20 Questions with Mourning Goats
INTERVIEW TWENTY ONE
S. G. Browne
At the bookstore I kept running across the book, "Fated." It seemed like every time I went, somehow that book was staring back, and eventually, I gave in and bought the book. After devouring it, I had to find more by Mr. Browne, and came across "Breathers: A Zombie's Lament," and loved it too. After finding Scott online, I contacted him and he happily accepted this interview. Enjoy his answers here and go pick up his books!
1. What comes to mind when you hear, "Mourning Goats?"
Two of the three Billy Goats Gruff standing around looking at the troll as he picks pieces of the third Billy Goat from his teeth. I know, that’s not how the story ends, but you asked.
2. Are you still "working for the man" or are you a full-time writer? What's that like?
I’ve managed to be a full-time writer for the past two-and-a-half years, quitting my day job when my debut novel, Breathers, hit the shelves. It’s good to be my own boss, but sometimes I’m kind of a slacker so my performance reports aren’t always great. Still, I’m thinking about asking for a raise.
3. You were just at Comic-Con, what was that like?
Fun. Overwhelming. Stimulating. Lots of Hollywood celebrities and Klingon warriors and slave Princess Leias. To be honest, Comic-Con is hard to describe. It’s kind of like the Matrix. No one can tell you about it. You have to see it for yourself.
4. I feel like you're a perfect mix of Stephen King and Chuck Palahniuk's earlier work, do you hear this reference often?
While I’ve had people mention Palahniuk before, I haven’t had anyone bring up King. Sometimes writers cringe at comparisons, but considering that Palahniuk’s Lullaby is the novel that inspired me to write Breathers and that King is the reason I wanted to become a writer, I consider it a compliment.
5. What was it like working in Hollywood, at Disney?
I worked post-production on the television spots and theatrical trailers for all of Disney’s movies. First as a driver, then as an assistant producer – which is really just a glorified title for a project manager. The pay was good and the hours were long and you didn’t get two fifteen minute breaks and you often had to work through your lunches. But when there are a thousand people who want your job, you can’t really complain when you get called in at 5pm on a Sunday and have to work until 1am Monday morning without getting paid overtime. Still, I worked with a great crew and ate for free at a lot of expensive restaurants.
6. How excited are you about Breathers being turned into a movie?
The excitement has worn off a bit, since the project has been on a two-year spin cycle in development. When they actually green light the film, I’ll get excited again.
7. UndeadAnonymous.com is fantastic, do you think having so much interaction with your fans is helping push the books?
I think my interactions on Facebook and Twitter have more of an impact, though I don’t have any definitive data to back that up. For the most part I try to stay connected to readers while trying to maintain a balance with my writing. Which isn’t always easy. The Internet has a way of sucking you in and not letting go. As for UndeadAnonymous.com, which is the official website forBreathers, I’ve moved most of my weekly web site interactions and updates to my website at SGBrowne.com to accommodate my other novels and work. But you can still Ask Andy a question on UndeadAnonymous.com about what it’s like to be a zombie and he usually responds within a week.
8. What is your writing group like? Is it a bunch of published authors, friends? How often do you meet? How does it work?
It’s a group of writers that have become friends over the past five years. It started out with just two of us, expanded to four, contracted, moved to San Francisco, increased to eight, and now is back down to five. Usually we meet every two weeks and workshop a book over a period of three meetings, doing 100 pages or so each meeting. The group dynamic is great at helping to work out the kinks in the books. My group has been instrumental in helping me to get my first three novels cleaned up and polished.
9. Have you had any interesting things happen at signings?
I had this one woman who sat with me at a signing and told me about how this guy has been stalking her for years and masturbating outside her bedroom window while barking like a dog. Apparently he showed up at the bookstore and she caught him reading a book on serial killers, which he put down as he beat a hasty retreat. She asked me if I thought she should buy the book he was reading and give it to the police to dust for fingerprints. I told her it probably wouldn’t make a difference.
10. You give voices to things that we normally wouldn't expect, how did this come about?
I like looking at things from different angles and perspectives. I think it makes life more interesting. Even when I was writing straight supernatural horror from 1990-2002, my stories would generally evolve from the thought that whatever seemed like the truth had another reality going on. With Breathers, I liked the idea of writing from the POV of the zombie because I wondered what that would be like. Of course, I took some liberties with your standard zombie mythology, but it was fun to make the zombies the good guys and the humans the monsters.
11. You majored in business organization and management, how did you ever get in to writing?
This is a two-part answer. First, I was reading The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub during my sophomore year in college (1985) and I got so caught up in the adventure unfolding within the pages that the world outside of the book ceased to exist. That’s the first time I thought: I want to make people feel this way. Second, during that same year, I got involved in an annual event called Band Frolic, which pitted all of the living groups at my college against one another (fraternities, sororities, dorms, etc). The competition involved putting together 15-minute stage productions complete with music, dancing, and acting. I helped produce my fraternity’s entry in 1986, then I was put in charge of it and for the next three years I wrote, directed, staged, and choreographed the entry for my fraternity. After two years, I knew I wanted to write. Breathers is dedicated to the fraternity brother who passed the mantle of Band Frolic director down to me. Had he not done so, I don’t know if I would be answering this question right now.
12. Were you serious about making a reality show based on Fated?
That was actually just an idea for a short story, as I’m putting together a collection of stories to be released as an eBook and I wanted to write something based on some of the characters inFated. The idea I came up with was to have the Seven Deadly Sins living together in a house and have it be like a reality show. But since I don’t watch a lot of reality television I needed to do some research, so I watched half a dozen episodes of Jersey Shore to get some ideas. Afterwards I had my brain scrubbed.
13. It feels like you do a lot of research for your books, do you research before you write or in the edits?
Some writers are plotters and some are pantsers – in other words, writing by the seat of their pants. That’s me. I write the same way Indiana Jones deals with Nazis and stolen artifacts – I make it up as I go. So consequently, most of my research happens as I’m writing the book when something presents itself and I realize I need more information to make the scene work. My character lives in his parents’ wine cellar and drinks his way through their wine collection? I do some research on different types of expensive wine. My character has been around since the dawn of man because he’s the immortal personification of Fate? I need to find out what kind of clothes he might have worn during the reign of Henry VIII. If I see something that can be improved by adding a little factual information to make it seem more realistic and potentially more humorous, then I’ll add it. I enjoy doing the research. You never know what you might learn. Like how to apply make-up with either a brush or a sponge. Or that in the state of Minnesota it’s illegal to have sex with a bird.
14. Why did you go with S G Browne, instead of Scott G Browne?
When I wrote my first story to send off for possible publication in 1990, I wrote down every permutation of my name, using full names and initials, and decided I liked the way S.G. Browne looked the best. Eighteen years later when I sold Breathers I decided to keep it that way. Hey, it worked for J.K. Rowling, right?
15. I read Breathers on my kindle, do you see e-books taking over anytime soon?
First of all, I want to say I appreciate it when someone reads one of my books in any format, be it electronic or trade paperback. But personally, I like books. Hard cover. Trade paperbacks. Mass-market paperbacks. I like the feel of a book in my hands. I like seeing them on my shelf. I like going into bookstores and roaming the aisles, running my fingers along spines, talking to the booksellers, getting recommendations as to what to read. It’s the closest thing I get to a church. I can’t get that experience searching on Amazon. It’s cold and soulless out there. Unfortunately, it seems like the brick-and-mortar bookstores are in danger of disappearing from the book publishing landscape. If that happens, then I believe we will have lost an irreplaceable part of our culture.
16. What's the best advice you've received about writing? And, having this knowledge now, would you change anything about how you've written in the past?
The best advice I received wasn’t so much about the writing process as it was about the business of writing. Specifically, Christopher Moore told me that when it comes to book signings and events: “Expect nothing and enjoy everything.” I suppose that could be applied to life in general, which makes the advice that much more poignant. As to if I would change anything about how I’ve approached writing in the past? I don’t think so. Not that I did everything right, but you don’t learn from your successes as much as you learn from your mistakes. I wouldn’t be who I am today without them.
17. I absolutely love in Breathers how on one side, the reader is disgusted by what's happening, and on the other, they're sorry for the zombie, did you plan from the beginning to write character driven novels?
One of the challenges of writing Breathers, and one of the things that drove me to write it, was to tell a story from the POV of a zombie and see if I could make the reader empathize with his condition and plight and stick by him even if he gave into his Hollywood urges. And when you’re writing in first person, it’s sort of natural for the novels to be more character driven. My plots definitely evolve from my characters, rather than the other way around.
18. Have you read anything this year that you have to tell our readers about?
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Not only is it the best novel I’ve read this year but it’s one of the best novels I’ve ever read. Beautiful and lyrical, with a great message about the power of words.
19. What can you tell us about, Lucky Bastard?
Like Breathers and Fated it’s a dark comedy and social satire with a supernatural or a fantastic element. In this case, the fantastic element is the fact that my main character, a private detective by the name of Nick Monday, was born with the ability to steal luck. It’s set in San Francisco, takes place all in one day, and starts out on the roof of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel with a naked woman holding a butcher knife. It’s got some mystery/noir elements, which is something new, and it isn’t quite as overt on the social commentary as my first two novels, but I still make fun of human beings when I get the chance.
20. What's next for S. G. Browne? Is there any news on your short story collection?
I’m finishing up some edits on several of the short stories for the collection, which I plan to release as an eBook sometime later this year. And yes, I appreciate the irony in that considering my earlier comment about my love for books, but I also realize I can’t be a complete Luddite. I’ll update any news on my web site, but the collection will consist of around ten short stories that are darkly amusing, twisted tales with a dash of social satire. I’m looking forward to it. Otherwise, I’m working on my next book. All I can tell you about that right now is that it’s about ego and identity and takes place in Los Angeles. Where else would a book about ego and identity take place?