The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe

The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe: Jacqueline West

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 Jacqueline West, author of the award-winning middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere. Volume five in the series, Still Life, is available July 1st from Dial Books for Young Readers (a division of Penguin Random House). Jacqueline’s short fiction for adults and children has appeared in a variety of publications, and her poetry has received many honors, including two Pushcart nominations, a Rhysling Award nomination, and a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg prize. If you are sharing a pizza, she will ask for the crust pieces. Don’t get her talking about Kurt Vonnegut, Tori Amos, Northern Exposure, or Sylvia Plath, or you’ll be sorry.

Join us as we cover topics ranging from Kurt Vonnegut (uh-oh!) to secret candy-based shame, and more!

If you could choose your own personal theme music to play every time you enter a room, what would you pick?

My moods vary too wildly to ever stick with just one song, but at the moment, I’d pick T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy.” It’s impossible not to stride into a room with an added layer of cool when you do it to that intro. (And yes, I know I’m not a boy…but I am firmly 20th century.)

Do you have a favorite underrated author?

When I mention favorite MG/YA fantasy authors at libraries or school events, I’m often surprised at how few kids (in the US, anyway) are familiar with Eva Ibbotson—but if they are familiar, their faces light up instantaneously.

If you could name a planet after anyone (other than yourself), who would you choose and why?

I’d love to name a planet Tralfamadore. Kurt Vonnegut is near the top of my most-loved authors list, and The Sirens of Titan may be my favorite novel of all time.

Jacqueline West The Books of Elsewhere Still Life What was your gateway to SF/Fantasy, as a child or young adult?

So much of classic children’s literature is fantasy, though it doesn’t seem to get classified that way: Fairy tales, ghost stories, Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh, Calvin & Hobbes, most of Roald Dahl. I’d ingested so much of this by the time I realized that “fantasy” even existed as a distinct genre, things like talking animals and secret worlds seemed perfectly realistic to me.

But it was probably The Hobbit that threw the gates wide open. My mother read it aloud to my brothers and me when we were very small—I remember that it was our very first book without any pictures in it. Without illustrations, all those epic fantasy elements exploded straight into my imagination: wizards, quests, terrible beasts, bardic songs. Hearing the chapter “Riddles in the Dark” was like licking a light socket. Oh, five-year-old me realized. So that’s what books without pictures can do.

What’s the most embarrassing guilty pleasure you’ll admit to? (music, movies, pop culture, food, drink, etc…all fair game!)

I’ve got a big squishy soft spot for the music of John Denver.

I also love Cadbury Crème Eggs. I stock up on them during the post-Easter sales, and I’m still eating them weeks later, when the “yolks” are beginning to thicken and crystalize.

I’m not proud of this.

Name your three favorite fictional villains of all time.

Three villains that come to mind right away are Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Keyser Soze from The Usual Suspects, and the Lonely One from Dandelion Wine. (Dolores Umbrage from Harry Potter is a close fourth.) I love being surprised by a clever, terrible truth that’s hidden under a surface of matronly competence, or shabby weakness, or complete invisibility. What each of us can imagine is always so much more frightening than reality; when our imaginations get to be in on the construction of a villain, concocting possibilities, gradually putting the pieces together, both dreading and wanting to know just what might wait under the surface, the eventual realization is delicious. It makes you want to cheer for the villains, because they do their villainous thing so well—even while you’re increasingly terrified.

What is your ideal pet (real or fictional)?

Oh my god. If I could have a black unicorn with a red mane and tail and invisible wings, years of childhood wishing would finally come true.

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