Simon Wood

Posts Tagged: working stiffs

Some people give me odd looks after they’ve read something of mine. They see me, they read the stories and they merge the characters and me together and see the same person. They don’t see easy-going, Simon. They see evil-doing Simon. I’m not evil doing. I’m actually very nice. I rescue animals off the street, I pay my taxes and I’ve never held up a bank (well, not in California and besides, I was very young).

Consider this quote from Cemetery Dance for WORKING STIFFS: “Consistently surprising and well-written, Working Stiffs proves Simon Wood is a criminal genius. We should all be glad he’s writing this stuff and not doing it.”

This isn’t the kind of quote I should have on a tee shirt when I visit the FBI.

That’s the problem. Readers blur the lines between the characters we scribblers create and the scribblers. I’ve been told on several occasions that I’m not a nice person based on my stories. I’ve been asked if I’ve cheated on my wife when they’ve read about a character’s infidelity. As shocking as these statements can be, I can understand them. I’ve said myself. When I tell a story, I don’t base my characters on people I know or people I’ve read about, but I place myself in the shoes of those characters and view the world how they view the world. So for all intent and purposes, I am the good guys in my stories and I’m the bad people in my stories.

But that doesn’t make it me.

I’m not living out my fantasies on page because I fear capture if I committed them in the real world. I’m not outlining my future crimes. I’m not a depraved person getting my kicks on paper. I’m nice, easy going, animal rescuing Simon. But I can conjure up crimes and motives for killing and invent people react to those circumstances and I am empathic to their sensitivities. If I was faced with the crisis of conscience that a character is faced with, I can see their point of view and follow it. that character can be a good person doing the wrong things for the right reasons or a bad person doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons. I can see it from their perspectives. But am I like them? no. would I act like them if their position? Perhaps. But the people on the page aren’t me. a lot of writers I’ve met and befriended are nothing like the people they write. Most horror writers I know are some of the most down to earth people I know. Eavesdrop on conversation at any World Horror Convention and you’re going to hear them talking about pets and their kids and not how to dismember a body a dozen way from Sunday.

Granted, characters are the writer’s alter egos and altered egos. They are the people they would like to be, possibly, but they are also the kind of people we wouldn’t like to be. But at the end of the day, there is a big distance between the writer and his darker characters—well, certainly in my case. I cant speak for everyone.

At the end of the day, I’m a storyteller and like Marvin Gaye says, I need every kind of people to tell my tales and that includes the bad ones. So the next time you read a nasty character and you start comparing the writer to that character, put some distant between the two. I know we do.

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Like with all my books, the stories have origins in something from real life. WORKING STIFFS is no different and as a story collection, it has a bunch of inspirations. Here’s some of the stories behind the stories.

Old Flames Burn The Brightest
I’ve been in the US approaching eight years now and during that time, I’ve gained a bunch of friends, but this has been at the expense of my friends back home. I’ll be digging through some box of junk for something and come across something else that will make me all nostalgic, and I get to wondering about all the people I’ve lost touch with. What are they doing? Have they changed? Are they married or divorced or both? In my mind’s eye, they haven’t changed. They’ll always be the same people I knew back in England, forever frozen in 1998.

But these people can’t be the same. During my brief trips back to England, even my friends I still see have changed. Their lives have moved on and I haven’t been around to witness it. I don’t think I’ve changed, but I’m sure those people see differences in me too. It’s odd to think about, but true.

But with the writing, there’s a chance I may re-encounter lost friends. It’s happened already. Now and again, I’ll get an email along the lines of—aren’t you the Simon Wood I used to go to school/beat up once/stole my cat?

I still have hopes that I’ll bump into these lost friends and that was the inspiration of Old Flames Burn The Brightest. Colin Hill encounters a never-was girlfriend, Denise. He hopes to rekindle something that never existed, but Denise isn’t the same person Colin used to know and unfortunately for Denise, neither is Colin.

My Father’s Secret
This was an easy story to write because Raymond Chandler told me what to write. I have an old BBC recording which features Ian Fleming interviewing Raymond Chandler. Fleming and Chandler discuss the differences in their work and what inspires them to write what they do. During the interview, Chandler describes how mob hits were arranged in the U.S. I thought, wow, what a great idea for a story.

I used the mechanics of a mob hit for the skeleton of the story, but I added the complication of the relationship between father and son. Don’t go reading anything into the relationship between my own father and me. Rarely does anything from my own personal experiences make it directly to the pages of my stories. Rather, certain facets of life and people tug at my sensibilities.

So thanks, Ray. I owe you a gimlet.

Parental Guidance
Where do you get your ideas from?

It’s a familiar question I’m asked. Literally anything can inspire a story. With Parental Guidance, it was a TV advertisement. It just goes to show that TV advertising works—just not the way they hoped.

The ad was for credit consolidation. It was one of those cheesy, homemade adverts that do the product or service being pimped no favors. The ad was simple. A family, consisting of husband, wife, and two kids, sit in front of the camera while the father tells how his life was out of control because of credit debt until he turned it all around thanks to blah-blah credit counseling. The ad ends with the father saying, “I took control and my life has never been better.”

It was such a creepy line to end the advert on that it gave me the chills. There was just something about the actor’s delivery, like he was trying to let us in on his real secret. The story came to me before the ad break ended. I wanted a tale of keeping up with the Joneses with a difference. I wanted a tarnished tale about what it means to keep up with not only the Joneses but the world in general, but I wanted darken it with the uneasy sentinment I felt after hearing the father’s last sentence.

A Break In The Old Routine
I people watch and I have a nasty habit of giving the people I watch a whole history. A Break In the Old Routine began life that way. I was riding BART into San Francisco and there was this striking women sitting several rows over from me. Watching her, I came up with a character prfolie for her. Wasn’t that nice of me?

I got an attack of the guilts when I went to get off the train and she got off with me. For a frightening moment, I thought this woman was going to call me out for staring. She didn’t and she went on her way, but I thought about what if she had called me on it? What then?

I have to give credit to Working Stiffs’ editor, David LaBounty for the success of this story. He took what I thought was a decent enough story and turned into something special. He read my draft and said that he felt the story should end differently. And he was right. I hope you agree.

The Real Deal
The Real Deal, like Parental Guidance, was inspired by television. And no, I don’t spend all day in front of the TV, just most of it. I watched an episode of Night Gallery which featured an old gangster trying to preserve his legacy. It was an interesting story with a lame ending. But the crux of the story, trying to preserve one’s own mark on history, stuck with me. A couple of years later, I watched an episode of Lonely Planet and travel icon, Ian Wright, traveled to Peru and went through a bizarre witchdoctor ceremony to cure him of all his ills. These two things clashed to create a story about an ailing businessman trying to save his equally ailing business empire.

Officer Down
This was one of those story ideas that once it came to me, I couldn’t dislodge it. This image popped into my head of a police officer getting shot in the line of duty, but surviving because of his kevlar vest. The key thing that stuck with me was that tiny moment before being shot where you believe you’re going to die, only to survive.

I was fascinated by how someone would cope with that juxtoposition of living when you believed you were going to die. Could a person continue under those circumstances? For the character in Officer Down, I decided he couldn’t.

To pile on the pain, the police officer is shot with his own gun after he loses it in a tussle with a thief. The cop can’t move on with his life until he gets his gun back and in doing so, he breaks the rules he was sworn to uphold.

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It’s a new year, a new month and a new book. January’s Book of the Month is WORKING STIFFS.

The workplace is a dangerous place. The unscrupulous are primed and ready to take advantage of the innocent and naïve. A slight indiscretion can cost the employee everything. A new position can turn a person into someone they are not. Those at the top can be toppled and those at the bottom can be crushed.

Until now, Vincent’s father has kept one side of the business a secret from his son. Vincent is about to learn the family business. On the most important day of his career, Sam’s world will unravel when he helps a woman in distress. Kenneth Casper is ailing and so is his business empire. His shareholders circle like vultures. Casper pins all his hopes on a Peruvian shaman with a miracle cure.

WORKING STIFFS…Some jobs are worth dying for.

My Father’s Secret from the collection won the Anthony Award for Best Short Story.

What They Are Saying About WORKING STIFFS:

“Warning: This book is 100% adrenalin. Wood is pure gold.”
— J.A. Konrath, author of Rusty Nail

“Consistently surprising and well-written, Working Stiffs proves Simon Wood is a criminal genius. We should all be glad he’s writing this stuff and not doing it.”
— Cemetery Dance

“For a lover of short stories, this collection was a full meal. Wood changes voices, demographics and plot lines like a teen changes clothes for a first date. Each story is a strong sampling of humans at their most human told with the finesse that comes from experience and a love of the genre.”
— Crime Spree

Over the month, I’ll share some stories behind the stories and share my love for the short form. Enjoy!

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On Twitter, I contribute to a thing call Sample Sunday where I post an excerpt and I’m going to continue it here. Please enjoy this slice from Working Stiffs.

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