Category Archives: Ken Bruen

Splitting

I’m splitting.

Don’t get too excited.  I’m not leaving or anything like that.  No, I’m going through something of an identity crisis and I’m considering splitting myself into two.  People aren’t sure what I write.  The problem is that I write in multiple genres.  One side of me writes thrillers and mysteries and the other side of me writes horror and dark fantasy.  I know a number of writers who flit between genres with no problem and I hoped to do the same, but it isn’t working for me.  My writing in different genres confuses people.  Horror readers think I write mystery and mystery readers think I write horror.  The simple thing to do would be to stick to one genre and have done with it, but I don’t want to.  I love writing horror stories as much as I do crime. 
 
So what is a chimera to do?  What else, but split.

I think it’s time for a pen name, but which side of me gets the new identity?  That’s an easy one.  The pen name will go to my horror writing.  I’ve written a lot of short horror fiction that has appeared in magazines and anthologies, but I’ve never published a horror novel, whereas my published and forthcoming novels are thrillers.  It would be too disruptive to reinvent myself in the mystery and thriller world now. 

The topic of a pen name has been on my mind for some time.  My attempts to educate the world to my multi-faceted aspects haven’t worked and it’s getting a little frustrating.  People either label me as a horror or thriller writer, never both.  More than a minor annoyance, the situation has hindered me.  Not for the first time, anthology editors have looked me over because they knew me for one genre and not both.  It’s time to break out the white flag and surrender to the realization that it’s hard being two things at once.

I do have a name picked out, but I’m not willing to share it at the moment.  Change, while good, does create waves.  While I want to create a second writing identity, I have to consider other people.  There are a number of upcoming projects, which this decision will affect.  I need to discuss it with them first.

As Eric Burden of the Animals once said, “I’m just a soul who’s intentions are good. Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”  It’s not a good situation for a writer to be in.

I’ll let you know what I decide.

Yours a person divided,
Simon Wood

Resolutionary!

I’m quite lazy at heart.  I’m driven, but I need a chauffeur.  Since I need to set myself goals to ensure I finish things, I always make New Year’s resolutions.  So here are my 2007 New Year’s resolutions.

Reso #1
I’m not to work so damn hard.  Last year, I worked like a demon.  I wrote everyday and usually didn’t stop writing until midnight.  That’s not acceptable in 2007.  I need time away from the keyboard.  I want to play with my dog and I’d like to see my wife when she’s not asleep.  It only recently occurred to me that I don’t have any outside interests.  They were put on the back burner in 2006.  That really sucks.  I want some playtime.  That said, I have a pretty busy schedule ahead.  I have two novels out in 2007 that will need promoting.  I became the president of the NorCal chapter of Sisters in Crime.  I have Murderati and my newsletter to feed, not to mention a new novel to write.  That’s more than enough to worry about, I think. 

On the downside, I’ll being saying “no” a lot more often than usual. I hate disappointing people—it’s a horrible English affliction—but it has to be done.  I’m looking forward to finishing up the current novel over the next couple of months and then taking a break for a month while I have some fun.  My motto for 2007 is work, rest and play.

Reso #2
Now that I’ve got my foot in the door of New York publishing, I plan on cementing my presence there.  I’ll be bringing my own concrete.  I’m not sure how I’m going to achieve that but I think by writing the best damn books I can is a start, don’t you think?

Reso #3
I need to find an agent.  I say this every year and fail in the task, but one of these years I’ll do it.  Finding an agent represents one of my rolling goals that never seems to pan out.  Sooner or later I have to roll a double six, haven’t I?

Finding an agent falls into my bucket of improbable but possible wants.  Other things that rattle around in that bucket include getting published in Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, Cemetery Dance and The Writer.  Landing a hardback book deal is another as is seeing one of my books come out in audio format.  A hardback book is the pinnacle showcase of a writer’s work.  Having an audio version come out will make my mum happy.  Like she always says, “I’m getting old and wills can be changed.  So get cracking, boy.”  I love you too, mum.

Reso #4
I want to do something new.  I’ve always had a hankering to fence.  No, not stolen goods, silly.  There’s good money to be made, but the market is saturated with vendors at the moment.  No, I mean fencing as in sword fighting.  Since I can’t play soccer anymore, I need a new sport.  I think it’s time to upgrade.  When I was little I would fix a strainer to my head with rubber bands and duel my sister with broomsticks.  Putting a weapon in my hand worries Julie.  She doesn’t think I should be allowed anything sharper than a spork.  You accidentally stab someone (twice) at a BBQ and suddenly everyone thinks you’re a danger to the human race. 

Also I’d like to learn Spanish.  I love visiting Central and South America and I’ve picked up a little Spanish along the way but I really should learn the lingo.  So an evening off from writing could be spent learning Español.

Reso #5
I want to hang out with my little Julie.  As I go into my 9th year of writing, my door has been closed off in the evenings and she doesn’t get to see me unless I’m sticking a manuscript in her hand.  I’m planning on not working on weekends so that we can actually say hello and she can take the name badge off her chest.

2007 is going to be about a lot of hard work, but it’s also about getting my priorities right.

Happy New Year,
Simon Wood

2006 IN REVIEW–Swings and Roundabouts

It’s been a strange year. There’s been no middle ground.  It’s either been amazing or disappointing. A lot of things fell through this year. A small press publisher collapsed literally days after receiving a contract offer for my novel, We All Fall Down. A number of my regular markets closed their doors this year and I’m sorry to see them go as they’ve been greater supporters of mine. A lot of plans were canceled, whether it be book projects, speaking engagements or other writing related projects that took left turns at the 11th hour.  Also I had a tendency to miss the boat in ’06. I’d find out about a writing opportunity the day after it closed. I really took it on the chin short story-wise this year. The short story market is tight but there have been quite a few high profile anthologies out there this year. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the cut for any of them. Definitely, my poor showing in the short story world has been my biggest disappointment of ’06.

Of course, with every disappointment comes a pleasant surprise. Working Stiffs came out. It looked great and it picked up really nice reviews. I’m really proud of the book.  But the year’s highest points came out of nowhere. I couldn’t have predicted Dorchester Publishing would jump on Accidents Waiting To Happen, giving me my break in New York publishing.  Another novel deal has also been agreed to, but I can’t discuss details at the moment. So my novel writing career seems set for the foreseeable future, which is a big boost.

2006 is the year where I really overextended myself. I took on too many things, which left me working every spare minute of the day on writing in some shape or form. That will have to stop in 2007. I’m going to be much more selective about what I do in the future. A couple of little things woke me up to the fact that I need to do a little bit of stopping to smell the roses from time to time.

On a private level, the year has just been as unpredictable. Julie’s family took some hard knocks, some things I’ve mentioned and some I’m not going to mention. Our house keeps telling us it’s 50 years old and wants attention. And every time we find a penny, we drop a dollar. All I can say is that we made it out the other side and we’re doing fine, but we’d really like not to have a repeat in ’07.

On the whole, 2006 has been a mixed year. I’m very critical about everything I do. I have a lot to be thankful for, but the disappointments have dampened my successes resulting in the lows canceling out the highs. This is going to make me more determined next year.

So I go into 2007 in good shape. There’ll be two novels out in the calendar year and who knows where they will lead? Hopefully, those will provide a stable platform for more novel sales. There’s a lot of ricochet in writing. Events bounce off other events and novels create the biggest bounces, so I’m hoping the raised profile from the novel releases will create some new opportunities. Definitely, I need to assess my short story work and look where I can do better than I did this year.

This makes me sound a little grumpy and snarly. I’m not–not really. I’m annoyed and I’m going to do something about it.  Look out 2007. You’re coming with me.

Simon Wood

A Method To The Madness

The more I read with a writer’s eye the more I see things from a writer’s perspective.  I was on a panel a few years back and an audience member asked what kind of writers we were.  Struggling was the first thing that sprung to my mind, but that wasn’t the answer the questioner was looking for.  At the time I was just writing.  As soon as story idea struck, I wrote it.  I never felt that I had an agenda or a platform to perch my work upon.  But when I examined my stories, I saw a common theme running through them all.  Predicaments seemed to play a central role in my stories.  Usually an unsuspecting person, an average Joe by every definition, is put on the spot.  A situation arises that my protagonist can’t walk away.  The reason they are there is usually their own fault.  Sometimes it falls into the no good deed variety, but usually, the story’s hero has done something to get them ensnared.  A tryst.  An indiscretion.  A little white with a black edge.  A past mistake.  These factors are subject to Newtonian psychics.  For every action there’s an equal and opposition reaction.  It doesn’t matter how minor the mistake my characters have committed, there’s a price to be paid.  Things come back to trip my protagonists up.  This means my heroes are starting off on the back foot.  They are struggling with desperate times where failure means the destruction of their comfortable way of life.  So my stories are told from a nightmarish stance.   My protagonists are desperate when the reader meets them.

Where do these characters come from?  Why have I chosen storylines like this?  I think it’s because I can identify with these people.  I live a pretty ordinary life, but I can see how fine a line I walk.  One bad decision and my life could change forever.  There have been several instances in my life where something I’ve done has come back to bite me.  Some instances have been caused by some very innocuous actions.  So when my what-if synapses kick in, it usually centers on a minor action that will snowball into something large.  My short novel, The Fall Guy, demonstrates this.  A guy gets involved in a fender bender, does a runner and ends up indebted to organized crime.  Life has a funny way of turning mean when you’ve done something wrong.  Ask Michael Richards.

I see other writers express themselves in similar ways.  I love Ruth Rendell when she writes under her Barbara Vane pseudonym.  Guilt raises its ugly head in virtually all of her Vane novels.  For those that have read her, just look at A Fatal Inversion, Gallowglass, The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy, No Night Is Too Long and The Brimstone Wedding, to name a few.  The characters have done something wholly terrible and they want it kept quiet, but no matter how depth the truth is buried, it finds a way of rising to the surface.  At times, it’s hard to like these people but I can empathize with them.  Luck sometimes keeps us from falling down a crevice of bad decision-making.  I’ve noticed that Peter Straub often deals with a past injustice that only come to light generations later.  When I notice a common thread, I wonder what the root cause is for the theme.  What’s the source of the muse that created all these great books?  What locked boxes do these authors have?  Maybe none.  Maybe I’m transferring too much of myself into the situation and reading things that aren’t there.  But I hope not.  🙂

The reason for this blog is Lee Child.  I’m reading Killing Floor at the moment.  Child’s hero is rough, tough Jack Reacher.  He kicks butts and takes names.  He’s a force to be reckoned with.  Bad guys watch out, Jack’s in town.  My leading characters aren’t like this.  None of my characters come from a comfortable place.  They aren’t masters of the situation.  They’re vulnerable and it shows.  But that’s because I’m a not a very self-confident or self-assured person.  After reading page after page of Jack’s kickassedness, I thought, wouldn’t it be neat to write a character like this—mad, bad and dangerous to know.  Although I enjoy writing about vulnerable protagonists, I’m wondering if I should break my own mold now and again.  I hanker to write about a tough guy with a bulletproof personality.  As they say, a change is as good as an arrest.

Merry Christmas to one and all,
Simon Wood

Iconic

I was reading The Maltese Falcon again.  Actually, I was listening to the audio version again.  It’s a great book and I learn something new every time I read it.  This time, I was reflecting on how The Maltese Falcon wasn’t much of a mystery.  It was all about the hunt for the Falcon.  Then I realized the book did have a mystery.  The mystery was who killed Sam Spade’s partner.  Spade getting involved with the motley crew in the search for The Black Bird was a means to an end (and what a means to an end).

I marvel at the power of The Maltese Falcon.  The book is as fabled as the fictional bird contained within its pages.  Seventy-five years after publication people are still reading the book.  People know the story just by the mention of the title.  Sam Spade is an archetypal character.  He’s the gold standard by which all other PIs are judged.  Wow, what a legacy.

I got to thinking how hungry Hammett leaves me.  Spade was the kind of guy to get mixed up in a whole bunch of nonsense time and time again.  The Maltese Falcon provided the perfect platform to launch Sam Spade as a series character–the same way Raymond Chandler did with Philip Marlowe–but Hammett never reprised Sam Spade.  How could Hammett do this to me?  What a meanie. 

Then again, I can understand Hammett’s reluctance (if he did indeed feel reluctant.  I don’t know.  I’ll have to do some checking).  The Maltese Falcon was Hammett’s third book and his breakout book.  How do you follow The Maltese Falcon?  A new chase could start for the Dingus but there’s a big chance that it would pale in comparison to the first.  Spade could get mixed up in a whole new adventure, but again, the story and characters would have to rival those from The Maltese Falcon.  It’s a daunting proposition laced with plenty of downfalls that could lead to tarnishing the Falcon and Spade’s name.  I can see why Hammett never did it.  Personally, I wouldn’t touch a sequel with a ten-foot barge pole.  I know a few weeks ago, I talked about how I’d love to write for Doctor Who and Batman, but I wouldn’t want to be handed the chance to write a new adventure for Sam Spade.  The reason is that the Doctor and Batman’s characters are wide open.  I’d have room to take chances and even if my story sucked, it would be lost in the wealth stories already written without besmirching those characters’ names, but with Spade’s character, there’s no wiggle room.  Screw up and everyone will remember it.

That said, a little while ago, I read that ex-San Francisco PI and writer, Joe Gores was working on a Spade prequel called, Spade and Archer.  No better person to ask.  Joe is a San Francisco legend and an authority on Hammett, but even so, what a challenge.  Joe, you’re a much braver writer than I am.  🙂

The problem is that time and readers have turned The Maltese Falcon into something larger than the sum of its parts.  It’s an icon in every sense of the word.  That status comes with great benefits and drawbacks.

I think it would be cool to write a book of The Maltese Falcon’s ilk, but I don’t think it’ll happen. Books like The Maltese Falcon can’t just be written.  There’s something special that happens that fires the writer and readers’ imaginations.  If there is a secret (or a formula) to writing a classic book, I haven’t worked it out yet.  If I do, I’ll let you know.

Yours still searching, 
Simon Wood
PS:  Time is catching up on me.  Accidents Waiting to Happen will be out in less than three months.  So that means I’m gearing up to do my book signing schedule.  I’ll be sticking to the West Coast, but I will be jumping across country from time to time.  If you have a favorite bookstore or book club and you’d like me to visit, let me know.  Send me details and contact information and I’ll see what I can work out.

Julie

Batman has robin.  George has Lenny.  Laurel has Hardy.  Arm has Hammer.  And I have Julie.  Julie is my sidekick.  Like Snoop Dogg says, “Everyone needs a sidekick.”  Thanks for the wisdom, Snoop.

When I say sidekick, it may sound like I’m belittling the importance of this role.  A sidekick’s relationship with their mainkick (That’s a new word.  I invented it.  Hands off, buddy) is a necessary one.  A mainkick needs their sidekick to function.  I need my sidekick.  I need my Julie.  I couldn’t function without her.

As I’ve mentioned before, on account of my dyslexia, Julie is a vital part of my writing process.  She’s my eyes.  She reads all my manuscripts to check for my mistakes and reads them all aloud so I can edit. This is just one of her roles.  She’s my sounding board for ideas.  I look to her for opinions on whether I should appear at this store or attend that convention.  I don’t sign any contract without her reading it over.  She’s my cheerleader when something good happens and my shrink when I’m low.  There are many times when she’s talked me out of giving up writing (I think she’s holding out for the movie deal if one should happen).

All of this is great for me.  I’m glad and feel really lucky that Julie has the right temperament to help me with all these issues.  It might sound like I’m dependent on her or unsure of myself.  In some ways that’s true, but my background is in engineering.  No engineer lets his work go without a checker and an approver first looking over it.  That instinct is engrained into me.  It would be foolhardy of me to think I’m always right and incapable of making a mistake.  I need someone like Julie on my team to ensure I turn out the best work I can.  Working alone, it’s easy to get complacent or miss something.

Julie needs to have the spotlight shined on her. 

This might sound like some sappy love note, but it’s not.  I have a Julie and so can you.  After January 1, you can have a Julie—the writer’s sidekick—for the low-low rental price of $99.99 per week + shipping and handling.  This price does not include the cost of food.  Apply now to avoid disappointment.  Operators are standing by.

Simon Wood
PS: I currently have an article about San Francisco Mystery Bookstore in the latest issue of Crime Spree and an article on point-of-view writing in Writer’s Digest.

Blood, Sweat and Fears

Recently I’ve been encountering an odd phenomenon in the writing community.  New writers are afraid to submit their work to publishers and agents.  I’m coming across more and more writers who are writing away only to put their work in the bottom drawer without ever showing it to someone.

I understand the fear element to submitting your work.  Writing isn’t a day job.  It’s a passion.  You put your blood, sweat and tears into a piece of work you believe in and to have someone say they didn’t like it is a dagger to the heart.  I’ve said it before—no one goes out of their way to write a crappy book on purpose.  Someone’s “sub par” work still represents their best effort and no one should forget that.   

There’s a lot of potential in that unread manuscript.  It’s unseen and unknown.  It could grow up to be anything.  But the reality is that only a small percentage of manuscripts will end up on a bookstore bookshelf.  So I understand the fear.  A rejection letter could dash a writer’s hopes and dreams.

But rejection letters are part of the business.  I can’t say I like receiving them.  Each one feels like drop kick to the nuts.  And with over 600 rejection slips from magazines, agents and publishers over the years, I seriously doubt my ability to father children.

So avoiding the pain of rejection and possible failure makes sense.   

But, at the same time, not submitting that manuscript is a tremendous waste.  Why put all that effort into an enterprise and not see it through to the end?  That’s tragic.  That’s something to fear.  While there is the very real possibility that a manuscript will be dismissed without a second thought, there’s also a likelihood that a manuscript will be embraced and published.

What is there to fear?  Wounded pride?  A dented ego?  Yes, but there’s really nothing to lose here.  So, the book or story never gets published—at least you tried.  But the story doesn’t end there.  You still have options—give up, resubmit elsewhere, edit the hell out of it and resubmit, or write something else.  There’s no dishonor in giving up.  You gave it your best shot and it didn’t work out.  Try something else.  Giving it a second shot means having to put in all that hard work again with the possible outcome of failure again.  But even if you sell the first book, you’ve got to write a second…and a third…and a fourth.  You’ll have this agony all over again.

Being afraid of submitting a manuscript is a real mistake.  The old saying about the only thing to fear is fear itself rings true here.  So, if you have a manuscript lurking in your bottom drawer that you’ve never sent out to anyone, then do it.  What’s the worst that could happen?

Stay scribbling,
Simon Wood

I’m A Turkey

Oh crap.  This post is going out on Thanksgiving.  No one is going to read this.  Everyone in the US is going to be tucked up with their families and a turducken.  This’ll be a real test of how many of you are out there are Murderati Simon fans or can’t stand another second of your family and need a distraction.  If you’ve ducked out for five minutes to read this, it’s time to sound off.  Post a message in the comment box so that I know who you are.

Ah, Thanksgiving.  It’s a time for Americans (and Canadians last month) to give thanks for what they have.  Supposedly, this American holiday is second to only to the reigning champ, Christmas.  It’s a biggie.

Not for me, it isn’t, though.  This is my eighth thanksgiving and I’ve yet to feel anything for it.  My friends go, “Yay, it’s Thanksgiving.”  Me, I go, “Yay, four-day weekend.”  I just haven’t latched on to the significance of it.  But I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t partake.  I’m quite keen on the big dinner and the boatload of desserts—except for pumpkin pie.  Pumpkin is not a fruit or a relation of chocolate.  Chucking all those spices in it does make it edible, but it’s all a delusion.  It’s vegetable pie.  It’s a lie like carrot cake.  So I shun you pumpkin pie, the Cuckoo amongst heaven-sent desserts.

I watch my American family and friends getting into the spirit and I feel very distant.  I know what it is to be a foreigner and an outsider to this culture.  I know the stories, history, the Macy’s parade, Dallas Cowboys football game and all that, but it’s just not my holiday.  I didn’t grow up with it, so it has no meaning—except for dessert.  I like dessert.  Did I mention that? 

It’s not that I’m trying to be a grinch type character who has nothing good to say and it’s not like I haven’t got anything to be thankful for.  It’s just that I just don’t connect with the celebration.  That might change over time.  The longer I’m here the more I will assimilate, but for now, I’m happy to eat more pie.  It’s a compromise, I know.

I will enjoy myself.  This year, I’m having Thanksgiving at a friend’s house, so it should be fun.

Well, tomorrow is a day off too.  I’ll be a loose end, so I’ll hit the stores.  I’m sure it won’t be busy.

Simon Wood
PS: I’ve been given an extra reason to be thankful, but I can’t tell you about it…not just yet.  Cruel, I know, but that’s me.   🙂

Superstitious–Me?

Except for avoiding the color green in all its guises, I’m not very superstitious.  I’ll walk under ladders, cross a black cat’s path and swim less than an hour after eating.  Daring, that’s me.  But I’m horrifically superstitious when it comes to writing.  I was like this when I raced cars.  Interchangeable parts weren’t interchangeable.  Once a wheel was used on the front right side, it always stayed on the front right side until it was replaced.  Rose joints got screwed into the same push rods.  Bolts held on the same pieces of suspension.  I labeled everything so it wouldn’t get mixed up.  I apply the same irrationalities to writing, but I feel I’ve gone the extra mile.  This “profession” has turned me into a neurotic basket case.  Writing is such a subjective world where there is no right and wrong that to tempt fate is folly.  Well, that’s my take on it anyway.

I feel the pressure of the writing gods on me daily.  They watch me all time and it doesn’t take much to tick them off and make them punish me with a rejection slip.  So I’m careful about what I do.

I don’t throw away my novel manuscripts.  Hold on a sec.  Julie’s telling me to tell the truth.  Okay, I don’t just not throw away the manuscripts, I don’t throw away the drafts, from the first to the last.  I do eventually, but not until the book is on the bookshelves in the stores.  Until then, I live in a tinderbox of potential so as not to tempt fate.  Now, this isn’t just an irrational fear.  Truly, it isn’t.  I have proof to back that one up.  Twice, not once, but twice, I’ve gathered up the manuscript, said to myself, “won’t be needing this again,” and tossed it in the recycle bin only to learn a few days later that the publisher has gone bust or decided not to publish.  My cockiness led to my downfall.  So now I don’t throw out my manuscripts.  As soon as I see my book safe and sound on a bookshelf, then I can release my manuscripts to recycle heaven.

Another thing I do is cross my fingers when I open emails and letters from editors and magazines.  Apparently, by crossing my fingers, the contents of the response will change.  Considering that my acceptance to rejection ratio is 1 to 5, this method isn’t that successful, but I have to look on the bright side.  My acceptance rate could be a lot worse if I didn’t cross my fingers.  Pick the bones out of that, Professor Stephen Hawking.

Combined with my finger crossing is a moment of prayer.  It goes along the lines of “don’t let this be a no,” then I open the envelope with my crossed fingers.  I think this prayer is the reason for the success of my finger crossing.

There’s a lot of anxiety in a writer’s life—well, there is mine, and most of it is self-inflicted—because the writing world is an unpredictable one.  Luck seems to feature in one’s success.  How many NY Times bestsellers were on the verge of giving up after a million rejections, but then gave it one more shot and everything changed?  Plenty.  Superstition is irrational, but so is writing.  It’s a crazy profession, so superstition is warranted, and you’ll forgive me if I hang on to mine.

Simon Wood

PS:  The cover "flats" and the galley arrived for Accidents Waiting to Happen arrived this week.  March doesn’t seem all that far away now.  🙂
PPS:  A non-fiction piece went to Mystery Scene magazine.  It’ll be out in Issue #99, April 2007.  I’ve been trying to crack their nut for awhile.

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