Tuesdays with Lexie: Beth Cato

8/23/2016 10:00:00 AM Lexie Dunne 0 Comments

Welcome to Tuesdays with Lexie, the feature where I invite other authors and/or interesting people onto the LexieCon to answer very important questions. Today's guest is a woman who happens to commit battery with breadsticks (limp ones, at that), and a good friend of mine. That's right, I nagged Beth Cato, author of the fantastic BREATH OF EARTH (out today), CLOCKWORK DAGGER, CLOCKWORK CROWN, and multitude of short stories and novellas (including WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE), into visiting.

Obligatory Tell Us About Your Book, Beth! *shiny plastic smile* here:

It's steampunk alt history set in a 1906 San Francisco. The United States and Japan are allied as a world power and taking over China, and much of their steampunk military might arises from energy trapped by geomancy. Well, my heroine is Ingrid. She's a darn powerful geomancer, and women aren't supposed to inherit geomancy. When most of the city's geomancers are assassinated, she may be the only person who can hold back a major quake, but she's forced on the run to stay alive, too.

Obviously the 1906 earthquake was a real thing that really happened, and (slight spoiler) Teddy Roosevelt—or a variation thereof—is a character that’s obviously based on a real person (maybe; I’m not convinced he wasn’t a nationwide hallucination). Where’s the line on using a real person/real events in an alt-history like BREATH OF EARTH? For you personally, I mean, not for the entire world. Unless you want to give a firm directive for everybody to follow. I won’t seek to limit you.

My personal directive is to be as historically accurate as possible, especially with as public and charismatic a person as Theodore Roosevelt. I have read thousands of pages on him and typed up a 2000-some-word character guide with citations to the source material. As for where the line is for using people like him, I'm not sure, but I can say it's actually very eerie how well he fits into this world. He believed in the holiness of America and had many cautionary words about Japan and its rising power. He has a pretty big role in the sequel to BREATH OF EARTH, and I hope people actually learn something about the real dude by reading my fictional take.

Are there any absolutely fascinating tidbits that you’ve come across in your research that just didn’t make it into the book, that you want to share? It’s a safe space.

I think the fascinating bits that I haven't used have more to do with my hometown and Central California as a whole. I have read extensively about the Chinese experience in California around the start of the 20th century. It's ugly stuff, and it was completely ignored when I was in school. I found one bit that referenced my hometown newspaper in about 1893 posted an op-ed imploring the women of Kings County to learn to do their own laundry so that they didn't support the vile Chinese. I mean, wow. This is my same hometown that today is so proud that it still has its China Alley and Taoist Temple. That kind of thing feels personal for me, even though my grandparents' families didn't get there for a few more decades.

Your other delightful series, CLOCKWORK DAGGER and CLOCKWORK CROWN, is also based on actual historical events, but unlike BREATH OF EARTH, it takes place in a built-from-the-ground-up world. What was it like doing the worldbuilding between the two? Was it more or less difficult? And since I’m a sadist, which do you prefer overall?

The two worlds have their own unique challenges. CLOCKWORK DAGGER is inspired by the World War I era, but I made my own geography, my own history, my own cultures. That is freeing in a lot of ways. BREATH OF EARTH has the advantage/disadvantage of Earth and its full burden of history. Which is nice, because I can talk about familiar things--like reference the Bible and Shakespeare and Basho--but it also means there are endless ways I can muck everything up, too. Between the two, CLOCKWORK DAGGER is an easier world for me to write in--but I say that because I've lived in that space for years and I know it well. It was agony to create from scratch!

BREATH OF EARTH has a lot of different, intertwined magic systems that I don’t want to spoil, other than to say they’re all amazing. What was your inspiration for making it so wide-range and varied? Do you have a wall full of index cards and red string about how each magic system affects the other? And care to share any of your inspiration/where readers of this most esteemed blog could go to find out more information about any of them?

I think my initial inspiration for geomancy as an actual job comes from Final Fantasy Tactics, which is a classic strategy game using various magical and warrior classes from the Final Fantasy series. When I decided I wanted to write about the 1906 earthquake from a steampunk angle, I knew I had to use geomancy as the central magic because duh, earthquake. From there, it was the matter of asking a lot of practical questions. How could geomancy be a job? How would it be useful in the economy? How would someone train for this? Dull, gritty world-building stuff. Once I had that established, I began to develop the cooler aspects.

The other magic in the book wasn't quite so planned. I didn't intend to have healing magic at all because I explored that so deeply in CLOCKWORK DAGGER. Then as I wrote the BREATH OF EARTH rough draft, I needed to heal Ingrid, and suddenly Reiki became an integral part of the plot.

As for how I keep all of it straight, I type up Word documents for all elements of the world, including the magic. That's something my/our agent advised that I do when I first started on CLOCKWORK DAGGER and it's very helpful, especially as I am first figuring everything out.

What would you name your personal airship?

I was stumped by this so I asked my husband. He helpfully suggested Airship McAirshipface. I love this man. I really do.

After giving this more thought, I think I would name the airship for my dream horse, a palomino Paso Fino named Golden Melody. I imagine the airship with have a copper-toned orichalcum gondola, so it would suit the craft well.

Your blog is the reason I will probably never go hungry again and ALSO the reason I am perpetually hungry. Are we going to ever see a science fiction baker from you? Or, more importantly, what would a science fiction baker protagonist bring to the table (other than awesome space bread)?

I HAVE ALREADY DONE THIS. BWA HA HA. Seriously, I had a short story in Nature Magazine last year that is all about the importance of baking for far-future humanity.

Are you going to be okay if I write Ghostbusters/Breath of Earth fanfiction about Fenris (aka my favorite forever and ever) and Holtzmann hanging out and being engineering bros?

I haven't seen the new Ghostbusters yet, but I have witnessed much love for Holtzmann and I think there would totally be chemistry there for Fenris. You have my blessing.

Speaking of Fenris, if his fanclub (of which I am President) were to get badges, what do you think we should put on them so we could recognize each other in public and know to perform the secret handshake? Also, any recommendations for the secret handshake? I'm thinking it's just grunting as we walk by in the middle of fixing things, and never making eye contact.

Well, Fenris isn't keen on physical contact. He has bad associations there. A grunt and a nod would probably work well as the "handshake" in this case. As for badges, Fenris would love it if badges depicted his beloved airship Palmetto Bug but it would need to be ABSOLUTELY ACCURATE or he would have a conniption fit.

Finally, and this is the most important question of them all, walk me through the PokémonGO strategies of all your major characters. Who grinds Pidgeys for candy? Who walks a crazy long distance to get that beloved Pikachu? Who’s got a naming system in place? Who doesn’t quite get it?

Ingrid would grind Pokémon for candy or other goodies. She has a stubborn streak a mile wide. Cy would walk distances to get what he needed, especially if he were playing the game for someone he was devoted to. Ingrid would set up a naming system. She was a secretary, and any incompetence with organization would really bug her. Fenris wouldn't get Pokémon Go at all. He wants physical, tangible results for his labor... though he would probably watch over Ingrid and Cy's shoulders and offer lots of advice on how he would play the game in a much more efficient way.

If someone did fan art of my characters playing PokémonGO, I would love them forever.

Corey Ralston Photography (2013)
BREATH OF EARTH is available in stores TODAY. I've already read it (and you can see what I thought on my reading log—spoiler: I LOVED IT SO MUCH AND FENRIS IS AMAAAAAZING) so run out and get your copy ASAP. Links are below.

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.

Breath of Earth

In an alternate 1906, the United States and Japan have forged a powerful confederation—the Unified Pacific—in an attempt to dominate the world. Their first target is a vulnerable China. In San Francisco, headstrong Ingrid Carmichael is assisting a group of powerful geomancer wardens who have no idea of the depth of her power—or that she is the only woman to possess such skills.

When assassins kill the wardens, Ingrid and her mentor are protected by her incredible magic. But the pair is far from safe. Without its full force of guardian geomancers, the city is on the brink of a cataclysmic earthquake that will expose Earth’s powers to masterminds determined to control the energy for their own dark ends. The danger escalates when Chinese refugees, preparing to fight the encroaching American and Japanese, fracture the uneasy alliance between the Pacific allies, transforming the city into a veritable powder keg. And the slightest tremor will set it off…

Forced on the run, Ingrid makes some shocking discoveries about herself. Her powerful magic has grown even more fearsome…and she may be the fulcrum on which the balance of world power rests.

Buy BREATH OF EARTH: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powells | Books A Million | Poisoned Pen


Please keep it PG. My mom reads this blog.