Kage Baker kept a sharp, albeit distant, eye on the world.
Writers have to, unless they are solely writing fan fiction or some niche genre completely unrelated to human behaviour. Pony parties, maybe. Illustrative parables concerning drywall. The history of granite – which was Kage’s favourite example of a bore-you-to-death narrative. And that was a BBC special.
The distance she required in her observations was for her own self-survival. There is no way she could have managed to keep track of current events in the present day – we’d have had to block any and all news channels, never turned on the radio, relied on taped telly shows and DVDs. Even in 2009, her last full year on earth, she never looked at newspapers. She stopped reading even mild news aggregates. She relied on me to provide her with a teeny weeny slice of what was in the news – and at that, she only really wanted to hear about cryptozoology, lost things unexpectedly found, and strange history; the exploration of Mars and the Outer Planets, the Royal family, Jethro Tull.
She never stopped mining the world for story ideas; but, then, she needed to do it personally less and less. People came to her with stories they wanted her to write – editors, not just those dreaded people who sidle up and said hoarsely, “I have a great idea for a book, and you can have it for 50% of the proceeds.” Kage said she always felt like she was about to be offered a black market baby. Most authors feel the same way, I think. But the nice, professional folks who wanted a story about dragons, or a Victorian mystery, or in the style of Jack Vance – those she welcomed happily. And in fact, she got so many such invitations that she never, ever had to search for a topic.
These days … of, Ptah, scribe of the gods and god of writers! I think I would have had to use parental controls and blocked most of the general news channels on both the television and her computer. She never used Facebook, so the increasingly wide stream of total crap that now streams through even a brief visit to any social media could be avoided. I just never told her what I was reading, unless it was a good joke or news of some amazing new find of pirate treasure.
I, myself, pay far too much attention to our steady descent into the Maelstrom. It tells on one, you know? One goes along, as hard as nails for months and months, the original steel-eyed cookie: and then, ZAP! The weight of the damned world is abruptly too much, and it’s all one can do to find enough gin to water down one’s limeade … it’s time to draw the hem of some softer, alternate reality over one’s head, and huddle in the twilight.
Spring this year has been an especially lovely season in Los Angles. Doubtless we shall burn like recidivist heretics come Summer, but so far the season has been exquisite. It has actually rained – in fact, it is raining now, a warm soft rain from a sky like watered silk. We don’t get too many Springs like that in Los Angeles. It’s a miracle.
Wildflowers are everywhere, hillsides and freeways; they are growing up through the silver oats in my front yard. The fruit trees were thick with blossom, and now are heavy with fruit. All the little creatures of the woods are, I presume, screwing their heads off – certainly all the little creatures of my garden are. The squirrels are utterly charming in their courtships, playing romantic tag at the speed of light. The raccoons are a bit more raucous, especially as they tend to fall off the roof in the dark … the birds are simply wonderful, singing and dancing and nesting all over the garden. Periodically, all the mourning doves on the porch take off in a huge fit of preemptive hysteria, casting shadows through the lace curtains to the wooden-whistle sound of their wings …
Here in the shadow of the hills of Griffith Park, we are watching all the critters, listening to all the soft booming wings, luxuriating in all the grey silk of the rain-pregnant skies. This evening is, for the moment, a rare bit of peace in an increasingly noisy, ghastly world. I’m ignoring whatever horrible larks the White House is getting up to tonight; we’re watching old, prerecorded television. I may read later tonight – something mindless and entertaining, like zombies or 19th century knitting patterns. I may write some more, too: Kimberly is agitating for more of Marswife, and I have an idea for a zombie story myself.
Or I may play mahjong on my new computer. Or, I know! Plants vs Zombies! A perfect compromise!
Believe me, Dear Readers. It really is. Give it a try; or whatever comforting and goofy amusement you keep in your house for emergencies. It’s not a night for grief.