The Proust Questionnaire — a parlor game popularized by the French essayist and novelist, Marcel Proust — is said to reveal a person’s true nature through a series of probing (i.e., nosy) questions. In the hot seat today: Sally J. Pla, author of the MG contemporary novel, THE SOMEDAY BIRDS (HarperCollins, January 24, 2017).
What is your idea of perfect happiness? Laughing with my crazy family over dumb quips and jokes that are often at each other’s expense. I live with four males, and they’re merciless.
What is your greatest fear? My fears are legion, running the gamut from asteroids to zombies. Well, maybe not zombies. Maybe my greatest fear is not being able to handle my fear. There’s sort of a name for that, phobophobia, and Stanley has it. He’s the hero of my second book.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Overwhelming, anticipatory anxiety.
What is the trait you most deplore in others? Lack of kindness and compassion.
Which living person do you most admire? Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund, for tirelessly championing children and the power of education.
What is your greatest extravagance? Apart from books? Late-night online shoe shopping, preceded by bouts of self-loathing and followed by bouts of remorse. (And yet I keep doing it!)
What is your current state of mind? I’m starting week #7 of immobility in a full leg cast for a fractured knee, so I’d say: FRUSTRATION! (And shoe remorse.)
What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Honesty, when it only serves to hurt people’s feelings.
On what occasion do you lie? Never! (That’s a lie!) Okay, almost never. When I was little I was a pathological teller of tall tales, but I save lying for fiction-writing now.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? I know I should just get over it, but I just can’t seem to stop over-using “just.” It’s just crazy!
Besides writing, which talent would you most like to have? The talent of living a procrastination-free life!
What do you consider your greatest achievement? I was a school-board president for six years and came aboard in a crisis. I had to put out fires, reunite the board, make important new hires, and form a new, collaborative team so that teachers were respected and validated – as well as students, administration, and parents. It was hard, but we changed the culture! Now that school is the one place in the world where, when I walk in the door, I’m showered with hugs, handshakes, goodwill and gratitude. If nothing else, I know I helped this one amazing school.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? An ocean with magical powers to keep from ever getting polluted! (Wait – does that sound too Miss America-y?) Maybe I’d come back as my dog, so I could laze about in patches of sun and be spoiled and coddled.
What is your most treasured possession? Besides my family? All the good memories of happy moments in my life. Also, those ‘in the flow’ moments when the writing is going really well.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Being severely ill and in pain, with no one around to help you. (A cheery answer to a cheery question!)
What do you most value in your friends? Genuineness. Caring. A dry wit.
Who are your favorite writers? Current faves include Brian Vaughan (Saga), the Ms. Marvel series, Neil Gaiman’s MG stuff, George R.R. Martin, some Ursula LeGuin… classic nature writing by Henry Beston, Wendell Berry. More literarily, current faves are Aimee Bender, Rivka Galchen, Etgar Keret, Ben Lerner… In YA/MG, I love SO MUCH! I finally read Julie Murphy’s Dumplin and adored it. Ben Saenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe has stuck with me a long time. And something about Francisco X. Stork’s writing is so quiet, reflective, and deep. Harry Potter, duh. Neal Shusterman’s Challenger Deep was amazing… I loved Savvy by Ingrid Law, and everything by Rebecca Stead, and Richard Peck, and of course Kate di Camillo. Love humor. Love ‘real.’ Better stop now.
Who is your hero of fiction? Maybe Prince Myshkin, in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. I read this as a teen and it transfixed me. The prince is kind, compassionate, and naïve, so, naturally, society despises him. Something about Prince Myshkin reads autistic, so that is very relatable to me. Part of Charlie in The Someday Birds surely must owe something to him. All my main characters are misunderstood souls.
Which historical figure do you most identify with? Gosh. Maybe Emily Dickinson? Pathetically holed up at home, borderline agoraphobic and scribbling away madly? Check.
What is your motto? What my Irish grandmother always said about anything and everything: “This, too, shall pass.”
SALLY J. PLA has been a desk clerk at a creaky old hotel, a very forgetful waitress, and a terrible back-up singer for a local band. She’s also worked as a business journalist and in public education, but writing is what she loves best. A resident of Southern California, Sally has three sons, a husband, and an enormous fluffy dog named Leo. Find her on her website, Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads.