Beasts of Tabat is Cat's debut novel. This world has appeared in her works before, in such stories as "I'll Gnaw Your Bones, the Manticore Said," but now's our chance to truly dive in! As she describes it:
1. Intelligent magical creatures exist in this world, and the economy of the world depends on their bodies and labor.
2. There is a New Continent. The Old Continent was destroyed by sorcerers, which means that sorcerers are feared.
3. Every year there is a ritual battle between Winter's Avatar and Spring's Avatar. The outcome of this battle has literal climatic effect - if Winter's Avatar wins, there will be six more weeks of winter. These avatars are chosen from the population of gladiators. Gladiators are famous people in the world of Tabat, and their adventures are chronicled in the Pennywides, a form of serial literature that Cat likens to the work of Dickens. The Pennywides are cheap to produce and get passed all around. The people of Tabat are generally very literate. Propaganda is used by political players.
Cat explained that the four books of this series are influenced by the works of Thomas Burnett Swan, which deal with mythological creatures' daily lives. Cat turned this into an opportunity to look at the culture of oppression, which gives the book an intentional brutal element. She points out that whenever you have one group oppressing another, you see two seemingly conflicting trends: one, to infantilize those being oppressed, so that you can consider them children and act on their behalf ("for their own good"); and another, to demonize the oppressed people, so you can create a sense of fear which then justifies violence and unfair treatment ("for our own good").
Cat told us that early versions of this book had twelve points of view! Narrowing that down in order to increase the cohesion of the first book led to a lot of the material being repurposed for the second book, which is why she says the second book is so far along in its progress toward completion.
Beasts of Tabat has two main points of view.
The first is Bella Kanto, whom Cat describes as experiencing the world in "Advanced Mode." She is a gladiator and a resident of Tabat. She is also the Avatar of Winter, and people resent her because she has so many fans who follow her adventures in the Pennywides, and because she's so successful as a gladiator that they've been having long winters for quite a while!
The second is Teo, who experiences the world and the city in "Beginner Mode." Having someone in beginner mode is always useful because they notice things that are normal and unnoticed by others. Teo is a shape-shifter, i.e. a sort of magical creature, but is able to pass for Human, which introduces complications into the identity politics and oppression.
Cat says she doesn't want to co-opt the struggles of oppressed people in America, but wants to engage with these questions and talk about them in a constructive way.
Tabat has three moons: Red (the big one), White (the medium one) and Purple (the tiny one), all of which appear on the cover! She's done a lot of nice work integrating that aspect of the world into its culture. Thus, months are of three different lengths: "purple months" are about a week, while "red months" and "white months" are a bit longer.
There is a temple that worships the moons, and it represents the status quo of people following traditions. There are also Trade Gods, who are the representations of economic forces. Humans are able to wield magic, and a critical distinction is drawn between wielding magic and being magic. Some human magic depends on the magical energies of the beasts. The moon temple magics are of a lower level.
I asked her to talk about politics in her world. She said that the two largest cities were established at the same time. A deal was made that the southern city of Tabat would be ruled by the Duke and his family for 300 years, and then would move to an electoral system. The book is placed chronologically right at the point when the Duke's reign is expected to come to an end - which makes for some fascinating instability! Cat says the last book ends with "cataclysms and cannons."
Cat has been working on this project since 2005, and it has been a long process. She's been writing a series of short stories that all fit together in this world, and the novel concepts and timeline grew out of them.
Cat spoke a bit about writing process. She says if you are writing, or thinking about writing, then you are making progress. Cat herself likes to offer writing exercises in her classes, and sometimes she participates in them herself. She finds teaching to be a huge benefit to her.
She also spoke to us about Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), where she has been an officer for many years, so if you are curious about the organization, you can listen to what she has to say about it or click through the link here to see SFWA's website. Cat noted that the SFWA blog is always looking for material, and pays 6 cents a word, while the Bulletin pays 8 or 15 cents per word.
Cat, thanks for coming to the hangout and talking with us about your exciting novel!
Here's the video: