Is it Safe? Guest Blog by Simon Wood

IS IT SAFE?
By Simon Wood

I was thinking about the perception of safety the other day.  My wife, Julie, doesn’t like it when I leave the front door unlocked when we’re in the house.  She doesn’t want anyone storming the castle gates while we’re at home, so she puts her faith in a deadbolt.  A two inch slug of steel not even an inch in diameter will keep her from harm.  She doesn’t worry (but probably will after this blog) that there’s nothing stopping evil doers from chucking a rock through any of our floor to ceiling windows and entering the house that way.

I started thinking about other safe things in our lives.

When the little red man tells me not to walk, I don’t.  The little red man knows all about danger.  That’s why he’s red.  When I ignore his advice, my heart rate shoots up a few beats.

The same applies to stop signs at a four-way stop.  I put my faith in the driver of the eighteen-wheeler coming from the other direction that he’ll obey what it says on a red octagon and not plow into me.

Down on the Bay Area’s subway train system, BART, a row of yellow bricks keep me safe from the speeding trains if I stand behind them.  And I do feel safe.  The moment I stand on those yellow bricks, I feel queasy.  I’ve put myself in danger.  A train could hit me.  Someone could bump me and send me sprawling onto the electrified rails.  Those yellow bricks are just yellow bricks, but they have some power behind them.  It’s really silly.  My safety can’t be measured by the width of a row of yellow bricks.  There are so many other contributing factors that can take their toll on me.

How many of us fear earthquakes, tornadoes, being struck by lightning, shark attacks or an in-law coming to stay?  While these things exist, there’s little chance of them affecting us.

I look around me without my safety goggles on and reexamine my environment.  There are so many things I perceive as safe.  Harm won’t come to me because I’m not putting myself in harm’s way.  Theoretically, that is.  But boy, isn’t it a tenuous belief system?  I am safe on the sidewalk because sidewalks are safe.  There’s nothing to say a car won’t plow into me or I won’t trip and fall into the road, but I don’t think about these things because the sidewalk is my talisman.

It all comes down to perception.  If I perceive danger everywhere I go, then I will see danger everywhere.  Perception is reality.  If I think safe, then I am safe.  I guess there’s a little bit of the Pavlov’s dog syndrome at work inside us all.

Fundamentally, we all believe in a safe world and it is when all of us agree and on how to act.  But what if someone doesn’t?  Where’s our safety then?  In jeopardy is the answer.

I quite like it when my thinking goes off the rails like this.  I cross my eyes and I see the emperor without his clothes on.  This is useful when it comes to the stories I tell.  I like to pick at a character’s world until it unravels by attacking all the things that they hold dear.  Basically, I break down their perceptions and belief system.  Life is a tightrope and I like to twang the cable while there are people on it—fictionally speaking that is.

The notion of safety tends to play a part in the stories I tell.  I don’t focus on global terror or category 5 hurricanes or anything like that because it’s too abstract.  I don’t have any experience with something like that and it’s too infrequent to worry about it.  I like to focus on the what-ifs of daily life.  What if someone ignores a deadbolt and breaks in through the window?  What if a waiter steals my credit card number and uses it?  These are things that can happen and if the situation snowballs how can that one incident keep coming back at me to make the situation worse?  My latest book, Lowlifes, centers on Larry Hayes, a San Francisco Detective.  His life spirals out of control when he wakes up in an alley after a bad trip with no memory of the last four hours, while his confidential informant, a homeless man named Noble Jon, lies dead two blocks away, beaten and stabbed.  Larry’s knuckles are bruised and there’s blood under his fingernails. Is he Jon’s killer?  The mounting evidence says so.  Hayes mounts an off-the-books investigation and disappears amongst the city’s homeless community to stay one step ahead of a murder charge.  I don’t say we’d all experience an incident like this, but consider your own private and professional life.  What little things could turn against you and send your life into a tailspin?  I’m sure it wouldn’t take much.  Bad news rarely needs much.  It’s scary to daydream about life in those terms, but bad things like these  could happen and that’s what makes it all the more powerful.  We could all fall prey to circumstances we couldn’t imagine and would have to struggle to overcome.  An act of terrorism, while real, thankfully happens rarely.  A minor indiscretion, like a dust up with a stranger is far more likely, and therefore scarier.

I hope I haven’t given any of you worriers out there something new to worry about.  Now, sleep tight and I’ll see you in your dreams.

Yours in perfect security,

Simon Wood

simonwoodwrites@yahoo.com

www.simonwood.net

Lowlifes is a little different from my usual books as it’s more than just a book.  The story is told from different character points of view using various media.  The book tells the story from the point of view of the protagonist, a San Francisco detective.  The short film gives the viewpoint of a PI investigating the cop.  The fictional blog catalogs the thoughts and feelings of the cop’s estranged wife.  The trendy term for this new kind of storytelling is transmedia.  People can learn more about Lowlifes at www.lowlifes.tv

Celebrating for My Friends

Alice Henderson’s book, VORACIOUS, is now out! It was also picked up by five book of the month clubs, including Book of the Month Club, BOMC2, The Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club and the Science Fiction Book Club. So Penguin is doing a special hardback edition of it for that! Yay!

Here’s a link to the book on Penguin’s site.

I’d like to officially give a hearty congratulations to Simon Wood and all of his recent success. I can’t wait for his blog on his recent adventures.

And in a semi-self-serving announcement (all will become clear at a future date), some good news about Shroud Publishing:

For the past several months, Shroud Publishing has been working very hard to get Shroud Magazine into the Ingram Periodicals machine, so that Shroud can potentially be distributed through Ingram’s chain partners and independent retailers in the United States and Canada. The dream – and goal – would be that Shroud Magazine would grace the shelves of every Barnes & Noble and B. Dalton in the country.

As of today, Ingram Periodicals ordered 1400 issues of Shroud Magazine, Issue #6. This is huge, of course. Here’s the rub: these issues have been ordered, not paid for, so that means Shroud needs to generate revenue for the print run. THIS is a big issue for folks to advertise in, so because of this, Shroud is offering special rates for Authors and small press publishers.

More Details:

Purchase a quarter page ad for the nationally distributed Issue #6 of Shroud. This offer is limited to the first 100 ads. In addition to a number of online retailers and national independent book stores, Shroud will be available across major retailers in the US and Canada beginning in MAY!

This is a fantastic opportunity for independent authors, publishers, artists, designers, photographers, and musicians to gain the exposure they need to sell their work. In an effort to provide cost-friendly exposure to my creative brethren, AND to fund this print run, they are slashing their quarter-page ad rates for Issue #6 by 40%. This means a $50 ad will now be available for $30.

You can find the rate card and advertising information here.

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Accidents Waiting to Happen – An Interview with Simon Wood Part II

(Click here for part I)

Tell me a bit about the journey of your writing career. You started off and have published hundreds of short stories, right?

I blame my writing career in the Immigration and Naturalization Service. I’d come to the US in ’98 and I had to wait for my work visa to be processed. Before I left England, I’d been toying with the idea of writing. With nothing to do in the states, I followed up on the idea. I’d never taken any writing classes and I was a little embarrassed to do so because I’m dyslexic and I didn’t need the additional stress. I wrote three short stories in a week, then spent the next three months rewriting them until they were presentable. After that, I began my first novel. I worked fifteen months straight writing short stories and novels every day without making a sale. I finally sold my first short story and that seemed to be my break. After that, I sold stories one after another, but it wasn’t until 2002 until my first novel was published. One thing I didn’t do was pin my hopes to one piece of work. I wrote and wrote and submitted and submitted. It’s the reason I’ve generated so many sales. I’m tenacious when it comes to my work. I can’t sell it if I don’t submit it.

How did you transition from small press publishing to a mainstream publisher?

Really, I made the break into mainstream publishing through not giving up and good luck. I’ve just been diligent, biding my time and when opportunities come my way, I’ve pounced on them. Dorchester is my current publisher for my novels. I took my chances with Dorchester to get a face to face with the editor, because I knew he’d like my novel if he saw it—I just didn’t know how much. Recently, I’ve landed a non-fiction book deal. That remains the easiest book deal I ever got. A writing friend showed some of my essays to a publisher and told them they should consider me for a future project. They contacted me and the next thing I knew we were talking about a book. I think it’s a good example of being good to people and they’ll be good to you. J

Was it difficult getting your first novel republished?

Oddly, it wasn’t a difficult one. The biggest stumbling block was me. It never occurred to me for the longest time that I could get it republished. The rights had reverted back to me a least a year before I decided I wanted to give the book a second chance. But before I sent it out, I gave the manuscript a complete makeover. I cut the clichés and stereotypes, sharpened the prose and made the book a much tighter piece of work.

Finding my publisher was pretty simple all things considered. Trying to resell a book is tough, but I knew Dorchester was open to reprints. The editor for Dorchester was attending a convention in San Francisco and I put my name on a list to pitch the book to him. I pitched the book and he liked it and the rest is history. I’m now working on my third book with Dorchester.

What’s a typical writing day like? How do you juggle work, family, and writing?

I currently work part time—Monday through Wednesday. On those days, I write short stories and articles in my lunch hour and I work on my novels between 8pm and 10pm. Thursday and Fridays, I hit the keyboard from 9am and work through to about 4pm. I may work on something in the evening, but I try to spend that time with my wife. Saturday and Sundays are a bit more fluid. I will work on my books, but I tend to work around whatever I have planned with my wife and friends. I used to be very focused and selfish, but it wasn’t until my dog brought me one of his toys and put it in my hand that I realized that I was neglecting everyone. So I’ve become very disciplined. I made agreements with my wife that I would work between certain hours and use typical down time, like lunch hours, to work on writing. I’d like to get it to the point where I can get all my writing work done between Monday and Friday so that I can have my weekends for my family and friends. I have a tendency to be dedicated which can hurt the people around me.

What path would you like for your career to take from here? Do you see yourself writing full-time?

I would like to cement myself as a popular fiction writer with books and stories coming out regularly. I couldn’t ask for more. Actually, I’m planning to go full time as a writer in the next couple of weeks. Hopefully my faith will be rewarded.

Do you have any upcoming projects on the horizon that we should be on the lookout for?

My next thriller, Paying the Piper, comes out in November. Again it deals with the protagonist’s downfall and their redemption. It’s the story of Scott Fleetwood. He’s a news reporter who interfered with a kidnapping case that leads to the death of a kidnapped child. Eight years later the kidnapper comes out of retirement to kidnap Scott’s children. He can get them back if he’s willing to do some ‘jobs’ for the kidnapper.

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Accidents Waiting to Happen – An Interview with Simon Wood Part I

For matters of complete disclosure, it should be pointed out that Simon Wood and I are friends. Reviewing friends presents a tricky quandary because you have to be honest in your reviews but you don’t want to damage the friendship (sadly, I’ve seen poor reviews ruin relationships). I tend to solve that dilemma by begging my friends not to send me anything that sucks. Luckily, they tend to listen and Simon is no exception.

Tell me a little bit about what you write. Do you see yourself as a thriller writer a horror writer or what?

I write what I love. Above all other things, I’m a fan. To be a good writer, you have to be. I’ve grown up loving stories, so now I want to tell them. That means I flit between horror and crime, comedy and sci-fi. I’m a little bit of a chameleon which I know bugs the hell out of people at times, but I like telling stories. Sometimes I want to scare people, astound people and make them laugh from time to time. If I see myself as anything it would be a storyteller.

How would you describe your spiritual journey? Would you describe yourself as a religious/spiritual guy?

I don’t consider myself a religious person. I don’t seek guidance from a higher being or seek support from a faith. I guess that makes me sound directionless and I suppose I am in a lot of ways. I’m still trying to find my place in the world. Still discovering. I’m weird like that. -J-

While I don’t seek guidance from others, I always make myself available to others. If people seek help, I’m here. I’m never one to turn my back or to end a friendship.

What role does faith play in your life?

That’s a difficult question to answer. I don’t think faith plays a part in my life. I’m always the first to doubt. Will this happen? Will that work out? I always err on the negative. I think it’s a self defense mechanism—expect the worst and prepare for it.

There seems to be this thread of “sin” throughout your story. This idea that buried sins can come back to get you. Am I reading too much into things?

When I look through my books and stories, sin does present itself as a consistent theme. I wouldn’t say it’s a subject I champion on purpose. I didn’t even notice the theme for several years of my writing. It’s just something I believe in—sin will be your undoing. You don’t have to be particularly religious to see or understand that. Everyone makes mistakes, but if you take measures to cover them up, they will come out and it will hurt.

I suppose the other predominant theme is temptation. In life, every one of us walks a fine line. The moment we let our temptations get the better of us, we lose our way. Several of the kids I grew up with became killers or were killed. I found it hard to deal with the fact that someone I played soccer with could take a life, but they were a product of their decisions. You could see the downward spiral and if it weren’t for a handful of choices they would have never ended up where they ended up.

What would be the one thing you would want readers of Accidents Waiting to Happen to come away with?

Indiscretions (or mistakes), no matter how deep you bury them, will come back to bite you. There are always options. When I pick my novels and stories apart, all of them could have ended on page one if the protagonist had done the right thing.

(to be continued …)

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Accidents Waiting to Happen – A Review

“Josh Michaels is worth more dead than alive. He just doesn’t know it yet. He has no idea why someone would try to kill him, clearly that’s exactly what happened. When an SUV forced Josh’s car off the road and into a river, it might have been an accident. But when Josh looked up at the road, expecting to see the SUV’s driver rushing to help him, all he saw was the driver watching him calmly…then giving him a “thumbs down” sign. That was merely the first attempt on Josh’s life, all of them designed to look like accidents, and all of them very nearly fatal. With his time—and maybe his luck—running out and no one willing to believe him, Josh had better figure out who wants him dead and why…before it’s too late.”

I love a good thriller. Thrillers, to me, are like perfect popcorn movies: you curl up with them and let them take you on a ride for a few hours. You may not remember the details of the story the next day, but you remember the experience. That’s part of the rush of Accidents Waiting to Happen. Josh Michaels was living the American Dream. Beautiful wife, wonderful kid, a great best friend, a job he excelled at, and a home to call his own. Then it all starts to slowly unravel the night of a mysterious accident.

The characters for the most part are little more than sketches, however, the two stand outs are, well, a couple of the villains: Bell, Josh’s scorned ex-lover who bursts back into his life to wreak all manner of havoc; and “the professional,” the man hired to kill him. Bell is every psycho ex-girlfriend rolled into one, beautiful, engaging, and crazy (you know what I mean, the kind that all but walk around with a sign saying “Do Not Feed the Crazy” that men inevitably are drawn to). What I enjoyed so much about “the professional” who is out to get poor Josh is how he goes about killing his victims. It is like he embodies the spirit of the Final Destination movie franchise with his carefully crafted machinations that make his killings look like accidents.

“What a sad and pointless life she led. Life to her was a malignant disease prolonging her suffering.” (page 148)

Accidents Waiting to Happen plunges us right into the mess of people’s lives. One of the ideas woven throughout the story is the idea that things (accidents) aren’t as random as we may often believe. That people are connected in ways we don’t think about or realize (if only names on a list). This points to the realization that people are relational beings. We are hard-wired for intimacy. Augustine spoke of a God-sized hole within each of us – essentially a built in need for intimacy. The pursuit of intimacy is similar to our pursuit of God. We seek that communion, that connection with Him as well as with others.

The ache of frustrated relations is what we experience as loneliness. Loneliness is that emotional pain we experience when we are not connecting to others in the way we want to be. Loneliness is painful because intimacy is a need and with a lack of intimacy, we are left with feelings of disconnectedness, being left out, and alienated. Loneliness, that inability to be connected in a way that satisfies is what drives Bell, Josh’s ex-mistress.

“But people are very keen to tell you the worst they have done, because in some twisted way we’re all turned on by the evil that men or women do.” (page 133)

At its core, Accidents Waiting to Happen is about past sins catching up to us, with unexpected consequences. Unconfessed sin has a way of rotting us from the inside, keeping us from being as we should and trapping us in a spiral of guilt and shame. We spend our time denying our guilt, running from it, or expending our energy covering it up rather than living as we should. A spirit of confession, as Josh has to learn, frees us. Owning your sins, offering them up, in a spirit of contriteness, humility, and brokenness, and the act can even become worship (Psalm 51:17)

Only then can we then go on with our lives as we should. We’re more than just sinners, but that doesn’t negate the fact that there are consequences to our sins; consequences that need to be resolved (hopefully in less thrilling fashion). We may still make mistakes, but we can recognize our moral failings and do something about them.

Accidents Waiting to Happen is a breezy page-turner. Seriously. I was done with the book in a few short hours wondering how I got so caught up in the story that I missed dinner (which truly sucks for everyone else at our house since I do the cooking). Full of twists and turns, the book manages to sustain a taut balance between tension and dark humor. Fast-paced almost to a fault, Wood demonstrates the kind of crisp prose that makes for a great thrill ride. What the book becomes is a screenplay waiting to happen.

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