Q&A with Marc Laidlaw

Marc Laidlaw returns to Asimov’s with a new short story, “A Mammoth, So-Called” in the current issue on sale now. Here, he chats with us about playing with form and revisiting the classics.


Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind “A Mammoth, So-Called”?

Marc Laidlaw: Recently I went through all of my papers in order to donate them to a library. There were many, many story fragments but this one, dating from 1991 (and showing an interest in the themes that obsessed me at the time), was complete. It was written in the form of a scientific report, but the lack of technical detail made it rather unconvincing, and I remembered why I was never satisfied with it. I rescued it from the files and started tinkering with it, and realized that what it needed to offset the scientific aspect was an element of fabulation—to make a tall-tale of it. That inspired the framing device. I have never written anything before in the mode of a traditional “club story,” but the model was perfect for this piece. I was a little surprised to discover that my style had not changed much in the last 25 year, and in many ways it seems like a story I could have dreamed up and written a week ago. I do, however, think that unlike most of my stories, it is a rare piece of science fiction rather than fantasy, and that’s why I thought it might be right for Asimov’s.

AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?

ML: I was trying to keep up with the current trend of including as much punctuation as possible in my title.

AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?

ML: I don’t want to say outright what recurrent theme is featured in “A Mammoth, So-Called” because it would spoil the mystery of the story, but it definitely reflects an interest of mine that I have returned to again and again, which can also be seen in stories such as “Great Breakthroughs in Darkness,” “The Diane Arbus Suicide Portfolio,” and “Bruno’s Shadow.”

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

ML: After years and years of not writing novels, I am writing one again. I hit upon the right idea for a book-length adventure featuring Gorlen Vizenfirthe, who has only appeared in short stories so far. Gorlen has the hand of a gargoyle, and partnered up with the gargoyle who in turn has his hand of flesh. Last year I published what I thought was to be the final story about these two, but it turned out that was only the last short story, and the novel occurred to me.

AE: What are you reading right now?

ML: I have just reread LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness and am reading her Five Ways to Forgiveness novella cycle for the first time. Near the top of my Kindle stack are books by Kessel, Priest (Christopher), Bolander, and Crowley. I’ve been trying to plug the gaps in my familiarity with classic works (I just read Bleak House for the first time) and also revisit some I haven’t read in years (thus the LeGuin).

AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?

ML: I was a writer for games for a couple decades. I’m unsure how this has affected my writing. I thought it would make me more attuned to what people enjoy, so that I could write more entertainingly, but instead it seems to have made me veer toward being contrary and obscure. Hopefully some readers find even this entertaining. The main thing I feel now is an increased sense of devotion to prose. Writing for games, because it is such a new art form, it is hard to look back and find gigantic influences to emulate. My heroes were designers rather than writers; and the best writers just seemed like peers rather than gods. Returning to prose, I feel so insignificant and unaccomplished. All my literary heroes still tower far higher than I’ll ever hope to reach.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing? (IE: Social media handles, website URL . . .)

marclaidlaw.com is currently my only social media presence, being the site of my blog. Most of my stories are available there for reading online, for free. I have also republished most of my novels on Kindle. My latest project was an enormous waste of time, resulting in an extended joke, mostly on myself. But I’m happy with how it came out: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Now With Extra Monsters!). I began it for the amusement of my daughters, it occupied me on and off for years, and will certainly never pay for itself. But perhaps it will generate some laughter.

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