Kage Baker was very good about keeping records of her writing.
That is, she kept every version of every story she wrote. She saved portable copies to her Buke and on thumb drives, to be carried along when we travelled, and worked on in hotels and comfortable bars. She used and kept hundreds of legal pads.
Consequently, I have zippered plastic bags full of unlabelled thumb drives. I have boxes full of manuscripts, galleys, and printouts that got sent to editors and were then returned for corrections. I have all those notebooks – usually the legal sort, with green lined paper about as thick as toilet paper but with cardboard covers as tough sheet metal. I have pounds of hand-written drafts on correctable typing paper – Eaton’s Corrasable Bond, most of it – which has aged to the consistency of dried rose petals: you can now read both sides of them simultaneously, so diaphanous they have become. Or, more accurately, you can not read either side, because Kage’s bold and wretched handwriting covers them like spiky black rose vines.
What Kage seldom did, though, was update her manuscripts. She didn’t bother to go back over older copies, paper or electronic, and make them match the finished copy. Sometimes she’d append a note – something like Edited in November 2003; changes everywhere, on a sticky note. Which is less help to the adventuring archivist than you might think.
I tried to make sure that the final, finished versions were all retained on thumb drives or disks: something permanent, that wasn’t subject to the vagaries of life in a hard drive. Kage thought that was a great idea; she kept copies, too, but on her hard drive. They were never dated or titled, so as to indicate what version they were. Sometimes there’s an explanatory note in the text that tells me this is not a complete copy, or not the final cut – but she saved them for herself, to preserve what she’d originally written in the white hot passion of the first draft.
“Yeah, you have to kill your darlings to be a writer,” she’d concede. “But you don’t have to throw them away. Anyway, they might be good for something someday.”
And, in fact, she managed to sift several stories and at least 2 novels from her hoard. She also made me promise to burn them all when she was dead …
That’s the only promise to her I have not kept.
Among all this paper are the notes for things Kage wanted written, of course. Also among them are other notes, speculations and outlines that I have pulled out and laid aside as potential treasure. Some of them take the form of page after page of notes passed between us – a scene, a sub-plot, a sudden image, and then one or the other of us scrawling What Happens Next? to the other. These are incredibly helpful to me, sometimes. Sometimes they’re just hilarious crap – Ermenwyr’s adventures as a pool shark come to mind – but even those turn up the volume of her voice in my head. And I need that.
Right now, I need to be working full speed on Marswife. But I’ve discovered that my grasp of the time line is very vague. It’s meant to be post-apocalyptic, beginning just after the pyroclastic blast fries Mars Two. But nowhere in Empress of Mars – for example –does Kage give any tiny hints about what is to come – though even I’m not sure what some of the Heretic’s more opaque predictions are meant to mean …
I think there will be more details to glean from some passages in Life of the World To Come. That ones includes the disaster of Mars II, and I’m pretty sure Kage gave it a date – 2351 or ’52, just a few years prior to the Silence falling in July 2355.* There will also be – or should be – some dating landmarks in Sons of Heaven, too. I need to figure who, if anyone, of Mary’s Miscellany is still alive when the bomb goes off in Olympus Mons. I have to come up with names for the next generation of Vespuccis. Doesn’t someone eventually marry the youngest Griffith girl, Mona? And I don’t remember how old Mary’s granddaughter Mary is by the end, the little girl whose foster father is the Operative Eliphal De Wit of Amsterdam.
And I also just need to steep myself in Kage’s Mars, to get used again to the charms and peculiarities of Mars II, that shining city built on beer and rebellion. So I’ve been collecting the pertinent Mars stories – making sure I have a format of each of them that my Kindle can read – and uploading them to be my special reference section. Kage’s habits with the original copies of her stories, as outlined above, have been making this a very exciting affair
Most, by my great good fortune, are accessible on my computer; I moved them all into the same carefully safeguarded folder in an external drive after Kage died. I’m always on the hunt for the ones I couldn’t find easily, to upgrade the collection. Yestreday I read through Empress; on my breaks today, I’ve been reading “Maelstrom”. I’ve also been searching for what was Kage’s last Mars story, “Attlee and The Long Walk”.
At first I couldn’t find it at all, not even any references in her correspondence. I finally found it in a PDF format in MY email, of all things. The PDF document was majorly strange, being a scanned side by side of all the pages, 2 at a time, of the collection for which it was written. Conversion dissolved all the formatting, and putting in a single-page format resulted in each page being sort of inside out – paragraphs appearing out of sequence on every one. It took me most of today to get it all cut, pasted back together, and saved as a .doc attachment.
But now I’ve got it. And a small voice in the back of my mind has been whispering , Alessandro, Hadrian, Giovanni: which I am assuming are the names of the little Vespuccis. And now I know that would-be ecdysiast Mona’s beau is named Durk … jeez, what a dreadful name, Kage!
Oh, screw you! says the very faintest voice in my very furthest mind. And I know I am on the right track.
*That date, by the way, is pretty much smack dab on the 24th and A Half Century, you know. Kage’s little tip of the hat to Warner Brothers, which very few people have apparently figured out …
I would buy and read Ermenwyr’s adventures as a pool shark! Even though the first thing that popped into my head was a picture of him with fins, snorkel and strap-on dorsal fin with the Jaws theme on whatever demonic portable music device he uses.
Ermenwyr as a pool shark! Ermenwyr as a hedge fund trader! Ermenwyr as night manager of a Denny’s in Fresno!
Don’t eat at that Denny’s! Although of course I’d buy and read the story.