The in-house interview with Mariam Petrosyan

— How did the secondary characters of the kind of Treponema, Bagman, Echidna came to be?

Somebody would run into them at some point, so they got into the tables [of characters - Y.]. I don't have the tables for the girls because I know so little about them, not enough for that.

— The episode with Sphinx and Noble where he almost Jumps and then wakes up in the canteen is unclear. We know that the Other Side has the highway, the cafe on the side of the road, the gas station (I think). What is this place then? Blackwood?

They're still in the House, but the Other Side starts to seep through. Same as it does in the end in the canteen with Blind.

— When Grasshopper is named Prince Tut after his Jump, is it because of Pharaoh Thutmose? If so, which one; if not, what does it mean?

I needed a link to Sphinx, an intermediate nick.

— How did Leopard die?

No one knows for sure, but it's possible that the Rats cut him.

— Who was Leader of the Rats between Leopard and Red? What happened to him?

I don't know. Maybe he got cut too.

— Who was the Leader of the Hounds before Pompey? Does he have a nick?

There was someone, but I couldn't be bothered about giving him a nick.

— Did Smoker have a nick before he became Smoker? He lived with the Pheasants for some months, after all.

He could have had an initial nick, but it's never mentioned.

— How did the Law that separated boys and girls came to be?

The Law came from Blind. He separated the girls because he heeded to avoid the split like the one that happened with the previous graduating class. The purpose of the Law was to eliminate the possibility of a conflict over girls. He then makes a new Law, because there's too little time before the graduation for the girls to form stable relationships and take sides, so they wouldn't become a cause for a split.

— What are the reasons for the Bloody Graduation?

The seniors were preparing for it. It was their way of not graduating, not leaving the House. And also they had the standoff that needed to be resolved.

— How did Blind come upon the knife that was used to kill Elk?

He likely picked it up himself.

— Did any characters have real-world counterparts?

No, the House has nothing to do with any real people.

— Who christened Black and why is he Black?

I don't know who christened him. But the nick is directly related to him being Blond before.

— Why has he ended up in the Fourth after half his pack abandoned him? Why not form another pack?

Blind specifically put Black in the Fourth to eliminate a rival and head off a possible standoff.

— Why did Blind draw a giraffe of all things?

Oh. Because it was easier for him to draw a giraffe of all things.

— Where did Humpback get a hamster?

They could buy it. Or maybe the House had a petting zoo.

— Does the government finance the House, or someone else? Or is it a private institution?

More of a private. The House has a Board of Trustees, and Noble's mother is on it, for example. Some parents pay for their children's stay.

— Who braided Corpse's dreadlocks?

Humpback's hamster. Joking.

— How did Alexander get his nick?

There was this theory that Alexander the Great was an epileptic. Anyway, the House's Alexander is Alexander because of him.

— Why was Sphinx lost on the Other Side for 7 years???

Well, I'm sorry.

Who patted Smoker's head on the last night?

It could have been anyone, there is no right answer. It was the collective spirit of the Fourth, so everyone is free to imagine it in their own way.

— Why wouldn't Ginger ask Rat to lead her to the Other Side? Why didn't she consider her, like she did Blind and Noble?

Rat is not a guide.

— Have you yourself imagined where Alexander might have gotten to? If so, where?

No one knows. I don't either.

— Did Noble find Ginger on the Other Side?

Yes, I think he did.

— Will there be a sequel to the House? or a prequel?

NO. There won't.

— Could you go completely to another loop with the help of the feather? The gear allows you to "reincarnate" without any memories, so wouldn't a feather help you go to another loop at your own age and with memories intact?

The feather allows you to move between the worlds. The gear is for going to another loop with some part of your memory, something like a premonition.

What would have happened if Smoker went to the Fourth earlier?

I think Sphinx would have beaten him the same way he did with Noble.

— Why don't the girls have packs?

They have small dorms, that is the reason.

Artashes [Mariam's husband]: The girls are each a pack by herself.

— Did Smoker tell anyone about Ancient after he saw him in that dream?

No, he never did.

— If Sphinx isn't with Blind on the new loop, would he become Sphinx?

I don't know. He could become someone else, sure.

— Can Tabaqui die of old age, if he is getting old on the Other Side?

Unknown.

— The friendship between Blind and Sphinx - did it shape only them, or the entire House (through its effect on the Fourth).

The whole House, I guess.

— Would there have been a split in the House on the order of the one between Moor and Skull if those two were to part ways before the graduation?

No, it wouldn't have been like that.

— What has Blind written in Smoker's snitching journal? Was he addressing Smoker, or Ralph, because he understood why Smoker started the journal and who played a part in it?

Blind was addressing Ralph, to let him know that they all understand the purpose of the journal. The exact words don't really matter, what's important is the fact of the message being there.

— Has Sphinx's mother visited him at least a couple of times while he was in the House?

No, she hasn't, but he did go to see her after graduation.

— The last story "from the other side" is about a three-fingered man in black. Is that Ralph, and how did he get there? Is Blind somehow involved in this?

Someone dragged Ralph to the Other Side, most likely Blind.

— Is the Other Side a sort of religion? Believe it if you want to, or don't?

No, it's not a religion.

— Did Smoker go to the Other Side when he was a cat?

No, those were just hallucinations caused by Vulture's concoction.

— What kind of father would Sphinx be?

The epilogue does feature Sphinx as a parent.

— Why wasn't the House shut down right after the bloody graduation?

Who knows.

— Where and when is the book taking place, after all?

The answer to this question purposely does not exist.

— How was Sphinx able to take Blind away from the other loop? Did he impersonate a relative?

Unknown.

— How and what for do the people of the House change nicks?

It happens by itself.

— How do you feel about your characters now "living and breathing"? Are you glad they've "emerged" from the book?

Insanely glad.

— Why didn't Red come out of the Coffeepot after the discussion requested by Pompey?

MAYBE HE WAS STILL EATING.

— Does Skull have an Asian appearance by any chance?

Could be.

— How do you feel about online communities where people take the peripheral characters and make up their stories?

I'm fine with that.

— Do any of the characters besides Smoker have real names?

No, no names.

— What happened to Catwoman? Did she die, or move to the Other Side with her cats?

Most likely she did die.

— Who is Steel-toothed? Does he live on the Other Side or did he come there from the House from one of the previous classes?

The one who captured little Sphinx. He is from the Other Side.

— Was any of the seniors a Jumper/Strider?

None except Ancient and Witch.

— How are the wings of the House located? In an L? (so that girls' windows can be seen from the counsilors' rooms)

No, in a U.

— Does Tabaqui have parents?

Parents... Hm. Who knows if he has parents. He does mention his mother at some point, but it's more of a gag. I doubt he has a mother.

— When Tabaqui moves to the next loop, at what point does he appear?

He moves back to the farthest point in time, the yongest age when it's still possible to be conscious of himself

— Where does Sphinx manage to get a tan in the middle of winter?

In faraway lands.

— Did Sphinx go to the Other Side after graduation?

Of course he did, where else would he get a tan.

— The guide dog training other guide dogs - it's not Blind by any chance?

No. But a nice idea, I like it.

— The guide dog and the owl that Sphinx keeps - are they normal animals?

Yes, they are normal.

— Could it be that the House has an avatar? It's not Blind and it's not Sphinx; it would be someone who is not subject to the Rules of the House because he is it?

Tabaqui is the personification of the House.

— As we know, the House does not let everyone in. But the thing is that the House is now on the list of required/recommended reading for the hight school exam in literature starting this year. How do you feel about that generally, and what do you think about children being forced to read the House to pass a test?

I don't like it at all, and I'm against it. There are books that it is simply too early to read in school. And obligation kills a book.

— Are the characters heterosexual? Is there homophobia in the book?

Mariam: yes, they are.

Artashes: at the time there were only two gays in existence: Freddie Mercury and Elton John.

M: There is no homophobia or racism in the House, they are all cast-off misfits, it unites them.

— Were there any books that served as an inspiration for the House?

Everything I've ever read, more or less.

— If the loops all happen at the same time, does the same Tabaqui move between them and live on all of them, or does he have a double on every loop?

He lives anew in a new place, but there are no doubles.

— Where do the House dead go to? Do they just die? What about the ghosts?

There are ghosts, but the dead go to the ground. In caskets.

— Who made the Moon River? Was it Rabbit?

I'm not sure it was Rabbit. Who knows.

— How did the packs acquire their designations?

They emerged already with the designations, but... if it fits, it fits.

— How did Blind get to be Master of the House?

I think there were fights.

— Why didn't Ginger pursue Blind after he ended up in bed with Rat? Was it friendship? Female camaraderie?

She doesn't give a damn who was in bed with whom. She didn't have any designs of that sort on Blind anyway.

— Did Tabaqui like Mermaid?

He did, but not romantically.

— Was Gabi really pregnant when she said it in the Coffeepot?

Of course not.

— Why was Red afraid of plastic bags?

It's just his personal phobia. And he's afraid of all of them, not just those from the "Phoenix".

— Did Alexander smoke?

I don't think so.

— What happened to Chimera after graduation? And why wouldn't Alexander mention her in the Confession?

Chimera might have left with the bus. And by the time of Confession she's not in the picture yet.

— How do you feel about "packs" forming IRL, about the House subculture in general?

The packs puzzle me. But I'm mostly for it, they're a positive for the book.

— Who is your favorite character? is it Smoker?

My favorite is Tabaqui. Sphinx after that. Smoker doesn't work as a favorite or non-favorite.

Where did Ginger get her bear?

The inspiration for it was the bear from the video by Bjork. And in the book the bear was given to her by a truck driver who picked her up after she ran away. Ginger is one of the few characters who came with an origin story.

He just gives her a lift, no questions asked, he doesn't care about who or what she is. But she interprets it as a grown-up relating to her as if she's a grown-up too. And it's not even his bear, it was left by someone in the cab. So this bear becomes for Ginger a symbol of freedom, of escape.

Ginger ended up in the House because of nervous vomiting. She was constantly shuttled from family to family. So at some point she starts to throw up. Nothing works, she begins wasting away, and finds herself in the House.

Before that she would constantly run away from those families, but was always brought back. She's just a little girl, but she doesn't realize that, doesn't understand how is it that they always find and catch her so quickly. She thinks she managed to get far away, but in reality she's immediately recognized by the description, "a red-haired girl in a blue raincoat" or something.

So she was throwing up, and then she set fire to something. Since she's so little, she couldn't be sent to juvenile detention, so they sent her to the House.

The chapter about the fire in the backyard was originally in her voice, and Ginger mentioned this story.

— Was Gabi really raped? Is her behavior the result of that?

Gabi does not have a tragic history, she's never been raped. She prefers to position herself as a victim, while not being one. If anything, she might force herself on someone. And someone older than her at that.

— Basilisks come from eggs. Mermaid came from an egg. Is there a connection?

No, Mermaid's egg is not related to the Deaths' eggs.

— How did Smoker end up in a House, and how did he become a paraplegic?

I had a version of a suicide attempt, then of a skiing accident. Suicide - because Smoker has a self-destructive tendency.

Smoker has a nice father and a very nice stepmother (she went to meet Ralph at one point), and they both are trying to get through to him, but Smoker is a very aggressive character, and any attempts at closeness he perceives as limiting him, infringing on his freedom, imposing on his personality. He is seeking harm to himself, so his rebellion against Pheasants is not an accident. He constantly sets himself against the environment, he's a rebel by nature. He came to the House late, yes, but this is a matter of his character, not time; more time there wouldn't have changed anything in his attitude towards other people.

There's a lot of Salinger's Holden Caulfield that went into Smoker's image.

In the old version [where the "present" and "flashback" parts weren't interlaced - "present" was all in the first book, and "past" in the second - Y.] Smoker disappeared at the end of the first book, got taken home, but I decided that since he welcomed us to the House, he probably should wrap everything up as well.

— Do you have favorite moments in the book?

Lary saluting with the broom and screaming "The sun!"

And Blind beating up the machine with paper cups.

— What kind of dish would you be?

A plate of harisa.

— What's your favorite beer?

I don't like beer.

— What about music, what are your favorite bands?

At the time of the House being written - Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Yes, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, The Beatles.

"Space Oddity" is one of the favorite of Bowie's, and "The Man Who Sold the World" I prefer as covered by Nirvana

I started listening to rock when I first met Ata [Artashes]. My parents were ballet dancers, so up to that point I listened mostly to classical. Or sometimes parents would bring something like Italian pop.
So after Artashes and I met he gave me his own mixtape of Led Zeppelin. I listened to it and thought: this is horrible, and he's going to ask me now how I liked it.

— Your favorite books? Anything you liked recently?

Brandon Sanderson, "Stormlight Archives", that's fantasy, several books. I like how he has this fully developed world and he maintains it lovingly, in detail. Also, well written good guys, that's rare. Those were among the few printed books I've bought recently.

Philipp Meyer, "The Son" - a historical epic, several generations that define an entire age.

Stuart Turton, "The Devil and the Dark Water", it's a crime novel.

Charles Portis, "True Grit", an unusual Western. Just don't read the summary!

"Krampus: The Yule Lord" by Brom. I liked it better than "Lost Gods ".

"Circe" by Madeline Miller, if you're into Greek myths.

Herbert, "Dune". I've re-read it after seeing the movie.

Simon Beckett, series of crime novels.

Agatha Christie.

Tana French.

Jasper Fforde, "The Constant Rabbit" and "The Eyre Affair".

Pelevin, ¬ęTranshumanism Inc.¬Ľ [the latest by the Russian author Victor Pelevin; the original title is in English. I've translated one of his early novellas that would give you a taste; he's been writing and publishing more or less the same book every year since then - Y.]

One of my all-time favorites is "Little, Big" by John Crowley

Michel Bussi, "Maman a tort" [French author; translated in the US as "The Double Mother", in UK "The Other Mother"]

Terry Pratchett. The best fantasy ever. "Night Watch" is the favorite.

China Mieville, "King Rat"

"The Quincunx" by Charles Palliser.

— Favorite movies/series?

"Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels", "Big Lebowski", the first "Matrix", "Pulp Fiction", "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead", Jarmusch's "Dead Man". "Dune".

Series... "Simpsons", "Grimm", the first season of the German series "Dark". "Broen" ["Bridge"], Sweden-Denmark. "Westworld".