The Big Idea: Richard Kadrey
Posted on October 5, 2010 Posted by John Scalzi 30 Comments
Trash: Junk – or a trove? Why not both? In today’s Big Idea, Richard Kadrey digs through the subject of trash and how it applies to his Sandman Slim series of novels, of which the second, Kill the Dead, has just hit the stores. The Sandman Slim books are in fact the best kind of trash — rough and dirty and full of surprising things — And Kadrey explains why that has value.
Kill The Dead (and the first book in the series, Sandman Slim) is about a hitman from Hell named James Stark. The book is also about magicians, zombies, witches, vampires, killer angels, necromancers, ultra-secret magic societies, an immortal alchemist, Lucifer, God and a talking head that gets around on a sort of magical skateboard. But where the book comes from has less to do with fantasy than politics.
When George Bush and his gang rode into Washington they bought their own complex religious myth system with them, one I didn’t understand. So, I started reading about the origins of the Christian church, its concepts of good and evil and the development of Lucifer, Satan, the Devil, whatever it is you want to call him. I learned that over the last 2000 years accounts of the relationship between God and Lucifer is a lot more complex and interesting than we were taught in the Cliff Notes version of the Bible we got in Church.
The questions of what are God? Who is Lucifer? And what is truly good or evil forms the deep background of Kill The Dead and Sandman Slim, but the truth is you don’t need to know any of that to read the books. For all the high-minded and possibly pretentious theorizing I just laid out, Kill The Dead is mostly about people punching each other, getting punched, throwing around inappropriate magic in inappropriate situations, stealing cars and drinking and smoking too much. Which leads to the second inspiration for the books.
James Stark didn’t come from memories of Tolkein or the Brothers Grimm. He was inspired by American crime writers such as Jim Thompson, James M. Cain, Joe Gores, Ross MacDonald and, of course, Hammett and Chandler. But the one writer who inspired me the most was Richard Stark.
Stark (One of Donald Westlake’s pseudonyms) wrote a series of hardboiled novels about a professional thief named Parker. The books are terse and brutal. The bad guys are the stars. We watch them plot and carry out their crimes. What grabbed me about Richard Stark’s work was the tone and mood. I’d never read so much conveyed in so few words. I immediately wondered if you could write SF and fantasy the same way (A lot of other people must have wondered that too because these days we’re nipple-deep in books about vampire hunters, ghost whisperers, werewolf crossing guards and, for all I know, poltergeist gumshoes). When I wrote Sandman Slim I wanted to acknowledge the inspiration. That’s why my protagonist is named Stark. It’s also why one of the villains is named Parker. I admire those pulpy writers and the pulpy novels they wrote, books that mostly ended up in drug stores and bus stations but always kept readers satisfied.
It all comes down to this: I’m not an artist. I know artists. I have friends who are artists and I’m not one of them. Mickey Spillane said it best, “I’m not an author. I’m a writer. That’s all I am.” Occasionally I wonder if I even write novels. I write long shaggy dog stories. Messy, kind of odd and noisy. I love the graceful sloppiness of early punk and the garage rock you find on Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets record series. I feel like my books and stories are similar to the way Iggy Pop describes The Stooges music, “It’s dumb. But it’s smart dumb.” My books are basically Raw Power with commas.
Don’t misunderstand me. I take what I do very seriously. I work hard to hit every beat, to be entertaining and to make you want to come back for more. If I say that I’m not an artist and that there a funny angles and out of tune guitars in my work it’s partly because I admire the workman-like approach of pulp writers who knew they weren’t James Joyce and also because I respect the power of trash.
Art terrifies. Trash seduces. The Clash has made more teenyboppers think about politics than all the Noam Chomsky books ever printed. That’s not a bad thing to aspire to. Which brings me back to the God and Lucifer stuff.
Kill The Dead and Sandman Slim are, at their core, about questioning our place in the universe, wondering about the nature of good and evil and if God and Lucifer are our enemies, on our side or if they even remember we’re down here. But the books are also about driving too fast, drinking too much, beating people up with magic or, if that doesn’t work, shooting them in the back.
Yes, I wonder about the nature of our existence, but I don’t get all Tolstoy about it. If you like action, noise and think The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is a thousand times better than Forrest Gump you’re who I wrote the book for. Kill The Dead isn’t American Gods or Zero History. It’s Mickey Spillane with monsters.
I’m not an author. I’m a writer. That’s all I am.
Kill the Dead: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s
Read an excerpt. Follow Richard Kadrey on Twitter.
Nothing to say other than that this book is awesome, and you really should buy it, and if you’ve not yet bought Sandman Slim, you need to buy that as well.
I loved Sandman Slim (my <a href="http://whatmarkread.blogspot.com/2010/04/sandman-slim-by-richard-kadrey.html"review). It was smart and funny and overall just well written.
My review (screwed up the first time).
I am ridiculously, super excited about this book. I picked up Sandman Slim on a whim and it was great. You know how all those summer action movies get those overblown descriptions? Thrill-ride! Non-stop action! Well, this actually brought those terms to mind. I sort of pictured Jason Statham running up the side of buildings.
But it’s not all flash and bang, and I really found myself loving Stark. Poor bastard. He really got screwed and I don’t see that letting up any time soon. He’s stuck in the middle, but just what he’s in the middle of isn’t precisely clear.
I can’t wait for work to be done so I can start reading!
OOOhhhh, “nipple-deep”! Wait, is that Napoleon-nipple-deep or Shaq-nipple-deep?
I’m not a fan of “Urban Fantasy” in the least, but I’ve heard good things about this book, and with Mr. Kadrey namechecking Westlake, Thompson, The Clash AND the Nugget Comps, I’m definitely picking this up!
I have raved about the first book in this series and I’m very glad to see the second is *finally* out. That’s how it feels, even though I only discovered Sandman Slim a couple of months ago. As I say on my blog, I’m not someone who normally likes reading the present tense, but these are an exception. It seems so in-your-face immediate (and now I see why) that it’s hard to resist. I gotta go get the new one now. Thanks for writing a very good read, rather than authoring and exceptional novel.
Raw Power with commas. Heh. I think that alone is enough to get this one added to the queue…
I loved the first Sandman Slim and will definitely be picking up this one.
I’d say just enough action without too much gore but the guys I keep recommending horror books keep going “eww” after reading my suggestions so who am I too say what’s too much gore!
poltergeist gumshoes = “The Dead Boy Detectives” from the Sandman universe
That is, the OTHER Sandman, Neil Gaiman’s. :)
Well, that just went on my list for the next trip into town.
I found Whatever quite by accident. I’m an aspiring author myself and was actually looking for open call stuff when I was led here. I liked the idea of the Big Idea and updated the page to the current date and saw your blog. Intrigued I read it and discovered that I would probably like your work. I’v added it to my list of things to read and wanted also to thank you for your insights and inspiration for your work.
I did a double-take — Kill the Dead is always going to mean Tanith Lee for me.
If you’re new to Richard Kadrey and want to get a feel for his writing before spending the cash, Nightshade Books has been generous enough to host a copy of his “Butcher Bird” book in free PDF form. I highly recommend this and the Sandman Slim books.
“Mickey Spillane with Monsters” — great line!
Spillane’s late novel The Twisted Thing” is, you might agree, Science Fiction. Kidnapped 14-year-old genius son of mad scientist father…
Meanwhile, in your old territory:
Rite-Aid ordered to pay Covina woman $8.2 million in damages
LOS ANGELES – Rite-Aid was ordered Tuesday to pay $4.8 million to a Covina woman as punishment for store supervisors who committed disability discrimination and retaliated against her for complaining that she was sexually harassed by a manager.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated for about a half-hour before reaching its 10-2 verdict in favor of 45-year-old Maria C. Martinez. The same panel awarded her $3.4 million in compensatory damages on Friday, then triggered a punitive damages phase by finding malice on the part of the drug store chain….
I thought it was doubleplusgood that the review copies for this came with two shotgun shells…until I noticed they weren’t actually live rounds! Just how am I supposed to take out zombies with these?
Throw them really hard?
I’m completely sold on this book after reading that Big Idea piece.
I read comic books so naturally I love trash.
Offtopic, but what’s the point of having your books available via Kindle if they can’t be downloaded anyway when you’re in Latin America…
“This title is not available for customers from your location in:
Latin Am. & Caribbean”
Someone recommended your books to me but I can’t buy them digitally …
I ordered Sandman Slim earlier this week on a random urge. I’m not a big fan of the urban fantasy genre but it sounded like such a hard, fast novel that I couldn’t not order it (pardon my grammar). I’m really excited to read it when it finally comes.
I admire the conciseness of the old noir stuff. A lot of books today seem so looong and draw ouuuut (not Scalzi).
Anybody who uses Westlake as an inspiration is tops in my estimation.
And calling the writers mentioned “pulpy” misses what they were really all about. They’re out to tell the damn story without a lot of frills. The frills are great in the right places. But not all places are the right places.
FYI…you forgot the best of all the “pulp” writers, and that was John D. MacDonald. In my extremely humble opintion, MacDonald was the best wordsmith of the 20th Century. He did more with less (and even managed some frills on occasion) than anyone else of his era. Or perhaps any era.
I am highly excited for this next book, I loved The Butcher Bird and Sandman Slim! Great to see an author I follow on the Big Idea here, too.
Took a look at the excerpt – man, you have a way with words. Loved it! One for the bookstore…
Concur (although I far prefer Dortmunder to Stark).
Offspring Prime loved the first Sandman Slim book, so I’ll be picking up this one.
I will join the Sandman Slim Army here. Right now I’m on a book fast due to a recent binge but Kill the Dead is officially on the list.
I read Sandman Slim and liked it so muc that I started to hand-sell it like mad at the bookstore where I work. It sold itself when I would suggest it with this little snippet: “This guy got sent down to hell. Eleven years later he escapes and he’s pretty pissed off about it. It’s dark, sarcastic, and my definition for it is cyber-punk-noir.”
Last night was the first I’d worked since copies of Kill the Dead came in; already one customer put copies of both books on hold with plans to come back today and buy them. I ordered more copies of Sandman Slim so I can sell both to newbies, and I doubt it’ll be hard. As for me, this afternoon I’m sitting down with my Kindle and reading Kill the Dead.
Most of the urban fantasy I read is written by women, and I’m not really interested in Jim Butcher…but more than half of those I sold Sandman Slim to bought it because I’d spied a Jim Butcher book in their pile.
And now – it’s time to read.
My 15 year old son absolutely loves these books and tells everyone he knows about them.
He’s been nagging me to read them as well.
Now it seems, I must.
I just read Butcher Bird and it was fantabulous. Read it again immediately because there was so much in there.
Art terrifies. Trash seduces. The Clash has made more teenyboppers think about politics than all the Noam Chomsky books ever printed. That’s not a bad thing to aspire to.
Beautiful and true.