When she’s not busy killing her (video game) opponents or rolling out her special flaky pie crust, our current author might be off on a dark, magical adventure (in her imagination). Brenna Yovanoff has already achieved a long list of favorable reviews, recognized on countless “Best of” lists, and received lovely awards for her fantastic blend of humor, romance, and creepy, creepy stories! Is her writing inspired by having a younger sister (don’t all little sisters spark fear in older siblings?) or was it being homeschooled until the age of fifteen that allowed Brenna to get all her daydreaming done early so she could move on to the more productive daymares (daytime nightmares)? But don’t worry about things getting too dark in the Yovanoff household, her husband would be the first to agree our current author is an optimist at heart! With an undergraduate degree in English and an MFA in fiction from Colorado State University, Brenna not only has paper proof of her academic creds, she has a huge and growing army of dedicated readers of all ages. So, maybe it’s not true? Maybe (writing about) evil does pay!
SH: When I was a teenager, people would describe me as a: (jock, band geek, popular, goth, other, none?)
BY: Is there a word for when you don’t really understand cliques or fashion or how to use a straightener, but you love makeup and tiny plastic toys and sequins and all your clothes come from the thrift store and don’t fit right, so you cut them up and turn them into other clothes and kind of wind up looking like a really confusing art installation? Kind of like that.
SH: The best/worst thing that happened to you in high school?
BY: Oh man, high school was sort of just its own best/worst thing. I mean, I’d never been to a school before! It was simultaneously vaguely horrifying and the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me.
SH: Favorite childhood book? Favorite food? Favorite band or album? Favorite television show?
BY: When I was six, my very favorite book in the whole, whole world was Dragonwings, by Laurence Yep. It’s about a young Chinese boy in the early 1900s who’s sent to San Francisco to live with his father. I had no concept of historical fiction or Chinatown or giant earthquakes. Moon Shadow’s uncles lived with him! And my uncles lived with us! They all slept on the floor, and we also all slept on the floor! During the day, Moon Shadow drives around with his dad and uncles on work calls and so did I! Also, there are inventions and dragons and dreams, and a flying machine.
As far as foods went, I was totally not picky. I liked basically all of them except trout, because it’s full of these weird minuscule bones that are hard to navigate when you are a tiny child and have no motor skills. But in particular, I was absolutely thrilled by two baffling foods: pomegranates, and liverwurst. The first is pretty simple—pomegranates are delicious. The liverwurst thing is more complicated. The reason is, when I was little, I super over-identified with Mrs. Murray from A Wrinkle in Time, and she ate liverwurst sandwiches and so . . . liverwurst sandwiches were my favorite of all possible sandwiches. Also, they are just pretty good anyway, even if Mrs. Murray didn’t eat them, too.
We didn’t have TV because we were a strange family who lived in the woods, but later, we had a record player and some Warren Zevon albums and I listened to “Werewolves of London” and “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” so many times and so fervently that my dad probably never wants to hear them again.
SH: Is there a story from your childhood that is told most often, either by you *or* about you?
BY: Okay, so. There is this one story that gets told at basically every family function, probably until I am 80, but I’m warning you right now, it involves neighborhood conflict, animals in peril, and a lot of drool.
My uncle had this dog, Brutus. Brutus was a Bull mastiff, which, for those of you who have not encountered one, is a velvety slobber-machine roughly the size of a sedan. Brutus loved: snacks, all cats everywhere in the world, and lying on my grandmother’s floor with me, preferably eating snacks. Brutus hated: when other dogs came near the yard to chase the cats.
After a particularly bad incident when the neighbors’ dogs dug under the fence to chase my grandmother’s cats, the neighbors called animal control to tell them that Brutus was very dangerous and needed to be taken away.
I was unaware of this. I was very small. All I wanted was my normal afternoon. And so, when the man from animal control showed up, he found me lying on the kitchen floor with my hand inside Brutus’ mouth all the way to the wrist. As the animal control man watched, I pulled a cookie and about six inches of drool out of Brutus’s mouth. Then I stuck it back in. I did this several times.
The man from animal control was very confused. He wrote down that Brutus was clearly not dangerous, and went away again.
I’ve heard this story twice a year all my life, which makes it sound weirdly punitive, but really, I think it’s just because there are about twenty-seven people in my family, and they all intensely loved Brutus, even though he made big puddles of drool on all the carpets.
SH: Was there any class in high school you regret paying too little, or too much, attention? If you could add one class to high schools across the country, what would be the topic?
BY: In retrospect, I’m really sad that I don’t know math.
I also think it would be good if everyone learned really intensive first aid. I, for instance, fortuitously learned it in my health class; because my health teacher didn’t like teaching health and used to be in the Marines, we spent a lot of time looking at color slides of open wounds. Now, I know that if someone gets their eyeball impaled, you should never ever pull out the impaling object. Instead, you should leave it until they can get appropriate medical attention, and in the meantime you can protect both object and eyeball from being jostled by creating a makeshift shield from a dixie cup and some tape. I have both practiced making this shield, and been graded on it. A+. Eyeball impaled? I’m your guy.
SH: What’s the first thing you do every morning? What’s the last thing you do every night?
BY: When I wake up, I always check to see if the cat is a real actual cat who’s actually on the bed, or if I’m imagining her. Which is ridiculous, because right before I went to sleep, I also made sure she was real, and she was.
SH: Do you have a phrase or motto that inspires you?
BY: I’ve had this fortune-cookie fortune stuck to my wall for years and years now that says “No one ever drowned in his own sweat.” I think that from a literal standpoint, that’s probably true. Also, it’s good reminder, because I’m kind of lazy.
SH: Do you have any favorite family traditions that might need some explanation to outsiders looking in? Do you remember how they started?
BY: My favorite tradition is how, for Orthodox Easter, my grandmother would bring a big bowl of red eggs and go around handing them to everyone, and then you’d be standing in the kitchen holding two red eggs and having no place to put them, and the dye would never come off your hands.
I don’t think we invented this, I think the Mesopotamians did. But, with my family, sometimes it can be hard to know what’s going on.
SH: Is there a book, besides your own of course, that you think everyone should be reading?
BY: I really, really want everyone to read Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, because I just think it’s such a good exploration of gendered expectations and toxic masculinity and how girls are socialized to treat each other and themselves in ugly ways even when they don’t always notice that’s what’s happening. Also, it’s just really strange and fun and funny. Gretchen Yee turns into a real, literal housefly for basically no reason. I’d like to do that sometime.
SH: If you could spend the day with a character from any book, who would it be? What would you do?
BY: I’d definitely pick Fanny Price from Mansfield Park, because she seems like she could use a break. We’d go to Six Flags and go on the roller coaster, because when else is she going to get to go on a roller coaster?
SH: What’s your biggest pet peeve?
BY: I really, really don’t like it when I get food on my clothes. Which is unfortunate, because I’m kind of careless and have a tendency to spill things on myself more than you would think. If I get a food on my shirt, which I always do, then I have to either change, or cover it with another shirt, or turn my shirt around so I can’t see it.
SH: If you could have any superpower, what would it do?
BY: It would definitely have something to do with time. I can’t tell you exactly what though, because I don’t understand it yet. (It’s okay. No one really understands time.)
SH: What three words would you use to describe yourself? What three words do you think other people would use to describe you?
BY: Of myself, I would say ephemeral, punctual, a gentleman at heart.
Other people might say something like, “She rarely ever participates in group conversation or rinses out her coffee cups, but at least, she has a pretty good panna cotta recipe.”
SH: You are sitting down to dinner with five people, living or dead, who you find fascinating. Who is at the table and what are you eating?
BY: I’d invite Marie Curie, Leonard Cohen, Alice Roosevelt, Richard Feynman, and Dick Smith, who did special effects for The Exorcist. We’re eating dark matter, because I wonder about it a lot and my imaginary dinner party seems like the only time I’ll ever be able to safely find out whether it has a flavor.
SH: What one thing makes you feel happiest? What makes you sad? What scares you?
BY: I get really happy about all the normal things, like caramel-hot chocolate and puppies and when the lilacs are blooming, but something that makes me the happiest is when I get to break the burned sugar on top of a créme brulée. It makes me really sad when adults tell kids that their hopes and wants and feelings are bad or wrong or dangerous. It scares me when people don’t believe in demonstrable, repeatable scientific evidence and still get to make decisions that pertain to those areas of study and also have real-world effects on people other than themselves.
SH: What is one (or more!) of your favorite features about yourself? It can be anything from an impeccable sense of style to your sense of humor to crazy long toes that can pick up a variety of objects.
BY: One of my favorite things about myself is that I can go upwards of four days without brushing my hair and it usually still looks pretty good.
SH: A series of choices: Comedy or Drama? Cherry, Apple, or Strawberry Rhubarb Pie? Hot or Cold? Five Star Hotel or Rustic Camping? Morning or night? Spend or Save? Board games, Online games, or Video games? Letters, Email, Text, or Call?
BY: Horror; Coconut cream; Hot, hot, hot, hottest; I feel like since I was actually raised in an actual tent, I’ve done all the rustic tenting I need to, and now I’m allowed to pick the hotel! Night; Save. I was raised in a rustic tent. Some things die hard; Video games; Letters.
SH: What did you buy with your first paycheck as An Author? Was it a planned or an impulse purchase?
BY: One of the very first things I bought was a very large purse that looks like a giant monarch butterfly. It was sort of an impulse buy, except can something really be an impulse when you’ve been visiting it in the store for three months because you covet it so?
SH: When you sit down to write, what do you need around you? Do you prefer a certain time of day or is it more spontaneous? How do you approach the creative process?
BY: I prefer to write at night—all night, every night—until that weird, quiet time at three or four when everything gets really surreal and the cat starts to look worried about you. But that’s no way to have a normal, functioning life, so instead I’ve been really good about teaching myself to write in the mornings, like a person with friends and a husband and an achievable goal of eating dinner at a conventional time. Like someone who would never ever be making béarnaise sauce at midnight.
SH: If someone wrote a book about your life: who would you want as the author, what kind of book would it be, and what title would you give it?
BY: Why Don’t These Socks Match? I Swear They Matched When I Put Them On: The Brenna Yovanoff Story
It would be about exactly what it sounds like. And also about how to make your car start when everything is wrong with it, by taking off the air filter and blowing into the carburetor.
SH: What’s the best, surprising question you’ve ever been asked?
BY: Once, I was in Texas and someone asked me if I knew I was like the grown-up version of Luna Lovegood. That was a good day.
SH: Finally, is there a question you wish someone would finally think to ask?
BY: Someday, I would like it if someone asked me how to make a fire with no matches. Not because I know how. Just because I think that would be a good conversation starter. I feel like everyone in the crowd would be very surprised.
SH: So far, Mackie Doyle is the only boy to be our main narrator. Is there a reason, or is it more of a random happening?
BY: I think it must be more random than anything. Mackie is just very talky, despite liking to imagine himself as more of the brooding-artist type.
SH: Do you think you’ve ever met a Replacement?
BY: Once, when I was in Tennessee, I met this tiny, tiny girl at a book festival and she had dandelion-white hair and giant, giant eyes. She wouldn’t talk to me when I talked to her, but she just kept flapping her hand at me every time she saw me for the rest of the weekend. I bet she was one.
The Space Between
SH: There quite a few details for a place you’ve (most likely?) never been . . . So, how did you decide what Pandemonium would look and function like?
BY: I think Pandemonium needs to be made of metal for practical reasons, but also because in “The Tyger,” and in Paradise Lost, there seems to be kind of an industrial theme going on. When I can’t visit someplace personally, I try to do thorough research, like Google Earth, or seventeenth century epic poetry.
SH: Daphne has some pretty unusual characteristics. If you were able to select two things that make her unique for yourself, what would you want to try out (to keep? or no way!)
BY: Definitely her teeth, because I’m missing some in the front and I think it would be really nice to have a full set, and she has really fancy ones, which would be an upgrade. Also, she totally doesn’t need to own a soldering iron. I think that’s nice.
SH: Is there anyone you’d like to hang around you, give helpful advice and all, like Lillian does for Hannah?
BY: Probably a professional magician. Or else, Oscar Wilde. I feel like his advice would mostly be really bad, but we would have a good time.
SH: Do you get more reader responses about Lillian’s death or the Valentine Killer’s work?
BY: I think it goes both ways. People who guess the identity of the Valentine Killer like to talk to me about the Valentine Killer, but most other people seem more interested in Lillian and Hannah. Probably because they are a girl in junior high or high school, were once a girl in junior high or high school, or else have known a girl in junior high or high school. Being a girl can sometimes be really hard.
SH: Fisher has his signature Trans Am to let people know he’s arrived. What car do you think is Clementine should be driving? What’s your signature ride?
BY: I think Clementine actually winds up with Shiny’s pickup truck, because Shiny’s kind of embittered by it, and I think Clementine could love it unreservedly.
My own best car would be a 1950 Studebaker, in some amazing and unnatural shade.
SH: If Shiny created a card in the witch deck to represent you, how would you look and what would you embody? If Myloria were inking a tattoo on you, what do you think the image would be and where would it be placed?
BY: I hope Shiny’s witch card for me would be the Star, except she already gave it to Rae. If it was for me though, it could be a room of clutter with me at the center of all these thoughts and ideas and miracles, sewing a web of possibilities and brightly-colored strings.
If Myloria tattooed me, I’d want a big messy wash on my whole back, like someone spilled watercolor paint on tissue paper and then it turned into a smudgy, inky spider.
Places No One Knows
SH: If you could dream yourself into someone else’s world: a) would you actually want that ability, and b) to whom/where you go?
BY: The dreaming ability seems like it would be really novel for awhile, but I already don’t sleep enough and I like staying home. If I could use it to go anywhere though, I think I would use it to go to MoMA, because then I could be there at night and look at everything without being too short to see around people.
SH: I’m not sure I was ever as cool and confident as Autumn, were you? If you dressed as your Hollywood hero, who would it be and what would you wear?
BY: Autumn is definitely her own brand of something wild, but she’s also based—at least a little—on some amazing friends I had in high school and afterward, and let me tell you, it is a lot easier to be confident, or at least seem confident, when there’s someone there already being confident to show you how to do it.
And last, but not least, my own Hollywood hero costume would likely be Barbara Stanwyck, with those round, voluptuous, gratuitous curls like in Baby Face. But I think I could also do a passable Greta Garbo.
Books by Brenna Yovanoff
The Replacement. Razorbill, 2010. 343p, $17.99. 978-1-5951-4337-2. VOYA December 2010. 3Q 4P J S
The Space Between. Razorbill, 2011. 363p. $17.99. 978-1-5951-4339-6. VOYA December 2011. 4Q 4P J S
Paper Valentine. Razorbill, 2013. 304p. $17.99. 978-1-5951-4599-4. VOYA April 2013. 3Q 3P M J
Fiendish. Razorbill, 2014. 341p. $17.99. 978-1-5951-4638-0. VOYA June 2014. 3Q 3P J S
Places No One Knows. Delacorte Press, 2016. 373p. $17.99. 978-0-5535-2263-1. VOYA April 2016. 4Q 4P J S
Brenna Yovanoff Online
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Flash Fiction site: http://www.merryfates.com