The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe

Writing in Motion: Our Pop Quiz Interview with Genevieve Valentine

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 Genevieve Valentine, author of the critically acclaimed novel Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, which won the Crawford Award for Best Novel, as well as a nomination for the Nebula Award and the Romantic Times Best Fantasy of the Year. Her short fiction has been nominated for a World Fantasy Award and the Shirley Jackson Award. Valtneine’s Persona, a near-future political thriller, is available now from Saga Press. Read an excerpt from the novel here on Tor.com!

Join us!

You wake up tomorrow morning as the antagonist in your latest novel: what do you do to change the ending for yourself?

An excellent question, but difficult to say for this novel. Sometimes it’s easy (my last one, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, could have been answered by “Let your kids go outside and do things,” which doesn’t sound like much but for him was literally unthinkable). Sometimes, as in Persona, it’s a little trickier, since everybody’s a little morally compromised and it’s just a bunch of people with conflicting agendas; determining which of the morally compromised people is the villain becomes an increasingly difficult task!

Describe your favorite place to write.

In motion, as it turns out. Most of my writing takes place at a cramped desk in a cramped apartment, so whenever I get to write on a train or make notes on a road trip, it has an entirly different cadence. And I can remember specific writing sessions while on a train through beautiful countryside in a way I can remember almost nothing else. (Ever. My memory is spectacularly bad. You know it’s lovely countryside if I can actually recall it.)

Describe your favorite place to read.

I can read practically anywhere, so the process of elimination is actually more interesting. Once, in the interest of leaving said cramped apartment and living life to the fullest, I took a book down to Coney Island to have a relaxing, late-afternoon time with a lovely book and some nice sea air. Ignoring Coney Island and Luna Park is hard even from way down the boardwalk, but I was determined to be studious and focused at this beach. A nice, productive work beach. I got in a full five minutes of reading before the wedding party showed up. I ended up walking along the abandoned sand until I reached the Wonder Wheel. I read my book on the train home.

Persona Genevieve ValentineCast the main characters of your new novel.

I think we all know why I had to answer this one, and I will never know how casting directors make a call and go with it given how long this question took me, but I couldn’t resist.

Suyana, Face of the United Amazonian Rainforest Confederation: Suyana is a celebrity figurehead, trained to be halfway between a diplomat and a pageant contestant. No contest: Q’orianka Kilcher.

Magnus Samuelsson, Suyana’s handler. He’s an outsider brought in to replace Suyana’s first handler, and even though he’s endlessly polished, there’s not a lot of love lost. There’s no shortage of vaguely-scheming Brits with secret depths wandering around the movies these days, but Paul Bettany’s made a real art of it.

Daniel Park, snap: A stealth photographer who is kind of terrible at being stealthy, but a lot better at lying. I’m a big fan of Hyun Bin; he has a ton of appeal with a nice edge.

Grace Charles, UK Face: A consummate diplomat who’s managed to hold on to both kindness and a sense of humor despite her secrets. Since I’m assuming we can shoot for the stars here: Lupita Nyong’o.

Martine Hargaad, Norwegian Face: At the top of the heap and absolutely knows it; sharp and vicious. Sarah Gadon feels like she’s just been waiting to really let loose with weird intensity, and I’m interested.

Kipa, New Zealand Face: Still young to the game, with a deeply idealistic streak the job hasn’t yet drained out of her. Keisha Castle-Hughes is so infinitely charming and sympathetic, she’d be perfect.

Margot, head of the International Assembly Central Committee: The celebrity diplomat who only has one name, because everyone in the world knows who she is, the part would benefit from the icy greatness of Maria Bonnevie.

Ethan Chambers, United States Face: All the casual confidence you’d expect, with just enough affability people don’t quite hate him. There are several options, but I’m going with Zach Gilford out of sheer exhaustion from trying to commit.

Li Zhao, head of Bonnaire Fine Tailoring photography agency: Savvy, wry, a master of feeding someone the line they need to do what she wants done. Who else but Li Gong?

What’s your favorite fairy tale, or fairy tale retelling?

I will always have a soft spot for “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” which I discovered just at the age when I was beginning to enjoy the darkness in fairy tales but still wanted a story where the good guys win. (Ah, I was so young!) I have a small collection of children’s book retellings of it, but my favorite adaptation is still the movie version from 1991…which starred Maria Bonnevie, wouldn’t you know it?

Strangest thing you’ve learned while researching a book?

The ways in which language changes never ceases to interest me. When researching 1920s slang for The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, it was surprising to see which of the many slang terms have become emblematic of the decade, which are still in the common vernacular, and which have vanished as completely as the robe de style disappeared after 1925 (terms like “tomato” for a ’ripe’ young woman ready to marry, which is a descriptor I can’t say I’m sorry to see go).

Name your favorite monster from fiction, film, TV, or any other pop culture source.

There really is something about the vampire. I know, I know—but when well done, they’re equally at home on the page or on the screen (see: LeFanu’s Carmilla, nearly any film adaptation of Carmilla), and they’re such an elastic metaphor that good versions of them will (hopefully) always be interesting. The last two years alone have given us Byzantium, Stoker, Only Lovers Left Alive, and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, all very different takes on the vampire genre, but all worth seeing.

Having finally established communication with a distant alien species, what’s the first thing that we should tell them about Earth/humans?

Beautiful planet, compromised by unstable and confusing inhabitants. Proceed with caution.

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