Unusual Personal Aspects of Writing, Part II

Kage Baker loved to write. Not just to compose – the physical act of writing was an entertainment for her;  like Bilbo Baggins, she loved cryptography and cunning alphabets and codes. She loved calligraphy, and was in fact very good at it herself – despite the handicap of being left-handed, which necessitated that she make her fancy letters upside down and backwards lest she smear them with her own wrist.

Pens were a passion with her. She quite hated ball points – their coarse line, their scratchiness (she claimed she could feel irregularities in the ball right up her arm), their tendency to clots and embolisms. Fountain pens were good, but she felt they leaked too much; she never took to them as I did (they’re my faves, and I carry fountain pens to this day.) She was delighted when felt tip pens were invented, though she soon grew as picky about those as any other – Flairs were scorned, for instance. What she really loved in commercial pens were the needle points like Pilots; black medium point Pilots were what she took to signings and conventions.

Of course, better than anything – even better than a Koh-in-noor Rapidograph, which was as much a status symbol in our high school as a Corvette – was an actual, honest-to-Thoth steel nib on a well-crafted staff. She had a Rose’s Lime Marmalade jar on her desk, filled with various pen staves; and a Twining’s Caravan Tea tin full of 19th century steel nibs – booty from a closed-down criminal asylum in Salem, Oregon, fetched home in a plastic bag by an obliging relative shooting a movie there … anyway, Kage much preferred writing with a nib pen and a bottle of Higgins Black Ink.

A lot of her adolescent writing was done with nib pens – her favourite green staff still has her teeth marks on it from teenaged writer’s block – on those legal pads that are lined on pale green paper. The notebooks fit in her purse (a typewriter would have fit in her purse, to be honest) and carried her Rapidograph in case inspiration struck in boring places like the car or algebra class. She said the motion of the pen over the paper was sensual.

Kage liked it so much that the first draft of In the Garden of Iden was written that way. So are two trunk novels that will never see the light of day, on pain of her deathbed curse striking me – though I may mine them for a few things. By the time she was seriously at work, she had switched from legal notebooks to full sized loose leaf pages, so as to accommodate my typing up the manuscripts – though she insisted on using erasable typing paper, which made my life a living hell because every single ink she used smudged on it …

Kage only abandoned her dear pens and bottles of ink when I finally taught her to use a computer. The ability to write in light was irresistible, and the ease of cut and paste was the frosting on her authorial cupcake. Partway through Sky Coyote she changed a character’s name; I remember her crowing with delight and triumph when she changed 150-odd instances of it simultaneously. Man, that was a miracle of modern technology!

To the end of her life, though, Kage did at least some of her writing in long-hand. When we were places she couldn’t use her laptop, when we were on the road, or in an audience somewhere – the notebook always lived in her purse, along with one good pen. Or, as her health began to fail, in mine … we worked our back through various transcription methods her last year, when it got harder for her to sit up at her desk.

By the day she died, she was dictating to me and I was typing as she narrated – in between copious Mozart and Scolieri jokes, and occasional stretches of nonsense when Kage would get tired of plotting and race off neck and neck with reality. I’d keep typing whatever hysterical silliness she was reciting – the adventures of Missy Squirrel and Mr. Badwhiskers, the dapper wolf from Warner Brothers cartoons, for instance. Ultimately I’d crack up and lose my place, and Kage would make me delete all of it and haul us by main force back to steampunk adventures in Torquey …

Ah me, adventures in writing. Such times we had. Remembering it keeps me going as I pound my way through this NaNoWriMo project, aiming for a few thousand words every night.

I’d never manage it with a pen, but I do still carry a notebook in my purse. Just in case a story comes knocking. Kage would expect it of me.

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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6 Responses to Unusual Personal Aspects of Writing, Part II

  1. I don’t like to leave the house without a fountain pen; if not two. one of those swell disposable german ones and a calligraphic (left handed) pointed one. plus one of my blue drafting pencils. While not much artistic occurs now, there always lists and cryptic notes to make.


  2. Kate says:

    As I recall from many meetings, Steven, you excel at marginalia. Strange machines, handsomely decorated blades, strange little animals with wise eyes … all the classical things one finds in the Book of Kells and its ilk.


    • MoMcGrath says:

      I went through the same process with pens. I have given up the steel nib but do continue to write with a 00 rapidograph. I did have an extra step of using various brushes for Japanese lettering.

      I’m right handed but my BFF Monica Mortz is a lefty. In 4th grade she broke her left arm and so I, in friendship and jeslousy, learned to write upside down and backwards. It was easy compared to writing lefthanded. This is an act of friendship that only a child could think of. It was a penance for not having broken my arm too.

      The other commonality in your piece is the absolute glee of writing on a word processor. I read better on a computer/ iPad too. But I continued to use nibs and rapidographs anyhow.

      When I started dating my husband we had some surprising things in common. He had rapidographs- whole sets of them, which was shocking to me since he didn’t go to IHHS. But he had be a draftsman. He also watched a Saturday morning show that I was sure had only myself as a viewer- Dr. Who. We still watch it too.

      I’m not a writer but I had to join in order to “like” your piece.

      I love that Kathy is taking up riding.


  3. There’s always a spiral notebook in my purse, and a handful of various types of pens. You just never know.


  4. Kate says:

    I carry a blank book and spare black fountain pen at all times – because you’re right, Maggie, you just never know. The Muse is notoriously unreasonable.


  5. Medrith says:

    When my grandmother died and we cleaned out her house to sell, I found a PEN in her desk. Brass nib and mother-of-pearl shaft. It both wrote and drew a wonderful line. I have lost it. Alas!


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