Facing It

Kage Baker was a visual person.

She interpreted her own thoughts as pictures, or so she said – and how on earth can anyone argue with that? No one else can know for sure what you see in your head when you think; nor how it’s translated, nor into what. The strange scrips that run in other people’s heads are entirely their own – even when they share, as writers do, you have to take their word for what’s going on in there.

So Kage said she thought in pictures. She composed straight onto the page (or the screen) because the words didn’t appear in her head. She had to transcribe what she saw in order to know precisely what it was. The spoken word did not yield as much as her own transcription; though anyone who ever heard her tell a story knows she was a mesmerizing tale-teller, Kage herself maintained she didn’t know what she was talking about until she could see the words in front of her.

She understood perfectly the Prologue from Shakespeare’s Henry Vth. Getting the story out of your head is a matter of such moment and conflict that a muse of fire is the least you need. Plasma would be better. Photons were, Kage felt, an acceptable compromise.

One of the many things that kept Kage on topic during a story was a good image of the characters. Often this meant drawing them out; the characters of Anvil of the World existed as sketches long before the stories began to be written down in high school. Sometimes Kage saw a photo or an illustration somewhere, and that would attach itself to a character in her mind. Then when she wrote about them, she’d put that picture up on her desk and so be able to meet her creations’ eyes as she wrote them into life.

I think in words. It’s not the sort of thing you can be uncertain of – I mean, you may not know everything, but you sure as hell know what appears behind your own eyes, right? And I see words, usually in Times New Roman – which is not my favourite font but most closely resembles what was printed in most of the books from which I learned to read. I can date early memories, in fact, by whether or not they appear in words. Only the very earliest are solely pictorial; even then, most of them have acquired captions in the intervening years.

But I have found you do need some pictures in order to write. My illustrations are fewer than Kage’s – her mind was evidently a panopticon running on flaming hydrogen. But I need some good bedrock pictures, or I can’t form the story. When I was writing Nell Gwynne II, I saw a print of Cupid and Psyche, where Cupid looked like a tomboyish girl with a classmate fainting in her arms … This pretty confusion of genders gave me a face for Herbertina, who carried a lot of the action in that book. I couldn’t have written it without her image.

As I spent the last month battling Grand Guignol depression and core meltdowns in representation, I have become aware that I need to be able to see Charlotte’s face. Australia is clear as a bell in my mind, in all its funhouse-of-zoology magnificence. But I couldn’t quite see Charlotte, except for eyes like Spanish glass and a hint of a teenaged scowl.

So I’ve been searching through Neanderthal faces. Aside from making me look at perfectly ordinary passersby and decide their heads looked funny, my search has yielded 3 treasures:

1) Charlotte at maybe 5 or 6 (Neanderthals matured early):

child Charlotte




2) Charlotte as that sullen adolescent:

Charlotte full face





3)  A page from an Operative’s private notebook, maybe indicating why they named the abandoned baby Neanderthal “Charlotte” in the first place:








The lady rendered in coloured pencil is Charlotte Bronte.

It’s always a surprise, when you find a character’s face.It’s so seldom what you had in mind! But until you do, you can’t get very far in their story.

Enjoy the personnel file pics, Dear Readers. More tomorrow.

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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4 Responses to Facing It

  1. maggiros says:

    I do know what you mean. I used to be ab,e to identify a “Molly face” but couldn’t point at her exactly until I realized she’s the lady carrying the Queen’s train in the Elizabeth I and the Three Graces painting – that sweet, heart-shaped English face is her exactly. Not that she ever wore that expression (for long) but that’s her.

    Collecting pictures like this, and locations, and clothes are what got me into using Pinterest.


    • maggiros says:

      Oh, and Ben Harper has both the face and voice of Dr Daniel Jackson. When I’m wondering what Ben would say next, I listen for Daniel Jackson, and it all comes together.


      • Kate says:

        Google images yields a lot of landscapes, for me; also, most of the faces I want. As do National Geographic, Scientific America and Atlas Obscura. And there is a weird little Pinterest-type site called Webshots that has given me lots of grand pictures over the years. And I also follow Kage’s habit of many years, of taking screen shots and storing them specially for when a story idea suddenly needs a picture, and catches up with a fascinating image I’ve kept for years.


  2. maggiros says:

    I used to love Webshots, but they kept tinkering with it, and when I changed computers, I could never figure out how to get my saved pictures back. But it’s a good resource. I like Pinterest as a place to keep them as well as find them, though it has its annoyances, too.


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