S.G. Browne

Literary Mash-Up!

It’s time to play Literary Mash-Up, the game where you take two existing books and mash them together to form a brand new literary masterpiece, such as: Ender’s Game of Thrones, The Goodnight Moon Also Rises, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Grapes of Wrath.

But coming up with the titles is just part of the fun. In order to give your literary Franken-creations a life of their own, try mashing up their synopses, as well.

Below I’ve listed five new Literary Mash-Ups and their appropriate (or inappropriate) back cover copy. I hope you enjoy these brand new fictional tomes.

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The Joy Luck Fight Club
In 1949 four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting every weekend in the basements and parking lots of bars across the country to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and take off their shoes and shirts and fight each other barehanded. United in shared unspeakable loss and hope, they plan for violent revenge on an empty consumer-culture world.

The Perks of Being Lord of the Flies
A story about what it’s like to travel that strange course through the uncharted territory of primitive savagery and survival. The world of first dates, family drama, and hunting wild pigs. Of sex, drugs, and dropping a boulder on a fat kid. Of those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as high school. Standing on the fringes of the collapse of social order offers a unique perspective…but there comes a time to see what it looks like from inside the hunting party.

The Old Man and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish
Told in language of great simplicity and power, this classic children’s book celebrates how much fun a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin can be. From the can-opening Zans to the boxing Gox to the old Cuban trawler who can’t make a dollar, the silly rhymes and colorful cast of characters create an entertaining approach to the theme of courage in the face of defeat that will have every child giggling.

To Kill a Mockingjay
It’s the mid-1930s during the Great Depression and against all odds, Scout Finch has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she’s made it out of the bread lines alive, she’s still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the civil unrest? None other than Tom Robinson, a young black man accused of raping a white woman.

Of Mice and World War Z
Laborers in California’s dusty vegetable fields, George and Lennie hustle work when they can, living a hand-to-mouth existence as they travel across the United States, clinging together in the face of loneliness, alienation, and the zombie apocalypse. For George and Lennie have a plan: to own an acre of land and a fortified zombie-proof shack they can call their own. When they land jobs at a refugee shelter in the Salinas Valley, the fulfillment of their dream seems within their grasp. But George cannot guard Lennie from the provocations of a flirtatious woman, nor predict the consequences of Lennie’s unswerving obedience to the zombie defense tactics George has taught him.

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Filed under: Fiction,Literary Mash-Ups,Movies and Books — S.G. Browne @ 7:38 am

The Writing Life: Submit to Your Story

Submit, submit, submit.

When I say this, I’m not encouraging a relentless stream of query letters to try to get published, nor am I attempting to use repetitive suggestion to get you to be my personal slave. Though I have to admit, the idea does have its merits.

No. What I’m talking about is submitting to your story, which is something Steven Soderbergh (director of such films as Traffic, Ocean’s 11, Contagion, Out of Sight, The Informant!, and sex, lies and videotape) talks about in a recent interview in New York Magazine. He also makes some comments about character and storytelling that resonate with me and draw some parallels between writing a novel and directing a film.

To this point, Soderbergh talks about giving actors as much freedom as possible and trying not to control them. He mentions that he’s “looking to amplify and showcase whatever it is about them that he finds compelling and submitting to what the film wants and needs to be.”

For me, it’s the same when I write a novel. As I’ve mentioned, I discover the story as I write it rather than plotting it out, which tends to result in the plot evolving from the characters rather than the other way around. So in order for my story to work, I have to get out of the way and allow my characters to do what it is they want to do rather than trying to control them and make their actions or motivations fit into some preconceived plot I’ve designed.

In other words, I submit to what the story wants and needs to be.

Submit, submit, submit.

(Now, after you pick up my dry cleaning, swing by the Coffee Roastery and get me a medium mocha, soy milk, no whipped cream.)

Another comment Soderbergh makes is that “there’s nothing more fun than watching a performer do something you don’t expect.”

I agree. I love it when my characters do or say something I hadn’t anticipated. Admittedly, sometimes this takes the story in a new direction that requires me to subdue the ten-year-old kid inside of me who wants to stomp his feet and jump up and down and complain:

“But I don’t want to go over there! I want to go over here!”

However, most of the time I just go with it because I figure my characters have a better understanding of their reasons than I do.

As an example, in my initial drafts of Breathers, the book doesn’t open with Andy waking up in the kitchen to discover that he’s killed his parents and stuffed them in the Amana bottom freezer, then flash back to the events that led up to his discovery. Instead, it opened at an Undead Anonymous meeting. The current opening, with the subsequent flashback, came in later drafts.

In my early drafts, about two-thirds of the way through the book, I had Andy going to court in a battle for his right to exist while leaving his parents intact. Or at least that’s where I thought the story wanted to go, but the whole thing felt laborious and uninspiring and forced. So when I finally decided to stop trying to force the story in a direction that wasn’t working and I just let Andy do what he wanted to do, he killed his parents in order to save himself from being shipped off to a zombie zoo.

As soon as I let that happen, as soon as I let Andy take control and I got out of the way, he did something that completely surprised me. Not only was that fun for me to see but it was also a learning experience. I stopped trying to control my characters and let them take charge.

I submitted to what the story wanted to be.

So if you find your story isn’t working, maybe it’s because you’re getting in the way of the characters and telling them what to do rather than letting them figure it out on their own.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go bone up on my Jedi mind tricks.

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Filed under: Breathers,Fiction,The Writing Life — S.G. Browne @ 7:26 am

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!

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

The Next Big Thing: BIG EGOS

Welcome to The Next Big Thing, a meme or so-called blog-hop, where authors answer questions about their latest or upcoming work and then tag up to five more authors to do the same thing a week later. It’s kind of like a chain letter, only you don’t die if you forget to send it on.

So last week, Christopher Golden tagged me in desperation because he’d forgotten all about his Next Big Thing blog post that was due. Naturally, I’m a sucker for a desperate author. Plus, Chris had included my short story “Reality Bites” in his latest and greatest zombie anthology 21st Century Dead, so I didn’t want to leave him hanging.

Anyway, here are the questions along with my answers. Afterwards, you’ll get to hear what Chris had to say about the other lovely authors tagged along with me, followed by the authors I suckered into this.

The Next Big Thing: BIG EGOS

Where did the idea come from for the book?
Back in 1997 I wrote a short story about a designer drug that allowed you to become a dead celebrity or fictional character. I have no idea where the idea for the short story came from.

What genre does your book fall under?
Dark comedy and social satire. It’s not technically a genre. It’s really just commercial fiction. My novels don’t really fall into any single genre.

Which actors would play your characters in a movie version?
I think Ryan Gosling could probably nail the role of my unnamed narrator. Others actors who would be a good fit for characters in BIG EGOS include Aaron Paul, Emily Blunt, and Jennifer Lawrence.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
An unnamed, unreliable narrator discovers that Big Egos, the latest thing in role-playing, is affecting his concept of reality, causing him to question his own identity and the role he is meant to play.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
BIG EGOS will be published by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, and is represented by Michelle Brower of Folio Literary Management.

How long did it take you to write the first draft ?
I started writing BIG EGOS in November 2009 but stopped to write Lucky Bastard. I picked it back up in January 2011 and finished a rough first draft four months later. But certain things weren’t working the way I wanted them to, so it took me more than a year to get it right.

What other books would you compare this story to?
The story was originally told completely out of order and bounced around the memories of an unreliable narrator, so while I wouldn’t compare it to them, I always imagined it as a mutant child of Slaughterhouse-Five and American Psycho.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The original inspiration came from the short story I wrote in 1997, but I wanted to expand on that and explore the idea of what happens to your identity when you’re constantly pretending to be someone you’re not.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
You can read the short story the novel is based upon, “My Ego is Bigger Than Yours,” in my collection  Shooting Monkeys in a Barrel. Oh, and BIG EGOS is scheduled for publication August 2013.

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There you go. Or, as Porky Pig would say, that’s all folks. As I mentioned, the incomparable Christopher  Golden tagged me, along with the following three fantastic writers whom you should have on your radar. Here’s what Chris had to say about them:

Cherie Priest is the author of the hugely successful Clockwork Century novels, including Boneshaker and the latest, The Inexplicables. She’s also written creepy-as-all-get-out Southern Gothic supernatural tales and urban fantasy, has dynamite fashion sense, and different hair every time I see her.

Caitlin Kittredge is the author of the ass-kicking urban fantasy Black London novels and the YA series The Iron Codex, which has the best titles. I mean, book two is The Nightmare Garden, that’s pretty damn cool. She once told me that she’s not ready for the zombie apocalypse but she is prepared for the kitten apocalypse. Make of that what you will.

Yes, Amber Benson is the author of the Death’s Daughter series of urban fantasy novels, among other things, and yes, she’s an actress-writer-director who has been elevated to the status of cult icon in recent years. She’s also my little sister, gave me the best nickname ever, and commandeers my daughter’s “princess bed” at every opportunity.

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And in keeping with the spirit of The Next Big Thing meme, behold the authors I suckered into doing this, who are all terrific in their own right. Check out their posts next Tuesday, December 18th.

Mario Acevedo is the author of Werewolf Smackdown, Jailbait Zombie, and The Undead Kama Sutra, among others. He is a man of much funny. Read him, but only if you want to laugh.

Steve Hockensmith wrote the New York Times bestselling Dawn of the Dreadfuls and Dreadfully Ever After (the prequel and sequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), as well as the mystery/western series, Holmes on the Range. He is also a man of much funny.

Scott Kenemore followed up his humorous Zen of Zombie humor/satire series with the novels Zombie, Ohio and Zombie, Illinois. Hey, what happened to Indiana? Scott is also a man. Also funny.

John Hornor Jacobs is the author of the novels Southern Gods and This Dark Earth. While not likely to hit your funny bone, they should be on your TBR list. I’m not joking. (NOTE: John has already posted his entry on his blog.)

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Filed under: Big Egos,Fiction,The Writing Life — Tags: , — S.G. Browne @ 6:55 am

The Writing Life: Who’s Afraid of Good Dialogue?

In August of last year, I wrote a blog post about dialogue and suggested that any writer or aspiring writer should watch films and read screenplays for a lesson in writing good, believable dialogue. After all, most films are action and dialogue. Except for The Graduate. There’s a lot of comedy there in silent pauses.

But in the same way that movies are great teachers in writing snappy conversations, plays are just as helpful. After all, they’re pretty much all dialogue, so if the dialogue doesn’t work, neither does the play.

I read a lot of plays in college for a scriptwriting class and fell in love with a number of works by Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill, though I wouldn’t recommend them unless you’re looking for some heavy themes and a lot of disillusionment and despair. So they won’t exactly take you to your happy place. But the dialogue is excellent, especially A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

But my favorite plays, naturally, fell more along the lines of the comedic and the absurd—like Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee. (Which I’m currently re-reading.) If you’ve never had a chance to read either of these and would like to see comic and insightful dialogue at it’s best, I suggest both of them.

For more contemporary plays, I’d recommend August:Osage County and Killer Joe (the film version of which I recently reviewed) by Tracy Letts. You might also want to check out The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh, who also wrote the screenplays for In Bruges and the upcoming Seven Psychopaths, which tops my list of fall films to see.

Obviously there are fiction writers who know how to spin a good conversation, but as writers our job is to learn how to improve on what we do and it would be to our detriment to ignore two mediums where dialogue rules and exposition drools.

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Filed under: Fiction,The Writing Life — Tags: , , , — S.G. Browne @ 7:02 am