Something Strange Happened on the Way to the NYT Bestsellers List: Fantasy Author Beth Cato

Sometimes an author’s plans go awry, and things don’t turned out the way we planned. This is a new feature, dedicated to how our plans twist and turn in our hands. Today my guest, Fantasy author Beth Cato, talks about how things didn’t go exactly how she thought they would…


When Gremlins Attack

by Beth Cato

When I started work on The Clockwork Dagger, I figured that the biggest selling point would be my healer, Octavia. No one else makes that class the protagonist, and for me personally, it would be a huge selling point. Add that onto a steampunk fantasy world, and it seemed like something fresh and new. At least, I hoped so.



I added another unique element to my book, too: gremlins. Flying biological constructs that are compared to green-skinned naked cats with wings. Beings so ugly, they end up cute. Octavia ends up saving one and names him Leaf. Leaf doesn’t have a constant presence in the story, but he has a tendency to steal his scenes with his chirps, scampering antics, and an abiding fondness for cheese and silver.

When my early critique feedback came back, one of my most reliable readers was not sold on gremlins. The concern was that gremlins might seem too weird or gimmicky. Were they really needed? Could the book work without them?

I fully embraced the majority of the feedback from this person, but on this one point, I fought. The gremlins were needed. Leaf was necessary to the plot. If the book sold–knock on wood–gremlins were vital through the full story arc. Every draft stage I went through, though, I couldn’t forget that major dissenting voice about the gremlins. I did want to create something like a cute sidekick–a familiar for Octavia, as one reader noted–but was that really too gimmicky?

In any case, the gremlins stayed. I did not commit delete-key genocide. My agent sent the book out on submission.

It was surreal when we had multiple offers come in. I accepted a two-book deal with HarperCollins Voyager. The most resounding feedback? Not the romantic chemistry of my leads, not the grim world. “Everyone here loves Leaf!” My gremlins–my ugly little flying pests–had sold the book.

It amuses me to no end to see people continue to react to Leaf. My front cover blurb from author Kevin Hearne reads, “Just what I needed: A steampunk adventure with an uncommon heroine, a fascinating magic system, and a young gremlin! I’m hooked and can’t wait for more!”

The Edelweiss page with the marketing information for The Clockwork Dagger goes so far as to mention gremlins as the key selling point for the whole book, saying it, “features an extremely charming gremlin named Leaf.”

I never would have expected my gremlins to be so pivotal after they almost met an early draft demise. Now I only hope that my readers (and editor!) won’t come after me with pitchforks for what I put Leaf and friends through in book two…

Beth Cato’s debut steampunk novel THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER will be released by HarperCollins Voyager in September 2014. She’s originally from Hanford, California, but now resides in Arizona with her husband and son. Her short fiction, poetry, and tasty cookie recipes can be found at

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2 thoughts on “Something Strange Happened on the Way to the NYT Bestsellers List: Fantasy Author Beth Cato

  1. Leaf is awesome, he was definitely one of my favourite parts of the book too. I’m so glad you didn’t kill him in an early draft… though now I’m very worried about book two!

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