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.

Monday, October 20, 2014

SHELF LIFE: Report From The Dark Side (Guest Post)

I'm turning SHELF LIFE today over to my chum, Jess Lourey.  A couple of months ago I expressed my feeling about crowd funding by authors to get their book projects off the ground.  Well, Jess is doing it...along with all the guilt that goes along with it.  Now, here's Jess.

On October 1, 2014, I went live with my first-ever Kickstarter campaign. I am requesting $12,056 by October 31 to fund the professional self-publication of The Catalain Book of Secrets, the magical realism novel I began writing in 2001, days after my husband died. This first week of the campaign has been a roller coaster of emotions, in particular, excruciating self-awareness and low-lying self-loathing. Let me explain.

First, the self-loathing. I've traditionally-published ten books, and with each of them, I apologize when someone asks me to sign them because I feel bad that people are spending money on me. When I get a starred review from Booklist or Library Journal, I suspect the reviewer might have been drinking. If you told me you liked my hair, I'd wonder if you needed glasses. I'm that person. And so, when I tell you that The Catalain Book of Secrets has magic in it, the kind that will stick with you long after you put the book down, know that it is a physically painful act for me to say something nice about myself. That's how much I believe in this one. I can't keep it down, which is why, after phone conferences with three different NY editors (Random House, Penguin, Simon & Schuster) and three subsequent rejections (and many more), I decided to self-publish. I can do it. I've done it before.

But this book is magical realism, and so not easily-categorized and therefore, not easily sold. Plus, it's completely different than the humorous mysteries I've built my audience on. For CBS to find its audience, I needed the help of booksellers. To reach them, I needed to step out of my comfort zone and go to Kickstarter.

Cue the self-loathing.

There is a story of a great-aunt of mine quietly choking to death at a dinner table because she didn't want to ask anyone for help. I am the child of German immigrants who worked hard, and then worked harder, and then drank and talked about people. But they NEVER asked anyone for help. I've self-pubbed before and so know it can be done on the cheap, and I have friends (hello, Simon!) who have done incredibly well for themselves by writing and self-publishing great books at little upfront cost. But that wouldn't work for CBS. It needs the support of booksellers and book groups to find its audience. Not only that, I saw firsthand how few risks the Big 5 ( were taking, and that means that writers, readers, and bookstores everywhere are losing out. What if I could use my book to pave some sort of trail that connects indie authors with indie booksellers? That idea captivated me, but I didn't have the money to do it on my own. Getting a book in bookstores requires professional reviews, galley copies, shipping, and more, and that adds up to much more disposable income than a midlist author/teacher has.

So I did it. I launched my Kickstarter campaign.

It felt gross.

But then...the money started coming in. The campaign was 34% funded in the first 24 hours. HOLY MOLEY!!! And with the money came the loveliest notes from strangers, friends, and family, notes about believing in me and supporting me and wanting the best for me. I hate the word "humbling" almost as much as I hate LOL, but it's the only word that fits that experience. And suddenly, I was faced with the fact that all these people believed in me enough to invest in me. Awesome, right? Except that meant I needed to start believing in myself on a whole new level. Not only that, I would have to quickly learn how to accept gifts gracefully, in the spirit they were given. Tall order. I also witnessed a buzz start to build for this book that has been living in my heart for twelve years--miraculous, right?! So that's what I've been up to since October 1.

That, and talking to the owner of an influential, progressive bookstore here in Minnesota. She's excited to help me get CBS on indie bookstore shelves all over the country, if the Kickstarter campaign is successful. This is incredibly exciting to me. Not only could the book find its audience, but maybe, if this book goes gangbusters, I can figure out some sort of indie underground railroad where books are reviewed and stocked based on their quality rather than the name of the corporation that published them. It's a tall order I know, and with half a million books being self-published each year, it'll require more structure to figure out how to separate the wheat from the chaff. But these are exciting times, and no matter how this turns out, I have no regrets (and only residual self-loathing) when I think about the launch of my Kickstarter campaign.

Jessica (Jess) Lourey is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter writing, her books are "a splendid mix of humor and suspense." Jessica also writes sword and sorcery fantasy as Albert Lea and edge-of-your-seat YA adventure as J.H. Lourey, and is branching out into literary fiction, including magical realism, under her given name.
She is a tenured instructor of creative writing and sociology at a Minnesota college. When not teaching, reading, traveling, writing, or raising her two wonderful kids, you can find her dreaming big, playing with her dorky dog, or watching craptastic SyFy original movies. Visit her website at, her Facebook page at, and her Twitter feed at All are welcome!

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Little Something For The Weekend

Depends on your dental coverage...

"You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you."
~Walt Disney

Monday, October 13, 2014

BOOK OF THE MONTH: Inside Wormwood Scrubs

It's Halloween this month, so I went with a spooky choice as my Book of the Month pick—THE SCRUBS.  This is also a title of mine which has fallen between the cracks with readers and I hope you will take the time to check it out.  I think you'll find it worth your time.

The Scrubs is what people commonly call Wormwood Scrubs prison, located in west London. It’s an unusual name for a prison, but not as unusual as some in Britain. In Manchester, you’ll find Strangeways prison (although, it has been renamed in recent years because of its bad image). I do like how British prisons have weird names whereas American prisons sound like vacation getaways. Pelican Bay. San Quentin. Soledad. It seems like cruel and unusual punishment to be incarcerated in a place that sounds so idyllic, but I digress.

Wormwood Scrubs was built in the Victorian era and is a typical piece of neo-gothic architecture. The prison strongly resembles a fortress in some ways, except it keeps people in and not out. It’s not very big as prisons go. Less than fifteen hundred people call it home. If you ever take a trip on a Central Line train of the London Underground system, you’ll see the prison as you ride through Acton. If anyone has watched the original version of The Italian Job with Michael Caine, the prison he’s released from is Wormwood Scrubs. But any relationship between the real life prison and the one contained within these pages are purely fictional. I took the prison’s name and its location and ignored everything else.

Anyway, I stopped thinking about Wormwood Scrubs in terms of a name of a prison and started thinking about what the words meant. This is a habit with me. I think about words we all take for granted and break them down. Too often we take words at face value and forget their meanings. Places were named for a reason, not by chance. So I forgot the prison identity and just wondered about Wormwood scrubs. Wormwood is an herbaceous plant. It’s a key ingredient of absinthe. Wormwood oil is poisonous, considered psychoactive and possibly addictive. Wow, what a herb! The word scrubs bolts on nicely onto wormwood. A scrub area or scrubland is an area of stunted vegetation. I wondered whether Wormwood Scrubs the prison had been built on an area of scrubland covered with wormwood.

I liked the concept of a prison built on top of an area covered in a poisonous, psychotropic and addictive plant. It’s just asking for trouble. All we need is a psychotic prisoner with special powers and we’ve got ourselves a story!

I have to admit that THE SCRUBS is a guilty pleasure. It started out as a short story but kept getting bigger as I got caught up in creating this alternate universe for this prison and its inmates. And it’s not going to stop here. They’ll be two more installments—SCRUBBERS and SCRUBLAND. There’s just too much fun to be had playing with THE SCRUBS. Besides, someone has to stop Jeter. I hope you agree and you’ll come back for more.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Little Something For The Weekend

The book--the only eco friendly mode of transport.

"A book is a dream that you hold in your hand."
~Neil Gaiman

Monday, October 6, 2014

SHELF LIFE: Word Blind

In honor of Dyslexia Awareness Month.
The part I love most about writing is the first draft.  It all pours out in a blur of activity.  My office crackles with the sound of a clicking keyboard.  The greatest moment is when I type “The End” and hit print.   There’s no sound finer than the buzz of my HP spewing out the pages.  Somehow, the moment that story, that book, is birthed into the material world, it’s legitimate and I’m a proud father every time.  I have no shame or tact.  I shove the thing under my wife’s nose for her opinion, irrespective of what she’s doing, whether it be watching TV or digging a tunnel to freedom.  I don’t care because I know I’ve nailed it.  That first draft is perfect—okay, some passages need trimming, others fleshing out, but one good read through and it’s done—right?
How I wish that were true.
The first part is true.  I do love creating the first draft.  Getting down those ideas and thoughts is the best.  The heartbreak comes after my wife has given it the once over and the red pen comes out and I get back something resembling a used bandage instead of my tale.
The problem is that unlike most writers, I’m dyslexic.  I must be a masochist.  I have to be.  I’ve chosen the one career 99.9% of dyslexics would choose to avoid.
Even though I know and understand my problem, I’m literally blind to it.  I don’t see the mistakes—the incorrect words, the impossible sentences, bizarre language structure and the plain incomprehensible.  My early drafts are laced with missing words penned in for me, passages circled with a question mark and comments where I might have gone wrong.  At times, my wife must feel like she’s working with a Codetalker.
So first draft bliss dissolves into editing hell.  It’s a chore and I hate it.  I wish Microsoft had some gadget that would rewrite my work at the click of a button. 
I’m blessed, though.  My wife, Julie, has the right temperament to cut through my jumble.  She’s my seeing-eye dog (she’s going to love that analogy), to guide me through the literary minefield I’ve created.  Without her input, not one of my stories or novels would have been printed.  I will forever be in her debt.
Besides Julie, my spelling and grammar checker is my other guide.  I know a lot of writers turn them off, but I keep mine on.  I may not take its advice, but I know it’s telling me there’s some dyslexic goof lurking there somewhere.  It forces me to really focus.
Reading my work aloud has also been effective.  It helps me uncover where my dyslexia has masked what I really wanted to say or to discover that I’ve written something I didn’t want to say.  When Julie reads, the issue presents itself in gory detail and sounds like fingernails drawn down a blackboard.  When I read, Julie stops me after a sentence or two to point out that what I’ve read and what I’ve written are totally different.  Whatever misfire is floating around in my brain, we do overcome it.
Some might say it’s very nice to have a proofreader every step of the way and it is, but it’s equally as frustrating.  It’s tough relying on someone else to tell you where you’ve gone wrong.  It’s like being fluent in a foreign language, but only on a verbal level, and being ignorant of the written language.  I want to be able to correct the obvious.  So at times, I’m not considerate or patient.  It goes without saying that it creates a strain on both Julie and me.  But the writing credits I’ve built up over the last six years have been the reward.
We’ve come a long way from when I announced one Halloween night that I was going to give writing a shot.  Writing has helped my dyslexia by reducing the errors my befuddled brain produces.  Dyslexia has always been my shame and I’m glad I’ve put it in its place—right next to my expanding row of books.

Friday, October 3, 2014

A Little Something For The Weekend

Yeah, I'll go with this.

"Anybody remotely interesting is mad in some way or another."
~The Doctor

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.