Why Write?

Kage Baker wrote  for so many different reasons. But she often wondered why.

It drove her crazy, and ate all her time and energy. Sometimes she would spin round and round in her desk chair, exclaiming that she should have taken up some less demanding art because writing was so frustrating! But it was her favourite obsession, as well as her surest comfort and safety zone. There were always limitless reasons to sit down and write.

First and foremost, she wanted to know what happened next: to everything, just in general. If general things could not be nicely persuaded to reveal the inner plots of themselves, she made it up. She used to say that this kind of thing had to be carefully controlled – because making up what happens, for just anything that gets your attention, is a famous road to insanity. “You start making up conspiracy theories and alternate histories. It’s Men In Black and Missing Dauphins,” she observed one evening as we were watching lightning strike over the Pacific. “And that way lies madness.”

At that moment, there was an enormous flash of blue-white light out over the Dunes to the North of Pismo Beach. All the power went out immediately – as was likely to happen when the lines blew up or fell down or were otherwise stressed by a heavy dew or a fat seagull.  And Kage said, “Now, that’s probably an old transformer blowing up out in the pea fields. But I think it’s a flying saucer.” And she shook her fist out the window and yelled, “Learn to steer, you damned aliens!”

Mind you, Kage didn’t actually think there were idiotic aliens driving badly out over the sand hills. (I am not at all so sure she didn’t think there were Sasquatches guiding them in, though …) But there were (and are) lots of folks in Pismo who have always thought that the aliens frequented Pismo Beach. The kind of amiable nutcase Kage describes in “Lemuria Will Rise” was neither a figment of her imagination, nor extinct in our lifetimes. Lots of old fishos hung out on the Pier, or round the arcades and the Esquire News, or outside the red leather bat-wing doors of Harry’s Bar; most of them would tell you tales of weird little men and mysterious footprints.

And it was true that the power lines were always going out in the streets by the Dunes. Repair crews found the glass transformers melted into cracked and cloudy funnel cakes, shocked blue and lavender by strange electric forces … you could find them in the windows of the Charity Thrift Shop, for a few bucks a pop. Collectors will spend lots of cash for undamaged ones, deliberately cast in various colours – but thewarped ones off the snapped power poles were more interesting.

Kage had one of the melted transformers. She kept it stuck into the shattered top of a wooden pillar from a faux Grecian temple that had stood her mother’s garden, and burned big candles in it when the saucers took the power out …

One of the other reasons she wrote, of course, was to find an outlet for the ideas that peopled the Dunes with selkies and White Ladies and poorly-driven spaceships. We passed the darkened shopfronts of the little town of Summerland one night on a train, and she wondered dreamily what sort of train would ever stop there; the answer turned into “Her Father’s Eyes”. Many ill-timed conversations about Bigfoot while we drove dark roads and I gibbered with fright  (I have an allergy to Bigfoot stories; we all have our mythic weak spots, Dear Readers) turned into “Old Flathead”. Listening to the commercials for government pamphlets while we listened to Art Bell Coast To Coast produced “Boulder, CO Has The Answers”.

It was all because Kage could not stop wondering what came next. What might be making that noise, or leaving those marks, or be the real story behind the lady in front of us in the grocery line who had a cart filled with dozens of St. Jude and Sacred Heart candles, and sand and seaweed trailing from her shoes …

She loved telling stories, too. She was a marvellous raconteuse, but she had a diffident manner and a soft, low voice: she hated having to hold on to her audience, but she hated even more having them not hear her. Writing the stories down, she could never be interrupted or out-shouted: it was the ultimate revenges of every quiet person who’s ever been talked over by a boor.

And, of course, there was paying the bills. Kage was supremely practical about the necessity of keeping a roof and a pantry; and a lifetime of outdoor theatre instilled in her a maniacal devotion to flush toilets. So, yeah, she wrote for the money. “Gotta keep score somehow,” was her judgement on the question of selling her art. “I like keeping score with pretty markers – feather pillows, and wing-back chairs, and a roast on Sundays.”

He who claims otherwise is self-deluded. Also, probably short of pillows and chairs and Sunday roasts. Kage had all that – and the writing, too.


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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2 Responses to Why Write?

  1. Tom says:

    “What if?” is the prayer the Muse loves best, and “What’s next?” is simply an alternate translation from the Lemurian.
    I have loved “Boulder, CO Has The Answers” with a gentle passion since first reading. I assumed it was about Pismo, but I could equally well see it set in the locked-in-time town of Madrid (pronounced MAAAAD-rid), New Mexico.


    • Kate says:

      “Boulder CO” is one of my personal favoruyites, too – probably because the thrips (a real insect, BTW!) have one of the funniest names ever. It is about Pismo, but it could be any small town on the edge of mystery – the ocean, the desert, woods, even the vast and empty fields. When our lit windows look out on wilderness, strange things saunter through our little lights – Kage loved that contrast. She loved living next to it, and she loved writing about it. What *does* run into your bedroom wall in the middle of the night? What is really watching through the kitchen door with glowing green eyes? It might be deer, it might be a Mamma fox and her row of fluffy babies, but … it might not.


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