The Big Idea: Kat Richardson
Fun fact: Kat Richardson and I claim the same hometown of Claremont, California, and even lived there at the same time. And now she and I write in the SF/F genre! Coincidence? Well, yes. But still very cool. Kat’s kickass Greywalker series has a new installment, Possession. She’s here to give you the scoop.
“Ghosts have a bad habit of speaking in riddles—their minds are focused on different things than ours are and without their context, nothing they say makes sense.” Possession, p. 94
I write about ghosts, monsters, and dead people a lot. It’s not that I’m morbid, I just think they’re interesting tools for telling stories about bigger problems, not to mention… well, creepy! Often, I write about magic as the power of belief and how what a person or group of people believe can take form and wreak havoc. The real world is full of this kind of phenomenon that grows out of the actions of a few and infects many, putting them into control where before they perceived themselves as powerless (be that good or bad). But I got to thinking a lot, while I was outlining Possession, about the flip side of that—about losing control, losing your self and losing—or gaining—faith.
Let me digress just a little: two years ago my mother was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer and I became her Health Care Advocate, defender, chauffeur, treasurer, assistant, secretary, and dogsbody. I was spending a lot of time in hospital wards, outlining or writing books on my laptop while waiting for her to be released from whatever procedure or therapy she was undergoing at that point. I thought a lot about loss of control and loss of self as Mom got more and more dependent on me or others and her mind often wandered or locked up and wouldn’t let anything out when requested, or remember anything, no matter how much we tried to trick it into working normally again. It wasn’t having any and Mom and my sister and I had to muddle along with what we could collectively manage between the three of us—which wasn’t that much since we weren’t terribly close before this. Our collective memory was thin, out of date, and brittle.
So when I got to writing Possession, those were among the thoughts in my mind—loss of control, loss of self, and loss of autonomy, as well as just what a family may or may not be, however fractured and brittle.
I’d done several books with vampires, but I really wanted to give them a rest and work more with ghosts—which are pretty great symbols for loss of ability, loss of memory, and loss of autonomy. The idea of old-school séances and hauntings was high on my list of nifty things to do in the new book, but I wanted to use that sense of being unable to help yourself—that ultimate loss of control—that spirit possession implied. An otherwise normal person who suddenly cannot communicate or use their own body because someone or something else has control of it. It’s a horrifying thought, isn’t it? Allegorically, it’s powerful in political and social terms as well and there’s been a lot of news items in the past couple of years that have turned on the subject of autonomy and control. The theme kept cropping up.
In addition, the protagonist of the Greywalker novels has always had issues with being—or believing she is—in ultimate control of her life and destiny. When she discovers that she’s not, truly, in complete control, she’s initially angry and rejects the situation—the way my mother was angry about developing cancer and being at the mercy of doctors and protocols with no guarantees and no way to help herself but to let others do it. When the vegetative patients in the story begin to display strange behavior, their families are equally frightened and refuse to believe or even talk about it. One begins to lose her faith in God when nothing she or her church can do is any help; she has to sit by and watch her sister disappear in the storm of communication from the dead that means nothing to her. She enlists the protagonist to help her sort the important information from the chaff in hopes of saving what remains of her family, even if doing so flies in the face of her religion.
The protagonist has her own parallel issues. She’s got a handle on what her powers are, but she’s not very good at understanding or nurturing relationships, so she’s not always able to communicate in appropriate ways with the people she considers friends or family. A lot of the plot turns on problems of communication and self-determination or control—problems I saw in real life everywhere I looked. I felt these were important issues, even if they were cloaked in allegory and masquerading as ghosts.
Silence and stillness may not mean someone has nothing to say, but that they are unable to say it until they are empowered. The key to breaking the communication barrier isn’t yelling louder, but finding out why someone doesn’t speak up and removing that obstacle, having empathy and creating connections that allow communication to flow so that the silent ones can speak.
And that’s the little Big Idea lurking at the bottom of Possession. Of course there’s a lot more going on in the book, but if I told you everything, you wouldn’t need to read it. And John would never let me post here again because, well… 106,000 words is a bit excessive.