Interview with Charles De Lint, Urban Fantasist and Canid Writer

Charles DeLint by Beth Gwinn Charles De Lint is considered by many to be the master of urban fantasy. I am part of that "many."...


Charles DeLint by Beth Gwinn

Canine Urban Fantasy

Charles DeLint by Beth Gwinn
Charles De Lint is considered by many to be the master of urban fantasy. I am part of that “many.” After reading numerous De Lint titles, I am convinced he is a Dogster at heart so I thought you would enjoy hearing from the man who writes some of the strongest, most believable canid characters in literature.

Spiritwalk cover
For those of you who haven’t read his work, treat yourself and pick up one of his books with one of his fascinating canid-human characters who walk across dimensions. Their personalities, failings and beauty arise out of the blend of canid and human that DeLint imbues them with and carries through their time in his books. Here’s what he says about his writing on his website.

The best definition I can come up with for my writing was in a review that described it fantasy for people who dont normally read fantasy. I’ve taken to calling my writing “mythic fiction,” because it’s basically mainstream writing that incorporates elements of myth and folktale, rather than secondary world fantasy. I’ve written the latter, to be sure, and dabbled in science fiction and dark fantasy, but an overall view of my work will show that such stories are very much the exception, rather than the rule.

Why, at least for me, is De Lint a canid and dog writer? Perhaps its wish fulfillment (haven’t we all wanted at some time in our lives for our dogs to be just human enough to speak to us and show us their realities?), perhaps its awe at the way De Lint weaves the worlds he and his characters know with the worlds we know or perhaps its just falling under his magic. But however he does it, De Lint helps us walk into the minds and motivations of our dog, coyote and wolf friends in ways that no non-fiction writer can ever achieve.

Joy: You have some very important canid characters in your books. How did they come about?

Charles: If you treat a dog right, you have a friend for life. A friend that’ll stand by you, no matter what. (Actually, unfortunately, once you’ve bonded with a dog, you can treat them badly and they’ll still be your friend, but that’s another story that I’m not so interest in getting into because it just depresses me.)

I grew up with dogs. We lived in a rural area and when I was young, I spent more time messing around with them in the fields and woods than I did pretty much anything else. The thing that struck me (beyond the friendship and loyalty) was how *everything* is interesting to them. They can really teach you to see the world differently and I think of them as messengers from the great spirit of the world, reminding us to play and run and see with fresh eyes.

The most important dog in my life was a mongrel named Nikki. We had other dogs at the time, and I was out walking them one Christmas morning, many years ago, and instead of taking a right turn down the frozen dirt road as we usually did, I took a left for some reason. A half mile or so down the road, I found a puppy that someone had tossed into a ditch from a passing car. I don’t know how long he was there, but it was long enough that he ended up with some damage to his legs. He was a kind of collie/shepherd mix, but his legs never really grew, so while he had a normal sized body, he carried it around on little stubby legs that had funny little crooks at each joint.

I nursed him back to health and then the first thing he did, the first time we went outside for a walk a couple of months later, was to plunge himself into a ditch of almost frozen water and get sick all over again.

But barring those early months, from then on he was healthy, and the most amazing friend. Except for when I went to school, we did pretty much everything together–long rambles in the fields, or him sleeping beside me while I read or wrote or played music inside.

So when I think of dogs, I always flash back to those years. We had other dogs before and since when I still lived at my parents’ place, but he was the one for me. So, I suppose, many of my dog/canid characters play back to him. He was always up for a trick, but he could be fierce, too, and as I’ve already said, he was always loyal. And though I’ve met bad-tempered dogs in my time, I could never write about them because they always strike me as anomalies. They’re the way they are, not because of their nature, but because of how they were mistreated, or mistrained.

Moonlight and Vines cover
Joy:`Are we going to see more of the current canid characters? What about new dog or other canid-related characters?

Charles: I’m not sure about the older characters. I feel the need to get away from the regular repertory company I’ve been working with so much over the past few years and finding a new cast to tell different kinds of stories.

As for new projects…I don’t like to talk about things I’m working on, or planning to write, because if I do talk too much about them, I don’t feel like writing the story anymore. Writing–at least my first drafts–are a voyage of discovery for me. It’s much like reading a book to see what happens next, only much slower. But I can tell you that the book I’m working on at the moment (a very short novel/novella for Viking) is called Dingo so you can guess the canids still have stories to tell through me.

Joy: What does it do for you as a writer to write about these kinds of non-human characters?

Charles: Most of my non-human characters actually move back and forth between animal and human shapes, though I do try to keep some of their animal traits as part of their character. I’ve done a lot with coyotes and crows, especially, and I like them because they’re outsiders and survivors and very very smart. One of the things I like he most about such characters is the shock of discovery for the ordinary humans that come into contact with them–how it changes everything they thought they knew about the world.

Joy: What is your next work to be released that features canid-type characters? When is that coming out?

Charles: Dingo, which I mentioned above, is slated for a Fall 2007 release. My current novel Widdershins (Tor Books) has–among a large cast of characters–an abused dog named Honey in it who is learning to deal with the world with less anger than she carried before she was freed from her owner who used her in dog fights. (She was freed in The Onion Girl, to which Widdershins is a sequel.) Her recovery plays against that of the human characters who have had similar traumatic upbringings.

And for those who are interested in such things, Widdershins is dedicated to the memory of another Honey, a dog who lived with and protected my friends Alice and Andrew Vachss.

Thanks Charles for sharing your time and love of dogs with me and the other Dogsters!

Here are some of De Lint’s titles for your summer (and year-round) reading.

Tapping the Dream Tree cover
Seven Wild Sisters
Wolf Moon
The Onion Girl
The Road to Lisdoonvarna
Forests of the Heart
Triskell Tales
Moonlight and Vines
Someplace to Be Flying
The Wild Wood
Spirits in the Wires
Seven Wild Sisters
The Blue Girl
Medicine Road
The Little Country
Dreams Underfoot
Into the Green
the Ivory and the Horn
Jack of Kinrowan
Moonlight and Vines

And this is very much just a selection of his writing. If you’re mainly looking for DeLint’s canid characters, look for those books set in Newford, a fictional Canadian-type city with human and non-human characters who live their lives and (eternities) as part of a hodge-podge community.

Forests of the Heart cover

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