There’s a super-important dance contest in a few days, feelings for your ex-boyfriend are resurfacing, you’re at war with your former bestie, and it’s only a matter of time before your peculiar skin condition is revealed. In The Chaos, all of these are bona fide worries for 16-year-old Scotch, worries that are turned on their ear when a giant volcano rises from Lake Toronto and normalcy is swiftly replaced with chaos. A house on chicken legs, a giant tar monster, golden eyelashes, trippy psychedelics and a menagerie of the strange and unusual become commonplace as Scotch wades into the precarious waters of this volatile new landscape. Though wary to acknowledge and embrace the bizarre new world around her, Scotch eventually discovers a strength of character that might have otherwise been lost in a previous existence. Nalo Hopkinson unearths the art of ripping jeans, when to visit a doctor and how crazy can be fun.

Did your parents subject you to the same strict dress codes Scotch abhors? If so, what was your favorite secret ensemble?

If you’re asking whether Scotch is a fictional version of me, the answer is, not especially. There are some similarities. Like her, I love dance. I used to take dance classes when I was her age. Like her, I love my brother to pieces. He’s six years my junior, whereas Rich is two years older than Scotch. I spent most of my teen years in the Caribbean, where I was born. Scotch was born and lives in Canada. 

I went to girls’ schools until I moved to Canada in my late teens. I wasn’t as self-aware, outspoken and confident as Scotch. I wasn’t as certain about my opinions, and I wasn’t interested in being one of the popular girls. I wasn’t aware that there was such a thing. Scotch is taller than me, but like me, is big and curvy. She’s less troubled by that than I was. Like me, she wears her hair natural, though I didn’t always do so.

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She’s biracial. Both my parents are black. And they weren’t especially strict about what I wore, though my fashion choices sometimes alarmed or confused them. I remember my mother being convinced that I had deliberately torn the knees out of my favorite pair of jeans. In fact, they just wore so thin at the knees that one day I knelt down and both knees ripped out. I liked how they looked, so I didn’t mend them.

I liked the clothing of the ’30s and ’50s, and the funk styles of the ’70s, which were my teen years. I liked mixing and matching men’s and women’s clothing. My dad was totally bemused when I asked for his skinny ties that he was no longer wearing. I didn’t dress in clothing as revealing as Scotch’s clothes are, though I liked that clothing and still do. I didn’t have any secret outfits and I wasn’t bullied by the girls at school, but I did get harassed a lot by men whenever I went out in public. There are those who would call Scotch’s clothing “provocative,” as though she’s encouraging people to act inappropriately towards her. But I’ve learned that it has nothing to do with how you’re dressed; people who want to be abusive towards others will find reasons to do so.

Before the Chaos, Scotch keeps her visions of the Horseless Head Men--tiny, flying, disembodied heads—to herself. Would you be able to keep hush-hush about such apparitions or immediately broadcast it to everyone you know?

Huh. I’ve never thought about that. Seeing as I don’t live in a fantasy novel, I think I’d run straight to my doctor!

Name calling, reputation tarnishing, gum in hair, race issues, an unidentifiable skin disorder. Even though Scotch is exceptionally resilient, how does she put up with ordeals like these without totally losing her mind?

Because I didn’t want her to? Because people endure that kind of stuff every day? She isn’t unaffected by it all; far from it. She’s terribly fearful of the abuse happening all over again in her new school. She worries about the skin condition all the time. Racism is everywhere. Everyone in the world experiences the effects of it, constantly.

Even after a volcano rises from the lake and everything radically changes, Scotch still genuinely concerns herself with an upcoming dance contest. Is this a natural human defense to more effectively deal with reality or just a complete denial of a new reality altogether?

I think it’s that it’s taking a bit of time for her to realize just how profoundly the changes have affected her world.

Ben says that the Chaos is probably just a series of everyone’s “crazy” becoming visible. If the Chaos came today, what part of your “crazy” would we see wandering around?

The fun parts, of course! I’d be able to change aspects of my physical appearance on a whim, like changing an outfit. And I change outfits a lot.

I’m putting you in Scotch’s place and asking you to fill out a classroom questionnaire. What’s one thing you thought would never happen to you?

I never thought I would be getting recognition (and getting paid) for doing something I love.