Special Feature: Author Interview
with Richard Kadrey
By Betsy Dornbusch
Richard Kadrey is the author of several books, the most recent of which
are the SANDMAN SLIM series. It's noir urban fantasy, heavy on the noir,
with a violent nephilim as a protagonist. As for the rest, his bio says
it better than I ever could:
Richard Kadrey is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. He is the
author of dozens of stories, plus five novels, including Sandman Slim
(buy), Metrophage (buy) and Butcher Bird (buy/download). His Wired
magazine cover story, Carbon Copy, was made into one of the worst movies
of 2001. It starred Bridget Fonda. Sorry, Bridget.
He has been immortalized as an action figure.
Kadrey created and wrote the Vertigo comics mini-series ACCELERATE,
which was illustrated by the Pander Brothers. He plans to do more comic
work in the near future.
He has written and spoken about art, culture and technology for Wired,
The San Francisco Chronicle, Discovery Online, The Site, SXSW and Wired
For Sex on the G4 cable network.
He is also a fetish photographer and digital artist.
Richard has no qualifications for anything he does.
Thanks for talking with Electric Spec, Richard. For those who haven't
read the SANDMAN SLIM books, give us the nickel tour on Stark and his
James Stark, a magician living in LA, is sent to hell by another
magician looking for power. Stark spends the next 11 years in hell, the
only living thing that's ever been down there. When his girlfriend,
Alice, is murdered he breaks out looking for revenge on the people who
killed her and sent him into the inferno.
What or who was the inspiration for Stark? Is he anything like you?
The whole Sandman Slim series was inspired by American crime fiction
from the 40s through the 70s. I say crime fiction instead of mysteries
because mysteries are generally about good guys, even reluctant good
guys, trying to set the world right. Crime fiction is a look into
another world as we watch criminals plan and execute their crimes and
then deal with the consequences.
One of the primary influences on Sandman Slim were the Parker novels
written by Richard Stark. I read them when I was about 18 and their
simple language and brutal storytelling made me wonder if I could do
anything similar in science fiction or fantasy. I wanted to acknowledge
this inspiration, which is why I named my main character Stark.
The stories are set in a richly-described, seedy Los Angeles. Any
significance to the setting and your depiction of it? I can think of a
half-dozen symbolic implications, but we'd like to hear about it from
LA is a great town to write about. It's dirty and venal and as
unglamorous as you can get. It's a working town in exactly the same way
that mining towns were back in the old West. The only difference is that
the company business in LA is movies, TV and music. It's a tense place
because people can sense the success, the wealth and the power that's
all around them but that they will never get to experience or attain.
It's a city full of the ambitious and the defeated. It's all Donald
Trumps and ghosts.
Stark is a definite anti-hero, and yet I find him sliding a bit more to
the "good" as his story progresses. Is Stark going to someday find a
girl and settle down in a California suburb, or would he prefer to keep
stealing cars and bashing monsters for the rest of his life?
Any series like this where there is essentially a monster at the center
inevitably becomes about humanizing the monster. The question is always
how domesticated will the monster become? Stark won't be going
vegetarian or doing Pilates anytime soon.
In BUTCHER BIRD and the SANDMAN SLIM books, you employ the Christian
mythos. Lucifer and Hell figures prominently in both story-lines, and
Stark is Nephilim, half-angel/half-human. What interests you about the
Christian mythos, especially its darker side?
I was raised in the Protestant church, but left it when I was a
teenager. I got interested in Christianity and the history of the church
again during George W. Bush's administration. I saw all these
fundamentalists take over the country, but I didn't know who they were
or what they believed. I decided to go back as early as I could into the
history of Christianity to figure out where they came from. Of course,
once you start reading about the church you run into all the
contradictions, lies and the power plays that are involved in creating
any worldwide movement.
There's a lot of magical and non-Christian religious material in the
series, too. You can find various magic systems, bits of Gnosticism and
the Kaballah and even some Buddhism. I didn't want to write completely
about one religion's beliefs or myths. I wanted to work with the idea
that all the religions had a piece of the puzzle, but none had all the
answers. Of course, you don't need to know any of this to read books.
Whatever little pet theories I have working in the background, the books
are still primarily about people punching each other, stealing cars and
doing inappropriate magic.
Your style seems spare on narrative, especially internal, relying more
on razor sharp dialogue and whip-crack action to show character. One of
the things I've noticed, even in your short fiction, is a distinct lack
of tags. How do you structure your dialogue to show character and allow
readers to keep who is speaking straight in our heads?
The more I write, the more I want to strip down my writing. I want as
little between the page and the readers brains as possible. I try to
write scenes in which the dialogue between any two characters is
something that readers can parse without a lot of he said, she said and
name dropping. Sometimes I go too far, I know. This is where having a
good editor comes in. Diana Gill at Eos has helped me shape the books
and my style.
You've written a lot of nonfiction, articles and books, and dozens of
short stories, many of which are linked on your website. Are you still
writing short fiction? Pretending we were in a world with no economic
restraints, do you prefer to write novels or short stories and why?
I write short fiction when I can. I wrote a story for Ellen Datlow's
urban noir anthology recently, but I was very late and the book was
already closed by the time I got it to her. I ended up serializing the
story on my blog. The title is Suspect Zero and you can still find it
You're a photographer as well. I find many of your images intriguing and
slip-stream in flavor. How does this creative art form enhance your
Pictures are the cure for words and words are the cure for pictures.
When I finish a book my brain is so full of words that I need a break
from texts. That's when I do a lot of photography. At a certain point my
head will get too full of pictures and I'll want to go back to words.
Photography and writing are a good combination for me. They balance each
What are you working on lately, writing-wise?
I'm working on rewrites of Sandman Slim three, Aloha From Hell. I'm also
working on an original screenplay. There's some vague interest in LA,
but everything in LA's vague and nothing is worth a damn until the check
You can find out more about Richard and his books at