Reserves or Springs?

Kage Baker used to worry about running out of ideas.

Probably most writers do that. Some, obviously, do not – there are some quite successful writers who have been writing the same story over and over through their careers. There are some who even do it loudly and deliberately – re-writing their most famous works from the viewpoint of another character in the story line, and touting it as a new book. It must work with a lot of readers, since I can think of 3 or 4 wildly successful authors off the top of my (not at all jealous) head, who have famously done this.

For me, as a reader, it doesn’t work; in fact, it offends me so much that I usually end up never reading that writer again. It’s like being served room-temperature leftovers when you expected a fresh meal – room temperature, small portions, and on a dirty plate. Thanks so much, I don’t want your watered whiskey in a highball glass with lipstick smudges on it!

As a writer, I am also offended – but I have to admit, in all honesty, that part of what offends me is that I’m jealous: I don’t have the chutzpah or talent necessary to pull off this trick. I can’t guarantee that I wouldn’t try it, either, if I thought I could get away with it … but I know I wouldn’t, so I despise the ploy. It really seems like cheating to me – it’s breaking that contract between the writer and the reader, which Kage taught me was the basic sacred quality at the root of writing at all.

I don’t mind series, mind you. When I like a series, the more the merrier for me! But I like the ideas to mutate and evolve and even occasionally fail (I actually liked Stephen King’s Cujo …), because it at least shows the writer was trying.  Kage herself, although sometimes encouraged to write More Of The Same by publishers or agents, went out of her way not to do it. She too thought it was cheating. The result was a couple of books that no one really liked but her and me (Not Less Than Gods springs to mind …), but she at least was secure in the conviction that she had been honest.

But because of her desire not to take the easy way out, Kage did worry about running out of ideas. Why, I cannot really imagine – she had so many ideas that she literally never stopped writing for more than a weekend throughout her entire career: that was 14 years or so of writing ALL THE TIME she wasn’t asleep or gaming or performing something, and sometimes even while she was. It was not uncommon for her to sleep walk, heading to her desk in the middle of the night and mumbling about the next plot point she meant to hit. I was usually awake and so put her back to bed – because she didn’t actually ever wake up, and the resulting copy was an exercise in glossolalia.

If I was asleep, she woke me up to help. Sometimes it was to help doing something extremely weird – making stained glass popped up a lot at 3 in the morning, for some reason – often to do with the current plot. I have tucked my babbling sister back into bed many a time while assuring her that the air lock was closed, the cows were in the byre, or I would check the pineal tribantine on the stove first thing in the morning …

Was this mental static, or the unconscious springs of creativity simply overflowing? Damned if I know, Dear Readers. I only know she was worried about repeating herself or coming up dry on a fishing trip, and so must have been constantly trawling the depths of her own mind for ideas. Some writers are like that. Some … aren’t.

My unconscious is evidently of the 24/7 variety. I assume Kage somehow adjusted the factory settings over the years, so it would never shut down (or shut up). My dreams are about as interesting as a person can stand … and consequently, I am accumulating pages and pages of story idea. I think this pretty much how Kage did it, so I don’t mind too much that someone seems to have broken off the governor switch on my mind with a big   wrench …

And so far, a lack of ideas is not a problem. My big pitfall is a lack of energy, at the moment much complicated by recovering from surgery. Still, the various holes in my integument are healing; it’s becoming clear that  I was being dragged down by a lot more evil weight from the evil kidney than I had ever imagined. Several aches and pains, that I had attributed to advancing senescence, have turned out to be due instead to the Black Sea of infection bubbling under my liver: now it’s gone, and so are they, and it’s astonishing how mach clearer everything is!

Kage never did run out of ideas. She couldn’t even get to them all, in fact, so I have a lot to work with here. And as I slowly emerge from the funk of 3 years or so of kidney failure, more ideas crystallize into actual plots and characters. Even now that I’m off the really good drugs … So my reserves and reservoirs and the Pierian spring of my unconscious are working away in there.

Gotta get the filing system back up to speed, though. But it’s all coming along.

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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5 Responses to Reserves or Springs?

  1. jenfullmoon says:

    Eh, I think it depends on how the story is recycled. I haven’t read any of the Ender’s Recycled stories myself to judge that one, but I didn’t have a problem with John Scalzi doing it for The Last Colony/Zoe’s Tale since even though the two narrators were living through the same problem, they were split enough during the story to cover territory that the other didn’t know about. Seemed fine to me. Maybe that’s why other people aren’t so much offended if it doesn’t feel like leftovers to them?


    • Kate says:

      Like all arts, I think a lot depends on the reader’s “eye”. Scalzi’s efforts annoyed the heck out of me; and before that, So did orson Scott Card’s. I vastly admire the first takes on both those stories, which is probably why the reboots bother me so much. Opinion is a large part of this, after all.


  2. Luisa Puig says:

    ” … many a time while assuring her that the air lock was closed, the cows were in the byre, or I would check the pineal tribantine on the stove first thing in the morning …”



  3. Lynn says:

    My sentiment exactly, Luisa. The joy of words!

    So very, very glad you’re up and running – and better than ever, Kathleen.


    • Kate says:

      Thanks, Luisa and Lynn. Of course, you ladies have the dubious advantage of having heard the two of us talking to one another – at night, too early in the morning, on hot afternoons when the devil-wind began to blow in off the parking lots … man, what a weird world we all grew up in!


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