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Mercedes Lackey

In memoriam:
Katherine A. Lawrence and Ambria Ridenow 


In the late 1980s, after I already had several books under my belt, my good friend and partner in crime Ellen Guon lost her job.

She had been working in and around several animation companies (which shall remain nameless to protect everyone) and had even had a couple of scripts accepted and produced. But the life of a beginning screenplay writer is fraught with peril and uncertainty, not to mention paper hats and name tags and "Would you like fries with that?" figuring prominently in one's resume.

The prospects for a new job in the same field were bleak. Animation companies were laying off heavily; a lot of the work was being sent to the Far East where labor was (and still is) a lot cheaper. Ellen wasn't in the least interested in more paper hats and name tags, and temp secretarial work (the usual last refuge of unemployed screenplay writers) was getting hard to come by with all the layoffs. She even told me she was considering some options that were, in my mind, excessive—such as moving overseas where she had some relatives.

"Don't do that," I said. "We have a spare bedroom. Come move in with us—you can teach me how to write screenplays, and do some temp secretarial work to keep your cash flow up." Silly me, I thought that screenplay writing would be easier than book writing . . . and it had to be more lucrative, right?

Please hold your guffaws to a minimum.

Ellen thought that wasn't a bad notion. At the worst, she would learn how to write a book, and get a chance to shop her resume around in a more leisurely manner. At the best, we might even co-write one. Interestingly enough, our initial idea was to write a bodice-ripper historical romance with fantasy trappings. We even had one plotted out (a group of Irish traveling players in Tudor England, who give shelter to a runaway heiress and end up getting crosswise of not only the authorities but an eeevil defrocked priest) and a pseudonym (which I will not reveal because it's rather amusing and I may want to use it one day). We started shopping the outline around—

And then came serendipity in the form of a science fiction convention I was scheduled to attend in Chicago—the convention art show—and a sushi dinner.

This was while I was still a wage-slave employee of a major airline headquartered in Tulsa. One of the advantages of this was, if a plane had seats available, I could fly for pocket change. This was of immense advantage to a new writer with books to push, and I scheduled as many conventions as I could. I was touring the art show at this particular convention. For the benefit of those who have never been to one of these things, the art shows feature a few exhibits by professional science fiction and fantasy artists, but most of the work is strictly done by amateurs (some of whom may later, because of exposure at these shows, graduate into the ranks of the professionals.) Art at these things is usually sold at auction, and before becoming a Filthy Pro, I often paid my way into cons with the money I made at art auctions. (Embroidered things, if you must know. Pictures, pillows, vests. Vests were big sellers. Sometimes jewelry, but nothing nearly as nice as I'm making now when I can afford better materials!)

So, I was touring the show, as was my wont, when I was struck by a rather wonderful little pen-and-ink drawing. I couldn't even tell you the name of the artist, though the drawing skill-level was quite high, but it portrayed a couple of the usual attenuated teenagers one sees in malls, in the highest of (shudder) late '80s fashion for attenuated teenagers, standing in what was obviously a food court. Except that, peeking through their '80s Big Hair, were the points of their ears. It was entitled "Mall Elves."

Now I couldn't help being struck with this concept, and it stuck in my mind all through the con and remained there after I went to work. Ell had gotten a couple of temp jobs and decided to treat the both of us to sushi (a then-recent addiction of mine, and ongoing addiction of hers) at the new sushi restaurant in Tulsa. (Fuji's. Product Placement. Heh. Maybe they'll give me a free Crazy Jon roll now . . . ) And, as was our habit, we started discussing possible projects.

Now, I have noted that very interesting and productive things occur over sushi. They do say that fish is brain food; all I can say is that it seems to spark some fantastic synergy. At any rate, I mentioned the drawing, and asked the pertinent question: Why would elves hang out in malls in the first place?

Well, said Ell, a lot of the malls in Southern California are built around native oak trees, because they aren't allowed to cut them down. Aren't elves supposed to be connected with oak groves?

That was certainly a start, and the mention of oak trees kicked off something else in her mind, the then-imminent destruction of the original Southern California Ren Faire site, which had been sold to a developer. Here I should mention that Ellen had been a player with one of the Celtic groups at both Southern and Northern Faire for a very long time as a fiddler (she's the original inspiration for Rune from the Bardic Voices books, but that's another story), and though transplanted to the hinterlands she was still in touch with the Faire crowd. And the Rennies were up in arms about the whole mess. The site had been there for so long that many of the merchants had substantial buildings (and investments in those buildings) and the place had evolved into something very special.

Somehow we put those two things together, and by the time dinner was over, we had the substance of the plot of A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows. 

We started writing it, and once we had the standard three chapters and outline, my agent began shopping it around. Jim Baen hadn't done much fantasy—but this was his kind of fantasy, with sports cars, motorcycles, and a real-world setting.

Ellen had gotten a job working for a major electronic gaming company as a developer by that time—I helped her move out there, and we plotted another book on the trip, which became Summoned to Tourney. We wrote that one by correspondence—a messy matter in those pre-Internet days, with floppy disks going back and forth.

Then came stage two, the SERRAted Edge books.

I discovered I really enjoyed collaboration. Jim Baen discovered readers liked the urban elves I'd cooked up. And I had found some more partners. One was a friend from Tulsa, Mark Shepherd, who wanted to write; one was my (little did I know then) husband-to-be, Larry Dixon, whom I had met at a convention where he was the artist guest of honor and I was the author guest of honor; and the third was a friend of Larry's, Holly Lisle, who was the founder of the writing circle he was in.

I had just finished reading a very disturbing book When Rabbit Howls, about a child-abuse victim who had developed multiple personality syndrome. When I was discussing this with Ell over the phone, she related an anecdote about how she had co-written an episode of Gem about runaways with a runaway hotline number at the end—and how that silly little cartoon was still generating calls to the hotline.

Synergy again; it occurred to me that we could not only do some great stories, we might be able to help some kids at the same time. So I took the elves to the East Coast, and a new venue: car racing. Why? Because in legend and myth, elven knights are frequently found challenging all comers to jousts at crossroads, apparently for the fun of it. And, at least in the southeastern United States, pick-up races on public roads could be considered a form of jousting. So . . .

That was where Larry came in with the biggest chunk of SERRA development. He was an SCCA driver and navigator, he knew all of the pertinent details (early manuscripts often had a double line of asterisks with "Larry, please put car stuff here" between them) and he had an old character called Tannim who was a kind of techno-mage.

As for elven involvement, well, in myth and legend, elves are always taking children and leaving changelings in their place. We just gave them a reason to do so. They were taking abused children.

And we were off and running.

Elves couldn't pass off kenned gold nowadays, nor could they replicate banknotes as a visible group. So they had to fund their rescues somehow—and that was where Fairegrove Industries came from; elves working automotive magic. Interestingly enough, some of the things—like aluminum engine-blocks—that we postulated them making back then are now available these days, in another fine example of synchronicity.

About this time I got a very polite letter from another writer, eluki bes shahar, asking if I minded her using mall elves in a short story. Since you can't copyright an idea, I told her to knock herself out, I didn't exactly hold the patent on the notion, and anyway, no two authors ever do the same thing with the same concept. The letter stuck in my mind because of the unusual name (all in lower-case letters, too) and the professionalism. Hold that thought. It becomes important later.

The book with Larry came first, to establish the concepts, the book with Mark second, and the one with Holly, who lived off in North Carolina, third—though I was working simultaneously with Holly on hers at the same time as books one and two.

Then life interfered with Ell. She got married, started a company, and had kids. Any of the three would cause problems with having time to write books; throw in all three and we have a glitch in the system when it comes to producing our third book, Beyond World's End. It never got past the first three chapters that I wrote.

But we had the SERRA books out, and Larry and I were working on the fourth of the series, Chrome Circle, so all was well in the Elven universe.

But about this time my agent, Russell Galen, has a brainstorm. He has another client who is good at collaboration, and has done a fair amount of urban fantasy, so if Ell has no problems with the idea, why not see if this client and I click?

The other writer? Rosemary Edghill.

AKA, eluki bes shahar—which is her science fiction nom de plume, though in her case, nom de guerre is just as applicable.

I told you that thought would come in handy later.

Now, a lot of water has run under the old bridge since Summoned to Tourney came out. And we could have tried to take up the series exactly where it left off. But it's my universe, dammit, and I can do what I want to with it. Rosemary/eluki is a different kind of writer than Ell, so we elected to ditch everyone Underhill for a while and haul them back out, scarcely aged, into the late 1990s. After all, what did they miss? Bad clothing styles, worse hair, voodoo economics. Music (and everything else) being engulfed by megacorporations. More like cyperpunk than urban fantasy . . .

Of course, the world they emerged into was a lot grimmer than the one they left. There were more kids on the street, for one thing. More street people in general. Drugs were harder, violence on the mean streets was worse, and there were a lot more things to worry about than whether a piece of property got turned into a subdivision. The dirty tricks of people with power and money, for one thing. We moved the venue from Los Angeles to New York, which Rosemary is more familiar with, and we made the stories reflect the times and the conditions.

Now, I am a big fan of Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John, the Appalachian bard, and with Beth and Kory Underhill for the duration, Eric needed someone to hang with—so partly in tribute to Wellman, and partly because we wanted to bring some innocence back into the mix, we created Hosea Songmaker—and we brought back Kayla the Healer, whose '80s punk fashions were very retro these days.

Now, along the way, I had run into a spot of difficulty involving another series with Another Company. An "occult good-guys" group I had created in the tradition of occult good-guy groups down through the ages, called the Guardians, had attracted some fans that I would rather not have had. Folks who thought the Guardians were real, that I knew who they were, that I was one of them, and that it was All My Fault that they were not Occult Power Players in the same club.

Yes, I know—some pretty wild leaps of logic. Not to mention a serious problem with suspension of disbelief.

Karma whacked them a good one, and they have ceased to be a problem, but . . . lightning does strike twice around here.

And it occurred to Rosemary and me that a good way to sideline this particular obsession would be to bring the Guardians into these stories, because after that, to believe in Guardians you would have to believe in motorcycle-riding and race-car-driving elves, talking animated gargoyles, and the Tooth Fairy.

Hah. Mind, you can probably still find people who would believe in three out of the four, but if they start talking about that sort of thing in public, they tend to find themselves later talking to people with white coats.

Changing co-writers has given us some discontinuity problems; them's the breaks, I'm afraid. As a writer, I would rather have a good story with some continuity problems than a contorted story with perfect continuity. And we've retrofitted rationalization wherever we find continuity problems. The stories Rosemary and I choose to work with are a lot darker than the ones Ell and I did; that's partly the times, partly because we're all older, maybe a little wiser, and surely a lot more experienced. I think they're stronger, and are getting deeper and better as time goes on.

Rosemary is a lot more interested in the "why" of things and origin stories than Ell and I ever were, too. She's been developing a lot of backstory on the first interactions of elves and humans, and where the former came from.

And that brings us to the "Doubled Edge" books, with historical novelist Roberta Gellis—

Which are—historical urban fantasy?

They take some of the relatives of our current elves back in time, to just before the big migration to the New World that will/would take place at the time of James I.

Roberta and I dove into a time period both of us liked, but had never written anything in—that of the last days of Henry VIII, through Edward and Mary to Elizabeth I. We could certainly see why elves would have wanted to interfere; and with a lot less in the way of Cold Iron to contend with, they would have been able to interfere a great deal more. We've given a reason for Vidal Dhu's feud with Keighvin Silverhair of the SERRA books—Vidal killed Keighvin's brother and kidnapped one of his two sets of twins to raise as Unselieghe. Of course, coming from that particular bloodline, they are bound to make up their own minds about things, sooner or later. It's been a lot of fun using elves and magic as the reasons behind a lot of historical occurrences and mysteries—like why Henry Fitzroy was buried in a sealed lead coffin after suffering from an extremely mysterious disease.

The mall elves have grown into something rich and strange indeed.



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