‘Breathers’ author to appear at Writers with Drinks

S.G. Browne

S.G. Browne

The first novel by S.G. Browne, who lives in the Santa Cruz area but has attended a writer’s group in SF for years, is called Breathers: A Zombie’s lament. The comic take on the undead, who shamble around a small California town, attend Undead Anonymous meetings, and try to stay out of the grips of the SPCA, is also a romance, between the main character and a recently suicided young woman. It’s also a story of temptation, once the zombies find out that the secret to fighting decrepitude is to comsume, yes, the flesh of humans, or “breathers.”

The book, which is being released today, was recently sold to Fox Searchlight with Diablo Cody slated to produce. Browne appears Saturday at Writers With Drinks. I spoke to him by phone yesterday.

How did you come to write Breathers?

I wrote a short story in 2001 called “A Zombie’s Lament.” I had always thought about the idea of, What if zombies didn’t come back as these flesh-eating monsters, but were just these nonhumans? What would they have to deal with? How would they be treated by society? Would they eventually give in to their baser needs? Did they have an instinct to eat human flesh, or what? The story didn’t have any of the character development that the book does. A couple years later I got inspired to see if I could turn it into something more full-length.

Before writing this novel, I’d written straight horror — supernatural stuff. I was weaned on a diet of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Clive Barker and Peter Strawb. I grew up watching “Creature Features” on TV and Saturday afternoon monster matinees, so I wrote supernatural horror. At the same time, I dabbled in some short stories that were dark comedy, but I’d never made any of them into novels. Then I found I didn’t enjoy writing supernatural horror anymore, so I stopped writing. (During the hiatus from writing) I read Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk, a dark comedy that was a horror novel as well. And I thought, “Well, he pulls this off for a whole book. Maybe I’ll give it a shot and see if I can do it.” And I found I enjoyed the process of writing Breathers much more than the other stuff I’d written. Trying to make myself laugh was a lot more fun than trying to make myself scared.

Was it a challenge to maintain the light tone without veering off into something more satirical or ironic?

In my first draft, (the main character, Andy) was much more moribund, more… moaning. It started off slower than it does now. It was a little draggy. By switching some stuff around and adding some chapters, I added a lighter touch to it early on, and I think that helped to keep it more consistent all the way through. Because originally it started off more…. lamenting. Too much lamenting and not enough of the humorous aspect of being a zombie.

I tend to make it up as I go. A lot of writers will plot things out and have outlines; I can’t do that. I like to discover the story as I go.

I read that you have done some screenwriting. Did you use some screenwriter’s tools, in terms of shaping the plot or characters, in writing this book?

People tell me I write dialogue well. I don’t know if I do, but I seem to have fun with my dialogue.

Books and movies about zombies have proliferated in the last few years, and we even have zombie flash mobs. Even though the meme has been around for forty years or so, since “Night of the Living Dead,” it seems to have really taken off in the last few years. Why do people find it so compelling at this time?

I’ve always been a zombie fan, and I still think George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” is one of the creepiest movies I’ve ever watched. The reason why zombies are so compelling is that they’re the most human of the monsters. They used to be us. And that’s a lot of what drove me to write this book. I find zombies to be sort of tragically comic. You can’t watch a zombie movie without laughing some of the time.

The film “28 Days Later” added something to the whole zombie thing because — even though they weren’t zombies technically, they were infected with a virus — they were fast. And that added a different dynamic to the zombie genre and made people realize “I can do something different with zombies.” Because before that, zombies were shambling, slow-moving, for the most part. They weren’t really overly strong. They were pretty much the same in every movie, and “28 Days Later” added something different. Then “Shaun of the Dead” added a comic touch — which I personally thought was great, especially the director’s cut.

Your book has been sold to Diablo Cody who is going to produce a film version. Are you going to work on the script?

I don’t know; I’m hoping to have some input. I don’t need my thumbprints all over it if somebody else makes it, as long as it’s going to be a good movie. If I can be involved in it, I’d love to. They want to do it, and hopefully something will happen sooner or later, and they might start production this year. I’m excited to work with them.

What are you working on now?

I’ve already finished my next book, which is with my agent and my editor. It’s also a dark comedy, not about zombies — it’s about fate — with Fate as the main character.

1 Comment so far

  1. Jeremy Hatch (jhatch) on March 18th, 2009 @ 9:10 pm

    This was interesting, by the way!

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