In the mail recently were my contributor's copies of The Mammoth Book of Merlin, edited by Mike Ashley. It includes "The Dragon Line," which is the only work of Arthurian fantasy I know of that's set in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and is one of my personal favorites among my short fiction.
As always happens when "The Dragon Line" is reprinted, I am filled with sadness.
I am saddened because whenever I think of that story, I remember Anna Quinsland. Anna was a friend back in my college days. We were both gonnabe writers then, and it is not false modesty to say that at the time she was a much better writer than I was. Her prose was smooth and convincing and her people recognizably human in a way that my prose and people were not.
Possibly her best story (not quite publishable because like most young writers she hadn't yet worked out the whole plot-and-conflict thing) was told from the viewpoint of Mordred's lover, and it had what was to me at least a new and convincing take on him. Mordred is or was at the time always presented as being villainous simply because he was. Anna looked at the situation from his point of view and realized that Mordred was just like his father, an Idealist. He comes to Camelot as the king's unacknowledged (but everybody knows, of course) bastard. And what does he find? Hypocrisy! Everybody praises Arthur as the embodiment of virtue and Guenevere as the paragon of chastity and Lancelot as the perfect knight. He sees a cuckold and womanizer, a whore, and a jock who's sleeping with his best friend's wife. Small wonder he wants to bring down the whole corrupt regime.
Imagine all that seen through the eyes of a young woman who loves him and can't get him to recognize the inevitable disaster that he's setting in motion. That's the stuff of fiction!
Anna might well have become another Mary Stewart. Or maybe another... well, there's no telling. But life happened to her. She had a brief, unhappy marriage, in the wake of which she joined Army intelligence. Her plan was to save up enough money to get a degree in library science.
One night, coming back from the library, she was attacked from behind and left in a coma. She died a week later.
Many years after that, when I had the skill to do so, I used her Mordred in my own story. I added enough to it to make the story my own. But a little bit of Anna lives in"The Dragon Line." A little bit of her lives every time somebody reads my story. I wish it were more. I wish we could all read the stories that were implicit in her.
God bless and keep you, Anna. I hope you're happier now than we are in your absence.