Beth Cato is the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER steampunk fantasy series from Harper Voyager. Her short fiction is in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Daily Science Fiction. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat.
Beth was kind enough to answer some questions about The Clockwork Dagger universe and more.
Paul Weimer: For those readers unfamiliar with you, who is Beth Cato?
Beth Cato: Writer of fantasy and science fiction. Unabashed geek. Baker of evil cookies. Lover of cats. Collector of Dragon Quest slimes.
PW: The Clockwork novels are set in a steampunk universe with more than a bit of magic to it. What were your inspirations in designing the world of Caskentia?
BC: A lot of it goes back to the video games I adored as a teenager. I love the idea of an epic fantasy, medieval-based society growing up and hitting the industrial revolution. I was fourteen when Final Fantasy III came out for Super Nintendo, and it blew my mind. You have this steampunk empire taking over a world that’s still filled with magic and mythological creatures. How cool is that?! The source of healing magic in my books is also inspired by a game: Secret of Mana, where I first learned about world trees.
PW: Healers are very uncommon as protagonists in fantasy. What was your inspiration and goal in telling Octavia’s story?
BC: Healers have been an obsession of mine for years and it always dismayed me that they were never the protagonist in fantasy books. My novel that connected me with my agent was an urban fantasy with a superpowered healer. When that didn’t sell to publishers, I was determined to do a fresh take on the archetype. I decided to create a twist on Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, on an airship, with my healer as the target of murder. Octavia grew as a character from there. I wanted a heroine with profound healing magic, whose strength was more noteworthy than her beauty, who was competent on her own.
PW: Some of the tropes of the novel feel very much Victorian, as well as steampunk? Did you have any specific literary antecedents and inspirations?
BC: My setting is based on the World War I era though it’s not set on Earth. The Victorian and Edwardian periods have a definite atmosphere and lots of elements to mine. A big one is Frankenstein’s monster. I twisted that around by featuring gremlins that by magic and science are cobbled together from all sorts of animals. They are green-skinned and bat-winged. Many people find them terrifying–true monsters. Airships are a major trope of steampunk but they were and are a real form of transportation. I did my own take by heavily basing my main airship on the Hindenburg, which added plot complications such as the necessity for mooring towers.
PW: THE DEEPEST POISON is a prequel short story to THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER and tells a story about Octavia, but from an outside point of view (Miss Percival, Octavia’s boss and teacher). Did you have this story in mind before writing the novel? Why write this prequel?
BC: I had the basic events of the story in mind when I wrote The Clockwork Dagger. It’s a pivotal event for Octavia, Miss Percival, and the whole drama that develops with the Waste. I always had that itch in the back of my mind of, “This might be a neat short story someday.” When my editor approached me about writing supplemental stories in my books’ world, I immediately thought of this incident. I had to write on a very tight deadline, too, so I’m really glad I had the idea in mind and already possessed the research books.
PW: THE CLOCKWORK CROWN is the sequel to CLOCKWORK DAGGER. What new things are you eager to show readers of the first book in this new one?
BC: Foremost… more gremlins! Readers adore the gremlins, especially Leaf, and I’m happy to say that gremlins play an even bigger role this time around. Yes, Leaf will be back.
The Clockwork Dagger began with Octavia as very naive and sheltered about the real world. CROWN is where she is forced to grow up and confront her worst fears.
PW: You are becoming as well known for your baking in the genresphere as your writing. If you could bake something for Octavia and Alonzo, what would it be?
BC: Oh gosh. CHOICES. Well, the love of cheese is a recurring theme in the books. I think they would both love a baked brie. That’s when you take a brie round, top it with jam or some fruit butter and nuts, then wrap it in puff pastry to bake for like 30 minutes. You can then dip crackers into the molten cheese. It is divine.
In case you couldn’t tell, I really love cheese.
PW: With THE CLOCKWORK CROWN now out, what’s next for you?
BC: There will be more short works in The Clockwork Dagger world–a novella out in November, and another short story in April 2016. I also have another steampunk series in the works and I hope to talk more about that soon!
PW: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?
BC: BethCato.com! There’s info about my books and a full bibliography of everything else I’ve published. Every Wednesday, I post another recipe in my Bready or Not food blog. I’m best known for my decadent desserts. I love to connect with my readers. Drop by, say hi, find a cookie recipe!