What got you interested in writing?
I was a voracious reader from the time I was a kid. My babysitter started reading The Hobbit to me and I got so intrigued that I started sneaking chapters when she wasn’t around. Then I started making up some of my own, which my grandmother, who wrote YA sports novels, encouraged; she bought me my first typewriter, a Selectric that was state of the art in that it had a ribbon capable of typing in black OR red.
I kept writing all through grade school, then high school, and beyond, particularly when I started playing Dungeons & Dragons, around the age of twelve or so. I was always part of the school paper, then in college won a couple of competitions. That kept me going forward to get a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins. Writing’s always been a force in my life.
Tell us a little about your chosen genre.
I write all over the place: magic realism, urban fantasy, steampunk, military fantasy, near future SF, space opera….everything F&SF but hard SF, really, because I don’t feel quite as qualified there. My main foci are two different worlds: Tabat, a secondary world fantasy city in which my novels and many of my stories are set, and transformations of our own world, such as “Wizards of West Seattle,” which takes the area I live in and adds a magical overlay.
Every genre’s got its own conventions, assumptions, and traditions – that’s one of the many things that makes them fun to play with.
What are your happiest memories in your writing career?
One would be the day my first novel arrived in physical form. I carried that around all day, to the point of showing it to my barista so she could admire it.
Another is getting nominated for a Nebula Award for “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain,” around the same time I was nominated for a WFC Award for my work with Fantasy Magazine. While recognition isn’t why we write (I think), it’s lovely when it comes from your peers.
How do you handle success and failure?
In either case, move onto the next project! We do keep a bottle of champagne in the fridge for celebrating small victories. I think that’s important.
This is a weird business, and one of the things we often see are people who are overnight successes – after they’ve put in ten years of work beforehand. Perseverance is a huge part of being a writer.
What makes you write when you’re exhausted and your fingers ache?
The need to tell the story and get what’s in my head down on paper. I know that if I take time off writing, it’s harder to get started the next day, so I try to do it every day, no matter what. I take inspiration from Nora Roberts in this, and her declaration, “No truck driver ever got up in the morning and said, ‘I’ve got truck driver’s block, I need to take a day off.’” If you want it to be your job, you have to treat it as one.
Beyond that, I’ve had people come up and tell me my work has affected them, that it got them through a hard time or made them come to a realization about themselves. Those are golden moments that I treasure.
What is your advice to young and new writers?
One, butt in chair and write, first off! You can’t market your work until you actually have some to market.
Two, read in your chosen genre, and then some beyond it. Read good stuff that will inspire and challenge you. And when you hit something you love (or hate), go back and figure out why.
And finally, advice that Connie Willis gave my Clarion West back in 2005: don’t be a jackass. F&SF publishing/fandom are smaller worlds than you think, and if you’re difficult to work with, word quickly passes around. Along the same lines, the publishing intern or slush reader you’re dealing with today may well be tomorrow’s anthologist or acquisitions editor. Be kind. Beyond being smart, it makes you a better human being.
Are you a traditionalist or a digital? (paper or eBook)
I love books, and will always wander into bookshops to re-emerge with a few in hand. As a short story writer, I try to have physical copies of the collections and anthologies I particularly love, not just for easy reference, but so I can make notes to use when teaching or talking about in an essay.
But I also read a lot, usually a few dozen books each month, and so my e-reader has become important. Transportability is a big advantage – I can pack enough books that I feel secure about a lengthy plane ride on it, for one. It also lets me sample a lot of books. I’m fond of cruising Bookbub as well as often buying one of the bundles that HumbleBundle, StoryBundle, and similar companies put out, because they’re usually great values. And Kindle Unlimited lets me get a lot of stuff for free without committing myself to keeping it forever.
Do you blog?
I do! At http://www.kittywumpus.net. I blog mainly about books, writing, F&SF life, and currently what I do as President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. There’s also a good measure of silly pictures and some less-silly politics.
Do you self-publish?
Another I do! I’m finishing getting up a new version of my steampunk short story collection, Altered America, right now, plus working on a writing book called Moving From Idea to Draft. If you look on Amazon, you can see I’ve also put up a number of individual short stories on there.
If you have a publication or promotion – tell us.
I’m currently promoting my online school, The Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers (classes.catrambo.com), which does both on-demand and live classes. Right now I’m talking to a couple of folks about cool new classes, including one from Rachel Swirsky about breaking writing rules and one with Alex Acks and Paul Weimer about creating maps to go with your book.