Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Simon Wood on Writing Mysteries, Piloting Planes, and Falling Off a Mountain

Hi, Simon. Thanks for agreeing to chat on the blog.
All right, let’s get this out of the way. In your bio, you state that your wife is American, “but she can’t help it.” Hey, now! What’s that supposed to mean?

Not everyone can be English. Her being American and not being English is an impediment, but she copes with it very well. It’s a terrible fact, but true. :)

Like many superheroes, you are an engineer by day and a writer by night. What sort of engineer? Electrical, Civil, Mechanical, Computer, Train, Toy Train?
Mechanical by schooling. I worked in the petro-chemical industry for many years, but now I work in the civil engineering field these days.

Your writing career was slow in getting started. Is there anything you learned from your rejections that you can share with hopeful writers out there?
Rejections have taught me that writing is subjective. There isn’t necessarily a right answer. Writing falls in a “three bears” scenario where one editor will say no because it’s too big, another will say it’s too small and another will say it’s just right.

It doesn’t matter how many rejections you collect. It takes only one acceptance to change everything. Rejection is something all writers have to get used to, because they are going to receive more of those than they are acceptances.

Among your accomplishments, you list “[Falling] off mountains in New Zealand.” That doesn’t actually sound that difficult.

It wasn’t. The staying in one piece was.

They liked to claim no one has ever fallen off this mountain. Fate likes to step in and say, “Simon, show them how it’s done.”

What sounds more difficult is the fact that you are both a licensed pilot and a former racecar driver. Are you a bit of a daredevil?
I do like excitement and thrills. Motor racing is one of my great loves. I raced on competitive level, learned a lot about myself and spent a fortune. It was hard giving it up. I’d go back to it in a heartbeat if given the chance.

On the other hand, flying was therapy. I don’t like heights and I wanted to confront my fear head on. Consider it a kill or cure approach.

Okay, now to your writing. Tell us about your current book, Working Stiffs.
Working Stiffs is a collection of workplace based crime stories featuring six stories and one short novel. When the publisher and I discussed the concept, I didn’t want to do just white or blue collar crime. I really wanted to cover the gambit of workplaces. So one story takes place in big business while another surrounds a mom and pop business. Another story deals with a police officer’s workplace, but I balanced that with the problems of the workplace of organized crime.

The jewel in the crown of crimes is the short novel, The Fall Guy. It’s about Todd Collins, a down on his luck guy who backs into a drug dealer’s car causing the drug dealer to be busted for possession during a routine traffic stop. The kingpin holds Todd responsible to the loss of his employee and his associated income and pressgangs Todd into his business so that he can work off the debt.

I’m really proud of the book. I worked closely with the editor throughout the project and I think he got the best out of me. I’m glad the reviews have backed up my belief in the book.

How did you end up choosing mystery as a genre?
I know the adage is write what you know, but it should also be write what you love. I grew up reading crime stories and PI novels. So when it came to writing my own stuff, it was an easy choice when it came to genre. I have to be fan of the genre to write about it.

You’ve written about the challenge of being a writer with dyslexia. How were you able to overcome it and achieve success?
Like all impediments, you create a coping system and that’s what I’ve done. I can’t read my own work so I have to hear it. I write the story blind. I bang away at the keyboard, print it out and hand it to my wife, Julie. She reads it and tells me where things don’t make sense and when I’ve got all those wrinkles out of the system. Julie reads the piece out loud and I edit by ear. It goes without saying that I owe everything to Julie’s support and patience.

How do you like writing on the Murderati blog?

It’s proving to be quite interesting, not having blogged before. Murderati gives me an opportunity to flex my writing muscles in a different way. I write long and short fiction, write in different genres and write essays and non fiction. Now, I’m column writing. I like to think it makes me a more complete writer.

The only thing I don’t like is having to come up with something new each week. I swear someone is stealing a day from the week.

You’re appearing at several conferences in the near future. Do your writing profits allow for a pretty big conference fund?
I don’t have significant writing profits. Not yet anyway. But I have reached the stage where the income from my books, articles and stories now covers all my convention expenses.

Your work appears in some horror anthologies, and some of those covers are pretty darn frightening. Who designs the covers for your books?
I can’t take any credit for the covers of the horror anthologies my stories have appeared in. The horror genre is blessed with a lot of talented artists who create some wonderful pieces inspired by the stories written. I’m a fan of several artists in the genre that I hope one day they will design covers specifically for me.

Do you read a lot of horror? Who are your horror writing influences

I could name a lot of names, but my major horror influence is James Herbert. I grew up reading his books at an early age and still continue to do so. I really like his simple storytelling style. He has some mind-blowing ideas, especially in his more apocalyptic-themed books. He makes for a great study on how to do horror right.

What are the basic things that make horror and mystery different genres?
In a lot of ways, horror and mystery can be very similar. A horror story can be a thriller or a mystery if the premise of the story is to determine why something unexplainable is happening. I can employ the same techniques for telling both kinds of stories. But a mystery is firmly set in reality, dealing with real world motives and issues whereas horror is elastic. Both horror and mystery can have the same motives such as greed or hate, but horror can really stretch that theme to an extreme. Horror is a great venue for exploring parables or morality plays--terrible things will happen if you don’t do…

Like many authors, you have chosen to pose with your dog. Is there a writerly reason for this?
Man’s best friend is his dog—the same goes with writers. Royston listens to all my bitching and complaining when things go wrong and nods in appreciation. He wags his tale when I make a sale. He’s just there for me. Being a dachshund, he’s the perfect size to lie across my lap while I write, making him a lovely body warmer during the winter.

How can readers find out more about Simon Wood, his books and stories?
Everybody is welcome to drop by or Of course, I’m Man Thursday over at I write a free monthly e-newsletter, which is a humorous look at the world and where I don’t fit in. People can sign up at

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