What inspired “Catamounts”?
This was originally created as a chapter of an episodic novel following this character Gorlen, which I wrote in my teens and later threw away. When I started writing new Gorlen stories years later, I thought one or two of the sequences in that lost novel could stand on their own, so I recreated the story from memory.
“Catamounts” was the second short story I wrote concerning Gorlen Vizenfirthe. But even before I wrote the first, “Dankden,” I knew quite a lot about the gargoyle-handed bard. In my teens, I wrote an entire novel about him, titled Mistress of Shadows. It told the story of how he came to have his hand (initially his finger) replaced with a gargoyle version of the digit—one that grew to consume more and more of his body whenever he faltered in pursuing the quest he’d be given at the start of the story. The book was written heavily under the influence of Jack Vance, and it was highly episodic. Between the setting of his quest and its resolution, Gorlen wandered around and got into unrelated adventures. Sometime in my twenties, I tried rewriting the novel, but was so unhappy with the results that I destroyed all the versions. But Gorlen never left my thoughts, and as the years went by, I have revisited him from time to time to see how he was getting on. I thought it was interesting to write sequels to a novel that nobody has (or will) ever read. He saved the world in that novel . . . but he’s still an anonymous figure, concerned mainly with saving his own skin.
“Catamounts” reads much like a fable, save for the lack of a moral at the end. Was it consciously written that way? If so, did you have a moral in mind?
I think the repetitive quality of the story is similar to certain fables or folk stories, which often feature an element that repeats and gets worse every time. Think of the increasingly huge dogs in “The Tinderbox.” That was probably the biggest influence on this story. But no, I didn’t have a moral in mind. I just wanted a satisfying ending.
In “Catamounts,” the evil are physically repulsive, the victimized and avenging cats have striking or beautiful features, but Gorlen himself is a physical cipher. Can you talk about how you adapted the Inside Matches The Outside trope to fit your vision for the story?
“Catamounts” was initially an episode from that long-lost novel, reconstructed long after the fact. It always had a fable-like symmetry that allowed it to stand on its own. It doesn’t connect to anything else in the series, and Gorlen is at his most generic in this tale. His stone hand plays a very small role. His sense of morality takes care of the rest.
Why does One-Eye so fear the return trip to Dog that he suffers the horrors of Dog’s spells rather than return? Gorlen, in contrast, has a relatively easy time of it.
He knows what’s in the bag.
Is “Catamounts” set in a world you intend to revisit? If so, any idea of where you’ll go with it?
I have written eight Gorlen stories so far, set in this world I recently named Ique. “Catamounts” was the second I wrote, and “Bellweather” (in an upcoming issue of Lightspeed) is the eighth.
The appearance of the fifth cat, the description of its movement, was so lovely in its unsettling creepiness. Was it fun to work on such evocative details or did you find yourself feeling a little too empathetic with the poor creature?
It is fun to feel that as one writes—both the creepiness and the empathy. If it’s not obvious, I am a cat person.
“Evil gets its comeuppance” often makes for an emotionally satisfying ending. Did you consider other ways to end the story?
Nope, I always knew the cats would get some payback.
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