An Interview with Charles de Lint (Part II)

For more than three decades, Charles de Lint has been in the forefront of the fantasy genre. His numerous awards and honours include the World Fantasy Award, the Canadian SF/Fantasy Aurora Award, and the White Pine Award, among others. We asked about the books themselves in Part 1 of this interview, but seeing how Modern Library’s Top 100 Books of the 20th Century poll (conducted by Random House and voted on by readers), put eight of de Lint’s books among the top 100, it seemed only appropriate that FairyRoom would also ask him about his process. And aspiring authors take note: good advice follows herein.

Answering our questions from his home in Ottawa, Ontario, where he lives with his wife MaryAnn, a sweet cat named Clare, and a funny little dog called Johnny Cash, we are honored to present the second part of our interview with Charles de Lint.

When did your interest in fairy/fantasy-related work begin? What first inspired you?

I’ve always had varied tastes. As a young teen, I became fascinated with fairy tales, folk tales, mythology and magic, and read all that I could get my hands on. I also read spy and private eye novels, and everything from Zen Koans to religious texts and alternative worldviews. I became particularly enamored with the work of some of the turn-of-the-century writers such as William Morris and Lord Dunsany, and beyond that, started reading the fantasy classics: Tolkien, of course, but also James Branch Cabell, E. R. Eddison, and young adult fantasists like Alan Garner, C. S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper. All of those books contained the gift of a sense of wonder; they were also all very different from one another.

So my early writing – mainly poetry and songs at the outset – began to incorporate the mythic matter I’d been reading for years. And later on, as I branched out into contemporary fantasy prose, the pace and plotting of the non-fantasy books I’d enjoyed over the years had some influence on me as well.

Many of your books are novellas and short story collections. What drew you to this shorter format?

Every story has its own length and a writer soon learns to figure out what that is. The benefit of short stories – for an author who makes his living with his writing – is that you have the freedom to experiment with how you tell a story, but if it doesn’t work out, you’ve only lost a couple of weeks work. With a novel, you lose a year or more, and that’s a huge problem when you’re trying to pay your bills.

Short stories are also little jewels. You can pack a lot into those few pages to enormous effect in a similar way to a poem or song, but in this case there’s room to flesh things out, provide motives for your characters, and do it all at a length that the reader can enjoy in one sitting.

Unfortunately, it takes more than one sitting to write them, but it’s probably my favourite format, especially the novella.

We noticed you started self-pubbing some short stories at the end of last year. Please tell us about that journey.

Sure! MaryAnn and I are having fun testing the waters of “going indie” with digital publication under my own Triskell Press imprint. I’m aware that many people still prefer a physical book – and I certainly still like and appreciate them – but I’ve been reading ebooks for years now and enjoy them as well. I’m more interested in story than format.

But I need to assure readers that we’re not going to abandon print books. The Triskell Press editions of Under My Skin and Over My Head are both available in digital form and as trade paperbacks from Amazon.

We’re also publishing some of my new shorter work in ebook form. I’m delighted to be able to bring my stories directly to my readers and the response from them has been very positive.

In the latter part of 2012 I published a new novella, Jack in the Green, set in the Southwest, but loosely based on the Robin Hood story, which hails from the British Isles. It was a fun mash-up.

Santo del Vado Viejo is also the setting for my newest short story, “Dog Boys,” an intense coming-of-age story about the new kid in school who has to deal with culture clashes and streetgang violence.

At the moment, those are only available as ebooks, but as soon as I have enough new short stories, we’ll release a collection in both print and ebook form.

There’s much more to come – new and reprint – and it’s also been such a treat to have MaryAnn providing the covers for most of the new titles to date. I have a large backlist that I retained the digital rights to, so she has her work cut out for her.

Do you have advice to share with writers working in the sci-fi/fantasy genre today? What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started?

To write the best story you can remains a given, of course – something that moves you deeply and makes you want to return to work on it every day.

The publishing industry is changing so quickly and radically that I’m not sure how to advise new writers in terms of choosing the right career path. I wish I had a crystal ball that would tell us what the future holds for writers, but frankly – and this is just my personal take on it – if I were starting out today, I would probably eschew the regular publishing industry. I think the whole idea that you only get validity as a writer by being published by one of “the big six” to be rather obsolete. If publishing were still run primarily by people who love books, it would be different, but these days it seems as though accounting departments influence all the decisions. I realize that these companies need to make a profit, but by concentrating so heavily on the sure-fire bestsellers, they miss the opportunity to discover and nurture the original voice: that new (or established) author who is bringing something fresh to the table. Sadly, those writers are rarely nurtured by people counting beans.

So, if I were just starting out, I would write the best story I could, then get critiques from people I trust and revise my work to the best of my ability. Then, if I felt sure the work was worthy of publication, I would allocate a chunk of money to hire a good editor, copy editor, proofreader, and cover designer to make it the best and most attractive that it could be, and then I’d self-publish it on the various ebook and print on-demand-sites. I’d figure out how to let the world know that my book exists, and in the meantime I’d start writing my next book. As with everything, you need constant practice to get better.

But I don’t want to denigrate the many writers who feel the need to get published by a large house. If that’s where you’re at, by all means follow your dream. It’s not an easy road, but I wish you every success. Just be sure to find an excellent literary agent to negotiate your contract, and unfortunately, that’s almost as difficult as finding a publisher. Plus the author/agent relationship needs to be right since it’s a huge commitment like a marriage.

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

Just my thanks for all the years of their kindness and support of my career. It’s been a real gift to be able to make a living doing something I love as much as I do: telling stories in prose and song.

Thank you for visiting FairyRoom, Charles!

Don’t miss Part I of this interview. More exclusive FairyRoom interviews can be found here.

Charles de Lint is well known throughout fantasy and science fiction circles as one of the trailblazers of the modern fantasy genre. Charles writes for adults, teens and children, with 38 novels and 37 books of short fiction published to date. His numerous awards and honours include the World Fantasy Award, the Canadian SF/Fantasy Aurora Award, and the White Pine Award, among others. Modern Library’s Top 100 Books of the 20th Century poll, conducted by Random House and voted on by readers, put eight of de Lint’s books among the top 100. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario with his wife MaryAnn, a sweet cat named Clare, and a funny little dog called Johnny Cash.

Enjoy an excerpt of The Cats of Tanglewood Forest on Tor.com. Order from these popular booksellers: