Marshall Payne

An Interview with Cat Rambo

An Interview with Cat Rambo

Cat Rambo’s short fiction has appeared in many quality markets: Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Weird Tales, to name just a few. She was co-editor of Fantasy Magazine from 2007-2011, which earned her a 2012 World Fantasy Special Award: Non-Professional nomination. Her first collection, Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight, was published by Paper Golem in 2009. Her most recent collection, Near + Far, has just been released by Hydra House. Learn more about Cat at her website/blog The World Remains Mysterious.

Your latest collection is published by Hydra House. What can you tell us about them and how the collection came about?

I had been thinking about doing a self-published SF collection in an e-version only, but when I talked to Tod McCoy, who is Hydra House’s owner and also part of the writing group I belong to (Horrific Miscue Seattle), he proposed handling a print version. Over the course of time, it became clear he should be handling the electronic version as well. Working with Hydra House has been an absolute joy, and I’m hoping to work with Tod on more projects in the future. I cannot begin to say how beautifully the book has turned out under Tod’s expert guidance and how proud I am of it.


Near + Far is formatted like an Ace Double, one side features all near-future stories; flip it over for the far-future stories. Whose idea was that and when looking over the stories you wanted to publish did the Near/Far idea strike you immediately?

The double format was my idea, which came to me when I was looking over the list of stories and seeing that they were equally divided between near future and far future. I told Tod I had a wild idea, proposed it to him, and he ran with it. I loved the old Ace Doubles, and one of the fun things Tod did with the cover was manage to reference the look of them through his choice of font and color.

I think books need to take into account the rise of electronic publishing, and physical books must become something more than just a way to deliver text. Between the interior and exterior art, the gorgeous layout, and the cool form, Near + Far is a piece of art itself.

How is this collection different from Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight?

ELSCAM is pure fantasy, full of zombies, manticores, and wind elementals. I wanted to show that I wrote science fiction as well, and I was pleased that when I sat down to look, I had more than enough stories to fill such a collection. In fact, we ended up cutting a lot from the list to keep the book from being twice as long.

The first story in the near-future section is “The Mermaids Singing, Each to Each,” which shows your skill at not only worldbuilding but characterization, as well. What aspects do you find most satisfying about this piece?

I love that story because to me it’s an example of what can happen with a fortunate collision of ideas. I wanted to write a tribute to Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, and I’d also had an idea about carnivorous mermaids, since I’d been seeing a slew of non-carnivorous ones in the slush at Fantasy Magazine. A friend, Katherine Sparrow, posted a link to an article about floating masses of garbage currently existing in our oceans, and that was the thing that made everything click for me. It originally appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine, which I’m always happy to be published in, because they are putting out, in my opinion, some of the best speculative fiction around.


Your story “Amid the Words of War” is depicted on the Far cover of this collection. It was also selected for the Prime Books anthology War and Space. What can you tell us about this story and where did the inspiration for it come from?

“Amid the Words of War” was inspired by something Octavia Butler said to my Clarion West class about her own Lilith’s Brood. I wanted to talk about a prisoner of war who returns to find itself suspect because of its imprisonment. I also was working on a series of stories set on TwiceFar Station, the setting for most of the story, and so I had Six take up employment in one of TwiceFar’s odder establishments, a brothel called The Little Teacup of the Soul.

What do you consider some of the principal advantages and disadvantages when writing a far-future story as compared to a near-future one?

I think it’s in many ways harder to predict the changes to society in the far future. We carry so many cultural assumptions that end up affecting what we take for granted will appear. A few years ago, I read an Asimov story which went along fine until I realized he was presuming that the gender roles of his time would not change, leading to an odd Leave It To Beaver type of establishment on the Moon. I don’t think he actually went so far as to posit white picket fences around the houses the wives were all baking apple pies in, but it was close and it was pretty clear he never thought that women might want to pilot the spaceships themselves once in a while.

Advantages? Well, you can get wild and wacky and presume all sorts of changes. Near future, you need to be more aware of what the existing technology is like.

What else are you working on? What's next for you?

I’m currently reworking the first volume in a fantasy trilogy that takes place in a location I’ve set a lot of stories, the seaport of Tabat, and hoping to have that ready for prime time by the end of September. After that, I’m waiting to see, but I’ll still be spinning stories. I just finished a novella set in the world of the Fathomless Abyss, a shared world overseen by Phillip Athans, and I’ve got the sequel to that half written and slated to be finished soon.
Marshall Payne

Tangent Online review of "The Blue Testament"

Another review of my Jesus/Jaguar/jaws-of-life story in Triangulation: Morning After. This one at Tangent Online by reviewer Chuck Rothman.

"The Blue Testament" by Marshall Payne is a very different look at Jesus and his apostles, set in a modern day world where they are a pack of showmen. Jesus has died in a car crash, and the others wonder if he'll manage to make it back again this time. It's flash fiction, carried off with a lot of brio and fun, and the concept is an amusing one.

And a one-line review on by Trent Walters: "Marshall Payne -- stylish rendering of Jesus as a modern stage-show performer." Trent also recently reviewed the antho on SF Site.

Always nice to see what readers think of one of my fave flash pieces.

Traingulation - The Morning After

Marshall Payne

In which I’m “likely to offend…”

Trent Walters at SF Site says:

“Marshall Payne is likely to offend a few Christians with his "Blue Testament" but the voice and rhythm I found compelling. J.C.'s gang of apostles mope as his Jaguar has crashed and they presume Him dead, but he dashes back out on stage at the end. This didn't carve out much for itself, but the ride was interesting.”

I love this review, if only because…well, you know And there’s just not enough “Jesus crashing his Jaguar and the paramedics trying to get Him out with the jaws of life” fiction out there. It's an underrepresented sub-sub-genre.

Marshall Payne

Fictional Snorts

In fiction, characters laugh, giggle, chuckle, guffaw, cackle, snigger, chortle, and titter. They also snort. Snort? Yes, I know what a snort is. From Merriam-Webster:

: to force air violently through the nose with a rough harsh sound.

Over the last few months of reading, I’ve come across character after character snorting. Sometimes several characters in the first 100 pages of a novel snort. Moms snort, dads snort, children snort, mayors of major metropolitan cities snort, as well as the homeless, the impoverished, the down-and-out. People who don’t have anything to snort about snort!

Even in short fiction, character after character snort. Lately, in what I’ve been reading, fictional characters snort a lot!

My problem is that I can't remember the last time I saw or heard someone IRL snort. I can’t even ever remember snorting myself. (It’s gotta hurt, right?)

Snorting is an involuntary action. Can anyone reading this make themselves snort on command? If you can, put it up on You Tube. I wanna see it! And I’m not talking about white powder off a mirror.

Now, every time I see a character snort in fiction, I only see the writer introducing a minor stage direction to show a character in some unbelievable action. I see authorial intrusion! The occasional snort used to be fine. But if all your characters snort… See my point?

So, could we please have a five-year moratorium on snorting in fiction? I think we've reached our snorting quota until 2017.

Thank you!

Marshall Payne

An Interview with Tali Spencer

An Interview with Tali Spencer
Tali Spencer writes fantasy romances, both M/F and M/M, and is an active member of SFWA and RWA. Thanks to a restless father, she grew up as a bit of a nomad and has lived in more than a dozen U.S. states. Her vagabond youth lives on in a tendency to travel whenever she can. She and her husband reside in Pennsylvania, where she creates alternate worlds through which her characters can roam, brawl, and find themselves in each other’s arms. Learn more about her at her website Brilliant Disguise.

Tali has three ebooks just released or coming soon: Captive Heart, Sorcerer’s Knot and The Prince of Winds.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Upbringing, education, your writing before you became an author of erotic speculative fiction?

Though living on the East Coast is starting to corrupt me, I’m really pure Midwest because that’s where I spent most of my adult life. As a child, I was dragged from state to state by my father, who was a missile engineer, so you can imagine some of the places I’ve been: El Paso (yep, saw the atom bomb proving grounds at White Sands in New Mexico), Colorado (I’ve been under Cheyenne Mountain), California, Massachusetts (you’d be surprised), Virginia, New Jersey, Wisconsin… well, I can go on and on. I was in a new school every year, was always the kid with the funny accent and no friends. I’d eventually make a few friends, then move away. Books were more constant. My dad and mom were both great readers and our house always filled with everything from current magazines and novels to history books the size of Buicks. The fact is I started imagining stories just to create people and worlds I didn’t have to leave behind. I’d tell them to my sister at night (we shared a bed) and on our walks to and from school. It helped to have an audience.

I married at 19, and had children and things were good for a while. I spent a fair amount of time in South America, and wrote my first novel while raising three active boys. No one was more surprised than me when I sold it to DAW. It was science fiction and is now so far out of print I don’t even mention it as a writing credit. That book never led to anything else because I was young and knew absolutely nothing about what it takes to build a writing career. I had no support at all. My kids were little, I had no writer friends to turn to for advice, and my marriage was falling apart. I couldn’t even interpret my royalty statements. So I just let it go and went back to college, got my degree, and became an airport executive.

Why did you choose erotic fiction as your new direction. What is it about the genre that excites you?

My stories have always had sex in them, even the novel published by DAW. Sex is such a primal drive and I just love the power inherent in desire, so I have always explore it, though edited out the explicit parts before submitting my work. Maybe if I’d left in the sex, I could have sold that epic fantasy! Long story short, my books didn’t attract an agent—but my erotic fiction, which I’d begun posting on a free site, was attracting readers. Well, I love having readers! So I wrote more erotica, because I’m a writer, a storyteller, and soon I thought maybe I should try to, you know, publish those stories. Other people were. Why not me?

I still write what I love. I create alternate world fantasies with deep world-building, high stakes, and richly developed characters—except now the characters happen to enjoy their sex on the page and romance figures more heavily in the plots. Best of all has been finding readers who enjoy what I do and with whom I can share positive portrayals of (mostly) human sexuality.

Erotic romance is also a young, vital genre that’s enjoying great success in the eBook world. I’m not sure whether or not Fifty Shades of Grey represents a change in the mass market, but erotica is a huge seller in the eBook universe.

Your novel Captive Heart is a M/F fantasy romance. What can you tell us about the two main characters and obstacles they face?

Captive Heart is a sexy, sweet (R-rated) romance about Julissa, a sheltered princess who finds herself not altogether reluctantly in the arms of Gaspar, the man who conquered her country. Having hot steamy sex is only the beginning of their problems, because Gaspar carries Julissa and her very large family off to his country of Uttor, where even worse enemies await. It’s set in a world where firearms are newly invented and gods are still alive and kicking. Gaspar’s a far from perfect hero (he has a big nose and makes some dreadful mistakes in judgment) and Julissa is my response to reading one too many sword-wielding princesses. She’s not trying to kick over the traces or be a rebel. Her battles aren’t physical. She has to be strong in quite different ways if she’s to survive. I’m very much a feminist, and I think that includes the right to enjoy female characters that aren’t kick-ass. I don’t think the only positive role models for human beings are those who wield swords and display attitude. Pluck and kindness have their place in the world.


Sorcerer’s Knot, a novella, is a M/M secondary-world fantasy. Where did the idea for this story come from? The worldbuilding?

I had been kicking around an idea for a story about a sorcerer who gets powerful magic from a sea creature, but it never quite came into focus and I shelved it. Earlier this year, my friend and fellow M/M writer, MA Church, got in touch with me about this anthology that wanted tentacle stories and wouldn’t it be fun to be in it together. I thought, hey! I could make my sea creature into a tentacle monster! I enjoy anime, not to mention Lovecraft’s classic Cthulhu tales, so I was off and running. Now the story’s about an ambitious and unscrupulous young wizard who seeks out a spellbound, desolate island inhabited by shipwrecked humans and the mysterious sorcerer whose spell has trapped them there—along with something that threatens to destroy them all. Clearly the theme is “be careful what you wish for.” At the same time, it’s a love story, about two damaged men who find in each other what they most need. Both men change and grow.

The world-building gave me the title spell of the story. A sorcerer’s knot is a spell that cannot be broken. Or can it? I created a magic system that answered the question: how does one obtain power over the sea in this world? And the answer led me to a sorcerer who needed to imprison something terrible and the spell he used to do it is where the title came from. Everything in the story stems from that spell: the hostile environment of the island, the people trapped there, the sorcerer’s pain and the protagonist’s flawed ambition. Even the erotic content exists around that spell. The story was a hoot to write.

When the anthology changed from pay to no pay before we submitted our stories, I sent Sorcerer’s Knot to Dreamspinner Press instead, on the chance they’d be interested in a strange, poetic fantasy about wizards and tentacle monsters. To my delight, they picked it up and artist Anne Cain gave it a first-rate cover. I hope readers enjoy it. And M. sold her novella—Nighttime Wishes, about an alien with tentacles—to Romance First and it was also released as a book.

Your M/M romances are typically read by a female readership. What do you see as the attraction as to why women enjoy this type of fiction?

I can’t speak for all women readers of M/M romance, of course, and anything I say will be a generalization, but I think one of the attractions is related to a point I made earlier about a shift in M/F romance. I was talking just the other day with a woman, someone I barely know, who grinned ear to ear when I said I write M/M romance. She was completely on board with it. Being curious, I asked her why she read it, and she said, “I’m fed up with usual romances. The woman is always perfect. And they don’t seem to like men!”

Now that’s interesting, because romantic women tend to like men. I read romance, too, lots of it, and I can see where this woman could get the impression of heroines not liking men. Not so much in historicals or fantasy, which are my hunting ground, but I’ve seen quite a few stories in which the heroine is perpetually sharp-tongued and dismissive of the hero. And that impression intersects with talks I’ve had with various people (female and male alike) about the Lifetime (channel) equation: “Woman good, man bad.” So I’ve come to think female readers are responding to the positive portrayals of men in M/M romance. At least, to portrayals they consider positive.

There are other reasons, of course. Many. Women have long had front row seats when it comes to being disenfranchised members of society, and some read M/M romance as part of their sincere support of GLBT rights and making society more inclusive. That’s one of my reasons. And women love sex, make no mistake about that, so some read M/M because they enjoy hot manlove.

theprinceofwinds 350

What’s the kinkiest scene you’ve gotten past an editor?

That would have to be the tentacle sex/torture scene in Sorcerer’s Knot. And I didn’t really get it past the editors, because they caught it, all of them. I think every editor at Dreamspinner read that story! <laugh>  I was asked, very nicely, to tone it down, which I was happy to do. The editorial suggestions were great and the scene completely does what it needs to do without being overly graphic.

Where would you like to see your career in five years?

I would love to have built a readership, because for me writing is all about creating worlds and characters and stories for readers to enjoy. Let’s see… in five years, I hope to have written and released all the Captive Heart/Uttor cycle of romances in two series, launched a new series I have in my head for the Prince of Winds universe, have a M/M series about pirates, and have moved readers into my Triempery universe. I hope to be making enough money I can be proud of adding my income onto the tax return. But mostly, I hope I will have readers who enjoy my work and look forward to the next book.

Marshall Payne

Free today!

Today, both my stories “A German Storyteller” and “Imago” are free for Kindle.

“A German Storyteller”: When Zoie Apple of Fredericksburg, Texas purchases an old German-style oven from the Grimm brothers, she gets more than she bargains for. Enter Hank and Gretchen, two no-good punks with designs on Zoie’s oven-baked goodies. Don’t miss “A German Storyteller,” a retelling of “Hansel and Gretel” from the point of view of the oven!

“Imago”: On Ganymede, famous psivid artist Anthony Martel and the holographic illusion of his wife are not the celebrated couple they once were. Broke and desperate, Anthony is forced to gamble the essence of his dead wife in a game of Quombie. But is Kyla really his dead wife―or is she’s an imago? Don’t miss this cyberpunk thriller played out in a high-fantasy world of the human mind!

A German Storyteller cover Imago cover