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, December 15, 2014

SHELF LIFE: Lights, Camera, Inaction!

I had another brush with Hollywood with a possible screen adaptation of my work.  A small production company wanted to adapt one of my short stories into a TV pilot.  After a few months of back and forth, the deal is effectively dead.  I came really close.  There were scripts, contracts and everything, but my screen horse fell down at the final fence on that highest of fences—contracts.  No IMDB credit for me.  A bummer, yes, but it’s one of those things.  Disappointing but I’m OK with it. 
Seriously, I am OK with this deal not coming off.  If this were a book deal, I would be pissed off, but when it comes to TV or film, I know I can’t allow myself to get too carried away.  Years ago, a Hollywood friend warned me how difficult it was to get a project to screen.  It was a warning borne out by author friends who've had books wrapped in option and development purgatory for years.  Not surprising when you consider how few movies and TV shows are made each year.  So like I say, when it comes to TV and movies, I don’t let myself get too wrapped up in it because I’m only setting myself up for heartbreaking disappointment.
That isn't to say I wouldn’t love to see something of mine on screen at some point.  Tomorrow would be nice, but it’s a fickle business and I know it may never happen.
I may be a little case hardened.  This is about the fourth interaction with movie or TV people without success.  The most interesting offer came from a Korean film company that wanted to make PAYING THE PIPER in Seoul, which would have been very cool.  Sadly, that one never got much traction.  ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN and THE FALL GUY have also been tapped for movie adaptation too with similar results.  C’est la vie.
However probability says after four failed attempts to convert means I’m probably due a win with the next one.  Here’s hoping anyway.  I’ll be honest, it would be a dream come true to see one of my stories on the silver screen.  It would do wonders for book sales.  And I would finally be able to hire a butler I’ve always craved.  Wow, I’m so grounded, it’s scary.  So if there are any Hollywood types reading this, give me a call, let’s do lunch.  :-)

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Little Something For The Weekend

Don't make me go get my gun.

"You can go a long way with a smile. You can go a lot farther with a smile and a gun."
—Al Capone

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

HUMP DAY: Christmas Viewing

Christmas is a great time to sit down and watch a movie.  Well, I have a few go to movies that I always take in over Chrimbo to get me in the holiday mood.  So here are my Xmas movie recommendations—some traditional and some not—with the guarantee that I’ll be watching them.
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1945): for me this is the greatest Christmas movie of all time.  Jimmy Stewart on the worst night of his life gets his wish from an angel to see what the world would have been like without him.  A timeless tale.
THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (1942): The world loves radio personality, Sheridan Whiteside, but the world doesn’t have to live with acid tongue monster that is his off air personality.  One Ohio family is going discover what it is to endure his demands when he takes over their household for Christmas.  An out of control farce with a fantastic performance from Monty Woolley and it’s nice to see Bette Davis play her softer side.
DIE HARD (1988):  Christmas will never be the same when Hans Gruber and John McClane clash at the Nakatomi building.  At the adverts went: “Twelve terrorists. One cop. The odds are against John McClane... That's just the way he likes it.”  Still, one of the greatest action movies of all time.  Yippee-ki-yay, Santa!
THE SILENT PARTNER (1978): Pretty much a forget movie these days.  Elliot Gould is mild mannered bank cashier in Toronto who anticipates that his bank is going to be robbed by Christopher Plummer dressed as Santa so Gould steals the money before the robbery occurs but Plummer is blamed for the robbery.  It seems like a good plan except Christopher Plummer is a psychotic nutcase.  A fantastic set up for a great thriller. Christopher Plummer is truly frightening and not a film for the fainthearted, but do track it down. 
BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974):  What's Christmas without a scary movie?  Then look no further than Black Christmas but don’t bother with the horrible remake from a few years ago and stick with the 70’s original.  T’was the night before Christmas break and a bunch of girls who stay behind at a sorority house are terrorized by a killer.  Made years before slasher movies became commonplace, Black Christmas is a cut above (pun not intended…well, maybe not).  It is truly unsettling enough to bring out the gooseflesh.

LOVE ACTUALLY (2003):  Love, London and Christmas!  What isn't there to love about this Richard Curtis movie?  Well, there maybe quite a bit not to love.  I know there's a large slice of people don't like this movie but I do.  I have to say it makes me a little homesick for home, so this movie is very special to me.  Call it my Christmas guilty pleasure. 

Now get your movie on…

Monday, December 8, 2014


Recently, I was thinking about the mistakes I’ve made in my writing career.  There have been a few.  But what career doesn’t have some?  Screw-ups are all part of learning…as long as you don’t keep making the same ones again and again.

The reason I was thinking about my mistakes is because some good fortune has fallen my way (that I can’t share).  It was one of those wow moments because I never planned to be a writer and it seems really weird that it’s now my full time job.  I’m further weirded out when I look at my bookcase with all my various publications.  So my good news made me a little contemplative about my writing career so far, and my mind turned to my blunders and errors.  This wasn’t a case of self-flagellation.  More a case of playing what-if to see whether I could have reached this point earlier.  And in some ways, yes, I could have.  Some of my mistakes have slowed my career, but at the same time, the actions I took to remedy these situations also leapfrogged me much further forward than if I hadn’t made the mistake.  There's also the factor of timing.  While every success has come with a lot of hard work, being in the right place at the right time has been a big element of my career.  This timing might not have been the same if I had smarter with some of my decisions.  So at the end of the day, my writing is where it is today because that was how my particular path was supposed to play out—for better or worse.  Wishing it went some other way isn't worth the wasted energy.

That said, I want to share some of my writer regret—not as some sort of woe is me thing but as a reminder to myself to be a little more insightful in the future and as a guide to newer writers out there.

  1. I wish I’d gone with a pen name.  There were several other writers called Simon Wood already published before my first book came out.  I really should have done my homework to avoid confusion.  And eliminating my namesakes has proved costly and time consuming.
  2. I wish I’d been more confident in my own work at the beginning.  I didn’t always believe in my writing in the early days.  This led me to aim low and work up.  The reverse would have been smarter.  
  3. I should have never given my work away for free and/or low offers.  This falls back to #2.  My work is worth paying for and I now hold fast to that rule.  Some of the stories I gave away to magazines and anthologies, while they might have given me “exposure,” actually cost me further down the road.  There’s nothing worse than when a big time editor wants to make an offer on your work and you’ve given your story and rights away to someone for free.
  4. I wish I’d been pickier about contracts.  I’m no push over when it comes to contracts now, but the rights I signed away on some of my earlier contracts cost me (and not just financially).  In my eagerness to get published, I missed out on some big opportunities because I wasn’t the rights holder on some options. 
  5. I wish I’d remembered business is business.  I like my working relationships to be friendly, open and low key but I should have been more professional when it came to my contracts.  I once felt bad for my editor during my contract negotiations and gave him all rights when I signed the paperwork.  It was a mistake that could have cost me a small fortune if I hadn’t been able to break the contract years later.
  6. I should have associated with good people only.  Publishing, from bookstores to editors to publishers is filled with a lot of different “personalities”.  That means there are going to be difficult and abrasive people you have to work with.  I spent a lot of time bending over backwards for people who were rude, selfish and acted as a detriment to my reaching new readers.  I don’t tolerate someone’s poor behavior, regardless of who they are.
  7. I wish I’d gotten into eBooks about a year or two before I did because I could have really established myself in the industry.  I had a good writing friend tell me to work my backlist as eBooks and I didn’t because a couple of publishers asked me not to because they didn’t want the competition.  Again, it was one of those things where doing publishers a favor came at my personal expense.  I missed the chance of establishing myself in the emerging industry which could have sent me on my way.

Like I say, these mistakes and regrets aren't an excuse to sit around and moan.  They are reminders to always stay vigilant.  I’ve used all these mistakes mentioned above to make me a stronger and smarter writer.  It’s what I hope will sustain me for years to come.

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Little Something For The Weekend

If you want your wings then…

”Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.”
—G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hump Day: Crap, I think I'm Turning Into My Dad

Ah crap! I think I’m turning into my dad. I’m doing things he's done. No, no, no, this can’t be happening. I’m original! I’m a rebel with a cause. I’m mad, bad and dangerous to know. And other stuff that makes me unlike my dad. How can it be going this wrong?

Now don’t get me wrong, I like my dad well enough. There are no rifts or anything between us, but who wants to be a facsimile of their parents? We all want to be an individual making our own unique mark on the world, don’t we? I know I do—or I think I do. Maybe that’s my dad’s DNA talking? Goddamn it. Who am I? Am I me or am I Memorex?

As I think about this, that’s the interesting point here. If I am following in my dad’s footsteps, is it because of the way he raised me—or is it because of his DNA? Do I do the thing I do because I watched him do them—or because we share the same genetic programming? I think I just blew your mind, didn’t I? Far out, man!

All I can say is that I don’t know whether my dad’s parental influence has had its effect or whether it’s in the blood. I do know it’s not a conscious decision. I never think to myself, oh how would dad do this and I should do likewise. I do things that I believe that reflect me but they have an uncanny way of aping my dear moo-pah. Here’s what I’ve got:

My dad is a marathon runner.
I am an endurance cyclist.

My dad has an allotment where he grows fruit and vegetables.
I have a fruit and vegetable plot in my garden.

My dad loves dates.
I used to hate the fruit growing up, but now I love them.

My dad has served on the board of his running club.

I have been a chapter president of both Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.

My dad has a wife who indulges his whims.
I have a wife who indulges my whims.

My dad went grey haired by his mid forties.
I am forty-five next year and my hair will be grey.

My dad was a maintenance foreman at factory.
I became an engineer.

My dad has been served as a school governor, currently serves on police/civilian committee as well as a number of other civic boards.
I worked for city government for seven years and in the last couple of years, I’ve decided that will probably run for city council at some point.

Finally, we both share the same last name!!!

There you have it ladies and gents—my dad and me—or should I say my dad and his carbon copy. Now, I accept I could be paranoid, so I’m going to throw it out to you—do you think I’m turning into my dad?

Monday, December 1, 2014

SHELF LIFE: Soapbox Storytelling

I do quite a few talks on the craft and business of writing, so when I see something that I can use during a presentation as an example I pounce on it.  So when I saw someone using copyrighted images on the book cover of their self pubbed title (a no-no by the way), I took a closer look—and got quite a shock when I read jacket copy.  It was a novel, but what it was a manifesto for the author’s paranoia and hate.  The blurb was racist and bigoted at the minimum and pretty much libelous as it featured real life people as characters.  How anyone could hold such views in the 21st century astounds me.  It was a horrible and disgusting piece of work. 
That said, it serves as a good example on not what to do when it comes to storytelling (ignoring the hatred aspect) namely—authors, leave your politics, dogma and agendas at the door.  Fiction isn’t the place to preach.  Once you do, you’ve lost the audience.  You know you're preaching.  The readers know your preaching.  And any point you're trying to make is tainted by the heavy-handedness of your own beliefs.        
Now this isn’t to say fiction isn’t the place to raise an issue or fight for a belief but story comes first.  Story can’t become a vehicle for driving your dogma at us.  Instead story should act as a spotlight on a situation that everyone can draw their own conclusions from—regardless of whether they agree with your beliefs or not. 
Personally, I don’t dodge topics that I’m passionate about.  Many of my books are motivated by real life events, but I do my level best not to turn them into excuses to rant and rave.  That’s why I have pets.  It’s their job to listen to my tirades, not you.  As I’ve mentioned before I annotate my manuscripts for my wife for her read throughs.  I’ll put “am I being a little preachy here?” or “a little ranty?”  The answer is usually yes which means a trip to rewrite city.
The point is that there is truth in fiction and the truth exists in allegory.  In allegory, we learn and think—and progress.   We keep our mind's open and our mouth's shut.