The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe

The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe: Kelly Barnhill

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 Kelly Barnhill! Kelly writes novels for children and short stories for adults and poetry that she whispers in the dark when no one is listening. Her first novel, The Mostly True Story of Jack, received four-starred reviews, and her second, Iron Hearted Violet, received a Parents’ Choice Gold Award.

Gideon Smith amazon buy linkKelly’s latest novel, The Witch’s Boy, takes classic fairy tale elements–speaking stones, a friendly wolf, and a spoiled young king–and weaves them into a richly detailed narrative that explores good and evil, love and hate, magic, and the power of friendship. Look for it September 16th from Algonquin Young Readers.

Please relate one fact about yourself that has never appeared anywhere else in print or on the Internet.

Once, very long ago, I received a kiss on my cheek from Richard Simmons. Yes, that Richard Simmons. This is true. I was in seventh grade and killing time before having to go under the knife to extract my little-kid molars that were blocking the path of my twelve-year-old molars, which were hell-bent on emerging. A man in a flouncy white fur coat walked by. My mom, seizing on the opportunity to add to the general horror and embarrassment of simply being a seventh grader alive in the world, snagged Mr. Simmons by the arm and proceeded to chat. It was mortifying. She told him all about my molars in sickening detail. I looked imploringly at passers-by, in hopes they might adopt me and take me home and never force me to talk to passing television personalities and love me forever.

Mr. Simmons, being the fellow that he is, proceeded to buck me up and told me a story about his own DIY braces removal in his youth (in the bathroom, apparently, when he was fourteen), and even encouraged me to look in his mouth to view his crooked teeth. He then told me in his breathless Richard Simmonsy voice, “Hang in there, honey. Everything is gonna be fine.” And then he kissed me on the cheek. There are stories, of course, in which a simple kiss on a cheek can break a curse—eliminate toadness, or cure silence or wake an oversleeping princess. This kiss did none of those. Or at least I think it didn’t. It is true that I started writing stories shortly after, so maybe it was magic after all.

If you could be incarnated as any historical figure, who would you like to be?

Genghis Khan. No question.

The Witch's Boy Kelly BarnhillDescribe your favorite place to read or write.

The individual work rooms in the Minneapolis Public Library. They are magic, each with windows and desks and solitude and quiet. If I can, I get the one that is right next to the Steinway room (because this is the Midwest, and you can check out a Steinway with your library card if you want to), just in case some wandering pianist might happen by and play music while I work.

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

I already do have a theme song that plays every time I enter a room. “Pretty and High” by the Roches. What? You can’t hear it?

What’s your favorite method of procrastination?

I would like to say that I do something interesting like paint my nails with unicorn tears and stardust, or bake multilayered cakes that are both architectural and gastronomic delights, but no. I fart around on Twitter, because I follow very funny and very smart people who endlessly delight me.

Choose your preferred fictional vacation spot: Narnia or Middle-earth (or some other fictional realm)?

Middle-earth, because I am partial to thick moss, large spiders, and possibly-murderous trees.

What was your gateway to SF/fantasy, as a child or young adult?

There are two culprits: L. Frank Baum and Madeline L’Engle. Mr. Baum, because of his unsettling weirdness, which was attractive to me because I was a weird child. And Madeline L’Engle, because of her seamless blending of science and magic. She made me curious about the physicality of the Universe—the palpability of the intersection between mathematics and wonder—and she made me convinced that there were things that could not be known. And that the not-knowing was itself a kind of magic.

If you, as a ghost, could regularly haunt one celebrity, author, or literary figure, who would it be?

I am pretty sure that I already am haunted by the ghost of Oscar Wilde. I have loved him from childhood and feel as though his drawling wit and rakish good looks and impeccable taste in clothing are always just outside of view. That, at any given day in my house, there is Oscar just around the corner, Oscar in the steam of the bathroom in the shower, Oscar hiding in the laundry heap, Oscar somewhere in the recycling, slid between the whisper of paper. I think that there is Oscar in my desk drawer and Oscar in my pen jar, and Oscar waiting for me each day in my writer’s notebook, hoping that I’ll find him.

What is your ideal pet (real or fictional)?

I want a very small dragon that can fit in my pocket. Though, really, doesn’t everyone?

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