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Interview with Charles de Lint
Here is our complete interview with Charles de Lint. An abridged version appears in Challenging Destiny Number 9.
interview by James Schellenberg & David M. Switzer
Note: The interview was transcribed verbatim, to retain the conversational feel.
CD: How did you get started writing?
CDL: I've always written. But I didn't realize that it was a career option. I love books, I read constantly. I knew that authors wrote books, but I never stopped to think about someone earning a living doing that. I love playing music, I played in bands -- Celtic music. I chose the wrong type of music of course, because this was 25 years ago -- it wasn't very popular. We always had good gigs, but there wasn't the network there would be now if we were doing that kind of stuff. I worked in record stores, because it was a nice music connection, and did that for a long time. And I was writing all along. Then a friend of mine showed some of my work to an author named Charles Saunders who wrote African fantasies -- and he was really keen on them. He thought I should try to get them published, so I sent off three of them to this address he gave me and the guy bought all three of them. It was a small press -- $10 each. But a light went on in my head -- you can make money selling stories. Because it was something I was doing anyway I decided to concentrate on that, because the music wasn't happening -- no one was really interested in Celtic music at that time. As for the record store -- you go to a managerial position, and then you're at a dead end. I saw the chance to go somewhere with books, do something, make a career. I wrote books for seven years, and then finally sold three in one week. And I've been doing it ever since.
CD: Could you tell us your theory of writing?
CDL: I write books I'd like to read but no one else has written yet. To me, that's the whole point of being a writer. I do it for the enjoyment -- I entertain myself. It's not that I don't care about my readers -- I like them a lot and I'm really appreciative of them. But if I'm going to spend 12 or 16 months with this book I want to make sure that I'm at least having some fun. And I'm a pretty easy reader -- I like good characterization, I like a plot I can follow -- it's not too confusing, I like some resonance, I like to learn things when I'm reading a book that I might not have known otherwise. But I'm not a tough reader -- so that's the kind of books I write. I don't think they're very hard to read, I think they have interesting characters, and stories that are fairly easy to follow. Hopefully not too easy to figure out -- you want to surprise people as you're going along. I think of it as an organic process -- I sit down and I don't have a whole lot of an idea what I'm doing. I go day by day -- basically I sit down at the keyboard and open it up -- it's like you opening a book up, and you find out what happens next. I have themes to a degree, I know how I want to leave the reader at the end of the book -- how I want them to feel. It's just a matter of writing until I get there. A lot of dead end stuff happens -- if it's not working, you have to backtrack 5, 10, 15, 50 pages -- sort that out and try a different angle and go from there. I've written by outline, and I don't like it.
You have to enjoy it -- I meet some writers and they say, "Oh, I hate writing." And I say, "Why are you doing it? There are so many other things you could be doing. Why spend so much of your life doing something you don't like?" But they like the peripheral stuff -- the marketing, meeting the fans, the small amount of fame and fortune you can get from it. That's the stuff I actually don't like. I like meeting my readers, but I do and I don't like the acclaim -- I find it embarrassing most of the time. I would prefer to just write and stay home.
CD: Could you tell us about your next book that's coming out, and the ones that you're working on now?
CDL: I'm really bad at describing my books. Journalists like to have things like "It's The Terminator Meets the Seven Dwarfs." And I can't do that with my books. If I could, I probably wouldn't write them. Half the time with my books the main story ends three quarters of the way through the book, and the rest of the book you're just following these characters and tidying things up. I write a review column, and I have a lot of trouble sometimes coming up with a brief way of describing what the essence of a book is.
The next one that's coming out is called Forests of the Heart. I love the desert -- Southwestern desert -- and I wanted to write a character that had come from that. Bettina San Miguel, she's one of my main characters in the book. I'm always interested in creativity to some degree -- there's a sculptor in the book. There's a manager of a record store; I haven't written about a record store guy since Death Leaves an Echo. I also wanted to have the Ice Storm in the book. You know the theory of genii loci -- spirits of a place -- I wanted to do that. I'd done that before in the Jack books. I talk about how the elves and all those people followed the immigrants over. In this one I've got spirits of a place following them over and they get here and there are already spirits here who've got their place, so there's no place for these Gentry -- that's what they're called in Ireland. They're these tall, dark, brooding guys who just don't fit in here. They're wandering the city, because outside the city there's the Manitou and they can't go there. And they're constantly plotting ways to get themselves new places.
I'm writing a new novel which is due this August -- of course I probably won't have it ready by then. But it'll probably be out some time next year. It's called The Onion Girl, and it's my novel about Jilly Coppercorn. I finally decided to write a book about her. It's very sad that I had to write a book about her, because all kinds of really horrible things happen to her. Because you have to do that -- the theory of writing a book is that things get worse. Until you finally finish the book. And I didn't want to put her through this for a long time. I don't know if it's going to be the last Newford book, but it might be the last one dealing with all of those characters. Jilly knows everybody in and out of Newford, and because of what's happening in this book almost anybody that's appeared in any other book appears in some degree or another. I don't know if that'll be confusing for people who haven't read the other books -- I hope it won't be.
I'm doing two books with Subterranean Press. One of them's called Triskell Tales. It's going to be a collection of 22 years of chapbooks I've done. My wife MaryAnn's going to do the cover for it and some interior art. I really wasn't keen on having this come out, the main reason being that 22 years ago I was really learning my craft and those first couple of years of chapbooks are not very good at all. But it has to be complete; you can't not have the first ones in there. On the other hand I think it'll be interesting, for anyone who cares about this kind of thing, to follow the progress of a writer. There's a year between each story. You can see where my brain was, and how I learned craft -- got better or worse in various aspects. I'm hoping it'll be interesting in that sense. Joe Lansdale said it's kind of a garage-sale book; you go there and you might find a couple of things you like.
I really love mystery novels, especially hard-boiled mystery novels. I tried my hand at one back in the mid-80's and the agent I had at the time wasn't real keen on it so he wasn't marketing it properly. When you're a genre writer, that's your genre. When you're a fantasy writer, you can't do anything else. I did a fairly science-fictiony book called Svaha, but you would never know it from the marketing. They just treated it as a fantasy novel. Even my contemporary books -- not so much now but in the old days they treated them like high fantasy novels. I like the book a lot, and Subterranean Press likes to publish these "lost novels." They do a whole series of Joe's books, which is great. The same agent who didn't really like the mystery novel also didn't care for Trader, and I really like Trader. My mystery novel is an older book, and I'm not planning to update the references in it -- I'll go through it and make sure there aren't any mistakes in it. But it'll be a very different book -- it'll be more like a couple of the short stories in Moonlight and Vines. There are a couple of hard-boiled ones in there. No magic, no fantasy. Although the private eye likes Celtic music.
I've got another novel I haven't started yet that's due to Tor next year, and the fourth Newford collection that I have to finish writing the stories for.
CD: The Science Fiction Book Club just put out an omnibus edition of your Newford stories.
CDL: It's kind of nice. I like the idea of it all being together. It's pretty big -- it weighs a lot. The cover's OK, but I like Terri Windling's covers much better. I loved the Moonlight and Vines cover, although I know a lot of people didn't like that one.
CD: What have your thoughts been on the various covers you've had?
CDL: I've been both really lucky and really unfortunate in my cover art. The lucky part is the fact that Terri's my editor. The original cover for my very first book, The Riddle of the Wren, is a Celtic design by Terri. Which is really nice -- I think it looks classy. I know a lot of the die-hard fantasy fans don't like it. The reason it's like that is that they actually had a painting that they'd commissioned and they sent me the flat and Terri saw it as well. It was so unbelievably awful that Terri went to the art director and said, "Let me do something for the cover of this book. I just can't have his first book come out looking like this." The other books that I had from Ace, they weren't bad -- they were Dave Mattingly covers, and he's a good artist. Moonheart was the next one, and Taliesen looked like a superhero with a cape and everything. Sarah looks like she's got this Maidenform bra on. Not great. What bothered me about the covers was that they gave no indication that they were contemporary novels. I finally ended up leaving Ace because it was just not happening with them. The cover for Jack the Giant Killer is a gorgeous piece of art, but it has nothing to do with the book inside. Jackie is a scruffy young woman who dresses real grubby, and she chopped all her hair off with scissors in a mirror -- and there's this gorgeous, elegant woman on the cover.
After that I went to Morrow/Avon, and they were going to be real nice about the covers; I was going to get cover consultation. And when The Little Country came out, it was a Darrell Sweet -- I'm not particularly fond of Sweet's artwork, at least not in terms of my own books. I don't find his sense of anatomy very good, nor do I find that he has the sort of painterly qualities I like, and the cover he did for The Little Country just looks like "The Hardy Boys go to Disneyland." So Morrow said, "Oh that was a mistake. We meant to show it to you." They were really keen on this stuff, they thought they were doing me a big favour. I complained about that. And they said, "We understand, we'll fix it." Right after that The Harp of the Grey Rose came out, and it was another Darrell Sweet cover and it was pretty grotesque as well. I was doing a signing -- a promotion for Morrow at Word on the Street in Toronto, and I saw they had the cover flats for The Little Country and it was the same cover as the hardcover. So I phoned up my agent and we said, "Take it off. That's it." I ended up leaving them because of that, and sold the book to Tor.
What I think is important is to give the reader an idea about the mood of the book. You want it to be attractive, to grab their attention, but it has to grab it in the right way. You can't have a Terminator guy with a gun and a gal with big breasts hanging onto his leg for what I write. A lot of people are going to be attracted to that kind of cover, but if it's one of my books they're going to go home and be very disappointed with it. So you have to be fair to the reader as well. In England I had cover approval, which was good. I only once, for The Little Country, had to return the artwork. They had done these gorgeous paintings for Greenmantle, Yarrow, and Moonheart -- three of my favourite covers. Then this one came along with the little green Martian from the Fredric Brown books, and a butterfly with a wingspan of about six feet, and this woman in a negligee running through the woods. And there aren't any woods in that part of Cornwall. It all takes place on moors and heaths.
Tor's been really nice. I know I have a small mainstream audience. I don't want to loose my fantasy audience, but I want to get the larger mainstream audience as well -- and I don't know how to do it. Tor tried with Trader and Someplace to Be Flying to do books that could be put on the mainstream shelf, and they did pretty good but the books didn't do as well as we were hoping. The next book cover is a beautiful cover, but it's back to a more of a fantasy cover. The three Newford books all had Terri's art. I asked specifically for Terri's art, and I have cover consultation. I don't have a British publisher at the moment -- that's another story, but it has to do with e-rights, I don't want to give away some stuff that they wanted. Macmillan/Pan hadn't been doing a very good job. I was at the Pan store in London -- at their offices they had a store that carries all their books. We went in to see what they had, and they didn't have one of my books. And that was the Pan store, so I thought, "This does not bode well for distribution."
Most writers have no say on their covers. And some writers shouldn't. I'm really involved in the visual arts as well, and it's hard for me -- I'll be attracted to a painterly cover, but it might not have commercial value. The cover for Forests of the Heart is really nicely done -- it's both artistically lovely in terms of the painting and design, and I hope that it's also very sellable. It's hard to figure out what's sellable.
CD: How does your music and art relate to your writing?
CDL: The music I don't think has much influence, except in a book like The Little Country or Trader where it's the background. I don't think music specifically has an influence beyond the idea that if you arrange or write music it gives you a certain idea of the ebb and flow of the story, and that's good to have in your prose as well. Things like: If you want to slow the story down, you have longer sentences, longer paragraphs. If you want to speed it up, just shorten everything. But I'm not so sure you wouldn't figure that out anyway without a musical background.
I listen to a lot of music while I'm writing. One of the things that enthralled me about Celtic music when I first discovered it was that I thought it was the soundtrack to a lot of what I was reading -- William Morris' stuff and the mythology and folklore I was reading. I like that connection. Nowadays I usually decide beforehand what kind of music the characters like, and when I'm writing from their viewpoint I put that kind of music on. I write like a method actor. It's an easier and quicker way to get into their headspace.
I was writing about artists before I was doing art. The reason I didn't do art was, like a lot of people, I was convinced that I couldn't -- so why bother trying. I was with Terri Windling one day and we were talking about that and she said, "I felt the same way." And having been to her studio, I know she's got some lovely art. So I thought, "I just have to sit down and try it. Do a lot of crap, and then get better." So that's what I've been doing. Not so much the last couple of years, because I've been too busy. But for about a four-year period I did a lot of art -- I tried a lot of different mediums. And I still do to some degree. It made me able to write about the artist's point of view a bit better. Also, when you look with an artist's eye you see the world differently. It's like looking at it with a poet's eye as well -- the poet's job is to take the commonplace and make you see it again. The artist's eye focuses on small details -- the lighting, mood and things you wouldn't think about normally. Complementary colours: the way that if you put orange and blue together they start to vibrate. It doesn't seem that it should translate into writing, but for some reason it does -- I found that it changed the way I wrote after I started getting serious about my art.
And I write about those kind of people simply because my main interest in writing is to write about the outsider. I'm just fascinated with the outsider. The person that's outside of normal society. They always tell you to write about what you know. When I was much younger, I grew up with a lot of rough, tough people -- criminal types. I know that headspace. I also know a lot of artists, writers, and musicians. It's easy for me to write about them, and it's also interesting. When you're looking for friends, you look for friends that have similar interests. When I'm writing if I'm going to spend that much time in people's company it might was well be people I can relate to. The outsider referencing gets a little further from that as well. Homeless people are outside, the abused person is an outsider. In Someplace to Be Flying, crows -- you wouldn't believe how many people hate crows, just can't stand them. They're classified as a songbird, but that seems to shock people. I personally love the sounds they make. One of the best things after I finished writing that book was that I got a fair amount of mail from people saying, "I always hated crows, and now I really like them." That's excellent.
CD: You've been writing a review column for Fantasy & Science Fiction for quite some time. Is that a lot of work or just an extension of what you'd be doing anyway?
CDL: I come out of retail, and I love turning people on to new music. That's an ingrained part of my personality. When I started writing and I was trying to get published I thought, "One of the ways to get published is to make sure your name gets out there." Rather than sell a lot of fiction to the small press, what I did instead was a lot of non-fiction -- so that my byline would become more familiar. And I found that I really liked doing it. I did it for quite a while with various small press and semi-professional magazines. When Scott Card was giving up his column, I don't know if he recommended me or if Kris Rusch just contacted me because of my other columns, but she asked me if I wanted to do it. It's only three books a month, so it doesn't take that long to read for it. But I'll admit that sometimes I find it really hard to find three good books. I only review stuff I like, you see. Occasionally I'll make the odd exception, like for Hannibal. I just found that such an offensive book I had to write about it. In fact, I held it back for a couple of months -- I don't like wasting good column space on negativity. There are so many good books, I'd much rather promote the good books. I also don't review anything unless I've read it all the way through, and why read something that's obviously crap all the way through? Harris sucked me in, and I was really mad about that book. It's just so annoying, really despicable what he did. So while sometimes it's hard to find three books, it's still worth it. Again, because I love to turn people on to new stuff. I get feedback from people who say they'd never read this person before. I'll do a mix of really well known and really obscure stuff or new writers. The reason I do that is with the really well known authors people get an idea on an ongoing basis of where my tastes are. When I talk about someone they've never heard about before, they'll say, "He really liked Koontz's last book and I thought it sucked so if he's really keen on this one I'm probably not going to like it." Or the other way around. The free books are nice too. I'm so used to it because I've been doing it for so long. I still buy a ton of books. You get those previews -- often you get books three or four months in advance. It all goes back to my record store days -- to the mentality of pushing new sounds, because you know they're going to like them. And they do, and they're all happy and you're happy. When I was working in records, in the first few years I was working in a chain in Ottawa called Treble Clef and we're the ones that broke "Tubular Bells" by Mike Goldfield in Canada. We just imported so many copies of it, and promoted it, and sold it in our stores. I can't even listen to it now. But you could do that -- and I loved the promotional copies, and the pre-release stuff.
CD: Are there particular writers who have influenced your writing?
CDL: I don't really think in those terms. It's more that everything you experience influences you. All the writers I've read, the music I've listened to. Another thing with music, I love a lot of the story writer types -- Steve Earle, Fred Eaglesmith. Because it's very story oriented. That influences me as well, in my writing. I'm amazed how they can tell these huge stories in three verses. Movies, whatever -- everything goes into that cauldron in your brain, and gets stirred around and comes out again. There are writers I like to read -- I'll always read Barbara Kingsolver, I love her stuff. Pat McKillip, Parke Godwin, John Crowley. The gang down in Orange Country -- Tim Powers, Jim Blaylock, Jeter. Jane Lindskold -- I just read a couple of her books that were fabulous. I like Koontz's stuff. Some of King's stuff I love, some of it I can't relate to at all. I read a lot of mainstream stuff too -- Andrew Vachss. It's very dark -- he says he's only got one story to tell, and he's going to keep telling it until he doesn't have to tell it any more. The saddest thing about his books is he's actually run into that kind of stuff in his work. He's a defense lawyer for abused kids, so he makes no money at it. But he's never put the worst stuff in his books. It's unbelievable the stuff he deals with.
The strongest influence I had at one point was William Morris, when I was about 15. The first book-like thing I wrote was a pastiche of Morris. It was a book-length poem, basically. Written in that bastard Middle English of his. A lot of my short stories were Dunsany-influenced at the time. Or Robert E. Howard combined with spaghetti westerns. I always saw sword and sorcery as a western -- Conan the Barbarian was a western in my brain. So I wrote them deliberately with more of a western feel to them. But none of it was any good. And happily none of it really exists any more -- it was just in small obscure specialty press things.
CD: You've done some shared world novels. How do find that compared to writing your own stuff?
CDL: It doesn't compare, to be honest. The Borderlands stuff was fun. They were novellas I did, and they were fun because I liked the sensibility. At the time, it was really fresh. Before a whole pile of other writers ripped Terri off for her idea -- punk elves and rock and roll, and that kind of urban stuff. I'd been doing the Jack books and this idea she and Mark Arnold came up with was really neat. And I knew all the people that were involved, so it was kind of like a jam session. I did one for a Liavek story as well. It was OK. They tend to be more work than they're worth, a lot of the time. I was asked to do a Wild Cards story or novel by George Martin, but it wasn't worth my time to read all the material and research it all and figure out who was what in the series.
The other thing I did was a couple of Phil Farmer books, and they were something different again. It was really early in my career, and I wrote a lot quicker. When I was first approached to write book three of the Dungeon series I could see a 6 or 7 month hole up ahead that I could write it in. I needed the money at the time -- I wanted a computer. The advance wasn't a lot, but it would cover the computer. So I said yes. And we got closer and closer to the date and I had to start it, and I phoned them up and said, "Where's the first two books so I can figure out what I'm doing?" They said, "They haven't been written yet." And I said, "This is not good." My outline was one paragraph -- the characters went from here to there. So what I did was I phoned up Bruce Coville, who was writing the second book, and I said, "Where are you leaving them at the end of your book?" And he told me. Then I phoned up Robin Bailey who was writing the fourth book, and I said, "Where do you want them to be when your book starts?" And he told me. My book was actually the first book in the series to be written and turned in. And it was kind of fun. I love Farmer's work, and I enjoyed the challenge of trying to write with my sensibilities but still give the flavour of a Farmer book. They asked me to do another one -- I turned my book in so quick, on time and to their specifications. The reason I did a second book is that I had another space where I could do it. The second one wasn't nearly as much fun -- it was sheer work. I outlined the second one, because I really didn't feel like doing it. And that just killed it. I don't think it's among my best work.
Because the magazine field isn't what it was any more, I think these franchise novels are a good way for people to get into the field and get their name known. But I find it distressing when I see people just doing that, and not writing their own material. The problem with shared worlds or franchise novels is -- and sometimes people are writing their own franchise novels as well -- the characters have to stay the same at the end as they were at the beginning. James Stoddard wrote a wonderful book called The High House -- if you like all those classic writers like Cabell, Dunsany, Eddison, and William Morris, you'd love this book. He did a second book called The False House, and to me it reads like a franchise novel. Mind you, it's a franchise novel of himself, but he takes the same characters, the same setting, they have an adventure, but they are no different at the end than they were at the beginning -- and that's very disappointing for me. I like to see change happening. Not necessarily killings and stuff like that, but change of some sort. Character growth. They do it in mystery novels, but they don't seem to do it in science fiction series.
CD: Was "The Stone Drum" the first Newford story?
CDL: No, it wasn't actually. Terri moved that to earlier in the book, because it takes place earlier in terms of chronology. The very first Newford story is "Uncle Dobbin's Parrot Fair." Jilly just appears there peripherally as a character in one of Christy Riddell's stories that the person's reading in the book. That was the first place I came up with some of those Newford regulars. The first Newford story per se is "Timeskip" with Jilly and Geordie. There were a couple more, and then "The Stone Drum." Other than "The Stone Drum" all the stories take place in the time when I'm writing them. The characters are actually getting older. They started off quite young in those stories and now they're all middle-aged and full of that kind of angst. But when I was writing "Timeskip," I didn't know it was a Newford story at the time. I just wanted to write a story that was set in a larger urban environment than Ottawa. I'd visited Toronto, Vancouver, Chicago, L. A., New York, London -- but I hadn't lived long enough in any of those places to write about them. I could write about a big city, I just couldn't do the specifics. So I thought, "I'll just make it up." After about four or five stories I realized I should name the city. I was enjoying visiting it. And then I started to make a concordance but I never finished it, and I drew a map but I never finished it.
CD: In Memory and Dream, you talk about the artist's responsibility. Izzy is feeling responsible for her creations. Do you feel that for yourself?
CDL: That's more literal than I would be. That's more a metaphor for family than it is for anything else. Although I do think it's important to put something beautiful in the world rather than something negative. I don't think you should ignore the negative -- I think we should discuss it as well. But I don't think we should necessarily focus all our attention on it. We should remember that there's beautiful stuff as well. Try and steer things a little bit that way. My themes are so basic: leave the world a little better than it was when you got here, be loyal to your friends. People laugh about that kind of thing, but if we all actually did it the world would be a much nicer place. If we all treated each other the way we want to be treated ourselves -- just that simple thing -- imagine how wonderful the world would be.
CD: Many of the characters are living on the margins. How do you go about writing characters like that?
CDL: Well, I was a runaway kid myself. When I was 15 I lived on the street for about 6 months. And it was a much simpler time, I think a much safer time than it is now. There were certainly problems with drugs, and you'd get picked up by the police and thrown in jail for vagrancy. But there was more of a community, and it's not as much like that now. I know that it's very dark and much more dangerous now. I try not to write about it in a romanticized way but I knew a lot of people -- and I still know some people -- who had just chosen to live that way. I know there are people who, because they're not taking their meds they end up on the street. I know people who are addicts or alcoholics end up on the street. I know there are people in really unfortunate circumstances. I also know people who choose to live that way -- I don't know why, I can't figure it out. Some of my characters are like that. I don't focus on the real burnouts and losers, because it's really hard to write an engaging story about that sort of character. So you might see them on the sidelines, but I don't want to focus endlessly on that. But again I hope I'm not romanticizing it either, because it's not a very romantic situation.
CD: You've also used a lot of Native American mythology, especially in the Newford books. How did that come about?
CDL: It's something I'm fascinated with. So I put a reservation north of Newford, and I called the tribe the Kickaha -- which doesn't exist. There are no Kickaha. But I made it part of the Algonquin language group, because I do have some familiarity with it -- there's a reservation near my cottage, so I know some Native people up there. It's easier to do the research for it. But I use a made-up tribe so that I can do what I want with them -- the same as I do with the city of Newford.
The first time I got toured in Canada was for Memory and Dream. And I was very surprised -- everyplace I went they talked about cultural appropriation. I was constantly asked by journalists about it. And it really struck me as kind of odd. The whole concept to me is weird. I figure I should be able to use all the colours on the palate. Since that time I've seen more of the discussion. Writers like Sherman Alexie. Who I really love as a writer, but I dislike his politics, because he's so racist -- so anti-white. He says you can't write from Native points of view. Just write what you know, from your own point of view, your own culture. But he has women in his books, and he has white people in his books. What's the deal here? My background is Dutch, Spanish, and Japanese. So can I only write about characters with that background who are in their 40s and live in Ottawa?
On the other hand, I understand the anger of minority groups who aren't getting published, whose voices aren't being heard. Their stories are being told by white writers. We shouldn't be coming down on the white writers who are writing that stuff -- although we should on the ones who aren't doing the proper research, or who are doing it disrespectfully. I think that what we should be doing as readers and as writers is promoting the voices of writers who aren't getting the publicity and breaks that white writers are. I read a lot of Native writers, Hispanic writers, black writers, women writers. The reason I do is I love that different voice. I make a point in my columns, and just in talking with people, to promote those writers. I couldn't care less about the dead white writer voice -- I'm sick of that voice, I've heard it too often. We shouldn't be fighting among ourselves, saying, "You can't write about this, you can't write about that." We should be going to our publisher and saying, "This Native writer is writing this really fabulous stuff. Why aren't you publishing him?" That's what we should be doing. And I try to do that when I can.
It's partially the readers' fault as well, not just the publishers' fault. So much of the audience is a white audience. I've known books with oriental protagonists to have a white character on the cover. It's ridiculous. But that's because the readers wouldn't buy it with an oriental character on the cover. We have to constantly remind people about the situation. This is not just something we should do as a token of our great good will, it's something we should do because these are wonderful stories. A story written by a black man -- for us as whites -- is a really interesting story, because it's not in our experience. But a story written by a white person about a black man is also interesting, for different reasons. You're going to get a different feel.
When you read historicals--for example a book about the Trojan War. You can read one set in the 20s, one set in the 40s, one set in the 70s, and one set in the 90s. They're all going to have different sensibilities. Because what people are really writing about is their own time, and they project it onto this other historical time.
Last modified: March 29, 2000
Copyright © 2000 by Charles de Lint