S.G. Browne

I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus Giveaway

Cover new‘Tis the season to be zombie…

In honor of the holiday season that has us firmly in its grasp and refuses to let go, I’m offering up a giveaway of I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus, my heartwarming Christmas tale about a little girl and her zombie.

For your chance to enter to win a signed copy, just pop on over to my Twitter Page and retweet any of my tweets for the giveaway, all of which will have the hashtag #ISawZombiesEatingSantaClaus.

You’re free to retweet as often as you like, as multiple entries are allowed, up to three (3) per person.

Not on Twitter? You can also share the contest on Facebook, Google+, or any of the other social networks included on the buttons below. Just be sure to comment on this post and let me know where you shared so you can be entered in the contest. And if you share on Facebook, it always helps to include a link to my Facebook Author Page.

Contest ends Thursday, December 4, at 11:59pm PST. Open to U.S. residents only. Good luck!

“It’s Miracle on 34th Street meets Night of the Living Dead.”
The Washington Post

“A touching and heartfelt conclusion that reluctantly moved us to tears.”
SF Weekly

“Hilarious, horrifying…a must for anyone who can’t get enough of the undead.”
San Jose Mercury News

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Filed under: Contests,Holiday,I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus,Zombies — S.G. Browne @ 7:54 am

Beyond the Keyboard: Breathers

media-upload-3This is the first in a series of blog posts I’ll be doing called Beyond the Keyboard, in which I’ll share details about how I came to write each of my novels. The posts will vary in content but will include aspects involving background, development, process, and fun facts, with each post focusing on a different novel.

Since I’ve decided to go in chronological order of my professional bibliography, we’ll kick things off with my debut novel, Breathers.

Your Supernatural Roots Are Showing

In October 2002 I was thirteen years out of college and had spent all thirteen of those years working full-time jobs and writing in the mornings and evenings and weekends whenever possible in an attempt to make a living as a writer. At the time I was writing straight supernatural horror, as I’d been weaned on Creature Features and Saturday Afternoon Monster Matinees as a kid before consuming a steady diet of Stephen King, Peter Straub, Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon, and F. Paul Wilson novels.

By the fall of 2002 I’d written about four dozen short stories (ten of them published in small press publications) and three novels, the last of which I’d finished a couple of years earlier. While I’d landed an agent for my second novel and had a bunch of positive feedback on my third, I hadn’t been able to land a professional publishing contract and had earned a grand total of $500.00. Then my agent closed up shop.

Is That A Creative Crisis in Your Pocket…?

After pitching both of my novels to two different small press publishers at the Horror Writer’s Association conference in the early summer of 2002 and piquing their interest, I thought I finally had my first break. True, they were small press rather than New York publishing houses, but it was a start.

The problem was, when I sat down to polish the manuscripts before submitting them, I found myself hating what I was doing. Whereas for thirteen years I’d looked forward to sitting down at my computer to write, now I dreaded it. I hated the process. And I couldn’t stand what I was writing. I thought it was absolute crap. And I couldn’t make anything work.

In short, writing was no longer fun but instead had become a tedious, joyless grind.

So after several months of soul searching, I told both of the small press publishers that I would not be submitting my novels to them and decided to take a break from writing. It was weird because writing is what I was supposed to do,  but when what you’re supposed to do stops being fun, you tend to question your destiny.

Wherefore Art Thou, Inspiration?

Breathers5

In October 2002 (which is where this whole thing started a few paragraphs ago), I read Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk while on a plane to Paris. I’d never read any Palahniuk up to this point (or been to Paris), nor had I ever read something that combined dark comedy, social satire, and the supernatural. And I found myself intrigued, as I’d written several short stories that blended similar elements. I’d just never considered writing them in novel length. And Lullaby gave me the inspiration and courage to change that.

A little over a year earlier, I’d written a 2,042-word short story about a zombie who attended Undead Anonymous meetings with other zombies titled “A Zombie’s Lament.” (That’s the original finished draft of it above on the right.) With the story relatively fresh in my head, the idea percolated for nearly a year before I finally decided to take that short story and do something more with it.

Congratulations! It’s a Book!

Not everyone has physical evidence of where or when an idea was born, but in October 2003 I was in the habit of journaling on a fairly regular basis. And I dated most, if not all, of my journal entries. So here, on October 2, 2003, is the first known journal entry where the idea for the novel that would become Breathers first appeared.

Breathers1

Journal Entry: October 2, 2003

And below, dated October 3, 2003, is the first draft of what was at the time the opening chapter of Breathers: the Undead Anonymous meeting where we first meet Rita, Jerry, Helen, and the others; though Jerry wasn’t Jerry and Helen was a man named Andrew Whittle. Andy wasn’t even Andy Warner. His name evolved from Andrew Whittle. The only character who jumped from my short story to Breathers was Rita, though she was painted with broad brushstrokes.

Breathers2

The birth of Breathers

It didn’t take me long to realize that I enjoyed writing dark comedy and social satire more than straight supernatural horror, although my roots are obviously still there. It was as though I’d been writing all those years in order to discover my voice.

Not Your Father’s Zombies

When I first sat down and started writing Breathers, I was intrigued with the idea of telling a zombie story from the POV of a zombie. The monster as protagonist. I wondered what it would be like if I was a zombie. But rather than your stereotypical Hollywood zombie, I was just a reanimated corpse with no rights who was gradually decomposing and I needed some serious therapy. How would society treat me? What would my parents think? Could I join a bowling league?

These were the questions I wanted to explore.

But I also wanted to write a novel where the reader would sympathize and empathize with the “monster” rather than being repulsed or frightened by him. My hope was that by the end of the novel, if he started to do what zombies tend to do, the reader would be on Andy’s side cheering him on instead of carrying a torch with the rest of the angry mob.

As I continued to write the novel and the characters and the story developed, I discovered that Breathers was a metaphor for prejudice and discrimination. But more than that, at it’s heart, it was–and is–a story about finding your purpose in a society in which you have no purpose.

Zombies Sticker Final

Third Act Rigor Mortis

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t plot out my stories but discover the story as I write it. I’m a pantser. I write by the seat of my pants. I find that allowing the characters to tell the story allows for a more organic process and I just try to get out of the way. As such, I didn’t have a clue how Breathers was going to end when I started writing it. And more than two years later, in February 2006, I still had no idea how the novel was going to end.

Initially I had Andy getting involved in a big civil rights court case after his parents “disappeared,” but that just dragged along and felt dull and uninteresting and stiff. No pun intended. So instead I put Andy back in the SPCA where he faced a more immediate threat. When I came up with the idea for the media-driven frenzy about the poor orphaned zombie scheduled for destruction, the rest of the book just kind of took off from there.

I still had no idea who was going to live and who was going to die. Or, more technically, get destroyed because you can’t technically kill a zombie since they’re already dead. Undead. Whatever. But in my initial draft, while they still attacked the fraternity and were driven off in a S.W.A.T. van, there was no rescue party and no question as to whether or not any of the characters lived happily ever after. It was dark and it was final.

Breathers Notes

  • The last sentence of the original draft was: “At least we won’t end up in a petting zoo.” The “If you’ve never…” phrase that was peppered throughout the novel became the last sentence after one of the members of my writers’ group said he was expecting the novel to end that way. I decided he was right.
  • The opening chapter was originally the first Undead Anonymous meeting. The existing opening chapter with Andy waking up in the kitchen was added in rewrites, as was the chapter with Andy protesting out in front of his home and writing his Congressman, along with the chapter where Andy visits Ray by himself and is inspired by Ray’s philosophy.
  • The original opening line to Breathers was: “My name is Andrew and I’m a survivor.”
  • Before the first query was sent off to an agent, I’d edited the entire novel three times, then four more times over the next 17 months as I submitted the novel to 82 different agents, all of whom passed. By the time the 83rd agent said yes, the novel had been through seven revisions.
  • At the time I wrote Breathers, I lived in Santa Cruz, CA, where the novel took place. While many of the settings in the novel exist, the granary where Ray lived was my own invention.
  • Some of my favorite chapters include: when Andy’s mom calls him upstairs to help his father with the garbage disposal; when Andy goes for a walk and runs into Rita; the Thanksgiving chapter; the media frenzy chapters in the SPCA; when Rita and Andy hook up; and every chapter with Andy’s therapist.
  • I started writing Breathers in October 2003 and finished it in June 2006.

 

*If there’s something you’d like to know about Breathers that I didn’t cover, please feel free to ask your question in the comments section. I’ll do my best to answer in a timely manner. Also, if you feel like sharing this blog post with someone you think might enjoy it, please be my guest.

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Filed under: Beyond the Keyboard,Breathers,The Writing Life,Zombies — S.G. Browne @ 6:39 am

I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus Holiday Giveaway

*UPDATE*
And the winners of the I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus giveaway are…drum roll please… Maria Garcia, John Hornor Jacobs, and Kelly Garbato. Congratulations! And thanks to everyone who left a comment and retweeted on Twitter. May you all have a zombie little Christmas!

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
And zombies dressed up like Santa Claus

With Halloween safely in the rear view mirror, we can now, freely and without fear of reprisal, plunge headlong into the holiday season. Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of year and living in San Francisco makes it that much more festive, as the town is all decked out with lights and garland and ornaments and homeless people in Santa hats.

But for me, the holidays bring back fond memories: The smell of freshly baked snickerdoodles; Heat Miser and Cold Miser doing their song and dance; the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack; Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” And when it comes to holiday movies, I’m a sucker for It’s A Wonderful Life.

Cover newSo to celebrate the dawning of the holiday season, I’m holding a giveaway for three (3) copies of my 2012 novella I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus: A Breathers Christmas Carol.

Entering to win is as easy as hanging your stocking: Just respond to this blog post and share what gets you in the holiday spirit, be it a favorite holiday film, TV special, Christmas carol, or the smell of pumpkin pie. Whatever floats your holiday boat. I’ll do a random drawing of all entrants to determine the winners.

TWITTER BONUS: If you’re on Twitter and you re-tweet my post about the contest, that will get you an additional entry into the contest. If you don’t follow me on Twitter, my handle is @s_g_browne.

Contest runs until Friday, November 8 at 11:59pm PST and is open to U.S. residents only. Good luck!

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Movie Review Monday: Why I Thought World War Z Sucked

Yes, I know it’s Tuesday, but I only watched the movie Saturday night and was busy with the NFL all day Sunday and had my hands full yesterday. And Movie Review Tuesday lacks any alliterative quality.

First, let’s forget for a moment that the movie World War Z is based on the novel by Max Brooks and that for the most part, the only thing the movie has in common with the novel is the title.

Let’s also forget that in terms of a World War against zombies, that never materializes until the end of the film. I believe the only mention of any type of war is in the voice over just before the credits start rolling.

Finally, let’s forget that most Hollywood action films are no longer made for an American audience but for a foreign audience (since foreign revenues now make up more than 70% of Hollywood profits), and that special effects and action trump pathos and plot.

Instead, let’s focus on storytelling.

Stupid Human Tricks
Let’s start with the opening scene in Philadelphia. Good stuff. Lots of action and excitement right off the bat. I’m hooked. And I’m on board when Brad Pitta former UN employee and someone who comes across as smart and capablegets his family into an RV and suggests that they get out of the city.

Smart move. In the event of a zombie invasion, it’s best to avoid large populations. And although he doesn’t know it’s a zombie invasion at this point, he knows something weird is going on because he took the time to watch a dead man come back to life after twelve seconds and start killing people.

So yes. Get the hell out of this shit storm. Maybe head back home, which from the opening scene prior to the family trip into the city appears to be somewhere in the suburbs of Philadelphia. That might be an option. Or maybe head out to the country. Someplace less populated. Anyplace but the city. Instead, they end up going to…another city. Newark, New Jersey.

Granted, their oldest daughter is having an asthma attack and they don’t have her medication. They probably have some at home but apparently that’s not an option. So they have to find a pharmacist. But instead of going to a nearby pharmacy in one of the smaller nearby towns, which shouldn’t be a problem using smart phone technology, they drive 90 miles to Newark and end up in the middle of another fucking mess.

Having your main character, who has been established as a smart guy, put his family in danger by going to another city rather than going someplace safer seems like a contrivance to get the plot to go where you want it to go rather than having the story make sense.

Keep the Engine Running
Oh, and when you’re on the run from some kind of inexplicable riot where people are rampaging and killing and reanimating, I think it’s safe to say that if you pull over on the side of the highway to attend to your daughter who is having an asthma attack, you put the RV in park and keep the engine idling. You don’t turn off the fucking ignition. And if you are going to have the movie cliche where the car won’t start, at least give us an immediate threat that ratchets up the tension. Don’t just have it be an “uh-oh” moment and then have the engine catch a minute later.

Flying Zombies and World Building
After getting the requisite supplies from a Newark pharmacy and finding shelter for the night in an apartment building with a trusting Hispanic family, Brad Pitt and his family head for the roof the following morning to get airlifted to safety courtesy of Brad Pitt’s UN buddies. While on their way to the roof, they’re detected by a bunch of zombies in the apartment building and are chased up the stairs.

Prior to this scene, it’s been pretty well established that these zombies are able to run at superhuman speeds and even launch themselves through the air like zombie missiles, flying through windshields and other hard objects. Yet for some reason the zombies can’t seem to catch Brad Pitt and his wife and two small daughters running up a few flights of stairs.

Consistency, people. If you’re going to make your zombies into reanimated cheetahs, you need to give Brad Pitt and his family a bigger head start. Shoving an old refrigerator down the stairs isn’t really much of an obstacle when your zombies can fly. You can’t make the zombies go slower when it’s convenient to the survival of your hero.

How About a Little Pathos for the Orphaned Hispanic Kid?
After fleeing the apartment where they were sheltered by the Hispanic family, the zombies break into the apartment and kill almost everyone in the family off screen (which is usually also a no-no, but Pitt apparently wanted to make a zombie film his kids could watch, so no George Romero gore to be found.) The son, Tommy, escapes and makes it to the roof to get rescued by the helicopter with Brad Pitt and his family.

Yes, I know Brad Pitt hugs the kid close in the helicopter, so maybe that’s enough sympathy. But nowhere in the film does anyone in Pitt’s family mention anything about the fact that the kid’s family is dead or offer any form of condolences. When Pitt says goodbye to him on the aircraft carrier before heading off to save the world, he calls Tommy a champ or something to that effect. No, “Hey, I’m sorry everyone else in your family is dead.”

Oh Dramatic Tension, Wherefore Art Thou?
Once Pitt and his family land on the aircraft carrier and Pitt goes off to save the world in search of a vaccine, the dramatic tension disappears,  like the film has had an orgasm and everything that follows is just an extended refractory period. There’s not even any cuddling. The film just rolls over and goes to sleep.

This happens because there is no real concern for the safety of Brad Pitt’s family or of Brad Pitt. While throughout the rest of the film he’s under an almost constant threat, we know he’s not going to die, so there’s no dramatic tension. How do we know he’s not going to die? Because he’s the fucking star, that’s why.

Yes, I know Brad Pitt has died in films before. And I know sometimes the main character dies in films. But this isn’t Sunset Boulevard or American Beauty. And it’s not Troy or Kalifornia or The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, either. This is a PG-13 film that Brad Pitt wants his kids to be able to watch. So Daddy is not going to die.

What About That Airplane Elevator?
Pitt and an Israeli solider he’s saved flee Jerusalem on an airplane which is diverted to Wales at the urging of the UN (I won’t even go into the issues of how Pitt and the Israeli soldier were allowed on to the plane). Miraculously, no one on board is infected with the zombie virus. But as the plane is making it’s final descent to Cardiff, one of the flight attendants hits the button on the airplane’s elevator, which is used to carry meal service carts and personnel between decks. A zombie has stowed away on the plane in the elevator and is now loose in the first class cabin.

Class warfare commentary aside, Israel and Wales aren’t exactly geographic neighbors. It’s a 14-hour flight from Jerusalem to Cardiff. And during those 14 hours, we never see the elevator operated before this moment. If you’re going to use a device like this, it’s a good idea to introduce it earlier before you get the payoff. But since they only show the elevator being used the one time, the implication is that this is the first time the elevator is called up from the lower level.

So over the entire course of that 14-hour flight, apparently there was never any reason to call up the elevator before the airplane made its final descent into Wales. Considering that these elevators get used multiple times throughout a flight, especially one of this length, I have a hard time believing the elevator wouldn’t have been accessed earlier, which would have allowed the zombie to find its way into the main cabin not long after takeoff.

Instead, it seems the writers found a convenient way to introduce the zombie late enough to allow the plane to crash while at a lower altitude so Brad Pitt is more likely to survive. Or else they cut out an earlier scene showing the elevator being used earlier and this is a case of bad editing.

That’s A Wrap
Now come on, Scott, you might say. Aren’t you nitpicking just a little bit with this last complaint? And aren’t you being kind of a dick about some of these other points you make? After all, it’s only a zombie movie. It’s just mindless fun.

Maybe it is only a zombie movie. But as a writer, things like consistency and believable storytelling matter to me. If my main character is going to make a decision that seems  stupid, it needs to make sense. If I’m going to do world building, it needs to be consistent. And if I’m going to introduce plot elements, they need to arise as part of the natural storytelling rather than deliberately inserted for the sole purpose of getting the story where I want it to go.

When convenience and contrivance conspire to move the plot forward, that’s lazy writing. And it’s bad storytelling.

If you’d like to see another take on World War Z, check out the Honest Movie Trailer below:

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Filed under: Movie Review Mondays,Zombies — S.G. Browne @ 6:45 am

Andy’s Favorite Things: An Ode to Breathers

In honor of the upcoming holidays, and the recent publication of my heartwarming Christmas zombie story I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus, I thought I’d resurrect Andy’s holiday wish list from Breathers.

But rather than simply providing a list, I wanted to share Andy’s desires in song to the Rodgers and Hammerstein tune, “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music.

And a one and a two…

Blood drops on noses and flesh that’s been bitten,
Pale female corpses who with me are smitten,
Fraternity pledges all tied up with strings,
These are a few of my favorite things.

Cream colored femurs and crisp Breather strudels,
Eyeballs and earlobes and tonsils with noodles,
Undead Anonymous pot luck meetings,
These are a few of my favorite things.

Dead guys in coffins with red gaping gashes,
Corpses that wake up from fatal car crashes,
Embalming treatments and Pine-Sol soakings,
These are a few of my favorite things.

When the flesh rots,
When the skin slips,
When I lose a limb,
I simply remember my favorite things,
And then I don’t feel so grim.

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