How We Did It

Kage Baker, as I have observed before, rarely suffered writer’s block. When she did, it rarely lasted long; its duration could be measured in hours. Sometimes in minutes.

Her primary cure was a session of gardening. Half an hour pulling weeds, and she would come running back indoors, eyes alight with purpose. Neither the weeds nor the block ever had a chance.

The other best way to unblock the flow was brain storming. She liked to wait until it was dark, or we were on the road to somewhere – then she’d have me light my Lava Lamps, or we’d head North for at least 6 hours. And she’d start telling me the story – what was wrong with it, why she thought she was stuck, what she wanted to say and had accidentally ploughed over the path to … What happens next? she would ask.

As I’ve also said, what Kage chose to happen next was rarely exactly what I suggested. My suggestions were like flares – in their hanging light, drifting down the darkened sky, she could see where her inspiration was hiding, and drag it out to do its job. Sometimes, to my delight, we’d fall into a sort of call and answer dialogue: the characters spoke through her then, and sometimes even through me, and the channeled badinage would ultimately yield a scene.

More often, I was what Kage turned to in order to work out technology. I was the one who read science books and magazines … more and more,as the years went on, because you never knew what sort of machine Kage would have to justify at a moment’s notice. Not that I am any kind of an engineer! But I do know enough to be able to warn Kage when she outright trampled a law of physics without explanation, or devised something someone else had already famously used. Like a lot of science fiction writers, Kage leaned optimistically on the old And here a miracle happens technique – but, also like most of her brethren and sistern, she tied it all as tightly to known technology as she could. I tended to know what was possible – Kage, I remember, was actually astounded to discover that vending machines had not yet even approached the abilities of the food replicators so dear to the hearts of the genre …

She figured there’s been plenty of time to perfect those. Finding out what it takes to build plant and animals tissues from cell cultures both surprised and horrified her … I have the notes for a nasty little story where someone’s similarly horrified reaction leads them to urban cannibalism. And the deficits and sins of phoney “meat” were thoroughly explored in her Company novels, where it came in colours like Play-Do and was about as edible.

But it also led to the core tech failure at the heart of the short story “Facts Regarding The Arrest of Dr. Kalulgin”. W were discussing a new story – all she had were a couple of intense images and the knowledge that it concerned the operative Kalugin. And we were discussing allergies. Most allergies are caused by a body’s sensitivity to a protein – the main job of  most genes is to code for the production of proteins – auto-immune diseases arise from some unfortunate’s sensitivity to their own proteins … and it occurred to Kage that a person could become allergic to their own memories; at least, to the messenger RNA  used in memory production.

I don’t know how her mind made that connection of my babbling along about protein production, and why she needed an antihistamine because her eyes were red and itchy. But I know we were coming up out of the Santa Ynez valley headed south, where the 101 swings to the left to parallel the coast for miles and mile. I remember because my first sight of the sea that day was accompanied by Kage asking, in growing delight, “Could he be allergic to his own memory RNA?” Eureka!

There are moments like that attached to everything Kage wrote; hours of them, sometimes, when the argument went on and on. She had her hard times, when every word had to be pulled from a malignant sea like an unwilling fish – but usually it was like a spring thaw. A few hours of creaking and then the ice exploded, and the river was in full spate.

Me, I am in a blocked state at the moment. I have the galleys of Company of Thieves to edit, though, which helps a bit. And I am despairingly familiar with the one-word-at-a-time struggle; it’s how I’m writing this entry, Dear Readers, sweating aetheric blood over the difficulty of the task.  Still, it works.

By the time I finish the editing, maybe the ice will begin to break up. If not, I’ll see if knitting needles can be turned to good use as a gaff. Somewhere in the back of my mind, words are stirring …

I will pry them out somehow.

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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7 Responses to How We Did It

  1. johnbrownson says:

    If it helps- and I have this odd idea that it might- Play-do is perfectly edible. I have absolutely no idea if it’s nourishing, but edible? Sure. Generations of neglected children have gobbled the stuff and, to the best of my knowledge, been none the worse. Now, road tar? That might be something else…..


  2. Kate says:

    Well, Play-Do is not poisonous, but I doubt it is, strictly speaking, edible. I tried it, when I was a child – I remember it having a curiously interesting feel to the tooth but actually tasting a lot like snot. Not thrilling.

    Tar, on the other had, is rather better. I don’t mean the nasty macadam they spread out on the roads today, but the tar that leaked on hot days from telephone poles and the planks of piers. That had a great chewiness, and a resinous flavour that reminded you wood was made from trees … best of all was the gold sap that oozed from sugar pines: it smelled like vanilla and tasted like it, too. Great stuff when went camping.


  3. Miz Kizzle says:

    Play-Doh can’t hold a candle to that thick, white school paste that my fellow scholars and I used to partake of surreptitiously back in kindergarten. As I recall, It was sweet and smooth and quite delicious. It made a nice palate cleanser after eating erasers, particularly the pink rectangular ones.
    It’s possible that my classmates and I had a weird form of pica that was limited to ingesting school supplies.
    The tar you described is very tasty. So is pine tar, which a guy named Trapper Jack recommends as a substitute for chewing gum on his survivalist website. There are certain elements of the survivalist lifestyle which I find curiously appealing.
    Now I wonder, can anything be done to the brain chemistry to permanently change memories?


  4. Lynn says:

    I mustg have had an unhappy childhood; I never tasted any of those glues or tars. However, Kathleen, it didn’t seem to me that you were pulling that wonderful story out of the yarn knots word for word. It flowed just like everything else you and Kage ever wrote. And made sense. And without an outer editor. Well done.


    • Kate says:

      Oh, Lynn – you never ate paste? You must have been a very good little girl. There was Wilbur’s white glue, that had a sort of yoghurt tang – and that almost-cookie-filling paste Miz Kizzle referenced, that was sweet – and there was plain old homemade four and water paste, which was slightly salty and tasted like biscuit dough. Probably because it mostly was.

      But there was also a totally horrible school glue – mucilage. It came in wasp-waisted amber bottles with weird slotted red rubber tips, and it stank dreadfully. Looking up the word in one of our home encyclopedias convinced me the ghastly stuff was made from snails. I’ve never been fond of white wine, because it all carries a faint flavour of that wretched stinking mucilage …


      • Lynn says:

        No, I never ate paste. It didn’t smell good enough to me to try. However, Dad was an artist and had rubber cement around all the time. We would paint the tops of our hands, let it dry and rub it off. It smelled wonderfully; who knew it wasn’t as safe for you as we thought? We also painted our hands with Elmer’s White Glue and waited for it to dry so we could have old people hands. And who knew it would actually happen to us for real?


      • Kate says:

        Wow. I never thought of using glue for makeup special effects – that’s brilliant! And it’s true, how weirdly time has transformed us into what we once played at – when I look at my hands, I see my great grandmother’s hands, especially while I’m knitting. My mother and both grandmothers had exquisite hands, long-fingered and narrow and very aristocratic: I didn’t inherit those, alas. My hands are decidedly working class – Kage got the aristo hands!



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