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 Kathleen Jennings, an illustrator and writer based in Brisbane, Australia. Kathleen was the 2009, 2010 and 2011 president of Vision writers group, and the 2010 recipient of the Inaugural Kris Hembury Encouragement Award for Emerging Artists and Writers, and recipient of the 2012 Ditmars for Artwork and Fan Artist.
Kathleen’s story “A Small Wild Magic” will be published in Monstrous Affections, an anthology edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant, available September 9th from Candlewick Press. Get a better look at Yuko Shimizu’s cover art for the anthology as well as the full table of contents here on Tor.com.
What is your favorite short story?
“The Loaded Dog” by Henry Lawson. A perfectly contained story, with escalating chaos and very dry humour. I quote it frequently. “…It was very good blasting powder.” I also use it as a picture of how I construct first drafts, wrapping new ideas around a core, “to increase the force of the explosion”… that’s an observation, rather than advice!
Describe your favorite place to draw or write?
A café with a view. I like to watch the world go by while I work, feel like I’m not missing out on life, and draw people. Lively libraries are a close second.
Strangest thing you’ve learned while researching a book?
That outlaws were made by declaring “let him have a wolf’s head.”
Name your favorite monster from fiction, film, TV, or any other pop culture source.
Gurgi, from Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain. Something like a cross between a sloth and an Irish Wolfhound, of which he smells. Timid, faithful and given to rhyming.
What was your gateway to SF/Fantasy, as a child or young adult?
CS Lewis, Lloyd Alexander and George MacDonald. And Scripture Union, who let (what I much later discovered was) Queensland fandom and SCA members run a week-long primary school Camp Narnia every winter at Maleny, each camp based entirely on one book, with costumes and swords and ranks and macadamia trees, which was certainly immersive and formative!
Heroes vs. Villains—which are more fun to write?
Heroes! I enjoy the odd villain (Villainous Villains, swirling capes and all), but it’s a deeper fun writing about someone discovering a Thing or Cause or Person worth sacrificing or fighting for, against opposition, family, fate or their own human nature.
And although I haven’t mastered this, it’s also fun to tip heroes toward the villainous. Occasionally someone manages a story in which everyone is properly awful, and yet the hero of their own story, and it’s so gratifying: you get to shout at everyone and cheer at all the happy endings. You can love and loathe all simultaneously and impartially. The movie Decoy Bride is the last example of this I can think of. The Castle and The Dish do it to an extent – the only villains are strong wind or smooth law-abiding corporations, and yet there are spats and quarrels all over the place, while all the characters retain their charm. Diana Wynne Jones would still have villains, but I loved the ragged, selfish, well-intentioned humanity of her heroes and background characters.
What’s your favorite fairy tale, or fairy tale retelling?
Little Red Riding Hood, and Dickens’ retelling of it: Our Mutual Friend.
When I was small, my father refused to read LRRH out loud for the 74th time, I threw a tantrum, my father pulled Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books off the shelf at random, my mother (who was doing the dishes, and is American) didn’t think he put enough expression into them and took over, and until I went to boarding school in year 11 my mother would read out loud to the whole family.
So LRRH introduced me to a lot of books, and the joy of reading aloud, the sound of words, reading-as-spectator-sport, and Eliza Doolittle with a Southern drawl.
I love the versions and echoes of LRRH, the shifting lights of the story. I like finding it in other tales, or shoehorning it in. I love reading Dickens and finding first shades of red, then wolfish figures, then direct references: “We thought you were a kindly old grandmother, but you’re not! You’re a wicked wolf!” And oh, to find them doubly mistaken… wolves in the skins of boatmen and schoolmasters standing on every corner, and kindly folk painted as wolves, grandmothers fierce against hunger and brave abandoned girls carrying the world and their hearts to safety.
Bonus Monster-Related Questions:
What makes a monster monstrous in the first place?
They are unsubtly and non-negotiably not what you expected or desired. Monsters are very present, and whether or not they are frightening, they are almost always inconvenient. Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing is such a hopeful/tragic dream about this.
What kinds of monsters were hiding under your bed as a child? What about now, as an adult?
The Hound of the Baskervilles.
If you could give a happy ending (i.e. one that doesn’t include their death at the hands of the hero) to any fictional monster, which would you choose? What new ending would you write for them?
The Hound of the Baskervilles. He would be taken in by a suspicious and eccentric old recluse who would rehabilitate him, and to whom he would become fiercely loyal. Sometimes at night, he would still get out and horrify benighted travelers…