Posted by Richard Kadrey,
August 19, 2014 3:26 PM
Describe your latest book.
The Getaway God
is the sixth book in the Sandman Slim
series. In it, the very unholy nephilim, James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, has made a few enemies. None, though, are as fearsome as the vindictive Angra Om Ya — the insatiable, destructive old gods. But their imminent invasion is just one of Stark's problems, as L.A. descends into chaos and a new evil — a knife-wielding Christmastime serial killer the media dubs St. Nick — stalks the city.
No ordinary killer, St. Nick takes Stark deep into a conspiracy that stretches from Earth to Heaven and Hell. He's also the only person alive who may know how to keep the world from going extinct. He's also Stark's worst enemy — the only man in existence Stark would enjoy killing twice — and one with a direct line to the voracious ancient gods.
How did the last good book you read end up in your hands, and why did you read it?
The book was The Brothers Cabal
by Jonathan L. Howard. One of the perks of being a writer is that people send you books for free. Sometimes they send you books that aren't out yet. I'm a big Johannes Cabal fan, so Jonathan Howard arranged for me to get the new book early. It's great. If you haven't read the series, you should. Start with Johannes Cabal the Necromancer
What do your bookshelves look like? Are you a book hoarder? Do you embrace chaos, or are you a meticulous organizer?
All writers are book hoarders whether they know it or not. My shelves are generally a mess. I'm able to keep fiction and nonfiction separated, but that's about it. At my old apartment, books flooded onto the floor. I finally put a few boxes together and gave away some that I was just holding onto for sentimental reasons. Let other people read them and get sentimental.
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations. Architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable. Originality is non-existent. And don't bother concealing your thievery — celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said, 'It's not where you take things from. It's where you take them to.'"
– Jim Jarmusch
Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
At a reading in Colorado, I showed some Clive Barker
skull paintings to a fan with a lot of tattoos. When I told her I was thinking of getting one of the skulls on my arm, she got very excited and said that she knew an artist nearby and that she'd get a skull to match mine. Unfortunately, when we got there, her tattooist was booked for the night. If I get back to Colorado, maybe we'll try it again.
Name the best television series of all time, and explain why it's the best.
I find myself going back to two old series, Twin Peaks
and The Prisoner
, for the same reason. Why? J. J. Abrams
got at the heart of it when he said, "Sometimes mystery is more important than knowledge." Both The Prisoner
and Twin Peaks
celebrate the beauty of not knowing all the answers. I think that stories need a few strands dangling. They give watchers and readers something to think and argue about, and the strands give a sense of a life beyond the pages of a book or a TV episode.
Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration.
Brian Eno because he refuses to work in one medium. He has a lot of interests and indulges them all. And he does it well. Or well enough that he gets to do it again. And isn't that all that matters? Getting to do the creative work you want over and over?
because he's a great singer and, more importantly, a terrific writer. Not a lot of musicians can tell the uncompromising stories he crafts into his songs. He's also an accomplished novelist and screenwriter.
Sergio Leone because he told big stories boldly and well. He said something very useful to writers: "The important thing is to make a different world, to make a world that is not now. A real world, a genuine world, but one that allows myth to live. The myth is everything."
The Surrealists because I always liked their philosophy that art should induce the state of dreaming in the viewer. Also, I saw Dalí's Persistence of Memory
as a child and I'm convinced that it completely rewired my brain.
What fictional world would you want to visit?
As wet and tragic as it looks from the outside, I wouldn't mind spending some time in the Los Angeles of Blade Runner
Five graphic novels I read while writing The Getaway God:
I can't always read other people's prose when I'm working on a book, but I can always read graphic novels. Here are a few that really stood out.
by Ed Brubaker
Fell: Feral City
by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith
Locke and Key
by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth
by Mike Mignola and Others
Posted by Richard Kadrey,
September 21, 2012 10:00 AM
"Where do you get your ideas?" is still the question I get asked most as an author. The second-most-asked question is "How do you write a book?" The answer to both questions is simple: I don't know. But I can tell you how I do it.
Writing, like any art form, is whatever you can get away with. If you do it well enough, you can do anything. So forget all your English Comp 101 rules. Relax and let your own voice come through. Faulkner
doesn't sound like Margaret Atwood
, who doesn't sound like Cormac McCarthy
, who doesn't sound like China Mieville
Listen to your instincts and listen to the story. Most stories want to be told a certain way. You need to figure out what that is and write them that way. Past, present, or future tense. First, second, or third person. (You better have a damned good reason to write a story in second person or future tense). When I started Sandman Slim
I tried every combination of tense and voice I could think of, but the book wouldn't budge. Finally, when I succumbed to first-person present tense, it took off like a bottle rocket out of a carnie's ass.
Feel free to break grammar rules, especially in dialog. Remember that copy editors might be accurate, but they aren't always right. When they want to change your prose to something that fits Strunk and White
but doesn't flow on the page, feel free to argue.
"Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them." – Flannery O'Connor
Forget creative-writing classes. Study journalism. Learning to structure and write a simple declarative sentence is more important than oh-so-clever prose. When you learn to write clearly you can add all the frills and geegaws you want.
If you don't have time to write, look for it. Maybe do it in the morning before everyone gets up. Maybe do it at night while everyone is asleep. Back when I still had a straight job, I brought my laptop to work with me. I stayed an extra hour every day and wrote at my desk because I knew I'd be too tired when I got home.
Find what tools work for you. These days I use Scrivener to assemble my notes and to outline. I make a lot of notes by hand so I try to do them on the iPad with the WritePad app. It turns handwriting into a text file that you can download or sync with Dropbox. When I make notes on paper, I usually use a Sharpie on a legal pad. And I always have a pad with me — sometimes a small Moleskine Reporter notebook but more often a Little Black Book notebook. They're spiral bound so I can easily rip out the pages and put them in a pile to transcribe into Scrivener.
When you feel free to break all the writing rules you learned in school, you can find yourself in a void. What I mean is that when there are no rules anymore, you have nothing to bounce off of. No guides to help you rein in your writing when it gets too precious. After a 50-plus-year writing career, Elmore Leonard
came up with his own prose commandments. They're simple and clear, and they make a lot of sense. I don't agree 100 percent with all of them, but that's fine. Learning what you don't want to do is just as important as learning what you do. Take a look at Leonard's rules and think about them. You'll probably find something that will help your work. If you do like them, there's a small-book version
Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing
1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said"… he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
"Write what you know" is the biggest lie an English teacher will ever tell you. What you know isn't what books are about. Books are about what you can imagine, from Tolkien's Hobbits
to Fitzgerald's Gatsby
to Chandler's Philip Marlowe
. Trust your imagination, but don't get too pleased with yourself. Someone else probably thought of the idea first. And do your research, especially if you're writing science or historical fiction.
William Faulkner on Ernest Hemingway: "He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."
Hemingway on Faulkner: "Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"
One last thought: No matter how experienced you are, no matter how many stories or books you write, they're never going to be good enough. The story in your head is always better than the one that ends up on the page. That's just the way things are. Which brings me to the only writing rule worth a damn: work hard but give yourself a break. I guarantee you that Shakespeare thought Hamlet
Posted by Richard Kadrey,
September 20, 2012 10:00 AM
I just tore my office apart. I bought a new filing cabinet and three new sets of bookshelves. In the past I've been a book hoarder, keeping every single research book I ever used, as well as novels I hadn't read in 10 years and probably wouldn't reread for another 10. So I'm trying an experiment. One set of shelves will hold DVDs and my published works. Another set will hold research books and art books. The third set will hold nothing but fiction, including graphic novels. The experiment is this: I can only own as much fiction as will fit on that last set of shelves. When I fill it and buy a new book, I have to get rid of an old book.
I got the idea from Brian Eno. At one point he owned exactly 200 records. Each time he bought an album he had to sell or give one away. Yes, there's something arbitrary about choosing 200 records or the space of one set of shelves, but that's part of the experiment's allure. I'm only partially in control. I have no idea how many books I'll end up with. The Satanic Verses
and Gravity's Rainbow
take up a lot more room than J.G. Ballard's High-Rise
or Lauren Beukes's Zoo City
. Maybe I'll cheat and start buying a lot more skinny books. Maybe I'll devote an entire shelf to jumbo reads such as Infinite Jest
and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
(for the record, I never read one and never finished the other).
What I hope is that, by forcing myself to jettison books, I'll break the habit of keeping everything that ever enters my office and end up with a collection of books that hold some special meaning beyond what I keep around to look smart for company. I don't want a learned person's library. I want something chaotic and eccentric, like a Rauschenberg found-objects sculpture. Instead of asking, "Why is there a stuffed goat and a tire on a painted platform?" I want visitors to ask, "Why is The Saragossa Manuscript
between Clive Barker's Books of Blood
and K.W. Jeter's Dr. Adder
I'm not worried about losing contact with old classics. I like Dickens
, and reading his work has helped me keep going when I was stuck on a novel. But it's not like the world is going to run out of copies of A Tale of Two Cities
. I can find a used hardback for a few bucks or download a copy to my iPad. And yes, I have a lot of ebooks. The experiment isn't about how many books I have access to but how many books mean so much to me that I want them around, lurking in the background like my cats.
The experiment might go nowhere. That's why it's an experiment. I might go crazy in a month, run to Goodwill, and buy back everything I've donated. But for now I'm having a good time going through the shelves book by book, making Keep These Until I Die
and Why the Hell Did I Ever Buy These?
stacks. Of course, books signed to me are exempt from the giveaway rules, as is the collection of '70s New Wave SF novels in my bedroom. I've given away three boxes and two bags of books so far, and I only regretted losing a couple enough to buy new copies. It's nice having floor space again. And it's nice not having shelves crack under the weight of all the rainforest books I bought while writing Kamikaze L'Amour
and never looked at again.
Here are my questions for you: What experiment would you run in your life, and what's stopping you from doing
Posted by Richard Kadrey,
September 19, 2012 10:00 AM
Before I started the Sandman Slim
series I wrote Butcher Bird
, a book that also told the story of a trip to Hell and a meeting with Lucifer. I started building a library of books on mythology, folktales, Christianity, Kabbalah, and outré science. Some of these ideas ended up in Butcher Bird
. They've all
ended up in Devil Said Bang
and the other Sandman Slim books. For anyone interested in where I get some of the information that ends up in the novels, here is a list of 12 books from my library. The list is by no means exhaustive, but the books are easy-to-find titles, and they're all places to start for anyone interested in the ideas in the Sandman Slim universe.
One quick note: while I've studied the ideas in these books, I've never once hesitated to throw out accepted canon or mythology and substitute my own if I thought it would make my books better.
- The Devil: A Biography by Peter Stanford
- Fallen Angels by Bernard J. Bamberger
- From the Ashes of Angels by Andrew Collins
- The Origin of Satan by Elaine Pagels
- The History of Hell by Alice K. Turner
- Encyclopedia of Heaven by Miriam Van Scott
- The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
- Kabbalah for Beginners by Rav Michael Laitman
- String Theory for Dummies by Andrew Zimmerman Jones
- The Oxford Companion to World Mythology by David Leeming
- The Dictionary of Imaginary Places by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi
- Penguin Dictionary of Symbols by Jean Chevalier and Alain
Posted by Richard Kadrey,
September 18, 2012 10:00 AM
I write because I'm deeply afraid of a couple of things.
My first fear is dying an amusing death. You know, the kind that ends up as filler in newspaper back pages. Someone falls asleep under a combine harvester and ends up in little pieces in a dump truck full of wheat. Someone trips and impales himself on a lawn gnome or breathes in instead of out when learning to breathe fire.
My second and biggest fear is living the wrong life. I don't want to spend the last 30 seconds on my deathbed thinking, "I should have learned to juggle." That's why I'm a writer — not because I want to juggle but because, even though it's a ridiculous and precarious way to make a living, it's what I'm best at.
Here's a secret all professional writers know: You don't become a professional writer through talent. You become one by being the last man or woman standing.
Every professional writer came up through the publishing ranks knowing someone better: someone who had a better way with words, better ideas, better research methods; in short, someone who was superior in every way. And that person didn't make it. They're gone. Maybe they published a little. Maybe they still write occasional reviews for the local newspaper. But they're not professional writers. Why? Because when things got tough — when the rejection slips rolled in and editors beat their copy into chum — they couldn't handle it and quit. It's tempting to say that they took the easy way out, but I don't think that's exactly it. I think they realized that when they're on their deathbed staring up at a bunch of tubes, sweaty nurses, and impatient doctors who want them to kick already, writing isn't what they're going to be thinking about. At least I hope not.
Trying to become a professional writer isn't about guidance-counselor pep talks, and it isn't about confidence. It's about ignorance, stubbornness, and arrogance. Ignorance because no one tells you how hard it is when the rejections pile up and no one likes your new style or new ideas, and maybe you'd be better off tarring roofs. Stubbornness because even in the face of total publishing indifference you keep working. And then there's arrogance. All artists are arrogant. To think that you have anything to say to the world and that the world should listen, and maybe even pay you for the privilege of listening, is pretty much the textbook definition of arrogance. But it's essential, especially when you're getting started. And don't worry about your arrogance getting out of control. Having editors rip apart a few of your stories and make you start over will activate your humility glands. And when you are published and you get that first one-star review on Amazon, the arrogance part of your brain will slink away into a deep, dark cerebral fold until you absolutely need it again.
How do you know if you're a writer? Ursula K. Le Guin
came up with the best description of a writer I've ever heard. She said that a writer is someone who's more miserable not writing than they are writing. It's as simple as that.
I'm sure as hell not going to tell you to follow your bliss, but you should think about what makes you the least miserable and get good at that. "You don't want your last thought to be, "I never learned to make a really good
Posted by Richard Kadrey,
September 17, 2012 10:00 AM
Devil Said Bang
is the fourth Sandman Slim
book. As I write this, I'm currently working on book five, Kill City Blues
. When I started out, the last thing I thought I'd be writing was a series or anything other than science fiction. However, Sandman Slim dwells in that ever-shifting netherworld somewhere between Jim Thompson
and Neil Gaiman
. File the series under Urban Fantasy, Fantasy Noir, Supernatural Thriller, or whatever the hell they're calling it this week. The truth is, I'm just happy that people are reading the books.
Before Sandman Slim I'd never considered writing a series, and when I started, it just about broke my brain. At its most stripped down, a series is simply a load of adventures with the same characters built roughly around similar themes. Vampire hunters hunt vampires. Witches perform magic. All that's true and it's not that hard to write. Things only get complicated when there's something going on that's larger than the foreground story — a story arc that spans multiple books and won't be resolved until some nebulous point in the future. That's the stuff that will kill you.
What do the readers need to know now to keep them reading, and what does the writer need to save for the next book, when the reveal will be that much more powerful? How are your characters going to change over the course of x
number of books? Just how much are you supposed to plan in advance? When I wrote Sandman Slim
, the first book in the series, I couldn't answer any of those questions. Fortunately I had a good editor, Diana Gill, and she threw me a life preserver when I needed it. Over the next few books I used up enough life preservers to personally save most of the passengers on the Titanic. Now I'm pretty happy writing a series. No matter how badly I treat my characters, I know they'll be back for more, and maybe I'll give them a break in the next book. Probably not, but I'm the god here and they have to dance to my rumba.
Which brings me to the question that I'm asked frequently, that everyone writing a series is asked frequently: How much of the story do you know in advance? That's an easy one to answer: I know a lot. I'm writing thriller/mysteries. I need to know in advance if Colonel Mustard was killed in the library with a candlestick or if he was attacked by a chupacabra or has been faking his death and framing Justin Bieber. I frequently outline on paper, drawing arrows between characters and incidents. I use a highlighter on some ideas and end the occasional sentence with five question marks (my personal code for "Is this a good idea or irredeemable crap?"). But even with all that planning, I don't know everything.
I deliberately leave holes here and there in the story. This gives it room to breathe and evolve, and it lets me occasionally surprise myself when a character does something unexpected or a scene takes a turn I didn't see coming. Those kinds of surprises, ones that are fun for the writer, are usually fun for readers. And they're a good sign that my unconscious is working as hard as my conscious mind. It's like having a slightly demented collaborator throwing you Post-it notes scrawled with cryptic runes and sentence fragments that you can somehow magically understand.
Here's an example of a surprise. Since the books hop back and forth between L.A. and Hell, I knew that Lucifer was going to appear throughout the series. But when God showed up in Aloha from Hell
, I was as surprised as anyone. I was writing a scene, and suddenly there he was. He wanted lines and jokes and a distinct point of view. The whole character package. So I went with it. Now God's identity and nature have become an important part of the series. And I never saw that coming.
I didn't know how I'd feel about writing a series when I started Sandman Slim. Now I love the process, and when this series ends, I hope to start another. I have a couple of ideas, neither of which I'll tell you about right now. You see, I know what's going to happen, but it's not time to tell the readers
Posted by Richard Kadrey,
July 23, 2009 5:11 PM
Without realizing it, I'd learned what school and the straight literary world had been hinting at my whole life, that the imagination was bad and childish. Imagination was something all right for Aesop, Mary Shelley, and foreigners, but not self-respecting 20th-century American adults....