The Barbecues Are Blooming

Kage Baker did not like to barbecue. She only rarely even enjoyed eating it.

She could cook a fair treat over an open fire, but she used pots and pans and spits and griddles, and made many more things than charred meat. She said barbecuing was a guy thing mostly, and in any event – she personally did not have the necessary barbecuing gene. So when we went camping we had pan-fried steaks, and fancy potatoes, and sauteed onions and mushrooms; food you had to eat with a knife and fork.

If you camped with Kage, you ate asparagus with hollandaise sauce. By the light of a Coleman lantern.

Some people, of course, do have the barbecuing gene; they can accomplish miracles. My sister Kimberly is one of them, as is her son, Michael. Kimberly has been unfazed by any weird thing people have brought her to grill over charcoal, and she never even considers charcoal lighter: she uses a miniature charcoal burner’s cone with tinder and paper and other flammable stuff, and her barbecue never tastes of petroleum by-products. She has even produced perfect Yorkshire pudding and drop biscuits over an open flame, and baking is THE ultimate skill on a barbecue.

At our house right now, the entire neighborhood is gently perfumed with the scents of iron, and flame, and cooking beef. I’m not sure it matters what you’re actually cooking (we’re having turkey, I think); Memorial Day barbecues smell like broiling beef, whether it’s hotdogs, premium steaks, or something completely non-mammalian. The scent just evolves out of the rising smoke.

It’s appropriate that a holiday dedicated to the memory of our honoured dead should be so characterized by wonderful roasting smells. And after all, Dear Readers: the departed in glory are the point today, regardless of the competing shouts of the mattress sales and beer adverts. It’s for the sake of those who have passed through the worst fires that we send the sweet blue smoke up to the gods; incense and rare spices and fire are what we send aloft in the honour of those who have gone through it all before us.

I think too  many people forget that. I hope more people remember. I like to think that the perfumes of love and memory and devotion rise over our houses today.

That’s a ponderous lot to get out of the smell of Kingsford and steak next door, isn’t it? But, you know, it’s those simple, homely things that should remind us most clearly that heroism is a household virtue. The heroes are our own blood and bone and selves. Meals shared with love and grateful memory are the proper province for heroes – they lived and died to make that possible, not for medals and trumpet calls. The laughter of their loved ones around a shared fire are what they longed to hear.

Let’s give them that, as the long hot summer opens up before us. The season of heat and incense is opening like a rose everywhere this weekend. Let’s make sure that it’s an offering of courage and gratitude, not one of hate and strife.

Let’s make sure, Dear Readers, that the flames all burn like roses.

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I’ve Gang Agley

Kage Baker never missed a convention due to illness.

She did miss a signing due to simply forgetting, and going off to Faire instead. That is, in fact, more or less why she never missed anything again – when you come home in the middle of the night and find a note from the local police asking you to call your agent (who thinks you’re dead), it scars you for life. I can laugh about this now, but Kage never, ever found it amusing.

Even when she was too ill to walk, she honoured her appearance commitments. Literally on the eve of her hysterectomy, she insisted on attending the World Fantasy Awards. She was up for an award, which she did not get; but we had a wonderful time. I ran her all over the Convention in her wheel chair, Neassa kept her supplied with chocolates, and she dispensed them from a vintage papier-mache jack o’lantern on her lap. We had a wonderful time racing around corners and clipping pedestrians in the halls. Several self-righteous people demanded to know what she had done to herself: Kage derived a lot of satisfaction from announcing cheerfully, “I have cancer!” and watching their faces crumple up as they tried to think of something to say.

We had a hilarious, slightly naughty, totally care-free time of it. The only thing to do when you are on your way to what turns  out to be be your penultimate appearance, is to party madly. I have happy memories of Kage ordering “Home, Rasputin!”  as I wheeled her backwards down a hotel hall (anyone remember Bewitched?) and she and Neassa distracted the crowds by throwing Snickers bars at them.

Of course, Kage had minions. And didn’t have to drive, not even her own wheelchair. And, although she was harboring Death itself in her belly, she wasn’t sick sick. She maintained control of her bodily functions and her wits.

This Thursday night, as I packed happily for BayCon, I abruptly developed vertigo. It was like nothing I have ever felt before – not a little dizziness on standing up too soon, or the majestic cosmic wheel that lets you know you have drunk one pint too many; no, this felt like my eyeballs were turning round and round in opposite directions. It got worse and worse, then a headache started, and when both reached their peak – I started throwing up.

I kept throwing up, too, for an interminable time. I think I threw up everything I’d eaten for the last week, and possibly a few feet of my upper intestine. The vomiting finally stopped; but the nausea, the headache and the vertigo continued for the next three days.

This is a rotten way to spend a holiday weekend. I’ve been mostly asleep since then – I wake up every few hours to cautiously take necessary pills, then go back to sleep. My diet consists of Gatorade Ice – the kind with lots of electrolytes and more colour than flavour – and rare attempts at mashed potatoes. I’m not enjoying any of it, but Kimberly insists that it is at least preventing me from dying of malnutrition in my sleep.

Personally, I’d rather die in my sleep than feel like this.

It may be gastritis. It may be a new kind of migraine. It may have been a minor, micro-stroke. Insane amounts of my blood are being analyzed for all sorts of pathogens and exotic markers, and I am taking something called Pantoprazole. I think it sounds like I’m a character in a vaudeville skit – the rear end of a horse, probably – but it’s apparently meant to reduce digestive acid. I haven’t thrown up since Friday, so … it must work on something.

Obviously, I am not at BayCon. I regret this hugely, and I apologize for anyone who hoped to meet me there. While Michael and Neassa would have been willing to see through this, I couldn’t have made it up there in the first place. And I’d have felt horrible, being wheeled around puking on people.

All Kage did was throw “fun-sized” microscopic chocolate bars. She had more class than I do.

Back to bed now, Dear Readers. I shall resume when I can sit up for another 20 minutes.


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Ivory Towers and Local Habitations

Kage Baker never wanted to be famous. She had a deep aversion to being a public person; she considered that the most ladylike display of fashion was to be invisible.

She was pretty good at it, too, considering that she spent so much of her life performing. But of course, when you are a performer, you are not usually yourself. Kage had a nice wardrobe of personae that she put on, depending on what the emotional weather was like in her excursions. At Renaissance Faires, she was a version of the Wife of Bath, a calm and interested tourist viewing the world through amused eyes. At Dickens, she concocted a combination of Preserved Killick* and Long John Silver (and still managed to portray a warm, maternal cook). And when she went to science fiction conventions, she channeled her own Aunt Anne, whom you Dear Readers might remember as the elegant, cocktail-imbibing Marion Kerby in Topper.

If you hung around with her at conventions, you might get to see the real Kage – usually at a table in the bar, late in the evening. But that was a private show, only for her intimates; she stayed in character with an adamantine will in public.

I’ve never been half the actress Kage was. The characters I have portrayed at various Faires (which have enjoyed a small bit of local fame) were successful and memorable in so far as they were because they were designed by Kage. My entire career as a performer has been built upon the scaffoldings she wrote for me to fill.

I’m still working at perfecting the last character she wrote – her heir, the writer, the finisher of stories. I have made a little progress – but I am old now, old and stiff and slow: it’s not the easy trick it was in the days of yore, and ale, and glory in the golden dust of Chipping-Under-Oakwood, to transform into some lithe and lively Merry Wife. I keep trying, though, because it was what Kage wanted.

Tonight, I’m packing for BayCon, which was Kage’s favourite convention. I have tons of panels, so I am very pleased – I like to be useful and I LOVE to pontificate, and the lovely folks at BayCon always indulge me. I will have minions (my ever-resourceful entourage – Michael and Neassa – will be there to keep me on track); I will meet lots of old friends and hopefully some new ones. There will be too much coffee, not enough sleep, and a weekend spent on endorphins. I do like that …  and if I am good form, I will manage to be the wry, wise, maternal nerd Kage intended me to be at this point.

That will be better that the whiny old woman into whom I all too frequently morph these days. The excellent company I anticipate having will help no end. Unlike Kage, I actually kind of enjoy being in the spotlight: as long as I know my lines. And Kage left me lots.

In actual fact, though, neither of us really liked being public persons. Our alter egos liked it, some of them – not us, so much, though me more than Kage.

A good friend recently sent me a link to some wonderful quotes from Will Durant, that wonderful historian. (Thank you, Steve!) One of them was a perfect description of what Kage (and I) always really wanted to be:

“And last are the few whose delight is in meditation and understanding; who yearn not for goods, nor for victory, but for knowledge; who leave both market and battlefield to lose themselves in the quiet clarity of secluded thought; whose will is a light rather than a fire, whose haven is not power but truth: these are the men of wisdom, who stand aside unused by the world.”

This is not to assert that I have any right to claim I am a man/person of wisdom – quite aside from Dr. Durant’s antique usage, for which we can forgive him at this distance. Kage had a much better claim to this state, and it is most certainly what she wanted to be. It’s what she was, as much and whenever she could be, in the Embassy she built of our home.

But bright and early tomorrow I shall head off once again to the wide stage of the world. Time to leave behind my Ivory Tower for a little, and make some art.

* Captain Jack Aubrey’s steward, memorably portrayed in the film by David Threlfall.
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I Can See Clearly Now

Kage Baker had good eyesight. She was very glad about it, and never entirely reconciled to the necessity of reading glasses in her later years. Her fashion sense was much engaged with the jewelry aspect of  her glasses frames, and she was very picky about them.

One of the last things her mother advised Kage, at the literal end of her own life 25 years ago, was to make sure Kage’s soon-to-be first pair had red frames. “That will look best on you,” Mrs. Baker ordered, from her hospital bed. It was pretty much a comment out of nowhere, but Kage obeyed; and was comforted –  especially when her mother died very soon after that – to find that her mom had been correct. Red glasses were cool. Kage wore them for the rest of her life.

Me, I’ve always gone for what are now called John Lennon glasses. They used to be called National Health specs, as they were what the UK government gave you when you got spectacles through the National health benefits. They are round wire-rims, gold or silver (coloured, anyway) and I’ve worn them whenever possible. Due to my own mother, my  first glasses were blue sequinned kitty-cat frames (oh, shame and horror!) but I soon got my way, via a couple of excursions into modest horn-rims. I need glass 24/7, Dear Readers, and my own vanity told me not to spend that much time in frames I hate.

Yestreday, I got new glasses. These are the first pair post-cataracts, and the new lenses are a wonder! My eyesight sans glasses has improved markedly – by anyone else’s standards, I am still staggering blind, but compared to my past experience – man, I can see like Legolas on a hilltop! Over the last two weeks, though, my old glasses wouldn’t work and my eyes hadn’t healed enough for new ones. I have been, of necessity, totally without corrective lenses, except for the prosthetic intraocular lenses I now sport in both eyes: enough to keep me from walking into walls,  even enough to allow me limited use of my Kindle.

But watching television, reading for very long, being on the computer for more than a half hour: all these left me with ghastly eyestrain headaches. I could not drive. I went to the movies last week (saw Guardians of the Galaxy 2) and really enjoyed the film. I could see adequately, and the film is great: but I also walked out feeling like I was wearing a barbed wire head band.  My nearsightedness was vastly improved, but there was nothing that could be done for my astigmatism: in my natural state, I live in a world of fuzz, Dear Readers, rainbows and fuzz.

But now! Now I can see EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME!

I remember getting my first glasses, and the almost inexpressible bliss my new vision gave me. Hated blue kitty-frames notwithstanding, at least I didn’t have to look at them; and I could see so much! There were leaves on trees – I’d known that, because I got up close and personal with trees a lot (I had an arboreal childhood) but only via my non-sight senses. To my eyes, all trees were low clouds on sticks. Textures! Colours! Actual facial features on all other life forms! I saw the pupils in someone else’s eyes for the first time – it was our boxer, whose beautiful eyes turned out to be dark purple.

I walked around drunk for months – glasses did nothing toward my day-dreaming lack of attention in class, because I was always staring at something I had never, ever seen before and gently freaking out.

It’s the same now. The cataracts had diminished light and colour horribly, and now those are back, and better than ever. My eyes have been so improved by the new lenses, that my glasses are now both lower-power AND bring my eyesight up to 20/20: a personal best in my entire life. And the migraines have cleared out, which is an enormous pleasure.

I can drive again. I shall be able to make it to BayCon in a week with no difficulty at all; despite which, my stalwart nephew Michael will be accompanying me in case of road disasters. And the lovely Neassa will be joining us at the Con, to make sure I don’t run into the walls with just my ordinary klutziness.

And I can write again. The computer screen is no longer overlain with little silver and ebony roses, expanding into razor-wire spirals as my frontal lobes short out. My head doesn’t hurt. My eyes don’t hurt. I can see!

And there, Dear Readers, am I happy!



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I Never Did Like Current Events

Kage Baker  stayed quietly but adamantly uninvolved with politics. It was self-defense; in order to concentrate on the writing, she had to make sure that it was the foremost concern in her mind. Whatever the it was, during the current story line.

She always said it was relatively easy to ignore Bushes I and II – they would have upset her quite a bit, but they were ridiculous enough for her to refuse to think about them. She mildly approved of Clinton because most of the time he behaved; his peccadilloes were, she felt, rather reminiscent of Kennedy and also easy to ignore. Obama was the favourite President of her lifetime – he occasioned no scandal, he wasn’t an idiot, and he actually got some work done.

Had she lived long enough for the ACA to help her – she died 50-odd days before it began to work – she’d have liked him even better. In the 7 years since Kage’s death, President Obama’s ACA has saved my life no less than 3 times, and made it simply easier to live in half a dozen different ways.

I’m not too worried about the present health care fuckarow, oddly enough. I was terrified at first, but came to realize that living in California is affording me more protection against the Republican’s predatory Trumpcare than will be given to most Trump supporters. I hate them for what they are doing to lots of old, sick, poor, female people – but I, personally, am less likely than many millions to suffer directly. Choose where you intend to decay into senescence, Dear Readers; it does make a difference.

However, the screaming and yelling and running in circles, the cursing and threatening and lies, the hideous vulgar uproar of the current Congress and President is making me insane. I am therefore trying very hard to carve a new peace in my life, wherein to retain just enough of my sanity to write. And – although a writer doesn’t need all that much sanity anyway – it’s not easy.

I’ve stopped reading most of the papers I usually peruse. I skip all but the local news; half the time, I don’t indulge regularly in Rachel Maddow (whom I like tremendously).  Even the lovely Stephen Colbert is oftentimes too much for me – though I did catch his defense of Face the Nation‘s John Dickerson, and it did me good, by God. I’m mostly eschewing Facebook, except to see if anyone I know has died, and to check on a friend’s specialty page that only prints photos of cute animals: squee and obituaries, that’s as much as I can take most days.

A little writing gets done. Mostly, though, I am soothing my troubled psyche by reading. I read all the collected short stories of H.P. Lovecraft, and grieved when I ran out of them. Sadly, dear Howard is not publishing at the moment: he’s rumoured to be dead, of course; but, you know … That is not dead which can eternal lie, and all that. Having run out of not only Lovecraft but several tasty recent pastiches, I am now re-reading Stephen King novels. Those always comfort me, oddly.

What does it say that I’m reading Lovecraft and King for comfort? I suspect it means that I can abide current events even less readily than I am willing to admit. After all, I can tell myself, there are no vampires in my basement. (Raccoons, yes. Vampires, no. Do not even suggest vampire raccoons.) None of my neighbors is turning into a fungus. Fish and chips are not objects of horror. And while I would not mind being pressed into service to aid a gunslinger, all I get are daily emails from Congress critters asking for money …

Lovecraft is infinitely gloomier than King, but he still improves my mood. My own verbosity dims to razor-sharp witticisms compared to his;  my fondness for semi-colons pales in comparison to his mighty run-on sentences. But King, in particular, does make me feel better. There is genuine good in his stories, real heroism, and evil is usually defeated. And the soundtracks are always good.

Thank goodness for the Kindle, though.  I can expand the font and turn the lighting up and down, and avoid blue light late at night – all to accommodate my new corneal lenses. They are doing well, and I can watch telly (rare, but I do) with NO GLASSES, which is a first time ability in my entire 63 years. Close up is fuzzy, though; and writing on the computer is a bit of a strain – although at least possible. But tomorrow I am off to the optometrist for new glasses anyway. So all will be well.

Gonna get me some new glasses while I still can. This is because I have not “lived right”, and thus have accrued some small smarts and cunnings …

In the meantime, I shall continue to favour kittens over C-SPAN, and just about any literary creepy-crawly over the U.S. Congress. There’s only so much dread an old lady like me can take.


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Getting Ready For BayCon

Kage Baker ended up quite enjoying conventions.

She had not expected to enjoy them. She wasn’t fond of public appearances; if not for the growth of the Internet as a social environment, she might have been one of those authors who is seldom seen or heard. However, that is bad marketing – and while Kage was uncomfortable in public settings, she was canny about marketing.  And, having been a serious fan of several things herself, she felt she had to attend at least one convention a year in order to play fair with her audience.

I don’t think most fans realize that it can be hard for some authors – coming out to make faces and strike poses for their amusement. Some writers, of course, adore it; some are happy and enthusiastic performers. But some, like Kage, just want to sit quietly and write. She came to conventions initially as a courtesy to the people who read her stories. And then she found out that hotels have bars and ball rooms and dealers rooms and restaurants; and panels have microphones and ice water; and the people are lovely, and it was fun.

Her favourite was always BayCon, due to its placement in San Jose and the Bay Area. Part of Kage’s heart was always happiest in that Northern light … The people who run BayCon, also, are especially nice folks. Lots of the attendees work Faires, too.

Since Kage died, BayCon has been kind enough to take seriously my ongoing attempts to keep her work alive and ongoing. They invite me to attend and I appreciate enormously the chance to promote Kage and my work. This year, for instance, I have a novel and a novella under consideration at Tor; I hope for interesting news to share on at least one of them soon. Cons are great places to spread news like that.

BayCon this year is Friday May 26th through Monday May 29th, in San Mateo, at the San Mateo Marriott San Francisco Airport Hotel. It’s a lovely hotel, and I will be on a variety of panels – Building Utopia (A Canticle for Liebowitz); Autism and Asperger’s In Fandom; Writing in Someone Else’s World; Historical Writing: Knowing Your Character’s Cultural Priorities and Personal Rebellions; and The Eternal Importance of Research.

That last one is on the Monday, and is a particular soapbox of mine – and I get to moderate it, too! You may well wonder, Dear Readers, how important research is to High Fantasy, hard science fiction or Alternate History: but if you don’t know how something works, you can’t write well about how else it may work. Also, it’s nice not to write your foot into your mouth by misstating some obvious fact (anyone remember that poorly-researched film, Krakatoa, East of Java?*). Not to mention being sure that no one has had your amazing original idea before you did …

James Cameron has a particular problem with that one. It doesn’t seem to bother him, but it quite torques my wa. Anyway, I get to pontificate a little on the subject, so I am very happy. I have spent part of today contentedly working on the ideas for BayCon, and making sure my faithful entourage (the indomitable and indispensable Neassa) is properly registered for the Con.

One always needs an entourage, if only to pick one up when one trips and falls on the floor. I am grown somewhat wobbly these days – although my eyesight is stellar, and I think I will have simply astonishing visual acuity by the end of May. That won’t necessarily stop me from missing a step somewhere – I am a famous klutz – but, by God! I’ll see where I fall!

In the meantime, I shall continue to peg away at my zombie story, as well as one about 2 little ghoul girls that has sprung into my head lately. There’s a Lovecraft pastiche trying to surface, too. They’re not really horror stories, but alternate casting ideas have been insisting on being heard. In any event, if I get a slot for a reading, I’ll have something with which to work.

And every day, I see a little better. And every day, eschewing too much attendance on the news, I feel a little better. ALIVE, that’s how I feel.

And, man, it’s good to feel alive.



*Krakatoa was – and still is – West of Java.

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Updates, Squinting

Kage Baker never really worried about her eyesight.

She was slightly near-sighted but not enough to wear glasses most of her life. She was, as a baby, reputedly as cross-eyed as a Siamese kitten (and undoubtedly as cranky – it must have been cute). Due to the corrective procedure being somewhat mishandled, she was then slightly wall-eyed for the subsequent rest of her life – but her vision adapted and she was a dead-eye shot, shooting; and she didn’t need bifocals ever in her life.

I, however, have been a victim of my eyes since birth. They are primarily decorative, possibly put on my face as markers for the placement of my nose – they’ve never contributed much to the sense of sight, and I suspect I actually have sonar-sensitive patches on my forehead. Kage used to say that was why I was such a soprano – I steered by sound. It didn’t work well.

Today, though, I went in for the second of my two cataract surgeries. It went easily and quickly, and I am assured all will be well in a day or two. Tonight, though, I am down to one eye (the left), the right being hidden under a plastic tea strainer for the next 24 hours. I have NO depth perception – when I tried to get myself a cup of coffee, I missed the cup with the milk, and then missed the shelf in the fridge with the carton, thus first pouring milk into the stove and then dropping a half-gallon of it on my foot … and, a pint being a pound the world round, as the saying goes, that was no fun at all.

So now I am begging family members to bring me drinks, and using a grownup sippy-cup with a lid and a straw. It doesn’t stop me from bouncing off the door jambs, but I stay dryer ….

However, I am pleased to report that my effort to reproduce Coke Blak is a great success! I have found that a straight 1 to 1 ratio is most effective, with NO cream added: Coca Cola will sour dairy products. But Coke Free and black Mullah’s coffee – a strong drip brew – works most deliciously. So, while I cannot see, I am well hydrated and happy.

Tomorrow, Dear Readers, I hope to return to the Land of the Moderately Sighted. Now I’m gonna go sip my exotic Coke and coffee cocktail – which resembles Guinness most fetchingly – and listen to some television. This blog has about used up my abilities at sonar and telekinesis.


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