Message From The Author

Author's Message

Fantasy, Rockabilly and Grace


By Rhomylly Forbes

Charles de lint's first novel, The Riddle of the Wren, was published in 1984, and he's produced a major work nearly every year since. Best known for his novels and short stories set in the fictional city of Newford, de Lint's latest, The Mystery of Grace (Mar., Tor), is a stand-alone novel that takes place in the American southwest. RT reviewer Rhomylly Forbes recently chatted with the author about his new novel, the state of fantasy fiction today, and his love of desert landscapes.

How do you respond to being called "The Father of Urban Fantasy?" I've always been a little uncomfortable with it because I certainly wasn't the first person to come along and set fantasy stories in a contemporary setting. Off the top of my head I can think of James Branch Cabell, Robert Nathan, Peter Beagle, Jack Williamson ... and that's not even counting the fact that someone like Homer was telling contemporary stories, because in his time, they were contemporary.

Now I've become aware that it's considered a publishing sub-genre, usually by women writers, featuring strong female protagonists who are either magical themselves, or have a magical lover/partner/potential to be the same, and are set in a contemporary world where magical beings are hidden, or just coming out, or have come out with all the ensuing complications. The books seem a bit of a hybrid of mystery and romance and I read some of them, my favorite being those by Patricia Briggs.

What do you think of current trends in urban fantasy, which seems to focus more on the "creatures" and less on the wonder of magic? I would strike the word "urban" and say that most fantasy seems to have forgotten its sense of wonder. High fantasies these days are usually war books (with elves, dwarves, etc. being merely different kinds of battalions, and magic a WMD). The urban books do focus on creatures, but I don't think they're trying to capture that sense of wonder. Most of them seem to be writing character books that include the magical elements, but they could really be anything exotic. I don't mean that as a put-down, because if you like the characters, they're worth reading.

The Mystery of Grace is a bit of a departure, location-wise from your usual settings, although you've had desert themes in several of the Newford stories. What led you to choose a southwestern theme for this novel? Tucson is my favorite place in the world, the city and especially the desert and mountains outside of it. I remember the first time I visited there years ago. As soon as I stepped out of the airport, I felt like I'd come home. Heck, I felt like that looking out the windows as we were coming in to land. I love the blend of Mexican/Native/Anglo cultures. When we (my wife MaryAnn and I) go out hiking and painting, I can feel my internal batteries recharge there like no place else I've been.

Were you a fan of rockabilly music and hot rods before writing The Mystery of Grace or did you explore those worlds as research for the book? I was, but I didn't know as much about the hot-rod culture. That came from research and I hope I didn't blow it. But I've always loved the look of those old cars. As for the music, I've been a fan of rockabilly, surf guitar, and hot-rod music since I first started listening to it at the end of the '50s, beginning of the '60s. It's something I've come back to again and again over the years. Love those twangy guitars, the slapping bass ...

Of all the characters you've created, who is your favorite and why? I usually really like the main character in whatever book I'm currently working on -- I think you have to, you spend so much time in their company -- but over time, I'd probably have to say that Jilly Coppercorn [one of the lead characters of Newford-based short stories and novels, including Widdershins and The Onion Girl] is probably my favorite. I admire her strength of character, and how she's been able to overcome so many trials, while rarely losing her positive outlook.

Many of your characters have had pretty violent childhoods and/or past relationships. Does that just happen or are you deliberately trying to keep the issues of childhood abuse and domestic violence in the spotlight? What sort of feedback do you get from readers about these characters? It never just happens in my books. Sometimes I don't know until I'm writing and then I come to that realization and a whole pile of things suddenly make sense about the character. But mostly I write to be true to the character and I know what's up going in. I tend to focus on outsiders, and victims of abuse certainly feel that way about themselves.

With that said, I can't deny that I won't shy away from that sort of character for the very reason you cite: to keep a spotlight on the issue. I was doing it before it became a cause of the day, and I'll continue to do it until, as my friend Andrew Vachss says, we don't have to tell those kinds of stories any more. I've have had the odd person write to me, or seen reviews, where it's asked, "Why can't he just shut up about that kind of thing already?" But I've had far more feedback from people who thank me.

If I was never able to write or sell another book, I get to keep this: all the people who've thanked me for writing about their troubles, and how my writing about such things helped them. Not just issues of abuse, but all the ways there are of being different and not accepted. They know the characters in the books are fictional, but they still feel less alone after reading a book or story. I'll take that any day over someone complaining that I'm not entertaining them enough.

What is your daily writing regimen? Are you more of a morning worker or a night owl? I can write at any time of day or night, in any place I happen to be. For first drafts, I'm probably freshest in the morning, but I get more done late at night.

Besides playing and listening to music, what do you do when you're not writing? When we had the time, MaryAnn and I used to paint a lot and I want to get back to that. Now that we have a dog (our young lad Johnny Cash) we spend a lot of time out with him. I love the fact that no matter what the weather, you still have to go out at least twice a day for a ramble with him. I still love to read (it's why I got into this business in the first place). We watch some movies and TV, I still miss Veronica Mars and Buffy and haven't found a real replacement for either yet.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors? It's going to sound so trite and boring, but it's: read a lot and write a lot. There are no short cuts. And really, if you're going to do this, make sure you love doing it. Make sure you feel a little crazy if you don't write. Because it's a hard, unfriendly business, and getting more so every day. There are much easier ways to make a living, but not many as fulfilling.

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