At Readercon in Boston this past July, at a Codex Writers’ Group lunch, I was introduced to Cat Rambo. Cat Rambo’s stories have been described as “works of urban mythopoeia”, a mashup of mythology and urban fantasy. 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. Her stories have appeared in Asimov’s, Weird Tales, Clarkesworld, and Strange Horizons, plus several anthologies and Year’s Best collections. On top of all that, she’s the managing editor at Fantasy Magazine. Despite her editing, writers group, and authoring efforts, she managed to find some time to talk to yours truly about the writing life.
TH: Can you give a brief arc of your career as a writer/author?
CR: When I graduated from college, I went off to the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars in Baltimore, where I had the great privilege of studying with John Barth and Steve Dixon. Post-grad I started part-time teaching here and there, but ended up getting swayed over to technical writing, which was significantly more lucrative than teaching fiction, and had health benefits to boot.
I ended up in Seattle working for Microsoft. A few years later, my spouse offered to pay the mortgage for a while to let me go off to Clarion West and then focus on fiction. Since then, I’ve had a couple of dozen stories published, collaborated on a collection called THE SURGEON’S TALE AND OTHER STORIES, published a solo collection with Paper Golem Press called EYE LIKE SKY AND COAL AND MOONLIGHT, finished one fantasy novel and one YA, and become managing editor of FANTASY MAGAZINE (http://www.fantasy-magazine.com). Who knows what comes next?
TH: What is The Story of Cat? Is it a novel? A short story? A work of urban mythopoeia?
CR: It is exceedingly complicated and sometimes obscure free verse, with far too many literary references and a propensity for the surreal.
TH: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you know?
CR: Actually, my grandmother wrote YA fiction, and as the oldest grandchild, it was always sort of assumed that I would write. I learned to read at an early age, and that love of reading reinforced my desire to write. As far as how I knew – I just kept doing it, writing poems, stories, etc.
TH: Every writer has things they would like to accomplish, e.g. first sale, next sale, first novel sale, first bestseller, etc. What accomplishment are you striving for right now?
CR: I’m working at getting an agent for my fantasy novel, THE MOON’S ACCOMPLICE! Cross your fingers for me!
TH: Do you remember what the stories and poems you wrote as a child were like?
CR: I think the earliest was a saga of myself and a bunch of magical horses defending our kingdom from the evil land of Brutescurl. The majority of the story was the list of horses’ names. I wrote a lot of poetry, most of it unrhymed.
TH: Do you have any writing stuck away somewhere that will never see the light of day, but nevertheless helped you build your skill to publishable?
CR: Tons! Lots of it was for the game I worked with for a long time, Armageddon MUD, in the form of building objects, rooms, and characters for it. I’ve got the novel I finished at Hopkins, which involves superheroes and probably will stay hidden, unless I ever get a wild hair and decide to rework it.
TH: What are some of the things that inspire you?
CR: Other writers, both literary and genre. People — there’s a lot of historical figures I admire and look to for models. Trees.
TH: What historical figures do you find most fascinating?
CR: I find the people who dared to do things the most fascinating. I have a great fondness for the 19th century, in part because of the historical figures like Victoria Woodhull and P.T. Barnum.
TH: Who do you like to read?
CR: I read tons. People whose work I look for include Daniel Abraham, L. Timmel DuChamp, Kelley Eskridge, Jasper Fforde, Rachel Swirsky, Lilith St. Crow, Rob Thurman, Jeff VanderMeer.
I also reread a great deal. I just finished going through Stephen King’s The Stand, the unabridged version, for the 6th or 7th time. (Half of those are the abridged version.) I think King’s a master and I like going through and seeing how he does things. Every time I learn something new. This time I was looking at how he uses multiple points of view. My shelf of books I return to again and again include Aristophanes, Jane Austen, Djuna Barnes, Marion Zimmer Bradley, the Brontes, Ivy Compton Burnett, Italo Calvino, Geoffrey Chaucer, Samuel R. Delany, Phillip K. Dick, Charles Dickens, Carol Emshwiller, Robert Heinlein, Homer, Tove Janson, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Tanith lee, H. P. Lovecraft, A. A. Milne, Michael Moorcock, S. J. Perelman, Sappho, William Shakespeare, the Strugatski brothers, Thomas Burnett Swann, James Tiptree Jr., James Thurber, J.R.R. Tolkein, Diane Wynne Jones. I am sure I’m missing some from that list.
TH: What about the writing process most appeals to you? What is the most fun?
CR: I love the periods of immersion, when the writing is flowing quickly and freely and interestingly.
TH: Have your reached the point at which you realized that you had “made it” as a writer and author? If so, can you describe the milestone or circumstances where you had that realization? Do you recall how that felt? If not, what is the milestone you’re seeking?
CR: Ha! I don’t think I’ve “made it” as a writer yet, I’m still in the very early stages as far as I’m concerned. A published novel is my next goal.
TH: Some say that professional writers have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Do you take that approach?
CR: I think that’s increasingly true, in part because of the way bookstores and publishers work nowadays. I’ve just been reading about this in BOOKLIFE by Jeff VanderMeer, which spends some time talking about how a writer can shape their own careers, and branding is part of that if we want to make a living at it.
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future? What are you working on?
CR: I’m finishing up the final draft of a YA fantasy novel, called PHAT FAIRY. It talks about body image and issues of insecurity as well as the democratization of Fairyland. And I’m in the preliminary stages of the next project, a horror/coming of age novel tentatively titled QUEEN OF THE FIREFLIES.
I’m also teaching and doing some readings. I’ll be leading a one-day workshop on F&SF next March as well as at Bellevue Community College again.
TH: What do you want to have accomplished ten years from now?
CR: I’d like to have at least a few novels published, and to have taken Fantasy Magazine to the point where it’s the leader in the field.
TH: As an editor at Fantasy magazine, you’ve seen tons of manuscripts. What advice can you give writers trying to break in? What are the most common mistakes that fledgling writers make?
CR: Really look at your story’s first three paragraphs. You HAVE to do something in those that makes the reader want to keep going. That section bears a lot of weight in a story: it establishes the world, it introduces the POV and the main character, it provides some signal to the conflict in the story, it establishes the tone and lets the reader get their bearings in the world of the story.
TH: What is the most memorable moment (good, bad, or other) you have had in your life as an author?
CR: Reading with Samuel R. Delany as part of the Clarion West reading at the KGB Bar in NYC this summer. Delany’s THE FALL OF THE TOWERS was one of the first pieces of “adult” sf I ever read, and it blew my mind, to the point where I read it five or six times. Being able to share an event with one of my heroes was incredible.
Being the Author GoH at Confusion earlier this year was another huge moment, and tons of fun. The Confusion folks throw a great con, and there were many memorable moments, including a pirate ship floating through the halls and a face-off between pirates and a zeppelin crew.
TH: Is there anything else you would like to talk about that I haven’t mentioned?
CR: If I had to be a tree, I would be a conifer of some kind.