Interview Transcripts

Kat Richardson: Writing for Life 2/22/07



Legend:
Questions from the Audience are presented in red.
Answers by the Speaker are in black.
The Moderator's comments are in blue.

Mary Rosenblum

Hello all.

 

Welcome to our Professional Connection live interview.

 

Tonight, my guest is Kat Richardson, Seattle author.

 

Kat Richardson's first novel, an urban fantasy/detective novel titled Greywalker, was released by Roc in October 2006 with the second book in the series set for release in August 2007. She is currently a full-time novelist and has worked as an editor and technical writer/editor in many non-fiction fields. As a writer she's dabbled in many fiction fields and media, including Role Playing Games, film, computer games, and online graphic novels. Kat lives on a sailboat in Seattle with her husband, two ferrets, and a crotchety old cat. She rides a motorcycle, shoots target pistol, and doesn't own a TV.

 

Please do use your Private Message feature if you wish to chat with your friends in the audience during the interview, or drop into the Room One to visit! People have a hard time keeping up when a lot of chat fills the screen! Thanks!

 

Kat, welcome, I'm so pleased to have you here!

Kat Richardson

Thank you for asking me, Mary. It's neat to be here.

Mary Rosenblum

I have to say that Greywalker intrigued me. Your private eye ends up with all kinds of ghosts for clients, yes? Even though she's mortal?

gskearney

A lot of people have said I'm out of order ... in one way or another. Welcome, Kat. --gk

Kat Richardson

Yes, that's basically the premise.

Mary Rosenblum

Are they all set in Seattle?

Kat Richardson

Yes, they are. I'd like to set some of them elsewhere if the series goes on for any length of time....

 

but there's no guarantee at this point.

Mary Rosenblum

Sigh, there never is a guarantee is there? But the second book is due out in August, right?

Kat Richardson

Yes, Poltergeist is due out August 7.

andi

Kat do your books get to Canada?

Mary Rosenblum

They should be in the chains, right Kat?

Kat Richardson

and I'm currently working on the third book of the series.

 

Yes, the publisher is an imprint of Penguin, so the book's available everywhere Penguin has distribution

 

including Canada.

Mary Rosenblum

So Kat, let's start at the beginning before we get into writing questions...just how did you get started writing, and how did you start with Greywalker?

Kat Richardson

I started writing when I was eight, because I found it very easy to express myself on paper and not so easy in other venues.

 

But in terms of professional writing, I really got started when I went to college and majored in Journalism.

Mary Rosenblum

You were a technical writer, weren't you?

Kat Richardson

Greywalker started as a short story I wrote in between classes in college. I put it aside for a long time, then got back to it later, when I had more creative writing time.

 

Yes, I got into technical writing and editing after I moved to Seattle. Before that, I'd been a trade magazine editor and educational course writer.

geezer

I was told it was hard for a tech writer to transition to a novelist. Obviously you had no problem.

Mary Rosenblum

I was going to ask you about that, Kat. Was it difficult for you?

Kat Richardson

I didn't find it that hard, but I was never a strictly one-way writer. I always did more editing than writing and I find the disciplines quite different.

gskearney

Did you find that the Greywalker short story character had more to say, or was it just that you liked the fantasy world that you'd created and wanted to play in it some more?

Kat Richardson

I think that many people find that once they've trained their working style to one narrow discipline, breaking that habit can be hard and make the transition to other forms harder.

 

That's an interesting question, GK. The original character was totally different, so it's hard to compare them.

Mary Rosenblum

So was it the idea that carried over then?

Kat Richardson

Yeah, the concepts and general idea were what I kept. I tossed the rest.

 

The original character was male and much more like a stock noir detective. His relationship with the denizens of the Grey was also very different.

sundale

I wonder, how many times did you rewrite your stories and/or plots?

Kat Richardson

Rewrites. Oh my gosh. I rewrite a lot now, but I used to do it less when I was younger.

 

If I thought the story stunk or I got blocked, I just dropped it and went on to something else. I was very impatient.

Mary Rosenblum

Aren't we all at first? J

 

How many times do you go through a novel draft, on average?

Kat Richardson

Probably. One wants to just jump in and be brilliant and it's not so easy.

Mary Rosenblum

Hear that folks?

Kat Richardson

So far, discounting Greywalker which was 5 drafts, it's taken 3 in most cases to go from rough to final, with an intermediate stage of outlining and re-outlining in the middle...

 

that outlining stage can run as many as 6 versions and take up to 2 months for me...

 

I'm usually doing research and updating outlines to reflect first reader comments and those of my agent at the same time.

Mary Rosenblum

Do you do an extensive, chapter by chapter outline before you write?

Kat Richardson

I outline in the middle.

 

I start writing with a concept and a scene and a goal, then I write until I hit a plot wall--a cul de sac in my thinking or plotting

 

then I backup and analyze so I can figure out what the problem was and I write an outline from that analysis that goes all the way from the beginning to the end.

Mary Rosenblum

So when you start with that concept and first scene, do you know where you'll ultimately end up? Or does that happen only after you hit that first wall?

Kat Richardson

I always have at least a general end in mind from the very beginning. I may not have the details and specifics but I have a direction.

Mary Rosenblum

Ah, I wondered. :-) At least you have a direction in which to go.

sailor

It sounds as if you have people read the draft before the whole thing is finished. True?

Kat Richardson

Yes, I do have friends and colleagues who read my early drafts and I always get my agent involved early on, since he's a very good plot doctor.

gskearney

Do you do all your writing on a computer, or do you sometimes find it's easier to work on paper?

Kat Richardson

I do ALMOST all my writing on a computer, now but when I'm really having a hard time, shifting to a pad and pen or stack of index cards and a marker is a nice brain-nudger for me.

Mary Rosenblum

I'm curious...do you do all your editing on screen or do you edit on the hardcopy page?

Kat Richardson

I do a combination of both.

 

I like to look at actual pages when I'm looking for smaller issues, like proofing or dropped words or chapter breaks

 

but big changes at the revision stage I usually do on screen. I also save every single version and have automatic backups every 15 minutes.

Mary Rosenblum

Saving is good. J Did you learn that lesson the hard way?

Kat Richardson

Oh yeah! Back in my early days I had a Commodore 64--which I still miss in some ways--but it died a horrible death while I was doing a school project and I ended up having to "wing it" at the last minute because my disks were corrupted in the crash.

Mary Rosenblum

Ah, sigh, I think we all learn that saving thing the hard way. At least it was long ago and not half a novel!

sundale

Do you plan the whole book, or do you occasionally let the story write itself?

Kat Richardson

I think we all get busy and forget at least once. But once is hopefully enough.

 

On the Greywalker books, I plan ahead. Since they're mysteries at heart, I feel the need to be precise about the positioning and timing of clues and character introductions

 

so I get downright compulsive about planning. The details of how a scene comes together on paper are pretty spontaneous, though, and if I run across some tasty tidbit during research, I'll modify to add that.

Mary Rosenblum

Mysteries really do require a certain amount of advanced planning, I think, if you're going to successfully hide clues and mislead the reader

 

which brings me to my next question. Roc publishes speculative fiction, but is Greywalker shelved in the mystery section or SF/fantasy section in the bookstore?

Kat Richardson

Greywalker is shelved as "Fantasy". The Mystery genre is still a little unsure about this "ghosts and monsters" thing.

Mary Rosenblum

That's changing. Heads up! J Berkeley is now doing paranormal!

Kat Richardson

Ironically, I was originally going to be published under the Ace imprint, which is a sub-set of Berkeley.

 

but there was an unexpected hole in the Roc trade paperback schedule and my editor promoted Greywalker into it, so I got the benefit of someone else's misfortune.

Mary Rosenblum

Interesting. Yes, Prime Crime has now gone to paranormal and they used to have a strict 'no ghosts' policy. You really do have to keep your ear to the marketplace.

johnw

Did you publish the Greywalker short story first?

Kat Richardson

The short story was never published--it truly stunk. I have some other Harper short doing the rounds right now, but the market for Urban Fantasy shorts is still kind of small and unpredictable.

Mary Rosenblum

The market for ANY fantasy short is pretty small, alas.

onepozy

How long did it take for you to sell your first book?

Kat Richardson

How long depends on when you start counting. I wrote the first complete draft in June of 2000, but didn't make a concentrated effort to sell it until January of 2004. My previous efforts were desultory and I was easily put off by rejection.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh it's so nice to hear someone admit to that. Can we talk about that just a bit here? Rejection is probably the toughest hurdle every new writer faces!

Kat Richardson

Oh yes! For me--and I suspect a lot of writers--it was a self-confidence issue too.

 

My friends and family liked my work, but I wasn't sure it was really any good. Rejection just seemed to reinforce that. So it was hard to keep on trying.

 

I did finally get some encouragement from some virtual strangers in an online forum--it's true--and I realized I did have some talent and I should keep on trying. So I did.

Mary Rosenblum

You've really touched on the experience that stops an awful lot of talented new writers cold -- the fact that those early rejections feel like a judgment. And clearly they were NOT.

 

As you found out. J

Kat Richardson

They aren't but when we are new to something, it's hard to be objective.

Mary Rosenblum

No kidding. But that's why I'm so pleased you mentioned this. It really helps to find out that someone else who succeeded was rejected at first.

Kat Richardson

I have been very lucky but I did take a lot of rejections to heart at first and I did drag my feet when I should have kept on trying.

classy1064

How many times were you rejected before it was picked up?

Kat Richardson

Wow... the early drafts were rejected half-a-dozen times before I decided to do major revisions and look for an agent, instead of submitting directly to publishers.

 

And once I started looking for an agent, I had 19 rejections before I got a "let's look at it." That happened to turn into representation, but I was prepared for the worst.

 

Then the manuscript was rejected 23 times when it was submitted by my agents. But, in the end, there was a 3-way bidding war for it and that made me feel much better.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, nice to the bidding war. Your agents were persistent. :-) That's good.

sundale

When I get a rejection, I just remember that "A Wrinkle in Time" was rejected 32 times before becoming a bestseller.

Kat Richardson

I have excellent agents and I know I couldn't have gotten the contract I did without them.

 

It's very rare for a book to get accepted on the first round.

Mary Rosenblum

That nineteen rejections by agents is pretty common, too, but you got a good one in the end!

classy1064

Being new did you have any difficulty finding an agent?

Kat Richardson

I think there's a poll out there somewhere... might be Brandon Sanderson's blog... that suggest the average is 3 tries before you even get a nibble.

Mary Rosenblum

I think that average includes people with previous sales and pro connections.

 

Seems WAY too low to me.

Kat Richardson

Being new didn't seem to make a difference. Being persistent seems to have been the key.

 

Yeah, I'd suspect that poll includes a lot of pros, so it's probably a bit off.

yarnsome

How did you find your agent?

Kat Richardson

I found them through a lot of research in Writers Market and then searching for more info online and at Preditors and Editors....

 

Basically I ran my search criteria through the WM search engine, then I went through the list that resulted and started prioritizing the listings and then checking on the actual status of the agency by reading their website and looking them up in other places.

 

Once I had them all vetted, I was able to decide who was worth my time--did they do both Mystery and SF--who was reputable, and who was accepting and what they wanted to see.

 

then I tailored my submission to match the requirements of the agency.

 

I want to backtrack just a little and go back to the "newbie" question.

 

Just recently I was approached by 2 established authors--I won't name them--who wanted to change agents or had lost their representation for various reasons.

 

Even though they are both known names with decent track records, they're still having to do pretty much the same thing I did. So being new isn't as much of a handicap as it seems--so long as your manuscript is good.

Mary Rosenblum

I strongly ditto this. Agents are looking for a saleable book. New writers can produce the next blockbuster. But, don't you agree, Kat, that

 

part of your success was submitting a good, strong query?

Kat Richardson

I have to say I'm not sure. I thought it was a good query, but my agent likes to make fun of it in public.

 

It turns out I wrote a letter in a form he hates, but the idea was so intriguing and I made it clear and interesting, that my initial faux pas was excused.

Mary Rosenblum

Okay, I have to ask. J What was the form he hated?

Kat Richardson

I formed my pitch as a question. He hates those.

Mary Rosenblum

So there you have it. Even if the editor thinks your query stinks, if he likes the book that's all that matters. You can all take heart, folks.

sol

Not that I'm happy because of your rejections, Kat, but it certainly shows the value of persistence.

Mary Rosenblum

Absolutely!

 

I'm sending all my novel students to read this transcript, Kat!

Kat Richardson

*laugh* Persistence is certainly the key!

sol

Hey, it's good to hear that you've used Preditors and Editors.

Kat Richardson

I love P&E--they saved me a lot of worthless queries. I also use AgentQuery.com.

Mary Rosenblum

Everyone needs to use Preditors and Editors!

 

I haven't checked into AgentQuery.com. What is that?

Kat Richardson

Its a newer site that gets listings and information directly from agents about who they are and what they want and if they are actively looking for books of a certain type.

 

The site also has some "help" columns, like how to write a query.

Mary Rosenblum

Oooh, thanks, Kat. That's going to be in next week's newsletter, that's for sure.

sailor

Who are your agents?

Kat Richardson

It's mostly younger, hungrier agents.

 

I'm with Jabberwocky Literary Agency in New York and my agent is Steve Mancino.

Mary Rosenblum

cool. J

grayalien

When you wrote your first novel, what kinds of changes did your editor want? Were you surprised by anything?

Kat Richardson

Was I ever! I couldn't believe how big the "little" changes were!

 

Between my agents--who had me revise twice--and my editor, I removed 3 characters and 20,000 words.

sol

Wow!

Mary Rosenblum

How about on your second novel? The one due out in August?

Kat Richardson

The second novel was easier in a lot of ways, but not "easy".

 

I knew where I was going better, so the initial writing and revision were faster and easier, but some of the changes my editor wanted would have taken the whole series in a different direction than I wanted

 

so I had to figure out how to make the book fit her needs without undermining my long-arc goals.

 

We had a very long conversation by phone and once we discussed our goals for the book and the series, it was much easier to make changes to the manuscript that satisfied us both.

Mary Rosenblum

That's excellent that you could make that compromise. Who is your editor there?

Kat Richardson

Anne Sowards--she's wonderful.

Mary Rosenblum

Nice to know. I don't know her.

geezer

About how much time do they give for the "little" changes?

Kat Richardson

On this most recent manuscript, they gave me 9 weeks due to the impending holiday season--that scared the poop out of me, I have to admit. I'd had 13 on the previous book.

Mary Rosenblum

NINE WEEKS!!!! Be glad you don't write for Tor. Sheesh! I WISH.

Kat Richardson

Incidentally, Penguin just put up a new page on their website to support their SF books....

 

http://us.penguingroup.com/static/html/scifi-fantasy/index.html

 

I hear I've got it pretty good at Penguin.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, great! Another good website for the newsletter. Thanks, Kat.

Kat Richardson

You can find pictures and bios of the editors there, too.

 

I count myself very lucky in my agents and my publisher. :)

charie'

Did you already have the second novel written? Or did they ask for it?

Kat Richardson

I didn't have the second novel written, but I had submitted a very short series arc proposal when interest was shown in the first book. The interim titles and descriptions were written into the final contract, so I'm on the hook for the first 3 as I described them, specifically.

Mary Rosenblum

Hopefully the series will continue!

Kat Richardson

I hope so!

sundale

What about total writing time? My own story is 5 years old, and far from done. It this uncommon?

Kat Richardson

So far as I can tell, that's not unusual for a first novel. But I hope you're working on other ideas, too, so that you have something else on the burner when the first one sells.

Kat Richardson

Publishers seem to like to know you have other things cooking.

Mary Rosenblum

They sure do. J

sundale

More like simmering. Can't get past writer's block.

Mary Rosenblum

Any tips that have worked for you, Kat?

Kat Richardson

With respect to writer's block? Mostly I take walks and talk out the problem. I try to figure out where I took a wrong turn, since writers block for me is almost always a matter of having written myself into a cul de sac.

gwalden

Any tips when submitting so that you don't red flag yourself as "New Writer"?

Mary Rosenblum

What do you think, Kat? Clearly a not-so-great query didn't hurt you? What about manuscript?

Kat Richardson

There's nothing wrong with being a new writer. What you really want to avoid is sending the message that you're unprofessional, or intractable, or that you haven't really looked at what's being published.

 

You don't want to send an inappropriate query or send the wrong materials, so paying attention to the agent or publishers submission outlines is a huge point in your favor.

 

Mostly, I'd say, do the homework and submit to requirements and forget about it and go on to the next query.

Mary Rosenblum

Great advice, Kat.

grayalien

Who are your favorite fiction authors?(if you don't mind my asking)

Kat Richardson

My favorite writers... wow... tough question. I like Jane Austen and Dashiell Hammett and Neal Stephenson and Richard K Morgan and Donna Andrews and... oh boy... a lot of people. It's hard to get them all down.

Mary Rosenblum

So tell us about writing on a houseboat.

Kat Richardson

It's actually a sailboat--35-feet. And it's kind of strange.

 

My work space is also my living space and my dining table. There's not a lot of room, so I have to be pretty flexible and tolerant of the other stuff going on around me. Have to learn to concentrate.

 

Or go to the library or Tully's for a while if I can't. It gets pretty rough when it's windy. Things slide around a lot.

Mary Rosenblum

Yeah, I wondered about that.

 

Are you working a day job right now, or just concentrating on the writing?

Kat Richardson

I'm in the happy position of concentrating on writing only, right now, but that is partially due to my husband having recently got a better-paying job.

Mary Rosenblum

ooo, I'm envious. :-)

builder guy

Hi Kat, How do you feel about sending out work that is close to you and personal? Have you held back on a story because of personal value?

Kat Richardson

I've never refused to send something because I felt too close to it. I get scared of rejection on the really personal stories, but it's a risk I feel I have to take to keep moving forward in my writing: gotta bleed to make it better, sometimes

Mary Rosenblum

No kidding.

 

And okay, I have to know...how many times have you used the excuse...'the ferrets ate my revision'?

 

That must be one cozy sailboat with your pet family.

Kat Richardson

*laugh* Never. But I have used the excuse that I was sailing.

Kat Richardson

Yeah, it's pretty tight in here, but the ferrets sleep a lot and the cat is old and slow-moving. The husband is a computer geek, so he's really good at becoming one with his machine and ignoring me.

Mary Rosenblum

Sounds like the ideal combination. As long as you all don't get excited at the same time! J And you DO need a picture of you

 

in leathers with your bike on your website front page, you know. With your blonde hair on your shoulders and helmet under your arm.

 

How could you NOT?

Kat Richardson

LOL! I've thought of it, don't think I haven't.

onepozy

I sometimes would like to try it but how is it to live without a TV?

Kat Richardson

Life without TV is wonderful. I never stress missing "my show" and I never find myself watching something stupid just to pass time. I also never worry that I'll inadvertently plagiarize something I watched while I was zoning out, instead of writing.

Mary Rosenblum

Hear hear! J

Kat Richardson

I do watch really good stuff on my computer when it comes to DVD, though, but only if I get a lot of recommendations.

info

I noticed you also have a cat. I lost my first cat a little over 2 years ago and had a hard time with the grief and turned to writing about him and have almost a dozen shorts. Have you ever thought about writing about your animals?

Kat Richardson

I have written a couple of animal short stories. I didn't think they were good enough to send out, but I might rework the children's story I started about my first ferret--she was cool and I think ferrets get a bad rap.

gwalden

Did you have any input on the cover art for your novels?

Mary Rosenblum

Greywalker is a nice cover!

 

No cover up for Poltergeist I noticed.

 

(At least not on amazon.com)

Kat Richardson

Not really. The publisher is very nice about asking for my ideas, but my ideas suck, so they very intelligently reject them.

Kat Richardson

The artist asks for some specifics, sometimes, though, and that's nice--he cares about making it good. I do have the Poltergeist cover on my site.

Mary Rosenblum

Since we're almost at the end of our time, Kat, can you give us a synopsis of Greywalker? And Poltergeist if you want? I'll put a live link to the book on amazon.com in the transcript.

Kat Richardson

Greywalker is the first of a series about a Seattle PI who works for ghosts and the undead. It's essentially the set-up of how she got to be that way and it starts with her technical death, which introduces her to the "Grey" and she acquires two odd clients who turn out to be a ghost looking for an atrifact of his life and a college student who's become a vampire.

Kat Richardson

The two cases start to intertwine and she ends up negotiating with the head vampire to save Seattle from the effects of the ghost's artifact before it can kill every thing "grey" including her.

Mary Rosenblum

Cool.

 

I liked your Poltergeist blurb. Sounded to me as if you have one toe in SF there.

Kat Richardson

Poltergeist is based on a real experiment, so I had a lot of fun with that.

Mary Rosenblum

I have to post this last comment about ferrets. :-)

builder guy

My mom had a Ferret, she named him Jeaun Claude. Bastard had the sharpest teeth I have ever felt. He used to hide my truck key's also. LOL. Kinda oily and smelled funny too. They had to get his food from Oregon because they are not legal in Ca.

Mary Rosenblum

I take it yours don't bite? Or are they your 'watch ferrets'?

Kat Richardson

LOL! Oh, yeah, that's a ferret for ya. They are a little stinky. Mine don't bite unless they are playing too hard, but they can be little scamps who steal everything they can get their teeth around.

 

And they are illegal in California--it's one of only 2 states where that's true--but you can buy good ferret chow at PetSmart and PetCo there, strangely enough. I'm a member of Californians for Ferret Legalization, in fact, since I'm from CA originally.

Mary Rosenblum

So, Kat, you have been a great guest. Are you going to be at Norwescon, I assume?

Kat Richardson

Yes, I am! I'm really looking forward to it, since I got to do a lot of program proposal this year.

Mary Rosenblum

Cool, I'll buy you a drink. J I think you've given a lot of new writers some serious encouragement with your

 

frank talk about how many times your manuscript got rejected, how many times you had to

 

query agents. I really appreciate it.

Kat Richardson

It's a very tough job at times, and so you have to do it because you love it.

 

Thanks for having me in. It was great fun and the group asked great questions.

Mary Rosenblum

Thanks for coming! I'll definitely invite you back again. You were great.

builder guy

Thank you Kat, I really learned a lot. Thank you for your time.

Kat Richardson

Thanks for coming and asking me questions. It was fun!

Mary Rosenblum

Thank you all for coming and..as Kat said...for asking great questions. You make it easy for me.

 

Good night, Kat, at least it's not storming right now!

 

Bet you had fun during our windstorms.

Kat Richardson

The wind is always an interesting ride--kind of like the winds of Fiction--you never quite know where it will blow you.

Mary Rosenblum

Well, put. Hey, drop in any time. We have a very nice casual chat Sunday evenings after 5 PM.

 

Thank you for coming and good night, Kat. Good night all!

Kat Richardson

I'll do that! thanks for the invite. Good night!

Mary Rosenblum

I'll post the transcript in the usual place. Surviving and Thriving: Interview Transcripts.

 

Night!

 

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