S.G. Browne

Stupid Agent Advice

I read once, I believe it was in a listing for a literary agent in the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents, where an agent suggested that any aspiring writer should read the best-sellers and blockbuster novels to get a feel for what to write and to write something similar. That was the secret to being a successful novelist.

Hmm. Okay. I’ll read Michael Crichton or Tom Clancy or Stephen King and then emulate them in order to get published. What a brilliant gem of professional guidance.

We’ll call this advice crap.

Sure, you can learn something from reading best-sellers and blockbuster novels. Literary agent Albert Zuckerman even wrote a How-To book called Writing the Blockbuster Novel, providing experienced writers with the tools to get their novels on to the best-seller list. But to suggest that a beginning novelist try to write a best-seller is ridiculous. The chances of success are about as likely as finding a Human Resources administrator on an 1860 Georgia slave plantation.Instead, how about suggesting that an aspiring novelist write something original, something that resonates, something that means something to the author. Because if it doesn’t mean something to the person who wrote it, then it’s not going to mean anything to the person who reads it.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Filed under: The Writing Life — S.G. Browne @ 1:40 pm

Write Like You’re On Vacation

People used to give me books about novel writing by various best-selling authors, in which the authors described how they went about writing their novels.  Some created detailed outlines.  Others plotted out the major points.  Others mined their novels from their subconscious.

I think that one was Stephen King.

While I don’t have anything against outlines or plotting or character sketches or back-story, that just seems too much like work to me to be fun.

Personally, I write like I’m on vacation.

Not a guided tour, where I have everything planned out from my starting point to my ending, with all the hotels and meals and points of interest scheduled and plotted out with no room for flexibility.

That’s not my kind of vacation.  And that’s not how I write.

I prefer to start out with an idea, a scene, an initial destination, then develop a general idea of where and how I want to finish up my vacation.  While I have a few places I definitely want to visit along the way, for the most part, I leave the rest of the trip open for unplanned options.  And it’s always possible that those unplanned options will take me to a final destination that I hadn’t originally planned on.

In other words, I make it up as I go.  I discover the story as I write it.  Which isn’t always the easiest way to go about writing a novel.  It’s easy to get yourself two-thirds of the way through and then realize you hate how the third act is shaping up.  But I’ve just never been a big fan of outlines or plotting on index cards.  So far, it’s served me well.  And it’s a lot more fun figuring things out along the way than knowing exactly where I’m going.

I’m not sure if this somehow transfers over to the reader in some cosmic or synchronous manner, since they’re discovering the story more or less the same way I wrote it.  I don’t know if novels that are outlined or heavily plotted read that way.  But I like to think that it makes for a more adventurous read.

How do you write?

Filed under: The Writing Life — S.G. Browne @ 10:32 pm

World Fantasy Convention

Spent last weekend in Calgary at my first ever World Fantasy Convention.  First time I’d been in Canada since I went skiing in Vancouver with my family in 1973, the time I kicked my sister in the thigh while wearing ski boots.

I wasn’t a particularly pleasant child.

Now, nothing against Canada.  I enjoyed the convention and the weather was about as nice as you could want.  But I can think of more exotic places in the world to throw a convention in late October.

San Diego.  Miami.  Cabo San Lucas.

Of course, I guess warm or tropical climates aren’t exactly the best locations to keep your convention attendees at the actual convention. When it’s cold outside, writers tends to stay in the convention hotel, attend panels and readings and book signings, spend a lot of time at the bar, and then make bad relationship choices.

The best part about attending writing conventions is that everyone is on the same wavelength – writers, editors, agents, booksellers. Everyone’s tuned in to the same channel. Sharing the same communal passion. It’s kind of like being at Burning Man before all of the tourists start to show up.

Filed under: Just Blogging — S.G. Browne @ 7:31 pm

And Now A Word About Breathers…

People always ask me, “So what’s your book about?”

And I say, “It’s a dark, existential comedy.  A social satire.  About zombies.”

That’s usually when they just stare at me.  Or laugh.  Or say, “Really?”

These are people I meet at parties.  People I know from my job.  People who have known me for years.


Yes.  Really.  I’ve written a novel about zombies.  I know what happens to the human body when it decomposes.   I know that after three weeks, the internal organs turn to chicken soup.  I know what when maggots feast on the subcutaneous fat of a bloated corpse, it sounds like Rice Krispies.

These are the thoughts that go through my head when I’m making dinner.  Or when I’m baking home made treats for my co-workers.

So if you don’t like zombies, or if you’ve never given them much thought, I invite you to consider what it’s like to be one of the walking undead.  After all, eventually we’re all going to die.  But only a few of us will be unfortunate enough to have to deal with the emotional fallout of a rapidly digesting pancreas.

Filed under: Breathers — S.G. Browne @ 9:26 pm