Thursday, November 17, 2016

Simon Wood gets his strange on

HALLIE EPHRON: SIMON WOOD likes to push the envelope. The one-time engineer and race-car driver moved to the US from the UK in 1988. He started writing to fill the time while waiting for his immigration paperwork to get processed and despite being dyslexic. From the get-go he's been a connoisseur of strange. DECEPTIVE PRACTICES is his thirteenth novel.

We're happy to have SIMON WOOD visiting today on JUNGLE RED, talking about writing the improbable and making it work.

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” ~Sherlock Holmes

I’m totally with Sherlock on this one…especially when it comes to the improbable.  I’m drawn to the weird, odd and bizarre.  I’m fascinated by the oddities in life that shouldn’t happen.  They appeal to my imaginative sensibilities.  Blame Roald Dahl and Rod Serling for making me believe in the crazy.  It’s the reason why I’m a rabid fan of the show BANSHEE but not LAW AND ORDERBANSHEE is crazy, intense and over the top and only works when the universe’s cosmic tumblers are off, whereas LAW AND ORDER is rooted in the now and the real, which makes it totally mundane to me (sorry Dick Wolf).  If I want mundane, I can pick up a newspaper or watch the evening news.  I want it weird.  I’m an escapist!  What can I say?

That’s why one criticism of my stories is that they push the limits of believability—and that’s true.  They do.  But for all that limit pushing, they don’t go outside the realm of the possible.  I go out of my way to pay attention to the strange happenings in the real world.   I think I have a fascination with the strange because I possess a small talent for calamity myself.  I have many firsthand accounts of how my life went off the rails.  One example was when I had a near fender bender on a roundabout which then developed into someone filing a fraudulent insurance claim against me.  That led to me being charged with half a dozen driving offenses and was topped off by the police handing me a confession they’d written for me to sign.  Seems unlikely, but it happened to meso things like this must happen to others.

I’ve discovered some tragic and cruel twists of fate such as a Sacramento motorcycle cop who responded to a fender bender caused by  an elderly man who pulled out of a turn and tee-boned a car.  The cop felt bad for the elderly man and let him off with a warning instead of citing him.  The following week, the same elderly man did the exact same thing at the same intersection.  This time he struck and killed the motorcycle cop who’d let him off.  The weird what-if game that plays out in your head after that is what inspires my stories.

Things like this have been the inspiration for several of my books.  The trading of life insurance on the living that is the backbone for ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN is a real thing.  Private security firms being involved with workplace violence claims, which is the foundation for TERMINATED, came from something that was happening with one of my wife’s employers.  The disturbing series of suicides in WE ALL FALL DOWN were inspired by similar ones that happened between coworkers in the UK in the 80’s.

With my current book, DECEPTIVE PRACTICES, things are a little different. The events in this novel don’t have a direct link to an actual event.  Instead, they are inspired by a way of thinking.  Namely, how can a seemingly mundane event get its strange on?  In DECEPTIVE PRACTICES, there is a company called Infidelity Limited.  They are the last ditch effort when it comes to marriage guidance counselors, especially when their pitch is: Do you have a cheating spouse?  Has counseling failed?  Want to get even with them?  Then hire Infidelity Limited to teach them a lesson…  They're a shadowy company that operates on a speakeasy premise and offers a bespoke service.  Tell them who’s done you wrong and they will beat some sense into them.  Olivia Shaw buys into their promises and hires them to even up the score with her husband when she discovers he’s cheating on her, but when he's killed, she discovers Infidelity Limited is far more dangerous than its advertising pitch.

It sounds a little wild but how many times have we read about spouses caught in police stings hiring hit men to kill their nearest and dearest?  Now the idea of a specialist firm that deals in cheating spouses doesn’t sound all that farfetched. ;)

I know this outlook might not be to everyone’s liking but if you’re willing to go off-piste and embrace the improbable, then I think you’ll enjoy the ride.

HALLIE: Sounds like I definitely would. Today's question: Fans of Roald Dahl and Rod Serling and Simon Wood, what makes a story that goes super-strange work for you?

Simon Wood is a California transplant from England. He's a former competitive racecar driver, a licensed pilot, an endurance cyclist, an animal rescuer and an occasional PI. He shares his world with his American wife, Julie. Their lives are dominated by a longhaired dachshund and four cats. He's the Anthony Award winning author of Working Stiffs, Accidents Waiting to Happen, Paying the Piper, Terminated, Asking For Trouble, We All Fall Down and the Aidy Westlake series. His current thriller THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY has been optioned for a movie adaptation. He also writes horror under the pen name of Simon Janus. Curious people can learn more at


  1. Since I’m a fan of both Rod Serling and Roald Dahl, I’m definitely checking out “Deceptive Practices.”
    I think the super-strange stories work when the improbable twist is a totally unexpected surprise to the reader and yet it makes sense within the framework of the story.

  2. Like Simon, I'm a fan of news of the wierd. Looking forward to Deceptive Practices.

  3. Wondering... Simon, are you watching Stranger Things??

  4. The odd has to be grounded in reality for this type of thing to work. Simon is a master at that, so I have no doubt that he will pull it off once again in the new book.

    Even if we look at the success of soap operas, they work because we buy into their world - not many of us have an evil twin, have returned from the dead, married the same person six times, or discover some long held family secret, but we are entertained, because most of this "could" happen.

    Another skilled writer working with the plausibly implausible is Sophie Hannah.

  5. Here, here Kristopher, I was trying to think how to say all that, but you did it for me:). The "could" is important or it's fantasy, right?

    I have to admit that Rod Serling scared me to death...

  6. Considering how strangely our most recent election played out, is there any "truth stranger than fiction" scenario that can't come true any more?

    At this point, suspended disbelief seems to be my default mode.

  7. I think Kristopher hit it - there has to be some element of "this is weird, but it MIGHT happen" for it to work.

    I'll be looking for your books, Simon. More for the ever-growing TBR pile.

  8. Oh, I LOVE Rod Serling. And yes, we have watched the first episode of Stranger Things, and I love it. I also love Timeless, even though it's silly.

    Remember the MIchael DOuglas movie THE GAME? That scared me for days. SO unsettling. I think the assessment of reality is an odd adventure. ONce you start believing that what seems real may not be--then anything goes.

    Like the guy (I read this is the paper so it must be true) who was so afraid of getting hit by a car that he stayed inside all the time--and then got stung by a wasp that had gotten into his house. Turned out he was allergic--and he died. So, Appointment in Samara, right?

    Simon, the motorcycle cop story is haunting me.

  9. THE GAME! I'd forgotten about that movie. They guy with the brother and the birthay present.... Very Bourne-ish

  10. Thanks for having me back, ladies. :-)

    Hank: I love THE GAME!! I read a state that over 1100 people died in auto wrecks who'd canceled flights after 9/11. If you think that cop story is weird, i'll have to tell you about my mum trying to get the death certificate proving my grandmother committed suicide. That's crazy weird.

    Thanks Kristopher. It is all about buying that what-if element. I must admit I'd love to work in the writers room at a soap opera for a week. :-)

    Hallie: I'm not watching STRANGER THINGS b/c I don't have Netflix but I will as it is my kind of thing.

    As Karen mentioned truth is proving to be stranger than fiction. I'm glad the Cosmos is coming around to my kind of thinking.
    Thanks everybody. I hope you like the book.

  11. That motorcycle story reminds me of the beginning of the film Magnolia, where they cite the story of Sir Edmund Godfrey, which is fraught with coincidence. Some of it is factually inaccurate, but it's still interesting.

  12. This post was fascinating, and I really look forward to adding Simon Wood and Simon Janus books to my TBR file ~

  13. My oldest sister used to watch the "Twilight Zone," and I remember finding it so scary as a kid! Can you watch it on demand? Does the creepy factor stand up to time or do the episodes seem cheesy? And Simon, I've never even heard of "Banshee." Is it really violent?

    On a side note, another commentator posted about her grammar and punctuation fear after Monday's post, and I have to agree. I'm feeling a lot of anxiety about my parentheses!

  14. Hi Simon!

    I'm laughing at Karen in Ohio's comment -- survival by suspension of disbelief, yep. :-) Perhaps that's why this past weekend I finally subscribed to Netflix and binge-watched STRANGER THINGS. Winona's crazy hand gesturing aside, I liked it.

    Simon, your anecdotes reminded me of a friend who was jogging, minding his own business, when he was almost hit by car making a right turn while he was in the crosswalk. A little yelling, he jogs on--but with the driver now following him in her car. She'd called the police and by the time they arrived she'd hit her head on the steering wheel hard enough to bleed. So, my friend finds himself on the wrong side of law, charged with assault, and having to settle with $$ out of court ... I wouldn't have believed this kind of thing could happen--but of course it does.

    Here's a question for you: Do you read any unusual sources to keep up on the weird and the improbable? Are there any particularly good websites?


  15. As a major fan of The Twilight Zone (watched it as a kid) and Roald Dahl, I am quite disappointed with myself that I haven't read your books, Simon. I will rectify that egregious error, I promise. The unusual and the bizarre fascinate me, but that plausibility is important, too. Deceptive Practices sounds like a great read. Thanks, Simon, for adding to my TBR pile. I think your latest book brings it to the ceiling.

  16. Ingrid: SyFy channel plays Twilight Zone quite often on & plays every episode back to back over new year's. Banshee was on CineMax and is sexy and violent. Think about a Nyquil dream coming alive. It ended this yr after 4 seasons.
    Lisa: Eeek, I know your friend's feeling. I was arrested for a dozen driving offenses by someone who wanted to scam the insurance for a new car. I toned down how crazy it got for HOT SEAT as no one would have believed it. I don't have a source for "strange." I just skim the news everyday and see what happens.
    Kathy: You're forgiven...for now...

  17. I love crazy weird. I was hooked on Twilight Zone as a kid. Some of those episodes scared the heck out of me. Stranger Things was great. Can't wait for the next season. I will have to check out Banshee. And I will certainly have to check out Simon Wood books. Thanks! These stories remind me of incidents where a criminal gets hurt by a resident defending his family and property. And the criminal sues him.

  18. Thanks for the info, Simon! "Banshee" may be too much for me, but I may have to check out the "Twilight Zone" marathon on New Year's.

  19. Pat D: there's plenty of weird out there...may it never find you other than in the pages of a book. :-0

  20. Simon, I love your twisty premises. And I'm haunted by the story of the motorcycle cop. I'm looking forward to Deceptive Practices, and putting Stranger Things on TBW list!

  21. Must admit in addition to writing for a soap opera...i'd love to write a lifetime TV movie... :-)