Kage Baker was not, by nature, a public person. She was shy to the point of paralysis, and abhorred speaking in public. She disliked being touched without warning or by strangers; being adamantly left-handed, she usually couldn’t even remember which hand to offer to shake, anyway. She didn’t even like to make eye contact, between the strabismus and Asperger’s syndrome.
So why become a writer and have to meet the public? Well, Kage didn’t plan on the public part. She became a writer because – like most writers – she had to: writing is something that happens to you, not the other way around. It’s a necessity of mind and spirit, and ultimately of body as well – Kage claimed she got specific twitches and pains if she stayed away from the keyboard too long. (I’ve come to believe this, btw.)
Kage managed book store appearances, especially in a few stores where she knew the staff and felt at home: Borderlands in San Francisco, Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego. She loved the ambience at the Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle, and the divine Powell’s in Portland. And she always regretted that most of the dear old bookstores in LA, like Chatterton’s and Duttons, closed before she got published.
But book tours – no way. I don’t think she could have managed one, though she would have tried. Conventions were almost more than she could stand, and they only lasted 3 days. But she found ways to cope and have fun, and eventually quite looked forward to some of them. BayCon remained her favourite, but she quite enjoyed various Westercons, as well – especially the one in Las Vegas on the 4th of July, when we watched the entire city apparently blow itself up from our hotel balcony. That was amazing!
Kage’s best public interface, though, was the Internet. Email let her talk to people at two safe removes, and at her own pace; she found it so comfortable that she made several dear and close friends through the electronic aether. Podcasts, webcasts, online chats – all those were technically public venues where Kage could find a safe place to sit, and talk at her own speed. She was very chary of open chat rooms, though, and after one or two flaming experiences, she swore off that medium.
She had better things to do with her time, and specifically turned down several invitations to blog: she felt it would take too much time away from her writing. She finally made an exception for tor.com, where she did a regular blog in the last year of her life: regular reviews of silent science fiction and fantasy movies, called “Ancient Rockets”. She had a grand time finding, watching and analyzing the many, many peculiar silent genre films out there – it was a weird time, I must say. Some of the strangest films I have ever seen. The reviews can now be found in the book Ancient Rockets, from Tachyon. I wrote a couple, too.
One of her largest investments in a public presence, though, was her website: http://kagebaker.com/. It’s a slightly peculiar site, old-fashioned by current standards: but that’s because it was designed and written entirely by the author herself. Kage had very distinct ideas about how she wanted it to look and read, and she really did not give a fig (or any other euphemistic fruit) for the opinions of professionals. Her only concession was to learn the strict physical rules one needed to observe to make the stuff actually show up in the aether: html and the like, gifs and jpgs and pixils and the sizes of files.
Her solution to this was largely to enlist a teen aged niece to help set up the first pages (thank you forever for that, Katie!) and have me learn the mechanics. Kage herself wrote the text, designed the layouts, selected and/or created the art – and it grew page by page as novel after novel was published. A dear friend (thank you forever, too, Becky!) advised us on hosting and uploading and the like. And we were off.
Kage worked on the site until the end of her life. At that point, I posted a sort of “Temporarily Out of Order” sign on it, and I’ve ignored it for the last 6 years. It was simply to painful for me to try and do anything about it, though I could never let it go: I’ve paid the rent, as it were, and made sure it is unharmed. And now, suddenly, it’s time to bring it back to life and to the attention of the world. I can stand it again.
It’s taken me days to remember how to do it. I had to find the passwords, re-establish a connection to the hosting entity, check all the files; had to learn new systems, too, because the ways to do this have improved in the 6 years I’ve been hiding my eyes. But as of today, the site is once again open for business. Thank you once again to the inestimable Becky!
I have a lot of work to do, bringing things up to date and making all tidy. But I can do it now. Don’t know why. Suddenly I can bear to walk through the pages again – it’s a direct experience of Kage’s mind, as close as we could make it to what she saw in her head. That air has been like breathing razor blades to me, but now – it’s not. I can breathe it and flourish again. I must be getting better.
Also, I would like to make you all aware that Stefan Raets’ wonderful re-read of Kage’s work goes on at tor.com. This week, he kindly published my analysis/explanation/history of how Kage wrote Sky Coyote. You might take a look, Dear Readers; Stefan is about to start on the re-read of Mendoza In Hollywood, and that should be no end of fun.
So there’s all sort of public exposure for Kage, who never wanted any at all. But in the service of the writing, she always did find the courage to say “Yes”.
That’s good news about the website. I’m glad you can go there now and be okay. Is there a word for feeling drained by being in close proximity to people who want to interact with you? There should be. There’s something about having to maintain a lively, attentive facial expression while listening to them, and then figure out when you’re expected to take up the conversational skein and say something back (something appropriate, and not “I want to go home and lie down because I’m fucking exhausted.”) And being touched. God’s garters! Being touched by strangers is the absolute worst. Sometimes they want to kiss your cheek, too. It’s dreadful. The only way it works is by temporarily adopting another personality, a cheery, party-going personality, or that of some character in a novel or a film.
I am much more social than Kage was – it was always part of my job to run interference in public, and provide excuses for her at need. I also kept the energy vampires (which is what we called the people who inexplicably can drain all life from you) from sucking her dry. Sometimes they are nice people, too, but they just batten on someone and don’t let go … having been raised with manners – even around people who apparently were not – both Kage and I tried to react politely when grabbed by total strangers: but if taken unawares, either one of us was likely to leap 4 feet up and out of range, like a middle-aged gazelle. Must have been a sight!