Simon Wood

Posts Tagged: accidents waiting to happen

People see a hill and think, “What a lovely place to build a home.”  I see a hill and think, “What a great place to bury a body.”  People see a quiet stretch of shoreline and think, “What a great place for a romantic walk.”  I see a quiet stretch of shoreline and think, “What a great place to execute a snitch.”  That’s the problem I have with traveling these days.  I love visiting new places.  I want to see the world.  If I didn’t have an explorer’s heart, I never would have discovered my Julie in Costa Rica.  Now when I travel, I don’t see locations, I see crime scenes.

I’m always on the hunt for a great locale.  I say to friends, “You live in a great neighborhood.  Where would the best place be to stash a body without anyone seeing me?”  My friends are cool with it.  They roll their eyes and entertain my fantasies.  I’ve stopped asking strangers these questions.  For some reason, it scares people.  Who knew?
I’m not a keen researcher as things go.  I like to lie in my stories, but I do like to go location hunting.  Accidents Waiting to Happen is set in Sacramento.  I’d only been there a couple of months when I got to writing it, so I needed some killing grounds.  I rode around the city and its suburbs on my bicycle in search of locations.  I didn’t have a car at the time, so I didn’t have much choice there, but having the bike meant I could stop anywhere I wanted to check out. 
I live in the Bay Area now.  San Francisco isn’t so much of a cyclist’s city, so I do a lot of scouting on foot.  For one of the stories in Working Stiffs, I wanted to kill someone on the Embarcadero.  So I started at one end and walked to the other poking about.  Sadly, I didn’t find anywhere useful but did find a site at Fort Mason.  I can’t recommend Fort Mason enough to kill someone (Fictionally speaking that is.  I don’t want anyone getting ideas and pointing fingers when it goes pear-shaped.  Alright?) 
The thing is that I don’t want to talk about the same old locations that everyone else uses in their books.  This is especially a problem with the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area.  There are plenty of us scribblers around fighting for a fresh perspective on the town, so I really need to get my hands dirty.  Just like with methods of killing, writers want to keep it fresh and new for themselves and their readers.  Well, I know I do.
So I’m always on the hunt for a good location with plenty of originality.  It’s another reason I like to write about places outside of my usual stomping grounds.  Little known places provide a wealth of killer locales.  I have a tendency to go on road trips with Julie and the dog just so that we might check out somewhere I came across in a travel magazine or on TV.  I just have to have my hands on a killer location.
Don’t be surprised if one day, you sit down next to small yet affable stranger who’ll lean in close and whisper, “Do you know any good places where I can dump a body?”  Don’t panic.  It’s probably me.  Then again, it probably isn’t.

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A little while ago, I had a nice little surprise recently while watching Top Gear. They examined what to do if you crashed your car in a body of water. My ears pricked up at the mention of this because I used that exact situation in my first novel, ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN. In the opening chapter, the lead character is forced off the road and into a river and he has to work out his escape from a rapidly sinking car.

I was interested to see what they discovered to see if I’d guessed right. Whereas Top Gear has the budget to drop a car in pool with a camera crew, I don’t. For the book, I relied on my engineering background for what would happen. I knew there’d external and internal pressures as a car sank and you’d have to be Arnold Schwarzenegger to force open the doors. I also considered that power windows, etc. wouldn’t work either. My solution for escape was a play off what I was taught in flying school. If you ditch in the sea or something, I was told to open the door before impact, because you won’t be able to open them with the water pressing against them. In the book, my character breaks out through the windows before the car has a chance to submerge. This goes against conventional advice of sticking with the car while it sinks, let the car fill up with water and when the pressure has equalized, let yourself out. If this proved right, there was a rewrite on the books.

Well, my escape theory proved right and conventional advice didn’t work. I was very proud of myself. Yay me!!!

The practice test proved that it took a long time for the pressure to equalize and you would most likely run out of breath before then.

If you’d like to see how it all went, please watch the video clips.

Consider this blog entry a Public Service Announcement. My advice is to have something in the car to break the windows should you ever end up in the water. You want to get out as soon as possible. 🙂

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Recently I learned that someone is convinced that something in one of my books is real and I did it. This isn’t the first time this has happened. A few years ago, a woman at a book club who had read ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN asked me in all seriousness how many times I’d cheated on my wife because the story dealt with infidelity. Others have pushed me for answers about different aspects of my stories and my culpability. It can be a little bit disconcerting when someone asks you, “did you ever get caught stealing cars?” At the same time, I can understand why people will read something and put two and two together and come up with five. It might be fiction, but for any slice of fiction to be believable, the element of realism has to be strong. It has to get the reader to suspend their disbelief and buy into what they’re reading.

A writer’s storytelling style plays into this problem too. While any writer can proclaim that their writing is a reflection of the world around them, a book says more about the writer world view than anybody else’s. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I show more than a little thigh from time to time in my stories. It’s impossible for my sensibilities and insensibilities not to show.

By the same token, when someone rushes up to me and demands to know how many times I’ve cheated on my wife, it reveals a lot more about their life and sensitivities than it does about mine. That’s the bugger about any story. Once it’s out there in the open, it’s a mirror and we all see something different when we gaze into it.

When it comes to the crimes I may or may not have committed, I have to fall back on Sharon Stone’s defense in BASIC INSTINCT. If I’d committed a crime, do you think I’d be daft enough to admit it in writing? I’m dumb, but not that dumb. 🙂

I will admit that while none of my stories are reenactments of things that have happened to me, there are flickers of personal experiences contained within the pages. While it would be nice to regurgitate life stories in my books, it doesn’t work that way. They just don’t fit well within the confines of a novel.

That said, I do occasionally insert a few inside jokes in my stories for my amusement and the amusement of friends, coworkers and family. Perhaps, an old boss’ name is used for a character who comes to a grizzly end. Sometimes I do things for my enjoyment only and the eye rolls of others. I used Julie’s name for a character whose husband was cheating on her and I killed my mother-in-law in another. Don’t worry, I haven’t done these things but I know I’m going to get a groan out of them when they read the story.

Of all the things I’ve been accused of doing in real life no one has accused me of killing anyone. I guess I should be flattered by the fact that some people think I’m an adulterer, a thief, or a blackmailer, but not a murderer.

I suppose my only advice to you, my readers, is not to wonder about the things I write about, but the things I don’t write about. 🙂

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“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” ~Sherlock Holmes

strangerI’m totally with Sherlock on this one…especially when it comes to the improbable.  I’m drawn to the weird, odd and bizarre.  I’m fascinated by the oddities in life that shouldn’t happen.  It appeals to my imaginative sensibilities.  Blame Roald Dahl and Rod Serling for making me believe in the crazy.  It’s the reason why I’m a rabid fan of the show BANSHEE but not LAW AND ORDERBANSHEE is crazy, intense and over the top and only works when the universe’s cosmic tumblers are off, whereas LAW AND ORDER is rooted in the now and the real, which makes it totally mundane to me (sorry Dick Wolf).  If I want mundane, I can pick up a newspaper or watch the evening news.  I want it weird.  I’m an escapist!  What can I say?

That’s why one criticism of my stories is that they push the limits of believability—and that’s true.  They do.  But for all that limit pushing, they don’t go outside the realm of the possible.  I go out of my way to pay attention to for the strange happening in the real world.   I think I have a fascination with the strange because I possess a small talent for calamity myself.  I have many firsthand accounts of how my life went off the rails.  One example was when I had a near fender bender on a roundabout which then developed into someone filing a fraudulent insurance claim against me.  That led to me being charged with half a dozen driving offenses and was topped off by the police handing me a confession they’d written for me to sign.  Seems a little unlikely but it happened to me…which you can read the complete account here.

So if it can happen to me, it must happen to others.

stranger2I’ve discovered some tragic and cruel twists of fate such as a Sacramento motorcycle cop who responded to a fender bender caused by  an elderly man who pulled out of a turn and tee-boned a car.  The cop felt bad for the elderly man and let him off with a warning instead of citing him.  The following week, the same elderly man did the exact same thing at the same intersection.  This time he struck and killed the motorcycle cop who’d let him off.  The weird what-if game that plays out in your head after that is what inspires my stories.

Things like this have been the inspiration for several of my books.  The trade of life insurance on the living which is the backbone for ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN is a real thing.  Private security firms being involved with workplace violence claims which is the foundation for TERMINATED came from something that was happening with one of my wife’s employers.  The disturbing series of suicides in WE ALL FALL DOWN were inspired by similar ones that happened between coworkers in the UK in the 80’s.

And while THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY, PAYING THE PIPER, NO SHOW, etc. don’t have any direct link to an actual event, they are inspired by a way of thinking.  Namely, how can a seemingly mundane event get its strange on?

Now I know this outlook might not be to everyone’s liking but if you’re willing to go off-piste and embrace the improbable, then I think you’ll enjoy the ride.

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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 GUYhave 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.  🙂

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I don’t know if anyone saw the stand Anne Rice has been taking against cyber bullies and net rage.  She started a petition to have Amazon and other sites remove nasty and hateful reviews.  I’ve long lamented that it’s quite depressing reading the comments feed on any news story as it seems to be an excuse for people to trot out their hate and contempt for anything anyone does or achieve.  I swear the headline could be “The sky is blue” and within ten minutes the sky will be condemned for its connection to the political right or left or the NSA.  So I applaud Ms. Rice’s efforts attempt to clear up the online nasty reviews.  However, at the same time, I’m not sure how much it will help in the long run.  Whatever measures anyone takes to correct a problem, people will find a work around pretty quickly.
I don’t say this lightly or without personal experience.  A few years ago, some of my essays were syndicated on Yahoo.  Within a day there were 250 online comments.  Half of which were hateful or derogatory.  This didn’t include the personal emails I received of a similar tone.  Things got strange when ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN broke out a few years ago.  The book had been climbing the charts for several weeks, then Amazon highlighted as a book to buy and it ended up at the top of Amazon’s charts.  It stayed in Amazon’s top 100 books for six weeks or so.  It would have stayed there longer if things hadn’t gotten a little nasty.  Now, I know the lead character’s faults are polarizing with some readers.  So as much as I want everyone to love the book, I know not everyone will like it.  It’s the problem with any subjective work.  There’s no right or wrong answer.  There’s just opinion.  But some of the reviews were brutal, even libelous in some cases.  I didn’t think anyone could hate a book that much.  However, the strange part was seeing reviewers bullying other people who’d posted good reviews and telling them to take them down.  Some people did.  The reviews got weird in other directions.  In some cases it was obvious that trashing books was what they did from their review history.  In other cases, it was pretty obvious that some people were hiding their identities because the reviewer was XYZYZXC or something with no other review history.  It became clear in some cases that that person hiding their identities were other authors.  To Amazon’s credit, they took down some of the offending reviews—not at my behest but at the request of strangers who found certain reviews objectionable. Kinda lovely to see people do something nice for me.  However, the damage was done.  Sales of the book collapsed which in turn impacted revenue which in turn impacted my livelihood—and that’s a problem.  Also I withdrew.  I don’t think I spoke to anyone online or otherwise outside of Julie for six weeks.  I was quite ashamed of what I’d chosen to do with my life.  But I bounced back and got on with what was important to me—telling stories.
 Still after all that and other experiences, I support the petition but I don’t have much faith in any countermeasures.  The reason is simple—you can’t stop people from being dicks.  As much as I wish you could, you can’t.  Dickishness is a universal constant like gravity.  It’ll always be with us. 
I don’t know why people seem to go out of their way to vilify everything and everyone they disagree with and I won’t bother boring everyone with pop psychology.  I just know this online contempt has been growing over the last decade or so, and it’s depressing.  I find the level of intolerance and ignorance shown for another person’s beliefs while screaming bloody murder should anyone dare to challenge theirs truly saddening.  Being that angry all the time has to be exhausting for them.  However, like I say, dicks will be dicks and we can’t change that.
And hitting delete on cyber bullies will only serve to turn them into victims.  They’ll scream their free speech is being challenged and this will lead to more hateful outlets.
And as lame as this sounds, the only way to deal with the cyber bullies is to ignore them.  Let them scream and shout and spew their hatred and contempt.  Just don’t engage it.  Engaging them won’t diminish them.  It only emboldens them and draws more attention.  If no one listens and the more discerning readers filters them out for more reasoned commentary, all the hate in the world has no effect.  If the review read: the author is a whore who sleeps with dogs.  I don’t think many people are going to base their purchasing decision on remarks like that.
I know this is the approach used for dealing with unruly children, but that’s what we’re dealing with at the end of the day—immaturity expressed by people who don’t know any better—yet.



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Are you British? Do you read ebooks?  Then this the place for you!

Several of my books are being promoted this month and having promotional pricing to go with it.

PAYING THE PIPER is only 99p (in eBook form) this month over at Amazon UK with 40% off the paperback.
“For years, the serial kidnapper known as the Piper got rich by abducting children from San Francisco’s wealthiest families. When crime reporter Scott Fleetwood gets a call from a man identifying himself as the Piper and offers an exclusive interview, Fleetwood jumps at the chance. But the caller turns out to be a fake, and the rash decision costs the life of the real Piper’s latest victim.For eight long years, Fleetwood has lived with unbearable guilt—and the enduring disdain of the entire Bay area. Now he hears from the real Piper—and it’s not for an interview. The kidnapper has the reporter’s son. But he doesn’t want money…he wants blood. And he’s going to use Fleetwood to get it.”
WE ALL FALL DOWN is only £1.49 at Amazon UK
“Hayden Duke just landed a coveted contract gig with Marin Design Engineering, largely thanks to his old friend, Shane Fallon. The dream job becomes a nightmare when Shane takes his own life in a seemingly drug induced stupor. The only clue to Shane’s death is an e-mail with an encrypted file he sends to Hayden. It’s a file people would kill to possess. Now Hayden’s got to risk losing everything…before he loses his life.”
My workplace violence thriller , TERMINATED, is only £1. at Amazon UK.

Stephen Tarbell needed that promotion. But they had to go and give the job to his supervisor, Gwen Farris. Now Tarbell has had enough—and he’s about to put Gwen on notice. She has two choices: give him a glowing review on his performance evaluation or suffer the consequences.  Gwen has already survived one violent attack, fifteen years ago. But even that experience couldn’t prepare her for Tarbell’s relentless fury. Pulling a knife on her was just the beginning. Like a sadist peeling the wings off a helpless fly, Tarbell is determined to pick apart her life using every means of physical and psychological torment. The company’s security firm says they’ll handle the situation, but whose side are they really on? And how do you stop a psychopath so consumed by hate he thinks he’s the one being persecuted?
 ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN is on 99p over at Amazon UK.  This was my first novel and after a decade it continues to keep riding the charts from time to time.  I think it’s because of the provocative storyline.
“Josh Michaels isn’t wanted dead or alive—just dead. That fact becomes shockingly clear when a stranger runs his car off the road. Instead of a helping hand, the man gives Josh a “thumbs down” and abandons him to what is almost certainly a watery grave. Luckily, Josh cheats death…this time. But when more harrowing “accidents” threaten his life, it’s clear he’s a marked man.  As his time and luck rapidly run out, he must unmask an insidious conspiracy bent on making a killing—in more ways than one.”
I hope these have whetted your whistle to give them a read…

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I’m this year’s Bouchercon toastmaster which I find quite astounding as I was starting out just over a decade ago.  Naturally, I’ve going over my B’con experiences over the years and I was thinking about my first Bouchercon.  It was in Austin, Texas in 2002 and I came to it with that new author smell.  My first novel, ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN, was only weeks old.  Being a brand new author, everything was new, everything was a whirlwind, as was my arrival to Bouchercon.  I’d done a book signing at M is for Mystery, had dinner then gotten on a midnight flight to Austin.  I arrived at the conference hotel with just enough time to check in at registration before being shoved in the direction of my first panel, still in my clothes from the night before, luggage and book bag still in hand.  Now I had to speak…in public…to people.  Not my forte at the best of times, but it’s the thing you do for queen and country…and for publishing.  I don’t know what I looked like to the outside world but on the inside I was a nervous wreck.  I was on the new author panel and I took refuge in the notion that it would be an empty room seeing as a Walter Mosley was being interviewed in the next room.  Unfortunately, the room was fairly full.
I met my moderator and fellow panelists.  We talked game plan then got down to it.  I can’t say as we went live, all my nerves disappeared and I blossomed, but I did OK, despite a quaver in my voice.  Talking about a book and its inspirations always helps to take the edge off. 
At the end of the panel, a group of men totaling around six or seven approached me.  Oh God, angry hordes.  Maybe I hadn’t done as good a job as I thought I had.
But these men were happy to see me.  They wanted to know if ACCIDENTS was my first book, if it was in its first printing and was it available in the book room.  The answer to all these questions was yes.  These men were even happier to see me.  They were book collectors!  And first books were important. 
These guys escorted me down to the book room and bought books.  Seeing how green I was they bought me coffee and proceeded to tell me about the birds and the bees of books.  They taught me how to sign a book properly, the importance of print runs, first printings, book collecting and book speculation.  These guys just weren’t just buying my book, they were investing in me.  If I made it big, my first book would be quite valuable.  One guy told me he’d bought a dozen copies of Ian Rankin’s first book and was now selling them for $1,500 each.  I just hoped they could profit from me like one day.  J
Over the years, a number of people have provided me with invaluable advice which has made me a smarter writer and it started with these men at my first Bouchercon and I shall forever be in these men’s debt.  I look forward to Long Beach what I’ll learn this year.  Hope to see you there and all you have to do is pop over to registration to secure your spot.


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