This week, we return to our new segment, 5 Questions. We recently sat down with fantasy and sci-fi writer Cat Rambo and talked to them about their early years as a young reader, the time they served as president of the Sci-Fic and Fantasy Writers of America, and how the industry has changed.
Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Their 250+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Their most recent works are And The Last Trump Shall Sound (co-written with James Morrow and Harry Turtledove, Arc Manor) and fantasy novel Exiles of Tabat (Wordfire Press, May, 2021). Forthcoming is space opera You Sexy Thing (Tor Macmillan, September, 2021), as well as an anthology, The Reinvented Heart (Arc Manor, February, 2022), co-edited with Jennifer Brozek.
LS: Hi and welcome, Cat. We’re so happy to have you back on the site. From reading about your early life in Indiana, I know your love for books and stories began earlier on. But was there something or someone in your life that greatly influenced your choice to become a writer?
A major influence on me has been the Griffon Bookstore in South Bend, Indiana. I first stepped through its doors when I was twelve years old, and I go back each and every time I visit South Bend. I worked in it during both high school and college, and wanting to produce books that could appear on its shelves someday was a major goal.
For me, the bookstore provided a haven where it was okay to be a smart, geeky kid who was outside a lot of the norms; it’s a haven I hope to provide sometimes in my own writing.
LS: You are an incredible teacher and many, including myself, have learned so much from your workshops. What drove you to teach and what do you derive from teaching others about the craft of writing?
I got thrown into teaching when I went off to grad school at Johns Hopkins. They gave their students with teaching fellowships charge of creating their own section of a class called Contemporary American Letters, whose sole mandate was to teach bewildered freshmen how to write creatively, using a curriculum that was composed solely of works by the JHU faculty members, who at the time included John Barth, Steve Dixon, Jean McGarry, Madison Smartt Bell, and Elizabeth Spires. Somehow we all survived and I learned, a little to my surprise, that I really liked teaching, once I got past the initial jitters.
A number of years later, Louise Marley asked if I wanted to take over the Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction class she’d been teaching for a local community college. I’d been doing so for a while when Google Hangouts came along and I asked myself what it would be like to teach using those. The experiment was a huge success, and a decade later, the online school has branched out to a faculty of dozens who’ve taught for it, and students whose success has been amazing to watch.
I love that because teaching writing makes me think about my own very hard. Teaching something is one of the best ways to thoroughly learn it, because you’ve got to understand it well enough to explain it to others.
LS: The industry has changed so much since you first began publishing. Have these changes impacted the way you write or the kinds of stories you want to publish?
One of the boons of the changes, for me, has been the rise of platforms like Patreon, which lets me write whatever I want to write, rather than worrying about tailoring it to a particular niche or group of readers. I’ve been running my Patreon campaign, which is tied into both my writing and my school, for several years now, and its effect on stabilizing my income has freed me up a bit to focus on what I want to write rather than chasing freelance assignments.
LS: What was the greatest lesson you learned as SFWA president?
The most important thing I learned is that when you’re working with an entity like SFWA, with its 50+ years of history and thousands of members, it’s larger than you are. You make choices that (at the least try to) factor in all the different points of view that have gone into it, while at the same time serve the generations of members to come. When all is said and done, the organizational needs have to be placed above one’s personal wants, even if sometimes that’s not particularly what you actually want to be doing.
I’m tremendously proud of what SFWA accomplished during the five years I was on the board: we admitted independent and small press writers as well as game writers, the mentorship program was established and the Nebula conference became a major professional conference, to name just a few of the accomplishments. Being on the board certainly chewed up a lot of writing time, but it also allowed me to meet and work with so many wonderful people that it remains a highlight of my career, and I’m certain I’ll run for the board again sometime.
LS: If there was something you wish you knew about writing and publishing (two very different animals) when your career began what would that be?
I think the importance of butt in chair, being productive and persistent, sometimes gets eclipsed by the idea of a muse descending to inspire people. I’ve heard a quote attributed to Nora Roberts, “No truck driver ever comes down in the morning and says they can’t drive that day because they have truck driver’s block.” Writing is certainly an art — but it’s also a profession and sometimes you push through and write despite the fact you’d rather go play Stardew Valley for a while.