January 20th, 2011

A quiet word with Beth Cato



Beth Cato (aka celestialgldfsh ) took second and third place in last year's contest for
 
The Meager Puddle of Limelight Award for Best Opening Line. Today, she braves the spotlight, here on An Englishman in New Jersey, to answer some searching questions about her runner-up entries and her other work. 
 
 
What are your opening lines are from?
The second place entry is from my urban fantasy novel, Normal

The line that came in third is from "FOG HARVESTERS," a steampunk fantasy-world short (currently at 1000 words).
 
Tell us a little about Normal and FOG HARVESTERS. Are they published? If so, where can folks find them?
Normal went through extensive revisions last year, and the entire novel is almost done being workshopped through the
Online Writing Workshop for Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror. FOG HARVESTERS is an unfinished story I haven't even touched in six months!
 
How many times did you change Normal's opening line before you settled on ‘Three sure signs that my evening would not go as planned: a big black plume of smoke, six lanes of gridlocked interstate, and a complete lack of sirens’?
Well over a hundred. More, if I count line tweaks. The line gave me grief for a solid year and a half, but everything started to come together when I wrote an entirely new first chapter. One of my critique partners then told me, "We need to know this is first person right away. It needs more voice." That's what I did, and it worked at long last. 
 
How about 'The fog harvesters rolled out in the darkest of night, while birds slumbered and the rest of the world held its breath' the opening from THE FOG HARVESTERS?
With this I had the opposite experience. It's an incomplete rough draft story. It hasn't been edited at all.
 
What’s your preferred genre/wordcount? 
I write across the whole realm of speculative fiction, though my preference is fantasy. I've also published several literary pieces. My novel manuscripts tend to hover at 100,000-words, while my longer short stories always seem to end up with 3,500-4,000 words. I write flash, too.

What’s your current WIP?
I always have short stories at some stage of the writing progress, but my biggest WIP is my NaNoWriMo manuscript, Minstrels of Fate, a paranormal romance featuring a man and woman whose favorite childhood role-playing video game turns out to be real, meaning Earth's about to be invaded by parasitic dragons. Bummer.

Are you a pantser or an outliner?
I'm an outliner, but I'm flexible. The story has to grow on its own. An outline is a trellis to guide it. 
 
What are your long term goals as a writer?
To be a published novelist with professionally-published short stories as well.
 
Tell us about your very first sale.
My first sale was of a flash fiction story called "REJECTION" to
The Shine Journal.
 
As a reader, does a good opening line make a difference to you?
I've read plenty of fantastic stories where the first line doesn't say much at all; I judge more by the first page than the first line. That said, a really bad first line is a good indicator that the rest of the story will only be a waste of time.
 
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever heard?
There is never a point where an author has "made it" and the writing process gets easier. That's a big reason I love author blogs. I find out I'm not crazy.
 
What’s the worst?
"Don't write fantasy." The attitude behind that can vary. I had a creative writing teacher tell me a fantasy novel wasn't "a real book." I have family members who I love dearly, but I know they strongly disagree with my writing in the fantasy genre. They worry over the state of my soul. As a teenager, I stopped writing at all because of that pressure. Now I thank them for their prayers and support, and write the story I need to write.
 
What was the last story/novel you pitched/submitted?
I
just revised and submitted a story called, "A DANCE TO END OUR FINAL DAY." It's about the imminent end of the world, and a mother struggling with how to make the day special for her very schedule-oriented autistic son. It's a 'what-if' based on my own life, really. 

What was the last story/novel you read?
The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. Loved it.
 
Do you belong to a writing/critique group? Why?/Why not?
Yes, I belong to the Online Writing Workshop (OWW). It's been a great experience. I've honed my own editing skills as I review stories, and I have the positives and negatives in my own work analyzed in excruciating detail.
 
Where can readers find your work?
All over the place! My essays can be found in Chicken Soup for the Soul books at almost any bookstore. My story, "A RECIPE FOR RAIN AND RAINBOWS," can be read in Mountain Magic: Spellbinding Tales of Appalachia from Woodland Press. I have lots of links to online stories on my website, too.
 
Where on the web can you be found?
http://www.bethcato.com  
 
 What do you know now, that you wish you'd known when you first started writing?
I wish I had understood that rejections will always hurt—and sometimes make me cry—but I can send the story out again and it'll be accepted.

Is there’s anything I didn’t ask you, that you want to answer anyway?
"Are you an Elizabeth or Bethany?" No. My name is a just a four-letter word.
 
Who do you think would win in a fight, astronauts or cavemen?
Cavemen have agility, muscles, and a big club. Astronauts are unarmed and stuck in a cumbersome apparatus. Dinner will be served in a climate-controlled suit. 


 
Beth Cato is an associate member of the SFWA. She’s been published in Daily Science Fiction, The Pedestal Magazine, MOUNTAIN MAGIC: SPELLBINDING TALES OF APPALACHIA from Woodland Press, and several Chicken Soup for the Soul books. For more information, visit
http://www.bethcato.com.