Thursday, 30 June 2011
Dancing With Myself: SIMON WOOD interviews SIMON WOOD
You’re English, right? So what qualifies you to write about the US?
I’m an outsider, so things people take for granted stick out like sore thumbs. I sometimes feel like the little boy from the Emperor’s New Clothes story. People either ignore or skip the fact the emperor is nude and I’m the one saying, “Did anyone catch that?” And being an outsider, I’m always paying attention because I’m not sure how things operate and what behavior is expected of me. So a lot of things that escape people’s attention run slap-bang into me. Observing someone else’s culture has proved to be a great source for stories. My first novel, ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN, was inspired by something that is outside of my cultural norm that it grabbed my attention immediately. The book deals with the true but the bizarre practice of the trading of life insurance on the living. If I wasn’t here, I would have missed that.
Oscar Wilde said he was mad, bad and dangerous to know—how about you?
I’m more cranky, silly and jinxed. I’m very passionate about things that matter to me, which can make me a little bit of a handful. On the other hand, I’m very laid back and flippant about things I’m not serious about. I do possess a small talent for disaster. I have a skill for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So, I’ve crash landed aircraft, gotten trapped in a lift, interrupted a hit man on a job, been stranded numerous times and generally burned up my nine lives.
What comes first—Plot or character?
Neither really. Usually a notion or a situation comes first. I’ll want to write something where blame or guilt or revenge or something is the fuel for the story. From there, I’ll construct a plotline to support that idea and populate it with the kind of characters that would work well for that idea, usually damaged heroes and flawed people where there's some growth during their adventure. My characters tend to be story specific, which is why I tend to write standalones.
Who is Simon Janus?
Simon Janus is my penname for my horror fiction. I like to flit between genres but that was confusing my readers and making them a little unsure of what to expect, so I developed a pen name for my darker work.
What book do you people do you wish knew well?
I would have to say, TERMINATED. It’s a thriller that focuses on workplace violence. I came across that unusual statistic that 20 people die as a result of workplace violence every week in the US. That seemed like a huge number. I looked into the subject and researched some of the root causes and some of the methods employers use to protect people. I was very much inspired by the idea of “how well do we know the person across the desk from you?” TERMINATED centers a female boss who has to stand up to an employee who’s out to get her. The book came out last June and was gone from bookshelves by August when the publisher hit financial troubles. You can still find the paperback if you look hard and I resurrected it as an eBook earlier this year. I hope it’ll find a new print home soon.
You write short fiction—why?
A good short story possesses a lot of power. There are some stories I read as a child that have stuck with me and will continue to do so. You can really get a message across in a short story because it is so compact and lean in its telling that it’s impossible to miss. There's nothing to distract from the sheer power of an idea, a conflict or a character. Also, some stories work best in the short form because their idea and setup don’t lend themselves to the long form. Short stories aren’t as popular as I would like, but I’ll keep writing them.
Who do you wish you could write for?
I would have loved to have written for Alfred Hitchcock and Rod Serling. I think both recognized the frailty of the human condition and shined a light on it in their work. It would have been fan-bloody-tastic to have collaborated with them on a movie or on TV.
You're dyslexic—so how you do make that work?
It’s a little awkward in that I’m an unreliable narrator because I can’t read my own work properly, so I have to work around the problem. Dyslexia has nothing to do with imagination and storytelling. It’s more of a hand-eye coordination thing and marshalling my thoughts in a logical manner. I do that by working closely with my wife. She acts as my eyes. She reads everything aloud to me so that I can hear my words and we make it work that way.
What’s a bad guy look like?
A bad guy can look like anyone. There's not a factory somewhere pumping them out on some production line. I think any one of us can be a bad guy. We’re all capable of anything—good or bad. It’s just a matter of circumstances that determines whether we follow a certain path or not. I’m sure we all consider ourselves law abiding and honest people, but we break laws all the time. We litter. We ignore posted speed limits. We fib on our tax returns. There are consequences for our actions and sometimes, they catch up with us in a big way. We either face the music or dig ourselves a bigger hole. And that’s what draws me to crime fiction. I’m forever exploring a character’s ability to stay on the straight and narrow. I tend to create scenarios for knocking them off and I put them in the thick of potentially life changing situations.
Okay, pimp your work. And don’t get carried away.
2011 is proving to be a bumper year for new titles. My
new collection of crime stories, ASKING FOR TROUBLE, came out in
paperback and as an eBook. DID NOT FINISH, which is the first in a
new mystery series set in the world of motorsport, came out in
hardback in the UK last month and will be out in the US in
September. In November, my crime thriller, THE FALL GUY, which
has done well in eBook format, will be out in paperback. Lastly,
I’ve put out my entire backlist of work in eBook format. Curious
people can learn about all my titles at www.simonwood.net.