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 Alexander Gordon Smith, author of the Escape From Furnace series as well as the stand-alone novel The Fury. His new series, The Devil’s Engine, has just been released in the US, starting with Hellraisers—available now from Farrar Straus & Giroux. Below, Gordon answers our non-sequitur questions and touches on everything from luckdragons to cowpies!
Strangest thing you’ve learned while researching a book?
So this is a bit of a roundabout story. When I was writing Escape From Furnace I decided to research what it was like to fire a shotgun. It’s tough to find guns here in the UK, but a friend of mine had a license so we went hunting one weekend. He was shooting rabbits, and I was shooting cow pies (don’t ask). I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a cow pie getting hit with a shotgun blast, but I can promise you it’s magical.
At one point, in a fairly fortuitous and spectacular combination of events, my friend’s brother ended up getting a mouthful of flying cow dung. He even managed to swallow some. (The words “It just slipped down before I could stop it!” will live in my memory forever.) Worried that we might have poisoned him, we Googled the effects of consuming cow poop. It turns out that it actually has a number of surprising medicinal qualities—from its use as an antibacterial agent to its power to cure bad breath(?!).
Learning this didn’t do much to improve my friend’s brother’s mood (or smell), but it was certainly fascinating.
If you were secretly going to write fanfic (or, even better, slashfic) about any two characters, who would they be?
I used to write the Scooby Doo comic (Best. Job. Ever.) and between issues I would sometimes write fanfic where Mystery Inc found themselves pitted against horror movie villains. Usually one of the gang died horribly (it varied which one). And I totally ship Hannibal Lecter, especially the latest TV incarnation. So yeah, Shaggy and Hannibal. There’s no way Hannibal is ready for that.
If you had to choose one band or artist to provide the official soundtrack to your new book, who would it be?
Hans Zimmer. I listen to his soundtracks all the time when I’m trying to immerse myself in a book, and he fills my head with monsters and explosions and chases and demons and fights and nightmares and adventures and joy. It brings the story to life, drives it forwards, makes you feel like you’re watching it unfold on screen. If he could compose a Devil’s Engine soundtrack I would be ecstatic.
What is your ideal pet (real or fictional)?
Oh, gosh, this is easy to answer. Ever since I was a kid I have dreamed of owning a luckdragon as a pet. Falkor, in The Neverending Story, is just so awesome, especially in the book (which I read quite a few years after watching the movie). I was bullied as a kid, and I used to pray so hard for a luckdragon to swoop down and avenge me that I might have bust a vein in my brain.
I loved the fact they weren’t necessarily super strong, or mega magical, they were just lucky, and I always thought that luck came from the fact they were so darned nice. I still carry Falkor’s motto around with me (like, in my head, not on a piece of paper or anything weird like that): “Never give up, and good luck will find you.” It’s a good mantra for a writer.
What would your Patronus/familiar be?
I went to a Harry Potter themed party a while back and one of the party games was ‘Guess the Patronus’. We had to write down what we thought ours would be, and then guess everyone else’s. I really wanted mine to be a Grizzly Bear, because that would be so cool. I was a little disappointed when three of the five people thought that my Patronus would be a tortoise. I was miffed for a while, but maybe a tortoise isn’t so bad. They’re pretty content and easy going, and they must acquire some pretty good memories in all their years alive, which is great Patronus fuel. So yeah, I’m going to say a tortoise.
What was your gateway to SF/Fantasy, as a child or young adult?
It was Robert E. Vardeman’s The Accursed. I think I found it in a charity shop when I was a teenager, and it opened up worlds. It makes me grin every time I see it on the shelf.
If you regenerated as a new Doctor, what would your signature outfit/accessory be?
What’s your favorite sandwich?
My favorite meal, by far, is macaroni cheese. It’s how I choose to celebrate every time I finish a novel—not a glass of champagne, not a cigarette, but a great big steaming mountain of macaroni cheese, with bacon (of course). I love sandwiches too, and a couple of years back I decided to marry both of my loves into one single, incredible, blessed culinary union. It was like I’d discovered the Holy Grail. I can’t even put into words how mind-blowingly awesome it was, the moment I put that bready, pasta-y, cheesy, bacony carb bomb into my mouth and took the first bite. It’s tricky to make, because the mac and cheese can’t be too wet, and the bread has to be fairly sturdy, or at least sealed shut in a sandwich grill. But boy, it’s worth it. When I die (which, admittedly, might not be too far away if I carry on eating these), I want there to be a mac and cheese sandwich engraved on my tombstone.
Do you have a favorite word?
List three things you’d like our readers to know about you and your work.
- I’m British, but I write as an American now. I find myself using US spellings and words, even slang. It’s partly to do with the fact that my books are so much more popular in the States than in the UK, so I consider myself an honorary American, and partly to do with my unhealthy obsession with watching every American TV show ever made. You guys make awesome TV.
- I try to be a method writer, and get inside the story as much as possible. I’ve spent time in prison cells, made rocket boots from gun powder, attempted to stay the night in haunted houses and crypts, been punched in the face, and for my latest book I even gave myself an asthma attack, deliberately, to get into my character’s head (it wasn’t hard given that I’ve been asthmatic since I was a kid). The more I know the world of the story, the more I see through the character’s eyes, the easier it is for me to write.
- I love writing. I seriously love it. Writing, for me, is one of life’s greatest joys. I always write the book I want to read, and that’s the advice I’d pass on: write what you love.