I met Scott the afternoon he drove me up to the first Haunted Mansion Writers Retreat in 2010. Since then, I’ve been following his work. I’ve heard him read it a couple of times, which makes it really come alive (not to be missed, if you get the chance). I fell in love hard with the series of short stories he published as stand-alones on Amazon. (Try Dr. Sinister’s Home for Retired Villains or Scattered Showers with a Chance of Daikaiju, to get the flavor.)
Officially, S.G. Browne writes dark comedy and social satire. His published works include the novels Breathers, Fated, Lucky Bastard, Big Egos, and Less Than Hero, as well as the short story collection Shooting Monkeys in a Barrel and the heartwarming holiday novella I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus. He is also the author of The Maiden Poodle, a self-published fairy tale about anthropomorphic cats and dogs. He’s an ice cream connoisseur, Guinness aficionado, animal lover, and a sucker for It’s a Wonderful Life. He lives in San Francisco.
I’ve interviewed Scott here before, when we talked about the Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two. Now I’m excited to get to talk to him about one of my favorite of his novels, Less Than Hero:
Drowsiness. Nausea. Rashes. Bloating. For the pharmaceutical soldiers on the front lines of medical science—volunteers who test experimental drugs for cash—these common side effects are a small price to pay to defend our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of antidepressants.
When Lloyd Prescott, a thirty-year-old professional guinea pig and victim of his own inertia, notices that people around him are falling into slumbering heaps whenever he yawns, he realizes that he’s developed a bizarre superpower from years of testing not-quite-legal drugs. Meanwhile, his guinea pig buddies—Randy, Vic, Charlie, and Frank—are discovering their own unusual side effects that are causing people to break out in rashes, become nauseous, go into convulsions, and experience rapid weight gain.
Under cover of night, Lloyd and his misfit band of guinea pig superheroes patrol the streets of New York City to project their debilitating side effects onto petty criminals who prey upon the innocent and become quasi-media celebrities. When a horrible menace with powers eerily similar to their own threatens the city, only one force can stop this evil: the handful of brave men who routinely undergo clinical trials.
Less Than Hero is a dark comedy and social satire about superheroes and pharmaceutical drugs that fills the prescription for an over-medicated society.
Did something in the real world inspire Less Than Hero?
As is the case with all of my novels, several real world experiences inspired Less Than Hero. The first was a TV commercial for a prescription drug that promised to cure abdominal cramping with a side effect that it could cause abdominal cramping, which sounded asinine. This was October 2003, when direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceutical drugs in the U.S. was in its infancy. The second inspiration took place sometime in 2008, when I read several articles about professional human guinea pigs who make a living beta testing pharmaceutical drugs in paid clinical trials. I mean, that had to be the basis for some fun character development.
The third inspiration was the decade-long percolation of an idea for my own superhero origin story. Admittedly, I came to be a fan of the superhero genre through films and TV rather than via the original comics. And while I love Batman, The Avengers, and the entire MCU, the films that inspired me the most were Mystery Men, Unbreakable, and the X-Men series. These films not only helped to shape Less Than Hero, but the novel encompasses aspects of all three films. I wrote a more detailed blog post about the inspiration for Less Than Hero, along with a number of fun facts, on my website if you’re interested in checking it out: http://sgbrowne.com/2015/03/beyond-the-keyboard-less-than-hero/
What is your favorite scene in the book?
That’s a tough one, as there are several that stand out to me. But I’ll go with Chapter 22, which takes place during lunch at Curry in a Hurry on Lexington and East 28th in New York City. In the scene, the group of guinea pigs, who have all developed supernatural abilities and have started using those abilities to fight petty crime, are also aware that there might be other mutants like them in the city using their newfound powers for evil. Isn’t that always the case? While having lunch, another customer, who is drunk and who claims to be Karma, sits on top of his table and starts espousing unsolicited wisdom. When another customer verbally abuses Karma and immediately trips and falls into another table, thus suffering instant karma, the group of misfit superheroes wonders if Karma is like them and whether or not they should recruit him to join their gang. But before they can, the police show up and take him away in handcuffs.
I chose this scene as my favorite because it’s a crossover with a scene that takes place in my second novel, Fated. There are several other scenes in Less Than Hero that cross over with Fated, but this is the first major scene where the characters interact with one another, which was a lot of fun to do. And it was also a challenge, since I didn’t want the reader to have to have read Fated first for the scene to make sense while, at the same time, creating a bit of an Easter Egg for anyone who had read Fated. Both novels deal with the concepts of fate and destiny, each in its own way. One of the lines Karma speaks while espousing his lunchtime philosophy is: Man creates his own destiny. The path you seek is your own. This line stays with Lloyd, the main character of Less Than Hero, as the concept of destiny ends up becoming a main theme for him.
What was your writing process like as you wrote Less Than Hero?
I’m a pantser rather than a plotter, which means I write by the seat of my pants and make up the story as I go. So each scene and chapter is pretty much a discovery for me as I write it. Mostly I try to stay out of the way and let my characters do what they want to do. But since this a first-person POV told by Lloyd, the main protagonist, it’s also an origin story for his guinea pig pals. So I added third-person POV interludes throughout the novel for the other superheroes (and villains) to provide a little more insight into each of them and how they discovered their new abilities. I also peppered newspaper articles throughout the novel to give a larger scope as to the strange activities occurring in New York City and how the media would react to the unusual gang of heroes.
What was the best thing that happened during your promotion of the book?
I would have to say the signing at the Mysterious Galaxy booth at Comic-Con. It’s always fun to sit and watch all of the people walk by, whether in costume or in regular garb, because everyone is just so happy to be there. And it doesn’t hurt when someone you’ve never met before who has read one of your books comes up to you and tells you how much they enjoyed one or more of your novels. As writers, we spend a lot of time alone creating, so it’s nice to have that moment of personal connection with a reader.
What do you have planned next?
I’ve been writing a lot of short stories lately, three of which I self-published as singles on Amazon (“Scattered Showers with a Chance of Daikaiju,” “Remedial English for Reanimated Corpses,” and “Dr. Sinister’s Home for Retired Villains”). Including those three, I have eleven stories that I’d like to compile in a collection, though I’d like to add a couple more to bring the total to a baker’s dozen. The title for the collection would be Lost Creatures, as all of the stories deal with a character, human or otherwise, who is lost in some way or looking for meaning or purpose. Actually all of my novels are about finding a purpose or reason for existence. While my stories deal with issues such as discrimination, the consumer culture, celebrity worship, and the over-medication of our society, they’re really quests by the main protagonists to find meaning in their lives. Obviously I’m using my fictional characters to work out some of my real world issues.
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