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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Migraines and Spring

Kage Baker suffered from migraines all her life. They were perfectly awful at times – the kind where the sufferer gives serious consideration to sawing their own head off, or taking a  drill to her temple … she always claimed that it was only that the headaches rendered her both non-sentient and uncoordinated with pain that prevented self-surgery.

Like many migraine victims, there was no real reason for her headaches that was ever found. Sometimes these things turn out to be caused by infections, or epilepsy, or weird vascular deformities of the dura mater, or alien bugs. Kage would have welcomed any of them, if it meant the migraines could have been cured. But the times the pain in her head was due to something actionable were but two. The first was a sinus infection so bad her face bruised on the outside, and we had to argue with the hospital staff to convince them she had not been beaten up and needed antibiotics. The second time was when we discovered she had a brain tumour; and that had its own bad ending … on the other hand, Kage got morphine for the pain, and was delighted to finally get some relief even if she was terminal. After all, why should be dying be any worse than absolutely necessary?

That was also when we discovered Kage was allergic to oxycodone. She thought it was hilarious that they had to take her off the most abused new prescription drug in America, only to put her on one of the oldest. She had me find poppies to put in her room, to celebrate.

I have been much more fortunate. I get migraines, yes, at least since menopause; but they rarely have much pain. What has been the worst spur has been cataracts – they got really fierce when the left eye began to go bad. These last 3 weeks, the same thing has begun to happen with the right eye – the cataract has evidently reached that stage in its malign little life when it races full-tilt to the edge of pain and blindness.  I can almost hear it chortling when my ears begin to ring and the black and silver thorns spread across my vision … it has a squeaky, pissy little voice.

However, this time I am forewarned and will not submit. I have promptly appealed to my ophthalmologist, and the second operation is scheduled for Monday, April 24th. Then it will just be a case of getting new spectacles – because both my eyes will be working better – and my old age will enjoy much better vision than even my youth!

Since I cannot seem to get in on this supposed opioid addiction deal, a diminution of headache pain will be grand.

I’ll miss a few days on the blog here and there, when the eyes go wonky – but that too shall pass! And I’ll be in a much better mood. In the meantime, I shall stagger on. Writing is coming more easily (between thorn attacks), and my vacation from social media is an extraordinary relief.

The season is waxing sweet. The Mama Hummingbird is serene and safe outside the kitchen window; she’s even gotten used to the daily sound of the coffee grinder. Little squirrels are chasing one another through the mulberry tree – some of them are becoming tolerant of us, and will wait just above our heads while we fill the feeder, chittering at us. There are flowers everywhere. All the hills are cloudy with blue and orange and yellow, where lupine and poppies and mustard are blooming. Easter is coming.

And, anyway, I don’t need both eyes to eat a chocolate bunny.

 

 

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Spring And Friday

Kage Baker loved Fridays.

She imprinted on weekends very early in life, long before Fridays and Mondays became the school-arbitrated doorwards for the Country of Weekends. Friday meant the next day was Saturday, and that meant morning cartoons! Kage in her youth was one of those little kids who rise with sun into a blur of activity – her mother told stories of her being found at dawn in the living room with a bowl of cereal, engrossed in Mighty Mouse or Popeye or Beany and Cecil. Sometimes she had whoever was the newest baby sibling in her lap, giving them their bottle.

Weekends were eternities of delight in private worlds. Even if the main glory was just NO SCHOOL, it still meant hours and hours to roam the hills, exploring ruins and hidden copses, finding wild crystal outcroppings,  and interesting fruit in neighbors’ gardens. By the time we were both teenagers, we would spend all weekends at these shank’s mare adventures, usually ending up at the Hollywood Bowl with a pizza in Kage’s purse (they fold, you know), waiting for her mother to come pick us up before it got dark and the monsters came out.

By the time we were grown women, we had discovered the Renaissance Faire. We ran away with the gypsies every weekend then, to live in another dimension. Time dilation made those glorious weekends last about a fortnight each. It was the closest Kage had ever found to time travel; she was convinced that her serious writing began under their influence, in that other universe, under those oak trees and those skies of multi-coloured banners.

Weekends were Where It Happened. They were the X on the map. They were where the Snows of Yesteryear got to, what was behind the Second Star To the Right, and most definitely Beyond the Fields We Know. Saturday morning cartoons came and went and mutated most peculiarly – at Faire, we were often living in the cartoons – but  weekends remained the enchanted Wood Outside Athens where Kage had always longed to go.

I felt much the same way. Not so much the cartoons; even as a toddler, the ability to sleep late was my Saturday morning delight. I handled the problem of not sleeping late at Faires by just not sleeping at all on the weekends – oh, the vigor of youth, where I could spend 2 days awake and dancing! The walls between the worlds get even thinner when you are stoned on fatigue poisons (at the least …) and making art with all your strength and the Fey Folk besides.

So, yeah. Weekends are still sacred space to me.

But if it’s not a Faire weekend – though I strongly suspect that it’s always Faire Time somewhere: like 5 PM and cocktail hour – there are still glories. This time of year, it’s particularly obvious: Spring is coming, and the world is stretching and waking all around me right now. With the absolute miracle of rain this winter, the xeriscaped front yard has been returned to a sea of plants, out of nowhere: rosemary and milkweed and crane’s bill and poppies, high as my knees and glowing green. Man, there’s oats out there! There’s gonna be a hell of a lot of work to be done this year, but in the meantime … the roses are blooming, and the mulberry tree is putting out catkins, and squirrels are falling out of the branches in an ecstasy of hysterical glee. The ravens are courting, which sounds like amorous thumb pianos in the trees, and outside the kitchen window a demure little hummingbird is hatching magic in a nest the size of an eggcup.

Kage used to say, Fridays are the Springtime of the week. Life has been waiting to kick off its shoes and dance barefoot on the hills, and flowers spring up in its foot-steps. Rain is coming, there’s a sweet mist flowing and rising over the river, and a mockingbird that doesn’t know there are no nightingales in California is losing his mind out in a perfumed camphor tree …

                                              Oh, don’t you see yon bonnie, bonnie road,

                                              Lying across the ferny brae?

                                             That is the road to fair Elfland,

                                             Where you and I this night must go

 

 

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