INTERVIEW: Genevieve Valentine, author of “So Deep That the Bottom Could Not Be Seen”

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

In “So Deep that the Bottom Could Not be Seen,” Annakpok, the last Inuit of shamanic descent in the Northern States, is called to be a representative at a congress of magic-users. Even though she’s aware it’s an empty gesture (and doesn’t consider herself a shaman) she goes, and finds the conference more difficult — and illuminating — than anyone expected.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

Global warming, the overuse of natural resources, and the invisibility of minority groups in political and cultural debate are all pressing contemporary issues; it wasn’t a huge leap to extrapolate a world in which the resource in question is magic, and the practices of modern industry and politics have played out similarly as to the disadvantage of indigenous peoples.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

Because this story deals with the problems of marginalized groups against the majority, representing those groups accurately was definitely important.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

A very personal aspect of this story for me is that of feeling powerless in the face of geological difficulties that seem insurmountable – the effects of global warning are going to be catastrophic, and they’re going to be soon, and it’s hard to feel like anything you do can possibly ameliorate that. In the story, that’s only one aspect of the magician politics at work, but it’s definitely something that carries over into the real world, for me.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

For this story, I researched Inuit shamanism and a little of their history in Canada, as well as more general research into the projected timelines of the effects of global warming in order to extrapolate the world of the story.

What is the appeal of wizard fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers love it so much?

I think wizards and magicians have instant appeal because they have a control over their environments we wish we had (who hasn’t wished you could hold out a hand and summon the remote?), which makes for drama and awesome fight scenes. But on a deeper level, I think they also answer our need for a spiritual connection that has a more immediate payoff than most religious spiritualism; you can reach into the magical reserves of the earth or the air or the talisman in your hand and, so long as you have either natural talent or practiced skill, the medium will answer you. That’s a heady thing, and I think it’s a large part of the reason magicians still have such a draw.

What are some of your favorite examples of wizard fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

I’d be lying if I didn’t mention Gandalf as an early favorite (there’s photographic evidence of me in a Gandalf costume for Halloween in first or second grade). However, The Last Unicorn‘s Schmendrick the Magician is probably my favorite portrayal of a wizard; the magic he deals with is capricious, and often it backfires, but every once in a while when he lets the power flow through him he can accomplish great things. When you’re a kid (or an adult) struggling with the creative process, it’s a pretty accurate mirror of your own experience.