The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe

The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe: Will McIntosh

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 Will McIntosh, whose debut novel Soft Apocalypse was a finalist for both a Locus award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. He is a frequent contributor to Asimov’s, where his story “Bridesicle” won the 2010 Reader’s Award, as well as the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Short Story. Love Minus Eighty (based on “Bridesicle”) was named best Science Fiction novel of 2013 by the American Library Association. His lastest novel, Defenders (available now from Orbit), has been optioned by Warner Brothers for a feature film. Follow him on Twitter @WillMcIntoshSF.

Join us as we cover topics from meditation to hidden speakeasies, and more!

Please relate one fact about yourself that has never appeared anywhere else in print or on the Internet.

I’m a lapsed Zen Buddhist. I’ve read hundreds of books on Zen, I meditated daily for about fifteen years, and once spent a month studying with Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Around the time I began writing (I was in my mid-thirties), I found myself losing interest in meditation, so I went to speak with a Zen teacher I respected. When I told him, he laughed and said, “If you don’t want to meditate, don’t meditate.” So I stopped meditating right then and there, pretty much for good. That’s not to say I turned away from Zen—I still have great respect for its teachings, and much of what I learned sunk to my bones.

If you could choose your own personal theme music to play every time you enter a room, what would you pick?

Dark Horse by George Harrison. It already plays in my head much of the time when I enter a room.

What’s your favorite method of procrastination?

Definitely the Internet. I check my email, check Facebook to see what my friends are up to, Google myself to see if anyone has written a new review of my latest novel, check the novel’s rank on Amazon, check my author dashboard on Goodreads. Then I repeat the circuit, even though it’s only been ten minutes since I last checked. I could write another novel a year if I could stop doing that.

Will McIntosh DefendersIf you had to choose one band or artist to provide the official soundtrack to your new book, who would it be?

I’m going to have to go with Abney Park. They’re a steampunk band, and I don’t write steampunk, but I’m guessing they could write a killer alien invasion soundtrack for Defenders.

Strangest thing you’ve learned while researching a book?

I needed to learn everything I could about those water towers on the top of tall older buildings for Midnight Blue, the young adult novel I just finished. I found an article about how a performance artist in New York City turned one on top of an abandoned building into a tiny bar. The bar was only open for about three weeks, almost no one knew about it, and you could only go if you received this mysterious invitation from someone who’d already been. You showed up on a certain street corner with your invitation, and a guide led you to the water tower. I thought I’d come upon this cool, obscure thing that no one in the SF community had ever heard about, and was all set to post it on Facebook when I saw that Neil Gaiman had not only already written about it on his blog, he’d actually been to the bar while it was open.

I would give anything, anything, to go to that bar.

Name your favorite monster from fiction, film, TV, or any other pop culture source.

As a kid, I fell in love with the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I don’t know why. I liked the werewolf, Gamera, The Hulk, but I loved the Creature.

What’s your favorite sandwich?

The Salmon Blat (bacon, lettuce, avocado, tomato) from J. Christopher in Savannah, Georgia.

What was your gateway to SF/Fantasy, as a child or young adult?

My personal belief is that attraction to SF/F is coded right into your genes. I was attracted to monsters and robots as far back as I can remember. I’d say two things really propelled me into the SF/F world:

  1. Chiller Theater, a TV show from the 1970s that showed old science fiction and monster movies on Saturday nights. They were mostly movies from the 1950s, like Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman and The Fly. I never missed them.
  2. Warren horror magazines: Eerie, Creepy, Vampirella. When I was around eleven or twelve, my grandfather would take me to the drug store every week so I could buy the latest. For those not familiar with Warren, their magazines were comic books/graphic novels with incredible art and horrifically gory stories. There were always a few SF stories in there, with killer robots and such.

From those launch points, I began reading SF and fantasy novels.

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 wrote a novel about an economic/environmental collapse, titled Soft Apocalypse, and that’s definitely the sort I’m best prepared for. To write the novel I did a lot of reading on what we might expect, so at the first sign I’m ready to convert all of my assets to gold and ammo, and stock up on freeze-dried food. I guess the problem is, that sort of collapse is likely to happen gradually, and would be difficult to recognize. In fact, we might be in the early stages right now…

I would want to avoid a zombie apocalypse at all costs. I haven’t shot a handgun or rifle since I was twelve, and I’ve never swung a sword or machete, so I’d be doing the rigor-mortis shuffle, crying, “brains, brains” by the second day of the outbreak. The best I could do to prepare would be to avoid wearing pajamas or some t-shirt bearing an ironic message, so I wouldn’t look stupid when I became one of the walking dead.

Cast the main characters of your new novel (in other words, choose your dream cast for a Hollywood adaptation of your book).

Warner Brothers has optioned Defenders, so I fantasize pretty much every day about what Hollywood stars might play my characters if WB likes the screenplay currently in production and exercises that option.

There are four primary characters in the novel, but as I understand it, the two male characters are being merged into one for the screenplay. He must be played by either James Franco or Matt Damon, or the deal is off (just kidding, Warner Brothers). Actually I think the merged character will be more based on Kai, who is a professional poker player, a reluctant soldier, and Asian-American. I think Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead has just the right mix of a boyish optimism and a brooding dark side.

For Dominique Weiwall, the Caribbean-born creator of the defenders, Kerry Washington, whose most recent role was in Django Unchained. She has to be cool, calm, and brilliant.

I’d like to see Anna Paquin as Lila, who is the most central character. This character is intense, emotional, can curse a blue streak, yet must still come across as highly intelligent.

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