction and fantasy legend Gene Wolfe speak at a convention a few years ago where he was the guest of honor. He was talking about how he’s always made his stories work for him. A good story doesn’t have to end its life at its first printing. Like Halley’s Comet, it can keep coming back again and again for the enjoyment of a new audience. He’d calculated how much some of his stories had earned for him. A number of his stories had earned several dollars per word. Admittedly, it had taken a couple of decades to do that. Nevertheless, that was pretty amazing.

This was quite a revelation to me. I took to heart what Gene had said. I’d had a handful of stories published so far, most earning a couple of cents per word on average. I looked at my body of work and found ways of getting my stories published and re-published. Stories I sold to print markets I resold to webzines. I looked to foreign language markets where the story would be fresh. Within a couple of years, I’d resold some of my stories three times over.

While I still have a couple of stories reprinted every year, with print markets shrinking and most other markets looking for unpublished fiction, I turned to the internet. A few years ago, I discovered Fictionwise.com. They were only interested in previously published fiction. They operate on a similar platform as iTunes where users downloaded stories like people do with songs. It’s worked out very nicely. My stories are still available and their popularity is determined by the readers.

I’m now taking this approach with my books that are going out of print. I like to think there’s a demand for these books. Maybe not enough for a re-issue, but there’s certainly more than enough for e-publishing. The likes of Amazon’s Kindle and Smashwords.com have made it easy for me to keep my books out there and meet a demand. I’ve recently e-published DRAGGED INTO DARKNESS and WORKING STIFFS, two books of mine that I believe contain good work.

This is where a little discretion comes in too. I’m only republishing things that people ask about or that I can hand-on-heart say represent my best writing. There’s no point in me putting out things that are subpar. And I’ll be honest. There’s stories of mine that got published, especially in the early years, which I look upon as amateurish now and while I’m not ashamed of those stories I don’t feel they represent what I write now. I could be a total reprint slut and toss everything I’ve ever written at the eBook reader but it’s not worth it. There’s a massive pinball effect with a writer’s work. Someone reads a story and like it, so they check out something else I’ve written. That only works if what is out there is good. If it’s bad, it has the converse effect and they’re unlikely to seek out other works.

I view eBooks as another weapon in my publishing arsenal and not a threat to it. That’s why I’m also going to explore the e-publishing route for some stories that I’ve been sitting on that don’t fall into traditional print publishing options such as novellas and novelettes. There’s certainly an opportunity for me to experiment.

So how has working my stories hard fared for me? Not as well as it has for Gene Wolfe, but I’m getting there. Several of my stories have been picked up for different anthologies and have earned me two and three times what I was originally paid for the piece. One story, TRAFFIC SCHOOL, was published three times, each time earning pro-rates, before I put it on Fictionwise and there, it has found a following. It’s by far my bestselling story by a factor of at least two to one. I think this creepy little short about bad driving habits will be my little goldmine. My work for Writer’s Digest has done well too. A couple of the pieces have been reused two and three times and have earned four-digit paydays. I’ve now placed them on Smashwords.com and I’ll see how they work out there.

At the end of the day, as long as there are readers, stories are commodities that don’t diminish with age or time and the electronic option is helping there. And that’s all good as far as I’m concerned.

Learn more about Simon at www.simonwood.net and his work at:

Kindle Store
Smashwords.com
Fictionwise.com

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