Born and raised in New York City as the youngest child in a large Irish-American family, Patrick Quinlan is a political activist, fundraiser, former gubernatorial candidate and critically-acclaimed author of seven novels. Quinlan began his career writing grant proposals and press releases at Greyston Bakery and the Greyston Foundation, where he helped raise millions of dollars to house homeless families and individuals with AIDS, and later worked in public relations for the National Science Foundation.
In 2002, Quinlan served as campaign manager for State Representative and Green Party member John Eder of Maine. Quinlan also served as a consultant to Eder’s 2004 campaign, and as Eder’s legislative aide at the Maine State House during 2004 and 2005. In 2009, Quinlan established an exploratory committee and began raising funds for a run for governor of Maine. He later withdrew, citing his recent divorce and a need for personal time. In 2010, he worked with Ben Chipman on his successful run for State Representative.
St. Martin’s Press and Hodder Headline published Quinlan’s Smoked in early 2006. A tense crime thriller about an explosives expert on the run from his nefarious past, the book received worldwide acclaim, and film rights for the story were optioned in 2007 and again in 2009. Quinlan followed up Smoked‘s success and revisited the crime genre with three subsequent novels, The Takedown, The Drop Off and The Hit. In May of 2007, he was the co-author of film icon Rutger Hauer’s memoir, All Those Moments, a Los Angeles Times bestseller.
Quinlan’s most recent work, Sexbot, is a fast-paced dystopian thriller about a robotics scientist and her futuristic fight for survival. To learn more about Quinlan and his work, visit www.patrickquinlan.com or www.theeoptimist.com.
What was your childhood like, and how did it shape who you are today?
In all honesty, my childhood was like something out of a nightmare. My father was a serious, mean-spirited alcoholic who at times was totally out of control. He didn’t seem to care if he lived or died, or if anyone around him did either. As a result, from a very young age, I tried to stay away from the house as much as I could. So I was a bit of a waif as a kid, out and about in the streets, unsupervised, in trouble.
I think it is probably hard for people who didn’t grow up like this to imagine the long-term, far-reaching effects it has. You are not a whole person. It takes years of piecing together little bits of humanity you pick up here and there, and arranging them into something that looks human from the outside. You end up as a sort of Frankenstein monster, with all these parts that you found somewhere, and which don’t necessarily fit together all that well.
And you’re already well into adulthood before you even start that process.
Who are your biggest creative influences?
Many, many influences. I was big into Ernest Hemingway for a long time. Norman Mailer – I must have read Tough Guys Don’t Dance and An American Dream five times each. Stephen King. Hunter Thompson. Dean Koontz. Elmore Leonard. Graham Greene – The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana, lots of great books by him. James Ellroy.
Muhammad Ali had a huge influence on me when I was young. He was the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. The government drafted him into the Army. He didn’t believe in the Vietnam War, so he refused to serve. And it wasn’t like they were going to send him to fight in Vietnam. They would have had him do promotional appearances and exhibition matches. No thanks. So they stripped him of his title, put him in jail for a little while, and made it impossible for him to work. He missed the prime of his career. He was publicly disgraced for something he believed in, and he did this willingly and with an open heart.
Was the process of finding an agent and publisher for Smoked a difficult one? And how did you celebrate your eventual book deal?
For me, the process of finding an agent was relatively easy compared to getting a book deal. I had an agent for years, and was in fact on my second agent, by the time I got a deal for Smoked. I signed with an agent within a year after I wrote my first novel manuscript. After that, the process became arduous. My second agent (the one who represents me now) is an awesome agent and person, who really guided me over time to write better books, and to remain persistent in the face of many, many rejections. In the end, it took me eight years from the time I wrote my first novel manuscript to when I got a deal for Smoked.
I can’t say that I really celebrated the Smoked book deal. I don’t tend to celebrate things that much. I just move on to the next thing.
How did the opportunity to co-author Rutger Hauer’s memoir come about?
I was a big fan of Rutger when I was a kid. He was up there among my favorite actors, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford. As it happened, my agent was also Rutger’s literary agent. He’d been trying to talk Rutger into doing an autobiography for a while. Finally, Rutger relented. I had just gotten an American deal, and on the heels of that, a worldwide deal for Smoked. So things were hot at that moment. Our agent married Rutger and I together, and we agreed to write a proposal for a non-fiction book.
Rutger invited me down to his hotel room in New York to work on the proposal. I thought that was a little weird. What were we going to do, sit on the bed together? It turned out his “room” was this huge two-story penthouse on the top floors of the hotel. That was eye-opening. I had never seen or even thought about a hotel room like that before.
It took us about nine months to finish the proposal, mostly because Rutger is constantly on the move, traveling from one film location to another. I would call him on the phone, and he would be in Los Angeles, Amsterdam, England, Russia, South Africa. Once we finished the proposal, we quickly got a six figure deal for the book, and Rutger graciously donated his part of that to AIDS charities. We also got a Dutch translation deal, since Rutger is one of the biggest Dutch movie stars of all time.
It ended up taking almost two more years to write the book, which was called All Those Moments. I think we were both pretty weary of it by then. Rutger is a terrific actor, an adventurer, and a fascinating character and conversationalist, and I learned a lot from him. I think we did a pretty good book in the end, too.
In your opinion, what is the best film performance of Rutger Hauer’s career?
Hands down, Roy Batty in Blade Runner. Rutger says it himself, and describes the feeling a little bit in the book. There are times in a person’s career where suddenly they are almost channeling power or spirit from another place. Afterwards, they try to recapture that ability, or even just that moment, but it remains elusive. I think that’s probably the case with that performance, especially the final moments when Roy Batty is dying.
What inspired the story of Sexbot?
About a year ago, I was riding the train from New York to Florida. The dining car only has about 20 tables, so they make you sit with people you don’t know. This is a nice thing in that you eat your meal with people you wouldn’t meet otherwise.
One day, I had lunch in the dining car with a Manhattan real estate developer. He was a rich guy, and talkative. He was interested in a lot of things.
At first, he was telling me about how the Japanese are in the process of developing robot sex dolls that are nearly lifelike. He was excited by this prospect. He thought that within another ten years, the dolls would be so lifelike that you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart from real women.
He thought that lifelike but largely motionless sex dolls like the Real Doll (made in the US) and the Honey Doll (made in Japan), will soon be wed to advanced robot technologies like the Geminoid.
Throw in artificial intelligence that’s already mimicking the way human eyes see and how people make decisions, along with voice technology that’s widely available, and you’ve got the ingredients for a very, very realistic sexbot.
The important thing, for this guy, was that the sexbots wouldn’t be real women. This is important because real women come with so much baggage — they have opinions, ideas, moods, frustrations, children, ex-husbands, money problems, health problems, jobs, and menstrual cycles. The real estate developer thought the ideal woman would be someone who had none of these things. All she would have is a perfect body, forever young, and a desire to please her master.
He said, “What would something like that be worth? For me, I know I’d pay at least $100,000. At that price, I’d probably buy more than one.”
Later, he told me that he had contracted to have himself cryogenically frozen when he dies. He said that within 50 years, scientists will have perfected a process for downloading human awareness into machines.
When they do, very wealthy people will be able to live forever, more or less. When the machine starts to break down, you just swap the awareness into a different, newer, and in all likelihood, even more advanced machine.
Even weirder, maybe you make copies of your awareness, and download it into several different machines, or put it aboard a spaceship heading out of the galaxy, or wirelessly transmit it to a receiving station on Mars.
You could put your awareness inside the perfect Sexbot-type body, or inside a robot submarine, a predator drone, or make yourself into some kind of Robocop/Optimus Prime warrior bot. Once your awareness is downloadable and transferable, the limits as to what you can be are gone.
So why was this guy planning to freeze himself? Because alas, he didn’t think he’d be alive long enough to see these breakthroughs. So he plans to come back after he dies, and then be downloaded.
I asked him what he thought about heaven and the idea of missing out on it.
He told me that even if there is a heaven, it can wait. Heaven is for eternity, which is a very long time. The immortality he’s dreaming of can only last as long as there’s a modern society to support the robots.
How long can that last? A thousand years? Ten thousand? Eventually, human civilization will collapse, the robot immortals will die off, and heaven will still be right there, waiting to receive them.
Naturally, this conversation gave me an idea for a violent, futuristic suspense novel. That novel is called Sexbot.
How close do you believe we are to living in a world with sexbots?
We’re there now. There are already pretty crude robotic sex dolls being marketed. For example, there is something called Roxxxy, which is pretty low-tech and rudimentary, and not nearly as attractive as some of the non-robot sex dolls that exist. Actually, Roxxxy is kind of frightening. But she is definitely a robot and definitely a sex toy, and she is available for you to buy.
I think it’s only a matter of time before someone takes a very advanced Geminoid-type robot, and gives it sexuality. I think the Japanese will be the first to do this. A Japanese scientist named Hiroshi Ishiguro is at the cutting edge of robotic research. I watched an interview with him once where he said that the Japanese believe anything can have a soul, even inanimate objects. So it’s no stretch for them to imagine and build robots that you can have sex with, or even have a deep emotional relationship with.
How have you evolved creatively since you began writing?
I began writing when I was about 19. I’m 44 now. When I started, I could barely string a couple of paragraphs together. Also, I was a kid and backward as hell. The things I wrote were dumb, even offensive. 25 years later, I’ve long since tapped into the wisdom of the universe, so my writing is pretty much infallible. If anyone is offended by it, it’s because of their own limited perception. Plus I can write whole books now, instead of just a couple of paragraphs.
Actually, never mind all that. The painful truth is I probably peaked as a writer around the age of 34 to 37. Sometimes I read over the books I wrote during that time (Smoked, The Drop Off), and I grunt to myself and think, “How did I do that?” Sexbot is quite good, awesome really, but those books are better.
So I may in fact be devolving. That’s kind of scary.
What did you learn about both yourself and the political process during your 2009 run for governor?
My run for governor was abortive to say the least. I had just gotten divorced, I’d had some success running local and regional political campaigns, and I kind of thought this would be a good way to take my mind off my troubles. I started quietly having sit downs with various stakeholders, office holders, and influential activists. I thought that was fine and I could go on and on for a long time doing this. It was peaceful and kind of fun, and I reconnected with some people I either hadn’t worked with in a while, or had only known tangentially before.
What happened was that people quickly decided I would make a reasonably viable third party candidate, and the thing burst out of the gate before I was ready. I started working with a couple of political consultants, and their major concern was that I needed to raise money. This is as it should be. No money, no campaign.
So I started raising money. Politicians spend a lot of time doing this. It’s part of the life. And I would talk to the consultants pretty much every day, and they’d say, “How much did we raise today?” Whatever I answered, they’d say: “No good. We need more.” I got tired. I wasn’t emotionally prepared. I was actually already exhausted from the divorce, and the campaign hadn’t even started yet. So after a while of this, I told them it wasn’t what I wanted to do.
What I learned was that people underestimate what it takes to be a high-level politician. Energetically, politicians are animals. They’re beasts. They are tireless, and they are relentless. Physically and psychologically, they have more energy than other people. Local politicians have more energy than most of their constituents. High-level politicians have more than local politicians. They’re like those TV commercials for pickup trucks — built to last. Built Ford Tough. Whatever it is. They eat grueling schedules for breakfast. They soldier on. They grind it out. You can hate politicians, but you can’t say they don’t work hard.
Do you believe that Rex Ryan will still be the coach of the Jets next season? If not, what do you believe his legacy in New York will be?
I actually hope so. I like Rex Ryan. There’s no doubt that when he came in, he infused the team with an energy they hadn’t had in a long time. And they had a lot of success those first two years. But here’s the problem: As much as I didn’t like Eric Mangini (Ryan’s predecessor) as a head coach, I think he was a better evaluator of talent than Rex.
Rex Ryan, for the most part, inherited a team that Mangini built. The major weakness was at quarterback. The rest of the team was so good it could overcome Mark Sanchez’s lack of experience and his mechanical deficiencies, as long as he didn’t make a lot of mental mistakes. But over the last few years, the talent on the team has eroded so badly that except for the defensive line, there are now glaring holes pretty much everywhere.
It is a form of misery to watch the Jets these days. That said, I do think Geno Smith can become a good NFL quarterback. He needs some time to develop, and he needs decent receivers. Great quarterbacks tend to have elite receivers. You watch him throw to Eric Decker the little bit that Decker has played, and you can see the spark of something there.
I think they will cut Ryan after this year, and if they do, I doubt he’ll have much of a legacy. He is a genius at designing defensive schemes, and he will work as a defensive coordinator somewhere else, and enjoy a lot of success.
If you could be a successful professional athlete in any sport, which sport would you choose?
I would choose to be a professional surfer. I love surfing, I’m just really bad at it. I started as an adult, and that’s too late. Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to be an awesome surfer, and what an amazing feeling that must be. Sometimes, if I’m somewhere and there’s a big swell, I just go out on a boogie board, out with the surfers, and forget about mechanics, and just get the exhilaration of the ride itself, coming down the face of that wave like I was shot out of a cannon. That’s good, but still I wish…
One day I am going to give myself the gift of an extended time away at a surf camp, where I can just drop everything and focus on surfing skills.
What are you working on next?
Next year, I hope to write a novel about a 40ish female cop who has just retired. She is a tough lady who was part of a tactical squad that did forced entries into drug houses. She accidentally kills a child during one such invasion, and decides to cash in her accrued vacation and personal time, and take early retirement. Soon after, as a favor for a friend, she talks to the mother of a young prostitute who has disappeared. She ends up on the trail of sex traffickers and, potentially, a serial killer.