Running away to Bordertown

When I was a very new writer in the early 90s, writing in the evenings after my day job on the computer which I’d used the last of my student loan money to buy, there was a part of me that wanted to run away–to Minneapolis, or Eugene, or Seattle, or Toronto. If you’d have asked me why, I’d have said it was because those were the places where all the writers seemed to be. But looking back, I think it was because–thanks to the new wave of urban fantasy books bringing magic into the real world in ways I’d not quite seen before–those were the places where all the magic seemed to be.

What I really wanted, though I didn’t quite know it at the time, was to run away to someplace like Bordertown, a city on the (human side of) the border between our world and Faerie that drew on the magic of both worlds.

When I bought that first computer and began writing seriously, I hadn’t actually read any the Bordertown books yet, and wouldn’t for some years, though I was cheerfully devouring new urban fantasy books by Emma Bull and Charles de Lint and Meghan Lindholm and writers who were a part of Bordertown as well.

I don’t know exactly when I read the Bordertown–maybe not long after coming to Tucson? I didn’t read all of them. It’s hard to remember which ones I did read, though, because Bordertown has become so much a part of the landscape of fantasy that on reread it all feels strangely familiar. I know I read all the stories in Bordertown, and Elsewhere when it came out from Jane Yolen Books as well. I know I didn’t read Finder for years, though I’d always meant to and once I did I wondered why on earth I’d waited so long.

But it wasn’t until I read or reread the Bordertown books this past year that I recognized, in the runaways seeking magic within its pages, that same longing that drew me to reading fantasy, and writing it, and dreaming of running away to cities I didn’t know.

In truth, I only dreamed of running away for a few years–just enough time to figure out that finding a community of writers wasn’t something that required running away. It was something that could happen when you looked around you and built a community in the place you were already planted. Magic is like that too, actually, and urban fantasy knows this better than any other genre–that you don’t have to run away or cross into some other world to find magic (though you can), because it’s here, around us, in whatever city or town or landscape we live in, if we only know how to look. So I began finding my own communities and my own magic, first in St. Louis, then in Tucson. I wrote, and I grew up, and time passed.

Fast forward nearly twenty years. I’m working on the sequel to Bones of Faerie, which may or may not be an urban fantasy–the definitions have grown pretty fuzzy, over the past two decades–set in and around St. Louis. I have a reasonably tight deadline for Faerie Winter, so as much as I love writing short fiction, I’ve decided I won’t write any more of it until the book is done. I’ve decided I won’t take on any other writing commitments at all, fiction ones or day-job non-fiction ones.

And then I this email. From ellen_kushner and blackholly. Asking if I would write a Bordertown story.

I think it actually took me a whole five minutes to accept. Mostly because, you know, I had to finish squeeing and making other incoherent sounds first.

Some things, you make the time for.

Writing a Bordertown story was very much about channeling my inner younger writer self, the one who was just discovering urban fantasy books and who wanted magic so badly. (Of course, part of me wants it still–my inner and outer children have never lived very far away from one another.) It was about finally running off to the place that I wanted to run off to all those years ago. It was also, a little, about arguing with that place, because when you return to somewhere you first glimpsed long ago, the view changes–since, of course, you’ve changed.

Most of all, visiting Bordertown–writing Bordertown, being in Bordertown–was a whole lot of fun. I’m still thrilled and delighted and grateful and honored to have spent some time there. (And it turned out Bordertown wanted some things from me in turn–but that’s the subject of a whole other post.)

Anyway, all of this is by way of saying that yesterday, when I saw the new Welcome to Bordertown cover, I was very very happy:

[Welcome to Bordertown]

My characters don’t get there by motorcycle, and they don’t manage to catch the train like Wolfboy and others have, either. (Though they do, briefly, manage to hitch a ride on Ye Olde Unicorn Trolley once they arrive.) Everyone gets to Bordertown in their own way, and for my protagonist, that way involves a long hot walk through the dry dusty desert, because that’s how we cross borders around here.

Welcome to Bordertown is due out in May–the full table of contents is here. I hope you have as much fun visiting and revisiting this city on the border of tech and magic as I did.

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