Interview with Kat Richardson
1) Why this book? What made you want to write this story?
I had a couple of things I wanted to do: I wanted to write a "monsters in the sewer" adventure and I wanted to expand a little on the character of Quinton, Harper's mysterious tech-geek friend in the Greywalker series. So I combined the two interests into one book and this was the result.
2) Which authors inspire you? Has that changed over time?
Oh, it's definitely changed over time. My tastes change, and there are always new writers coming on the scene who surprise and excite me. I love classic writers of excellent English, like Shakespeare, Austen, and Kenneth Graham as well as their contemporary colleagues like Patricial McKillip who make language a joy. I also really admire groundbreakers like William Gibson, Richard K. Morgan, and Ken Bruen. I'm a total fangirl of quirky writers like Cherie Priest--and she only lives a few miles away!--Liz Williams, Jasper Fford, and Victor Gischler. I've let a lot of writers drop off my reading list for lack of time, not lack of interest.
3) Why genre? Is there something special about science fiction or fantasy that draws you to write in the field?
I like the "what if" that underlies SFF. It's a challenge not only to style, craft, and story but to raw imagination. It's the quintessence of invention and curiosity that drives humans to strive. If it were not for "what if" would Gallileo have invented a telescope to look at the stars? And you see where that led.
4) What do you find most interesting about Harper Blaine? her various adversaries? Why these characters?
I lover Harper's toughness. I don't just mean that she carries a gun and talks like Sam Spade; it's her sheer drive to keep going in the face of any and every adversity that makes her intriguing. She had a nice, settled life that she's worked hard to build and when it was suddenly upended, she hated it, but she rolled with it and keeps on going. She's learning more in each subsequent book about her abilities, but also about herself and what really drives her and what ultimately satisfies her. Her adversaries change in each book but in the end there is always the problem of making peace with herself and living with her challenges.
I have to say that my favorite of her adversaries is yet to be fully revealed. I'm working up to it in a future book. Suffice to say, he has a plan and it is Not Good. But writing about it should be tremendous fun.
As to why these guys... Well, they just seemed like the right group to complicate Harper's life.
5) You're a writer. What else are you? What are your interests? Hobbies?
I'm a former magazine and technical editor, so I'm kind of an English and History geek, but I'm also fond of sailing, computer games, swing dancing, ferrets, target shooting, and motorcycles. I used to work at a renaissance faire as a dancer and actor. I've read the Sunday funnies for a radio service for the blind. I work on the Northwest regional board of the Mystery Writers of America, and before I got into journalism in college, I majored in vocal music. I'm also a bit of a science geek: I love to read physics books and biology, I used to write technical course material about diamonds for the Gemological Institute of America, I hand-code my own website (which explains the very plain design), and I poke my nose into all kinds of tech-y subjects whenever I have the time.
6) Did you have to do any special research for this book? What did you need to know in order to write it that you didn't know before? Do you have some special preparation you do general to writing?
UNDERGROUND required quite a bit of reading as well as interviewing. I spent a lot of time in my library reading about local Indian tribes and legends, local history, local architecture, and then I tracked down the historian for Seattle's underground tour and picked his brains, too. Research is one of the things I love about writing--I always find some weird detail I hadn't thought of that can be useful. I've found information on crimes, earthquakes, people--even buildings--that have turned out to be fascinating and useful. The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 made it into GREYWALKER, POLTERGEIST utilized information and locations from Washington's most notorious mass murder, and the collapse of a building in Pioneer Square in 1897 became an important clue in UNDERGROUND.
7) I see a lot of information about the homeless in this book. Is that something that really interests you? Or is it more driven by the needs of the story?
It was more story-driven, but I have to admit that after doing the research, my awareness of the homeless, and the situations that surround them, has gone way up. Some really have given up on getting out of their situation--it can be really bleak and crushing--but most are trying very hard to re-enter the mainstream, to get jobs and homes and stop living on the street. There are some surprising grass-roots organizations out here--like Peace for the Streets, Women in Black, and the Coalition for the Homeless--trying to help these people get off the street and back to living lives that aren't haunted by a constant state of fear and hopelessness and raise the awareness of people like me.
8) So, if you were Harper Blaine and someone introduced you to a zombie, as happens UNDERGROUND, what would you do?
Me? I'd freak right out. I am so much not Harper Blaine. Babbling... yeah... that would be my most likely response.
9) What are you writing now?
I'm working on Greywalker #4 which has just been retitled VANISHED. It's a continuation of the arc that started in GREYWALKER and it will wrap up a lot of questions as well as posing some new ones to be answered in Book 5.
I'm also working on an SF Police thriller novel I'd like to finish and sell and I'm noodling with a bunch of other ideas. But that's pretty much the way all writers are--noodling constantly.
10) How did you become a writer? Is this what you saw yourself growing up to be? Or did it take you be surprise?
It was a bit of a surprise. I'd always wanted to be a singer or a dancer or maybe an ice skater--very girly. But when I was heading for college, I realized I'd been writing all my life--my first short story was written for a class when I was eight--and I thought that was a huge clue that maybe I should just do that, instead of being a music teacher.
11) Do you have a writing routine? Talk process for a moment, how do the words get on the page?
I do and I don't. I start with ideas either under a deadline or something that has just jumped to the front of my brain and won't shut up. Then I try writing it out for a while. Eventually I get stuck and have to fall back and outline. After that I can usually go ahead, although I've been known to write up to four outlines of 35 pages or more each before I can comfortably finish a novel so it's a bit more complicated than "I just write." I write my novels with a Mystery structure where timing and placement of clues is vital, so what I'm really doing when I outline is working out ahead of time a lot of the issues that would normally come up in revision. That doesn't mean I don't revise, but it's not usually too heavy. With shorts or novellas, I tend to just jump in with an idea and thrash around, revise a couple of times, and then finish it up and ship it. I don't have much of a routine per se, I just get up, clear off the housework and paperwork, mess around until I feel like I've wasted enough time for one day, and then write until I can't stand any more, or I've reached a good stopping point. And I write pretty much every weekday and do things like this interview on weekends.
12) Office? Closet? Corner of the living room? Do you have a set place to write? A favorite? How does the environment you write in affect your production? Your process?
I don't have much space, living on a sailboat. I just plop myself down on the dinette bench, pop open my laptop and work. I like being at home where I can blast music, look after our geriatric ferrets, or pace around and talk out the dialog aloud, so I'm not really comfortable in coffee shops or libraries. I do occasionally have "playdates" with Richelle Mead and other SFF writers in the area whom we've started calling "Team Seattle" where we sit in her living room and work because we're too embarrassed to let the other one see us not working.
13) Is there anything you especially like to work on in a book? Anything you hate?
I hate writing sex scenes, which is why I never do them. There's one in UNDERGROUND and it was the worst thing I ever had to do. Ugh! I'd rather write an action sequence, or even revise, than do that again! What I love is making the past come alive, letting the setting and the ghosts flow out--that's just too much fun!
14) This isn't your first book; tell us a little bit about what else is out there?
Right now, only the Greywalker series: GREYWALKER, POLTERGIEST, and now UNDERGROUND, but I have a werewolf Christmas short story coming out in an anthology in October called WOLFSBANE AND MISTLETOE that was edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner. A Harper Blaine novella will be out in January 2009 in the collection MEAN STREETS and I'm really looking forward to that, since the collection is just four of us from Penguin's fantasy noir side: Jim Butcher, Simon R. Green, and Thomas Sniegoski.
15) Do you see fiction as having a purpose? Generally? How about your own work?
My work is mostly entertainment, but I hope that readers do occasionally see the depth of history in it, and the way in which human beings shape their worlds by what they believe--good or bad--as much as by what they do. That's a bit of a recurring theme in the books, along with the idea that you can control and shape your own life, no matter what gets thrown at you.
In general I think fiction should sneak ideas into our heads--not bludgeon us. It pretends to be entertaining, but it should tickle our minds to thought, if possible.
I'm excited that the UNDERGROUND is out in hardcover and I hope it does the series proud. It's been an interesting book to research and write and I'm looking forward to seeing it "in the wild" at last. It's a Roc book, so it's available from major booksellers all over the US, Canada, and the UK and you can get one online--I'll even sign it if you ask--from one of my favorite independent booksellers: Seattle Mystery Bookshop, or find an independent bookseller near you, or order from Barnes & Nobel.