Story: Red in Tooth and Cog

That’s the problem with self-repairing, self-charging appliances—they go feral.”This story originally appeared in the March/April 2016 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. It is the story referenced here. It is approximately 7100 words in length.

Red in Tooth and Cog

A phone can be so much. Your memory, your edge against boredom, your source of inspiration. There’s always an app for whatever you need. Renee valued her phone accordingly, even celebrating it by giving way to the trend for fancy phone-cases. Its edges were bezeled with bling she’d won on a cruise the year before, and she’d had some tiny opals, legacy of her godmother, set into the center.

It was an expensive, new-model phone in a pretty case, and that was probably why it was stolen.

Renee was in the park near work. A sunny day, on the edge of cold, the wind carrying spring with it like an accessory it was testing for effect.

She set her phone down on the bench beside her as she unfolded her bento box, foil flaps levering back to reveal still-steaming rice, quivering tofu.

Movement caught her eye. She pulled her feet away as a creature leaped up onto the bench slats beside her, an elastic-band-snap’s worth of fear as it grabbed the phone, half as large as the creature itself, and moved to the other end of the bench.

The bento box clattered as it hit the path, rice grains spilling across the grey concrete.

Renee thought the creature an animal at first, but it was actually a small robot, a can opener that had been greatly and somewhat inexpertly augmented and modified. It had two corkscrew claws, and grasshopper legs made from nutcrackers to supplement the tiny wheels on its base, originally designed to let it move to hand as needed in a kitchen. Frayed raffia wrapped its handles, scratchy strands feathering out to weathered fuzz. Its original plastic had been some sort of blue, faded now to match the sidewalk beneath her sensible shoes.

The bench jerked as the robot leaped again, moving behind the trashcan, still carrying her phone. She stood, stepping over the spilled rice to try to get to it, but the rhododendron leaves thrashed and stilled, and her phone was gone.
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And For My Next Trick: AKA The Amazing Disappearing Nebula Nomination

Picture of Cat Rambo in a Cthulhu ski mask.

There’s power in looking silly and not caring that you do. -Amy Poehler


Short version: I’ve withdrawn my story from the Nebula ballot. Many congratulations to Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, whose excellent story The Orangery replaces it on the ballot.

Long version: One of the best parts of being SFWA President or Vice President is that you get to be one of the people calling the Nebula nominees to tell them what’s up. This is a lot of fun because giving people good news is almost always a terrific experience. I’ve ever gotten to call former students on occasion, and thought my heart would burst from joy, because that is a terrific feeling.

This year I woke on February 16, the day we would be making the calls, to find a message from our Nebula Awards Commissioner asking me to give her a call. I did, and she presented me with news that both delighted and horrified me, that my novelette, “Red in Tooth and Cog,” was on the ballot.

Delighted, because I like that story, and think it’s a good one. A number of people whose opinion I value highly have expressed praise for it, and it’s also something that represents a victory for me. I was grimly determined to be published in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction – it was a publication that represented an enormous milestone to me – and that acceptance was my 44th submission to the magazine over the course of 12 years. It wasn’t that the other stories were bad ones. One of them, “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain,” even went on to become a Nebula nominee in 2013.

And horrified, because I don’t want things to look like the Nebulas are motivated by concerns other than literary excellence, and it seemed to me that this could look like that since I have engendered a little popularity while President, mainly because I am so goddamn personable. And I was sure there would be a certain amount of grumbling about it. So before we moved forward, I had to decide whether or not to withdraw it
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Reading Doc Savage: Quest of Qui

IMG_1897Cassy, in the process of shedding a box of Doc Savage novels, found out I loved them and passed them along. I remember Doc and his men fondly; while at my grandparents for a Kansas summer when I was twelve or thirteen, I found my uncle’s old books, which included a pretty complete run of the Bantam reprints and reveled in them for years to come.

I’m going back and rereading while making notes because I loved and still love these books; my hope is that I’ll start to notice some patterns as I move through the books and that I’ll be able to talk about pulp tropes, gender assumptions, reading fiction aimed at a gender other than your own, and writerly techniques in an entertaining and (maybe) useful way. I’ll go consecutively by issue date of the ones I have; I will go back and fill in earlier ones as I run across the books. I don’t envision doing a post of this kind more than once a week; this one turned out close to six thousand words.

So let us begin.
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Let the Wild Rumpus Continue: Running for SFWA President Again

photo of Cat Rambo with flowers

Still smiling after several years of this. 😉

I am running for SFWA President again. Here is my platform statement.

Dear SFWA members:

I think a proven track record’s a pretty good credential for the Presidential position, and so I propose you let me steer for another couple years, and after that, I’m going to take a year off volunteer work. Maybe do one of the cargoship cruises.

Here’s the stuff I’ve managed to do for SFWA over the past two and a half years. You could probably go back through the various Presidential letters in The Bulletin and get better detail but here are highlights.

  • Worked with Operations Director Kate Baker to help her establish policies and procedures that advance the organization’s mission. Members will have noticed, for example, the implementation of the Singularity, the electronic newsletter that lets you know the latest and most important/interesting information from the organization. I feel strongly that establishing an operations director who really drives the organization overall, rather than relying on the random and sometimes wildly varying commitment levels of the President and Vice President is a good move, and I look forward to seeing the amazing stuff that Kate will do in coming years, based on the way she’s kicked ass so far.
  • Due to the hard work of our fabulous financial team of Bud Sparhawk and Oz Drummond, I saw us through a financial crisis that could have taken down the organization and didn’t. The board and I worked to enable Oz and Bud to create a financial plan that will keep us going another 50 years. There’s been trimming, brainstorming, and general flensing of the budget, while additional sources of revenue have been developed and are starting to produce results. So far the biggest casualty of that crisis has been the NY reception. Another reason I’m running is that I promised the reception wouldn’t go away permanently and I’m still working on getting that back for us.
  • Got Derek Kunskën running smoothly as our Volunteer Wrangler. We’ve gone from a situation where volunteer emails weren’t consistently getting acknowleged to one where they’re getting answers and finding spots in the organization where their volunteer efforts can make a real difference. In talking to Griefcom the other day, its head said that the Committee was fully staffed for the first time in his memory, and actually also had two people shadowing members in order to learn how to do it. Volunteers are also being recognized for their efforts; I hope to see some of you at the Volunteer recognition breakfast at the Nebulas .
  • Recruited Maggie Hogarth as VP, so I will take indirect credit for the ton of great work she’s done but say that it is really all her effort that makes her such an outstanding team member. Indie writers, Maggie has been consistently looking out for your interests and making sure you are always represented in discussions. She’s driven community efforts, formed the Outreach Committee, worked with the Nebula Programming team to get representatives of companies like Amazon, Kobo, Patreon, etc there, set up the NetGalley program, and been an amazing ally.
  • The Speakers Bureau is up and running, SFWA has been publicizing it via flyers at ALA and other academic conferences and it’s got almost 200 members listed there.
  • The EMF process has been thoroughly looked at in order to make it easier for the members to use and is being revamped, including figuring out how to make a portion open to professional speculative fiction writers who are not members, which I expect to see happen within the next month. This hasn’t been entirely smooth, but the end result has been greater clarity and unity of purpose among our EMF stewards.
  • Putting stuff in to provide for the future. This has been one of my biggest foci: looking at existing processes and groups and trying to make sure they’ll last. Most of the important volunteer roles now have understudies or shadows making sure that if the volunteer has to step down, someone is ready and prepared. We are writing things down. Conversations that used to be held in email are instead happening on the boards or in Evernote, where they are preserved. If I had to point to one issue that I thought was hampering SFWA when I came on board, it would be the lack of institutional memory and the way I kept hitting the sad carcasses of abandoned or lost projects that had gotten lost in the mists somewhere along the way. This is, in my opinion, no longer a problem. Huzzah!
  • SFWA membership cards. I actually can take no credit for that, it was all Michael Capobianco and Kate, but I mailed out a bajillion, thanks to the friends who came and helped assemble them and Caren Gussoff, who did the actual mailing.

Cat Rambo and Connie Willis

Connie Willis, SFWA Grandmaster and one of the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund Committee members.

In looking back at the Presidential platform I ran on two years ago and seeing whether or not I lived up to it:

  • SFWA’s “brand,” to employ vile marketing jargon, has grown, and what’s nice about that is that we’re continuing to acquire new members, many of whom immediately put energy in the discussion forums and volunteering.
  • Institutional memory is being better preserved. The Operations Procedures and Practices Manual still needs to be delivered, so there’s still a ways to go, but our new Director-at-Large Erin Hartshorn recently took this on.
  • Volunteer system as noted above.
  • Indie writers are joining and contributing. For example, Jonathan Brazee is helping make sure that this year’s Nebula programming has plenty of panels of use to independently publishing peeps.
  • Communication remains an ongoing goal, but is substantially better.

What to Expect From Two More Rambo Years

Photo of Cat Rambo with Dark Vader and stormtrooper

Preparing to take on even more challenges ahead.

What am I hoping to get done that I haven’t already? This is a tough list because I regard the fact that a number of things aren’t farther along as a failure on my part, but here we go.

  • Better integration of the game writers, because I think we’ve really fallen short so far and need to do better.
  • Getting the finances to a point where the annual Reception can be brought back, although I’d like to see it alternating between East and West Coast.
  • Movement on health care. We’ve got a task force exploring it. Our best bet may be teaming up with another organization, but this remains to be seen.
  • Seeing The SFWA Bulletin on a regular schedule.
  • Get the Preserve Your Legacy campaign, aimed at celebrating Bud Webster’s memory while giving writers the resources they need to set up their literary estate, launched.
  • Continuing to put in processes. One of the things I’ve worked hard at is passing on what I know of corporate management, and trying to make sure we are consistently working at a professional level.
  • Continuing to build relationships with other organizations, including other writers organizations as well as publishing and marketing partners.
  • More and better outreach to potential new members.
  • Continued advocacy for writers, like the recent statement about magazines trying to monetize writers.
  • Ponies for everyone. A pony in every pot. Pot for your pony. Scalzi will smoke pot with your pony. Membership cards, integrity, and whimsy.

This is an update of my statement of two years ago as to why I’m qualified.

Photo of speculative fiction writer Cat Rambo with Cinderella's Wicked Stepmother at Disneyworld.

In my position as SFWA President, sometimes I have had to confer with fictional characters.

I’ve got decent people skills and a solid work ethic. When it comes to the various factions that clash occasionally, I’ve got friends on most sides and pride myself on trying to listen and understand where people are coming from. I try to unite rather than divide, and to lead by example. I frequently touch base with other members of the SFWA team and work well with them, including weekly Google Hangout sessions, texts, and phone calls. I don’t take myself particularly seriously (most of the time), have no problem admitting when I’m wrong, and try to learn from both my mistakes and what other people pass along.

I’ve worked as both a writer and an editor. I have over 200 fiction publications, including in such places as Asimov’s, Weird Tales, and, and five collections (four solo, one with Jeff VanderMeer). I just turned in my second novel to the publisher (Wordfire Press) and am working on the third in the series. I’m a hybrid author, working in both traditional and independent publishing.

My short story, “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain,” was a 2012 Nebula nominee, while other works have been nominated for the Locus Award and the Million Writers Award. I was the editor for several years of award-winning Fantasy Magazine, receiving a 2012 World Fantasy nomination for my efforts there, and I guest-edited Lightspeed Magazine’s Women Destroy Fantasy issue. I have worked as a volunteer with multiple speculative fiction organizations, including Broad Universe and the Clarion West Writers Workshop.

I teach a popular series of online classes on writing and editing and do some podcast narration, and have written a book on how writers can best use their online presence to sell books.

I am a frequent convention-goer and make a point of organizing or participating in SFWA activities when they’re available at such gatherings. This year, I will be attending ICFA, Emerald City ComicCon, Norwescon, the Nebula Award ceremony, the Locus Awards, Worldcon, DragonCon, and FenCon.

I’m running because it seems to me in these tumultuous times people need to be stepping up and leading. If I want other people to be volunteering time, I have to show it’s a task I’m willing to take on too. If I were grading my performance over the last year and a half, it’s a solid B. I’ve done some solid stuff, but I’ve also dropped a few balls. I’d like to get some more stuff finished up before the grade is in. And, selfishly, I love the team and would miss the hell out of that weekly videocall where we touch base.

Peace out,


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Nattering Social Justice Cook: How to Prepare to Protest

Picture of Cat Rambo

And we’re off!

If you are one of the many of us going off to protest, to bear witness, to object, then I want you to be prepared.


  • Make sure someone knows you are going, and that they will check in if they haven’t heard from you by the end of the night. Preferably someone who would be willing to come stand bail for you in a pinch. Have their phone number memorized; not just in your phone.
  • Know what your rights are. Review these cards and have them on you so you know how to deal with the police.

Things to Take With You:

  • A bottle of water
  • Food
  • Comfortable shoes
  • Layers
  • A fully charged phone, and preferably a backup battery
  • A backpack that includes a first-aid kit, any medication that you cannot do without, and whatever basics you might pack for an emergency overnight trip, water-based baby wipes, eye drops
  • ID
  • Enough money to buy food/make a phone call, whatever
  • A sealed plastic bag containing a bandana soaked in vinegar in case of tear gas.
  • Notebook and paper.

Do not take anything with you if its loss would be devastating.

If you are planning on being on the frontline:

  • Wear goggles or shatter-resistant glasses. Rubber bullets are real bullets, encased in a rubber coating. Pepper spray has been used on protestors here in Seattle. Other possibilities are tear gas and fire hoses.
  • Wearing a backpack on your stomach with some padding, such as a change of clothing, will give you some small protection if police are jabbing batons in order to push people back.
  • You may want to think about a gas mask. Here is a simple DIY one. Here is a reasonably priced one on Amazon. Be aware that wearing that mask unnecessarily may make you a police target.

How to Act:

  • Do not respond to provocation.
  • Pick your battles.
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Anatomy of a Patreon Campaign: Thoughts on Reworking Mine

wonderwomanOne of the very last goals for this month that hasn’t been crossed off the whiteboard yet is “rework Patreon campaign.” It’s a project I’ve been circling for a while, because I’m aware that if I don’t plan carefully, I am quite capable of both overextending myself and making promises I can’t deliver on. I thought I’d show the thought process as I worked through and rearranged, the rationale behind the changes, and some of what I’ve learned from working with Patreon so far.

I started the campaign two years ago because I wanted a place to push some of the stories I was writing. In that regard, it’s been reasonably successful, and looking back, I’ve published two dozen stories that way, ranging in length from flash to novelette. Some have been publicly available, like Aardvark Says Moo, Seven Clockwork Angels, and Web of Blood and Iron, while others were limited to Patreon patrons only.

One of the interesting wrinkles that has developed is the question of stories posted only for patrons. Some magazines regard them as already published; some don’t. To my mind, the smallness of the audience makes that a no, but I clearly have a horse in that race.

I speak there not just as a writer but as SFWA President. Being able to sell that story twice nudges the finances up to the point where making a living off stories might actually be viable, depending on the cost-of-living of wherever the writer resides. And it was possible to make a living off short stories, back in the 20th century, but magazine pay rates have not kept pace with inflation, to the point where (imo) it is no longer a viable option unless you’re willing to live very stringently indeed.

Looking back over the past century, that seems indicative of a trend where increasingly money has been shifted away from the creators and moved to the businesses based on the content they create. For example, at the pay rate of .01 per word that Weird Tales had in 1926; in 2017 that’s 13 cents worth of buying power. The SFWA pro rate started at 3 cents a word; if the rate from the 60s had kept up with inflation, the current pro rate would be 25 cents a word, but it’s currently six cents — and that high only because recently the board has pushed to raise it. (My math is based on this inflation calculator, which seems to back up other calculations I’ve looked at.)
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Two New Classes for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers

Being able to trust your revision process frees you to write whatever you like.

Being able to trust your revision process frees you to write whatever you like.

Huzzah, I have finished a new class for the Rambo Academy, and I’m very happy with how it turned out. Rewriting and Revising is up at at $19, it’s a pretty good value, though newsletter subscribers should check the latest mail for a coupon for half-off that.

A new live class is happening on Friday, February 24, 2-4 PM Pacific time. How to Write Steampunk & Weird Western will cover gathering and using historical details, ethical implications of both genres, basic mechanical concepts, economic underpinnings, creating texture, dialogue considerations, and more. Plus we’ll do some fun writing exercises. This will get turned into an on-demand class as well, but I know the best way to goose myself along into developing the class in the first place is to do a live version of it, which also lets me figure out what people want to know about the topic.

I had been thinking about trying to track someone down to teach this, when it occurred to me that actually I’ve written a whole collection’s worth of steampunk, plus I’ve written a couple essays/articles about it and am reasonably well read. And, in my hubris, I also feel qualified to talk a little about the ethical implications and what it means to use the suffix -punk. I’ve also been reading huge amounts of steampunk as part of a secret project to be announced in March.

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How to Write Space Opera Class On-demand Version is All Finished Up!

I pulled this quote from Ann's class and it still seems to sum up so much.

I pulled this quote from Ann’s class and it still seems to sum up so much.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been taking the material from the live classes on how to write space opera with Ann Leckie and turning it into an on-demand class for the Rambo Academy. I am charmed and pleased with the results, and I think this will be the model for future classes. One thing I did was film an hour and a half of conversation about space opera with Ann and split it up into video clips to go with the different sections, and I am so pleased with the way the class flows, the useful resources it provides, and the overall look and feel of it.

One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it, I’ve found, because it makes you think about the material and how to assemble it. I learned a lot from listening to Ann talk, including at least two things I’ve incorporated into my own process, and I considerably swelled my own reading list in putting together one of the resources, a compilation of space opera titles.

Here’s a sample, taken from early in the class:

I’m scheming a little to add some more video to the class overall if the opportunity presents itself. I think it’d be fun to do a couple of video interviews with some of my other favorite space opera writers, like Elizabeth Moon and C.J. Cherryh, and it’d be really interesting to hear their take on some of the same points.

Next I’ll finish up doing the same thing with the rewriting and revision class. I think the video adds a lot, and one of the things I want to do with this one is get some folks talking about their own revision process.

Today I taught section 1 of the Writing F&SF Stories class starts, with sections 2 and 3 happening Wednesday and Sunday. I haven’t taught this workshop for about a year, since scheduling usually is a huge pain in the butt, but I had a slack time January through March, so I decided to do multiple sections. Each has enough students that it will be held, but I’m hoping to get a few more sign-ups in the next few days, because the classes are more fun (IMO) when we hit the critical mass of 5-6 people.

I’m also doing a Character Building Workshop on Sunday – want the super sekrit discount rate of $30? Mail me with the subject line Super Sekrit.

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WIP: Last Week’s Ghost

Picture of a coffee cupI’ve written two stories so far this week, but I think this is the one that will be the next Patreon story. Here’s how it begins.

The ghost had chosen the apartment because it was as good a place as any. His body had died in the hospital, but that place was odd and unsettling, seething with the ghosts of things other than human: bacteria and viruses and parasites. Those filled the corridors along with all the childrens’ ghosts, which he found most troubling of all.

He had spent five years altogether in the apartment, the longest he had ever lived anywhere other than his childhood home, which had been torn down decades ago. So he chose it, and furthermore chose the final week of each year, rather than enduring throughout the full 365 days.

There was something about that last week of the year, the stretch between Christmas day and New Year’s eve, that drew him. His wife lived in the apartment for a year after his death, and he stayed a great deal of time in the week, watching her write out overdue Christmas cards, her eyes red rimmed, her jaw set to avoid thinking about the thing that had devastated her.

He was sad for her in the way that ghosts are sad, an abstract and gray sympathy. Ghosts choose this state deliberately. Otherwise they can be torn apart by the grief of their loved ones. It is a choice that shames them, although all of them make it, and so he hid from her, even knowing that she could not see him.

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GoodReads Giveaway for 2 Signed Copies of Neither Here Nor There

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Neither Here Nor There by Cat Rambo

Neither Here Nor There

by Cat Rambo

Giveaway ends December 23, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

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