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Write On Ottawa: Fantasy master Charles de Lint talks about creativity

By Kabriya Coghlan on May 9, 2015

Ottawa’s renowned fantasy author Charles de Lint will be at the Wakefield-La Pêche Writers Festival today (Saturday) as part of a brunch panel with fellow authors Madeleine Lefebvre and Alan Cumyn.  He will also host a writers workshop this afternoon with his wife MaryAnn Harris.  While the brunch is sold out, tickets for the workshop are $10. (ED: After this story was published we learned that all events are now sold out).

Charles de Lint’s first novel, The Riddle of the Wren, was published in 1984.  Since then, he’s written a vast collection of novels, short stories, chapbooks, and novellas — over 70 books in total — and won numerous awards.

“I always wanted to tell stories, I wrote for as long as I can remember, but I actually wanted to be a musician before I wanted to be a writer, and I pursued that beforehand,” says de Lint.  “I was writing all the time, but I wasn’t thinking about publishing it.”

In the 1970s he was living as a musician, playing celtic music in bars and at festivals, but he started to grow tired of it.  He started writing more and received advice from his friend, writer-journalist Charles Saunders, about how to market his stories.  Saunders encouraged him to submit his stories to a literary zine, and de Lint sold three stories to the first one he approached.

“I think that was when I realized that there was something else that I loved to do besides music,” he tells Apartment613.  “I loved doing it, and I thought, you know, if people will actually pay for me it then I love doing it, so I should try doing that instead for a living.”

Most of his stories are contemporary fantasy, mixing supernatural elements and folklore with the real world.

“They always say that you should write what you love, and what I say is I write stories that I’d like to read that no one else has written, so that gets me excited every day when I sit down to write,” de Lint says. “I also don’t work with an outline, so every day it’s like reading a book – I find out what happens next every day, so it’s a great way to write.”

jack_ace150Even though he writes fantasy stories, De Lint says he still likes the setting to be real.  When he started out, many of his early stories, such as Jack, the Giant Killer and Greenmantle, were set in Ottawa.

“I was told by people, always, if you’re going to write a setting, write about a big city like New York or L.A. or Chicago — write somewhere people know.  But I didn’t know it, so I didn’t feel comfortable writing about it. So I wrote about here, Ottawa . . . and I discovered that my readers actually like that.  Not just the ones who live in this area, but my main audience is in the States, and they really enjoyed the different setting,” de Lint says.

“I think any setting and any kind of character can make a good story, because everyone’s got a good story.  Every place has got interesting things about it, you just have to pay attention.”

His wife, MaryAnn Harris, is frequently the first editor of his stories, and de Lint said he’s thankful to work so closely with someone who understands his ideas and what he’s trying to say in his stories.

greenmantle_pp150“I’m very lucky to have someone who’s completely invested in my writing as well, because she’s very honest and that makes the work better,” says de Lint.

Harris will be hosting a workshop alongside him at the Wakefield-La Pêche Writers Festival on Saturday afternoon, and the theme is something they’re both passionate about.

“Our workshop is going to be about creativity and getting to the finish line, because you talk to people all over the place and there’s that thing, especially with new writers, they just have trouble finishing projects and keeping the spark of creativity alive,” de Lint says.

“With writing a book, you can’t work on inspiration, because inspiration doesn’t last a year. Inspiration is like this flash thing that happens and after that, you have to put the work in. So (the workshop is) just tricks and things that we’ve developed over the years to help people get through and make it all the way to the end.”

He jokes that one of the reasons he does these kinds of workshop is his own selfishness: “I love to read, and I want to have more books out there, and I won’t have more books out there unless people are writing them.”

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