Today I come bearing treats of all kinds. First off, I’d like to announce that I’m the new Artist Spotlight interviewer for Nightmare Magazine–every issue I’ll be bringing you a Q and A with the cover illustrator. To celebrate, I thought I’d delve into the world of interviewing on the blog.
Beth Cato, the author of the upcoming debut novel, THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER, graciously agreed to be my first victim–er, guest. She spoke with me about steampunk, fears, and food. And, in honor of my Nightmare column, shared the scariest recipe she knows.
Before we delve into the questions, here’s a little lowdown on the novel:
Orphaned as a child, Octavia Leander was doomed to grow up on the streets until Miss Percival saved her and taught her to become a medician. Gifted with incredible powers, the young healer is about to embark on her first mission, visiting suffering cities in the far reaches of the war-scarred realm. But the airship on which she is traveling is plagued by a series of strange and disturbing occurrences, including murder, and Octavia herself is threatened.
Suddenly, she is caught up in a flurry of intrigue: the dashingly attractive steward may be one of the infamous Clockwork Daggers—the Queen’s spies and assassins—and her cabin-mate harbors disturbing secrets. But the danger is only beginning, for Octavia discovers that the deadly conspiracy aboard the airship may reach the crown itself.
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 number-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.
Beth’s short fiction can be found in Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and many other magazines. The Clockwork Dagger is her first novel. The sequel, The Clockwork Crown, will be released in 2015.
You can follow her at http://www.BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.
MJNL: Beth, thank you so much for letting me interview you. First off, I have to ask you a question I’ll be asking all of the Nightmare cover artists: What scares you the most?
BC: Forgetting. I fear forgetting who I am and who I love. One of my grandfathers died of Alzheimer’s, and though I wasn’t close to him, the horror of it struck me deeply. I also fear that I’ll be forgotten by people I love. It’s the worst fate, to lose yourself in that way. Zombies squick me for that reason.
MJNL: Losing my memory is one of my biggest fears as well! Sounds like we’ve had similar experiences with loved ones and dementia. What scared you the most about the evolution of ‘The Clockwork Dagger’? For example, was a particular character especially difficult to pin down, or was a certain chapter difficult to write?
BC: My agent sent me through months of very intense revisions. One of the most daunting was her comment that my two main characters sounded too much alike. I was at a loss for several weeks as I figured out what to do. In the end, I softened Octavia’s speech so it was more modern and casual, and I created a formal accent for Alonzo. I rewrote all of their dialogue. Well over a year later, in my final revision pass for my publisher, I still found a few places where I had goofed up Alonzo’s accent and used contractions!
MJNL: What about ‘The Clockwork Dagger’ are you most proud of–what’s your favorite thing about the novel?
BC: One of my favorite things is that my heroine is a medician, gifted with the magic to heal. I’ve felt a strong draw to the healer archetype since I was eleven, but you never find healers as the central protagonist in a book or video game. They are a side character to keep the heroes alive, or healing is one of many benefits a protagonist has. I feel like I wrote the kind of book I hoped to find for so many years.
MJNL: Not only are you a fantastic writer, you’re also a baker. From your website (http://www.bethcato.com/) a visitor can access your recipe blog, Bready or Not. Is there a recipe you’d like to share with us?
BC: Sure! I chose a recipe that has genuinely scared some people–as in, they think I’m crazy, but then they taste the result and can’t believe how good it is. It’s dubbed Bacon Crack: Chocolate-Covered Bacon Toffee. It sounds nasty, I confess, but I had to try it because I was intrigued. The result is a blend of savory, sweet, and salty, and it’s downright addictive.
Chocolate Covered Bacon Toffee (aka Bacon Crack)
tweaked from Wine and Glue
2 cups butter
2 cups white sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sliced almonds
10 slices bacon, cooked and chopped (should make about one cup)
3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1) Prep the bacon and have it ready. Layer a jelly roll pan with aluminum foil and make sure you have a space where it will fit in the fridge.
2) It’s toffee time. In a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, melt the butter, sugar, and salt. Stir regularly until the mixture boils and comes to a 285 degrees F. (Yes, a candy thermometer is necessary here.) The temperature is slow to start but once it gets above boiling, it goes up quickly.
3) Once the mixture has reached the right temperature, quickly stir in the almonds, and then the bacon. The fat is going to melt off the bacon immediately and separate from the rest of the mixture.
4) Pour it all into the jelly roll pan. It will start to set quickly, and the bacon fat will be liquid and on top. If you can, lift the pan with one of the corners pointed down and pour off the fat into the glass measuring cup. Get as much of it as you can, turning the pan and dripping from the opposite corner as necessary. OR–because my mixture didn’t set and wanted to slide off–grab some paper towels and blot the fat from the top.
5) Let the toffee set for at least two hours in the refrigerator. Move to the freezer for an hour. Once frozen, break it apart and store it in there as you prep the chocolate.
6) Melt the chocolate using the microwave or a double boiler. Taking a few pieces of toffee out of the freezer at a time, dip it in the chocolate, setting it on wax paper to set.
8) Store in an air tight container in the refrigerator.
OM NOM NOM.
MJNL: Delicious! Can’t wait to make some. What food do you think pairs best with reading ‘The Clockwork Dagger’? Salty or sweet? Tart or tangy?
BC: Oh, great questions! Within the book, gremlins play an important role, and it turns out that gremlins–like me–love cheese. Therefore, I suggest a good hard, nutty cheese (Vella is a personal favorite) cut to snack size and served with some grapes and crackers. As it’s a steampunk book, I have to add that tea is always a good choice drink.
MJNL: What is Octavia Leander’s favorite food, and what do you think that says about her?
BC: Octavia mentions more than once than she loves chocolate. That was a very conscious choice on my part. She has these incredible healing powers, but really, she has a desperate need to belong. I wanted her to crave a food that matched the time period–it’s based on post World War I Europe–and something that most any reader could relate to. A love of chocolate is common ground.
MJNL: Airships figure prominently in ‘The Clockwork Dagger’ and are a staple of steampunk fiction. What do you think it is about airship travel that makes it so fascinating and romantic?
BC: Steampunk celebrates the maker-movement–it has a strong appreciation of using a junkyard to make something beautiful and extraordinary. Airships feel more exposed, more basic than airplanes, something that the common person can cobble together–and because they fly, there’s this sense of gallantry and adventure. At the same time, there’s elegance because of the level of service on board and the overall etiquette of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
MJNL: What is the one fantastical element from your book that you wish was real (or, alternately, what is the one fantastical element from your book that you’re really happy isn’t real)?
BC: No hesitation… I wish healing magic was real. No more dithering over a diagnosis, no prolonged suffering. It’s the deepest wish of my heart, and something that must be relegated to fiction.
MJNL: Thank you once again for the interview, Beth!
If you can’t wait to crack open THE CLOCKWORD DAGGER until it’s released on September 16th, check out this excerpt from Tor.com.
And you don’t have to wait until the 16th to purchase a copy; it’s available for preorder right now.
After baking up some Bacon Crack and reading through that excerpt, don’t for get to come back and take a peek at my Nightmare Artist Spotlight debut. Here’s the link to purchase the current issue, and I will post a link directly to the interview when it goes up for free later this month.
As always, happy reading!