The Big Idea: Ellen Kushner
For longtime fans of the urban fantasy genre, the Bordertown series of anthologies hardly needs an introduction — it was literally one of the foundations of the genre when it emerged on the publishing scene in 1986. Now Welcome to Bordertown, introduces a new generation of readers to that gritty, magical place — and in doing so will open the door for them to a larger gathering of writers and readers who have been there before them. As Welcome to Bordertown’s co-editor Ellen Kushner explains in her Big Idea, this is not at all coincidental.
They didn’t make me write an introduction to Welcome to Bordertown. My co-editor, Holly Black wrote one, and Terri Windling, who invented Bordertown and edited 7 books about it, wrote the other (after we’d told her, “Terri, we’ll take care of everything, don’t worry! Well, maybe you can just write a short introduction . . . And by the way, could you check all the stories to make sure the street names are right? And what are the rules about getting to Bordertown, again? And we know you’re busy but . . . . ”). The idea was that Original Series Creator would talk about how it all started, and Next Generation Hot Young Writer would explain how Original Series had changed her life. Which left me happily sitting back and writing jacket copy.
But maybe I do owe some sort of introduction to the new volume. I was, after all, in every one of Terri’s Bordertown anthologies from 1986 – 1998. And I was the one who cornered Holly in a bar at the ALA in 2007 and said, “Wanna start the series up again, if I can get Terri to agree?”
So here it is:
My introduction to Welcome to Bordertown.
In the 1980s, prominent young fantasy editor Terri Windling and I were sharing an apartment with a rotating cast of characters on New York City’s then-still-seedy Upper West Side. My first novel, Swordspoint, was still looking for a publisher, without much success. We were both nursing broken hearts, and the doleful strains of Brian Ferry’s “More than This” were heard more often than either of us really likes to admit (with Prince and the Eurythmics to cheer things up).
As she explains in her Introduction, a publisher had asked Terri to come up with a new Shared World anthology. So she was inviting some of the authors she had been nurturing to write something that combined traditional, folkloric elf stuff with the kinds of cities most of us were actually living in: a fantasia of black leather jackets, clubs where you sweatily danced all night, and maybe some motorcycles for the kick.
I had only just bought my first leather jacket.
And there I was in the kitchen, hearing all this Bordertown stuff going down, and feeling all uncool and left out. And I got up my nerve and said, “Um, Terri, would you want me to write something for this?”
She looked at me wide-eyed, and said, “Would you want to?”
As if I was too busy or too important or too literary or something. Which was quite a joke, considering I’d only ever sold two short stories. So I said, “Well, yeah!” And she gave me a deadline. I was in.
But it turned out that the stories were supposed to be about teen runaways meeting on the mean streets, kids who trusted only each other because adults were dangerous. And I wailed, “But my family was nice! Other kids were mean to me!”
“Write about a kid coming from that background, then,” Terri said.
So I did.
After the tightly controlled language and emotions of Swordspoint, writing in the voice of the angsty romantic teen Charis was a fabulous slalom down the slope of story. For the next volume, Terri and I wrote a novella together – and into Linny of “Mockery,” I poured all the shit I’d taken for being a girl who wanted attention for being clever and different, and was told (by other kids) to be cute and nice, instead. At Terri’s side – in communion with the other writers helping to create this outsiders’ paradise of possibility and art – like my character, I found a way to work things out.
And it kept on happening. At a time in my life when I lacked both confidence and discipline, I managed to write a story for every single one of the four volumes of the original anthology series.
I could do this because Terri was with me every step of the way. When I was out of ideas, she brainstormed with me. When I was out of confidence, she praised me (as in: I’d leave newly-typed pages on the kitchen table at 2 a.m., with Does this suck? scrawled at the top, and crawl out for my orange juice at 11 to find No! Keep going! written beneath it). And when I was out of energy, she gave me a deadline.
Three drafts ago, I thought this piece was going to be about how I talked Holly into reviving the series; she has, after all, gone on record in several interviews claiming she said she’d chew off her right arm to join the Bordertown writers – whereas I distinctly remember that when I shyly asked her, “Um, would you want to write one?” her exact words were: “I would walk over broken glass to write a Bordertown story!” I thought this was going to be about how Holly and I then went about rounding up what was left of the old gang for one more ride to the Border, and how we cunningly uncovered (and recruited) the next generation of “Bordertown kids” without letting them know what was up (yeah, very Seven Samurai) . . . .
But I now see that it’s really about community. Terri has always known you don’t just stumble across it; you have to create it. She wanted there to be a place for all of us to meet, a liminal space between the elfin lands and the life we actually lived.
In creating Bordertown she created a community not just of writers (as Holly’s introduction movingly explains) but of readers. Ever since the new anthology was announced, I’m stunned at how many people have posted about how reading Bordertown changed – or even saved – their lives. Terri gave us all a place to dream of, a vision of a town where, when you find something good, you pass it on to others. Which is just what Holly and I are hoping to do with the new volume.