Read an Excerpt
From the Borderlands
By Elizabeth E. Monteleone Thomas F. Monteleone
Warner BooksCopyright © 2003 Elizabeth E. & Thomas F. Monteleone
All right reserved.
IntroductionTime Doesn't Fly ... It Red-Shifts.
Hard to believe it, but the time between the publication of From the Borderlands and the previous volume is nine years.
Lots of changes in just about everything during that span. To name but a few: bricks finally weigh more than cell phones; cigarettes cost as much as a six-pack; dot.commers no longer name football stadiums; and eighty-year-old grandmas get checked for shoe-bombs when they want to fly to Cedar Rapids.
But there is at least one constant: the stories you find in a Borderlands anthology will be the best imaginative fiction being written.
We say that with confidence because we've worked hard to find the absolute best dark fantasy, suspense, and even a few real horror stories. For those of you who've never read earlier volumes of this series, we should hip you to some of the "ground rules": (1) Borderlands is a non-themed anthology, which means writers are free to explore any topic they choose; however (2) we are usually not very excited to see stories which are basically re-treads of familiar genre symbols, staples, and icons. (We're not looking for stories about vampires or ghosts or serial killers or witches or were-creatures or anything else you've already read somewhere else.) (3) This anthology is not restricted or "invitation-only," which means you'll always find plenty of new writers right alongside some of the most familiar and popular "names" in the business.
Okay, onward: we'd been planning to get back to the editing business for a while now, and when we announced we were reading for From the Borderlands, we didn't realize what that would really mean.
For one thing, we'd been told there was a whole new generation of readers out there who'd been chewing through Goosebumps when last we published an anthology, and we'd be as foreign and unknown to them as The Alan Parsons Project. We honestly wondered what kind of response we'd get to our initial calls for submissions.
What kind indeed ...
The last time we were reading, we may have received a handful of stories in digital format (i.e. on a floppy disk), but none by e-mail. However, earlier this year, within a week of our first announcement, we received more than two hundred stories to the borderlandspress.com e-mailbox. Now, that was impressive on one level, but disappointing on another-one, we were surprised how many people wanted to be part of this project, but two, we were fairly certain all those stories hadn't been written especially for Borderlands in just a week's time.
We were right.
A large majority of the earliest stories we received proved to be inferior work that had been making the rounds, or worse, had been retired to a sub-directory for stories-rejected-by-just-about-everybody. Many of these submissions were from writers who most likely had never read any previous Borderlands anthologies, or hadn't bothered to read the guidelines closely enough to discern what we were not looking for. It's mind-numbing to see so many writers stuck in such a creative rut that they can think of nothing more challenging than another serial killer, or (even worse) a low-life who goes around hurting people just so the writer can describe all the victims' gaping wounds.
We also received far too many stories that were obvious rejects from other "theme" anthologies looking for material around the same time as we. Hence the preponderance of stories where cockroaches made odd and sometimes totally nonsensical appearances. But our personal favorites were all the stories featuring that ethereal libation, absinthe-these tales usually followed a relentless plot that went something like this: drank some absinthe, had some sex, killed somebody. Can you say stunted imagination? We thought you could.
But as the weeks became months, and we worked our way through all the hastily-sent "trunk" stories, we began to see better fiction. Most of it arrived by e-mail, with a very small percentage through regular mail, and practically no one requiring the entire manuscript be returned. It seemed like we would sit down every evening to read ten or twelve stories, and every morning, there would be twenty new ones taking their place. It was incredible. We believed we were keeping up by reading submissions every day, but in reality, we began to get buried.
When we were approaching seven hundred submissions, we still had more than two hundred to read, and we had maybe room for five more stories. We had to push up the submission deadline ... or we would never finish close to our original schedule. The plain fact was we'd been overwhelmed by the response. We were reading nothing in our lives other than stories for From the Borderlands, and we were holding up as well as a thatched roof in a monsoon.
The major reason this became an increasingly more challenging problem? We'd made a commitment to give every submission a fair reading, and make an attempt to provide honest criticism and real reasons why we were rejecting or accepting the story. In case you didn't realize it, that takes a lot more time than just saying: "sorry, not quite right for us." (Actually, we did say that in a very small percentage of the cases-only when a story was so completely not right, and we had nothing constructive to say.) Most of the time, we provided our writers with personalized responses, which is more feedback than they usually get.
Most writers seemed to recognize and appreciate our effort; we received lots of e-mails telling us our rejection notes were some of the most informative and helpful they'd ever received. Of course, we also got some snide responses (usually from veteran writers who assumed all they needed to do was send us anything and we'd accept it [we didn't]), expressing their disagreement with our editorial opinion. Hey, that's why America's a great country ...
And while we're doing such a bang-up job of complimenting ourselves, we should also tell you we made it a policy to not read when we were too tired or too distracted; every story deserved our best because we believed every writer had sent us their best. The quality of the writing was, in general, very high. It was the content which usually sank them. We had no idea how many writers would insist on sending us ghost stories ... so many we could have easily gathered together a great anthology of nothing but apparitional tales. Maybe we will someday (no, just kidding about that one).
That's about it. Its almost time for the enclosed stories to start speaking for themselves. The essence of all this is pretty simple: the stories in this volume are stories we liked-for whatever reason. We'd like to think we've picked up and ran with the rallying cry of earlier volumes that Borderlands is pushing the boundaries of imaginative fiction.
It's glad to be back. We hope you feel the same way.
An excerpt from All Hands John R. Platt
When we read John Platt's submission, it was late in the evening, and we had spent most of it writing rejection slips. We liked "All Hands," but we were tired, and could no longer trust our judgment. So we put it in our possible file, and figured we would get back to it sooner or later. But something weird happened: the next day, and the days that followed, neither one of us could get the story out of our mind. That could mean only one thing-it was a Borderlands story.
7 A.M. The alarm clock rings. Jerry reaches up and hits the snooze button with hands that are not his own.
White curtains on the bedroom window do little to block out the morning sun. In the yellow glow, he examines the new day's gift.
Strong hands today. Calloused. Course hairs on the knuckles. The fingernails are rough and chipped. He flexes the fingers, feels muscles tense and twist. The skin is a sun-burned red, much darker than the flesh on his wrists.
He likes today's hands. They have character.
He changes his mind about going back to sleep, turns the alarm off, and heads into the shower.
The hands can't type, but his arms know what to do. He extends the pointer fingers and hunts and pecks forty words a minute. Not bad. Still, he remembers the day he wore the hands of a speed typist. He finished early that day and left halfway through the afternoon.
Most of the hands don't have any particular skills. They all look and feel and experience the world around them differently, but for the most part, they do what he needs them to do.
Around noontime, Bob Brady comes by Jerry's cubicle. They go to lunch at the local diner. Jerry is surprised to find the hands holding the silverware European style. He's not used to it. It slows him down while he eats. His food grows cold before he finishes.
"Should've ordered a burger," Bob jokes.
That's Bob. The office comedian.
At home in the evening, Jerry takes advantage of the strong hands to finally hang a shelf in the living room. Proud of his work, he also fixes the leaky kitchen sink and ties up a month's worth of newspaper for recycling before calling it a night.
On his way to bed, he stops and washes the hands as carefully as he can. Best to leave them in good condition. Good stewardship, that's his motto.
Summer turns to fall, and fall to winter. Hands come and hands go. Jerry buys gloves in bulk, never knowing what size he will need to wear on any given day. Some hands don't mind the cold, but others shiver and twitch no matter how thick the gloves. They obviously come from warmer climates.
The hands come in all shapes and sizes, colors and ages. He buys a dozen different brands of moisturizer and lotion, never sure if he's using the right thing. Some days the hands get dry and chapped. Once he experiences what must be an allergic reaction. He feels a pang of guilt about that, but how much can he do?
The aged hands are infrequent, but he has learned to stock a supply of arthritis medicine, just in case.
He feels most awkward with the female hands. He spends those rare days in his cubicle, trying not to be seen.
One morning, he wakes with a child's hands. Tiny, pink, newborn. He holds them up to the light, and can see the bones through the skin. They lack the strength to turn off the alarm clock, so he wraps the power cord around his ankle and yanks it from the wall socket.
He calls out sick that day. It takes him an hour to figure out a way to dial the phone.
Excerpted from From the Borderlands by Elizabeth E. Monteleone Thomas F. Monteleone Copyright © 2003 by Elizabeth E. & Thomas F. Monteleone. Excerpted by permission.
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