The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe

The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe: Robin McKinley

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 Robin McKinley, an American writer who lives in Hampshire, England with her husband, author Peter Dickinson, and two hellhounds nicknamed Chaos and Darkness. Open Road Media has recently released eight of Robin’s novels as ebooks, including Beauty, The Outlaws of Sherwood, and the Newbery Medal-winning The Hero and the Crown.

Join us!

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

I’ve kept a blog titled ‘Days in the Life’ for seven years, I have no idea if there are any ridiculous/embarrassing/irrelevant details—ie that I’m willing to make public—which I haven’t blathered about (with footnotes1) on line already. Probably too many times.2

Okay, this pointless triviality may have escaped the life-grinder of the blog: Although I’m right-handed, two of the fingers of my left hand are longer than their opposite, er, digits on my right hand, and my left foot is nearly half a size bigger than my right which is a frelling nuisance for buying shoes.

1 I like footnotes. I’m not sure I can think without footnotes any more. I never was good at joined-up thinking.… Yes, Tor has provided a lovely long list of questions to choose from, but way too many of them are based on a knowledge of pop culture, and my idea of pop culture is Bryn Terfel singing Sweeney Todd. I have to answer what I can.

2 I don’t remember yesterday too well, let alone blogs or interviews from years ago. I can safely guess yesterday involved dog walking and eating chocolate however.


Battle to the death, which weapon do you choose: A) Phaser, B) Lightsaber, or C) Wand?

You silly person. Broadsword, and the muscles to wield the thing. Oh, and the skill to aim away from myself and my companions. Can’t I have sharpened thesauruses instead? Does it have to be absolutely to the death? People rarely die of paper cuts but you can still have lots of entertaining blood and screaming.


Robin McKinley pop quizDo you have a favorite word?

Frelling. When I started the blog—speaking of the blog—I made a rational [sic] decision not to use the kind of language I use most of the time in real life. I’m not a polite, well-mannered person—also things get on my NERVES and need to be SHOUTED AT. Ahem. But I try to throttle myself down in the company of polite, well-mannered people, a lot of whom seem to read my books, and, furthermore, pay good hellmob†-feeding money for the privilege, and while I have no idea why the Story Council keeps sending me books that polite, well-mannered people might want to read, well, there you are. And here I am, waving the smoke away from the scorched places and trying to think of less incendiarynouns and adjectives.

So I needed a swearing equivalent. It was going to be either frakking (Battlestar Galactica) or frelling (Farscape). I find frelling more fun to say, so frelling won. Which is just as well, I guess, because I would have absent-mindedly spelled it ‘fracking’ which has been a bit overcome by environmental unfriendliness.


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

Lord of the Rings. When I was a child, back in the Palaeolithic Era, that was what there was after you’d read all available fairy tale collections 1,000,000 times. I loved and reread—and still love and reread—E Nesbit and Edward Eager, but they are… you know, kids’ books, and it shows. When I was eleven I wanted Grand and Majestic. (I wanted Grand and Majestic with girls, but you don’t always get what you want. Like the man said.3)

3 But about getting what you need, that’s why I grew up to write about heroines.


Heroes vs. Villains—which are more fun to write?

Ahem. Heroines. Heroines. I write a lot of heroines.


If you were secretly going to write fanfic (or, even better, slashfic) about any two characters, who would they be?

Treebeard and Creeping Jane 4

4 You don’t know Creeping Jane? They could have given her a more gallant name, however.


If you could find one previously undiscovered book by a non-living author, who would it be? Why?

Diana Wynne Jones. Because I can’t get used to the idea that she’s gone forever and isn’t going to write any more books.5 ::Whimper:: I believe she left one unfinished… what’s happening to it?

5 I can so imagine Diana getting into automatic writing though. Given her sense of humour I don’t entirely envy the person chosen as channel but… ::waves pen hopefully over blank sheet of paper6 and looks around::

6 I suppose there’s no reason you couldn’t channel onto a computer screen but it’s so, you know, realistic. Who wants to be ordinary about Channelling from Beyond?7 I feel there should be long flowing skirts involved too. If you’re a bloke you can wear a tabard or something.

7 Especially not channelling Diana Wynne Jones, who had epic conflicts with her technology.


What is your ideal pet (real or fictional)?

Okay, if it’s ideal, it must be fiction, but here’s a revelation. I immediately think of dogs I have written.8 Ash in Deerskin. I’m very fond of Mongo in Shadows. He has character flaws but he sure knows how to rise to an occasion. I’m doing the ideal-pet thing again too—Sid (another sighthound bitch, just by the way) in my on-line serial KES.… What, me vain? Well, you write what you want to read: but it would never cross my mind, if you asked me who my favourite heroines in fiction are, to say Aerin or Rosie or Sunshine or Mirasol. I’d be thinking of the criminally misused Eowyn, and Merry, who was a girl in my version because LOTR so desperately needs girls, Sophie in Howl’s Moving Castle, Mrs Jones in Tulku or Lydia in The Lively Dead [both by my husband Peter Dickinson] or or or or… Animals are different somehow. Apparently I can be shameless about my animals.

8 Horses aren’t pets. And neither are dragons^. Neither is Narknon [Blue Sword], although I suppose Fourpaws [Rose Daughter] is—just. Majid in Shadows is not. In my experience Maine coon cats rarely are.


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

Well, I have written two novels based on Beauty and the Beast.9 That might indicate a certain partiality.

9 And Chalice and Sunshine are essentially Beauty and the Beast, too. Oops. Well but it’s such a good story. I don’t want to give it up too soon.


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