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  • Writer's pictureMartha J Allard

A Winding Tale of Influence

When people asked me, in my former life, to recommend a book, I had two lists in my head. The first were the sure sales, the easy ones. Neil Gaiman, if the customer showed even a slight inclination toward magic, Stephen King. You get the idea. The second list was for people that came back to see me. It was my list of authors that changed my life.

Top of that list was Charles de Lint. I came to him in the late 1980’s, with his collection first collection of short stories, Dreams Underfoot.

Traditional fantasy settings, knights, castles; these were what I had grown up with. The magic of a dark city alleyway was new to me. The stories in Dreams Underfoot are set in the mythical modern city of Newford and include many references to fairy tale and myth. He mixed real life and magic seamlessly. One of the most beautiful of these is “The Moon Is Drowning While I Sleep,” which is about a woman who travels from her normal life into the dream world in search of her mother. Another story, “In the House OF My Enemy” is about the effects of child abuse and has the beginnings of healing from it. It does what the best of genre writing is supposed to do; uses magic to talk about what we cannot talk about.

When asked why he chose these themes to write about, he gave the perfect answer, which I have never forgotten. He said that he wrote about them because they still happen.

Simple, and so obvious. When I was confronted about writing “dark” stories, I used to feel guilty. My stomach would drop. I didn’t have an answer, and I was afraid that it was because there was something wrong with me. His answer changed my life, nearly as much as his stories.

de Lint was the first of my writing idols that I was able to meet. I wanted to tell him that he inspired me, gave me courage to write about the scary things, important things. Of course, what was in my head stayed there. I stammered, thank you, as he signed my book and then I ran back to my hotel room.

But, later that night, when my roommate decided it was a normal thing to crash at ten pm (Saturday at a scifi convention!) I slipped out with my notebook and diet coke and when to the lobby.

Our hotel was swank and had a fancy fountain, and a channel of river running across the floor complete with koi begging for popcorn. I sat in one of the cushy chairs and began to scribble on my story. Somehow the koi got in there. At some point I looked up from my page, in the wee hours, and saw another bleary-eyed writer sitting across the lobby. Charles de Lint, I realized, and my heart stopped.

He didn’t look up, and I couldn't disturb him. But I know that some of the magic of his pen leaked out into the air and settled into my story.

Rebloged from April 25, 2018,

UpDate: I started writing short stories about twenty five years ago, and now I'm finally collecting them into one volume. Most of them owe a large debt to Charles de Lint, for teaching me the value of magic in every ordainary thing, and as mentioned above, as the langage we can use to talk about things we can not say. And yes, it will include the story I started at that convention.

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