S.G. Browne

Haunted Mansion Writers Retreat

Okay, so here I at at the Haunted Mansion, sitting on a soft couch with down pillows in a room that’s at least twice the size of my apartment in San Francisco. I could park three cars in here and still have enough space to stage Jesus Christ Superstar.

Picture windows as big as Napoleon Bonaparte’s ego are filled with evergreens, in front of which sits a couch where Kim Richards and Dan Weidman relax and drink wine and tap out their own thoughts on laptops. Loren Rhoads sits on one side of them on a love seat that’s as soft as the Pillsbury Dough Boy wrapped in velvet and Chris Colvin sits in one of the straight back chairs that’s reserved for those who have misbehaved.

To my right, Weston Ochse talks to Sephora Giron and Eunice Magill about teaching writers how to write and Yvonne Navarro walks in to tell us dinner is ready while Rain Graves takes a picture of all of us.

This is how the Haunted Mansion Writers Retreat weekend begins.

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Filed under: The Writing Life — Tags: — S.G. Browne @ 7:36 pm

T is for To, Tooth, and Talisman

We’re in the home stretch and down to the last quarter (more or less) of the alphabet. And looking forward, there are only a couple of letters left with any significant entries. Not a whole lot of books that start with X, Y or Z. So let’s try to make this one count.

Some of the titles I’ve read that begin with the letter T include The Three Musketeers (Dumas), The Time Machine (Wells), Treasure Island (Stevenson), The Turn of the Screw (James), They Thirst (McCammon), Tender is the Night (Fitzgerald), The Tommyknockers (King), and The Tomb and The Touch (F. Paul Wilson).

While I enjoyed all of the titles above, the three that made the top of the list were fairly clear cut and diverse. One of them is a classic, one a twisted fairy tale, and the other the book that made me want to become a writer.

Classically Superb
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
No, the word “to” is not an article, so this book falls here rather than in the Ks. Although I’m sure someone can come up with another author who falls into this category, I can’t think of a better one hit wonder than Harper Lee. Her only published book, To Kill a Mockingbird still resonates with me thirty years after I first read it. And the names are as familiar to me as my friends. Scout, Jem, Boo Radley. I even named one of my cats Atticus. A Pulitzer Prize of a novel.

Twistedly Delightful
The Tooth Fairy, Graham Joyce
This 1997 British Fantasy Award winner for best novel is a dark, supernatural, and wonderful coming of age story that resonates with great characters and a steady, underlying menace. At times playful, horrifying, and charged with sexual tension, Joyce writes a novel with an underlying wit and menace that makes for a compelling narrative.

Markedly Infulential
The Talisman, Stephen King & Peter Straub
I was sitting on the couch in my room during my sophomore year in college, reading The Talisman and getting so caught up in the adventure unfolding within the pages that the world outside of the book ceased to exist. At one point I stopped and thought: “I want to make others feel this way.” While it’s not my favorite book by King or Straub (those would be The Stand and Ghost Story), this novel had a profound impact on the path I would eventually choose to follow.

Bonus Commentary
Twilight, Stephanie Myers
Personally, I’m not a big YA reader or a big fan of vampires. When it comes to horror, give me aliens, ghost, or zombies. But I will say that vampires should never, ever, EVER sparkle in the sunlight.

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The Writing Life: Fated

The idea for Fated started out as something completely different than what it eventually became. Actually, it was almost an accident. An idea born out of another idea that ended up being somewhat less brilliant than when I initially started writing it down.

Late in the evening of September 10, 2003 (it was actually 10PM – I have the entry in one of my journals), I sat down to write out an idea for a short story that had popped into my head. The entry starts out:

“Story about a man in his late thirties who has spent his life avoiding risks until some supernatural event intervenes.”

This brilliant idea goes on for almost a full page until I realized, and actually wrote down, that the idea sounded much better in my head before I watched SportsCenter on ESPN to see if the Giants beat the Padres. (They did, 7-1.)

At that point, I had no idea where I was going with the original idea. But not wanting to give up on whatever it was that prompted me to sit down and write in the first place, I kept journaling, coming up with an occasional “maybe this” and a few “maybe thats” until I stumbled upon the idea that my main character lived in Manhattan and had first hand knowledge about certain events because he’s Fate. I even had him aspiring to be a writer so that he could tell the truth about the fact that no one, not even fictional characters, control their own fate.

I rambled on a bit with that, trying to figure out if he was human, if he had a childhood, if he socialized with humans, if he went out on dates – throwing out ideas that at the time didn’t really go anywhere but that’s what writers do. Throw things at a target and hope something sticks. Then I turned on the TV and watched the rest of SportsCenter.

The following July, I was sitting on a bench at an outdoor shopping mall, watching people walk past and wondering what their futures held for them. I hadn’t pursued the idea about Fate from the previous September, but as I started writing, I realized the ideas were connected. Five minutes later, I’d scribbled out a narrative on a page of a yellow-lined notepad about a character who can see what everyone will be like in fifteen or twenty years. This would eventually become the opening chapter to Fated.

I didn’t actually start working on the novel until more than two years later, in December 2006, after I’d moved to San Francisco. I wrote the first half of Fated (40,000 words) in three months, struggled for another nine months to squeeze out the next 20,000 words, then pumped out the last quarter of it (another 20,000 words) in January 2008. I finished the first draft of Fated on February 2, 2008, the day before the New York Giants upset the previously undefeated New England Patriots 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII.

I guess they were fated to lose.

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Filed under: Fated,The Writing Life — Tags: — S.G. Browne @ 6:44 am

S is for Shining, Stand, and Survivor

Out of all the letters in the alphabet, the letter S proved to have the largest selection of books to choose from to date. It also proved to be the most difficult letter in terms of picking my favorites. But since I can only put three on the list, I had to make some tough calls, including leaving off titles such as Slaughterhouse Five (Vonnegut), Swan Song (McCammon), and Something Wicked This Way Comes (Bradbury).

Some of the other titles that didn’t make the final cut are:

The Scarlet Letter (Hawthorne), A Separate Peace (Knowles), Skin Deep (Hiaasen), Strangers (Koontz), Shadowland (Straub), and Salem’s Lot and Skeleton Crew (King).

I’ll even add The Sun Also Rises to the list, in spite of the fact that I generally can’t stand Hemingway and he’s made my Classic Literature Razzie list for my least favorite literary novel of all time (A Farewell to Arms). But for some reason, I actually recall not hating this book in my high school American Lit class. Which is about the highest praise I’m willing to give to anything written by Hemingway.

On to the three titles that made the podium:

The Stand, Stephen King
Not only is this my favorite book that begins with the letter S, but King’s apocalyptic novel of good versus evil is one of my favorite books of all time. I’ve read it at least three times, having read it the first time while on vacation in Australia with my family in the summer of 1985 before my sophomore year in college. Best praise I can give it? I had to stop reading it at one point to mourn my favorite character when King decided to kill him off.  King at his best.

Survivor, Chuck Palahniuk
Also one of my favorite reads of all time, Survivor is told from the POV of Tender Branson, the last remaining survivor of the Creedish death cult. The book opens in the cockpit of a Boeing 747 with our hero narrating his life story into the airplane’s black box, having hijacked the plane and released all of the passengers and crew. The rest of the book, told in descending order of chapters and pages, is a flashback explaining how he ended up alone in the airplane. It’s a great social satire on religion and the cult of celebrity.

The Shining, Stephen King
I tried to limit King to just one title, but I couldn’t leave off one of the most terrifying books I’ve ever read. This one actually had me awake into the early hours of the morning, my hands gripping the pages, unable to put it down. While I know the film version is considered a classic, it’s a horrible adaptation of the book, focusing on Nicholson’s descent into insanity and downplaying the supernatural element and the psychic ability, “the shining,” of the little boy, Danny. Read the book. It’s far superior to the film.

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Filed under: Movies and Books — Tags: , , , , — S.G. Browne @ 6:25 am