Name S.G. Browne
Where are you from?
SG: I’m a lifelong Californian, having lived in San Francisco the past 10 years and the 13 years prior to that in the beach town of Santa Cruz. Before that I lived in Los Angeles working in Hollywood doing post-production work in marketing for the Disney Studio films.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
SG: I recently released three short story singles on Amazon to dip my toes into the self-publishing pool. The stories, which are all 5,000 words or longer, are titled “Remedial English for Reanimated Corpses,” “Dr. Sinister’s Home for Retired Villains,” and “Scattered Showers with a Chance of Daikaiju.”
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
SG: I wrote in grammar school but got sidetracked by math and ended up pursuing an engineering degree in college. But after getting a C- in Physics and falling asleep in my Thermodynamics class, I decided I should probably change my major. I also became involved in writing an annual stage competition for my living group and after doing that for several years I realized I wanted to do something creative and so I took a few writing classes. Then I graduated and moved to Hollywood.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
SG: While waiting tables in Hollywood, one of my coworkers told me that if I wrote, then I was a writer. Even though I wasn’t earning any money as a writer that was when I first started to think of myself as a writer.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
SG: My first novel, which will never be published, was straight supernatural horror inspired by a lot of 1980s novels written by Stephen King, Peter Straub, and Dean Koontz. I’d written a number of short stories and a couple of screenplays but felt like I had a novel inside of me waiting to be told. It ended up being over 150,000 words. My first published novel, Breathers, was published in 2009, sixteen years after I finished my ‘first’ novel.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
SG: I write dark comedy and social satire in first-person POV present tense. I know a lot of people look down their noses at present tense, but I’m a big fan of it. It adds immediacy and intimacy to the story.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
SG: If we’re talking about my first published novel, the title Breathers refers to human beings as it’s a novel about zombies told from the POV of a zombie who lives in his parents’ wine cellar and attends Undead Anonymous meetings with other decomposing corpses. ‘Breathers’ is what the zombies call the living. Also, when you think about it, most zombie films and books aren’t about zombies at all but about people and how they deal with the problem of zombies. Breathers is about zombies and how they deal with the problem of people.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
SG: In Breathers there’s an obvious correlation to prejudice and discrimination, since the zombies aren’t considered humans and don’t have any rights. But really the novel is about finding your purpose in a world in which you don’t feel like you have a purpose. This is somewhat of a recurring theme in most of my novels, which deal with issues of fate, destiny, personal identity, figuring out what role you’re supposed to play, and finding your purpose.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
SG: None of my novels are based on someone I know, although there are personal experiences peppered throughout them. As for realistic, all of my novels have a fantastic or supernatural element (zombies, luck poachers, superheroes, personifications of abstract concepts), but they’re all grounded in reality and involve real-life issues (discrimination, the consumer culture, personal responsibility, celebrity worship). So they’re a blend of the fantastic and the realistic.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
SG: The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub is the novel I read that made me want to become a writer. It was the first time I became so caught up in the story unfolding within the pages that the world outside of the book ceased to exist. And I thought: I want to make someone feel this way. But Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk inspired me to write Breathers, which opened up a whole new way of storytelling to me. Other books that have influenced me include The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, and St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
SG: I can’t name any new authors, or debut authors, I’ve read recently off the top of my head, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading Kelly Link, Karen Russell, Christopher Moore, and Paul Tremblay. I wouldn’t say I have a favorite author at the moment, but I love Karen Russell’s collections of short stories. She has such a wonderful use of language and imagery while creating completely believable mythologies and telling stories about people and characters that matter even though many of the stories have ambiguous endings without any real sort of resolution. I love ambiguous endings.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
SG: My agent, Michelle Brower. She’s been my constant and most ardent supporter. There are others I could name, but you only asked for one.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
SG: I managed to write full time for four years after the publication of Breathers in 2009. That was aided significantly but a number of foreign rights contracts for Breathers and for Fated, my second novel. But while I received positive reviews, my sales didn’t follow suit and eventually, even though I published five novels, one novella, and a short story collection with Random House, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster, I had to go back to working a day job. I think in order to be a successful author today (and by successful, I meaning being able to support yourself solely by your writing), you either need to write a couple of books a year under contract and on deadline, or you need to be a hybrid author and be able to find some success in both traditional publishing and self-publishing. That’s one of the reasons I self-published my Kindle singles. Self-publishing can be intimidating. But it can also be liberating in that you have complete creative control over your product, including design, cover, etc. While you may not get an advance that will help you quit your day job, you’ll also earn more per sale than 7.5%, which is the industry standard for trade paperbacks.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
SG: As a writer, nothing you write is ever truly finished. There’s always something you could fix or change. So yes, I would probably change something. But in six months I would want to change something else because I would have learned how to do something better or different. As far as I’m concerned, my books are written the way they were supposed to be written and I need to let them stay that way.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
SG: My interest in writing professionally or as a career originated in college when I was in charge of writing, directing, choreographing, and staging my living group’s entry into an annual competition called Band Frolic. After doing that for two years, I realized that’s what I wanted to do. Not necessarily working in live stage performance, but creating the performance and writing the script.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
SG: My current or most recent work would be the three short stories I self-published on Amazon. The stories were very much inspired by Karen Russell’s St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, which is a wonderful collection if you get the chance to read it.
The first of my stories, “Remedial English for Reanimated Corpses” is a dark and humorous satire about discrimination and social status at Bela Lugosi University, where vampires are fraternity boys, werewolves are jocks, and zombies are treated like second-class monsters.
“Dr. Sinister’s Home for Retired Villains” is a playful take on a retirement home for washed-up and obsolete public domain villains, but at its core the story deals with what it’s like to have to confront your own irrelevance.
Finally, “Scattered Showers with a Chance of Daikaiju” is the story of the 10-year-old daughter of the local weatherman in Kochi, Japan, where giant monsters (daikaiju) frequently attack. But it’s also about the pressure of peer acceptance and standing up for yourself.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
SG: The live/work balance is always a challenge: finding the time to write while holding down a day job and trying having any semblance of a social life. I’m also frequently undone by distractions like friends, Netflix, and my cat.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
SG: In terms of research, no, but I do take advantage of my travels to do research on locations where I might want to set a story or novel. Otherwise I do most of my research via computer. In terms of publicity, I used to travel quite a bit for signings, mostly on the west coast of the United States. But I’ve cut back in recent years since the expense of promotional book tours is largely borne by writers, not publishers. However, the French publisher of Fated is flying me out to do a five-city book signing tour in October, so that’s something I’m very much excited about.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
SG: The covers for my novels were designed by different artists that my publishers handled, so I wasn’t much involved in their design. For my three short stories, a friend of mine who eschews public accolades helped to design them. They’re probably three of my favorite covers of any of my published work.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
SG: The hardest part of writing any of my novels is the third act. Making sure the story doesn’t fall apart and that the ending is satisfying. Since I tend to have ambiguous endings not everyone is going to find them satisfying because people often want to know all of the answers. I’m not one of those people. So if the ending works for me and within the context of the story, then I’m happy.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
SG: All of my novels teach me something. My most recent novel, Less Than Hero, taught me that prescription drugs can have horrible side effects that are often worse than what they’re supposed to fix. And that in the United States, more people die each year from prescription drugs than from all other recreational drugs combined.
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead?
SG: For Breathers, that would be either Joseph Gordon-Levitt or Jason Segel. For Fated, Ryan Reynolds hand down. For Lucky Bastard, I like the idea of Ryan Gosling or Ben Foster, as it’s got a noir edge to it. For Big Egos, I think Andrew Garfield would be a good fit. Or maybe Bradley Cooper. And for Less Than Hero, I could see Hunter Parrish from Weeds in the lead.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
SG: Write something that matters to you. Something that makes you laugh or cry or sends shivers down your spine. Something that resonates with you. Because if it doesn’t resonate with you, chances are it’s not going to resonate with anyone else.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
SG: Thank you for reading.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
SG: The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta. I’m a big fan of the HBO series and also enjoyed Election and Little Children, so wanted to give the book a read.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
SG: It was probably Where the Wild Things Are. Either that or a collection of six Rand McNally books I carried around as a kid. Timmy Train and The Kittens’ Voyage were two of them.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
SG: Inappropriate humor makes me laugh. Also my cat when she’s in a playful mood. Happy, heartwarming moments make me cry, usually in movies or TV programs. Though I recently found myself crying over the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy while watching a documentary on the 1960s. That was unexpected.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would like to meet and why?
SG: Vincent van Gogh. His paintings move me like no other artist. I could stand in front of one of his paintings for hours and just get lost in it. I’d love the opportunity to sit down and talk to him. Of course I’d probably have to learn how to speak Dutch.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
SG: “It’s never too late to be the person you were meant to be.” Because it applies to everyone and would be darkly amusing at the same time.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
I enjoy taking photographs, not so much of people but of scenes and tableaus. Artsy looking shots. Different perspectives. I have a number of framed photos I’ve taken hanging in my apartment.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
SG: My favorite TV shows lately seem to be cartoons. I’m a big fan of Archer and Bojack Horseman. But I also recently re-watched the entire series of Breaking Bad and Lost. Say what you want about the plot holes and the last season, but the show makes you care about the characters and what happens to them and that’s good storytelling.
As for films, I like dark and/or quirky films, many of which don’t make a lot of money at the box office. Fight Club. Being John Malkovich. Mystery Men. Just about anything by Wes Anderson and the Coen Brothers. I’m also a sucker for a good spoof.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
SG: I love sushi and Italian food and when it comes to ice cream, you’ll have to pry my Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough out of my cold dead hands. Green has been my favorite color for as long as I can remember, although I was fond of purple when I was a kid. And when it comes to music, I’m all over the place (although not a big fan of country, hip-hop, or rap). Some of my favorite go-to bands/artists include: The Beatles, The Doors, Green Day, Sublime, Weezer, The Talking Heads, AC/DC, and Stevie Wonder.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
SG: I would have liked to have been a professional baseball player. Of course I never played baseball in little league or in high school, so that was always going to be a problem. Making my living as a photographer, especially a travel or nature photographer, would have been kind of awesome, as well.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
SG: My website is www.sgbrowne.com. I used to blog regularly but felt like I was just shouting into the void. Plus when you work a day job and you have limited time to write, you want to spend as much of that time creating stories rather than blogging. At least that’s the case with me.
Remedial English for Reanimated Corpses
Dr. Sinister’s Home for Retired Villains
Scattered Showers with a Chance of Daikaiju
Less Than Hero
Shooting Monkeys in a Barrel
I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus