S.G. Browne

How Being A Writer Ruined My Favorite Childhood Movie

So I decided to give myself a break from rewrites of Lucky Bastard last night and watch a movie.

I had Rachel Getting Married from Netflix all cued up in my DVD player when I caught the end of the Family Guy episode “Something, Something, Something Dark Side” on TV, which is a parody of The Empire Strikes Back, and I decided to watch Star Wars again for the first time in nearly ten years. On VHS.

Yes, I still own a VHS. And I have a cathode ray tube television that weighs a thousand pounds. I have trouble getting rid of things that still work.

But back to Star Wars.

While I still have a soft spot for what was the most awe-inspiring and memorable movie-going experience of my life (having seen the original release at the Festival Cinemas in Hayward in 1977), I discovered that the writer in me couldn’t abide several problems in the film that I used to be able to overlook.

For one thing, the Stormtroopers need some target practice. Sure, you can argue that on the Death Star they were missing on purpose to allow the good guys to escape so they could track them to the rebel base, but throughout the film they were about as accurate as a weather forecast.

Speaking of shooting, when you have a single point of entry to defend where only one stormtrooper can come through at at time (like when the stormtroopers are coming out of the elevator into the detention block), it seems like Han and Chewbacca could have picked them off one by one as they came out. Not that I have any experience fighting with plasma bolt weapons, but it seems reasonable to me. Just sayin’.

But the part that really gets me is at the end of the movie when the Death Star approaches the planet Yavin, on the other side of which sits the moon that is home to the rebel base. With all of that “ultimate power in the universe” hyperbole, couldn’t the Death Star just blow up Yavin to get to the moon and take care of wiping out the rebellion in a matter of minutes? Instead, the Death Star goes into a leisurely orbit around the planet, which takes thirty minutes and gives the rebels plenty of time to attack the Death Star and blow it up.

Lame. Not as lame as regurgitating the same plot point in Return of the Jedi, but still lame.

If there’s one thing that irks me in films, it’s contrived or inexplicable plot points that allow the story to unfold in a manner inconsistent with the existing story elements.

But then, George Lucas has a bazillion dollar movie franchise and his own special effects company and a campus in the Presidio in San Francisco with a Yoda water fountain out in front of it, so what do I know?

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Filed under: Just Blogging,Movies and Books,The Writing Life — Tags: — S.G. Browne @ 6:10 am

Fiction Friday: Zombie Edition

In honor of Zombie Awareness Month (yes, apparently, May is Zombie Awareness Month), I’ve asked Jerry from Breathers if he would like to share his thoughts on some of his favorite current zombie fiction. So without further delay, heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Jerry!

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Thanks dude. So to be honest, I don’t read a lot of, like, zombie fiction. Just because I’m a zombie doesn’t mean I want to read about myself. How narcissistic is that? I mean, do private investigators only read detective novels? If they do, they’re total tools.

But anyway, I have read a couple of zombie novels recently that I thought were pretty good, so here’s my take on them.

Zombie, Ohio by Scott Kenemore

This is a story about a college professor dude in rural Ohio who wakes up from a car accident to find out he’s, like, a total zombie. Only unlike the other brain dead zombies that are freaking everyone out, he’s a smart zombie. At first he doesn’t even realize he’s one of us, but when it becomes apparent, he pretty much gives in to his hunger for human burgers.

But as he becomes isolated from the humans in his life (his friend and his girlfriend, who seems totally hot), he finds himself bonding with the other zombies and leading them across Ohio in search of food and purpose. It’s pretty cool, in a funny, disgusting, existential kind of way.

The main character kind of reminds me of Andy, all philosophical and wondering about the meaning of things. Personally, I think he should just chill out and have some fun. Smoke a bowl and drink some Jack. But of course, that’s what got me here, so maybe I’m not the best one to give out advice.

Zombies and Shit by Carlton Mellick III

This is one of the most bizarre books I’ve ever read. In a good way. Funny and gross with a lot of action and hot chicks. It’s like a mixture of the zombie apocalypse, The Running Man, and a totally fucked up version of Lost. Only without Hurley.

A bunch of dudes and dudettes, like twenty of them, wake up in an abandoned building on this island that’s totally swarming with zombies. Turns out they’re on a game show. And only one of them gets to make it off the island alive. So like, one by one they each get picked off, either by the zombies or by each other. Bummer.

The book was a lot of fun, with a bunch of zombies and zombie smart cars and these mechanized zombie dogs that totally freaked me out. I liked a lot of the characters, and totally related to Scavy and Junko, but Heinz was a complete dick. Oh, and one of the characters is a cybernetic Mr. T, that dude from The A-Team. That was awesome!

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Scott Kenemore is the author of the Zen of Zombie series, including The Zen of Zombie, The Art of Zombie Warfare, and Zombies vs Nazis

Carlton Mellick III is the author of numerous Bizarro novels, including Satan Burger, The Haunted Vagina, and Christmas on Crack

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It’s All Your Fart! (or Why Rewrites Matter)

When I was two years old, I used to greet my father when he came home from work and convey to him the exploits of my day. He would watch me with this bemused expression and nod his head and say “That’s great” without having any idea of what I was saying, causing me to throw myself on the floor and scream and kick and cry because he didn’t understand me.

This is all according to my mom. I don’t have any recollection of these moments of communication frustration. Nor do I have any recollection of calling my pacifier a “loodela” (pronounced loo-da-lah). It was like I was speaking another language. Something Germanic, I’m guessing.

As I grew older, my speech began to resemble something closer to English, but I still had trouble with certain letters, like U’s and R’s. So words like “fork” came out sounding more like I was from South Boston. Apparently, this was a great source of amusement for my parents as their five-year-old son would say things like: “Where’s my fuhk?” or “I need a fuhk.”

Doesn’t everyone?

However, I do recall a not-so-amusing moment when I was seven years old and, frustrated with my mom about something that had just occurred, I yelled out “It’s all your fault!” and stormed up the stairs to my bedroom. Only because of my speech problem, what my mom heard instead was “It’s all your fart!”

I don’t know what that means, exactly. I guess it implies definitive ownership of the fart. But I do know it was enough to get my mom to follow me up the stairs and wash my mouth out with a bar of soap. Ivory. Dove. Palmolive. I don’t know what flavor it was. And I didn’t imagine myself going blind like Ralphie in A Christmas Story but let me tell you, it didn’t taste too good.

And what does this have to do with writing? (Scratches his head to try to remember where he was going with this.) Ah yes. It has to do with communicating your ideas to others. Using language and characters and plot to convey what it is you want to say to your readers. Getting your point across. As another author (I believe it was Nigel Hamilton) once said:

“If the reader doesn’t understand what you’re saying, then you’re just talking to yourself.”

I suppose you could say it would be the equivalent of literary masturbation.

I think that’s something writers just take for granted. Not the literary masturbation part, but the ability to communicate.The idea that the story we create in our heads makes it to the page without losing something in the process.

When my writing group read my initial drafts of Breathers, Fated, and Lucky Bastard, they brought up a number of questions about the worlds I’d created. I didn’t withhold this information on purpose, but the story made sense to me when I initially told it. After all, I’m the creator of the universe, so naturally it all makes sense to me.

It wasn’t until I got feedback from the other members of my group that I realized I needed to do a better job of getting my ideas across. I needed to convey the concepts in my head so that the reader would enjoy the story and understand what I was trying to say.

Which is why rewriting is such an integral part of my writing process. It’s where I get to fix the problems. Where I get to craft and shape the story. Where I get to clarify what it is I’m trying to say so I’m not just talking to myself. Sometimes this process can include as many as half a dozen rewrites before the manuscript reaches my agent. That’s followed by a round of edits with my editor, then another three rounds of line edits, copy edits, and proof edits before it’s finally ready to publish.

I guess you could say that if writing the novel is the equivalent of giving birth to it, then rewriting it is like raising it and teaching it everything you know before sending it out into the world.

After that, you just hope it doesn’t throw a tantrum or get its mouth washed out with soap.

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Filed under: Just Blogging,The Writing Life — Tags: , , — S.G. Browne @ 6:03 am

Fiction Friday: The Big Nowhere

I enjoy stories with characters who aren’t clean-cut, perfect heroes. Who have flaws and secrets and skeletons in their closets. Who struggle with their inner demons. It makes them more believable. More three dimensional.

The same goes for my movies. Which is why I thought L.A. Confidential should have won the Best Picture Oscar in 1997 instead of Titanic. The richness of the story aside, I thought the characters resonated with more truth.

I mention L.A. Confidential because that film is what ultimately led me to read The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy. Both The Big Nowhere and L.A. Confidential make up the second and third entries in Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet, which also includes the bookend novels The Black Dahlia (which I’ve read) and White Jazz. I’m only halfway through the four but eagerly anticipating the third.

The Big Nowhere takes place in 1950, just a year or so before the events that occur in L.A. Confidential, and, like The Black Dahlia, the novel starts off with a gruesome murder. Eventually, the murder becomes plural and dovetails with several other story lines dealing with police corruption, Hollywood politics, and the Los Angeles mob.

Ellroy’s prose hits you like a prize fighter, never pulling any punches and taking you all twelve rounds. The book is dark and gritty and paints a picture of 1950 Los Angeles that is both believable and far from flattering.

The narrative is told in alternating chapters by the three main characters – Detective Danny Upshaw, Lieutenant Mal Considine, and Buzz Meeks -who are as flawed and as tragic as any heroes you’ve ever met. Sometimes you wonder if you should be rooting for them. But in the end, you realize you don’t really have any choice.

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Filed under: Fiction,Fiction Fridays — Tags: , — S.G. Browne @ 12:48 pm

The Truth of Creation vs the Truth of Interpretation

Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the chance to experience having other people tell me what my books mean. What someone else got out of them. How strangers interpreted them. It’s an odd thing, having people who had nothing to do with the creation of your book tell you and others what it is you’re trying to say with your writing. Sometimes it’s so far off base that you wonder if the person took crystal meth before reading the book.

Like the person who thought Breathers was an allegory for the Holocaust.

Initially, this disparity was something I had trouble adjusting to, even when someone made me out to look smarter or more insightful than I actually am. After all, I’m the one who wrote the book, so I’m the only one who knows the truth of the words I’ve written. Of what I intended to accomplish.

But at some point around the time when Fated came out last November, I began to realize that the truth of creation is no more valid than the truth of interpretation. How one person reacts to a book or a story is true for them. It’s a reflection of how the book speaks, or doesn’t speak, to their sensibilities. Of how it makes them feel. So how one person interprets the words and ideas I’ve strung together is absolutely correct.

It’s just different than my interpretation.

Art in all of its forms is subjective, be it a novel, a movie, an album, or a painting. As a fan of writing, film, music, and fine art, I understand that my opinion is just that. An opinion. I understand that there is no objectivity in art. That art exists for us to experience and that each individual experience is shaped by personal preferences and viewpoints. There is no definitive quality that makes one piece of art better than another. It’s all subjective. As someone once told me, once you start to qualify art, it ceases to become art.

Just because I think Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown is one of the best albums of the past decade doesn’t make it true.

Just because I think Being John Malkovich was the most original film of 1999 doesn’t mean it deserved to have won any awards.

But sometimes it’s difficult to be on the other side of the process, to be the creator rather than the consumer, and maintain that point of view. To understand that when you let your creations out into the world, they no longer belong to just you. They belong to everyone who experiences them.

However, when someonea reviewer or a teacher or some self-proclaimed literaticlaims to know what the author intended, whether it’s a novel written by me or by someone else, that’s where I think they’ve developed an over-inflated sense of themselves. You can’t possibly know what the author intended unless you spoke with the author about his or her intentions. You can guess. You can theorize. You can view the books through your own personal lens and offer your own personal insights. But you can’t know what the author was thinking. It’s all just a matter of opinion. A matter of interpretation.

And in spite of the fact that I might not agree with them, all of those opinions and interpretations are true.

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Filed under: Breathers,Fated,Fiction,The Writing Life,Wild Card Wednesdays — Tags: , — S.G. Browne @ 9:11 am