by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
This week we have the joy of having with us fantasy/mystery author Kat Richardson whom we were thrilled to learn actually has some Reedley roots! Terrance & I interview Kat, Terrance reviews her latest book, Seawitch, and there’s info on how you can win a copy of the book at the end of this post!
Harper Blaine has died—several times—and has become a Greywalker, able to see into and travel through the Grey between this world and the next with spirits and other creatures. In Seawitch, the seventh of Kat Richardson’s paranormal series, the insurance investigator must solve the mysterious reappearance of the Seawitch, a boat that has been missing for 27 years. All hands were lost…or were they…and were they all human?
It starts out as a straightforward detective-story investigation, with Harper partnered with Rey Solis, a police detective who has often wondered why her cases seem to veer into strange territory and odd occurrences. Things twist significantly with ghosts, tentacled merfolk, powerful witches, otter-people, spell circles, older shipwrecks, a formerly-human Beast who guards and guides in the Grey lands, some time with Rey’s aura-seeing mother-in-law, and some frisky episodes with Harper and her boyfriend. It’s interesting to watch a police detective who starts to believe in things he shouldn’t be seeing try to deal with a new form of reality.
Once in a while, the characters engage in slow-as-asphalt Professor-Plum-in-the-Kitchen-with-the-Candlestick-type speculation to try and guess what has really happened or is happening, but the proceedings rev up to a high-energy confrontation with big stakes on a small island between Seattle and Vancouver.
Harper is a character with a lot of room for exploration—she has a pet ferret named Chaos—and her journeys into the lands of the dead (planned and unplanned) have expanded her powers to see and interact with other paranormal manifestations. She relies on help from male characters, but she doesn’t defer to them; the men have enough trust in Harper to follow her plans…most of the time. Richardson’s action sense choreographs some major battle sequences with verve and a frenetic pace that drags the reader along at high speed. There are some peripheral characters that have their own lives in the book, including a widowed, dock-centered captain who yearns for adventure…and gets more than he expected.
Seawitch is a paranormal pleasure, as packed with supernatural action as a séance in a roller rink.
Kat Richardson Interview
Terrance: When did you first begin writing and why fantasy?
Kat: It’s hard to say exactly when I started writing, since I seem to have done it all my life. My father was an English teacher and all of the kids in the family read and wrote at an early age. We all told stories and, in one way or another, we all still do. The first story I remember writing was in first grade. It was terrible, of course, but it was a fantasy since it involved a monster and a pickle bush–two things that distinctly don’t exist in the real world–but being a kid, I wasn’t very worried about what was “real” and what wasn’t. I never thought that writing was something that I couldn’t do or shouldn’t do and fantasy…well, all fiction is, in one way or another, fantasy. Not to mention that I’ll read anything. As a kid, a great deal of what I could get my hands on was fantasy of one kind or another, from The Wind in the Willows through the Chronicles of Narnia, and beyond. I love fantasy since it is such a broad genre which can sneak into other genres or have a good time borrowing from them and still be its own beast.
Terrance: What was the first book you ever had published and when?
Kat: Greywalker was my first published novel and it came out in October 2006. It took a long time for me to be convinced I had written something that might be good enough to make it. I’d written a lot of novel-length manuscripts and short stories and unfinished pieces, but they never felt “good enough” and so I’d shove them aside and go on to something else. But Greywalker stuck around and I kept working on it, revising and changing things until I felt I could submit it. And my original agent liked it well enough to represent me, which led to the usual round of revisions and submissions until it was finally sold to Penguin in 2004.
Terrance: You mix fantasy and mystery–why did you decide to do that?
Kat: It wasn’t so much a decision as a “well, why not.” I’ve always liked mysteries–they were my big genre-love once I hit my teens and they became the main staple of my reading until I was in my twenties, though I never stopped reading other books. To me the mystery structure is one that is so straightforward–a crime is committed and it must be solved–that it is easily adapted for a lot of other genres and purposes. Essentially it’s the sort of basic plot engine you can dress up with all kinds of other genre ideas and complications and it still runs just fine.
For a long time, I really wanted to write a mystery novel–especially a PI novel–but I thought a lot of the interesting angles had already been done, so I started thinking what other ways I could make the concept my own. And I had a lot of other ideas hanging around in my head about ghosts as spies, quantum physics, and why Seattle is weird and I’d once been very fond of an old British TV show–Randall and Hopkirk: Deceased–about a detective whose dead partner haunts him and I thought “what if the ghosts are the clients? What if you take the classic hardboiled PI novel where the client is killed early on, but the PI keeps on with the case and just make the client dead to begin with? How about a PI who works for ghosts?” And that’s where it started, and then a few monsters and some magic snuck in…and there it was.
Terrance: How did you come up with your main character & setting?
Kat: For Greywalker? Well, I’d originally started the story while I was in college at Cal State Long Beach and the detective was a stereotypical, hardboiled male Private Investigator who lived in Los Angeles and worked for ghosts. But the story never really worked well and I put it aside for years until I moved to Seattle. One day, I was on a bus passing through Pioneer Square in the fog and noticing the way the fog reflected and diffused the neon lights from signs and the way it swirled in the wake of motion and I felt that Seattle–at least that part of Seattle–gave the impression that there were things lurking just out of sight. That it was the sort of place where you might turn a corner and run into a ghost or a fairy or a monster. At the same time I’d been talking to my husband about how useful ghosts would be as spies if you could just figure out how to communicate with them. I’d also been reading a lot of popular science about quantum and particle physics and the idea of energy states that were present, but inaccessible to normal senses was another concept rattling in my head at the time. And they all kind of fell together there on the bus, in the fog. And as I thought about it, the setting and concept clicked and I thought I could use that for my old PI who works for ghosts idea, but I wanted to change the character from male to female, since I’m female and I felt I could identify better with–and therefore write more convincingly–a female protagonist. So all the elements fell together and I started over with only the basic concept from the original idea surviving. So the hardboiled guy working in LA became a hardboiled woman working in Seattle.
Terrance: You have written about the elements of noir in film and literature. You have a first-person narrator who is an investigator with uneasy relationships with law enforcement. How paranormal noir is the Greywalker series?
Kat: It’s dark and it’s definitely paranormal, but I’m not sure how truly noir the series is, since the existential angst of true noir has been dialed down a lot to make the series sustainable. It’s been said that the definition of noir is “things start out screwed and go downhill from there,” and if I were to go that deep into the dark and keep heading to the logical end-point of that idea, the character or situation would have no future, which is death for a series. So it’s dark and it’s angsty in places, but the noir element is more of voice and style than of true despair or inevitable doom. Noir is a sexier label than the mostly-discarded “hardboiled” but, really, the Greywalker series is more the latter than the former. But I’m perfectly happy to call it “paranormal noir” if that helps people get a handle on what to expect.
Terrance: You grew up in southern California. What elements brought you to the state of Washington, and what keeps you there (besides the legalized ferrets)?
Kat: Work–or a lack of it. The company I was working for at the time was going to relocate to a place I had no interest in moving to and my boyfriend–now my husband–had just been laid off from an aerospace firm that’s long since been gobbled up by a bigger company. So we thought it was a good a time to start fresh somewhere else that might be more interesting, cheaper, and less crowded than Los Angeles. We knew a few people in the Seattle area and I had some family up this way (my mom’s folks are from Reedley, CA, but some of the family relocated to Washington and Oregon), so I’d been here a few times, so we packed up our stuff and moved. Now we have family and friends and work up here and we like it–though I do get a little tired of the perpetual dankness by, say, February–so we’ve stayed. We do occasionally talk about moving if we had no reason to stay put, but few places come to mind that we’d like better. It’s a gorgeous state with a lot of diversity of geography and people and it’s a little quirky, which is fun.
Terrance: Your advice on character-building is to “Take a character type you are familiar with from other stories or real places and apply the “what if” again: what if they were different in a certain way; what if they were stuck in a certain situation….?” What did you borrow from to create Harper Blaine, and what “what ifs” did you employ?
Kat: Well, there’s the fairly obvious “what if the clients are dead to begin with” and “what if the PI can talk to ghosts?” but I did borrow a bit from people I knew or went to school with or worked with to create Harper. She’s not that much like me–she’s more confident and focused than I am, not to mention taller and thinner. She’s got elements of my step-sister Casey–who is slim and smart, a little tomboyish, and looks just like Harper–and a girl I knew in college who was on the women’s varsity rowing crew, as well as the ballerina girlfriend of one of my old office mates who was incredibly neurotic and utterly focused on her career. So Harper got Casey’s build and humor, my college-friend’s athleticism, and the ballerina’s career experience, focus, and neurotic tendencies covered up with a lot of professional aloofness. Then I added on the what-ifs to give Harper a job, a past, a family, and a host of problems, foibles, and quirks.
Terrance: You delve into a lot of mythologies, traditional folklore, and true events, applying your own variations (You gave your merfolk tentacles because you thought they needed them). How extensive is your personal library of the paranormal, history, and the occult?
Kat: Tiny. Living on a boat I have room for very few books–the moisture of a marine environment is hell on paper, glue, and bindings. I do have a few books I use all the time, like the Elements Encyclopedias of Ghosts and Hauntings, Magical Creatures, and Secret Signs and Symbols, as well as The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits by Rosemary Ellen Guiley, and some Seattle and Washington history books. But I use a lot of online sources like HistoryLink.org that are well vetted as well as using the Seattle and King County library systems and similar local resources like historical societies. I do use less-reputable online sources, also, but I only use them as a starting point and then look for more reliable information elsewhere. But I also have a lot of friends who are writers or teachers–and in some case both–who are very nice about throwing ideas and resources my way when I’m in need or stumped.
Terrance: Besides your theatre-rat childhood, motorcycle riding, swing dancing, renfair performing/costuming, and target shooting, what facets of your life would surprise your readers?
Kat: I’m actually a bit of an introvert and I’m easily overwhelmed in large crowds or by having to ask for help from strangers. I have to have a “role” to play to get over that, so I put on my “writer persona” or my “stage persona” when I have need to do those things. And when I’m done I feel exhausted and want to go hide somewhere to rest and recharge. I’m also pudgy, crass, and I tell really bad jokes. I wish I was funny and I’ve always wanted to write a humorous book, but I’m afraid I might not be able to pull it off. Actually, I’m always afraid I won’t pull off whatever I’m trying to do–like a lot of writers I’m insecure and constantly trying to get over it by pushing myself to do one more new thing or one more hard thing I’ve never done before.
Terrance: What is the best piece of writing advice you were ever given?
Kat: I’m not even sure who first told me this, but it’s true: Don’t pull punches; readers always know when you didn’t give it your all. (And your editor will tell you if you’ve gone too far.) If what you’re writing doesn’t upset or freak you out once in a while, you’re not trying hard enough.
Learn more about Kat and her books on her website.
To enter to win an e-book copy of Seawitch, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Seawitch”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 6, 2012. U.S. residents only.
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