The 411

Simon Sez is the online version of my long running e-newsletter. The blog will focus on my life as an author, my trials and tribulations as a foreigner in America and the oddities I discover along the way.

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Little Something For The Weekend

As it was my birthday this week, I've turned to one of my favorite quotes, mainly because I'm still not ready to put away those childish things.

"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
~1 Corinthians 13:11

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

News, Reviews & Interviews

I’ve had a little glut of interviews of late, so here they are for your reading and listening pleasure:
Authors On The Air radio interview (60minutes)
Technology FM radio interview about the book industry (30minutes)
My “60 Seconds With…” interview with Reviewing The Evidence
IndieAuthorLand’s ROAD RASH interview
Horror After Dark’s THE SCRUBS review

Monday, April 14, 2014

SHELF LIFE: Pack Of Strays

It's my birthday so I'm taking a day off and handing SHELF LIFE over to my short story nemesis, Dana Cameron.  She's got a new book out tomorrow so here's a little bit about it.  Take it away, Dana.

**warning:  Contains spoilers if you haven't read Seven Kinds of Hell**

Pack of Strays is the second book in my Fangborn series of urban fantasy adventures.  A little background:  Seven Kinds of Hell introduces Zoe Miller, a young archaeologist with serious personal problems; one of them is that she fears she's going crazy when she feels flashes of uncontrollable violence.  She eventually learns that she is not only a werewolf, but Fangborn, one of a family of werewolves, vampires, and oracles devoted secretly to protecting humankind from evil.  Some of the Fangborn want to remain hidden from humanity but a large minority want to Identify themselves as supernatural creatures, possibly to rule humankind.  Zoe ends up on the run with werewolf PI Gerry Steuben and his psychiatrist sister (a vampire), Claudia Steuben (introduced in the short story, “The Night Things Changed”).  While she tries to come to terms with the realization that she is a werewolf—and get a handle on her abilities—she must track down certain mystical artifacts that are the ransom for her kidnapped cousin, Danny.  This leads to a showdown between many powerful factions, including a US senator, a Russian kidnapper, and her Fangborn Cousins.

While Seven Kinds of Hell was about Zoe learning that she is a werewolf, in Pack of Strays, she's using her archaeological skill to unravel the Fangborn past.  Zoe's discovering that not being raised within a Fangborn family actually gives her perspective on their most deeply-held beliefs, some of which are disastrously starting to unravel.  She's also on a mission to learn about her own past and because of the bracelet that Pandora's box embedded into her wrist, she's prey to visions that drive her to go after more and more powerful artifacts.  She's showing abilities no werewolf—no Fangborn—has, and that's making her the target of the Order of Nicomedia (first introduced in “The Serpent's Tale”), who are dedicated to eradicating the Fangborn altogether.  She learns that her friends, including her lover Will, believe that she's abandoned them and is being driven to evil by the bracelet.  Fangborn politics and the Order's tactics are combining in the worst way, bringing the Fangborn closer and closer to being revealed to humanity.

What I love about writing this series as well as the seven (so far!) short stories set in this 'verse is that I get to play with different periods of history and how the Fangborn might have behaved throughout time.  Whenever I visit museums and historical sites, I am always on the lookout for images of wolves, snakes (my vampires have a serpentine aspect), or ravens (symbolic of my oracles), playing with how the Fangborn might have fit into a particular culture.  Studying folklore and mythology from all over the world lets me find ways to suggest that the Fangborn attempts to cover their tracks failed, and being observed with their shape-shifting abilities, found themselves incorporated into local cultural traditions.  So far, I've tackled Boston during the Second World War, medieval England, and the ancient Olympic games. 

The other thing I adore is giving Zoe the chance to show what archaeological reasoning can do.  She may not be a very good archaeologist—in Strays, we see her stealing artifacts, partly to keep them out of the hands of the Order but mostly because the bracelet is driving her to accumulate more of them—but she makes the most of the skills she has.  Actually, Zoe makes the most of everything she has, and that's one of the reasons I keep challenging her—and she keeps challenging me.

Bio: Dana Cameron can't help mixing in a little history into her fiction. Drawing from her expertise in archaeology, Dana's work (including traditional mystery, noir, urban fantasy, thriller, and historical tales) has won multiple Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Awards and earned an Edgar Award nomination. Her second Fangborn novel, PACK OF STRAYS will be published April 15, 2014 by 47North.  A Fangborn short story, "The God's Games" appears in Games Creatures Play and Dana's story, "The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars," featuring Pam Ravenscroft from Charlaine Harris's acclaimed Sookie Stackhouse mysteries, will appear in Dead But Not Forgotten: Stories from the World of Sookie Stackhouse in May. 


Friday, April 11, 2014

A Little Something For The Weekend

If you're going to do it, do it right!

“Never go to bed mad -- stay up and fight.”
~Phyllis Diller

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

HUMP DAY: I'm Not Sure The Future Was Supposed To Look Like This

The future! It’s so full of potential—until it arrives. Then it seems to lose something when we catch up with a point in time that we've looked upon in wonder or trepidation (if you're a dystopian kind of a person). The reason for this “Future is Now!” jag is that I was watched Escape From LA the other week. Not a great movie, but the interesting point is that it’s set in 2013. In their 2013, LA is an island after an earthquake and the country and the world is falling apart, run by untrustworthy politicians. So way off the mark!!! The big one hasn’t hit LA…the rest, I won’t comment on. This inspired me to watch a bunch of my favorite sci-fi movies and I looked at their predictions and how close they’ve come in this 2013.

1. Robots
What we were promised
: Android butlers like C3PO and Data from Star Trek

What we got: The Roomba! I guess we got a robot in every home…kinda.

2. Ray Guns
What we were promised
: The phaser and blaster

What we got: The Taser

3. Sentient Psycho Computers
What we were promised
: Supercomputers like the HAL9000 and those made by Cyberdyne System’s would rise up against us to ruin our lives.

What we got: Window 8. Not especially equipped with super intelligence, but just as disruptive to our daily lives.

4. Lasers
What we were promised
: Death ray lasers emitting coherent light powerful to destroy cities.

What we got: Unfortunately making a death ray is harder than you think, so the nearest we've come to lasers in our daily lives are in CD players and checkout scanners. Not lethal but useful, so no complaints there.

5. Space Bases
What we were promised
: There'd be colonies in space just like Moon Base Alpha here.

What we got: Newt Gingrich saying that he’d build one and make it the 51st state of the USA. Pipe dreams have their place, I suppose.

The problem with our predictions for the future is that we inject them with our hope and dreams and fears and paranoia, instead of a healthy dose of pragmatism. That just shows that we humans are natural born dreamers. Aren't we, Newt. :-)

If you’ve got any predictions for the future, feel free to share, but I will check in on you when time catches up with them…

Monday, April 7, 2014

BACK STORIES: Killer Careers

Relationships with our coworkers are a vital part of life. Considering that we spend a third of our day in the workplace, they have to be. No wonder we build friendships with workmates. That's great. Unfortunately, the flipside of personal relationships in the workplace is that they can turn sour--and violent.

I've seen workplace violence up close. At my last job, my employer took out a temporary restraining order against an employee after he threatened to harm a number of staff members (myself included). Let's just say that's a tad awkward when you bump into that person in a mall. Oddly enough, a restraining order has little power in that situation, but running does. Back in the UK, a firm I used to work next to had a problem with one of their people. When they let him go, he tendered his resignation by throwing an office chair through a second floor window. A few days later, he came back at night and drove a car through the main entrance.

According to government statistics, twenty people are murdered at their place of work every week in the US. Retail jobs top the list as the most dangerous profession and women are the most likely to be killed. Now, the majority of these deaths aren't committed by one coworker upon another, but it gives you an idea of how dangerous the modern workplace is. By the by, if you want to know which profession suffers the least from workplace violence, its mineworkers.

But it wasn't incidents like these that became the inspiration for my latest thriller, Terminated, but what companies are doing to combat workplace violence. Workplace violence isn't good for business. Not only is it disruptive, upsetting and frightening, it's also expensive. And in the world of commerce, money talks. It's the expense which is forcing companies to employ some interesting tactics. Some companies in high profile industries are hiring private security firms to handle claims against violent and potentially violent employees. The security firms provide protection for those threatened and their families, but that's not the intriguing part. The security firms also investigate and run background checks on the accused. If the investigators find any dirt, indiscretions or infractions, this is used to build a case against the violent employee. The evidence is then used as part of a criminal case or it's just dangled in front of the troublemaker to force that person leave of their own accord, unless they want their dirty laundry aired to the world. The whole notion blew me away. I was amazed at what a company has to do to prevent a potentially volatile situation.

This situation became the inspiration for Terminated. The book chronicles a personal grievance at work that takes on a life of its own. In the book, Gwen Farris has the unenviable task of managing Stephen Tarbell. Tarbell is already bent out of shape because he believes he should be manager, not Gwen. The ignition source for the conflict is an annual performance evaluation. When Gwen issues Tarbell a poor evaluation, he tells her to change it--or else. Gwen goes to her bosses, this only serves to inflame the situation, and it all goes downhill from there.

Now the book's scenario may come over as extreme, but it isn't. Looking through reports of real life incidences of workplace violence, the flame that has ignited a firestorm in the workplace have been as simple as an off color joke, a remark about someone's girlfriend/wife/daughter, a humiliating prank, and an interoffice romance gone wrong, just to name a few. If you can name it, it's been a source of conflict in the workplace. I came across the most astounding incident by pure luck after I finished the book, which surrounded Marta Bradley and Alan Chmurny. Chmurny was Marta's boss and they enjoyed a friendship for a number of years. An incident occurred to change that which resulted in Chmurny stalking Marta's every move for four years. His crimes against her escalated from vandalism to breaking and entering and ended in a failed murder attempt. Chmurny ended up committing suicide in the courtroom after a guilty verdict. What was the reason for all the emotional wreckage? Marta had said publicly that she hadn't liked Chmurny's deviled eggs at a company picnic.

Writing this book has been quite sobering. The workplace seems like a safe environment where we feel we know our colleagues, but how well do we really know them? It's a dangerous world out there and the greatest threat you face might not be from a hostile nation abroad, but the other side of your cubicle wall.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Little Something For The Weekend

And why not...

"Always make the audience suffer as much as possible."
~Alfred Hitchcock