Posts Tagged: noir
THE SCRUBS is another of my supernatural crime stories. 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.
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 twenty plus 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.
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.
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.
For every seventeen-year-old male in the UK, the number one purchase is a car. It’s a rite of passage–the first step towards adulthood and independence.
I was in engineering college when I turned seventeen. My birthday occurred late in the school year and several of my friends had already turned seventeen, passed their test and gotten cars–albeit jalopies for a couple of hundred quid.
John was the first of us to get his wheels, a ’72 Ford Cortina. Instead of running for the train to get to and from college, we rode with John. The convenience of car ownership was all too apparent to me, even by proxy. The responsibility of this convenience came a few weeks later. We’d returned back from lunch to the college parking lot. John found a stall behind the science block and went to park. He backed the car up, doing all the right things, but his skill deserted him and he reversed into the side of the Vauxhall Cavalier. There was no mistaking the buckling of sheet steel.
We all froze and waited for John’s reaction. Panic spread across his face. He had just kissed goodbye any possibility of a no claims insurance bonus.
“Do you think anyone saw?” he asked us.
The parking stalls were pretty secluded from the main parking lot. We looked around and saw no one.
“We’re going. Cool?”
We didn’t reply, just nodded. John burnt rubber and parked on the street a couple of blocks from the college. We walked back to our afternoon classes. John told us we weren’t to talk about this. He was stern, but I noticed his hands were shaking. He knew the crime he’d committed and the one we were accomplices to.
I was beginning to think we’d gotten away with it by mid-afternoon, until the cops interrupted second period. Two officers walked in with one of the college lecturers and some kid I didn’t know. One of the cops asked for John by name, but not the rest of us.
My heart was pounding, so I couldn’t imagine what John’s was doing. Unlike most college kids, we had more to lose than the rest. We were employed by an array of big name companies underwriting our college education and paying us a salary.
John came back thirty minutes later, looking sheepish. We were forced to wait until break to find out what had gone down with the police. We’d thought our crime had gone undetected but we were wrong. One of the other lecturers had witnessed the fender bender from the classroom. The lecturer not only knew us, but he knew the name of the second year student who owned the Cavalier. Giving the cops their due, they were pretty cool about it all, all things considered. They weren’t pressing any charges as long as John paid for the damage. They would be checking in with all parties to make sure amends were made.
John made good on his error and the event never made it back to our respective employers or parents. We all learnt our lesson. It was a stupid thing to do and we were damn lucky to have gotten away with it.
About a year later, a form of retribution came knocking. Kevin (who’d been in the car with us) came back from lunch to find a broken headlight and a note under his windshield wiper. The note said: People think I’m leaving you my name and address. I’m not.
No one had witnessed the incident and Kevin was left to carry the expenses.
These two incidents have always stuck with me. It’s one of those situations where I’d been on both sides of the equation, even if it was by proxy. So when it came to writing THE FALL GUY, my thoughts fell upon these two incidents and the storywas born. In the novel, the down on his luck protagonist, Todd Collins, backs into a Porsche and leaves a note not dissimilar to the one Kevin found under his windshield. This sets in motion a series of calamities, which winds up with Todd being indebted to organized crime and spending the rest of the story trying to get the monkey off his back.
I don’t know if I wrote the story as a penance or a warning to others, but it may have something to do with a theme that occurs in many of my stories. A crime, even a little one, can’t remain covered up for long. I learned that when I was seventeen.
Categories: shelf life
Damn my dyslexia!!! Usually it’s a problem (a.k.a. a pain in the arse) but for once, it did me a good turn. The idea for my new book DECEPTIVE PRACTICES came from a misread. A couple of years ago I was flipping through the TV Guide on my television and I came across a TV movie called The Green-Eyed Monster. The description said it was about a wife who hires an organization to beat up her cheating husband. That was right up my alley so I watched it. The movie had nothing to do with what I’d read. It was about a woman who fixates on her next-door neighbor’s husband. I went back through the TV Guide and found the description was accurate to the movie I just watched. How the hell I’d read what I thought I read I have no idea. The descriptions weren’t even close. It’s one of those frustrating things that comes with dyslexia. You start reading something, your imagination takes over and rewrites it all for you, and you end up with something completely different. I remember being in engineering school during a class where we had to read some chapter from a book and when we came to dissect it I seem to have been the only one in the class who’d read something completely different. Like I say, dyslexia is a pain in the arse.
When something like this happens, it usually comes with a large chunk of frustration. How can my brain be that far off on its interpretation of just a few sentences? What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just read the words in front of me? You really shouldn’t be let out in public without a seeing eye person to help you! But this time around I wasn’t so pissed off. Had my brain just handed me a book idea? What if a woman did hire an organization to beat up her cheating husband? I did a quick search on IMDb to make sure I hadn’t read the right thing but on the wrong channel and found there was no movie like that made. I let this idea grow for a bit and came up with the concept that there was an underground business that operated on a similar basis to the scared straight documentaries in that if you hired them, they would beat some sense into a wayward spouse with the aim of turning them around or getting some marital revenge. The ideas started coming and I developed a company name and their sales pitch: Do you have a cheating spouse? Has counseling failed? Want to get even with them? Then hire Infidelity Limited to teach them a lesson…
And DECEPTIVE PRACTICES was born. I know, I know it sounds like a crazy business idea but if I were to attach an app to the concept, I probably have a billion-dollar company. If it’s got an app then it’s legitimate. I think that’s how it works.
Naturally I can’t have a plot line that is that straightforward. I have to toss a few hand grenades into the mix. So the plot line for the book goes like this: Olivia Shaw is living a nice suburban life until she discovers her husband is cheating on her. When her sister suggests Infidelity Limited can offer some closure, Olivia buys their sales pitch. Olivia learns how Infidelity Limited really works when her husband turns up dead and she’s drawn into a dark web of blackmail and murder — just like all their other clients. Now, Olivia finds herself the prime suspect in her husband’s death and as the police close in on her, she has only one option—take down Infidelity Limited.
Usually dyslexia is nothing but a problem for me, but for once it gave birth to a book so I can’t knock it too much. So here’s to the next misread and all the ideas it conjures up!
Categories: shelf life
I’m very topic driven when it comes to my books. I latch onto an issue, it becomes the basis of a conflict and a book is born from there. With THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY, survivor guilt was the driving force behind the story. It was a subject that had been in my head for awhile. I had the beginning of the story—two women are abducted and one of the women is given an unenviable decision—attempt a futile rescue or leave her friend in order to escape. My heroine in this case, Zoë Sutton, weighs up the odds and runs, but her life is forever tarnished by that selfish, yet logical decision.
That was the crux of the story, but I had to decide where to go from there. I knew little about the topic of survivor guilt, but at the time I was under the care of a neuropsychologist for a head injury and subsequent memory loss after crashing on my bike. I mentioned that I wanted to talk to someone about survivor guilt.
“Go to the VA.”
“But the book isn’t about soldiers.”
“Doesn’t matter. If you want to learn about post traumatic stress disorder, then go to the VA.”
I was introduced to a psychologist who counseled veterans of various conflicts going all the way back to Vietnam. I outlined the basic premise of the book and opened with a question that outlined my basic ignorance and sat back and listened. The great beauty about in-person interviews is that I don’t have any idea where they’ll go, other than nowhere where I thought.
I thought I had an idea of what survivor guilt and PTSD were but it was a good example of an outsider’s perspective. Our long and lengthy discussions got into the meat of the subject. Some of the common afflictions affecting people include sobriety, impulse behavior, isolationism, arrogance, and contempt to name a few. I’ve attempted to incorporate these behaviors into Zoë’s character which also helped drive the plot.
As I tried to absorb this information, I couldn’t help but marvel at this condition where people feel shame for surviving. You fight for your life and win, but your mind discounts the win and obsesses on the loss. The survivor takes on the emotional weight and responsibility for those who didn’t make it and it’s just too big a burden for him/her to bear. The result is that the survivor drives themselves to destruction either directly by throwing themselves into similar conflicts or indirectly through substance abuse and depression. This has to be the most paradoxical illness on the books.
But it’s this paradoxical thinking is what drew me to write about the topic. Ten years ago I was undergoing first responder disaster training. One of the modules dealt with the psychological effects of rescuing the dead and dying; making life and death decisions for total strangers. Then they told us the suicide rate for first responders and it was quite scary. A friend of mine who is both an author and veteran recently posted a stat about returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Almost four times as many veterans have taken their lives since coming home than those who died in battle. There’s not a lot I can say to that other than we’re strange and complex creatures who don’t always make sense.
I hope with THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY I’ve made an entertaining read but at the same time, I’ve shined a light on a subject that most of us aren’t really cognizant of. If you read the book, I encourage you to let me know what you think.
Categories: shelf life
I hadn’t intended to put my heroes, Scott Fleetwood and Tom Sheils, through the fictional wringer for a second time but something cropped up.
When I start a book, I don’t build it around a character or plotline. I’m premise driven. More often than not, that premise is a real world one. TERMINATED was built around the issue of workplace violence. ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN explored corruption in the life insurance industry. It was survivor guilt for THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY. And for my latest book, SAVING GRACE, it was the manipulation of the free press.
Now before you go rolling your eyes, it’s not what you think. This has nothing to do with the current fake news claims. I’ve been looking into this issue for a quite some time. The tough thing about writing a book is it takes a long time from concept to final product. Who knew an election cycle would muck things up for me?
My interest dates back ten years when there was a kidnapping of a child in Portugal. Planted stories and media manipulation marred the investigation, which hasn’t been solved even today. The more insidious side to this story was that people profited monetarily from the incident. My writer’s radar became attuned to the issue and I came across more instances of abuse from within and outside the media. I’m sure you’re aware of some instances.
The subject was too enticing to ignore. If I was going to turn to the world of media and evil shenanigans, there were two characters I could turn to—reporter Scott Fleetwood and special agent Tom Sheils of the FBI. They were protagonists of a fan favorite, PAYING THE PIPER. I’d put these guys through hell in PIPER, and it’s that notoriety that gets exploited in SAVING GRACE.
No longer a reporter, Scott Fleetwood is still recovering from the aftermath of tangling with the notorious kidnapper, the Piper, when a new foe emerges from the shadows. The Shepherd announces to the San Francisco Independent that he has snatched a young girl from a vacationing family. The Shepherd has two demands for the safe return of the girl—a cash ransom and for Scott to act as his intermediary between the family and himself. The kidnapping brings in Special Agent Tom Sheils and his team to work the case and watch over Scott. The Shepherd promises the girl’s safety as long as Scott follows the rules of his game. Forced to trail the kidnapper’s twisting lead—and haunted by a previous victim he failed to save—Scott is desperate to keep the past from making a brutal comeback.
Each of the Shepherd’s demands are played out on the world’s stage for everyone to see with Scott as the star of a perverse reality show. As the stakes get upped, Scott realizes he’s a pawn of a much larger scheme.
I won’t say how the media is being manipulated in SAVING GRACE. For that you’ll have to read the book. And when you have, come talk to me and I’ll tell you about the facts behind some of the lies. You can learn more about the book here.
Categories: shelf life
My first thriller ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN has come of age. It was first published 18 years ago this month! This book is very special to me because we’ve been on a quite a journey over that time. It’s been responsible for a lot of firsts in my writing career:
- First book I wrote.
- First published book.
- First mass paperback release.
- First book to be translated.
- First book to sell a 100,000 copies.
When I look over my writing career, this book has been the one that kept me career moving on to the stage. Although first published by a small publishing house, it picked up a lot of good trade reviews which gave me some legitimacy as a writer. That resulted in the book picking up a contract with a New York publisher. When the NY publisher folded during the credit crunch, it was the book to reboot my career I relaunched it as an ebook. The sales success of the ebook resulted in an 8-book deal with a new publisher and a new edition. And if it weren’t for that 8-book deal, I wouldn’t have the success with other books. Wherever I examine my writing career, invariably it all stems back to ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN.
This book about obscure facet of the insurance industry changed my life. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for it. I will forever be in this book’s debt.
If you’d like to learn more about the book, you can learn more here.
As I’ve done with my last few books, I’ve created a playlist for my Cockney Rhyming Slang inspired book TROUBLE & STRIFE. Each title relates to one of the stories in the book (although I’ve taken liberties with a couple of songs):
Steve Brewer’s BABBLING BROOK (slang for crook).
Song “The fun lovin’ criminal” – Fun Lovin’ Criminals.
Angel Luis Colón’s BUNSEN BURNER (slang for earner, as in making money).
Song “Earned it” – The Weeknd.
Johnny Shaw’s DICKY DIRT (slang for shirt).
Song “T-shirt weather” – Circa Waves.
Paul Finch’s MR. KIPPER (slang for Jack the Ripper).
Song “Jack the Ripper” – Screaming Lord Sutch.
Jay Stringer’s HALF INCH (slang for pinch as in to steal).
Song “Pinch me” – Bare-naked Ladies.
Catriona McPherson’s BARNET FAIR (slang for hair).
Song “Hair” – The Cowsills.
Susanna Calkins’ TEA LEAF (slang for thief).
Song “Nothing but thieves” – Amsterdam.
Travis Richardson’s LEE MARVIN (slang for starving).
Song “Wand’rin star” – Lee Marvin.
Colin Campbell’s TROUBLE & STRIFE (slang for wife).
Song “Trouble and strife” – Béla Fleck and the Flecktones.
Sam Wiebe’s A LADY FROM BRISTOL (slang for pistol).
Song “Who’s that lady” – Isley Brothers.
Robert Dugoni’s PLEASURE & PAIN (slang for rain).
Song “Love reign o’er me” – The Who.
As I curated this criminal enterprise, I chose “Trouble” by Ray LaMontagne and “Strife” by Trivium.
If you’ve read the book, these songs will make a lot of sense and if you haven’t, it should give you an inkling as to what to expect.
Learn more about the book here and listen to all the song below
Categories: new book
“TROUBLE & STRIFE, edited by Simon Wood, is a clever (and very good) themed anthology.”
I wasn’t sure how the anthology was going to be received because the book is very thematic, so I was very pleased to see such a positive assessment. It was so nice to so many of the authors singled out for praise.
If the review image is a little hard on the eyes, you can read the complete review here.