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Charles de Lint - Interview by Tarah, Teen Blogger


Back in September, a few of the teen bloggers volunteered to host the Youth Author stage at Word on the Street. One of the authors featured, Charles de Lint, agreed to answer some questions for me.

Talking to him was such a fun experience! As an aspiring author and musician, it was interesting to get his prospective on the writing process (both novels and songs) and to learn about his tastes and inspirations. I haven’t had a chance to read his novels yet, but they’re definitely on my list of must-reads!

Charles de Lint was born in the Netherlands. His family moved a lot during his childhood, but by the age of 12, he moved to Canada where he stayed for good. His wife, MaryAnn Harris, is his “first editor, business manager and creative consort”. He has won many awards for his work, including the World Fantasy Award, the Canadian Fantasy Aurora Award, and the White Pine Award. Eight of his books were ranked in Modern Library's Top 100 Books of the 20th Century. He’s published thirty-six novels and thirty-five books of short fiction so far. On top of all this, he’s also a painter, poet and musician.  (See Charles de Lint's website for more information.)

How and why did you start writing?

For as far back as I can remember, I’ve been interested in stories and told them to myself for years before I ever began to write them down. My first forays into storytelling were songs and poetry, but eventually, in my early twenties, I moved into a more traditional prose format. I was inspired by all the great folklore, poetry and fiction that I’d been reading—from William Morris and Lord Dunsany, to authors such as Tolkien, of course, but also James Branch Cabell, E.R. Eddison, Alan Garner, C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, and Susan Cooper, to name a few. I had—and still have—a voracious reading appetite.

Under My Skin - book cover

Is there a particular type of scene that you find more difficult to write?

I find dialogue the easiest. It’s almost like a gift in that it often feels as though I’m simply transcribing the voices of my characters as they talk to each other in my head. Action scenes also pretty much tell themselves. Descriptive scenes take more thinking because, while it’s important to set the scene with rich detail, you don’t want to overdo it because it bogs the story down and doesn’t allow readers to fill in elements of it for themselves.

I firmly believe that readers are an important part of the creative writing process—so long as the writer leaves them enough room to bring their own imagination to the story. It’s one of the reasons why so many book-related films fall short. The movies can’t possibly match up to what readers have already imagined their heads.

Do you ever base parts of your stories on personal experiences?

My stories and characters come out of the melting pot of my experiences, acquaintances, plus a wealth of reading both fiction and non-fiction, but I don’t think I’ve ever used anything from my own life in a story that hasn’t gone through a pretty intense filter before it appears on the page. Often I decide I want to write about something I’m unfamiliar with and then I have to research and study it, which has the added benefit of expanding my knowledge and interests. I would find it far too restrictive to stick close to a real-life experience or character. I need a sense of wonder and mystery to keep me interested in writing.

Do you make outlines for your novels? If so, do you ever stray from them?

I never make outlines. I’ll have a few loose concepts about characters and setting, and an idea of the feeling that I’d like to leave the reader with, but I don’t want to know the details of the story ahead of time because that’ll ruin all the fun for me. I write stories that I’d like to read but no one has written yet, so I have to write them myself. My motivation is to find out what happens next, so I write until the story is finished, and after the first draft, I pull everything together so that I can insert foreshadowing, delete red herrings, polish everything up and so on.

This process of writing by the seat of my pants usually works, but there’ve been a few times when I’ve had to throw out as many as a couple of hundred pages because I took the wrong turn and I realized the novel just didn’t feel right. At that point, I have to backtrack until it does still feel right and start again from there.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

It may seem simplistic to say this, but the key really is to write a lot (for the practice) and read a lot (to observe and fill the toolbox in your mind with all the options you have in terms of approaching story, character, etc.). It’s far better to write a little bit daily rather than a lot on a weekend.

You have to keep the well primed.

And practice writing beginnings, middles and endings. Don’t revise and tinker endlessly as you go along. Get to the end and then go back and fix things. So many people get stuck revising endlessly and never get to the end of their story. Or midway through they get what they think is a better idea and abandon the current project entirely. Those fresh new ideas and inspirations are the effect of keeping the writing well primed. Jot your ideas down, but stick with the story you’re working on. Even if it doesn’t work out, you’ll have learned something in the process and you can always go to one of your shiny new ideas next. But fair warning: another will come along to take its place.

Another peril that you have to watch for is that most writers hit a wall midway through the story. It’s happened to me with almost every novel I’ve written. I get to a point where I just want to type, “And they all died. The end.” It’s just a form of fatigue and a lack of confidence that most writers experience. You have to push through and force yourself to get past it.

How did you get into music?

My parents bought a copy of The Fabulous Johnny Cash back in 1958 and I fell in love with music and all of its potential from that moment on. I took up guitar in my teens, and then I ended up working in a record store where I was surrounded by music. Music plays a vital role in my life. I’m almost always listening to it, and I love playing it.

Moonheart - book coverDo you think that writing songs is similar to writing novels?

It’s an entirely different process and one that I have yet to figure out to my own satisfaction. Mind you, I haven’t really figured out novels and stories yet, either, and maybe that’s a good thing. You see, even with all these years of experience under my belt I have to get the hang of learning to write each particular novel or story. I suppose that’s part of the reason why I’m so drawn to working in both mediums; it’s always a mystery and a challenge for me. It certainly keeps my daily work interesting.

Have any of your songs inspired a novel or vice versa?

I’ve written soundtrack bits to my prose, both instrumental and vocal, but not the other way around. If a piece of music is going to inspire me to tell a story it’s going to be a song or tune by someone other than myself—the way the instrumental album Renaissance of the Celtic Harp by Alan Stivell was a huge inspiration for my novel Moonheart, and the various musicians and music that I’ve listened to have loosely inspired characters in my Newford books and even my Wildlings series. My musical tastes are extremely varied and I pretty much have a soundtrack for each book based on what the characters might listen to.

 

Thank you so much, Mr. de Lint, for letting me interview you. Good luck with your future novels and music.

If you’re interested, here are some sites where you can follow him and learn about some of his novels:

www.charlesdelint.com

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Charles-de-Lint/218001537221

https://twitter.com/cdelint

http://cdelint.tumblr.com/

Tarah,

Teen Blogger

 

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