Fresh from the celebration party, following her recent victory in the 2011 Meager Puddle of Limelight Award for Best opening Line, Beth Cato kindly spared a few minutes to answer some questions about her winning entry, 'The goddamn robots were at it again' as well as her other work.
What’s the name of the story the opening line is from?
The line is from a science fiction story called, A LONESOME SPECK OF HOME, which is 4,400 words.
Tell us a little about it. Is it published? If so, where can folks find it?
Have you ever watched those shows like Power Rangers or Ultraman? You know how the robots fight in the same place every time? My story is about a cranky old man who lives in a house, near a high school, where huge alien robots keep duking it out. The initial concept was to be humorous, but it ended up as more serious and thought-provoking. The story can't be found anywhere yet, but it is a completed draft.
How many times did you change the opening line before you settled on 'The goddamn robots were at it again'?
Actually, that line existed from the very first draft. That's the old man's voice right from the get go.
What’s your preferred genre/wordcount?
I write mostly fantasy, but wander from genre to genre. I do a lot of flash fiction, and my longer stories tend to hover around 4,000 words. My novels have a weird knack for being about 110,000 words with 23 chapters.
What’s your current WIP?
I have a steampunk novel I'm currently revising. It involves a healer, terrorists, and airships, oh my!
Are you a pantser or an outliner?
Outliner all the way! Though I'm pretty flexible in my outlines. My stories like to surprise me.
What are your long term goals as a writer?
To be a published novelist, many times over.
Tell us about your very first sale.
My first short story sale was to a for-the-love publication. I can't even stand to read the story now because it's so overwritten. I want to delete half the words.
As a reader, does a good opening line make a difference to you?
Yes. A strong opening line can really pull me in.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever heard?
This is a toughy. I think one of the most important bits of advice for me was out of Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird, where she says (and I'm paraphrasing) that all first drafts are crap. That was a revelation to me. I had the silly idea that really good writers got it right on the first try, and therefore my own perfectionism was dooming me to failure from the start. Now I embrace my crappy first drafts. It's all fertilizer.
What’s the worst?
"Write what you know." Sure, it helps to be familiar with subject
matter, but I'm not going to be limited by what I've experienced. My imagination has walked on worlds I will never reach.
What was the last story/novel you pitched/submitted?
I recently sent out several new stories to Chicken Soup for the Soul. They are always posting new calls for stories, and I have to keep up. I've been in at least one anthology a year for several years now.
What was the last story/novel you read?
I've been slowly working my way through Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series. I finished up book 7, Dead Beat, yesterday.
Do you belong to a writing/critique group? Why?/Why not?
I belong to Codex Writers. I think a critique group is essential. I'm too close to my own work. I need other people to tap me on the shoulder and say, "Hey. You screwed up right here. Here's a possibility for fixing that..."
Where can readers find your work?
Book stores and online! Several Chicken Soup books I'm in are being featured in Wal-mart right now, too.
Where on the web can you be found?
My website is http://www.bethcato.com. In my bibliography, I have links to anything available to read for free online or for purchase elsewhere.
What do you know now, that you wish you'd known when you first started writing?
There's no such thing as "making it." At every step of the game, you have to prove yourself.
What do you do when you're not writing?
I read a lot. I also love cooking and baking. I have a Wednesday recipe feature on my blog, and I'm addicted to Pinterest and love trolling for new recipes.
Who do you think would win in a fight, astronauts or cavemen?
Cavemen carry a big club. 'Nuff said.
Beth Cato resides in Arizona with her husband and son. She's an associate member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, with work appearing in The Pedestal Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, and the Mountain Magic and Stories from the Hearth anthologies from Woodland Press. For information on her latest projects, please visit http://www.bethcato.com.