Monday, February 8, 2010

A Few Words for Kage Baker

A couple of nights before Kage died, I put David Lean's Great Expectations on a long pause, went into my office, and wrote her a farewell post.

Thinking both of Dickens and movies, and their influence on her work, and, through it, on me, let me find what I had to say - which was to tell her why, from the first, she and her work were so important to me.

It was, as I told her in that note, her editor, David Hartwell, who had first said it to me. It was shortly after she turned in Graveyard Game. "She's not perfect," he said. "Her characterizations slip sometimes. But the story, Linn. The story..."

The was it.

Later, as Kage honed her craft, her characterizations stopped slipping, but early or late, it was story that was primary with her. She worked backwards from the tale and, from it, found her characters. She did not develop characters and let her stories grow out of them, as American writers - and actors - are often taught. Her approach was more like the classical English approach to acting, building up from the outside, letting the action call forth the characters.

As I see it, the approach yielded complex stories of unusual clarity, stories she filled with characters called forth by the tales, animated from a life experience saturated with narratives and characters, shaped with an alert ear.

Kage's sister, Kathleen, tells me she believes the voice the reader hears in "The Literary Agent" was the voice Kage was always hearing. "The Literary Agent" is one of the first batch of stories published in Asimov's. It is a grace note that it is the only story of Kage's she had ever read to her mother, who always urged her to write.

It is, however, not one voice the reader hears in the tale, but two; it's a dialogue between Robert Louis Stevenson and Joseph, the story's literary agent, as well as, in other tales, cyborg father to immortal Mendoza, heroine of Kage's company works. It is fitting then, that, in this story, Joseph tells Stevenson: "This is your dream. This dream says you're going to become a famous author. You write slam-bang adventure stories." 

- Linn Prentis


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  2. It's always a shock to read an author's passing. The most recent being J.D. Salinger and Robert B. Parker, but their work of course lives on. It was a bitter sweet revelation when I had learned this in my liberty arts class.

    Jimmy Ng