Kage Baker could get bored with not writing.
She wanted to write; she needed to write. But if she had no ideas – yeah, even to her it happened from time to time, for an hour or two. So she would wander out beyond the Fields We Know, to the suspect lanes on the edge of town, where dubious road-houses showed a blue glow in their windows instead of wholesome yellow lantern light …
She would suddenly by struck with ennui, that couldn’t be satisfied with a book or a game. So she’d embark on some aimless treasure hunt across the Internet. Usually, she could spend hours just roaming from site to site: a title or a screen shot would attract her, or she’d get an anomalous return in a search – intrigued, she’d go haring off in pursuit of the history of some private yacht club in the waters of Gardner’s Bell, or the domestication of Peruvian guinea pigs, or how some printer in the lead slugs and inky hands days of typesetting carved all his original fonts out of turnips for demonstration models …
Ever seen Zardoz, Dear Readers? Insane movie; but Kage loved it. There’s a scene where either Frayn or Friend, the feckless pranksters who kidnap Sean Connery as a do-or-die cure for their ailing society, is trying to accomplish some research – we see him ordering up holographs of automobiles from past decades, showing the changes in design. And he’s yelling at the computer, because he wanted to trace some specific design element across the development of all cars, not just the evolution of one model. I suppose the point is to show the dilettante playing at his make-believe job, not to mention the lack of creativity on the part of the computer.
But what Kage always said, leaning forward avidly, was: “Man, I want a machine that will do that!”
Every writer who saw it, wanted it. And in due time it appeared, as the search engines which are now so ubiquitous that the name of the biggest has become a common verb. If you waited long enough – to about, oh, the last few years or so – you could even give your search parameters by speaking to thin, thin air. Although if you don’t enunciate, you’ll doubtless get some peculiar crap on your screen instead of what you actually want … but sometimes, you’ll find something better.
That scene from Zardoz was the model for Kage’s recreational searches. Start off in some deliberately vaguely defined direction, and see where you end up. Follow the freakiest signs, and find out where they go: somewhere along the line, you’ll find something truly peculiar and unique wherefrom a story might grow … and that’s what Kage did when she got bored.
This would eventually lead to a brainstorming session in the darkened living room, watching the wax or whatever it is in the Lamps of the Weird form shapes like Zardoz’s Stone Head. Or out on the road, zooming past the beaches paved with elephant seals, or through the pastures where cattle that looked like cave paintings cavorted ponderously. Ultimately, Kage would get what she wanted: inspiration. Once she had the hint of a plot, she could take off and catch the rest of the story on the wing.
You have to learn how to do that, though. Or at least I do – I don’t actually know if Kage learned it or was taught, or just grew the ability like her double-jointed thumbs and ability to do accents. I can’t even claim that I have quite learned: I only know how it’s supposed to work. What it looks like when it does. What it feels like – inside me, anyway – when the compass needle starts to whirl, and ends up pointing somewhere at 90 degrees to everywhere else.
I have, once or twice, had the sudden nova blasts of inspiration that happened regularly to Kage. And I get more sensitive all the time to the smaller, weaker, more common little starbursts that come instead to me. I may never write with as much sun-dazzle in my eyes as she did, but starlight is proving quite illuminating in itself. I can actually begin to feel that fizzing, bubbling, nervous fidgeting that means I am bored with not writing.
Still not quite in possession of an idea, yet. But I know I want one. And I know where to look – over my shoulder, behind the curve of a hill, somewhere I have never before set foot to stone or hand to latch.
Out there, somewhere.