Interview: Richard Kadrey, Sandman Slim novels author

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

The real character behind the fictional character is never quite what you imagine. And that’s just about always cool — cool like author Richard Kadrey, cool and erudite and street-brilliant. Not cool like Kadrey’s protagonist, James Stark, also known as Sandman Slim. A foul-mouthed, hard-drinking, prolific and lovelorn assassin from Hell, Stark’s a whole other kind of cool. Or is he?

Kadrey is the creator of the brutal and profanely funny urban fantasy Sandman Slim novels. The third one, Aloha From Hell, was released today, Tuesday, October 18, 2011, and Kadrey will be reading from it tonight at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore at 7.

And here’s what the author had to say about himself and Stark:

“I am not the book and I am not Stark. Well, I am, but it’s not the part of me that walks down the street to buy milk at the corner. … I have had to be Stark when I threw crack heads out of the building. … I’d put on all my leather and just go over there and start throwing people out. … I got stabbed once. But that was by a crazy person. Nine times out of 10, with the crack heads, there a few I could talk to, and you could be completely cool with them. … I don’t need to be a hard ass all the time.”

If you’ve read the first two books in the series, Sandman Slim and Kill the Dead, you might think Kadrey has just described a pre-pubescent Stark. The all-grown-up Stark is more akin to a man on meth who’s managed to keep his wits sharp, his brain cells intact, and his weapons perverse and ruthless. Same thing with his sense of humor.

But Kadrey said, “I don’t think sensible people expect Stark. I think they’d just find me a very normal person. I have a handle on my imagination, and I like to use profanity in public places. I don’t believe in adverbs, but I believe in profanity. Stark uses his constantly as an offensive weapon and as a defensive weapon.”

So, there’s the Starkish side of Kadrey, the side that partakes of public profanity and crackhead-bouncing, and then there’s the sensitive side.

During a phone interview, his mouth and his mind move faster than a speeding laptop. But then he slows down, articulating words distinctly, so they can be transcribed more easily. He starts to share a personal anecdote and stops, not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. He gives up the origins of his protagonist’s name, a gift to his readers (Stark comes from a crime fiction series he read as a young man by Richard Stark, pseudonym of Donald Westlake: “I read those books, and I’d never read anything like them before, and the first thing I thought was, could you apply this kind of writing to fantasy?”). And he mentions that reading the Bible as a kid was a terrifying experience, because he couldn’t find anyone who could answer his questions about it, and he remembers thinking, “God either really hates women or I can’t read.”

It’s worth noting that for all of Kadrey’s fascinating and bloody deconstruction of traditional notions — of heaven and hell, good and evil, God and Lucifer — the nation’s banners of books haven’t targeted his. Maybe they’ve finally figured out that their efforts increase book sales, but there’s still hope for Kadrey.

“Starting in book three,” he said, “God gets weird. God is just going to get weirder, man. If anything is going to set people off, it’s going to be God in the next few books. … Part of the next book is Stark, is L.A., is a lot of God, and is superstring theory. I think God and superstring theory are pretty related. And there’s a lot of secrets that come with superstring, and there’s a lot of dirty little theological secrets.”

Yes, Richard Kadrey is a thoughtful man, a brilliant storyteller and maybe a bit of the Trickster. It’s tempting to consider that the heads-up about superstring theory and God might be the Starkish Kadrey taking a vibratory poke at the world.

What: Richard Kadrey signing Aloha From Hell When: 7 p.m. Tuesday Where: Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, 7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Clairemont Mesa Info: 858-268-4747 or Author’s website:

Crossposted at the North County Times.

Images courtesy of HarperCollins.