Something In Train (I Hope)

Kage Baker loved to travel. Not just to get somewhere, but for the sheer joy of movement. She loved the road, she loved the landscape going by at eye level and in arm’s reach, right outside the window. She was a born passenger.

All she needed to keep her happy in her seat were a good view, good music, and occasional snacks. Everything else to entertain her was generated by the interaction of those few items and her own mind. Maps, if available, constituted a condiment to the feast, but were not necessary. When we got lost, Kage could always get us back on a road to our own dimension by sighting in on prophetic flocks of birds and landmarks.

Most of her travelling was done by car. We couldn’t afford anything else, usually. She would have dearly loved to wander up and down the coast by boat, but we couldn’t afford so much as a dingy and neither of us ever learned how to sail: though I’m sure she would have been good at it. (I’m sure I would have fallen overboard with alarming regularity, too.)

She hated flying. When we absolutely had to, of course, she did it – as long as she had a couple shots of rum and a window seat, all was well. The view out the window wasn’t frightening for her; the actual height at which a plane flies was utterly unreal to Kage. But being able to see the clouds and the land below actually made her feel better about spending several hours in what was, basically, a sub-standard bus …

What she longed to do – and what we only got around to once or twice, briefly – was to travel by train. She’d gone to San Francisco twice as a very small girl – once with both parents, once just with Dad. Both trips lived in her memory as expeditions of glory and delight. Sleeper cars were, to Kage, the veritable pinnacle of luxury; dining cars were incarnations of the Brown Derby and the Cocoanut Grove. And dome cars were on  a par with flying carpets. She used that fascination in the story “Her Father’s Eyes”.

That story was itself conceived on a train. We were taking the train home to Pismo from Los Angeles, because just before Christmas I had been in a car accident and broke several ribs and the car. Consequently, we were journeying back and forth on the Pacific Surfliner; first class, replete with windows and cocktails.  As we passed the various small towns on the Central Coast, Kage speculated on their histories (which she knew, of course) and made up mysteries to enliven their tiny lives … and when we passed lovely, weird little Summerland, Kage mused aloud: “What would the train station be like in a town called Summerland?”

“I don’t know. Make one up,”  said I churlishly. (The sway of a train, while wonderful, loses some pleasure when you have 3 broken ribs.)

And so Kage did. Oak trees, she decided, would overhang it; it would be bare undecorated wood, with iron railings painted black and brass. No taxis, ever; no estate wagons – just long, low, shining limousines and touring cars, with elegant white-faced people driving them. And there a strange little girl would meet a strange little boy, both of them being towed along by negligent parents.

This is where Kage came up with the idea that the modern Fae drive expensive cars and are The Beautiful People – though they still steal children, and pay the occasional tithe to Hell. As far as I know, Summerland did not then and does not now boast a train station. Though it’s in a oak grove if it’s there at all, I bet.

Anyway. Kage loved trains, and never got to ride in them enough to please herself.

The point of all this – or one of them, anyway – is that I have recently been made aware of Amtrak’s intention of starting a Residency Program. (Thank you, Mark Shanks!) It is intended to foster creative people, especially writers, by giving them free train rides to places. Amtrak promises a round trip, 2 to 5 days on the rails, with a berth in a sleeping car plus a desk and a window … they’re hoping for some wonderful copy in return, of course, and in order to ensure that they are requesting applications from writers with a media presence.

I’ve applied. I gave Amtrak my email, my blog URL, my Facebook page; and I actually broke down and joined Twitter. Which I am slowly figuring out how to use – my natural verbosity is against me, here, but I’m trying. I even have two followers already, neither of whom are at all familiar to me; I suspect they are the sort of media remoras who just attach to anything. I myself am following Scientific American, NASA and Stephen Colbert – baby steps there, but I had to start somewhere.

And beginning today – if I did this right – this blog will also post to Twitter. Or notice of it will, or something. I mean, 140 characters? Can you imagine my long-winded perorations as a Tweet?

Anyway, my handle is MaterKathleen. I would appreciate it, Dear Readers, if any of you who notice these things could let me know if notice of my blog actually posts.

And if I get a residency, I shall write and post madly from wherever they send me. And I will try to watch everything I pass through Kage’s eyes.

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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16 Responses to Something In Train (I Hope)

  1. Jenn says:

    You may wish to read before finalizing your plans… she raises some good points to ponder…


    • Kate says:

      I have the utmost respect for Diane Duane (s well as thinking she is a hell of a good writer). And her points are excelent, and true besides. But I did read all the clauses and offensive boilerplate she notes – and I intend to think about it a great deal if I am offered this trip. But to tell you true, Jenn, I doubt very much I will be selected. I am a writer’s heir, with only two items published under my own name to date. I’m not very active on social media. I’m not a known name nor a buzzword. This all leaves me less than sanguine about my chances.

      But it’s no end of fun to fantasize about it. That is free, and I don’t owe Amtrak a bent penny for applying. On the extremely off chance they say “Come on board!’ I shall vet the contract thoroughly and refuse to settle for a bad deal. And who knows? It may turn out well after all.

      And thank you for your concern.


      • Of all the writers I’ve come across, you are probably the one I personally would choose just because you are emerging and have the verbosity and growing presence online. And especially as I’m thoroughly enjoying your “Kage” posts giving us an insight into your and her lives while neatly segueing into (usually) an allied topic of the day, as you did in this post. You’ll be surprised how many of us have and are coming onboard with you. 😀

        A delight to be sure.


  2. johnbrownson says:

    “MaterKathleen”. How utterly perfect, for those with whom you’ve shared some history. Oh, and your designation of a modern passenger plane as a “substandard bus” is so spot on! Flying should only be as comfortable (and convenient) as a trip in a contemporary, long-haul bus. Good luck on the “residency” thing. Let us know if we have to marshal the troops, for some reason.


    • Kate says:

      What fun it would be to marshall the troops … we could rob trains, which has always struck me as a very romantic behaviour. Or I could at least toss carnations off the platform as the train pulls away. Whether or not this Residency thing works, only time will tell – but I shall be careful. I mean, how much trouble can even *I* get into on a train?


      • Tom says:

        Tempt not the great god Rollo Hephaestus, missus. Between you, random chance and gravity, something notable might could occur.


      • Neassa says:

        Hmm. I’m sure the screwball comedies of the ’30s could provide us with a list of possibilities.

        Never mind the precedent set by “The Lady Vanishes” and “Murder on the Orient Express”. Or “4.50 from Paddington/What Mrs McGillicuddy Saw.”

        On the other hand, I love trains, too. Maybe we could try a retreat by train across the Sierras and back?


  3. Mark says:

    Funny you should ask about Summerland. The coastal community of Summerland between Santa Barbara and Ventura never had a station with that name. The Southern Pacific Railroad station and section gang house at that location was called “Ortega,” likely for the nearby Ortega Rancho.

    On the other hand, there *is* a Summerland Station to be had… It’s just further afield in British Columbia, Canada. It’s on a historic rail museum by the name of The Kettle Valley Steam Railway. Picture here:,-119.732173,3a,75y,266.62h,90t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1s2j62tjTi9GTreXCQTXkN-g!2e0!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0xd7fec74bd5596230!6m1!1e1

    And it appears both of us have added a twitter account… Mine is @ClioVita , Latin which I am sure will amuse…


  4. Kate says:

    Neassa – yeah, I am thinking it might be a cool idea as a mini-sabbatical, even if they don’t select me. We should start considering destinations!


  5. Brad Campbell says:

    Brad here, again…I had the joy of living in Summerland for 3 years or so, working in Santa Barbara. I’m sure Kage knew that in the very early 1900’s it was originally settled by Clairvoyants & Mediums & con-men & con-women of all strange stripes. The Big Yellow House is purported to be haunted. Clothing is optional on the beach below the cliffs. The Nugget had “the best burger” in California (even Julia Child said so). It was a wonderful place to live & feel the vibes of the California coast. Hope you two stopped there to refuel (And to put gas in the car…). Writing there is… hmmmm…mellow is the closest word I can grab right now.


    • Kate says:

      Brad – oh yes, we stopped there often. Sometimes just for gas, but most often to dine at the Big Yellow House. Their pork chops were divine, and the dining areas were exquisite: especially the milled and carved eucalyptus panels in the main downstairs room. As for being haunted … well, bearing in mind I had had 2 whiskeys prior to visiting the ladies’ room, I did once see a woman in the mirror *behind* me – and no one else was in the room. Kage was fascinated.


      • johnbrownson says:

        Re, the “two whiskey sighting”: I find it deeply annoying that the only real supernatural experience I ever had (so far) took place while under the influence, many years ago, of a mild dosage of psychedelic. I remain convinced, to this day, that what I experienced wasn’t the acid; I was a veteran, and had a pretty good idea of what might or might not be coming along on the trip. I feel cheated, somehow. Certainly, no one else would believe it, and I have trouble believing it, myself. Just the wages of sin, I suppose.


  6. Brad Campbell says:

    Living there, I heard many similar stories. Never happened to me, alas….


  7. Kate says:

    I believe you, Buffalo. One learns the effects of one’s customary conscious alterers – and two whiskeys never made me see things. I mention it only because they could well have affected my analysis of what I *did* really see: but not caused it. They did cushion the surprise, though …


  8. Kate says:

    Thank you, Alexandra – it’s been a delightful surprise to discover how many people read my stuff. It’s genuinely a connection that helps keep me going.


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