I grew up surrounded by imaginative literature. My mother read me the Brothers Grimm when I was young. Later, I found yellowed and crumbling pulp science-fiction novels in the local used bookstore. At 10 cents each, they were an easy choice for a kid on a tiny allowance. I loved horror and science-fiction movies. My mother worked with a committee that put on Shakespeare's plays in Prospect Park. Seeing a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of my best memories of being a kid in Brooklyn.
Looking back at my own writing, almost everything that wasn't journalism or a review was science fiction or fantasy.It never occurred to me to write touching and heartfelt social realist fiction because I was living it. Who wanted to read about my growing up broke and eating macaroni for days on end? Lying about other travel to other planets or underwater kingdoms was a lot more interesting.
I felt this same way up through my teens, but a funny thing happened when my stories started getting published. I began to lie about my work. Out in the adult working world, writing science fiction and fantasy felt frivolous at best and maybe even a little dimwitted. Science fiction, horror, and fantasy was kid stuff, and not something an adult should be thinking about, much less writing. 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.
I think my attitude began to change when I learned the Japanese word gomi, which means "trash." Maybe it was the latent punk teenybopper in me, but for some reason, I connected with the word and immediately embraced it. Junk was what made up most of our lives. Rock music. Action movies. Fast food. Even the cheap army surplus clothes my friends and I wore in our 20s because it was all we could afford. Gomi was where most of us lived, and I knew it was important.
High art might be respectable, but it was also intimidating. Rock and roll, comics, and fantasy movies never intimidated anyone. I knew that if I could slip a little truth about the world in between the aliens and demons in my stories, it would fly under the radar and hit more people than if I tried to be John Updike or Steinbeck. So, I became a carnival barker instead of an auteur.
I'm still a junk merchant. For over 10 years, my corporate name has been Gomi Boy Industries. I love trash. I am trash. And I'm proud of it.
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Richard Kadrey has published seven novels, including Sandman Slim, Kill the Dead, Aloha from Hell, Butcher Bird, and Metrophage, and more than 50 stories. He has been immortalized as an action figure, and his short story "Goodbye Houston Street, Goodbye" was nominated for a British Science Fiction Association award. A freelance writer and photographer, he lives in San Francisco.
Books mentioned in this post
Richard Kadrey is the author of Devil Said Bang (Sandman Slim Novels #4)