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.