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Interview: S. L. Gilbow on "Rebecca’s Locket"

S. L. Gilbow–author of “Rebecca’s Locket,” which appears in our May 2008 issue–said in an interview that the story is basically about an ordinary person trying to make his way through an absurd world. "Jerry Morgan’s personality and some of his memories have been downloaded into a locket which his wife wears around her neck," Gilbow said. "The rest of the story is about Jerry coping with his new form and trying to figure out his place in the world. I don’t start stories by thinking of other stories, but usually in the writing I start to see connections. Jerry reminds me a little of Kafka’s Gregor Samsa in that he undergoes an entire physical transformation."

The story started with the first line: "On a November Friday morning Jerry Morgan attended his funeral at the Cotton Springs Methodist Church," Gilbow said. "The next step was in figuring out how this could happen," he said. "The locket idea came to me as I was eating dinner with my wife and daughter at an Italian restaurant. I have a very bad habit of running story ideas through my mind while I’m out with my family. My wife will be talking to me and I will be trying to pretend I’m listening. Finally, she will say, ‘Are you writing again?’ It annoys her to no end. Sometime between the salad and the lasagna, I shouted out, ‘I got it. He’s a locket tied around his wife’s neck.’ Her response was, ‘You are so weird.’"

Gilbow thinks ordinary people are the most interesting people, so his stories tend to be peopled with such. "And Jerry Morgan is about as ordinary as you can get," Gilbow said. "He has lived most of his life in a small west-Texas town. He has always done what he was expected to do. He joined the military. He got married. He raised a family. He has worked for years keeping his store, Grocery Delite, going. The real fun is in putting Jerry, an ordinary person, in an extraordinary situation and watching to see what he will do."

Though ordinary, Jerry is a little self-absorbed. "He is so fascinated with his new existence that he loses sight on the impact he is having on Rebecca," Gilbow said. "Nevertheless, he does what the creators of the eternilocket intended by helping Rebecca get through the grieving process, allowing her to say those things she could never say before."

Including "Rebecca’s Locket," Gilbow has published three stories so far; of those three, "Locket" was the easiest of to write. "The biggest problem was that I ran down the wrong path a couple of times," Gilbow said. "In the first draft of the story, Rebecca met an old friend at the funeral and just tossed Jerry in the trash container on her way out of the church. This seemed a little dark and not really in keeping with how Rebecca was developing. The next draft saw Rebecca greeting Jerry at the end of the story with the locket of a neighbor who had died the previous year tied around her neck. In this draft the story ended with Rebecca tying the locket around the dog’s neck—similar to the ending in the final draft. I kind of liked the adulterous betrayal, but Rebecca just kept telling me that she wouldn’t do that, she would never cheat on Jerry. In the final draft the climax evolved into a confrontation and a cathartic monologue by Rebecca."

"Rebecca’s Locket" is more about the relationship between two people than it is about technology, Gilbow said. "The relationship between Jerry and Rebecca is not exactly like the relationship I have with my wife, but she would probably tell you there are certainly similarities—especially the part about how annoying the husband can be," he said.

For a while Gilbow debated on whether or not to provide some technological explanation for how a brain can be downloaded into a locket. "But then I decided that in a world that has seen computer games evolve from Pong to World of Warcraft, it would be best just to state it as fact without the technological details," Gilbow said. "It may be an impossibility, but I figured it would be an impossibility the reader would be willing to accept(and enjoy)—kind of like time travel."

When asked if he had anything to add to the interview, Gilbow said: "So far this is the hardest question. I would love to say, ‘Be sure to buy my book.’ Unfortunately I haven’t written one yet," he said. "Now that I think about it, I can address one question that seems to keep coming up. How does F&SF turn around material so fast? And do they really read it? I got my first acceptance letter so fast I didn’t open the letter at first, assuming it was a rejection. I figured there was no way they could read the story, accept it, and reply that quickly."

Right now, Gilbow said he’s just trying to figure out how to write. "I studied English in college over twenty-five years ago and taught some college English for a few years in the early nineties. But I haven’t really had much training in writing fiction," he said. "I haven’t been to a workshop yet, but I would love to go if I can ever find the time. I don’t belong to any writer’s groups. No one reviews my work before I submit it except for my wife and my sister-in-law. I’m afraid I’m probably doing things the hard way—a personal trait of mine—and would like to figure out how to improve my writing and my output."

Gilbow said his next story will probably return to the world of "Who Brought Tulips to the Moon?" "I am fairly familiar with the military and am thinking of using it as a backdrop," he said. "I’ll let you know how it turns out. I have the attention span of gnat and may be on to something else next week."

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