Comic-Con 2013: S.G. Browne on Breathers and Big Egos
A few years ago, there was some movie heat on S.G. Browne’s book Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament. Diablo Cody wanted to produce the movie about zombies who go to support groups and want the rights of living humans. Browne’s next book sounds like a film lover’s dream too. Big Egos features metaphysical cameos from movie stars like Marilyn Monroe, Meryl Streep and Elvis Presley, or fictional characters from Star Wars, Star Trek or Silence of the Lambs, but I’ll let Browne explain it. Browne attended San Diego Comic-Con to appear on panels with fellow authors, so we took a moment to meet Browne and talk about his books and movie prospects.
CraveOnline: At one time there was development on a Breathers movie. Is that still in play?
S.G. Browne: As far as I know, nothing’s going on with it. The second option expired last September. The parties who were involved in it, producers, Diablo Cody and the screenwriter and the agent were going to see if they could find another home for it but at this point, as far as I know, there has been no movement.
Did the speed with which Warm Bodies was produced hurt development on Breathers?
I don’t know. I actually got the impression from the screenwriter that if Warm Bodies performed well at the box office, and I think it made around $70 million so I don’t know if they consider that good enough box office… Had it done well, I think it was supposed to help the case for Breathers but I never received any information as to whether or not it had an impact one way or the other.
When the Warm Bodies book came out, did you think they were stealing your mojo?
No, no. All this stuff came out at about the same time. From what I remember, because I’ve met Isaac Marion at a couple of conventions, he wrote a short story called I Am a Zombie Filled With Love and he put it online and he self-published his book about the same time Breathers came out. It got picked up by a publisher about a year later so they came out at about the same time so I don’t think he really stole my mojo in one way, shape or form.
Warm Bodies found a writer and director who was able to really go through with it and the studio was all on board. I don’t know how Hollywood works, I don’t know the politics but obviously everything fell into place for Warm Bodies and everything didn’t fall into place for Breathers for one reason or another and I don’t know those reasons. I can speculate and I’ve been given some information but I’m just the author.
All of your books and stories seem to have an irreverent perspective on some supernatural or metaphysical hook, whether it’s fate or luck or zombies. What is your unique take on those ideas, how do you get to the humorous angle when thinking about them?
We’ll start out with zombies. Back in 2001, I’d cut my teeth writing horror and I cut my teeth reading horror. I read Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Peter Straub, F. Paul Wilson, Clive Barker, Robert McCammon. There’s probably a few authors I’m leaving out, and I read a lot of that in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and I started writing short stories in the early ‘90s, in 1990. So I was writing just straight supernatural horror. Occasionally I would write some stories that had some darkly comedic elements but I never thought about doing anything full length with them. But after ten years of writing, I still hadn’t read a zombie story and read a lot of zombie fiction.
Zombies weren’t a big deal in 2001. I think The Book of the Dead came out in 1999 which is a short story collection of it but that was really it. I kept trying to come up with ideas for it but my ideas all just seemed stale to me. I didn’t like where they were going, traditional zombie stories. So I thought what if instead of me running from the zombies, I was a zombie? But instead of your stereotypical George Romero/Hollywood zombie, I was just this re-animated corpse who was gradually decomposing, I was sentient, I had all my memories, I had no rights and I needed a lot of therapy. How would my parents treat me? What would society think? Could I join a bowling league?
These were questions I wanted to find out so I wrote this short story called A Zombie’s Lament and then a couple years later I was inspired to see if I could expand it into a full length book. I thought writing from the perspective of a zombie would be unique. In 2003, I hadn’t seen anybody do that at all. I hadn’t seen it in movies or anything else and as I started writing it, it lent itself to the darkly comedic, dealing with decomposing all the time and all the trouble that you would have to go through and how society would treat you. It actually ended up becoming a book about prejudice and discrimination, and finding your purpose in a world in which you have no purpose. You’re a nonhuman in a society of humans, so you have no purpose.
The dark comedy, I found that I had a lot more fun trying to make myself laugh than trying to scare myself. The other ideas with fate and luck, Lucky Bastard is based on a short story about luck poachers which actually I was influenced by a movie called Intacto, which was a spanish film about this underground luck trade but it was more about games of chance people who had large amounts of luck would play with each other. Whoever lost had to give all of his good luck to the other person. They had one guy who actually stole luck but they didn’t really mess around with that. They didn’t delve into that. I thought that’s an interesting concept, stealing luck. What would happen if there was this entire black market of stolen luck that people could purchase instead of having these games of chance? So I took that concept and played it in a different direction, and kind of tied it in with a mystery noir framework.
I don’t necessarily set out specifically to be irreverent about those genres. I like paying a little homage to them but it’s just what comes out of me and it’s just an idea that I want to pursue. The idea of fate and destiny, what am I supposed to do with my life? I thought it would be interesting to see that from the perspective of the person who’s actually in charge of it so I wrote the book from the point of view of fate.
How do you know if something’s a short story or novel?
Any more now, it’s all novels. I tend to think that I write better novels than I write short stories. I do have a collection of short stories and I like them, but I think short story writing is a craft. I think there are some people who do it extremely well. It’s like copywriting or writing a screenplay or writing for television or writing books. They’re all different skill sets. And I think my skill sets lays more, lies, lays, lies – I can never get that right – lies more in larger works because I like exploring different concepts and issues and applying them to society and to myself and getting into character development and finding out what’s going on with them. I just keep writing and I discover the story as I write it and there’s just a lot for me to say.
Some of the short stories in the collection are in the world of Breathers and Lucky Bastard though, aren’t they?
They are. They actually inspired the books. Those are the original short stories that inspired the novels.
You have a sequel to Breathers out, right?
I do and it’s called I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus and that actually came about last year when I was negotiating a two book deal for my next book which comes out, Big Egos, in a few weeks and the book I’m working on now about superheroes. My publisher said, “Would you be interested in writing a novella, a 40,000 novella that’s a Christmas themed zombie novella.” And I said, “Well, let me think about it and see if there’s something I can come up with.” And I’ve been toying with the idea of a sequel to Breathers but I didn’t want to do anything unless it was different than what I’d done. I didn’t want to regurgitate just the same story I’d written and I didn’t feel like I had anything new to write. Breathers was done. But I had an idea and it kind of dovetailed nicely with the Christmas theme, so I pitched them the idea and they said they liked it and that’s how the sequel to Breathers came about.