Kage Baker had special rituals in place for all the events of a writer’s life. Rituals to honour the receipt of a contract, or a check. The special dance she danced when her author’s copies arrived. The rite to heal the psychic scarring of a bad review.
Many critics would, I fear, be alarmed to discover their names were scribed on parchment, burned to ash, and scattered on the relentless waves of Pismo Beach … or maybe not. Writers are rarely as shy as Kage was. The livelier members of her genre have been occasionally notorious for the retribution meted out to those who displeased them. All Kage did was cleanse the aether.
The rite for finishing a book was a prize ceremony. She kept a wish list – things encountered on the Web as she researched, or things she had somehow lost since childhood, and (being Kage) wanted to get back. When a project was complete, she turned to her wish list, and we figured out which item on it was immediately achievable. The prize was less if she’d just completed a short story than for when she finished a book. And some of them depended on our cash flow – she sometimes had to wait for a big prize (like coffee table editions of Disney art, or chrome fittings for the Cruiser) until the advance check came, or I had a payday.
One of her favourite RIGHT NOW! rewards was a new computer game. She liked pirates (the Monkey Island series was her utter fave rave) and RPGs with really good art and engines (like Planescape: Torment). She discovered a rather frightening talent for gunnery (it scared me, anyway), and so would play a few First Person Shooters: if they contained large artillery, anyway.
I’m afraid Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds would have been scorned to oblivion by Kage.
Of course, her heart truly belonged first and foremost to pinball games. She was a deadly serious and preternaturally skilled player, racking up replay after replay and often running the scoreboard all the way around to zero again. The arcades of Pismo were her childhood holiday nirvana; once we moved there to live, she tended to hit them mid-week. Then, fewer people wondered at a middle-aged woman with red hair to her waist crouched with cold-eyed concentration over some Bally table.
I suggested once she add an actual pinball machine of her own to the wish list – her advances and royalties would have bought her one, no problem. Kage, wise woman that she was, said NO. “If I had a pinball machine of my own,” she said, “I’d never write again.”
Well. Last night, I finished a novel. Not only that, I finished what will be the last official rewrite before sending it off to my agent, the lovely and patient Linn. This thing has been rewritten so many times over the years that – well, I’m not even sure how many times it has been. The first version was handwritten in Higgins permanent black ink on erasable typing paper – one of our most asinine choices of medium, by the way, as nothing will stay on the damned page. Not if you need to store it for a few decades, anyway …
Kage and I wrote it together, in turns, in our very early 20’s. Write what you know, one writer’s proverb goes: and what did we know at 22 and 23? Damned little, but we worked a long, complicated, picaresque saga out of it, wherein a pair of fairly idiotic and unworldly nuns are loose on a Sacred Mission in a battered world poised between apocalypses. If what you know is that you don’t know enough to come in out of the rain, well: a pretty weird buddy story can be woven out of that.
I wrote the technology; Kage wrote the religions (two, at war) and the folklore. Everything else was a collaboration. Much of it was unbelievably bad … but over the many, many years, as it was transposed to type-written text, then floppy floppies, then hardcase floppies, then disks and now an absurdly tiny thumb drive: it’s changed a lot. It’s a lot more readable. It’s a lot more polished. Somehow, though, it’s not appreciably shorter than it was originally, despite what Kage removed and used elsewhere over the years …
I even found an error that dates to the first translation from handwritten to typed, a character name change that Kage came up with some 100 pages over the character was first introduced: I had to go back and retype every reference with the new name. It scarred me for life. No Find and Replace on an IBM Model B! Somehow, despite all the reworking, that error had survived 35 years to surprise me last week.
Sometimes I think we are pressed between the pages of our memories’ books, instead of the other way around.
Anyway: it’s done. Next week I will send it off to Linn, and hope she doesn’t promptly return it with wild and raucous laughter. Or if she does, that it will sell anyway. In the meantime, though, I will reward myself with … books. Some entire series that I can stack up and read all in one greedy go.
Then I’ll resume work on Marswife. November is NaNoWriMo time and I’ll be aiming at 50,000 words in 30 days.
By that time, a new game should due out from the folks who made Torment. I’ll have to get that.
It’ll be a reward for Kage.