Kage Baker was always curious about who her readers were. Not one by one, so much: she was terminally shy, and always dreaded having to talk to fans individually. But she really was interested in who they were in general, and why anyone (other than her friends and family) read what she wrote.
Science fiction conventions were a big help to her in this. She initially dreaded them – she went to her first like Marie Antoinette to the guillotine – but you can really only talk to people one at a time, so she learned how to converse with her fans. Especially since conventions are held in hotels. With bars. Kage was a firm believer in liquid courage; and there was nothing like a little rum to ease her inhibitions and let people hear how funny, clever and erudite a raconteuse she really was.
The internet was also an enormous help. Again, she approached chat rooms like Odysseus creeping into Polyphemus‘ cave, only to discover that the echoing darkness hid really nice people. Also, that it’s very hard to interrupt someone on a chat – which she adored. Kage had a hesitant manner (unless very relaxed) and a soft voice, and was habitually run over in ordinary conversations by loud blowhards (like me). But in the aether, she could hold her own. And she did.
In the end, not only did Kage find out who her readers were – they found out that she was a fascinating person in her own right. As far as I could ever tell, both sides were delighted. She became a determined proponent of talking to one’s readers, of establishing and maintaining communication: the writer, she said, had a duty to fulfill. And Kage was really big on duty.
When I began this blog, shortly after Kage’s death in 2010, I wasn’t expecting an audience. I figured a couple of friends and siblings would read some of it; I expected them to say nice things, because they’re nice people. But the main reasons I did it were for discipline – trying to write something, anything on a regular basis: and because my heart was screaming in pain. And it wouldn’t stop. The blog was an attempt to get it out, get it down in words, so I could finally start to live again.
And it worked, for that. I edited 2 anthologies, and wrote 2 short stories and a novel in that first year. Other things have arisen to slow down my writing, but they’re only health problems – for the most part, my screams and carrying-on here have freed my voice. I can write. I do write. More will be published, too, as soon as my damned body decides not to try and kill me for a few free months … and the blog remains, my constant soap box, where I can yell into the Void and actually get replies from real people!
All sorts of surprises have come my way from this.
First surprise: I have readers. My Dear Readers are, in fact, mostly people I didn’t even know 5 years ago, who have supported me all this while for love of Kage. Second surprise: a lot of my old friends have become readers, people I had no real idea suspected I could write at all. Third surprise: I’ve been implying a promissory contract with all these Dear Readers, and they expect me to fulfill my part.
That’s what floors me most. I have not been shouting into the Void after all.
A good friend of mine died a few days ago; a friend and comrade from the Faire, which has been one of the main cauldrons of my soul through this life. Yestreday, I signed on here to see if I could summon up the strength to say something – something brief, because his death was a hugely unexpected shock and it left me cold and speechless. But, you know – you gotta do something at a time like that.
When I signed on, I found that over 200 people had visited my site before I checked it yestreday. I hadn’t posted in a few days, so what were they expecting? Then I checked on who they were, and I realized – Faire people were coming by to see what I had to say about Gerald. I had an audience, all right. And an obligation. I owed a duty to love.
So I wrote what I could. I can only hope it helped you, Dear Readers, as much s it helped me. I wept while I wrote it, remembering the towering young titan that was Gerald in our shared youth. That gave me an interesting problem in editing and proof-reading later, which I hope would have given Gerald – who edited and proofed professionally – a good laugh.
Mostly, though, I was reminded – and astonished – that someone is Out There. I’m neither wasting nor marking time; despite advancing age and physical ills and the insistence of my friends in freaking dying on me, I apparently still have things to do. I cannot adequately express how that amazes and inspires me. Because I have felt pretty used up and worthless lately … but I’m not dead! And apparently, everyone knew that but me.
Thanks, folks. I really needed that.
Yes, we are out here, reading what you write, looking for your words, praying for your well being – Hugs!
And we desperately needed what you gave us yesterday. So, my heartfelt thanks to you.
Yes we are here. Sending good healing energy that you recover from your health challenges. Waiting for more of your insights and witty interesting missives. Gentle hugs. And I will leave an offering of rosemary at your booth.
Of course you have readers, readers who adore you for your panache and wit, and not just for the stories you tell about Kage (although we enjoy those, too.) Some of us read Greek mythology when we were wee tots and feel a smug pleasure at getting your reference to Odysseus. (Some of us who taught ourselves to read when we were three remind ourselves that we never did manage to learn the multiplication tables and feel less smug about our cleverness.)
On a serious note, please accept my belated condolences for the loss of your Faire comrade. I couldn’t think what to say in response to your post that didn’t sound hollow and banal. It sucks to lose people that you care about.
” . . . she was terminally shy, and always dreaded having to talk to fans individually.”
I went into town for the LA Times Festival of Books when Kage was signing at the booth of a (now defunct?) SF bookstore. I brought what I already had, and bought the rest of her work.
When I stepped up to the table to say hello and ask her to sign, I had the strong feeling I’d just slapped her. “Oh, you’re the guy from Long Beach,” she said, avoiding my gaze. The pain signals were strong in the aether, so I got the hell away – and you came to the table with some navigational and going-back-home concerns.
It was several years before I understood what had happened, and before the attempts at conversation didn’t go sideways. Luckily, I am gently persistent. I’d never have known either of you, were I not.
Hey, Kage never could remember her multiplication tables – she got confused even with the 2s, 5s and 10s, which are the absolute easiest. She said the 7s were a diabolical plot. The classical myths, though, were like home movies.
The 7s were bad, all right, but the 8s were worse. I still break out in a cold sweat thinking about multiplication flash cards.
To slightly misquote Shakespeare,, we were not for all markets … patience is the least that was/is required to get to know us. Sometimes even Kage and I weren’t sure who we were at any given moment, either. Kage, especially, was a cast of thousands.
Of course we’re here. You’re talking about our upbringing, our friends, our family, our shared history. Your words bring back the smell of a Novato hay field in the early morning, my youth and friends gone elsewhere. And even if you weren’t, your words are often music and mystery and small chuckles and big guffaws and sometimes even sci fi. On days like yesterday, you say what we’re feeling. Yours are the emails I most look forward to; I can’t wait to see what you and/or Kage have been up to.
Hey, Mz Kizzle, same here with Odysseus, the reading and multiplication tables, the smug and the lack of smug.
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Right? My fifth grade math teacher actually telephoned my mother and told her she went to the school office and checked my IQ test results to find out whether I was “slow,” my math skills were that abysmal. Turns out I scored only slightly higher than plankton in the math section of the test and off the charts in the language area. I put it down to having weird, left-handed brain wiring, along with a sneaking suspicions that numbers are evil.
I came to the blog for love of Kage’s gifts with words. I stayed on for love of your own, singular gifts as a writer, as well as the power of the heart and soul with which you share life.
Thanks for the Wonder.
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I had no idea who you were when I started reading your blog, way back—less than a year after you began it—if memory serves me right. I was devastated to learn of the untimely death of my favourite writer, whom I had never met, and like so many others, was hoping to continue her existence by reading and learning more about Kage Baker from somebody who knew her best …her sister.
Well, I got all that, and more. But what has KEPT me reading every one of your posts since is your own ability to write stuff I want to read. You’re not really like Kage at all, in terms of your writing style. You have a very distinctive, definitive and enchanting voice of your own. Your blogs are written in a direct and often humorous manner that makes us think we know you well, even though some of us don’t know you at all. You are very gifted and you don’t seem to be the least bit shy. Plus you seem to have one of those memories for details that makes reading personal histories such a joy.
By all means, keep Kage’s memories and her stories alive. But also continue to give us your own take on things, which is unique and just as worthy as hers.
I am so glad your main health problem has finally been dealt with successfully, and will no longer hold you back. All the best from a ‘fan’ in Scotland! Cheers for now.
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I read about the Company whenever a book passed my way…I have just found out about losing Kage from the Nell Gwynne book I got from the library (haven’t had much time for anything lately). Your blog reduces me to tears. I am in the time of loss, and had several narrow escapes with my own sister’s health. She and I, however, are too far apart for any practical purpose, and she doesn’t intend to leave her home of 35 years, even though her husband suddenly died and and she doesn’t need a too-big house…and she’s not even in average health! I wish you a happy Thanksgiving with all the trimmings, and a happy long writing career. I do believe you must have been twins…
Thank you, Karen. I wish you a happy holiday season, too – and I encourage you to pursue close contact with your sister, even if she doesn’t want to leave her house! Believe me, whatever it takes to stay close to her – emotionally OR literally – will be priceless comfort to both of you as time goes on. Nothing hurts as much as regret – nothing, nothing, nothing. Do everything you can to reduce regret!
Nope,I’m not twins. I am actually a sort of chronologically-attentuated triplets: a year and 20 days younger than Kage; and a year and 20 days older than Kimberly, the sister with whom I live now. I habitually ran/run my brain in concert with both of them, to the exasperation and hilarity of the rest of the family. We speak/spoke in concert. Kage and I used to yell, laugh and curse in one-thirds graduated harmony. Kimberly and I once gave one another identical birthday presents at a joint birthday party … just a weird family, but it works for us!
I started reading the blog when I was looking for an obituary after Phyllis died. I knew Kage had written books but had never read them. That changed. I especially liked The Empress of Mars. I enjoy reading your blog because it brings back the days when Antone and I were LHC participants. We were dance people, (Prankstyrs and Fezziwigs) so we didn’t know some people the way you did.
Antone also has kidney disease so reading about your saga has been seeing it from a different angle. The implied contract is you check in from time to time so we don’t worry so much about you. I am glad you are getting better. It gives me hope. So hang in there and keep writing.
Wonderful Kate, I found your blog by accident doing research for my thesis. I enjoyed your blog and am saddened to hear about Kage. I weep at the thought of losing one of the worlds most mystical women. Your illness will pass. Like the waning of the moon, you who are so full of life, ideas, imagination and questions will rise like the morning star.
Yes, at my age I went back to college, Marylhurst in Oregon, to be exact, and am in the process of completing my education which began so long ago I really forgot what I was doing!. I am creating a new career path for me to Chaplaincy. I am a Lay Eucharistic Minister at the Portland Veterans Hospital after retiring from Law Enforcement Communications.
I am sending you prayers for healing from the Universe. Though we are worlds apart we are connected by the Great Cosmic Mother who nurtures us all. I remember all of the good times we shared with Janice and other friends from school. I especially remember trying to create the music for the Hobbits journey before they did that funky cartoon that we watched and hated….!!!
In the new movie, I love the song the elves sing when they are doing the dishes in Bilbo’ s home.
Please continue to write even when you don’t feel well….it reinforces our humanity and gives us hope to carry on with our writing….
Keep on , Keeping on, my Sistah and feel the blessings of a thousand stars today for your health, wealth and well-being.