Cat Rambo: Five Things I Learned Writing Beasts Of Tabat
When countryboy Teo arrives in the coastal city of Tabat, he finds it a hostile place, particularly to a boy hiding an enormous secret. It’s also a city in turmoil, thanks to an ancient accord to change governments and the rising demands of Beasts, the Unicorns, Dryads, Minotaurs and other magical creature on whose labor and bodies Tabat depends. And worst of all, it’s a city dedicated to killing Shifters, the race whose blood Teo bears.
When his fate becomes woven with that of Tabat’s most famous gladiator, Bella Kanto, his existence becomes even more imperiled. Kanto’s magical battle determines the weather each year, and the wealthy merchants are tired of the long winters she’s brought. Can Teo and Bella save each other from the plots that are closing in on them from all sides?
IF YOU’RE A WRITER, YOU’RE IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL
The book that’s coming out in April, Beasts of Tabat, is one that I’ve been working on, in one form or another, since the fall of 2005. (And before you ask, yes boy howdy, it’s extremely satisfying to see it finally coming into print.)
I put one version aside, came back to it, wrote three other novels, but kept returning, incorporating what I was learning over a long span of time. In this I’ve differed from some friends who I’ve seen publish longer works faster, but the thing that’s kept being emphasized is that writing is a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s okay to pace yourself accordingly.
One of the nice things about all that labor is that a) the three following books are mapped out (at least the overall highlights) and b) book number two, Hearts of Tabat, arrived partially written already because it focuses on two characters who got shifted out of Beasts. So a lot of it is written — it’s just that I still need to make it make sense on the page as well as it does in my head.
Even when finished, it kept being a long haul. I sent it off to my agent, he shopped it around, and there weren’t any offers that didn’t feel a bit exploitative to the point where neither he nor I wanted to say yes. That took a year and a half and if I hadn’t started working on something else immediately after handing it off, I would have gone crazy, I think. It helps to have worked in software — you gotta ship that product and then move onto the next thing.
TO THY OWNSELF BE TRUE IS ON THE MARK
I learned that you can be true to yourself and worry later about the publishing. I wrote the book I wanted to write, in a world that has fascinated me ever since I first set a story in it, and I wrote an unlikely pair of protagonists, who I deeply love. This book wanders around in both fantasy and more literary territory in a way that, I hope, will satisfy both kinds of readers. I didn’t try to write a book according to what I thought was marketable, and Beasts is strong in part because of that. There’s sex and violence, and swordfights, and all of the things that make a fantasy novel so much fun, but I put them in -because- they were fun, not because they’re part of a formula.
I don’t mean to make it sound as though I think everyone else is writing to a formula, because that’s not what I’m getting at. What I want to say is, it’s okay to sit down and write and find out what happens. What emerges is a landscape all at once already unfamiliar and totally unknown. Writing by the seat of your pants can yield amazing stuff if you’re willing to look around and readjust your course every once in a while.
YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN
I’ve learned that you can come back to a world over and over again, learning more about it each time. One of the things I’ve found myself doing is assembling the history of the world out of the stories that I’ve written in it so far, I think close to a dozen now, and I’ve found in doing that task that many of those stories fit in some way with the overall novel. In fact, “In the Lesser Southern Isles,” a story that appeared in a pirate anthology called Black Sails and then in my collection Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight, prefigures a good part of Book Three, tentatively titled Exiles of Tabat.
One of the concepts key to the book came out of a short story of mine that Clarkesworld Magazine published, called “I’ll Gnaw Your Bones, the Manticore Said.” It’s a detail that stuck with me, and in the novel we learn more about it and the people who’ve employed. (I apologize for being ambiguous, but I hate spoilers.)
The city is almost as much a character as any other, and one of the things I love about it is the history of it that I’ve developed over time, including all the little quirks that make it distinctive, some of which I hope come across in the book. For more of that texture, I’m running some flash pieces set in that world every weekday through the last week of March and the first half of April.
THINGS ARE CHANGING
Not so much in the writing, but in the selling, I learned a lot about the ways that publishing is changing. I’m publishing Beasts with a small press, Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta’s Wordfire Press. I’d published two collections with small presses before then and learned that I had to do a lot of things myself, but refreshingly enough, Wordfire isn’t like that. It is one of the most professional outfits I’ve worked with, actually, and one of the things I’m looking forward to seeing at Emerald City Comic Con is how they use their booth to push books as well as awareness of the press.
NETWORKING = DOUBLE PLUS GOOD
I learned that networking really is important. I sold the book myself due to a chance conversation at MileHighCon in Denver when my spouse and I stopped there on our way through town. And now that I’m trying to push the book, a lot of the contacts that I’ve made in the past are coming into play.
One of the fun things is that the book owes a good bit to a session of Taos Toolbox where Saladin Ahmed was workshopping Throne of the Crescent Moon and Scott Andrews was thinking about forming an online magazine that would become Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Now the book’s got a lovely blurb from Saladin on the cover, and Scott is running a companion novelette, “Primaflora’s Journey,” in April along with a book giveaway.
I’ve tried to go to places where I knew I had fans already is promoting it — as another example, there’ll be another piece of fiction, a flash story called “A Souvenir of Tabat” will be appearing as a free read on Quarterreads.com, where I’ve published a lot of flash pieces for the first week the book’s around. I’m not saying that writers should be meticulously tracking who owes them favors — but when it comes time to promote a book, it’s a good time to see who you feel comfortable enlisting and spending a little time putting together that roster.
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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: