Kage Baker was not much given to moodiness.
She had moods, of course – anything with a biological rhythm and chemical responses to its environment can claim that. If you are one of those sensitives souls who are also susceptible to sea-changes at every tide of the world – if you are brought to tears by Hallmark commercials, and frenzies by a hot tune on the radio – you know how easily one’s emotional chromatosphere can alter its colours in response to every change in the environment. Some people are just easily overcome by vibes.
Kage was not one of those people. She could be preternaturally responsive to vibrations, groups feelings, whatever you want to call them – she could also be as deaf to the voice of the zeitgeist as your average rock. Quite deliberately, too; she was happy, more often than not, to live unaware of what people were saying about – well, anything. Kage enjoyed blissful ignorance in many circumstances. High on the list of what she never wanted to know anything about was whatever was a current event, including what the rest of the world felt about it.
So, moods – yes. Moodiness – no. She preferred her emotional states to be expansive and in primary colours, with lots of gold embossing. And very probably glow-in-the-dark. She always claimed she didn’t want subtlety in what she felt; and she was suspicious of it in other people’s feelings. Honesty, she believed, called for strong colours and clear outlines. Pastels were sneaky things. Uncertainty was a probable sign of moral weakness.
I used to occasionally observe that, considering the complicated, conflicted and downright moody characters she wrote about so well, hers was an attitude walking dangerously close to hypocrisy. She didn’t agree. I write stories, she would explain to me airily. I write fiction! People shouldn’t behave the ways I write about – it’s dangerous and neurotic. But that’s not my fault; you have to exaggerate to make a story interesting.
I’m not the one moping around over lost loves, she’d say virtuously. I’m not even going on binges! But who’s gonna buy a book about a middle-aged lady making the best of things in a small town? You gotta be Jane Austen to make that trick work. Readers want glamour. Romance! Excitement! Really wild things! But the writer can’t be like that, not and keep her focus.
And she’d go back to writing. Until it occurred to her that she needed to see a particular hillside road above Cambria, where bramble bushes were hung with enough ripe berries to make one really ill – and we’d head off into the slightly-known, looking for the barely remembered turn off. When we got there, we’d fill empty Slurpy cups with dusty sweet faceted blackberries, until a bobcat or a wild pig or a herd of deer sent us scrambling desperately for the car, laughing and cursing. And we’d flee somewhere that had restaurants, and stop for dinner, and spend the first 15 minutes taking turns in the ladies room trying to scrub berry stains off our hands and beat golden dust off of our boots …
Kage had no idea these things don’t happen to most people. She had no idea that what made the world around her scarlet and gold, embossed and bejewelled, was her. She had no idea that nothing dared stay pale and thin and moody in the flame of her regard.
It’s why I am so busy these days, making masks heavy with goldwork and gem-pure colours; trying to fashion something like her eyes through which to see the world. Because I didn’t figure it out either, until she was gone.
And I want to see the world like that again.
Back in country on Friday. Read your reply to my comment of July 9th. 14 pages to “TWONG’s” and 2 lines of plot notes for “Hollywood Ikons”. Should have been enough for a lot more. I did read from someone that you are going to try and self-publish. Nice way to be forgotten. I understand that you are not Kage, but she must have left you something to build on and carry on with in your own words and way. I sincerely Hope you can continue some of her story lines. I Miss then!
Thank you, M. Grabo, for your optimistic estimate on how much constitutes “enough” to comprise a novel. Even short stories need a bit more than 2 sentences of outline to be really easy to produce. I have, as a matter of fact, a lot of such tiny plot outlines from Kage – she didn’t do them in formats, you see, more like a stream-of-consciousness style So it takes a while. If you have some method for extrapolating 50,000 words out of 17, please do share it..
I obviously don’t know where you read I was intending to try self-publishing. But I’m not. The notion has crossed my mind, as it does every beginning writer’s – but I have sufficient experience to know it would not work well for me. As you so gallantly put it, “Nice way to be forgotten”.
If I decide to release a collection of Kage’s already written but lesser known stories, I will do so through a legitimate publisher. As you noted, though, I’m not Kage. I know it, and so do the publishers. It will take considerable time and negotiation to bring off, so I don’t recommend holding your breath.
However, as far as new stuff is concerned, progress continues. A new story has just been bought by Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. It’s a Company story, and a Joseph story. Another one, which is NOT a familiar setting, is still being considered by Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine. And I continue to work on new plots.
I do something similar, trying to conjure Kage sometimes from the little we knew each other, but also from the many years of sights and smells of onstage, backstage, scene shop, costume shop theatre/music/opera experiences in my life concurrent with your lives At Faire. Paint and musty tarps, wet cardboard, Ease-Erase in the typewriter with a comedy sketch half-done, moldy straw . . . helluva gateway to remembrance. All in all, I’d prefer someone bake some madeleines (though it wouldn’t work worth a damn to summon her, or other lost theatre pals).
Conjuring Mary Lynn is easier. And harder. But a mask? No, I am not able to play her on stage, page or screen.
When I’m working on one of Kage’s ideas, I find I need to convince myself that I am taking dictation. So I have to convert the voice in my head into hers, or enough of hers to write things down as she would like. That’s what the mask is for: though I also simply miss the extraordinary world I lived in with her.
My own style, while similar in some ways to hers, has obvious differences. But to get *that* down, I need to practice the discipline that was so easy and natural for Kage. That’s the hardest part, often. When she died, it had been years since I wrote regularly – but Kage had seen everything I’d done, just as I’d seen her work: and she was blithely convinced I could write.
My success in doing so is still somewhat up for debate. But it’s getting easier, at least.
Here’s a quote that today’s post reminded me of:
Gustave Flaubert “Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work”.
I love your posts, although I know it takes away from “real” writing time. My best wishes, strength and encouragement are constantly being emanated to you in your endeavors.
Thank you, Mike. These posts are an actual part of the discipline of writing for me; a place to play with ideas, exercise my long-ngelected muscles and actually connect with some Readers, as well. And a few hundred words here usually leads to a few hundred more on an actual story. That’s the how “The Teddy Bear Squad” is being written – and so far, so good!
Hello Kate, I’m not sure if you remember me or not. I belonged to your guild for a couple of years back in 1996-97. I used to hang out with Steve Boone and crew. (You might remember me as the guy who grabbed the turkey-in-renclothes who was making a loud scene inside the innyard during the queen’s progress?) Anyhow, after all these years going by I was looking for info about you guys and found your site here. You have my belated condolences. I didn’t know Kage very well, although I did try on several occasions during the quiet times at faire to strike up a conversation with her, but, nothing doing other than short replies to my questions. In conclusion, I hope that you are faring well considering, and also my humble encouragement on your path as a writer and author.