Welcome back to The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe, a recurring series here on Tor.com featuring some of our favorite science fiction and fantasy authors, artists, and others!
Today we’re joined by Adam Mansbach, New York Times bestselling author, award-winning novelist and screenwriter, and cultural critic. Mansbach’s Go the Fuck to Sleep was a viral sensation that shot to #1 on Amazon.com months before the book was even available. It has been published in forty languages, and is forthcoming as a feature film from Fox 2000. Mansbach’s debut thriller, The Dead Run, was published by HarperCollins on September 24th.
Join us as we cover subjects ranging from 1970s funk and jazz to Megalodon, and more!
If you could be reincarnated as any historical figure, who would you like to be?
First of all, homey, I’m not sure this question makes sense, because if I’m reincarnated, I’ve already lived and died, so all these historical figures would already be dead. So am I like a reanimated dead historical figure living in modern times? Or am I being pre-incarnated and living through the past? Or am I transforming into the decomposing remains of some dead person? Regardless, the answer is probably Ben Franklin. I’m writing a book about a kid who exchanges letters across time with Franklin right now, and he seems to have struck an ideal balance between statesmanship, inventing shit, womanizing, making up maxims, and flying kites.
Here’s a two-parter: If you could go back in time and change one thing in the past, what would it be? And if you could time travel to the future, who or what would you most like to see?
You know you’re a hopeless record nerd when your time travel fantasies always come around to how cool it would be to go back to 1973 and buy all the great funk and jazz and salsa records that came out that year on tiny obscure labels and are now really rare and expensive. But yeah, I’d probably do that. I’d probably do it in New York, and as long as I was there, I’d probably go up to the Bronx and become a part of the birth of hip hop. Find out where Kool Herc’s next party was going to be, show up, get on the mic, recite some Big Daddy Kane rhymes, and blow everybody the fuck away.
In the future, I’d probably check in on my great-great-great-grandkids, make sure they all had big life-sized portraits of me hanging in their houses, and get them to show me what the best new recreational drugs were all about.
I like to read in the bathtub. Ideally, that bathtub would be located on a small Greek island. I like to write in coffee shops in countries in which languages I do not speak are spoken. That way, you’re surrounded by the buzz of humanity, but you aren’t distracted by people’s conversations. I spent a winter in Stockholm, Sweden once (not recommended), and got a ton of work done that way.
If you could choose your own personal theme song to play every time you enter a room, what would you pick?
Either “Ante Up (Remix)” by M.O.P. or “Broken Language” by Smoothe the Hustler. I’m assuming here that my purpose in walking into these rooms is to rob everyone in them.
What’s your favorite method of procrastination?
Do you have a favorite underrated author?
Bad news: You’re about to be marooned alone on a desert island—name the five things you would bring along.
A boat, a backup boat, a case of good bourbon, Don Rickles, and a decent restaurant.
Do you have a favorite word?
I believe that writers have a responsibility to evolve the language, whether by introducing new words or new usages. Shakespeare alone is responsible for something like 3400 words and phrases. One that I made up years ago, in my first novel, was “calligraph”—“a calligraph of smoke rose from his cigarette.” Obviously, somebody else made up “calligraphy,” but I flipped it a little bit. I also take credit for the term “lit hop,” to describe literature based in the aesthetics of hip hop. I’m also fond of Montaigne’s line “I write to compose myself,” and I’m currently (over)using the construction “I fucks with…” to describe anything good, i.e. “Yo, B, I fucks with this sea bass.”
Strangest thing you’ve learned while researching a book?
The fact that bats eat ten times their weight in insects every night. To be honest, I learned this for an experimental film in which I starred as a half-naked man with an unexplained vendetta against bats and eels. It was shot in a swamp and is not commercially available.
If you could name a planet after anyone (other than yourself), who would you choose and why?
I’m naming that motherfucker The Dentist.
Name your favorite monster from fiction, film, TV, or any other pop culture source.
If you had to choose one band or artist to provide the official soundtrack to your latest book, who would it be?
Well, for my last book, I chose J. Period the Mixtape Assassin, musical supervisor for the Brooklyn Nets, and he put together this incredible Rage is Back mixtape, featuring original music from Black Thought, Common, Talib Kweli, and others. You can download it for free here: http://www.jperiod.com/rageisback/
For The Dead Run, I’d probably get The RZA and Ennio Morricone to collaborate on the score.
Would you rather discover the fountain of youth or proof of life on Mars?
I’m fuckin’ with that fountain of youth, my dude. You know how in books and stuff, eternal youth always turns out to be a curse, and everybody laments their sad fate and shit? Fuck that. I’d play elaborate, decades-long practical jokes on people, write a hundred-volume choose-your-own-adventure series, travel the world, and punch people in the face whenever I felt like it.
Two roads diverge in a yellow wood: one leads toward a mysterious laboratory in which a mad scientist is currently ensconced. The other winds its way toward a tower inhabited by a powerful wizard. You could really use a snack, and it would be nice to have somewhere to crash for the night—which road do you choose?
Yo, B, I have literally no idea what the fuck you’re talking about right now.
What was your gateway to SF/Fantasy, as a child or young adult?
Star Wars. When I was five, I used to recite the cassette tape story version to my friends on the way to school—I had the whole thing memorized. Very little about my life has changed since then.
What would your Patronus/familiar be?
That would be Megalodon, a prehistoric shark the size of a schoolbus.
What’s the most embarrassing guilty pleasure you’ll admit to? (music, movies, pop culture, food, drink, etc…all fair game!)
I think every writer has at least one super-cheap food item that we either lived off when we were struggling, or kind of wish we were struggling so that we could justify living off of now. Like, if I didn’t care about my health or appearance, I would eat a package of fucking shrimp-flavored 35 cent ramen noodles at least twice a day.
Name your three favorite fictional villains of all time. Alternately: Heroes vs. Villains—which are more fun to write?
Here’s my one serious answer: it’s all the same, because you’ve gotta write heroic villains and villainous heroes: characters have to complex and full of contradiction and paradox to be worth reading. The villain and the hero have to have something in common, recognize something in one another, in order for a story to realize its fullest potential. Absolutes aren’t that interesting. But flawed humanity is fascinating.
What kind of apocalypse (zombie, robot, environmental, etc.) is most compatible with your survival skills? And what kind of apocalypse would you like to avoid at all costs?
I’m in good shape and kinda nice with my hands, so I feel like I’d be good in a zombie apocalypse, although I feel sad that the zombies wouldn’t appreciate the witty, topical one-liners I’d deploy as I defeated them. Robot apocalypse just sounds boring. Environmental, we’re about 5-10 years away from, so I guess we’ll find out.
Cast the main characters of your new novel (in other words, choose your dream cast for a Hollywood adaptation of your book).
Everything I write, say, and do is basically intended as a vehicle for Bruce Willis circa 1991.