Category Archives: Beth Cato

Shut Up! Times When It’s Imperative You DO NOT Share Happy Writing News

Writing is hard. Revising is hard. The submission cycle is downright depressing. Querying agents? It sucks away your soul, email by email.

That means that it’s especially hard to contain yourself when good news comes at last. It’s tempting to scream to the world–in reality and in all caps–that the story finally sold! That an agent wants your full manuscript! That a publisher wants your book!

DON’T. Take your hands off the keyboard. Step away from your phone. Maybe tell a few select people, but don’t you dare announce your good news in the early stages. Speaking out too soon shows that you’re unprofessional and unable to keep a secret. You may very well sabotage the deal you’re so happy about. Google is the biggest tattle-tale in the world, you know. Editors and agents will follow your social media and blog, and not in a creepy way, either. If they are taking the time to look you up, that’s a great thing. They want to know you! You’re establishing an important business relationship.

You want that relationship, too. So here are the moments when you need to sit on your hands.

kermitflail

– A story acceptance
It’s awesome to get that initial acceptance email, but the deal isn’t real until there is a double-signed contract. That makes it legally binding. Even then, sometimes a publisher will ask you to refrain from public mention for a while; for example, this might happen if they are still sending out rejections for that particular issue. Respect that request.

– The contract is signed but the work hasn’t been published after months of wait OR you didn’t get paid when it was published OR your story was revised without your permission, etc.
Sometimes, even after a contract is signed, a deal might fall apart. Maybe the editor pulls a jerk move, or editors change and the new one doesn’t want your work, or the publication dies, or your reminders about payment get no reply. This puts you in a delicate position because you have a valid right to complain. Don’t do that in public as step one, though. You want to build your case. Query the editor, if you can. Query more than once over a period of time. Go onto password-protected writer forums and find out if there are other writers in the same position as you. You want allies! Maybe together, you can make yourselves heard, either through email or as a united front on social media. If you’re a member of SFWA, Griefcom is a valuable resource with professionals who will intercede on your behalf.

– An agent has rejected your manuscript OR requests a partial or full manuscript OR wants to call you
Querying agents is a long, difficult, demoralizing process, but it’s not one to be discussed in public. Why? Agents NEED to check you out online. You don’t want them to know they’re the 73rd agent you’ve queried, or that you’ve been querying this book for three years. More than likely, you’re querying a bunch of agents at the same time (as one should, unless you offered an exclusive; it would take forever to query one by one). You want all of those agents to think they are your top choice. You want to appear professional yet also personable. Throughout various stages of the publishing process, you need to be able to keep a secret. If you’re a blabbermouth, well, will they want to work with you?

You DO need a safe place to vent or celebrate through the querying process, though. Find a password-protected private place to do that. I used Agent Query back in the day, but there are various other writer forums or private Facebook groups where you can safely chronicle your journey.

– An agent offers representation
Again, this is a test of how you can keep a secret, but it’s also a show of respect for other agents who may be considering your work. You likely have queries out with multiple agencies. When you get an offer, don’t say ‘yes’ right away, no matter how tempting; ask for a period of time like a week or two so that you can send notice to other agents to give them a chance to respond. You suddenly look a lot more appealing once you have an offer on the table. Other agents will likely want to push your query/manuscript to the top of their pile so they can find out what the fuss is all about. You might get more requests for the full manuscript or other offers of rep.

Again, share this joy in a private setting online. Don’t liveblog it, or you’ll look tactless and rude to other agents. Again: until the contract is signed with an agent, it’s not a done deal. Don’t sabotage yourself.

– An editor makes an offer for your book
This is the most aggravating secret in the world, but you dare not say a thing until the proper time. And that proper time may be a long time coming. Contract negotiations may take months with a major publisher–maybe even six months or more. If you speak out before the deal is done, you will look very, very bad.

There’s an extra level of aggravation here, too. Even after the paperwork is signed, you still need to keep every mum for a little while longer. Most large-publisher book deals aren’t official-official until they are in Publishers’ Marketplace. Most writers don’t subscribe to that because it’s expensive, but a friend may scream the news to you online (that’s how I knew I could announce my first deal at long last–a friend told me on Twitter!) or your agent can give you the head’s up.

At that point, mash down the capslock and scream the news to the world. YOU HAVE A BOOK DEAL!!!!!!!!


Breath of EarthBeth 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 BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.

“Etymology Is Important,” She Ejaculated

I’m going to start off by telling a story from when I was 13 or 14 years old. I was with my mom and grandma in the car as we drove through the Central California countryside after a Sunday visit to my uncle’s church. As is often the case, then and now, I was reading a new book.

“Mom,” I asked, “What does ‘ejaculate’ mean?”

My Mom and Grandma shared a look in the front seat. “Beth, what are you reading?” There was a strange strain to her voice.

“This book called The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge.” I held up the cover so she could see it in the mirror.

Mom and Grandma glanced at each other again. “Read the line to me,” Mom asked.

etymology-littlewhitehorse“‘The coachman is getting down,’ ejaculated Maria.'”

Mom and Grandma both belted out nervous laughs. “Oh. Is it an old book?” she asked. I confirmed that it was a reprint of an old book, and I was informed I’d be told about other definitions for the word once we arrived home.

Yeah, that was a fun conversation. I was both mortified and amused. I had given them quite a fright with my choice of reading material on the way home from church! (I do recommend The Little White Horse–it’s a lovely gothic middle grade book, and apparently has gained new attention in recent years as it’s one of J.K. Rowling’s childhood favorites.)

Etymology is the history of a word, the how, when, and where of its use. I write historical fiction novels, and I find myself very aware of the words I choose. I cannot be 100% accurate to period, nor do I want to be. I will not have my characters ejaculate their speech, no matter how appropriate that word usage may have been in their time!

It’s all about balance. I want my books to be as easy to read as other current books–with contemporary concepts of paragraph size, dialogue tags, etcetera–while still keeping readers in a distant world.

I frequently check word etymologies as I write and revise. My usual go-to is the Online Etymology Dictionary; if that site doesn’t list the word, I usually resort to a Google search of “etymology [word].

There is also the dilemma of a word seeming contemporary, even though it’s not. This is referred to as “The Tiffany Problem”, named so because Tiffany is a legitimate medieval name but it looks too modern to readers of historical fiction and fantasy. For matters like that, it’s great to get feedback from other readers during early revision stages.

Sometimes, I consciously stay with an anachronistic word. For example, the word “kid” for “child” is a very recent development in the English language.

I also use the word “Reiki” to describe a form of magical healing, though Reiki as a modern practice didn’t start in Japan until the 1920s. On an additional note, my copyeditor for Breath of Earth suggested capitalizing Reiki–that’s what it said in their style guide–so I went with that in the final book. It gives it more gravitas in my 1906 setting.

Word choice does determine the tone. Within a sentence, a writer can establish the setting, time, and point of view. Be choosy. Be cautious. And be aware of what “ejaculate” means in various contexts.


Breath of EarthBeth 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 numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.

She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN (an RT Reviewers’ Choice Finalist) from Harper Voyager. Her novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE was a 2016 Nebula nominee. BREATH OF EARTH begins a new steampunk series set in an alternate history 1906 San Francisco.

Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.

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SPEED AND DIRECTION: A GUIDE TO WHERE TO FIND US (JAN – MAR, 2017)

The New Year is coming up fast, and after you’ve recovered from the holidays and made all those resolutions that you’ll surely keep this year, your thoughts will doubtlessly drift to wondering where to find some of your favorite authors in the weeks ahead. Here at Novelocity, we want to make it easy for you, so here’s a list
:

JANUARY 2017

E. C. AMBROSE:
* January 13-17 – appearing on programming at Arisia in Boston, MA.

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN:
* January 6th, noon – will be speaking as part of the WHAT IF lecture series at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
* January 6th, 9pm – will be the featured speaker at WSFA in Washington, DC.


FEBRUARY 2017

E. C. AMBROSE:
* February 7 – Elisha Mancer Book release!! Look for appearances in New Hampshire and Massachusetts
* February 17-19 – appearing on programming at Boskone in Boston, MA.


MARCH 2017

BETH CATO:
* March 12 – appearing on programming at the Tucson Festival of Books in Tucson, Arizona.

J. KATHLEEN CHENEY:
* March 18th – speaking on Historical Research for Fiction Writers at North Texas RWA in DFW, TX.

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN:
* March 9-12 – will be the Guest of Honor at VancouFur in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Bookish Holiday Gifts for the Middle Grade Boy

I’ve heard many teachers and parents mention how hard it is to get middle grade boys to read. These boys, from age eight to twelve, are enticed by other media like video games, TV, and sports, and reading is (alas) not regarded as cool.

What books can snare reluctant readers? My son’s 6th grade social studies teacher told me that almost everyone has read the Wimpy Kid books. My son has read many of those books, too. I cannot classify him as a reluctant reader–he takes after me in a lot of ways, the poor kid–but he is a picky reader. He loves funny books–illustrations are a perk. He’s autistic and is strongly drawn to nonfiction, too, such as atlases and math books.

Therefore, I’m scanning his shelves for some of his new favorites, as well as revealing some Christmas gifts that will come his way. (Shh! Don’t tell him.)


If you read and love the comic strip Pearls Before Swine, check out Stephan Pastis’s middle grade series about Timmy Failure. These books are fully illustrated and include the same dry wit as his Pearls comics, though tailored for a younger audience. Kids and parents will enjoy this one!

Hilo starts off a graphic novels series about a mysterious boy with superpowers who crash lands on Earth and makes friends with human kids. It contains lots of action, and a fair share of whimsy, too, as Hilo learns about how kids act. Since my son is autistic and struggles with social skills, books like this offer him a great way to be entertained and learn something, too.

(Small disclaimer: I received a free Advanced Reader Copy of the second Hilo book at Book Expo America in Chicago. My son loved it and asked for the first book.)

The Vordak series is among my son’s favorites! Vordak is a villain plotting world domination from his parents’ basement, but as you might imagine, things do not go as he deviously plans.


If your kid-in-need-of-gift loves video games, look for manga series from Japan that have been translated and released in English. This Mega Man Megamix series is a favorite in my household, along with graphic novels for Pokemon and Kingdom Hearts.

Shh. We’re in gift territory now. I was really excited to find out the Super Mario comics series from Nintendo Power Magazine from 1992-1993 had just been released in book form. I LOVED these comics when I was his age, and I bet he’ll get a kick out of them, too.

I saw a lot of buzz about this Everything You Need to Ace series when they debuted earlier this year, and I have my eye on a couple of them. Take a look at the preview mode on Amazon–these books break down information with lots of illustrations and notes. There’s a friendly feel to it. This might not be a book for a child to sit down and casually read through (though my son will likely do that), but it may prove to be a good reference during the school year.

Happy holidays!


Breath of EarthBeth 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 numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.

She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN (an RT Reviewers’ Choice Finalist) from Harper Voyager. Her novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE was a 2016 Nebula nominee. BREATH OF EARTH begins a new steampunk series set in an alternate history 1906 San Francisco.

Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.

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4 Ways to Affordably Acquire Historical Research Books

When you’re engaged in historical research, web pages often are not the best sources: old-fashioned books are. But how do you find the right books? How do you acquire them? How do you afford them?

– Use Wikipedia, but scroll down.
Sure, Wikipedia can provide a decent synopsis of a subject, but the most useful information is in the footnotes at the bottom of the page. That’s where you find cited data, such as book titles and theses. Follow the links and you might even find the materials online for free!

– Libraries still exist.
Shocking, isn’t it? You can go to physical libraries and get books for merely flashing a library card. Look into inter-library loans or see if you can access college libraries nearby. Librarians are available to help you out, too.

– Buy used books.
This is my preferred method of research, simply because I like to hold onto content for future reference. My favorite shop is Better World Books because the shipping is free, the selection is great, and my purchases benefit charities. I also look for used books on Amazon and Half.com.

– Find free ebook archives.
Most people know about places like Project Gutenberg and its efforts to digitize old books, but it’s not the only such resource. State and city governments and museums are also creating more online archives. For example, check out the California Digital Newspaper Collection created by UC Riverside, or Washington State’s Online Library of classical state literature ranging from pioneer biographies to native tales, or the San Francisco Library’s 1906 earthquake photograph collection. Savoring the Past has digitized a numerous 18th and early 19th century cookbooks. Don’t forget Amazon, either. Look up classic books and check their availability for Kindle; sometimes you can find them for zero dollars or for almost nothing.

Trust me. When you’re deep in the word mines and require dozens and dozens of books to world-build an alternate history, those free and almost-free books are worth a whole lot.


Breath of EarthBeth 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 numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.

She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN (an RT Reviewers’ Choice Finalist) from Harper Voyager. Her novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE was a 2016 Nebula nominee. BREATH OF EARTH begins a new steampunk series set in an alternate history 1906 San Francisco.

Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.

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5 Ways the Great British Bake Off Teaches You To Be a Better Writer

I am dedicating my next book to the Great British Bake Off. Why? Because the show is my bliss. It’s a cooking reality show that thrives on niceness and support, where baking is appreciated by technical skill as well as taste. It’s a show that makes me smile. After a long day of writing and revision, it offers me an escape to the verdant, green British countryside, where I can behold amazingly “scrummy” desserts and savory dishes.

Bake Off also has a lot to teach writers about dedication, perseverance, and community. Let’s break it down with the help of some illustrative gifs.

GBBO

– The Power of a Deadline
More than once, I’ve had people tell me, “I wish I had time to write. Maybe I’ll do it once my kids are in school/I change jobs/I retire.” Guess what? Life will always get in the way. Plus, writing itself can be a slog due to sheer procrastination (hello, internet), plot snarls, endless research, and so on.

Deadlines are powerful. Deadlines make you grimace, plant your hind end in a chair, and churn out the words. Deadlines make you take risks in your writing.

Bake Off operates within deadlines, too. Two hours to make an elaborate cake that you’d normally spend a day on! Four hours to make this obscure European pastry you’ve never heard of or seen before in your life! And the bakers are in. Like a writer, they may only have a vague idea of the end result, but the clock is ticking. They need to have something to present to the judges, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood.

Paul_notgoodenough

– Constructive Criticism
Baking Show presents the absolute ideal of constructive feedback: the negative balanced with the positive. This is something every writer needs to learn, and it is not easy. It requires tact, both in giving this feedback and responding to it in regards to your own work.

If you need a visual on how it is done, watch Paul and Mary. They might be presented with a cake that is an absolute disaster as far as presentation, but they still cut it open. They judge the texture and the taste. With a gracious smile, they say, “Yes, it looks terrible–you know that–but the taste is spot-on. You know your flavors.”

That’s the very thing writers need to hear, too. It’s how we improve–and how we learn to build on our strengths. “Yes, it’s a messy draft and there are some major info dumps, but your characters are amazing. The dialogue sparkles.”

cake

– Innovation
Writers are often told, “Write what you know.” Cooks intrinsically do this, too; we learn family recipes, our cultural and ethnic lore through food, and the recipes of where we live. Writers and bakers also know that we can’t be confined by what we have directly known and experienced. There are infinite realities we can experience through taste and imagination.

The bakers in the tent often look to their roots for inspiration and add those flavors to the traditional British or European fare they are challenged to create. They mix, match, and defy traditional pairings, and something magical happens (whether or not that magic fully works is up to Mary and Paul). This is what writers must do, too. We twist around tropes and develop fresh stories.

soggybottom

– Reinforce Knowledge of the Basics
A writer doesn’t have to know how to fully diagram a sentence to be a real writer, but it is necessary to grasp the basics, the flow, that makes a story work. Writers also need to read. We need to understand what is expected in certain genres, or how to submit to markets, or query agents. There is a huge learning curve involved.

Bakers need those same skills. This is highlighted in the technical round that takes place during each Baking Show episode. The bakers are surprised by a new recipe from Mary or Paul–a recipe that has incomplete directions. “Make fondant.” “Make 1-inch diameter macarons.” “Bake”–with no temperature or time listed. The ingredients are all there, but the bakers need to understand the roles of fats and acids and rise times to make this new recipe come to a delicious result.

These basics are not static, either. There are always new skills to learn, whether you’re making a new cake recipe or a story.

remindmetobreathe

– Supportive Community
Writing is hard. Editing is hard. A support network is vital. The encouragement of family and friends means a lot, but unless they are writers as well, they won’t completely get what we go through. You need other writers at your level who are willing to share updates on a new magazine, willing to critique, willing to listen on those days when the rejections flow and the words don’t.

That kind of community is what makes Great British Baking Show so extraordinary. American reality shows are petty and mean; they relish in someone’s downfall, and add sound effects for good measure. Baking Show eschews that manufactured drama. The contestants become friends. They bond as they work on stations near each other, weekend after weekend. They are competitors, yes, but they are willing to share ingredients at times, or help get a cake out of a pan. There are no sly camera angles to show sabotage–that’s not even a thought.

When a baker has a bad weekend and must leave the tent, it’s a moment of sadness. They gather for a group hug. Tears are shed. The survivors are saying farewell to a friend.

This is something writers must keep in mind, too. We each endure travails in our lives. We each want to make it as a writer. And yes, we are also vying for those few available slots in a magazine or anthology. It doesn’t need to be a cruel kind of competition, though. The publishing world is small, and we need companions for the long journey.


Breath of EarthBeth 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 numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.

She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN (an RT Reviewers’ Choice Finalist) from Harper Voyager. Her novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE was a 2016 Nebula nominee. BREATH OF EARTH begins a new steampunk series set in an alternate history 1906 San Francisco.

Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.

SPEED AND DIRECTION: A GUIDE TO WHERE TO FIND US (OCT – DEC, 2016)

Autumn is just around the corner which means new opportunities for holiday stalking visits with some of your favorite authors. Here’s a list of where you can find us during these hectic times:

OCTOBER 2016

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN:
* Oct 7th – 9th – appearing on programming at Capclave in Gaithersburg, MD.
* Oct 27th – 30th – appearing on programming at World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, OH.

E. C. AMBROSE:
* Oct 27th – 30th – appearing on programming at World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, OH.

FRAN WILDE:
* Oct 7th – signing at New York Comic Con in New York, NY.
* Oct 7th – signing at Books of Wonder in New York, NY, 6pm.
* Oct 27th – 30th – appearing on programming at World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, OH.

DAVID WALTON:
* Oct 7th – 9th – appearing on programming at Capclave in Gaithersburg, MD.

NOVEMBER 2016

TINA CONNOLLY:
*Nov 5th – Book Tour – appearing on programming at Wordstock in Portland, OR
*Nov 7th – Book Tour –  Seriously Shifted at Powell’s Cedar Hills in Beaverton, OR, 7pm
*Nov 14th –  Book Tour – Seriously Shifted at U Books in Seattle, WA, 7pm
*Nov 15th – Book Tour – Seriously Shifted at the Corvallis Library in Corvallis, OR, 4pm
*Nov 16th – Book Tour – Seriously Shifted at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, CA, 7:30pm
*Nov 18th – 20th – appearing on programming at Orycon in Portland, OR.

DAVID WALTON:
* Nov 18th – 20th – appearing on programming at Philcon in Cherry Hill, NJ.

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN:
* Nov 11th – reading at Mighty Writers West in Philadelphia, PA, 7pm.
* Nov 18th – 20th – appearing on programming at Philcon in Cherry Hill, NJ.

DECEMBER 2016

BETH CATO:
* Dec 10th – appearing on programming at LibCon in Glendale, AZ.

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN:
* DEC 6th – guest lecture at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.

TINA CONNOLLY:
* Dec 3rd – appearing at Another Read Through in Portland, OR, time TBD.

TSA Pre-Check: Convenience at a Cost

In recent years as I have become more involved with SFF conventions, I have become a frequent flier. I had heard about TSA Pre-check but was rather appalled at the idea of providing the government with money so that they could treat me like a law-abiding citizen. However, recent events caused me to grit my teeth and pay out the funds.

Here is what I learned through the process.

[Everyone in this picture is moving like a sloth.]Why I Decided to Do It
May 16th, 2016. That was the day that caused Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to feature prominently in international news for the rest of the week. It was one of those “I was there, man” kind of moments for me. I was flying home from Nebula Weekend and had to stand in a security line of epic proportions. It took me a full hour and twenty minutes to makes it through that morning, but news reports stated that later in the day, the waits extended for three and four hours, causing hundreds of people to miss their flights.

What Pre-Check is
It’s the fast lane through security. You pay $85 (or $100 for the global version) and undergo a complete security screening. As a writer using this to attend conferences, that expense is a tax write-off; also note that if you have a fancy business-level credit card from places like American Express, they might refund the cost entirely. Check with your credit card for details.

If you meet with FBI approval, you are provided with a KTN code that you input into travel reservations. That causes Pre-Check to be printed on your boarding pass (most of the time). The Pre-Check line means that you:
– do not need to remove your shoes
– do not need to pull out your liquid toiletries
– can leave laptops stowed in luggage
– have a much shorter wait in line
– have a kid 12 or under with you, they can also use Pre-check

This benefit is good for five years. The general consensus is that you fly more than a couple times a year, the service is worthwhile because of the amount of time it will save you.

Read the official FAQ on the program.

The Online Application Process
If you go to the link above, you will find the online form to sign-up. It is surprisingly short and straightforward. However, this is the first stage. Once that is submitted, you must also attend an in-person interview.

The In-Person Interview
I live on the far western edge of Phoenix, Arizona. The interview locations were quite far from me: Sky Harbor Airport, and downtown Glendale. In mid-May as I looked at appointment times, Sky Harbor was booked out about two weeks, while Glendale was booked for a solid month. That latter location was much more convenient with me, so I decided to endure the wait. Locations also accept walk-in appointments, but I heard from friends that those involved extensive wait times in the office. I didn’t want to mess with that.

The TSA site had detailed instructions on my interview location and its address, but as I researched, I found it also omitted some important details. The business is listed as Identogo. People were missing their appointments because they couldn’t find it. That’s because Identogo is inside of an H&R Block, and the H&R Block is what has prominent signs along the street and on the building. I don’t know if Identogo is partnered with other businesses, but keep this issue in mind if you are not going to an airport for your interview.

I ended up spending a full hour and a half of driving to attend my 8-minute interview session. I was among the first appointments of the day, and found a sterile lobby area with many chairs and a coffee pot. More and more people arrived during my 15-minute wait; it seemed 95% of the business there was for TSA Pre-check, not for H&R Block’s tax services.

NebSloth1I was called back at my exact appointment time. A monitor screen was set up so that I could review the details I submitted via the online form, and I added in some facts along the way, like my maiden name. I presented my passport, which he scanned. My fingerprints were preserved digitally (punny yet true). The gentleman told me that it could be a few weeks until I was approved, and if I hadn’t heard anything for 30 days, I could query TSA about my status. I had a receipt printed as well as emailed to me that included the link where I could log-in and check my status at any time.

The Non-Wait for Approval
I knew from research online that some people had results very fast. Even so, I was stunned when I checked online the next day and found I was already approved! I then logged into an existing airline reservation to add the KTN.

Using Pre-Check, and a Nice Surprise
One annoying thing is that even though you pay for Pre-check, the benefit might not show up 100% of the time. Therefore, I was pretty nervous about if I would get to use it on my flight the next week. It turned out that not only did I have Pre-check, but so did my husband and 11-year-old son! My entire party seemed to be included within my security umbrella.

Is It Worth It?
Having used it for one trip, I am happy with it so far. I have found the security theatre to be very stressful in the past as I try to track all my belongings, and it’s wonderful to keep everything stowed away, my shoes on my feet, and just endure a check by the guards. To have this benefit extend to my other family members was especially nice.


Breath of EarthBeth 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 numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.

She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN (an RT Reviewers’ Choice Finalist) from Harper Voyager. Her novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE was a 2016 Nebula nominee. BREATH OF EARTH begins a new steampunk series set in an alternate history 1906 San Francisco.

Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.

5 Tips to be a Prepared Panelist at an SFF Convention

So you’re going to attend a genre convention as a panelist. Whoo hoo! If this is your first time, it’s normal to be nervous. If this is your thirtieth time, it’s normal to be nervous.

Here are some tips to get you geared up, regardless of the content of your panel(s).

5) Know your schedule before you get there.
Carry a notebook or Post-It pad. Make sure your entire schedule is in there–panels you’re on, panels you want to attend, or any other important events during the con. Why? The paper-bound con guide can be very unwieldy to carry or poorly organized. Sure, the con may have an app or allow you to save your schedule online, but the internet can and will go down. Some convention centers get absolutely horrid reception.

PostItschedule_smI like to use Post-It notes. If my badge is in a plastic sleeve, I will slip the sticky notes right inside the back so I can reference my schedule at a glance without having to dig into my purse in a big crowd.

4) EAT. Seriously.
Food is kinda important, but the very nature of conventions can make it hard to eat. Your schedule might have you booked solid, or the venue might not have restaurants close by, or you’re on a restricted diet. You need to take care of yourself. The last thing you want is to have low blood sugar in the middle of your panel and be listless or feel faint… or for your stomach to be growling like a caged werewolf.

Bring a stash of snacks–granola or energy bars, nuts, jerky, something safely portable. Use Google Maps or Yelp to map out nearby eateries ahead of time; you can focus the online map and search for places right nearby!

If you’re feeling weak and hungry, don’t be afraid to ask for help, either. I bet someone will have some food on their person or be willing to dash for the nearest snack bar for you.

3) Know the layout of the convention.
Large convention centers were surely designed the same folks who create video games dungeons. There are dead ends, winding corridors, nonsensical room numbers, boss monsters. Sometimes the maps shown online or in the con booklet aren’t that useful, either, because they don’t clearly show where floors connect to different levels or across streets.

Reserve some time right at the start of the convention to walk the grounds. Find where your panel(s) will be, and also where you might find the nearest water fountains or bathrooms.

2) Read up on your fellow panelists.
If you have time, read a book or two by your fellow panelists, or at the very least, read their biography, know where they are from, and where they have been published. Maybe there is someone you want to get to know more, so you want to sit beside them to chat; or maybe there is someone you know you want to sit far, far away from.

(Note: A lot of conventions will have a space in their initial questionnaires about “who I do not want to be on a panel with.” You should also feel free to turn down a panel if you think it’s a poor fit or that you’ll clash with another panelist.)

1) Jot down notes during the panel.
I like to use a pen and paper. Some folks use their phone instead. Whatever the medium, it’s nice to have a way to jot down quick notes during a panel. Why? Sometimes questions are long and convoluted, or maybe a fellow panelist will babble on so long that you forget the original question. Maybe someone will mention a book or author that sounds really good. Maybe you need to keep score of something, or need to preserve a neat tip or research morsel. Don’t trust yourself to remember anything during the low-sleep high-craziness action of a convention.

All of these tips revolve around a central concern: YOU. Take care of yourself. A little work to prepare will make for a less-stressful, happier time during your convention!


Beth CatoBeth 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 numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.

She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN (an RT Reviewers’ Choice Finalist) from Harper Voyager. Her novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE was a 2016 Nebula nominee. BREATH OF EARTH begins a new steampunk series set in an alternate history 1906 San Francisco.

Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.

5 Tips for Writers Writing Book Reviews

Book reviews are vital to authors, but when you’re an author yourself, writing reviews of other books can be tricky. If you’re snarky and cruel, wielding one-star reviews like shurikens, you run a real risk of isolating yourself within the author community and with publishers.

That doesn’t mean that you lie and say you like a book that you loathe. It does, however, mean you act with tact and regard the author and their work with respect. This is not easy if you feel rather vehemently about a certain book.

My own background here: I review everything I read, and I’m in the top 1% of reviewers on Goodreads with about 1000 titles listed.
Breath of Earth
– Don’t be afraid to remove or hide old reviews. Let’s say that your publishing career has evolved and you’re now publishing books in a genre that you have reviewed rather harshly in the past. Consider this: you will meet these authors at conventions or be on panels together or they might even be asked to blurb your book. Set those old reviews to be private or remove them, and you’ll be removing some potential awkwardness, too.

– Another approach: some authors keep a separate account for book reviews so they can do so anonymously and honestly.

– Be careful about marking a friend’s book as being “currently read.” If you end up not liking it, and they know you are reading it… yeah. I like to wait until I am deeply into a book before I list the status online.

– Don’t be afraid to mark a book as Did Not Finish (DNF). If you’re like me, you have gobs of books waiting in the to-read pile. Life is short; don’t waste it on an unpleasant book! This is also a tactful way to avoid the dilemma of writing a review for a book that just plain didn’t work for you.

Along those same lines, you should not feel like you must finish a book sent from the publisher on places like NetGalley. Mind you, it took me a few years to get the nerve to do this because I felt obligated to finish the provided books. No more. I will go through NetGalley, mark the book as done, and send a note saying something like, “This isn’t a review. I found the book was not to my taste, but I’m very grateful you gave me the opportunity to read it.”

– The most important advice of all: Write every review as if the author will read it. They very well might. I think of it as like writing a story critique: I note the positive, and gently and constructively make observations about the negative.

If you finish a book but have mostly unkind things to say (especially if it’s in your genre), act with care. In such situations, I will type up the review on Goodreads/LibraryThing but keep it set as “private” so I can access it later for my own records. I may or may not leave a star rating.

Always keep in mind the Golden Rule: Treat other authors as you would like to be treated. Most books are not inherently awful. We each possess different taste; respect that.



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 numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.

She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN (an RT Reviewers’ Choice Finalist) from Harper Voyager. Her novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE was a 2016 Nebula nominee. BREATH OF EARTH begins a new steampunk series set in an alternate history 1906 San Francisco.

Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.