The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe

We Want Mecha Wombats! Our Pop Quiz Interview with Catherynne M. Valente

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 Catherynne M.  Valente, the New York Times bestselling author of over a dozen works of fiction and poetry, including Palimpsest, the Orphan’s Tales series, Deathless, and the crowdfunded phenomenon The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Own Making. The fourth book in the Fairyland series, The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, is available now from Feiwel & Friends.

Join us!

What is your ideal pet (real or fictional)?

Utterly without hesitation, but with apologies to all my actual pets, a wombat. They are the best. No arguments. They are incredibly cute, tough, ornery, and they have square dung. I would like to squeeze one, but they do not like to be squeezed. I saw one give some vicious pop diva level stink-eye to an elderly Korean tourist who touched his back instead of the small patch on his ankle which had been deemed suitable for petting.

So obviously, my ideal pet would be not be that wombat (whose name was Neil), but a wombat that likes to be petted and squeezed and loved by my unfortunate primate self, who smells somewhat better than a wild wombat, and, as long as we’re talking impossibilities, can talk and sing a little and maybe help me with personal organization if he or she is into that sort of thing. A mecha-wombat.

As this wonderful creature does not exist, I had to whip up a reasonable facsimile in The Boy Who Lost Fairyland. Her name is Blunderbuss. She bites.

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

The Indiana Jones theme. It’s bombastic and heroic and I could swing in on a whip with a really fantastic hat and leather jacket and save the day by knowing how to spell things in Latin.

The Boy Who Lost FairylandYou wake up tomorrow morning as the antagonist in your new book: what do you do to change the ending for yourself?

There are a couple of antagonists in The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, but whether I woke up as a baseball-monster or Madame Tanaquill, Prime Minister of the Fairies, my answer would be the same.

There’s no shame in just retiring to the Fairyland countryside and growing some vegetables. Take up knitting. Read all those books you’ve been meaning to get to. Get a goat. You can boss the goat around if you miss being a crazy jerk to everybody and throwing tantrums when everything doesn’t go your way. Being a control freak and ruling the universe with an iron hand/paw/talon is fun, sure, but have you considered Words with Friends?

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

“So…yeah. I know how it looks. But we can also do ice cream and accordions and Notre Dame and Julie Andrews and a bicycle with one really huge wheel and one little one and Parks and Recreation and ferris wheels and vindaloo and Carnival and the polio vaccine and really cool boots and just the entire concept of musical theater and big giant Buddha statues and that one flash mob at Heathrow Airport even though it was really a T-Mobile ad. So please consider all that before you have a look at the internet…or any history textbook.”

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

When I was 19, I went as Delacroix’s famous painting Liberty Leading the People. If you look at the painting you will see Liberty enjoys going topless. It involved a nude bodysuit and a very artfully arranged tricolor flag. Yes, I wore it to class. No, I was not sent home.

It was either that, or the year I went as Queen Frostine from the game Candyland and spray painted most of myself blue.

What’s your favorite sandwich?

Sandwiches are amazing, it’s so hard to pick one. A nice mutton lettuce and tomato, when the mutton is nice and lean?

Truthfully, I guess it would have to be French dip. When it’s made really well, with good beef and a crispy roll (no butter, yuck) and some really sharp cheese and interesting herbs and the jus is thick and rich and didn’t just come out of a can, it’s one of the most comforting and soul-filling things in the world.

What’s your favorite place to read or write?

I’m just going to be honest here, because I don’t think anyone really thinks too much about where other people read, even if they are writing-type readers. Four words, cats and kittens:

In bed. With cookies.

And, even more honestly, that’s my favorite place to write, too. Well, my favorite place to write is anywhere I’m not meant to be writing, but for the home stretch of a book I tend to disappear into what we call BedOffice. Propped up with pillows like a Disney princess (because this princess has a crap back) with chips and cookies and Skittles on the nightstand, because I roll oh-so-healthy when I’m careening toward the end of a story.

What would your Patronus be?

Orca whale all the way. Glittery ghost-bellyflopping onto my enemies with an extremely toothy smile.

If you regenerated as a new Doctor, what would your signature outfit/accessory be?

I think we all know my signature accessory would be being a woman. And a hyper-intelligent umbrella.


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