John M. Simmons
Where are you from?
I grew up in the Salt Lake Valley, in Utah. I lived there until 1995 when my wife, my four sons, and I moved to Central Michigan. In 2006, we moved back to Utah. We now live in Kamas, a small mountain valley about 20 miles east of Park City.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life ect.
Let’s see, education… incredibly average student up until I dropped out of college after a year studying Manufacturing Engineering.
I started a family business in 1988 doing manufacturing. Family members later joined me and we created our own line of chemical pumps that are used in plants that manufacture microchips. White Knight now employs about 50 people and sells pumps around the world.
My wife and I are the parents of nine children (five still living at home). The first three are our biological children. One, (our eighteen-year-old son who has Down syndrome) was adopted, here, in the States. We have four daughters who are biological siblings that we adopted from Russia, and an unrelated son who we adopted from Russia at the same time.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
I recently resigned as the President/CEO of White Knight (the company I started) to focus on writing, orphans and adoption advocacy. I’m am now Chairman of Ele Lembra, a 501(c)(3) public charity that assists children who are aging out of orphanages.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
During our adoption foray into Russia, I fell in love with all of the children who wait—day after day—for a family to choose them. I wanted people who could change their lives to learn about them; to fall in love with them.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Since the beginnings of White Knight, I always did quite a bit of writing for the company. But I guess I began considering myself to be “a writer” as I published my first book, The Marvelous Journey Home.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
When I saw orphaned children walking up to our adoption coordinator and asking him if he had found their parents, yet. He told them, “no,” but he was still looking. When I told him how heartbreaking that was, he said, “No, what is heartbreaking happens when they get to be seven or eight and they stop asking me. The give up and just don’t talk to me anymore.”
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I like to write in a kind of colloquial, conversational style. I want the reader to feel like they are having a conversation with me and to feel like they are my friend. I also reveal my thoughts a lot as I write. I tend to do this in a different font to make it clear that I didn’t actually speak something that I shouldn’t have. But it helps the reader to feel more intimate with me if they know I am a normal guy, with normal thoughts, just like them.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
My memoir, To Sing Frogs, was written under several different titles, which just never seemed right. In the book, I refer to my wife as a “God Works In Mysterious Ways Believer.” For my wife, there’s always and explanation… “It’s a miracle!” I’m an engineer. I plug numbers into a calculator and find out why. As we journeyed through our adoption experiences, more and more things happened that my calculator couldn’t explain. About two-thirds of the way through the book, I am talking with someone and they say a phrase that translated directly into English is; “To Sing Frogs.” When I mentioned the translation, the person said: “But that doesn’t make any sense.” I replied that, maybe there was something lost in translation, maybe I just didn’t get it, or maybe it just didn’t make sense, and that I was becoming more and more convinced that some things weren’t supposed to. As I wrote of that experience, I realized that was the entire point of the memoir. To Sing Frogs was the perfect title for the book. It fits kind of nicely with the sub-title: A true story about family, friends, life, and other things that don’t make sense.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Actually, there are two points. First, I want people to get to know these children who don’t have parents. I want them to fall in love with them, as I did. I want them to adopt these children and to give them families. I am particularly desirous of them understanding that they don’t need a new-born-baby, or a child who looks like them, as I incorrectly believed at one point.
Secondly, I want people to understand what happens to children in orphanages who never get adopted. I want them to fall in love with these kids and then see that if they don’t help them financially, that these perfectly good, wonderful, loving, kids will crash and burn.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
100%. That is one of the most lauded aspects of To Sing Frogs. Currently it holds a 4.9 of five-star rating on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. I believe that much of this is attributed to the fact that the book is honest and real; and that the honesty comes through loud and clear. To Sing Frogs isn’t what I want people to think. It is what it is.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
To Sing Frogs is a memoir. It is the true story of my wife and me adding more children to our family though international adoption.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
I love to read and I read a lot. The genres I read are pretty broad. Still, if I had to choose one, it would probably be Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom.
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Again, it’s hard to pick one, but I would choose Mitch Albom. I find his development as a person who writes (rather than his development as a writer) to be very similar to mine.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Crooked Letter Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I like Jamie Ford, author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I am currently working very hard in bringing awareness to orphans and to our charity, Ele Lembra. I’m also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, and I also contribute quite a bit of content to other blogs and media of all sorts. In between all of that, I’m trying to find enough time to complete Sneg, the sequel to To Sing Frogs.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
All of my friends at White Knight, where I used to work.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
No. I make my money from patents and the work I did at White Knight for over two decades. Any profits from my writing go to help children without parents. So… full-time-job? Yes, of course. Career? Not so much.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Ha! Who wouldn’t! I have to say, though, To Sing Frogs was the very best I could do when I did it. I am happy with the outcome.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
It was so young that I don’t recall. I always felt like I had an ability to write, and always enjoyed writing as a part of the things I did.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
This is the first part of Sneg:
The white reaper is always a common enemy shared by opposing forces whenever there are wars in Russia. Far more people have been dispatched by that executioner than bullets ever hoped to destroy. High winds churn the messenger and bringer of death in black clouds that descend lower and lower. Snow terrifies. It threatens annihilation and pushes life to the edge. Then it seems to relinquish. Snow is a cat. At first it only plays with the mouse. Finally snow finishes the job and the rodent is no more. Other mice watch from nearby, unable to intervene. Eventually the cat will come for them too. Snow haunts.
The four-wheel drive Russian UAZ SUV rushed away, its deep tread tires throwing cleats of white death in the air. Zoya, a social worker in her early fifties, pulled the collar from her coat tighter around her neck to close the gap between it and the stereotypical Russian fur hat. She looked up at the tumultuous gray sky and shivered. Snow would be falling again before long. She pulled the black leather gloves on tighter, turned and walked back into the south half of the wooden shack-like duplex.
“Will she live?” the other social worker asked Zoya as she walked back into the reeking shack.
“Hmf. Who knows? Not likely.”
“You can’t take my babies!” Oksana screamed.
“Quiet, whore!” Zoya yelled back. Zoya didn’t curse often but she couldn’t help herself. This was the worst she had ever seen.
The filthy twenty-five-year-old glared menacingly from behind the blackened implement. It sat centered against the wall that divided the twelve by twelve-foot room from the other half of the duplex. The dwelling where Oksana, her boyfriend, and five children had existed had finally been invaded by the State. As overcrowded as the shack was, it wasn’t nearly as cramped as it had been before the parents of Oksana’s boyfriend died.
There were now four children left in the house. The oldest three were girls and the youngest was a boy. They littered the dirt-floor dwelling. Mud surrounded the wood burning stove and drops dripped from melting snow on the roof, hissing and sizzling when they hit the black and rusted iron.
Electricity serving the house was pre-Franklinian. It was not. Clothing for the children was Neanderthal in that it wasn’t used. Wind whistled and howled between cracks in the walls. Zoya cautiously approached the oldest girl. Svieta was seven and she was afraid. Her hair was a contrast of matting and lion-mane that mirrored the appearance of her mother. Zoya carefully, so as to not startle the child further, took her hand gently while speaking the comforting sha, ska, and shka sounds of Russian baby talk. Then the social worker spit on the back of the child’s hand. She rubbed the wetness circularly with her black glove while the liquid turned equally black. It wasn’t enough. Zoya spit again and continued to wipe. Finally she announced the findings of her scientific observation: “She’s white.”
“You can’t take my babies!”
“I told you to shut your mouth! You are not a person! You are an animal! You cannot talk! Shut your mouth!” Zoya’s screeching response was laced with even more profanity, the filthiest she could think of, mirroring the environment that surrounded her.
“Load them all in the car,” Zoya ordered the other social worker.”
Zoya turned abruptly to face the mother and spoke in a firm, quietly threatening voice that brought more fear than her screaming. “I swear to everything holy, I’ll kill you if you don’t shut your filthy mouth.”
The social worker stood over the cowering woman while her counterpart carried the nine month-old little boy into a day of darkness that was far more bright than the shelter. After placing him on the passenger seat in the front of the old Russian Lada, she returned and led two year-old Maria and six year-old Natasha away while holding their hands.
Then Zoya spoke skas and shas to seven-year-old Svieta while taking her hand again. “It will be alright my child. Don’t worry. Come with me. We’re going to get soup. Are you hungry?”
A head nodded while eyes bulging out of an emaciated skull looked at the social worker without blinking.
“Yes, soup,” the woman said while leading the child away from near blackness to the outside. There the darkness of a turbulent sky carrying a blizzard looked like a summer sun in comparison. “Borscht. I think that Borscht is the soup today. Do you like borscht, my child?”
Each piece of framework in the little body could not have been more distinguishable had it been free from its covering of filthy skin. The rest of the bones seemed to nod with the bobble-head. Like her sisters, Svieta didn’t even flinch as her bare feet traipsed through the powdered snow. It was nothing new.
“Bring back my babies!” the wretched figure in the door frame screamed.
Zoya placed the child on the matting which protruded from large cracks in the vinyl of the back seat. Svieta looked at her two sisters while the social worker pushed the squeaking door closed with a “clump.”
“Stop! They’re mine. The babies are mine! Bring back my babies!”
The social worker spun on her heel and raced toward the open door of the shack. Her dark rubber boots slipped and slid as she rushed at the younger woman with visions of strangling the abuser with her bare hands. Two steps before reaching the intended victim the door slammed shut. Zoya beat the bottoms of her fist against the wood several times before thinking better. There was no lock. She could have forced her way in but it would not have been wise. The social worker waited for the adrenaline rush to subside and then she slowly returned to the car and took her place in the driver’s seat, next to the worker who held the baby boy on her lap. Bulging eyes from the skull in the back seat continued to look at the shack. Zoya was not the only one who wanted to kill the mother.
The old rickety car was as gray and dirty as the interior of the factory where it was constructed. As it began to slip up the snow covered dirt-road, the door to the shack re-opened and the demon emerged in a flash. Screams to return her babies were swallowed and muffled out in the dense air of the approaching storm. Oksana repeatedly stooped and grabbed handfuls of snow to throw at the departing vehicle. Zoya didn’t look back as the screaming apparition slipped while throwing, fell to her backside, buried her face in her hands, and sobbed.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
My biggest challenge is to get time away, where I can concentrate on nothing but writing for an extended period. That’s the only way I can do books.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Steve Berry is my favorite author. I’m just a junkie for historical thrillers.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Between the charity and the writing, I do a fair amount of travel. I just finished up a fifteen city book tour that pretty much covered the U.S. I used to travel a lot more, with business. I used to do quite a bit of business travel to Europe and Asia as well as the U.S.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
A Friend of mine, Laura Ashby, is an incredible (and professional) artist. She used a couple of my photos to create the cover.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Deciding which parts to leave out killed me. I still have some babies that I didn’t want to let go. But successful writers sort out their children, take the majority who will amount to the least, and kill them.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Wow. I guess with a memoir it’s kind of different from other books. You relive a part of your life over and over while thinking about it again and again in an attempt to best explain it to others. I think the thing I learned most about, was… me.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Billy Crystal said it best in the movie Throw Mama from the Train. “A writer writes.”
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Please do something… anything, to help children who don’t have parents. Get out of your comfort zone. Someone’s life, quite literally, depends on it.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
I like to snowmobile, ride dirt bikes, and go fly fishing. I don’t take much time doing them, though.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I like brainless comedies. When I take time for entertainment, I want to laugh. If I wanted to think, I’d write. If I wanted to cry, I’d balance my checkbook.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Food… I’m kind of a steak and potatoes guy. My favorite color is blue, but I like red cars. I like country, but I’ll listen to rock.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Well, I have been a mechanic, a machinist, an engineer, I have worked in sales, and I have been in management. I loved them all. If I had to pick a favorite, I would say machinist. But you can’t change the world by making gears and pulleys.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
I can only think of one question you didn’t ask…
Thanks for this opportunity!