(Wednesday, Oct. 6) You have to go back in time to understand author Richard Kadrey’s inspiration for his Sandman Slim series. Do names like Jim Thompson, Richard Stark, James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler ring a bell? Kadrey, who drew on some of America’s best noir mystery writers for his over-the-top urban fantasy cult hit “Sandman Slim,” candidly admits his infatuation and adulation.
“I wanted to acknowledge — in obvious ways — my inspiration,” he said. Sprinkled throughout his new book, “Kill the Dead,” are subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle salutes to crime writers.
“Take Richard Stark: When I started, I asked myself, could you apply what he was doing in a fantasy series?”
Kadrey seems to have accomplished this daunting task with verve.
His protagonist — James Stark, a.k.a. Sandman Slim — isn’t your average Sam Spade: He’s a hit man for Lucifer and an odd group called the Golden Vigil. Stark spent 11 years in Hell before escaping to his new hell — Los Angeles. In “Sandman Slim,” Kadrey has Stark hunt down and kill those who put him in hell.
In one of the opening scenes of “Kill the Dead” he’s chasing flamethrower-toting vampire, Eleanor Vance through the apocalyptic streets of L.A. She’s young and doesn’t follow the traditional vampire rules. Stark describes her kind as growing up on “Scarface” and Halloween.
Kadrey’s writing is salted with pop culture vibes and references like this. After Stark dispatches one vampire, he buys an “Evil Dead” t-shirt off a street huckster.
And when Eleanor’s weapon backfires, she is described as “a black beef-jerky Barbie doll.”
A hit man was never so much fun, but you have to take into account that this guy has literally been to Hell and back.
“Killing is a skill he learned in Hell, and he has a real talent for killing,” Kadrey said.
“It was the only thing that kept him alive.”
Kadrey returns to East Lansing for a reading at Schuler Books & Music in Eastwood Towne Center Tuesday. He once spent a week here at the legendary Clarion Science Fiction Writing Workshop.
In his stark way of laying out things, Kadrey described his workshop experience: “I actually learned less about writing and more about criticism and applying it to your whole life. You have to ask yourself, are you dealing with quality?”
Kadrey was one of those people who grew up hating fantasy — “it was so boring” — but a few years ago his views changed. He saw he could mix fairy tales and mythology with a heady brew of pulp fiction to create a new kind of urban fantasy.
Kadrey said the most difficult task in writing urban fantasy is trying to balance the darkness and humor. In “Kill the Dead,” he has the pleasure of adding Lucifer, who happens to be in Hollywood, filming a biopic of his own life. Stark is his bodyguard, a job description that doesn’t actually describe his talents. Did I forget to mention the co-star, a Czech porn star?
Kadrey also said he is careful in working out the mythology for his book.
“With vampires, there are 100 years of assumptions; you don’t have to explain vampires,” he said. As for zombies, he says that genre may be played out. “You know you are coming to an end of a genre when work becomes a parody of it.”
Kadrey believes he has created a different take on the undead.
“I love the idea of the undead, but I wanted to create my own mythology. I’m going to sit down and create an Excel database so I can know for sure (the details).
The author knows so much that sometimes he forgets to tell the audience.”
7 p.m. Tuesday. October 12 Schuler Books & Music 2820 Towne Center Blvd. Lansing (517) 316-7495