S.G. Browne

Lucky Bastard San Francisco Blog Tour – Nick Monday, P.I.

When I initially sat down to write Lucky Bastard, all I had was the concept of luck poaching and the novel starting out on the roof of a hotel. I didn’t know where the story would go, how I would get my character back on to the hotel roof, or even my character’s name. I just had twenty pages of an idea with a couple of characters and some potential for plot.

It was around this time in April 2009  that I sold my second novel, Fated, and my agent asked me to send her a synopsis of Lucky Bastard that she could share with my publisher. Which is all well and good if you’re a plotter but when you’re a pantser, writing a synopsis of a novel you haven’t written yet poses a bit of a problem.

After all, how the hell am I supposed to write a synopsis when I don’t have any idea what’s going to happen?

My agent told me to just make up something, so that’s what I did. I made something up. And it started out like this:

Jon Rolli is a private detective who lives in San Francisco with his cat, eats Lucky Charms every morning for breakfast, and has an affinity for corporate coffeehouse baristas. He’s also a luck poacher.

There was another page-and-a-half of gibberish about luck and plot points and other characters, and we’ll get to the name of my protagonist in a minute, but the idea for him to be a private detective popped into my head for a couple of reasons.

One, I’d recently read and critiqued a couple of detective novels written by other members of my writers group. And two, I walked past the building on the right, located at the corner of Fillmore and Filbert, at least a couple of times a week over the previous three years. On the second floor, the one above the defunct Irish bakery, is Immendorf Investigations, Private Detectives. (Click on the photo to enlarge).

At that point, I still wasn’t sure my main character was going to be a private detective. It was just an idea that I thought might be useful. Even nine months later, in early January 2010, with only eighty pages written, he still wasn’t a P.I. (I know this because I save every version of a manuscript I’m working on on as a separate file).

Nick Monday wouldn’t become a private detective until nearly a year after I’d written the synopsis, which is when he would finally get an office at the corner of Sutter and Kearny. On the left you’ll see two buildings. (Again, feel free to click on the image for a larger picture). The one on the far left is the actual building located on that corner. In reality, the offices and units on those five floors are much larger than the cramped 10′ x 10′ office Nick inhabits in Lucky Bastard. As Nick describes his digs:

I have my own little office in downtown San Francisco. And when I say little, I don’t mean in a quaint or a charming kind of way. Like a little cottage or a little eccentric. It’s more like a little hungover. Or a little anorexic.

The building on the right, which is just up Kearny on the other side near Bush Street, is more like the office building I imagine for Nick. But I preferred the sound and feel of him having an office on the corner of Sutter and Kearny rather than near the corner of Kearny and Bush. So I took some creative license with reality and left him there.

As for how Nick Monday got his name, I’ll share that in my next blog post.

Filed under: Lucky Bastard,Nick Monday,The Writing Life — Tags: — S.G. Browne @ 8:36 pm

Fiction Friday: The Maltese Falcon

Welcome to the final installment of Fiction Friday – Lucky Bastard Edition, where I’m spotlighting the books that influenced the writing of Lucky Bastard. We wrap things up this week with the quintessential detective novel: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett.

Naturally, the quintessential detective novel deserves the quintessential detective. Enter Sam Spade, the novel’s protagonist who is often considered to be a major influence in the development of the hard-boiled detective genre. Sam Spade is a man’s detective: cold, detached, defiant, and relentless in his pursuit of justice. At least justice as defined by his personal code of ethics.

If you’ve read my other book reviews, you know I’m not going to regurgitate the plot. Rather, I focus on the writing, the characters, and the overall story. And this one has all of that in *cough* spades.

Hammett’s prose is sparse and economical, and his dialogue is fast and to the point. Although I admit that I occasionally found some of his dialogue to be a little overly dramatic, but it’s a small criticism. His style fits the genre perfectly and he does a great job of capturing the mood of San Francisco in the late 1920s.

In addition to Sam Spade, who alone is worth the read, The Maltese Falcon is populated with classic characters: tough guys, cops, gangsters, and a femme fatale who are all sharply defined. And the story, which begins with the death of Spade’s partner and ends with the revelation of who killed him, is a well-constructed, intertwined plot that involves murder, betrayal, and, of course, the titular valuable figurine.

While I personally don’t find Hammett’s prose to be as engaging as Raymond Chandler’s, the writing is solid, the plot intriguing, and the characters well defined and mysterious. If you’re looking to take a crack at your first detective novel, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Filed under: Fiction Fridays,Lucky Bastard,Movies and Books — Tags: , — S.G. Browne @ 9:50 pm

Lucky Bastard San Francisco Blog Tour – Chapter One

“It’s my understanding that naked women don’t generally tend to carry knives.”

That’s the opening line to my third novel, Lucky Bastard—a detective/noir/comedy/satire that takes place over the course of a single day in San Francisco.

Since I live in San Francisco, I thought it would be fun to take a virtual tour of the locations that factor prominently in Lucky Bastard and the inspirations behind how the book came to be written. Then I had the idea to add pictures.

Thus was born the Lucky Bastard San Francisco Blog Tour! (Cue the trumpets and orchestral music.)

Since all books have to start with Chapter One, that seems like a good place to kick things off. To quote James Lipton: We start, as always, at the beginning.

Lucky Bastard opens on the roof of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in Union Square, with our hero, Nick Monday, being threatened by an unidentified angry, naked woman holding an eight-inch carving knife. That’s the view from Powell Street of the Sir Francis Drake, known by locals as “The Drake,” on your right. They wouldn’t let me on the roof to take pictures for liability reasons. And I couldn’t find a woman willing to remove her clothes and menace me with a carving knife. So you’ll have to settle for this view, instead.

So what made me decide to start my novel out on the roof of a hotel? And why did I pick The Drake?

Lucky Bastard started out as a writing exercise for my writers group back in July of 2006. I can’t remember what the exercise was, but the opening line just popped into my head and I followed it up with a one page scene about a guy on the roof of some generic hotel and a naked woman holding a knife. That was pretty much it. I had no idea how he got up there or why the woman had the knife. It’s just what showed up on the page.

I didn’t do anything more with the scene until March of 2007. At the time I was working on my second novel Fated when  an idea popped into my head of what to do with that guy on the roof. So I sat down and wrote twenty pages of a novel that was loosely based on a short story about luck titled “Softland” that I’d written back in 2004. Which, by the way, you can read in my upcoming e-book collection Shooting Monkeys in a Barrel.

Another two years went by before I picked up those twenty pages and decided to see where the story wanted to go. For those who aren’t familiar with the way I write, I don’t plot out my stories. I’m a pantser. I write by the seat of my pants, discovering the story as I go along. Although the book starts on the roof of a hotel, that’s not the story. The story is everything that came before that opening scene. So I had to figure out how to get my protagonist back up on the hotel roof.

The first thing I needed to do was pick a hotel. While I’d set the novel in San Francisco, I hadn’t given the hotel a name, so I went out in search of one located in or around Union Square. The Chancellor Hotel had the right look and the colorful local history, but at fifteen stories it wasn’t tall enough for me. And while the Marriott and the Grand Hyatt were both over thirty stories tall, they lacked a certain panache.

So I decided on The Drake. One, it had the right look and feel. Two, having been built in 1928 it had the local history. Three, at twenty-one stories tall it was the right height. And four, it had something none of the other hotels could match: Beefeater doormen.

In addition to the architecture and the height and the Beefeaters, sitting atop The Drake is Harry Denton’s Starlight Room—a nightclub with a 360-degree view and 1930’s style throwback that I thought might turn out to be a useful setting at some future point in the novel. And I was right. It most definitely was useful.

But that’s another blog post.

If you’d like to read Chapter 1 of Lucky Bastard, you can check it out here.

Filed under: Lucky Bastard,Lucky Bastard San Francisco Blog Tour — Tags: , — S.G. Browne @ 9:24 pm

Fiction Friday: The Little Sleep

Welcome back to Fiction Friday, where I’m spotlighting the novels that influenced and inspired the writing of Lucky Bastard.

Last week I brought you Raymond Chandler’s classic mystery/noir novel The Big Sleep. This week, in Paul Tremblay’s The Little Sleep and No Sleep Till Wonderland, Mark Genevich is a South Boston private detective who suffers from narcolepsy and hallucinations. If that’s not bad enough, he has an overbearing mother for a landlord.

I stumbled across The Little Sleep at my local Books Inc. in early 2010. After finishing it in just a couple of sittings, I immediately picked up the sequel to find out what else was in store for Mark Genevich. I recently asked the author a few questions about his novels and his unique protagonist.

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What gave you the idea to write a novel about a narcoleptic detective?

I don’t remember where or when, exactly, but I got this image stuck in my head of a stereotypical PI scene where a beautiful woman walks into a detective’s big city office. Only her case is a truly bizarre one: her fingers on one hand were stolen and then replaced with someone else’s fingers. I quickly wrote that scene as the first chapter for some unknown, unformed book. Originally, I was going to play the missing fingers straight and try to write a PK Dick/horror/noir mash-up, but I didn’t have any story ideas to go along with it. So I put that chapter away for about a year.

Then one night I was researching medical afflictions (not a pastime; I was doing research for another story), and I stumbled across narcolepsy. When I read about the symptoms, particularly hypnagogic hallucinations, I remembered that missing-fingers chapter and knew instantly that her fingers were no longer really missing, and that my detective was dreaming. The title, THE LITTLE SLEEP, occurred to me immediately thereafter, and I went to work on research and building a plot for poor Mark Genevich.

Tell us about your hero, Mark Genevich. What’s he like?

Mark is really kind of an anti-detective. Because of his narcolepsy, he’s not really cut out for the surveillance, cloak and dagger lifestyle. He’s more than a little surly and sarcastic. He’s a glass-half-empty kind of guy to be sure, but can you blame him? His lives and works in a building owned by his well meaning but overbearing mother who constantly checks up on him. A terrible van accident left him scarred physically and mentally, as well as emotionally.

Mark isn’t going to outwit every suspect he stumbles upon, but he isn’t stupid. He’s not going to win very many brawls, but he isn’t weak. Single-minded will and determination is what sets Mark apart from most. Despite everything going against him (including himself, more often than not), he won’t ever give up.

Do you have narcolepsy? What kind of research did you do to bring your main character to life?

I do not have narcolepsy. However, in the mid-to-late 90s, I did suffer from a sleep disorder: sleep apnea. So, I do have some personal experience with crushing daytime fatigue. That said, based on my research and collected first-hand accounts from those who suffer with narcolepsy, my sleep apnea was nothing compared to what narcoleptics have to deal with. Most of my research was online, though I did read a self-published first hand account of a woman who lives with narcolepsy, and found it to be quite informative.

Mark Genevich, lives in Boston. You live in Massachusetts. No one ever sees the two of you at the same party. Coincidence? Is Mark your alter ego? Or are you just good friends?

Shh. Don’t tell…

I lived in South Boston for three years with my wife before moving out of the city. Lisa’s mother’s side of the family were born and raised in South Boston, so I had a wealth of homegrown experience and information at my disposal.

I’m as grumpy and surly as Mark when I go too long between meals. Or when I’m low on sleep. Otherwise, Mark is his own guy.

The title of your debut is a play on The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, and your opening paragraph is a wonderful nod to his novel. It’s obvious Chandler had an influence on you. Who and what are some of your other literary influences?

As a reader, I first fell in love with horror and speculative fiction. While I’d read some crime/noir fiction, I certainly wasn’t an expert. For The Little Sleep, I did as much research on crime and noir fiction as I did for narcolepsy. I read and re-read Chandler (including his personal letters), Hammet, Ross McDonald. I also re-read noir mash-ups from PK Dick, Jonathan Lethem, and Will Christopher Baer. Baer’s Phineas Poe informed Mark Genevich as much as Chandler’s Marlowe. Though as you noticed, The Little Sleep’s first paragraph is a big nod to The Big Sleep.

My other literary influences include Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oates, and many more. I try to steal from everyone!

Your novel No Sleep Till Wonderland is a terrific follow-up to The Little Sleep. Did you always plan to write a sequel? And will Mark Genevich come out to play a third time?

I didn’t actually plan to write a sequel. In fact, when I finished The Little Sleep, I told my agent that this book was it and that there’d be no sequels. As a reader, I’m not all that interested in series, to be honest. I much prefer stand-alones. And besides, I’d written Mark Genevich’s story and that was it. Well, Henry Holt came in with an enthusiastic offer for two books, and it was hard to say no. There are worse problems in life to have than writing a sequel, right?

That said, I had a hard time coming up with a plot line for the second book. I know part of the issue was me subconsciously (or consciously) rebelling against the idea of writing a sequel. But when I thought about the first book and how it was a novel about memory, the past, and how it shapes our identity, I found my way into the second novel. If The Little Sleep was about Mark’s past and who he was, then the second novel would build on that, and be more concerned with Mark’s present. Who he was would still be a mystery, but so would who he is now.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I hate coffee and pickles. Pickle flavored coffee would be the worst thing in the world, and a sure sign of the apocalypse.

Also, keep an eye out for my dystopian novel (doesn’t everyone have one?) SWALLOWING A DONKEY’S EYE, coming in August!

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Get your copy of The Little Sleep:

You can read more about Paul Tremblay on his Website and follow him on The Little Sleep’s Blog