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.

Jim Butcher on Motivation

A very heartfelt post came across my feeds today and I want to share this with you. What Jim Butcher says here? Matters. It totally and completely is relevant to any writer who struggles with fame, fortune, and the reasons why we’ve decided to take the hard road.

In particular, this stood out to me:

In fact, the vast majority of aspiring authors (somewhere over 99 percent) self-terminate their dream. They quit. Think about this for a minute, because it’s important: THEY KILL THEIR OWN DREAM. And a lot of you who read this are going to do it too. Doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It’s just human nature. It takes a lot of motivation to make yourself keep going when it feels like no one wants to read your stuff, no one will ever want to read your stuff, and you’ve wasted your time creating all this stuff. That feeling of hopelessness is part of the process. Practically everyone gets it at one time or another. Most can’t handle it. But here’s the secret: YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE IN THE WORLD WHO CAN KILL YOUR DREAM. — Jim Butcher at

And he’s right. The reason why I like this part of his article, is because Jim flat out states what I think is so difficult for others to grasp. If you want to be a writer, I feel you have to have some amount of personal responsibility. That short story didn’t get done? No one’s taking your keyboard out of your hand. That novel didn’t get outlined? Who’s fault is that? And before you say: But I have full-time job, kids, medical problems, etc. I will point out authors like Matt Forbeck who has not one, but five kids. Jay Lake, who has cancer but still pens novels. And full-time job? Shoot. Most authors have some other means of making money like a full-time job or multiple freelance contracts.

In other words: If you want to write novels, then write ’em. You have to tell the rest of the world to take a flying leap and prioritize based on your end game. Is it that simple? Yes, because in the end? Being a writer isn’t about making excuses. It’s about telling a damn, good story.

[Recommended Reading] The Blogfather Speaks Out

This interview with MetaFilter founder Matt Haughey has some extremely grounded viewpoints on the future of blogging, it’s value and all about the community that Metafilter has fostered. I think this is a good viewpoint to read — especially for writers.

The site still basically looks like it did in 1999, but in the meantime, all those Web 2.0 sites like Digg and Reddit have popped up. Do you ever worry MetaFilter will look old-fashioned?

It’s tough; people don’t want anything changed ever. We have a thousand or so hyper-fans who hate everything. Every tiny little change we make, we test out with everyone who works behind the scenes, then we talk about what we’re going to say to everyone, how we’re going to present it to them. There’s a culture [former Harper’s editor] Paul Ford wrote about called the “Why wasn’t I consulted?’ culture: WWIC. And [MetaFilter] is the ultimate example. We have an entire subsite talking about the site. So everyone is consulted on everything, and everyone has an opinion on everything. — SOURCE: The Blogfather at Willamette Week

If you have a few minutes, give The Blogfather at Willamette Week a read. I think, if anything, it confirms that the value of blogging is that it’s not as fleeting as what you can find on social media. For a writer? Well, I’m sure you can see where I’d be going with that… *wink*

Cutting Through the B.S. – Social Media Blackout Results

And now for a special announcement: today’s post is written with Sarah Peduzzi in mind. Sarah? This one’s for you…

It took approximately one week for me to strip out all the noise, de-people, and refresh my mind. After seven days of social media silence, I started to feel like I was missing out and that second week was rough. I felt like I was on walk-a-bout and I left a community.

Then another week went by and something weird happened. The random thoughts that entered my brain had nothing to do with the latest “fail,” privacy policy debacle or the latest book release. They didn’t even relate to my stories, even though they’re always there.

I started seeing color — and not in that psychedelic-you’re-doing-acid kind of a way. And then I started drawing again and designing jewelry and painting and…

Somewhere in between a jump ring and a stolen paintbrush (one of my kitties really likes them…), I reached that moment of nirvana. “This is [f-bomb] cool,” I said.

And then? (insert drum roll here) I looked at my work. And I was in awe of self. I was back, baby. All that stupid b.s. I was going through where I’d freeze at my monitor and second-guess my work was gone, gone, gone.

And all I needed — all I ever needed — was to put down the shiny tools and breathe. Pay attention to my surroundings. Listen to the voices in my head.

And just be natural about it.

I’m the type of writer who loves the word “interstitial.” I draw maps. I draw characters. I have all the tools to start crafting a grimoire for my urban fantasy setting. I’ve got a song I wrote for that zombie story you may have heard me mention several bazillion times before.

None of these things have been released to you, the reader, but they exist in my haven. I need/crave/live on stories because they have a life of their own. They become meaningful in a way that I can’t even begin to explain. But it’s right there, it’s attached to me and it’s something that has gone beyond the pale. At that point, it’s not about making money or getting published or being famous or whatever… It’s about being a storyteller and understanding what. that. means.

Sometimes, the business stuff gets in the way of being a writer. Sometimes, the potential or the promise of business stuff gets in the way of being a writer and it kills you. Sometimes, constantly hearing about other people’s work or successes or failures or frustrations gets in the way of being a writer — if you’re not whole.

After a few weeks of silence I realized that one of the reasons why I was using social media was to replace something that was missing. Call it justification or validation or whatever you will, but there was a gaping hole I was using the community-at-large to fill. I was looking to other writers to console me, to understand my frustrations, to see how they’re making it.

Without thinking about it, I was looking for ways to feel confident that I had a chance — a snowball’s chance in hell — of “making it.”

And it’s all b.s. It honestly, truly is because you never, ever stop writing or telling stories. For many of us, it doesn’t end with one publication or one novel. If you want to be a writer, all you have to do is write and keep writing and keep submitting. That’s it. It’s exactly like playing an instrument. Once you learn how to play it, you keep practicing. Sometimes you get a tip or a lesson to hone your technique, but if you record yourself you can self-correct and keep improving.

Even after you get to a point where you’re a good writer, fit can hit the shan. A part of your mind takes over and screws everything up. Publishers won’t buy your books without readers. And marketing. And a platform or else they’ll give you less money and publish someone else’s book. Then comes the “oh-my-god-can-I-earn-a-living-at-this”?

Then, you start feeling obligated to be accessible 24-7. Or else. Because your social media platform is work and you have to maintain it.

To quote The Last Samurai: TOO MANY MIND.

NONE of that stuff matters. None of it. It doesn’t matter who’s promoting what book or who is popular right now. It doesn’t matter what the new shiny tools do or how they’ll save your life someday because you’ve now shaved off 4 minutes of your time. What does count? What I found out?

A writer needs to have a good relationship with his/her work. If you don’t have that? You don’t have squat.

If you have to apologize for the fact that your story got published by small press, or that you offered it up on a fan fiction site, or that it’s available for free, or that you self-published… If you have to APOLOGIZE for getting published in non-traditional venues or explain away to the author who thinks your work is crap because it’s not at a “big house” — then you do not have a good relationship with your work. You don’t. Because you are doing the same thing I did. You are apologizing for the fact that you are not as big as the next guy — when all that matters is that you’re telling a story and you’re going to tell another one… And another one… And another one…

And the worse part about it? This is especially heinous if it’s a damn, good story.

Nothing else should become between you and your writing. For me? I was cheating on my work with social media because I am not a rampant self-promoter. I want my readers to read, to review, to engage without ramming my work down their throat. It’s soooo easy to Twitter or Facebook or update a one-liner to spread the word and take care of that self-promotion thing. Only that’s not the only way or the best way. You know it. I know it. We all know it. Yet, we still think it’s that important.

So sometimes? You have to have “the talk.” With yourself. I did. And while I still find myself apologizing sometimes because it’s a hard, hard habit to break? I’m writing my ass off, people.

The rest of it? Money, fame, fortune? It may come. It may not. But I am past the point of caring. To worry about how many readers I don’t have rather than concentrate on the number of readers I DO have is a huge disservice to anyone who’s taken an interest in my work. I apologize.

And that, my dear Sarah…is how I found “me.” It took getting off of social media to know how to cut past the b.s. and get funky with my stories in the best, absolutely greatest way possible. By setting aside other people’s expectations I didn’t even know I was reacting to, I got down to basics before I made up a few of my own. And that’s what I’m sticking with. Right now? It’s my rules, my way, my stories.

I couldn’t be happier.

Monday’s Manic Musings of Magnificence

After staying up into the wee hours of the night re-reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I was a little groggy this morning. So? Down, down, down I went, down the road of hyper-caffeinated.

And now I’m flying. WHOO-HOOO! The end result being these magnificently manic musings that shall now assault your senses for Monday’s post. While listening to Muse. You’ve been warned…

We’re in the process of moving website servers, so it looks like all the traffic-related issues are going to disappear shortly. I’m pretty excited about that, because it’s been a pain dealing with load times. I’m going to be writing a new monthly column and plan on celebrating that with an appropriate theme week. Plus, we’ve got a great promotion coming up in July for and I suspect our traffic will spike.

When I started going back to conventions this year, I got the chance to sit down and talk shop with people I’ve gotten to know. I had a really good conversation with Monte Cook and Matt Forbeck over dinner, and it’s still sticking with me. One of the things Matt pointed out was that I’m probably hypersensitive to rampant self-promoters because of my background in online marketing.

Yeah, this is true. However, I think there’s something to be said for the brave souls who are trying to navigate through the upheaval in the industry. It does take a lot of gumption/cajones/audacity to put yourself out there and say “buy my book.” (Or books, as the case may be.) I’m not comfortable with super-aggressive tactics because that’s not my personality. When I walk into a store, for example, I hate being hounded by salespeople. I want the time to browse and decide for myself what I need/want to get.

My style of sales is to build relationships with people. I want to get to know my readers, because I feel they’re my clients. I’m not going to make every reader happy, but hearing from them is so, so important because books are the end result of a symbiotic relationship between writers and readers. Without readers, I wouldn’t exist.

Sales and marketing techniques are definitely author’s choice, because different things work for different people. It’s the same thing like developing a writing career. Some authors are happy publishing one book; others are in it for the long haul.

The biggest trick, I feel, is finding that balance of what you’re happy with. The more I learn about my work as an author, the more I learn about myself. I think that’s pretty tricky for most authors to figure out, but for me? I didn’t “choose” to be a writer. This vocation chose me. (Or more like, demanded that I do this or else.)

Like many authors, a lot of things got in the way of that vocation. Job. Life. Etc. No, there’s never supposed to be an excuse, but no matter what I’m doing — I always come back to it. I can’t quit my word addiction, because when/if I do, I no longer feel whole.

Right now, I don’t feel whole persay, because my writing has been touch-and-go due to a bout of Eeyore-itis. But now? I’m energized and ready to rock my keyboard. Ready. To. ROCK.

Of course, it helps that I know exactly what I want to write. 🙂 BOO-YAH!

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Monica Valentinelli >

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