Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, and Tor.com. 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. For more about her, as well as links to her fiction, see http://www.kittywumpus.net.
Q & A
Iulian: Cat, I can trace your earliest writings to the beginning of the 90’s. Since then you had a prolific career as a writer and as an editor. Tell us a bit about the time before all that came to be; how did you start, what pushed you toward writing and when did you know you were ready?
Cat: It was always assumed I’d be a writer for two reasons: a) I loved, loved, loved to read and b) my grandmother wrote YA fiction. I knew I was ready when I realized if I didn’t get on the ball I’d be one of those people always wistfully thinking “I could be a writer.”
Give us a bit about non-writer Cat Rambo. How and where did you grow up, what were your influences and what were some of the jobs you had before going full-time writer? Since writing, have you ever considered any other career?
I grew up in South Bend, Indiana, where my dad taught at Notre Dame. If there was any one influence I’d point to, it would be the Griffon Bookstore there, where I played countless hours of D&D and other role-playing games. I worked there all through high school as well. In college, I had no idea what I wanted to do, but considered economics, computer science, and veterinary medicine. Later jobs included working as a network security expert, a technical writer, and lots and lots of teaching.
You graduated from Johns Hopkins Writing Seminar, and Clarion West. How important were these to you, how did they help you, and would you recommend beginning writers to invest their time and money in such an event?
JHU gave me a number of things, including time and space to write, as well as a chance to work with John Barth, who’s been a big influence on my writing. Clarion West gave me tools for writing, and talked about the mechanics of writing in a way JHU never did. As far as their worth to beginning writers—the best investment you can make is giving yourself that time and space to write, and there’s a lot of ways you can do it. F&SF workshops, though, also often provide networking opportunities as well as an entrance into the F&SF world for the uninitiated who haven’t grown up going to cons.
What would you call the defining moment in your writing career, the moment when you knew you turned pro? What story, market, or anthology had a part in that?
I got to read with Samuel R. Delany at KGB. That was a very shiny moment and one I will always, always, always treasure in my heart. I knew then I’d made the right choice when I decided to pursue writing wholeheartedly.
There aren’t a lot of writer/editor combos out there, but you are one of them. How easy is it to switch the hats and how is your approach as an editor influenced by you, the writer, and vice-versa? In your career, have you had any bad or enlightening experiences with editors you’d like to mention?
It’s not too hard to switch hats, but the important thing is that editing does take some writing energy. One of the things I had to think hard about is whether I was primarily a writer or primarily an editor. I chose the former, and tried to make that clear when talking about it.
Editing—as I see it—is making the story shine through and helping clear away any clutter or detritus that gets in the way of that. It’s definitely a skill a writer needs to exercise at some point in their process.
As far as experiences with editors, my usual experience is that they make the story better. They catch things I wouldn’t have, and even the changes I don’t agree with and push back on are useful feedback to me. The only time I’ve had an editor damage a piece, actually, is with technical writing, when the editor didn’t understand the technology.
As an editor of Fantasy Magazine, how were you defining a “perfect” story, one you would gladly accept? When you write, is the editor in you sneaking in, blocking the imagination with logic and theory?
There’s so many different kinds of perfect stories, but they all do one thing: they stick with you. They come back to you long after you’ve read them, sometimes coaxing you to go back to reread, other times just changing the way you see something.
When I write, I turn the editor off and let the words flow. I can always make them better, but I can’t do much unless I’ve got a lump of words to work with. There’s a time and a place for the editor and first drafts aren’t it. There, the editor just impedes things.
You write speculative fiction (short and long). What is your writing process? Do you have clear goals set ahead of time, or are you more of a spur of the moment kind of writer?
I usually try to write 2000 words a day. That hasn’t been the case the last month, since we’ve been on the road as part of a six month trip, and I find myself grumpy and grouchy as a result, but will be back in the flow next week when we settle in one place for a bit.
If you were to choose one favorite novel and one favorite short story from your own works, which one would it be? Related to that, for people who haven’t read your works yet – what would be the best place to start getting to know your world?
My favorite novel would be the one I’m currently shopping around, the first in a fantasy quartet, called Beasts of Tabat. As far as short stories go – I don’t know. I like a lot of them. For steampunk readers, I’d point to “Clockwork Fairies.” For urban fantasy, “Magnificent Pigs.” For SF, “The Mermaids Singing Each to Each” or more recently, “English Muffin, Devotion on the Side.”
What is your advice for young writers trying to break-through?
Persistence is pretty important. Keep your eyes open for opportunities, and grab them when you can. Research the market. And don’t be a jackass. Be kind and thankful to people, because it’s not incumbent on anyone but you to recognize your genius.
What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’m currently trying a new experiment in self-publishing using Patreon. I’m pretty prolific normally and so I’ve accumulated a backlog of stories. Through Patreon, people can subscribe and get two original stories each month. (http://www.patreon.com/catrambo) If it’s successful enough, I intend to use that to start a new speculative fiction magazine, but there’s a way to go on that still.
Cat, thank you very much for participating in this interview!
To Follow Cat Rambo, see the links on Cat’s author page.
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