Kage Baker came late to the use of home computers. Typewriters and pen and ink were her media of choice well into the 1980’s – literally pen and ink, as she preferred to use a steel-nibbed staff and a bottle of Higgins Black. Higgins Black, when it gets wet, diffuses into lovely blue and pink and pewter auras … not especially readable, but Kage liked to use it for storm clouds in her painting, and it was already there on her desk, so she wrote with it.
When she did convert to computers, the ease and speed of the keyboard enchanted her. She never learned to formally type; she had a four finger shotgun style like Chico Marx on the piano, with which she really rocketed along. But for a while, she didn’t want to leave the house overnight, because she’d be separated from her keyboard. So we got a laptop. We got one of the first IBMs with the touchpad, because the commercials with the Russian monkey amused her. (Never underestimate entertaining advertising – people may buy your stuff just because it makes them laugh … ) Then she could write at Faire. The laptop’s battery only lasted an hour and there were no electric lights; but there are always ways to accomplish things in an artistic community.
It’s a hot August night in Novato, 30 miles north of San Francisco. After hours at the Blackpoint Renaissance Faire, no one can sleep – hundreds of performers and boothies are awake and relaxing off the long day of commerce and art. They play as hard as they worked. The air smells of coal and hot oil from the smithies and the food booths; Mystery Curry and Tabouleh Surprise and left-over turkey legs and McDonald’s crap someone ventured off site to get in an orgy of modernism. Strange liquors and smokes pass from hand to hand in the sweet darkness. Kisses taste like the markets of Marrakesh, or Elfland.
Most people are still half in costume, the ones that are dressed at all; a doublet topping jeans or at least the same belt and pouches you wore all day, because it’s easier than re-packing your pockets. Armour, tee shirts, lingerie, skin paint and alien jewelry all mingle, sometimes on the same body. Along the dirt roads and through the forest of oak and bay trees move the natural denizens of the village – and no faerie novel or fantasy film ever produced a crowd as beautiful, as weird, as unexpected as these. It’s the UnSeelie Court out here, not posed or choreographed but natural and relaxed at home, with all the visitors gone at last …
The Yard of the Green Man Inn is almost as full at night as it is during the day, despite the fact that after closing it’s BYOB – we want to relax as much as anyone else, so the taps are down (except for house staff. And friends of the house. And anyone else an Inn resident thinks needs a beer ….) The Yard is lit by the lights from elsewhere: the lamplight from the Teahouse of the Mullah Nasruddin’s Donkey extends almost to our front gate. Across the crossroads in front of the Inn, the residents of Irish Camp are playing flashlight tag (not as innocent as it sounds, as they are armed with water balloons) and the beams strobe across our Yard from time to time. Since the Inn Yard is overhung by enormous buckeye trees, and slants at a considerable angle from the front door to the front gate, all this makes wandering in the darkness amid the tables quite an adventure. That’s part of the fun.
At one side, though, there is glowing little area of warmth and industry. Here is where Kage sits – at a rough wooden table strewn with the detritus of a day in the 16th century. She sits on a hay bale padded with a wool cloak, dressed in a long red shift and a hoodie with a skull and cross bones on it (she is always cold). Her red hair is braided down her back all the way to the hay bale, where the end swishes when she moves, like a lioness’ tail. She has a chocolate bar to hand, and a pewter pint cup with a handle shaped like a sea-horse; it might hold Coke and rum, or a cocktail of her own invention called The Jamaican Bobsled: chocolate milk and Captain Morgan’s rum. (Goes down fast and easy, then you crash at the bottom!)
A Coleman lantern hisses nearby for light. She needs the light to see the keyboard of her laptop, which is on the table in front of her – it’s plugged into an industrial extension cord that runs up the slope of the Yard, into the red-latticed window of the Tap Room, and so into the Inn where it is plugged via an improvised connection to the marine battery on the shelf beside the jockey box.
And there Kage sits writing furiously of immortal time travellers, by lamplight on a portable computer running on a battery hidden in a fake Tudor pub, on a haybale under oak trees, while a Fellini film dances around her in the moonlight.
And people asked her where she got her ideas ….