Richard Kadrey, author of the SANDMAN SLIM novels, recently did a reading and signing event at a Copperfield’s Books, a local independent bookstore. I attended, and participated in the Question and Answer segment. Even though he was getting over a cold, Richard was a gracious and lively presenter. Later I asked him some more questions via e-mail. We talked about the latest SANDMAN SLIM novel Kill City Blues, tattoos, and some of his other works.
Richard Kadrey gave me a signed copy of Kill City Blues which I’ll hand over to one random commenter.
Marion Deeds: At Copperfield’s, someone asked about the ways your writing and your photography fit together; do you go from one to another, or work on them simultaneously? I think you said you moved between the two. Can you discuss that in a little more detail?
Richard Kadrey: Photography is the cure for words and writing is the cure for images. When I finish a book, often my head is so stuffed with words that I can’t think straight. I need a break from text. When that happens, I’ll switch to photography for a while. It’s nice to try to tell stories through images. At some point, my head will fill up with so many images that I can’t keep them straight anymore. That’s when it’s time to go back to writing. As much as I can, I try to shoot while I’m writing and write short pieces while I’m shooting. But with deadlines looming, it doesn’t always work out.
Please expand on your idea that the divide between images and words is, to some extent, becoming blurry as we become, perhaps not just “graphic artists” or “musicians” or “writers” but “story-tellers?”
You can tell stories with photos, and that’s what I try to do. The best photos, like the best paintings, extend beyond the edges of the frame. You should be able to look at the central image, but imagine a world that’s not visible in the shot itself. It’s like looking through a window. A certain segment of the world is visible, but you know that if you shift your head a little, you’ll be able to see new things around the corner. I want my photos to feel like that.
At the bookstore, you said that when you thought there might only be three SANDMAN SLIM books, you wanted to write one hard-boiled detective story, one mystery story and one quest story. Is there anything you want to add to that response?
That’s the way I laid it out. The books. Three slightly different forms within the same world. Fortunately, I’ve been able to go from there and add more forms. For instance, I consider Kill City Blues to be my haunted house book, with the mall standing in for the traditional crumbling castle or Victorian mansion.
Some writers do haunted houses or even big haunted hotels; you did a haunted luxury shopping mall. You bring a certain “go big or go home” flair to the SANDMAN SLIM books. What do you want to accomplish with Kill City Blues?
I wanted to take Stark out of his comfort zone in Hollywood and put him someplace he’d hate and where he’d be off his game. In Kill City, Stark doesn’t know the territory, so he has to rely on strangers as well as his friends, something he’s not used to. Stark isn’t big on trust and part of the book is him learning to trust the people around him.
And, of course, finding out that he is right to distrust some of them.
Stark seems to have Los Angeles imprinted into his DNA. Can you explain how the city of L.A. became such a big part of the books? What is it about that city that intrigues you?
I love LA. It’s the most venal city in American and one of the most interesting. It’s really a giant version of company town. Everyone in LA is there to work, but instead of mining coal, they’re there to mine show business. It’s being able to play off the money-obsessed, hierarchical world of LA that makes it so much fun. Plus, the city has a great history and is, in many ways, the center of the world’s imagination. Those are powerful elements to get to work with.
You mentioned Richard Stark and Jim Thompson both as influences of yours, especially for the character of James Stark. Who are some of your other influences? With Stark and Thompson in particular, what do they bring to your work?
The hardboiled, often pitiless prose and point of view of those writers grabbed me when I was a young writer and never let go. Like murder ballads in music, they seemed like forbidden territory. Books were about heroes and heroes didn’t act like the protagonists of Stark’s or Thompson’s book. I wanted to bring some of that sensibility to SANDMAN SLIM, to write crime novels with magic rather than fantasies with a bit of noir.
Some of my other influences are William Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Cormac McCarthy, and Angela Carter.
It looks like Butcher Bird, an earlier book of yours, is currently out of print, perhaps a casualty of the Night Shade implosion, but it is available on Kindle. Please tell us a little bit about this book and the two main characters Lulu and Spyder. Spyder is a tattoo artist; were you a tattoo artist at one time?
No, I was never a tattoo artist, just a tattoo customer. But I was always interested in how people would appropriate religious and ritualistic images from other cultures and put them on their bodies without knowing what they meant. That always seemed dangerous to me. Butcher Bird grew out of that simple idea. The book opens with Spyder Lee, a tattoo artist, being attacked by a demon because one of his tattoos is the demon’s summoning sign. He’s saved by a blind swordswoman named Shrike, and finds himself sucked into a fantastic world of monsters, angels, and demons, that he never knew existed. Lulu Garou is Spyder’s best friend. She is a piercer in the same shop where Spyder tattoos. When Spyder falls into the fantasy world at the heart of Butcher Bird, he discovers Lulu’s terrible secret — that she’s mixed up with the Black Clerks, who are systematically claiming pieces of her body as repayment for a debt. Butcher Bird is currently available as an ebook and also an audiobook from Audible.com.
Can you discuss your graphic novel Accelerate a little bit?
Accelerate was a comic I wrote for Vertigo. It was designed and illustrated by the Pander Brothers, Jacob and Arnold. It’s a story set in a future where life has become so desperate and unreasonable for the young that they’re using a new drug that can literally accelerate you out of phase with the rest of the world so that you essentially disappear. The story is about people on the edge of that scene, part of a generation that’s on the verge of accelerating itself out of existence.
You also have a YA novel coming out soon, and that sounds interesting. What is Dead Set about, and when does it come out?
It’s about a 16 year old girl named Zoe. Her father died recently and her family life has fallen apart. She and her mother are broke. They lost the family home, so they’ve moved into a crappy little apartment in a city she doesn’t know. Zoe has left her friends back home and has to go to a new school where she knows no one. Worst of all, her dreams which had always been a great comfort, have become haunted by menacing black dogs that follow her everywhere, never attacking, but always within striking distance. One day while cutting school, Zoe wanders into a used record shop and finds a back room filled with strange records. The owner explains that the special records don’t hold music, but souls. Her father’s soul is among them and she can take him home if she’ll pay the price. First a lock of her hair. Then a tooth. Then some of her blood… Things go wrong and Zoe travels to a strange city where the souls of the dead are trapped forever, unless she can save herself and set them free. It comes out on October 29th.
Just in time for Halloween! Perfect.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to Fanlit.
Readers, I’ve got a signed copy of Kill City Blues which I’ll give to one random commenter.