Thursday, May 29, 2008
Kat Richardson Interview and Competition News!
I am genuinely pleased to present a fun interview with Seatle-based supernatural cross-over genre Kat Richardson (yes, that same Kat I managed to hold captive for two hours over at Murder One when she made a flying visit to London and the UK).
Kat's first novel, Greywalker has been received by readers with enthusiasm and the follow-up Poltergeist, has been recently released to the hungry hordes fans. Underground, the third in the Greywalker series will be with us very shortly (yay!). Kat's visit to the UK was both fun and business, having come to do some research on the fourth Greywalker book...so, without further waffling from me, here's the interview!
(Competition news at bottom of the page.)
Q: What is your day like as a writer?
A: It's quite a bit like any at-home job. I get up and manage chores and errands and take care of the pets, then get to work on the paperwork and things that have to be done during “office” hours, such as business correspondence and mailing materials out. Once that's done, I do whatever writing or editing I have on top of my queue--usually this happens after 2 p.m and can last 4-10 hours. Sometimes its the fun stuff--writing something new--sometimes it's the necessary stuff--proofreading or editing. I generally write 2,000 words a day on average Monday through Friday and take the weekends off for personal stuff or promotional things. Occasionally I get to take myself on field trips to do research, which is tons of fun.
Q. Do you frequent coffee shops and what other writerly “habits” do you have (as you already have the grumpy cat!)?
A. Mostly I work at home. I never feel comfortable working in cafes or the library for long when I'm doing the actual writing; I can't pace around and talk to myself or play with my ferrets or turn up the stereo really loud. I'm more of the “hermit” type of writer. But I do like to hang out with some of the other local writers and talk shop--folks like Cherie Priest and Richelle Mead live close enough to hang out over lunch or happy hour drinks on short notice. Alas, our grumpy cat died last year, so the ferrets now have to fill in. (The cat was very old indeed and we miss him, but no plans to replace him right now.)
Q. Do you ever stop working, i.e. not write or think about writing?
A. Not much. Everything is grist for the writer mill, so even when I'm “off” I'm usually thinking about writing or noticing neat stuff I can use in the next book or story.
Q. Where did your ideas for Greywalker originate? Was it a dream, an experience or an idea that stuck and wouldn’t go away?
A. This is going to be a long answer, so bear with me, since it was quite a few things that came together in a good way.
I'd written a fragment of the idea while I was in college, but it wasn't very good and not much is recognizable now: the main character was male; he had a contact in the realm of the dead who passed him in and out of the “aether” through a magical doorway but couldn't do it on his own; it was set in Los Angeles; and was a lot “wittier”--though it was probably not so witty in retrospect. It was a lot more like the noir parodies that have come out since the 1990s. I don't think it was very good, really, and I didn't work on it for 10 years. I just stuck it in a drawer.
When we moved to Seattle, things started to come together. The weather here produces strange fog during the fall and early winter that often seems to move in disconcerting ways--especially around the old Pioneer Square district where the narrow streets, brick and stone buildings, and proximity to the water keeps the ground and air cold and wet. And that of course made me think of ghosts and creepy things of that sort.
I was also reading a lot of particle and quantum physics at the time and that got me thinking about the possibility of energy states that can be shown to exist can't be directly observed by humans. So there's the basics of the Grey there: physics and fog in Seattle.
I was also a big fan of the original Randal and Hopkirk, Deceased (starring Mike Pratt and Kenneth Cope). I liked the idea of a detective who could talk to ghosts, although what I ended up with was a far cry from the adventures of Jeff and Marty. I didn't think I could write a believable male protagonist in the midst of so many other complications, so I made the main character female. She was still in the hardboiled mode, though.
And that's where it came from. Back in 2000 I had very little to do for a few months while my husband was working out of state, so I started writing and the first draft of Greywalker was the result.
Q. Is Harper Blaine, probably one of the most capable heroines I’ve seen in a long time, anything like you?
A. Thanks, that's nice of you to say so. I wish I could say we're alike, but alas, I'm a bit of a ditherer and not very athletic--though I have done some dancing and running and so on. Harper is very driven and I'm very lazy. She set out to build her life to a specific shape and purpose and I seem to have gotten wildly lucky in getting to do what I enjoy instead of the usual office job. And much as I wish I had her ability to see a clear course and pursue it, I frankly wouldn't want to live her life.
Q. How much research do you do for your writing on the supernatural?
A. More than I'd expected to, to be honest. A friend of mine in the MWA (Mystery Writers of America--I'm on the Northwest Chapter board) said I had it easy since I could just make things up. But actually I read quite a bit on the topic and spend a lot of time looking for stories about hauntings and history that I can use. I also try to get an idea of what is “common knowledge” or accepted fact among people who study these fields or collect information on it and use that or break it deliberately. I don't always think it's true, but I try to give it some respect and treat it thoughtfully.
And right now, “Team Seattle”--a group of my local writing friends--is thinking of doing some urban exploration when we all have some time (exploring some of the abandoned or freaky sites around Western Washington) for research purposes. Creepy old places are usually full of good ideas for settings and ghost stories. And let's face it: that sort of thing is just plain fun.
Q. Has anything startling, in a supernatural way, ever happened to you personally?
A. I'm not sure. Odd things happen and I've certainly had episodes of deja vu, strange sounds, things almost seen, the sense of something “out there,” but with the exception of one creepy experience that might have been swamp gas--or might have been a ghost--and some really weird dreams, I can't say positively that I've seen a ghost or witnessed anything paranomral. Not for sure.
Q. What are your influences? Favourite authors, TV shows and movies etc.
A. Aside from my Dad--who was an English teacher--and my stepmother--who got me started reading adult mysteries, the big influences on my writing have been writers like Hammett and Chandler, Madeline l'Engle, Kenneth Graham, Jane Austen, Mark Twain (to whom I'm very distantly related) and later writers like Neal Stephenson, Richard K. Morgan, Patricia McKillip, and Neil Gaiman.
I also started reading comics and graphic novels a while ago and wish I could emulate the pacing of some of the writers I admire in that field: Alan Moore, Brian K. Vaughan, Warren Ellis, Ed Brubaker, and Frank Miller.
Movies are a bit harder for me to give a list of favorites (without running on forever). I tend to like one or two films, but not one particular filmmaker. I like noir films and the “screwball comedies” of the 1930s, like Bringing Up Baby. I like modern films that have similar feelings and pacing. Gotham (Ghosts Can't Lie) is one of my favorite “weird' movies (and had some influence on Greywalker). I also liked Memento, had a lot of fun with the recent Iron Man, Equilibrium, Serenity, still love Raiders of the Lost Ark out of all proportion, and Chocolat by Lasse Hallstrom. I'm a guilty fan of James Bond films--although the Pierce Brosnan ones were a big disappointment. Daniel Craig is getting much better material--and I loved him in Layer Cake. I like crime films like that and Guy Richie's london crime flicks. Acutally... I like caper flicks a lot--The Thomas Crown Affair, Topkapi, Ocean's Eleven, the Sting.... Oh, and I'll go see anything by Pixar or Studio Ghibli. The more adventurous or fantastical the film, the more I'll like it, I suspect.
Q. How would you sell your published books to someone should you be made to work in a bookshop for a week?
A. First I'd have to discover if the customer liked both Mysteries and Fantasy or ghost stories. If they don't, they probably aren't going to like the book. But if the customer did like all of that, I'd tell them there were some good novels over here about a Private Eye who works for ghosts and monsters. Of course, I'd also know they were potential Harper Blaine readers if they were interested in Jim Butcher, Simon R. Green, John Meaney, Tanya Huff, Charlaine Harris, or Laurell K. Hamilton and ask if they'd tried the Greywalker novels yet.
Q. Do you ever have days where the words just don’t come and if so, what do you do?
A. Oh yeah. What I do depends on how close I am to the deadline. If it's really close I just sit down and force myself, but if I have more time, I usually cut myself a mental break and go out for a walk or do additional research. If the problem is that I've come up against a dead end, then I assume I've made a wrong turn in my plot and I fall back and look over my outline until I identify where I made a mistake that forced me down the plot-road that died. Then I back up and figure out how to avoid that problem while heading in the direction I prefer. I'm not a very good “seat of the pants” writer; I usually work from a detailed outline. When I don't, I'm more likely to need to tear something out and re-write.
Q. Looking at your writerly bookshelf, can you name ten books or magazines or websites that you can’t do without relating to your writing?
Maybe not ten, but a few important ones. I can't do without the basic references like Chicago Manual of Style, Merriam Webster Online, and wikipedia (as a starting point). I also use The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits by Rosemary Guiley a lot. I use the Historylink.org site as a starting point into Seattle history very frequently. I also use my local library catalog online to find books on various topics and, of course, Google.
Q. Do you ever fully plot and plan your storylines or do they grow organically and you find your characters do their own thing?
A. I'm a plotter and I don't let the characters off their leashes much--I'm the god in my writing world, so its unusual for the characters to go off in a direction I don't initiate (because if I didn't kick their butts,they'd probably just stay home and eat whatever was in the fridge.)
I start out just writing as it comes, but as soon as I hit the first plot-wall, I go back and write an outline. Usually it takes two or three versions of every novel in outline before I can finish the whole book. I don't outline for short stories or novellas, but I have gotten all the way to the end of a novel-length project successfully without an outline only twice. Neither of those books sold.
Q. How did you get into writing for the games market?
A. I hung out with a bunch of gamers online at the TTLG.com forums and I was one of the handful of people who were always writing “what if” fanfic and original round-robin stories in the forum. When projects came up, I volunteered and ended up doing some work, some of which I even got paid for. It sounds more impressive than it was, though we did have a lot of fun and there were great people at the forum and on the projects--I'm still in touch with a lot of them. But I was pretty green and I think a lot of my work could have been a better. Still, it was great fun, although I haven't done any game work in a while.
Q. What can we expect from you in the future? More Harper after Underground and any more game plotting?
A. I do have US contracts for three more books after Underground and the series is open-ended at this point. I hope the new books will also be picked up in the UK, but that's up to the publisher. I'm starting work on the fourth Harper novel right now and there are a Harper novella and a non-Harper short coming out in the next 12-18 months.
I'm hoping to do an additional series that's more SF than Fantasy, but that's on the back burner until Greywalker #4 is done. At the moment, there're no game projects on the horizon. If I could wave a wand and do any project, I'd like to try graphic novels, but only if I can work closely with the artist--I do have an old graphic novel project in suspension, but, like a lot of other things, the ability to work on it depends on a lot of factors that aren't all up to me.
Q. What do you do to relax and unwind after a day of writing?
A. Play World of Warcraft, read, take a walk, maybe watch a movie with my husband, and play with the ferrets. On weekends we hope to be doing more sailing this year--after all we do live on a sailboat. And go to the gym (yuck!)
Q. And finally, what is the single strangest request you’ve had from a fan?
A. I have never had a really outrageous request from a fan. Well... one does want to be killed--as a character in one of my books, that is. Is that weird?
Kat's amazing UK publishers, Piatkus (Little Brown) agreed to let me run a competition on their behalf. I am pleased to announce that FIVE lucky winners (UK Only) will receive copies of both Greywalker AND Poltergeist!
I am working up some fiendish questions and will post them tomorrow morning (Friday, 30th May). The first FIVE entrants with the correct answers about Kat and her books (and maybe her friends) will win copies of Greywalker and Poltergeist.