My guest today is Cat Rambo, fantasy and science fiction writer and editor of Fantasy Magazine, a market recognized as being professional by SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). Check out her website at http://www.kittywumpus.net and check out Fantasy Magazine’s website at http://www.fantasy-magazine.com
David Steffen: Cat, thanks for coming. I really appreciate you taking the time for this interview.
Cat, what plots or types of stories are you tired of seeing?
Cat Rambo: I am tired of seeing retold fairy tales that don’t do anything new with the fairy tale, where they just kind of say, okay I’m going to retell Cinderella but it’s going to be a shopping sale at the mall and don’t do anything new with that.
I have a great fondness for sword and sorcery. I grew up reading sword and sorcery. I read Fritz Lieber and C.L. Moore and a lot of Michael Moorcock, but I think there again you have to do something new for me to be interested. I get a lot of stories that are sort of Conan the Barbarian revisited but they’re not as good as Robert E. Howard. Unless you are as good as Robert E. Howard it’s probably best for writers to steer their way away from that.
David: Do you prefer certain subgenres of fantasy such as urban fantasy, contemporary fantasy, high fantasy, etc?
Cat: I love urban fantasy. Paradoxically enough, given how much of it is out there, I don’t get a lot of good urban fantasy. I like stories that tend to work on more than one level. We have, for example, a story that was very popular with our readers last year, Elena Gleason’s Erased, which I was just looking at again. That story on one level is about someone’s boyfriend who is invisible and what do you do when you’re confronted with an invisible boyfriend. But on the other hand, at a deeper level, it’s about what do you do in a relationship when the other person is vanishing. So I like the stories that work on more than one level. The stories where you go away and you find yourself thinking about later and think “Oh, yeah, okay, it works like this too.”
David: Are there any big changes on the horizon for Fantasy Magazine?
Cat: Oh, onward and upward for Fantasy Magazine. We have a web comic that will be appearing soon. We have been reorganizing and getting a lot of people in to drive individual areas like TV or books, and comics. So there’s going to be a lot. We’re hoping to up the amount of content to put out something interesting at least two or three times a day.
David: Can you elaborate about the web comic?
Cat: It’s a fantasy comic based on a setting that will be familiar to a lot of our readers, which is inside a fantasy role-playing game.
David: Are there any features coming up in Fantasy Magazine that you’re particularly looking forward to?
Cat: Right now we’re running a series called “Game-mastering NPCs”. The first of the five part series was just posted last week, talking about the importance of NPCs (non-player characters) to a roleplaying game campaign. Also, I’m particularly looking forward to some articles by Genevieve Valentine.
David: Which were you first, a writer or an editor?
Cat: First and foremost, always a writer.
David: Do you think that being an editor has changed the way you write?
Cat: Not really. It’s one more thing nibbling at my writing time. I think every writer experiences that in some form or another.
David: Has being an editor provided you with extra skills that have been useful as a writer?
Cat: Yes. One thing about reading slush is that it gives you greater confidence in your own writing. It has really driven home the importance of making the first paragraphs of a story draw the reader in.
David: Has the economic crisis impacted the magazine at all?
Cat: Not really. Previously we hadn’t been drawing in as much advertising revenue as we could have. We’re making an effort to do better in that respect, so we may actually be doing better now than before.
David: SFWA added Fantasy Magazine to their list of professional markets earlier this year. Has this sparked any change in submissions, either quantity or quality?
Cat: Yes, in both respects. We’re getting 500-600 submissions a month now, as well as seeing submissions from some pro writers we hadn’t seen before. It’s been a good thing we have the new online submission process, which speeds things up significantly.
David: I have noticed in my submissions a large reduction in turnaround time since the new online submissions system was set up. How exactly does that system make things faster?
Cat: We were just using Gmail before, so every couple weeks we had to check the junk folder just to make sure that things weren’t getting lost there. And there was stuff bouncing every once in a while. Someone’s spam filter would eat our stuff. So it just makes it a lot easier to track what’s going on and you’ve got a system also where we can see which slushreader is reading and who is slacking and go prod them. *laughs*
David: What are your personal pet peeves when reading stories?
Cat: Personal pet peeves? In terms of the stories or in terms of the way they’re presented?
David: Like little grammar mistakes that you see too often, things like that.
Cat: Oh, “its” and “it’s” drives me nuts. I taught composition a few times and I always tell students that is the one error that will get under my skin. Its/it’s and they’re/their/there. Nowadays we have spellchecker, so there’s really no excuse for having too many actual misspellings but we still see alot of the it’s/its.
David: How about other things that bother you. For instance, some editors really dislike reading stories that begin with the character waking up.
Cat: I don’t like the beginnings that start out with kind of two heads talking in space where there’s no sense of location and you don’t know what’s going on. I don’t like beginnings that aren’t well-grounded and give us a sense of the story world.
I don’t like the endings, not so much the beginnings, where someone wakes up as the endings and is “Oh my God it was all a dream.” And it’s like “Oh, come on!”
David: It sort of makes you wonder “Why did I spend my time reading this?”
Cat: That’s it, it insults the reader: “Ha ha I tricked you and you wasted all your time.” I don’t like stories that take the “I’m cleverer than you approach” to the reader.
David: I’ve heard that some editors like a little humor, but so many people have different views on what’s funny. How do you judge a humorous piece in submission to Fantasy or do you generally steer clear of humor pieces?
Cat: I like humor. I love a good funny story. I love, for example, the Terry Pratchett books which I think are just wonderful, or the Jasper Ford Tuesday Next stories. I like humorous pieces that don’t depend on cliches. If it’s a joke that’s been told before, I’ve heard it before, so I don’t really want those. Good humor is very hard to write and it’s far too scarce in the submission pile.
David: What was the last book you read?
Cat: It was a really cool Japanese murder-myster that Ann Vandermeer turned me onto. I just did a workshop with her and she recommended it. It’s titled “Out”, written by Natsuo Kirino.
David: Your favorite book?
Cat: I will go with a classic and say Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur which is one of my desert island books.
David: Who is your favorite author?
Cat: I will be slightly pretentious and say James Joyce because I do love what James Joyce does with language.
David: What was the last movie you saw?
Cat: We went and saw The Hangover which I thought was a lot of fun. We love Zach Galifianakis. We’d seen him in a documentary called the Comedians of Comedy and he was so hysterical in that.
David: I saw that last week as well. There are a few moments in that movie that are sure to be nominated for the MTV Movie Awards’ WTF award.
Cat: *laughs*. It just had so many moments like that where you were just like “Oh my god where are they going to go with this”
I kind of want to go so Land of the Lost simply because I loved it when I was a kid. I like Will Ferrell but I”m just not sure the combination is going to work. I like Will Ferrell. I have liked him in a great many things, and then I have seen him in many things where I’ve said “Well okay that’s not as interesting as it could be.”
David: What is your favorite movie?
Cat: I really love the Wizard of Oz.
David: I just wrote a story specifically for a Wizard of Oz horror anthology called Shadows of the Emerald City.
Cat: Oh cool, what a neat idea. I had just been reading John Kessel’s The Baum Plan for Financial Independence. Which I think kind of pokes gentle fun at the economics of Oz which is kind of a funny way to do it.
Who’s putting out the horror anthology?
David: Horror writer JW Schnarr: http://jwschnarr.webs.com/submissions.htm
David: Do you have any upcoming publications that you’d like to tell us about?
Cat: Indeed I do. I have a collection coming out with Paper Golem Press. The title is “Eyes like Sky and Coal and Moonlight.”
David: That’s a catchy title.
Cat Rambo: That’s the title story.
David: Is it a collection of reprinted stories or all-new writing?
Cat: I think It’s about half and half, there is about 50 percent new stuff, and a couple Strange Horizons stories, and the Weird
Tales stories. Kind of the best stuff that’s appeared in publication. I’m really happy about that, because somethings appears in small magazines then sort of vanishes like a leaf on the wind. It’s nice to get a chance to put stories I’m really pleased with out in front of folks.
David: If you could give only one piece of advice to aspiring writers trying to get published, what would it be?
Cat: Be persistent. More than anything else you have to cultivate the hide of a rhinoceros, put your head down and keep plugging away.
David: Do you have any works in progress you’d like to tell us about?
Cat: I am finishing up a young adult novel called Phat Fairy. It is my reaction in some ways to reading the Twilight series.
David: What did you think of the Twilight series?
Cat: I thought that they were decently written but I thought they were just an appalling message for young women. You have this utterly passive heroine whose main motivation is nailing her man. I really didn’t think they were a good message for young women at all. I have a goddaughter who will at some point be reading YA fiction, so I wanted to make sure there was at least one book out there with a healthier message. Though I am not trying to write a message-driven book either.
David: Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions, Cat, and letting us get a glimpse into Cat’s world of writing and editing. Also, thanks to Frank Dutkiewicz, Brad Torgerson, and Gary Cuba for your contributions to this interview.
Stay tuned for more interviews! I’ve got a full schedule, at two interviews a month, lined up through mid-October!