Light And Dark: Our Interview With Richard Kadrey

People talk about celebrity crushes and man crushes, but what about a book crush? The feeling you get over a really great book or series that kind of leaks over on the author? Well, today I'm talking with Richard Kadrey, author of the Sandman Slim series (yeah, I've got a little of a book crush going), as well as other books, numerous stories, articles, and a comic book. His latest book, Devil Said Bang, will be released August 28th and he was kind enough to talk about it, his photography, movies, and music.

For our readers who aren't familiar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about your Sandman Slim series?
Well, Sandman Slim is a magician named James Stark. And by magician, it's what people would normally call a wizard or a warlock, but he would hesitate to use the word because it's a little bit too Harry Potter for him. And he's part of a magic circle with a number of other people including a guy name Mason Faim, and they're rivals. And to gain power, Mason makes a deal with some nefarious types and sends Stark to Hell. And Stark spends eleven years in Hell alive and finally escapes from there when he finds that his girlfriend has just been murdered.

So the first book is actually Stark's story coming back from Hell and looking for revenge on the people who sent him there. The other books expand from there, taking him into much larger conspiracies and having to deal with the Sub Rosa world and the possible end to all existence.

Your next book, Devil Said Bang, is coming out in August. Can you give us any plot details or spoilers, or do we need to wait?
Well, I hate to... this is the book in which after three other books, Stark has to deal with his past. A lot of stuff happens in the book where the events of the first three books kind of come back to haunt Stark and his very kind of ruthless point of view and the way he solves problems, which is hurting and killing a lot of people. So he has to deal with all the consequences of that. Plus, he's stuck in Hell again, so he has to try and get back home.

Now, I've heard that you are actually planning several more books after this. Can we look for more Sandman Slim?
There will be at least two more books. So there will be a total of six, and after that, we'll see if there are other stories to tell.

I'm excited because I hate when there's an author that comes out with one or two really great books and they kind of end, and you just want more of them.
No, I know the feeling. As a reader, I know exactly that feeling.

Why did you pick the name Sandman? Is this a Neil Gaiman reference?
No. In fact, I was very worried about the Neil Gaiman-ishness of that. It's very funny; I thought people would understand it very quickly, and when people didn't, I kind of got up on my hind legs about it and refused to explain it because I thought it was very obvious.

In the fourth book I decided, "I have to finally say this." It was really dumb of me not to explain it earlier. But I thought with all the pulp references and all the old movie references, it should be obvious. Sandman is an old term you find in old pulp movies and stories for a hitman. Like I said, it was dumb of me not to explain it earlier when people didn't seem to pick it up.

I have another question about the Sandman Slim series because I noticed that your comic book is also set in L.A. Is there a special reason behind the L.A. settings?
I love L.A., and L.A.'s a great place to write about. I lived in L.A. for a few years, and L.A. is an iconic place. It's a place everybody, even if you've never been there, everybody in the world thinks they know something about L.A., so peeling back the layers of that is a lot of fun.

It's a great, crazy world unto itself. It's this wonderfully venal city and quite proud of that. I mean it's a real dog-eat-dog place. It's a real company town. Everyone thinks it's a party town, but in fact, it's coal mining down there. Everybody in L.A. is looking for some. It's a showbiz, and everybody's working for it. And there's that level of ambition and desperation and willingness to do deals with the devil or anybody else to get ahead. So it's a wonderful place, I think, to set any book, any story.

Since you made the reference to deals with the devil, is that why you have the reflection of Hell out of L.A. as well?
That's just more Stark's point of view. Stark sees everything in relationship to Hell. That's sort of his main point of reference at this point. It was a fairly traumatic experience, so for him, that's how he sees everything, and are you more like or less like Hell at any point

But again, it's very easy to make that point or that joke about L.A. being another province of Hell because there is something very hellish about the place. It is a harsh climate down there, and it's very easy to disappear. The city is full of a lot of ghosts of people who almost made it and didn’t quite.

Absolutely. I saw an art series recently of somebody reinterpreting Dante's Inferno, the whole piece, and they put, "L.A. is Hell." And I immediately thought about Sandman Slim, since I saw two L.A. as Hell in a row, so I wanted to ask you about it.
Yeah. It's a fun thing to do... any big city with a strong personality. You could equally do the same thing about New York as a kind of hell. Any city with a very strong point of view, a place where you could get lost in different ways, I think you could put Dante on top of that. I just simply chose L.A. because I like it. I love making fun of the movie business. It's a lot of fun. Like I said, everybody in the world thinks they know a bit about L.A. because of movies, books, things like that.

I think it helps to have lived there and to have left there. I think writing about places you aren't anymore, there's something interesting about that, getting a little distance from the place so you're not actually experiencing it every single day. I live in San Francisco now, so I get to hop back and forth between the two cities on a regular basis.

You have a lot of references to movies and talk a lot about movies in your books. Are you a big movie buff?
Yeah, yeah. I mean that was a contrivance. I wanted to do that for a long time, having somebody who lived over a video store so they could constantly comment on movies in general and relating to how they see movies affecting the story of their life. And for Stark, it makes perfect sense because I think it's pretty clear early on that Stark is almost illiterate. I mean this is a guy who's never really read a book.

It's what Gibson described as the "post-literate society" where everything comes from these sort of external sources that are mostly visual and oral. So I think Stark, instead of being one of those old book readers who tries to see his life through the wisdom of old text, Stark sees his life entirely through the prism of old movies and mostly things like horror movies, old spaghetti westerns, which I think kind of explains his point of view of the world.

That's pretty good.
A lot of his life is sort of a version of The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly.

Which is a great film.
Oh, absolutely.

Love that. And it makes sense: in a lot of ways your writing is very visual, so it parallels.
Yeah, that’s deliberate. Sure.

Now you've also written a comic book. How did you get into that?
Through some friends. I simply had friends who knew some people at Vertigo, and we talked over some ideas, and they went for one of them. It was very, very simple, very straightforward. It was like I got an introduction, I pitched a couple of ideas, they said, "Yes," and that was kind of it It was kind of at the right place at the right time.

Wow. That's the most painless comic-writing story I've ever heard!
Well, it was the easiest way in. The actual process of the end product was kind of painful. I mean it didn't really work out as well as we hoped partly because of my fault. I really didn't know how to write comics, and it took a while. And by the time I finished the series and had figured it out, getting more comfortable with writing the comics form, the series was over, and it was clear I wasn't going to work with Vertigo again any time soon.

So it was an interesting though somewhat frustrating experience in the end. And like I said, part of it was my fault. I can't fault them.

Do you plan to do more comic books in the future?
I hope so. I hope so. I'm talking to some people, but nothing has been signed yet. But yeah, I really do want to do more comics in the future. I love the form.

Right. I'd love to hear about your photography. Can you tell us a little about that?
It's something that goes along with the writing in that it's a balance. Sometimes when I finish a book, initially my head is so crammed with words, I want to get the words out of it. So I go and do a lot of photography, which is all images and not words, just to sort of clear my head out for a while.

And then at a certain point my head gets stuffed full of images, and I long to work with words again. So then I go back to the writing and the books. So each one, like I say, is the cure for the other. You know, it's a real balancing act, and I enjoy both quite a lot.

Do you see any correlations thematically between your photography and your fiction?
Yeah, people ask me that a lot. I don't know. Thematically, I don't know. People say both are kind of dark, and I'll go along with that just because so many other people say it. I've never thought of any of my stuff as dark. I find the term annoying but probably because it's just my point of view. It's the kind of thing where if you live inside it, you don't notice it, and so darkness to me is just where I live whereas to other people, it's a little surprising. So that's all I can say about that.

Like I said, I find the term annoying in itself, but I'll accept it because so many other people seem to see it that way.

I was actually looking at some of your photography, and I don't find it dark necessarily.
I think a lot of it’s very pretty.

Yeah. Some of them were gorgeous, and the light play, it's just really well laid out. I like them.
Well, yeah, I do all the nude stuff. It's a very old joke among photographers that the difference between porn and art is lighting.

I can see that.
And I'm very concerned with light.

It shows because I thought they were gorgeous.

I saw that you do glam photos and you do fetish photos, and I'm sure people jump on that.

Yeah. You know, fine. I don't have much to say about that, either. It's like the work is what it is. Ignore it, like it. People ask me how I get models to do all that stuff, and the fact is – what I'll tell them is the truth. I've never gotten anybody to do anything. Everybody who participates in the photos wants to be there, wants to do it.

It's a little bit like the writing in that everybody I work with is somebody who wants to try something. "Here's an idea. Let's try this. If you don't like that idea, let's try this other one." And you get that result like collaboration with comics people and prose people and photography. It's all been the same. It's people who just want to try something.

Right. That's what art's about, right?
I think so.

Okay, so I only have a couple more questions, which is a shame because I'm enjoying talking with you quite a bit. What was the first album, cassette, or CD you purchased with your own money?
Wow. I've always been somebody who's a little bit out of time. A lot of times, I've either read books that... I'm trying to find the best way to put this. I tend not to read or listen to the music that's popular at that moment. I'll come to it at another point. Sometimes I get stuff ahead of time that's fun, but a lot of times I discover stuff that's older on my own. I'll have read about it but not heard it.

So I think the very first album I ever bought was an ancient... when I was a kid it was already ancient, which was probably In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly. I think the reason I bought it was... I don't know how long that album had been around by then, but I heard a short bit of it. They did a single version for the radio, so like a three-minute version of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." And I loved the sound of the organ. It was a very deep, resonant sound, and that’s why I got it. I'd never heard of it at that point, but it grabbed me, so I went back and got this ancient relic.

Wow. That's cool, though. It's not even that ancient, really. I don't know how old...
I think it was ’67, I think.

What type of music genres do you follow?
I like a lot of droning music and things like that. I listen to a lot of Lustmord and Alio Die – that's an Italian band. Ambient stuff. Big fan of Nick Cave and Tom Waits; of course, I use a Tom Waits quote in the first book. There's a handful of singer-songwriters. Neko Case, I like her. But a lot of that music is ambient and drone. I listen to a lot of that when I'm working.

I actually have an entire playlist of instrumental industrial stuff. And that's sort of everything from Tangerine Dream to parts of The Matrix soundtrack to Skinny Puppy and Ne Demek Manifesto. I like the singer-songwriters who weren't sort of like all the other type of music, or no words whatsoever--no singing, no words--sort of two extreme versions of the same idea.

So the last question is: you're in charge of a music festival, and you get to choose any five acts, dead or alive, to perform on the bill. Which five bands do you choose, and what song do they all perform as a final jam?
Oh, Jesus.

I know, sorry.
Okay. Well, definitely Lustmord, and he would probably play The Place Where The Black Stars Hang. I think the album was called Huun Huur Tu if you can possibly spell that. It was a combination of the Bulgarian Women's Choir and a bunch of Tuvan throat singers.

Yeah, I remember that.
Yeah, I forget what they called the – I think the collaboration was just called Huun Hurr Tu, which is Tuvan words. I don't know what they mean. Probably go to the other extreme... let's bill in Motorhead. Definitely Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. And I need one more act who's just... PJ Harvey. How's that? I'm kind of tired, so I can't think of any.

There's somebody else I'm trying to think of like Billie Holiday or someone like that, but it's not Billie Holiday. I'm trying to remember who exactly. Well, let's just say PJ Harvey because I love her, too.

Great. And what final song do they all perform together?
Wow. That would be interesting to hear. Oh, Nick Cave covers that old Dylan song "Death Is Not The End." I think they should all sing that together.

Oh, that would be cool. Thank you so much. This has been really fun.
Oh, yeah. I had a good time.

More Richard Kadrey: Official

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