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.