interviewed on Jan 30, 2020
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Simon Landry was born in Montreal in 1979. He graduated from Laval University with a bachelor’s degree in education in 2003. He has since then been teaching high school mathematics. An avid reader, Simon decided to plunge into creative writing in 2017 during his spare time. Chestnut Street is his first published novel. He currently lives with his wife and two children in Montreal.
Q. From being a high school mathematics teacher, to writing your first book. How has this experience been?
It has not changed much except for the fact that my schedule has become a bit more hectic. Balancing a full-time job teaching and raising two kids was in itself a lot of work, now I have to use what little free time I have left to promote my book, do interviews such as this one and begin work on my second novel. All in all though, I wouldn't change a thing. Being an author has always been a life-long dream and I couldn't be happier about this experience.
Q. When did your writing journey begin and what kind of writing did you start with?
This particular journey began in 2011 when my wife (who was at the time my fiance) moved to Phildelphia for a two-year residency program at the Children's Hospital Of Philadelphia (CHOP). Whenever I would visit her in Philly I would have a lot a free time while she was working to just walk around the city and learn about its history. Ideas would begin to form in my head and when I finally started writing these ideas down, slowly but surely a story began forming. The project was put on hold for a while but I got back to creating the story while I was on parental leave for my first daughter. The storyline was all but done but I had to get back to work full-time after that year off, so the project was put on hold again. I wrote the first manuscript while on parental leave for my second daughter and that's when I got a contract offer and the book finaly came to life.
Q. How did the idea of writing your first book "Chestnut Street" come? And what is the book about?
The idea came from my own personal life experience mostly, and the people who are close to me tell me that they see me when they read about the main character, Sam Brighton. I just took from what I know and started from there. Here is a short desciption of the story:
Philadelphia; 1969: The city is in turmoil as the race riots rage on. James Monroe, an up and coming journalist, stumbles across a dangerous plot that could turn the tides in the civil rights movement.Philadelphia; 2013: Sam Brighton, a humble high school math teacher enjoying his life with his family, is framed—incriminating pictures of one of his students has somehow been planted on his phone, and he quickly becomes a pariah, is labeled as a pedophile, and is found guilty of the crime. His world suddenly crumbles to pieces as he loses everything he holds dear. Sam can’t make sense of what happened but he knows one thing for sure – he’s innocent.
Little does he know that he has been sacrificed in order to protect powerful men that want to make sure the forbidden information discovered in the late ’60s never sees the light of day. Sam quickly realizes that he is the only person who can prove his innocence and immediately springs into action. He navigates through the seedy underworld of Philadelphia, fighting for his life but more importantly, the truth.In desperation, Sam scrambles about the city to discover his connection to this sordid plot, clear his name, and return to his family. What he uncovers is a conspiracy spanning almost a half-century that could rock the City of Brotherly Love to its core.
Q. The Philadelphia, 1969 race riots form an important part of the "Chestnut Street". Tell us more about their connection with the story line.
I first learned about the riots when I was walking around North Philly and hearing about the neighborhood's rich history. I decided to use it as a background to the storyline as I felt it was an important part of Philly's history and that few people really knew about it.
Q. Tell us about the characteristics of your main protagonist, Sam Brighton and his role in the story.
Sam is a quiet man, who enjoys a peaceful life with his wife and daughter. He's an ordinary man, working an ordinary job, which is why I think readers enjoy the character so much. My "hero" steps away from the usual stereotypes you read in most thriller novels. He's not a spy, or a soldier, or a cop, or a lawyer. It makes the character more relatable to readers. He's an unwiling pawn in a larger political plot by powerful men who will stop at nothing to grab the reigns of power.
Q. What other characters of the book play an important part in the story? Tell us about them.
Sam's wife Victoria, who's his best friend, confidant and helps him throughout the story. Sam's colleague and friend Dean, who will be roped into the conspiracy as well.
Donald Jackson, Sam's boss, an unsavory character to say the least.
Q. Do you want to give us a hint about what is the conspiracy about and how Sam uncovers the truth to prove himself innocent?
I won't say too much because I don't want to spoil it for the reader, but the conspiracy spawns over fifty years, starting during the tumultuous race riots of the 1960's and reaching into modern times.
Q. What was your thought process while creating the plot and sequence of events in the story, did you take inspiration from any true stories or events?
I took inspiration from my own personal life when it relates to what happens to the main character Sam. I often thought about the worst thing that could happen to a teacher, and started from there. Once that was established, I looked for historical facts that could be tied into the plot, much like one of my favorite authors, Steve Berry. I researched the race riots and the history of Philadelphia for months so that everything I put into the book was as accurate as possible.
Q. From the day you started writing the book, to finally publishing it, tell us about your writing journey.
The process took many years simply because I kept putting it off. As I mentionned in a previous question, it all started in 2011 when I kept traveling back and forth between Montreal and Philly, so it took 8 years for this to come to fruition. It started with finaly deciding to put my ideas down on paper, which helped because I stopped forgetting everything that popped in my mind. Then creating a general storyline. Then came research, making sure everything was accurate. Finally a first draft (that was way too short but helped me find flaws in my story and plot holes). Then rewriting a better and longer second draft. Once I had a long-enough story, I submitted to agents and publishing houses. I must have sent over 200 queries before Sunbury Press finaly gave me my big break.
Once a contract was signed, we went into the process of editing, then proofreading and finaly artwork and layout. All in all I wrote 9 different drafts before I had my final version that was ready to be put into circulation.
Now that I understand the process a little better I feel confident that my next novel won't take as long to put out (I hope!).
Q. Are you planning to come up with a sequel and make this a series?
I'm working on a second novel as we speak but it has no ties to this story. I'm not sure I'll ever write a sequel to this book but you never know!
Q. What genres do you enjoy the most- both for writing and reading?
Political thrillers, historical novels. Some of my favorite authors include Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, Steve Berry, David Baldacci and John Grisham. All have an uncanny ability to write great fiction based in factual history and my novel is greatly inspired by their work, while remaining original in its own way.
Q. What other books are you currently writing and what stage are they at?
I'm currently working on my second novel, about a former soldier who discovers a shocking secret about the President of the United States and goes up against the White House. Right now I'm at the stage where I'm organizing my ideas and doing my research to get my facts straight. Hopefully I'll get to writing my first draft this upcoming summer.
Q. What else do you like to do apart from writing?
Work a full-time job teaching, raise two wonderful daughters with my wife. Add writing to the equation and there's not much time left for anything else...
Q. What role has your family played in your writing career?
My father and older brother are both avid readers. I remember as a kid watching my father read those thick Tom Clancy novels and being amazed that someone could stay interested through such a long story. It wasn't until I decided to read one of those books that I discovered how amazing a feeling it is to immerse yourself in a story for days if not weeks on end. I have to give them a lot of credit (and I do in the acknowledgements) because if they hadn't transmitted their love of reading to me, I never could have developed a love of writing.
Q. Tell us about your publishing journey and how did you choose your publisher?
I didn't choose my publisher, they chose me. I submitted to dozens if not hundreds of places (literary agents and publishing houses) until I got a positive answer. I jumped on the first opportunity that came my way, not wanting to pass on it and later regret it.
Q. Do you have any writing tips to share with aspiring writers?
1) Write everyting down. You never know where and when inspiration will hit you and you don't want to forget it later on. Use a notebook or an app on your phone, but make sure your write everything down.
2) Be careful of what are called "Vanity Publishing houses". These companies prey on aspiring writers by accepting all queries no matter what you send them and once they have you hooked, because they know your desire to get published is very strong, then they's start asking you for money to get your book published. These fraudulent companies basically ask you for money and once you've paid them just send your manuscript online to Amazon and other retail sites without really looking at it or proofreading it. You should never have to pay to get your work published. If you can't find an agent or a legitimate publishing house to take you on, you're better off self-publishing than paying a lot of money to one of these "publishing houses". I won't name any of them here as they have a history of litigation against people who call them out on their scam, but a quick online search will allow you to find out if the publishing house who's offering you a contract is legitimate or not.
Buy Simon Landry's books here