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, October 1, 2014

HUMP DAY: Mr. Simon Goes to Washington

As we surge headlong into midterm election season, I try not to get dragged along with the tide.  Having had some close encounters with politicians in both the US and UK, I’m not a big fan.  I feel we don’t vote for the best person for the job but the person who’ll do the least damage.  However, I do have to give them credit for doing a job most of us unwilling to do. 
But politicians frustrate me so I’d like to set the record straight on a few points:
  1. As an elected official, you represent all people—the ones that votes for you and those that didn’t, those who share your beliefs and those that don’t, the rich and the poor, the entitled and the disadvantages, and all genders, races and creeds.  You work for all not for, not for some.
  2. Enough with the party dogma!  You people want to score points with each other, do it in the parking lot.  Don’t do it in congress where your pissing matches serve only to hurt the country. 
  3. I hate to break it you senators and congressmen, etc., but you are government workers.  You are part of the government (and its problems) so stop talking about it being the government’s fault and somehow it not being connected to you.
  4. Stop crapping on federal, state and local employees.  Nothing motivates a workforce like a guy who makes and passes laws then blames the people employed for carrying them out.
  5. For God’s sake, enough with the big government/small government argument.  It’s totally irrelevant.  It’s not the size, but what you do with it.  Effective government is what matters.
  6. No more conservative or liberal Supreme Court justices.  The only bias a judge should have is towards the law and justice.  Any judge who votes with their politics doesn’t deserve to be a judge in any court.
  7. Stop pandering!  Have the courage to state your beliefs instead of trying to pretend in things that you clearly don’t.   None of you are very good actors.  I may not agree with you but I will respect you.
  8. Let’s not forget that there is no training or any accredited qualifications for being a politician.  We don’t let people cut our hair with hundreds of hours of training and licensing, so you are very fortunate to get away without any such requirements.  You are unskilled labor.  You belong to the highest paid unskilled labor force in the country.  Don’t you ever forget that.
  9. Finally, as an elected official, you have been entrusted with the highest honor a person can be in a democracy.  So live up to it and make us proud. 
Feel free to share with your elected officials…I know I will be.

Monday, September 29, 2014

SHELF LIFE: Calling Cards

Unlike movies, books aren’t advertised on TV and radio, except on rare occasions.  So the responsibility for advertising my books falls on my shoulders.  Although an engineering student, I studied advertising and media at college.  I learned about the all-important “opportunities to view.”  Essentially, for an advertisement to work, it must be seen several times before the viewer remembers the product and this excludes all the times the viewer misses the advertisement.  So the ad has to be run dozens of times before it has an effect.  That’s a lot of advertising dollars that I’m not willing (or able) to foot, but that doesn’t mean I don’t advertise my work and myself. 
My short stories and articles are my advertisements and they work in two ways.  First, these stories and articles work for me as a calling card.  They remind people that I exist and I’m still doing that writing thing.  If they read one of my previous books, then maybe it’s time to check out another.  Second, my stories and articles operate like a “try before you buy program.”  People can sample my work without laying out a penny.  This is an important consideration if the reader is going to invest their money in a writer they’ve never tried before.  People get to read my work and if they like it, hopefully, they’ll go out and get my books.
This isn’t to say that my primary reason for writing stories and articles is mercenary.  The fact that they work as calling cards is an added benefit.  I write what I write because I want to.  The stories and articles flex my writing muscles.  The workouts they provide keep me trim.
There’s an added benefit of writing and selling articles instead of paying for advertising, too.  The magazines are paying me for my work.  They are paying me to advertise my current book or next book.  I couldn’t ask for more.  J
Now, writing short stories and articles doesn’t work for every writer.  Personally, I find it easy to write them, but I know a lot of novelists who find it impossible.  But every writer needs a calling card to help promote his or her work.  Mine is stories and articles.  What’s yours?

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Little Something For The Weekend

What's your goal?

“The tragedy in life doesn't lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach.”
~Benjamin Mays

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

NEW BOOK: The Frame Maker and Pathfinder

Today’s the day.  I’m very happy to announce the release of an eBook exclusive from StoryHouse, The Frame Maker & Pathfinder.  StoryHouse specializes in short stories so this is a double pack of short stories (and not some twist on Smokey & The Bandit).  The book blurb goes a little like this:
In The Frame Maker, a woman takes revenge on her philandering husband by hiring the Frame Maker—a man who’s made a career of solving problems permanently. This job, however, might be the one frame that just won’t hang right.
In Pathfinder, newly widowed Vivian can’t understand why her husband killed himself in a seedy Vegas hotel room. So she travels to Sin City, where she’s mysteriously guided to dangerous and unexpected places. Soon Vivian finds herself on a treacherous road to the truth.
If you liked Alfred Hitchcock Presents, then you might like these, so I hope you'll give them a whirl.
Here are your shopping links:
Amazon UK
Amazon Canada

Monday, September 22, 2014

SHELF LIFE: The Long And Short Of It

I like short stories—both writing them and reading them.  Some of the most memorable fiction I’ve read has been in the form of short stories.  The power of a short story is its brevity.  It can sometimes get the point over better than a novel.  Take Ernest Hemmingway’s six-word masterpiece:
Those six words carry so much potency because we, the reader, are forced to speculate as to what has happened. Hemmingway could have fleshed out the story.  We could have seen a couple write the want ad for the newspaper or have an expectant couple respond to the want ad for the baby shoes.  We could have had the drama and emotion of a much longer tale.  But y'know what?  It wasn’t necessary.  Six words were all that needed to convey the same.  That’s what's so fantastic about short stories.  They can be a few thousand words or a handful of pages but if the story is well written and the reader brings their imagination to the plate, everyone goes on a much longer journey.
I advocate for the short story because I am always surprised that so many people dislike them.  This post is inspired by some recent reviews I’ve received where some people said they hated short stories and one person complained that they were a cheat on the reading public.  Naturally, people are entitled to their opinion but this opinion surprises me in this day and age.  We consume information at faster and faster rates.  We need everything now and condensed.  Hell, we have a billion dollar company that is founded on communication in 140 characters or less.  It should be a golden age for short stories.  But it isn't.

When people say they don’t like short stories or don’t read them that’s not strictly true.  If you watch TV drama, you're watching a short story.  A script for an hour long show is less than fifty pages.  A half hour comedy will top out at twenty five pages at the very, very most.  So don’t tell me you don’t like short stories.  J
So (putting my car salesman hat on) what do I have to do to put you in a short story today?  Beg?  I will if you ask nicely.  Make you dinner?  I can cook.  Babysit your kids?  Let’s not get carried away.  Look, I dare you to read a short story and not enjoy it.  I just ask that you come to it with an open mind and an open heart.  If you want to read one of mine, I have plenty to suggest (just scroll to the bottom of this post).  Want other author recommendations, I’m happy to oblige.  Because I’m going to keep on making the case for them and I'm going to keep on writing them so you just need to give in and do as I say.  It’s for the best.

Look, I’m willing to meet you halfway.  For years I’ve been trying to come up with a six word story as good as Hemmingway's, but I have developed a taste for the novella in recent years.  I want to write some short stories in the ten to twenty thousand word range (aka 50-100 pages).  Something with plenty of depth that'll occupy your time on your commute to and from work or during a lunch hour.  Sounds tempting, doesn’t it?  Admit it.  You know it does.
But while I think about it, I can still see the short story stigma being a problem.  It’s a packaging and branding problem.  The short story needs a 21st century makeover.  Let’s not call them short stories anymore.  Let’s call them the “Blip Novels.”  Yeah, I like it.  Now they’ll take off.

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Little Something For The Weekend

Well, what do you expect from a guy called Mad Dog…but it does sound like the average author gathering.

"Be polite, be courteous, show professionalism, and have a plan to kill everyone you meet."
~General “Mad Dog” Mattis

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.