To Thine Own Self Be True

Kage Baker was always amused and mystified by what it turned out her audiences liked. She seldom saw it coming, and in fact considered her own judgement as to what would be a crowd-pleaser to be inexplicably poor. The letters carefully explaining just what her readers found to be especially charming (or horrid) were enlightening – in that she hadn’t thought of that – but usually a surprise to her.

Having tried with her first novel to accommodate every trope, fashion and personal editorial twitch in the genre, she finally gave up. She re-wrote Iden one last time to satisfy the legitimate concerns of grammar and spelling, and sent it off. And it promptly secured an agent: the splendid Linn Prentis, who sent it back but with the message Not A Rejection written on the front of the package. Which is all that prevented Kage from sending it to live with the cut-throat trout and mallard ducks in Pismo Creek.

After that, though, Kage never again made someone else’s wishes her paramount target in a story. When she contracted to write on specific topics – wizards, space opera, cthonic gods – she kept scrupulously to the specified heading; when she accepted invitations to write pastiches of genre greats like Jack Vance, she studied her subject for months. Other than that, though, she gave up trying to please the audience in advance. She just couldn’t tell what the hell would catch people’s fancy.

Lewis, for example, the Literary Specialist from the Company series. Everyone loves Lewis. Kage loved him herself, and was delighted that he won such a following: but she had thought he would be a very minor character, a throw-away, a walk-on. On the other hand, her actual hero – Nicholas/Edward/Alec – left a majority of readers cold. In fact, the only letters Kage ever got expressing active dislike for a character were about Edward. Our own sister Anne detested him and said so vociferously. You’d have thought the man had come to dinner and made off with the silverware. Kage never understood it.

You, Dear Readers, continue to astonish me in similar ways; though I have evidently yet to come up with anything you abhor as much as most folks do Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax. But when I glance over the stats for this blog, there are funny peaks and valleys. Days I thought myself especially scintillating reflect low readership – then some exercise in utter silliness pulls in 300 hits. My dissertation on humidity hit a considerable mark, which was hilarious and surprising: but apparently the weather and its eccentricities are every bit as avidly interesting as Sam Clemens claimed they were.

Of course, I have kind of pre-selected my audience here. You are all fans of Kage Baker, Dear Readers, and I am trying to be faithful to her vision and her voice.  Honestly, sometimes I can barely tell if I am hearing her in my head or only remembering her: but whichever it is, it’s your patient attention that lets me bring off the trick at all. I am so very grateful for that. Shouting out across the aether to all of you keeps me communicating with people, and keeps my gradual evolution into a crazy old lady to a socially acceptable speed.

In the deep and merry meantime, I am free to follow the gleams and sparks of inspiration that drift through the Universe to impact on my undefended brain. I know I have a friendly group of auditors willing to listen to my speculations on the identity of roadkill and the true source of those footprints you find on your windshield at dawn. Or to listen when I tell tales of Kage, or about Kage, or by Kage. It’s a nice feeling, Dear Readers, to know that someone out there will actually think for a moment when I present some peculiar trend or observation – like, there are currently half-a-dozen toilets lolling about on lawns in my neighborhood.

Why? There is no knowing; it’s a mystery. Last month it was mattresses; this month it’s potties. There are signs that next month it will be strange nest-constructions of cardboard. And something is producing an elusive scent of spice and bubblegum around the detritus, as well – some species of phoenix, perhaps?

I’ll keep the aether posted.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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7 Responses to To Thine Own Self Be True

  1. Margaret says:

    Maybe you could give us a compendium of rude things other readers have said about tiresome Edward? I was surprised that Mendoza didn’t just rip his head off when he started with that “I know what’s right for you, my dear – it’s Motherhood.”


    • Kate says:

      Margaret – Oh dear oh dear, sooo many people think Edward was an overbearing, self-centered, misogynist swine! He’s not, though – he was just more a product of his times than either Nicholas or Alec, and more nearly a success as an Operative, too. The only reason Mendoza did not do him serious injury is that he didn’t start any of that paternalistic codswallop until he was an immortal cyborg – by which time, he was a bigger, stronger one than Mendoza. Our sister Anne did say, “Oh, I HATE Edward! he’s so arrogant and stuck up! Mendoza deserves much better than him!” Many readers found him unpleasant – arrogant – condescending – hypocritical – downright evil and creepy, even.
      Kage was rather sad about that. Edward was her favourite.


  2. Carol says:

    Please, please keep shouting out, Kate, for all you’re worth! Because your voice is wonderful and true, and for each reply you get from rapt and avid listeners, there are so many more who–like me–are perhaps too shy or reticent for other reasons to post a response. But we are out there. And we are listening. And hanging on to your every expressive word, and wanting more.


  3. Margaret says:

    I’m with Anne. I think it’s Edward’s smugness that annoys me the most. I’d hoped he’d get a much more radical comeuppance at the end – something a bit humility-inducing would have been satisfying, like Mendoza saying “Oh Alec, I’m glad you’re back – you were always my favorite.”


  4. Kate says:

    Kage was unable to quite settle on one of The Boys. It’s one of the reasons Mendoza ends up with three husbands. Also, I threatened to utterly rebel if any of them was left out of the happy ending!


  5. Margaret says:

    As you may detect, my preference is for Alec – maybe because he knows how to enjoy himself, probably due more to Captain Morgan than to the Nanny State. Edward’s main form of enjoyment sees to be letting people know how superior he is in all ways to the rest of the populace. So I’d rather think of Mendoza with someone who can show her how to have a good time at something other than plant genetics.


  6. Kate says:

    Edward – like many Victorians – is not very good at enjoying himself. He learns a lot from Mendoza, as well as Nicholas and Alec. Personally, I’d be hard put to choose a favourite – I’ve lived with all of them so long. And while Kage was favouring Edward more as time went on, she veered according to her moods. Sometimes it was Nicholas or Alec. It’s why I argued so hard to make her keep all of them!


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