Thursday, October 29, 2015

Halloween Interview With Kat Parrish

Here's a treat for you readers out there. Today as a special for Halloween, we're interviewing West Coast dark fantasy writer Kat Parrish, whose Bride of the Midnight King looks perfect for the holiday.

In another incarnation, I knew Kat as the editor of Dark Valentine, who published a pair of good stories of mine, and got some great artwork to go with it. We've kept in touch since then, and I thought it high time to introduce her work to a broader audience.

Q. So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.

A. Bride of the Midnight King is actually a novella, coming in at 31,000 words, which is about half the length of a novel. The book was inspired by an image. I was browsing Bigstock and saw the photo that became the cover, which is by a photographer who calls himself NejroN. I downloaded it and one day I had the idea, “Vampire Cinderella.” It sounded completely nutty, but the idea wouldn’t go away.

Q. Did you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it went, or did you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?
A. In the case of Bride, it was just that one idea—a vampire retelling of Cinderella—that started me off. I didn’t outline so much as start world-building. I’ve heard that method described as “writing into the dark.” And that always worked well for me when I was writing short stories. But in the longer pieces, I’ve found that if I don’t outline, it causes a lot of problems as I get further into the story. I’m likely to repeat things, for example. Or lose a thread.

Last spring I was given the opportunity to take James Patterson’s video “Masterclass” and it was very useful. He’s big on outlining, and I’ve tried to incorporate his lessons as I write Daughter of the Midnight King. I’ve created a world that’s pretty complex politically, and in Daughter, there are a lot of moving parts to the various plots. I need to keep track of those. I’m planning a third book in the series to round everything out, so I also have to “plant” things that will be harvested in the final book.

The one thing I always know before I begin writing is how a story is going to end.

Q. What do you feel is the main theme(s)?

A. The country where the story takes place is called “the Divided Country” and reflects a lot of the issues that we’re dealing with in modern America, including racial/ethnic/sexual intolerance and wealth inequality. I’d say the themes are: We must love one another or die; love conquers all; women matter.

Q. Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?

A. This is a fairy tale but it is also, for me, a story about female empowerment. It’s a story about people from two different worlds coming together. It’s about a smart young woman who is given the opportunity to make changes that will benefit her society and who sees it as her responsibility to right some wrongs. Within the context—it’s a vampire version of Cindrella, so I don’t want to pontificate—it’s about GIRL POWER!!

I hate weak heroines. I have always loathed Ophelia, for example, because I thought she was such a ninny—bullied by her brother, her father, and her boyfriend. I’d have ditched Denmark and headed for Sweden at the first opportunity. I hate heroines who are passive. One of the things I loved about Mad Max: Fury Road is that not only were we given Furiosa as a kick-ass heroine, we also had the brave old women and “the Splendid Angharad” who sacrifices herself. 

All of my books can pass the “Bechdel Test” inspired by cartoonist Alison Bechdel:

Q. What makes a good book or engaging story?

A. For me character has always been the best part of a story. I think that’s why so many readers have loved series—from Sherlock Holmes to Lord of the Rings. Readers fall in love with characters and want to spend more time with them. A great character can transcend a not-so-great story. And I don’t believe there are any great books without great characters.

Q. Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?

A. I have always been an omnivorous reader and there have been many writers whose work has inspired and influenced me. One reviewer compared my writing to Tanith Lee’s and I wanted to fly to England so I could buy him dinner. I absolutely fell in love with the lush way she used words. Her death was a devastating loss for readers. I am a huge fan of Stephen King and consider him the modern Charles Dickens. He writes fantastic characters. Even when the book isn’t great—talk about a man who could use an editor sometimes—the characters are.

The book that was my gateway to urban fantasy was Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake novel Guilty Pleasures. I still remember thinking—this woman has written a book just for me. At the time she started her series, urban fantasy wasn’t yet a “thing” and I devoured every book in her series until a couple of years ago. I just loved that it was set in St. Louis (I get so tired of New York/LA) and I loved that Anita kicked ass and was torn between two lovers.  (I was on Team Vampire.)

When I wrote my mystery novella Whipping Boy, I had Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series in mind. I loved Stephanie and her family and her complicated relationship with the men in her life and her messy financial situation. My book is way darker than anything Evanovich writes but her sassy heroine was the inspiration for my protagonist Lark Riordan.

Q. Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?

A. My bread and butter freelance income is derived from evaluating screenplays for production companies and this question comes up a lot. I don’t have a problem with entertainment that is specifically meant to do nothing more than entertain—whether it’s a silly comedy or an action movie.

One of the reasons I go to the movie is for the escapism. My tastes are eclectic. I enjoyed Woman in Gold as much as I enjoyed Furious 7. I probably have seen more foreign/art/vintage films than any movie-goer who didn’t go to film school, and I’m not ashamed to admit that given the choice between a movie I KNOW is going to be dark, intense, and depressing and a movie that’s going to make me happy, I’ll go for the happy every time.

Storytelling has always served a dual function—to entertain and educate/enlighten. We’re taught moral lessons in Aesop’s Fables and biblical parables and in cautionary tales like Faust (in its many iterations).

My primary goal is to entertain my readers. But there are issues that are important to me and they find their way into my books in one way or another—even the romantic fantasies like Bride of the Midnight King and the upcoming Tears of Idrissa.  So I’ll have characters who are gay; I’ll have characters who are concerned about the haves exploiting the have-nots. I try not to be too heavy handed, mindful of the old show business adage—if you want to send a message, use Western Union.

I work hard to make my female characters—and most of my protagonists are female, whether I’m writing mystery, science fiction, horror, or romance—strong and interesting women. Some of my crime and horror fiction can get dark—very dark in some cases—which is why I write it under my own name and use the pseudonym for the fantasy and SF stuff. That way the two different kinds of entertainment are clearly differentiated and a reader who’s just looking for a couple of hours of light reading won’t end up buying a book that he/she won’t like.

Q. Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?

A. I would like to transition to a full-time writing life. I’ve been extremely lucky in my career. I worked as a reporter, then transitioned to working as an executive in the movie business. I’ve been a full-time freelancer for 25 years and have loved the freedom of being my own boss. My “day job” is never boring because I might be ghost-writing a cookbook one week and editing a biography the next while preparing “story reports” for my moviemaker clients to take to the big film markets. It’s a great way to make a living but I still have to hustle. I’d love to be able to live on my book sales and just write.

Personally, I’m still a work in progress. I moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2015 after decades in Los Angeles, and I’ve found it an adjustment. It is beautiful here—waterfalls and trails, and bays, and blackberries growing wild. There are deer that visit the apple tree next door. I also really like the feeling of community here. People look out for their neighbors in a real and meaningful way. I appreciate that. But where I live is a relatively small town and there are times when I miss access to everything I had at my fingertips in L.A. I do a lot of online ordering these days. But being here has given me a greater sense of balance I badly needed after living in the exciting but toxic environment of Los Angeles.

Q. Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?
A. I used to write a lot of short stories, and sometimes they came to me like a gift from the universe. “In the Kingdom of the Cat,” which is a story that’s been anthologized a lot, was inspired by a documentary on what happens to unclaimed bodies in L.A. I wrote it in one sitting and edited it the next day and that was it.

I never send anything off until I’m happy with it, but as someone who’s made a living as an editor, I’ve learned that at a certain point, revision doesn’t make something better, it just makes it different.

I still submit short stories to anthologies but I am a proud “indie publisher” of my own work and no longer submit the longer pieces to traditional publishers.

Q. Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?

A. I have a great copy editor. Nothing leaves my computer without her going through it. Even though I’ve been an editor myself for a long time, there are always things I miss or consistently get wrong. I also have a proofreader. It’s way too easy to slip past a typo or a missing word because you know what you meant to say and your brain just fills in the blanks.

My best friend, who is a YA paranormal novelist, is my beta reader. Long before the book goes to my editor or proofreader, I’ve hashed out the details with my beta reader. We often disagree on things, actually, but it’s helpful to have another opinion about where a story is going or how a character is developing.

One of the consistent criticisms you hear about “indie” published books is that they’re poorly edited. And no question, some are. But the dirty little secret of traditional publishing is that books coming out of the “Big Six” are often badly edited as well. I’ve seen typos in Stephen King books.

Q. If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?
A. It would depend on what the writer wants.  A sounding board? A cheerleader? A critic? A copy-editor? 
I have a friend who has written several terrific short stories but every time she sits down to write, she hears her mother’s harsh and dismissive comments about her writing in her head. As a result, she has had a very hard time writing at all, much less writing anything longer than a flash fiction. All she really wants is encouragement to keep writing.

I have another friend who is extremely creative. He’s written a monumental fantasy that sprang from one short story. The bits and pieces I’ve heard sound absolutely wonderful. But about two years ago he started adding prequels and sequels and going back in and nipping and tucking. The result is that he’s written close to a million words but won’t hand any of it over until he’s completed the whole saga.

I’d say—write. Find time to write. Write every day if you can. (And if you’re watching television every night but don’t have time for your writing, cut back on the television watching.)

I’d say—no excuses. You’ve got a day job?  Joseph Wambaugh wrote his thrillers while holding down a job as a cop. Bram Stoker was a theater manager and a personal assistant while he wrote Dracula. James Rollins was still working as a vet when he wrote his first Sigma Force books.

I’d say—read in the genre you want to write in. This sounds like a no-brainer but I know a lot of wannabe writers who see trends in books and figure they could knock off a book of a similar stripe and cash in. I see a lot of Twilight/50 Shades of Grey/Gone Girl imitators by people who clearly don’t read paranormal fantasy, billionaire erotica, or mysteries. It shows.

I’d say—if you’re stuck, do some research. I stole this idea from James Patterson, but it’s a great way to get ideas.

I’d say—don’t give up. Publishing is full of stories about best-selling books that were rejected everywhere they were submitted.

I’d say—connect.  Join writer’s groups, link up with other writers on social media. Read blogs and comment.

I’d say—submit. No, not in a BDSM way. There are tons of anthologies out there in every possible genre. Being in those anthologies is a good way to generate momentum for a writing career. There are tons of places to find market lists, from Dark Markets ( to Sandra Seaman’s awesome blog, My Little Corner(

 I worked for a year as an unpaid writer/editor for the site and the work I did there led me to very lucrative food-writing gigs I wouldn’t have gotten without the clips. (BellaOnline is always looking for writers and you can find a list of their available topics here:

What I will never say is—Manage your expectations. I think it’s okay to dream.  I think fantasies will keep you going when you find yourself too tired to write another paragraph.

And then I’ll give a writer the name of my editor, my cover designers, my copy-editor, and my proofreader.

Q. Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?
A. I can definitely see some of my mystery and science fiction stories being told in another medium. My upcoming SF book series Frontier is under consideration at ProSieben as a European co-production television series. I’d be insanely happy to see something come of that.

I’ve had a number of short stories converted into audio productions and it was extremely interesting because I write a lot of internal monologue and that does not really translate well to the audio format.

I have written and sold screenplays and in one instance was hired to write the adaptation of a novel called Blood of the Lamb. Turning that book into a script meant stripping it down to the basics in terms of story, fleshing out the narrative in some parts, and incorporating more dialogue. Film is a visual medium, and you have to learn how to convey things in a visual way.

One of the things I really admire about the writers on Game of Thrones is how well they have managed to convey the spirit of GRRM’s books while still deviating from them. I have friends who worked on Lord of the Rings and they’re still getting letters about some of the parts they left out, like the ‘Harrowing of the Shire.”  They’ve also shuffled characters around and it’s all been pretty seamless.

Q. What's the next step in your writing world?

A. Finishing about a bazillion projects that are in pieces on my hard drive. I have books planned out way into the end of the decade. Even if I never have another idea for the rest of my life, I will be writing until I’m a hundred. (And I want to be writing until I’m a hundred. One of my inspirations is the late editor Margaret K. McElderry who died in 2011 at the age of 98.  She was still working at the book imprint that bore her name. (I once got an encouraging rejection letter from McElderry and it’s framed in my office.)

Q. Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

A. I have piloted the Goodyear blimp. I used to edit Orange Coast magazine, with offices near the blimp’s Southern California mooring. I got the opportunity to go up in the blimp and actually fly it. 

Q. Any other information you'd like to impart?

A. I was an Army brat who had the chance to travel a lot as a child. I’ve been to four continents and hope to visit the rest before I die. I think travel—even if it’s just to another state—is a really good way to improve writing. Travel can take you out of your comfort zone, shake you out of your routine, and expose you to new people and new ideas, and new ways of looking at things. ---

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