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The Weirdin

Your novel Moonheart contains an oracular device called the Weirdin. Did you invent the Weirdin?
Are the Weirdin available commercially?
May I make my own set?

Yes, I did invent the Weirdin, which are a set of 61 two-sided flat round discs with an image carved on either side. They are used in conjunction with a reading cloth and their meaning depends on their interrelationships and placement on the cloth. I created the Weirdin for Moonheart from Celtic symbolism and folklore sources. While writing Moonheart, I decided to make my own (rudimentary) set to test the Weirdin out; in fact, I used them to direct the journey and outcome for some of the bookís characters.

Iíve been planning to offer a physical rendition of them for a long time now and I maintain a name and address list for those who would like me to contact them when they do become available. You can now subscribe to the Weirdin mailing list for specific information about the Weirdin when it becomes available .

The Weirdin are protected under international copyright in my name. Any manufacturing or licensing requests should be directed to me.

For a more thorough description of the Weirdin, please refer to the appendix in Moonheart.


Your fiction often contains earth spirits and characters who are pagans. Are you a practicing pagan or Wiccan?

I suppose one could say I have a strong affinity for the earth. Iím not a practicing Wiccan, but Iíve been reading and researching the subject for more than twenty-five years and I like the commonsense approach that many of the pagans I know have towards environmental concerns.

My own beliefs probably run more closely to an idiosyncratic form of animism, which isnít to say that I actually believe that trees, stones, wells, what-have-you actually have souls, but at the same time everything certainly seems to have a spirit of some sort, something that goes beyond what we see when we simply look at it. Iíve connected with it - in urban settings as well as the countryside - too often to deny its existence. Listen to the "gossip" of any neighbourhood long enough - be it a common field, a city street, an ancient ruin - and you feel something. Itís all a matter of paying attention, being awake in the present moment, and not expecting a huge payoff. The magic in this world seems to work in whispers and small kindnesses.

If youíre interested in nature writing, Iíd like to recommend a few of my favorite books on the subject:

The Sierra Club Guide to Sketching Nature, by Cathy Johnson
High Tide in Tucson, by Barbara Kingsolver
Any of Barry Lopezís essay collections, but particularly these three: Desert Notes, River Notes and Winter Count
The Practice of the Wild, by Gary Snyder

If youíd like to know more on how I feel about the subject, you might want to read my poem, "Tower & Bear".

Contemporary Magic

Do you believe in the magics described in your books?

As I mentioned above (see Religion), I can often sense the spirit of a place, but Iím not entirely convinced such spirits have an existence separate from their environment. In that sense Iím both believer and skeptic; Iíd like to believe, but keep searching for that elusive proof.

I do believe in an everyday sort of magic - the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of syncronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think weíre alone. These are magics that many of us experience, parts of a Mystery that canít - and perhaps shouldnít - be explained.

I should add that often the magical elements in my books are standing in for elements of the real world, the small and magical-in-their-own-right sorts of things that we take for granted and no longer pay attention to, like the bonds of friendship that entwine our own lives with those of other people and places. When one of my characters becomes aware of a magical element, it might be because the world is wider than we assume it to be, but it might also be a reminder to pay attention to what is here already, hidden only because itís been forgotten.

And sometimes the magical beings are a way of having my charactersí interior landscapes appear "on stage," so to speak; a way that I can have dialogues between the character and some aspect of herself that doesnít require all sorts of tiresome introspection.

Female Characters

How do you create such believable female characters?

I always feel very complimented to hear this question and Iím grateful that so many women have told me that Iím "getting it right." To answer the question, I have an insatiable curiosity, especially about things that I canít truly experience myself, so I listen, as open-mindedly as possible, to what othersí experience of the situation is. Iíve discovered that writing is one of the best ways to gain some understanding about viewpoints that arenít my own because I have to thoroughly immerse myself in the other point of view through extensive research and my imagination (what would it really feel like?). What better way to understand someone else than, if only figuratively, to walk in their shoes?

When it comes to female characters, I draw on what the women in my life have said to me and to each other, how MaryAnn and her friends react to situations, view commonplace things. I also make a point of remaining open to a womanís point of view by reading them and paying attention. Most importantly, I respect women and have made a continuous and conscious effort to weed out any of the negative conditioning and stereotyping that we all are subject to.

Cultural Appropriation

You use a variety of cultures and their mythos in your fiction. There is some controversy about appropriating another culture for your own benefit. How do you feel about this?

I covered this in the afterward to the recent hardcover edition of Mulengro and rather than take up space here to discuss it, would prefer to simply reprint the essay elsewhere on this website.


Many of your novels, such as Forests of the Heart, Someplace to Be Flying , Trader , Memory And Dream, and the stories in Dreams Underfoot, The Ivory And The Horn and Moonlight and Vines , are all set in a city called Newford. Did you make up this city and if so, why?
Is Newford an American or Canadian city?

This might sound odd, coming from a fantasy author, but I donít really like to write about a place I havenít physically been to myself. Even in my secondary world fantasies, Iíve at least visited most of the settings - or rather, similar ones in our own world. Much of what I write about requires a root in the real world and when I first began to write, I couldnít afford to travel as much as MaryAnn and I do now, so my hometown of Ottawa became the setting of much of my work by default as much as from my love of the place.

Now, Ottawa is an interesting and lively city - a particularly interesting mix of government town and alternative lifestyles, urban blight and natural beauty, street life and wildlife - but it doesnít always have the right elements for certain stories I want to tell. But since I hadnít lived long enough in another large urban centre, I wasnít comfortable setting a story in someplace like the Bronx, or East L.A., or London, England. Still, I had stories that wanted to be set in places like that.

One day, when I was asked to contribute a story to the Post Mortum anthology, I decided to set it in an unnamed big city. This way, while I could get the "feel" of the place from having visited many such cities over the years, I wouldnít be tied down to figuring out the details of which way a street went, what store was on what corner, that sort of thing.

Some time later, after five or six fulfilled requests for other stories in the wake of "Timeskip, " I realized that Iíd been setting all these stories in the same unnamed city, using a repertory company of characters that I knew I would continue to visit in the future, so I gave the place a name, started a map to keep locations straight, started a concordance to keep track of things...and never quite kept up with any of it.

Had Newford not come along, I probably would have done some extensive research in some other place (much as I did with The Little Country). As it is, Newford is so alive to me now, and there are still so many facets of it I havenít explored, that Iím not quite ready to leave it yet.

Interestingly, Canadian readers tend to think of Newford as an American city, while Americans usually think of it as Canadian. No surprise really, I suppose, since it has elements of both. The one thing I specifically settled on was to use the American legal system in it.

Where do I start reading the Newford stories?

The books have all been written in such a way that you should be able to pick up any one and get a full and complete story. However, characters do reoccur, off center stage as it were, and their stories do follow a sequence. The best place to start is the collection Dreams Underfoot. From there they go pretty much in this order:

The Dreaming Place
A Whisper To A Scream (originally credited to "Samuel M. Key")
I'll Be Watching You (originally credited to "Samuel M. Key")
Memory And Dream
The Ivory And The Horn
Someplace To Be Flying
Moonlight And Vines
Forests Of The Heart
The Onion Girl
Seven Wild Sisters (also available in Tapping the Dream Tree)
Tapping the Dream Tree
Spirits in the Wires
Medicine Road
The Blue Girl (forthcoming from Viking)

The Dreaming Place and The Blue Girl are YA novels. A Whisper To A Scream and I'll Be Watching You are, respectively, a horror novel and a thriller; they're darker fare than the other Newford books and aren't really that integral to the underlying, ongoing backstory that takes off center stage in so many of the books and stories.

Book Covers

Do you decide what art will be on your book covers?

Itís extremely rare for an author to have control over cover art or copy (the words that appear on the jacket). Decisions as to what will appear on the book cover are almost invariably made in-house at the publisher, by the art department and editorial staff.

In the early part of my career I had no say whatsoever concerning the art or copy on my books. I found this particularly frustrating because, more often than not, the jacket art did not reflect the type of story I was telling (e.g., high fantasy covers on novels set in contemporary times).

Iím very happy that my present American publisher, Tor Books, has given me "cover and copy consultation," which means that they send me roughs of the jacket design and copy before commissioning the art and printing the covers. And in Britain, Macmillan has given me "cover and copy approval," which guarantees that I must approve of the artwork and wordage on the book jacket prior to publication.

Samuel M. Key

You have written three horror novels under the pseudonym Samuel M. Key. Why did you decide to use a pseudonym and why did you choose that particular one?

I mentioned above (see Book Covers) that my early novels often had cover art that did not reflect the story within. I often heard from readers that they had "discovered me" only because my books had been recommended to them by a friend, otherwise they would have never read a book with that type of cover. It appears that word-of-mouth brought me many of my most faithful readers and people stopped counting on cover art to tell them what my novels might be about.

So, when my first "horror" novel, Mulengro, appeared in the U.S. in 1985, readers picked it up expecting the usual de Lint novel. While Mulengro has many of the elements that readers have come to expect in my work, it also contains some very graphic descriptions of violence which some readers found disturbing. I can well understand that some people prefer not to read horror fiction, so one of the reasons I decided to create "Samuel M. Key" was that readers could differentiate between the types of fiction I was writing. No secret was made of the fact that the pseudonym is mine, since it was merely a device to let readers know in advance what they can expect (to some degree) between the covers.

The other reason to use a pseudonym was that at the time I had a large number of books in inventory at my publisher (this came from having written books for seven years before finally selling any of them) and I realized that if I wrote a new book it would be three years before it would get published. Wanting to see my current work on the bookshelves sooner than that, the pseudonym seemed to be an even better idea.

Why did I choose Samuel M. Key? Because "Stephen King" and "Dean Koontz" were already taken. Though seriously, there was more to it than that.

Because of some recent correspondence, I should add that, no matter what anyone else tells you, Samuel M. Key is the only by-line I have used for my novels - besides those appearing under my own name, of course.

How Can I Get "x"?

Many of your books are either out-of-print or very difficult to track down. How can I find out whatís available and where to get it?
Are some of your earlier books being reprinted and when?

Here are a few sources you can try:

Bakka Books in Toronto, Canada, has a comprehensive mail-order service with a regular catalogue. For more information, call them at (416) 963-9993, or send them an e-mail.

DreamHaven Books in Minneapolis has the new releases and will do a search and reserve for older titles. They also put out a regular catalogue, both email and regular mail.. For more information, call them at (612) 823-6062, send them an e-mail or write to them at: DreamHaven Books, 912 West Lake St., Minneapolis, MN 55408.

The Stars Our Destination (which has now absorbed Weinberg Books) in Chicago carries all the new releases as they become available and publishes a monthly catalogue. For more information, call them at: (847) 570-5919, fax them at (847) 570-5927, send them an email , or write to them at: The Stars Our Destination, 705 Main Street, Evanston, IL 60202.

Fantast (Medway) Ltd. in England is an excellent source for those hard-to-get British titles. Call them at 01945-773576, or write to them at Fantast (Medway) Ltd., P.O. 23, Upwell, Wisbech, Cambs PE14 9BU, UK.

And for the rarer titles, and titles no longer in print, that you can't find elsewhere, I have a friend who runs a mail order book service and does book searches. Her name's Kathi Nash and you can contact her at Or you can try some of the secondhand book search sites such as Bookfinder.

Check Forthcoming Publications for news about both new books and reprints.

Triskell Press

Iíve heard that you own a small publishing company. What can you tell me about it?
Are you presently looking to buy manuscripts and/or art?

Triskell Press was started in 1977 to publish Dragonbane, a magazine edited by then-local author Charles R. Saunders. From there it went on to publish other magazines, art prints, portfolios and chapbooks. Its various publications were all well-received by critics and readers, with stories from each of its four magazines being reprinted in various yearís best anthologies, but production costs were such that it never got out of the red.

In 1984, after publishing a number of special items for the World Fantasy Convention which was held in Ottawa that year, the press went on hiatus and stopped producing commercially-available material. Since that date, Iíve been using the press as an imprint for the "Christmas card" chapbooks that I send out to friends and family each December, none of which are ever offered for sale. The stories, however, are subsequently reprinted in various magazines and anthologies.

Because of this change in editorial direction, the press no longer looks at or accepts either manuscripts or art.

A complete bibliography of Triskell Press is available here.


Is that really your signature?

What has been described as someone starting their pen, or prompted the question, "Are you the inventor of the Etch-a-Sketch?", is in fact my signature. Like anyone's signature, there will be variations, but if it doesn't look something like this:

Then it's not mine. The largest variation will be in the number of lines - and that depends solely on my mood at the time I'm signing it.


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Most recent update: June 14, 2004
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