I didn't realize when I started writing my first interview that I would be so interested in the results. Finding out how other writers go about getting to a final draft has been enlightening and a wonderful experience overall. The inspirational story of 'Paying the Piper' author Simon Wood brought to light that a true dedication can overcome all. I'd like to sincerely thank Simon and his wonderful wife for all the time and effort put into this interview.
KLR - When did you first discover your love for writing?
Simon Wood - I don't know if I have a love of writing as much as a desire to tell stories. It didn't really begin until I first came to the US ten years ago. Before then, my career got in the way of me even entertaining the idea of writing. Now I wish I'd done it earlier.
KLR - Reading your biography I saw you suffer from dyslexia. How does your dyslexia present itself to you? As I understand it dyslexia is a mixing of letters when reading, does this effect the way that you write?
Simon Wood – Dyslexia presents itself in a number of ways. Besides the mixing of words and letters, it's not knowing left from right, and not recognizing similar shapes (not seeing the wood from the trees). Essentially, I can't see words on a page. It's all a blur of unfamiliar shapes. This is because my eyes don't follow a line of text. My gaze wants to take in everything at once and instead, I take in nothing. These are some of the issues that I and other dyslexics have.
KLR - What obstacles did this create for you as a writer and how did you overcome them?
Simon Wood - Obviously, I didn't do very well in school, so I had to learn the basics of grammar and composition. I bought books on writing and structure and my wife read them out to me. My dyslexia means I can't reliably read my own work, so my wife works closely with me. She reads my work aloud so that I can edit my stuff.
KLR - Was there a particular grammar or structure book that you feel helped you the most?
Simon Wood - I liked Sharon Sorenson's HOW TO WRITE SHORT STORIES. I think it's a very helpful book for beginners and it covers writing in a narrative style, as well as understanding composition and grammar. It's in its 4th edition now.
I also used THE MARSHALL PLAN by Evan Marshall. It's a very helpful for how to structure a novel.
KLR - When you were first published did you have an agent? How did you make your first sale?
Simon Wood - No, I didn't have an agent when I made my first sale, which was to a magazine. I built a bit of a reputation as a short story writer first. My first sale was a short-short horror tale I sold to a Roswell based Sci-Fi magazine. Actually, I've sold all my books myself, although I do have an agent now. I've either pitched my books to the editors directly through people I've met, or, as in the case of my first NYC contract, pitched directly to the editor
KLR - Seeing your multiple short stories in print in magazines, anthologies and on the internet, I wanted to ask which of these venues you prefer.
Simon Wood - I prefer the one that pays the most. J
Seriously, though, I don't really have a preference. I think I'm lured by the publication itself. There are some anthologies, magazines and websites that I'd give my right arm to grace their pages.
KLR – Especially in the case of your short stories, how do you decide where to submit your work?
Simon Wood - A lot of it is keeping my ear to the ground. I'm a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society which is a Yahoo group. Their website http://www.shortmystery.net/ lists markets, but members on the online group usually announce their sales so I usually check the venues out to see if I can submit something to them. I write in other genres, so I also use places like Ralan.com, which is a great resource for sci-fi, fantasy & horror.
KLR - It seems unusual for a thriller/mystery writer to publish a collection of short stories such as in Working Stiffs, did you find that hard to sell?
Simon Wood - Yes, collections are tough. I knocked on every door I thought would be interested. The people who published Working Stiffs didn't actually accept the collection I was trying to sell them. They'd read something else of mine and asked if I could write a themed collection and I said yes. I'm still shopping the collection I'd started with…
KLR - Do you prefer to write in the novel or short story length?
Simon Wood – I don't really have a preference. Instinctively, I know whether the idea in my head is going to be a short story or a novel. Passion for the piece comes first. The length is secondary.
KLR - What drew you to the horror/mystery/thriller genres?
Simon Wood - I grew up reading horror and crime stories. These genres fed my imagination. Naturally, these are the stories I want to tell.
KLR - Now, most writers actually get a ton of those lovely form rejection letters before they get their first acceptance, what was it like to sell your first story?
Simon Wood - A shock. I read the acceptance letter a few times, then got my wife to read it and asked her, “where was the rejection?”
KLR - Do you have a favorite out of the books that you have written?
Simon Wood - Now you're asking me to choose between my children. That's no fair. But if you're twisting my arm…I'd have to say Paying the Piper and “The Fall Guy” from Working Stiffs.
KLR - I see that you have a new book entitled We All Fall Down expected out this July, can you tell us a little bit about it?
Simon Wood - It's inspired by several news stories. The primary one was where several coworkers all committed suicide. In We All Fall Down, a young engineer joins an engineering firm to help a design firm with a high profile project. Just as he joins, his colleagues start committing suicide. When the protagonist's friend kills himself he begins to investigate. It's a story about secrets and the lies people are told.
KLR - Where do you find the inspiration for your writing?
Simon Wood - News stories, the things people say, past experiences. I'll steal anything for a story.
KLR - Is there a particular reason for the occupations of the protagonists in your books? If so, how do you choose them?
Simon Wood - I guess there is. My stories are born out of compromising situations. The occupations the characters have are related to situations in the story. For Paying the Piper, Scott Fleetwood was a reporter because his job created the conflict in the story.
KLR - Do you use an outline when writing? Do you also use the same process when writing your short stories?
Simon Wood - Yes, I outline. I construct a spreadsheet for each of my books. I detail the scenes in bullet points and categorize by protagonist, antagonist, plot or subplot. It sounds complicated but it helps me think the stories through. But I don't do this for short stories. It's all from the hop there.
KLR – We have many members of our group that are taking a pacing class currently. One of the main focus' of the class is that in genre writing there need to be a lot of hooks to keep a reader turning the pages. In your case, do you consciously go through your manuscript and add hooks at critical places?
Simon Wood – Yes, I'm very calculated about creating tension and pace through hooks and cliffhangers. Mysteries and thrillers require strong structure because of the nature of the genre. The readers expect intrigue, twists, thrills and ultimately, a payoff. But pace isn't just about hooks. Pace comes from scene length too. I try to keep all my scenes approximately the same length, varying by 200 words or so. There are no 20-page scenes followed by three 5-page ones, then a 10-page scene. The story moves at a steady clip until it reaches the climax. Then the scenes shorten. More happens in fewer pages. Suddenly, the reader is not only feeling forward motion, but acceleration.
KLR - I think everyone has a different method when it comes to editing their work, can you describe your editing process?
Simon Wood - I'm an engineer by trade and I take a machinist's approach to editing. I write the first draft and don't worry about how good or bad it is. Then I take sweep after sweep at the whole story, refining it with each pass.
KLR - I see that your books all stand alone, have you had any pressure to create a series?
Simon Wood - Not really. Agents tend to ask if the standalone can become a series. That said, I am working on a series, because I have a character in mind that is dear to my heart.
KLR - Just out of curiosity, how long does it take you to complete a book from start to finish?
Simon Wood - Usually about 6 months.
KLR - You said it takes about six months for you to complete a book from start to finish, about how much of that time do you think is spent on the first draft?
Simon Wood - A 1st draft takes around 10 weeks. I hope to get it down to 8 weeks soon.
KLR - What is your favorite part of writing your books? The character development? The plot development? The bad guy? The editing?
Simon Wood - The first draft. I'm just excited to explore the idea.
KLR - Is there anything that you learned about writing in the past that you wished you had known when you started?
Simon Wood - Just to be smarter with my business decisions. If I had been, I would be a couple of years ahead of where I am now. Also, I wish I hadn't been so shy in the beginning. I didn't tell anyone I was writing until I had my first book published. I've learnt so much from others.
KLR - What kind of business decisions would you be talking about? Is it where you published? How you published? Or just the things that you did in particular? Is this something you could share with other writers?
Simon Wood - Mainly avoiding novice mistakes, such as understanding how the publishing industry works, understanding contracts, and knowing people's reputations. I never dropped any major clangers but if I'd understood contracts a little better, I would have had the rights to some of my stories back earlier. Also, I undervalued my work at the beginning, so I aimed low when I subbed stories. I know this cost me a very lucrative contract about 5yrs ago.
My big advice to writers is to understand the business side of publishing. If you're a plumber or lawyer, you are aware of your competitors, clients, etc. The same is true of publishing. You need to know who the good agents are, who the editors are out there and what the latest developments are in publishing. Who is coming out with a new imprint? Writers need to stay current.
KLR - What kinds of things did you learn from other writers?
Simon Wood - Meeting other writers teaches you things directly and indirectly. You see how they conduct themselves in public. They've provided me invaluable advice on all manner of subjects. Also, they've offered to give introductions to editors and agents. The list is endless.
KLR - Who are your favorite authors and biggest literary influences?
Simon Wood - Too many to name, really. My primary people are James Herbert, Reginald Hill, Raymond Chandler, Lawrence Block, Jack Higgins, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain and Harlan Coben. Alfred Hitchcock is my biggest influence though.
KLR - What is the best advice that you have ever received regarding writing?
Simon Wood - Write.Revise.Submit.Repeat.
KLR - Are you a part of any writing groups? If so, do you find them helpful?
Simon Wood - Not really. I work very closely with my wife. She's my sounding board and first editor. That said, I do seek the advice of several writers when I have problems.
KLR - And now for the question that I like to end with, what would your ideal writing day be like?
Simon Wood - When I can write 5,000 words without thinking and the Today show asks me back for another interview.
Anyone interested in reading more about Simon or in getting more information about his books can check out his website at www.SimonWood.net. Be sure to check out his next book, We All Fall Down from Dorchester 's Leisure Books due out, July 2008.