From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Reading Semaphore Flags: Genevieve Valentine

What was the seed for the lovely story “Light On the Water”?

If you cross the Queensboro Bridge at night, the light from the skyscrapers on the Manhattan side almost touch Roosevelt Island, where the buildings are shorter and quieter. Looking at it is like reading semaphore flags.

Do you have any favorite buildings in NYC? What’s been your favorite living space there?

I love the Ukrainian Institute, which is a stone’s throw from the Met Museum, and a truly gorgeous building. The Angel Orensanz Foundation is also beautiful, but repurposed churches are sort of shoe-ins.

My favorite living space in New York is my current apartment in Queens, even though the quiet of the backyards across the way has recently given way to a series of unsolicited concerts by a group of musical theatre aficionados whose determination far outstrips their talent.

What inanimate objects do you find the most spooky?

Rather than particular objects, I tend to be struck more by the relationships between object and their locations; no one has warm fuzzies seeing a burned-out medical facility with a melted doll inside. (I hope. If you do, don’t tell me.)

Why do you write under such an obviously made-up pen name? 🙂

I can only guess from my name (which is, in fact, my legal one) that my parents wanted me to be in the soaps. I hope one day they can forgive me for doing this instead.

What’s your idea of a perfect fantasy short story? Any examples?

I think any number of short stories can be a perfect way to tell that particular story. Despite this falling a little on the spec side of fantasy, I will say that when I was in seventh grade, our class read “Ado,” by Connie Willis, and I have thought about it about six hundred times since, so whatever she was trying to accomplish, it stuck. (It also woke up a tiny little political conscience, which has since been dulled by hopelessness and sad music.)

What’s your idea of a perfect fantasy movie?

This question stymies me, because some fantasy movies are perfect in their over-the-top grandeur and others in their painstaking realism; I suppose a perfect fantasy movie would have compelling characters in a well-realized world, wandering around to a gorgeous score. (My demands of plot are few.)

What childhood stories scared you the most?

One of the early volumes of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has a story about a girl who wakes up one morning to find that spiders are hatching out of her face. It is not the kind of story anyone should bring to Show and Tell and read to an eight-year-old arachnophobe.

What role does food play in your fiction?

Food serves the same role in a story as any other tangible element; it’s an opportunity to deepen the world of the story, set tone, and build character.

What conventions will you be at in the next year?

I’m making plans for Wiscon, Readercon, and World Fantasy, though I seem to end up at several other cons throughout the year. (Not sure how that happens, but it’s masterful procrasination.)

Any other upcoming fiction/readings/events of yours that readers should be watching for?

I have some short stories set for publication in the near future; in the seemingly-impossibly-far future, my first novel is due from Prime Books in 2011.

What’s the best piece of writing (other than your own) that you’ve read lately?

I first read this book a year or so ago, but I can never say enough good things about “Travel Light” by Naomi Mitchison. It’s a short novel about a girl living in a world of mishmashed folklore, trying to decide who she is and how much to change the world, or let it change her. It’s in the style of a child’s tale but is as relevant to adults as all the best children’s tales are, and the writing is understated and evocative.