Kage Baker always said her most intense relationships were with invisible people: Authors. Illustrators. Gods
When asked about her favourite writers, her stock response was: “Dead white guys.” Her favourite artists were Van Gogh, Maxfield Parrish and Walt Kelly, and a synthesis of their work is pretty much how she viewed the world. That segued easily into gods, of course, and I wouldn’t be certain that – despite her avowed Christianity – Kage didn’t actually hold a pantheon of artists in her soul. It wouldn’t have been a conflict for her; she saw Christianity as a concretionary religion.
She also had intense relationships with intangible objects, especially her own stories. Most writers do, or say they do – it’s hard to live with an entire other world (which every story is, to the author, at least) and not feel something for it. Maybe if you’re Henry James, you can manage it … Kage couldn’t, though. And it wasn’t just relationships with the characters; she had a relationship with every story, on its unique and singular own; and they all went through similar stages.
When an idea first occurs to you, you can hardly wait to sit down and begin writing. There were lots of stops on road trips to find notebooks and good pens, because Kage had had an idea and just had to start writing immediately. We always tried to carry note books and pens in the car, in our purses, in the emergency kit – but, you know how it is, you end up needing it to write down the address of a Chinese restaurant, or to sketch an interesting ruin, or play Hangman: and before you know it, you need to start a new novel in line at movie theatre, and there’s nothing to write on. Madness ensues. More likely, though, the idea hit in the middle of the night or on the road home from work; Kage was in the door and at the computer typing furiously before I could fill a glass with Coke and set it down beside her.
In that first stage, all her conversation was about the story – she talked about a new story like a new crush. She wasn’t telling it to me so much as acting it out, and it changed in the telling. That was the point, in fact, part of the process; the plot evolved through being tossed back and forth between us. That happened when she would turn suddenly in her chair and abruptly plunge me into the scene at hand; over dinner, which was usually the one meal I could get her to leave her desk to eat; called back and forth down the hall as we went to bed. Some plots had dramatic developments while we stood between our bedrooms doors by the linen closet.
Sometimes that white-hot degree of involvement lasted through the story, if it was short or especially intense. The entire novel Mendoza In Hollywood was like that. The stories “Black Smokers” and “The Carpet Beds of Sutro Park” were written in intense 3-day weekends alone at home, while I was at Faires.
Conversely, “Leaving His Cares Behind Him” took months – because all she had for the longest time was scenes, with no plot. And Sky Coyote took years, being produced in every single format possible before it was finalized. When that happened, Kage would enter the loathing phase – Why had she ever started this damned story? Who would ever want it? She’d stare into her monitor screen with a gunslinger’s deadly squint, and pound on the keys like a machine gun.
Then, as soon as a story was complete, Kage’s first reaction was that it was flawless and without peer. She sent off her first few much too soon, but the good advice of editors like Gardner Dozois and Michael Kandel cured her of that. No matter how starry-eyed she was at the end of a story, Kage obediently set it aside for a while before the next edit. Sometimes, when she was writing to order – as she increasingly was – that was the hardest part: someone was panting to get that copy, and she was desperate to get it out to them.
But holding on to a finished story is absolutely vital. You have to get over that “My baby is perfect” phase, so you can see the correctable flaws hidden by the shiny cataracts of love … like that line, which would surely have made Kage howl with laughter.
The dark side to letting a story age before the final edit was that by the time she sent one out – she really did hate it. When a story left the house, Kage’s reaction was the hope she never saw the thing again, though she’d also gibber and wail at every mail delivery until she knew it had been accepted. Then she went back to not wanting to see it again, at least until the published product was in her hands. At that point, she could finally relax into pride and content, and add it to her brag shelf.
I’m in the why the hell did I start this thing? phase with “The Teddy Bear Squad”. It’s taken so long to write, through so many disasters, that I am exhausted with it. Luckily, brain storming is still the answer! Kimberly has been a wonderful foil for me, and has had several great ideas that are enabling me to finish it. It’s probably within a couple thousand words of completion now.
Then I can send it off to my agent. And for a few weeks or months, I can rest content in the idea that I never have to look at it again! Until and unless someone wants to buy it – or wants me to change it. Then the enthusiasm will be re-born, and I can stand to welcome it home and give it a big old sloppy kiss again.
Relationships, man. No matter what they are, they just don’t get any easier.