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, November 24, 2014

SHELF LIFE: Master of Ceremonies

Well, I pulled it off!  I’m back from Long Beach, California and the biggest gig of my writing career (thus far).  I was the toastmaster for this year’s Bouchercon (aka the World Mystery Convention).  I was honored to have been asked seeing as over the forty-five year history of the convention there’s been less than thirty toastmasters.  Past toastmasters have included Lee Child, Val McDermid, Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, Laura Lippman, William Kent Kruger, Reginald Hill and Sue Grafton.  So while I was honored, I was pretty nervous about the role.  I kept thinking, shouldn’t they have gotten a grownup for this?
Besides me, this year’s guests of honor were Jeffery Deaver (Lifetime recipient), JA Jance (American Guest), Eoin Colfer (Young Adult/Children’s Guest), Edward Marston (International Guest) and Al Abramson (Fan Guest)—who to their collective credit never mistook me for a hotel employee.  In all seriousness, despite having not previously met these people, they were very sweet to me and we worked well as a group.
My Toastmaster Award before I broke it
Of all the guests of honor, the toastmaster is the tough one as that poor sap has real work to do.  I had to preside over the opening and closing ceremonies, the live auction, present the Anthony Awards and generally act as the hype man for the event.  The job that concerned me most was running the opening ceremonies because it sets the tone for the convention and I have to come up with a speech.  Around two thousand people attend the convention and about a third attends to the opening gala.  Luckily for me around fifteen hundred decided to attend…so no pressure there.  I’ll be honest, public speaking is something I do, not something I enjoy, so as people poured in, my nerves grew.  Impressing fifteen hundred people of all ages and backgrounds is a hard thing to pull off.  But it looks as if I pulled it off, according to Publisher’s Weekly.  They called me ‘witty.’  I was hoping for erudite or urbane, but I’ll take witty.  I wonder if I can quote them now???
One of the perks of being a guest of honor is an interview.  The wonderful Catriona McPherson—a Scot and fellow ex-pat—got the job of interviewing me.  I think we needed subtitles for the American audience. 
Every Bouchercon supports a local charity or two.  This year was the Long Beach Public Library Foundation and WriteGirl.  So, I want to mention my charity item winners: Barb Kreisel who paid $350 for a poster featuring me from my motor racing days, Janet Costello who paid nearly $200 to have lunch for me and Sarah Byrne who paid for our lunch, Danna Dennis Wilberg who donated handmade chocolates in a ‘Simon Wood’ box and to all the people who bought DID NOT FINISH in the run up to Bouchercon.  I donated $110 to WriteGirl because of it.
If I didn’t have enough on my plate during the convention, I had a couple of extracurricular events.  I was elected to the national board of Sisters In Crime. Apparently, sisters are doing it for themselves but only when I'm around.  I also ran off to do some filming.  More on that another time…
Sue Grafton getting her autograph from me
Of all the things that happened during the convention, there was one stand out moment—and that was went Sue Grafton tracked me down for my autograph.  It was quite a surreal moment.  I’m still a fan boy at heart and I’ve been quite lucky to have met some of my favorite authors and even luckier to call some of them friends but I’m still weirded out when something like Sue—who I’d never met before—chased me down.  The weirdness continued when Gayle Lynds tracked me down for a congratulatory hug.  I met over Gayle over ten years ago when my first book came out and she helped me recognize my particular brand of storytelling.  She’s been a supporter ever since. 
All in all, I’m very grateful to the Bouchercon organizers for picking me to be their toastmaster.  It was an event to remember.  I cherish their faith in me and the lovely award they gave—that I promptly broke.  Sorry about that.
I also want to say thanks for all the support of my friends who attended and all the Bouchercon attendees who laughed at my dumb jokes and seemingly meant it. Thanks to the TSA for choosing my bags to examine, empty, bend and crease everything I didn't want creased.
Finally, to all convention planners looking for a toastmaster, I'm available.

Monday, November 10, 2014

SHELF LIFE: Going Dark at Bouchercon

SIMON SEZ is dark this week as I’ll be emceeing this year’s BOUCHERCON.  See you in a week.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Little Something For The Weekend

Because it's my wedding anniversary next week.
"'I am' is reportedly the shortest sentence in the English language. Could it be that 'I do' is the longest sentence?"
~George Carlin

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

HUMP DAY: Peevish!

Maybe it’s because it’s Guy Fawkes Day that I’m in peevish and rambunctious kind of mood at the moment.  I could be quite Zen about it all and let go of my irritation, but I don’t want to.  Sometimes bottling these things up and tossing them overboard isn’t enough.  Sometimes, you just have to rant.  So here are a few of my pet peeves:
1.      The pronunciation of caramel. It is pronounced cara-mel, not car-mall.  A car mall is where I go to buy a vehicle, not to enjoy a delicious confection.
2.      People who jaywalk when there's a crosswalk ten yards away.  That is a capital crime in my book.  Executions should be held on the spot.
3.      Bacon!  WTF!!  I don’t get why people go overboard about bacon.  It’s nice but it’s not nirvana.
4.      Blockbuster movies splitting themselves into two parts or three in the case of The Hobbit.  This is a pretty thinly veiled attempt to squeeze and extra ten bucks out of everyone.  Hollywood, you’re not fooling us.
5.      While we’re on the topic movies, I don’t like PG-13 movies.  PG-13 has been the bane of movie going for the last 20yrs.  As the go-to classification to pull in as many punters as possible, it’s been excuse to dumb down thriller, action and horror movies. There's nothing wrong with the classification per se, but filmmakers instead of playing up to the restrictions and played down to it.  If you want a lesson on working a classification to its hilt and still making a good movie, go watch the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Still creepy after 35yrs and it was only a PG.
6.      Enough with people putting pranks on YouTube.  Prank shows lost their appeal in the 80’s.  Maybe these things will end when a prankster gets killed in the street when they stage a fake crime.
7.      Can we stop calling things ‘hacks’ for doing mundane things?  Telling me how to open a can differently or that sticking one foot out of a bed to help me stay cool isn’t a life altering or radical way of doing something.  It’s not even interesting.
8.      People getting excited over the latest cell phone or tablet.  I have no idea why people went mental over the iPhone 6 release.  It’s a cell phone, albeit slightly different to its previous incarnation.  It wasn’t the cure for cancer.  Let’s keep it in perspective.
9.      Finally, my number one pet peeve is the Uber car sharing service.  It’s a glorified gypsy cab service with a phone ‘app.’  If it weren’t for the phone app feature, it would be spurned by every city in the country, but instead, it’s a multi-billion dollar company.  I’m waiting for everyone to catch up to my way of thinking.
Oh wow!  Boy, do I feel better.  The power of venting is very cathartic.  You should try it.  If you have any pet peeves, feel free to let them loose here.

Monday, November 3, 2014

SHELF LIFE SPECIAL: Help Me Help WriteGirl

As people are aware, well I hope they're aware, I am the toastmaster at this year’s Bouchercon (aka the World Mystery Convention) to be held in Long Beach, California next week.  With every Bouchercon, the convention supports a couple of local charities.  This year, it’s the Long Beach Library Foundation and WriteGirl.
I’m doing my best to support both these auctions.  Last month I auctioned off a poster of me from my motor racing days that went for $350.  The proceeds went to the library foundation.  Now, I’m doing something to benefit WriteGirl, a charity that encourages creative writing and mentors teenage girls.
So between now and the Bouchercon live auction on November 14th, I will donate the royalties from the worldwide sale of the first Aidy Westlake novel, DID NOT FINISH.  This applies to the paperback, eBook and audio book and isn’t restricted to where it’s bought. 
If you haven't read the book, I hope you'll buy a copy.  If already have the book, I hope you’ll give it to someone.  At the very least, you’ll share this message or direct people to this post.  You’ll be making a difference in someone’s life.
Thanks to all.

Friday, October 31, 2014

A Little Something For The Weekend

Your spooky thought for Halloween.

"The world's an inn, and death the journey's end."
-John Dryden

Monday, October 27, 2014

SHELF LIFE: The Good, The Bad & The Educational

Great fiction can teach a writer a lot about their craft, but so can bad fiction.  I don’t go out of my way to find crappy stories, but if I come across one, I won’t trash it, I’ll examine it. 
A few years ago, I attended the Alameda International Film Festival on Halloween night because the organizers were showcasing a number of short horror features.  It was held at a great little community movie theatre located on a quiet neighborhood street.  In a previous life, the theatre had been a church.  Now the pulpit served as the projector room.  The pews had been replaced, but instead of theatre seating, it was all threadbare sofas and la-z-boys.  Neat!
That was the good side of the evening.  Sadly, only a couple of films were entertaining.  Most were lacking and a couple were damn right awful.  I didn’t go in with high hopes, but I was hoping for something to stand out.  However, the night wasn’t a washout.  Each of the films taught me something about my writing.  Several of the stories lacked subtext, and were nothing more than a series of events daisy-chained together.  Others blew my suspension of disbelief because they lacked credibility and/or suffered logic problems.  A couple had complex stories that were unsuccessfully told.  A couple of stories had conclusions come out of nowhere, while others were so obvious that I knew what to expect moments after the opening credits.  One was technically perfect from a story standpoint, but suffered from awful dialog. 
I walked away from the night with a head full of pointers.  The movies made me conscious of my own work.  Had I committed any of these cardinal sins in my current batch of works and in my past stories?  Because of what I’d seen, I gave a couple of my "finished" short stories another going over just to make sure I hadn’t committed the same literary sins. 
The problem is that after a while, it’s easy to get complacent.  I’ve gotten comfortable with my writing voice and if I don’t pay attention, my writing will get worse and not better.  Seeing someone else’s mistakes makes me think about my own potential clangers sticking out from my manuscripts.
A truly great story can inspire and educate, but it can’t demonstrate the mistakes.  For that, you have to look at the imperfect.