Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Cat Rambo

Photo Credit: On Focus Photography
Cat Rambo (they/them) is an American fantasy and science fiction writer whose work has appeared in, among others, Asimov's, Weird Tales, Chiaroscuro, Talebones, and Strange Horizons. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, where they studied with John Barth and Steve Dixon, they also attended the Clarion West Writers' Workshop. Their most recent works include And The Last Trump Shall Sound (co-written with James Morrow and Harry Turtledove), the fantasy novel Exiles of Tabat, and the space opera You Sexy Thing. They live, write, and teach somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. “Cat Rambo” is their real name.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The title first emerged as what we call a “working title,” a placeholder. It’s the name of the ship the crew steals, an intelligent ship that isn’t sure it wants to be stolen. But over the course of time, it became the title in my head. Tor marketing, my editor, and I went back and forth about that a bit -- they’d propose something that I wouldn’t like, and I’d send back my suggestions, like Ancillary Restaurant and Food Cart at the End of the Universe, neither of which flew for some reason. Finally they just told me Marketing had decided to “lean into it.” I’m still unsure what that means, but for me, it does convey the fast and funny flavor of the book.

What's in a name?

Character names (and place and technology and all names, really) for me are often fluid while I’m writing, placeholders that may end up changing radically over the course of time. And I would have thought that would hold true in this book as well, but instead they each wandered onstage as I pantsed my way along, and each came with a name that didn’t change when it came time for rewriting and polishing. The only names that did change were the two were-lion twins, who were originally Biff and Baff, and the change wasn’t my idea but my agent’s.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

My teenage reader self loved novels with casts of characters voyaging into strange new worlds, so I’m pretty sure they’d be delighted and maybe even a little smug, rather than surprised. I’ve always said that I would be a writer, since the age of 12 or so, and while I don’t know that they could have predicted the long and sometimes weird, sideways journey that it’s taken to get there, I know they always had it in their head that it would happen. I went back to the town I grew up in a few years ago, and a friend said, “You did what you always said you would,” and that was surprisingly satisfying.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I find endings much harder, but I change the beginnings a lot more. When I first start writing, I have no idea where I’m going, as a rule, and so I’m just along for the ride, flailing around until I finally hit my stride. Then I can work steadily until it’s time for the ending, and that’s something that requires holding a lot in your head in order to deliver on all the promises that you made along the way. When I first sat down to write this book, I found myself with two people arguing about an eggplant. After the first chapter or so I had a very rough idea where I was going, and that path became clearer as I kept writing. But that beginning I sat down to write didn't end up being the first chapter; instead I led with what I thought was a much grabbier piece.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

It’s hard to write a character that doesn’t mirror yourself to a certain extent, because you are writing your own experiences, and it takes empathy and imagination to get past that. I think each character definitely represents some characteristic I recognize in myself - Niko is just trying to take care of people and do the best she can; Skidoo is full of love, sometimes to the point of naivete; Atlanta is trying to figure out where she fits in the universe; Gio is wryly cynical, sometimes too much so. Walt Whitman said “I contain multitudes,” and I think that’s true for every writer.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Volunteer work, which has been a lifelong value, has shaped so much of what I think and know about people and human nature. Most recently I’ve been working with SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, in 2015-2019 as a board member and more recently as a volunteer with several of its programs. I think a willingness to say, “Well, someone’s got to do this work, I might as well,” is a force that keeps the world moving along in an upward direction, perhaps more so than writing, though one could argue that either way, I suppose.
Visit Cat Rambo's website.

--Marshal Zeringue