Thursday, May 27, 2010

Catching Stories That Fall Through The Cracks

By Simon Wood

I like basing my fiction on real events, but headline stories rarely inspire me. They're too public. Too visible. The public is keenly aware of them and by the time they make it into fiction they're blasé. I’m always mining for stories featuring life’s oddities that fly so low under the radar we miss them. The unusual business of buying and selling other people’s life insurance policies was the inspiration for ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN. The suicides of three coworkers sparked WE ALL FALL DOWN.

The odd and obscure play a part in my latest book, TERMINATED, which focuses on workplace violence. In the USA, twenty people will die this week at their place of work at the hands of a violent act. That’s right—twenty people. Some will die as the result of a killer entering a place of work while the others will fall prey to a violent coworker. Either way, that’s a scary statistic. I’m quite glad I work from home where the greatest threat to me is a green cheese sandwich at the back of the fridge that I’ve been too afraid to dispose of.

That statistic wasn’t the inspiration for the book. Instead, the precautions some firms are taking to combat workplace violence is what grabbed my attention. Some firms are employing private security companies to investigate, avert and defuse threats from violent employees. The reason for this is simple—the cost. When you tot up the cost of lawsuits, rehiring, loss of productivity, not to mention the harm done to employees, private security firms are quite a cost effective solution to a potentially dangerous outcome. I couldn’t ignore this wild situation. It had novel written all over it.

And because I’m a devious little so and so, I wasn’t interested in exploring how industry is involving private security firms in their daily affairs (and it has nothing to do with no one willing to talk to me about it). I’m sure I could make a fun story about private security operatives going all out to protect a threatened employee. No, I was more interested in how the best-laid plans can be meant to protect us, but at the end of the day, the only person who can save us is ourselves.

So in TERMINATED, Gwen is the rising star at her firm, but her employee, Stephen Tarbell resents her success along with everything else others achieve in this world. What makes Gwen the focus of Tarbell’s ire is a poor rating on his performance evaluation. The systems in place to protect Gwen fail, forcing her to take matters into her own hands. While this might seem like a minor thing to take umbrage over, it’s not. My research into workplace violence uncovered amazing motives why some coworkers have come to blows. All I can say is watch what you say to the person in the next cubicle. Think about that when you send a snotty email to the guy that snatched your tuna on rye from the staff lunchroom.

So TERMINATED is in the bag and I’m in search of another quirky news story for my next book—and I think I’ve found one. What would you do to keep a wayward spouse in line—and how much would you pay?

Yours with my arms out for the next story to fall,

Simon Wood

ROBERTA: Thanks for a look into your devious mind today Simon! Simon is the Anthony Award winning author of Working Stiffs, Accidents Waiting to Happen, Paying the Piper and We All Fall Down. As Simon Janus, he's the author of The Scrubs and Road Rash. His latest thriller, Terminated, is out in mass paperback. He's standing by for comments and questions!


  1. Hi Simon. I agree that ripped from the headlines is not as much fun as ripped from the back pages or the archives. What a statistic on workplace violence - so percentage wise you're much more likely to have a co-worker who loses it than to have an encounrer with a serial killer. That cheese sandwich is starting to sound good.

  2. Thanks for having me ladies.

    Rosemary, I like you spin on things. Nothing like turning scream upside down. :-)

  3. Hey Simon!Yup, the office can be scary--it's such a hotbed of cubicle animosity.
    There are certainly some folks around my office who I'm a little wary of from time to time. The nasty-note leavers, and the ones who steal food. And the ones with millons of shoes under their desks, or they ones who never turn on their office lights. (Won't none of them be missed..)

    But when a co-worker today suggested I re-organize my videotape library, I must say some revenge fantasies began to brew..

    What always delights/shocks/surprises/annoys me though--is when I think I've created something new and wonderful, and then I read a very similar story in the paper. Drives me crazy!

  4. Great post, Simon, and close to home. It's only been a couple of years since the murder-suicide at Johnson Space Center, where I work. That was tragic.

    Always interesting to hear where folks' nuggets of inspiration originate. Congratulations on the new release!

  5. Hi Hank,

    You said: "What always delights/shocks/surprises/annoys me though--is when I think I've created something new and wonderful, and then I read a very similar story in the paper."

    I must admit I almost a cow when I discovered the Marta Bradley and Alan Chmurny case which had several similiarities to the book, but was even bizarrer. The source for the book came from an incident a lot closer to home.

    Rachel, I'd forgotten all about that. I should have used that as a reference.

  6. Welcome, Simon. I love the way your devious mind finds quirky stories.

  7. Interesting seeing how Simon finds his ideas. There are so many good stories just waiting to be taken and given that special touch. Thanks for sharing this.

  8. The new book sounds great, Simon! Having worked in the cubicle environment for too many years, I can attest to its being a fertile breeding ground for all sorts of animosities. It's kind of like putting rats too close together in a maze. (I even used it in a short story, but the anthology isn't out yet (Guppy anthology).) I love seeing where your ideas come from!