Thursday, April 9, 2015

Guest Post by Cat Rambo

I was Writing it Along

In the summer of 2005, I went to Clarion West, as six week intensive workshop for speculative fiction writers that's held each summer here in Seattle. I emerged that August having written six stories, acquired a batch of wonderful friends and new colleagues, and not just afire with ambition to write a novel, but entirely ready to do so.

Or so I thought. I did keep writing stories, even as I began assembling a book I tentatively entitled The Water's Secret. Several times during the course of the workshop, people had said that some of the students would find themselves unable to write for a while after the workshop, probably because they'd still be processing everything that had been crammed into their heads. They meant to be reassuring; they meant to let us know it would be normal if it happened. But the idea of not writing freaked me out so I took it as a cautionary note and I made sure I kept putting out a story a week for the first two months immediately after the workshop.

Those stories ranged all over the place, but I set some in a setting I'd created for a game that never came to fruition. First "The Dead Girl's Wedding March," then "I'll Gnaw Your Bones, the Manticore Said." In response to all the pirate anthologies, two stories found themselves taking place in that world, "Sugar" and "In the Lesser Southern Isles." A novelette, "Narrative of a Beast's Life," appeared and was published in Realms of Fantasy magazine. The corpus of stories set in the world, which I came to think of as "Tabat," the name of the seaport where most of the stories take place, began to grow to a pretty solid number.

And all the while I kept working on that novel. Holy smokes. I worked and worked. I trashed that draft and started anew. At one point I had a manuscript with fourteen different pop characters. I workshopped bits at Taos Toolbox and my writing group. I had Walter Jon Williams point out that a passage was not just from a pigeon's point of view, but that the pigeon was entirely hypothetical to boot. I kept working and working at what would eventually become Beasts of Tabat.

And as some point, I realized those stories were part of that. The Realms of Fantasy story was actually the backstory for a secondary character in Beasts, the centaur Fino/Phillip. The narrator of "How Dogs Came to the New Continent" was living in the same boarding house as Bella Kanto, one of Beasts' two main characters. Other stuff began to slowly emerge -- this was a quartet, and on of the stories (I will not say which) held the key for the overall series arc.

In short, my unconscious mind was (as I tell my students it is prone to doing) much smarter than I was and had neatly constructed a whole bunch of stuff. My job was to figure out how it all fit together.

Do you need to have read any of the stories to read the book? Holy smokes, no. But if you enjoy the book, I can tell you that while you're waiting for the next one, which I'm planning to turn in to the editor on July 1, there's plenty of re-entries to the world lurking online and in my collections. I've tried to provide a pretty complete list of them on my website here.  and there's a brand new Tabat story up on Beneath Ceaseless Skies this month.

Is this in any way typical of a writer's journey? Dunno. But I do think story writers might benefit from pausing every once in a while and looking to see if there's a world that's interested them enough to write several stories set there. Because if so -- that novel may be already waiting for you there.

BIO: Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and as well as three collections and her latest work, debut novel Beasts of Tabat. Her short story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her story collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current Vice President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. For more about her, as well as links to her fiction, see


Monday, December 29, 2014

Craving a Delicate Touch

I've been in a bit of a reading funk for most of the year. I know, with how busy I've been there shouldn't have been much time for reading but I managed to steal a few hours here and there. However out of all the books I picked up, I couldn't finish most of them. Out of the few I did finish, only two left me wanting more -- Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson and Slow Regard For Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss. (Seriously, they're bloody brilliant!) The others weren't bad books. In fact one of them was by Brent Weeks, whose writing I love, but for some unknown reason it just wasn't grabbing me and I couldn't figure out why. (Brent, there's nothing wrong with your writing and I will finish and thoroughly enjoy that book. Just at a later date.)

At Tracy's suggestion I started reading Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey and was hooked from the first page. Jacqueline is a wonderful writer but thick headed me couldn't figure out why this book satisfied that undefinable craving that the other books didn't. When I mentioned this to Tracy he pointed out that I hadn't read much by women this year, which was why he suggested Carey's book. He's right (which is one of the many reasons I keep him around). However, the revelation shocked me.

I've always been aware that there are differences in how men write and how women write but I never thought the difference in approach would be something I would crave. I read for character first and plot second. If I'm in a particularly vicious mood I'll read something with a high blood and gore content. I'm not a girly girl. I've never craved something feminine and lovely in my life. It's no wonder I needed someone to point it out to me.

As a woman I'm a bit ashamed that I never noticed the lack of women authors in my to read stack. Though as I mentioned before, I never buy a book because of the author's gender, political leaning, or sexual orientation. I have the same approach for music. Now I wonder if I need to pay more attention to the gender identity of the author. If nothing else it will help me keep a variety of voices in my stacks so I never get burned out again.

Speaking of Tracy, he has a wonderful blog that you should check out. He's got some great reviews and recommendations! Click here.

Also, don't forget that my first short story will published next month in the Kobo special edition of Fiction River: Pulse Pounders, edited by Kevin J. Anderson. You can pre-order it here.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Sometimes it's better to play poker

I've been re-watching The West Wing lately because there's never a bad reason to revisit a brilliantly written show. Also the last time I watched it I was too young to fully understand or appreciate the show's brilliance. For example, in one of the episodes Charlie (played the wonderful Dule Hill), the President's personal aide, sat in a bar surrounded by co-eds enjoying the start Spring Break. He felt very self-conscious of his lack of a college education, as if the crowd's degrees in progress were a requirement to associate with them. At the end of the episode, Charlie spent the rest of the evening playing poker with the President and senior staff.

I bring this up because Charlie, in his youth, caught up in his own wants and insecurities, failed to fully understand or appreciate his position. If anyone in that bar was paying attention to who he was drinking with, they would have been envious of him. They also would have marveled that he didn't need a masters in political science to hang out with members of the senior staff. 

I'm not saying that college degrees are a waste of time. A good education is never a waste of time. But if hobnobbing with influential people is your goal, and let's face it, one can never know too many influential people, it's going to take more than a few letters tagged on to your name to earn their trust. Some might say that Charlie was lucky. I say he was in the right place at the right time and made a good impression.

The adage "it's not what you know but who you know that matters" is still true, no matter what business you're in. It's a shame that networking isn't a required course in school. Such an essential skill shouldn't be left to fate and it seems wrong to let the extroverts dominate. Perhaps it's intentional. A culling process so to speak. Those who want it the most get the prize? Who knows. What's important is that recognizing the need for developing relationships and gathering contacts. Business-wise, the hours I've spent networking have served me far better than the hours I spent in the classroom.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The self-indulgent workaholic

In March I thought it would be easy to jump back into my old schedule -- blog on Mondays, work the day job, go to signings, and write all the things -- after Avenue Q closed. It was a good routine, one that I'd kept for a couple years. It would be crazy busy for a few months as I juggled rehearsal, day job, and writing deadlines but it was only a few months. I'd be back to my routine before I knew it. What I didn't expect was that crazy busy became the new normal. After the show closed I was thrust into multiple family obligations, a much busier work day, conventions, more deadlines, and since I'd grown accustomed to working at warp 9 until I collapsed from exhaustion I soldiered on. I was so busy being busy that I forgot that I didn't have to do that any more. I'm ashamed to say that it took me two months to remember.

This month I've been taking a lot more time for me. Not because I'm too exhausted to write, quite the contrary. My writer brain is buzzing with new ideas and my creative muscles are eager to be used. However I need to forget that warp 9 exists. It's not healthy. I've gained weight from too much convenience food and too little time outside. Plus being at events when I'm perpetually tired is a waste of time. I was consciously walking away from great networking opportunities because I didn't have the energy to seize the moment. 

I'm still writing. I submitted a Flame and Filch short to the Blackguards anthology and I'm working on the requested revisions for Moonshine, the short that Rebecca Moesta bought at the Anthology workshop. Instead of working on them every day, I'm only doing it a couple days a week. The rest of my free time is being spent watching TV, favorite Halloween movies, playing Candy Crush and Clumsy Ninja, reading, and hanging out with friends. I'm working on my embroidery again and even toying with the idea of getting back into drawing and painting -- which I haven't done since college. 

The recharge has been really good for me. Not only am I well rested for a change I feel more...strong, capable. This time away has not only cleared away the fog of fatigue but I think it's also cleared away the remnants of the fog of grief from losing Spud in January. It may sound silly but I really feel more myself, more than I have in the past decade. (And those who know what I've been through understand what an achievement that is.) 

Next month I'm going to start transitioning back into a regular writing routine. I haven't decided if I want to go back to a six day writing schedule or cap it at four days. Even though it would be better career-wise if I spent that time writing, I like having time to kick back. I especially don't want to lose my regained clarity and strength. I have a hunch I'll need that more than ever since I'm no longer an amateur writer. We'll see if I can manage to keep some downtime. I am a workaholic so I may find myself at warp 3 before I know it.

Monday, September 22, 2014


Fiction River, the publication that my first three short stories will appear in, is having a subscription drive. You can find out the details here. The drive October 2nd so don't delay signing up. I've read most of the stories in year two's line up so believe me when I say that you want to subscribe for the full year.

While we're on the subject, my first short story, The Void around the Sword's Edge, will appear in the Kobo Special Edition of Fiction River: Pulse Pounders. If your Fiction River subscription doesn't include that edition you can pre-order it here.

The cover for the second volume I'm, Alchemy& Steam in is up on their website. It's so pretty!

Monday, August 18, 2014

New travelers on an old path

Every movie I've seen the last two weeks has shown the trailer for Interstellar. If you've missed it you can watch it here. It's probably the most vague trailer I've ever seen and yet, I have a pretty good idea what direction the story will take. It's not a new concept in sci-fi. Ken Liu's Mono No Aware (you can read it here) and Mary Robinette Kowal's The Lady Astronaut of Mars (you can read it here) are beautifully written examples. Neither is derivative and that's certainly not my concern for Interstellar. I'm worried that because it's so vague that the general public either won't be interested or they won't realize what they're in for.

I'm going to ignore the possibility of bad science and trust that Christopher Nolan and his team did their research. They did a great job of making the gadgets in the Batman films functional in a real world sense so I'm willing to take a leap of faith on that. The possible conclusions for the story however...

There are a couple forks in this particular story path. The first is whether or not they can establish Earth 2.0. Astronomers have already found some likely candidates so if my research assumption holds true than the film will focus more on preparing the selected planet for the coming settlers. If I'm wrong than they'll waste screen time with an improbable search that could have been done by satellites and drones instead of people. The average American probably won't be bothered by it but those of us who actually pay attention to science will be throwing popcorn at the screen.

The second fork is whether or not they make it back home. This path has no in between. They either make it or they don't. If they do, Yay! Happy ending. If they don't (which I think is more likely) it's going to be a massive tear jerker that will catch many an unsuspecting viewer off guard.

Unfortunately we're going to have to wait until November to find out which direction the story takes. If they've done it right this has the potential to be a spectacular film but I'm not going to get my hopes up. Heaven knows Hollywood has let us down plenty of times before.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Keeping a delicate balance

Since being cast in Avenue Q I've been silently struggling to come to terms with something. Considering the show's content one might assume that my struggle centered around porn, racism, or one of the other major themes. It's not. What's troubled me are stereotypes -- specifically whether or not it's okay to rely on them to convey a character's race when limited by the art form?

Most advocates would shout "NO!" but I don't feel it's as simple or clear cut as that. For some races skin tone, whether it's visible on stage or mentioned in passing in a story, is enough of an indicator to tell the audience that the character isn't the default WASP. However there are others that aren't as obvious. A lot of folks can pick an Asian out of a crowd but the vast majority can't tell the difference between Koreans, Chinese, or Japanese. I can tell the difference but I'm Asian. To the rest of the world we look the same which is why it's caused a bit of a personal dilemma for me.

In the show I play Christmas Eve, a Japanese immigrant, and most of my costumes are kimono-like. I happen to really like the items the costumer made for me but I have to confess that I've harbored a little bit of resentment. I'm really am Japanese and one of my first lines is "I am Japanese." I actually had to stop and ask myself "Do I have to wear this for the audience to really get it?"

Sadly, I do.

My name is generic enough that audiences can't use that as an indicator, and I have enough Western blood in me (German, Polish, and English) that my Japanese features are slightly muted. In the past people have asked me if I'm Native American, Hawaiian, Mexican, and Eskimo in addition to the full spectrum of Asian nationalities.

I also don't have a Japanese accent. I'm American. I grew up here. My speech patterns are American. Heck, even my mannerisms are American. While I could have adopted a Japanese accent and mannerisms for the show, very little of it translates well on stage. The few things that do are so subtle that the audience wouldn't notice them. For example, very few people are aware that the Japanese have hand gestures that accompany phrases like "excuse me" or that Japanese women carry their purses a certain way. Sure, I could still do them so that the audience would get a more authentic Japanese woman but if they're not going to pick up on it than what's the point?

The point is they'll never know if they're not exposed to the truth. As I want to vilify it, white America was never the source of my problem. The real problem is ignorance. Ignorance doesn't limit itself to one demographic.

Unfortunately the world is in this awkward transitional stage. While more people are becoming aware that what they identify as _______ culture is wrong, a lot still don't care enough about the issue to enlighten themselves. I have the daunting task of gaining the trust and approval of my stereotype loving audience so I can then gently show them that this character is a real person that defies their expectations.

While I seem to have done this well on stage (the reviews are very good) I don't know yet if I've pulled off this balance in my writing. All the stories I've written from this stance are either out in submissionland or are soon to venture there. I hope that I've done it well. I want to be a proponent for change and understanding.

It's only appropriate that in a show about finding one's purpose in life, I found mine. My purpose in life is to help people understand a point of view that is not their own.