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