Last Updated on February 12, 2024
Richard Kadrey is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty novels, including the acclaimed Sandman Slim series which debuted in 2009. Kadrey has also published over fifty short stories and several nonfiction books, including From Myst to Riven: The Creations and Inspirations. Kadrey also writes comics, movies, and articles on technology and culture for several newspapers and magazines. Outside of his prolific writing career, Kadrey is a photographer and cofounder of the avant-garde musical project, A Demon in Fun City.
Kadrey’s latest novel, The Dead Take the A Train, is coauthored with Bram Stoker award-winning horror author, Cassandra Khaw. Issue #35 of Grimdark Magazine features interviews with both Kadrey and Khaw, as well as a review of their new novel. In our interview with Kadrey, we discuss the writing process and inspiration for The Dead Take the A Train, the Sandman Slim series, and Kadrey’s latest musical endeavors.
[GdM] Please tell us about your new collaboration with Cassandra Khaw, The Dead Take the A Train. What is it about?
[RK] It’s about Julie Crews, a supernatural operative who’s down on her luck and will do anything from demon hunting to exorcisms for quick cash. When her luck goes completely off the rails, she decides she finally needs to ask for help. So, she gets and old grimoire to summon a guardian angel—but things don’t turn out the way she wanted and soon, New York is awash in blood.
[GdM] What was the collaboration process like working with Cassandra? Did you split the chapters? Or was it completely collaborative from start to finish?
[RK] It was great. We alternated chapters at first, then went over each other’s work to smooth out the differences in our prose styles and, of course, to add new ideas. It was a messy, crazy way to work, but I think it came together in the end. Of course, we had a lot of help from our editors, Kelly Lonesome and Kristin Temple.
[GdM] The Dead Takes the A Train illuminates many corporate culture issues. How did this idea develop?
[RK] A lot of my previous books have been set in LA, which is a place of dreams and remaking yourself into a superstar. New York, to me, is the opposite of that. It’s a get to work, fuck you, get out of my way I have things to do town. And while LA is about dreams, New York is about money and power. That kind of energy draws dark magic to itself.
[GdM] Julie Crews is a total antihero. Her self-destruction and destruction of all those around her is a thing to behold. How did Julie come about?
[RK] Julie came from conversations early in the process. Julie always had a good heart, but can’t catch a break, so she self-medicates. I suppose, to be honest, that’s a bit of me from many years ago. But the Julie in the book has a better sense of humor about it. Plus, she’s stronger and smarter than I was, so she does something about her problems. And when things get really bad, she goes to her friends instead of just hiding out getting fucked up the way I did back then.
[GdM] What about the setting of The Dead Take the A Train drew you? It is as if the world rests on this base layer of filth and terror that normals don’t see.
[RK] I think people see the filth, the greed, and the terror. They just don’t know what to do about it, so they ignore it and hope it doesn’t get too up close and personal with them. Julie and her friends see it too but are more equipped to either fight the malevolent forces or find ways around them.
[RK] They would go to a bar, get drunk, and play old punk records on the jukebox until the bartender threw them out.
[GdM] What was it like writing the final Sandman book? Was it bittersweet?
[RK] Bittersweet is a good word for it. I wanted to give Stark a good ending, both for himself and the fans who’d stuck with him for so long. But, of course, I’m cheating too. Sandman Slim isn’t completely dead since I’m writing some stories set in that universe. Candy has a new solo story in my collection, The Secrets of Insects.
[GdM] Can you tell us about Seven Blood Stained Orchids? How did this solo project come about?
[RK] I was a musician for years, but was crippled by stage fright. One day, I couldn’t take it anymore, sold off all my gear, and ran away from music. Of course, I regretted it for a long time. Then, when we were in Covid lockdown a couple of years ago, I bought a little MIDI keyboard and Logic Pro software and started doing sound experiments. BC Smith—my partner in the band A Demon In Fun City—reached out to me on Facebook and gave me some good advice on how to get started back into music. I spent a year composing the pieces that became the Seven Blood-Stained Orchids album, The Devil in Amber. And while I was working on it, BC and I started collaborating on music, which was the birth of A Demon In Fun City. Our first album will be out in late June.
[GdM] Your new album is called The Devil in Amber. What is the title based on?
[RK] The title comes from an image in Guillermo del Toro’s movie, The Devil’s Backbone. In it, there’s a fetus stored in a jar of golden fluid. That image haunted me and I imagined the Devil caught in a similar jar, imprisoned forever in amber liquid.
[GdM] You wrote a novel in 1997, From Myst to Riven: The Creations and Inspirations. Myst is one of the first successful non-linear stories and implies nearly all of the story; very little is spelled out. The only reason to do that and why Myst could do that is because the worldbuilding is rock solid. What do you believe makes Myst so quintessentially “Myst-like?” Can a book author capture the same feeling as a game author? Or are they too different a media?
[RK] I think that books and games are very different animals. Each has its place in the world and they can influence each other, but I enjoy the fact that they’re different. I don’t want books to become more game-like, although if someone showed me an interesting way to it I’d be interested in trying.
[GdM] You have written and performed in many different formats. Do you approach all story creations the same? If not, how do you approach each different type of creative project?
[RK] All my stories begin the same way: I scrawl on yellow legal pads or start typing in a blank Word doc. At first, it’s like automatic writing. Just putting down words and images with no connection or purpose. If I do that long enough, I often find that patterns emerge and a story slowly begins to present itself. Of course, a lot of those experiments generate nothing but garbage, but I still like the messy process.
[GdM] Finally, if you were to pick favorites, which books would you choose for your favorite prose, worldbuilding, action, overall favorite, and why?
[RK] Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is probably my favorite book. It’s like an Elmore Leonard western but told by an angry Old Testament God.
I’m interested in the idea of gods and belief system and for that reason, I enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.
I love Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers both for its prose and its examination of an exhausted American culture during the Vietnam War.
Recently, I enjoyed CJ Leede’s wild debut novel, Maeve Fly. It’s a warped and bloody love letter to a fucked up LA as written by a serial killer who’s embraced all the city’s absurdities and excess.