“Spidersong” by Susan C. Petrey first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in September of 1980, just two months before the author’s death. Of Susan’s stories published in that magazine, it is the only one which does not take place in the universe of her gentle healing vampires, the Varkela. It is also the most reprinted of her stories, though it has not been in print for decades. “Spidersong” was nominated for the 1981 Hugo awards and she was nominated, posthumously, for the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer. The story reflects her great love of animals, albeit a tiny spider; music; and her rather romantically sad outlook on life.
In addition to being a writer, she was an accomplished mandolin player and often jammed with local musicians. She had a degree in microbiology, worked as a medical technologist, and was involved in the Portland, Oregon science fiction community.
Susan, like many of us, was confused about her life. Her diary and doodlings reveals this. But she sought counseling from her church, from professionals, and her friends. She lived her life, no matter how confused, with direction and intent. Much of her energy was funneled into the study of languages and history. She was a student of Turkish and Russian and many of her notes and story ideas were written in those languages. She used this knowledge extensively in her writing, and it is evident in most of her stories. She began writing as a means to combat depression, but it became much more. Her dedication to it was unquestionable.
We only knew Susan for a few years and don’t have much knowledge of her earlier life. There was a failed marriage, of which she spoke very little. Her love of horses is reflected in the golden-eyed mare of the Varkela stories. Her favorite pet was a boa constrictor named Baby.
Susan died in December 1980. Earlier in that week, she had received the letter accepting her fourth story for publication. She was very upbeat about this, finally admitting that she was a professional writer. Her death was caused by a fatal error in judgment—the combination of prescription tranquilizers, cough medicine with codeine, and alcohol.
Fortunately for readers, friends of Petrey and fellow science fiction fans were able to submit and sell four additional stories after her death. Eventually, all known stories were collected into the book Gifts of Blood in 1990. It was originally printed in a limited edition with contributions by Ursula K. Le Guin, Vonda M. McIntyre, and Kate Wilhelm. Baen later published it as a mass market paperback.
The Susan C. Petrey Clarion Scholarship Fund was created by Portland, Oregon friends of Susan to honor her and to keep her memory alive. Here, thirty-four years later, her work is still being published and read. Fifty-four scholarships have been awarded to Clarion and Clarion West writers’ workshops. Nine instructors have been sponsored as Petrey Fellows. This is some small measure of how much she is missed.
To support the Susan C. Petrey Clarion Scholarship or to purchase copies of Gifts of Blood, visit osfci.org/petrey/index.html.
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