Finding the Way

It’s 1989, and I’m at a con. It’s my first con. I am, as my friends keep delightedly calling me, a con virgin. I’m listening to a girl with a guitar, because she’s interesting and also cute, in a leather jacket and… leggings? Yeah, I think so, I mean, it was 1989. Here’s what she’s singing, soft but precise: “We’re elves on motorcycles—” beat, beat, “—you better get out of our way.”

That’s all I remember, because after that Tom Smith performed, and somebody challenged him to write a song about me and the cute girl and two other girls I don’t remember at all except their names were Vicki and Marie, because the refrain was “Sara, Vicki, Marie, and Maureen.”

In the song we got up to shenanigans that I also do not recall, but I was super-impressed that he came up with it so fast.

Elves on motorcycles. My friends had explained that at cons people sometimes sang songs based on books, but at that point my experience of literary elves began and ended with Tolkien. Had she made up the elven bikers? I could picture them, kind of. Not very clearly.

Fast forward a couple of years. I’m nineteen. It’s a muggy summer in East Lansing, Michigan, and I’m at the Clarion Workshop for Writers of Science Fiction and Fantasy. I’ve been attempting to write the latter, not at all well.

I’m having a one-on-one conference with Ellen Kushner, our second-week instructor. Earlier in the week I’ve taken copious notes during her talk on kinesthetic awareness, and listened with awe to her declaiming extemporaneous Shakespearean verse. Right now, she’s doing an unprecedented thing—showing me a story she’s working on, to see what I think! Full disclosure: I remember my amazement more clearly than the words. But the timing’s right for it to have been a Bordertown story.

Okay. One more year on, and I can’t figure out where I should be living, with whom, doing what. I’m writing, but I seem to have more drama in my life than on my pages. I’m reading, too, of course, always, and the books I’m likeliest to read are recommended by people I’m enthralled by. The ones who make my life richer, but more confusing. One of them tells me I need to read these fantastic books, about this place—it’s a place that, well, it’s between, everything’s kind of sideways, and nothing works the way you think it will, but there is, actually, magic. And elves. Sometimes on motorcycles.

I can never find the books.

I find other books. I get to Newford, and Riverside. I hang out in the Arizona desert with Maggie Black and attend Blackstock College with Janet Carter. I spend a lot of time in the Dreaming. Bordertown remains elusive.

Fast forward again. I’ve published books. Two of them. Not fantasy. And a bunch of short stories, which for some reason I like to write only in comics form, with an assortment of very talented collaborators. They’re not fantasy either. But I keep reading and admiring what’s now called urban fantasy, loving all the ways writers manage to infuse modern city life with magic. It reminds me of the elven bikers, and makes me wonder if I’ll ever find it in me to tell the kind of stories I wanted to write when I was at Clarion.

Then I’m asked if I’d like to submit something to be considered for Welcome To Bordertown.

Of course I would.

That, finally, is when I manage to get my hands on the books, and discover the stories I almost grew up with.

And I got to write a story set in Bordertown, a place so many writers I respect have made their own, that so many readers have loved the way my friends did. (That’s probably why they never loaned me their copies!)

It’s an honor to be part of Bordertown, now that the Way is open again. Writing “Fair Trade” opened a way for me, too; from Contemporary Realistic to, well, Everywhere Else.

Sara Ryan is the author of the YA novels Empress of the World and The Rules for Hearts, and of various comics. Her graphic novel, Bad Houses, with art by Carla Speed McNeil, is forthcoming from the Vertigo imprint of DC Comics. She can be found online at or on Twitter.


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