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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It’s Shakespeare’s Birthday. Have A Drink!

Kage Baker always took care to lift a glass of something or other on this day, in honour of that finest (so far,anyway) writer in the English language: William Shakespeare. Son of a glover, husband of a really patient woman, father of Hamnet and Susan … and not Wiilliam de Vere or Francis Bacon.

As Kage used to say, “I know, because I’ve asked all three of ’em.” And a poet who is drinking your beer is very unlikely to lie to you, I do assure you all. So, Happy William Shakespeare’s birthday, Dear Readers!

Lifting frequent glasses of anything is a good idea today anyway – it is HOT. So was yestreday, and the day before; it’s going to be warm for at least the next week. I shall stay indoors in the air conditioning. drinking copiously.

On the subject of drinks, I am currently on a quest today to reproduce one of the only soft drinks I have every liked: Coke Blak. It was not around for long (2006 to 2008, aside from a few lost-in-time refugees in the backs of coolers), and never in a large size – wimpy little 8-ounce bottles, redeemed only by their classic shape and nifty gold and black colouring. What delighted me was that it was not excessively carbonated nor over-sweet, although the US version was artificially sweetened.  (The European and Canadian versions were sweetened with sugar.)

But it’s main virtue is that it was Coke mixed with black coffee. Yep, actual caffeine-rich coffee – and I found it delicious. Even with the damned aspartame in it. Kage herself, a life-long Coca Cola devotee, thought it was ghastly and shuddered melodramatically when I drank it. In fact, almost everyone did –  I was apparently the only person in the USA who actually liked it, and even I couldn’t drink enough of it to keep the stuff in production.

However, Coke has now come out with a new product – Coke Free, which is reportedly lightly sweetened with cane sugar and stevia (from the leaves of ( Stevia rebaudiana), which contains several high-content glycosides; these are cousins of sugar, which cannot be used for alcohol – they won’t ferment, sadly enough. But they sweeten like crazy, and both Pepsico and the Coca Cola Co. have developed proprietary sweeteners out of the stuff.

To the uttermost point: Coca Cole is now using a combination of Stevia rebaudiana extract and cane sugar, (which is not only REAL, but is a source for rum!), to make brand new Coke Life. It has a green label and comes in generous 12-ounce bottles and cans. It’s not any better for you than ordinary Coke, but I suspect the flavour will be more to my liking. As soon as  can find some, anyway.

What I am going to do, therefore, is mix Coke Life with my special coffee from the Teahouse of the Mullah Nasruddin’s Donkey, which I have been drinking at Faires since I was 19 years old. For the last 7 years, as I do fewer Faires, I have been ordering it on the Internet, so that the soothing decoctions of the dear Mullah can ease my heart and soul at home. And now that the heat of the year is beginning on the edge of Los Angeles’ desert  lands, I am prepared to deal with it.

It will be my own version of Coke Blak – only with even better ingredients. Really, really good coffee, and sweeteners that are somewhat more natural; it’ll be yummy. I think. I hope.

And in the meantime, I shall continue toasting Sweet William with ordinary iced coffee – ’cause it’s still the Mullah’s blend: and over ice with a bit of cream, it is good for the soul and for all poets.

Kage would drink that right readily.


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A Peaceful Weekend in Arkham

Kage Baker was a firm believer that the world needed to be shut out from time to time.

Mind you, by from time to time, she usually meant round the clock. However, even Kage admitted that the world needed to be noticed some of the time, if only to make its periods of  purdah more noticeable. If Kage could have found a way to make the world aware she was shutting it off, that would have made her even happier. Maybe it would have made the world behave better.

I have, the last couple of weeks, been abstaining from social media. I’m never on it much, but I had developed a moderately serious Facebook addiction. It started out, as these things so often, so deceptively do, as a way to keep track of my friends – we’re not only getting older, we’ve had a rough life so far; people tend to drop dead suddenly in my circle. Something to do with spending 30 years living part-time in pre-Industrial Revolution societies, I suspect. Anyway, when politics was minding its manners and the country wasn’t trying to saw its own head off with the cutting strip from a tinfoil box, I checked in once a day and all was well. I even shared a few jokes, admired photos of grandchildren and pot roasts, did all the ordinary FB things. It took about 15 minutes a day. It was nice.

When I realized that I was spending 6 hours a day on FB and/or following up stories from FB – and that I longed more and more for a meteorite to strike me – I finally saw I had a problem. I turned off the feed. I increased the time I spent on sites like Smithsonian and Scientific American, and began doing more writing research. And, within a few days, I was writing more as well. And sleeping. And not having chest pains. And not praying to the meteor gods to reach and touch me with their chondrite-y appendages.

More people suddenly began following this blog, too. I had expected fewer, but that’s not what happened.

I did take Easter weekend off, just to read and eat chocolate. It  was delightful. As I hope everyone else’s weekend was, as well. I celebrate Easter more as a non-denominational Spring holiday, but my appreciation of returning life and the Risen Young Lord are sincere, albeit non-Christian. Your basic  vegetation deities are always admirable. And so is chocolate.

Along the way, I finished a tiny, tiny story – the shortest short story I have ever written – and submitted it to a tiny, tiny online magazine. We shall see what happens, but it is a personal record as it is a quite nice little piece and the first short-short story I have ever managed. I have this verbosity problem …

I also have several currently-accepting magazines and anthologies of which I have received notice, and lo! An idea sprang at once into my mind as I read over the requirements. It’s not the same as being invited, but it’s a rare phenomenon to find one’s self afire with an idea so suddenly. It does need some research, but that can be fun, too.

In service of that research, these last few days, I have been occupying my spare time re-reading the entire oeuvre of the inestimable H. P. Lovecraft. I know the gentleman has recently come under serious criticism for failing to be other than a product of his time and upbringing – but I think I can resist the temptation to adopt either his loathsome racial prejudices or his weird theories on the antediluvian religions … not to mention his run-on sentences and atmosphere of damp hysteria. However, even weighted with those weaknesses, one cannot deny that Lovecraft could really, really write.

I should probably stop reading them late at night, though. “The Color Out of Space” still gives me the serious willies; you’d think I’d learn. It’s not a good idea to read that story at 2 AM, in a house where (one desperately hopes) there are raccoons scratching around on the roof in the darkness … but I always seem to be reading that one at night, somehow. “The Dunwich Horror” however, is more enthralling every time I read it; although I must admit to a sneaking feeling of pity for poor Wilbur Whately. When you come right down to it, he’s a good boy – a pious youth, respectful of his elders (he he he), sincere about his studies, determined to carry out his family obligations. His poor brother, who endures an abusive childhood before his unspeakable demise, is also an object of more pity than I remember being able to summon in my teens. Maybe it’s getting older that changes one’s viewpoint on these things.

Or maybe unwholesome influences are creeping out of the darkened corners of my room as I lie sleepless in the infernal reddish light of my Kindle … because, of course, per the best modern eldritch lore, I’m using the blue light filter on my screen to ward off insomnia.

Life is weird. But at least it doesn’t have to be horrible and weird; one always has Kage’s option of retreating to a private world where one can work.  And, at this point, reading Lovecraft in bed at night is proving less noxious than following politics. Which really proves that truth is weirder than fiction, I guess.

All I know is, I’m writing every day. And some things are worse company than shoggoths.



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Gotta Catch ‘Em All

Kage Baker not only rarely suffered from writer’s block – she also bubbled over pretty much continually with ideas for stories. The cosmic injustice of this was obvious, and she readily allowed it – but, as she pointed out, it wasn’t her fault. After all, there were also people whose peculiar talent it was to accrue money easily – and none of them was her, and she didn’t complain about that.

She never had to wonder long what she was going to write. Usually, she had no choice; ideas attacked her, and insisted they be written. It was like an entire flock of insistent parrots on her shoulders, instead of the one who actually sat there. And all the real one wanted was to swing on her braid, and take naps lying on his back in the hood of her jacket. The idea-parrots gronked and whistled in her ears all day.

On the good side of this constant input, Kage always had a few ideas ready to go when she got invitations to write something specific. The last few years of her life, almost all her work was by invitation; all she had to do to start was page through the current file cards floating in her brain to find the nugget of a story. Another benefit was that she always had something ready to start as soon as something was finished – or, infrequently, something to fill  in as a change of pace when the current project went stale on her. It was like always having flour, salt and sugar in the pantry: security, the surety of sufficiency.

On the bad side – it was mental tinnitus. It never stopped. Kage said it was a constant background noise; when she learned about the hydrogen line, the 21-centimeter microwave radiation that permeates the Universe, she declared that was what whispered constantly in her head. Sir Terry Pratchett said that IDEAS sleet constantly through space, impacting minds at random – Kage loved that idea, and if the  sound of the sleet was what she heard, an icy susurration of plots and characters. The problem was, all those ideas interfered with one another, echoing and arguing and surfacing at awkward intervals. She said it was  like “Revolution 9” from The White Album.

What it meant was that there were always at least 2 things that ferociously wanted  to be written at the same time. Usually, one of them was the project she was actually working on; but that wasn’t a guarantee. Sometimes the urge got so loud that Kage was forced to put aside the story she was supposed to be writing, and spend some time on the one that would not wait its turn.

At its most extreme, she’d write an entire new story over a few frenzied days. Sometimes it would just be the most demanding scenes. Sometimes she didn’t even know what they were for – who was meant to be in them, where the story went or even began: just that she had a vision of, say, someone in a wet woolen Union suit, in San Dollar Cove on the Big Sur Coast, and there was something about the movies. And it was a Joseph story. And she’d write down as much as she could see – or more correctly, what she couldn’t stop seeing – until it was pushed far enough away to let her resume the misadventures of Mendoza in the Hollywood Hills.

And ultimately, “Studio Dick Drowns Near Malibu” was printed in Asimov’s. By which time, there were so many other stories clamouring for life that Kage glued them all together into Black Projects, White Knights, and called it a “mosaic novel” in self-defense.

But she learned to deal with it, and she never, ever said NO to the phantoms crowding her brain. Her mother had told her, in one of those maternal talks that emerge like rocks from the rapids of adolescence, that one must never shut the bedroom door on a man – because that made it much too easy for him to open someone else’s front door. Kage, whose rare lovers seldom stayed the night (or used the door, for that matter), applied this maternal advice to the stories that were her more constant paramours.  She was absolutely certain it was the only way to keep them coming back.

“Always write the stuff down,” she told me. “Whatever it is, even it’s just a little scene or a bit of a plot. Get it down on paper. You can figure out what it’s for later, when you have more time.”

And this have I made as the rule of my writing life. Consequently, I have shit tons of paragraphs, and chapters,  and pages of dialogues with loud but unnamed voices; in various sorts of notebooks, from greenish steno pads to fancy Levenger journals with ribbon bookmarks in ’em. Oh, and all sorts of thumb drives, too, in nifty candy colours: I love those things, they look so edible. And these, mind you, are quite aside from the stacks and towers and boxes full of the same stuff from Kage, which she left to me and made me promise to keep.

I would have done that anyway. They are my mines of precious metals and rare gems. And they are Kage’s voice speaking to me, telling me the stories that won’t stop, tossing me shining balls to keep flying through the air, sabres and chain saws and goblin fruit to juggle in variable gravity … little girl ghouls.  Zombies. A Company Base in a Siberian permafrost crater. Aliens who alter their own DNA every time they have sex, to literally transform themselves with every lover. Diana of Luna. The Teddy Bear Squad and Neanderthal princesses and what lives under the camouflaged panels behind the Hollywood Sign.

Write them down. Write them all down.  Some will grow. And more will come.


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