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Interview: Marc Laidlaw on “Stillborne”

Tell us a bit about “Stillborne.”

“Stillborne” is, from what I can tell, the last Gorlen Vizenfirthe story. Or maybe it’s merely the last short story in the sequence I’ve been telling for the last couple decades. It’s possible I might write some interstitial stories from when Gorlen was on his own, since there are a few old ideas I never quite nailed down, but the forward progress of the series feels like it hit a natural stopping place.


What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

I recall only that I was trying to come up with a new Gorlen story on a hike at Rattlesnake Ledge near Seattle, and by the end of the hike I had the basic idea (which I won’t mention for the sake of spoilers), and a few lines of dialog, and they thrilled me. They took the series to a place I had never thought of before. Even so, it was years before I managed to get a first draft I was happy with. The basic notion never changed, the idea of a reunion with a character never seen before except in Gorlen and Spar’s reminiscences, but everything else came later—the stills, the desert festival. I tried a lot of different settings and plots before finding one that set off, or fed into, the characters’ current internal situation.


Was “Stillborne” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

It deals with some issues that are personal to me, which the heroes of most of the wandering rogue fantasy tales never deal with. Gorlen in many ways fits the model of a typical kind of fantasy character—a lone traveler, falling in and out of discrete dilemmas. The early stories were very much inspired by Cugel the Clever, where each story was a self-contained episode, and the overall arc was negligible. When I was a kid, this was fine. But I’ve been revisiting Gorlen at different times in my life, and my concerns have changed over time, and I’ve tried to reflect those in the character. So, again, without spoiling anything, the main personal issue here is one most male fantasy heroes of the itinerant variety don’t ever deal with, but it’s been an important part of my life, so I thought it would give Gorlen’s journey a bit more meaning.


Your stories of Gorlen the Bard debuted in F&SF twenty-two years ago: what can you tell us about how that first story came to be, and what led you to bring Gorlen’s tale to a conclusion now?

I created Gorlen in high school, very much under the spell of Jack Vance, and wrote a novel about him called MISTRESS OF SHADOWS, which I revised into my early Twenties.

Sometime in my late Twenties, I destroyed the manuscript, I think because it felt too derivative, or I was tired of reworking it, or something. At that time I didn’t see myself as being a writer of genre fantasy. But the character hung around, and as my life went on, I wondered what would have become of Gorlen after his original adventures. I liked the idea of writing about a fantasy character whose big world-saving epic adventure was in his past, and now he was just left wandering, trying to pick up the pieces. I had no desire to ever go back and recreate that novel again, but when the idea for “Stillborne” came along, I felt that it was the perfect time to finally bring in his so-called origin story. And once I had done that, it felt like I had come full circle, or reached a state of completion. Gorlen’s life continues after this, and maybe someday I will get back to him, but I also didn’t feel like stringing readers along forever with no hope of resolution…so the way the characters feel about things at the end of “Stillborne” is about how I feel. Where they end up is good enough for me.


What are you working on now?

I just finished a very silly project which has had various titles, the current one being MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN, NOW WITH EXTRA MONSTERS. I started it when my kids were in high school and each had to read Frankenstein, and each was disappointed by how dull it was, and specifically how they had expected lots of horror and monsters in it. It starts with endless correspondence and journal entries and takes a long time to get to the monster. So I hatched the idea of taking Shelley’s tale and adding monsters to it, not quite at random. I have tried to make sure there is a monster or monster reference in every paragraph of the original work. Having done that, I am now seriously questioning my own sanity and sense of proportion. I have no idea what to do with it yet.


“Stillborne” appears in the November/December 2017 issue of F&SF.

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Click on the image of the gargoyle and visit Mr. Laidlaw’s website.


One Response to “Interview: Marc Laidlaw on “Stillborne””

  1. A Few Words About Stillborne...and Twitter - Marc Laidlaw on November 11th, 2017

    […] has put up one of their blog-post interviews, where I discuss a few of the things that went into […]

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