An Interview with Richard Kadrey, as told to Lacy LeBlanc
”Richard Kadrey is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. He is the author of dozens of stories, plus eight novels, including Sandman Slim, Kill the Dead, Aloha from Hell, Metrophage, and Butcher Bird.
Richard has no qualifications for anything he does.”
Let me start this off by saying that few things will make you feel like you’ve inserted your own and other people’s feet into your mouth more quickly than getting the opportunity to interview one of your current favorite authors. You will manage to ask a question that was explained in one of the books. (Yes, I did that, and yes, I edited that question out of the interview and apologized to RK for asking it in the first place.) Many, many thanks to RK and his publicist, Pamela, for taking the time to set up this interview and let me ask my questions. Also, be forewarned, this interview contains spoilers for his books.
Bookshelf Bombshells: What kind of research do you do before you start writing?
Richard Kadrey: I do whatever research seems required. That’s it, really. With a series like Sandman Slim it’s hard to know everything you’ll need going in so research becomes an ongoing process. What I wanted to know before writing this particular series was the history of the Roman Church, with background on the Gnostics and the Kabbalah. There was also a lot of reading about angels and origins of Satan and theories of evil in the western world.
BB: Aelita seems so hyperfocused on Stark as an abomination. Any chance she parented one sometime in the past and has regrets, or is she just religious fervor gone batshit?
RK: Aelita is a true believer in the old order. An old fashioned fascist with a kind of racial purity obsession, but in celestial terms.
BB: So, Ruach and Neshamah. A few questions about them. First, how did you pick the Hebrew words for Spirit and Soul for those particular aspects of God? And is there any significance in the fact that Spirit allowed Soul to be killed?
RK: This is one of those questions I’ll leave for readers to ponder on their own. I also won’t tell you what Stark looks like. That’s another one that readers should decide for themselves.
BB: Are we going to meet the other aspects of god?
RK: Yes. You’ll meet all of them before the series ends.
BB: As I was reading Butcher Bird, it felt like American Gods mixed with Neverwhere. What authors, musicians, and artists inspire you, and how do they influence your work?
RK: I’ll take your impression of Butcher Bird as a compliment, though I hadn’t actually read American Gods when I wrote it. Now that I have, I love the book.
Gaiman is certainly a writer who proved to me that fantasy writing could be something I’d like doing. Before Butcher Bird I’d only written SF and a lot of my influences still come from that world. J.G. Ballard. William Burroughs. Gibson and Sterling. When I considered writing fantasy other writers such as Clive Barker, Michael Moorcock, Angela Carter, and Roger Zelazny had a big influence. And there’s a mix of other writers such as Cormac McCarthy, Borges, Jim Thompson, and Elmore Leonard.
BB: Did you research your tattoos before you got them, or are you looking over your shoulder, waiting for a demon to pop up and try to eat you? (Also, now I’m slightly worried about my own tattoos. Thanks for that.)
RK: Most of my tattoos are original designs so if they spawn any demons it’s purely coincidental.
BB: I don’t usually notice strong women in stories; I’m much more prone to notice weak women who are essentially parodies of themselves. But I definitely noticed that both Candy and Shrike are pretty fucking kick ass. Why is it important for you to have female characters who can take care of themselves?
RK: I never sit down and say, “I need a strong woman here.” Butcher Bird started from the image of a blind swordswoman. From there it was a matter of working out the logic of who she would be and what it would take for her to survive. Candy showed up pretty much fully formed, though we didn’t get to see that for a couple of books. She was like Stark, powerful but a little lost because she was trying to kick her essential Jade nature and not eat people anymore. She was a nice match for Stark, another lost character, because they both had power they were trying to control. Together they don’t have to be afraid of who they really are and can let the more savage parts of their nature loose with someone who won’t reject them or be scared. Candy is generally a kick to write, I have ideas for some side stories with her as the lead. I’d like to get into who the Jades are and where they come from and how Candy fits in.
BB: Why do you have such a soft spot for the Devil?
RK: I have a soft spot for losers and Lucifer is kind of the ultimate loser. He was the number two guy in Heaven and ended up the number one guy in the worst place in the universe. He puts up a good front but we see his wounds and weakness more in Kill The Dead. And there’s so much you can do with Lucifer as a character. His dual nature in western culture—as both Devil and God’s right hand man/tester of humanity—let’s you take him in a lot of different directions. He’s like a more powerful version of a Shakespearean fool–the person who can always tell the truth because he’s too powerful to stop and because he’s seen enough to know that the truth seldom sets you free. He’s the universe’s happiest pessimist.
BB: After reading the Sandman Slims and Butcher Bird, what of yours should I pick up next?
RK: My first two books, Metrophage and Kamikaze L’Amour are very different but readers might enjoy them. Besides, they’re out of print so you can find cheap used copies. They might also like the graphic novel I did with the Pander Brothers, Accelerate.
BB: You do fetish photography in your spare time. Does it ever influence your writing or vice versa? (NOTE: Clicking that link is so NSFW it’s not even funny. It might not even be safe to click at home. One word: tentacles. Okay, several other words: gas masks, neck braces, surgical clamps, mousetraps, plastic wrap, and more Brazilian waxes than you can shake a tentacle dildo at.)
RK: Photography is the cure for having too many words in my head. Writing is the cure for having too many images. They balance each other out. I need both to keep creative and sane.
BB: Final, standard Bombshells question. What’s in your pockets?
RK: An HMDI AV adapter, a pen knife with a mermaid on the side, and a Champagne cork.
Want more? Kadrey will be at New York ComicCon next week. You can also read my reviews of Sandman Slim, Devil Said Bang, and Butcher Bird.