Kage Baker hated putting a project aside. She hated giving up on anything – she was fanatic about keeping on at something until she had accomplished it. She was not a quitter. She wasn’t even much of a negotiator. With Kage, it was always an all or nothing effort.
It was the shining edge she brought to the task of writing, that let her cut though all distraction, confusion and outside static. She would crank the focus down on the story in front of her like Leeuwenhoek at his first microscope; until she too could see the “.. .many very little living animalcules, very prettily a-moving…” which fascinated Leeuwenhoek. Except that his were miscroscopic animals, and hers were the characters in stories.
Kage discovered Leeuwenhoek while researching the painter Vermeer, for her story “In His Light”. She ecstatically shared the details with me, and was rather peeved that I already knew about Leeuwenhoek – as any devotee of biology does. She found his contributions to Vermeer’s work much more interesting than his 50-year association with the Royal Society, despite the amount he contributed to that august body and its deathless members like Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle and Christopher Wren.
“He helped Vermeer see the qualities of LIGHT,’ she explained, caps very firmly implied. “A painter needs to see all of light he can.”
Painting had at one time been Kage’s passion, and she tried for several years to make her living with pen and brush, ink and water colours. It lost its primacy when her writing began to take over her imagination; but, being Kage, she never gave it up. She continued to paint, and especially to illustrate and illuminate things; she loved fancy capitols and cunning alphabets, and she never really believed a story was complete without pictures. The first thing she always wanted to see in the galleys were a rough of the cover, and the editorial suggestions for the chapter heading icons.
Her work, many critics have remarked, is very visual. Yes; yes, it is – I think she was transcribing from what was actually a movie in her head, with lots of fantastic CG effects. The dialogue was over-dubbed, and she just wrote down what she saw and heard. And if you had asked Kage, that’s what she would have said she was doing. She often said she was taking dictation when she wrote.
So maybe it wasn’t that Kage never gave up on an idea, so much as that whatever was broadcasting into her head never stopped. She always did complain that her memories were crowded into the corners of her mind, by other people’s memories: she firmly believed that she’d inherited Daddy’s memories of WWII, for instance, baked into his blood by the Egyptian sun 10 years before she was conceived. I told her that was rank Lamarkism, but she said there was no way to tell. No one ever quizzed those long-necked giraffes, she commented, on what they remembered …
She gave the little girl in “Her Father’s Eyes” that sort of bloodline memory; she gave it in even greater detail to the Little Stupid Guys, to help their introverted minds along. She gave the Operatives multi-tiered memories, where unpleasant information and other people’s memories could be shunted into storage, never to bother their owner again uninvited.
I think Kage longed for that kind of surcease in her own head. She never got it unless she channeled all her focus into a specific train of thought, and gave the others no chance to grab the mic. And those – both the theme in temporary charge and the others relegated to the background chorus – those were the stories. And I am quite certain that when Kage said she had to write, that was at least partly what she meant.
I think her dilithium crystals would have blown up, otherwise. Just as they would have if a sequence, once started, were stopped halfway through.
She was quite dreadfully upset when she realized she would not be able to finish Nell Gwynne II – one of the few times, in her illness, that she cried, and railed against the inevitable. She only calmed down by drilling the rest of the story into my head, and when I had recited it back enough times to convince her I had it memorized.
If Kage realized I couldn’t remember it all – I was very nearly the walking dead by the end – she also realized that was I was making it up rather than let the narrative fall into the Void. It must have been enough to make her happy; she never complained I had it wrong, even when she set about working one of my new ideas closer to her heart’s desire. She finally believed that I wouldn’t quit.
“You just have to keep going, kiddo,” she told me. “Eventually, you won’t be able to stop anyway; and then it all runs on automatic.”
I gotta tell you, Dear Readers, that what Kage didn’t mention was that once the process was running on automatic, it no longer answered to the brake. It seldom even answered to the throttle – instead, your brain began to itch and burn and fulminate, and then you realized that you were sitting on the cowcatcher of a speeding train, and all you could do was map the direction it took. The speed and compass heading were out of your control.
Kage couldn’t stop; and sensibly, she made a joy out of what had become an inevitability. Now I can’t stop, either. My head is full of the echoes of other people’s memories, all in Kage’s irresistible voice. But you know what? The candy butcher comes along regularly; the seats are comfy. And the view from up here is amazing …