I was raised by a pack of wild movies

I was a bouncing baby surprise born to two directors. My parents both went to UCLA and my father was working toward directing films while my mother directed theater when I came on the scene. Both of them went on to other fields, but my father raised me and my siblings on a constant diet of movies. To this day, we just quote movies at each other and everyone understands the emotional state we want to communicate. That experience, of growing up the daughter of a filmmaker, was the seed of Radiance, from the very beginning. Growing up with cameras changes you, and I wanted to write about a woman, like me, never knew a world without a lens pointed at her.

Catherynne Valente

Catherynne Valente

I miss British cheese and sausages every day

Look, America has come a long way in the food department since the days of Velveeta on every table and Folgers in every cup. But it is just an unassailable fact that cheese and sausage in the UK is vastly superior to ours. I lived in Scotland for a period and I've honestly never gotten over it. I've learned to reverse engineer chips and curry and bacon rolls with brown sauce, but there's just no substitute for the cheese and the sausage. When is Amazon.co.uk gonna help me out with this? I ask for so little…

I love to cook

Some nights, I'm definitely better in the kitchen than on the page. One of my brothers and I started learning early-I was 13, he was 8. Being a couple of competitive personalities, we immediately started with the recipe that looked hardest to us-kung pao chicken-ruined it completely, and then found something harder. Today, he is a chef, while I just cook like crazy at home. You can see it in all my books. A restaurant in New York even did a whole menu based on my novel Palimpsest! And in Radiance, I got a little obsessed with imagining the food each planet in my alt-history Solar System would have. And I think, though I can't be completely sure, but I think I'm the first science fiction author to shoot 250 jars of Branston Pickle into space.

I have a lot of siblings and a lot of animals!

I have three brothers and a sister, all younger. I also have two dogs, three cats and three aristocratically-inclined chickens. Severin Unck, Radiance's leading lady, finds a loud and raucous (and often animal-filled) family among the theater folk of the lunar film industry-I always seem to end up writing about a close-knit chosen family, with menagerie in tow.

I write my books in an umbrella cover museum

I live on a small island off the coast of Southern Maine. As with most small islands, it is full of fascinating, eccentric people (including me). One of the local mainstays is a woman who runs the Umbrella Cover Museum, a museum for those little fabric sacks your umbrella comes in that you lose right away. It's in a little building on the bay side of the island. She retired to Florida a few years back and only returns to run the museum from the end of May to the beginning of September. The other nine months of the year, Persephone-style, the museum becomes The Ministry of Stories-my office.

I've spent more of my life as an actress than a writer

I started doing commercials when I was three or four years old, and worked as an actress, dancer, singer, sound tech, stage manager, and director-sometimes paying, sometimes not-until I was about 21. My first book came out when I was 25, so for another several years, the stage has the page beat in my personal story. Radiance is a long love letter to the theater and the screen, in all its beauty and horror and wonder and black and white magic.

Radiance was my first novel that required the use of index cards

I don't outline ahead of time too much-if my brain thinks it knows the whole story, it immediately goes on break. But because of Radiance's non-linear, epistolary structure, I finally had to do that thing from all the movies: cover a wall in my house with index cards and sticky notes and string until it looked like I was a cop with a heart of gold out to catch a notorious killer. Radiance is the most ambitious book I've ever written, by leaps and bounds.

I love stand-up comedy more than most other things

If I had my way, and lived in a big city, I would go to see comedy every night. Sadly, my small island offers little in the way of cutting-edge hilarity. But every time I travel, I squeeze in an open mic night. My love is pure-it doesn't have to be good comedy. Even when someone is terrible, I learn something from the ways in which they are terrible. A stand-up is like a short story writer. They have to establish a character, a style, and a narrative, get the audience on their side, and never falter, and do it all in a tight five minutes.

I read Latin and Greek

I majored in Classics, which qualifies me to be either a teacher, a writer, or a greeter at Walmart. I'm a little rusty these days, but I've still got my chops.

I drew the illustrations in Radiance

Don't get too excited. I am not a good Drawer of Things. But as the illustrations in question were meant to have been done by a child, I felt that I could manage one little drawing of an unimaginable alien from beyond time and space from the top and one little drawing of an unimaginable alien from beyond time and space from the bottom. I guess you could say Radiance is my first gallery show. Pass the wine?