Running Away to Bordertown

Once upon a time, there was a girl who dreamed of running away to … Minneapolis.

That doesn’t sound very romantic, doesn’t it?

To be fair, it didn’t have to be Minneapolis. I was also open to running away to Seattle, or Eugene, or Ottawa. If you’d asked me why—if you’d somehow gotten me to admit to my running-away-dreams in public at all—I’d have said it was because those were the places all the writers seemed to be. As a very new writer myself—a writer still not quite sure that real people even could be writers, though I’d blown the last of my student loan money on a computer in hopes that I was wrong—I desperately wanted to be around other writers.

But looking back, I think it was really because, thanks to the new wave of late-80s and early 90s urban fantasy books bringing magic into the real world, those were the places where all the magic seemed to be, and I even more desperately wanted to be around magic.

In other words, what I really wanted was to run away to someplace like Bordertown.

When I bought that first computer, I hadn’t actually read any of the stories set in that city on the border between our world and Elfland, though I was cheerfully devouring new books by Bordertown writers like Emma Bull and Charles de Lint and Meghan Lindholm. I don’t remember when I actually did first read the Bordertown books. Before I left St. Louis, where I’d gone to college and where I first began writing professionally? Only after I moved away? It’s hard to remember exactly which books I read the first time around, too, because Bordertown has become so much a part of the landscape of contemporary fantasy that on reread last year I found it all seemed strangely familiar. I know I read the stories in Bordertown itself, and also that I read Elsewhere when it first came out from Jane Yolen Books. I know I didn’t read Finder, 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/reread the Bordertown books this past year that I fully recognized, in the runaways seeking magic within its pages, that same longing that drew me to reading fantasy, and to writing it, and to dreaming of running away to cities I didn’t know.

In truth I only dreamed of running away for a few years—just long enough to figure out that finding a community—of writers or of anyone else—didn’t have to be about running away after all. It could also be about looking around and building a community in the place you were already planted. Magic is like that too, actually, and urban fantasy understands this well, because in urban fantasy you don’t have to head out for some other world to find magic: it’s right here, all around us, if only we can catch hold of the gift or curse of seeing the world truly.

So I found my own communities and made my own magic. In St. Louis I joined a critique group where together we wrote were about bringing magic to that city. Then, after a few years, I ran not so much away from St. Louis as to Tucson, and I kept telling my stories and finding my magic (it turns out the desert is filled with magic) there. I grew up, and time passed, and through some strange magic I realized that the place I wanted to be and the place I actually was had become the same after all.

Fast forward to nearly two decades after I first started writing. I was working on a sequel to my first young adult fantasy, Bones of Faerie, which may or may not be an urban fantasy—the definitions have grown pretty fuzzy, over twenty years—set in and around St. Louis. I had a reasonably tight deadline for Faerie Winter, so much as I love writing short fiction, I’d decided I wouldn’t write any more of it until the book was done.

And then I got an email. From Ellen Kushner and Holly Black. Asking if I would write a Bordertown story.

I guess I hadn’t fully gotten over wanting to run away to find my magic after all, because it took me all of five minutes to accept. First I had to remember how to breathe again, and then I had to make sure I’d read the email right, and then I had to remind myself both that I didn’t have time to write a story and that it didn’t matter, because some things you make time for.

My characters don’t get to Bordertown by motorcycle, and they don’t catch the train there like others have, either. (Though they do, briefly, hitch a ride on Ye Olde Unicorn Trolley once they arrive.) For my protagonist the journey to Bordertown involves a long dry walk through the heat and the dust, because that’s how we cross borders around here.

If there’s one thing all the Bordertown stories seem to agree on, it’s that everyone finds the Border in their own way.

However you get there—however you find your own magic—I hope you have as much fun visiting and revisiting this city on the border of magic as I did.

Janni Lee Simner is the author of the post-apocalyptic young adult faerie tale Bones of Faerie and its sequel, Faerie Winter, as well as of the Iceland-saga-based fantasy Thief Eyes. Faerie Winter and Welcome to Bordertown both come out in paperback April 10.


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