I’ve known Richard Kadrey for a number of years. We generally mouth off at each other about technology, injuries we acquired while we were young/dumb, barbecue, tiki drinks and movies. There’s not much jibba-jabba, however, about what either of us does for a living. He writes constantly. So do I. It’s nice to talk about anything but your gig, from time to time.
That said, the rent must be paid, so here we go.
On August 28th, the tenth book in Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series, Hollywood Dead, will be available in the United States. Last last week, after reading an advanced copy that was sent out to me, I got on the horn for a chat with him about the new book, his plans for Sandman Slim and what he’s got cooking beyond the massively popular urban fantasy series.
SB: I read Hollywood Dead over the weekend. I think one of the things I enjoyed the most about the new book is how the tension ramps up as Stark came to understand how screwed he really was.
RK: I really wanted him off-balance. He felt off-balanced in The Kill Society—Stark was basically hiding who he was. But I wanted him to be genuinely fucked up in this book. He thinks everything’s going to be fine now and nothing is fine. Everything is fucked up. There’s no problem he can solve by punching it. Yeah, there’s bad guys, but his overall situation can’t be solved with violence. In the book, a lot of the truth of what[Stark]is comes out of Kasabian’s mouth, the way it always has. The world without Stark has been better, in some ways, so he’s begging Stark to just not be there. If nobody wants you there, that’s kind of it. There’s no way of getting around it. None of Stark’s abilities will help him work through that.
SB: You’ve had a long time to live with this character. How does a character that’s traditionally solved problems with blood and fire, grow?
RK: I’m growing and changing with the character. So, I’m seeing the world differently, too. I’m seeing the stuff that my friends are going through, for instance. That’s how the issue of PTSD with Stark came up. Stark’s never going to be OK unless he deals with his own trauma. That was never in my head when I started writing the character. But if I’m going to deal with somebody like him over a long period of time and have some kind of truth in it, first, he has to admit that he has PTSD. The second thing is that he has to, at least, attempt to do something about it. Of course, the world conspires against him. Every time he says that he’s going to try and do something about it, something awful happens and it stops him. But he’s at least acknowledging that there’s something he can do to be more of a human being. Becoming more of a human being is at the core of what this series is about. In the first book, Stark is a genuine monster, just back from Hell and wanting to kill everything. Wanting to kill the world. Over the course of the books, that’s changed. I want to keep exploring that. I don’t know how far I can take that or how far I want to. I’m following what I think Stark would do and Stark would want. I’m hoping I’m getting that right, in letting the character lead me a bit in the rest of the series.
SB: Every time you set out to write a new book you crack out a new Moleskine to plot it out. Did you have any idea of what the series was going to look like or do you sort it out as you go?
RK: I worked out what happens to the end of the series. I know where it’s going, although there are questions on how it’s going to get there. I know what has to happen for the rest of the series because I needed to. The things I’m doing now, I can’t just wing it forever, although there were points at which I was doing that. There’s a certain amount of the series that I had to come up with as a matter of panicking, because originally, Harper only bought three books. I thought that might be it. When I finished the third book, and they were doing OK, they said that they wanted more. Suddenly, I had to get a lot deeper into the situation. That’s when I started creating more. More of an arc than I had before. Where I left it in book, three, it could have stopped, easily. For it to go on, and again, for Stark to deal with who he is, back in the world, I needed to do a lot more homework. The last half of the series, I’ve pretty much mapped out what needs to happen and now we’re getting towards the end of it. It’s all coming together.
SB: Are you able to say how many books are left in the series?
RK: I could say it, but I don’t want to.
SB: Let’s talk about the movie. How does it feel to have someone else manhandling your characters after spending so much time with them. Do you have your fingers in the production?
RK: I’m doing some consulting on it. There’s a brand new screenplay. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve heard really good things. Kerry Williamson is doing the screenplay. She’s worked with the director, Chas Stahelski a lot, so I like that. Plus, you know what man? I’m really happy to have a woman working on the screenplay for this. Its been such a dude-heavy project all the way through. To have a woman with [Williamson’s] credentials and her point of view is why Chad though of her as a good person to do it. Apparently, she worked in stunts: she has a writer’s point of view and understands action. In her body, not just intellectually. I think that’s great. I have a lot of faith with what they want to do with it. I have talked with Chad about the direction he wants to take things in. I’m excited. I trust this team completely. Top to bottom, I think they’re really quality people.
SB: What are your plans do you have once you’re finished with Stark? The books you’ve been writing outside of the series have been doing pretty well. Is getting past Sandman Slim something you’re looking forward to or more of a ‘shit, what do I do now? You’ve spent a long time with this stuff, man.
RK: It’ll be weird to end it, but there’s the movie is moving forward and there’s the talk of a comic and things like that, which I’ve discussed with the movie people. If they want to do a comic, I have ideas of what it should be. And what it shouldn’t be, which I think is more important. And yeah, I have a lot of stuff that I want to do afterwards. It’s why I’m working very hard on this new book right now, called The Grand Dark. In the way that Sandman Slim reestablished my career, I want to take a chance towards the end of Sandman Slim of rebooting myself. I love writing Sandman Slim. I love writing violence and action—pulp sensibilities. But I don’t want to be locked into that for the rest of my life. I want to do larger things, and that’s what the Grand Dark is.
SB: Tell me more about The Grand Dark. Whatcha got? What’s going on?
RK: I’m doing a massive rewrite right now, it’s driving me crazy. It is the story of a young man in a very different world, a world that feels…some people would use the word ‘steampunk.’ I never used to like the word, but I’m ok with it now. I’m going to use that word, which I used to not like, to say “Steampunk-Kafka.” That’s what I’m working on now. It’s not going to be a huge book, but it’s been a huge undertaking because there’s no aspect of it that’s like my previous work. It’s right down to my use to my use of language and the way that I write the book. With Stark there’s very specific rules of how the text appears on the page. This is sort of the opposite of that. It’s much more straightforward in someways and far more twisted in others than anything I’ve ever written.
SB: It sounds like you’re challenging yourself. That’s where it’s at. If you get bored, whats the point?
RK: That’s exactly it. It’s me pushing myself to do something new and hoping to establish myself to a broader audience while trying to bring my current audience into a new kind of work that I want to do. Certainly, there’s action and guns and crazy stuff going on. But it’s not presented in the hyperbolic way that Sandman Slim is.
Headshot via Richard Kadrey, photographed by Tristan Crane; Book photo via Séamus Bellamy