Parazoology Ba to Mn

Kage Baker was madly prolific. The main reason was, her brain was continuously on the boil.

She had ideas the way most people have itches – constantly, often inconveniently, frequently in embarrassing places. I remember her getting totally carried away one afternoon, over sundaes in an ice cream parlour in Pismo Beach; acting out plots and characters with all the voices and compass points, scattering chocolate sauce with a wind-milling arm. And though we were fairly loud and giggly, the waitress was oddly attentive and amiable – even solicitous. It was only as I paid and we left that Kage suddenly looked stricken and said to me, “Oh my God, she must have thought I was mentally disturbed!”

It’s perfectly possible. Poor Kage was dreadfully embarrassed, though, and we never went back to that ice cream parlour. It went out of business in a couple of months; which is rather a stunt in a beach town. Coincidence? Who knows? I wouldn’t be surprised if Kage had cajoled some elder god into dragging it through a crack in the walls of the world …

Anyway. My point here is that she had so many ideas, all the time, that it was all she could do to handle them. She made notes, when she could find the time: but like a woman with several toddlers at once (like her own mother, ha ha for cosmic justice …), it was hard to find a half hour to write just one set of ideas down. They mostly stayed filed in her head, where they ran and shouted and flung things all about.

(No wonder that waitress thought Kage was a bit doololly. Just like a lady with a kindergartener on a leash, twin babies in a giant stroller, and an 8-year old raiding the gumball machine.)

Kage did leave me a lot of notes. And she poured all she could into my ears, to settle into my poor brain until I  was the one who had to think of something to do with them. I’m nowhere near as fast or prolific as Kage was. But I do manage to muddle along.

Now that the new year is well and truly begun, it’s time to start bugging people. My agent has had some stories for months; a publisher has an entire novel I cajoled them into looking at in August. I need to contact them all and make small piteous noises of inquiry.

In the meantime, though, I have had an idea for a collection of stories, about the less glamorous departments in Dr. Zeus’ business. You know, bugs. Unattractive mollusks. Stories about ordinary books: not deathless literature, but cookbooks and gossip broadsheets. Weird humans who essentially accomplished nothing but to evolve in isolation. Really small animals.

I have one story completed, about blue squirrels. Other things, too, but it stars blue squirrels. The operatives who deal with them call themselves the Teddy Bear Squad. And recently I got down just the notes below – which aren’t a story yet, but are on the way. I include them here to test some waters, to see what you, my Dear Readers, might think of the various ideas. Don’t worry, you can tell me if it sounds ghastly. I am grateful just to have a chance to talk it over with people.

So, tell me. What do y’all think?


Notes for a story about the Division of Technically Mythological Creatures, aka Parazoology.

Not all cryptids are magical. Some are as real as pugs, and often more useful. (Not a long stretch …) Also, not all of them are huge. Animals that are not outsized tend to fall, alphabetically, between Ba and Mn, filing-wise. They are usually 3 to 6 feet in their primary dimension.

This is a coincidence of interest only to Company statisticians – a discipline only known to Operatives, since the Board neither understands nor gives a shit – and the Operatives who hunt, catch and breed them. Oh, and the techs who have to build cages.

This leads us to the Leopard Eel, presumed to be a myth in Alabama and Florida, until live ones were caught in December of 2018. By a mortal hunting for turtles. They turned out to be very aquatic unknown salamanders, with extravagant frilled gills, spots, only front legs, and blue eyes.

They are slightly-too-soon escapees from the Parazoology Division (Louisiana Office), which had been keeping the things in their bathtub because local floods have compromised their breeding tanks. The Company is keeping them safe and trying to breed them, because of their unparalleled ability to filter out poisons from wetlands. They don’t breed well in captivity. The Company Operative had been working on that, and had finally hit on transforming them from from ovoviviporous to straight up external fertilization. Then they escape, and in the wild, they suddenly breed too well … what do you do with thousands of giant salamanders that filter toxins through their livers, breed like rabbits, are not cute, but are 3 feet long?

Probably Alabama gets a new, cottage industry revenue source. Pesticide cleaning? Renewal of wetlands? Poor man’s fugu?

Maybe all three …


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Let’s Break In The New Slowly

Kage Baker didn’t like change.

As a child, she simply wouldn’t acknowledge it. It happened, of course, in denominations as small as her outgrowing favourite shoes to having a new class in school every year. As far as possible, Kage ignored the changes. Adamant and determined,  she simply duplicated favoured shoes and garments: which is why, after she died, I found multiple identical, worn-out white tennis shoes, and ditto blue jeans, in her closet … Mrs. Baker just bore Kage off to the appropriate new classroom every year, and hoped for the best. Going to Catholic school, where uniforms were required, made it a little easier.

After 12 years of happily mindless dress choices, Kage entered adulthood and promptly took up historical re-creation. She spent the next 3 decades wearing madly colorful costumes … but between the picardills and corsets and multiple layers of skirts, Kage stuck firmly to her personal armour of Chuck Taylor tennies and Levi jeans. Sometimes under the multiple skirts. It can get damned cold in the Cow Palace.

Anyway, Kage was not a fan of change. It was undoubtedly why she wrote about time travel; it satisfied a deep need in her, to write what she treasured into immortality. She made sure that nothing she loved was ever actually lost. And in between saving things that would otherwise fall prey to thieves and the moth, Kage hunted diligently for books and candies and movies from her personal past; Glasswax stencils, and Biestle cardboard decorations, and wax oranges filled with sugar syrup.

She found them, too. And she took a genuine satisfaction from writing the otherwise lost into her stories. On one conscious and unconcerned level of her mind, Kage believed that she had tucked Brown’s Ice Cream Parlour and Spinx’s macaw and all her beloved dead into alternate dimensions, where they were safe.


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The Dead Zone

Kage Baker felt that the first few days of any new year were a huge let down. All the wonderful madness of Christmas built up over weeks and weeks; the tide carried one right up to New Year’s Day and over the calendrical hump in a wash of tinsel and leftover cookies.

Where one was abandoned. Worse, one had to go back to school or to work, and somehow believe that the new toy or blouse or whatever made up for floating belly-up in the backwater of Winter. About the only thing that got Kage through the first week was games. Especially pirate games, where she could shoot things, and cheer madly in the sword battles she convinced me to fight for her …

Oh, and writing. Eventually,  Kage got into the habit of starting a new story right after New Year. That kept her alert and involved enough to – well, do just about anything but  writing. Shooting cannons, especially.

Luckily, we always celebrated Christmas right through 12th Night. As you have heard me pontificate before, Dear Readers, the famed 12 Days of Christmas do not end on December 25th: that’s when they begin. They then run until the Epiphany on January 6th, which is a last, grand blowout until Imbolc, Valentine’s Day, and Presidents’ weekend.

That lets you down a little easier. It gives you a reminder to take down the Christmas lights before the neighbors get up a petition. And, in Kage’s firm belief, it provided an opportunity to give people the presents that had slipped down under the desk while you were frantically wrapping on Christmas Eve.

The Aztecs, you know, reserved an entire block of days at the end of each year, to provide a bumper between one year and the next. Those 5 days or so just didn’t exist – and since they were also extremely bad luck, most people did as little as possible. What they did do wasn’t counted. Unless you committed some blasphemy, in which case the gods were always thirsty … but even then, you probably had to wait until the government opened again and could get around to peeling your skin off for the greater glory of the goddess of Spring.

Not much has really changed since the ancients, you know?

Anyway, we are now in that quiet place where the New Year hasn’t really begun. It’s a few nights yet until 12th Night, and by then the stuff I ordered but which has not yet arrived may actually be delivered. I’m down to the chocolate coins and apple butter from my stocking, and with luck the batteries will last a few more days in the insanely-blinking varicoloured epilepsy lights strung on my desk. The nephew is still playing his new computer game, and Kimberly is working her way through her half-dozen new hedgehog socks. Everyone is marking imaginary time.

And I am back on the old soap box, filling this annual Dead Zone with my own version of hope. It’s mainly just stumbling on until the grey blur ahead resolves into an actual light at the end of the tunnel: but hey, that works. As long as we all get there, all will be well.

It’s much nicer to stumble on in good company, anyway: until we reach that fresh new point where everything we do counts again.


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And Fill the Wall Up

Kage Baker did not countenance giving up. She could be defeated, of course, like anyone (which was always the fault of her opponent, and none of hers); she could be thwarted for years, but never forget her goals. She would plan for quite inhuman lengths of time to get what she wanted, and rarely failed. The main thing was, she never gave up.

When Kage died, she was still dictating stories and plans to me. Literally. She had a calculated plan for what I was to do with her literary legacy, and she made sure I got every detail straight. We made a lot of Mozart and Salieri jokes, and giggled like teenagers. But I knew that, despite the snickering and even the attempts at singing the Requiem (we were pretty fair, actually), that Kage was deadly serious and meant even her amiable threats of retaliation if I failed.

Then my health began its slow collapse. It’s been as cruel and inexorable as a tsunami – a slow, mounting, hideously motile wall sweeping forward, carrying drowned bodies and burning houses on the crest of the wave. Even the survivors are left damaged. The world ends up covered in mud.

Just as I began to realize I was sinking in the muck, I got a cruel email on this blog. Some self-righteous critic read me a long list of the things I said of which he disapproved. He gave me to understand I was weak, uninteresting, contemptible; he suggested I shut up, one way or another. He caught me at a vulnerable moment.

I struggled on for a ways – and you, my Dear Readers, if any of you are still out there, you were a major factor in my staying even marginally afloat. But I got sicker, and more tired, and more discouraged. I’ve spent the latter half of 2018 asleep and/or cocooned in my recliner, concentrating all my strength on breathing.

To tell the utmost truth, I am sure some part of me was nurturing a black hope that I could irritate Kage into haunting me. But as I am fairly sure she’s busy slow-dancing with God and drinking divine nectar with cocktail umbrellas in, there’s been no luck on that score. Besides, I’m pretty sure she could out-stubborn me anyway.

So here I am. I am starting, not over but definitely again. There’s more to say, more to write, and if my explaining life through the streaky lens of my cataclysmic health offends anyone – too bad for you. Go read someone else’s blog. Which is about as much obscenity I am willing to spend on you, if you already dislike me that much.

I know, though, that I still have good, good friends out there in the aether. A Happy New Year to you, then, dear hearts. Here we are again! Once more into the breach! The show must go on!

As Kage once said, giving up is for people with no resources. And I have so, so many of those!





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Saturday At Home

Kage Baker, though she loved to travel, really loved nothing more than being snug at home.

She would leave her alarm clock turned on even on the weekends, just so she could slap the thing silent and go back to sleep. When we finished a long run – at a Faire, for instance – Kage would spend the first weekend at home happily considering where she was not: running to catch the ass-end of a parade, chasing a late-lingering dance troupe off a stage, trudging to the chemical privies at the end of a long, dusty day.

“A week ago, we’d just be taking the turn from the 580 to the 5,” she would recite happily, content in her arm chair. “And tonight here I am in my jammies, with a cocktail in my hand and a fire on the hearth! And later I will play some Monkey Island.”

And it worked the other direction, too. When we first started a gig, a Faire, a Con: Kage would exhult in not being inured in the daily domestic grind. It was the contrast that gave the special savour.

This time last week, I was … well, I was collapsed in a hotel room with food poisoning. But I was at a Con! I had been on the road, I was travelling! Even when I was seriously considering if it was sufficiently exotic to expire in a rented room in San Jose, I was appreciating the mere fact of being in that rented room. The entire inner courtyard was planted thick with old roses, and as the room darkened into twilight, my room filled with the scent of roses …

Tonight, I am sitting much more comfortably in my living room, and as the day ends, the perfume that fills the room is of fresh-turned earth where Kimberly has been planting native grasses in her floral fountain. (In California these latter years, you plant in the fall, not the spring: plant in the spring, and your plants will fry.) Michael has been trimming the wild golden oats that fill the yard now, and the scent of toasted grain drifts in the windows as well.

My excursion wore me out. I came home Monday, and have basically slept all week. But I am waking up now  and beginning to watch my email anxiously. A story acceptance might be coming; I tried a modern over-the-transom approach at the Con, and slipped loaded thumb drives to a few people. Of course, story rejections may also be coming, but why anticipate trouble?

It’s all movement, all proof of life, all resuming my place on the Great Universal People Mover.

And anyway: this time last week, I was miserably sick  and now I am not. So there am I happy!

Seize it where you can, kids.


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Home From WorldCon 1

Kage Baker never learned to drive. This was a public service on her part, as her eyesight was poor: she had strabismus, and was effectively blind in one eye. She also felt she was emotionally unsuited to cope with other drivers without bow cannons.

I didn’t mind at all, because I didn’t think other drivers could possibly benefit from Kage having bow cannons …

But the bottom line was that Kage never drove home from a science fiction Convention. We would both babble while I drove, the pair of us madly, decompressing and downloading all the weekend’s various events. Then, usually about 2 hours out of Pismo, Kage would fall asleep. Every now and again she’d lurch upright and declare: “I have to keep you awake!” And then she’d be gone.

Well, now she really is gone, and I get to drive home by myself. I talk to myself a lot, and sing loudly. The drive from San Jose yestreday was not bad at all – I left by 3 PM and only drove as far as Pismo once again; I meant to spend the night there, and drive on to LA this morning.

I got to Pismo, which was exquisitely cool and smelled of the sea: my hotel was a bare 200 feet from the beach. Unfortunately, my room was on the second floor, up 20 stairs. (I counted, gasping …) and I arrived pretty much pre-exhausted from the day and the drive.

I am only technically mobile these days. Too long in one position, or too much walking, and my back and left leg are automatically replaced with broken glass in Silly Putty. It’s all to do with neuropathy, and is only of import here because it contributed to my being useless last night.

Mostly I lay on my lovely soft bed and breathed in the sweet sea air. I was too tired to even contemplate eating – which was good, because there was no way on any earth that I was getting down and back up those stairs again …

Oh, and the wifi didn’t work. It was a nice hotel, but it was a Motel 6, and you just can’t get working wifi in those. I gotta get my own Hotspot (Luisa, how did you DO that?)

Anyway, I got home this afternoon after a long, futile search through the 5 Cities area for a nursery Kage had loved … I found the place where it used to be, but it was inexplicably gone: all buildings, flower beds and orchards razed to the ground, the earth apparently salted and the whole surrounded by barbed wire. I have no idea what happened, barring a sudden infestation of triffids.

But I went tearfully on my way. And in the course of time I made it home, and promptly collapsed. Somewhat revived by Mullah coffee and brownies, I have gotten at least as far as this lengthy explanation of why I vanished into the silent void last night.

More later, Dear Readers. How much later, who knows? There are tamales in the offing, and I could end up either comatose or energized. But there is much more to tell!



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Things Seen (and Seen By) at WorldCon

Kage Baker, as I have often observed, vastly enjoyed people.-watching. WorldCon is a primo place to do that, as so many interesting things attend.

It was one of Kage’s pet fancies, that eldritch creatures walked freely among us in places where normality was …  thin. Consensual. Totally ignored. Times like Halloween and Mardi Gras; places like white sales, rock concerts, and conventions. We always watched for them, argued over their antecedents, giggled over what they might be there doing …

I have seen some neat stuff here:  not just odd people, but fascinating scenaria here and there. Over breakfast, I saw the shadow cast by the Avengers logo in a mirror: but no matter where I looked, I couldn’t see what was casting it. Something existing solely in the mirror, I suspect: another dimension.

I’ve seen a merqueen, resplendent in robes of opalescent gauze and netting, pearls  and silver, her colour- changing crown and  staff liberally studded with glowing gems.

I’ve seen a stealth jester: long dagged sleeves and tu nic obscuring his body, horned and belled hood drawn over his face. The only thing that convinced me he was a jester and not an assassin was that the outfit was bright, merry red. But he was trying for enigma, I think.

I saw a lady in a sweeping cloak decorated with wolf skins go by: Lady Stark, I presume. She was attended by several warriors in Game of Thrones regalia. They were ALL followed by George R.R. Martin himself, carrying a metal stanchion. I presume they were a headed for a signing, and Mr. Martin was prepared to reinforce the guide ropes. But it looked he was planning to bludgeon someone …

I have seen meticulously uniformed fighters from literally dozens of times, dimensions, armies, empires, and doomed, heroic campaigns. It’s hilarious to watch  them deftly manage swords, ray guns, electrified spears and other weaponry accessories in the restaurant of the Hilton. I have trouble figuring out what to do with my cane …

What’s even funnier, to me, is that the wait staff is totally unperturbed. They’ll move a claymore or a jet pack out of their way without a blink. They can deliver drinks and plates around winged helmets, corrugated skulls and visors as neat as a pin. And they do not turn a hair.

Reality really is consensual around here, Dear Readers.

And a woman just walked past me with a squeaking tribble on a leash.

On which note, I believe I need another coffee. More later, kids.

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