If the publishing industry had an award for ‘Most Prolific Writer’ or, perhaps, ‘AddictionWorthy Writing,’ then I’m pretty sure Cat Rambo would win both hands down. There could be others awards she’d take home: ‘Coolest. Name. Ever.’ or ‘Snazziest Hair Color,’ but I think Cat is deserving of awards with a bit higher regard.
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. In 2005 she attended the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop. Among the places in which her stories have appeared are ASIMOV’S, WEIRD TALES, CLARKESWORLD, and STRANGE HORIZONS, and her work has consistently garnered mentions and appearances in year’s best of 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.
She has edited anthologies as well as the critically-acclaimed Fantasy Magazine, is a board member of feminist science fiction group Broad Universe, a member of the Codex Writers’ Group, and volunteers with Clarion West.
Point being, Cat knows her stuff. In addition to an insane amount of short story and collection sales, (I’d suggest checking out Clockwork Fairies, Magnificent Pigs and The Unicorn’s Lament, some of my personal favorites), Cat is a highly sought after editor and instructor. If you’re looking to hone your craft and you want to learn from an expert in the industry, check out Cat’s blog and the in-depth workshops she offers.
In preparation for National Short Story month, (which starts today), I had the privileged to chat with Cat about her work, her writing process and why she thinks every writer should take a turn reading the slush pile.
Thanks, Cat, for your support of LitStack and, of course, for those wonderfully magical universes you create!
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Cat. We’re honored you’re here. First off, I’d love to hear about the genesis of your writing career. Have you always written? What were those early stories like?
I’ve always written, at least since I was old enough to read. I used to make my own handmade books and fill them with writing, although much of that took the form of lists of names of the horses that lived in a particular magical kingdom. My grandmother, who wrote under the name H.D. Francis, wrote YA sports novels and it was always assumed (I think because I was the oldest grandchild) that I’d follow in her footsteps. Early stories usually were fantasy, although I remember one epic that was the only fan-fic I’ve ever done: set in the world of the X-Men comic book and featuring them as they were during the John Bryne years.
Many writers struggle on their journey to publication. What was your writer’s road like and what was the greatest lesson you learned from that experience?
I started writing literary fiction and sending it out back in the days before e-mail was the norm. I got a lot of rejections and I taped them up on my wall over my desk, which was handy because it took the sting out of receiving it – if nothing else a rejection was another slip for that wall. I think that’s one of the handiest things a writer can learn early on – that rejections aren’t personal and at least they represent the fact that you’re sending stuff out, which puts you ahead of the game in the first place.
You’ve sold over 100+ stories to various journals and online magazines. Being that prolific is astounding. What’s your writing routine and has it deviated over the years?
I try to write at least 2,000 words a day because that’s what Stephen King does, and he’s a pretty good role model. Often I don’t hit that, but I also do a lot of editing and nonfic work as well as teach, so I don’t beat myself up if I don’t hit my goal on a particular day.
Do you have a favorite story you’ve published?
I really like “Worm Within” which originally appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine because I think it does a lot of interesting things. Recently I’m really happy with “A Querulous Flute of Bone,” which appeared in the Tales from the Fathomless Abyss anthology, and which is a retelling of O. Henry’s “The Pimaloosa Pancakes” as it would have occurred with a cast of gender-changing aliens, philosophically driven collectors, and a giant tube world.
Talk, if you would, a bit about creativity and imagination. You’ve given figurative birth to some uniquely wondrous universes where pigs fly, perpetual teenagers cheat death and where magical massacres are common place. Where does this creativity come from? How do you cultivate it?
Creativity results from being open to the universe and all its wonderful bizarre and sometimes joyful, sometimes heartbreaking contradictions. I cultivate it by reading, listening, and looking at what other artists are doing, by looking inside myself and trying to figure out my own processes, and by administering doses of solitude when needed.
You were the fiction editor for Fantasy Magazine. What did your time there reading submission teach you about your own writing?
I think every writer should take a stint reading slush. It teaches you a lot about how editors approach your work and how rejections happen, as well as mistakes not to make. For me, it was interesting to have the fact that sometimes stories can be great but just not fit the particular “feel” a magazine has emphasized. It’s one reason why I always look at magazines before submitting to them.
Do you find that editing takes over sometimes? Has there ever been a time where you’ve had to choose between writing and editing? If not, how do you balance both?
When I started editing, I made a conscious decision that for me the writing would always come first. That’s been a struggle sometimes. Both of my Guest of Honor appearances at conventions have been as an editor, which was unexpected for me, and I’ve written a lot about electronic publishing, usually from an editor’s perspective.
Monitoring your time and where it goes is one of the most useful things a writer can do, though it sounds tedious. I try to figure out when I’m most productive, writing-wise, and guard that time jealously.
You offer online workshops in the following: Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction Short Stories,Editing Basics, Flash Fiction Workshop and Establishing an Online Presence for Writers. What sets your workshops a part from others available? What can you offer your students?
One of the things I bring is a lot of experience as a teacher. I’ve taught all age levels, both at the university and continuing studies level as well as for the Hopkins Center for Talented Youth program. I’ve taught a number of different writing classes, most of which I’ve developed myself, and I’m a good teacher. I also bring a rounded view of the industry, and am able to give my students an editor’s perspective as well as that of a writer.
How important is editing and learning the craft of writing for new writers and do you feel, with the influx of self-publishing, that the importance of knowing the writing craft has taken a backseat to the business of publishing?
Learning the craft is very important, but honestly it’s a result of writing and thinking about writing more than any individual class. Writers should be writing. Reading is good. Taking classes and workshops is good. But the most important thing is writing.
I see a lot of self-published books. Some of them are good, even great. Others are sorely lacking and often these are people who bypassed sending stuff out and getting it rejected a few times. I think you need to go through the rock-tumbler of professional markets to really learn how to polish something to the level where the reader can just relax and enjoy it and not keep noticing that the copyeditor was asleep at the wheel.
While we’re on the subject, the scope of the publishing industry is changing. What is your opinion of the evolution of the e-book and self-publishing and their impact on the industry?
I resisted an e-reader for a long time and finally got one as a birthday present a couple of years ago. I LOVE it. The fact that I can carry around (literally) hundreds of books worth of reading in my purse is one of the coolest things about living in the 21st century.
Electronic publishing and the ease of self-publishing is something that has the big publishers freaked out and they should be – it removes one of the major things they offered writers. Will their marketing and editing offerings be enough to keep writers from radically changing the way the market works and moving to self-publishing? Maybe. I know self-publishing has the potential to make more money than through a big publisher – particularly if you rule out the rare huge advance that’s akin to winning the lottery – and as a writer who’s trying to support themselves through writing, I can’t help but approve of that.
What’s the single best advice you received about writing and publishing?
Syne Mitchell, while talking to the students at Clarion West, said, of writing advice and its many contradictions, “Try lots of stuff, find out what works, and then do that.” Genius!
So far, what’s been your proudest moment as a writer?
Beyond question, the chance to read with Samuel R. Delany in New York. I could have expired with joy on the spot. My aunt Nona found the page mentioning it in the New Yorker and framed it for me that Christmas and it’s one of the things I’d fight to rescue if chez Rambo were aflame.
Thanks for joining us, Cat!