In the August 2013 issue of Lightspeed, you talk about the background and story arc for Gorlen. Can you tell us where this story fits in?
“Bellweather” is the very latest in the adventures of Gorlen and, more recently, of Gorlen and Spar. The cycle so far goes “Dankden,” “Catamounts,” “Childrun,” “Quickstone,” “Songwood,” “Bemused,” “Rooksnight,” and “Bellweather.” The two prior to “Bellweather” will be coming out fairly soon. It is not necessary to read them in any order because the incidents in each one do not overlap, but there are issues of internal consistency. For instance, in “Quickstone” (the story where Gorlen finally catches up with Spar), Spar has wings, and by the time of “Bellweather,” he doesn’t. I have more stories from earlier in Gorlen’s life, when he was still travelling alone, but I haven’t written them yet. For now it’s most fun to write about them being together.
How has your vision of Gorlen altered over the decades?
I first wrote about him when I was about 16, and I pictured him as being somewhat older than me. Somewhere along the line, we were about the same age, and then I outstripped him. There are lots of lacunae in his life that I haven’t explored. He seems a little different every time I decide to revisit him. He started off as basically an irresponsible rogue who had responsibility thrust on him; along the way, he has internalized some of that feeling of responsibility, I guess. He went from being a pale and passive and unsatisfying pastiche of Cugel the Clever in his origin novel (which I destroyed) to being more of person I can relate to. I used to regard him from a distance, now I feel him as very close.
Do any of the Gorlen stories feature a main character that is female?
As Gorlen wandered from place to place, he has encountered female characters who are well established in their environment—and usually this has been in the form of a dalliance. The strongest female in the series is Spar’s love interest, the carved songwood masthead called Sprit. She’s as much a main character as Spar in that story, which he narrates. But it’s an interesting question, because it has crossed my mind: I’ve done the lonely bard thing, and now I’m doing the buddy thing, and it has occurred to me that there could be a great dynamic with a third member who would almost certainly be female. If I were to write a Gorlen novel, it would almost certainly need a third character to keep things interesting. Maybe a character like Isabel, played by Natalie Portman, in Your Highness.
What was the real world inspiration, if any, for the culture of Lek, Chamsin, and Smaia? (I kept thinking of Tibet.)
Yes, Tibet, of course. It’s been an inspiration in a lot of my stories, from my novel Neon Lotus onward. I had the idea for the sinister monk using bells to get around many years ago, when I was dreaming up the adventures of a character named China Scott, who was based on the amazing explorer Alexandra David-Neel. I never wrote a single China Scott story, but the images hung around. Years later, after I joined Valve, Gabe Newell, Valve’s owner, went through a phase of teaching himself to do Tuvan throat-singing. He would practice constantly, and especially seemed to enjoy doing it in elevators and in the parking garage, quite unselfconsciously. Meanwhile, Gabe is a collector of extravagant knives. I joked about his ideal fantasy novel would have to be one about mystical singing knives, and although I was joking, there was something in the idea that . . . resonated. That was all ten or fifteen years ago . . . so these random ideas all had plenty of time to get mixed up together. The other real-world inspiration came from travelling through a stony area of Tibet very much like the one in the story; there were mundane boulders rather than broken statuary, but there was nothing else mundane about the environment. It was eerie and ethereal.
Do the giant stone hands ever get explained?
In Gorlen’s constant travels, he sees many things he’ll never understand.
The last line of this story just slayed me. Can you talk about how you laid the foundation for such a wonderful moment?
By writing all the stories that led up to it!
Any projects you want to talk about? Anything new coming out soon?
The two preceding Gorlen stories, “Bemused” and “Rooksnight,” are either in print or soon will be from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. They were both too long for Lightspeed. “Bellweather” is the second Gorlen story to appear outside of F&SF (the first story is “Catamounts” in the August 2013 issue of Lightspeed). I am hopeful that Gorlen and Spar will find their way to a new audience of online readers.
Spread the word!