Twofer!

Kage Baker always felt that if you missed a deadline, you should try to catch it at once – even while it bounced away, as it were. The main thing was to catch up, not wait for the next deadline. This often played havoc with her medication schedules … however, it helped her make many a writing deadline that would otherwise have sunk without a trace.

Empress of Mars was one of those. Originally a novella, she planned (and promised) to expand it into a novel. Somehow, though, she scheduled it as having a June due date – it actually had a January due date, which she discovered during a Dickens Fair two or three years ago. She begged 60 days to fix the error and complete the book; as she had a reputation for inhuman speed (and because they are basically nice folks) Tor Books agreed.

I think Tor Books thought she would produce something rather like Anvil of the World; which is a triptych of three stories tied together with an overlaid uber-plot. It’s what Kage called a “mosaic novel”. But she had done that, you see, so she rather automatically did something else when she threw herself into completing Empress. What she ultimately did was create two or three entirely new plot lines, and literally weave them through the existing story.

A paragraph here, a page there; a back story deftly inserted into an otherwise dull conversation … there were plot lines and story arcs in four different colours of Post-it notes, all stuck to the wall beside her desk. As a selection was used, it was plucked and discarded like an autumn leaf. There were occasional  lapses – Harry liked to join in the discarding process, but had no real sense of what was ready to go – but overall it worked. Kage thought his method might have contributed to the finished plot once or twice …

Her editor was gratified and amazed. It wasn’t what he had expected. It was better. Kage had caught the lost chance on the bounce.

I mention this because, technically, I missed Sunday’s blog entry. I didn’t hit the PUBLISH button until after midnight, due to the exhausted state of elation I was in on realizing I had made it home alive. But the narrative ball is still bouncing, and so here is the second entry for December 6th – that first one early this morning was actually for the 5th. I just fell asleep somewhere between recounting the phantom cities and the prehistoric sea, and woke up much, much later slumped over on my desk.

It was a wild ride both up and down. Coming home, of course, we drove through a storm the whole length of the Bay Area and the San Joaquin valley. Going up on Friday, we drove into the burgeoning edges of that storm – just before sunset, we could see the dreaded tule fog beginning to form, rising from the wet ground like legions of ghosts. Down all the long dark aisles of the walnut and apricot and pistachio orchards, penumbrous figures were gathering and rising in the dying light. One could almost see the eyes forming in the fog as we sped past.

But the eyes were not under the trees. As we drove on through the twilight, we commented (one to another) that the cloud cover had prevented any sunset – just dove-coloured shadows spreading over the hills. Then, suddenly, the entire western sky was ablaze – the sun must have found a final rift somewhere below the horizon, though we couldn’t see where. What we could see were beaches and continents and oceans of scarlet and gold, bright as tinsel, spreading out sourcelessly over the Uttermost West,

And clearly formed in the masses of red clouds, in metallic gold: an open eye and a drooping Celtic moustache, from a vast solemn face regarding us. The old Sun, wearied out by the winter day? Cernunnos looking out for the helpless and benighted? I don’t know, but it was amazing. And slowly, the eye shut, until the face was asleep there; and then it vanished with the very last light.

“The sunset never watched me before,” said Kimberly thoughtfully. And we drove on.

Tomorrow: more Dickens reminiscence. With champagne and sabres and oranges.