PW: The Onion Girl is your 47th book and, like your collection, the World Fantasy Award—winning Moonlight and Vine, it's set in Newford. What inspired the creation of this mythic town?
CDL: When I was approached by the editors [Paul Olson and David Silva] of Post Mortem to write a story, I decided to indulge my interest in a larger urban setting but to write the story, "Timeskip," in a city that only existed in my imagination—incorporating favorite parts of cities that I've visited throughout the world. That way no one could call me on one-way streets going the wrong way.
PW: When did Jilly Coppercorn make her debut?
CDL: In "Uncle Dobbin's Parrot Fair." Even in that small on-stage appearance, she came full-blown in my head. The others grew up around her. Since then they've become almost a repertory company. Every time I start a new story, one of them insists that they should be the one to tell it. But while I enjoy visiting in their company and catching up on the gossip of their lives, I know there are other people with their own stories to be told.
PW: Friendships figure strongly in Jilly's life, as much a work of art as anything she creates in paint. Do you see friendships as works of art or magic?
CDL: A little of both. The beginning of a friendship, the fact that two people out of the thousands around them can meet and connect and become friends, seems like a kind of magic to me. But maintaining a friendship requires work. I don't mean that as a bad thing. Good art requires work as well.
PW: Have these characters become family?
CDL: I've long considered Jilly to be part of my family. The same goes for the Riddell brothers and a few of the other Newford characters.
PW: Will you return to Newford soon?
CDL: The current novel, as yet unnamed, is set in Newford and deals with the two imaginary women in Christy Riddell's life.
PW: Do you feel the world of Newford has become too constricting?
CDL: Not at all. The city's large, with many areas and characters to be explored. And then there's the countryside around the city, some of which we see in Forests of the Heart and The Onion Girl. My next book, a short novel called Seven Wild Sisters, which will be coming out from Subterranean Press in January 2002, is completely set in the hill country outside of Newford. Next are the novel I already mentioned and some short stories. I also have three collections to turn in over the next few months: a fourth Newford collection for Tor, a young adult collection for Puffin/Viking and a collection for Subterranean Press.
PW: Jane Yolen calls you the "Greenman of Fantasy Writing." If you could be a mythic character, who would you be?
CDL: I'm not sure what she means, but I like the sound of it.... I would be Taliesen so I could talk to the animals.
PW: Why do you prefer to describe your work as mythic fiction rather than fantasy?
CDL: The reason is—if you're going to be in a genre, it should be a genre you choose yourself. I believe the fiction I'm doing is closer to mainstream than fantasy. It has fantastical elements in it, but it also has real-world elements.
PW: Does your empathy for the homeless come from your brief experience as a 15-year-old runaway?
CDL: I've always been interested in the outsider. I've always known and been interested in people who are a little bit off the norm. I like to call attention to the idea that they are there, that they are real people, not invisible. We should treat them as individuals.
PW: Is there anything else you want to say to your readers?
CDL: Be kind to each other.