Kage Baker kept a big oak bookshelf by her desk. It didn’t hold her reference books. The ones she used most lived on the top of her desk; the others, for variable and different projects, stood in a mutable pile on the floor.
No, what filled the bookcase was her own works. It housed her brag shelf, and it went from part of the old bookcase that held our George McDonald Frasier and Patrick O’Brien collections, to a 5-shelf oaken monster filled with everything she wrote in her 12 years of publication. It was there, true, so she could gloat over it – especially the ever-increasing by-invitation anthologies, and the many foreign language editions. But it was also there so she could access the portion of her memory contained in the books.
These were her exo-memories, like the exo-planets that we lately are finding round other suns. They were her memories of her characters and her plots, and the memories (literal) of her characters themselves. And she had to be able to access them precisely to go ahead with new stories.
When did New World 1 close down? Where did the line “Two pairs and the Heirophant – I win!” come from? What cave did Joseph’s father paint? What’s visible from the northern side of Mt. Torquemada? How old did she make Latif? Or Victor? Or Nefer, and why the hell had she calculated Nef’s age in days?
All the characterization details, all the throw-away lines about interesting tech and peculiar historical tidbits and secret conspiracies: Kage wrote them down in the forge heat of creation, and then forgot about them. That’s why I write them down, she’d wail, frantically flipping through one volume or another. Now where did I put it?
This got worse as time went on, too. As more detail was added to the already enormous storyline, whatever had been finalized and recounted was shunted into storage. I think Kage really did have a tertiary memory, like she gave Joseph – but not even her Palace of Memory would hold every detail of a plot that ran from the division of Homo heidelbergensis to Duck Dodger in the 23 and a half century. So she kept all the books close to hand, and would seize up the appropriate one when she needed to verify something she’d already said.
Or, at least, what she hoped was the right volume. Sometimes it wasn’t. Sometimes it took quite some time to find the relevant passage, and in the meantime Kage would fall back into the story … and the pages would turn more and more slowly, and she’d spent 2 hours reading. (By the way, this is the biggest single time-waster in every household that depends in any way on books.) Sometimes she would be as tickled by her own prose as if she’d never seen it before – because she did forget bits in the fever of writing something else. And sometimes, she would moan and groan and castigate herself. What was I thinking?, she’d howl. This sucks dead moles!
Stop reading it, I would advise heartlessly. You started this in order to write something new.
Oh, screw you … and she’d read another 3 or 4 pages, then look up and ask, Hey, what dies first – your heart or your liver? And she’d be off on another idea.
I am presently missing that brag shelf a great deal. Oh, I know precisely where it is – in my storage unit, behind a wicker urn full of scraps of brocade, and a steamer trunk. The invaluable books it held are all packed safely in a nice box labelled “Kage’s Books – Personal! Important!” Which I think is under the kitchen box where I packed the Le Creuset ironware.
Yestreday, I realized I desperately needed some specific information from Sky Coyote, in order to make proper sense of the plot now developing in “Pareidolia”. And Sky Coyote is still not easy to find in tangible form: at one point, a bookstore owner friend told Kage that he could get an autographed copy of the Lord of the Rings, but not of Sky Coyote … it remains the book of which I have the fewest copies. And none of them were here in the house. And it was too late to go to the storage yard. And the public library was closed for Cesar Chavez Day.
But! I have my Kindle! (Cue the trumpets and tambors!)
Anyway, I downloaded it. And found my needed references, and wrote the dependent portions of the plot; and then wrote some more to keep up my quota and tie one edge to another edge, and then … then I sat down and read Sky Coyote from beginning to end. Never mind that I can recite portions of it by heart. Never mind that hearing once again Kage’s voice as Joseph has crushed my ego and left me boneless with admiration and self-doubt. Never mind that at the moment, I cannot imagine ever matching the Chumash Night Show; or Kenemekme paddling into the dawn with a canoe full of coriopsis and Hooker’s Evening Primrose. Or Joseph waking Humashup on That Day, and watching it fade into the past behind him like the tattered edge of a film strip … as the Chumash march forward singing Bye Bye Blackbird.
How the hell can I hope to do this? Kage left me her memories. But not her mind.
What possessed me? Lord, I can only hope it’s Kage …