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Rising Stars: Meet Marc Laidlaw

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marc Laidlaw.

Hi Marc, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
Born in LA (at UCLA actually), I grew up in Laguna Beach and moved around the West Coast for most of the rest of my life so far–mainly San Francisco and Seattle. I spent about 20 years as a writer in the game industry, most of that time working for Valve Software, where I helped create Half-Life and wrote the first few games in the series. After leaving Valve, I lived on Kauai for a few years. In 2020, I moved back to LA. I still write a little bit, but at this point, I’m interested in new challenges–especially music.

In 2018, a huge “rain bomb” on Kauai cut off our neighborhood for 14 months, imposing a lockdown that restricted our travel to such an extent that we rarely went anywhere. In that period, I wrote my latest novel, Underneath the Oversea (which is available only on Kindle at this point). When the COVID lockdown hit, I didn’t know how I was going to pass the time–I couldn’t face writing another novel. Instead, I started learning how to make music, initially by watching lots of YouTube tutorials but eventually taking an online class through Berklee School of Music.

One of my classmates in that first class stayed in touch, and when I moved to LA, we got together and started to form a little band we named “Mort Solár.” That and my solo music projects are the creative activities that motivate me most right now, although I will happily write more fiction if another exciting idea presents itself.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Although I have always been a writer and wanted to make a living doing that, for many years I worked as a secretary, word processor, administrative assistant, all those paper-pushing jobs. As a temp, I often had time to do my own writing in spare moments, but eventually, I had to support a family and I managed to get into a legal secretary position. While doing this, I did some freelance journalism on the side, interviewing game developers, reviewing games, until that led to some opportunities to work on games. I didn’t really find myself in a full-time writing job, the one I’d dreamed of, until I was 37. That seems like a long time ago now, but it seemed like it took a lot longer to get to that point. Once I had that job, it meant putting aside most of my own ideas, and bringing that energy to a team effort. Since I enjoy collaboration, it was not a huge sacrifice…but to some extent, it did mean my career as a novelist and short fiction writer basically went dark. And when I came back to it, there wasn’t much left. I’m grateful for the career I had, but will always wonder what other books I might have written if I’d kept the crappy day job. Quite possibly I wouldn’t have written any, being too burned out.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
The thing I’m most known for is certainly being the writer of Half-Life, Half-Life 2, and a few other videogames I contributed to. I am very proud of the work I did on these games, but of course, it’s not personal, I don’t have any ownership of those properties, and they have a life of their own that continues on after I moved away from them.

My novels and short stories are more meaningful to me, although they’re looking a little dusty these days. My first novel, Dad’s Nuke, came out in 1985 and was a science fiction satire set in the futuristic year of…1999. I’ve written sf, horror, thrillers, and fantasy. In fact, my latest novel, Underneath the Oversea, is pure fantasy, though more in the manner of Ghibli Studios than Game of Thrones.

What I’m most excited about at this time is the thing I know least about–a whole new frontier of learning and creation. I’ve been studying music theory, learning to use Ableton Live, playing with synthesizers and various instruments electric and acoustic. I don’t have all the “career” baggage inhibiting me, and I feel free to do whatever I like, and put it out there.

Do you have any advice for those looking to network or find a mentor?
When I worked at Valve, we always encouraged young game designers to connect with their peers–find other developers, programmers, artists, writers, and just do it! Make something, even if it’s not great. Make it and get it out there and listen to the response, learn from that, and do it again. I’ve seen teams of people who have never met in person but are spread across the globe, coordinate to make great games. I think peers are more important than mentors. My mentors were more in the writing field–once I started writing stories, and my skills improved, I found many editors and writers who encouraged me. Write fan mail to some of your favorite creators, let them know that they inspire you. Don’t expect some sort of formal relationship, but take that encouragement to heart and realize they are letting you know that whatever you’re dreaming of, it is possible. We all start off knowing nothing, having accomplished nothing, unsure if we will ever find that place in the world. But keep in mind by the time you find a place, the world will have changed. I need to remind myself of this all the time…I didn’t ever quite attain the goal I imagined as a kid, because the goalposts had moved. Don’t aim too hard at something that is evanescent. Prepare and be ready for something you can’t even quite imagine. Something better than you can imagine.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
All photos by Marc Laidlaw

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