Things In The Corner of My Mind

Kage Baker was acutely aware – or at least personally convinced – that the world saved itself up to interfere with her writing. Distractions, temptations, visitors, strange things floating by in the sky – they were all stockpiled by some personification of Chance and released as soon as she sat down to write.

It’s one of the main reasons she required quiet and isolation, why she insisted on few visitors; why, even when we had expected house guests (you get a lot, when you live at the beach …) Kage would sometimes take her laptop and go shut herself in her bedroom to write. She knew she was easily blown off course. She would tell visitors: So sorry, she just couldn’t write while people were talking. When an annoyed relative once asked did she also have trouble walking and chewing gum, Kage said Yes. And I know it. And if I didn’t know that, I wouldn’t ask it!

One of my jobs was keeping all these things from interfering with her concentration. There was no way I could prevent all incidences of noise and shiny objects; sometimes Kage just gave in to the urge to play Monkey Island all the way through, or watch The Wrong Box for the 3,749th time. Or one of our neighbors would drift by our second story windows in his glider, with a room-fan motor strapped to his back for motive power … some things would distract a saint with OCD.

Still, she knew what her weaknesses were and she tried to put up protective wards against them. More than that, no writer can do. As she got older, she was sometimes able to tolerate a surprising amount of noise and carrying on around her; but she always planned for the worst. Her goal was, always, to write.

I usually have, it must be humbly said, much better powers of concentration. I was the one who could memorize times tables and king lists and the mining products of Chile. I could do my homework with the Beatles playing at a Cavern-style level of noise. Nothing can break my concentration when I was reading. I don’t  look at my passengers when I drive. I don’t talk on the phone or (who is actually that stupid?) text. I have a will of iron, man, no cries of Squirrel! can send me panting and barking to the window.

All of which gets kicked right to the curb when it comes to writing. This is a new discovery, one found in the last 3 years – I seldom had trouble with essays and reports, and in fact can still (in an emergency only, mind you) come up with enough to kick-start my nephew’s college papers on short notice. But writing … holy moley, some part of my frontal lobes shuts down, and I can can be distracted by anything. I am usually not a video game player, but now … witness Mah Jong, where I am now on game 503 of the Archer and still haven’t won. I’ve been re-reading entire series of books, watching entire series on television – curse you, DVDs!

Of course, as of yestreday, there is no time to be wasted! I must average 1,000 words a day for the next 2 weeks. Which goal I did manage yestreday, even with spending a vital 3 or 4 hours doing research; some of which was actually needed for the story. But I found myself led astray down all sorts of blind alleys and fascinating garden paths; weird facts were multiplying before my eyes, undulating seductively across the computer screen …

There’s a new paper out, speculating on how the really large, really heavy, really spiky dinosaurs Did It: and, believe me, erotica in paleontology is not at all common. There’s a story about a pair of eyeballs left in a Kansas gas station – the mind boggles. Papua New Guinea has yielded a newly discovered area that may be the most eco-diverse few square miles in the world: new frogs and butterflies, blue-eyed possums, something that looks like a cat but isn’t and no one knows what it is, genuine ROUS! And the subject of “de-extinction” is heating up, so that it really looks like someone is going to try to resurrect a mammoth soon.

I actually did need to know the weather in Los Angeles during 1943, and was totally, completely blocked. Judging by what I could find, in L.A. in the year 1943 there was no weather. Except that on January 23rd the city got 2 feet of rain, and in July there was the first-ever smog alert. Other than that – nope, no weather. I spent 2 hours on this ridiculous data chase, and am now faking it. I feel safe in assuming the sun rose and set …

And in the meantime, there is a Doctor Who Marathon on BBC America, and Supernatural* is on television tonight, and I just found several deliciously insane books about Nephilim and absurd sources for the Sumerians, and – and – SQUIRREL!

Plus, it’s always so much more fun to sit and chat at all of you, Dear Readers, than to get my rear in gear and do something author-ish and disciplined.

However … I really must. Besides, Kimberly will be home from errands soon. And while she is probably coming back with a copy of Lincoln, she’ll also want to read what I’ve written today.

And so I’d better go write something. Last night, I left Lewis honking the horn of his green 1935 Ford Woodie frantically at the curb of Joseph’s house, and he has a desk stuffed in the front seat … and that’s no place to leave poor Lewis.


*Eeek! Kimberly has just kindly pointed out that it’s not Supernatural on tonight, it’s Grimm! See how distracted I am?

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 Things In The Corner of My Mind

  1. You know, I sat down at the computer just now with exactly the same ambition, to write the boys out of a stupidly awkward situation and into an either dangerous or funny one instead, even though Dr Who is on in the background (and even though no one else is home) and what did I find? Your column, er, blog. Which, of course, I then had to answer in order to point out yet another uncanny similarity. At least there are two hours yet till Grimm. I might at least get this stupid sequence re-read before it starts, so I can let it all work in my subconscious.

    Today, in the interests of research, I bought a packet of fruity Mentos which, as we now know, river nymphs adore–although as it turns out, I got the colors wrong (it’s pink, yellow, and pale orange). Research is vital! Speaking of which, did you try the Farmers Almanac?


    • Kate says:

      Maggie – it’s just one of those days when the Universe is conspiring to get our attention. Personally, I have all the will power of a wet Kleenex. And yeah, I’m counting heavily on the free time before Grimm, too. Nick the Grimm has gotten more interesting, but Monroe is my favourite.

      Yep, I tried the Farmer’s Almanac. Great records, but they start in 1945. I wonder if the 1943 ones are still classified, or something? But still, someone must have noticed whether it was a wet spring or a hot summer! I’ll continue to search in off times, but in the meantime I am just going to write around it. Can’t let research derail the actual composition.



  2. Miz Kizzle says:

    Have you tried an online newspaper archive to find out what the weather was like in LA in 1943? is a good source, and I think they have two-week free subscriptions.
    If you want, I can check the dates you have in mind and get back to you.


  3. Miz Kizzle says:

    An easier way would be to go to They have a graph showing the climatology of downtown LA according to annual daily temperature and rainfall from 1921 to the present.
    Hope that helps.


  4. Miz Kizzle says:

    Exciting factoid! A bit of online browsing found the first-ever report of smog in downtown LA on July 26, 1943. The LA Times said a “pall of smoke and fumes” descended on the city during a heat wave. Visibility was lowered to three blocks. Eyes stung, throats were sore and people were mad.
    The following day, city officials said the problem was caused by the Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Street plant emitting butadiene fumes, an ingredient in a synthetic rubber product that the plant manufactured. The plant temporarily closed down, but the smog persisted for decades.
    There’s lots more about the 1943 smog problem in online archives.


  5. Miz Kizzle says:

    Sorry about babbling on about the smog; you already knew about that. To briefly recap the highlights of what J.L. Baldwin of the Weather Bureau had to say about California weather conditions in his annual report of December ’43: January was 170 percent rainier than usual, with an average state-wide precipitation of 8.24 inches. Windstorms on Dec. 8-10 caused millions of dollars in damage along the coast. The rest of the year was average in terms of rainfall throughout the state, although May, August, September and November were drier than usual.
    Sadly, Mr. Baldwin didn’t provide any information specific to the city of Los Angeles.
    If you have any particular dates in 1943 in mind for which you want to know the weather conditions in LA, I’ve found the folks at the Weather Bureau to be very helpful to writers and researchers, although you may have to talk to a few people before you find the right one.


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