Kage Baker carefully gathered and stored story ideas. One of the first things she did when she began to pursue a career as a writer, was to establish her story file.
That was originally a pile of paper, cardboard and fabric – anything you could conceivably write on – with interesting ideas or phrases. She’d notate them carefully, sometimes even with dates and locations of where the lightning struck – then she’d stuff them into various drawers, vases, notebooks and volumes of her own work. She never actually forgot an idea, but then when she wanted to use one, a frantic search through all her “files” took place.
“Where was that scene about getting pregnant by a sea-demon?” she’d call to me. “Who published that article about extra cones in some women’s eyes? Do you remember what I said about gallenium mining on Catalina Island? What colour is the new monitor lizard they found in the Galapagos?”
Sometimes I recalled; usually I didn’t. Kage was very good at eventually reconstructing her wandering inspirations, but initially every one of these searches was a crap shoot. As she graduated to computer use, she began using electronic files for storage – then all she had to worry about was what she’d titled the file. Finally, she developed the habit of appending all plot ideas at the end of the document she was engaged in writing: as she used them, the ideas were transferred to permanent storage in the Uberfiles. It was a combination research file and check list.
It’s a good system; I use it. At the end of each story I work on is the amorphous chaotic mass out of which I hope the young stars of plot will coalesce. And there are several stories where the initial nursery nebula is all that currently exists – at intervals I have to go check weirdly named files and re-acquaint myself with what the hell I saved, and try to remember why.
I still find old ideas of Kage’s in those, too. It’s not all ancient typing paper and flattened candy bar wrappers; she stored parts of her brain everywhere.
Right now, I can feel my drought-barren mind beginning to stir. Suddenly, I have IDEAS again; my dreams are full of Next Steps in half a dozen stories. Plus ideas that I haven’t even begun to embroider yet … it’s time to start sorting through again, and set some things out to polish up. I’m leery of making bold sweeping resolutions, because things keep happening to me. I mean to try to sneak up on being productive
In Los Angeles, we have a constant problem with water and gas lines breaking; floods and leaks happen every day. We have a lot of vault fires, too, where the underground electrical lines blow up unexpectedly. Why? I wondered. I mean, it’s probably due to extreme age, venal contractors, and antiquated materials – miles of our municipal plumbing are still made of adobe. But maybe there’s something more … the first thing that springs to my mind is, of course, dwarfs.
I figure the MTA – and probably the DWP and the Gas Company, too – have all offended some local dwarfs. They might date back to the Lizard People who built their subterranean city under the current site of Los Angeles; they might be immigrant spirits: Chinese, or German, or Scandinavian, or Welsh. There have been big communities of all those folks. They might be Chumash nunasis, or Tongva spirits. It’s probably a union problem. Lots and lots of people have found the Valley of Smoke (otherwise known as the LA Basin) a good place to live and dig holes. And any respectable dwarf could be fed up with our local utilities!
Then there’s this guy: Dominique Persoone, of Belgium, who runs a company called The Chocolate Line. He is indeed snorting chocolate in this photo, with his version of a device his grandfather used to facilitate using snuff. It’s two tiny catapult-spoons, that fling powdered chocolate straight up your nose … obviously, a Company story.
There’s the blue squirrel story, “The Teddy Bear Club”, which is approaching a conclusion. I had forgotten to add a villain, so I went back and wrote some new microbial enormity to lay at Labienus’ elegant feet. I had to decide whether or not my squirrels survived, too – and they do; I just couldn’t off cute blue squirrels.
But in the meantime, I have another idea slowly maturing about the protagonists of the story, who are a male/female pair of twin Operatives from Sumeria. They’re also identical twins; which was commonly believed to be impossible until about 20 years ago. So there’s an interesting variation to explore. It may involve chimeras.
The novel Marswife has stalled on a conversation in the Empress of Mars bar. I know what happens afterward – I just can’t hear the dialogue. So I am going to try some simple “See Spot run. Run, Spot, run! The lava is coming!” level dialogue, and then see where I can take the scene. Kage always said that if you can’t think of anything to write, just write anything; you can go back and improve it later, when your brain comes back on line.
The Australian story is whirring quietly in the dark at the back of my mind, spinning off sparks and minor-key music. It knows where it’s going and is as patient as a stone; I just have to get around to working on it. I think it’s at least a novella … in the meantime, the night parrot has been found to still be alive there; and a new death adder has been discovered as well! Seven new varieties of spider have been found, who seem to made of pearls and faience; and a tiny fish who is apparently made from obsidian. No end of content!
Kage would note that I am drowning in wealth, here. She’d be right, too. It’s just a case of searching through the piles and stratified chaos to find out exactly where I left all these bits and pieces of stories. And since it seems that I am actually going to survive 2015, I think I’ll let some of these gems drip through my hands again.
We’ll see what patterns form as they fall.e invented this thing on purpose for this.