Beth Cato Interview

Beth Cato is a fellow Harper Voyager Impulse author, maker of deliciously evil treats, and a Nebula award nominee for her novella, “Wings of Sorrow and Bone”. Her latest story in her Clockwork Dagger world, Final Flight, came out April 26th. If you’re looking for exceptional story telling (Nebula nomination!!!) or you enjoy steampunk, you can’t go wrong. Beth was nice enough to stop by the pub and answer some questions.


Welcome, Beth. First question is easy. What are you drinking?

Right now, I am partaking of my afternoon brain-boost of Grape Crystal Light with Caffeine. In terms of harder stuff, I love a sweet apple cider, vodka mix, or even some scotch.

I suppose scotch is an acceptable substitute if you can’t find any decent Irish whiskey, but moving on. Your novella, Wings of Sorrow and Bone , was nominated for the Nebula. Have you come down from the high yet of that nomination?

Not really, no. It feels even more unreal after having read the other novella nominees. They are extraordinarily good. I’m the geek hanging out with the cool kids.

We’re all rooting for you, and just hope you don’t forget about your friends when you’re famous and we start crowding onto your finely tailored coattails. Speaking of fashion, your Clockwork Dagger series is set in the Steampunk genre, do you have a special love of Victorian era history, or is it the steampunk genre in and of itself? It’s the hats and goggles, isn’t it?

I do like a fine hat, no argument there! I love steampunk because of how it straddles lines of history, technology, and magic, but the ultimate love—the one behind everything—is for historical fiction. I was a hardcore Laura Ingalls Wilder fanatic as a kid, and loved reading about the Civil War and the pioneer west. Both of my steampunk series (Clockwork Dagger and my new one, starting with Breath of Earth) are inspired by or set in the Edwardian period. I guess I like writing my steampunk mixed with some dieselpunk.

Sure, I can totally see how Little House on the Prairie can lead someone to a love for Steampunk… Anyhoo, your “Bready or Not” series on your blog is a compendium of delicious sweets and treats. Tell the truth, your cakes, cookies, and such are all part of a nefarious plan to take over the world, right?

You figured me out, Bishop. That’s actually a kinder motivation than I am usually afforded. My husband takes most of the goodies to his work, where his peers have accused me of trying to murder them with diabetes.

Your victory will be sweet indeed, and if you need a character witness I can be bought for a regular supply of cookies. Delving into your books, the protagonist of the Clockwork Dagger books is Octavia, a healer. Most fans of RPGs and other games usually see the healer as a support character. What made you want to put one front and center? Did you have any pitfalls along the way you had to deal with?

I wanted to make a healer my protagonist for that very reason. I always favored the healers/white wizards/priestesses when I played RPGs. I always wanted to see that character class as a main character in novels, and it just doesn’t happen. Healers are seen as weak–a convenience to keep the burly heroes alive–but best kept out of the action. That’s because there are some understandable pitfalls in writing that kind of character, especially if they tend toward nonviolence as Octavia does. How do they stay alive when people are trying to kill them? How do they fight back? How do they cope with the emotional aftermath? I had to strike the right balance, granting Octavia strength, savviness, and agency, even as she ardently believes in the sanctity of life.

That was a great answer, and I have no witty retort, so I’ll change topics. White chocolate: delicious treat or confectionary abomination?

Delicious treat for sure! It’s fabulous paired in cookies with macadamia nuts, and it’s a miracle shortcut in creating super-easy microwave fudge. It lends such smoothness when it’s melted down and mixed into dough. White chocolate deserves a lot more respect.

Mad respect for the white chocolate. Do you have any rituals when it comes to writing (music, quiet, wearing lucky socks, eating churros) or do you just sit and let the magic happen?

I don’t hold many rituals when it comes to my writing (beyond the standard blood sacrifices). I really need to be in my office, at my desk, with peace and quiet. My cat is usually snoring in her Amazon box nearby. I’m not one of those people who can tote around a laptop and write in coffee shops or wherever. That would be a nightmare scenario for me!

Do you prefer goats or chickens? Never mind, another time. How much planning do you do for a new book? Do you take endless notes and outline, or do you wing it and let the story unfold as you write it? Or something in between?

I’m a hardcore plotter. I create extensive outlines, and spend months and years researching. That’s been especially true with my new series, which takes place in an alternate history of 1906. My accumulated typed notes on Theodore Roosevelt alone are 8 pages, single-spaced, and I’ve read a few more books I should cull notes from.

On the topic of Teddy Roosevelt, what’s your favorite mythical creature?

Any sort of magical horse. Unicorn, pegasus, variations thereof.

Ah the majestic beauty of the fabled cornisus. So, Final Flight will be the third short format addition in this series. Do you find them easier to write than novels, or do the stories you’re telling just seem to fit in that range?

Final Flight is a long short story—about 8000 words. My two other Clockwork Dagger ebooks are The Deepest Poison, also a long short story, and my Nebula-nominated novella, Wings of Sorrow and Bone, which comes in at about 27,000-words. Wings is the only novella I have written and it was definitely an unnatural length for me to write. I’m used to doing either short stories or full-length novels!
That said, Final Flight was an excruciating story to write. I had a hard time getting into Captain Hue’s head and the story just didn’t click. Critique readers helped me immensely.

You just like saying “Nebula-nominated novella” don’t you? Can’t blame you, the alliteration alone makes it fun! What are you reading right now?

I just finished up another research book: Honor in the Dust: Theodore Roosevelt, War in the Philippines, and the Rise and Fall of America’s Imperial Dream by Gregg Jones. A fascinating read about an ignored and shameful part of American history.

It’s always nice when you enjoy your research materials. You live in Phoenix Arizona. During the month of August, what precautions do you take to keep from bursting into flames when you step outside?

Avoid going outside, or summon Mole People to burrow deep within the earth to grant me access to places.

Oh, Mole People Uber is the best, isn’t it! They always bring those little bottles of water and are so friendly! For the fans of the Clockwork Dagger series, will there be any more stories in it?

Final Flight is the last one planned for now, but I’m totally game to write more stories and books in the world!

Anything else on the horizon we should know about and go preorder right this very minute so we don’t miss out when it’s released?

Yes! Breath of Earth! It’s out on August 23rd. Geomancy and mythological creatures in 1906 California. It’s dark, intense, and I hope, somewhat educational about what really happened in history.

I look forward to checking it out. Thanks so much for stopping by and good luck in your plans of world conquest through diabetes induced homicide. Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger series from Harper Voyager, which includes her Nebula-nominated novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE. Her newest novel is BREATH OF EARTH. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat. Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.

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