Guest Post: Jack Jetstark’s Intergalactic Freakshow

Jack Jetstark’s Intergalactic Freakshow is about the people who don’t fit in. The freaks who are too much like this or not enough like that for society to accept them.

I write from experience. I may not breathe fire or fly or read minds, but I am disabled. And a woman geek. And “too smart for my own good,” according to multiple teachers and psychologists. Somewhere between the first and final draft of this book, though, I realized I have another thing that makes me different.

I’m autistic.

In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. I didn’t talk outside the home until I was thirteen, I’ve always hated eye contact, and there may have been a period in my childhood where I communicated primarily through meowing.

But I was disabled and homeschooled and so no one caught it. I was just “weird” or “difficult” or, more often than not, “no seriously, you do not want to screw with her Froot Loops, she just got them sorted by color.” If I’d been diagnosed at an earlier age, maybe I would have felt less weird, less like I was doing something wrong, but it is what it is.

(Technically, I can’t get a formal diagnosis because of accessibility barriers and because the diagnostic process is not designed for disabled adults who were raised as extremely sheltered, antisocial females, but my therapist is confident that I am autistic and I am identifying as such from now on.)

So there I am, 28, newly diagnosed as autistic… oh, and working on the final drafts of my novel. And suddenly some of my editor’s revision notes made so much more sense. Continue reading

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On Writing Process: A Dissection (of sorts) of “Rappacinni’s Crow”


Can a raven be a sociopath?

Someone mentioned this as one of their favorite stories of mine, and I wanted, for selfish and egotistical reasons, to use it for the subject of a blog post, but I hope that I can in pulling it apart and explaining some decisions, shed a little light on both my process and writing in general.

If you’re not familiar with the story, it appears here on the excellent online publication Beneath Ceaseless Skies, or you can buy an e-copy on Amazon or Smashwords. If you’re too impatient, here are some of the pertinent details: steampunk world, asylum for those injured by the war, nurse with a secret, doctor with an evil crow, wacky hijinks ensure.

The story takes place in a dystopian steampunk setting that I’d wandered around the edges of previously in “Clockwork Fairies” and “Rare Pears and Greengages”. This story got me far enough into that territory that it spurred others: “Her Windowed Eyes, Her Chambered Heart,” “Snakes on a Train,” and “Laurel Finch, Laurel Finch, Where Do You Wander?” I’ve been calling the series Altered America, and you can see some of the images I’ve used for inspiration here.

And the amount of effort involved in writing the protagonist that appeared to me scared me. Transgendered, Native American, poor, and disabled. How could I write that other without offending someone? Better folks than I have battered themselves against that question. But you can’t do something without trying, so I gave it a shot. I strove to do my best by my protagonist: to explain his background, his history, the way he thought, and his relationship with Jesus. Which is another way my character is unlike me: he is struggling with his Christianity, while I’m Unitarian, a faith that has taught me a great deal, and which I embrace, but which draws on, rather than consists wholly of, Christianity.
Continue reading

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Guest Post: Bitterballen – Carleton Chinner Presents The Tastiest Snack You’ve Never Heard Of

Far further back than I care to admit, the large newspaper I worked for sent me to Amsterdam to attend a trade show. In among the many adventures I had on that trip, I discovered the incredible variety of cuisines that make Amsterdam such a pleasure to visit. The glories of a spread of rijsttafel dishes, gouda cheeses, crisp Dutch beers, and so many others. One of my favourite discoveries was bitterballen the crunchy bar snack with a savory creamy filling that were served alongside beers.

It got me thinking about culture and how food transcends boundaries. Rijstaffel (rice table) is the Dutch version of Indonesian cookery. It dates back to the glory days of the Dutch East India Company, where creaking wooden barques made the perilous journey around the Cape of Storms to venture to the far east colony of Batavia (present day Indonesia). The ships would return laden with exotic spices like nutmeg, mace, and cloves dried and sometimes ground to powder to survive the long journey back to Holland. At a time when the Dutch Republic was entering its golden age, cooks could not get enough of these new flavours and sought out exotic flavours and colours to impress their guest with a dazzling array of dishes.

The sailors also brought recipes back with them, curries, nasi goreng, gado gado sambals,fried bananas and others. Back in Amsterdam people tried to make these recipes, but lacking the fresh ingredients, they substituted dried spices.

While the colonial excesses of the rijsttafel banquets have long since fallen out of favour in Indonesia, they remain a staple of Dutch restaurant fare, as former colonials returned following independence.

What’s in a name? Bitterballen are part of the larger tradition of bittergarnituur, or savoury snacks to serve with beer. Ballen being the Dutch plural for ball. So, essentially, savoury balls to have with beer.

Bitterballen are one such incarnation of the mixture of cultures permeating Dutch food. The basic recipe was probably taken from a French croquette filled with ragout, a traditional way of using leftover meat. The filling is shredded cooked meat mixed with a thick roux, to which with the addition of nutmeg brings an exotic flavour.

In my latest science fiction novel, Plato Crater, Holly a young thief is sentenced to community service in one of the only antique rijsttafel restaurants still licensed to burn hydrocarbons. One of the first dishes she learns to cook is bitterballen. This is how I imagined the recipe to be: Continue reading

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Guest Post: J.D. Moyer on Writer’s Workshops with Kim Stanley Robinson

I recently attended a writing workshop with Kim Stanley Robinson via the Locus Writers Workshop series. The workshop was in Oakland, California (where I live), near the Locus offices, and Kim Stanley Robinson is one of my favorite authors. Signing up was a no-brainer.

Over the course of the day, Kim Stanley Robinson (who goes by Stan) was generous and helpful. His advice was insightful, and sometimes counterintuitive. And there was a lot of it; he’s written for decades and has no shortage of opinions on craft, the writing life, MFA programs, and reviewers. I took copious notes.

Five weeks after the workshop, with time to synthesize, some of that advice stood out. Here are some of the highlights: Continue reading

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Alas Poor Ginger, Wherefore Art Thou: Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Ginger

I’m very fond of crystallized ginger, and accordingly I am substantially less fond of the Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Ginger, whose ginger to “rich dark chocolate” ratio is weighted in chocolate’s favor to the point that the ginger is nigh imperceptible.

The ingredients promise Australian crystalized ginger, and I do appreciate that Trader Joe’s, the J. Peterman of foodstuffs, has resisted the urge to embroider the tale with “harvested by koalas” or a story about backpacking across the outback while noshing on these or anything of that nature. But what’s given us instead of tasty, delicious ginger is waxy and overly sweet dark chocolate that is unappealing and which hosts a poverty of taste that is far from the promised richness.

The label makes no mention of fair trade or ethically sourced chocolate, which is honest, at least, and not the sort of “3% of our cacao beans are ethically sourced” shenanigans that some companies engage in. The smallish bag holds eight servings of what they claim is a 1/4 cup each, but these are apparently servings where the bits of chocolate repel each other, thereby taking up twice as much space in a measuring cup than normal.

All in all, a disappointing snack best suited to eating 3 am in an international airport, killing a few hours at a deserted gate while waiting for a lengthy flight, already sunk in ennui and listening to the echoes of the janitor’s footsteps as they mop a nearby lobby.

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Recent Reading: Wolves, Wives, Knives, Curses, A Hospital, and a Henchgirl

The works read but yet to be reviewed are piling up, so here’s a new roundup to clear away part of the deluge.

The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley is a retelling of Beowulf from the monster’s point of view, set in a possibly not-so-future world where the rich live in protected enclaves. Stark and beautifully told, the story raises the question of who the actual monsters are and whether they haven’t been residing in us all along. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; release date 17 July 2018)

A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn is the second in what feels very much like a series, following A Perilous Undertaking. It reads a lot like Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series but with a much more sexually outspoken protagonist named Veronica Speedwell and a dose of fantasy. I initially thought Speedwell’s love interest was Bram Stoker, which actually turned out not to be the case. A fun, light read. (Berkeley Original, 2018)

The Year of the Knife by G.D. Penman is entertaining urban fantasy in the police procedural tradition, and will remind the reader of a Ben Aaronovitch novel with a slightly smaller cast. Meerkat has been putting out some very solid stuff, and this is another example of that. (Meerkat Press, 2017)

Two graphic novels, very different from each other, round out the list. The first is Freedom Hospital: A Syrian Story by Hamid Sulaiman, winner of the English PEN Award. This book is graphic, a brutal and heart-wrenching introduction to conditions in Syria in 2012. The art is simple, sometimes with the quality of a slogan stenciled on a wall: I could image image after image from the book used in that way. Recommended but not light reading. (Interlink Publishing Inc., 2018 American Edition)

Henchgirl, by Kristen Gudsnuk, comes from Dark Horse Books and is a fun exploration of the economics of supervillainy, particularly for the minions and henchfolk just trying to make an honest living. Clear and charming drawing with a nice sense of whimsy. (Dark Horse Books, 2017)

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Round-up of Awards Posts by F&SF Writers, Editors, and Publishers for 2018

Image of a Christmas tree made out of books. Photo by Cat Rambo; all rights reserved.I urge my students and coaching clients to get in the habit of an eligibility post at the end of the year, listing what they wrote in the previous year, what they’re particularly proud of and hope people will consider for wards, what awards those pieces are eligible for, and including links to where readers can find the work. I’ve even blogged on the subject.

And now it’s that season again! Here’s a collection of awards-eligibility posts from fantasy and science fiction authors and publishing peeps:




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CyberMonday Coupons for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers

If you’re gift-buying, be aware you can gift one of my classes, both live and on-demand ones! Just drop me a line about what you’d like to do and I’m happy to send the gift certificate in virtual or physical form! Order before Tuesday, November 27th, when I’m back at home to fill the first batch of orders, and I’ll give you an extra 10% off. Check the link below to see what’s available!

Live classes
On-demand classes

And if you want something for yourself, here’s some 25% off coupons for the on-demand classes:

Make sure you’ve entered the November giveaway!
The November giveaway is TWO coaching sessions. Use them both yourself, or give one away to a friend. To enter, mail me with the subject line: November 2018 Giveaway by midnight, November 30, 2018.

To the NaNoWriMoers – you’ve got a week left and I’m cheering for you! Go go go!

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Pilot’s Varsity Disposable Fountain-Pens

I do a good bit of writing by hand, usually in a large hardbound sketchbook, although I sometimes like the feel of a nice narrow yellow-lined pad or the sprawl of an enormous expanse of drawing paper. And to write on these, while sometimes I’ll wander over into glitter gel pens or fine-point felt tips, my favorite is the Pilot Varsity disposable fountain pen.

Depending on where you’re getting it, the price varies from $3-10, with the high range of that usually appearing in fancy stores aimed at writers, which will strategically place a mug of them near that stack of leatherbound, gilt-edged journals locking with tiny moon and star clasps whose splendor will prove so intimidating to live up to that you will never actually use it. Overall, it will prove much cheaper to buy yours at an art supply store, which is where I get mine, since I go through at least a few each month.

I like writing with this pen because it never feels as though the nib and paper are dragging at each other. The nib could best be described as medium, somewhere well between broad point and narrow. The pen comes in a variety of shades and shows clearly what color it is at both the top and the bottom. For me, the availability of the color depends on how recently the store’s restocked, but the web tells me it comes in black, navy blue, red, green, pink, purple, and turquoise blue.

My only quibble with the pen is a small one that may not apply to many people’s experience. I am tough on pens. They end up jammed in purses, pockets, lost in coat linings, moved from one book bag to another. And so if your treatment of your possessions is overall gentler, which it probably is, you may not experience the same results I do, which is that about one in twenty pens ends up not exploding so much as getting a bit drippy to the point of ink-stained fingers.

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Chuao Chocolatier’s Chocolate Bars with All the Add-ins

Here in America we like our add-ins, ice cream and candy full of other candy, nuts, random sweets, and sometimes savories. Chuao (pronounced Chew-WOW) has a shelf-load of such, chocolate bars with all the goodies, created by Venezuelan chef Michael Antonorsi.

Most of the bars I tried were terrific but some are more successful than others. Idiosyncrasies of taste may make a difference; when I tweeted about the one I really disliked, someone mentioned that was their favorite, and bemoaned not being able to find it. And it’s not entirely fair to stack dark chocolate up against milk, particularly given that my sweet tooth resembles that of a six-year-old’s. Still, I present them in order of how much I liked them, from most to least.

First up, the “Baconluxious”. Described as “delicate maple sweetness, a sprinkle of bonfire smoked sea salt and crispy, uncured bacon in milk chocolate.” This had a nice aroma and when tasted, an immediate smoothness to its mouth feel, followed by a wash of saltiness and not-unpleasant grittiness before the final bacon note, leaving just a few salt crystals to be crunched between the tooth and savored. This was delicious to the point where I thought I would and then did readily pick one of these up again. And probably will again and again.

For the ingredient conscious, this 2.8 oz bar clocks in at 420 calories per bar (the label does the usual this is really 2 servings thing). It is 41% milk chocolate; 67% Fair Trade Certified, which means that up to 33% of it may come from places using child labor or other unfair trade practices. (Looking at these percentages was an interesting exercise; no bar was the same and it’s something I’m going to watch for, going forward.) No mention of non-GMO ingredients.

This was followed by the “Firecracker”. Described as “sea salt, a dash of chipotle and popping candy crackle in dark chocolate,” this had a lovely spicy saltiness that the sharp crackle accentuated, and a nice after crunch, all against a palatable dark chocolate background.

This bar is 400 calories total. It is 60% dark chocolate; marked as ethically sourced cocoa but not Fair Trade Certified, which means that up to 100% of it may come from places using child labor. However, it is non-GMO ingredients.

Marshmallow issues. Nickel provided for scale. Bonus: practice chocomancy by reading images formed in bars by marshmallow constellations.

Both of these were good and so was the “Oh my S’mores”. Described as “fluffy marshmallows and crushed honey graham crackers reunite in milk chocolate.” This held delightful toffee bits, somewhat sandy graham cracker crumbs, and a valiant but unsuccessful attempt to conquer the marshmallow issue by scattering mini marshmallows on the bottom of the bar, resulting in a layer of projecting marshmallows and air.
This bar is 380 calories in total. It is 49% Fair Trade Certified and the marshmallows are specifically non-GMO, while other ingredients are unspecified.

Fourth in line was the “Honeycomb”. Described as “luscious organic honey caramelized into crisp bits and enrobed in dark chocolate.” This had a surprisingly lovely honey note, very alive, that worked well with the dark chocolate.

This bar is 380 calories in total, and 60% dark chocolate. Ingredients specify that the honey contained in the bar is actual caramelized honey and that bee and honey dipper are not included, no mention is made of non-GMO ingredients. It is 95% fair trade certified.

For example of textual inconsistency of presentation, these little aphorisms are cute but three describe the bar while two don’t. The honey one has a funny bit of whimsy in the ingredient list.

We finish with “Pop Corn Pop”, which I did not like. The label describes it as “inspired by that familiar flavor you love, with a surprising POP in milk chocolate.” This bar had a strong nutty flavor and not much to recommend it; the additions are bits of corn chip, which I found an unpleasant combo, and popping candy, all in milk chocolate.
This bar is 420 calories in total. It is not Fair Trade certified and no mention is made of non GMO ingredients.

The variances of text notes like Fair Trade proportions and non GMO ingredients from bar to bar reflects the varied demands of candy-making but does mean that consumers concerned about such things should be careful about reading the label. There are a number of inconsistencies across the labeling that make the overall presentation feel a bit incoherent here and there, but note I am a writer and tend to have strong opinions about these things that do not matter to most chocolate consumers.

You can read this review at

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