S.G. Browne

A Breathers Thanksgiving

To commemorate the holiday, I thought it appropriate to share the Thanksgiving chapter from Breathers.  But if you’re really looking forward to digging into some turkey, you might want to avoid the part about sloughage.  So don’t blame me if it ruins your appetite.

Happy Thanksgiving!

BREATHERS – Chapter 28

In light of my recent displays of “spirited rebellion,” as she put it, and my father’s exponentially increasing resentment towards me, my mother thought we might patch up our problems and differences if we all sat down and shared a nice, family Thanksgiving dinner together.

“Just like old times,” she says.

The three of us are sitting around the dining room table in a stifling, uncomfortable silence. My father shovels cranberry sauce and turkey into his mouth, refusing to speak to or make eye contact with me or with my mother, while Mom abandoned her attempts at making conversation after my father told her to “Shut it.” Now she just sits in her chair, holding back tears and biting her lower lip as she picks at the stuffing and green beans on her plate.

My parents don’t appear to be in the holiday spirit.

Meanwhile, I’m thankful just to be eating at the table. It’s the first time my parents have invited me to join them for a meal since my third day back, when one of the stitches on my face popped and a piece of rotting tissue fell into my mother’s homemade gazpacho.

Needless to say, Mom hasn’t made it since.

Fortunately, my stitches seem to be holding fast these days, better than I would have imagined after four months. So I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful for a lot of things, more than I would have imagined barely more than a month ago.

I’m thankful for my support group.
I’m thankful for Rita.
I’m thankful for meeting Ray.
And I’m thankful my speech is returning.

It’s still rudimentary, but when your vocabulary has consisted of grunts and screeches that make Leatherface sound like a Rhodes scholar, anything is an improvement.

In addition to “I Eeta,” I’ve managed to vocalize a few other expressions:

“Ooo ook ate.” (You look great.)
“Sss eese.” (Yes please.)
“Hank ooo.” (Thank you.)
And “Ow oo I ell?” (How do I smell?)

Coming from a nine-month old in a high chair with creamed corn dripping down his chin, the brief explosions of half-English would probably sound adorable. But coming from a thirty-four-year-old decomposing half-corpse with mashed potatoes and gravy dripping down his chin, well let’s just say it’s probably not going to make anyone reach for the video camera.

So I keep quiet and eat my dinner and look around the table, at my disappointed mother and my brooding father, at all of the food and splendor of this silent, oppressive Thanksgiving feast, until my gaze falls on the turkey with its blistered skin and its vanishing flesh. The more I stare at it, the more I realize that I can relate to it, empathize with it, and it strikes me how much we have in common. True, it’s dead and cooked and partially devoured, but is that so different from me?

As it’s slowly consumed, the bones appear bit by bit, the cartilage and ribs revealing themselves as meat is stripped from the skeleton. Eventually, it will be nothing but a carcass. And I wonder:

Am I being destroyed by Breathers?
Is the process of decomposition gradually consuming me?
Or am I being consumed by the degradation of having to exist in a world ruled by the living?

The longer I stare at the turkey, the more I begin to feel a sort of kinship with it. The more I see it as a metaphor of my current existence. The more I began to understand why Tom would want to become a vegetarian.

Before my father can cut off another slice of breast or tear off another drumstick, I reach over and grab the turkey by its leg and drag it off the serving platter, across the table toward me.

“Hey,” says my father, his mouth filled with stuffing, pieces of it spraying across the table. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Intervention.
Deliverance.
Redemption.

Take your pick. All I know is it feels right.

The turkey overturns the gravy boat on its way toward me, dumping its contents on to the tablecloth and into the cranberry sauce.

“Goddamn it!” yells my father, dropping his knife and fork and reaching for the turkey.

“Honestly, honey,” says my mother, happy just to have some sort of interaction taking place. “If you wanted some more, all you had to do was ask.”

Before my father can grab the other drumstick, I pull the sixteen pound Butterball into my lap, knocking my plate aside and off the edge of the table, where it lands on the hardwood and cracks in two, spilling my dinner across the floor.

“Andy!” says my mother. “Those are my best dinner plates.”

“Give me that turkey,” says my father, who gets to his feet and comes around the table with his head thrust out in front of him the way does whenever he means business. It used to scare the crap out of me when I was a kid. But I’m not a kid anymore. And I’m not giving up my turkey.

I push back in the chair and stand up, more sure of myself than I’ve been in months, and cradle the holiday personification of my essence against my stomach with my right arm as I back away toward the cellar door. Just before my father reaches me, he steps in my spilled mashed potatoes and goes down hard, smacking his elbow on the table.

“Are you all right, dear?” asks Mom, who is still sitting in her chair as if all of this is completely normal.

My father doesn’t answer, just gets to his feet and comes after me. I’ve almost reached the wine cellar door when he catches up and grabs hold of an exposed drumstick. I don’t think he even cares about eating the turkey anymore. He just doesn’t want me to have it.

Part of me wonders just what the hell I expected to accomplish. How I expected this to improve my situation. Another part of me finds this more fun than any recent Thanksgiving I can remember, so I start to laugh.

“This isn’t funny,” says my father, trying to pull the turkey away from me, but I’ve got a firm grip on the other drumstick with my right hand and I’m not letting go. Over my father’s shoulder, I see my mother cleaning up my broken plate as she complains about how we both ruined a perfectly lovely meal.

My father and I continue to fight over the turkey, each of us pulling on a drumstick, skin and meat sliding off in our hands. And I’m reminded of sloughage.

During the initial stages of human decay, liquid leaking from enzyme-ravaged cells gets between the layers of skin and loosens them. Sometimes the skin of an entire hand or foot will come off. As the process continues, giant sheets of skin peel away from the body.

Like the piece of skin that just slipped off the drumstick my father is holding.

If I hadn’t already ruined my appetite for turkey, that definitely did it.

An instant later, the drumstick in my father’s hand rips away and he stumbles back and falls into the antique black buffet hutch containing my mother’s tea cup collection. The hutch topples over backwards and lands with a thunderous crash of wood and broken china cups as I fall to the floor laughing with the turkey in my lap and my mother starts to cry.

Just like old times.

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Filed under: Breathers — Tags: , , — S.G. Browne @ 10:12 pm

Guilty Pleasures – 1980s Rock Bands

So I’m driving down Interstate 5 from Portland to Salem in a rental car, a Hyundai Accent with manual locks and manual windows but with an XM Radio, and I’m listening to Classic Rewind, a station that plays rock and roll from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, when “Rockin’ Into the Night” by 38 Special comes on.

When I first got into music back in high school in the 1980s, my favorite bands were of the pop rock variety. I wasn’t into classic rock. I couldn’t stand the Rolling Stones, The Doors, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, or The Who. And I couldn’t be bothered with New Wave bands like Oingo Boingo, Depeche Mode, INXS, Modern English, or Squeeze.

(Editor’s Note: I listen to all of these bands now, lest you think I’m totally lacking in my musical tastes.)

No, what I listened to back then, my favorite bands of the 1980s, were bands you don’t hear played on the radio anymore. Bands that didn’t have any staying power. Bands you find playing at dive bars and county fairs and asparagus festivals.

Night Ranger. 38 Special. The Babys. Loverboy.

Yes. These are my guilty pleasures. My forgettable pop rock bands. My county fair circuit rockers.

To be fair, I also listened to a heavy dose of Van Halen, Def Leppard, The Scorpions, and AC/DC, but nothing got my blood pumping more than “You Can Still Rock in America” by Night Ranger or “Head First” by the Babys.

So there I am, driving down the I-5 in Oregon, the radio cranked up and 38 Special pumping from the speakers, belting out the lyrics as if I’d been listening to “Rockin’ Into the Night” every day for the past 25 years, a big grin on my face.

When I get home, I think I’m going to take out my albums and spin some of my classic 80’s vinyl on my turntable and indulge in some more guilty pleasures. Then I’m going to add them to my iTunes library.

Now if only I could remember where I put my Izod shirt, my Sperry Topsiders, and my Vuarnets.

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Filed under: Just Blogging — S.G. Browne @ 10:57 pm

Reading, Writing, and Dial-Up

It’s 10PM on Sunday night, I’m flying up to Oregon tomorrow morning to visit friends and family and to do a couple of signings in Beaverton and Salem, and I suddenly realized my mother has dial-up Internet access. While I’m sure I can find a wireless Intenet cafe somewhere in Salem, I’m trying to get an entry posted before I have to travel back to a time when 56 kilobits per second was considered cutting edge technology.

Saturday night, I had the pleasure of sharing the SFinSF event here in San Francisco with Jeff VanderMeer. The event consisted of a reading from each of us, followed by a discussion and Q&A moderated by Terry Bisson. The series is held monthly, so if you’re in San Francisco or the Bay Area and you enjoy good author events, swing by and give it a taste. Proceeds for the events go to the Variety Children’s Charity.

One of the audience members came up to me afterward and asked where he could find some of the short stories I’ve had published. I haven’t written much short fiction lately and until recently hadn’t had anything published since 2005. To be honest, I don’t know if I want some of them to be found, but I thought I’d share them here, in case anyone else was curious. The only one I know that can definitely be found is the last one, “A Zombie’s Lament,” upon which Breathers was based.

“Wish You Were Here”
Redcat Magazine (Spring 1994)

“House Call”
Frightmares, Issue #6 (February 1999)

“Spooked”
Crimson, Issue #4 (1999)

“Beyond the Sea”
Dread, Issue #11 (April 2000)

“Prelude”
Penny Dreadful, Issue #14 (2001)

“En Passant”
Night Terrors, Issue #9 (June 2001)

“If I Only Had A Brain”
Royal Aspirations III (2002)

“Lower Slaughter”
Outer Darkness, Issue #30 (2005)

“A Zombie’s Lament”
Zombies: Encounters With The Hungry Dead (2009)

So there you go. Happy hunting. Let me know if you find any of them. And now I’m going to finish packing and get ready for my journey back to the 20th century.

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Filed under: Just Blogging,The Writing Life — Tags: , , — S.G. Browne @ 10:39 pm

Reader’s Poll: Favorite Chapters

I’ve done a number of readings over the past eight months and have found certain chapters that I enjoy reading more than others. Part of that has to do with the content of the chapters, which include a combination of narration and dialogue, and part of it has to do with the reaction I get from the audience.

My favorite chapters to read include:

Chapter 4 (Andy helps his dad install the garbage disposal)
Chapter 20 (the attempted retrieval of Tom’s stolen arm)
Chapter 28 (the Thanksgiving dinner scene)

I also enjoy reading Chapter 48, the scene where Andy’s being interviewed by the media at the SPCA, but I don’t read that one as often because it borders on revealing spoilers. That’s one of the limitations I have when doing a reading is avoiding chapters that contain spoilers, since I haven’t done an event yet where everyone has read the book.

But I like to mix things up a bit, not read from the same chapters over and over, and see how the audience reacts. Which brings me to my Reader’s Poll question:

What are some of your favorite chapters in Breathers that you would like to hear at a reading?

It doesn’t matter if the chapters contains spoilers or are chapters I’ve already mentioned, but I’d like to hear what you think. And everyone who responds either here or on UndeadAnonymous.com will be included in a random drawing for a chance to win a personalized and signed copy of Breathers. Feel free to answer more than once and on both sites, but only one entry per person for the drawing.

All comments posted up until Friday, November 13th at 11:59PM PST will be entered in the drawing.

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Filed under: Breathers,The Writing Life — Tags: — S.G. Browne @ 11:29 am

Sequels and Series

I’ve been asked a lot about a sequel for Breathers.

Am I writing one? Did I plan on one? When will the next one come out?

To be honest, I never intended to write a sequel to Breathers or to turn it into a series. First, I already had ideas for several novels after this one. Second, I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a zombie author (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and be limited to that genre for my writing life. And third, the original ending for Breathers was much darker than the one that made it into print. No ambiguity. No hope. No chance of a sequel.

So while I prescribe to the concept of never say never, at the moment I don’t have any plans for a sequel to Breathers. If I can come up with an original idea that isn’t derivative of the original material and doesn’t tread over a lot of common ground, then maybe. But I have a hard time believing that a sequel would be better than the original.

Which brings me to the topic of this post…

It’s been rare that I’ve enjoyed any sequel or any second or third installment of a series as much as I enjoyed the original. Most of the time, they failed miserably to live up to the expectations of the first installment.

The Matrix. Star Wars. Indiana Jones.

I can watch the original Matrix over and over, but the sequels? Yawn. I thought The Empire Strikes Back was a lot of fun, but it ended like a serial, which pissed me off, even as a teenager when I saw it at the theater. Return of the Jedi was a little silly and the three prequels lacked any heart. And while The Last Crusade rivaled Raiders of the Lost Ark, the other two Indiana Jones films, especially the last one, bordered on being unwatchable.

Some other random sequels:

Airplane II had some wonderful moments but wasn’t nearly as funny as the original. Goldmember helped to redeem the Austin Powers series after The Spy Who Shagged Me, but still couldn’t measure up to the first of the bunch. And Men in Black II was such a huge disappointment that I often forget it was ever made.

And don’t even get me started on the Rocky series. Clubber Lang? Dolph Lungren? Please.

On the flip side, I loved the Alien trilogy, (though I’m trying to expunge Alien Resurrection from my brain). Yes, I even enjoyed Alien 3. The Road Warrior was a worthy sequel to Mad Max, but Beyond the Thunderdome was a bit of a blight on the series. I thought The Dark Knight was an excellent film on its own, perhaps even better than Batman Begins (Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker is worth multiple viewings). The only problem was the fact that Christian Bale started growling halfway through the film. None of the children of Tim Burton’s Batman were as good as their father.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a fun ride all the way through, though admittedly I’d never read Tolkien’s version so when the first film ended without an ending, I let out a groan along with most of the rest of the theater audience. The Bourne Ultimatum was an improvement over The Bourne Supremacy and arguably better than The Bourne Identity. And while Godfather III was an average film, The Godfather II was a worthy, and some will say better, follow-up to The Godfather. I’d say “it’s hard to argue with a Best Picture Oscar,” but Titanic won out over L.A. Confidential in 1997 and Dances With Wolves beat out Goodfellas in 1990, so I can’t use that criteria as justification.

Oh, and my vote for the best sequel based on how much an improvement they were on their originals? It’s a tie. Evil Dead 2 and Terminator 2.

Obviously, I’m leaving out a lot of series and sequels, including Star Trek, the James Bond franchise, Rambo, Friday the 13th, American Pie (I thought American Wedding was the funniest of the bunch), Hellboy, Die Hard, and Pirates of the Caribbean (the second and third installments weren’t nearly as good as the first).

And yes, since we’re here, I can’t forget the Romero Films, but other than the original Dawn of the Dead, I don’t think the last three in the series hold up to NOTLD.

Admittedly, I haven’t read as many series or sequels as I’ve seen on film. I think part of this is that, when I do a search for the Best Book Series of All Time, most of the lists I come across are filled with YA titles like Lemony Snicket, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Golden Compass.

While I did read the first Harry Potter and the first installment of Twilight (I’m of the opinion that Edward’s a psychotic stalker and that vampires should never sparkle). Although I know a lot of adults loved both series, they’re YA novels and I’m not exactly the target audience, so I didn’t feel a desire to continue.

While I’m sure there are sequels and series out there for adult readers, the only series I have read all the way through is Stephen King’s The Dark Tower saga, which I thought peaked with the fourth installment, Wizard and Glass. After that, I felt it sort of wound its way down rather than building up to the end.

And in case you’re wondering, no, I still haven’t read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

So what the hell does all of this rambling and listing accomplish other than to share my own personal tastes? It says that I’m dubious of sequels to stand up to the originals. Most of the time, they just don’t cut it, so going back to the original question about a sequel, the only way I will write one is if I think it will hold up to Breathers.

So what are your thoughts? On a sequel to Breathers? On the films and books I’ve listed? On the films and books I haven’t listed? On sequels and series in general?

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Filed under: Movies and Books,The Writing Life — Tags: , , , , — S.G. Browne @ 3:49 pm