Dubious Islands

Kage Baker loved the anomalies on maps.

She loved maps in general because she liked verification of where she was – she already knew, usually, because she was one of those people with a compass in their heads. But she enjoyed seeing it down in black and white; or, better still, attractive colours and a sidebar with Places of Interest to check out. We kept slews of maps in the car, sometimes for places we actually went but just as often for places that simply interested Kage.

Of course, on really old maps, half the fun is the embellishment by cartographers uncertain of where the Edge of the World was. Kage was fond of a print she had that actually showed a seacoast for Bohemia; it conflated a curve of a river into a wildly displaced bay of the Baltic Sea. She liked maps that gave strange place names, like identifying Buttonwillow in Kern County as the much more poetic “Bitter Willow”.  And she simply adored all the classic antique maps that showed strange seas never sailed by a competent sailor, studded with sea monsters and dubious islands.

“Dubious islands”! Those were the best all the peculiar destinations illuminated by confused mapmakers. They show up a lot in logs and journey accounts, too; those mysterious islands that are seen over and over and even occasionally landed upon – but can never be located when anyone is deliberately searching for them. Sometimes they are giant turtles or basking fish; sometimes they are faerie realms drifting like enormous frigates on mortal seas. But they all come and go at will, and they fascinated Kage.

The Isles of Avalon, Apples and Glass, which are reputed to drift like swans all over the coast and landscape of England. Islands in the Indian Ocean, that are docile until you build a fire on their backs – then they dive and drown intrepid Arabian sailors. As late as the 20th century there was Crocker Land, which was a vast land rich in fjords and mountains, repeatedly sighted by Arctic explorers from the coast of Ellesmere Island: that one, despite many maps drawn at a distance, turned out to be clouds banks over the Arctic Ocean. The Inuit knew that. The Europeans would not listen.

The myth and wonder of dubious islands show up in the Company stories, of course. All sorts of Company installations are built on those lands that may or may not be real; as long as the Company could get there early enough to obscure the issue (and the coast), they stay mysteries and can used for all sorts of things: Alpha and Omega, the ultimate seed bank. Resorts. Punitive Medicine … and, of course, one of the dubious islands is where Kage put Mendoza and her trio of Very Tall Englishmen, to pursue their eventual happy ending.

Catalina was her very  favourite Dubious Island of all. And believe me, Dear Readers, it is an odd one – all the more odd because you can go there and walk around and drink far too many mai tais; and still not know exactly where you’ve been.  I still have the series of maps she collected from the past century and more, paradoxically showing less and less of the Island’s interior. And I know where the missing roads go, to which hidden mine adits and not-quite-inaccessible valleys on the seaward side – because we explored them all  on foot, when we were young and limber and no one knew or cared where we were. Kage used to hope we’d get collected by the Company, but … sigh. It never happened.

However, dubious islands can still be found and wondered over in delight. The most recent ones are not even on the Earth, but on Saturn’s moon Titan. See here: goo.gl/p33w7Y

In the exotic lakes of Titan, islands have been sighted rising and falling, coming and going. They might be artifacts of the photos beamed back across 870 million miles; they might be due to a pigeon sunning itself in a satellite dish at JPL. They might be huge bubbles of nitrogen in the dark ethanol lakes. Or they might indeed be giant fish, surfacing to sport in the variegated light of Saturn’s rings, flaunting their strange tails at us across the void …

No way of knowing yet. But Kage would love the idea. She went joyously ballistic when the Huygens probe showed us the unmistakable shoreline of Titanian seas – she’d be dancing with glee over dubious islands amid the oxygen rocks of the highlands, frosted with icy methane …

Kage always was an island girl.

 

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Status

Kage Baker enjoyed status reports. She liked to keep track of where she was on a project, how far she had come and how far was yet to go. I think it was part of her fondness for maps. She used to check off milestones, too, when we were on long roads.

It certainly stood her in good stead as a writer. She always planned out an itinerary before she started a project, even if it was the sort that descends into one’s mind like a levin bolt of creativity, ZAP! “Once the stars and tweetie birds die down,” she observed to me, “you have to sit down and make a list of what your saw before the vision wears off.” And so she did, and took an honest pleasure in marking off  the accomplishment list as she went along.

Sometimes, of course, inspiration just came too fast and sudden for Kage to request the menu. There were a few times I came home from a weekend at Faire, and discovered she had written an entire short story in three days. Like a pitcher working on a no-hitter, she never mentioned it while I was gone; she’d just be waiting smugly when I got home, and hand me a completed manuscript.She was always especially pleased with that.  As well she should have been.

Usually, though, she was working on a novel-length project and not a story; or one of each, trading off to prevent the accumulated momentum from fading. Then it was a matter of how much she got done in a day – not word counts, which was a system she never liked or understood. It was page counts that made Kage feel like she was producing something. I think it was because a word count is just another string of numbers written in light on a computer screen – pages are a stack. When she absolutely had to know the word count, she would have me calculate it – the industry standard, Dear Readers, is 250 words per page – or just wait until the end and run it through the TOOLS menu.

Of course, sometimes she was appalled at how many words she had done. Or still needed. Then there was frantic pruning, transplanting, or furious adding in. But one of Kage’s especial personal talents as a writer was adding to a scene without actually padding – adding real content when it was needed. Once she got started, that was generally no problem at all. She just usually didn’t know she needed more until after she was certain-sure she was done …

I try not to keep track when I write, but when I do: I go by the word count. I aim at 1,000 – 2,000 words a day. Sometimes I fail; sometimes the bulk of that count is actually this blog … I can natter on effortlessly for at least 800 words before I even need a second breath! Of course, these blogs don’t have plots, or character development – they help me tremendously, but I just cannot write prose with the easy blabberment of this venue. I procrastinate more, I whine a lot more; I will spend a happy hour researching green garnets or EM drives or the one species of octopus that mates for life – rather than get my protagonist out of the house where she is hiding from urban zombies …

My point is, Kage’s example is once again a help to me. Change things up, don’t use the same system all the time! she always advised. If you get used to the way you do things, even YOU will get bored. Mind you, she had fits if anyone else dared suggest an alteration to her own system – but if you do it yourself, it’s different.

Day before yestreday, our Direct TV feed croaked it. This is not too much of a disaster in my family – not like losing power, or the Internet. If we can talk and read and look up obscure points of politics, physics and cooking, we’re cool. But, deprived of the happy distractions, I spent a lot of the last 2 1/2 days writing. Yes, writing!

I did 5 pages last night. I’ll have another 5 done tonight, I think. I inserted the word count header into the text, so I can see the electronic stack build up. Change your method from time to time, or you’ll get bored …

So now I’m several thousand words into the zombie story. The UPS man has eaten the next door neighbor, my heroine has acquired a cat, and I have found an interesting way to use promiscuous bacterial sex habits.

STATUS: functional. Working.

Writing.

 

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Therapeutic Gardening

Kage Baker loved gardening. She was supernally good at it, too – which is not always a given. We have all, Dear Readers, known sad but determined gardeners whose efforts are an exercise in still lives and Martian landscapes.

She gave that doomed interest in gardening to her Children of the Sun. They like the idea of gardens, but are not any good at dealing with plants. Not living plants, anyway. They are as locusts to the wild grain-lands which they harvest down to dust, but never figure out how to re-plant; they trade with the Yendri for everything else, from medicinal herbs to beans to recreational weed. But they have no idea how any of it works, nor trust in the people who can, demonstrably, provide them with what they want …

Gardens of sand and stone, tile and glass, are what the Children of the Sun like. Partly it’s because the colours of those can  run to reds and golds without a guilty reminder that a tree died. Partly it’s because most of those are born of fire: and so are the Children of the Sun. In House of the Stag, Kage gives Gard a brief career as a gardener’s assistant – he plants perfectly alive specimens in a lady’s gardens, but no one (himself included) knows how to take care of them and they promptly die. Which is all right, because they turn nice shades of yellow and the householder likes them better that way.

It was Kage’s little black joke. It got a bit blacker when she had to explain it to an editor, who apparently also knew zilch about plants. Kage was always amazed at how her attempts at satire and fantasy were accurate in the Real World …

Kage’s own garden was a wonder and delight. No matter where we lived, she planted fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers; in beds where she could build them, in pots where there was less room. Usually in both, because even when we lived in a cottage with a garden twice the square footage of our house, Kage wanted plants on the porch, in the windows, along the fences. She was a talented gardener, even an inspired one – her only failures I can recall were zinnias and bell peppers. And those were because white-crowned sparrows ate the zinnia seedlings; a friend’s Pekinese ate the bell peppers right off the plants. But everything else,  from heritage squashes to Brussels sprouts to exotic tulips, grew where she planted it.

We had relict apple and plum trees, heritage tomatoes, glassy jewel-toned Mendoza corn. We had roses and tulips and nasturtiums with deliberate viral striping that flaunted every colour of the rainbow. We had bicolour roses, purple roses, roses that smelled like tea and chocolate and jasmine and the sea. Kage even encouraged the neon-yellow oxalis to bloom in our lawns in the late winter, to give colour to the grass before the crocuses and hyacinths woke up. Mint and horseradish grew amid the grass, too, which made  mowing it an olfactory paradise for the garden grunt (me).

And as well as simply enriching our lives, culinarily and spiritually, the garden was Kage’s outlet. She went to it when she was depressed, or angry, or fretful. She went to it when she had writer’s block. She went to it when she knew she had to write but wasn’t ready to sit still that long yet, and she let pruning the roses or harrowing the spring vegetable patch wear her out so she could sit down and compose.

I’ve been trying to balance the demands of daily life with writing oddly this year. And badly. That’s because the world’s turned upside down, and everyday life has become a horror show. I think  it’s my duty to know what the news is – even more, I think it’s my duty to do something about the mess that my country is in. So before I try to write fiction every day, I sit down and check the news and send off letters to all my Congress critters. Once of them even  answered me, too. Once.

Well, it doesn’t work well.  It leaves me soul-sick, increasingly aggrieved, perpetually depressed and just plain in a funk. I don’t really think taking up arms against the sea of troubles is a good idea – and I don’t think I’d be very good at it, either, which may be even more important. But my current division of labour is killing something in me.

I need to replace hands-on civics with something else. And as tempting as it is to stockpile gun cotton and Molotov cocktails in my cellar (and yes, I have a cellar, O California rarity!), it’s not a good idea. I’m returning to gardening, to start with: tomatoes and other veggies, a careful pampering of my pregnant plum tree, a scattering of wild flowers in the xeriscaped front lawn. Sunflowers and sweet peas. Things that are tough and smell good.

It worked for Kage.  It’s something I haven’t tried yet. But it’s got to be better for everyone around me than living in the 24/7 news cycle has been. I need a rest from civil unrest. I need to make some art. I need some quiet time in another world.

I have an idea that I can maybe blame zombies on Toxoplasma gondii.  And right now, that seems so much more wholesome than immersion in rabid politics … carry on, comrades. I’ll be waving you on for awhile from the tomato patch.

 

 

                                                        Garden of the Children of the Sun

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The Shape of Spring Is Coming

Kage Baker drew enormous encouragement from the yearly amble of the seasons round the horological wheel.

“I don’t mean the Circle of Life; that’s a Hallmark sentiment,” she said once, dismissively. “I like the annual movements of the Zodiac, the rotation of Time above the Western horizon. Gimme those pyramid-builders’ charts and Swiss watch gears! The Precession of the Equinox rules!”

She was particularly taken with the idea that the eternal stars – aren’t. Usually, Kage objected strenuously to change of any sort; but for some reason, she was charmed with the image of the constellations and their component parts shifting in a long, slow, stately dance.  You just never know what will strike someone as elegant, I guess … the idea that the Pole Star, especially, was not a fixed item just thrilled her. It’s Polaris now, and that is just fine – she knew how to find it by sighting off the handle of the Great Wain*, and felt very accomplished about that.

But 5,000 years ago – when the Minoans were getting started, and Egypt was only on its 3rd Pharaoh, and ground was being broken for Stonehenge – then, it was a modest white sparkler named Thuban, in Alpha Draconis. And in 13,00 years it will be blue Vega, the 3rd brightest star in the sky. (Kage was wistful about missing that, as she thought it would be quite a sight; also, easier to find.) And the mere  idea that the very symbol of constancy, the linch-pin of the night sky, was variable, just thrilled her.

I thought this attitude was especially peculiar, since Kage was dreadfully depressed by the idea that the Universe itself might eventually expand fatally. The heat-death of the Universe was a big science theme in the 1950’s and 60’s, and it upset her. She didn’t see the point of the Universe expanding until it was just luke-warm hydrogen porridge, bereft of light and life. Fortunately for her peace of mind, the cycling Universe theory came along later in her life: she liked that much better, the idea that the Universe would reach a  limit and bungee cord back to a point-source of matter and energy, and then: BOOM! A new Universe would explode into existence.

A cycling, explosive Universe was much more comforting to Kage. So you never know what someone will find warm and fuzzy, either …

Anyway, in all these rhythms, what pleased Kage was the CYCLE. Events happened over and over. They could be predicted, anticipated, planned for and welcomed in as their times came round. That’s what she liked about Time. And since, to Kage, all the partitions of Time were completely arbitrary – direction, duration, borders and edges and boundaries – she considered all those limits as merely aesthetics. Time happened everywhere, all at once; what you chose to view as beginning or endings were simply what you thought looked best.

Kage really felt that personal aesthetics were the ultimate arbiter of Life in general.

So, obviously, the seasonal cycle of the year was of huge personal import to her. She celebrated the four Equinoxes and Solstices faithfully. For extra elegance, she also borrowed from her own Northern European ancestry and inserted the Quarter Days into her personal calendar as well. Lughnasadh, Samhain, Imbolc and Beltane came along between the Four Biggies and broke up the year nicely. Kage, as I’ve said, was always ready for an excuse for a party.

She had rituals – mostly based on colours and appropriate food and drink – for all eight of these. We celebrated them all her life. Degree of complexity depended on where the hell we were on a given date – pizza or mead might not always be convenient, let alone anythiung she could set on fire – but even if we drank water and ate bread, it was from the appropriately-hued vessels,  and by firelight.

Aesthetics as the basis of ritual, Dear Readers – because how can you look for the Divine unless you can tell what edges between human and divinity look like? For Kage, all those sign posts were brightly coloured, decoratively engineered and glowed in the dark.

We are only a week or so from the Vernal Equinox right now; in Los Angeles, it will fall on Mar 20, 2017,  3:28 AM.  The weather is perfect, for a Southern California Spring – soft, warm air, everything green and blossoming and alive. Spring has not been so evident or so welcome here in nearly a decade! The air around my house smells of orange blossoms and poppies and camphor buds and new grass; our windows are open all night, and even the moonlight seems stronger suddenly.

Friday, Tomatomania is being held at Tapia Brothers in the San Fernando Valley: we will be going out to get our annual tomatoes for the year. And on Saturday, we’re going to Theodore Paine (a famous local native plant nursery) to acquire poppies and other wonderful native flowering plants.

And I may indulge in a new rose bush, too. Personal aesthetics, you see. It’s how we carve out the shape of Time. And now, it’s time for Spring.

 

 

 

*You may know it as the Big Dipper. Or the Great Bear. Or Ursa Major. I learned my stars from a Welsh grandfather, and to me it is the Great Wain.

 

 

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Round Robins. Also Sparrows, Finches, Ravens …

Kage Baker liked to see nature.  She appreciated the opportunity to watch it, to admire its joys and terrors and inhuman beauties – especially birds and plants, which I suspect she considered related in some peculiar Kage-esque clade system.

She didn’t actually like to participate in nature too directly. She disliked extremes of temperature  (to her, anything below 65 was Arctic) and she loathed being wet. She liked to watch the results of wind and lightning, as long as they didn’t blow her hair in her face or strike her. For all I know, she would have enjoyed being struck by lightning … I am sure she figured she could survive it; she considered fireworks a natural environment.

But nothing that could drool on her, or leave distressing deposits for her to step or sit in, or stain her clothes, was very dear to her. Unless it was a baby. Baby anythings got a free pass from Kage, who was the most susceptible person I have ever met to the charms of neoteny. Plants, of course, do not exhibit big eyes or large heads or other infantile icons; but she forgave them that lack in return for their total disinclination to pee on her.

Her fondness for birds was based on the discovery, with our first parrot, that psitticines at least can be house-broken. The bottom lines for Kage, regarding Nature, were always how tidy and how beautifully coloured it could manage too be. She made Lord Ermenwyr much less tolerant than she herself was – but the heart of his avid preference for well-controlled artificiality was drawn directly from her own opinions.

Right now, all around the windows of my house, Nature is demonstrating one of its most winsome characteristics: courting birds.  We have robins, which are not robins at all, but thrushes who reminded homesick Englishmen of their native birds. Sparrows of diverse sorts are everywhere, including the charming English Sparrows, which are invading aliens but are at least actually sparrows. California also has at least a dozen native “sparrows”, which aren’t even related to English sparrows.. Most of them are finches, which are called buntings in Europe; except for the actual finches that also run all over the place … birds are all  basically cryptids, really. It’s the other reason Kage liked them, I think.

We also have ring-necked and mourning doves, whose voices sound like asthmatic choristers, but whose wings sound like wooden whistles; and mockingbirds, which sing more sweetly than nightingales. Hummingbirds are everywhere – all Anna’s hummingbirds right now, although as the season wears on we will get some Allen’s, Rufous and Black-Chinned hummers, too. They squeak and spar all around the house, ferocious little flying jewels. We have occasional crows and a thriving colony of ravens, who like to fly down the streets at head level, making noises like thumb pianos and scaring the local cats into hysterics. And twice a day a mixed flock of escaped parrots barrels through, as noisy as a flock of car alarms, to flash weird tropical colours through the leaves of the camphor and jacaranda trees.

It’s bird season. It’s not quite Spring, but the birds are ready for it. Kimberly has added seeds to the squirrel feeder – all winter long it has specialized in peanuts, to keep the fox squirrels going; but now she’s encouraging the birds, too. So, yeah, at our house, the birds are raiding the squirrel feeder.

The daily Squirrel Show is now in full spate, too; recently disenfranchised juveniles have been kicked out of the winter nests, as the grown-ups get ready to make more … so lots of tiny, confused squirrellykins are using our front porch as the local malt shop, hanging out in the mulberry, on the roof and under the cars in the driveway, anxiously watching for that nice human lady who comes out with nuts and chirps at them. Kimberly has squirrels now who will come up to wait for her; and one or two furry thugs who sit on the railing and yell at her when the peanuts run out.

Kage liked squirrels – at one early stage in her life, she planned to grow up to be one – so she’d approve. However, the raccoons would distress her. The idiot raccoons have begun their nightly clog-dances on the roof now, and the darkness is full of scrabbling, thumps, squeals and dopplering screams of panic  as they fall off the roof. They occasionally check out the squirrel feeder, too, so we have to clear the nuts out at sunset or we get hot and cold running raccoons coming up to scratch hopefully at the screen door and leer at the cats … but soon, the skunks will be back, which will discourage the raccoons slightly.

Of course, then we have skunks. And nothing discourages them. Luckily, they are not bad neighbors, really, and make almost no noise. It’s a relief, what with raccoons galloping on and plummeting off the roof, and squirrels and birds hollering for food. The coyotes are scarce at the moment – a lot of their dens in the nearby LA River were flooded last month – but the local wildcats have just begun to leave their huge pug-marks on the hoods of the cars. All the wandering mammals are just beginning their annual move from Griffith Park into our back yards.

Pets do not spend the nights outdoors in my neighborhood.

Will this be the year we get a puma in the garden? Or a bear down from the nearby Foothills? We already have Canadian geese  wintering here, and herons and egrets and  cormorants in the River; eagles drift over from the Park, owls live in the palm trees, and peregrine falcons cruise by from Downtown to pick off incautious pigeons. The bigger and fiercer birds are doing fine here; this may be the year the apex mammalian predators move a little closer, too.

I like it. The realization that some of the light glimpsed outside my darkened window is eye shine; the glimpses of exotic tails and  noses just outside the porch light; the cat-shadow that leaves paw-marks the size of my hand … even Kage grudgingly liked the odd reminders that Nature was still out there, somewhere. She really did like the ever-turning gyre, the seasonal wheel, the round robin of annual life.

It’s not very tidy. But it makes stories so much easier to harvest from the dark …

 

 

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Friday Night

Kage Baker loved Friday nights. They either meant that the weekend had arrived, and free time was there to be enjoyed by all – or we were on the road to a Faire somewhere, deep-laden with props, costumes, actors and beer, on our way to make wild art for 2 days.

Even when she was technically self-employed and working from home, Kage loved Fridays as the gateway to the weekend.  Weekends were sacred space and time: she never gave up celebrating that division, though she worked through more than she ever indulged. And even when she was no longer doing most Faires, Kage was aware on  a cellular level of the rhythm of the night time roads we drove so long. Sometimes she would look up from her desk and wonder: “Where would we be right now if we were driving to Blackpoint?” And I would look at the clock, consider all the permutations we’d explored of bad roads, cheap tires, tiny bladders and fast food, and guess: “Just past Kettleman City, where the road rises and the CHP isn’t parked, and you can drive 85 miles per hour. If the engine doesn’t fall out of the car.”

And Kage would sigh in contentment – either because we were not dodging Kettleman City’s Finest or because she was relishing  the memories of the times we made it through. Laughing in triumph with a giant Coke in one hand and KFC Strips in the other, and Creedence Clearwater on the tinny little tape player of our ancient truck; blissfully unaware that we were going to run out of gas 7 miles South of Gustine, or discover at the Toll Plaza on the Richmond Bridge that I had forgotten to get any cash before we left the house.

Or whatever other insane Fate was waiting for us on the road … possums in the dark Taproom of the Inn at 1 AM. A cast member in their dead car  on the side of the road in San Rafael, glimpsed in passing by a flickering highway light just in time to stop and rescue them. Having the pinball machine in the bed of the truck slip its moorings and begin to sway as we sped through the Altamont Pass …

Friday nights could be far too exciting. It’s why we played games about where we might be, on nights we didn’t have to be there. And it’s why we sighed with longing on the nights when it was not yet time to be out there again, dancing with Fate in the moonlight on the long, white road.

Tonight is Friday night. Out in Irwindale, at the Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area, this spring’s heroes and artisans are beginning to gather to build a new Faire. They’ve braved the traffic all the way from Berkeley, or San Diego, or Pasadena, heading out with tools and props and wood and tarps to resurrect the Village once again.  I salute them, from here at my desk, where I am happy to realize I will sleep in my own bed tonight and wake up in range of a flush toilet.

Though I miss it a little. Just a little … I can’t help remembering where I might be, or what stories I might be hearing.

But I have to tell the stories myself now. Friday nights do change with time, Dear Readers. Even Scheherazade knew that.

 

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Hacking Consciousness

Kage Baker was quite scornful of “life hacks” . Those began to proliferate like bacteria on the Internet about as soon as it went commercial; along with porn, games with annoying sound effects, and cat videos.

She scorned all of them, actually. She quite liked sufficiently funny videos, but found cats utterly resistible. She thought most porn was juvenile, although she was impressed with how many new techniques in cinematic and computer technology arose from the battle to make it 24-7 on the aether. And she usually turned down the sound on her games anyway, unless it was a pirate game with really good gunnery effects.

She saw all those lists, like the infamous “One Crazy Trick” series, or lists of “17 Top Uses for Flamingos” and such to be really nothing more than forms of “Dear Abby” and “Hints from Heloise”. Anyone remember “Hints from Heloise”? It ran in newspapers, and told your mother how she could save scads of money on fabric softener by using white vinegar instead of Downy. This was apparently great, unless anyone in your family was contact-sensitive to white vinegar and you used it in an underwear load … in which case, one of your daughters (me) came home in hysterics, howling and ripping her clothes off like a first-time werewolf.

(That is a story still told in my family to this day. Kimberly was the lucky person who got me home, somehow still clothed, babbling  and weeping …  But it left Kage with the permanent conviction that not only were “life hacks” silly, they were potentially dangerous.)

However, oddly, Kage was not averse to  carefully designed personal tricks to make life more efficient. She just liked to invent them on her own. She used  many deliberately crafted hacks to facilitate her own life.  We girls all  had to read Cheaper By The Dozen the summers before we entered Immaculate Heart High School; the intention may have been to impress us with the Catholic lifestyle of having too many children, but what most struck Kage on reading it was the use of efficiency and motion studies. Maybe it was because she was left-handed. But ever after, she arranged her desk, closets, shelves, and kitchen cabinets  on principles designed to accommodate her own bilaterality and arm’s reach.

It extended to her daily writing technique, as well. Her writing schedule had a rhythm and a series of rites and rituals, beginning with checking the day’s earthquakes and the causes on the Hunger Site, and ending with a few games of Free Cell. Only then did she begin to check mail and write. I still do this, because she made me promise to do it. Well, not the Free Cell – that way lies madness. But I have been known to play a few levels of Plants Vs. Zombies as a run-up to writing.

These sorts of things do often work for me. Not as often or dependably as they did for Kage – I am not wired the same way, but who was?  She was unique. Nonetheless, her private hacks are still accessible  and useful to me, unlike even the most detailed advice from best-sellers like King and Rowling – let alone the people who write for Buzzfeed. My writing hat and writing necklace do work, and I don’t care if  it’s due to beneficial juju or self-hypnosis.

Right now … I don’t know why but I am in a strange mood for creativity. I suspect it is a form of recovery from writer’s block,  wherein one is consumed with the urge and energy to compose but cannot actually string words together easily. This is one of the times when the pen and notebook technique is a definite assist – it works, it’s like a yoga pose and a mantra all in one: the smooth glide of the ink across the deliciously blank paper, the slight glitter it gives off as it dries behind the pen-nib, the faint floral scent of it. You can almost sit back and watch in happy fascination as the words spool themselves independently out from your pen. And of course, a fountain pen and coloured inks are an enormous aide de écriture.

I think automatic writing may have developed from some blocked writer watching her own hands throw logic to the winds and take control.

I sent off another story today – or, well, I sent off the same one to another magazine. Online magazines are opening submissions opportunities like crocuses right now, and as they mostly don’t like  simultaneous submissions, one casts one’s bread on the editorial waters one hopeful crouton at a time. But in the meantime, I am also trying to produce other and more short stories.

For some reason, my mind is currently set on urban horror. I have an unusual urge to write a zombie story (I don’t even usually like zombies),and that story about little girl ghouls keeps clamouring for attention. If I can tease plots out of the copious description that is crowding my mind, I may have some good – or at completed, which is almost as useful – stories.

I also saw a photo of a Siberian  sinkhole today – tentatively blamed on thawing methane ice under the steppes – and a sudden plot for another Company story leaped us to join the throng: something about subterranean bases kept safe and sound under the permafrost, until global warming begins and everything has to be moved or hidden better. But you’d have a looong time of safety and security, because hardly anyone explores the tundra or questions what’s running around on it; you can blame careless Company aircraft on meteors, and everything else on vodka. Could be amusing. I’m calling the notes “Prosperity In A Hole”.

And in the meantime, the most effective writing hack of all is surfacing in my mind. I am dreaming of Kage. In these dreams she is berating me to write, or demanding I brain storm with her on her own writing, or we’re searching through some really weird libraries for source material … they are good, good dreams, because I am spending time with her, and because I do feel encouraged. Or brow-beaten. Or sometimes desperately curious, as in today’s nap when she showed me a notebook full of completed stories of hers I have not read, and kept putting off letting me read them …

Time to break out the pen and notebook again, and see if I can pull something out of thin air. I can feel it waiting there.

 

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