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 writer, publisher, editor, and teacher Patrick Swenson. Patrick has sold stories to the anthology Like Water for Quarks, and magazines such as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, Figment, and others.
Patrick’s debut novel, The Ultra Thin Man, is available now from Tor Books. A blend of Golden Age SF and pulp, The Ultra Thin Man is about two detectives standing in the way of an interstellar terrorist organization intent on manipulating, infiltrating and threatening the galaxy. Read an excerpt here on Tor.com.
Read on to find out Patrick’s delicious secret to getting some writing done!
What is your favorite short story?
I have to narrow it down to one? Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Nine Billion Names of God.” Okay, or maybe “Ado” by Connie Willis, or “All You Zombies” by Robert Heinlein.
Describe your favorite place to write?
I love “writer crawls.” They’re like a pub crawl, only they’re for sitting down and writing while nibbling on a bit of food and sipping on a drink. I’ll drive to one café or fast food place or coffee joint (although I don’t drink coffee), write there for an hour or two, and have something very small from the menu. When I’m ready for a break, or I feel like I’ve worn out my welcome, I get up and drive to another place, write for another hour or two, and order something small there. Usually I don’t have time for more than three stops.
Do you have a favorite unknown author?
I don’t know how unknown he is, but Steve Erickson (not Steven Erikson the fantasy writer) is one of my favorites, and although he is not labeled as a SF/F writer, he’s very much playing with the tropes. He’s been labeled as an “avantpop” writer. Surrealism and magic realism. He’s often very non-linear. He writes about the fluidity of time, and his characters often jump around and appear in his various novels. He’s fabulous with a turn of phrase. To start, try Tours of the Black Clock, one of my favorite books.
Do you have a favorite word?
I’m enamored with the longest word in the dictionary: Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. I like to rattle off that word to my high school students and see if they can figure out what it is. I write it down on the white board without skipping a beat (yes, they’re always impressed by this), and then we break it apart. It’s all there in the word’s parts. A coal miner’s disease. Black lung, basically. The fact that it contains the word “ultra” has nothing to do with my fascination for this word!
What’s your favorite sandwich?
My mom made a bologna and mustard sandwich for my lunch almost every day when I was in school, and I never tired of it. (I add a little cheese these days.) In college it was the Cheesy British at Hoagy’s Corner. Sadly, they’re no longer around. Today, I love a good Italian BMT at Subway. Shredded cheese and toasted please.
What literary or film science fiction technology do you wish existed in our world right now?
Easy. Farcasters, from Dan Simmons’ Hyperion books, or anything like it. I’m tired of driving an hour into Seattle every time I want to do something fun with friends! And that 9 hour drive back home to see the family in Montana (several times a year for the past forty years) isn’t much fun either. Also, I could sleep in an extra 45 minutes if I had a portal to work.
What was your gateway to SF/Fantasy, as a child or young adult?
As a younger child, I enthusiastically read most of the Tom Swift books. Also, Star Trek the original series. In junior high, Dune was most to blame for my love of SF. For fantasy, it was Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books and Patricia McKillip’s The Riddlemaster of Hed trilogy.
Having finally established communication with a distant alien species, what’s the first thing that we should tell them about Earth/humans?
“We are arrant knaves, all; believe none of us.” Maybe that’s cynical, but way back when, Shakespeare pointed out the moral ambiguity embedded in all of us. We struggle with our own existence. “The human condition.” I doubt contact with an alien species is going to help much with that.