Kat Richardson is the national bestselling author of the Greywalker paranormal detective novels. Kat worked as a writer and editor in the computer industry and as a course writer for the Gemological Institute of America. She has tried her hand at a bit of almost everything in genre fiction and dabbled in: RPGs (Moon Elves); Film (The Glove); and Computer Games (T2X). A former theater brat, she worked the technical side as well as singing and acting in community and school theater from the age of eight, and put in thirteen years as a renaissance faire actor, dancer, and costumer at RPF in Agoura CA. A California native with a degree in Magazine Journalism from California State University, Long Beach, Kat currently lives on a sailboat in Seattle with her husband and the ghosts of ferrets. She can be found online @katrchrdsn on Twitter, on Facebook and at http://katrichardson.com
SFFWRTCHT: Let’s start with the basics: How do you define urban fantasy? And what are its key elements in your mind?
Kat Richardson: Contemporary or contemporary-feeling setting with paranormal or occult elements or as the primary fantasy “movers”.
KR: Correct.. After all, Sookie Stackhouse lives in a small town, not a city. But so few people really do rural as well as Charlaine. Most of it’s Southern Gothic. The audience seems not to care what you call them. Genre labels are largely a marketing thing.
SFFWRTCHT: Where did your interest in science fiction and fantasy come from?
KR: I’ve always loved them! I’m a pulpy reader. Mystery, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Romance, Adventure… even westerns!
SFFWRTCHT: Who were some of the other authors who most thrilled and inspired you growing up?
KR: I loved Madeline L’Engle, Kenneth Graham, Jane Austen, Dorothy Sayers, Ellery Queen, and Fairy Tales, among others.
SFFWRTCHT: When did you start writing and how long until your first sale?
KR: I started when I was eight, but it’s something I’ve always done. Didn’t think it was odd at all.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you study creative writing at all in school? How´d you learn your craft?
KR: I’m mostly self-taught, but from good stock: I had great general English teachers and my dad was one too. I actually have my degree in Magazine Editing. I’m a journalist originally. Journalism school was good training: be a pro, hit your deadlines, learn to walk away from your darlings. Hard but good. Seriously, one of my early bad reviews slammed me for being too grammatical and not exciting enough…“You can tell she used to be an editor… those who can’t write edit!” yeah… who’s the full-time writer here?
KR: I was assigned the label. I thought I’d written a detective novel with monsters.
SFFWRTCHT: Actually, having read it, you did write a detective novel with monsters. Apt description. I can see crime fiction influences, noir influences all over it! Tell us how Harper Blaine came about? Harper is a P.I. who, after experiencing death for two minutes, comes back with ability to Greywalk, which is walking between the reality in which most humans live and that other layer of ghosts, vampires etc. “The Grey.”Did you write Greywalker as a stand alone or did you always have a series in mind?
KR: Greywalker was always meant to be a series, but I wrote it so it could stand alone if it had to. Harper was originally a man–very stereotypical hardboiled detective… But it didn’t work for me so I eventually made the character someone I was closer to. Now the Grey…the Grey was partially inspired by the fog in Seattle and partially by a lot of particle and quantum physics.
SFFWRTCHT: How long did you spend writing the first book before you sold it?
KR: I wrote the first complete draft in 2000 in six weeks. It sucked. I revised it 6 times before it sold and two more for my editor, Anne Sowards, at Penguin after she bought it. It didn’t sell for five years. I felt I had to either get published or stop calling myself a “writer” so I worked really hard to get that.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you start with characters sketches or outlines or just let it unfold as it comes?
KR: Since I have the cast complete, I start with plots now. I outline very midly, but I used to be a super outliner. The original outline for Greywalker was 34 pp. of bullet lists. It was a mystery and I had to get the clues and timing right. I have a better feel now. I had a five-book arc in mind with a loose arc outline originally. it… umm… grew. It was supposed to be five books but the publisher wanted six so… I did six. Now they want three more.
SFFWRTCHT: In Greywalker, Harper is reluctantly drawn into service investigating vampires and an antique organ with dark powers. What inspired you to write a noir detective story? Do you just like the genre or did something that spark the idea?
KR: I love noir! I adore Hammett and Chandler and Cain and Woolrich and Thompson! OMG! Love!
SFFWRTCHT: Was it hard to utilize tropes like vampires and ghosts in ways which made them seem fresher and less stereotypical as you seem to?
KR: The funny thing about the vampires is that I wasn’t being fresh. I went backward to the “old school” monsters. There was a distinct long story arc I wanted to tell but I had no idea about character arcs, so the character arcs evolved along the way from a general idea to a more specific one. I’ve learned to let the stories evolve a bit, rather than insist on “my way or the highway” with them.
KR: I had done some research into PIs a while back and I just read a lot of paranormal research stuff… a LOT!
SFFWRTCHT: In many ways, it seemed to me that the character’s own skepticism really made the world believable. Is that intentional?
KR: Oh yes. True skepticism requires an open mind to all ideas. Yeah, Harper doesn’t love her job, but she recognizes necessity and that she’s good at it. She’s also got a strong sense of Justice and what is Right. “Paladin of the Dead” is a good title for her.
SFFWRTCHT: That comes out well when reading Greywalker and Downpour back to back as I did. Yes. Paladin Of The Dead indeed! In Greywalker, Harper has a struggling romance with Will Novak. By Downpour, book six, she´s with another character. Did readers object?
KR: Oddly, most fans were very happy with the romantic development. They liked Will but he wasn’t right for Harper and they understood that. Not to mention, everyone loves…well, You Know Who. I do feel badly about what happened to Will, but It was kind of a necessary evil. Poor guy.
SFFWRTCHT: He’s actually a very interesting choice for her in a lot of ways, You Know Who.
KR: The challenge was giving her what she needed not what she wanted, and then making her like it.
SFFWRTCHT: By book six, Downpour, Harper seems to have accepted her new abilities and become more comfortable with “the grey.” Besides Harper, your books have recurring characters. When you knew you’d be doing more, did you sketch character arcs for them?
KR: The characters had some very distinct backstories at the beginning but I did leave room to fill things in, too. Six was supposed to anchor a new arc. It ties off a lot and leaves new threads. It was challenging coming up with a new character arc that was worthwhile. Stories are much easier than character.
SFFWRTCHT: How hard is it then to sell that world to newer readers who might not have started with Greywalker? How do you go about it?
KR: I find it’s not too hard to get them to start almost anywhere. My editor insists on backstory insertion.
SFFWRTCHT: Downpour has Harper investigating an unsolved murder alongside digging up background on a potential witness for a lawyer client both cases which wind up being more connected than she originally envisioned. How hard are new ideas to come up with?
KR: New ideas are a beast…. I plan to take a little time off after book nine to dig around for some new ones.
SFFWRTCHT: What role do beta readers play for you in the process now that you have a publisher?
KR: I’m usually so far behind that I’m writing up to the wire. Beta readers are usually my second pass editors.
SFFWRTCHT: Reading about Chaos makes me want to get a ferret.
KR: Ferrets are fun little critters, but they aren’t for everyone. They do smell a bit…
KR: I find long forms much easier. Short is hard and the shorter, the harder. You have to be very precise. Right now there are only two shorts–the Solis and “Chemotherapy” which is on my site for free. Go here and scroll down and you can find the short story download: http://t.co/pGrrhZ2 and I did write a straight noir short with Solis that came out last year in Damn Near Dead 2.
SFFWRTCHT: Ah Rey Solis is an interesting guy. The Columbian turned US detective. Very cool!
What did you write during the five years you waited for Greywalker to sell?
KR: I was unemployed and very depressed. I wrote fanfic for a Thief: The Dark Project forum. And a game. And a film, a very obscure short horror piece called “The Glove” about a game glove from Hell that sucks blood.
SFFWRTCHT: Any plans to write fantasy or science fiction or other genres? What projects are you working on for the future?
KR: I have a Steampunk western and a Science Fiction/forensic thriller set on a far planet on the back burner.
SFFWRTCHT: Of course more Harper comes first right?
KR: Yeah, there’s a contract to fulfill and I’m actually a slow writer these days.
Interviewer Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.