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Faith, Religion, and Respect in Clockwork Dagger and Breath of Earth

August 10, 2016

breathofearth_500x332I asked Beth Cato to visit my blog today and talk about how religion plays a role in her fantasy novels.  Not many authors are brave enough to try to give their characters religious views, but Beth has done so, both with real faiths and those of her own invention.  Beth’s novels The Clockwork Dagger and The Clockwork Crown are on sale for $1.99 and $2.99 right now, so it’s a great time to give them a try.  Her latest novel, Breath of Earth, will be released in just a few weeks, on the 23rd.

Here’s Beth, on faith, magic, and respect:

When I began to write my Clockwork Dagger novels, I knew I wanted my heroine to be a character of profound faith. At the time, it seemed like many of the fantasy books I was reading–and enjoying– had leads whose devotion to religion consisted of taking the Lord’s name in vain. Some were downright hostile to religion.

I created Octavia Leander as a different sort of heroine.  She’s a profoundly gifted magical healer whose power arises from the entity she worships, the Lady’s Tree; the gigantic world tree is regarded as mythical, even by other healers. In Octavia’s steampunk, non-Earth world, people acknowledge the power and usefulness of magic, but it’s considered backward. I took inspiration from how the Force is regarded in Star Wars Episode IV. The power of magic is acknowledged, but with an eye roll. Octavia is sadly accustomed to disrespect toward the Lady.

Through both books in my series, I put Octavia through her own version of the trials of Job. I wanted faith to be Octavia’s defining characteristic, even as circumstances cause her to despair and call out to the Lady in a full-on jeremiad. However she questions and doubts, Octavia still turns to the Lady for both gratitude and comfort. She doesn’t lose that part of identity.

I’ve had people ask me, why take this different angle?  Personal experience. This kind of faith is very real within my family (though not in regards to a gigantic world tree). I didn’t have to look far for examples for Octavia’s fortitude and devotion.

I took a different approach with my new book, Breath of Earth. Unlike Clockwork Dagger, this new series is set on Earth: an alternate version of 1906, with America and Japan allied as a world power with China in their crosshairs. My heroine, Ingrid Carmichael, is a geomancer who can contain and use the energy that flows from the earth during quakes. In order to set her apart from Octavia, I wrote Ingrid as a woman who acknowledges God, but is not an active practitioner in any faith.

She has grown up in a world with different religious dynamics, too. Japan has had a heavy influence on San Francisco and American society as a whole, with Buddhism and Shintoism becoming more prevalent. Christianity has likewise worked more into Japanese society. Mythological creatures are not so mythological– just hidden or rumored to be extinct– meaning many other faiths are also touched on throughout the course of the book.

In Clockwork Dagger, I established my own religion, and that gave me tremendous freedom as a writer. In Breath of Earth, I had to pause and think through everything with care. After all, I was writing about “folktale” entities that are not folktales to some. They are real beings who should be respected.

However, as a writer, this also made things tricky. I, as the author feel one way, but my characters exist in a world full of biases and privilege. I needed to be true to my book’s time period. This made for a delicate balancing act, no question– and I’m sure readers will let me know if I err. That’s okay by me.

The Golden Rule is essential here. My fictional characters, like Octavia, ask for respect for their faith; it’s all the more essential for people of the real world to be accorded with proper respect for their beliefs as well.

BethCato-steampunk-headshot100x150Beth 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.

The Genius Plague… sold!

August 5, 2016

I’m delighted to announce that THE GENIUS PLAGUE is finally under contract!  Two publishers wanted it, and although “bidding war” would be an overly dramatic description, they were both willing to increase their offers and make concessions on terms in order to get the book.  When the dust settled, it was the incumbent, Pyr Books, that won the day–the same good folks that published SUPERPOSITION and SUPERSYMMETRY.  They’re great people, very enthusiastic about my work, and I’m thrilled to be working with them again.  Hopefully, I’ll have a release date to announce soon, and we can get it out on the shelves!

The cover art has not, of course, been created yet, but here’s a poor author’s concept of what it could look like:


Superposition E-book Mixup

July 26, 2016

If you recently bought the Superposition e-book, you may have gotten a surprise.  When you opened the book, you found not Superposition, but the sequel, Supersymmetry!  Not only that, but a few pages in, the book stopped suddenly.  End of book.  What’s going on?

The answer is simple.  The entire text of Superposition is there, plus an excerpt of Supersymmetry.  If you reset the book back to the beginning, you’ll find it’s all there, just as it’s supposed to be.  It was a small glitch, apparently–I think in the Kindle version only–that set the book pointer at the end of the book instead of the beginning.

Happy reading!

Superposition is a Kindle Daily Deal!

July 17, 2016

For one day only (today!), Superposition is a Kindle Daily Deal, which means it’s on sale in all e-reader formats (not just Kindle) for only $2.99.  Now, if you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve already read Superposition.  But your friends, or their friends, might not have!  If you enjoyed the book, and think someone else might, please spread the word!  A quick social media mention can make a big difference.  When you do, keep an eye on Amazon’s Top 100 in Science Fiction and watch the book move.  Terminal Mind made it up to #5 once, but Superposition has never broken the top 10.  I’m hoping today will be the day!

“Today only, quantum physics science fiction thriller Superposition, by David Walton, is on sale for $2.99!


When Spooky Action Comes in Threes

July 8, 2016

A fan wrote me today and asked about a passage from Superposition, in which a character explains quantum entanglement using coins as an analogy.  He asked: What if there were three coins instead of two?  I enjoyed writing up the answer, so I thought I’d post a portion of it here:

In the analogy, I gave my “particles” a binary attribute (heads or tails) to show their relationship in an easy, intuitive way.  In real life, entangled particles are produced such that they each share a part of some initial value.  For instance, one particle decays into two smaller particles, and the attributes of the two smaller particles have to add up to the attribute of the original one.  You don’t know what the values are, but once you know one value, you know the other one for sure.  So, yes, you can entangle three (or more) particles, though it’s harder to do.  Which just means that there will be some value (or set of values) that connect them, because of how they were made.
So to relate it back to the coins, if you had two impressions of side A of the coin, and one impression of side B, and you looked at the B-side impression and saw heads, then you would know that both of the other impressions were tails.  If you looked at one of the side-A impressions and saw heads, then you would know that the other side-A impression was heads, and the side-B impression was tails.  In all cases, the particles are entangled, which means that the values are related, such that if you determine one, you know the others.  But because of quantum uncertainty, the values aren’t actually determined until you measure it.  (Which is the bit demonstrated by the double slit experiment.)
It may seem as if this would allow for faster-than-light communication, since the entangled particles clearly pass information faster than the speed of light.  (This is the concept behind the ansible, as referenced in novels by Ursula K. LeGuin and Orson Scott Card.)  But it actually can’t work that way.  There’s no way to control the values, so there’s no way for a human to pass information that way.  It could, however, be a fantastic one-time pad for encryption purposes.  If I have a set of entangled particles, and you have the matching set, then I can use the first N values of mine to encrypt a message and send it to you.  When you receive the message, you use the first N values of yours to decrypt the message, and voila.  Encryption no one can break, with a key that no one else could possibly have a copy of, since the values weren’t even determined until I encoded my message.  As long as no one has stolen your cache of entangled particles, our messages are safe.
All this stuff is what makes quantum mechanics fun!  And also, crazy and mind-blowing.  Thanks for reading!

Who Put This Message In My Fiction?

March 25, 2016

That was the title of a panel at Lunacon 2016, the New York science fiction convention I attended this past weekend.  The other panelists and I discussed the merits of stories that have a message.  Science fiction is the literature of ideas, but nobody likes their fiction to preach at them.  So are stories improved when their authors have a message to get across, or harmed?  I found the question to be a thought-provoking one, so I wrote about it on Novelocity.

Sleepless in Philadelphia

March 24, 2016

Maids of Wrath - Copy - 2What if you never had to sleep?  It’s something I’ve thought about off and on ever since I read Nancy Kress’s masterpiece, Beggars in Spain, about genetically-modified children who don’t need to sleep.  My friend and fellow author Josh Vogt has been thinking about this question, too, and has popped by to tell us his thoughts.  The second book of his urban fantasy series, Maids of Wrath, comes out in early April.  Here’s Josh on his love/hate relationship with sleep…


Sleep sucks.

Can we all just admit that? It eats up almost a third of our actual life. Time we could be doing things. Important things, too, like binge-watching Doctor Who to catch up on the latest seasons, or searching hours on end for the funniest cat video on YouTube.

Or, y’know, working and writing and whatnot.

For as long as I can remember, sleep has been my enemy. My nemesis, of sorts. It is something to be opposed for as long as possible, and woken from as quickly as possible so the conscious hours can be taken full advantage of. Sleep still irks me to no end. In fact, if someone presented the world with a trial pill that could eliminate the need for sleep, sign this lab rat right on up!

But you know what? Until that happens, sleep is necessary for little things like health and sanity.

Sad, I know. It’s an unavoidable truth, though. I learned my lesson after a string of bouts with insomnia left me something of a shambling wreck, unable to focus, unable to write, functioning on auto-pilot and wishing for nothing more than a solid night’s rest. I’ve come to accept the fact that sleep has to actually be a priority in my life if I want to maintain any sort of balance in my energy levels—and thus be able to keep my writing productivity going full throttle for as long as I can.

Without this thing I hate, I cannot have this thing I love.

Yet I can’t deny the facts. When I take what steps I can to have a good night’s sleep, the next day tends to go far better than if I’d pulled an all-nighter or forced myself to stay up until 3am just because I didn’t want to accept defeat.

Why do I gripe about all this? Because just as sleep is an undesirable I’ve realized can actually be helpful, so there are other undesirable elements within the writing process—ones I ignore dealing with at my own peril.

This can be anything from criticism of my writing to rejection from publishers to bad reviews to envy of others’ success, and much more. I have to work at each of these, handling them in ways that give me the opportunity to grow as a writer, rather than remaining complacent, becoming stagnant, or getting angry and entitled. I want to learn how to accept constructive criticism better. To embrace the sting of rejection as a challenge to improve my craft. To not have an online meltdown and troll reviewers until my reputation is trashed. And to applaud my peers’ accomplishments, because they well and truly deserve it.

All of this takes ongoing work, just like keeping my sleep schedule and routines intact. But I can at least know even when I’m struggling with something I don’t enjoy (or hate altogether), it will bring about a healthier mentality, lifestyle, and approach to writing in return for the effort. And, at the end of the day, I know I will have earned my rest.


Josh-8194-2 - smallest

Author and editor Josh Vogt’s work covers fantasy, science fiction, horror, humor, pulp, and more. His debut fantasy novel is Pathfinder Tales: Forge of Ashes, published alongside his urban fantasy series, The Cleaners, with Enter the Janitor (2015) and The Maids of Wrath (2016). He’s an editor at Paizo, a Scribe Award finalist, and a member of both SFWA and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. Find him at or on Twitter @JRVogt.