Unexpected Questions with Susan Shwartz

To quote Sam Gamgee, “Well, I’m back.”

After a long sabbatical, Susan Shwartz is thrilled to be writing again. She sold her first two short stories almost simultaneously in 1981 before she entered an upstate New York hospital to have her wisdom teeth excavated by dental archeologists. After a hiatus that began in 2006 when she was confronted with the choice of job hunt or spec novel, Susan has sold three short stories in the past six months. She has also  completed a children’s book, has about six short stories bouncing about cyberspace, and is revising a second novel. An author of fantasy, historical fiction, sf, and the occasional horror story, Susan has written or cowritten 30 books and more 90 pieces of short fiction, ranging from Arthurian romance to hard military SF and collaborations with Andre Norton, Harry Turtledove, Judith Tarr, Mike Resnick, and Steve Stirling. She has published five Star Trek novels with the late Josepha Sherman and written a subversive guide to job hunting. (Don’t ask. She’s retired from the financial services industry now after 40 years on Wall Street, but she still sees herself as an honorary Romulan.)

She has been nominated five times for the Nebula and twice for the Hugo, as well as one time each for the World Fantasy Award, the Edgar, and the Philip K. Dick. Her YA fiction includes “Beggarman,” a short story edited by Jane Yolen, and a story from the Children’s Crusade about a boy who wants to be God’s werewolf.

Born in the Rust Belt city of Youngstown, Ohio, Susan moved East for school because her mother was from Boston, making her the third in a female line of Red Sox fans. She earned her B.A. from Mount Holyoke and her M.A. and Ph.D. in medieval English from Harvard.

After three years teaching upstate, she evacuated herself and an enormous polydactyl cat to NYC and pounded the pavements till she wound up as a vice president of marketing communications at various Wall Street firms. She was in the industry during 9/11.

Today, she and her partner live in Connecticut, where they collect SF art and commute to New York City for theatre and opera. At home, they watch for bobcats, bears, deer, and the neighborhood potbellied pig (That’s true). They are also armchair Arctic, Antarctic, Himalayan, and Marianas trench explorers. They travel when they can, preferably by sail.

No, they have no dogs or cats. Persian rugs and dogs don’t mix, and snow leopards don’t thrive in Connecticut. Besides, the big cats would probably hunt down Connecticut’s state dogs, the big golden retrievers and doggie doodles of various shape and hue.

Now, to the questions:


If you were transported into one of your books as a character…

Susan would like to resemble Asherah in Shards of Empire: intellectual, competent, passionate, and caught up in adventures in Turkey and along the ancient Silk Roads. Susan is a superb audience, but a lousy athlete. However, she has ridden on a geriatric camel in Cappadocia.

If you were stranded on a deserted planet with only one book to read,  but that book were one of your own

It would need to be a short read because she doesn’t have much survival training and would probably not last long. She would suggest Heritage of Flight, which is a first contact novel on an isolated world and has the most preparation for life in such places.

Given the choice between being a mermaid and a dragon which would you choose?

Susan would be a dragon. The jewelry is better, and she wouldn’t get waterlogged or Disneyfied. Cute is kind of anathema when one is five feet two inches short.

If you could travel back to the past where would you go?

Because of the state of healthcare in general and dental and visual work in particular. Susan’s operations for cataracts were simply life-changing. She hasn’t had vision like this since before she started school! And then there’s the problems of being Jewish, female, and noisy. Life in most previous time periods looks tough. However, if people insist she choose a time period, it would be Elizabethan England. Think of all the theatre tickets!

If she had to survive in a fantasy world with only the contents of her fridge?

Susan’s game plan would be to pack all the steaks and chicken and fish into a freezer bag, find some hobbits, and throw herself on their mercy as a guest-friend. Being five feet two would be helpful as well. So would her and her partner’s collection of single malts and craft beers – which don’t go into the fridge.

If you could have any fictional pet as a companion, what would it be and why?

Susan wrote about her late cat Merlin in “Critical Cats.” The story appeared in the first volume of Andre Norton’s anthology series Catfantastic. If that makes a 17 pound Tuxedo polydactyl with no redeeming social value a fictional pet, good! She would give anything to have him back.

If you were to write a story featuring yourself as the main character, what kind of adventure would you embark on?

Susan wouldn’t write that book. Too much like Philip Roth or John Updike – maybe Margaret Atwood at best. A lapsed academic who collects things, is quite bookish, loves travel, the theatre, the arts, and books books books isn’t particularly the stuff of which heroes are made. If a protagonist must be made from such a character, it would have to be a post-Holocaust book, and she doesn’t want to write that.

If you had to choose between being a time traveler or a space explorer, which would you pick and why?

Susan would pick space exploration because she is concerned about changing the course of history as a compulsively curious time traveler and not being able to get back home. She wrote one book with time travel as a main theme, Grail of Hearts. Based on Richard Wagner’s opera Parsifal, its protagonist Kundry (a coloratura role) goes back in time to try to stop the Crucifixion.

If you had to describe your writing style using a fantasy-themed board game, which game would you choose and why?

Susan compares her writing to Magic the Gathering because it is highly colored, intricate and employs the work of some of her favorite artists. It would also be a great excuse to buy the artwork, if possible.

If you had to choose one of your own fictional worlds to live in, which one would it be, and why? 

Susan would choose the world of Second Chances because it is rebuilding successfully, a sadder but wiser civilization, after devastating wars. That’s a civilization that may last and one that she approves of.

If aliens were to visit Earth, what do you think their first impression of humans would be? 

Aliens would think we were selectively nutty, depending on where they landed. If they landed in New York, it would be good if someone taught them not to walk down the center of a street or sidewalk, begin any questions with “Excuse me,” as in “We come in peace for all beings, Please take us to your leader.” Then, aliens should get out of the way. New Yorkers are in a hurry.

What off-beat location would you like to see host a convention, and why?

How about Mongolia, because then Susan would have an excuse to go. Instead of shuttle buses, there could be shuttle Bactrians and expeditions to the dinosaur fossils! Accommodations would be in gers (formerly called yurts).

If you were secretly an alien visitor to the Earth, why are you here? 

When Susan was a graduate student, she used to feel like an alien. Not alienated, but ALIEN. An Alien Susan would be here because she is insatiably curious and has always been far more curious than parents, teachers, guidance counselors and human resources “helpers” (those two groups in particular) considered acceptable or manageable. She still doesn’t care.

If you could transport yourself to any fictional universe you’ve seen in a book you liked, which universe would you go to? 

Susan would go to Middle Earth, set up residence in Hobbiton and commute to see how the rebuilding of Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith have been going on. But mostly she would like a small house in Hobbiton, which she loved from the minute she saw it depicted in the films and started crying. She’s not that much taller than Merry and Pippin.

If you could transport yourself to any fictional universe you’ve seen in a television show or movie, which universe would you go to?

Susan would choose Earth in the Star Trek universe post Dominion War because it would be a sadder but wiser Earth, but still wonderful, with Federation ideals and the chance to eat at Sisko’s in New Orleans. She loves gumbo and jambalaya. Compliments to the chef! Sisko is her captain because he’s a badass with a bad temper.

Which trope of science fiction (phasers, transporters, time machines, much more) would you like to see put into our own reality? And how would you use it in a mundane way?

After spending more time than she liked visiting doctors, she would select Federation healthcare, specifically the Sick Bay on Enterprise, with its biobeds, scanners, heads-up displays and bloodless scalpels. Granted, current care is moving in that direction. But she definitely approves of the Star Trek universe’s free medical care and its ethos of self-improvement.

And now, it’s back to revisions on my latest book!

You can find Susan’s nearly complete catalog at Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/s?i=digital-text&rh=p_27%3ASusan+Shwartz&s=relevancerank&text=Susan+Shwartz&ref=dp_byline_sr_ebooks_2

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