An Interview with Seth Kantner
Whenever we think of "Great Alaskan Novels," we invariably think of
Jack London. Did his writings influence you in Ordinary Wolves?
Very much so. Part of the reason I became a writer was Jack. He said when you spat or pissed it crackled and froze before it hit the ground. It never did that when I was a kid, reading Jackit got to 78 below one time and it never did that! But the whole world believed it did because of London. Later, much later, I realized his descriptions of the cold and north were very good. Plus he wrote and lived and drank a lotthings I could at least relate somewhat to.
How authentic do you think the popular image of Alaska as the wild, rugged, uncharted West is?
Depends on your perspectivein the Brooks Range in a storm in midwinter, you could say it's pretty rugged. But a lot of folks come in the summer and fall; they have GPSs and often now satellite phones. For $3.95 they can buy detailed USGS maps of every bend in every slough. Alaska, that I knew as a kid, is gone; the land is still here but planes fly over it relentlesslyfrom my perspectivecarrying everything that Americans have too.
Was it hard to imagine Cutuks outlook as a kid who had never seen a city?
It was when I was writing it. I wish I had taken notesthe city is so nonsensical and strange when you're not used to all that modern white-people stuff and ways. I was frustrated writing it because I've changed and could not remember all the ways it really felt. At least as strongly as I wanted to.
The depiction of the killing of animals could be seen as harsh or hard to read. How would you respond to that?
Not very wellevery time someone goes shopping they kill animals. People need to learn and feel more about the world, not less. That's my perspective, of course. The old story: life is about death, too, so why cover your eyes from it?
How long does an igloo typically last?
Maybe 40 years at the very top. The one I was born and raised in is falling down. I'm 38. But if you kept living in it, it would be in better shape. Igloos don't like you leaving. They mold, get damp, porcupine move in and dig holes.
Why did you decide to include the chapters told from the wolves perspective? Do you feel youre anthropomorphizing or something else?
Oh probably. I like other perspectivestrees standing around rooted while humans brush past, ignoring them in their search for place and roots! The wolves were there from the beginning, and in my book that way too.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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