In the following email interview, writer Richard Kadrey discusses his new novel Hollywood Dead (hardcover, Kindle), the latest in the Sandman Slim fantasy noir series he began nine years ago with the titular tome.
To begin, what is the Sandman Slim series about, what is Hollywood Dead about, and how does Hollywood Dead connect narratively and chronologically to the previous Sandman Slim novel, The Kill Society?
The Sandman Slim series is about James Stark, a man unjustly sent to Hell by a magician rival, and his return to Earth. In the first book [Sandman Slim], Stark is a bit sane, having just escaped from Hell after 11 years. His motives in the first book are pure revenge. However, and much to his dismay, he ends up saving the world from obliteration. The rest of the series is about Stark fighting various clandestine supernatural groups, a renegade government agent, and warring factions in Hell while reconnecting to his life in Los Angeles. Basically, it’s about a man who’d been driven mad becoming a human being again.
In The Kill Society, Stark is back in Hell after being murdered in L.A. The book is a long, savage road trip through Hell’s wastelands with a vicious gang looking for a lost weapon that will end the war in Heaven.
In the new book, Hollywood Dead, Stark has been brought back to life by a dangerous group known as Wormwood Investments. The book starts about five minutes after The Kill Society ends, when Stark finds himself back home in L.A. and alive. However, having been in Hell for another year, the world has changed and he has to start over again, reconnecting to the people he cares about, while trying not to be killed again, or sucked into Wormwood’s plot for world domination.
It sounds like Hollywood Dead — and indeed the entire Sandman Slim series — is a mix of horror and dark comedy. Is that how you see it?
Sandman Slim isn’t horror. I’ve written horror, so I know what it feels and smells like, and Sandman Slim isn’t it. However, the series has a lot of violence and horrific elements, as well as dark humor.
Call it fantasy noir.
Are there any writers or specific stories that had a big influence on Hollywood Dead but not on any of the other Sandman Slim novels?
Not really. With Hollywood Dead, I wanted to take Stark to places, physically and emotionally, that he’s never been before. The book is full of action, magic, and bullets, but what Stark finds out is that when your friends have moved onto new lives without it can hurt just as much as getting shot.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or video games; any of them have a big impact on Hollywood Dead?
The series influenced by everything from Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns to Hong Kong action movies, old school Hammer horror, as well as ’70s American action movies.
Hollywood Deadis the tenth novel in the Sandman Slimseries; eleventh if you count the novella, Devil In The Dollhouse: A Sandman Slim Story [which is available as an eBook or in the hardcover version of The Kill Society]. Is it safe to assume Hollywood Dead is not a good place to start reading this series?
There is a lot of complex and subtle character development in Hollywood Dead. If you don’t want to go back to the beginning of the series, I’d recommend starting with the seventh book, Killing Pretty. It begins the second big story arc of the series, so it’s a kind of reboot. I think new readers could figure out the situation and characters beginning there.
Now, John Wick and John Wick: Chapter 2 director Chad Stahelski is making a Sandman Slim movie after he finishes the upcoming John Wick 3: Parabellum. If it was up to you, who would you pick to play the main characters?
I don’t ever talk about that. I’ve been careful not to describe most of the main characters too much — especially Stark — because I want readers to be able to create their own characters in their heads. That said, Chad has a lot of interesting casting ideas for the movie.
Finally, if someone enjoys Hollywood Dead, and they’ve read the rest of the Sandman Slim stories, what similar book of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
If you like Sandman Slim, you might try Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt series or Stephen Blackmoore’s work. I’d also recommend reading some American crime novels by authors like Megan Abbott, Jim Thompson, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, and Richard Stark, whose last name I stole for Sandman Slim; his books were a big influence on me in my twenties.