Naggery

Kage Baker hated being nagged.

Well, honestly, most people do hate it. Except for those solipsistic types who simply don’t hear things like nagging or suggestions; they exist in happy selective deafness. Kage could only rarely summon that kind of armour; more usually, she heard everything, far too well, and reacted like a goosed volcano.

This made things hard for a faithful minion, since she also liked to be gently reminded of her schedules and responsibilities, lest she get so involved in production that she missed out on delivery. That only happened a few times, but they tended to be memorable.

There was the time she forgot she had a signing in San Diego, and went to a Faire in Marin County instead. (The book shop called her agent, her agent called the cops, and we got home after midnight to find a note from the PBPD that said CALL YOUR AGENT.)  And the time she forgot a novel was due in January, rather than June. ( Kage went into superhuman high gear and completed it in weeks rather than months.) And a few problems with the difference between East Coast time and West Coast time, for chats. (She signed on late but she did get there, telling funny stories about the revolt of her modem and cable setup …)

For a perfectionist like Kage, these errors would have been intolerable under any circumstances – they were worse because they were all  avoidable errors. After each one of them, I laid on huger and more iron-cast precautions, so they’d never happen again. And since the police never came looking for her again, I can truthfully claim those pretty much worked. But it was hard. Kage really hated to be nagged.

I tried sticky notes, but you know what? If ignored long enough, and if drenched in enough corrosive Coca Cola, sticky notes lose all adhesiveness and blow sadly away. I tried several Notes programs on Kage’s laptop; after a few viewings, she simply didn’t see them anymore! And she never did learn to check her emails every day, and emails from me tended to be ignored anyway. Had Kage ever figured out her Spam filters, she never would have opened a reminder from me at all.

I got a white board and a spectrum of coloured pens, and wrote technicolour schedules and lists on it. I hung it on the wall between Kage’s barometer and the window with the sea view: so she had to look at it. That worked better than anything else, I must say – she really read it from time to time, and kept enough track of what was on it to make suggestions of what should be added. She really enjoyed crossing the finished projects off with a big black marker, too. Once I found an erasable one, anyway; that was my bad.

But nothing worked as well as Kage’s own iron discipline. Oh, she could forget things and put them aside, like anyone. Nor was she immune to occasional laziness, or the urge to saunter down the street to the beach with a sand chair and a thermos of Coke and rum – and believe me, once you have that power made available to you, Dear Readers, it gets harder and harder to resist. But sooner or later the ruthless supervisor in her own head would rouse itself and send her back to work.  My nagging was ultimately pointless beside that inexorable drive.

I don’t have that drive – or maybe I just don’t have it as strongly, or as often. When it strikes, it is irresistible: I do know what it’s like to write all night in your sleep, wake up literally aching to get to the keyboard, and resent every sound, itch, puppy lick, kitten purr or (very needed) offer of another cup of coffee that comes my way: just because it’s all static blurring the words in their journey between my brain and my fingers.

But what I feel more often is that urge to do anything rather than write. I’m a frequent slob, but I’ll dust, vacuum and do other people’s laundry rather than sit down when I don’t know what to say next. I like doing dishes, and I utterly love driving around on errands. I also have a dreadful habit of very specific retail therapy: I shop for books. I shop for a lot more than I buy – which takes even longer –  but once I buy them, I have to read them, right?

Luckily, I have a much better and more stubborn office manager than Kage did. Kimberly is not only an actual mother, she was a teacher for 20-odd years. And she usually taught kindergarteners. Little kids who are in school for the very first time and are not even sure what their own last names are, pose a much worse shepherding problem than one unmotivated older sister …

“You have to at least get a little blog in tonight,” she told me patiently all day.

“I don’t know what to saaaay,” I whined.

“So write about being nagged to write,” said Kimberly.

So I started that. And then we went out to pick up Fatburgers for dinner, because it’s a warm Los Angeles Saturday night and Fatburgers are cool; and on the drive, Kimberly asked me: “So where are you in “Teddy Bear Squad”? What happens next?”

And I started telling her and she told me “Don’t you leave me hanging here without an ending!” and lo! An ending happened as I told her the rest. So here we are and all I have to do it write it down. Tomorrow.  Because tonight I am comatose from Fatburger consumption.

Nagging works. It may not be as strong as Fatburgers: but it works.

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Love/Fatigue Relationship

Kage Baker always said her most intense relationships were with invisible people: Authors. Illustrators. Gods

When asked about  her favourite writers, her stock  response was: “Dead white guys.” Her favourite artists were Van Gogh, Maxfield Parrish and Walt Kelly, and a synthesis of their work is pretty much how she viewed the world. That segued easily into gods, of course, and I wouldn’t be certain that – despite her avowed Christianity – Kage didn’t actually hold a pantheon of artists in her soul. It wouldn’t have been a conflict for her; she saw Christianity as a concretionary religion.

She also had intense relationships with intangible objects, especially her own stories. Most writers do, or say they do – it’s hard to live with an entire other world (which every story is, to the author, at least) and not feel something for it. Maybe if you’re Henry James, you can manage it  …  Kage couldn’t, though.  And it wasn’t  just relationships with the characters; she had a relationship with every story, on its unique and singular own; and they all went through similar stages.

When an idea first occurs to you, you can hardly wait to sit down and begin writing. There were lots of stops on road trips  to find notebooks and good pens, because Kage had had an idea and just had to start writing immediately. We always tried to carry note books and pens in the car, in our purses, in the emergency kit – but, you know how it is, you end up needing it to write down the address of a Chinese restaurant, or to sketch an interesting ruin, or play Hangman: and before you know it, you need to start a new novel in line at movie theatre, and there’s nothing to write on. Madness ensues. More likely, though, the idea hit in the middle of the night or on the road home from work; Kage was in the door and  at the computer typing furiously before I could fill a glass with Coke and set it down beside her.

In that first stage, all her conversation was about the story – she talked about a new story like a new crush. She wasn’t telling it to me so much as acting it out, and it changed in the telling. That was the point, in fact, part of the process; the plot evolved through being tossed back and forth between us. That happened when she would turn suddenly in her chair and abruptly plunge me into the scene at hand; over dinner, which was usually the one meal I could get her to leave her desk to eat; called back and forth down the hall as we went to bed. Some plots had dramatic developments while we stood between our bedrooms doors by the linen closet.

Sometimes that white-hot degree of involvement lasted through the story, if it was short or especially intense. The entire novel Mendoza In Hollywood was like that. The stories “Black Smokers” and “The Carpet Beds of Sutro Park” were written in intense 3-day weekends alone at home, while I was at Faires.

Conversely, “Leaving His Cares Behind Him” took months – because all she had for the longest time was scenes, with no plot.  And Sky Coyote took years, being produced in every single format possible before it was finalized. When that happened, Kage would enter the loathing phase – Why had she ever started this damned story?  Who would ever want it? She’d stare into her monitor screen with a gunslinger’s deadly squint, and pound on the keys like a machine gun.

Then, as soon as a story was complete, Kage’s first reaction was that it was flawless and without peer. She sent off her first few much too soon, but the good advice of editors like Gardner Dozois and Michael Kandel cured her of that. No matter how starry-eyed she was at the end of a story, Kage obediently set it aside for a while before the next edit. Sometimes, when she was writing to order – as she increasingly was – that was the hardest part: someone was panting to get that copy, and she was desperate to get it out to them.

But holding on to a finished story is absolutely vital. You have to get over that “My baby is perfect” phase, so you can see the correctable flaws hidden by the shiny cataracts of       love … like that line, which would surely have made Kage howl with laughter.

The dark side to letting a story age before the final edit was that by the time she sent one out – she really did hate it. When a story left the house, Kage’s reaction was  the hope she never saw the thing again, though she’d also gibber and wail at every mail delivery until she knew it had been accepted. Then she went back to not wanting to see it again, at least until the published product was in her hands. At that point, she could finally relax into pride and content, and add it to her brag shelf.

I’m in the why the hell did I start this thing? phase with “The Teddy Bear Squad”. It’s taken so long to write, through so many disasters, that I am exhausted with it. Luckily, brain storming is still the answer! Kimberly has been a wonderful foil for me, and has had several great ideas that are enabling me to finish it. It’s probably within a couple thousand words of completion now.

Then I can send it off to my agent. And for a few weeks or months, I can rest content in the idea that I never have to look at it again! Until and unless someone wants to buy it – or wants me to change it. Then the enthusiasm will be re-born, and I can stand to welcome it home and give it a big old sloppy kiss again.

Relationships, man. No matter what they are, they just don’t get any easier.

 

 

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The Dog Days II

Kage Baker did not believe in luck. Everything, she believed, had a purpose. She carried this to some weird lengths, in my opinion; but she said it made her feel better. It wasn’t paranoia (She insisted on that …), it was proof that there was form and structure to the Universe.

Maybe.

Eleven or so years ago, while we were sitting on the lawn of the Ragged Point Inn, contemplating a ruinously delicious lunch and looking at the broad Pacific, a tiny round fox-red puppy ran up to us. It had ears like satellite dishes, no tail, huge griffin-like paws and nothing much in the way of legs. It came up to Kage and grinned at her.

“That’s a Corgi, isn’t it?” she said.

“Yes,” said I, melting into a puddle of squee.

“Kimberly needs one of those,” Kage decided. “We should find her one.”

Kimberly had long desired a Corgi, which Kage knew. And where Kage and I lived, in Central California, there are an amazing lot of Corgis. They seem to spread out from the epicenter of Cambria (surprise!) and can be found everywhere between Big Sur and Pismo Beach. Less than a year later, Kage found an ad in the newspaper she worked for, and I drove Kimberly up to acquire  the amazing Dylan Griffith.

It was love at first sight. She was Mom, he was utterly hers, and he tried to spend his life in her lap.

Today, Dylan died.  He began throwing up yesterday – couldn’t stop, couldn’t eat, couldn’t even keep down water; though he tried heroically. There was no warning or other symptoms, and he was cheerful and happy between puking fits.

But dehydration can be fast when you only weigh 45 pounds. We rushed him to the vet – the vet said he was in renal failure from an unknown but massive bacterial infection in his kidneys; and there was basically nothing that could be done. Too much, too fast, and even if he could be saved, his quality of life afterward would be bad.

No one deserves to die in agony, especially a loving, trusting little person who has shared a life of happiness. Kimberly couldn’t let her good dog endure it with no hope. She took responsibility for sparing him that, making the hardest and most painful decision of any dog lover’s life.

Dylan was snug and safe and pain-free in her arms when he died, wrapped up in a beautiful blue blanket. We petted and talked to him for a long time, and he was quite content while the sedation took him away. I held his paw.

Then we tucked the blanket around his nose, because that was how he liked to sleep, and came home.

There may be no accidents – Kage could have been right, she often was. But there is far too much pain. Nothing since Kage’s death has reminded me of that more than today. Hold tight to every one you love, Dear Readers. You never know when the Universe will take them away, by accident or on purpose.

Sleep tight, Dylan bach. We love you.

DSCN0216

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Vegetative States

Kage Baker was subject to a strange condition called “mumping.” At least, she called it that. I have no idea what anyone else called it – but it involved mutating into a vegetable entity and sitting around scowling and doing nothing as hard as possible.

“I am a mump blossom, and soon I shall blossom into complete nothingness,” she would announce. “I am turning into a cauliflower. I can feel it.”

And she would. And it would last a while and then go away. No more specific descriptors are available.

Here, Dear Readers, a great deal of California is presently and fire and at least 3 places I cherish for their incomparable memories are in danger of burning up as I write.  Probably one ot two of them already have. It’s far too hot, far too humid, far too noisy. My brain has fallen out my ears and is running around on the floor, with Corgi hair sticking to it.

So, since I personally never mastered mumping, here is a warning sign:

out of orderI’ll be back when I am no longer a cauliflower. Now I am going to write about blue squirrels.

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ALL Stories Go On

Kage Baker always said that 1) she would never write a series again in her entire life; and 2) that didn’t mean that the stories stopped in any of her Universes.

Growing up in the 1960’s, Kage sort of naturally came to expect large stories to be written in trilogies. She didn’t mean to do that, either, but Mendoza’s story and all its cast was out of control from about halfway through Garden of Iden. All Kage could do was hang on and keep writing. She always knew how it would end – she just never foresaw it taking 8 volumes to do it.

Nonetheless, a lot of activity does go on in smaller venues, as it were; often with people we never see again. She saw no reason why those stories would ever need to stop, as long as ideas kept impacting her brain. Working with all of Time as your playground, you can set play dates whenever you like.

And she never did tell anyone’s whole story in the Anvil Universe. That was deliberate – she was already laboring under the insane weight of the Company, and so she made all the Anvil books related, but stand-alone, novels. And the accompanying stories fit in at any available niche. Believe me, there is an actual over-arching plot: the House of the Stag, the saga of Ermenwyr, the Children of the Sun, the yendri: they all go on in all sorts of directions and ultimately right over a kind of event horizon in the history of their world. But there are other worlds beyond, and those go on, too.

It was in Kage’s specific instructions that the stories not cease. There are two novels yet to go, for instance, for the Empress of Mars cast; maybe more.  Several stories with Ermenwyr (that least-controllable of all Kage’s creations!) and others in that world. Stories about the Moon and asteroid mining, even. We shall see.

In the meantime, I really am working on other ideas in the Company Universe. It’s why I still go over the news every day, looking for the strange survivals, re-animations and revenant tools that pop up. And all you, Dear Readers, also frequently send me further goodies, so the fund of potential ideas never gets too sparse.

Something that helps, something that Kage delighted in exploiting, was that she could set a story anywhere in Time. Having more or less the history of hominids as her background meant she could pick up a thread anywhen at all. It took her a few novels to realize that – she was afraid she was writing herself into a tiny little corner – but she ultimately realized that not every story has to be about the HUGE WORLD-CHANGING PLOT POINTS. A lot of them are about tiny events, but can be seen to be an even larger influence on how the world turns out. Little things, small events, ordinary people, all matter a lot more, in the long run, than the enormous striding celebrities; if only because there are so many more of them acting on the fabric of the world.

Also – and this was very important to Kage’s vision – the things that shape the world are not isolated. They do not happen in vacuums. Good things take time, too, but it’s the bad ones that burn underground for years and miles and then burst out like the mouth of hell – because evil hides itself.  Bad things and people have usually been chipping away at vital foundations for some time before the floors collapse: it seems like a surprise when the axe falls, but it was falling for a while. It’s just no one looked up …

For example, check out this amazing tidbit from “Not Doomed Yet”, a blog about (mostly) climate change by Robinson Myer, for The Atlantic:

“And polio has broken out in northeastern Nigeria. The disease resurfaced exactly a year before the African continent would have been declared polio-free, a milestone now postponed to at least 2019.”

http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/08/not-doomed-yet-how-many-500-year-rainfalls-can-happen-in-a-year/496013/

I recommend this blog, to which I subscribe, on general principles: but also, in this instance, to illustrate that the situations Kage had engineered literarily to come to a head in the 23rd and A Half Century all began Long Ago. Which Long Ago is, in fact, Now.  You can get weird perspectives like this with time travel – Kage saw Time as a vertical helix, and she was usually looking across the void in the middle from one side to another …

Kage would have seen this article as proof of the activities of the Plague Club. Likewise, the continuing outbreaks of plague along the India-China border over the entire 20th and 21st centuries. Researchers are still working to identify the source of Ebola – though most reports indicate that it might be unknown bats, from an inaccessible cave in Zaire … which just screams Plague Club, in its mixture of unlikely mystery and malice.

The bottom line here, Dear Readers, is that the stories never end. I may have troubles getting them off the ground (though that’s improving a lot) but they may never end at all. I suspect that’s pretty much what Kage, somehow, had in mind. In  her viewpoint, nothing ever had to end.

 

 

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Becalmed In The Dog Days in The Horse Latitudes

Kage Baker was closest to total torpitude in the latter half of August. It’s too freaking hot to do nearly anything, there is usually a lot that needs to be done, and Summer had usually replaced all Kage’s bones with swizzle sticks by this time.

It’s the dog days of Summer right now. People are getting in their far-flung vacations where they can.  Many of my dearest friends are preparing for this year’s Casa de Fruita Renaissance Fair (September 17th to October 6th – get your tickets now!). It’s also when far too many Californian kids and teachers are going back to school obscenely early; and since a lot of my friends are also either teachers or students, they too are busy right now.

Which means that not too many folks are sitting around reading and writing blogs. Between heat, ennui, vacations, rehearsals and “creeping like snail unwillingly to school”*, me and my audience are not wildly active these August days …

So, August being officially the Silly Season – Kage’s very favourite season – here’s a sort of clip show, Dear Readers, for your amusement and edification.

Two years ago today, I changed the URL of this blog to Dr. Zeus.co. The blog celebrating that is here: https://doctorzeus.co/2014/08/15/the-doctor-is-in/,  and it still tickles the heck out of me.

One year ago today, I published a blog illustrating  several various examples of the wonderful things that inspired Kage to invent the Company in the first place, and that blog is found here: https://doctorzeus.co/2013/08/15/the-corners-of-the-globe/.   It contains references to one of my favourite creatures in the whole wide rolling world: tabby lobsters, which also tickle the heck out of me.

These are the Dog Days because of the helical rising of Sirius, the Dog Star -it’s in Canis Major, down by the right heel of the Hunter, Orion. (Kimberly had a cat named Sirius … the mascot of Silly Season, in our household.)

The two bands called the the Horse Latitudes are called that because ships often reached them when it was time to get paid again, and celebrated by throwing a mock dead horse overboard. Or because horses on board ships died in those latitudes a lot due to there being little wind. Or because the only way for ships to make headway through them was to be “horsed”: to hook up with a current, and get pulled out of them. In any event, a high degree of helplessness is associated with them; which Kage considered quite appropriate for late August.

A new study indicates that 90% of animals in the deep ocean bioluminesce.: glow in the dark. These include the appalling but well-lit ninja lantern shark. Nice, otherwise I suspect we’d never find ’em. And wouldn’t that be a shame?

A venomous, foot-long, aquatic centipede has been discovered. Somewhere, here in 2016,  the Plague Club is trying to breed them back to 6-foot size, like in the Permian era.

At least 8 species of tarantula are bright blue. and no one knows why.

There’s a new weird object in the Solar System – one so far out and above the ecliptic of the rest of the Solar System that it’s being called “Niku” – meaning “unruly”. Of course. no one knows what it is yet – dwarf planet, asteroid, comet – so it may well be an alien space craft buzzing us. Those things don’t file flight plans.

Also, the next Martian Rover (mission launches in 2020) will have an on-board microphone. Whoo-hoo!

And, last, there may well be a rocky, Earth-sized planet orbiting Alpha Proxima – the very  closest star to us! We could get there in maybe a generation.

So there’s some interesting and hopefully amusing tidbits for anyone who glances this way. I’m not going to indulge in politics or the Olympics – those have been bringing out the worst in too many people.

I want folks to enjoy themselves on these long, hot days …

 

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The Shape of Her Life

Kage Baker was strongly shaped by the habits of her childhood.

She wasn’t a proponent of all the hoary axioms of parenting. As the twig is bent, so grows the tree. Give me a child until he is 7 years old, and I will give you the man. Spare the rod and spoil the child. It takes a village … as the second-oldest survivor of 7 children (plus assorted bonus strays like me) Kage saw just about every system of child-rearing tried out in her mother’s house. She felt they all worked – or didn’t – with about equal success.

Treat your children well struck Kage as the best idea. She was well into her own adulthood when she realized the lyrics to the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song are actually TEACH your children well, but she said that confusion over what rock and roll lyrics said did not diminish what you thought you’d learned from them.

And anyway, the sum of her own child-raising philosophy was probably best described by Mehitabel the Cat’s impassioned cry of Where did all these damned kittens come from?  If you were the eldest of half a dozen children, you’d probably have felt the same way …

Regardless of whether or not there was any plan being followed in raising Kage and her siblings, she kept the shape those early years gave her all her life. The way it was then was, pretty much, the way she thought the world ought to go. This ranged from the responsibility of taking care of anyone younger and small than yourself, to the cosmic necessity of Kage always having dibs on the red Popsicle. (We used to buy packs of exclusively cherry ices, to avoid unbalancing the Universe with the chance she’d have to eat an orange one.)

For example, Kage never changed her personal time scale to accommodate the loss of summer vacation. You spend the first 18 years of your life running around feral from June to September, and it’s very hard to suddenly change it completely. Yeah, I know millions of people do it, but … in their heart of hearts, I bet they hate it. Kage would certainly have bet that. She didn’t see why anyone would do that meekly and without complaint – she never, ever did.

Consequently, our summers were dedicated – not to sloth, of which Kage was but an infrequent fan – but to adventure. Summer was when we most frequently traveled. For over 30 years, it was when we did Renaissance Faires, and that was a process that turned weekends into time-altered spans of (by relativistic standards) 4 or 5 days; when days lasted 1000 hours, and the light came down from other worlds through 400-year old oak trees.

Even when she was working her 40-hours-a-week prison shifts in the Pink Collar Ghetto, summer was for tropical clothes and no shoes outside the office. Ice cream for dinner, lounging in silk pajamas, fans with blades carved like palm fronds. Fans of real palm fronds.  Lots of drinks with ice. We always had heavy-duty food processors, so Kage could always have properly crushed ice. Also, paper parasols, plastic swords and dolphins, and maraschino cherries. I think it hardly mattered what she drank, as long as there was a swizzle thing in it, and a couple of maraschino cherries.

Mind you, Christmas break was strictly observed as well. But not as much, not as devotedly. For one thing, most companies do shut down, for anywhere from a day to a fortnight. And when you’re engaged in Extreme Christmas every weekend, the season is an unending delirium anyway.

The one that mattered was Summer break. The year ran for 9 months, like a pregnancy: then you were born into the Summer Lands, and spent a season in paradise. That was the proper way to do it.

It may have been one of the reasons Kage became a writer in the first place. She wanted to be the mistress of her own time, to work at home and follow that rhythm that had shaped her days from the age of barely 5. And she succeeded, too.

Tomorrow, here in Los Angeles, the teachers of the LAUSD go back to school; in fact, all over most of California. The unhappy children follow in a day or two. I have friends who are teachers and friends who are school children from one end the state to the other – I grieve for all of them tonight. It’s only half past August! The crepe myrtles aren’t even in bloom yet! There are still idiots shooting off leftover 4th of July fireworks every night!

Kage would not approve. She’d have fixed herself a gin and tonic in her glass that had tropical fish embedded in it, and raised an admonitory toast to the State of California, that is risking so much by tempting the order of the Universe like this.  Because it’s not even September, and there is plenty of time left for the state to cook up more fires, and earthquakes, and dust storms, and locust swarms.

It doesn’t pay to mess with the ancient cycles, you know.

 

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