Kage Baker usually got her story ideas in one blazing bolt of inspiration. I learned to know the signs – the unfocused gaze, the more focused searches through the interconnections of the aether only she saw – the silence only broken by odd questions:
“How would you transplant a head?”
“Are people ever allergic to their own bodily fluids?”
“If the Moon orbits, why can’t we see all of it?”
“Has anyone ever written a story about same-sex identical twins?”
Sometimes I found out what the query was about. Sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes the answer was not what Kage expected, and the story rising from that image wouldn’t work at all: then she got mightily peeved. Sometimes, then, she changed the setting of the story so she could write her own natural law but Kage had a great respect for natural law as we know it, and so she usually ditched an idea that ran too far off the road. A lot of brainstorming was spent convincing herself how some bizarre proposition of physical action might work, and that it was acceptable to write a story where nanobots did the work of honest gears …
Even so, when she gave in and made her cyborg Operatives work on nano tech instead of clockwork, she made the nano-machines mostly look like gears. Kage didn’t actually care how her readers envisioned the metabolism of Company Operatives – or even if they bothered to do so. But Kage herself needed to see them in her head; and so I must tell you, Dear Readers, that there were teeny tiny molecular gears, escapements and wee belts of shining proteins running under the surface of Joseph, Mendoza et al.
A lot of the improvements to the Operatives looked like the Screwball Army.
But once Kage got into that series of questio9ns, she was usually deep in the process of writing. The initial idea had found its way to the appropriate section of her mind (I’m not at all sure that was the front lines …) and was gestating madly. Because it had already had its birth in a long, fractally infinite flash of light, and all Kage was doing was polishing the resultant fulgarite left in her brain tissue.
I don’t seem to work like that. I am still agonizing over that disaster story, because I am having difficulty settling on a disaster. You’d think that would be easy, wouldn’t you, in these unhappy times? Well, it’s not. My good friend Tom Barclay has already settled on his plot line, and I am sure he’s deep into the throes. I, on the other hand, am still torn between concepts. At the moment, though, I have at least narrowed it down to three ideas:
- A bolide lands in the Hollywood Reservoir, and/or something crawls out of it. The dam wall breaks like a graham cracker. Los Angeles gets a flooded chasm down its center seam, and the Hollywood Hills become a haunt of monsters.
- An erudite, poetic, advanced and utterly civilized society is beset with an environmental disaster when a mutant weed begins to emit vast quantities of a corrosive gas. (Oxygen!)
- I sit down to write the opening sentences, and something totally out of left field takes over my brain, and I write that. I got several term papers out of this technique, long ago. In this case, it’ll probably be a Company story … those dance around in my head pretty continuously.
So I am infinitesimally closer, and yet still operating in the dark. That’s okay; I can do that.
In the meantime, I am reading a fascinating book about cephalopods. The tentacles will undoubtedly show up in whatever I am writing. So will that sucking drain-hole in Lake Hollywood, which has bothered me for years.
So off I go. Comments and suggestions are welcome, and none will be rudely repudiated. As I learned from Kage, even an idea I cannot use defines the borders of what is possible a little more. You must strike hard to smith anything worth keeping – my head and stories work like that, I think.