I was recently introduced to the writing of Simon Wood (or was it Simon Janus?!) via a visionary, intense and unique novella called The Scrubs (to be released in July, 2008 by Bad Moon Books). Having burned through the pages in one sitting, I felt compelled to look for other novels and stories by the man, and happily, I found both Accidents Waiting To Happen and Paying The Piper, as well as a number of excellent short stories. Having devoured all of these, I was about to dive into Working Stiffs, yet another Wood novel, when I had to stop to do this interview. Mr. Wood is one of those rare, very talented writers who can write successfully in more than one genre, and who has the ability to bring his readers with him across any so-called "genre barrier," real or imagined. His latest novel, We All Fall Down, will be published in July, 2008 by Leisure Books. I caught up with Mr. Wood/Janus recently to discuss his growing body of work in both the Horror and Thriller/Mystery genres:
You are known as both a Thriller and Mystery writer, as Simon Wood, and a horror writer, as Simon Janus. Do you ever begin a story or novel thinking it will fit in one genre, and when the story is finished it feels a bit like it belongs in the other?
No, I usually have a clear idea way ahead of writing the story whether it is going to be a horror or thriller story. That said, I have written some short stories that do cross the boundaries and could easily be seen as both.
Do you write more than one story or novel at a time? If so, do you ever feel a bit like Jekyll/Hyde when switching from say, a mystery to something a lot more visceral like The Scrubs?
Yes, I'm usually writing several things at once and in several genres at once. I don't know if I have a Jekyll/Hyde thing going on, but I must admit I do have to take a break between projects just to clear my mind of the story for a while before I can change gears. I usually go off and do something dangerous like take the dog for a walk or mow the lawn or do some laundry to draw a line between being a horror writer and a thriller writer. It works most of the time, I think.
Tell us a little bit about The Scrubs), which I understand is being published by Bad Moon Books this summer.
The whole thing came from the real life prison, Wormwood Scrubs. I stopped thinking about the name as a place and instead started thinking about the words themselves. Why call a place Wormwood Scrubs? There are a lot of oddly named places in England and they had some reason for their naming. I had a vision of this scrub of wormwood before the prison was built. I knew wormwood was potentially poisonous and hallucinogenic and thought that wouldn't be a great place to build a prison if the wormwood had leached into the foundations. And that was the origin of the story. I came up with this mythology for the prison and began inventing people to reside there. Being a prison, it was a great location for keeping secrets as well as inmates. I asked myself what kind of terrible truth could be hidden there. I have a hankering for damaged heroes, so Keeler was the foil to expose the secrets inside The Scrubs. It was supposed to be a short story, but as I was writing the piece, it needed to be longer, and it kept getting bigger and bigger. I have to admit I can't give you an answer as to why the world beyond The Scrubs is so bizarre filled with striking images and the weirdest characters. It just seemed right. My wife says it's the most visually stunning thing I've written. I think I just got caught up in this imaginary world not confined by rules or physical laws. Here you go.
Accidents Waiting To Happen could easily have been published as a horror novel; it has many elements of some of the best horror being written today. Suspense, murder-for-hire being attempted in unique ways, and very well developed characters, to name a few. However, these attributes are frequently found in the best thrillers and mysteries as well. Do you see a blurring of the lines between these genres to some degree in what we sometimes collectively call 'suspense fiction'?
I don't know. I see Accidents Waiting To Happen as a very conventional suspense thriller. The hero has his back against the wall and there are way too many problems to solve. But I have to admit that some readers remarked that it is a very scary story and couldn't read it all because it seems far too real. For me, that's what makes it a thriller. The story has its roots in the real and accessible world. Conversely, my horror stories take an additional leap of reality. They're believable but they go beyond what exists in the real world. Thrillers and horror stories do walk a parallel line when it comes to the reader in that they provoke an emotional response and get the reader's heart racing. I want my readers to sweat.
Paying The Piper is another of your books that defies pigeonholing. Its pacing and twists are reminiscent of a good mystery, but the sheer horror felt by the father of the kidnapped children would chill the spine of any parent. Do you consciously set out to frighten the reader a bit no matter what genre you are writing for?
I think this is so. I write about the everyman, so it's very accessible to the reader. They aren't reading about government spies trying to save the world; they're reading about people like them in situations like them so the perils I put my heroes through strike a chord. They can see themselves being dragged into these real life issues. That's what makes it scary.
Your characters are known for being human, i.e., they usually have a past, or have done something they are not very proud of. Do you feel characters are more realistic if they are a bit sinful or have feet of clay?
I think characters are more realistic if they have a bit of dirt on their shoes. No one is whiter than white, but more importantly, if these characters did the right thing all the time, there'd be no story. It would end on page one. I think it's far more interesting to see a character learn the error of their ways or make up for their past infractions. Redemption is a beautiful thing.
In Paying the Piper and The Scrubs, we see a man tortured by his own actions, which have placed him where he is today, giving of himself for the ultimate benefit of another. This also seems to be a recurring theme in your work; Josh for his family in Accidents Waiting To Happen and Scott for his children in Paying The Piper . Do you find it easier to write characters that your readers will care about if they have both good and somewhat evil sides?
I think I'm intrigued by downfalls. Things have gone wrong in my life and I've witnessed it in others. Those downfalls were not always the product of someone openly doing something bad. People get themselves into situations which prove difficult to resolve. To me, that makes these people human, and puts them in context against the truly evil people in my stories. The good guys know their mistake and seek redemption. The bad ones don't. I certainly like writing about flawed heroes, but I'm not sure everyone likes reading about them. Sometimes, readers think my heroes deserve all they get and a little bit more.
Your next novel, We All Fall Down , is due to be published in July by Leisure books under its Thriller imprint. What can you tell us about this one?
It's about a young engineer who joins a company where several of the employees have committed suicide after claiming they've done something terrible. I took the idea from a string of suicides that happened in the UK in the 80's. No one ever put their finger on the reason for the suicides, so I've come up with my own theory.
As a thriller/mystery writer, who were your biggest influences? Who do you like to read now?
I'm a big fan of James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Robert Crais, Reginald Hill, Jeffery Deaver, David Morrell, Barbara Vine, Lawrence Block. I could keep going, but my biggest influence is Hitchcock. I love his movies and his movies introduced me to a bunch of writers through his various screen adaptations. Out of everybody, I certainly blame Hitchcock most for my fictional outlook.
As a horror writer, what is on the horizon for Simon Janus? What kind of horror novel is he interested in exploring?
The Scrubs is going to be a trilogy, so I'm working on the second installment, Scrubbers. I'm also working on another novella which I hope will be in publication soon. I'm very pleased how this story has developed into something I hope people will find quite interesting. I do have some Janus novel projects lined up. These deal with ordinary people being sucked into some extraordinary worlds. I'm also developing something which I hope will turn into a series of horror novels which will turn some conventional horror themes on their heads. Well, that's the aim anyway.