A jock right up through high school, far more comfortable on the hoop or tennis court than in the classroom, Simmy was in love with this dark-haired, blue-eyed beauty. But she had no interest in athletics and so little interest in him.
So what did he do to make an impression? He wrote her a poem. Or rather, he wrote down the lyrics to the old Crosby, Stills & Nash tune, Suite: Judy Blue Eyes and handed them to her with his name on top.
I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are…
She swooned. And in that swoon he discovered the power of the written word. The man has been scribbling ever since…
I’ve known Simmy a long time. I first knew him during our undergraduate days in Ithaca. He was a wild man: mercurial, noisy, as independent as a male lion on the Serengeti. I was drawn to him because he was everything I was not.
Our acquaintance has ebbed and flowed over the years. We’ve been fast buds and then gone long stretches without communicating a word. He is a man who lives as much in the moment as anyone I’ve ever known, so drop out of sight and you drop out of mind.
I am a doctor and philosopher, not really a reader of fiction (Simmy insists it’s all fiction), but I have taken a great interest in my old friend’s work over the years. When I found out he was finally going to offer all of his unpublished works, I contacted him and asked if I might write a few introductory remarks.
I’ve seen now the dozen titles he intends to publish in the spring of this year (2014). I’ve also perused the half dozen titles he is still writing and editing. As a man who will need many hours and days to write these brief pages, I am daunted by the quality, the quantity, and the sheer diversity of his work.
He has always maintained it comes easily; I find that difficult to believe.
Between 1992 and 2001 Simmy published seven novels–four character-driven literary works with Warner Books and three psychological thrillers with Bantam Books. It was a glorious but brutal run. By the dawn of the new millennium he was pretty well burned out.
He was also disillusioned and discouraged. The publication of his first novel, This Way Madness Lies, was the fulfillment of a life-long dream. The publication of his second novel, The Gypsy Storyteller, was also exhilarating and extremely satisfying. The reviews were phenomenal, the sales above expectation. He was, I recall, for a short time, the toast of the town.
Publishing his work never got any better than that. The money got better, especially over at Bantam. But the process of publishing became a drag. The books became product, another consumable. Pressure quickly mounted to write the same book again and again, different, of course, but essentially the same. Consumers buy the same detergent, the same spaghetti sauce, and the same novels over and over.
That didn’t much interest him.
So what did he do?
He bowed out. Partly because he was ticked off and partly because he was fried after writing seven fat novels in less than ten years. The guy needed a break.
I’m pretty tired… I think I’ll go home now.
The break lasted maybe a week. Or less. Writers write. Especially this one. I’ve made a few trips with this guy over the years. Spent a lot of time with him out on an island in the middle of the St. Lawrence Seaway. He scribbles all the time. You can be sitting out on the porch at the end of the day, sipping a scotch and water, watching the sunset, talking about the smallmouth bass that got away or maybe about rewriting the New Testament with a female God, Simmy participating in every nuance of the splendor, but then you look over and there he is, multitasking, scribbling away on a scrap of paper or on the back of an envelope.
Simmy has always had far flung interests: travel, music, history, architecture, philosophy, photography, fitness, food, technology; and now, for the first time in a long time, all his contracts fulfilled, he was free to write anything he wanted. And really that’s what he’s been doing for the past dozen years. Researching this, investigating that, traveling to this country, living in that country, finally getting married, having a brood of kids.
Technically, a brood is a litter of birds,
but I’m sure you get the idea.
And writing and writing. More than a dozen new novels, some finished, some still in need of an edit, some still searching for an ending.
In 2014 and 2015 Simmy will publish, through this website, all of his previously published novels and at least ten of the novels he’s been working on since the early days of the 21st century.
I find this very cool, an exciting and extraordinary publishing event. Modern technology is giving my old bud the tools necessary to bring his work to the reading public without the need, and often times the limitations, of a large, mainstream publishing house that eats authors for breakfast and often spits them out before dinner. Big publishing squelches creativity. It rewards convention and mediocrity. Writers, and more importantly readers, deserve better.
Some of the stuff offered here might not be as refined as it would be with editors and copy editors and publishers and publicists all putting their spin on the manuscript, but maybe a rawer prose allows for greater creativity, spontaneity, and experimentation.
Simmy has been writing prose full-time for over a quarter of a century. It has been both his primary vocation and his most passionate pursuit since early adulthood. Trust me when I tell you, this is not a serious guy, but without question he has embraced the twin tasks of writing fiction and developing his skills as a modern American storyteller with the thoughtfulness and dedication a monk gives to God. I’ve known few people in my adult life as committed to their work as this dude.
Simmy likes to say the greatest reward for a novelist is the simple fact that everything that happens in his life directly and positively impacts his work. Every person he meets, every failure he endures, every success he enjoys, every place he visits, every love he embraces, every thought he ponders, every drop of sweat and tears he exudes, every emotion he feels goes directly into the stories he tells and the characters he creates.
Simmy is the youngest in a big family. A lot of storytellers in his family. His father, Wild Bill. His Aunt Elizabeth. His brother Charlie. Simmy realized early on if he could tell a good story he could get people to pay attention to him. He also quickly realized the best stories often have the truth stretched some. He would listen to his father tell the same war stories over and over but never the same way twice. Stories had… elasticity.
In his late twenties Simmy inherited a bit of money from one of his grandmothers. He used the dough to start a travel business. Young and very adventurous, he would spin the globe, close his eyes, and touch his index finger to the whirling orb. Wherever it landed, he would go.
He traveled far and wide in those days: Belize, Costa Rica, the Caribbean, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Morocco, every corner of America, most of the countries in eastern and western Europe. He had this newsletter: Adventure Travel Enterprises. This was in the days before the Internet so a monthly newsletter documenting adventure travel was still a viable concern. At one time he had several hundred subscribers giving him $79 a year. It kept him, for a while, in plane tickets and third class hotel rooms.
But after a couple years the adventure started to seep out of the travel, the money began to dry up, and the time came to move on to other endeavors. But wait, Simmy still had a bunch of subscribers who’d paid in full for twelve issues.
So what did he do? He started stretching the truth. And quickly discovered he could write about Italy or Israel just as easily from his comfy leather armchair as he could from Naples or Nazareth.
Sure, it was a bit of a deception but it was also the beginning of his lifelong indulgence in the art of writing fiction. Fiction, after all, is the art of telling the truth through stories.
Never lacking for self confidence, Simmy decided to write a novel. A big, sprawling, epic novel. No writing classes or character sketches or short stories for this bird. He went for the whole prize right from the get-go. He took a good hard look at his large, crazy family, bought a pen and a couple reams of lined paper, and started scribbling. He had in mind a story spanning four hundred years of American history populated by a couple dozen richly drawn characters, most of whom he knew intimately.
I don’t think it ever dawned on him for a second he couldn’t pull it off.
Jamie Raab, then an Associate Editor at Warner Books, was the first editor to take a look at his work. She read the first hundred pages of This Way Madness Lies and bought, in a heartbeat, the unfinished manuscript.
Off he soared.
But really Simpson Books isn’t about the author; it’s about the books.
Thanks for your time. I hope you find something interesting and stimulating to read.