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Teaching and Learning

Home  >  Teaching and Learning  >  Ordinary Wolves  >  Author Talking
Q&A with Seth Kantner
Questions by UAA Professor and Writer Don Rearden

Q: Ordinary Wolves is one of the most critically acclaimed Alaskan novels in recent memory.  Like you would share the steps to skin a lynx --- can you share how you wrote and published this book?

A:  just started.  I didn't want to write short stories, which I was advised to do.  Short stories -- in my opinion -- were either no good, or too short.  I finished journalism school and just started writing the novel.  It was basically like opening the door and heading for Anchorage, in a snowstorm. I was mortified with how stupid my book was.  I killed my characters when they got too hard to deal with.  Some had to be brought back later.  The whole process was tough, took 12 years, and I had no assurance I wasn't wasting time as I'd done on so many other efforts.  The only thing that got me through was my "wolverine" attitude -- don't quit.

I will say writers are amazingly helpful to each other.  I sought out other writers every few years, and always asked for advice.

Q: Writing a novel, set in a contemporary rural Alaska, can pose problems for writers trying to summarize the social, cultural, and economic turmoil found in many Alaskan villages.  Few, if any, have captured this like you do in Ordinary Wolves.  What worries or concerns did you have while writing about home?

A: Lots.  A white boy is better off not writing about Native issues.  But in my case, my whole life is tangled up in those issues.  As is the land I love, which ultimately is what I write for, and about -- in that order.  Writing Ordinary Wolves I suffered years of doubt and trepidation.  When it came out I wanted to hide.

Q: The wolves in your book are far from the "ordinary" vicious and dangerous wolves we grow up reading about as kids --- they think like us, they feel fear, they play, and they love.  Can you share how your vision of "ordinary" wolves came to be?

A: No vision, I just wrote the way things were growing up with real wolves around, and more of them than people.

Q: Enuk Wolfglove's disappearance haunts Cutuk.  Wolfglove's death seems a metaphor for lost Inupiaq culture, and Cutuk represents those who struggle with and endure that loss.  It isn't so much how he died, but that he's gone, and with him all of his accumulated cultural knowledge that he didn't pass on to Cutuk.  What does Wolfglove's death mean to you, the author? 

A: Your question sums it up better than I could.  It's tough, that we're losing amazing elders here and getting flush toilets and Cabela's catalogs in trade.

Q: Great literary characters live on in the hearts and minds of the readers.  What do you imagine Cutuk's life to be like now? What's he doing today?  Where's the gold? Just kidding... 

A: Good question.  I could say he's probably along the river, hungover and hanging fish in the heat with too many flies around.  Or he met a millionaire and lives in the San Juan Islands and stares north in the evenings when nobody is noticing.  Or I could say that it's top secret, and in four years for $24.95 you can find out.



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