An Interview with Charles de Lint (Part I)

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 bibliography on Wikipedia requires a lot of scrolling. His series of books set in and around the fictitious city of Newford has a phenomenally loyal following that includes members of the FairyRoom staff — we’ve reviewed his books, and included him in our quotation series alongside the likes of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett and other titans. And we were thrilled when he commented on one of FairyRoom’s articles.

When Charles de Lint accepted our invitation to be interviewed we knew we were in for a rare treat. We jumped right in and asked first about how Newford came to be, and then let the conversation go from there.

You’ve published twenty-three books set in the city of Newford. Please tell us about creating that world.

Like everything else I do in my writing, Newford was not planned out in advance. It started (unbeknownst to me) with “Timeskip,” a short story that I wrote for an anthology. I wanted to set the story somewhere other than the Ottawa area where most of my stories had taken place, but I didn’t feel comfortable writing about a city that I couldn’t physically visit. So I decided to use various aspects of large urban centers that I had visited, and create a fictitious setting. (I should note that while “Timeskip” was the first Newford story I wrote, the characters of Jilly, Christy and the Professor appeared in an earlier piece, “Uncle Dobbin’s Parrot Fair.”)

The next time I was asked to contribute to an anthology, I used the same setting. Four or five stories later, I realized I should give the place a name and plan it out a bit more carefully. It all grew from there into more stories, novels, and even a couple of comic books.

Newford is not a series as such. The novels and stories are all stand-alone, meaning that you can read any one and get a full and complete tale. However, some characters do reappear, off center-stage as it were, and their stories do follow a loose sequence. The best place to begin with Newford is my short story collection, Dreams Underfoot. Even readers who rarely read short stories tell me that they enjoyed that book as much or more than my novels.

Please tell us about your attraction to the ordinary and how that contributes to the success of your books.

The characters are ordinary in the sense that they usually don’t have any magical abilities; they’re usually people on the periphery of society: artists, musicians, cab drivers, criminals – or those who deal with them (like social workers or police). But once they’ve had a brush with something strange, their lives are anything but ordinary.

I’d say that any character or setting can be given a bit of an otherworldly sheen and be the better for it. The one thing I insist on with my own writing is that I won’t let magic solve my characters’ real world problems. The solutions have to come from the characters themselves.

Will we see more Newford books in the future?

Much as I love Newford, I needed to stretch and do something fresh with my writing. Astute readers may have already noticed that many of the later Newford books and stories took place in locations on the outskirts of the city and beyond. I am still very attached to Newford and its characters, so I expect that there will be stories set there again, but for the moment I’m enjoying a couple of new settings.

My novel The Mystery of Grace (2009), and my young adult novel, The Painted Boy (2010), were both set in Santo del Vado Viejo, a fictitious town in the American Southwest. I’ve also written a couple of recent short fiction pieces in that setting. I love the Southwest so it’s great to be able to “visit there” as I write, especially in winter, when it’s so cold here in Canada.

Please tell us about the Wildlings.

My Wildlings series is a way of introducing my animal people mythology to a teen audience. With the Wildlings, like my other stories, I’m interested in how ordinary people (in this case, teens) react to the extraordinary (some of them can suddenly assume animal shapes).

These books are probably a little faster-paced than my other novels, but not to the point that they lose the deep characterization that I like to explore in my writing.

Book one is called Under My Skin. Two more books will complete the series. Over My Head will be out this spring, and I’m currently working on book three.

On top of being a writer, you’re a musician… We’d love to know more!

Oh, that’s a conversation that could fill a book. But I’ve always loved music; to be honest, I’m rather obsessed with it both as a listener and a player. I’ve gone through various interests in terms of what I play, from folky singer-songwriter material, through hardcore traditional Celtic music, to the Americana story songs that I concentrate on now. For my listening pleasure, my interests range far and wide, from punk and pop, through jazz, world music to oldies.

An exciting thing in recent times is that MaryAnn and I finally got into a recording studio and recorded some of our original music at the studio of our friend Brock Zeman. People can hear a few sample songs and see a video of “Cherokee Girl” on my website. I’m particularly pleased that MaryAnn’s waltz “John McPhee’s Homestead” is getting a fair amount of airplay on the radio here in Canada, and is becoming an Irish session favourite at pubs around the world. It’s really the only one that’s Celtic on these recordings. Most of our songs fit into an indie folk-rock/Americana style – though we did also release a Celtic single called “The Loon’s Lament,” featuring Uillean pipes played by our old band-mate John Wood, as well as flute and whistles. It’s available from all the usual digital outlets such as iTunes and CD Baby.

What else is coming up for you? What can the fairy/fantasy community look forward to?

A project that I’m really excited about is my newest book, The Cats of Tanglewood Forest (Little Brown, March 2013), a middle grade novel-length fairy tale lavishly illustrated by none other than Charles Vess. It’s already gotten starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Quill & Quire. A limited oversized edition is also coming out from Donald M. Grant Books, which is great since their production values are fabulous so the art will look tremendous.

My second Wildlings book, Over My Head will also be released this spring, and the final book (tentatively titled Out of This World) comes out in 2014.

Thank you for visiting FairyRoom, Charles!

We look forward to sharing Part II of our interview later this month.

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 Order from these popular booksellers: