Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Feature: Interview with Cat Rambo

Every Tuesday, I'll have a feature article posted.

Cat Rambo's fiction has appeared in several venues including Clarkesworld, Asimov's, Weird Tales, Strange Horizons, Fantasy Magazine, as well as her collaboration with Jeff Vandermeer in The Surgeon's Tale and Other Stories. She is currently the fiction editor of Fantasy Magazine.

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. How did you come up with your setting Tabat? Do you have notes about the world in a notebook or do you make it up as you go?

Tabat was originally the setting for a online game that I worked on which never made it to release. The guy who was organizing the project lost a bunch of the files in a server crash, and a few years later I recreated some of it for a different project that also never got finished. I ended up putting a few stories in that world, starting with "The Bear" (Aiofe's Kiss) and followed by "The Dead Girl's Wedding March" (Fantasy Magazine), "The Bumblety's Marble" (Paper Cities), "Sugar" (Fantasy), "A Key Decides Its Destiny" (Say...What's the Combination?), "In the Lesser Southern Isles" (Black Sails), "Events at Fort Plentitude" (Weird Tales), and "I'll Gnaw Your Bones, the Manticore Said" (Clarkesworld). With each story, the world became more and more real in my head, but I haven't compiled any sort of formal set of notes about it.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Before accepting the position at Fantasy Magazine, did you ever consider the possibility of being an editor?

My family always assumed I'd be a writer for two reasons: 1) it was presumed I'd follow in the footsteps of my grandmother, who wrote YA sports novels and 2) I was a totally voracious reader. I'd read just about anything. Before accepting the Fantasy Magazine position, I hadn't contemplated becoming an editor before joining Fantasy, but I've found I really enjoy working with writers to find and publish great stories.

What's your writing process like?

I get up in the morning and sort of piddle around for a bit answering e-mail before tackling writing. I try to keep my butt in chair for at least five or six hours a day, and my dream is a steady 2,000 words a day. In reality, that varies a lot more. I do a lot of my writing by hand because I like the way it makes me look at the sentences, both as I'm writing them and then later as I transcribe them. I usually write in large sketchbooks, because I like having a sizeable page that I can make later notations on.

What's currently the status of your novel, The Moon's Accomplice? Do you one day hope to transition to churning out novels or are you comfortable with sticking to short stories and releasing the occasional novel now and then?

I am finishing up the last polish of The Moon's Accomplice and am sending it off within the next couple of weeks to an agent that has expressed an interest in seeing it. Then I have another collaboration with Jeff VanderMeer, a novel titled Moot, that I have been picking away at and can now put more steady time into, along a couple of other collaborations and another novel that I'm sketching out in my head right now, with the working title The Legacy of Lola Montez. I would like to be working faster on novels, certainly, and I've got a bunch jostling around on the Someday List. I do like doing short stories, but I've found the novel more satisfying in terms of being able to deeply describe character and circumstance. You can digress a bit in a novel, and I'm enjoying that.

How did you get involved with Fantasy Magazine?

When Fantasy first opened as a market, I started submitting stories there. They bounced the first four or five, but encouragingly, and eventually they took "The Dead Girl's Wedding March" in 2007. At World Fantasy that year, I made sure I got a chance to chat with Sean and kept on sending him stories. When he was looking around for a new co-editor, a couple of people suggested me. I had some doubts at first, because I wasn't sure how much time the magazine would take., but I've managed to finish the novel, so I have fewer doubts. Although I always wish I had more time.

When it comes to editing, you suggested that in a blog entry that one either strips the names off manuscripts or be aware of one's biases. Do you strip the names from the submissions you receive and if not, what are your own reader biases and what steps do you take to overcome them?

I don't strip names mainly because I don't have a good process for doing so, or the time. We're taking on a slush reader soon and if I can figure out a way to do it that doesn't consume a lot of time, I may have them start doing that. I do two things to try to prevent gender bias: 1) I look at my patterns so if I notice them swinging in a direction that I consider unfair, I can consciously try to remedy that and 2) when everything else is equal, i.e. I have two stories that are identical in terms of quality, I pick the story written by someone outside the white male heterosexual tradition. That, to me, is what affirminative action is about, and not the straw man that gets trotted out whenever conservatives hear the term, where stuff of lesser quality is picked over better things. That's simply not what happens.

As an editor, what do you look for in a story?

Connie Willis told my Clarion West class that a good story teaches us what it means to be human, and I've always thought that was a great way to put it. I love language and linguistic play, but it has to be backed up with a good solid story. I usually have a batch that I'm thinking about. The ones that I remember, that stick with me when I go back to look are generally what will be left when I winnow that batch again.

In Fantasy Magazine, you're listed as Fiction Editor. What exactly are your designated tasks in the publication? The site has also have a major revamp, everything from a new layout to new features like podcasts and a YouTube channel. What was your participation in such changes?

I read everything that comes in, and sort it out. I'll recommend a set of stories, usually about 15-20 out of the 250 we get, to Sean and we'll read through those, discuss them, and take 3-4. I do some soliciting stories and trying to think of ways to keep making the magazine a showcase for the new fantasy being written today.

The FABULOUS website revamp was done by the very talented Matt Kressel, producer of Paper Cities and Sybil's Garage in conjunction with our dynamic and energetic Managing Editor K. Tempest Bradford. While Sean and I provided feedback, they were the team doing all the work.

You're one of the more prolific podcast authors in the sense that aside from having your fiction available as a podcast, you also read other people's stories. How did your interests in podcasts come about?

I am a big technology geek and I'm also fascinated by the way media has become more and more available to people. You have things like YouTube that are primarily produced by non-professionals, for example. Machinima, for another example, which are animations done using videogame clips have become an artform, produced by creative people who like messing around with technology. So I wanted to play around with podcasts and produce some of my own. I think that the audience for podcasts is not necessarily the same as the one for the textual word, and that savvy writers should (and many are!) pursue this new audience.

I've also always been someone who likes to read aloud. For my first few years of grad school, I didn't have a television, and my spouse and I read aloud in the evenings for entertainment, switching back and forth. We read all of the Lord of the Rings, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, a Fuentes novel, Dracula...tons of stuff, and it was a lot of fun. We'd also have potluck dinners and do group readings of Shakespeare plays afterwards.

Are there any preparations that you do before reading out a story? What's your recording process like?

I usually read the story out loud once beforehand and look up the pronunciation of any names or words I'm uncertain of. The Internet is AWESOME for that, because I can go find sound clips and hear exactly how it should be pronounced. After that, I turn off things that hum, close the windows, and use a microphone plugged into my computer. I keep a glass of water by me, because my throat gets dry. I read through once, repeating lines that I flub up on, and then do a pass where I edit out background noise and the parts where I flubbed up. I use the free software Audacity to do that, and Audacity will then export the file into .wav or .pm3 format for me.

In your opinion, is there a significant difference in listening to a story as opposed to reading it? How much time to do you spend listening to podcasts?

There is a significant difference for me in terms of time -- I can read a story on the page much quicker than listening to it. But beyond that, the listener experiences the words in a different way, catching things like rhythm and rhyme differently than if they were experiencing the text visually.

How do you think podcasts have affected the genre? How will it affect fiction in general in the future?

If there's a shift to podcasts -- and I'm not sure that this will occur -- I would expect more attention to the dynamics and pleasures of the spoken word, and perhaps a slight shift away from forms that depend on visual cues. But I think that the people listening to podcasts may be a somewhat different audience than the people reading, either online or in hard copy.

You recently set up I Like Podcasts. Can you tell us more about it and what made you decide to establish it?

I set up ILikePodcasts.com as an experiment. I have been listening to and creating more podcasts, and I wanted a way to consolidate some of the links I ran across as well as a place to promote my own material. I'd like to eventually turn the site into a streaming radio show devoted to speculative fiction.

What for you constitutes a great podcast?

A great podcast is a pleasure to listen to. The reader isn't so entranced by their own voice that it gets in the way of the story, but they read it with understanding and a fondness for the story.

What are some of your favorite podcasts?

I'm very fond of the Escape Pod, PodCastle, and PseudoPod family and have both done some reading for them and had them produce a few of my stories. I recently started listening to James Patrick Kelly's podcasts after meeting him at ReaderCon. Subterranean also does some very high quality audio versions of stories.

How did you get into Armageddon MUD? Are there any experiences there that proved valuable when it comes to writing or as a fiction editor?

I started working with Armageddon MUD when I was in grad school, first as a player, and then eventually as a staff member after I'd started doing some writing for the game. It's been a consuming interest for close to two decades now, and I could write a book on what all I've learned from it. I think more than anything, though, it's taught me that professionalism is almost always the right response, that some people become jerks when anonymous, and to always take a deep breath and wait before replying to things that make me angry.

Writing wise, I think game writing helped me fine-tune some of my description skills as well as focusing on how to make sentences efficient, atmospheric, and informative.

Between writing, editing, podcasting, your freelance work, and Armageddon, how do you manage to juggle all of those? Which consumes the most time or which one is most draining?

I actually feel like I'm always neglecting something, and so I've been trying to figure out how to cut down on some of this, and doing less freelancing and more fiction. I have a note to myself written on my office white board: "It's okay to turn down projects." any of those areas can handle as much time as I'm willing to put into them.

I've been neglecting Armageddon while finishing the novel, and my plan next with it is to try to connect with some fanfic sites, because I think those writers would find an awesome backdrop for the stories that they want to tell within the game.

Because I'm a geek, what RPGs did you play when growing up? Any particular favorites and did it have any impact on your writing?

I started playing D&D around age 10 and didn't stop regularly gaming until my mid-twenties, when I moved away from my regular gaming group, and I actually had a gaming session instead of a bridal shower at one point. I've tried a lot of different games and favorites include Call of Cthulhu, RuneQuest, Champions, Paranoia, and Toon. I know that roleplaying pushed me towards game-writing, and I still do some gaming. I'm writing a module for DESCENT this month, actually, which is a lot of fun. I'd rather be on the side of creating things than playing, though, nowadays.

What advice do you have more aspiring writers?

Read lots and write lots. Look closely at your own writing and be unafraid of confronting your weaknesses or lacks. Put emotion in your stories, genuine emotion drawn from the pains and joys of your own life. And send stuff out -- you can't get published unless you're actively sending stuff out.

How about advice for aspiring editors?

Read lots, again. Be polite and professional and honor your commitments. Be aware of your own biases.

Advice for aspiring podcasters?

Get a decent mike and turn off the refrigerator.

Anything else you'd like to plug?

Fantasy Magazine, my book The Surgeon's Tale and Other Stories, Armageddon, ILikePodcasts.com -- I think we've covered it all!

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