Monthly Archives

August 2016

Free Ebook: Iron Shoes

I have iscarousela free promotion going on over at InstaFreebie for an ebook copy of the Iron Shoes trilogy.

The trilogy is a series of Historical Fantasy novellas set in 1905-1909 Saratoga Springs, and in keeping with the racing history of that town, they’re also about….horses.

Well, not your average horses, because Imogen Hawkes has a secret: she was fathered by a puca, an Irish horse shape-shifter. That secret has shaped every part of her life, even though she’s always tried to hide it. But now trouble has come to her farm and her horse has to win the big race in order to save it…

So if you’re game for a group of novellas set in that world (two of which are also Romance) then you might want to give this freebie a try.

(This is the first time I’ve used this service, so I have no clue how this will play out. If all the books are gone quickly, I’ll add some more.)

And please leave a review if you like it! Reviews are how other readers find writers they like!




How Not to Talk to a Writer, #1

I ran across this cartoon recently and got a good laugh out of it, but it’s true…so true.


I have a writer friend who once lamented that she didn’t have a machine to get her ideas straight out of her head and onto the computer.  It would save so much time and typing!

My response was that if they ever created such a machine, she and I would be out of a job.

You see, millions of people have great ideas.  The difference between a writer and a person with a great idea is that the writer sits down and writes it.  It’s an issue of commitment, determination, and dogged persistence.  (Mostly dogged persistence.)

Some writers even chose to go through the traditional publication process after that….which is a whole ‘nother level of commitment, determination, and dogged persistence (usually only reached after traversing several levels of painful rejection).

So that’s why the above comic seems so apropriate.  The brain surgeon knows how much he went through to get where he is.

If you tell a writer about your idea for your novel, they may give you that same blank look.  We’re not being rude.  We just don’t know where to start.

Because the void between the idea and the product is wide…and often the only way to understand that is to go through the process.


–This 13 part series was originally published on my old website about three years ago.

Beth Cato: Researching the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

Today my guest is Beth Cato, whose new book, Breath of Earth, is available today. I get to tell you about her new book, and she’ll also discuss one of my favorite topics–researching the historical events behind it!


From the back cover: 

After the earth’s power under her city is suddenly left unprotected, a young geomancer must rely on her unique magic to survive in this fresh fantasy standalone from the author of the acclaimed The Clockwork Dagger.

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 secretary Ingrid Carmichael is assisting a group of powerful geomancer wardens who have no idea of the depth of her own talent—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 the earth’s power 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 forces, fracture the uneasy alliance between the Pacific allies, transforming San Francisco 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 already considerable magic has grown even more fearsome . . . and she may be the fulcrum on which the balance of world power rests.

Available at: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powells /

Add the book on Goodreads.




Now, here’s what Beth has to say about researching! 

Oftentimes, research for a story or novel is difficult because of the obscurity of the subject matter. For other topics, the sheer amount of data is overwhelming. That is certainly true of the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906.

My new novel, Breath of Earth, is steampunk alt history with magic and mythological creatures. I like to joke, “Spoiler alert: there’s an earthquake.” There is no avoiding the fact that the Big One happens, but the reasons why are quite different. It was vital that I capture the spirit of San Francisco as it was before, during, and after the disaster. Plenty of people would recognize it if I screwed up.

The internet is a great place to start research and refine some details, but I like to go the old-fashioned route and acquire books for the core of my research. And since I want to keep these books around for reference, I need to own them. That means buying used is the only way to go. Some, I stumbled upon at thrift stores or used book sales, but most came from They have free shipping and the vendors are charities.



Since my early teens, I have owned a former library book, published in 1906, about the earthquake. The Complete Story of the San Francisco Horror features an ornate cover of Columbia comforting a sobbing woman wearing a crown that reads ‘San Francisco.’ It reads like gushing propaganda at times as far as the city leaders and soldiers, and is laughably inaccurate in its science, citing professionals who directly connect the San Francisco quake with the eruption of Vesuvius that same month. It may have been a ‘current event’ nonfiction book, but I found nothing usable inside.

Two modern books by Simon Winchester proved to be much better: A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906, and Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883. The latter was helpful in its explorations of tectonic theory and the time period. Plus, Winchester is a darn good creative nonfiction writer.



To really capture the day-to-day details that make novels sparkle with life, I find it’s better to look to other novels. 1906: A Novel by James Dalessandro showed the city in a wonderful way; his description of how a cable car functioned was especially useful for one of my scenes.

When writing a period novel, it is also wise to read novels written and set in the same period. The accuracy in depictions is undeniable, and you can also pick up on the cadences of speech or popular slang. However good the data is, though, the books themselves can be tedious and outright offensive to modern sensibilities. Case in point: McTeague by Frank Norris. Norris wrote and published the book just a few years before the earthquake, and from him I learned about the popularity of steamed beer (a distinct San Francisco technique, and one that is now resurging with the craft beer movement) and the feel of the city, its businesses, and its people. However, McTeague is a loathsome individual and his marriage is horrifically abusive up through its tragic end. I was relieved to finish the book.


Google Maps and Other Maps

I can’t even say how many hours I wandered San Francisco through Google Map’s Street View. Yes, the earthquake leveled the city and it has been extensively rebuilt in the 110 years since, but the hills remain as they are, and those are an important feature of the city. I needed to describe my characters escaping uphill, downhill, or wandering Russian Hill, and where nearby water was in reference.

I spent a lot of time looking online for good, high resolution old maps, too. I finally found one from 1896 that I printed out across six sheets of paper and then laminated on cardstock. I wrote all over that with a dry erase marker to note historically-accurate cable car routes as well as my own fanciful locations, such as characters’ homes and workplaces. I also relabeled a swath of waterfront for airship mooring masts.




Bountiful photographs exist of the earthquake’s aftermath. That makes it easy to describe the rubble, the dead horses buried amid piles of bricks, and how cable car tracks bent from the force of the earth’s movement. Even more, some actual movie footage exists:

San Francisco before the quake:


Hollywood has made a few attempts to show the earthquake as well. There is a 1936 movie called San Francisco that stars Clark Gable as a Barbary Hill saloon keeper. It depicts the disaster as well as it can, but my most lingering impression of the movie was the ham-handed morality message at the end: this city was a center of sin and vice, but it will reborn in Christian virtue! I can’t say the movie was a waste of time, though. I learned how phone calls were made via central dispatch.

This is just a sampling of the resources I used within Breath of Earth. It would have been wonderful if I could have visited San Francisco to wander the hills myself and visit museums and landmarks, but since I couldn’t do that, I am thankful to live in a time when so many resources are accessible via Google and online shops.




BethCato-HCVBeth 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 and on Twitter at @BethCato.






WorldCon Panel Summary: 5 Questions to Ask When Creating a Fictional Culture

Panelists: Tim Akers, J. Kathleen Cheney, M.C.A. Hogarth, and Rose Lemberg

The panelists were charged with coming up with a list of 5 questions to ask that are the most important. This proved too limiting, so the panel came up with several extra. Each panelist had a different focus for their questions, or special areas of interest. The questions that we considered most important were (highly paraphrased):

Tim Akers:

What is their relationship with God, god, or gods? What is the culture’s measure of spirituality or belief? What is the nature of faith in that culture? Or do they live without faith?

M.C.A. Hogarth:

What are their food sources? What do people fear most? Starvation? Riot? Revolution? Why have they banded together as a culture? Are they alien? Does their biology give them other imperatives?

Rose Lemberg:

What are the relationships of power within the culture? How is this expressed/determined by language? What sort of family relationships are common? What about folklore? Do they favor proverbs? Riddles? Are they superstitious? Are they religious? What is the level of diversity within the culture?

J. Kathleen Cheney:

What is the economic base for the culture, and how does that affect their everyday life? Are they rural? Or urban? How are their houses built? Their cities?




In addition to the types of questions, the panelists also talked briefly about how much worldbuilding a writer needs to do. It was generally agreed that:

  • More worldbuilding is usually done than shown.
  • Don’t go too deep (because it’s time consuming and keeps the writer from writing).
  • Readers will find the author who writes at the level of exposition they like. (Some people like all the extra information, others skip over it.)
  • Too much will slow down the story.




One thing that was pointed out was that most writers will get worldbuilding factors wrong through basic lack of knowledge—one can’t know everything. It does help to have a wide knowledge base and a large circle of friends and acquaintances who can help answer specific worldbuilding questions that are beyond the writer’s own areas of expertise. (Writers groups can be helpful in that situation.)




Finally, I’ve included here a list of resources that writers may find useful for worldbuilding.


Patricia C. Wrede—Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions

(This is the 30ish page document that serves as a comprehensive list.)

On the SFWA website / On Google Docs / As a pdf file


Other online resources, suggested at large:

Kate Elliott—Series of Blog Posts on Worldbuilding

Alyssa Hollingsworth—10 Questions to ask when you create a fictional culture

Holly Lisle: FAQS About Worldbuilding

cru’s D&D Reading Room: A World Building Checklist

Kitty’s Writing Toolbox: (10 Part Discussion of Worldbuilding)

Tiana Warner’s Worldbuilding Checklist for creating Cultures and Religions.

N.K. Jemison: Worldbuilding 101 (pdf)


Tumblr: Toasty Hat

Tumblr: The Writing Café: Worldbuilding

Tumblr: Writing with Color


Juliette Wade’s Dive into Worldbuilding Hangouts (with videos)


Suggested Book:

Melissa Scott, Conceiving the Heavens


Other resources can be added in comments!
















New Golden City Novella, plus a Sale on The Seer’s Choice


Available today, After the War, a novella of the Golden City, at Amazon.

Read an excerpt here. 


Also, The Seer’s Choice is now on sale at most booksellers!

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, All Romance Books

An excerpt: 

A raindrop struck her cheek, and Genoveva peered up at the sky. The clouds had thickened to a deep gray. As they crossed Vilar Street, the heavens opened up and rain pelted down. The captain grasped her hand and dragged her down the street toward a shop awning, and she stumbled along with him. Unfortunately, one of awing’s ties caught the edge of her straw hat and ripped it loose from her hair. She dashed back into the rain to get it, and then ran to join the captain in the doorway under the awning’s protection.

Her shirtwaist was thoroughly wet now. Her hair must be mussed from the hat ripping loose.

The captain shook his head, and water droplets from his hair struck her face. Genoveva let out a startled laugh.

“I’m sorry,” he said quickly. He reached over and, with one finger, wiped some of the water from her cheek. And then he cursed under his breath and glared at his finger accusingly.


His eyes met hers, and she could tell he was torn between amusement and embarrassment. “I had some dirt on my finger.”

That meant it was now smeared across her cheek. Genoveva didn’t have a handkerchief with her, and since the captain was in his football attire, surely he didn’t either. He checked his fingers, wiping them on one already dirt-splattered sleeve.

“Here, lift your face.” When Genoveva complied, he used the other sleeve to wipe her cheek. He grinned down at her. “There, clean now.”

Then he touched her cheek, and his smiled faded into something altogether different. His damp fingers slid back until they wrapped about the side of her neck. His thumb stroked over her lips, pausing there.

She gazed up at him, transfixed. Her mouth suddenly felt dry. The beating of her heart was almost louder than the drum of the rain on the awning. Was he going to kiss her?

“Do you want me to kiss you?” His voice sounded rough.

A bead of water had fallen from her hair into her eyelashes. She blinked it away. “Yes.”

He did so. His lips were firm against hers. It wasn’t like a kiss of greeting. He seemed to devour her lips, nibbling at them in a way that didn’t seem like it would be half as enticing as it was. He drew her to him, his arms going about her back, settling on her waist and holding her body against his.

This was improper, particularly dressed as he was in only shirtsleeves and shorts.

It was delicious.

Her hands were pressed against his chest, only the thin fabric of his shirt between them. This overwhelming desire to touch and be touched was something new to her.

And then the door opened inward, throwing them both off balance and breaking the illusion of privacy they’d shared. An old woman wrapped in a black shawl—probably the shop’s owner—shook her bony finger at them, berating them for misbehavior in front of her door.

Genoveva stepped back, fixing her eyes on the sidewalk to convey contrition as the woman continued to wag her finger at the captain. In truth, she was hard pressed not to break out in laughter. She felt a soaring joy she didn’t think she’d felt in years. Had she ever felt this way?

The captain shot a smoldering glance at her from under a lowered brow. No, he didn’t look like he regretted it, either.vecror-page-decor-and-text-deviders_08[1]