(Updated February 26, 2000)
I was born in the town of Bussum in the Netherlands on December 22, 1951, but my family emigrated to Canada four months later so I don’t know much about my birthplace except for what little I remember from when we visited it in the late fifties.
Because of my father’s job with a surveying company, I grew up in a lot of different places. We first moved to Britannia, Ontario (once on the outskirts but now pretty much swallowed by Ottawa), lived in Western Canada for a short time, then settled across the Ottawa River in Quebec in a rural area near the town of Aylmer. For a three-year period we lived in Turkey and Lebanon, but after that, my father travelled by himself and the family stayed in Lucerne so that my older sister Kamé and I could finally settle in and make some lasting friendships.
Having to amuse myself during those earlier years, I read voraciously and widely. Mythic matter and folklore made up much of that reading - retellings of the old stories (Mallory, White, Briggs), anecdotal collections and historical investigations of the stories’ backgrounds - and then I stumbled upon the Tolkien books which took me back to Lord Dunsany, William Morris, James Branch Cabell, E.R. Eddison, Mervyn Peake and the like. I was in heaven when Lin Carter began the Unicorn imprint for Ballantine and scoured the other publishers for similar good finds, delighting when I discovered someone like Thomas Burnett Swann, who still remains a favourite.
This was before there was such a thing as a fantasy genre, when you’d be lucky to have one fantasy book published in a month, little say the hundreds per year we have now. I also found myself reading Robert E. Howard (the Cormac and Bran mac Morn books were my favourites), Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and finally started reading science fiction after coming across Andre Norton’s Huon of the Horn. That book wasn’t sf, but when I went to read more by her, I discovered everything else was. So I tried a few and that led me to Clifford Simak, Roger Zelazny and any number of other fine sf writers.
These days my reading tastes remain eclectic, as you might know if you’ve been following my monthly book review column in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I’m as likely to read Basil Johnston as Stephen King, Jeanette Winterson as Harlan Ellison, Barbara Kingsolver as Patricia McKillip, Andrew Vachss as Parke Godwin - in short, my criteria is that the book must be good; what publisher’s slot it fits into makes absolutely no difference to me.
But while I loved to read, I never considered making a living as a writer. Instead I wanted to be a musician. The music I loved to play was Celtic music, but at the time, there really wasn’t much of a career to be made from it. This was before Worldbeat, the Pogues, Spirit of the West and the like, so for fourteen years or so after high school, I worked in various record stores during the day and played gigs on the weekends.
I was writing all this time, but only for my own enjoyment. I kept up a voluminous correspondence, wrote great quantities of songs - which happily have returned to the ether from which they were drawn - and used to put together little hand-written pen & ink books of poetry that I sent to friends. My leanings towards the visual arts were absorbed with photography.
It wasn’t until the mid-seventies, when I started getting together with John Charette, an artist friend of mine, on my days off from the record store, that I began to write with any seriousness, and even that only came about by chance. While John would draw, I’d write stories for him to illustrate. He passed some of my stories on to a writer he knew named Charles R. Saunders who, in turn, convinced me to send some out to one of the small press magazines that had sprung up in the wake of a growing interest in fantasy.
I sold those first stories for the princely sum of $10.00 each and the proverbial light went on in my head. Here was something that I loved to do and people would actually pay me to do it.
Ah, the enthusiasm of youth. Six or seven years followed, during which I continued to work in record stores, played music on the weekends and wrote. I sent stories and novels out and back they came (except for those sold to the small press market). Finally, Andy Offutt picked up my novella "The Fane of the Grey Rose" for his Swords Against Darkness series and I later expanded that piece into my novel The Harp of the Grey Rose.
This is probably a good time to mention the importance of my wife MaryAnn to my career as a writer. I first moved to Ottawa to take care of a friend’s apartment, but I stayed because of MaryAnn, who was born here. We’ve been married since 1980 - this year will see our twentieth anniversary - but we’ve been together for twenty-five years now. I realized that we were meant to be together when she put up with my learning to play fiddle - she’s never put me through anything remotely as irritating.
But a good relationship doesn’t naturally translate into good fiction. What MaryAnn has always done, beyond editing and proofing my manuscripts before they’re sent out, is make me stretch as an artist. She’s the one who got me to start my first novel...and then finish it. She’s the one who convinced me I should take my stories out of the faerie forest and see how well they might fare on a city street. And, in 1983, when I became one of the early victims of downsizing (the new owner of the record shop I was managing decided he wanted to run it himself), she’s the one who convinced me to have a go at writing full-time.
Whether it was happy coincidence, or simply my own steam-engine time, I sold three novels that year and we haven’t looked back since. I don’t mean to imply that it’s always been easy, for we’ve had some very lean years, but whatever else happens, we have the satisfaction of knowing that we follow our muses - MaryAnn with her art, I with my writing, both of us with our music.
These days I also dabble in art, but writing remains my first love and happily I’ve always been able to maintain my career in the manner that Leonard Cohen once put it when he spoke of art versus commerce: "I didn’t want to write for pay. I wanted to be paid for what I write."
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Copyright © 2001 by Charles de Lint. All rights reserved worldwide.
Most recent update: April 28, 2000
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