Gotta Catch ‘Em All

Kage Baker not only rarely suffered from writer’s block – she also bubbled over pretty much continually with ideas for stories. The cosmic injustice of this was obvious, and she readily allowed it – but, as she pointed out, it wasn’t her fault. After all, there were also people whose peculiar talent it was to accrue money easily – and none of them was her, and she didn’t complain about that.

She never had to wonder long what she was going to write. Usually, she had no choice; ideas attacked her, and insisted they be written. It was like an entire flock of insistent parrots on her shoulders, instead of the one who actually sat there. And all the real one wanted was to swing on her braid, and take naps lying on his back in the hood of her jacket. The idea-parrots gronked and whistled in her ears all day.

On the good side of this constant input, Kage always had a few ideas ready to go when she got invitations to write something specific. The last few years of her life, almost all her work was by invitation; all she had to do to start was page through the current file cards floating in her brain to find the nugget of a story. Another benefit was that she always had something ready to start as soon as something was finished – or, infrequently, something to fill  in as a change of pace when the current project went stale on her. It was like always having flour, salt and sugar in the pantry: security, the surety of sufficiency.

On the bad side – it was mental tinnitus. It never stopped. Kage said it was a constant background noise; when she learned about the hydrogen line, the 21-centimeter microwave radiation that permeates the Universe, she declared that was what whispered constantly in her head. Sir Terry Pratchett said that IDEAS sleet constantly through space, impacting minds at random – Kage loved that idea, and if the  sound of the sleet was what she heard, an icy susurration of plots and characters. The problem was, all those ideas interfered with one another, echoing and arguing and surfacing at awkward intervals. She said it was  like “Revolution 9” from The White Album.

What it meant was that there were always at least 2 things that ferociously wanted  to be written at the same time. Usually, one of them was the project she was actually working on; but that wasn’t a guarantee. Sometimes the urge got so loud that Kage was forced to put aside the story she was supposed to be writing, and spend some time on the one that would not wait its turn.

At its most extreme, she’d write an entire new story over a few frenzied days. Sometimes it would just be the most demanding scenes. Sometimes she didn’t even know what they were for – who was meant to be in them, where the story went or even began: just that she had a vision of, say, someone in a wet woolen Union suit, in San Dollar Cove on the Big Sur Coast, and there was something about the movies. And it was a Joseph story. And she’d write down as much as she could see – or more correctly, what she couldn’t stop seeing – until it was pushed far enough away to let her resume the misadventures of Mendoza in the Hollywood Hills.

And ultimately, “Studio Dick Drowns Near Malibu” was printed in Asimov’s. By which time, there were so many other stories clamouring for life that Kage glued them all together into Black Projects, White Knights, and called it a “mosaic novel” in self-defense.

But she learned to deal with it, and she never, ever said NO to the phantoms crowding her brain. Her mother had told her, in one of those maternal talks that emerge like rocks from the rapids of adolescence, that one must never shut the bedroom door on a man – because that made it much too easy for him to open someone else’s front door. Kage, whose rare lovers seldom stayed the night (or used the door, for that matter), applied this maternal advice to the stories that were her more constant paramours.  She was absolutely certain it was the only way to keep them coming back.

“Always write the stuff down,” she told me. “Whatever it is, even it’s just a little scene or a bit of a plot. Get it down on paper. You can figure out what it’s for later, when you have more time.”

And this have I made as the rule of my writing life. Consequently, I have shit tons of paragraphs, and chapters,  and pages of dialogues with loud but unnamed voices; in various sorts of notebooks, from greenish steno pads to fancy Levenger journals with ribbon bookmarks in ’em. Oh, and all sorts of thumb drives, too, in nifty candy colours: I love those things, they look so edible. And these, mind you, are quite aside from the stacks and towers and boxes full of the same stuff from Kage, which she left to me and made me promise to keep.

I would have done that anyway. They are my mines of precious metals and rare gems. And they are Kage’s voice speaking to me, telling me the stories that won’t stop, tossing me shining balls to keep flying through the air, sabres and chain saws and goblin fruit to juggle in variable gravity … little girl ghouls.  Zombies. A Company Base in a Siberian permafrost crater. Aliens who alter their own DNA every time they have sex, to literally transform themselves with every lover. Diana of Luna. The Teddy Bear Squad and Neanderthal princesses and what lives under the camouflaged panels behind the Hollywood Sign.

Write them down. Write them all down.  Some will grow. And more will come.


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 Gotta Catch ‘Em All

  1. mizkizzle says:

    “Studio Dick Drowns Near Malibu” is one of my favorite Kage Baker stories.


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