Kat Richardson is one savvy writer. She’s on the cusp of releasing her first novel Greywalker and it sounds like a great read. Here’s the blurb: Recovering from a near-fatal accident, Seattle Private Investigator Harper Blaine develops the ability to move through the Grey: the realm of ghosts, vampires, witches, and magic that exists between our world and the next. Harper wants her life to return to normal, but when her clients turn out to be paranormal, the reluctant Greywalker is drawn into the affairs of ambitious vampires and angry ghosts. As her cases converge, Harper uncovers a plot that threatens Seattle's Grey world and must choose between honor and survival.
Tell us first who Kat Richardson is.
I'm a writer--that sounds kind of dumb, I'm sure, but it's the best description I have since it's what I've been doing one way and another since I was eight. I'm also a bit of an eclectic odd-ball: I keep ferrets as pets, I live on a sailboat, ride a motorcycle, and I occasionally shoot target pistol and rifle. So, now I sound like a tough girl, but I'm really kind of silly: I like comedy films, and swing dancing, and amusement parks, and really bad jokes. I'm the bit-of-everything sort who seems destined to be a writer so I can keep on being a dabbler in everything that interests me. But I work as a freelance non-fiction editor to pay the bills--when I have to.
You have your first novel Greywalker coming out in October. You call it an "Urban Fantasy/Science Fiction Mystery ". Tell us a little about that moniker and about the story.
The publisher came up with the label "Urban Fantasy"--it's just a marketing term, really, but it makes it easier for bookbuyers to figure out where to put it on the shelves. The story was always meant to be a mystery with a mystery structure and a detective protagonist, but it has fantasy elements--ghosts, witches, and vampires--that are essential to solving the mystery. Originally I called it a "paranormal mystery" a "cross-genre mystery" or "VI Warshawski with ghosts," but they all conjured ideas in other people's heads that didn't seem to encourage buying the story. So I let the publisher call it whatever they wanted--I figure they have the marketing savvy I lack, so I'm not second-guessing them, especially when you see the other names in the "urban fantasy" niche include NYT bestsellers like Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher, and Laurell Hamilton. That's some powerful company for a newbie author like me to be keeping.
Where did the idea spring from?
Well... when I was a kid I was addicted to a British TV show called Randall and Hopkirk, Deceased (My Partner the Ghost in the US). It was about two PIs in London and one was dead, but refused to go away and stop "helping" with investigations. When I was in college I thought it would be interesting to reverse the situation and have the PI be live, but the clients be ghosts. I figured that if there were such things as ghosts, they might need help and who would they get it from? So that train of thought led to a fragment of a short story about a male PI with a ghostly clientele. After I moved to Seattle, I was on a bus with my husband and talking about the idea of a ghost as a spy and who would use that sort of operative and how and that got me to thinking about my original idea again, and I tweaked it a little and tuned it up to reflect the changes in my own attitudes and I came up with Harper and her weird situation that enables her to interact with the "things that go bump in the night". After that, it was mostly a matter of pushing lots of bits of ideas around until I had a solid plot and a consistent character with a consistent set of rules for how she does what she does.
Did you start out writing mystery or were you more interested in science fiction?
I've tried pretty much everything from straight character studies and realism to romance, and animal stories. I've always loved mysteries--they're my first genre love and I can't let the form alone--but I also enjoy Fantasy and Science Fiction (or Speculative Fiction, in general) a lot, so I just write whatever seems to be the thing in my head and don't worry too much about what to call it.
Was Greywalker a hard sell because editors didn't know how to classify it, or did it go more smoothly than you thought?
It went a little smoother than I'd anticipated, but largely that was due to the fact that other writers had beaten me to the niche and carved it out before I got there, so I never had to fight that fight. It was lucky timing, really. If I'd tried harder to sell the story when I first wrote it, it might have been a much harder sell. But this particular cross-genre concept is really popular right now and I seem to have had the right story at the right time. Greywalker is a little more mystery-oriented than most of the books in the niche right now, so I hit a sub-niche that happened to be opening up, and I got very very lucky in meeting Charlaine Harris who is currently number one in the niche and she loved the book and has been very sweet and supportive of it and me. I also got some early support from Tanya Huff. Those certainly didn't hurt.
Who are your favorite authors? Who inspires you?
That's tough. I like a lot of writers. Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler were big influences on my view of mysteries, but I also devoured a lot of Sayers, Christie, Doyle, and Queen. I adore Jane Austen and Shakespeare and Stella Gibbons. I read a lot of Asimov and Clarke as a kid. I love the way Patricia McKillip uses words and plots--also Nina Kiriki Hoffman for the same. My SF was strongly influenced by Gibson, Stephenson, Dick, and recently Richard K. Morgan. I'm a big fan of some of the modern noir writers like Dennis Lehane, Jim Fusili, Ken Bruen, and Victor Gischler. And of course I enjoy Charlaine's books and Tanya Huff's Blood series and Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series. I recently ran across Liz Williams and I'm completely in awe of her ability to bring disparate elements together into something new and fascinating. But, really, I'm a book slut and I'll read almost anything. If I feel the need to ground myself in something excellent, I often head for Pride and Prejudice--one of the few books I've read multiple times.
The road to being published is sometimes a long and twisting path (don't I know it!) How long did it take you from concept to contract?
Depends on where you start counting. If you start at the very first inkling of the concept it would be... wow twenty years! But if you think of it as starting when I first put my butt in a chair in front of the computer with the intention of writing _this_ book, that was June, 2000, so the cycle of this one book from hands-on-keyboard to book-on-shelves was just over six years.
Steve Mancino of JABberwocky is a great agent. How did you and he hook up?
Once again, timing and luck played a huge part. I was about to give up on the whole idea of being a novelist, but I'd decided to give it one last big push, so I had a list of agents to query and I was all set to send out five or six queries a week until I'd been rejected by everyone worth a damn in the business and then I'd be content to call it quits. Steve had just been hired full-time at the agency after being Joshua's part-time assistant for a year and mine happened to be the query that rose out of the slush pile that week. I suspect that the fact I was in Seattle and Joshua was just about to come to Seattle on business may have helped, but Steve assures me it was because the story was good. Anyhow, he showed it to Joshua who told him to get the complete ms and if they both liked it, Joshua would chat me up during PNWA and see if I was a reasonable human who would do the necessary work to make the ms salable. So we met and I said I'd make the changes suggested by Joshua and Steve and we went on from there with Steve as my actual agent and Joshua overseeing the relationship, since I was Steve's first client. Effectively, I've had the benefit of both agents working for me--did I say I've been very lucky?
Tell us about the publisher. Correct me if I'm wrong, but was there not an auction first? What was that like?
It was odd, but it 's not that impressive. Initially there were three publishers still interested in the book after a LOT of submissions and rejections--something like 20 submissions. One of the editors at Del Rey really loved it and wanted it badly and we talked about further changes he thought the board would want, but in the end the answers to those objections were not sufficient to sway his purchasing board and they dropped out. So it was down to two publishers. Once again I talked to an editor about changes and so on and she was very enthusiastic, though I was a little tepid about the changes she wanted but didn't say much at the time. I'm embarrassed to say I can't recall the publisher. Based on our conversation this editor was able to get a good offer and submitted it. Penguin had also submitted an offer which was not as good, though close. Steve went back to Anne Sowards at Penguin and told her about the other offer and Anne was able to match it, so it came down to a question of who I wanted to work with. In the end, I chose to go with the Penguin Group since Anne wanted no significant changes and I was more comfortable with that. Steve was able to get me a great deal, especially when you consider I had no prior fiction publication history, but I did feel terrible about the other editor, since she seemed to want it very badly. So I was happy and glad the situation had developed as it did, but I'm a softie and I still feel a little bad about having to say "no" to the other editor.
I understand there was another publisher lined up first. How did it come about that you went with Roc?
Not really "lined up", it was more like an internal juggle. The contract is with Penguin and originally the series was supposed to go under the Ace imprint as a mass market original, but once again a bit of my weird luck happened. The Ace publication schedule didn't have an opening until January, 2007, so that was my original scheduled release date. But a hole opened in the Roc trade paperback schedule--I'd guess someone else's manuscript slipped for some reason--and Anne was able to move Greywalker into that hole, since press schedules are sacred in publishing--the publisher has to fill the press or it loses money. Roc is another imprint of Penguin and under the same editorial group, headed by Ginjer Buchanan, so the move was mostly paperwork and agreeing that the book was worth the risk of the greater expense of the trade paperback. It's great for me, since it moved the book up both in date and in size from a mass market paperback coming out in one of the worst months of the year to a trade paperback coming out at an appropriate month (October for ghosties and goulies) and just before the big holiday buying frenzy.
How far ahead do you plot out the series?
In this case, I've got an initial 5-book arc already in mind (just finished writing the second and starting research on the third) and presented that arc to the publishers when we first went into deep negotiations, so they knew there were at least 5 if they wanted them. Steve and I have been talking about what to do beyond Book 5. If the publisher wants to extend the contract I think I can come up with at least another 4 book arc with no problems, or a group of 4-6 non-arc books with the same characters. Depends on how things look when we go into contract negotiations again. I try to be flexible, since what I want may not be what the publisher thinks they can sell.
What is a typical writing day like for you?
Long. When I'm in the throes of writing it's an all-day thing. I'm unreasonable. Once I'm to the stage of just writing, not outlining, or researching, or freewriting, I set a daily word-count goal based on a 5-day work week and the number of days I have left until the deadline. If I don't meet a daily or weekly goal, I'll work weekends, nights, etc--whatever it takes, to get back on track. It's a throwback to my days on magazines, where deadlines were sacrosanct. I hate to ask for extensions and I hate to be late. I get obsessive and I make my husband do the chores and even the cooking--which can be dangerous since he's not much of a cook. When I was or am working in an office to pay the bills and writing at night, I usually work 4 10hr days in the office and write all night and weekend. I get about 4 hours of sleep when that's the case. I hate it, but it's necessary, since I can't seem to write just a tiny bit at a time. I need to hit goals or complete scenes or finish chapters or I feel I'm not doing my job. I'm a touch obsessive, I guess.
What is your writing process like? Do you plot and outline every last detail, have a general outline and fill it in as you write, or something in between?
I start with a broad idea of what the plot and story are, then I do a little research and start freewriting until I hit a wall. Then I fall back, analyze what I've done, where I need to go, and how I've missed going there. Then I outline in great detail--usually 1:8 or so; the most recent outline was 13,000 words for a ms that dressed out at 95,000 words. I feel I need to keep track of characters, timing, and clues with precision to maintain the mystery structure, so I end up with huge outlines that I revise once or twice before I go back to writing. After that I by the outline and then revise the complete ms after its had a good beating-on by my readers/critiquers (including Steve and Joshua). When I'm satisfied that I've made all reasonable changes and cleaned up the "whoopses" it's ready to go to the editor. And I hope she won't want more revisions, but I keep every version, so if she wants a change that is effectively a step back to a previous version, I have that on tap in my computer.
How was working with editors on your first novel? Was this different from what you expected?
Not a lot. Since I've worked as an editor--though in a different field--I had a good idea what to expect and why changes would be asked for. Anne and Steve are both really good at articulating the "why" of any change they request and that makes it a lot easier to make the change and make it integrate into the whole smoothly. What I am not good at is accepting copyedits. I get very annoyed with the poor copyeditor because she will insist on getting the rules RIGHT and forcing me to make sense and not misuse words or misspell foreign words or misname a book or use incorrect capitalization. I got very grumpy about it, but I did make changes more often than not. Some things had to be as I'd made them, but most were really me being sloppy. So I know I'm in debt to my editors for making me look good. It's certainly been an eye-opener to be on the other side of the paper.
Some writers start off with a professional attitude and learn as much about the business before they ever send out a query. What are some of the pitfalls you'd like to warn new writers about, things that perhaps you would have done differently?
I would have written a different query letter and been more careful about researching agents' submission requirements. Beyond that, I'm sure I'm still making mistakes and will make more, but I think the thing for new writers who want to have a commercially-successful novel is to be flexible, choose the battles and fight only the big ones, continue to learn, be willing to get and take advice, think before they blurt, and to pull no punches in their writing--be honest and hit hard. They should also resign themselves to working very hard, all alone, for very little money and to being gracious even when they would rather sulk, scream, or hide. When everything is good, though, it's all worth the trouble.
Book promotion is a career unto itself. What are some of the things you are going to be doing to promote Greywalker?
I started on self-promotion pretty early. I've been active with a couple of online groups since I started writing and I've talked about the book with them throughout the cycle. I also started a website long before I thought the book would sell and I maintain it, still. I have the name of my book and my site URL in my online signature for newsgroups and fora. I have a blog on Amazon now, too. I also got a lot of decent advice from other writers and still visit their websites (Rob Sawyer and Barry Eisler offer great advice on writing, self promotion, and working with your publisher.) I go to a few conventions, and I'll be going to a few more as a "pro "now and signings and all that, but I also just look for opportunities to learn about the business from pros, to make connections with booksellers and reviewers, to get my name and my book into people's minds in a positive light and in some way not directly associated with "I'm trying to sell you on my book." I introduce myself to booksellers when I go to bookstores, I give silly things to my friends who pass them along. I tell my friends about the book and it's surprising how often someone knows someone who might be interested in reviewing the book, or interviewing me, or selling the book in their shop. As I've gotten closer to publication, I've asked for the opportunity to speak at conventions, when appropriate, and I've provided materials for goodie bags, when I could afford them. I also make sure to talk to people --just socially--at parties and green rooms and so on, and to keep their business cards and contact them later to say how much I enjoyed meeting them. It helps to simply be a pleasant person to talk to. Even if there's no big opportunity to promote the book, I can try to leave the impression that I'm a nice person, interesting, fun, and comfortable to be around. I also make sure I keep in touch with my editor, publicist, and agent and forward anything appropriate to them, ask before I stick my foot in my mouth about something, and reply to any requests from them for information or publicity related activity as soon as I can.
What are you most proud of about this book/series?
I think it's strong enough to stand on its own as either a mystery or a fantasy--it doesn't need to excuse itself to either set of readers.
Let's go back to the industry of publishing for a bit. Some say paper is dead, or at least in its death throes. Others have said that e-publishing is the next wave, though large publishers seem reluctant to go that route. As a writer of science fiction, where do you want to see publishing go in the future? Do you have any alternative ideas about that?
I don't really believe ordinary book publishing will die out completely. The convenience and comfort of holding a book will always have some appeal, but pulp itself may be replaced with something like e-paper or an electronic reader that feels like a paperback book. Meanwhile I'm impressed with some of the early e-publishing experiments by publishers like Baen and Amazon Shorts. I'd like to see electronic publishing take off in a bigger way, because I think the ease of entry will allow the market to offer more to more people at better prices--and we all benefit if there are more books selling that cost less to produce. But I do have concerns about how a writer--especially someone like me who really doesn't have a lot of other skills--will make a living at it. I'm not as worried about piracy as I am about how anyone comes to know about a book without the vetting function that the traditional publishing/reviewing relationship now provides since I think it's inevitable that electronic publishing will become independent of the current publishing structure. I think the big hurdle to cross is recreating the "trusted source" function of publishers and the current review bodies for an electronic world and setting reasonable prices and making payment easy and secure. I think we're developing answers to these problems with blogs as the evolving trusted sources and markets like Amazon as the distribution and payment centers, but the model is still rough and has some problems to resolve yet. I think we'll get there and I think e-publishing is a great idea.
In a few weeks I will have an interview on my blog with three book reviewers (be on the lookout for that!) Have you been reviewed already and if so, how do you think they will influence the buying public? How do they influence editors in future sales? Or are numbers all that matter?
I was lucky enough to receive great pre-release reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal. If the book had been in mass market, none of those publications would have read it, so the move to trade served me well, there. I don't know how much the public will be influenced by those--probably very little--but it has had an effect on the publisher's support of the book. The early good reviews led to bigger orders from Amazon and the big chains than I could have hoped for, so the initial print run will be pretty big for a first novel by an unknown. And there have been purchases by libraries based on those reviews, too, so that will help the book get into the hands of people who might not want to spend so much, but want to read, and then they may like the book enough to buy the next one. I think reviews in the right place--something that addresses your audience specifically--are best since they lead directly to readers who become buyers and then _they_ sing your praises by word of mouth to others. It's important to sell, of course, or the publisher won't continue and my career is in the toilet then, but if I have the choice between gaining a reader without a sale or no sale and no reader, I'd rather have a reader and no sale. I don't have any issue with libraries or used books or people lending their copy to friends at this point in my career, since I think it's better in the long run to have a lot of people read the book and love it and say good things and encourage others to read it, than it is to sell a couple more copies. Later on, I may change my tune, but now, I just want people reading the book and--I hope- loving it. The publisher, of course, wants the sales numbers high--I may have to force my family to buy extra copies.
Perhaps it's a little early to ask, but do you have plans for any other series?
I've had a Future Noir graphic novel series in the works with an artist friend, Ken George, for a while but it's on indefinite hold while we both try to get our careers rolling. I'd like to do something more SF and less fantasy at some point--though I'll probably stick with the Mystery/Crime structure--and I do have a couple of things cooking in my brain in that direction, but haven't had the time to spend on them, lately.
Is there anything you would like to add that I didn't ask?
Not much except, it's been a very weird journey to this point, but I wouldn't change a thing. And I owe a lot of thanks to a lot of people for helping me get here. A writer's journey, though often lonely, is not truly solitary. Thanks for letting me run on so long, Jeri.