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[SFFWRTCHT] A Chat With Author and Editor Cat Rambo

Best known for her three-year stint editing the critically-acclaimed Fantasy Magazine, Cat Rambo’s stories have appeared in Asimov’s, Weird Tales, Clarkesworld, and Strange Horizons, and her work has consistently garnered mentions and appearances in year’s best anthologies. Her collection, Eyes Like Sky And Coal And Moonlight was an Endeavour Award finalist in 2010 and followed her collaboration with Jeff VanderMeer, The Surgeon’s Tale And Other Stories. John Barth described Cat Rambo’s writings as “works of urban mythopoeia” — her stories take place in a universe where chickens aid the lovelorn, Death is just another face on the train, and Bigfoot gives interviews to the media on a daily basis. She has worked as a programmer-writer for Microsoft and a Tarot card reader, professions which, she claims, both involve a certain combination of technical knowledge and willingness to go with the flow. In 2005 she attended the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop. She has edited anthologies, is a board member of feminist science fiction group Broad Universe, a member of the Codex Writers’ Group, and volunteers with Clarion West. Her newest collection, Near + Far is out this week from  Hydra House. She can be found online as @CatRambo on Twitter, via Facebook or at her website

SFFWRTCHT: So let’s start with where did your interest in speculative fiction come from?

Cat Rambo: I started with spec fic at an early age. My babysitter started reading The Hobbit aloud to me, and I got so engaged with the story that I started sneaking the book to read ahead. My grandmother, who was a writer, always encouraged whatever interests I picked up, and she encouraged reading as well, buying me plenty of F&SF.

SFFWRTCHT: Who are some authors/books which have influenced you?

CR: Samuel R. Delany is a major influence, and his Fall of the Towers was the first book that told me what sf could become in the right hands. Other influences include Carol Emshwiller, James Tiptree Jr., Fritz Leiber, and Italo Calvino.

SFFWRTCHT: Did you grow up around fandom: costuming, cons, etc.?

CR: I grew up around a particular kind of fandom, gamers, and attended a few cons there, such as Gencon. But it wasn’t until 2004 that I went to my first SF con – DragonCon in Atlanta. After that, I was hooked, and the next year I tried one of our local cons, Norwescon, which is held each year here in Seattle.

SFFWRTCHT: When did you get interested in writing yourself?

CR: My family (and I) always assumed I’d be a writer since a) I was such an avid reader and b) my paternal grandmother wrote YA sports novels under the name H.D. Francis. When I was 12 or 13, I got an electric typewriter for Christmas, and I banged out a lot of verbiage, much of game-related, on that little Selectric.

SFFWRTCHT: Did you study writing/editing craft in college? Do workshops? Learn as you go?

CR: I took writing classes as an undergraduate, and then went on to get an MA from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins, where I studied with John Barth and Stephen Dixon. In 2005, I attended Clarion West, which really set me on the path, and since then I’ve taken workshops wherever I could, including ones with Karen Joy Fowler, John Crowley, John Kessel, etc. I’m taking one this October from Stephen Graham Jones on unorthodox forms, and really looking forward to it.

SFFWRTCHT: How long until your first sale and what was it?

CR: I had a very sad and emo poem published when I was eight…. but story-wise, my first sale was a piece called “Reminiscences of Planet Crabby,” to a literary magazine called Asylum in 1990. You can find the piece on my website.

SFFWRTCHT: How and when did you get interested in editing?

CR: I worked on the school newspaper, both in high school and college, which was where I first learned how much a good editor could improve a piece. But it wasn’t until I started working with Fantasy Magazine that I first started thinking of myself as an editor as well as a writer.

SFFWRTCHT: Which is interesting, because I think in some ways you’re known more as an editor than writer in SFF at least until recently. When did the position at Fantasy Magazine come about? That’s how I first heard your name.

CR: Sean Wallace approached me about editing it in the fall of 2007, I believe, at Jeff VanderMeer’s suggestion. I had had a couple of pieces accepted (and a number rejected) at Fantasy, so Sean was familiar with my writing style and I agreed to give it a shot.

SFFWRTCHT: What were the highlights/benefits of editing Fantasy for you as both editor and as a writer?

CR: It gave me a taste of what it’s like on the other side of the slush pile, which is an experience I recommend for any writer. After you’ve done that, you know what it’s like, and you’ve got a much better understanding of what a rejection means. It also allowed me to meet a lot of fellow writers and editors and exposed me to a wide range of writing.

SFFWRTCHT: How has editing informed your writing?

CR: Much like critiquing, editing has forced me to figure out and articulate my own philosophy. Often I’ve been able to apply lessons (mostly about what to trim) learned from editing someone else’s story to my own writing.

SFFWRTCHT: What qualities do you look for in stories you buy? (is there any easy answer? LOL)

CR: With Fantasy, I used to read through all the stories the slush readers had passed up and then go away for a day or two. If, when I came back, I remembered the story, it made it through that winnowing phase. So memorability and interesting language are both high on my list of criteria. I think good stories talk about what the human experience is like, so stories that speak to that are more likely to win me over than fluffier pieces.

SFFWRTCHT: You also teach classes on writing and editing, etc. How did that come about?

CR: Louise Marley was teaching a class on Writing F&SF at Bellevue College and when she decided she didn’t have enough time for it, she asked me if I would be interested. She recommended me and so I started teaching there. I found people kept saying wistfully, “Gee, I wish you taught in my area” and when I saw how easy Google Hangouts were to use, I started teaching an online version. I loved it enough to want to come up with other classes, so I’ve tried to pay attention to what people were interested in and create classes around that content, such as the editing class and a class on building an online presence for writers.

SFFWRTCHT: Is this your full time work or do you keep day jobbery?

CR: I take freelancing projects where I can find them, but I think of writing as my main job. :)

SFFWRTCHT: Tell us about the two collections you have coming out: Near + Far. It’s your first SF collection, correct?

CR: It’s actually one book, in the old Ace Double format, with the near future SF on one side and the far future SF stories on the other. It’s my first SF collection, so I’m very excited about it.

SFFWRTCHT: I really love the covers, by the way, did you have much input with the artist on those?

CR: Sean Counley read the two parts of the book and referenced them in the covers. I didn’t have to ask him to change a thing. :)

SFFWRTCHT: You had your editing classes suggest possible story TOC orders. How hard was it to decide how to organize Near + Far in that way? Was it different/harder than doing so with things you’re editor not writer of?

CR: Working on the ToC coincided with the editing class I was teaching at the time, so it seemed a natural exercise to have the students read through it and come up with an order for the stories as well as explain their reasoning behind the ordering. That gave me a lot of input when I sat down to create the final order, which was hard, because I love all the stories and want people to read every single one first – which isn’t possible, unfortunately.

SFFWRTCHT: Do these collections contain all of your short stories which have been sold? Did you pick the best (choosing babies)? Throw in some new favorites which were homeless?

CR: Many of the stories have appeared elsewhere, but there are some that are original to the book, because I did want to make sure people would encounter some new stuff. I actually had written one which recently appeared on Escape Pod (, “Grandmother,” which was space opera, which I had to cut because of length. The hardest part was figuring out what should be omitted, because if we’d left everything in, the book would have easily been twice the size. It does have some of my favorite stories in there.

SFFWRTCHT: Can you tease us a little bit about a few of the stories and tell us where to find the book?>

CR: Teasers? Sure! One story’s a retelling of Carson McCuller’s “Good Country Folk,” as told on a planet where everyone is made out of porcelain. Another’s an expanded version of “Bus Ride to Mars,” my Canterbury Tales tribute, whose short version originally appeared in Daily Science Fiction. One of the cool things about the book is that it incorporates interior art from a longtime friend, and that, along with the immaculate book design that Tod McCoy and Vicki Saunders are responsible for, makes it a thing of beauty.

You can buy it on Amazon here: Near + Far or via Hydra House, the publisher, here:

SFFWRTCHT: What’s your writing/editing time like? Do you set specific schedules, word count, etc. or does it vary? 

CR: My goal is 2000 words a day. Sometimes I make it, sometimes I don’t. I don’t beat myself up about the days I don’t, but I know that the more I write, the easier it is to write, so I try to keep myself in the groove. I’ve found that mornings are my most productive time, along with the late afternoon, so I try to defend that time with tooth and nail.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you have rituals? Use Scrivener or special software? Listen to music? Etc.

CR: I often write by hand, which I like because it slows things down and makes me pay attention to the sentences. I can’t listen to music with words I can understand, so I have a lot of world music on my writing soundtrack.

SFFWRTCHT: Any plans to write a novel? What projects are you working on that we can look forward to?

CR: I’m working on a rewrite of a fantasy novel, The Moon’s Accomplice, right now, which is intended as the first of a trilogy and is set in a place that many of my stories explore, the seaport of Tabat. I’ve written a couple of others, but none have made it to print yet.

SFFWRTCHT: Besides freelance editing, do you have plans to edit any anthologies or projects any time soon?

CR: I do have a couple of editing projects I’d like to tackle. One’s an anthology Joselle Vanderhooft and I have been tossing around, and the other’s an anthology of superhero fiction. I’m pondering a Kickstarter for the latter, perhaps early next year.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun, forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.