Beijing/Chengdu Trip, September 2016: Some Notes, Observations, and Images

Photo of Cat by the Great Wall.

On the Great Wall.

No matter how many words I write, I cannot hope to put the magnificence, the splendor, the kindness, the warmth, the sheer amazeballs neatness of the trip. So here are some incoherent notes, jotted down in haste because otherwise I will just keep procrastinating on the writeup and it would be a shame to do so.

General Notes and Context:

I was originally invited by the heads of the China World Science Fiction society, Renwei Dong, Haijun Yao, and Wu Yan, to attend the Chinese Nebula Awards ceremony in Beijing, through the kind offices of Ruhan Zhao. Later the invitation was extended by the company Xinhuanet for Wayne and I to then spend a week in Chengdu. It was our first trip to China; getting the visas got complicated and down to the last minute wire but finally everything arrived two days before the actual departure.

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The Fireside Fiction Report and SFWA

Abstract Image

Outside the comfort zone is where the best art lies.

I apologize for not blogging about this sooner. It’s been a busy month, and things are only getting busier, with Worldcon tomorrow and then China in September. Someone wrote asking me to comment on the Fireside Fiction report, and this is what I’ve been thinking.

Like many folks, I read the Fireside Fiction report with dismay and anger, but not a lot of surprise. We’ve been talking on the SFWA Board about the findings this past week.

What can SFWA do about it? I could go in full guns blazing and demand that every editor involved in the situation resign and threaten to take markets off the Qualified List if they don’t shape up immediately. This action would, however, probably get nipped in the bud the minute I proposed it to the rest of the board. As I’ve noted before, SFWA is slow and hard to steer. Enforcement on this level is also difficult and impractical, I think, because this selection doesn’t usually happen in the open or in an overt way.

One of the reasons I keep insisting that magazines should be reading blind is that unconscious bias plays a major part in selecting things, which has been demonstrated in study after study. Conventions should be doing panels not on why to read blind, but how to implement it in a working way. Can we insist that magazines read blind? It might work better to encourage it, perhaps, by publicizing the ones that do. And I will point out that magazines who specifically say they welcome diverse stories seem to get more. Submission guidelines do matter.

So do slush readers. They’re one of the first lines of defense around those markets. Magazines need to pay attention to their slush readers, and train them read outside their comfort zone in order to find good stuff. A editor that doesn’t dip into the rejected pile every once in a while may miss some gems as well as a chance to teach their slush readers. That’s how I found Jessica Lee’s Superhero Girl.

One of the more radical things SFWA’s done during my time on the Board is to admit independently and small press press writers. One focus since then has been making sure we give those writers the resources they need not just to write, but to promote their work. This is a good step, but insufficient in this case. Self-publishing is one of the ways around the gatekeepers, but L.E.H. Light mentions this in her piece, “The Fireside Fiction Report: A Reader/Critic’s Perspective“, saying:

“What level of segregation are we headed towards when we get comfortable with having ONLY our own publications as our voice in the genre? And what alternative sources of success, cash flow, and critical acclaim are we walking away from? Can we not have both our own publications and inclusion in “mainstream” works, thereby reaching wider audiences and providing opportunities for more writers? This is an eternal debate, and one which there need never be a solution to. But it is one we need to continue to have, in conjunction with a dedication to support both “streams” of production when possible, so that we pressure the industry both from within and without.”

Writing workshops are a traditional means of networking and support for new writers, but we must acknowledge that scholarships are not enough. The writers workshops tend to advantage the people who already have a good bit of economic privilege, and while scholarships help folks get into the workshop, it’s primarily middle-class folks who have the resources to take six weeks off work and travel.

Remote education may be one of the best bets, material that people can learn from on their own speed and schedule. Right now we’re working on an initiative, led by Maggie Hogarth, called SFWA Ed, that I hope will be helpful in this regard. Classes will focus on craft, business stuff, and the history of speculative fiction. One of the early efforts being worked on right now is an overview of copyright basics, aimed at writers, that will help them from being taken advantage of, for instance.

Setting a good example is one of the best things SFWA can do. Making sure that our Board is a diverse range of members as well as trying to listen to member needs. Making sure our programming at the Nebula Conference doesn’t use black writers only on diversity panels, and that the Recommended Reading list covers a wide range of writers. I actively hunt for good stuff to add to the reading list and I try to find the stuff that people might not run across elsewhere.

Sponsoring more studies like this, trying to get at some of the whys and wherefores, would be great. Unfortunately, something like that would have to get added to the 2017-2018 budget; there’s no room in the current budget, which has been flensed to the point where some efforts had to be shelved.

Personally, I have found the best way to combat bias in yourself is to self-educate — and then act using that knowledge. I belong to a Facebook group called How to Talk to Other White People about Race”, which has furnished me with a lot of useful tools, but I don’t want to wade into the fray acting like I know everything, because I don’t. I want to help, and I worry that some actions don’t accomplish that or actually detract from the conversation. If you’ve got suggestions, feedback, commentary, or resources, I’m listening.

Some additional useful links:


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Say Hi at MidAmeriCon and Get a Special Thank You

Picture of giveaway envelopes

Assembling the envelopes…

I’m prepping frantically for WorldCon, and packing for five days of survival at a convention, including plenty of protein bars and laptop cables.

Another part of that is assembling some giveaways. I’ve been clearing out my shelves and I will have 100 envelopes with me, and plan to give them all away during the con, 25 each day.

What do they have in them? Well, a couple of propaganda postcards, one with a special signature in glitter to suit the glitteriness of the occasion, stickers, an on-demand class coupon ranging from free to 50% off, and something drawn from the following list:

  • A coupon for a Tuckerization in a story
  • A piece of jewelry featuring art by Mark Tripp
  • A coupon for an encouraging email telling you to stop worrying and to just go write
  • An audio CD featuring fiction from Near + Far
  • An “I met Cat Rambo” badge ribbon
  • One of the cool scifi trading cards from Walter Day
  • A temporary tattoo
  • More stickers!

How do you get one of these? Check my schedule and meet up with me sometime during MidAmericon! I’ll also have some ARCs of the brand new two-sided fantasy collection from Hydra House, Neither Here Nor There.

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The Skill of Skills

photo of someone saying yeahThere are two impulses. One is to leave a legacy. Maybe it’s children or creations, good works, discoveries, or even a legacy of kind acts. There are other things to be remembered for, but those seem the most important.

The other is this. To be able to say, at the end of one’s life, “You gave me this gift and I used and appreciated it. I looked at the way the wind moves in the trees and the flecks of light in more than one cat’s eye. I took time to watch sunsets and how they changed from minute to minute. I practiced gratitude for this wonderful world and the fact that is is always moving, always acting, even in the stillest moments. I participated in the dance and let myself hear the music. I listened when people were showing me their souls and in return they gave me bravery and honesty and joy.”

Joy IS the skill of skills. Everything is subservient to that collective joy, the shout of being and doing.

Will you, won’t you, will you join the dance today?

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Where I’ll Be: Cat’s MidameriCon Schedule (Worldcon 2016)

Here’s my schedule. I’ll update this as I fill up time. If you want to talk with me, you’ll find earlier in the day better than later; I tend to hit the hotel room for a hot bath with a book and then bed around ten or so most nights.

I will have some giveaways, including cool stickers, candy, trading cards, and an ARC or two. Stop by the SFWA table or Wordfire Press booth while I’m there to say hi!


09:00 – 17:00 SFWA Board Meeting
Refuse to take anything seriously 17:01 – onward. Booked for dinner.


8:30 AM Walk with the Stars

The World’s Most Famous Parking Garage: A tour of the Power and Light District.
Before the city temperatures rise and the humidity takes over join us for a stroll of the world’s most famous parking garage: the Power and Light District. We will be a group of fans, authors, artists and editors having a very leisurely walk and good conversation. The route is a mile and suitable for all abilities and as the pace will be pleasant it is expected to take a little less than an hour.

9:30-10:45 Signing at the WordFire Booth

11:00 – 12:00 Magazine Group Reading: Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine

(Kansas City Convention Center)
Our Magazine Group Reading Series continues with a special group reading that features authors from Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine.
C.C. Finlay (M), David Gerrold, Matthew Hughes, Cat Rambo, Sarah Pinsker, William Ledbetter

13:00 – 14:00 Private meal

16:00 – 17:00 The Joy of Cookbooks…..

2210 (Kansas City Convention Center)
Nigella Lawson has said that if a cookbook has one amazing recipe you return to again and again it is a keeper. On the other hand, do we really need to keep a cookbook just for one recipe? What is it about them that make cookbooks so addictive to collect and how many do you really use? Are they just new or do you cherish family heirlooms and even use old ones from thrift/charity shops and yard sales?
Priscilla Olson (M), Dr. Mary Anne Mohanraj, Fran Wilde, Cat Rambo, Dr. Mary A. Turzillo Ph.D.

17:00 – 18:00 The Future of Food

A/V (Kansas City Convention Center)
As part of “The Future of” series we look at Food.
Food scarcity is a global issue, food povery is a growing issue in affluent countries where food is not scarce but wealth is increasingly divided. Food technology in production and farming methods continue to change and develop. Our panel considers some of the serious issues that impact upon the future of food and ask whether we really expect to be eating food from the yeast vats, artificially grown meat tissue or whether we will all become vegan.
Beth Cato, Adam Rakunas, Cat Rambo, Fran Wilde, Megan O’Keefe


8:30 – 9:30 Walk with the Stars

Farm to Table: The City Market: Fresh Fruit/Vegetables and Baked goods a KC Tradition.
Before the city temperatures rise and the humidity takes over join us for a stroll of the The City Market where you can buy fresh fruit, vegetables and baked goods at KC Tradition. We will be a group of fans, authors, artists and editors having a very leisurely walk and good conversation. The route is a mile and suitable for all abilities and as the pace will be pleasant it is expected to take a little less than an hour.

10:00 – 11:00 Private meeting

11:00 – 13:00 SFWA Business Meeting

2205 – A/V (Kansas City Convention Center)
All members of SFWA are encouraged to attend to hear the latest updates from the board about what SFWA has been doing and what plans are in place for the next year.
Cat Rambo (M), M.C.A. Hogarth, Bud Sparhawk, Sarah Pinsker, Kate Baker, Matthew Johnson, Jennifer Brozek, Susan Forest, Dr. Lawrence M. Schoen

14:00 – 15:00 At SFWA table in the Dealers Room

Come by and say hello! I’ll be there with Jeffe Kennedy and Bishop O’Connell. There will be information, authors signing, and general revelry.

15:00 – 16:45 Chat for SFWA members with Kickstarter Representative

SFWA Suite
Members, stop by to chat with Margot Atwell from Kickstarter and find out how SFWA can support your crowdfunding efforts. Margot will be there from 3-4 pm; I’ll be there and hanging out for a bit afterwards.

17:00 – 18:00 Signing at the Wordfire Press booth

19:00 – ?? Watch the Hugo livestream

Last year I watched from the SFWA suite; I will be either there or in the bar. 😉


8:30-9:30 Walk with the Stars

The Hugo Hangover: In search of Coffee and orange juice.
As we recuperate from the pageantry of the Hugo Awards join authors, artists, editors, fans and scientists as we look for the perfect hangover cure. We will be walking for a leisurely mile and the route is fully accessible and expected to take a little less than an hour. We hope you will join us for great conversation.

10:00-11:00 Signing at the WordFire Booth

11:00-12:00 Reading from “Wizards of West Seattle”

15:00 – 16:00 Shared World Anthology – Last Cities on Earth

A/V (Kansas City Convention Center)
Jeff Sturgeon and friends present work derived from the ‘Last Cities on Earth’ shared world:
In 2085 scientists announce that the super volcano Yellowstone will erupt in 2091. The marvel of the 21st century, in a frenzy of cutting edge technology, build and lift high into the air city-islands to tap the solar energy above the coming maelstrom of a volcanic/nuclear winter that will last decades and kill billions.
Two hundred years pass and from these cities airship dirigibles designed and built before the Yellowstone event, manned by brave captains and crews explore and scavenge the ruins of a world of myth and legend that ended almost two hundred years before.
Jeff Sturgeon (M), Mr. Kevin J. Anderson, Cat Rambo


My plane doesn’t leave till afternoon; meet me for breakfast if you’re still around. Message on social media or in e-mail for location/time details.

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What SFWA Offers Game Writers

graphic of membership benefitsIn light of recent discussions, I wanted to jot down a few things that come to mind when what I think about SFWA has to offer game writers, because there’s actually quite a bit.

  • Access to SFWA promotional resources includes a number of venues quite suitable for publicizing games. Our curated Kickstarter page, the New Release Newsletter (which can easily be expanded to include games), the SFWA blog, SFWA’s presences on Facebook and Twitter. It’d be easy to make the Featured Book section a Featured Work section to go with Authors section on the SFWA website.
  • Even the book-specific promotional features, such as the NetGalley program, may be of use to game writers who are doing books or stories as well, as is often the case.
  • SFWA has been working at relationships with a number of companies that will be of interest to game writers. Our Outreach Committee has monthly checkins with representatives at Amazon, Audible, Draft to Digital, Kickstarter, Kobo, Patreon, and more.
  • The Nebula Weekend is SFWA’s main event, but we also maintain a suite for members at Worldcon each year where they can find food, drink, and a quiet space. SFWA has tables at numerous events each year, and is currently working to partner with several Comic Cons to facilitate members appearing on programming.
  • Fellowship with other creators is an intangible thing, but it’s one of the organization’s main benefit. On the discussion forums, in the Chat Room, via the Singularity or Bulletin: there are plenty of ways to find fellow professional creatives to exchange tips, techniques, and sometimes just pet photos.
  • The Emergency Medical Fund and Legal Fund are available to active members to make no-interest loans or grants as needed for medical or legal emergencies.
  • A voice in what SFWA does is another intangible but important benefit. Members looking for interesting and engaging volunteer work can find it among the group of 200+ volunteers and staff that keep the 51 year old organization running.
  • A ton of reading material put up on the SFWA discussion forums for member evaluation for awards, as well as an opportunity to recommend terrific work on the Nebula Recommended Reading List and help determine the winners of each year’s Nebula Award.
  • Recognition that game writing can be an art form, as much as any movie, book, or story. We’re discussing a Nebula Award for game writing – if they want a voice in what that looks like, SFWA is listening.

SFWA’s got plenty of other efforts in the works, but I’ll wait till they’re tangible before beginning to toot those horns. When they manifest, there’ll be even more reason to join. For now, this actually seems like quite a bit to me, and as I noted, for those game writers who dabble in fiction, there’s even more compelling reasons to join.

I’ll be at Gen Con at the beginning of next month and will be hosting a town hall open session for questions about SFWA and game writers there.


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More on that Gamewriter Stuff, Plus Cat’s Gen Con Schedule

I am part of the Writer’s Symposium this year at Gen Con and looking forward to it. Last time I went to one, it was in Lake Geneva, and a whole lot tinier, I believe, than nowadays.

One lure is the chance to talk with my brother Lowell, who is (is it possible?) a bigger game geek than I. You may be familiar with his Age of Ravens website, which talks a lot about RPG history, design, and gamemastering.

The SFWA Board and the Game Committee are continuing to discuss how to best tweak the qualifications.

Marc Tassin has very kindly set up a town hall event at the con, where I can talk about the decision, listen to your feedback, and take questions. Here’s my schedule overall; if you’re interested in the game writing decision, please let me know if you’re going to miss the Town Hall and would like to set up a time to come and talk to me. I’m currently writing up another blog post on what SFWA offers game writers, because there’s quite a bit.

Photo of game boxes

Here’s my schedule; I’ll be updating it as it fills up. Unless noted, an event still had tickets last time I checked.


9 AM – attend Writers Symposium Opening Ceremonies
1 PM – Writer’s Craft: Writing Stories in First Person
2 PM – Short Fiction: Where to Start the Story
6 PM – Writer’s Craft: Story to Idea Workshop No tickets left
7 PM – Town Hall meeting about SFWA


9 AM – Writer’s Craft: Novel Writing 101 Very few tickets left.
10 AM – Character Craft: Hearing the Character’s Thoughts
12 PM – Signing
4 PM – attending a panel
7 PM – Attend friend’s reading and dinner after


9 AM – attending a panel
12 PM – Lunch meeting
6 PM – Character Craft: Building Them Up
8 PM – Author Hangout Event


9 AM – Read & Critique Session C
11 AM – attending a panel
12 PM – Private event
1 PM – Closing ceremonies

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SFWA Admits Gamewriters, All Heck Breaks Loose, Film at 11

picture of polyhedral diceSo this morning one of the items that’s been hovering in the wings for a couple of weeks now finally went out, which was the announcement of the game writing qualifications. Since there there’s been a lot of stir and some questions about it. So here’s some answers.

Q: Hey, I’m a SFWA member! Why didn’t I know about this earlier?

A: I’m not sure. We publicized the vote before and when it happened, we had a SFWA chat hour devoted to it, and we’ve been talking about it on the discussion forums for over a year, I think, including calls for people to serve on the committee and make recommendations.

Q: Where did these qualifications come from?

A. From the Game Writing Committee, which researched the question first of whether or not we should put the issue to vote and then what form the qualifications might take. We included some game writers on the committee (its members are Jennifer Brozek, Steve Jackson, Richard Dansky, Rosemary Jones, Noah Falstein, and Jim Johnson with Matthew Johnson as the Board Liaison); the SFWA Board used their overall recommendations as the starting point.

Q: What are the qualifications?

A: Here you go. You can find them here too.

Games in any medium may be used for qualification so long as the game has a narrative element, is in English, and in the science fiction, fantasy, horror or related genres.

Prospective members working on games may qualify by showing a sale or income in one of three ways:

By making at least one paid sale of a minimum of 40,000 words to a qualified market, or three paid sales to qualified markets totaling at least 10,000 words. Game publishers may be designated as qualified markets using the already established process and criteria used to qualify fiction markets.
By showing they have earned a net income of at least $3,000 from a game that includes at least 40,000 words of text (not including game mechanics) over the course of a 12-month period since January 1, 2013. Income can be in the form of advance, royalties, or some combination of the three.
If no word count is possible, such as work done for a video game, prospective members can qualify based on one professionally produced full-length game for which they were paid at least $3,000, and with credits to no more than two writers clearly shown on the work.
Note that money from crowd-funding campaigns can be used as part or all of the required income once the game has been delivered to backers, but the amount that can be claimed cannot be more than the net income from the number of games produced and delivered to backers (calculated by the number of backers multiplied by the minimum tier which receives a copy of the game.) Work done for salary is not eligible.

For membership questions not answered above, please contact Kate Baker, SFWA Director of Operations, at

Q: Why don’t game instructions and mechanics count?

A: Because we consider them nonfiction.

Q. Why don’t multi-book contracts count?

A. Actually, they do. They are not considered “salaried” but often given with contracts w/ advances.

Q: Why have you excluded work done for salary?

A: That was built into the original set of requirements and in talking to the committee, it seems to me to be an oversight. Looking back through discussions, the original thinking was in practice salaried writers are unlikely to qualify because of the rule against works by more than two authors.

So are we re-examining this in light of the many people pointing out the issues with it? Yep! The Game Writing Committee, the SFWA board, and a couple of staff members have all been mailing and talking back and forth about it most of the day.

Do I think it will get changed? *shakes magic 8-ball* All signs point to Yes — but I cannot say definitively. We’re discussing things right now, and I’m pushing to tweak that part.

Q: Why did you put this out if it wasn’t perfect?

A: Because this is how we make it perfect, by putting it into action, seeing how it works, and adjusting accordingly. It’s what we did last year when admitting indies and that also remains an ongoing process. If you’re a SFWA member who wants to help with that process or a non-member who wants to provide useful feedback, mail me at

Q: Will there be a gamewriting Nebula Award?

A: Not at the 2017 Award ceremony, but stay tuned for further developments…

Q: Do you, personally, support gamewriters joining?

A. Dude. I’ve been playing D&D since I was 11 and that was the ancient, original set that came out right after Chainmail. I worked in a book/game store for close to ten years. My bachelorette party was a Call of Cthulhu scenario that turned out to be Paranoia by the end. Of course I support this. I love gaming, and a good game is a work of art. I’m really looking forward to what this change brings.

ETA: I tweaked a couple things to make them clearer. I cannot say what the Board discussion will result in, but we are certainly paying attention.

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Patreon Post: Gods and Magicians

Woodblock by Bertha Lum.

Woodblock by Bertha Lum.

This piece of fiction is brought to you by my awesome Patreon backers, who get bonuses like versions of new books, peeks at story drafts, and sundry other offerings. If backing me’s not in your budget, you can still sign up for my newsletter and get news of posts, classes, and publications as they appear.

This is a piece of flash fiction written last year – I just got around to going through the notebook it was in lately and transcribing the fictional bits. This didn’t take too much cleaning up. For context, think of the hills of southern California, and a writing retreat with no other human beings around, and thinking a great deal about fantasy and epic fantasy at the time.

Is this a Tabat story? Naw. Just a little flash piece.
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SFWA is Many Things, But Not a Gelatinous Cube

picture of SFWA banner detailing membership benefitsI was looking at Twitter the other day and reading through mentions of the Nebula Conference Weekend, including celebration of our new Grandmaster C.J. Cherryh, when I hit a tweet saying something along the lines of, “I hope SFWA doesn’t think this excuses the choice of picking (another author) in the past”. The way the sentence struck me got me thinking about the sort of perception that allows that particular construction.

No, SFWA, aka the organization known as The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America doesn’t think that. Because SFWA isn’t a person. It doesn’t think. Sometimes I like to imagine that SFWA. It lives in a basement somewhere and looks much like a pale green gelatinous cube, covered with lint and cat hair, and various unguessable things lurk in its murky depths, like discarded typewriter ribbons, empty Johnny Walker Black Label bottles, and that phone charging cable you lost a few weeks ago.
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