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.
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.
I’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.