Kage Baker liked going to science fiction conventions for a number of reasons: networking, hotel bars, seeing friends. Putting an enjoyable spin on the necessary promotional activities of being a writer. The dealers room. People-watching.
People-watching is especially rewarding because every single person there is wearing a costume. Sometimes they are very obvious, due to refinements like extra limbs, outre skin colours, or a cheerful and total disregard for copyright infringements on the appearance of a famous comic strip or movie character. But even the people who look relatively normal are actually costumed. Even the writers. Especially the writers! They want to look like sane, approachable persons intent on business, when in reality they are half-crazed hermits who’d rather be chained to their word processors, falling deeper and deeper into their private worlds. Except, of course, for the ones who are normally good solid citizens who happen to be brilliant story-tellers: and they are costumed to look suitably zany for the role.
Kage always went for the twinkly-eyed favourite Auntie look. She wanted to look approachable and sympathetic, but not actively nuts. Hence her fondness for Hawaiian shirts, which she felt gave a nice festive air without her having to wear ray guns or tribal tattoos. (Mine you, if she had ever found a working ray gun, she would have worn it and shot people who asked her where she got her ideas.) For occasions like banquets she opted for black suits. She said she wanted to look like Agent Scully’s eccentric Aunt.
Me, I depended on my omnipresent knitting to costume me as a Nice Older Lady: it’s amazing how many people do not realize that a woman with a bag of knitting is carrying around a dozen stilettos and the makings of numerous garrottes. For the especially formal gigs, I had some Tarnhelm outfits so I could blend into the background.
This time, though, I wanted to be noticed. It was my maiden voyage as the Keeper of the Flame, as it were, and so I wandered about being ostentatiously visible. Hawaiian shirts are primo for this, BTW, as well as being comfortable and easy to pack. But my badge read KAGE BAKER’S SISTER; and Neassa crocheted gorgeous rainbow-hued yarn lanyards for us to hang our badges on. And I still had my bag of knitting: which can be camouflage or eye-catching, depending on what you knit.
I was knitting Monmouth caps. Arming caps, those are. For under helmets. At a science fiction convention, there are always lots of people who know what an arming cap is …
After decades of stage etiquette, though, no way could I bring myself to draw focus when I was in the audience of panels. That is the ultimate rudeness, and there is quite enough of it perpetrated by the regular audience. It’s a peculiar phenomenon that I’ve seen frequently in acting workshops and rehearsals, too. My good friend Tom Westlake calls it “Wait, let me tell you about my character” Syndrome – and it doesn’t matter if you’re running a workshop on accents or choreographing a sword fight, these people just have to turn the spotlight on themselves.
Personally, it reminds me a classmate in kindergarten who used to pull up her skirts to display her pretty panties … at any rate, though, loose writers who are auditing don’t need to contribute.
What I was determined to accomplish, though, was to not be one of the panelists who gets talked over by the others. I probably succeeded beyond my wildest dreams, but hey – I was on a mission from Kage. I’ve been drawing audiences for 30-odd years, just to help sell turkey legs and beer. Keeping Kage’s name and work alive is a much worthier cause!
And! This is a good place to segue slightly to another vital matter of visibility. Nell Gwynne II has a publication date! Marc Bailey shared this with me yestreday, having just pre-ordered his copy from Subterranean Press. So it is now official – Nell Gwynne: At Sea and On Land; Or, Who We Did On Our Summer Holidays is due out this very Fall. A Happy Halloween and a real Thanksgiving!
Can you see me now, Kage? It’s working just the way you wanted it!