Kage Baker was a methodical person. She liked to have set methods of doing things; checklists, processes, standard ways of getting from A to Z on a task. She preferred to know what she was going to do before she even began it.
Impulse – which she also enjoyed – was for shopping, book stores, and catching sight of new roads. Vistas and unknown horizons were to be pursued without goals – chores required practical directions. Among the results of this attitude was that we spent a lot of time being lost; but behind us, the dishes and laundry were done.
Kage eventually adapted this same process to writing. I think it was the clearest sign that she had evolved into a professional – when the way she produced a story became a series of deliberate, logical steps. It was what gave her the speed and ease that let her take an initial inspiration and build it into a strong edifice of narrative. It wasn’t what made her so incredibly prolific – that was her amazing brain, on perpetual simmer and only a flame’s width away from the boil. But it was what let her turn out so much finished product. When Kage got an idea, it turned into a story. She knew how.
When she was a child and a teenager, her constant writing began as vignettes – scenes, sketches, just a few more pages of some story that she loved, usually. But, you know – at least, if you are any kind of a writer, you know – that the act of writing is addictive. Once you start, once you experience that fall into the flow of the pen on paper, the cool grey sea of the computer screen, the light inside your own head: you’re hooked. It’s the lure of clean white paper, Kage always said – whether it was sweet expensive rag bond, the electronic vista of a blank screen, or the damned crinkly Corrasable typing paper she loved as a teenager: the desire to fill it with words, once indulged, was an obsession forever.
So in order to enjoy it more, she learned how to make it last longer, go faster, reach farther. Scenes became plots, then stories; stories got longer and longer. For years, she wrote stories that just ran on for several thousand words, reached a conclusion – then the next bit started up at random: somewhere else. Later. The next spring, around the next turn, at the Horse Fair they held at high summer in Wellston, just over the county line where the City Guards’ writ ran out … and those turned into chapters.
It was a method long before Kage started trying to sell a polished work, though. She wrote all day – often at home; as long as possible, staying home and writing was her work; it’s how we arranged it. I’d come home from some less-peculiar commerce, and read what she had written. Oh, man, how I miss the luxury of coming home every single night to a brand-new batch of Kage’s writing, white-hot from the forge of her brain! Dear Readers, I lived for years in a Paradise, and never quite realized it …
Anyway. I’d read it, and we’d argue out all the changes and the weirdnesses and the unjustifiable plot twists: brainstorming, Kage’s preferred method of composing. For years, I would then spend part of the evening typing up what Kage had written – she would re-write the parts that needed it, and get a start of the new stuff for the next day. and that next day, we’d do it again. And again. And again. And this went on for years before ever she set her eyes on eventually getting any of it published – it was just how she dealt with the uncontrollable urge to write. And it was how I dealt with the insatiable appetite to read what she wrote.
When Kage was hot on a particular story, it also required dedicated music, special scents, a customized menu. She cooked as well as she wrote; and she tended to cook what she wrote about, too, the meals she fed her characters. Sometimes a successful dish ended up being written into the plot – more usually, she wrote of a meal and we ended up having it. What we ate while she wrote Garden of Iden was medieval and Renaissance; what we ate during Empress of Mars was a sort of organic farmhouse/freeze dried camping food fusion. During “The Caravan from Troon”, it turned out the Children of the Sun eat enough spice to kill other people – the porridge and rainwater cuisine of the Yendri arose partly from my refusal to eat more dishes prepared with chili oil and Death Peppers.
All this immersive stuff became part of Kage’s method.
The redoubtable Stefan Raets has reached the end of the first book in his re-read of Kage’s oeuvre over at tor.com. He has kindly invited me to write an article about “Garden of Iden: How Kage Baker Wrote It”. I turned that into him today, and he likes it! It should appear in a week or two. Those of you who have, per my advice, been following the re-read should check that out in a few days. Hopefully, it will be a nice lead-in to the next one.
Certainly, it got me to thinking about how she really did do it. The process was so set and reflexive, I usually never considered it … it was how the household ran, it worked, it shaped our days and our dinners and how we did the laundry and when we had to drive North and find new Mexican restaurants or something. But it all grew out of her simply compulsively writing all day, every day; and it crystallized into PROCESS with Garden of Iden.
So there – I learned something today. And now I have shared it with you, Dear Readers. Order yourselves some nice kung pao shrimp with a side of fried dumplings and incendiary oil, and crack open Anvil of the World. Or try a bowl of mashed potatoes and join Joseph in 15th Century Spain … it’s what Kage did.
It’s very satisfying to write about meals that your characters enjoy. I had one of my time-travelers (who happened to have been a former King of England) wax nostalgic about the cuisine that was served at a New Years Eve party thrown by some archaeologists inside the molds for the dinosaurs at the Crystal Palace Exposition.
The party really happened and was every bit as bizarre as it sounds. It ended with the archaeologists gleefully pelting one another with walnuts.
There’s nothing more fun than writing!
That is very true. And I love the story of that dinner party – must have been a right hoot.
I’m curious – was it harder to replicate the past food or future food?
They were equally easy, actually – though the research for the past foods was simpler, as there are many excellent cookbooks out there on medieval foods. And Kage’s personal collection of primary source material was … immense. Figuring out what people in a Martian agricultural colony might eat was a little harder – took research, AND speculation. Did you know that barley is a super grain and will grow under almost any soil and water conditions? Wheat is a sissy grain, and so is rice, in comparison. And then there was the enormous spectrum of freeze-dried food to explore – from MREs (which are disgusting, mostly) to gourmet survivor chow: which is both ghastly and great, and you can’t tell in advance which is which. No end of fun, lemme tell ya.