S.G. Browne

24 Writing Related Things for Which I’m Thankful

2011 speeds along toward its inevitable end, leaving Halloween and Guy Fawkes Day in its wake, the holiday season no longer on the distant horizon but rising up out of the depths like some mythological beast, ready to smash us to pieces.

As you might have figured out, I’m not prepared for the holiday season. It seems like just a few weeks ago I was dressed up like Uncle Sam, selling illegal fireworks to middle school kids.

How did this happen? Where did the rest of the year go? When did Thanksgiving follow summer?

I guess it doesn’t matter. Thanksgiving is upon us, or at least upon me, and that means it’s time to reflect upon the things in my life I’m thankful for. Which is easier than having to deal with New Year’s resolutions. That’s way too much pressure. At least with Thanksgiving, I don’t have to worry about breaking any promises.

So I’ve decided to list the things I’m thankful for in the universe of writing. No reason. I just wanted a theme. I chose 24 because that’s the date on which Thanksgiving falls this year.

So here they are, in no particular order. 24 Writing Related Things for Which I’m Thankful:

1) My agent
2) My editor
3) My readers (Thank you for the support)
4) Stephen King
5) Chuck Palahniuk
6) Ray Bradbury
7) The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
8) The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
9) Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
10) The screenplays of Charlie Kaufman
11) Haiku
12) Spell check
13) Copy editors
14) Brick and mortar bookstores
15) The comedic writing of Matt Stone and Trey Parker
16) Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
17) Oscar Wilde
18) Mark Twain
19) Book reviewers (positive reviews are a bonus)
20) My writer’s group
21) My writing community (both in the real and cyber world)
22) The song writing skills of Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day
23) Lyrics by Lennon/McCartney
24) Books that aren’t electronic

That about wraps it up. Now it’s time to go make garlic mashed potatoes for the annual family gorge fest. I’m always in charge of the mashed potatoes. I think it’s because I use two sticks of butter and a cup of sour cream.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Filed under: Just Blogging,The Writing Life,Wild Card Wednesdays — S.G. Browne @ 7:14 am

The Writing Life: Good Dialogue Isn’t Real Dialogue

I’ve often heard others say that in order to write good dialogue, you need to write the way people talk. You need to listen to speech patterns and expressions and emulate what you hear. The problem with this is that most real life conversations require a good editor. Everyday speech is filled with repetition and fillers and unnecessary adverbs like “basically” and “really” and “very.” Not to mention that many conversations tend to be unfocused and repetitive and stray off on tangents.

One way to think of it is that dialogue in writing is good conversation, but conversation in real life is not necessarily good dialogue.

So in order to write good dialogue, the trick is to write the way people should talk rather than the way they actually talk. You want to write dialogue that sounds believable but in real life never happens.

To quote Alfred Hitchcock: “A good story is life with the dull parts taken out.” Good dialogue is very much the same.

So what’s one of the best ways to learn how to write good dialogue? By watching movies.

Movie scripts have to be crisp and efficient. They’re all dialogue and action without the fiction writer’s burden of having to fill in the blanks with narrative prose. Obviously not all movies are great examples on how to write dialogue, but those that are contain dialogue that has a rhythm, is filled with conflict, and moves the story forward. Some of the films that get it right include L.A. Confidential, The Departed, Airplane!, Diner, and The Graduate.

I’d also recommend watching a selection of films written by David Mamet, Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, Mel Brooks, and Joel and Ethan Coen. All of these writers have a flair for dialogue and do a great job of conveying the rhythms of speech and conversation. The Coen Brothers are especially adept at conversation.

Naturally, since we’re talking about writing, it’s a good idea to read dialogue, too. So read as much as possible and as many different authors as possible. Read mysteries, romance, social satire, and thrillers. And if you’ve never read any Elmore Leonard, Robert Parker, or Christopher Moore, you might want to give one or more of them a shot, if nothing else than to see how they handle dialogue.

Filed under: Fiction,The Writing Life,Wild Card Wednesdays — S.G. Browne @ 1:36 pm

Writer Wednesday: Books in the Closet

I came across a blog post on Twitter yesterday via Publishers Weekly titled Shutting the Drawer: What Happens When a Book Doesn’t Sell? by Edan Lepucki. It’s a good essay about what happens when a writer has to admit defeat and give up on her first novel. To “accept the death of your first true darling,” to paraphrase Lepucki, who asks if she can “put my first book into the drawer and shut it?”

In Lepucki’s case, she’s talking about an agented novel that couldn’t find a traditional publisher, but it happens more often than you’d think. First novels by authors ending up in a drawer or in a box on the top shelf of your closet. Today it ends up in a virtual folder on your hard drive or on a flash drive rather than under your bed consorting with the dust bunnies, but the point is the same: eventually you have to accept the reality that it’s not going to get published and move on.

Of course, this was before Amazon and eBooks, when anything can get published now regardless of how many rejections you’ve suffered through. Or not suffered through. And with brick-and-mortar book stores folding like a bad hand in a game of strip poker, traditional publishing isn’t the same as it ever was. With apologies to the Talking Heads.

Although I don’t have any numbers to back me up, I’d venture to guess that the majority of “first” published novels aren’t first novels at all. They’re second or third of fourth. Maybe more. Lepucki lists a few in her essay. But it’s rare that a writer’s first attempt at writing a novel ends up on the bookshelf at your local stores.

I have three novels in my closet. Literally. The manuscripts are printed up and stored in Kinko’s boxes stacked one atop the other. My first novel is titled The Circle, followed by Mar Vista and finally Obsession. All three of them are straight supernatural horror novels and are devoid of the social satire and humor found in Breathers and Fated, which are technically my fourth and fifth novels.

I never had representation for the first and third novels, and my second, Mar Vista, had a short-lived relationship with an agent who closed up shop six months after taking me on. So my first three novels for the most part ended up in my drawer as studies on the art of novel writing. Six-hundred and four-hundred and three-hundred page exercises that helped to teach me how to write.

While it’s possible I could end up doing something with Obsession, my other two novels will remain in their boxes, gathering dust on my shelves.

Filed under: Fiction,The Writing Life,Wild Card Wednesdays — S.G. Browne @ 9:03 am

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.

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

Zombie Haiku: An Interview with Ryan Mecum

Today I have a special guest who has stopped by for an interview.  You could say he’s a supernatural poet, of sorts.  Kind of like the Lorax, only instead of speaking for the trees, he speaks for zombies, vampires, and werewolves. And he does so through the use of haiku.

Please welcome Ryan Mecum, the author of Zombie Haiku, Vampire Haiku, andWerewolf Haiku.


SGB: In Zombie Haiku, you have the narrator writing about the zombie apocalypse and, inevitably, his conversion into a zombie through the use of haiku. What gave you the idea for the book?

RM: I once wrote a haiku as if I were a zombie wanting some brains. It made me smile so I wrote a few more. Soon I had about thirty gross haiku from the zombie perspective which I enjoyed sharing with friends. It wasn’t until I had a publisher interested that I realized I might be able to organize the little poems in such a way that they could all be part of a larger story.

SGB: So what came first? Your love of zombies or your love of haiku?

RM: Zombies came first. 7th Grade, Return of the Living Dead Part II. I learned haiku in 4th Grade, but didn’t fall in love with them until I had a roomful of fellow college classmates laughing at a few I wrote during a creative writing course.

SGB: Can you share one of your favorite entries from your book?

RM: It’s hard to beat the one in Breathers where you compare the sound of maggots eating flesh to Rice Krispies, but here goes…

Blood is really warm,
like drinking hot chocolate
but with more screaming

(Editor’s note: I love that one!)

SGB: You followed up Zombie Haiku with similar takes on the vampire and werewolf mythos. Did you find that one of these three lent itself to the haiku form more easily than the others? Are vampires more poetic than zombies? Do werewolves know how to count syllables?

RM: The haiku is such a stoic poetry form that, when reading them aloud, they often flow out as gracelessly as a lurching zombie. I have loved writing poems from the voice of a werewolf and a vampire as well, but there is something about a zombie writing a poem that resonates with me. Vampires probably think they’re more poetic than zombies, but there is an innocence to a poem written by a zombie versus a pretentiousness when written by a vampire. Werewolves don’t care, which make them a bit more poetic, but they are so rushed they might miss the moment. There’s a full moon above you, werewolf. Stop, enjoy it, and let out a howl.

SGB: In all three books, the narrative is from the point-of-view of someone who starts out human but who eventually becomes the “monster.” Are you sympathetic to the challenges of being a zombie, vampire, and werewolf? Or are you just channeling your inner monster?

RM: Totally sympathetic to the challenges of the monster. That is probably the main reason why I loved your book Breathers so much. I enjoy wondering about daily life from their perspective.

SGB: Do you have a favorite poet? Are there any other writers who have inspired you?

RM: Andrew Hudgins has a book called After The Lost War, which had a strong impact on my desire to be a poet. Billy Collins is another favorite. Both of these writers helped me realize that poems didn’t have to be riddles the reader had to solve. However, Stephen King is easily the one writer that left the largest impression on me. Not only did he feed my love for things that go bump in the night, but he also helped me want to be a writer because so many of his characters were writers. King gave me glimpses into the life of a writer, which has had a lasting effect on me.

SGB: On Twitter, you write haiku on subjects ranging from breakfast cereals to mixed tapes to Pac-Man. Can you write a haiku for us about public bathrooms?

RM: Would you believe I wrote one on that topic a few months ago? Here it is…

Gas station bathrooms
I cover in graffiti
with your phone number

SGB: How many haiku have you written over the past three years? Do you constantly find yourself counting syllables?

RM: I’m counting syllables all the time. I dream in 5/7/5. I’ve written four books of monster themed haiku, each with about 350 poems. So that’s 1,400. I tweet about 3 haiku a day, and have been doing that for almost two years. That puts me to about 3,500 haiku. That’s a lot of haiku. Hopefully one of them is a keeper.

SGB: Film tri-fecta question: What’s your favorite zombie film? Vampire film? Werewolf film?

RM: I usually say Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead for my favorite zombie film, but I’ve been leaning a bit more toward his Night Of The Living Dead lately. My favorite Vampire film is Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark. My favorite werewolf film is Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers.

SGB: What’s next? More haiku? Or are we going to see zombie verse in iambic pentameter? (To rot or not to rot, that is the question.)

RM: I’m trying to stay away from mixing monsters and other poetry forms. Something about wicked witch limericks sounds like a tougher sell than haiku. My next book, Dawn Of Zombie Haiku, comes out this summer and I am really excited for people to read it. It’s written from the perspective of a young girl keeping a haiku journal during a zombie outbreak. Ever since the first book, I have wanted to write another zombie story in haiku. It took me a while to find a story that I both loved and felt would stand out as original in the growing cannon of zombie fiction. It was fun to write.

SGB: Where can people find you on the Internet to learn more about you and your books?

RM: People can find more info about me at www.ryanmecum.com and they can be fed a few daily haiku via my Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/mecumhaiku.

SGB: Thanks for taking the time to visit with us, Ryan. Good luck with the new book and with all of your future endeavors!

RM: Thanks S.G.! And thanks for creating Andy Warner. He’s a friend of mine.