Talking with Cat Rambo about what happens if America continues down the path of Trump

Cat Rambo is a mainstay of Seattle science fiction scene: she attends readings, she supports the community through teaching, and she represents the city as an acclaimed novelist and short story author.

Last week, Rambo announced a new project through Kickstarter: If This Goes On, an anthology that examines what might happen a generation or so into the future if the current political climate continues as it has been. Most everyone reading this has read a headline about the Trump administration over the last year and a half and wondered to themselves, “are we going to be okay?” If This Goes On attempts to answer that question.

Rambo has collected stories from 30 new and established sci-fi authors, including Seattle author (and Seattle Review of Books contributor) Nisi Shawl. Backers will help fund the publication of the book, and they will receive copies before If This Goes On is available in stores. At the time of this writing, the Kickstarter is more than halfway to its goal; if you’d like to contribute and get an e-book, paperback, or special hardback edition of the book, you can just click these words. Rambo emailed with me late last week about the project, the pains and pleasures of editing, and all the other projects she’s currently working on.

How did this project come together? Was it your idea, or were you brought on later?

This project was the result of talking with publisher Colin Coyle of Parvus Press, who I had met through mutual volunteer work with the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) in the weeks after the 2016 elections. We both felt that what we saw happening in America — the normalizing of hatred, the jettisoning of truth, and the corruption of so many basic values — was something that writers had to address. That in an era where questions of responsibility, humanity, and basic ethics are being raised on a daily - sometimes it seems like hourly - basis, we agreed that writers had to speak out, using the genre most adapted to predicting the future, speculative fiction.

We did a mix of half solicited stories and half open call, because it’s important to me that projects like this be open to newer writers. As a result we got some dynamite pieces from both established writers and some names that I think will be coming up over and over again in years to come. Some of the futures explored in the book are purely metaphorical, while others seem entirely too possible. I was pleased with the range of stories turned in, and the fact that there were so many hopeful ones.

These are some very impressive authors — as an editor, is it more difficult to edit people you admire? And every editor/writer relationship is different—it seems like it would be incredibly difficult to edit 30 different contributors, because you’d have to learn 30 different ways to edit a text. Would you say that’s true, or am I just a bad editor?

Yes! One does not want to offend -- or worse yet, misunderstand -- the writing of someone whose work you love. But to me the job of an editor is to make the story more so, to figure out how, in the words of the immortal Spinal Tap, one turns the good parts up to 11 while smoothing any roughnesses. I’ve just finished up those edits, and it’s impressed me again with what a solid book this is.

Is there anything you’d say to someone who loves these authors and wants to support the book but is feeling incredibly burnt out about current events?

Well, for one, I’m right there with everyone else in feeling a little burned out by the onslaught. But, as I said, there’s some messages of hope there, expressions of the innate goodness many of us (myself included) believe human beings are capable of. Moreover, the book has a sense of community, of knowing others are there with you in going ‘woah, wait a minute, things have gone beyond the pale.’

And if you don’t want to read it, buy it as a gift for a friend! The Kickstarter’s got some nifty levels to it if you want to show solidarity with the project.

For me as a reader, it was hard, even impossible, to read fiction the year after Trump became president. Some of it had to do, I think, that I was dealing with novels that were written before the supposedly unthinkable happened, so they felt weirdly out-of-date, even if they were brand new. As a writer, did you have to rethink the way you approached fiction?

I think I had a few months where I could not write near future SF at all. On a purely practical level, some sections of the possible future got closed off, and events skewed so wackily that I, along with other people, kept waking up with the sense we’d wandered into a badly written TV show that was refusing to end. I worked on my fantasy novel, Hearts of Tabat, the one that just came out, in part because it’s an attempt to talk about how oppression works.

Teaching, strangely enough, was also comforting because it reinforced and built my awareness of some of the fierce young activists getting stirred up by events.

You’re typically what I’d describe as a prolific author, but this year seems especially big for you—you only just had a launch party for the second book in your Tabat Quartet. Are you working harder than ever, or have publication dates just aligned like some remarkable multi-planet eclipse? Do you have any more publications on the horizon?

I think that’s partially a result of the way publishing works and the fact that I’m a hybrid author doing both traditional and indie publishing. Hearts of Tabat is out through Wordfire Press, run by Kevin J. Anderson (who actually edited the book) while I’ve got a nonfiction book about writing, Moving From Idea to Draft, that just came out this week, and am re-issuing two collections this year. Right now I’m working on Exiles of Tabat, the third fantasy novel, with my target of a first draft by summer’s end in sight and a release date of next May, barring disaster and/or the release of a videogame with as much allure as Skyrim held for me.

At the same time - yeah, I’m reasonably prolific, striving a la Stephen King for 2,000 words a day, mainly because I’m pragmatic and know that if I’m not writing, stuff’s not getting published. I’m lucky enough not to have a day job but the boss I’ve ended up working for is tougher than any other employer I’ve ever had. Still, I’m blessed in that I can take on some projects like this one, which is very much a work of passion and love.