The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe

The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe: Katherine Howe

Welcome back to The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe, a recurring series here on featuring some of our favorite science fiction and fantasy authors, artists, and others!

Today we’re joined by Katherine Howe, bestselling author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, The House of Velvet and Glass, and the young-adult novel Conversion, a modern-day retelling of The Crucible set in a Massachusetts prep school. She teaches in the American Studies program at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

Her latest work, The Penguin Book of Witches, is a collection of historical accounts of witchcraft, dating from medieval Europe to early 19th-century America. Katherine is the descendant of two women accused of witchcraft during the Salem witch trials—Elizabeth Proctor, who survived the trials, and Elizabeth Howe, who did not.

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

The strangest honor I have ever received occurred at summer camp when I was a child, and was awarded a silver charm for being most improved at baton twirling. I still know how to twirl a baton, in fact. I can roll it around my waist and throw it up in the air and everything.

What is your favorite short story?

I don’t remember what it’s called, but I read this Stephen King short story once about a group of teenagers who are swimming in a lake and are gradually eaten one by one by a floating pool of oily acid under their swim raft. Good Lord. I’ve never recovered. I still check under every swim raft I’m ever on, and I probably read the story twenty five years ago. Thanks, Stephen King.

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

If I’m feeling badass, I’d like it to be “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” by Tomoyasu Hotei, but if I’m being more generally witchy, I’d like it to be “Fear of the Unknown” by Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Do you have a favorite phrase?

My motto for a long time now has been a phrase from the childrens’ book Eloise: “An eggcup makes a very good hat.” I love this phrase because it reminds me that wonder can be found in even the must humble ideas, and it also encourages a performance of strangeness or bravery in everyday life. When was the last time you put an eggcup, be it literal or metaphorical, on top of your head? Want to go try it now? You do, a little bit. Me too. Let’s go!

The Penguin Book of WitchesStrangest thing you’ve learned while researching a book?

Oh, man, that’s a hard one, since so much of my research has been about witches, and the history of witchcraft is a crazy history indeed. Perhaps the weirdest thing about early modern witchcraft is that if you were suspected as a witch, the court might order a panel of women to search your naked body to find the exact spot where you suckle your imp. And the scariest part was—they usually found it.

Most of the craziest true stuff I learned about witches over the years can be found in my new book The Penguin Book of Witches.

What’s the best Halloween costume you’ve ever worn?

Definitely the year I wore a long gray skirt, plain black sweater, white apron, and a white napkin on my head. I drew an elaborate red A on the chest of my apron and went as Hester Prynne. I’ve always had kind of a Puritan thing going on.

What’s your favorite sandwich?

Veggie BLT with Morningstar Farms breakfast strips, mayonnaise, and tomatoes from my garden. Or egg salad with lots of fresh dill.

What literary or film science fiction technology do you wish existed in our world right now?

I could really go for a driverless car. It would be amazing to be able to write or relax on long trips and not have to worry about driving. Plus you could see so much more of the surrounding countryside. What would it be like to have a cross-country road trip viewed entirely in reverse?

What would your Patronus/familiar be?

I’m starting to suspect that my power animal or witch familiar might be a manatee. They’re laconic, and they’re vegetarian, and they like being out in the ocean, but not too far. They are aloof, but basically good-hearted and gentle. And they have long expressive eyelashes.

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

That we’re very sorry for everything that’s happened, and we’ll try to do better next time.

List three things you’d like our readers to know about you and your work.

I’m very interested by time periods in which our intellectual or spiritual worlds are drastically changing. My historical fiction is always rooted in fact (including the magic parts). And sometimes I have to change things in my fiction because they are too bizarre to be believable—even though they’re true.

Which language, real or fictional, would you like the ability to speak fluently? Who would you talk to?

Latin. I’d like to be able to read Homer, to be honest, and a lot of Medieval demonologies are written in Latin.

What is your ideal pet (real or fictional)?

My current pets—terrier mutt from the pound and imperious office cockatiel—are the idealest of all ideal possible pets. Everyone should have witch familiars as awesome as mine.



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