S.G. Browne

10 Books That Matter To Me

Recently I was tagged on Facebook by a friend with the following:

“List 10 books that have stayed with you. Don’t think too hard about it – they just have to be books that touched you.”

She then went on to share her list of 10 books and tagged a handful of friends to see what their lists looked like. While I didn’t tag anyone, I did feel compelled to share the 10 books that came to mind without having to give them too much thought. But then I realized I wanted to share a brief explanation as to WHY the books mattered to me or how they touched me. So here we go:

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Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk
This is the novel that inspired me to write Breathers and sent me down the path of social satire and dark comedy. While several of Pahlaniuk’s early novels could also have made the list, this one stands out for it’s influence on the direction my writing took.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
My favorite of Vonnegut’s novels, it has it all: science fiction, satire, a dwarf, an original Calypso religion, granfallons, pissants, and the end of the world. What’s not to like?

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Lyrical in its prose and poignant in its message about the power of words, this is the one book I recommend and gift to everyone. A Young Adult novel that should be classified as Literary Fiction.

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
I’m a sucker for novels that make social commentary on capitalism and Patrick Bateman’s stream-of-consciousness narration just sucked me in. Along with Slaughterhouse-Five by Vonnegut, American Psycho was one of the inspirations for Big Egos.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
My stranded-on-a-desert-island book (which I coincidentally read as a sophomore in high school while living on an island) and the first book to really stick with me. I’ve got the conch!

The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub
While a number of books by King and Straub are among my favorite reads, this was the first time I ever got so caught up in the story unfolding within the pages that the world outside of the book ceased to exist. And I thought: I want to make people feel this way.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Great opening. Great voice. Great character. Chandler has a way with words that are all his own. This novel set the bar for hard-boiled crime novels and was influential in the writing of my third novel, Lucky Bastard.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
While every book on this list is unique in its own way, I’ve never read another novel that comes close to this one. Dunn’s story of a self-made carnival sideshow freak family is one-of-a-kind awesome.

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal
by Christopher Moore
My favorite of Moore’s novels, all of which are an inspiration to my own writing. Smart, funny, and addictive. If you haven’t read anything by Moore, you should start now. Preferably with this one. You’ll thank me later.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
This one surprised me a bit when it popped into my head, but only for a moment. One of my favorite stories of my childhood and of all time. I can still recite Max’s adventures word-for-word.

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That’s it. That’s my list. If you have your own favorite books that matter to you, feel free to share them in the comments. And as always, thanks for reading.

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Of Novels and Novellas

As I prepare for the upcoming release of my novella, I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus: A Breathers Christmas Carol (coming to a commercialized religious holiday near you October 30), I’ve had a number of people contact me who are confused about the difference between novelettes, novellas, and novels. Well, I’m here to help. Or possibly confuse. I haven’t decided.

According to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula awards rules, the novelette has a word count between 7,500 and 17,500, while a novella runs from 17,500 to 40,000 words. Based on this, the novel, whose length has often been debated, begins at 40,000 words and runs from there up to infinity. Or at least up to Infinite Jest, which comes in at just under 500,000 words.

(Fun fact: According to Listverse, the longest novel ever written was Mission Earth by L. Ron Hubbard at 1.2 million words. Take that, Tolkien.)

For the benefit of providing some reference, below are half a dozen of the more notable novellas written in the English language that fit the SFWA’s definition:

The Call of the Wild
Of Mice and Men
Animal Farm
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
The Old Man and the Sea
A Clockwork Orange

Stephen King has published a number of shorter novellas that run in the 25,000-30,000 word range, grouping eight of them into the collections Four Past Midnight and Different Seasons—the latter of which contains “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” and “The Body,” my two favorite King novellas.

In the afterword of Different Seasons, King calls the novella “an anarchy-ridden literary banana republic” and contends that there shouldn’t be a hard and fast definition of what either a novel or short story should be in terms of word count. He goes on to say: “But when a writer approaches the 20,000-word mark, he knows he’s edging out of the country of the short story; likewise, when he passes the 40,000-word mark, he’s edging into the country of the novel.”

Although King doesn’t endorse the SFWA’s delineation of the novella, the 40,000-word mark seems to be where the boundaries are drawn. So while officially categorized as a novella, I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus comes in at just over 44,000 words (and just under 200 pages), which means that according to both the SFWA and Stephen King, I’ve edged over into the country of the novel.

I hope that helps to clear things up. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some cross-country exploring to do.

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You Can Get Here From There

I didn’t always want to write.

In grammar school and junior high, I wanted to be a football player. A wide receiver. Maybe a defensive back. Except at age 14, I was 5’11” and 145 pounds and wasn’t exactly built for the sport. And I don’t like pain. So no NFL career for me.

In high school, I excelled at math. It came easy to me. I loved it so much that I figured I could parlay my aptitude into a career in engineering. This was because I really had no idea what I wanted to do and engineering seemed like a safe career path.

Problem was, I didn’t realize how much I hated physics. And thermodynamics. So after a year of floundering in science classes and watching my high school GPA drop more than a full point, I switched to a major in business. Still no thought of being a writer.

It wasn’t until my sophomore year at UOP, when I started reading a bunch of Stephen King, Peter Straub, F. Paul Wilson, Robert McCammon, and Dean Koontz that I first considered the idea of dabbling at writing. Actually, I can remember the moment when I wanted to become a writer.

I was sitting in my room, reading The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub. While it’s not my favorite novel by either author, I got so caught up in the adventure unfolding within the pages that the world outside of the book ceased to exist. And I thought:  I want to make others feel like this.

I didn’t start pursuing a path of writing at that point but the idea was there. The following semester, I helped with my fraternity’s entry into UOP’s annual Band Frolic – a musical stage competition between all of the living groups (fraternities, sororities, dorms, etc.) Each group was responsible for a fifteen-minute skit that included dancing, singing, acting, and some semblance of a story. We came in second in the men’s category that year. We got screwed.

When the title of Band Frolic Director was passed down to me at the end of my sophomore year, I was now in charge of writing, directing, staging, choreographing, and costuming my fraternity’s Band Frolic. We came in first each of the three years I was director. And after the second year, I realized that this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be creative in some way.

So I took a couple of writing classes, graduated with my BS in Business, eschewed by degree, moved to Hollywood and got a job working for Disney, and wrote some short stories and a couple of screenplays. After three years, I moved to Santa Cruz, where I wrote a few dozen short stories and the first of three unpublished novels and where I would eventually write my fourth novel, a dark comedy about zombies, titled Breathers.

So even if you don’t start out having any idea what you want to do, you can still get here from there.

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Filed under: The Writing Life — Tags: , , , — S.G. Browne @ 9:22 pm

W is for Wicked, Water, and Wizard

The W’s presented a bit more of a challenge than the prior two entries, as I’ve read more than fifteen novels that begin with this letter of the alphabet. While the top two were never in any serious danger of being left off the final ballot, the last one was a tough call and could have gone four different ways. In the end, and admittedly after some serious flip-flopping, I had to leave Watership Down (Adams), Wonder Boys (Chabon), and A Wrinkle in Time (L’Engle) on the outside looking in.

Other notable and memorable titles I’ve read that begin with W include The Witching Hour (Rice), War of the Worlds (Wells), Wolf’s Hour (McCammon), Watchers (Koontz), The Waste Lands and Wolves of the Calla (King), World War Z (Brooks), Where the Red Fern Grows (Rawls), Wuthering Heights (Bronte), and Walden (Thoreau).

The three that made it? A famous witch, a circus fable, and an epic search for a dark tower.

You’re the Top
Wicked, Gregory Maguire
I know the musical adaptation made a lot of noise, but give me the book every time. The story of the Wicked Witch of the West prior to Dorothy’s arrival in Oz paints a very different picture of the events that eventually unfolded after Dorothy’s arrival. Filled with heartache, humor, romance, political intrigue, and social commentary, Wicked does a great job of making you see the alleged villain’s side of the story. If you’ve seen The Wizard of Oz, then you really need to give this a read.

Two Mints in One
Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
My favorite book I read in 2009, I got completely swept up in the story of a ninety-three-year-old nursing home resident who reminisces about his time spent working in the circus to the point that he almost begins to lose track of what’s real and what’s not. The characters are delightful, the story intoxicating, and the prose inspired. A wonderful ride back in history to the circus heyday of the early twentieth century.

Three on a Match
Wizard and Glass, Stephen King
The fourth installment in King’s The Dark Tower series, Wizard is, in my opinion, the best of the seven. I also believe it’s just flat out one of King’s best novels. If the purpose of storytelling is to get the reader emotionally swept up in the lives of its characters, than this does the job. I remember getting chills reading certain passages and chapters as the book neared its end. Read the first three installments of the series just to get to this one.

*Bonus Titles: The Play’s the Thing
Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Edward Albee
Although completely different on every level, these are two of my favorite plays to read. Both Beckett and Albee are masterful.

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T is for To, Tooth, and Talisman

We’re in the home stretch and down to the last quarter (more or less) of the alphabet. And looking forward, there are only a couple of letters left with any significant entries. Not a whole lot of books that start with X, Y or Z. So let’s try to make this one count.

Some of the titles I’ve read that begin with the letter T include The Three Musketeers (Dumas), The Time Machine (Wells), Treasure Island (Stevenson), The Turn of the Screw (James), They Thirst (McCammon), Tender is the Night (Fitzgerald), The Tommyknockers (King), and The Tomb and The Touch (F. Paul Wilson).

While I enjoyed all of the titles above, the three that made the top of the list were fairly clear cut and diverse. One of them is a classic, one a twisted fairy tale, and the other the book that made me want to become a writer.

Classically Superb
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
No, the word “to” is not an article, so this book falls here rather than in the Ks. Although I’m sure someone can come up with another author who falls into this category, I can’t think of a better one hit wonder than Harper Lee. Her only published book, To Kill a Mockingbird still resonates with me thirty years after I first read it. And the names are as familiar to me as my friends. Scout, Jem, Boo Radley. I even named one of my cats Atticus. A Pulitzer Prize of a novel.

Twistedly Delightful
The Tooth Fairy, Graham Joyce
This 1997 British Fantasy Award winner for best novel is a dark, supernatural, and wonderful coming of age story that resonates with great characters and a steady, underlying menace. At times playful, horrifying, and charged with sexual tension, Joyce writes a novel with an underlying wit and menace that makes for a compelling narrative.

Markedly Infulential
The Talisman, Stephen King & Peter Straub
I was sitting on the couch in my room during my sophomore year in college, reading The Talisman and getting so caught up in the adventure unfolding within the pages that the world outside of the book ceased to exist. At one point I stopped and thought: “I want to make others feel this way.” While it’s not my favorite book by King or Straub (those would be The Stand and Ghost Story), this novel had a profound impact on the path I would eventually choose to follow.

Bonus Commentary
Twilight, Stephanie Myers
Personally, I’m not a big YA reader or a big fan of vampires. When it comes to horror, give me aliens, ghost, or zombies. But I will say that vampires should never, ever, EVER sparkle in the sunlight.

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