Kat Richardson's voice is as compelling in a live reading as it is on the page
Kat Richardson’s popularity precedes my acquaintance with her by many years, but I’ve had the honor of hearing her read at my Noir at the Bar Seattle series several times, and she’s always pleasantly surprising, a reliable crowd pleaser.
We also share the covers - book covers, that is - of the anthology Fast Women and Neon Lights: Eighties-Inspired Neon Noir, edited by Michael Pool, the founder of Noir at the Bar Seattle, and now the organizer of Noir at the Bar Denver. (Look for an interview with Michael next week).
Kat’s contribution to this collection, “Valley Girl,” is hysterically funny when read inside your own head. But hearing her read it aloud in before a crowd was an especially entertaining experience. Though now a Seattleite, her Southern California roots were showing.
I recently talked to Kat about how she merges her various interests and abilities into one smoothly blended, and quite intoxicating, literary cocktail…
Your bestselling Greywalker series combines detective mysteries with the paranormal. Why did you decide to blend these genres, and are there others you’d like to mix together?
I love Mysteries and strange things and I always wanted to write a P.I. novel, but I wasn't coming up with anything new that really seemed worth sending out for publication. I was also inspired to a small degree by a British TV show from the 70s called Randall and Hopkirk, Deceased, which was about a pair of slightly shady London P.I.s--one of whom is killed and pesters his living partner to solve his murder. So I thought, "What if the client is dead to begin with and the P. I. just can't get rid of the fucker without solving the case for them?" So that's where I started, then I added a dose of history--because what is a ghost, really, but history that won't lie down?--and some creepy monsters and noir themes and went with that. Oh, and I moved to Seattle, which helped a lot.
I'm always throwing things together that seem to be at odds. I tried a bit of fairy-tale noir (not the comic kind, but some really dark, Grimm-Brothers stuff) and fantasy caper stuff. I'd like to finish a alternate history-clockwork western, and I've got a short paranormal noir that's set in L.A. during Prohibition. I've also done a little preliminary work on a post-First World War ghost story/forensic thriller. Hmm... I sense a theme here.....
Has your background in radio and theater influenced your writing in any way, in terms of voice, style, subject matter, etc?
I read a lot of my stuff aloud as I'm working it out to get the beat, "sound," and pace right, and I am known to "walk through" scenes to see if the physical mechanics work. I also carried some of my experience with sound and light technology and the way theaters create illusions into my work, as well as basing some of my characters on characters from plays and backstage life. I'll run over a small piece of dialog or a bit of physical "business" dozens of times to get the feel just right, but I also have a lot of respect for improvisation. Sometimes, when I'm stumped on something, I'll stick my head into my husband's office and say "I'm stuck, what should I do?" and he'll shout out something unrelated like "Pirates!" or "Babies in trashcans!" or "Everybody loves ninjas!" and I'll go see what I can do with that, like an improv actor with a prompt from the audience. Some of them are a bust, but it's surprising how many of those weird ideas have made it into my books. And even when they don't work, they at least bump me out of my rut and get me moving again.
You are a dynamic live reader. Is this something you enjoy, and how important do you think it is as a promotional tool?
I've never been a comfortable stage actor, even though I come from a family full of singers and actors. It's taken quite a few years for me to be confident, solo, in front of strangers. I got over the stage fright by reading aloud for the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library in Seattle and realizing that I could share something and be effective at it. I usually review several pieces, and rehearse a lot before I do a live reading. I watch other writers read, and I've talked to voice actors about tone, accent, projection, speed, character differentiation, and body language to improve my live performance, and I use audio recordings and a stop-watch to work out my "show." The better prepared I am, the less nervous I am when I step up to the mic. But, to be honest, reading in front of a crowd still makes me a little anxious. I'm never 100% blasé about it; there's always some nerves and adrenaline keeping me on my toes.
Besides just a working tool, I think reading aloud can be a fantastic promotional tool for writers, because they can bring an aspect of their writing to life for an audience in a way silent reading can't. Personality, voice, and nuance can make a huge difference in how an audience receives the work. The writer becomes connected directly to the audience through the shared story, influencing the audience to become advocates for the writer's work, much like booksellers hand-selling to customers.
My dad read aloud to us as kids and I feel very strongly that sharing a story aloud is an under-appreciated way of communicating with others, not just the story, but the love we have for it and for literature in general. It engenders a love for storytelling and sharing stories, and encourages people to read and write and tell stories themselves, as well as building a sense of community and connection that can break down social barriers. I occasionally joke (half-seriously) that there should be a social movement to read aloud to friends and family, or even to strangers in the right setting as a way of building bonds among people, promoting literacy, and sharing experiences through story.
What are your influences, literary or otherwise?
A lot of my drive to tell stories comes from being a pretty introverted, nerdy kid. On a personal level, I've always been a little scared of other people, so as a kid I did a lot of things that allowed me to watch from a distance or in a group, instead of having to interact in person, or one-on-one: I created detailed "plays" for my dolls; I was a backstage rat, instead of an actor for many years; I sang in choruses, but avoided solos. The internet was a godsend: I'm always thinking "What's that?" "What's going on there?" "Why do they do that?" "How does that work?"
I read/watch all over the genre map. I've always loved Mystery and Crime, but I also love history, Pop-science, and classic lit--my dad's idea of a bedtime story was reading us The Odyssey. I'm fascinated with quantum and high-energy physics theory. I love music of all kinds, and finding strange things or weird places. I'm a huge Dashiell Hammett fan, but I also enjoy romance novels, Science Fiction movies, and pulp adventures, as well as Shakespeare. I also love computer role-playing games (I always talk back in character). I adore crime stories, musicals, and "screwball" comedy movies from Hollywood's Golden age, Jean Harlow, Rita Haworth, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Monty Python, The Sting, and anything starring Chewitel Ejiofor. Also caper flicks, librarians, and my whacko history teachers who liked to role play as various historical figures and argue with the class, instead of lecturing.
Lastly, one of my late influences was the film Fight Club. Although a lot of it is ridiculous, the idea of saying yes to what you want rather than trying to fit in jarred me into chasing after things I thought I shouldn't--or couldn't--reach for.
What’s next for you?
Science fiction! I wrote a science fiction-police thriller novel that is coming out from Pyr (an imprint of Prometheus Publishing) near that end of 2017. We're arguing about the title at the moment, but we did settle on a pseudonym: K. R. Richardson.
Oh, and there might be some new paranormal crime novels…
Looking forward to all of it, Kat, cheers!
Bio: Bestselling author of the Greywalker novels, Kat Richardson currently lives in Western Washington, writing and editing Science Fiction, Crime, Mystery, and Fantasy. She is a former journalist and editor, with a wide range of non-fiction publications on topics from technology, software, and security, to history, health, and precious metals. A lifelong fan of crime and mystery fiction, and films noir, she is also the author of a new Science Fiction Police Thriller coming soon from Pyr Books under the pseudonym K. R. Richardson. She’s taught writing workshops for Clarion West, Cascade Writers, PNWA, Mystery Writers of America, ArmadilloCon, and Foolscap, and when not writing or researching, she may be found malingering with her dogs, shooting, or dabbling with paper automata.