S.G. Browne

10 Books That Have Affected Me

There’s a meme on Facebook to list 10 books that have affected or stayed with you. You’re not supposed to dwell on your answer but just list the first 10 books that come to mind that have meant something to you for one reason or another. Perhaps they inspired you. Or terrified you. Or resonated with you in some manner that is personal.

I may have done this list previously. I’m sure it varies depending on my mood, or if I’ve read anything recently that became embedded in my DNA, so here is my current list of 10 Books That Have Affected Me (in no particular order):

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1) Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk

2) Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

3) Lord of the Flies by William Golding

4) St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell

5) Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

6) The Stand by Stephen King

7) Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

8) The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

9) Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

10) American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

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That’s my list. Feel free to share yours.


Beyond the Keyboard: Lucky Bastard

Lucky Bastard - trade paperbackSome novels develop over a short period of time, like embryonic ideas that are nurtured and gradually grow into fully-formed creations.

Other novels are more like Frankenstein’s monster, with ideas harvested from seemingly unrelated moments of inspiration until it all comes alive with a jolt of creativity.

Next up in my Beyond the Keyboard series, my homage to the hard-boiled detective novel that was harvested from various inspirations: Lucky Bastard.

The Short Story, Part I

Sometime in 2001-2002, I started an untitled short story about two brothers and their grandfather who live together in Central California. I wrote about five pages and liked the characters and what was happening but I didn’t know where the story was going or what it was about. All I knew for sure was that I was sold on the opening line: “Grandpa only had one finger left and it was pointing at the door.”

The Amsterdam Connection

In October 2002 I took a trip to Amsterdam, where I found myself in a coffee shop called Softland, so called because it had a bunch of soft, comfy pillows for patrons to sit on while they enjoyed their coffee. I believe the coffee I consumed was a mellow blend called White Widow. I brought a souvenir from Softland back with me that would sit in my desk drawer for six months or so before I took it out.


The Short Story, Part II

I was still trying to figure out what to do with my short story I’d started more than a year earlier, which had a working title that I can’t recall. But when I took out the lighter from Softland, something clicked and I decided to adopt the Amsterdam coffee shop name as the title for my story. Now all I needed was a reason for the story to exist.

The Spanish Connection

intactoAround this time, I saw a Spanish film titled Intacto, which came out in 2001 and dealt with the concept of luck as a commodity. In the film, the main premise centers around underground games of chance in which the losers surrender their amassed good luck to the winners, usually resulting in their death. One of the characters, the hero of the film, has the ability to steal luck from others.

The film didn’t spend much time on this unique ability or how it might have come to exist, but I was intrigued with the concept and decided it would be fun to create my own mythology about luck poachers.

And just like that, “Softland” had it’s premise: a family of luck poachers. A year later, in 2004, I finished what at the time was the final draft. Eight years later, “Softland” would appear for the first time in print in my eBook short story collection Shooting Monkeys in a Barrel.

The Journal Entry

Lucky Bastard1In July 2006, during a free-flowing writing exercise for my weekly writing group, I came up with the opening line: “It’s my understanding that naked women don’t generally tend to carry knives.”

From there I wrote a scene about a man confronted by an angry naked woman with a knife while on the roof of The Windsor Hotel. At the time I didn’t think it would go any further than that, but something about the scene tugged at me until eventually I decided to do something more with it.

When Ideas Collide

I always felt that “Softland” aspired to be more than just a short story but I didn’t know where to go with the two brothers and their grandfather. And while it took me a while to figure it out, I realized I didn’t have to continue their story. I could instead expand on the mythology of luck poaching. And my journal entry proved to be the jumping off point for that exploration.

But the plot, characters, and storyline for what would eventually become Lucky Bastard didn’t take shape until three years later when I was compelled to write a synopsis for my unwritten third novel.

The Synopsis

In April 2009, while negotiating the sale of Fated to Penguin/NAL, my agent asked me if I had an idea for another novel that we might be able to pitch for a possible two book deal. At the time I didn’t have much more than a dozen pages written and I wasn’t sure how to make the story work. And since I don’t plot out my novels, I’d never written a synopsis for a book I hadn’t written yet. The synopsis always came later.

So I sat down and wrote a two-page synopsis about this private detective who stole luck, had an affinity for Lucky Charms and mochas and corporate coffee-house baristas, and who got caught up in a big luck fiasco with the feds and a Chinatown mob boss. I also had him meeting a kid with the purest luck he’d ever encountered.

I didn’t know if any of that was going to stick. It was just what stuck when I threw a bunch of ideas on a blank piece of paper. As it turned out, I ended up using almost everything in the synopsis. Go figure.

The Chandler Connection

Big_SleepWhile preparing to write Lucky Bastard, I picked up The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler to get some ideas about writing a detective novel. I’d never read Chandler and fell in love with his writing immediately.

In addition to Chandler, I also read The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, The Little Sleep by Paul Tremblay (about a narcoleptic detective in Boston), and Marlowe and the Spacewoman by Ian M. Dudley (a futuristic detective novel that was work-shopped in my writer’s group).

So after all of those detective novels, it was unavoidable that my main protagonist in Lucky Bastard would be a private eye. The only problem was, I needed the right name.

The Screenplay

Back in 1991, while living and working in Hollywood, I wrote a screenplay titled A Fish Out of Water about a private detective in Chicago trying to track down a rare Asiatic myna bird that had been bird-napped. The script was inspired by the Airplane! and Naked Gun films with lots of goofy gags and clever/silly wordplay.

My protagonist was a semi-competent private detective named Nick Monday, while his leggy and sexy client was named Tuesday Knight. The script never got bought but I loved the names and wanted to find a way to use them. Since I’d decided my main character in Lucky Bastard would be a private detective, I borrowed the name from my screenplay and brought Tuesday Knight along for the ride as a femme fatale.

And that’s how Nick Monday got his name.

The Final Jolt of Creativity

Even with all of the pieces in place, the novel didn’t come to life until I brought everything together and sat down to write it. And although I’d written a synopsis that included a lot of plot elements, many of the other supporting characters showed up in the first draft unexpectedly, including Bow Wow, Scooter Girl, and the proprietor of The Starlight Room.

For those of you who have read Lucky Bastard, when Nick first meets the woman at the bar in the nightclub atop the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, I was probably just as surprised as you to find out who she was.

And setting the story in San Francisco was a lot of fun, since I live here. Researching all of the locations and sitting in Huntington Park or at O’Reilly’s Irish Pub and writing several scenes made the story come alive that much more for me.

If you’re interested in taking a virtual tour of some of the San Francisco locations that appear in Lucky Bastard, I did a series of blog posts under the category Lucky Bastard San Francisco Blog Tour.


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

Favorite Reads of 2010

This week on Wild Card Wednesday, I’ve decided to list the favorite books I read in 2010.  None of these books actually came out last year but that doesn’t matter.  All that matters is that I read ‘em and I liked ‘em.

In no particular order, here are my Five Favorite Reads of 2010 with a brief blurb about each:

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
A heartbreaking story about what it means to be human, both melancholy and affecting. Read the book, then watch the movie.

The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
Sets the bar for mystery noir and detective novels. Rich and satisfying, both in the story and the prose.

Duma Key, Stephen King
King back to his tricks as a master of storytelling and supernatural chills. His best stand-alone novel since The Green Mile.

City of Thieves, David Benioff
Two unlikely comrades attempting to avoid execution during the siege of Leningrad. Wondrously funny and engaging from start to finish.

Skin Tight, Carl Hiaasen
A fun ride through the criminal world of Florida politics and plastic surgery, filled with great characters, social satire, and lots of laughs.

There you have it. That’s my list.  What were some of your favorite reads from 2010?