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.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hump Day: I'm A Hero, You're A Hero

Julie reminded me that she's still going through withdrawl for one of her favorite shows which got canceled, Heroes. If you’ve not seen it, it’s about the belief that people with special powers exist all over the world and in a time of trouble, these people will form together to rise up against a devastating evil. These are just ordinary people who exhibit the kind of special powers you’d find amongst the Fantastic Four or X-Men, but without the spandex and the need to wear their underpants on the outside. It’s all very thrilling.

The characters in Heroes have the ability to fly, heal themselves, predict the future, read people’s mind and stop time, just to name a few. All very sexy.

But that’s where the show falls down. They’re focusing on people’s super sexy superpowers. They don’t feature anyone with mundane superpowers. Mundane superpowers--is that an oxymoron?

People with mundane superpowers can make a difference too, you know. I suppose I’m a little hurt by the show, because they don’t feature a hero like me. I have special powers. I don’t like to brag about them or anything, but I have them. Sadly, those powers haven’t been incorporated in the show.

Unlike the superheroes in the show, I have two special powers. I’ve had them for a long time and I’ve yet to find a purpose for them, but I’m sure they’ll come in handy some day.

My first superpower is the ability to be ignored by automatic doors. I can stand in front of these things for a week and they won’t open. I can jump up and down and get nothing. I usually have to dart in behind someone before I freeze to death outside.

My second superpower is the ability to buy from a store any electronic or mechanical product expected to perform a function, get it home and find that it’s broken or a part is missing. I can choose from hundreds and still find the busted one. I’m the kind of person who’ll find a needle in a haystack, but the needle will be missing a point.

Yes, yes, these abilities are astounding. They are my gift and my curse. I fear I’ll pass these powers onto my children. I know I’m already passing it onto my pets. I was told my new kitten, Chase, was a boy. He is a girl--who has now been renamed, Chasemina. If I drop Chasemina, she lands on her side, head or back, never her feet.

As a mundane superhero, I fear my superhero name wouldn’t be Batman or Wolverine, but Dud and my trusty catchphrase would be “What are you going to do?” combined with a shrug at the end.

The problem is for people like me, our mundane superpowers embarrass us. We stay at home, afraid of the impact we can inflict on the world. I’m sure I’m not alone in this power. I bet many of you reading this exhibit powers you perceive as crap. I don’t want you to be ashamed of your powers. I want you to tell me about them. Like the televisual Heroes, we too could band together to prevent a mild inconvenience on the world, as we don’t quite have the stuff to avert a global calamity.

So I ask you, what’s your mundane power? Go on. Unimpress me.

Monday, September 15, 2014

SHELF LIFE: My Inner Circle

I can’t send anything out unless someone has read it.  I don’t have the confidence or the objectivity that what I’ve written is good enough to send out.  On one hand, I’m bound to have made some daft error that will condemn me in the eyes of an editor.  Many years ago, I submitted a manuscript with all my notes written in the margins and my crossings out.  I’d picked up the wrong draft and sent it by mistake.  On the other hand, I might think the story is ready, when it’s still over-wordy or something.  So I need a second set of eyes to look my stuff over.
Like I’ve mentioned before, Julie is my primary reader and editor.  She works very closely with me on everything.  She doesn’t even like me leaving the house by myself.  I get into trouble very easily.  Julie, Julie, these men said I couldn’t swallow all these balloons full of white powder, but I proved them wrong.  I’ll be home late tonight.  I’m off to Columbia.  For this reason and many others, she goes through my work, correcting grammar and logic issues.  Julie’s great for this, because she’s a technical person.  Her talents lie in correcting structure.
But this is only one part of the review. Julie gets too close to the material after a while, so I need a number of readers for other aspects.  If I’m having trouble with certain scenes, chapters, what have you, I have a number of experienced authors who’ll give it the once over.  They know what works and what doesn’t. 
Until recently, I had a grammartologist on staff.  Me and grammar, well, we shook hands once at a party, but I’m not sure I’d recognize grammar if it said hi, so I need help.  Julie’s late father stepped in there.  He’d tear through the manuscript and make all the final adjustments that wouldn’t get me laughed out of an editor’s office.
I have a couple of people who are just fans of the genre.  They’re veracious readers and that’s good for me.  The more I write, the less I get to read.  There isn’t the time, so I need a couple of buddies that read everything to help keep me current.  I send my manuscripts their way for a reader’s gut reaction. All I want to know from them is whether they liked it.  Was it fun, different, a page-turner?  The problem of staying within the circle of editors and other professionals is that you get a one-sided view.  My reader readers give me a feel for what likely readers are to think.
I need all these people for their various skills, but I just can’t pick anyone.  Their input is vital.  I need people who are brutally honest.  I can’t afford to have people be kind.  My special readers have no qualms about telling me how much I suck.  Sometimes, I think they enjoy their jobs a little too much.
The reason I go through this is that first impressions count–especially in publishing.  I want everything I turn in to an editor to be better than the last thing I turned in, even if I have a contract for it, or they’re going to change or tweak something anyway (and they will).  It doesn’t matter.  I don’t want him thinking I’m sloppy.  I want to make the editor’s job easier.  The less time he has to correct the obvious, the more time can be spent on correcting the not so obvious.  I want all these people to make me a better writer.
So please join me in giving all my readers a round of applause, because none of them are getting a cut of the royalties…

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Little Something For The Weekend

But what about the 10th?

"If you can see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into a ditch before they reach you."
~Calvin Coolidge

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

HUMP DAY: Car Crazy

I know exactly when I got hooked on cars.  I was two years old and it was at a post natal or toddler daycare thing. 

I remember the place but not the reason why I went there.  I just remember my mum would take me to this clinic where there were a bunch of other kids with their mums.  There'd be play area and a nurse that would check the kids out from time to time.  Not sure of the point of this place but I didn’t mind going for one reason and one reason only—a toy ride-on red double-decker bus.  It was one of those plastic buses you sat on a pushed along with your feet.  As soon as I saw that thing, I had to ride on it—and I did—and it was awesome!  The wind was in my hair as I scooted along at what had to be 2mph.  Heady stuff, I can tell you.  Naturally, every time we came back to the clinic, I zeroed in on the red bus, even if I had to kick kids off.  That bus belonged to me and no one was taking it from me.  There’d be calls for me to share and to give the bus back but I would ignore everyone and continue to scoot along until forcibility taken down by my embarrassed mother.
At some point, we stopped going to this clinic place and I had to say goodbye to my double-decker but I got to say hello to my very first car—an orange beach buggy pedal car—which had one seat for me although I could squeeze in my teddy bear next to me.  I pedaled that thing all over until a sunlight/UV made it brittle and an impact with a brick wall ended our relationship.  Teddy and I were uninjured in case you were wondering.

A toy double-decker bus got me hooked on cars and speed—but what about you?

Monday, September 8, 2014

BACK STORY: Watching The Detectives

This month’s Back Story piece centers on my recent release, CRESTFALLEN.
When I decided to write, I wanted to write PI novels like Raymond Chandler.  There were two problems with that plan—one, I didn’t know what a Private eye did and two, Raymond Chandler is a bloody good writer.  So I tended to steer clear of PI fiction, mainly for the latter reason.  The problem was I wasn’t Chandler.  I didn’t have his experiences or his world view.  I had my own and it was more in line with Hitchcock’s movies—ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.  It was me in a nutshell—and I'm happy with my nutshell. 

However, I still wanted to write pulpy PI stories and I wanted to create my “Marlowe” character.  I came up with Peter Crestfallen about a decade ago.  I tested the waters with a short story.  It sold very quickly and I wanted to keep going but I needed to do my research.  I signed up for a couple of classes in Sacramento—“How to become a PI” and “How to find out anything about anyone.” Even if I never wrote another PI story, I thought the classes would be good research for other novels and stories.
Both classes were run by a woman who was a PI in the greater Sacramento area for a couple of decades—and she was awesome.  Just like Marlowe, Spade, Archer, Hammer, etc., she ran a lone wolf PI agency, but if you're imagining a leggy redhead with cleavage to drown a football team in, then think again.  In appearance, she had more in common with Miss Marple than VI Warshawski.   

She taught us the mechanics of what you had to do to become a licensed PI in California and how to build investigation hours and credits.  The “How to find out anything about anyone” was essentially a public records class.  She detailed how to track people and find them through public records and how to protect yourself against being traced.  This was all very interesting stuff and useful to me in my other books.  I've used several nuggets of information in a number of them over the years.  However, her personal experiences were worth the price of admission.  She talked about her career and how it wasn’t like the movies.  I liked how she was the “go to” person when it came to serving papers on the unserveables. She got to people that other process servers couldn’t reach.  She had some nice tricks for catching people out. Her story about tailing a client’s husband to strip clubs became the inspiration for CRESTFALLEN’S KINK.  A number of her other tales made their way into the stories in some form or another. 
I took the classes for story purposes, not knowing that Julie and I would become PIs ourselves a few years later, but not in the traditional sense.  We worked for an agency and started off as mystery shoppers before ending up going undercover in casinos in Nevada and California trying to unearth staff who were stealing from their employers.  This work is very different from the modern PI who tends to work on the behalf of defense lawyers—read David Corbett’s books for an idea.

Having done some PI work and talked to a few modern day PIs, I was a little worried that the classic PI we know and love ($50 a day plus expenses) doesn’t really exist, so I took comfort that there was someone out there gumshoeing it like Marlowe.  So I hope you'll give the CRESTFALLEN stories a shot and if you buy a copy, let me know and I’ll send you an audio edition of CRESTFALLEN’S WIDOW just to ensure I pick you up as a client.  J

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Little Something For The Weekend

I think I get this…

“The sun don’t shine on the same dog’s ass all the time.”
~Jim “Catfish” Hunter


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

HUMP DAY: Road Rules (For Two and Four Wheels)

I love to drive and I love to cycle. I understand how hairy it is out there to be a cyclist when drivers are careless. I have the concussions, broken bones and a brain injury to prove it. I’m also driven to distraction by idiotic cyclists that think the rules don’t apply to them and cars have to bow down to them. So this is a list of suggestions for both camps to help everyone get along.

1. You don’t own the road. Cyclists aren’t on your road. We all share it and we only need a few feet of consideration.
2. Bike lanes are for bikes only. Stay out of our lane and we’ll stay out of yours.
3. Just because you're turning right at an intersection, doesn’t mean I am. I’ve been hit three times by cars plowing into me because they thought I had to be going your way.
4. Have an appreciation for the speed of a bike. I average 20mph on a flat road and can reach speed of 40mph going downhill. If I were a car traveling at those speeds, how much consideration would you give me then?
5. Bikes can’t stop on a dime. They have tiny little brake blocks, no abs, no power servos, so a bike stopping at 20mph will need as much distance as a car.
6. Parents, school zones aren’t to be treated like the pit lane at the Indy 500. School zones are the most dangerous strip of road the planet. I’d rather ride blindfold on a freeway than ride through a school zone during pick up or drop off. For some reason, it’s excuse for parents to triple park, lunge across traffic, drive the wrong way on the road and generally forget that any rule of the road applies to them. Parents, get a grip.
7. Drivers, don’t honk your horn to let me know you're coming up behind me. Trust me, I can hear you well before you catch up with me.
8. Drivers, don’t treat me any differently than any other vehicle. If you arrive at a stop sign first, go. Don’t suddenly give me special treatment and expect me to go. You're very kind, but it confuses me and everyone around you. Changing your behavior causes accidents.
9. Use your mirrors. I’m quicker and closer than you think.
10. 500,000 cyclists end up in ERs every year. Two die every day. Back off and keep someone else safe.

1. Cyclists, you don’t own the road. You share it with vehicles that are bigger and heavier than you are. Lose the arrogance. You aren’t better than them.
2. The rules of the road apply to you too. Run red lights, cut across traffic, not wear a helmet or not put lights on your bike at your peril. Don’t cry about it if you get a ticket or end up in a wheelchair.
3. Pack riders, safety in numbers. I like it, but pack riders, don’t ride five abreast--you're a mobile obstruction. You piss off drivers, generate bad feeling and drivers take it out on the lone rider like me.
4. Riders who ride with their iPod playing, are you kidding me? How dumb are you? At least you won't hear the eighteen wheeler that wipes you out.
5. Hesitant riders, your hesitation is just as bad as someone’s carelessness. It confuses everyone around you because your unpredictability causes everyone react just as unpredictability. Ride like you would drive a car. Everyone understands that.
6. If you're afraid to make a left turn, get off the bike and use a crosswalk or learn to cross the lanes to get in the left turn pocket. Don’t slow to crawl then try to cross all the lanes at once.
7. Look over your shoulder before crossing in front of traffic. It’s not their job to get out of your way.
8. Use the cycle lanes. A lot of money and effort has gone into having them installed.
9. Being a confident rider doesn’t mean being an aggressive rider. Like it or not, ride defensive. In the rock, paper, scissors game of travel, automobile always beats bicycle.
10. 500,000 cyclists end up in ERs every year. Two die every day. Don’t be a statistic.

I hope that helps... :-)