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Cat Rambo, in addition to having the coolest name ever, has been an active part of SF/F for about as long as I can remember. She’s served in SFWA, and is currently running for president of the organization. She edited Fantasy Magazine. She’s a prolific author. And she has the best hair! I’m happy to welcome her to the blog to talk about her experiences as an “older” female writer in the genre.

You can check out her new book Beasts of Tabat on Amazon or Wordfire, or read more about it on her website.


A year or so ago, I celebrated my 50th birthday. I did it wonderfully, with food and friends and all sorts of festivities, but at the same time, my inner teen kept eying that number and going OMGWTFBBQ.

If you are beyond your teenage years, you know what I mean, because all of us are, to one extent or another, significantly younger in our heads than our exteriors may indicate. My mother confirms that it’s just as true in one’s 70s.

I do find my reading habits changed a little. My stance on romance nowadays has shifted. It sometimes makes me a little impatient, a little get-on-with-it when it’s not interesting, and when it is badly written. I find simplistic stuff unsatisfying unless it is absolutely, beautifully wrought. I don’t mind unhappy endings as long as they resonate and I can tell.

But it’s when I write that I sometimes feel my age, not in a bad way. Not in a bad way at all. But rather I understand things better than I used to. I have more grasp of how to flip oneself into the opposing perspective, so I can better understand what’s on the other side of a debate. I hate to call it wisdom, but yes, I have learned a few things, and because I’ve read deeply and also worked in some people-skills-intensive position, I’ve got enough of it to know I am not wise at all, and that’s farther along than some people have gotten.

Beasts of TabatI’ve come to the point where I understand something of why I write, and a little of what I want to say. I like that. And I know people better now, and that helps me create interesting characters. The novel that’s coming out, Beasts of Tabat, features a middle-aged female gladiator and a teenage shapeshifter. That’s a pair of protagonists a bit outside the norm, and I think that it’s experience that let me come up with Bella Kanto and Teo.

At the same time, as an older female writer, I’m also conscious that I’m part of a demographic traditionally dismissed, particularly in writing. I am one of that mob of dammed scribbling women that Nathaniel Hawthorne deplored. And I am aware that much of that mob has been allowed to fade from historical memory, something I see happening to some of the women in the speculative field before me right now. Something that I worry will happen to me.

There’s been lots of sturm und drang about an idea Tempest Bradford proposed, that people try one year of reading outside the standard category, and I will take it one step further: if you are an adventurous reader who likes challenging yourself, spend a year reading from outside that category, but only books that are 30+ years old, preferably even older. You’ll find the chase illuminating. You’ll find influences. You’ll find writers talking to each other, an endless call and answer throughout literature that every writer takes part in, and sometimes those conversations will startle you in their modernity. You’ll find people that maybe other people tried to erase, or maybe the hegemony just wasn’t set up to perpetuate their name — it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the renewal of energy in their names. Read in other cultures, other times.

Younger writers will find inspiration there, older writers comfort as well. And the fuel to keep going — at least that’s one of the ways I feed my own fires.

I do hope you’ll read my own new novel before embarking on the course I advise :-)

Good writing/reading to you all.


Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her fiction publications include stories in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, and Tor.com as well as three collections and her latest work, the novel Beasts of Tabat. Her short story, “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain,” from her story collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current Vice President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. For more about her, as well as links to her fiction, see http://www.kittywumpus.net.

Cat Rambo

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
paragraphs
Mar. 27th, 2015 03:45 pm (UTC)
I caught your post on Chuck Wendig's blog the other day and had made a note to buy Beasts of Tabat - this reminded me to jump over and get it. Pre-ordered! Bah, I want it now.

I am due to turn 53 at the end of May, and am working on my first fantasy. It is not my first attempt - I have 15 years' worth of versions of this thing. I finally took the advice of others and stopped trying to fix the old, but instead took all the best and started something new. I've sold a few romantic suspense novels but fantasy always drew me back to it. I never pursued it seriously until now though because I just didn't feel like I was the writer I could be, needed to be. I didn't have the chops either to write what I wanted to see, or to deal with the genre itself.

At the same time, as an older female writer, I’m also conscious that I’m part of a demographic traditionally dismissed, particularly in writing.

For too long, I let this kind of thing color my own attitude, and so just... didn't even try. I honestly regret that now, and for a time feared I was/am too late to matter anyway. For some reason both this post and your post on Wendig's site struck a vibrant chord with me. Oh I know the reason - because you are doing, in spades, and have done, all that I've dreamed of doing but have held back because...because of stupid reasons. "Cat Rambo did it, so why can't I?" Why indeed? :) LOVE the hair - my boss (lawyer) would flip though if I walked in with such pretty hair. Sigh.
la_marquise_de_
Mar. 27th, 2015 05:10 pm (UTC)
I'm 52. My mother is 84. She's smart, thoughtful and worth knowing. But since she turned 50, I've been seeing people literally behave like she isn't there. It's started happening to me, too, alongside public calls for 'those old people' to just die. Alongside the suggestion that we are not relevant. Alongside the times, over and over, when I see older women running things behind the scenes -- and going largely unnoticed by those at the front. I only have the legal dates for the UK, but there are still several generations of women here who have been told their whole lives to be good and wait their turn, up to 50, when they're told they are over and must get out of the way. The system that trains women to be walk-ons in their own lives is still working, where older women are concerned.
I'm about to start a column at Strange Horizons focusing on the women that Cat refers to; the ones who have been dropped from collective memory within sff as not relevant (and whose achievements, in some cases, have been attributed to male writers who were first published after them). But a lot of the time I despair, because whenever this is raised, the net fills up with older women expressing distress, offering support -- and no-one else steps up.
I don't have a solution.
But I'd like to thank Cat for speaking out.
owlfish
Mar. 27th, 2015 05:18 pm (UTC)
Delighted to hear you'll be doing a SH column on the subject!
maladaptive
Mar. 27th, 2015 10:11 pm (UTC)
I have to friend you so I can keep tabs on that column!
sartorias
Mar. 27th, 2015 07:24 pm (UTC)
Nodding here . . . but I am not going to look at the rest of the comments, because I am afraid it will be filled with fellow older women, and no one else, and I will be depressed.
dichroic
Mar. 27th, 2015 09:49 pm (UTC)
I've been on a kick for a while now of mid-century British women writers - there seem to have been a bunch of reissues onto Kindle which has facilitated this. There's a lot of really gorgeous writing in there - DE Stevenson and Elizabeth Goudge, Miss Read, EM Delafield, Dodie Smith. One of these days I might get around to Babara Pym and Angela Thirkell, but I confess I like happy or at least hopeful endings.
deborahblakehps
Mar. 27th, 2015 10:33 pm (UTC)
I will be turning 55 next month and had my first two novels published last year (I have 8 nonfiction books out through Llewellyn starting in my mid-40's).

It's never too late to begin. (Even if those around you ignore you. That just means you can sneak up on them when they're not looking.)
valarltd
Mar. 28th, 2015 03:53 pm (UTC)
I'm 47. Been writing professionally since I was 35. And I feel old. One of my writer friends just turned "Thirty-nine and change" refusing to be forty. I gave her the Look and said "I thought that sort of thing went out with our grandmothers."

Keep writing! The world needs all of us older ladies it can get.

I'm not doing the Bradford challenge. (My reading mood is so slapdash that if I try fitting it into a paradigm, I'll lose interest in reading anything and go crochet in front of Netflix) Your variant on it sounds very interesting through.
sunlit_music
Apr. 15th, 2015 09:35 am (UTC)
I am a young woman, and it was very reassuring to read the part on how we can inspire and learn from each other. :) I know plenty of middle aged and older people who are busy, active and lead exciting lives (including my relatives). This is a beautiful and moving article. Thank you for writing it. :)

Side note: I think Ms Rambo has amazing hair. :)

Edited at 2015-04-15 09:37 am (UTC)
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