The Proust Questionnaire, popularized by the French essayist and novelist Marcel Proust, is said to reveal a person’s true nature through a series of probing, soul-searching questions. In the hot seat today: Kaela Noel, author of the debut middle-grade novel COO (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2020).
What is your idea of perfect happiness? A day in a spring or autumn garden with my family and many birds. And a good book.
What is your greatest fear? Something terrible happening to someone I love.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? My inability to stick with being a vegetarian.
What is the trait you most deplore in others? Cruelty in the name of ideological purity—and totalitarianism in general. Also, cruelty to animals and people, and mindless destruction of ecosystems.
Which living person do you most admire? Ursula K. LeGuin; though she passed on recently, I feel her spirit is still here.
What is your greatest extravagance? Books! My house overflows with them. I can’t look at the receipts without flinching. And yet, I don’t want to stop buying them. Also: library fines.
What is your current state of mind? Apprehensive. Hopeful for joy.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Perfection.
On what occasion do you lie? By omission when under duress.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? “Oh, dear.” I know this because my toddler repeats it.
Besides writing, which talent would you most like to have? I would love to be a skillful and intuitive farmer or gardener. I know from firsthand experience what a challenging vocation it is to raise food and tend the land.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Mothering my daughter and being part of a multigenerational family.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? Again a mother, wife, and child; and again and again a writer. And I hope to garden more next time.
What is your most treasured possession? A small winged turtle being I sculpted from clay in elementary school, and which still hums with a kind of magical life force.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Being misunderstood.
What do you most value in your friends? Steadfastness, affection, and generosity of spirit.
Who are your favorite writers? Ursula K. LeGuin, C.S. Lewis, Diana Wynne Jones, Louise Erdrich, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Alice Oswald, Juliette de Baïracli Levy, Leslie Marmon Silko, Sveltana Alexievich, Chrétien de Troyes, Homer, Elias Lönnrot/the Kalevala poets, the Gawain Poet, Mai Wang, Qais Akbar Omar, John Bellairs, L. M. Boston, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Tanya Guerrero, Octavia Butler, Erin Entrada Kelly, Christina Soontornvat, Garth Nix, Sigrid Undset, Anita Lobel, Matsuo Basho, Assia Djebar. I could keep going!
Who is your hero of fiction? Lucy Pevensie from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books and Ged from LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea.
Which historical figure do you most identify with? All those who managed to care for children and families while writing or doing other creative work. There have been many who did so in much more difficult circumstances than mine, and I feel great kinship with and admiration for them.
What is your motto? “This too shall pass.”
KAELA NOEL is the author of the debut middle-grade novel Coo (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2020). She was born in San Francisco and grew up in New Jersey and New York. She lives in Rhode Island with her family. Learn more about Kaela on her website and follow her on Twitter.