Thanksgiving 2014

Abstract image to accompany blog post about critiquing stories by speculative fiction writer Cat Rambo.

Tiger lilies, because they're my favorite flower.

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you to celebrate it; may the rest of you have a day also featuring pie.

I’m thankful for many things, and one of them is the past six months on the road with my splendid spouse, and all the adventures and laughs we had there. We put a lot of miles on the car. We kissed stingrays and fed hibiscus blossoms to three-toed sloths. We visited a lot of friends and family, and a number of roadside attractions. I’m very lucky to have had the luxury of that journey.

I’m thankful to have a home to return to, and to have all the things that so many lack: shelter, heat, food, clean water, access to health care, electricity, education. Grateful not to live in a war-torn country. And for all that I have beyond that, which is considerable.

I am, as always, thankful for my friends and family, both near and extended. For the chance to be part of a grand company of speculative fiction writers (including SFWA, which I am grateful for the chance to work with), some of whom have influenced me, others whom I hope I have influenced in some small way. I’m grateful for all the friends I don’t know yet, who I’ve chatted with online or tweeted at, but haven’t had the chance to meet yet face to face.

I am thankful for language and stories, and the gift I’ve been given in learning how to tell them. I’m grateful for new and wonderful stories, and re-reading others, finding them like long-lost friends. I’m grateful to be able to string words together in a pleasing fashion, and for the ability to appreciate it when others do it particularly nicely. I am grateful that I was able to write some good stories this year.

I’m grateful for this world and all its wonders, both of the heart and of the physical world. For the heroes and the volunteers and teachers and leaders and parents who keep the human race moving forward. I’m grateful for you, dear reader, and the fact that you take the time to read my words.

Goddess bless and godspeed. Have the happiest of holidays.

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The One Twitter List You Should Be Keeping

Image that says 1) Tweet 2) ??? 3) Profit

If this is all that your social media plan consists of, you may want to put more time and thought into it.

Are you a writer on Twitter because you’ve been told you need to be on there? Are you trying to establish “a social media presence” while not quite sure what that involves? Relax and don’t worry. Twitter can be easy and often a lot of fun as well as useful, as long as you take the time to learn some of the basics for Twitter use.

One useful tool for making the most of Twitter is the list feature, where you can sort a subset of your followers into their own group. If you’ve never used it, you may want to start by reading through Twitter’s own basic tutorial on lists.

Twitter lists are a great feature that are worth making the most of. I’ve got a few set up for industry professionals, close friends on Twitter, members of various writing groups and organizations, former students, and people in a variety of fields. But there’s one that is more important than any of the others.

Building Your Followers

A pack of followers made up of people who followed you back because you followed them is not a particularly useful list. You want followers who retweet your content, help spread your message, and who provide interesting and useful content that you may want to share in turn. For this reason, it’s worth putting a few minutes each day into maintaining it. I use two tools to help me do this: Buffer and Justunfollow.

Buffer allows me to schedule tweets (which I also like because I can post stuff when not around and find new followers that way). When I initially post a link to a blogpost, for example, I can go ahead and set up a couple of additional mentions further on down the line. More importantly, I use Buffer when doing my daily follower check, looking to see who’s following me that I want to follow back. I look at each new follower’s tweets and usually favorite a couple or find tweets that I want to retweet, sticking them in my Buffer queue. (I should note that I am not using the free version of Buffer but the next version up, which lets me schedule roughly ten days of tweets in advance.

Who I Don’t Follow Back

I don’t follow everyone back automatically. Here’s the list that’s evolved over time of profiles I don’t bother following back:

  • Sell, sell, sell. Is your stream full of nothing but links to your book on Amazon? Then I’m probably not worrying about.
  • Nonexistent. No photo, no background info, no tweets? I’m not going to bother.
  • Promising me social media success. I’m not buying Twitter followers, nor am I paying for expensive seminars that tell me things that are common sense.
  • Hate speech. That should, I think, go without saying.

Disagree with me politically? That’s fine. I enjoy conversation. Post nothing but silly puns or kitten pictures? I’m fine with that. I’m even good with total nonsense. This sorting stage is where I build a lot of my lists, though not that crucial one I want to talk about. That one comes later.

The Interactives List

Lists are a terrifically useful feature of Twitter, allowing you to create subgroupsand view tweetstreams made up of only tweets from people on that list. Many of my lists are devoted to either a specific group like former students or players of a MUD I used to work with or an industry niche, like book reviewers or editors. And then there’s the most important list of all.

This list is top of my heap and it’s titled Interactives, for people that interact, who RT and reply and generally signal boost. I try to periodically thank people for RTing, which means running through who’s done it recently, and I add people to it at that point. The people on that list have demonstrated that they enjoy my content and want to spread my message. That’s a very good reason for working at building a relationship with them.

When I’m just poking at Twitter, looking to see what interesting conversations are happening or what content is noteworthy or a good candidate for retweeting, I go to that list first. If I’m filling up my Buffer stream with some interesting content, I can find it there, and continue to build the relationship while also giving my followers interesting and/or entertaining content.

If you’re worried about it getting too cluttered, run the tool I mentioned, Justunfollow, periodically to weed out people not following you back and inactives. That should do the trick for all but the most popular of Tweeters.

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End of the Year Reading Recommendations

Cover for "All the Pretty Little Mermaids"

Now available on Smashwords, "All the Pretty Little Mermaids," which originally appeared in Asimov's. You set the price! If you enjoy it, please leave a review.

I spent a good chunk of my summer reading through a multi-volume fantasy series for the sake of completeness. The series will remain nameless, because I can’t in good conscience recommend it, but it did impact the amount of other reading I did. Most of these are particular to 2014, but not all.

Daniel Abraham came out with the most recent of his Dagger and Coin series, The Widow’s House, and it was just as enjoyable as the first three. Abraham has a gift for flawed characters that you care deeply about, whose dilemmas rack the reader to the heart even when they’re doing despicable things.

Carol Berg’s Dust and Light. Carol consistently hits it out of the ballpark when it comes to epic fantasy, and this start to a trilogy is no exception. If you like Sanderson, Martin, or Bujold’s fantasy, you will like Carol Berg.

The Hole Behind Midnight by Clinton Boomer is terrific urban fantasy with a highly original protagonist. Think of a mash-up of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files with the Tyrion Lannister sections of Game of Thrones and Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and you’re in the general vicinity.

M.L. Brennan manages urban fantasy outside the tired norm with Iron Night, the latest in her Generation V series. I will admit, her kitsune character has me totally captivated, but the vampires manage not to be cliche, and protagonist Fortitude Scott is wonderful, reminding me of Rob Thurman’s engaging Caliban series.

Stephen Brust and Skyler White’s The Incrementalists is urban fantasy taken in a different direction, with an ancient society intent on nudging humanity along in the right directions.
Continue reading

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Video: Literary Techniques for Speculative Fiction Online Class

Here’s another video, this time for the Literary Techniques for Speculative Fiction Online Class. This is my favorite so far.

Discussion and in-class writing exercises designed to introduce a number of techniques to use in your own writing such as foreshadowing, alliteration, rhythmic device, allusion, etc, and ways to test them out in short fiction as well as discussion of when and where to use them.

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Twitter Basics and Best Practices for Writers

Why Talk About Twitter Basics and Best Practices?

Cover for Creating an Online Presence

Cat's first nonfiction book talks about how to set up and maintain an online presence -- without cutting into your writing time.


This year I switched the focus of my social media efforts to Twitter, because it seemed to me Facebook was an increasingly ineffectual way to reach fans. Because of that, I’ve been spending a lot more time looking at the people following me on there as well as thinking about Twitter, its philosophy, and its uses overall.

Why does a writer want to be on Twitter? The reason is more than just “sell books”. It’s often a way to network with existing fans (who will buy more books in the future), cultivate new fans, connect with peers and other industry professionals, to find out industry and writing news and yes, of course, to procrastinate in a thousand different ways.

I used to automatically follow people who followed me but nowadays I spend a few minutes to click through and look at their page and the tweets it contains. I’ve noticed that a lot of people are doing it “wrong,” or at least in a way that ends up detracting from their purpose. Most of these are easy fixes. Here’s some tips for setting up an account on there and as well as for maintaining a presence.

Continue reading

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Video for the Flash Fiction Class

I’ve been having enough fun with the free version of Powtoons that I’m thinking about upgrading. Here’s a video for the flash fiction that I’m 90% happy with. Please like it or share it if you enjoy it.

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Moving Your Story from Idea to Finished Draft Video

Video! Please like it or share it if you enjoy it.

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The Inevitable Awards Post, Best of 2014 Version

Graffiti reading "I am Batgirl"

Found this summer inside a restroom stall in Knoebel's Amusement Park.

Yep, it’s that time of year. Tell me what you thought the best fantasy and science fiction of 2014 was.

I’m happy to read people’s stories, novelettes, novellas, and novels with an eye towards finding the best fantasy and science fiction of 2014 and nominating for awards. I try to read/nominate/vote for the following: the Hugos, the Locus Awards, the Million Writers Award, the Nebulas, the Tiptree, and the World Fantasy Award. You can send things to me at catrambo AT gmail.com; I prefer in the body of the email or as an .rtf. Please let me know what categories the piece is eligible for; also please don’t send more than one per category, although you’re welcome to send me a list of the overall year’s output, particularly if you’re Campbell eligible.

If you’re interested in what I produced this year, the stories I am pointing people at are short story, English Muffin, Devotion on the Side, and novelette Rappaccini’s Crow.

Here’s the complete list of everything published in 2014:
FICTION RIVER: PAST CRIMES, edited by Kristine Rusch, December, 2014. The Raiders.
SHATTERED SHIELDS, edited by Jennifer Brozek and Bryan Thomas Schmidt, November, 2014. Hoofsore and Weary.
UNIDENTIFIED FUNNY OBJECTS 3, edited by Alex Shvartsman, November, 2014. Elections at Villa Encantada.
DAILY SCIENCE FICTION, September, 2014. The Moon and the Mouse.
THREE-LOBED BURNING EYE, August, 2014. Eggs of Stone.
BY FAERIE LIGHT, July, 2014. A Brooch of Bone, A Hint of Tooth.
BENEATH CEASELESS SKIES, July, 2014. Rappacini’s Crow.
DAILY SCIENCE FICTION, June, 2014. English Muffin, Devotion on the Side.
SUPERFICIAL FLESH, Spring, 2014. Can You Hear the Moon?.
ASIMOV’S, March, 2014. All the Pretty Little Mermaids.
CLARKESWORLD MAGAZINE, February, 2014. Tortoiseshell Cats Are Not Refundable. Audio version.
STAMPS, VAMPS, AND TRAMPS, edited by Shannon Robinson, 2014. Summer Night in Durham.
Patreon stories included: Her Chambered Eyes, Her Windowed Heart; How Dogs Came to the New Continent; Jaco Tours; Laurel Finch, Laurel Finch, Where Do You Wander?; Mirabai the Twice-lived; The Nondescript Bear; and Prairie Dog Town.

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Putting Stuff Up

Cover for Her Windowed Eyes, Her Chambered Heart.

In this steampunk short story, Pinkerton agents Artemus West and Elspeth Sorehs have been chasing their prey across the country. When they finally catch up near the outskirts of the Cascades, though, they find he's gone to ground in a mysterious house that once belonged to his mother, a famous inventor. What secrets hidden in the house will they discover -- and how will the house protect its returned son?

I’ve been putting some stories up on Amazon and Smashwords – I’ve got close to 75 that could go up there, so it’s slow slogging but eventually everything will be up on Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords. Here’s the categories they fit into:

Altered America series: These are steampunk stories, and include Rappaccini’s Crow, which originally appeared on Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Previously unpublished Her Windowed Eyes, Her Chambered Heart is part of that series, and so are two stories that are yet to come: “Laurel Finch, Laurel Finch, Where Do You Wander?” and “Snakes on a Train”. You can see some of the images inspiring the stories here on Pinterest. Currently in progress is “Blue Train,” which takes place in this world although over in a France beleaguered by fairies, vampires, and werewolves.

Tales of Tabat series: These fantasy stories are set in a world I often write in, and so I won’t list all of them. Most have been previously published. Right now the only ones up are “Narrative of a Beast’s Life” and “How Dogs Came to the New Continent.”

Women of Zalanthas: I’ve written a number of stories based on Zalanthas, the world of Armageddon MUD, so I’ve put them together. Right now, stories up include “Aquila’s Ring“, “Karaluvian Fale“, and “Mirabai the Twice-lived“. Others to come include “Besana Kurac” and the title story from Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight.

The Villa Encantada series: None of these urban fantasy stories are up yet, but there’s a slew of them, primarily horror. Slightly related to them is previously unpublished horror story, “Jaco Tours.”

SF Stories: I haven’t made the SF stories a series because there’s no real link between most of them. Up so far are “Grandmother“, “Tortoiseshell Cats Are Not Refundable“, “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain,” “Bus Ride to Mars,” and “Elsewhere, Within, Elsewhen.”

Remember that if you want fresh stories from me each month in your mailbox, you can get them via my Patreon campaign.

#sfwapro

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From Today’s Writing

Working on a dieselpunkish piece, tentatively entitled “The Blue Train.” People may notice I tend to skip around a bit on project. By my guess, I think I’ve got about a dozen pots boiling at any given time, and at least two of those, right now at least, are longer works. I think this one will end up a reasonable length of around 5k, though.

By six PM, his lordship was up and ready to be shaved and dressed. I had sandwiches sent up, something to tide him over till he went out. His haggard eyes were pouched and heavy as though he hadn’t slept.

“Where to tonight?” I asked as I stirred the lather, smelling of bay rum, and spread it over the black shadows on his jawline.

“Jenkins,” he said. “He’s set up some sort of game in his car on the train. Says it will be novel.”

“Novel” is not a word one likes to hear from an older vampire. So often their ideas of novelty involve pain.

“Have the front desk call me a taxi.” He studied his lapels, fingering the wide black expanse, before he held out an arm and I placed his watch, freshly wound, on his wrist. Gold, not silver. A showy piece, but one vampires would appreciate. They like gaudy on other people.

He looked at me. “Do you want to come?”

He hadn’t asked me that before. It wouldn’t be anything new to have me there waiting on him while he gambled, but previously I’d avoided the vampires. They like nonhuman blood more than human and they’re not hesitant about feeding on servants. Would his presence keep me safe?

But there were tired blue shadows under his eyes. He needed backup. He needed a friend there.

His servant would have to do.

It’s been fun, but lots of research in an era I haven’t done much with. Otoh, the point of divergence from our own is almost a century earlier so lots of leeway.

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