We have a fun treat today! Beth Cato drops by for an interview. I reviewed her book The Clockwork Dagger a while back. She has some great answers, and even confirmed a suspicion I had. Not too shabby for a Tuesday!
Beth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.
She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN (an RT Reviewers’ Choice Finalist) from Harper Voyager. Her novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE is a Nebula nominee. BREATH OF EARTH begins a new steampunk series set in an alternate history 1906 San Francisco.
Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.
Zen: Let’s get the important stuff out of the way first. I understand you grew up playing video games, and that shaped your imagination for your future writings. So, what were your earliest games, and which one(s) really got you hooked?
Beth Cato: My earliest role-playing games were Dragon Warrior I and Final Fantasy I for Nintendo. I loved them, but I was horrible at them. More often than not, I acted as a mere spectator while my big brother played. That changed when I first played Final Fantasy II (IVj) for Super Nintendo. It rocked my world with its deep story and realistic, flawed characters. Because of that game, I found fantasy literature, and years later, I met my husband because of our mutual love of FF games!
Zen: Do you still play games, or do you just not have time to get sucked into that particular rabbit hole?
Beth Cato: Sadly, the latter is true. I just don’t have time to play anymore because it means I have to sacrifice writing or reading time. The only game I am doing right now is Neko Atsume on my phone because it requires a few minutes here and there to feed digital cats and coo over the cute animation.
Zen: Speaking of pastimes that feed into the art of writing, are there any tv series, movies, or books that you’re currently working through, which light up your imagination? The Expanse certainly got my cervos tingling for sci-fi writing, so what about you?
Beth Cato: My happy escape right now is the Great British Baking Show because it lights up my imagination in totally different ways. I swear, this show is what has enabled me to survive the writing process of my most recent book. It’s so pleasant, cozy, and smart, and it’s the perfect way to quiet my revision-crazy brain before bed.
Zen: Steampunk is a curious genre, where it’s a mix of magic and technology. The technology can seem quite antiquated, yet do things that are very futuristic. Do you think these seemingly oxymoronic traits have anything to do with the popularity of the genre?
Beth Cato: Absolutely. There’s a strong maker element to steampunk that carries over well to the real world. I know there has been some criticism of steampunk literature, rightly, that it can glorify colonialism, but I like to approach steampunk in a way that’s more empowering to everyone. I think that retro-futurism element is part of that. In a book, a refugee can rummage through trash and rubble and make something extraordinary albeit raw in design—and the same is true in our world, where artisans can rework Nerf guns into copper and silver-painted beauties.
Zen: Let’s move on to your own steampunk work. The male lead in The Clockwork Dagger is an amputee. I love seeing diversity in books, and people who have developed around particular events. What made you decide to go that route with Alonzo?
Beth Cato: I really wanted to show that a hero could have a disability yet still be full of ability; Alonzo doesn’t let his missing leg define who he is. That sort of representation is important to me.
Zen: In The Clockwork Dagger, Octavia’s powers are based on a sort of religion that confers powers upon her. In developing this protagonist, how did you struggle among her innate abilities, her faith/devotion and the subsequent blessings given to her, and her active personality?
Beth Cato: It involved a lot of balancing. First of all, there’s the issue of having a protagonist with profound magical powers becoming too god-like. I confined Octavia’s abilities with a reliance on blessed herbs and a set circle for her to heal people. I also wanted her fervent religious beliefs to be a positive. Some recent science fiction and fantasy works take a more cynical approach to faith, or uses it as a motivation for the bad guy. Octavia goes through a lot in both books, and struggles through major crises in faith, but her belief is one of her strongest characteristics.
Zen: One of the things I liked best about The Clockwork Dagger was how it was steampunk, but had a cozy mystery sort of feel. Was that vibe intentional, or is that just my weird take on it?
Beth Cato: It was totally intentional! My initial concept for the book was “Murder on the Orient Express, on an airship.” My mom raised me on Agatha Christie mysteries, and that had a big impact on me.
Zen: You’ve been working the con circuit for a while now. Which ones do you think are best for authors and people who want to meet authors?
Beth Cato: I think the mid-sized comicons around the United States really offer the best opportunity to meet authors. My local Phoenix Comicon has done amazing things with the author track the past few years, with a variety of panels and abundant book-signing slots. It’s pretty easy to stop and gab with most of the authors, with the exception being big names like Diana Gabaldon. I have heard really great things about Emerald City Comicon up in Seattle, too.
Let’s finish up with some word association! No thinking—just spit out whatever word comes to mind first.
Smorgasbord—the rat from Charlotte’s Web
Heart—beats per minute