Charles de Lint reveals the music and cars behind his new novel The Mystery of Grace
1. The Mystery of Grace is your first book set in the Southwest—what inspired you to take to the land of tumbleweeds and hot rods?
Actually, ever since MaryAnn and I first visited Tucson, AZ, a decade or so ago, I’ve been slipping bits of the desert into my writing. Living in Canada, with our long, cold winters, writing about the desert is one more incentive to get to my keyboard and immerse myself in a warmer space. So the desert has appeared in several of my short story collections as well as in a couple of novels, most predominantly Forests of the Heart. I also wrote another book called Medicine Road set in Tucson. But The Mystery of Grace is the first one in which I really tried to get under the skin of a city in the desert.
2. Tell us a little bit about it.
The heart of the book looks at the idea of appreciating what we have now. Not waiting for that special person to come along, or waiting to take on a new career path or a change of lifestyle, but embracing the present. Too many of us wait, and in the waiting, miss opportunities to live fuller lives and rouse ourselves, spiritually, romantically, career-wise or in terms of lifestyle. Life is short—often much too short. It’s about the journey, not the destination.
3. Hot rods play a notable role in Mystery of Grace—did you research vintage rides and what’s your dream car?
My dream car would be Grace’s street car—her Ford Fairlane with the retractable roof. It’s just such a cool car.
I’ve never been much of a car buff, though I’ve had a car of one kind or another ever since I first got my license. My family lived abroad for many of my formative years so I never bonded with “the guys” over sports and cars as so many of my peers did. I had to amuse myself, so I read voraciously and, as I grew older, got heavily into music, too.
But vintage and classic cars have always caught my eye. Who doesn’t love watching a cool ride pass by on the street? There’s nothing I like better than learning something while I write a book, and that was certainly the case here. Researching the vehicles, the history of hot rods and customizing for this book, was such a pleasure. My car vocabulary probably hasn’t improved much, but I enjoy seeing old cars more than ever, and love to find the lines in some old junker in a scrapyard, or parked out in a field, where I might not have noticed them before.
4. Music plays a big role in your books and in the writing of them—what did you listen to this time around? And what’s this I hear about the Cadillac Lounge?
I love having a background soundtrack to my novels, so I listened to rockabilly and surf guitar while writing Grace, though the area of the Southwest I was writing about isn’t particularly well-known for either. But it’s close enough to Southern CA, I suppose, that the echoes of hot rods racing in dry lake beds and the crash of waves might be heard if the wind is just right.
When I think of the Southwest, I think of mariachi music—those joyous horns and fiddles. But I also think of lonesome twangy guitars—probably from watching too many spaghetti westerns as a kid. And these days I’m completely enamoured with the Tucson-based band Calexico, who combine both those elements and many others besides.
What strikes me the most about surf, rockabilly, and hot rod music is how well it still stands up today. I don’t think it’s only nostalgia on my part. It’s still incredibly popular (especially in Europe and Japan)—both the classic music and literally hundreds of contemporary bands playing their own music, but with an updated feel. You just wouldn’t know it because the radio and the video channels totally ignore its existence.
As for the Cadillac Lounge (and isn’t that a great name), it’s a cool bar in Toronto where H.B. Fenn is planning to launch The Mystery of Grace in early April. I’ve been told it’s filled with all sorts of hot rod memorabilia and they’re also planning to hire a rockabilly band and serve Mexican hors d’oeuvres. MaryAnn and I will be playing a few songs, too. I can’t wait for April to come.
5. What kind of music are you playing and/or listening to right now?
Oddly enough, I’ve been listening to early Joan Baez because of a record my brother-in-law lent me. I always kind of pooh-poohed her style of folk singing, but listening to it now I’m struck with the purity of her voice and realize that she’s really inhabiting the songs in a way present-day divas can’t imagine.
But mostly I like my Americana to be grittier. My friend Brock Zeman just put out a new album, which I’m loving—he writes songs at a prodigious rate, which would make me nervous, except he just keeps getting better. I’m also enamoured with some live recordings by another friend, a young musician and songwriter named Joel Hayward. He’s developing a killer talent and really knows how to tell a story in the short space of a song.
Old soul’s been getting a lot of play, too: Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Arthur Alexander. And speaking of pure voices, Roy Orbison.
For music more related to The Mystery of Grace, I never get tired of Calexico and play recordings of their concerts all the time. Ditto with Los Lobos, the nuevo-flamenco duo Rodrigo y Gabriella, and Los Straitjackets. The other thing I can’t get enough of these days is the Latin-flavoured guitars of The 50 Guitars of Tommy Garrett—kind of cheesy at times, but still very evocative.
Oh, and I love the new Lily Allen album. She’s so cheeky, and her backing tracks are irresistible.
The Mystery of Grace (0-7653-1756-7; $24.95) by Charles de Lint releases from Tor on March 17th. Visit the author’s website at charlesdelint.com.
Teen Author-turned-College Student Isamu Fukui talks about his new novel, Truancy Origins
Isamu Fukui was fifteen years old when he wrote his first novel, Truancy, a dystopian YA novel set in a nameless totalitarian City. Ruled by the autocratic Mayor and his team of Educators, the tightly regimented city and school system was marked by grey uniforms, inflexible teachers, student barcode tracking, and secrets many would die to keep. Against this backdrop rose a group of former students called the Truancy.
Truancy Origins tells the story of what happened before the Truancy was created. Fifteen years earlier, the Mayor had reluctantly adopted twin boys, who would grow up to fulfill very different destinies: one would try to destroy the City—and the other would try to stop him.
How did the experience of writing Truancy Origins differ from that of Truancy?
When I first started writing Truancy, I had no idea if I was going to be able to finish a whole novel. Having answered that question, my goal for Truancy Origins was different—it wasn’t just about seeing if I could do it or not, it was about raising my bar and exploring my limits.
You wrote your first book at the age of fifteen—how do you think your writing has changed since then?
To be honest, I believe that it’s improved dramatically. Today when I look back at Truancy, I think about parts that could have been better and things that I might have done differently. When I read Truancy Origins, however, I’m fully satisfied from start to finish. This is a book that I can be 100% proud of.
What inspired the story behind Truancy Origins? Tell us a little bit about the book.
From the very beginning I envisioned Truancy as a trilogy with a beginning, middle, and end. Before I started on anything, I had to decide which part of the story to tell first. I considered starting with what is now Truancy Origins, but I figured that it would be too challenging. So instead I started in the middle, when the war is already ongoing.
Truancy Origins goes back to tell the story of the beginning. It tells how the Truancy got started and how the war began. Readers will meet both new characters and familiar ones—though in Origins, many of them are very different from how they are in Truancy. Many of the questions raised in Truancy are answered, and you will learn a lot about the history of the characters and the City itself. Truancy Origins also sets up the third and final entry in the series.
You’re a freshman at NYU now; how has that impacted your writing schedule or process?
I have always found it difficult to write during the academic year, and I still do. However, I’ve found myself enjoying college a great deal more than I did high school. I’m generally more relaxed, so I have more time to think about writing, but at the same time I feel a little less urgency in a less stressful environment.
What’s up next for you?
All of my literary effort now is directed towards finishing the Truancy series and giving it a worthy ending. In a way, all of my work until now has led to this, and in my opinion Truancy Origins has set the bar fairly high. I can never be sure if I will outdo myself again, but I am doing my best to try.
Truancy Origins (0-7653-2262-5; $17.95) by Isamu Fukui will release from Tor Teen on March 3. Visit the author’s website at thetruancy.com.
“From the Swamp!”—Author Gail Dayton answers the classic question, “Where do you get your ideas?”
When asked where he gets his ideas, Stephen King has been known to say he gets them from an idea factory in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The ideas for my books come from a swamp. (Seems that’s what my subconscious mind has decided it looks like. Complete with alligators.) Sometimes more literally than others. New Blood is one of the more literal.
The very beginning seed was the umpty-zillionth book I read, years ago, that had wicked evil sorcerers working blood magic that used the death of others to work its nasty magic. I wondered why blood magic was always evil, and what un-evil blood magic would look like. So I started coming up with rules for good blood magic—the first being that the blood for the magic must be given up willingly. Magic would not work with stolen blood. That was the beginning of the universe. Didn’t yet know what I would do with it—but I did know the sorcerers would be women.
Then several years later, out of the clear blue, this guy came walking out of the swamp. I have no idea where he came from—bits and pieces that had been fermenting in the swamp, I suppose. He told me his name was Jax. He was dressed in brown, with a long cowboy-duster-type coat, and a brocade waistcoat and a scarf tied high up on his neck, his red-brown hair curling down his neck. He had a crow. I tried to get rid of that crow a dozen times—they are such clichés—but it kept coming back. I finally gave up. Seemed I was stuck with Crow.
Jax didn’t know a whole lot about himself, except that he was looking for something, and he was hiding from something. He didn’t exactly know what, in either case. He was just there to be in a story. The rest was for me to figure out.
So I carried Jax around like some invisible G.I. Joe Doll, trying him out here and there and in that other story. And I remembered that blood magic universe, and wondered if he would fit there.
This particular universe had started off as a typical medieval-age fantasy world, but I needed a history. A reason for blood magic to have vanished. I truly didn’t relish the idea of making up a history and political system whole cloth. Looking at Jax in his Victorian-era clothing—which is what he walked out of the swamp wearing—I wondered whether I could move my blood magic world to an alternate Victorian universe. So I tried it out...and it fit beautifully. The witch-burning frenzy of the 1600s could wipe out my blood sorceresses, and the early beginnings of the feminist movement in the mid-19th century could enable the magic to come back.
Jax fit. The magic fit. My sorceress appeared a little more slowly, but she grew into the part. And in the Victorian era, I could bring in some clankety machine-monsters.
New Blood was born.
New Blood (978-0-7653-6250-6, $6.99) by Gail Dayton will be released from Tor on March 3. For more information about the author visit gaildayton.com.