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Charles de Lint: Mythic Fiction June 2003

Charles de Lint was born in The Netherlands but has lived most of his life around the city of Ottawa, Ontario. He sold his first stories in the late 1970s, and became a full-time writer in 1983. His many books include Moonheart (1984), winner of the first Crawford Fantasy Award, and a popular series revolving around the imaginary city of Newford, including collections Moonlight and Vines (1999) and Tapping the Dream Tree (2002), and novels Memory & Dream (1994), Trader (1997), Someplace to be Flying (1998), Forests of the Heart (2000), and The Onion Girl (2001). He is a 15-time World Fantasy Award finalist, and won in 2000 for Moonlight and Vines.

De Lint's writing is often labeled "urban" or "contemporary" fantasy, and is credited with making the subgenre popular, though de Lint prefers to call his work "mythic fiction." Among his Ottawa settings Moonheart (1984) and Spiritwalk (1992); he's written high fantasy in The Riddle of the Wren (1984) and others; and he's published horror beginning with Mulengro (1985), initially published under pseudonym Samuel M. Key. Next titles are children's book, A Circle of Cats, illustrated by Charles Vess, published in June 2003, and "Newford" novel Spirits in the Wires, due in August.

Photo by Beth Gwinn


Excerpts from the interview, conducted by Richard B. Brignall and Locus:

“My interest in other cultures probably comes from my boyhood. I was four months old when we immigrated to the Yukon in northern Canada. All I know about that is that we lived in a tarpaper shack on the main highway. Most of my growing up was in a very rural environment. We spent two years in Turkey (Ankara and Istanbul) when I was nine or ten, so I do remember it, but I wasn't running around on my own or anything. And we lived in Beirut for a while, back when it was the most beautiful city you can imagine -- a wonderful mix of modern and Arabic architecture. You'd be sitting in your modern apartment with the window open, and you'd hear the call for prayer.

"My dad was always interested in other cultures. He would bring back indigenous music from Lebanon, Turkey.... He was interested in ruins as well; if there were ruins in any area where we were, we would go see them. The last time we left Beirut, we drove in a Land Rover from Beirut to the Netherlands, all through the Middle East and Europe, and stopped at every ruin there was!”


“I now call my work 'mythic fiction,' a term created with my friend, Terri Windling, when we were sitting around talking, trying to figure out what to call what we write. She is a wonderful writer, and her fiction travels along similar roads to what I do. MaryAnn often says that Terri and I were twins in a past life; we have a lot of the same sensibilities.

"We liked the term 'mythic fiction,' which fits perfectly. 'Urban fantasy' doesn't work because a lot of what I do isn't set in an urban setting. 'Contemporary fantasy' could work, but it's kind of boring and doesn't really say much. Besides, in 50 years you won't be able to call my books 'contemporary' fantasy. 'Mythic fiction' works because it has broader resonances and alludes to the heart of this fiction, which is, of course, myth. It has the right tonality because these are stories that have modern sensibilities, dealing with contemporary people and issues, but they utilize the material of folklore, fairy tale, and myth to help illuminate that. It also omits the word 'fantasy' -- a term for which people have too many preconceptions. I'm not trying to knock fantasy, because I love good fantasy and have had great support from the fantasy community throughout my career, which I very much appreciate. But I'm trying to engage an even broader audience -- people who normally don't read fantasy, who get scared by the word fantasy or by those types of covers. I think a lot of people who don't like fantasy just haven't had the chance to have the right book put in front of them.”


“There isn't a single day I don't do some writing -- if you don't, you won't have a book. When you're self-employed it is very easy to burn away your time instead -- answering e-mails, surfing the Internet, or hanging out with friends. You really must have the discipline to sit down and write every day. Most of what I am writing is living in the back of my head or in my subconscious. I find if I write every day, my subconscious will do the job for me.

"The same thing applies to music. If I pick up a wooden flute that hasn't been played for a year, it doesn't sound great at all. It's not only a matter of me being out of practice, because I could be playing one of my other flutes that I play more often and they will sound noticeably better, but the wood itself has a memory of sorts, and needs frequent playing to maintain its warmth and resonance. With writing, it really makes a huge difference if I don't write for three or four days because I will start to lose the flow of the particular story I'm working on. When that happens, I have to go back to the beginning of the book and put it all back into my head again.”


“Judging by the e-mail and letters I get from folks who have been through tragic circumstances, my books have provided healing for a lot of people, but to be honest, I don't write them for that purpose. I just try to write stories that resonate for me, and hopefully they'll resonate for other people as well. Someone said I write fantasy for people who don't normally read fantasy, and I loved that because it's true, even if I don't do that deliberately. Another comment I liked was, 'He's doing for fantasy what Stephen King is doing for horror.' The general feel of King's books is ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances; he just tends to use horror as a focus where I'll use fantasy. I like that 'smaller' story, where it's the people who are important, not saving the entire world or the universe. What appeals to me in King's writing is the idea that we do more horrible things to each other than any kind of monster you can invent.”

The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the June 2003 issue of Locus Magazine.

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