Please welcome Patrick Swenson to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Ultra Thin Man was published on August 12, 2014 by Tor Books.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Patrick: I appreciate being here on the site! Thank you.
If you don’t count “Mr. Mooney Goes to the Moon,” written when I was a nine-year-old, I started scribbling stories in notebooks in high school. But it wasn’t until a few years after college that I started sending stories out with any regularity.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Patrick: I’m a total pantser. The Ultra Thin Man started with the title, an “ah-ha” moment, and two detectives who had to work the case. From then on, I told them to figure it out for me, and I just went along for the ride, finding out the mystery as the reader might. Naturally, I had to go back and tweak this and move that, to make everything fit together. Without any kind of deadline looming, I’ve approached book two the same way. I’m well into it, and I still don’t know exactly how it’ll end.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing? Where do you write?
Patrick: It really is that old excuse about finding the time to write consistently. I’m a full time teacher, a newspaper adviser, the publisher, editor, art director, and everything else for my own small press, and a father to a son with some special needs. Once I’m in front of my story, butt in chair, the words usually flow well.
I wrote most of this novel at the high school where I teach in 30-45 minute increments every day. This schedule hasn’t solidified as much for book two. I find it’s difficult to write at home, so I often grab my tablet computer and hole out somewhere. I have my “writer crawl” days, when I might visit two or three different establishments, order a drink, a little bit of food, and sit and write in one spot until I feel like I’ve worn out my welcome, then slip out and find another place. Sometimes it’s a coffee shop like Starbucks (although I don’t drink coffee), sometimes a fast food restaurant, sometimes a quiet bar.
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?
Patrick: I was brought up with science fiction from an early age. I discovered Dune by Frank Herbert in junior high, and have never been the same since. I loved many of the Golden Age science fiction writers as well as fantasy writers, including Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Leguin, Robert Silverberg, Patricia McKillip, Samuel R. Delany, and J.R.R. Tolkien. I also love mystery, and my favorites there include Robert B. Parker, Elmore Leonard, James Lee Burke, and James W. Hall, as well as noir writers Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Then I can point to more recent writers I love, including Robert Charles Wilson, Connie Willis, Nancy Kress, James Van Pelt, and so many others. One of my favorite writers is Steve Erickson, author of Tours of the Black Clock. (Not Steven Erikson the fantasy writer.) His work does have some SF/Fantasy sensibilities, but he’s a literary writer. Cormac McCarthy is another favorite, as is Jeanette Winterson.
TQ: You are the publisher and proprietor of a small press specializing in speculative fiction. How does this influence your own writing?
Patrick: I’ve learned a lot about writing by running the press. I also had a small press magazine, Talebones, that ran for fourteen years. Read a slush pile for any length of time, and before long you understand what makes a story work and what doesn’t. I’ve also met many influential people in the field that may have cultivated a wider audience for my writing. Running the press can be frustrating at times, particularly when I’m up against deadlines for books, and I have to take so much attention away from my own writing. Much juggling ensues.
TQ: Describe The Ultra Thin Man in 140 characters or less.
Patrick: Two detectives, standing in the way of a terrorist network intent on threatening the galaxy, discover a larger, more insidious conspiracy.
TQ: Tell us something about The Ultra Thin Man that is not in the book description.
Patrick: The aliens known as Helks have Four Clans. The First Clan Helks are the largest, and dwarf humans by quite a lot. They’ve got height and breadth over us, and they have sharp teeth. In the older days they didn’t mind chowing down on other intelligent species. There’s an uneasy coexistence between them and humans now, but the leader of the terrorist movement is one of these aliens, which doesn’t help matters much.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Ultra Thin Man? What appealed to you about writing a genre blending Science Fiction (near-future) Thriller? Do you want to write in any other genres or sub-genres?
Patrick: As mentioned above, most of my genre reading included science fiction and mystery (and thrillers). The title obviously has a noir feel, a nod to Hammett’s The Thin Man, but from the start, the book was going to blend the two genres I had fallen in love with.
I’d like to try my luck writing a fantasy series, or at least a standalone. There’s a published short story I’d like to try expanding. Also, some dark fantasy. I have eight chapters of a ghost murder mystery set in the rainforest of the Pacific Northwest that I had to put aside so I could finish The Ultra Thin Man.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Ultra Thin Man?
Patrick: The research I did centered on weather control technology, as well as the best way to crash a moon into its planet, and the implications of what would happen because of it. There are other important details I had to research, including information about x-rays, antimatter, nanomachines, and superaccelerators. Revealing anything more about all that would be spoilerish!
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why? Who is your favorite character in The Ultra Thin Man?
Patrick: David Crowell, one of the two detectives, was easy for me, as he’s somewhat an extension of who I am. Not completely of course, but he has my voice, so to speak. Alan Brindos was the hardest because he had a difficult past, his motivations are hard to understand, and he goes through a lot in the novel (to say the least). In that respect, Brindos might be my favorite character. I’m also pretty enamored with Tem Forno, one of the Helks who has to work with Crowell when they are on the run and trying to figure out the mystery.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite lines from The Ultra Thin Man.
A see-through cube on the front edge of the desk contained a blue and gold fluidic mass that budded, twisted, and elongated through the nano-slurry inside that controlled it.
They could put a man on a ship to the stars but they still couldn’t make an umbrella that would last.
TQ: What's next?
Patrick: I’m 85,000 words into a sequel to The Ultra Thin Man called [insert super sekrit title here]. I’m guessing I’ll hit the ending around 100,000 words. After that, if the publishing gods are kind, there’s a third book in the series, but I won’t know what it’s about until I finish this one and figure out the new title.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Patrick: Thanks for letting me be a part of it!
The Ultra Thin Man
Tor Books, August 12, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages
In the twenty-second century, a future in which mortaline wire controls the weather on the settled planets and entire refugee camps drowse in drug-induced slumber, no one—alive or dead, human or alien—is quite what they seem. When terrorists manage to crash Coral, the moon, into its home planet of Ribon, forcing evacuation, it’s up to Dave Crowell and Alan Brindos, contract detectives for the Network Intelligence Organization, to solve a case of interplanetary consequences. Crowell’ and Brindos’s investigation plunges them neck-deep into a conspiracy much more dangerous than anything they could have imagined.
The two detectives soon find themselves separated, chasing opposite leads: Brindos has to hunt down the massive Helkunn alien Terl Plenko, shadow leader of the terrorist Movement of Worlds. Crowell, meanwhile, runs into something far more sinister—an elaborate frame job that puts our heroes on the hook for treason.
In this novel from Patrick Swenson, Crowell and Brindos are forced to fight through the intrigue to discover the depths of an interstellar conspiracy. And to answer the all-important question: Who, and what, is the Ultra Thin Man?
Patrick Swenson’s first novel The Ultra Thin Man is forthcoming from Tor in 2014. He edited the small press magazine Talebones magazine for 14 years, and still runs Fairwood Press, a book line, which began in 2000. A graduate of Clarion West, he has sold stories to the anthology Like Water for Quarks, and magazines such as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, Figment, and others. He runs the Rainforest Writers Village retreat every spring at Lake Quinault, Washington. Patrick, a high school teacher for 28 years, has a Masters Degree in Education, teaches in Auburn, Washington, and lives in Bonney Lake, Washington with his twelve-year-old son Orion.