Cinders and Ashes

Kage Baker had a special personal hagiography of days: days she dedicated to certain acts or places or colours, days memorializing certain events, days of a specific personal import.

She invented and discovered them all through her life, and then observed them over and over as they came up. Some of them were tied to dates or seasons, and could be relied upon to show up only in winter, or when Black Gillieflowers were in season, or every May 15th. Others were dependent on uncontrollable outside influences. Kage never knew when a cold bottle dawn would happen, but she knew at once when it did: the dawn came up green and she felt like a smashed egg.

There was People Looking Weird Day, which happened at random – people just literally looked weird, the more you looked, the stranger they were. There was I Smell Raspberries Day, for which announcement (by either one of us) the ritual response was “You could have worse habits.” We were never able to determine if there was a source of feral ethyl formate (C3H6O2) erupting under California, but it happened everywhere. There were Dancing Days, which meant money was piling up on the dining room table and there were treats in the offing!

There were Magic  VW Days, when traffic was haunted by green VW vans with blue stripes: a model, we eventually learned, called the Wild Westerner, from around 1973. We saw the damned things all over the place some days. 





There was Chocolate Jaguar Day, too – a particular deep red colour of Jaguar XK, so dark and rich it looked like cherry-flavoured chocolate. It had to have the kitty on the hood, too. Ideally, these days, it should also be driven by Tom Hiddleston; but the holiday was initiated before he really became famous, so I’ve added him. Kage would have approved wildly.

There are Ermenwyr Days; mood alteration is usually involved. There are Joseph Days, which bring chocolate and potatoes and sarcasm. There are Gard Days – hot grey skies and bone-rattling thunder. There are Mendoza Days, too, which require lost roads and distant horizons and Peterson’s Field Guide to Pacific States Plants – a copy of which we carried in the car.

And there are lots of Days that commemorate disasters. They were usually named for the places where they happened: Buttonwillow, Carrizo Plain, Elk, Cleone or Willits. I-5 Days can mean anything from plagues of locusts to giant eyes in the sky to multiple flat tires.

One of the more common disaster Days is Cinder Cone Day. A Cinder Cone Day is one of those that makes itself known over the course of time – you usually know by noon, sometimes before you make it from the bed to the bathroom. It’s named for a vulcanologist’s description of climbing a cinder cone from The How and Why Wonder Book of Our Earth – one of our favourite series of children’s books, dozens of titles on everything and anything, with copious coloured plates, available for amazingly little at grocery stores everywhere hassled mothers shopped …  the-how-and-why-wonder-book-of-our-earth

Cinder cones are covered with tiny little caltrops the size of marbles, made of cinders. When you walk up the slope of the volcano, you also slide back down – according to our book, you climb 13 inches and you slide back 12. You make progress, but agonizingly slowly; and at any moment, lava may devour you. At least, that was the lesson we took away from the book … and there are days like that.

The last couple of months have been a constant round of Cinder Cone Days. Yes, things are getting better – yes, I am improving – yes, I am advancing. I have a new and splendid agency, an Italian contract is progressing, a novel has been submitted to a publisher. The redoubtable Stefan Raets continues his wonderful re-read of Kage’s Company Series, and I get to submit a guest blog on “How She Did It” when he reaches the end of Garden of Iden in a couple of weeks. I have several stories in progress – a Mars novel, a Company novella, a Company story, an Anvil of the World story, a Zika story.

There am I climbing up a foot and an inch.

But. Big buts, lots of them. I’m sleeping poorly and am exhausted. I long to write, but cannot write for more than a few lines before my entire brain locks up. I’ve been pegging away at this blog, but just now – disaster! My cursor went insane and destroyed half the entry. I’ve put it back together, but …  There’s been a spider hatch in the house. Raccoons are holding raves on the roof every night, and the garden is full of adorable – but hysterical – baby skunks. The IRS wants more vows I am not pledging loyalty and cash to foreign potentates … more big buts.

There am I sliding back a foot.

I am very tired of staring at big buts.

Nonetheless, labelling the problem gives one a handle, right? Right. It’s only a Cinder Cone Day. Friday will be a lovely drive to San Francisco and BayCon, with my entourage of the Saintly Neassa and the Stalwart Nephew. All will be well. I will write every day and have a wonderful time.

But boy, do I need a Dancing Day …





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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6 Responses to Cinders and Ashes

  1. mizkizzle says:

    The informative (and inexpensive) books about science for children that used to be sold at grocery stores have been supplanted in my neck of the woods by “inspirational” books for kiddies and by horrid babyish books with brightly colored illustrations of a mommy duck hugging a duckling and a mommy moose hugging her calf and so on, the entire text consisting of something along the lines of: “Mommy emu loves her baby and YOUR mommy loves YOU.”
    I taught myself to read when I was three with Little Golden Books. They were miles better.
    If children want to learn about geology or the cardiovascular system they’re out of luck in the supermarket book section.


    • Kate says:

      Little Golden Books were a good read. How and Why Wonder Books were even better! And there were much better kids’ magazines then, too – Jack and Jill! I loved that one. Even for grownups (ha!) all you can find in the grocery store these days is celebrity crap. I used to be able to read through all the jokes in a Readers Digest while my mom checked out …


  2. Lynn says:

    I remember those wonderful science books from Safeway too. They were indeed wonderful. I never quite made the connection about Cinder Days however, but now I have it in my arsenal. It really makes sense. In my family we have horrible, terrible, no good, very bad days when we want to move to Australia. Sometimes all I have to do is send a text to Kate or Terry “Australia” and it opens a whole conversation about life.

    I am loving the reread and the insights in the real-along. I’ll have to be a book behind but actually like the idea because I’ll be able to read it anew with these extra insights.


    • Kate says:

      Yeah, the book fare in general in grocery stores these days is pitiful. Such mooshy, formless books – where are the dinosaurs and mummies and North American megafauna like scimitar cats? Rockets, and engineering projects, and ghosts! Our Mother was proof against just about any whining for chocolates or Hostess Cupcakes, but a book was a sure fire bet every time.

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying the re-read, too. I think it’s no end of fun.


  3. kskjold says:

    We can try a Dancing Afternoon – Sunday at 4:00.


    • Kate says:

      Oh, goodie! I hadn’t looked for Dance Sessions yet – that’s wonderful. Bring your dancing slippers; I’ll bring my knitting and plan for a grand session of carping from the mezzanine!


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