Applying Finish

Kage Baker was better than most people at finishing projects. She was fiercely determined, and she usually had a project plotted out in its entirety before she began it; often with flowcharts, models and a detailed precis to consult. It’s how she managed to produce so many books and stories in her brief career: she never willingly stopped.

When inspiration in one medium faltered, Kage sometimes changed to a different one. When she designed sets for Faire events, she sketched them first – but if they proved recalcitrant, she simply built them, in miniature: first water colours (I have sketchpads with studies for both a ruined chapel and a full-scale Tudor inn), then – usually – models in clay or model lumber. Did you know, Dear Readers, that you can get scale miniatures of just about every piece of standard lumber? When Kage found that out, in her 20’s, she went nuts. (I recommend Kit Kraft,  in Studio City.) All the Inns we built for various Faires began as piles of dollhouse lumber on the dining room table. Kage designed tiny eccentric trusses while fending off Harry’s attempts to gnaw on the rafters beams.

However, between being left-handed, only vaguely mathematical and uninterested in standard engineering concepts, Kage’s blueprints and instructions were … bizarre. The carpenters in our troupe (affectionately dubbed the Chaos Construction Corps) meekly accepted her peculiar instructions and then translated them into normal geometry- lest they accidentally build a dimensional warp into a corner of the tap room. Peepholes and hidden entrances still tend to show up every few years, though.

Kage did the same thing with her books. The time line for In the Garden of Iden was a multi-coloured flowchart in three languages, that went around two walls of the library. It was sheets of yellow lined legal pads, taped together …  Her notes for stories, rather like da Vinci’s fabled doodles, contain little figure studies and machines in the margins.

I have a carved doorpost in bright polychromed wood, representing some legendary hero of The Children of the Sun – it hung by our front door for 30 years. Kage whittled it out of a piece of scrap lumber with an Exacto knife, while working on the first drafts of what became The House of the Stag. It was known to send door-to-door missionaries fleeing before they even rang the bell, so strangely pagan it looked.

There’s an entire romance concerning the eventual marriage of Gard’s and the Lady’s first born son, the Magnificent Variable Erdway (known to his brother Ermenwyr as the Beautiful Idiot, but you know how boys are …). It’s an illuminated manuscript in water colours and inks, hand-scripted, with amazing capitals. Kage did it while agonizing over how the hell to make her cyborgs work in the Company series – she was seriously considering clockwork, but ended up saving that for the Anvil universe.

So Kage didn’t finish everything linearly – it was years after she got the Company operatives working before she wrote about the clockwork carts of the Children of the Sun – but she finished nearly everything. Eventually. By strange and often recycled means, but she did get to them. It’s those unfinished projects keep me busy now; it’s the weird bits intruding into each of them from other dimensions and stories that distract me and slow me down.

And in the meantime, the final fiddly bits of Ancient Rockets are being slotted into place by the excellent folks at Tachyon. And Subterranean just courteously reminded me I need to get some flap copy to them for  Nell Gwynn II – and here I’ve been wasting time for the last week, caught up in the notes for a fantasy so old the ink’s all turned green and it’s illustrated with crayons. I’ve been having fun, but there’s work to do!

Time to channel some of that determination that drove Kage. Some more of it. Maybe I need to borrow some of Michael’s old Legos, and see if a model of the shattered Dome of Mars II will help me work out my heroine’s path through the rubble …

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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2 Responses to Applying Finish

  1. Elizabeth Machado says:

    I do hope you get to the shattered dome of Mars II soon-I so loved the beginning!


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