Kage Baker attributed her writing success to incredible good taste in selecting friends. Without the wonderful people she knew, she always said, none of her stories would have gotten past the “Stuff I write in legal pads for home consumption” stage.
Personally, I disagree – but it is a fact that Kage was blessed with the companionship and good will of some truly fine and talented people. Many, many of them contributed to convincing her that her writing was worthwhile, and then actually gave her practical help. Anyone can – and does – wish an aspiring writer luck. It’s a rare person who will lend out her own class notes or resource books.
I had dinner with one of these Good People last night – Athene nee Mihilakis, quondam quod posterus APQ* and general avatar of the grey-eyed goddess herself. Athene, who not only writes but studies the art as well, once long ago shared with Kage her notes on how to write and market a book. (Kage, being her obsessive self, absorbed the information.) She encouraged Kage to forge on past the rejection notices, and now to recognize the ones that are actually encouraging. She even edited the very first draft of In the Garden of Iden (the version with several passages written in Latin …) – and there are few greater tokens of friendship than editing the maiden manuscript of someone with whom you hope to stay on speaking terms afterwards.
It is not exaggeration at all to state that without the aid of Athene, Kage would never have sent her work to an agent; never tried her hand at a short story; never conceived of a story arc that encompassed 8 novels and more of human history than humans have gotten round to recording. It’s just the truth. It’s why that first novel was dedicated to her.
Since I moved back to Los Angeles in the wake of Kage’s death, Athene periodically invites me out to dinner. Her kindness was initially the only social interaction I would consent to; I had holed up in my sister Kimberly’s house and was contemplating staying in bed forever. Athene made me put on grown-up clothes and come out. She listened to me carry on, let me cry (in a restaurant! I am so ashamed now.) and insisted on staying in contact with me. I haven’t exactly been a social fireball since I came back here, but I would have devolved to something between a hermit and a shelf fungus by now, if not for Athene coaxing me out of the house every few weeks.
Thanks to her, I will even be going to my second annual Tomatomania** event tomorrow – thus ensuring another summer of fresh-picked heirloom tomatoes and many summer nights of BLT dinners. Black Zebras, Berkeley Tie-Dyes, Pineapple, Zapotec Pink Ribbed, Vintage Wine … the world of tomatoes is a phantasmagoria of delight. Even plain old Romas far exceed grocery-store ‘maters; not to mention the incalculable benefits of home gardening …
If I am coming back to life – or at least sending up some new shoots from my shell-shocked root stalk – Athene is one of the reasons. Just as she was one of the primary reasons Kage spread her wings and leaped off the cliff of hobbyist-writer to fly free into the light. And if I manage to keep Kage’s work going through my own (I have finished the sequel to Nell Gwynn!) there will need to be another grateful dedication to Madam Athene.
Or at least a chicken dinner. I’m buying next time.
* Actress Playing the Queen
** http://www.tomatomania.com/ I recommend this highly, Dear Readers. There are stops all over the state.