The Spectacularity of Cat Rambo

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For the past six weeks, I’ve been part of a writing workshop with a group of fabulous writers. Led by Cat Rambo, we critiqued stories and talked about the nuts and bolts of building a career in SF&F. Part of the reason why I wanted to take an online workshop, is because financially it’d be very difficult for me to drop what I’m doing and go to Clarion West or Viable Paradise. I’d love to go to an intense workshop like these, because though I come from literary-land, I feel like I’ve primarily been on the fringes of SF&F. For me, workshops is where a lot of the excitement happens, where there’s this brilliant mesh of ideas and creativity — that form of collaboration is very inspiring to me in small doses. Mind you, I don’t want to collaborate with another fiction writer long-term because I have specific goals I am trying to accomplish. When those happen, then I’ll reconsider. My goals are very clear.

What I had hoped to get out of this workshop, was to cut all the peripheral noise and anxiety, get back to the basics; and re-emerge with a clear path forward. How had writing for games affected my storytelling? What areas did I need to hone in on? Since the bulk of my time recently has been on writing and developing for games like Firefly and Vampire the Masquerade, I felt like I’ve been losing my perspective on my own, original work. Do I get discouraged? Yep, and those lead to excuses or “writer’s avoidance behavior.” Now, I know it happens to everybody, losing faith in yourself, but it sucks. It’s not a mental thing, it’s not insecurity as in “Oh, I could never be as good as ‘X’, ‘Y’, or ‘Z’.” It’s a “heart” thing. It’s a “what’s the point” and “who cares” thing. Publishing is based on people… And so is another “p” word. A “positive” attitude.

Anyway, to circle back around to what I’d been trying to say, I feel it’s one thing to write and have words down on a page; it’s another to know where you’ve gone wrong through internalization. And for me, I feel that process of internalization is weakened if I “take a break” from writing or am so hyper-focused on a different form I stop exercising those other muscles.

The first lesson I learned was… Don’t take a break. For me (and you may be different) I have to write every day. I have to. Part of that word count has to be spent on fiction even if it’s 500 words. Why? Gaps have an impact like this: I’m working on a few novels and I set them down in favor of paying projects. When I pick them up again, I forget where I left off and I need to “re-learn” where my place is. As I’m ramping up, I then change my mind about the structure, how some of the pieces fit, where I need to research more… It takes me more time to get back into the work than it does to finish it and keep that river of words flowing.

The second, is that I have realized that a lot of the game-related fiction are primarily character sketches or plot-driven to show off the world. That differs from character-driven prose because there’s certain elements that are obscured in favor of the overall goal to highlight the game/setting. I suppose that’s why I’ve been noticing how many writers who “graduate” from games are influenced more by the worlds they’ve worked on rather than the characters. Games are GREAT to learn and develop worlds; certain games are GREAT to understand how to build unique characters. Writing stories, on the other hand, is the only discipline in my mind that will teach you about characterization. That doesn’t mean plot-driven stories are bad, mind you. It’s simply a different style of storytelling and fiction in SF&F has evolved to be more character-specific.

And finally, I just want to reinforce my feelings on this… There are many similarities between writers no matter what your level of experience is. Ego? Online persona? Etc. Don’t get sucked in. I care about people and doing the best job I possibly can. That’s pretty much it. Everything else — worrying about the state of the industry, freaking out about someone else’s kerfluffles, etc. I just don’t have the time. I have a job, a really great one in fact, and writing fiction is in addition to that and everything else I’m doing, too.

Now, to end this messy ‘ole pile of words and get back to the title of this post…

I found Cat to be extraordinarily patient, honest, and excellent all-around. (I’d like to give a shout-out to my classmates, too. They were brilliant!) Cat is a fantastic teacher. Or, to put it bluntly: there was no bullshit. I never felt like this was a top down kind of a class where we were worshipping at her author’s altar. Always encouraging and extremely empathetic, she’s an extraordinarily grounded person and a very fine writer to boot. I am so, so happy for her success and encourage anybody to take one of her classes. I’d also like to thank Kat Richardson for the recommendation (GO KAT!) and the other writers for being patient with me, my questions, and my dry sense of humor.

You can keep up-to-date on Cat Rambo’s online classes and workshops here:

She’s worth every penny.

    Mood: It’s caffeination-time.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Pepsi Max and a cup o’ java.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I exercised my butt muscles.
    In My Ears: The drawbridge. Hee.
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age II
    Book Last Read: Research materials for work
    Movie Last Viewed: Dreamworks Shrek’s Swamp Stories
    Latest Artistic Project: *Still* *still* *still* need to take pictures… It’s on the list!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Friends in Low Places
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work and novels.

Monica Valentinelli is an author, artist, and narrative designer who writes about magic, mystery, and mayhem. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.

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