Charles de Lint is the bestselling author of over seventy adult, YA, and children’s books, including Moonheart, The Blue Girl, Widdershins, Medicine Road, and The Onion Girl. He is a poet, songwriter, performer, book reviewer, and folklorist, who is highly respected for his criticism as well as his fiction. De Lint is the recipient of the World Fantasy, YALSA, Crawford, and Aurora Awards.
His latest book is the retrospective short story collection, The Very Best of Charles de Lint.
Charles Tan: Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, what’s the appeal of short stories for you? How different is writing a short story vs. writing a novel? How about when compared to writing music?
Charles de Lint: Writing music uses a whole different process that involves a lot of noodling and just seeing what comes. With prose, mostly, I’m more focused. I usually have a scene, a character, and definitely a theme, or the feeling I want the reader to have at the end. The thing I like so much about short stories is that there isn’t as much of an investment of time so I’m free to experiment more. If it doesn’t work out, I’ve only lost a week or two of work. If I screw up a novel I’ve lost at least a year’s worth of work. But the nice thing is that those experiments with short stories can be carried over to novels when the experiments do work.
The big difference between the two? Other than the above, the novels are so much longer!
CT: Some of the stories in The Very Best of Charles de Lint include recurring characters from your other stories. What made you decide to set a lot of your stories in the “same universe”? Do you have problems keeping track of all of your characters and how they interact with each other?
CdL: I kind of fell into Newford without planning to by writing stories in an (at first) unnamed large city. After awhile I found myself enjoying it enough to make a more serious commitment to the setting and its cast of characters. They can be a bit much to keep track of (I basically had to “research” The Onion Girl when I was writing it, just to keep the chronology correct), but usually I have a good idea about who’s where, who they’re with, and what they’re up to.
CT: In your introduction, you mentioned that a lot of the stories in the book where voted by your fans and then you selected some stories to cover the rest. How did you decide on the order of the stories? There’s also a cohesive narrative (i.e. we’re not totally caught off-guard when Jilly Coppercorn shows up in a story) running across a lot of the stories in the collection. Was this simply serendipity in the fan voting, intervention on your part, or both?
CdL: The stories are mostly in chronological order. I threw “Coyote Stories” in at the beginning because the first part of the book has a lot of early stories that are different in tone and mood from what many readers have come to expect from me. So that story, and it being about story, seemed to make a good starting point rather than jumping directly into the high fantasy stories. “The Fields Beyond the Fields” is also out of order, but I feel it makes a good closing statement.
As for the “cohesive narrative” aspect, most of my short fiction is set in Newford and the characters have always wandered in and out of each other’s stories so it naturally follows that it would happen here as well.
CT: There’s elements of Native American myth and Faerie in your stories. What made you decide to include these folklore?
CdL: My own interest in both. Everything in my fiction is either something I’m interested in already, or something I want to learn more about.
CT: You’ve been described as an urban fantasy writer and the meaning of urban fantasy has changed over the years. For you, what’s your definition of urban fantasy? What maintains your interest in that space?
CdL: It certainly has changed. I think if I want to keep being known as an urban fantasy writer I’d better add in a few vampire detectives as quickly as possible. But I don’t really think of myself as that sort of writer–neither with what’s published in that subgenre now, or what it was thought to be before.
Years ago, when I was about to go on a book tour for Someplace to Be Flying, my editor at the time Terri Windling and I sat down to figure out what to call what I was writing for the interviews that were to come. Terri came up with the term mythic fiction and I think that sums it up perfectly. There are almost invariably mythic elements in my fiction (as well as bits of folk and faerie lore) and the term doesn’t lock me into writing only in an urban setting since many of my stories take place in rural areas. It never caught on, but when I don’t describe what I do as simply fiction, I’ll go with mythic fiction.
CT: Some of your stories have quotations at the beginning. Is it a case of the quote inspiring the story, or more of the story fit the quote so you included them?
CdL: Probably a bit of both.
CT: What’s the role of music in your life? How does it affect–or doesn’t affect–your writing?
CdL: Music’s the soundtrack of my life and has been since I was a teenager. There’s always music. If I’m not playing it, I’m listening to it. With my writing…sometimes it inspires a story, sometimes it highlights something I’m working on, sometimes it simply helps me stay in the narrative mood.
CT: What was the experience like, revisiting your stories for this short story collection?
CdL: I enjoyed it. I’m always surprised with how little I remember of some of the details of my own work since I only revisit it when I need to check a fact, I’m proofing a galley of a new edition of some older work, or in a case such as this when I’m putting together a collection.
I have to say that this particular book was a lot of fun because of the input from my on-line readers. It was interesting to see which of the stories garnered the most votes, or the strongest responses. I can’t thank them enough for taking the time to help out.
CT: Do you think there’ll be another “Best of” Charles de Lint in the future?
CdL: Who knows?