Simon Wood

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It’s Halloween and I’d be amiss if I didn’t offer up some of my Halloween scares for you to enjoy this all hallows eve.

In THE SCRUBS, James Jeter, the notorious serial killer with a sixth sense, holds court inside London’s Wormwood Scrubs Prison. He’s the focus of the “North Wing Project.” Under the influence of a hallucinogen, Jeter can create an alternative world known as “The Rift” containing the souls of his victims.

Pardons are on offer to inmates who’ll enter The Rift. Michael Keeler has nothing to lose and little to live for. He’s sent into The Rift to learn the identity of Jeter’s last victim.

It’s a mission where the guilty can be redeemed, but at a price…

 

In DRAGGED INTO DARKNESS, people spend their entire lives staving off the dark — but no matter the measures taken, black paths and shadowy pits lurk in the unlikeliest of places, waiting to pull the unwary into the depths of despair. These eleven tales offer a morbid sampling of the many forms and fashions of terror — from the subtle prickling of neck hairs at the kiss of a ghostly breeze to the raw-throated screams and feverish clawing of a desperate fight for survival. Witness eleven people torn from their ordinary lives and cast into twisted realities that test their sanity, faith, and very will to live… A pilot must land a crippled aircraft on an impossible runway… A doctor feels far too much sympathy for his deformed patients… A schoolgirl’s secret contract could cost her mother’s soul… A woman whose pack rat obsessions hide the obscene… For these and seven others, the darkness comes from within and without, subtle, deadly…and relentless.

Road-Rash-500In ROAD RASH, Straley might think his life is cursed, but it doesn’t compare to what lies ahead of him on life’s highway. He’s on the run with the proceeds of a botched bank robbery. It’s all he has. His crew is dead and his getaway car just died on him. He’s on foot with the cash when he comes across a two-car pileup. There’s no saving the drivers, but he can save himself and steals one of the wrecked cars. But he boosts the wrong set of wheels. Within an hour of driving off, he develops a rash that eats away at his flesh. No doctor can help him–only the car’s original owner. If Straley wants his skin back, he must journey on the road to redemption, which ends in the heart of Central America.

I hope I’ve given you something to keep you busy this Halloween. 🙂

 

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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.

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ROAD RASH plays to my two storytelling loves—crime and the supernatural. I don’t do it often, but I love to blend the genres. It’s the story of bank robber, James Straley. He might think his life is cursed, but it doesn’t compare to what lies ahead of him on life’s highway. He’s on the run with the proceeds of a botched bank robbery. It’s all he has. His crew is dead and his getaway car just died on him. He’s on foot with the cash when he comes across a two-car pileup. There’s no saving the drivers, but he saves himself by stealing one of the wrecked cars. Unfortunately, he boosts the wrong set of wheels. Within an hour of driving off, he develops a rash that eats away at his flesh. No doctor can help him—only the car’s original owner. If Straley wants his skin back, he must journey on the road to redemption.


The book started out as a short story and was one of a number of stories I’d been writing with the theme of road travel. I’d been examining the whole aspect of road travel by writing stories that ranged from cars to bicycles, from traffic offenses to road regulations and everything in between. I used these stories to put a dark twist on an aspect of our lives we take for granted. Road Rash was one of a number of tales I’d written based on turning a common term on its head. I liked the idea of road rash being something that could be contracted from the roads if someone wasn’t careful. I submitted the story to an anthology and the editor loved the story, but said it needed to be a book and an exotic twist would knock it out of the park.

When it came to the exotic twist, I knew just what to use. I’m quite an empirical person. I like to write about things I understand, things I’ve actually taken part in or things I have some experience with. So, I hoard experiences to the point of going out of my way to take part in things whether I need them for a story at the particular moment or not. So naturally, when someone offered my wife and I the chance to attend a Santeria ritual while we were traveling in Guatemala, I jumped at the chance.

I don’t think I could have made this up if I tried, it was that wonderful and spooky. The community that practiced Santeria lived in the shadow of three volcanoes and a lake isolated them from the mainland. The only way of getting to them was by boat. We took a trip out to the island, which amounted to a shantytown. People selling handicrafts covered the jetty where we landed. A kid no more than eight said he knew why we’d come to the village and for a buck he’d take us to the witch. He led us through the dirt-covered streets and down an alley into an unfinished cinder block room. An effigy sat in a chair with a cigarette drooping from its lips and a trail of smoke leaking skyward. All sorts of knickknacks and trinkets surrounded it. A woman as old as time shuffled around in an adjoining room. A young woman asked us to sit on the floor and take part in some unknown ceremony. It goes without saying that it was more than a tad creepy and our nerves didn’t hold out, so we got the hell out of Dodge before something happened. I’m as superstitious as the next person. The imagery was very potent and the incident stuck with me and dovetailed nicely into the exotic element the editor wanted for Road Rash. I don’t pretend to understand half what I witnessed, but the incident inspired me to develop a great backdrop for James Straley when he’s forced to travel to Guatemala. It gave the story a whole new different dimension.

James Straley wasn’t as fortunate as my wife and I, as he had stay for the ritual. The experience changes his life forever and hopefully it’ll change yours too when you read it.

Yours eagerly,
Simon

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I’m fading…kind of.

I received a very sweet letter from one of my publishers last week. I’d ghost written a book for them a few years ago. They got in touch to tell me that they were remaindering the remaining print run (essentially selling the remaining stock to the likes of Half Price Books) and that they were not picking up the option to do a reprint. Essentially, this is the end of the road for that book. They told me not to take the news personally and it was no reflection of me. I thought that was sweet. Other publishers haven’t been so caring of my feelings. Those letters chose the tone of a football coach—we’re junking your book, now walk it off, pussy.

That’s not the only book of mine to fall on the endangered list. I found out there are only four copies of WORKING STIFFS left. THE SCRUBS went out of print last year. There aren’t any plans to reprint THE SCRUBS, although we are talking about a new edition of WORKING STIFFS. And in 2010, all my Dorchester/Leisure paperbacks came off the shelves when they had their financial meltdown.

So in recent years, I’ve seen a lot of my work live out their publishing lifecycles. I’m not particularly upset by that. I have to make space for new work, but at the same time, I do have an attachment to my books. I put everything into their conception and birth, so it’s hard not to be a little teary eyed when they disappear.

But I’m not too downbeat. Just like Dracula, no book truly dies. Rebirth is always around the corner. Just like energy, they cannot be destroyed, they can only change form. Last year, I resurrected my extinct backlist as eBooks. Foreign editions are still coming out and I hope to share some news about further resurrections soon.

So while a part of my work is fading, I’m not concerned, because there are new and wonderful things on the horizon lighting my way. If they weren’t, then I might be a little less upbeat. 🙂

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I’m happy to say that readers have been finding my eBooks from all quarters. Nook readers have been discovering my books of late. Two titles Nooksters have yet to find are ROAD RASH and THE SCRUBS, which are two of my darker tales that came out under my pen name, Simon Janus. Both tales blend hardboiled crime and horror. In ROAD RASH, a bank robber steals a car and goes on a road to redemption. In THE SCRUBS, an inmate volunteers for a prison sponsored experiment in order to save a child’s life.

I hope the Nooksters amongst you will be intrigued enough to check these titles out.

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ROAD RASH is October’s Book of the Month, but I’m going off piste today as it’s Halloween. People always ask where my stories come from. Sometimes it’s not where the stories come from, but what things happen to me to make me the person I am. This story is true and helped instill the sensibilities I possess as a person and as a scribbler of spooky stories. So maybe this piece isn’t as off piste as I thought. Please enjoy MY OTHER SISTER.

MY OTHER SISTER

I was seven when I met my other sister.

As a child, it wasn’t uncommon for me to wake up during the night craving something to drink. I usually slept with a glass of water or juice on the nightstand next to my bed. On this particular night, I’d drained my glass and found I still hadn’t quenched my thirst. I hopped out of bed and, glass in hand, left the bedroom I shared with my sister, three years my younger. I switched on the landing light so I wouldn’t disturb anyone and trotted downstairs to the kitchen. I made myself a drink and took it back up the stairs.

As I reached the top of the stairs and turned to face my bedroom, a full-length mirror next to my sister’s bed reflected my image. I wasn’t alone in my reflection and I froze. Behind me was my sister wearing her black polka dotted nightdress. She was lying on the top stair, her face stricken in pain, reaching out to grab my bare ankle. She fixed me with her totally black eyes. There were no whites in her eyes at all, just solid black. Her mouth opened and closed as if trying to say something, but no words made it out.

My mind whirled. How had my sister followed me down the stairs and sneaked behind me without me noticing? What had caused her eyes to turn black? My mind snagged on the falseness in the reflected image, preventing me from answering the questions. For to the left of the mirror, my sister slept soundly in her bed, her face turned away from me. The fact she was wearing a flowered nightdress and not the polka dotted one only confirmed the impossibility of the distressed girl in the reflection being my sister.

My other sister’s hand continued to reach out for me and was within inches of grasping me. I couldn’t tell if she existed only in the reflection or whether she was right behind me. I didn’t dare turn my head to find out. In the reflection, my view of her was at least twenty feet away, but if I turned to face her, then those black eyes would be right on top of me.

Whether my other sister really meant me harm or just needed my help, I didn’t have the courage to find out. I bolted for my room, throwing my drink into the air and screaming all the way. This meant running directly at the mirror and if my other sister existed there, then I was running straight towards the creature and not away from it. In the mirror’s reflection, my other sister made a desperate lunge, missed me and collapsed on the landing, but she lacked the strength to give chase. I hurled myself on the bed and buried my face in the pillow and bedclothes.

My screams woke my sister and my parents. My mother had to pry me from the mattress that I clung to in the fear that it wasn’t my mother who had me, but a false mother like the false sister I’d seen in the mirror. Even when she managed to unpeel my fingers from the mattress, I refused to open my eyes in fear that I was in the arms of a phantom. But when my mother shushed me and rocked me, I knew no false mother would treat me with such tenderness and I opened my eyes.

“What’s wrong?” my mother asked. “Why all the screaming?”

Through my sobs, I choked out the event I’d witnessed. My mother showed me that my sister, although crying herself from being rudely awakened, was okay, and more importantly, that her eyes were okay.

“You were dreaming,” my mother insisted.

How could it be a dream? I’d made myself a drink. I told my mother this.

“Well, whatever you saw, it isn’t there now,” she said.

“How do you know?” I demanded.

“Because we would have seen it when we came into the room. Come on, come look.”

My mother tried to show me, but I clung to my bed. She wrenched me free and I went with her, even though I dug my toes into the carpet. She showed me that nothing lurked on the landing, other than my father cleaning up my spilled drink.

At some point when I’d calmed down, my parents put me to bed, but I failed to fall asleep straight away, fearing my other sister would return to get me. Finally, exhaustion claimed me and I slept through until morning.

After that night, I developed a fear of mirrors after dark. Once the sun had set, I averted my gaze or closed my eyes when passing a mirror. I wanted to hang something over the mirrors, but I didn’t want to expose my fear. If I woke during the night needing a drink, I let my thirst go unquenched. Nothing would get me out of bed after dark. I never wanted to meet my other sister again. I feared my escape might not be guaranteed.

Two weeks after the incident my sister was struck down by a nasty bout of flu, which kept her, confined to her bed for several days. The nightdress she wore when the flu hit was her black polka dotted one.

I don’t know if the phantom sister I saw was a premonition of some kind, but I never saw my sister in that stricken pose on the stairs during her influenza bout or at any other time and she never possessed those black eyes. I wonder if the phantom was some form of guardian spirit trying to warn my family of a threat to my sister’s welfare? Regardless, I didn’t look into a mirror at night for another seven years fearing a repeat encounter with my other sister or some other phantom that lurked in mirrors.

Eventually, when I summoned up the courage in my teens to stare into a mirror at night, I saw nothing, although I broke out in gooseflesh fearing that I would. Now, I’m in my thirties, and if I’m honest, I still fear what I’ll see in a mirror. If I have to get up at night, I don’t turn on the lights and I keep my eyes averted. My other sister has never shown herself again, but I can never be sure it will stay that way…

Hopefully this tale has put you in the mood for your Halloween celebrations. If you’re looking for something a little spooky to read, I hope you’ll pick up
ROAD RASH or my other darker titles THE SCRUBS and DRAGGED INTO DARKNESS.

Halloween is the end of the month and the end of ROAD RASH‘s time. Please enjoy an excerpt from ROAD RASH and my other horror tales.

Road Rash excerpt
The Scrubs excerpt
Acceptable Losses from Dragged into Darkness

November should be an exciting month when I introduce a new title and a new book release.

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From time to time someone will take me to task over my characters—usually my protagonists. The usual complaint is over my hero’s “goodness.” The remarks usually center on, “You know, if your main guy had done the right thing in the beginning, he wouldn’t have gotten himself into all that trouble.” And those people are right. My good guys have usually done something to put themselves in the position they find themselves in. It’s somewhat of a personal belief. If you stray from life’s straight and narrow, then life’s probably going to bite you in the ass and keep biting.

I’m happy with this trait of my stories. Squeaky clean characters blazing a trail for all that is good and right don’t excite me. I like fallible people. People who know to put on oven mitts because they’ve gotten burned a couple of times, not because they’ve been told not to touch hot things without them. I guess I identify with these sorts of characters. I’ve committed a few minor infractions in my time and the repercussions have snowballed. I think it’s the gathering pace of the payback that intrigues me and drives my fiction. The fear and panic experienced when a situation goes sideways makes for great stories, if not for real life.

I must admit it has colored the way I look at the world. I’m not a glass half-empty kind of a guy but more a glass half-filled with something corrosive tipping over and spilling everywhere kind of a guy. I have a habit of predicting how a bad situation will get worse. Once you’ve tempted fate, it has its own gravitational pull that is inevitable.

The spark that ignites my storylines is a moment of weakness. The character is presented with a situation that nine times out of ten they’d ignore, but circumstances are skewed this one time. He’s out of a job. She’s just been dumped. These characters are in a weakened state when an opportunity is presented. Instead of blowing it off, they throw caution to the wind and act out of character. Naturally, it doesn’t pan out and it is going to take a whole lot of fixing to set everything right again. Moments of weakness are dangerous currency.

ROAD RASH’s hero is James Straley. He’s a bank robber. When a bank job goes wrong, he’s on the run when he stumbles across a car wreck. Instead of helping the victims of the wreck, he steals one of the vehicles at the crash site. Not particularly likable of him, but he’s a ruthless and desperate man. But in that desperate moment, things change for Straley. He’s struck down with a rash that makes his problems up until seem like small fry. This is his tipping point. He either continues on a path to ruin or change his ways. Over the course of a story, Straley makes the biggest change of any character I’ve ever written. He starts off as a nasty piece of work and becomes something quite different by the end, figuratively and literally.

I guess I like my shop-soiled heroes, maybe not to hang out with, but to read and write about. It has a lot to do with how someone reacts under insurmountable odds. There’s more at stake than the mystery or the crime to solve. The character’s soul is at stake as well. And I can’t help root for someone in that position. Everyone loves a comeback kid. I think I also identify with human frailty and characters like James Straley. We can all do bad things, but how we atone for our mistakes makes us redeemable and interesting.

Yours vulnerably,
Simon

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