Norwescon Editing Panel(s) Notes

I was on two different editing panels at Norwescon this weekend.

I’ve taken the liberty of combining my notes from both panels, but my notes from the first panel are much better and actually contain a page of quotes from participants, while on the second panel, which was my 4th of the day, I was much less energetic and just wrote down the questions and two notes, and am reconstructing some things from my memory, so I cannot vouch for total accuracy. In each panel, we did something that I picked up from Mary Robinette Kowal, taking questions from the audience before starting the panel, and using those to drive the conversation. It’s a great technique for wide-ranging, discussion-driven panels.

Want to Be An Editor?
Where can or do you begin? It’s hard to get an editing position when you don’t have work under your belt. Listen to editors share the details of how they got started and learn some of the pitfalls to avoid.
Chimedum Ohaegbu, Gordon Van Gelder, Cat Rambo, Jasmine Silvera

Need An Editor?
Need an editor? What can you expect? How do you find one that fits within your budget, has a good reputation, and is knowlegeable of your genre?
Cat Rambo, Cory Skerry, Rhiannon Held, Jasmine Silvera

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Crypticon 2019: Where I’ll Be

Picture of someone in a knitted Cthulhu mask.Here’s my schedule for Crypticon, here in Seattle at the end of the month. Come say hi if you’re around! I proposed most of these panels, so I’m excited about them.

What Is SFWA and What Does It Offer Me as a Writer?
6 pm, Cascade 3&4
A discussion of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America and what it offers indie, hybrid, and traditional genre writers.

How Do I Get Started Writing Horror?
7 pm, Cascade 1&2
Focuses on the nuts and bolts of writing stories, researching markets, and sending stories out.

Haunted Pacific Northwest
12 PM, Cascade 5&6
The Pacific Northwest is full of spooky stories. Come listen to stories of local ghosts and cryptids.

Writing Creepy
4 pm, Cascade 3&4
How do you write in a way that makes the hairs on the back of a reader’s neck stand up? How do you convey the horrible in a manner that leaves the reader wanting more. Come for writing tips and tricks that will help you creep your readers out.

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What I’m Looking Forward to about This Year’s Nebula Conference Programming: An Appreciation of Kate Baker

Back when I was VP of SFWA, Executive Director Kate Baker told me she had a dream. “I want to make the Nebula conference -the- premier conference for professional F&SF writers,” she said. “Something that no one wants to miss. A conference so good that if someone has budget for only one convention each year, that’s the one they know they’ll get the most value out of.”

It seemed like a pretty good goal to me. After all, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America is over fifty years old, has close to 2000 members, including some pretty impressive names, has and continues to do major work in the field protecting professional F&SF writers, and gives out one set of the industry’s major awards as well as the recognition of the SFWA Grand Mastership.

It’s five years later, and in my opinion, Kate’s done what she set out to do. She didn’t do it alone, of course. She had the help of a whole lot of amazing SFWA staff and volunteers, including the amazing Terra LeMay and Steven H Silver. Mary Robinette Kowal got turned loose on programming the last couple of years and has been doing a stellar job. And others have made their mark with additions, such as the Nebula Award Alternate Universe Acceptance speeches or the mentoring program led by Sarah Pinsker or (I’d like to think) two I’ve contributed: the volunteer appreciation breakfast as well as the spouses and partners reception that have been regular features (and I hope will continue to do so!) Or the Book Depot, because I don’t know of ANY other con that takes as much care to make sure that its authors — including the indies — can sign and sell their books there. And there’s a fancy Nebula website, which remains a work in progress as more and more gets added to it, preserving the history of the Awards.

We’ve only got a small fraction of the schedule so far, with plenty of new stuff getting added every day, but here’s some highlights.
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Recent News and Changes from Chez Rambo

I’m very pleased to announce that Tor has acquired my recent space fantasy (maybe?), as part of a three book deal, and I’ll be working with Christopher Morgan there. While I’ve had a lot of short stories published traditionally, this is the first novel to go through that, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the process is like. What is the book about? Well, I’m actually not sure of the genre but have been describing it as a banter-driven space military fantasy in which a group of ex-military turned restauranteurs get an unexpected package, just as things start exploding. I’m 40k words into the sequel.

I’m so pleased by this and blissed out to the point where I’ve been grinning all week. The book was written last October/November as part of a change in my writing routine, and if that routine pays off this well, you better believe I’m going to stick to it. So — up at 5:30 AM and off to the gym, then only writing through 11 AM. I love these characters, who are a lot of fun, and they’ve informed me they’ve got plenty of story to tell.

This does change a few things: I will not be taking new coaching clients, and the only editing projects I will be doing are ones where I really want to be doing the edit. I will still be delighted to write stories for anthologies as well as sending stuff out — I’ve been finishing up a couple of stories this week. I’m also going to be stricter about no internet till 11 AM and will be a lot more hardass about not scheduling calls or other stuff during that time.

I will still be teaching and running the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers — I get so much inspiration from those classes that I would be sad not to do them and I do want to eventually have on-demand versions of all of my classes up there. After 2019 is over, though, I may start claiming a few more weekends for my own.

For those worried about the plight of Bella, Teo, Adelina, Sebastiano and the other Tabatians, I remain committed to being a hybrid author and I do intend to finish up the Tabat Quartet. =) If you want Tabat snippets and other creative pieces, please consider supporting my Patreon. Or encourage small press efforts by picking up one of my collections (Altered America (steampunk), Near + Far (SF), or Neither Here Nor There (fantasy)) or the Tabat novels from Wordfire Press! Otherwise, you might like to try the recent anthology that I edited, If This Goes On, from Parvus Press. Curious about how all this writing happened? Pick up my nonfiction book, Moving From Idea to Finished Draft.

I’m done with the SFWA presidency as of July 1. Those of you who remember back before that time will recall how alarmingly productive I could be when I set my mind to it. You have no idea how much is coming. =)

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Where I’ll Be: Norwescon, 2018


10:00am – 11:00am @ Cascade 9
Sienna Saint-Cyr, Cat Rambo

Reading: Cat Rambo
1:00pm – 1:30pm @ Cascade 3
Cat Rambo (M)

Negotiating Contracts
3:00pm – 4:00pm @ Evergreen 3 & 4
Cat Rambo (M), Patrick Swenson, Yanni Kuznia, Jack Skillingstead

Writing Class: Writing Fiction with Empathy, Insight and Hope with Cat Rambo
4:30pm – 6:00pm @ Cascade 12
Cat Rambo (M)


Want to be an Editor?
10:00am – 11:00am @ Cascade 9
Chimedum Ohaegbu, Gordon Van Gelder, Cat Rambo, Jasmine Silvera

Autograph Session 2

11:00am – 12:00pm @ Grand 2

Nancy Pearl, Mary Robinette Kowal, Daniel Koboldt, Neil Clarke, Tran Nguyen, Yanni Kuznia, Kurt Cagle, Rhiannon Held, Kat/K.R. Richardson, Cat Rambo, Jack Skillingstead, Patrick Swenson, Kay Kenyon, Sienna Saint-Cyr, Peter Orullian, Lisa Mantchev, Louisa Morgan, Brenda Cooper, Laura Anne Gilman, Sandra M. Odell, John (J.A.) Pitts

What is SFWA? (Science Fiction Writers of America)
1:00pm – 2:00pm @ Cascade 11
Cat Rambo (M), Curtis C. Chen, Adam Rakunas, Patrick Hurley

Need an Editor?
4:00pm – 5:00pm @ Cascade 7 & 8
Cat Rambo (M), Cory Skerry, Jaym Gates, Rhiannon Held, Jasmine Silvera

Online Presence for Authors
5:00pm – 6:00pm @ Cascade 7 & 8
K Tempest Bradford (M), K.G. Anderson, Cat Rambo, Chimedum Ohaegbu


Writing Class: Writing Your Way Into Your Novel with Cat Rambo
11:30am – 1:30pm @ Cascade 13
Cat Rambo (M)

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Writing Contests and Fees

I recently tweeted this: “PSA/Pro tip: Do not submit to writing contests that charge entry fees. No ifs, ands, or buts.”

Many folks agreed; others wanted to argue a bit. Let us remember here that I am speaking as someone representative of professional writers, and that I have some experience with selling short stories as well as editing and publishing them.

One thing that guides my thinking is this: There is a thing in science fiction circles known as Yog’s Law, which is that the money always flows towards the writer. (If you are self-publishing, that flow may get circuitous, but generally you should not be putting money into increasing the profits unless you are getting the lion’s share of them.)
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Resist Through the Way You Exist

One thing that’s emerging from discussion about the New Green Deal is that to act ecologically, to believe that climate change is real and that we must all work together to avert the worst of it, is now considered by some a radical leftist notion.

It is a given that the corporations must change their ways, must stop polluting and destroying the commons – the natural resources that belong to us all as citizens of this planet. The government must stop rolling back environmental protections — and put back the ones it’s stripped away while also stopping the flow of those resources to profiteers. But at the same time we as individuals can live in ways that help move us evolve into a society that places less strain on our planet.

You can #resist through the way you exist, and particularly the ways you spend money. Corporations have developed enormous systems designed to sell you stuff, to create anxiety in you and then offer material goods promising to soothe that anxious ache. All that angst will go away if you just buy the right celebrity’s brand, they say, and then laugh all the way to the bank while you stand there, not sure how you’ve been conned. Opt out!

Here are some things I’ve been trying to do more of this year:
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Guest Post: Valerie Nieman on Going Away and Coming Home

Thomas Wolfe claimed “you can’t go home again,” but the place you sprang from is never going to go away from you, that’s for sure. It’s down there in the isotopes layered into your bones and teeth. It’s there in the way your accent shifts when you go home for a visit, no matter how long away nor what education’s done to change you.

My new book, To the Bones, takes me back to the West Virginia I knew, a place both beloved for its “wild, wonderful” hills and source of despair for its history of exploitation. It also brings me home to genre fiction, after a long time wandering (mostly) in the paths of literary and mainstream writing.

The book began because I couldn’t get started. I was completing a novel-in-verse that had been long in the gestation, and was ready for the next project, but a couple of false starts had left me cranky. I complained to a writer friend about how poorly things were going. The conversation rolled around to a discussion of how to dispose of a body, and I commented, “When I was back in West Virginia, I always said that if I murdered someone, I’d throw them down a mine crack.” He challenged me to do so, and to make it a horror novel.

I was off and running, with a book that would bring together Appalachian legends, zombie movies, quest literature, ecojustice, Celtic lore, and a bit of romance. To the Bones is a satirical look at the legacy of coal mining in West Virginia through a splintered genre lens.

My years as a farmer and newspaper reporter in the northern coalfields provided both setting and substance for the novel. I’d struggled with the lack of water after mining cut off the springs and wells at my hill farm. You generally own only the “surface rights” when you buy land in coal country, which meant that subterranean water was not guaranteed, nor did I stand to profit from the capped gas well in the back field. (That property is likely fracked by now.) My land rested above part of the Farmington No. 9 mine, where an explosion 50 years ago left 78 men dead—the bodies of 19 of them left entombed because it was too dangerous to reach them. A mine crack extended over a corner of the back pasture; another marred a neighbor’s field.

As a reporter, I’d covered mine accidents, train derailments, murders, wildcat strikes, mine subsidence, town meetings and camp meetings. Those memories came back, including the lethal orange color of acid mine drainage that painted the destroyed streams.

The very shape of the land found its way into fictional Carbon County, as it did in my first novel, Neena Gathering, published in 1988 and resurrected by Permuted Press a couple of years ago as a classic post-apocalyptic story. There are many ties between my first book and this most recent outing, including a number of settings loosely based on places where I went to school, farmed, fished, and worked at newspapers. Characters end up below ground, in pits and abandoned mines and that aforementioned mine crack, because that’s just what I do—Fred Chappell remarked once that my interests were chthonic, and from Neena onward, what lies hidden or buried has served to wind taut the warp of story.

To the Bones came quickly, and I’m a slow writer, so I have the feeling I’d already been on the road “home” for a while. I published a crime drama in 2012 that’s set in tobacco country, but the protagonist is from northern Appalachia. My latest poetry collection, Leopard Lady: A Life in Verse, begins in Kentucky and follows a mid-century carnival sideshow traveling the region from Pennsylvania to South Carolina.

I’d left the mountains, but they hadn’t left me. While most people think of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” as the West Virginia state song, which it’s been since 2014, I always think that “Green Rolling Hills” addresses the Mountaineer’s pain of leaving more directly—check out the lyrics here.

In terms of genre, I’d gone away like the speaker in Utah Phillips’ song, but the joys of writing spec fiction “never let me go” and were right there waiting to welcome me back when I found that returning road.

Here’s an old-time peach cobbler recipe from among those I’ve collected over the years. In my family, the fruit went in first and some kind of dough went on top, though I’ve known some will put the dough down and pour the fruit over. I don’t know what recipe Darrick uses, but the traditional dessert plays a small role in To the Bones. Just the thing to welcome home a weary wanderer.

Peach Cobbler

6 cups peaches, sliced
1 TBSP lemon juice
1/4 C packed brown sugar
1 and 1/2 TBSP cornstarch
1/2 C water
1/2 C sugar (white)
1/2 C flour
1/2 TSP baking powder
1/4 TSP salt
2 TBSP butter, softened
1 large egg

Grease two-quart casserole.
Put peaches in, stir in lemon juice.
Stir brown sugar and cornstarch, gradually add water. Cook about 5 minutes.
Pour over peaches.
Set aside 1 TSP sugar.
Stir together sugar, flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in butter and egg until soft dough forms. Drop over peaches. Sprinkle over 1 TSP sugar.
Bake 40-45 minutes at 400 degrees F

Valerie Nieman is a poet and novelist whose first West Virginia novel, Neena Gathering, was returned to print in 2013 as a classic in post-apocalyptic literature. She’s also the author of Leopard Lady: A Life In Verse; Blood Clay, a crime drama set in North Carolina; and a collection of short stories and two additional poetry collections. To the Bones drops on June 1 from West Virginia University Press.

News and excerpts from her work can be found at:
Facebook @valerienieman1 –
Twitter @valnieman –
Instagram @valnieman –

Enjoy this writing advice and want more content like it? Check out the classes Cat gives via the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, which offers both on-demand and live online writing classes for fantasy and science fiction writers from Cat and other authors, including Ann Leckie, Seanan McGuire, Fran Wilde and other talents! All classes include three free slots.

If you’re an author or other fantasy and science fiction creative, and want to do a guest blog post, please check out the guest blog post guidelines.

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Hopepunk Thoughts Plus A Reading List

As mentioned in the Wall Street Journal (hello new readers coming from there!) last year, I came up with a new class, “Punk U: The Whys and Wherefores of Writing -punk Fiction“, which attempted to explore some of the -punk subgenres, starting with cyberpunk and progressing through steampunk, dieselpunk, nanopunk, solarpunk, afropunk, monkpunk, mannerpunk, and a dozen others. Of all of them, the most fascinating to me — and the one that’s had the greatest influence on my recent fiction, is hopepunk.

What is hopepunk? The term was first coined by Alexandra Rowland as the antithesis of “grimdark,” a speculative genre featuring fatalistic nihilism and a tooth vs. claw environment. She wrote:

“The essence of grimdark is that everyone’s inherently sort of a bad person and does bad things, and that’s awful and disheartening and cynical. It’s looking at human nature and going, ‘The glass is half empty. ‘Hopepunk says, ‘No, I don’t accept that. Go fuck yourself: The glass is half full.’ Yeah, we’re all a messy mix of good and bad, flaws and virtues. We’ve all been mean and petty and cruel, but (and here’s the important part) we’ve also been soft and forgiving and kind. Hopepunk says that kindness and softness doesn’t equal weakness, and that in this world of brutal cynicism and nihilism, being kind is a political act. An act of rebellion.”

She wrote more about hopepunk in a follow-up essay, “One Atom of Justice, One Molecule of Mercy, and the Empire of Unsheathed Knives and expands on the idea of kindness as a political act further in this great essay:

Just the amount that I have seen people get more politically active in the last year has been amazing. I want to point out that kindness doesn’t necessarily mean softness. Kindness can mean standing up for someone who’s being bullied. If someone has a gun to your friend’s head, punching the guy with the gun is an act of kindness because you’re saving someone through that. So kindness is not always soft.

Kindness is not necessarily passive. Kindness is something that you can go out and fight for. Going to a protest, if you frame it in a particular way, is an act of kindness because you’re doing something for the future. You’re contributing to the future. You’re putting more good in the world is I think how I would define doing kindness. If you see someone being shouted at by a bigot on the subway, just standing up for them and having their back is an act of kindness.

And being kind also is something that requires so much bravery sometimes.

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Guest Post: Score One for Music by B. Morris Allen, 
Editor, Metaphorosis Books and Metaphorosis Magazine

What if prose were written like music? What if, instead, of a common world, stories in an anthology were steps on a share emotional path? Those are the questions the upcoming anthology Score is attempting to answer.

Emotions are a key part of our experience of art. The books that stick with you are often the ones that made you feel something. Even when we don’t recall the details of a plot (or painting, or movie), we’ll often recall how it made us feel. Even if you don’t recall the details of Watership Down, for example -— the names of the rabbits, the original warren, etc. — you probably remember how you felt about the rabbits and what happened to them. You remember how you felt when you closed the book. Even if you mislay every detail of a book, you’ll remember whether it made you laugh or cry or feel wistful.

Score is an attempt to tackle the emotional side of writing head on. A group of almost 20 authors set out not to write about robots or aliens or magic — though we have all of those — but to write from emotion.

What does that mean, and how does it work? It means, simply, that each of the authors worked from a coherent emotional score, knowing the emotions in the piece before and after theirs, what emotions they were to emphasize, and … nothing else. They had complete freedom of genre, topic, tone, approach, etc. — so long as they worked with the emotions they were assigned. The result is a fascinating collection of stories with a distinct emotional progression.

Putting together the score was challenging. As the editor and ‘composer’, I defined fairly early on the emotions we would work with. I knew the direction I wanted to score to take – an overall path of ascending hope that I thought a good fit to the times — but choosing emotional terminology that would work consistently across many different writers took some work.

In the end, we worked from a palette of six emotional ranges – six emotions with four variants each, two positive, two negative. For example, Hope ranges from Hope at the positive end to Despair at the negative end. These aren’t quite the emotional pairs used by social scientists, and we could have ended up with a wide range of others, but these six emotional ranges allowed ample scope for ups and downs. The emotions are loosely grouped into two sets – the Hope set (Hope, Curiosity, Awe) and the Joy set (Joy, Love, Lust).

Each writer was assigned a specific major and minor emotion, and the score has distinct movements. Using musical terms very approximately, there’s an Overture, a Hope triad, a Joy triad, a Bridge, a Joy triad inversion, a Hope triad inversion, and a Coda. There are high points and low points, but … spoiler alert… it all ends with Hope and Joy.

It’s been a lot of fun putting this together. While I personally often write from an emotional basis, putting together an entire score was an intriguing and challenging exercise. Each writer interpreted the task in their own way, putting their own distinct stamp on it, as artists will. The result is intriguing, and I hope will be as much of an adventure for readers as it was for all of us.

Score: an SFF symphony is out on March 2nd from Metaphorosis Books.

Enjoy this writing advice and want more content like it? Check out the classes Cat gives via the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, which offers both on-demand and live online writing classes for fantasy and science fiction writers from Cat and other authors, including Ann Leckie, Seanan McGuire, Fran Wilde and other talents! All classes include three free slots.

If you’re an author or other fantasy and science fiction creative, and want to do a guest blog post, please check out the guest blog post guidelines.

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