7 Days To The Coming of the Light

Kage Baker loved countdowns. She enjoyed the stately glissade down to an event – well-regulated anticipation was something she savored. Big red X’s on calendars were one of her favourite things – unless it was a special calendar, which had to remain untouched (she had several of those, which she re-used regardless of the year) in which case what it got were sticky notes with big red X’s on them.

I am now on the 7 days countdown for cataract surgery, Dear Readers, and I am full of impatience and complaint.

It’s only for my left eye, but the left one is so much worse than the right that as long as that one gets fixed, I shall be fine for several months. Today I had the pre-op physical, to make sure that my heart will not stop nor any interior organs rise up and attack the doctors while my useless cornea gets replaced. It’s only a local anesthetic, but I don’t blame them for wanting to be sure my wonky heart does not complicate a routine procedure.

And then – I will be able to see again! Depth perception will once again be mine. I can once more pour coffee and eat with a fork,  there will be no more antic rings around lights – though I must admit, the Halloween lights look positively psychedelic through my left eye right now. Coruscations! Cascades! Slo-mo explosions of light and color!

And a great showy way to fall down the front steps. The raccoons applaud.

Speaking of which – raccoons, I mean – the little buggers have been especially active and wicked this season. They climb the mulberry tree and attempt to rob the squirrel feeder – we empty it at night, for just that reason, but they evidently feel it’s better to check every night to make sure. Then they lose their balance and fall out; sometimes they land on a skunk, which is … unfortunate for everyone. They also get stuck in the tree, and when you walk under them they stretch out pleading little evil black-gloved hands to beg for aid. My poor Nephew Mike finds this especially heartbreaking.

They’ve also been having night-races on the roof again. Like every other time they do this, there are casualties – the bad drivers who miss the turns, bounce off the retaining wall around the roof, and then fall off into the bushes. And by the time that happens, I am already awake from the stampeding of little hoofs back and forth over my head. I know, I know – they look like paws. But at night raccoons either grow hooves, or put on iron boots. Cats do that, too.

And with the rapid onset of blindness in my left eye, my sleeping patterns have gone completely doo-lolly. I tend to sleep fitfully every 18 hours or so, regardless of day or night … normal vision is, I am told, almost certain to restore my ability to sleep at a slightly more normal rate. Oh, I hope so!

In the meantime, I am usually awake to hear the raccoons wreak riot. I am therefore considering arming myself to scare them off. My heart’s desire is for a shotgun – the weapon of choice for someone who has no aim –  ever since I found that there are flash-bang and bean bag rounds available for 12-gauge shotguns. However, various sensible friends have since convinced me that this puerile desire for noise and explosions will get me arrested. They have suggested methods that – while less dramatic – will probably be more effective …

And really, Dear Readers – I really shouldn’t consider taking up firearms until my eyes are both functional again. Wouldn’t that make more sense? It would, right? I should be mature about it. Kage would be horrified at the idea of me with a shotgun.

Though she’d have been a dead-eye shot, shooting … but I will have to content myself with more big red X’s.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Accomplishing Something In The Noisy Dark

Kage Baker was a firm proponent of momentum. She felt one should work constantly to achieve and preserve it, and to use it in  all one’s endeavors.  “Maintaining momentum,” she often told me, “is the only way to get long projects finished.”

This may have something to do with Kage’s many years of experience of trying to hang on to enough momentum to make it over the Grapevine on I-5 in old cars with 4-cyclinder engines. There are sections where, unless you can keep your speed going as you attempt the uphill grade, there is no safe median between just fast enough and barely making way – if you slip below 50, you’re gonna lurch over that pass at a gasping, coughing 12 mph.

She applied this to her writing, of course, as she did everything that ever happened to her. Momentum in a project was never abandoned, even when a day’s work consisted of hacking individual words one by unwilling one out of the jungle of inertia. “It would be easier to write memos in cuneiform,” she would complain, working on some recalcitrant passage with single-fingered fury. Kage typed like Chico Marx playing the piano – and, like Chico, so fast it was an inhuman staccato.

“So, set it aside for awhile,” I would mutter from behind a book or a half-knit sock.

“No, if I stop I’ll never start again!” And she’d pursue her muse in a furious halting frenzy, like a posse on rocking horses.

Kage would occasionally employ an alternate method: working on something else. But that was just transferring funds from one bank account to another; the banked momentum wasn’t wasted. As soon as she’d built up enough to make the transfer back the other way, she’d return to her original project with renewed energy.

Even in my current state, this method still serves me well. The last 2 days, I have been fighting a truly epic migraine – not one of the painless sort, where I just have to wait until the black and silver thorns all dissolve from my field of vision. Those – which I am informed are called “optical migraines” – don’t hurt and don’t last long. They’re just inconvenient, because it’s hard to type through all the glitter … no, the last 48 hours have been a classic migraine, the sort Kage used to get. And I’m not used to those.

The pain is a given on those: no use describing it, it just exists and is horrible. Kage used to aver that her hair hurt; that even thinking hurt, because her brain was so bent she could feel the neurons trying to connect and short-circuiting. And I’d make soothing noises and draw the drapes, maybe rub her temples until she fell asleep. I was sympathetic, but I did NOT understand. Oh, silly me!

No, the worst part is the sensory distortions – the way sound and scent and tactile sensations all turn inside out, and against you. Kage was right; your hair hurts, thought hurts, colour hurts. Yellow is the worst; yellow light is worse than even bright white light, for me. For some reason, red is the least uncomfortable. I achieved a considerable amount of relief with a red t-shirt over my face.

At one point, my head was filled with the sound of a calliope, badly played, with a background of glass harmonica: like army ants eating through my ears. At the same time, all I could smell was cinnamon. I happen to be allergic to cinnamon, resulting in a period of astonishing nausea. Dear Readers, I have never had such a cacophony of sensory input gone wrong in my life.

And yet … a part of my mind – off to the right, and a little underneath Wernicke’s Area; I could visualize it precisely – was busily working on the final polishing of “The Teddy Bear Squad”. I’ve had several beta readers kind enough to send me their analyses, and even as most of my cerebral equipment stuttered to a halt – part of it kept working away at that story. Some bits were really weird, but I think I managed to weed most of those out when the hallucinations quit.

Consequently, last night I finished up what I honestly think is the final version. My agent will have it in her hands Monday, to see what she thinks of it. Hopefully, after that, we shall see what some editors also think of it, and if it will finally see the light of day. But no matter what – I finished it! Under duress and  half-blind, I finished the story! That is a wonder and a miracle, and I will never tire of it: and that’s the ultimate reward: if you keep going, you do, eventually, Get There.

This is a trick Kage taught me. I pass it on to you, Dear Readers, in the hope it may help you as well. Those of you who have worked Renaissance Faires in California – and thus encountered the Grapevine in ageing junker cars – know what I’m talking about already … and it may be you can adapt this method as I have done, to your own needs.

Kage said it was cheating at physics, and was amused at her own cunning. I tried to tell her you can’t cheat the Law of Conservation of Energy. but she never believed me. Or the Laws of Thermodynamics. And if you consider our respective records – well, I guess she comes out the winner.

So much for the Laws of Thermodynamics, eh?


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Aaand – Another Countdown Begins

Kage Baker, even during her final days, maintained a cheerful conviction that things could be worse. Even when she knew she was dying, she said she was grateful that it was going to be fast – as it was; she lived with the knowledge barely a week before the prognosis became history. She was glad about that.

The memory is now old enough to piss me off slightly. Not that I am dying; no, I am jealous. I now think it’s much luckier to be struck with metabolic lightning, as Kage was, than to work one’s way through an endless maze of debilitating diseases. I am simply aging, and falling apart piece by piece like an abandoned building. My paint is flaking, my plumbing is leaking, every door is sprung and every window cracked. No floor is level nor wall plumb, and I am fairly positive there are bats in my belfry …

The problem right now is those cracked windows. My cataracts have been apparently growing like kudzu; or some especially malignant variety of Magic Rocks. You remember those, Dear Readers – you sprinkle some neon-colored pebbles in a mayonnaise jar full of tap water, and psychedelic stalagmites grow. It can take between a week and a month, and it lasts until you drop the jar or reach in to touch the things …

That’s what’s been going on in my eyes over the last 10 months or so. I am well aware that I have not been online for most of September: that’s because my left eye has grown so clouded that typing has become a literal pain. What I can see is double-imaged and if I persist in the exercise for more than 20 minutes or so, I get to add migraines to the hallucinatory vision I now enjoy … I have pecked away grimly as much as I can, but most of that has been on the final polish for “The Teddy Bear Squad”, the slowly advancing zombie story (appropriate, I guess) and the occasional guest blog for Stefan Raet’s Company re-read on tor.com – which should post tomorrow or next Tuesday …

Without the aid of Kimberly, who holds a degree in technical writing, this would none of it be possible. She goes over everything to make sure it makes sense and has all its parts. Praise her with great praise!

But! Today I went to my ophthalmologist for the pre-surgical testing.  On October 24th, my left eye will be restored to, at worst, the rotten vision I’ve had since birth! And since my rotten vision is correctable with glasses, that will be sufficient for me. I’ve worn glasses since I was 11, have finally found a permanent source for National Health specs (John Lennon glasses), and it would feel  like I’d lost my nose if I had to go around bare-faced.

My right eye, which is dim but not as bad, will be restored sometime after the New Year.

This has inspired me to put up with the infuriating exercise of typing, and try to keep up this blog. Also, I am getting very, very bored. I can’t read for more than 20 minutes, either, and have never developed a long-term appetite for television. I don’t like audio books. Sometimes I can knit, but no complicated stitches – can’t see ’em. There’s only so long one can sleep. I’d rather do what I like and risk headaches. What are drugs for, anyway?

Anyway, the process is just getting interesting. The sight in the afflicted eye has begun to show actual distortions – shapes and sizes are no longer normal, he he he, and if I had any artistic talent, I’d give Picasso or El Greco a run for their turpentine. Colors are all steeped in a shadow like strong tea; patterns are vanishing into solid blocks of pigment, but the colors are … weird.

The tests were rather entertaining. The vision test was hilarious – all I could see with the left eye was blurs that might as well have been in Cyrillac, or Aztec pictograms. The ultrasound involved covering my eyes with water-filled cups, and shining deep red lights into my eyes to snap pictures of the mess inside. It was like staring into the face of Betelgeuse, just before the red giant goes nova: a baleful scarlet glare, swarming with dark blobs and ribbons and occlusions.

It’s all grist for the mill, you know? And having spent the last month in a dark room rationing my time in front of glowing screens, I want all the grist I can get! No more patience1 No more waiting for it all to get better! If I have to  live through yet another physical disaster, I’m gonna milk it for every interesting moment I can!

I mean, they’re gonna stick teeny vacuums with frickin’ lasers attached to their heads into my eye. There’s got to be some stuff for stories in that!


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

September 8th

Kage Baker hated waiting for things. She despised anticipation, especially if she was forced to endure it. About the most she could stand happily was seeing her presents for a birthday or Christmas the night before – so she could moan and speculate and shake the packages, but only for a little while.

Much more than a long evening and her head blew up. It’s why we opened stockings at midnight on Christmas Eve. She simply couldn’t wait for the entire show until the next morning.

The very worst part of Kage’s mortal illness – at least for her – was waiting for the initial surgery. The diagnosis came quickly, after the biopsy; and after the first surgery, things were a horrible,  but undeniably swift, ride.  It was the months between April  and November 2009 that she found unbearable. That delay also happened to contribute enormously to her dying of her cancer; but it also ate away like acid at her nerves and patience even before she knew she was going to die.

And she never complained about dying. She sure as hell complained about having to wait so long for it, though.

I have been slogging grimly through the Slough of Despond these past several months, waiting to see what (if anything) was going to be done about my deteriorating vision. The first specialist referral admitted I had cataracts, but dismissed my problems as due to dry eyes – and guess what, artificial tears do SQUAT for cataracts. I bitched loudly to my doctor, and got a new referral; I saw that doctor today. And lo! Salvation heaves upon my horizon and I can almost see it!

My new ophthalmologist is a spritely little brownie of a lady, whom I suspect is going to have to stand on a box to reach my eyes. But she is all set to do it, so now I am just waiting for the surgery manager to call me with the possible dates. I am promised a call back within a week or two. The surgery itself is brief, the healing time, ditto. My eyes are too bad to hope for life without glasses, but my vision will be better than it has been in years. No more pain! No more auras, no more double vision, no more faded colour, no more light aversion!

I am so happy, I am manic. I laughed and joked all the way home frm the doctor’s office. The project is finally in train, I am assured this will happen, and my  horrid wait is almost over!

Due to pupil dilation and such, though, typing is a pain tonight. If you can read this at all, Dear Readers, it will be because Kimberly not only got me to and from the eye doctor, she has edited this blog. So I must ask your indulgence,  because aside from this brief and happy notice, I am signing off the computer for the evening now.

Oh, frabjous day!


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Juggling Jigsaws

Kage Baker – although she could and did concentrate on a given project with laser-like specificity – had a little personal trick for keeping her creativity interested in what it need to do. She always tried to have more than one story going at once.

Never mind metaphors like irons in the fire and pots on the stove. Those items all actually require constant, simultaneous attention, in order to prevent common kitchen and forge disasters. (Kage, as an historical re-creator, was familiar with both of those.) What she wanted was something that would sit quietly in the background, not bursting into flames, fixing her current project with the famous Hairy Eyeball and frightening it into obedience. She wanted a thug, who could lurk in the background and glower over her shoulder with the threat that – unless her main squeeze behaved and gave her some sugar – they would move in and waltz her away to a sleazy dive.

It usually worked just fine. If and when things got impossible, Kage could lay the troublesome story aside and work on something else for awhile. She could even use the process as a preemptive strike: often, working on an old, stalled or otherwise not current story line would provoke a new, fresh idea to germinate. It seemed to work on the grit-into-pearl model; if something was irritating enough, Kage’s unconscious would turn to  something prettier.

I’ve heard vague references from other writers about similar reactions. It’s well known that nothing will make you come up with cool new ideas like having a prior commitment that MUST be finished first. Apparently, deliberately getting involved in something helps attract something else: them as has, gits – as Kage’s North Carolinian mother would often pronounce.

I guess it was like fighting with your boyfriend and going out for a drink and picking up some total stranger. Except, the way Kage did it, it ended better. She usually got at least 2 stories out of the trick, and got paid for it to boot.

I have found this to also be an effective process for keeping two or more projects richly productive. I always have more than none knitting pattern on the needles at once; when the linen stitch or entrelec won’t work, you can always relax with a nice sock in a garter stitch – round and round, not even needing to reverse your fabric. I got three stories begun while working on polishing Knight and Dei – two of them have been subsequently finished, and given rise in turn to a few more seeds …

This can be regarded as a juggling version of the jigsaw puzzle technique. Only with this, you’re drawing pieces from several puzzles at once, and seeing if you can fit them together. Kage actually did this with real puzzles, by the way: if pieces had gone missing – as happens when you have cats, parrots and small relatives – you can always turn them wrong-side up and see if pieces from other puzzles will fit in the gaps. Jigsaw puzzles are mostly cut in the same dozen or so shapes – if all you are dealing with is shape, and you aren’t concentrating on the color or design, it’s amazing what you can fit together.

Of course, the really peculiar thing is that Kage thought of this truly individual form of entertainment in the first place. I’ve never heard of anyone else doing it, to be honest. And I’m not sure if she adapted it from writing more than one story at a time, or if she re-purposed blind jigsaw assembly to writing. Either way, they both worked.

Naturally, I still use as much of this as I can manage. Not the jigsaws: I think you need a mind like Kage’s to pull that one off, and I’ve never met another mind like hers. But the running two trains of thought on parallel but different tracks – yeah, that one works. I know the Bible says not to hitch a horse and an ox to the same plough, but what dooms barley (and why does it not work, anyway?) works just fine with books.

So today, I was working on the the first little errors and alterations needed on “The Teddy Bear Squad”. Most of them so far are spelling and punctuation – I type just fast, and see just poorly, enough right now that some weird combinations result. And even the best of us slip on the Oxford comma now and again … but while I was working away at that whole deal, my mind was leaping hither and yon through scenes from the zombie story.

The nicest part of this is that what was 497 words 2 days ago is now 2,245 words. And 11 pages of notes.

And, true to Kage’s time-honored system, there are at least 3 story-gems nascent in this mass of undifferentiated mother-of-pearl. Only one is getting written just now, but there is content in there for at least 2 more. Maybe a novel. It’d even be a pretty cool comic book, if I could draw …

But that skill of Kage’s,  I never could learn.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Jigsaw Puzzles

Kage Baker loved jigsaw puzzles.

She was great at them, too. Even when she so ill, at the end, that she had to use a wheel chair or gurney to get in and out of the radiation therapy clinic – she had me stop in the waiting room every time, so she could do a few more pieces on the enormous puzzle laid out there. She did a lot of that puzzle. It was still not finished when she stopped coming in, so I have no idea how it ended up – but Kage was a whiz bang at it.

She liked puzzles with enormous numbers of pieces, and complicated patterns; but sometimes I got her puzzles that were all one colour and she beat those, too. She had heard that Meave Leakey, wife of Richard Leakey and one of that remarkable family of anthropologists, liked to assemble her jigsaw puzzles back-side up, to sharpen her skull-assembly skills. Kage took that as a personal challenge. I can say, with fair confidence, that Kage would have made a good physical anthropologist. If she had been able to overcome her revulsion at the sight of bones …

Which brings me to the subject of research notes. I am still spending a lot of time, today, doing research, even while I write – that’s just the way it goes, at the beginning. No matter how carefully you lay out your plot and the things you need to learn, new angles and ignorances pop up and you have to go tearing off to answer the urgent questions. Half the time, they change the actual course of the plot, too, requiring other avenues of inquiry that had not previously occurred to you.

That’s how I wrote thousands of words of notes yesterday, and 497 words of actual story. Which greatly amused some of you Dear Readers, I think, who also happen to be writers yourselves and have thus found yourself in this position. You MUST prepare for a story – I really believe that, as Kage did, and cannot overstress the importance of doing your research first. But you can never prepare enough. There is always something untoward blinking at you from the underbrush, whispering smugly: Forgot about ME, dintchya?

Crappy little overtones and metaplots and implications and second thoughts! I’d step on their spongy over-inflated heads, except they often turn out to be the best parts of the stories.

One of the best ways to combat this problem, I learned from Kage (of course). Keep your notes literally attached to your story document.

When Kage wrote on a typewriting machine and paper, the notes were paper-clipped to the inside of the folder where every day’s finished copy went. As Time increased both, she usually ended up with two bulging folders, rubber-banded together. Or one of those Cordovan-leather-red cardboard artist’s folios with the shoestring ties, with separate piles of paper and notes stuffed in it. I’ve got samples of both methods stuffed in my desk drawers even now.

When Kage changed to a computer, she simply tacked the notes onto the end of the story document. She added to the story at one end, and the research at the other – ideally, she worked her way down through the notes until they were all represented in the text, and she could separate the story from its placenta. When that time came, sometimes the original first draft was saved with all the notes intact. Sometimes she dumped them – over my loud objections every time, I must add; but it was Kage’s decision on whether she could stand the sight of the original ideas after the finished version was breathing on its own. And sometimes she couldn’t. That aversion to bones, you know.

Me, I save ’em both. My few finished projects still have their cauls to hand. All the unfinished ones will get to keep theirs, too, as I go on. Mind you, the notes for Knight and Dei are so old that they are just a thousand sheets and scraps of Corrasable Typing Paper and flattened-out candy bar wrappers:  but I’ve got ’em, and I’m keeping ’em. (For one thing, if it sells – well, the notes for the sequel are in there somewhere … )

What happens, though, is that as you go through the notes and the actual writing, it gets a lot like assembling a jigsaw  puzzle. You transfer entire blocks of rough copy from one end of the document to the other – sometimes, whole passages come straight from the notes you took, merely tidied up when you insert them. And of course, whenever you insert a passage, it sticks in your mind – it’s permanently tagged with a glowing label that says “You added this! Is it right!” And if you need to move things around, that paragraph is likeliest to get cut and pasted again.

That’s a lot of what I have been doing today. Some paragraphs have been moved and moved again, all over the place – the whole tone and direction of the opening keeps changing. The protagonist has changed genders twice and address once – and I have to get Kimberly to take me driving up in the Hollywood Hills tomorrow, because Google Earth doesn’t go close enough to the tower at the top of Hightower Drive, or anywhere on the streets that are only staircases and cannot be driven on at all. Wimpy Google Earth!

Some of my notes are now in the prologue. Some of the prologue is now in the notes. An entire clinical progression of zombie pathology has been developed, moved into long-term storage, and then abbreviated for use in about 10,000 words. It may yet end up buried in peat and recycled into fire starters.

I never, ever, understood Kage’s fondness for jigsaw puzzles. I always preferred crosswords. Now, I think I’ve invented some eldritch, insane hybrid of the two.

Gotta go, Dear Readers. I have to fill in one up and three across, and then move it 5 pages in.






Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Zombie Story

Kage Baker didn’t  like zombies.

Not even in October, when her fondness for all monsters was at its peak. She had no respect for werewolves – a childhood spent watching Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolfman leaves an entirely different impression of them than one spent watching Taylor Lautner. They’re equally stupid. but Chaney Jr. was like a sad, unsuccessful racing tout; the Dead Salesman of the undead, on a perpetual Lost Weekend. Lautner is just a brooding muscle boy.

But she liked both of them more than zombies.*  She was willing to admit that Romero had created a genre classic – she just didn’t care for it. Of course, Kage died too soon for what I consider the best zombie films – she never saw Shawn of the Dead or Zombieland. She never even saw the Will Smith I Am Legend, which was not too bad until the director couldn’t figure out how to end it; she neither read nor saw World War Z, which at least had some amazing visuals.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies just made Kage roll her eyes in exasperation – and she didn’t even like Austin all that much. Television was no help, either. She died way too soon for The Walking Dead, which is well thought of (though I don’t like it at all). Worse, she also missed the television shows I, Zombie and Z Nation, which I think are fantastic.  Z Nation, in fact, is the show that reconciled me to the zombie genre in the first place. Kage would have loved The Murphy.

Anyway, I have grown rather fond of zombies, in certain carefully contrived circumstances. I’ve learned to recognize their dramatic possibilities. They are off the list that my subconscious keeps of topics that are silly, jejeune, over-worked or just plain  – well, icky. There are metaphors and similies possible on the subject. My snob alarms – and I have some lulus! – have been somewhat disabled.

Today, I spent several hours on research – on diseases, protozoans, climate change, weather patterns, eccentric astrophysicists, parasitology and Toxoplasmus gondii. Consequently, today I produced close to 3,000 words of notes and then wrote 500 words of actual content on A Zombie Story.  I wish it had been the other way around, but you can’t build much until you lay the foundation, right? It may not be what I settle down to write next, but it absolutely must be written to some extent – the idea won’t leave me alone, and it’s got to be translated into text or I won’t able to get anything done.

And who knows? It may be that this will be the spur to finish something else. Sometimes what it takes to inspire one is having something else making faces from the wings. It’s having a full plate that forces one to finally pick a chocolate up and actually eat it. Being between a rock and another, equally shiny rock – that’s when one absolutely has to make a decision.

I want to write. I’m ready to write. I am damned sure going to write something. I’ll write whatever wants to be written, at least until my mind makes a decision on which road I mean to travel to the end.

It’s always a bit of a surprise, Dear Readers. That’s half the fun.

*Always excepting the zombies in Sir Terry Pratchett’s novels, of course. Those are cool.





Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments