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 author Katherine Addison, also known as Sarah Monette. Sarah grew up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, one of the three secret cities of the Manhattan Project, and now lives in a 108-year-old house in the Upper Midwest with a great many books, two cats, one grand piano, and one husband. She has published more than fifty short stories and has two short story collections out: The Bone Key and Somewhere Beneath Those Waves (both with Prime Books). She has written two novels, A Companion to Wolves, and The Tempering of Men (both with Tor Books); four short stories with Elizabeth Bear (and hopes to write more); and the Mélusine fantasy quartet (Ace). Her latest novel, The Goblin Emperor, published under the pen name Katherine Addison, comes out from Tor in April 2014. You can read the first four chapters from the novel here on Tor.com
Join us as we cover subjects ranging from elegiac poets to Lovecraftian mammals, and more!
Do you have a favorite word?
Paraclausitheron, which is the word for a particular sub-genre of lyric poetry: the ode you write sitting beside the locked door of your beloved’s house. No, I’m not making that up. Mostly paraclausithera were written by Ancient Greek and Roman elegiac poets, but examples crop up from time to time through the centuries; Crowded House has a paraclausitheron on their 1993 album, Together Alone—the title is, appropriately enough, “Locked Out.”
Strangest thing you’ve learned while researching a book?
In his old age, Wyatt Earp moved to Hollywood, where, one day in 1915, he met Charlie Chaplin.
If you could name a planet after anyone (other than yourself), who would you choose and why?
Sally Ride. Because I don’t think there are words to explain how much she meant to me—and to who knows how many other girls in my generation—as proof that women can do anything. Anything. And we don’t need magic to make it happen.
Name your favorite monster from fiction, film, TV, or any other pop culture source.
Smaug. Hands down, no thought required. Any version you like: the book, the 1977 Rankin-Bass animated film (in which, the IMDb tells me, he was voiced by Richard Boone, Paladin from Have Gun, Will Travel), the new Peter Jackson/Cumberbatch/CGI wonderment (I don’t think I breathed for minutes at a time in parts of The Desolation of Smaug, and I know I wasn’t breathing in that last view of him as he dropped off the cliff and SPREAD HIS WINGS).
That’s a tricky one. For the Doctrine of Labyrinths, I could have told you immediately that it had to be Depeche Mode, but The Goblin Emperor is definitely not a Depeche Mode sort of book.
Actually, putting aside the trivial detail of his having been dead for sixty years, my choice would be Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev (most famous for “Peter and the Wolf,” but I’m thinking particularly of Lieutenant Kije). Maybe with an assist from Tchaikovsky on one side and Stravinksy on the other.
Would you rather discover the fountain of youth or proof of life on Mars?
Life on Mars. The fountain of youth is like the monkey’s paw in the W. W. Jacobs story. It never ends well.
But life on Mars would be awesome! Even single-celled life, although I admit that in my heart of hearts, I want it to be the barge-people of the canals.
What would your Patronus/familiar be?
I have mild albinism, which means I am very sensitive to light, so the animal representation of my spirit would have to be a mole. I am particularly fond of that most Lovecraftian of mammals, the star-nosed mole, and tend to choose it for online icons and avatars. So, yes, Patronus, familiar, Daemon, animal representation of the anima (in Jung’s *ahem* slightly misogynistic schema)… whatever you want to call it, mine is the star-nosed mole.
If you could find one previously undiscovered book by a non-living author, who would it be? Why?
This question is SO HARD OH MY GOD YOU HAVE NO IDEA. But I think my most truthful answer is that I would desperately love to find another collection of M. R. James short stories. I poke my books occasionally to see if they’ve budded a new one. (That’s how books reproduce, right? That’s how come you never have enough bookshelf space: the books bud quietly in the night.)
Leaving aside Tolkien (and I actually find it difficult to imagine another book Tolkien might have written), M. R. James may be the author who has had the most influence on my writing. Certainly on my short stories. Besides which, I love them. I love the way he uses language, I love the way he uses academics and academic settings and the minutiae of medieval manuscripts and all these tiny, obsessive details, and I love the way he SCARES THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS out of me without ever raising his voice. I find his stories comfort reading (although I have to be careful about when I read “A Neighbor’s Landmark” or “Martyn’s Close,” just to list two of the ones that sneak up on me most elegantly—reading them just before bed is a very bad idea), and the idea of there being more of them is just… hell, I would even let somebody else find them, if they could just exist.
Which language, real or fictional, would you like the ability to speak fluently? Who would you talk to?
I would love with all my heart to be able to speak Greek, classical or modern or both. It is a beautiful language, both aurally and in terms of the intricacy of its construction. I took four semesters of Ancient Greek in college, but it’s all rusted away now—and I never learned to speak it anyway. (Pronounce it, yes; speak it, no.)
I visited Greece in 1996 as a student in the American School of Classical Studies’ summer session, and I have always wanted to go back—there are so many places I didn’t get to visit, or didn’t get to visit for long enough—but I especially want to be able to go back and talk to people properly, not in the American tourist way of “look helpless until someone who speaks English shows up.”
What’s your favorite fairy tale, or fairy tale retelling?
I love fairy-tale retellings for the way they can complicate and subvert their original texts. My favorite may still be the first one I ever encountered, Robin McKinley’s Beauty.