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Charles de Lint  

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Short Biography
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Charles de Lint is the author of more than eighty adult, young adult, and children’s books. Renowned as a trailblazer of the modern fantasy genre, de Lint has won the World Fantasy, Aurora (three times), Sunburst and White Pine awards, among others. His first adult fantasy novel in eight years, The Wind in His Heart, was released in September 2017 in conjunction with de Lint being named to the Canadian SF & Fantasy Association Hall of Fame. De Lint lives in Ottawa Ontario, with his wife MaryAnn Harris and their dog, Johnny Cash.

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Is Newford a real city, and is it set in the United States or Canada?
Welcome to Newford…to the music clubs, the waterfront, the alleyways where ancient myths and magic spill into the modern world.

This might sound odd, coming from a fantasy author, but I don't really like to write about a place I haven't physically been to myself. Even in my secondary world fantasies, I've at least visited most of the settings—or rather, similar ones in our own world. Much of what I write about requires a root in the real world and when I first began to write, I couldn't afford to travel as much as MaryAnn and I do now, so my hometown of Ottawa became the setting of much of my work by default as much as from my love of the place.

Now, Ottawa is an interesting and lively city—a particularly interesting mix of government town and alternative lifestyles, urban blight and natural beauty, street life and wildlife—but it doesn't always have the right elements for certain stories I want to tell. But since I hadn't lived long enough in another large urban centre, I wasn't comfortable setting a story in someplace like the Bronx, or East LA, or London, England. Still, I had stories that wanted to be set in places like that.

One day, when I was asked to contribute a story to the Post Mortum anthology, I decided to set it in an unnamed big city. This way, while I could get the "feel" of the place from having visited many such cities over the years, I wouldn't be tied down to figuring out the details of which way a street went, what store was on what corner, that sort of thing.

Some time later, after five or six fulfilled requests for other stories in the wake of "Timeskip, " I realized that I'd been setting all these stories in the same unnamed city, using a repertory company of characters that I knew I would continue to visit in the future, so I gave the place a name, started a map to keep locations straight, started a concordance to keep track of things...and never quite kept up with any of it.

Had Newford not come along, I probably would have done some extensive research in some other place (much as I did with The Little Country). As it is, Newford is so alive to me now, and there are still so many facets of it I haven't explored, that I'm not quite ready to leave it yet.

Interestingly, Canadian readers tend to think of Newford as an American city, while Americans usually think of it as Canadian. No surprise really, I suppose, since it has elements of both. The one thing I specifically settled on was to use the American legal system in it.

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Order of Newford Books
Where does one start reading the Newford books?
It's important to note that Newford is not a running series. Each tale stands alone as a complete story, so it's not necessary to read them in the order of publication. The books share a common setting (my fictional city of Newford). Some characters do appear in each other's stories, on or off center stage, and while you could say that their stories follow a very loose sequence, it's not essential to read them in order. There's one exception (isn't there always?): It's best to read The Onion Girl, Spirits in the Wires and Widdershins in that order. That said, here's what I'll call a core reading list with a suggested order in which to read the Newford books, but again, you needn't follow this order closely.

Dreams Underfoot (collection)
Memory and Dream (novel)
The Ivory and the Horn (collection)
Trader (novel)
Someplace to Be Flying (novel)
Moonlight and Vines (collection)
Forests of the Heart (novel)
The Onion Girl (novel)
Tapping the Dream Tree (collection)
Spirits in the Wires (novel)
Widdershins (novel)
Promises to Keep (short novel)
Muse and Reverie (collection)

Also set in or connected to Newford; hopefully you'll add these to your reading list:
The Dreaming Place (young adult novel)
The Blue Girl (young adult novel)
Little (Grrl) Lost (young adult novel)
Dingo (young adult novel)
The Cats of Tanglewood Forest (middle grade novel)
Seven Wild Sisters (short novel, available as a book or in Tapping the Dream Tree)
Medicine Road (short novel)
Make a Joyful Noise (chapbook)
The Hour Before Dawn (collection)
Old Man Crow (chapbook)

Samuel M. Key books set in Newford:
In the early nineties, I used the pseudonym "Samuel M. Key" to write From a Whisper to a Scream and I'll Be Watching You. They are, respectively, a horror novel and a thriller—much darker fare than the other Newford books. They aren't integral to the ongoing backstory that takes place off center stage in many of the books and stories, but if dark fiction doesn't bother you, I hope you'll enjoy them, as well.

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The Weirdin
Your novel Moonheart contains an oracular device called the Weirdin. Did you invent the Weirdin?
Are the Weirdin available commercially?
May I make my own set?
Yes, I did invent the Weirdin, which are a set of 61 two-sided flat round discs with an image carved on either side. They are used in conjunction with a reading cloth and their meaning depends on their interrelationships and placement on the cloth. I created the Weirdin for Moonheart from Celtic symbolism and folklore sources. While writing Moonheart, I decided to make my own (rudimentary) set to test the Weirdin out; in fact, I used them to direct the journey and outcome for some of the book's characters.

The Weirdin are protected under international copyright in my name. Any manufacturing or licensing requests should be directed to me.

For a more thorough description of the Weirdin, please refer to the appendix in Moonheart.

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Your fiction often contains earth spirits and characters who are pagans. Are you a practicing pagan or Wiccan?
I suppose one could say I have a strong affinity for the earth. I'm not a practicing Wiccan, but I've been reading and researching the subject for more than twenty-five years and I like the commonsense approach that many of the pagans I know have towards environmental concerns.

My own beliefs probably run more closely to an idiosyncratic form of animism, which isn't to say that I actually believe that trees, stones, wells, what-have-you actually have souls, but at the same time everything certainly seems to have a spirit of some sort, something that goes beyond what we see when we simply look at it. I've connected with it—in urban settings as well as the countryside—too often to deny its existence. Listen to the "gossip" of any neighbourhood long enough—be it a common field, a city street, an ancient ruin—and you feel something. It's all a matter of paying attention, being awake in the present moment, and not expecting a huge payoff. The magic in this world seems to work in whispers and small kindnesses.

If you're interested in nature writing, I'd like to recommend a few of my favorite books on the subject:

The Sierra Club Guide to Sketching Nature, by Cathy Johnson
High Tide in Tucson, by Barbara Kingsolver
Any of Barry Lopez's essay collections, but particularly these three: Desert Notes, River Notes and Winter Count
The Practice of the Wild, by Gary Snyder

If you'd like to know more on how I feel about the subject, you might want to read my poem, "Tower & Bear".

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Contemporary Magic
Do you believe in the magics described in your books?
As I mentioned above (see Religion), I can often sense the spirit of a place, but I'm not entirely convinced such spirits have an existence separate from their environment. In that sense I'm both believer and skeptic; I'd like to believe, but keep searching for that elusive proof.

I do believe in an everyday sort of magic—the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of syncronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we're alone. These are magics that many of us experience, parts of a Mystery that can't—and perhaps shouldn't—be explained.

I should add that often the magical elements in my books are standing in for elements of the real world, the small and magical-in-their-own-right sorts of things that we take for granted and no longer pay attention to, like the bonds of friendship that entwine our own lives with those of other people and places. When one of my characters becomes aware of a magical element, it might be because the world is wider than we assume it to be, but it might also be a reminder to pay attention to what is here already, hidden only because it's been forgotten.

And sometimes the magical beings are a way of having my characters' interior landscapes appear "on stage," so to speak; a way that I can have dialogues between the character and some aspect of herself that doesn't require all sorts of tiresome introspection.

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Female Characters
How do you create such believable female characters?
I always feel very complimented to hear this question and I'm grateful that so many women have told me that I'm "getting it right." To answer the question, I have an insatiable curiosity, especially about things that I can't truly experience myself, so I listen, as open-mindedly as possible, to what others' experience of the situation is. I've discovered that writing is one of the best ways to gain some understanding about viewpoints that aren't my own because I have to thoroughly immerse myself in the other point of view through extensive research and my imagination (what would it really feel like?). What better way to understand someone else than, if only figuratively, to walk in their shoes?

When it comes to female characters, I draw on what the women in my life have said to me and to each other, how MaryAnn and her friends react to situations, view commonplace things. I also make a point of remaining open to a woman's point of view by reading them and paying attention. Most importantly, I respect women and have made a continuous and conscious effort to weed out any of the negative conditioning and stereotyping that we all are subject to.

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Cultural Appropriation
You use a variety of cultures and their mythos in your fiction. There is some controversy about appropriating another culture for your own benefit. How do you feel about this?
I covered this in the afterward to the recent hardcover edition of Mulengro and rather than take up space here to discuss it, would prefer to simply reprint the essay elsewhere on this website.
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Book Covers
Do you decide what art will be on your book covers?
It's extremely rare for an author to have control over cover art or copy (the words that appear on the jacket). Decisions as to what will appear on the book cover are almost invariably made in-house at the publisher, by the art department and editorial staff.

In the early part of my career I had no say whatsoever concerning the art or copy on my books. I found this particularly frustrating because, more often than not, the jacket art did not reflect the type of story I was telling (e.g., high fantasy covers on novels set in contemporary times).

I'm very happy that my present American publisher, Tor Books, has given me "cover and copy consultation," which means that they send me roughs of the jacket design and copy before commissioning the art and printing the covers. And in Britain, Macmillan has given me "cover and copy approval," which guarantees that I must approve of the artwork and wordage on the book jacket prior to publication.

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Samuel M. Key
You have written three horror novels under the pseudonym Samuel M. Key. Why did you decide to use a pseudonym and why did you choose that particular one?
I mentioned above (see Book Covers) that my early novels often had cover art that did not reflect the story within. I often heard from readers that they had "discovered me" only because my books had been recommended to them by a friend, otherwise they would have never read a book with that type of cover. It appears that word-of-mouth brought me many of my most faithful readers and people stopped counting on cover art to tell them what my novels might be about.

So, when my first "horror" novel, Mulengro, appeared in the U.S. in 1985, readers picked it up expecting the usual de Lint novel. While Mulengro has many of the elements that readers have come to expect in my work, it also contains some very graphic descriptions of violence which some readers found disturbing. I can well understand that some people prefer not to read horror fiction, so one of the reasons I decided to create "Samuel M. Key" was that readers could differentiate between the types of fiction I was writing. No secret was made of the fact that the pseudonym is mine, since it was merely a device to let readers know in advance what they can expect (to some degree) between the covers.

The other reason to use a pseudonym was that at the time I had a large number of books in inventory at my publisher (this came from having written books for seven years before finally selling any of them) and I realized that if I wrote a new book it would be three years before it would get published. Wanting to see my current work on the bookshelves sooner than that, the pseudonym seemed to be an even better idea.

Why did I choose Samuel M. Key? Because "Stephen King" and "Dean Koontz" were already taken. Though seriously, there was more to it than that.

Because of some recent correspondence, I should add that, no matter what anyone else tells you, Samuel M. Key is the only by-line I have used for my novels—besides those appearing under my own name, of course.

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How Can I Get "x"?
Many of your books are either out-of-print or very difficult to track down. How can I find out what's available and where to get it?
Are some of your earlier books being reprinted and when?
Here are a few sources you can try:

Bakka Books in Toronto, Canada, has a comprehensive mail-order service with a regular catalogue. For more information, call them at (416) 963-9993, or visit them at Bakka-Phoenix.

DreamHaven Books in Minneapolis has the new releases and will do a search and reserve for older titles. They also put out a regular catalogue, both email and regular mail.. For more information, call them at (612) 823-6062, send them an e-mail or write to them at: DreamHaven Books, 912 West Lake St., Minneapolis, MN 55408.

Fantast (Medway) Ltd. in England is an excellent source for those hard-to-get British titles. Call them at 01945-773576, or write to them at Fantast (Medway) Ltd., P.O. 23, Upwell, Wisbech, Cambs PE14 9BU, UK.

And for the rarer titles, and titles no longer in print, that you can't find elsewhere, I have a friend who runs a mail order book service and does book searches. Her name's Kathi Nash and you can contact her at kimnkat@gmail.com. Or you can try some of the secondhand book search sites such as Bookfinder.

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Triskell Press
I've heard that you own a small publishing company. What can you tell me about it?
Are you presently looking to buy manuscripts and/or art?
Triskell Press was started in 1977 to publish Dragonbane, a magazine edited by then-local author Charles R. Saunders. From there it went on to publish other magazines, art prints, portfolios and chapbooks. Its various publications were all well-received by critics and readers, with stories from each of its four magazines being reprinted in various year's best anthologies, but production costs were such that it never got out of the red.

In 1984, after publishing a number of special items for the World Fantasy Convention which was held in Ottawa that year, the press went on hiatus and stopped producing commercially-available material. Since that date, I've been using the press as an imprint for the "Christmas card" chapbooks that I send out to friends and family each December, none of which are ever offered for sale. The stories, however, are subsequently reprinted in various magazines and anthologies.

Because of this change in editorial direction, the press no longer looks at or accepts either manuscripts or art.

A complete bibliography of Triskell Press begins here.

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Is that really your signature?
What has been described as someone starting their pen, or prompted the question, "Are you the inventor of the Etch-a-Sketch?", is in fact my signature. Like anyone's signature, there will be variations, but if it doesn't look something like this:

Then it's not mine. The largest variation will be in the number of lines—and that depends solely on my mood at the time I'm signing it.
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New Novel
What is your new novel about?
As I've mentioned before and elsewhere, I find it difficult to talk at any length about the current work-in-progress. The reason for this has nothing to with a lack of desire to share and everything to do with my writing process. I write in a very organic manner, discovering many of the characters and events of the story as I go along. In other words, I write much as a reader reads a book, though naturally it's a much slower process for me—unless you're a very slow reader indeed. If I talk about the story, I lose interest in the elements I've spoken of and feel obliged to change them (not necessarily for the better) in the text of the book.

Of course, I don't go blindly into a project as long as a novel. I have characters in mind (though not always their voices), themes I wish to pursue (though not always how they will specifically be addressed), and I know the feeling I want to leave with the reader at the end of the book (though not always how we will get there).

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If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to rturner@arctera.com.
Copyright © 2006–2021 Charles de Lint All Rights Reserved Worldwide