S.G. Browne

My Favorite Reads of 2012

Well, that year went by fast. It seems like just last March I was getting my first book published. And the summer before that I was graduating from college. And the year before that I was playing with Tinker Toys and Hot Wheels.

Like Ferris Bueller says: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Which brings us to my Favorite Reads of 2012. If you didn’t stop to look around your bookstore once in a while, you might have missed these. Fortunately, if you were remiss, you can still remedy that for 2013.

Sacré Bleu by Christopher Moore
My favorite of the favorites, this is vintage Christopher Moore. And I’m a sucker for Impressionist art. When I finished this, I felt like I had a long way to go to rival the writing acumen of Moore.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
Recommended to me by my friend Bill Breedlove, this tale of two hired guns during the California gold rush is dark and quirky and funny and sad all at the same time.

City of the Lost by Stephen Blackmoore
A zombie noir novel with a nice humorous bite and a visual flair. Every time I turned on my Netflix, I wished this was a TV series so I could watch the next episode.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Harry Potter meets The Narnia Chronicles, with deft writing, compelling characters, and a nice, subtle creepiness lurking just beneath the surface.

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
King’s collection of five dark, unforgiving stories about people who have fallen over the edge into the abyss. There are no happy endings here, only excellent storytelling.

Honorable Mentions
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Farewell My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Feel free to agree or disagree or share your own favorite reads of 2012. And Happy New Year!

Filed under: Fiction,Fiction Fridays,Movies and Books — S.G. Browne @ 9:18 am

Fiction Friday: Books Anonymous

Over most of the past two weeks, as I’ve been working on my new Breathers Christmas novella and not doing much of anything else, I’ve sort of forgotten to do certain things. Like clean my apartment, post to my blog, and remember to floss.

Another casualty of my writing has been my stack of books to-be-read, waiting for me to give it some attention. Them some attention? Whatever. The problem isn’t so much that the stack of books isn’t getting any smaller, but that it’s growing taller. This is due to the fact that I keep doing book signings in book stores and am either offered an author’s discount or given my choice of a book for free as a gratitude by the book store.

Don’t they know I have a problem?

Some of the books in my stack have been there for nearly two years, like The Passage and Spook and L.A. Confidential. Others, like Monster and Divine Misfortune, both by A. Lee Martinez, were impulse buys at the L.A. Times Festival of Books. And Sacre Bleu and Pest Control came courtesy of one of the bookstores where I had a recent signing.

And this doesn’t include two new books I picked up or the other dozen books I have waiting on one of my bookshelves.

I’m wondering if there’s some sort of Twelve-Step Program for buying books:

  1. First I have to admit I have a problem, which I’ve done.
  2. Then I need to recognize a higher power who can give me strength. I’m thinking Stephen King fits the bill. Or maybe Neil Gaiman.
  3. Next there’s admitting past errors, like Twilight, and then making amends for those errors, like re-reading Bloodsucking Fiends.
  4. After that, I’d need to live a new life with a new code of behavior. I’m still working on that.
  5. Finally, there’s helping others who have the same addiction or compulsion. I’m here for you.

Obviously I’ve missed a few steps, but then I never was good at math.

Filed under: Fiction,Fiction Fridays,Movies and Books,The Writing Life — S.G. Browne @ 7:36 am

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

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


Fiction Friday: The Big Sleep

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

Last week I interviewed Ian M. Dudley, author of Marlowe and the Spacewoman. In Dudley’s novel, the main character is a futuristic clone who has taken on the identify of a famous fictional detective. In The Big Sleep, written by Raymond Chandler more than 70 years ago, the real Philip Marlowe makes his literary debut.

First, a little background:

Prior to writing Lucky Bastard, I hadn’t read a lot of detective fiction. And what I had read was years ago and mostly forgettable. But as I’d decided to make Nick Monday, my main character, a private detective, I thought it would be a good idea to do a little reading research before I got started.

On the advice of a couple of members of my writers’ group, who had both written novels that featured private detectives as protagonists and contained some mystery/noir elements, the first book I picked up was Raymond Chandler’s debut novel written in 1939. And if The Big Sleep is the only book I would have read, I wouldn’t have gone wrong.

I was hooked on the first page. The narrative voice, humor, style, and tone pulled me in like a pair of inviting arms and held me in their embrace.

Without getting into any plot details: the story moves along at a brisk pace and the mystery unfolds page by page, keeping you turning them, until you arrive at a satisfying conclusion and can’t wait to pick up another Chandler novel and get back into the world of Philip Marlowe.

Even though the plot is compelling and the story well-crafted, it’s the writing that brings you back. Chandler has a knack for narrative drive and creating characters and writing dialogue that seems like it could have happened. And it never gets dull.

While I didn’t know much about Chandler before I read The Big Sleep, I’ve learned that he is considered one of the fathers of hard-boiled detective fiction and has had an immense influence on other writers of the genre. Consider me influenced.

Purchase The Big Sleep at:

Filed under: Fiction Fridays,Lucky Bastard,Movies and Books — Tags: , , — S.G. Browne @ 7:00 am