Friday, December 05, 2014

A Conversation with Crime Novelist E.J. Simon

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with E.J. Simon
with E.J. Simon

We are delighted to welcome author E.J. Simon to Omnimystery News today, courtesy of iRead Book Tours, which is coordinating his current book tour. We encourage you to visit all of the participating host sites; you can find his schedule here.

E.J.'s second thriller to feature brothers Alex and Michael Nicholas is Death Logs In (Simon/Zef Publishing; October 2014 hardcover, trade paperback and ebook formats) and we recently had the opportunity to spend some time with him about about the series.

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Omnimystery News: Introduce us to the Nicholas brothers. What is it about them that appeals to you as a writer?

E.J. Simon
Photo provided courtesy of
E.J. Simon

E.J. Simon: The main characters in both Death Never Sleeps and Death Logs In are two brothers, Alex and Michael Nicholas. Alex runs a major illegal gambling and loan sharking operation out of Queens, NY. He is a tough, colorful character — but with a good heart. His younger brother, Michael, is a straight-arrow corporate CEO living in suburban Connecticut.

Even though they love each other, they were never close. They were as different as any two people could be. Michael was the good son, Alex the black sheep — yet they were both highly successful in their chosen fields.

They both appeal to me and they represent my belief that underneath the lives we actually live — there is another one waiting. It is often circumstances and chance that cause us to live the lives we wind up living. In some cases, a chance encounter or a different opportunity presenting itself — is all it would take to change who we have become.

OMN: How have the characters changed between the events of the two books?

EJS: I try to retain a core of characters but strive to develop them over time, making mostly subtle but definite changes in their personality, character or simply how they act or react. I think this is also a fair representation of how real people evolve. In addition, most of us have dominant personality traits — but then also backup characteristics that we fall back upon, depending on the situation. It's that backup personality that allows a writer to create surprises in how characters react. In real life, the mild-mannered individual — may have a terrible temper in those rare situations when he losses it. The person — or writer's character — may not have actually changed but, under stress, simply fell back on to his back up personality trait. Of course many people do not change over time and, likewise, neither do some of my characters. But I do believe that having a major character change and evolve adds more texture to the story.

OMN: Into which genre would you place this series?

EJS: Crime thrillers. While the technology is the driving force of the concept, it is just a vehicle to tell the story. They are technological and psychological dramas wrapped inside traditional crime thrillers.

OMN: Give us a summary of Death Logs In in a tweet.

EJS: It's a story about a man who duplicates himself on a computer — just before he's murdered.

OMN: How much of your own personal experience have you included in your books?

EJS: Nearly all of the characters in my books are based upon real people. Some of the events are also real but the murders — generally — aren't. I grew up surrounded by colorful, sometimes dangerous — but always interesting and unique individuals. They have provided the fabric of my stories — and my life.

OMN: Describe your writing process.

EJS: I begin by thinking and using my imagination. Then I sit down, write and map out a very detailed outline. It's my roadmap for the book. I then write, beginning at the beginning, usually (although not always) in the order of the story. Often, I don't get very far before something comes up in a scene and I realize that, despite my outline, this character wouldn't react the way the outline would dictate. So — I change it — and the character in question acts the way that seems natural. This usually requires changes to the outline, if not beginning a chain reaction sending the whole story into a different direction. It's not much different though than our lives. We think we have things mapped out for ourselves — and life and circumstances dictate something different and so our whole life's path takes a different course. If there's a God, it must drive Him or Her crazy.

OMN: And where do you usually find yourself writing?

EJS: I write in two situations or places. Mostly, I'm in my mahogany walled personal library in my home in Connecticut which is filled with a few thousand books. I'm also surrounded by objects that have importance in my life — a piece of Greek marble my mother bought me at the 1964 Worlds Fair, family photos, pictures or models of my favorite cars, ashtrays I stole over the years from my favorite hotels or restaurants in Paris.

Across the room, under glass is a large scale model of the Titanic. It reminds me that nothing is fool proof, things sink, and life is short.

On the walls are signed photographs by prominent photographers. I have a large Harry Benson image of President Kennedy and Charles De Gaulle in Paris, Annie Leibovitz's photograph of Keith Richards in his own library, and an Ellen von Unwerth shot of a woman in a Paris bar.

In my library, I also have a jukebox that my wife gave to me for my birthday. I'll play appropriate music, depending on what type of scene I'm writing. Often it's music from The Godfather or an Alfred Hitchcock movie. A lot of movie themes, classical music and rock and roll.

Usually, my dog is half asleep on the couch, keeping his eye on me, just in case I move toward his package of snacks.

I adjust the dimmers on the lighting, also depending on what type of chapter I'm involved in.

I write on an Apple desktop. It's a beautiful machine.

If it's late afternoon — say around 5:00, I'll pour myself a glass of wine in a nice glass. It makes the wine taste better and it looks good. I'm not sure if the wine helps my writing.

I'm in another world.

OMN: How do you go about researching and fact-checking your stories?

EJS: Since my books are fiction, I don't have to do a lot of fact-checking. I do try and be accurate, however, when it comes to certain scenes in restaurants or locations. Even then, often I purposely want to manipulate the scene. Usually my restaurant information, menus, dishes and wines are pretty accurate. They are all based on first-hand and often repeated experiences. Occasionally, if I'm in a restaurant and I see someone else's dish that I wish I had ordered, I'll include it in a chapter and have one of the characters order it so I can experience what I missed.

The most interesting research for me is looking at technology. Five years ago, when I began writing, I tried to stay abreast of the most leading edge of what was happening in terms of surveillance, eavesdropping, artificial intelligence, and the potential applications of technology in our lives. So much of what seemed to be futuristic and still years away — came into daily use, sometimes in a matter of months.

Edward Snowden's NSA revelations — and what we know our own and other governments are capable of — make George Orwell's 1984 look like a Dick and Jane reader. Maybe even worse, some of these same surveillance techniques are being used by private individuals and corporations. Everything we do can be seen by others. Perhaps the good side of that is, we are never alone.

OMN: Tell us more about the settings of your books.

EJS: My books are always set in real places — places I have been to, usually quite often so I'm very familiar with them. My stories include many scenes that take place in restaurants and in interesting places.

I believe that dinners are the setting for some of our most memorable experiences. It's where we watch our parents interact. It's where we learn. It's often where we hear about some of the most important events in our lives: people who are ill or dying, others who are marrying or having a baby. We learn about marriage plans — and divorces. I also believe that readers want to travel and enjoy doing so in books. It helps entertain and lighten what could otherwise be "heavier" stories.

I like to move the story around geographically. Typically, my books move from New York City, or even Queens — and then to Paris, London, Rome, Florence and Saint Tropez.

With the exception of one restaurant — each one is real (even in that one exception, everything was authentic except I changed the name to protect some people). The meals I describe in each one are also real. I've had each one, just as I describe it. Same thing with the wine or drinks. It's a tough life.

I do, however, play with the time frames. Everything may be accurate — the food, the place, the drink — except the restaurant may have existed years earlier and closed (in a few cases, anyway) years before the story takes place in the book. Sometimes the restaurant has a special meaning for me — and this is one way that I keep it going even though it's gone.

OMN: We know you're a world traveler, but if we could send you somewhere, all expenses paid, to research the setting for a book, where would it be?

EJS: I would travel to where I already travel: France, Italy, the UK, throughout the US. I would, however, add Greece and spend a three or four months living in luxury on many of the Greek Islands. My parents were both born in Greece, it's my heritage. Strangely, it's filled with memories for me — even though I've never been there. I've been saving it for dessert.

OMN: What are some of your outside interests? Have any of these found their way into your books?

EJS: My "other" interests include collecting modern art and photography. I also love baseball, and I enjoy food, traveling and restaurants.

All of these find their way into my books. I have a murder scene in Yankee Stadium, it actually spills over onto the playing field in the middle of a Boston Red Sox and Yankee game.

In Death Never Sleeps, the protagonist is kidnapped outside the prominent Staley-Wise Gallery in Soho (NYC) where I purchase many of my photographs.

Both Death Never Sleeps and Death Logs In are filled with chapters and scenes inside restaurants around the world — Manhattan, Paris, Saint Paul deVence, Saint Tropez, Rome, Florence, Chicago, Beverly Hills, Newport, and, my home town, Westport, CT.

OMN: What is the best advice — and harshest criticism — you've received as an author? And what might you say to aspiring writers?

EJS: The best advice I received as an author came from Stephen King: read a lot. And I do. I always read a lot of nonfiction — history, business, biographies. Now I read more fiction and I watch what the author is doing. If you don't read you probably won't be able to write.

The harshest criticism I received was from a relative who told me to be sure not to give up my day job. I did anyway.

For aspiring authors, I'd recommend reading Stephen King's classic, On Writing — it's even better than his novels.

OMN: You mentioned that you read a lot. What kinds of books appeal to you?

EJS: I read a lot of history — usually about WWII in Europe, particularly France and the German Occupation and the French Resistance. I also read extensively about my two favorite US presidents, Jefferson and John F. Kennedy. I loved Kennedy's Profiles in Courage as a child.

My favorite book, however, is Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Frankl was a holocaust survivor who became a prominent professor of psychiatry and neurology. He writes about the importance of discovering meaning in our lives — and how important that is to our happiness and survival.

When it comes to entertainment in books — I read a lot of Stuart Woods and love his Stone Barrington novels and character. I also read all of Dan Brown and Dan Silva's works.

When it comes to reading fiction, I like books that move quickly, take place in parts of the world I enjoy and have characters that I may wish I could be in another life. Oh, I almost forgot, I also love Ian Fleming's works, the ones featuring James Bond.

OMN: What kinds of films do you enjoy watching? And have any inspired how and what you write today?

EJS: My inspiration came from two of my favorite movies: The Godfather and 2001: A Space Odyssey, two movies with nothing in common. But they both touched on the themes that have interested me for many years. 2001: A Space Odyssey introduced me to the idea that computers might one day replicate man; and The Godfather drew me in with its treatment of sibling relationships. I was fascinated with the stark contrast — at least initially — between Michael and Sonny. I also loved Francis Ford Coppola's realistic treatment of murder — and how it really looks. There are currents from these two movies in both of my books.

OMN: Suppose your mystery series were to be adapted for television or film. Who do you see playing the key roles?

EJS: My first choice for Alex Nicholas would have been James Gandolfino. Since he passed away, my choice would be Charles Palminteri and, of course, Robert DiNero. Michael Nicholas could be played by Matt Damon, Ben Affleck or Johnny Depp.

Felicity Huffman would be a perfect fit for Michael's wife, Samantha. Alex's last wife, Donna, could be Michelle Pfiffer. Edie Falco should play Greta, Alex's crazed second wife.

The antagonist, Joseph Sharkey, must be played by Christopher Walken. Sindy Steele would be a perfect fit for Angelina Jolie or Halle Berry.

Finally, the movie or television series should be directed by Sofia Coppola. I hope she's reading this.

OMN: What's next for you?

EJS: I am in the middle of writing my third novel, Death Logs Out. I'm also coauthoring a true-crime book with the former Stamford, Connecticut undercover detective Vito Colluci, Jr. about the Martha Moxley murder and Kennedy cousin, Michael Skakel.

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E.J. Simon Book Tour

E.J. Simon was the CEO of GMAC Global Relocation Services (a division of GM) and the Managing Director of Douglas Elliman, the largest real estate company in NY. He is a consultant to many leading private equity firms and has held senior level positions at prominent financial services companies. He is a world traveler, food enthusiast and lives in Connecticut.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at EJSimon.com and his author page on Goodreads, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Death Logs In by E.J. Simon

Death Logs In
E.J. Simon
An Alex and Michael Nicholas Mystery

Some of the most powerful people in the world want to kill Michael Nicholas. Only his brother, Alex can save him — the problem is that Alex is dead.

It's been almost a year since Alex Nicholas, a Queens based underworld Boss, was gunned down. After Alex's brutal murder, Michael inherited not only his brother's business — but his enemies. Michael is now a key player in a world he once feared. By day, he is the head of a Fortune 500 company by night, the CEO of Tartarus, one of the worlds largest illegal gambling operations.

Before his death, Alex invested heavily in breakthrough artificial intelligence software so that he could live forever. It worked. In his virtual form, Alex can communicate with Michael and monitor information — and people — in ways the NSA would envy.

It is Alex who discovers Michael's life is in danger. He detects plots that reach from the darkest corners of Queens, to the highest officials in the Vatican — and they all want Michael dead.

Michael is now in a race to save his life, but he is never alone — Alex is there to help him navigate through this maze of life and death. Also protecting Michael from the forces closing in around him is Sindy Steele, a beautiful — and lethal bodyguard.

How far is Michael willing to go to save his own life — and that of his family? Guided only by a familiar face on a computer screen, will the information Alex discovers allow Michael to go from being the hunted to the hunter?

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