PSA 10/11/17

Kage Baker was a Californian, but not of all of California.

She thought of herself as an inhabitant of the  liminal zone, the boundaries between what is Familiar and what is Unknown. Specifically, she considered herself a coastal life form, with additional migratory routes into, out of, and all around the weirdness that framed the I-5 Highway. Kage lived,  literally, on the edge of things – for most of her life, she could get to that edge in less than an hour. She could usually see it from the roof of wherever she lived.

Living on the edges of things, however, has its inherent dangers; Kage knew that well. Most of them are disasters, that sweep down into civilized lands from Beyond the Fields We Know. Living on the edge of the civilized places, you automatically get hit first when  wilder, noisier, scarier things sweep in … floods. Fires. Plagues of cockroaches and howling mice.

The last 2 days, fires have been gulping at the edges of most of the lands I know best. The Los Angeles Basin has been mostly spared – at least, insofar as the fires have been small and brief and easily extinguished. However, to the South, the Anaheim Hills are in still in flames: ashes are falling on the immaculate streets of Disneyland, and the statues of Mickey and  Walt are silhouetted against what looks like the forest fire that almost kills Bambi … though it appears that the Happiest Place on Earth will be unharmed.

To the North – my heart is bleeding, as the Summer Lands Kage and I loved are burning. Friends are losing their homes, their pets, their lifetimes of safety. A huge holocaust of grapes is going up in smoke to the uncaring gods (the reds, mostly; the whites were mainly already harvested), along with orchards full of apples and walnuts. Pot farms and other fragrances and essences, olives and pomegranates. Old, beautiful buildings; thousands of homes.

I am lucky. Few places I have lived have been destroyed, and most of the dear people I live with on my travels to and from Dickensian England are still safe. But I am watching the news on every medium in the house, in fear for my friends’ welfare, and the Northern land I love.

That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing for the last 2 days, Dear Readers. If you are not already embroiled in worry for the endangered, if you are not running from  the flames yourselves – please spare a prayer for the thousands who are. Some of the loveliest land in all of fabled California is burning under the waning moon tonight. San Francisco is fearfully awake under a pall – not of fog, but of acrid smoke.

Smoke and flames, and ashes, ashes of roses. Hard times, Dear Readers; a bitter harvest this year.

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World On Fire

Kage Baker was a child of California, all the way through to her bones and breath.

She was familiar with the fire that always sleeps just under the golden hills, the embers that stir when the santana winds blow. She had breathed a lot of ashes in her life, and seen the sun set like a bloody wound through smoke. She had driven through the streets darkened with ash, and seen the stop lights turned black and orange and blue through the yellow murk.

She could quote the entire opening passage from Mr. Dashiell Hammett’s “Red Wind”, with all the appropriate mime and hand jive.

Tonight is one of those nights, the sun just having gone down in a welter of dragon’s blood over the sea. There are 20-odd fires burning in California tonight, from Redding in the North to Anaheim in the South – mostly in urban areas, too, so what’s burning is mostly hundreds of buildings: more than 1,500, at last report. Ashes of burnt houses near Disneyland are raining down on the coastal roofs of Long Beach and Santa Monica. Livestock is fleeing all the little Northern farms, and sheltering in County fairgrounds anyplace they aren’t on fire. The fabled counties of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino are in flames.

I have lots of friends up there – none in Anaheim. Thank You, whichever one of You is responsible … I’m already worrying that the L.A.Basin is not yet smouldering; there are only so many ends of the state I can worry about at one time. And for once, I am not living in an area that is on fire. So far, anyway – I do live within a mile or so of Griffith Park, and it’s been a couple of years since that burned.

Kage would be enraged and heart-broken at the fires in the North. All the land that is burning are places we travelled through, in long golden days that went on forever: the playground of our youth, the Summer Country. We drank cherry juice under the eucalyptus trees that  shaded famous vineyards. We washed golden dust from our lips with warm beer under oak trees. We drove for hours through bays of blue shadow between hills perfumed with apples.

Tonight … fire drakes climb those hillsides, and rear up on the crests to roar at the moon.

The gods keep any of you, Dear Readers, who may live under the wings of dragons tonight.


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And Now Some Sunday Revelations, As Well

Kage Baker was always particularly amused by the frequent proclamations of the world’s imminent ending.

They’re common in Southern California, where a distinct subset of the clergy is apparently only interested in the End Times, not how to get through everyday life in a righteous manner. At leas once a year, someone declares hat the End is Nigh. With the growth of social media, the news gets spread electronically faster than Amie Semple McPherson could ever have imagined. They take out billboards, too. Los Angeles loooves billboards.

Thus far, the world has declined to end. The more determined Apocalypsists just optimistically claim the first date was in error, issue a  new deadline and then slink off with the contents of the poor box before another Trumpet fails to sound. Others blame the non-believers – which, one must acknowledge, are pretty much everywhere – who have averted the great day with their lack of faith. I have always thought that was a good thing, and that perfect faith would be more likely to keep the world spinning: but no, evidently to be a good disciple (especially a Christian) one must be rooting for the world to end.

I think this attitude dates back to Paul of Tarsus. He was the first Christian to try blackmailing God with the death of the faithful.

Anyway, the End of the World gets predicted all the time, but never arrives. Of course, Kage had a totally different theory about that. She said that the world does indeed end every time it’s predicted – in fact, it ends more often. But it always comes back just the same as it was, and almost no one notices. Oh, there may some confusing new trends for good or ill (but mostly ill) that no one can explain, but that all gets ignored in the rush of daily life. I’m pretty sure she would blame the election of Donald Trump on this phenomenon.

The latest End of the World warning here in the USA is a little bit different. Its prophet is a Catholic. a layman, claims a degree in statistics, and I don’t think he lives in California. (It’s hard to tell from the paucity of personal details on him online.) But he sticks to a tried and true script. The culprit is the planet Nabiru, AKA Planet X, and I am sure his forecast is rife with Enochian prophecies and the Annunaki, giant catfish dudes reputed to be connected with this stuff since the days of Chaldea. More to the point, Meade is also already skipping around the hard details – the End was supposed to be on September 23rd, but now he says No (no explanation given, except – you know – the world did kind of conspicuously not end then) and Meade says it will now occur “sometime in October”. He’ll let everyone know when, in case you somehow miss it …

If Nabiru and the Annunaki don’t turn you on, have no fear. Half a dozen other folks of dubious provenance are also predicting the world will end sometime in 2018. Oddly, none of them are connected with the State Department. But all manner of of extraordinary and unlikely weather phenomenon are apparently on the way. None due to climate change, of course …

This is all guaranteed to put one in an odd mood, I must say. Handy for writing the disaster story, though. Tentacles and barbels and toxic seafood, oh my!

Nothing appeals like the classics, Dear Readers.




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Saturday Revelations

Kate Baker held to the premise that a writer could never let her guard down. Not that she thought there were people out to get her – though, to be honest, she never thought there weren’t, either – but because she didn’t want to miss anything.

It was the same urge that made her travel with her head out the car window. You just never knew when some amazing sight would present itself. A careful writer needed to be constantly ready to seize that image and squirrel it away. Story ideas sleeted constantly through the multiverse – Terry Pratchett said so and Kage believed it – and all one needed was a properly open mind. And, of course, the correctly tuned attention.

As Kage also used to say, “My mind is so open other people are using it.” Often she resented that, but all in all she grew used to the phenomenon,  and learned to use it. Countless portions of her stories, from snappy one-liners to epic battle scenes, came to her whole out the aether.

I have currently been struggling with the inception of a story I have already agreed to write. (This is not an unusual problem, as many of you, Dear Readers, are personally aware …) Today, I have also been struggling with intermittent narcolepsy – that’s a problem with congestive heart failure; you find the need to sleep at sudden and mysterious intervals. A late friend of mine, who was and still is my guru in all things cardiac, told me it meant my heart was rebooting what little core data it still possessed, and I should never argue. So I cooperate, and sleep then.

I woke up today from a 14 hour nap and saw a handwritten missive on the white wall beside my bed. (This was, of course, in the penumbral world of not-quite awake, when many things manifest that you never see once you get your eyes all the way open.)  It was written faint and wee, in pencil, and in Kage’s distinctive spiky printing. I couldn’t read it, but I knew it was plot advice for my disaster story. So I memorized the way it looked, written a-slant on the bumpy plaster of the wall, and I am confident it will become clear when I need it.

Later this afternoon, while watching Antique Road Show (a sad British special from the Valley of the Somme) I attained a sudden clarity on the format of the story. And so it began to gel. I’m not going to make any wild claims of success here, because one can always write crap. Often with the greatest of ease … but at least I can begin now.

And it’s all because I was ready and watching. As Kage always averred, it doesn’t matter so much what you’re watching for, as that you are watching in the first place. Most people never are. I had cosmically unusual good luck.

Another life lesson, Dear Readers. Keep watching the … whatever. You may gain a self-realization, or a wonderful story idea, or just an idea at all; which can never be underestimated. Then, if you locate the car battery and some nipple clamps, you can wake up and begin to write.


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Closer, Closer …

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:

  1. 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.
  2.  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!)
  3. 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.



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Speedbumps Lurk Everywhere

Kage Baker did not believe the Universe was friendly.

Conversely, she didn’t believe it was out to get her, either. Usually. Most of the time. But she did feel that, on the whole, the Universe balanced out as slightly more malignant than benign. That way, she pointed out, she was surprised less often, and it was more frequently a nice surprise. She did not feel that this was pessimistic, but rather that she was a rational optimist and I – who blithely expected good things to materialize – was a wide-eyed loony.

I must admit, that was probably a fair cop. However, even I notice when things go wrong, eventually. Indeed, if enough goes wrong for  long enough – I have always hoped, at least – even I might be led to the tentative conclusion that the Universe hates my guts. Thus the last year, for example, has stricken me with chronic boneless woe; Kage would have shrugged  and dived to safety deep beneath the surface of her own imagination.

Yestreday, I developed some sort of brief but exciting gastroenteritis, and spent the day asleep or vomiting. Today I feel better, but half the rest of the household has bellyaches and fevers: I am a plague carrier. No sooner have I written a few new blog posts than my SPAM folder has filled up with peculiar mail: dozens of people complaining my content needs to be more original: which is not only incorrect, but how does anyone think I am cutting and pasting this balderdash? And then the ones that are not critiquing me for the one thing I’m NOT doing wrong – are in Russian. God Herself only knows what is going on there …

I am struggling with the interesting need to balance starving to death with developing hyperglycemia. As a result, I am usually hungry AND dizzy, and am compelled to spend my few working brain cells on calculating grams of carbohydrates, sugar and protein in foods I don’t want to eat anyway. This evening, having finally decided on something I could eat, enjoy and that wasn’t bad for me, I tripped into the dish cupboard and managed to break three of my poor sister’s plate set.

At least I already have to go out tomorrow. I have to hand-deliver a letter from the Social Security Administration to the Department of Social Services – who are not, apparently, permitted to speak to one another – to prove I am still disabled. So I’ll have spare time to replace patient Kimberly’s plates.

Life at the moment is full of little teeny tiny duck bites of unspeakable pettiness, from ducks who wear acid lipstick. Ugly acid lipstick. And yet, I am doing better than most of the hapless 7 billions on this uncertain world, so I feel guilty about that, too.

Back to disasters At least these are happening to someone else. And in the meantime, Dear Readers, I’m still here.


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Disaster Is In The Eye of the Beholder

Kage Baker loved it when she got asked to do a story for a themed anthology.

Part of it, of course, was that it is enormously flattering for a writer to be asked to make something new for a project. It’s a potent challenge, and a compliment as well – someone likes what you do AND thinks you can craft something to order. By the end of her life, nearly everything Kage was writing was to order, and she thought that was just dandy.

She could always write something original when she got an idea. But the custom jobs usually came with an idea attached, and so a certain amount of searching and brain-storming and skull sweating was taken care of automatically.

It doesn’t always work out, though. Kage was once invited to submit a story to an anthology about Renaissance Faires: it was rejected because it was not about Court, or courtiers, and the language was hard to follow … she wrote it in the Elizabethan she had studied and taught for 30 years, and the editors found the whole thing just too common for use.It went somewhere else, finally.

And once she was  invited to submit a story to an anthology about Zorro. As a daughter of California, Kage was delighted. She threw herself into the legend of Zorro and the myths of Old California (with a soupcon of the old Disney TV show staring Guy Williams; Kage loved that show). Unfortunately, the editor had a stick up an awkward orifice,  was psychotic about owning the rights to the Johnston McCulley original novel, and would permit no original characterization at all. Kage finally pulled her story in exasperation.

I have no idea to this day what happened to it …

Me, I am trying to select a disaster and a plot for an anthology for the friend of a friend. Something to submit, at least; which is only courteous when you have been asked out loud and everything. It may yet be a bio-disaster with some sort of ROUS. There are several now known in the world. Or it may be how to cope when pockets of methane ice start thawing somewhere inconvenient – like around a subterranean Company Base in Siberia. That leaves amazing holes. Strange rains from space have their charm; so do the troubles of housekeeping when you live near a thin edge between dimensions. So do cicada hatches who lose their sense of time-keeping. And the appeal of sunspots is almost irresistible, especially when harking back to the solar storm of 1859 …

What could surface from, or splash down into, Lake Hollywood? What would be the results? Earthquakes in LA are passe, and anyway – any child of Hollywood knows that the results would  be  lava rains, early morning and late night volcanoes,  and everything else falling down. But what about zombies? What about killer deer? What about a fungus that eats petroleum by-products?

The world is my doomed oyster, really. All I have to do is settle on some flashy alien oyster catcher, and the travails of a plucky fisherman’s wife in the ruins of Morro Bay.

I shall sleep on it, Dear Readers. Maybe something red-eyed and menacing will materialize on my pillow …



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