For K.C.

There are so many of us who write, and so many voices that get drowned out. I want to tell you about one of them. I want to tell you about my friend K.C. Ball.

She wrote short stories as well as novels, and I edited her collection, Snapshots from a Black Hole. She was talented and terrific at including emotion, while at the same time she was capable of spinning out a shaggy dog story to groaningly effective length.

K.C. was always conscious of time nipping at her heels, particularly after a heart attack where her wife Rachael (literally) saved her life with CPR. At the same time, she was a private and introverted person, not well-suited to the sort of buy-my-book shilling that’s sometimes necessary to be heard over the crowd. She kept hoping for more support from the networks she saw supporting other people, particularly some of the young white males whose work was appearing at the same time that she first started getting published. I met with her a couple of times to go over stories, but as time passed, she seemed more and more discouraged, feeling as though she was flinging work out into the void and not hearing much back.

She was trans, and older than me by a couple decades, and sometimes seemed bemused by the times we live in. I kept urging her to submit her stuff to places like the Lambda Awards, but she was reluctant. “Those aren’t for me,” she said, and I left it at that, albeit reluctantly. She could be a little cranky, a little morose and pessimistic, and sometimes I’d tease her into a better mood, and sometimes I’d let her be. She’d worked as a prison guard, and sometimes her outlook on the world was as cynically informed by that as you’d expect, but her stories were full of heroes and people living up the idea of being better. She loved superheroes.

I ran into her two years back at the grocery store, on Christmas Day, and she seemed pleased that I ran over to greet her. Now I’m regretting not being better about keeping in touch after she fell away from the writing group we shared, despite the fact that we were living so much closer to each other now that I’ve moved to West Seattle.

And now she’s gone, fallen to another heart attack, and she never really got the chance to “break out” the way many writers do, which is through hard work, and soldiering on through rejection, and most of all playing the long game. If you want to read some of her kick-ass work, here’s the collection I edited, Snapshots from a Black Hole and Other Oddities.

I’m so sorry not to able to hear your voice any more, K.C. I hope your journey continues on, and that it’s as marvelous as you were.

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Where I’ll Be: DragonCon 2018

Friday

10-1 I will be at the Bards Tower in the Dealers Room.

Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) meeting
01:00 pm Location: Marietta – Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
SFWA members, come hear about all the cool stuff we’ve been doing – like the NetGalley program, the mentor program, Storybundles, Nebula conference expansion, grants to organizations promoting F&SF, the Youtube channel, a disability committee, the Speakers Bureau — and how you can take advantage of it. Curious about volunteering? I have plenty of interesting opportunities. 😉

Title: Reading Session: Cat Rambo
04:00 pm Location: Marietta – Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)

Saturday

3-7 I will be at the Bards Tower in the Dealers Room.

Dragon Con Guest of Honor Banquet
We honor our 2018 Guests of Honor & present the Eugie Foster Award for Short Fiction, the Julie Award, and the Hank Reinhardt Fandom Award.
7:00 pm Location: Regency VI-VII – Hyatt (Length: 2.5 Hours)
(Tentative Panelists: Brom, Steven Barnes, George Pérez, Katherine Kurtz, Erin Hill, Tiffany Colwell)

Dragon Award Nominee Reception – Private event
10:00 pm

Sunday

10-1 I will be at the Bards Tower in the Dealers Room.

Third Annual Dragon Awards Presentation
The winners of the Third Annual Dragon Awards will be announced.
01:00 pm Location: Centennial I – Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Larry Niven, Bill Fawcett, Tim Powers, Dr. Charles E. Gannon, Eric Flint, Richard “Lord British” Garriott, Paul Jenkins, Mike Capps, Katherine Kurtz, Steven Barnes, Peter Kelamis, Craig Martelle, Laurell K. Hamilton, Cat Rambo)

15-Minute Mentor Session
Time: Sun 02:30 pm Location: Embassy G – Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
Description: A chance for budding authors to talk one-on-one with a successful industry professional about business, promotion, the writing process, and career advice. Sign up in the Writer’s Track (Embassy C-D).

What the World Needs Now Is Fantasy, Sweet Fantasy!
08:30 pm Location: Embassy EF – Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
Description: No, not just for some, but for everyone… Talking about how Fantasy literature is used to explore social issues & change. There’s enough room in Fantasy for everyone!

Monday

All the Subs! (or, at least, a good number of Fantasy categories)
01:00 pm Location: Embassy EF – Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
Moderator / MC for panel
Description: Ever wonder what litRPG is? Or Supervise? How about Weird West? Prairie Gothic? Time for some answers! What makes these splinter parts of Fantasy more than just one-off themes.

What Can SFWA Do for You?
02:30 pm Location: Embassy CD – Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
SFWA has dozens of services for its members, so it’s easy to overlook things. In this presentation, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America will present an overview of things SFWA can do for you. Afterwards, SFWA representatives will be available to answer questions. (But I have a flight soon after that so I will be skedaddling to airport!)

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Guest Post: Rachel Fellman Chews on Bad Food in Fiction

Look, I love to write about terrible food. Life contains so much more of it than good food, or at least my life does. (I have limited funds and poor judgement for risk.) But more than the realism, I’m drawn to bad food because it infuses a scene with context, with a messy pathos. Someone failed before this dish was even served.

I think about the scene in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in which the spymaster George Smiley tells the story of his one meeting with his Soviet opposite number, Karla. Sitting in a greasy restaurant with his confidant, he takes a few bites of his chicken, murmuring, “There, that shouldn’t offend the cook.” By the end of the scene, he’s given up on the dish, “over which white flakes of fat had formed like seasonable frost.” I mean, the frost isn’t even unseasonable. It is correct that this is happening; it is meet. That chicken died for nothing and everyone knows it.

The cook may have made an unpalatable dish for a sad, unhungry man, but Le Carré prepares a nose-to-tail butcher’s feast of pathos and waste. One of the points of the scene is that Smiley tried and failed to pull a Not So Different Speech on Karla; he ruined it because he’s honest, and honestly lonely. The chicken fulfills its destiny in a way that’s perfect for the mood. It doesn’t symbolize Smiley’s feelings – nothing so cheap. Le Carré is a subtler chef than that. Each grim bite of Smiley’s chicken evokes a universe where no spymaster, no heroic fieldman, no great analyst, no chicken farmer or chicken or roadhouse chef, can catch a single break.
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Where I’ll Be: WorldCon 2018

Thursday I will be at the SFWA board meeting. Huzzah! That evening I’m planning on swinging by the Chinese Science Fiction Party.

Friday, August 17

8-10 am SFWA Business Meeting SJCC 210DH Light breakfast will be provided. Come hear about all the amazeballs stuff we’re up to!

11 AM Successfully Negotiating Book Contracts SJCC 211C
A publisher’s interest and an author’s are not always in perfect alignment. Enter the contract. Each clause in the contract exists for a reason. Which ones protect an author’s interest and which ones benefit the publisher? How do you ask for changes? What are the rights an author should be prepared to give up and which ones should you fight tooth and nail for. Hear from agents and other industry experts on how to survive your book contract negotiation with your skin, and your rights, intact.

12 PM Walter Day Trading Card Event

1 PM Un-pulping the Pulp Heroes SJCC 211C
Doc Savage. The Shadow. G8. Tarzan. The hero pulps are full of characters immersed in fast-paced action, but they sometimes come across as problematic or naive to modern readers. It can be uncomfortable to recognize the sexism or racism of their day. And yet, there are still things that we love about pulps. How have pulp heroes influenced contemporary SF writers (in surprising and strange ways)? How are writers currently reinventing and subverting pulps?

3 PM What Can SFWA Offer Me SJCC 210F
Learn what SFWA has to offer authors at all stages of their careers, from networking opportunities to sample contracts to the grievance committee. SFWA’s officers will provide an update on what SFWA is doing and where the organization is going and answer questions from potential (or current) members.

Saturday, August 18

11:30 AM Private lunch

1 PM Autographing

2 PM Idea Vs. Story SJCC 212D
The common question “where do you get your ideas” baffles most writers, because the ideas are all around them. The question should be, “How do you go from an idea to a story.” In this deep dive, we look at techniques to do just that.

5 PM Chasing Shadows: Living in Our Transparent Society SJCC 210B
Camera phones are ubiquitous, security cameras monitor many street corners, drones scout the skies, police wear bodycams, facial recognition technology is developing, and social networking allows everyone to keep an eye on everyone else. Is it the surveillance nightmare of Big Brother, or has our technology made possible a realm of sousveillance, where we can monitor those in power and keep them in check? What are the advantages and disadvantages of living in a brave new world, bathed in light?

6-8 PM SFWA Suite

Sunday

9 AM Patreon/Student/Buddies breakfast
Mail me for details, still setting this up, will NOT be fancy. 😉

11:30 AM Private lunch

4-8 SFWA Suite

Most of the time you will find me in the SFWA suite but I’ve listed the times I will definitely be there!

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Guest Post: Tiffany Meurat Talks About Two Reasons Day Jobs Are Good For Writers

I sat at a desk that I shared with two other people as a piece of paper was handed to me from my boss. I was nineteen years old, my boss was my dad, and the paper was an estimate for repairs for one of our clients. I don’t recall for what repairs exactly or even the cost, except that this client was going to be pissed at whoever was unfortunate enough to deliver the expensive news.

“You need to call them,” I was told. And that was that.

My father had started his pool company from scratch one year before I was born. I had worked a few jobs before joining the family ranks, but eventually landed there out of convenience and a false notion that it would be a simple job—answering phones, taking messages and the like. Perhaps even a little filing. Having just dropped out of university that year, just having any job at all was my only career ambition at that moment.

So, the estimate in hand, I called the client with zero idea just how to properly approach the topic of “I know money is tight for you, but here’s an estimate for lots of money and, oh, your pool won’t work until it’s fixed”. It did not go well. I said something stupid. Then I spent the next hour or so apologizing to both the client and my boss/dad. And right there in that moment of customer service hell, I also began to understand the cunning power of words.

I continued to learn through multiple failures, out of self-preservation to not get yelled at. I learned about words through phone calls and faxes and emails, through hirings and firings, through employee reviews and business acquisitions. I learned by drafting proposals and contracts. I learned while attending conventions and conferences and pool industry galas (yes folks, this is absolutely a thing).

Being the poster child for introversion and working in one the most customer facing industries on the planet, I taught myself how to articulate properly in order to get people out of my personal space bubble as quickly and efficiently as possible. This meant knowing how to talk to them, knowing how to manipulate the situation, how to arm myself with just the right word at just the right moment to mitigate shit blowing up in my face.

At nineteen I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a “real” writer yet. I was still in the mapping-out-battle-scenes-in-my-journal stage of writing. I hadn’t even the faintest idea of how to structure a basic scene, let alone a novel. Yet there I was, getting a crash course of the versatility of words, whether I wanted it or not.

At a speaking event I attended recently, author Kim Stanley Robinson touched on the benefits of day jobs for writers. It was a refreshing take, considering the engagement was hosted by Arizona State University and attended in bulk by students, of which I was not. Nothing makes you feel more like a flame out loser than surrounding yourself with a room full of MFA candidates, and as I was shrinking into my seat, feeling woefully outclassed as a full time pool lady, part time writer, Mr. Robinson began to speak about yet a second creative benefit to day jobs—mining the work place for inspiration.

I immediately perked up, piecing together all the ways I was already doing just that. How I used the eccentricities and flare and dynamism of the people I work with, incorporated so many of their quirks, their smiles and their hair styles, to turn my characters paper skin to flesh—The grandfather that kept a dedicated drawer in his work desk for Hillshire Farms meat, the coworker that interrupted a work meeting to announce the name of his car (Trixie), the mother (me) whose kid brushed his teeth with a highlighter one day when brought to work with her.

Authors sometimes see a day job as a hindrance to their writing life. The goal is to eliminate it, but in actuality it can be fuel. It’s life, it’s robust and strange and frustrating and chaotic. The characters are literally kicking down the doors, smashing their faces against the windows, and begging us to buy some girl scout cookies from their kid.

I always joke that the second I could make a living wage off of my writing all you’d see is a me-shaped cloud of dust in my office where I used to sit. And maybe I would dial it back a bit, work part time, but I’m finding more and more that to ditch the day job entirely is not part of my ideal future. It’s far too lucrative.

Or perhaps I’m just saying that to convince myself that it’s totally cool that I haven’t sold a book yet. Time will tell.

Author bio for Tiffany Meurat: Tiffany is a writer and desert dweller from Phoenix, Arizona. Her work can be found or is forthcoming with Four Chambers Press, Eunoia Review, Collective Unrest, Martian, and others. She is most often found wasting time on Twitter as @TMeuretBooks

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Guest Post: Khoa D. Pham Investigates The Waffle House Inspiration

Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks (1942) is one of my favorite paintings. There’s something uniquely inspirational in the drama and mystery of strangers gathered at a late-night diner. I also like it because it’s stylistically uncluttered, focused, and full of Mad Men era nostalgia. Recently, I had to pick up some friends from the airport at 5:30 am. Because I like to be painfully early, whether to catch a flight, or to pick people up, I left at 3:00 am. Naturally, I had some time to kill, so I dropped into a nearby Waffle House to see what it might have been like to be one of Hopper’s nighthawks. And also for breakfast.

After a few minutes on the interstate, I took an offramp and made a right turn onto an empty road. The darkness was occasionally punctuated by hotel marquees, stop lights, and an unmistakeable bright, yellow-blocked Waffle House sign. I pulled into the empty parking lot and backed my Jetta under the amber glow of the lone street lamp. At least someone might see me if I got mugged.

Through the windows, I saw a man behind the bar, most likely the cook, and a young lady seated at the end of the counter reading a book. Great, I wasn’t the only nighthawk. And someone should definitely see if I get mugged. I grabbed my trusty notebook from my book-bag and headed in.
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Classes for the Rambo Academy through October

Description of Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, which focuses on online writing classes for genre writers.

Image by Keith Rosson. www.keithrosson.com

Here’s what many of you have been waiting for! The list of classes coming up for the Rambo Academy. I’ll be updating the website over the next couple days but for right now, this is the official, correct, list. Please note there’s some new times here and there!

More classes are in the works, including classes on game and comic writing. Subscribe to the newsletter to get advance notice before they’re posted!

Live classes are taught online via Google hangouts, are limited to 16 participants, and require reliable Internet connection, although in the past participants have logged on from coffee shops, cafes, and even an airplane. A webcam is strongly suggested but not required. If there is an on-demand version of the class, you will be provided with a free coupon for it, so you have access to those notes.

To register for a class, send e-mail with the following details:

  • The email address that you use for Google stuff.
  • Which class or classes and the dates.
  • Whether you would prefer to pay via Paypal, check, or some other means.
  • Please identify yourself if you are a returning student or support Cat on Patreon to qualify for the special rate.

You should receive confirmation of your registration within 48 hours.

Free scholarships: If you cannot afford a class but really want to take one, apply for a Plunkett Scholarship. Each class has a slot reserved for such a student, and the sole criteria is that you can’t afford the class but really think it would be useful for you. To apply, mail me with your name, the class name/date, and a brief statement about why you want to take the class. QUILTBAG and PoC candidates are especially encouraged to apply. The Plunkett Scholarships are named for Edward Plunkett, who wrote as Lord Dunsany. Scholarship recipients will be notified the week before the class.

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Where I’ll Be: GenCon 2018

Here’s my schedule for GenCon this year. Come say hi if you’re there too!

Thursday
12:00 PM Ballrooms 3-4 Creatures Great and Small: A Speculative Bestiary
3:00 PM Atlanta Space Opera: SF, Fantasy, Romance?
4:00 PM Atlanta Using the Scientific Method in Spec Fic

Friday
11:00 AM Austin What’s Hot and What’s Not: Fantasy
1:00 PM Atlanta Interstellar Travel
4:00 PM Signing Table Signing–Cat Rambo, Erin Evans, Chris Jackson
7:00 PM Worldbuilders Fundraising Event

Saturday
12:00 PM Austin What Makes a Story Science Fiction?
1:00 PM Boston The Morphing of the Story
2:00 PM Boston Surviving Social Media
3:00 PM Ballrooms 3-4 The Long and Short of Fiction
5:00 PM Ballroom 1 What is SFWA and What Can It Do For You?

If you’re a student, Patreon supporter, or friend, drop me a line about the Sunday morning group breakfast I’m trying to organize.

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When and Why to Hire an Editor, And What They Should (and Shouldn’t) Do

The question of hiring an editor often comes up in my classes, and since editor for hire is one of the hats I wear, I wanted to provide some overview. There are different kinds of edits. I’m focusing on two: the developmental edit versus the copy edit. You might also hire someone to proofread, where they are simply looking for mistakes and errors, rather than making any editorial suggestions. Continue reading

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Guest Post: N.J. Schrock on Writing Misterioso

In my backyard, I have a tree whose fruit is colored bottles, and it serves a useful purpose. The bottles trap and kill evil spirits. During the night, evil spirits wander into the bottles, and they can’t find their way out—basically like a lobster trap for spirits. Then, when the morning sunlight hits the bottles, the evil spirits, which don’t like sunlight, are burned away. Poof!

Skeptical? Where’s your sense of mystery? The bottle tree legend is believed to have originated in Africa and been brought to the states with African slaves, which is why you’re more likely to see one in the South. Being a transplanted Yankee, I’d never seen a bottle tree until I experienced one years ago at The Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham, Texas. It was a thing of beauty, and a sign nearby explained the legend. I thought the idea was so cool that I wanted to have one, but I needed the right structure. Some people use welded metal rods, but I wanted something more organic. So, when our Majestic Indian Hawthorn tree died last year, I saw an opportunity to have a bottle tree although I knew it would take some work.
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