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Interview: Marc Laidlaw on "Childrun"

Marc Laidlaw–author of “Childrun,” which appears in our August 2008 issue–said in an interview that the story is about Gorlen Vizenfirthe, your typical wandering bard, who finds himself in a bit of a Pied Piper pickle.  “Perhaps a peck of Pied Pickled Piper?  Gorlen is forever on the trail of a rogue gargoyle, and this time the trail leads him into a gloomy mountain town haunted by the laughter of children who are nowhere to be seen,” Laidlaw said. “Gorlen hopes that by playing a bit of music, he can call the children out to play.  But this is a village that has perhaps seen one or two Pied Pipers too many in its time.”

Laidlaw came up with Gorlen Vizenfirthe in his teens, when he was under the spell of Jack Vance. “Originally, I wrote a full Gorlen novel, a clumsy picaresque ‘Cugel the Clever’ pastiche entitled Mistress of Shadows,” he said. “This went through several iterations until, in my mid 20s, it struck me as too adolescent and derivative to deserve even a shadow life; instead of trying to fix it, I destroyed it.”

He never forgot about Gorlen, though–any more than he got over his love for the work of Jack Vance. “I also missed the sort of freedom that fantasy gives one to simply luxuriate in language,” Laidlaw said. “A number of years ago I started thinking about Gorlen again, and decided to try picking up his story after the events of Mistress.  Gorlen has a rich backstory, but it’s never been fully disclosed to readers.  I thought I might eventually get around to rewriting that original novel, but now I think I’ll gradually reveal his history in such a way that it makes that old book irrelevant.  Every few years I get the urge to look in on Gorlen, to see how his life might have progress in parallel to my own.  He’s like an old friend now.”

Gorlen Vizenfirthe is your basic fantasy bard. “I remember when the Alaric stories appeared, James Turner (of Arkham House, whom I was bombarding with crappy Lovecraft pastiches) pointed them out to me as the finest sort of writing in the field; and I was despondent because I knew I wasn’t going to come up with anything that serious and affecting,” Laidlaw said. “Eventually I came to terms with that.  Gorlen is more of a joker, despite his…affliction.  The primary thing that distinguishes him from other fantasy bards is his right stone hand, a graft from a gargoyle who was countergrafted with Gorlen’s flesh hand.  So although Gorlen appears to be aimlessly wandering in the grand bardic tradition, he’s actually aimlessly tracking his nemesis.”

“Childrun” came easily and all at once after a long period of having written very little. “I was blowing cruft out of the pipes, in a way…having fun reacquainting myself with my tools,” Laidlaw said. “I hope readers will detect and respond to the fun I was having in writing it.  As a result of this exercise, two more Gorlen stories followed quickly.”

Laidlaw has lived with Gorlen for about thirty years, so he feels a lot of affection for the character.  “I like the way he talks, the way he makes his way through the world, and I enjoy the kind of trouble he gets into,” he said. “I don’t have any other characters like this in my repertoire.  I always envied the writers who did.  How awesome for Fritz Leiber to always be able to hang out with Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser!  I wanted some friends like that.”

Since Gorlen is a bard, it seemed important to finally bring music into his stories somehow, so when writing the story, Laidlaw thought of the Pied Piper. “I think future episodes deserve more music themes, if only because it’s a huge part of his character, and its always good if stories have something intrinsic to do with the people who star in them,” he said.

Childrun is basically a detour or an aside, reintroducing readers to this forgotten character. “It doesn’t really add anything to Gorlen’s main quest, and for that I heartily apologize,” Laidlaw said. “The next story, ‘Quickstone,’ is a significant event for Gorlen—right up there with losing his hand.  And the one after that, ‘Songwood,’ is my favorite of the three—even though it is also very much a detour from Gorlen’s main course.”

Laidlaw reports that he has an idea for the next Gorlen story, and maybe the one after that.  “One of them might require the scope of a novel…it’s still too early to tell,” he said. “I figure eventually I’ll have enough short pieces to collect into something vaguely booklengthish, but I’m not quite there yet either.  Like Gorlen, I tend to pursue my prey rather aimlessly.”

For more about Laidlaw and Gorlen, visit Laidlaw’s website at


One Response to “Interview: Marc Laidlaw on "Childrun"”

  1. Not So Few Monstrosities » Blog Archive » Gorlen on the Grill on August 8th, 2008

    […] at the F&SF website, John Joseph Adams has posted an interview with me about the writing of “Childrun,” the latest Gorlen Vizenfirthe […]

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