I am delighted to bring you another instalment of our ongoing interview series with writers from around the globe! This week Smash Dragons had the awesome opportunity to speak to Michael R. Fletcher, author of the upcoming dark fantasy Beyond Redemption, and the previously published cyberpunk novel 88. Michael was wonderful to chat to, and incredibly friendly and open with his responses. We chatted about different things, including writing, tattoos, and drinking! Read on.. and enjoy!
Michael, welcome to Smash Dragons!
Hi Matthew, thanks for having me. If there’s something missing when I leave, it wasn’t me.
First up, tell me about yourself and your upcoming novel Beyond Redemption.
I work in the black market brain trade. We raise kids in crèches and harvest them for their brains which are later used as biological computers. Wait. No, that was something else. I think I might be a door-to-door peanut butter sandwich salesman. Or maybe I’m a self-unemployed writer.
The underlying premise for Beyond Redemption is that reality is responsive to the beliefs of humanity. The sane masses are capable of altering reality if enough of them believe the same thing, but the insane are capable of believing something so utterly they can twist reality on their own. The fun part is then trying to figure out how various psychoses will manifest. What happens to the kleptomaniac, the pyromaniac, the poor bastard suffering Cotard’s Syndrome?
Why did you start writing? What spurred you to write this particular story?
Since the mid 1990s I have made several attempts at writing novels but never finished them. I couldn’t convince myself anyone would want to read them and I let doubt and insecurity stop me from chasing my dreams.
In 2008 I told my wife I was going to write a novel just so I’d have a hobby, but I was totally lying. Don’t tell her, okay? Even then I was dreaming of making a living as a writer. I had this strange delusion that writing SF/F was my escape from being an audio engineer, which I had been for seventeen years. You can only mix so many shitty bands before painting the walls with your brain seems like a pretty good idea.
This particular story was born of a few themes I wanted to explore, an idea about a responsive reality, and a desire twist them all together into something dark. The title, Beyond Redemption, came first. I had read a lot of fantasy where at the end of the book the main characters have learned something and come out of the entire experience either better people, or at least changed. I had to call bullshit on that. I wanted to write something where I introduced a cast of absolutely shitty human beings, and at the end of the novel they were still every bit as shitty. Funny thing is it didn’t quite work out that way; probably due to my inability to plan a novel.
Tell me more about the world in Beyond Redemption. How did you design it and where did you draw your inspiration from?
I wanted the world of Manifest Delusions to be small and claustrophobic and I wanted to stay away from the typical warring kingdoms trope. The idea of a mess of squabbling city-states really appealed. To me it better fit the underlying reality. If you assume that basically every political/religious/economic power is helmed by a single sociopath, Beyond Redemption makes a lot of sense. Actually, our world makes a lot of sense under that assumption too.
What challenges did you face whilst writing Beyond Redemption?
All the usual challenges faced by any new writer. I was working a full time job and my daughter had just been born. It took the best part of two years to finish the first draft. Sometimes I went months without looking at it. Throw onto that the usual insecurities and doubts and you probably have a pretty accurate picture.
Tell me about the Geisteskranken and their role within this world. Who are they, and what power do they wield?
Geisteskranken are the insane, those capable of manifesting their delusions as reality. What they’re capable of depends on their delusions. Pyromaniacs manifest differently than someone suffering from a depersonalization disorder. Yeah, a fair amount of psychiatric research went into this novel.
Where this gets interesting is when you realize that embracing one’s delusions is not healthy. As Geisteskranken become increasingly unstable, they also become increasingly powerful. The more powerful they become, the less capable they are of making sane choices. Eventually all fall to their delusions.
What are some of the examples of Geisteskranken that exist in Beyond Redemption? Did you have a particular favourite that you loved to write about?
If there is a clinical definition for any kind of madness, there is a related Geisteskranken. Beyond Redemption includes Hassebrands (Pyromaniacs), Gefahrgeist (sociopaths), Dysmorphics (Dysmorphic Syndrome), and many more.
My favourite character to write was a Gefahrgeist. He was charming and glib and utterly self-centred. In all cases it was extremely important that however mad each character was, they had to remain consistent to their delusions. Insane doesn’t mean stupid and it was a lot of fun writing intelligent but unstable characters.
Can we expect to see some weird and wonderful delusions come to life?
Oh fuck yes. I also saved a bunch for future books. Fingers crossed on there being future books. Let’s see if I have the power to manifest my own delusions.
Would I be correct in saying that Beyond Redemption is gritty and dark in nature and narrative?
It’s more of a fluffy Rom-Com. Actually, before agreeing to represent me my agent said it was one of the most viscerally disgusting books she’d ever read. While that definitely wasn’t my goal, I’ll take it.
Who are the main protagonists and antagonists of Beyond Redemption? Can you tell us a little bit about them?
I don’t really do good-guys and bad-guys. There’s just a bunch of crazy people trying to do their best in an insane world and doing it badly.
Without going into a lot of detail and spoiling things, on one side there’s a Gefahrgeist who thinks he’s the Greatest Swordsman in the World, a murderous Kleptic, and an old man who clings to his iron sanity with manic desperation. On the other side we have a powerful comorbidic who is both Gefahrgeist and Doppelgangist, and plagued by individual aspects of his personality manifesting as distinct people.
You previously have worked as an audio engineer. How did this experience help mould you as a writer?
Musicians are all kinds of crazy.
Who are your literary influences? Why?
Michael Moorcock’s Stormbringer books were my first introduction to the antihero. His writing was such an influence I tattooed a symbol of chaos on my right arm.
David Gemmell’s Legend books were another huge influence though it’s probably not terribly evident in Beyond Redemption. Someday I will write something with an actual hero in it.
You've written a number of short stories that are available to read on your website. Can you tell me about the different challenges when writing a short story as opposed to a novel?
I think I approached short stories wrong and that this contributed to how difficult I found them. The only reason I wrote short stories was because I thought if I got a few sales, it would earn me some cred and help sell 88. I was totally wrong. Even after I sold half a dozen stories to reputable markets no one cared.
I haven’t written a short story since 88 sold to Five Rivers and have no real desire to write another. The novel is my playground, my preferred format.
Zombie apocalypse team, who would you pick and why?
I’ll take the cast from The Expendables movies. I think with them at my side I’d have a fighting chance.
You mentioned earlier that you were a fan of Moorcock and Gemmell. The inner nerd in me is curious, is there anyone in Beyond Redemption capable of taking on say, Elric?
Hmm. Damn tough question. I’d have to say it depended on where the battle took place. If they’re doing battle in the World on Manifest Delusions, both Gehirn (Hassebrand/pyromaniac) and Stehlen (Kleptic) are worthy of some fear. And if it’s a straight up sword fight, it’s difficult to get any better than Wichtig, the self-proclaimed Greatest Swordsman in the World.
Tell me a random fact about yourself.
As soon as the BR publishing deal was signed I decided I was going to try and make a go of this writing thing. I spent the last year writing two more Manifest Delusion novels, both of which I’m currently editing. To write two epic fantasy novels in a year you have to put in a lot of Ass-At-Desk time. It’s really unhealthy. In the last week I’ve begun experimenting with a standing desk. I’m standing now, as I write this. It’s a little weird; I spend a lot of time thinking about my ankles.
What is your best writing habit? Worst?
Best: I am capable of sitting still and writing for long periods of time. The first draft of my most recent book (120,000 words) was written in ten weeks.
Worst: I over-focus. The rest of the world goes away. I’ve learned to strive for balance. I’ve realized that as much as I love writing, I love my wife and daughter more.
Take me through a day of writing with Michael R. Fletcher. Where do you write? Are you an architect (planner) or a gardener (plant a seed and go with the flow) when writing? Do you seek solace in the bottom of a whiskey bottle day in and day out when writing?
An important part of writing is reading. I’m up an hour before my daughter every day so I can read whatever SF/F novel I’m into. I just scored an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) of Anthony Ryan’s Queen of Fire. Great book.
Once I’ve dropped the Centre of the Universe off at school I either go for a run or plant my ass at my desk. On writing days (which are Monday through Friday) my goal is 2,500 words and I rarely fall short. When I’m editing I’m a little less structured and will just stay at my desk until my brain caves in.
We have a three bedroom house and I’ve converted one into my office. Back when 88 sold I bought myself a monstrous hand-made oak desk and I do all my work there. There are a pair of Tannoy studio speakers on top and a sub-woofer under the desk. I write to skull-crushing death metal but edit in total silence. I dropped a quick and shitty quality picture in so you can see what it looks like at this very moment. The stack of boxes with the laptop is my makeshift standing desk.
Planning novels is anathema to me. I like to start with the background built, the characters defined, a simple story idea, and a theme or two I want to explore. I pretty much throw my characters into the plot and then try and stay out of the way.
Ooh, getting personal. Okay. I’m actually a pretty happy, positive person.
So…solace in a bottle? No.
Do I drink alcohol every day? Yes.
My wife and I will have a beer every day when she gets home from work and talk about our day. Later, after our daughter had gone to bed, we’ll usually have two or three more drinks.
I will say I have a dangerous love affair with Jameson’s Irish whiskey.
The cover art (see above) for Beyond Redemption is stunning. Can you tell me about the artist and what they are depicting in it?
Richard Anderson did the cover and he did an amazing job of capturing the essence of the novel. You can find more of his work over at flaptrapsart. The list of projects he’s been involved with is insane.
The cover depicts the very first scene in the novel:
“The consequences of their last job chased them west. One ever-shrinking step ahead of justice, they arrived at yet another decaying city-state.”
Complete the following sentences –
My arch nemesis is… MYSELF! I am my own worst enemy and we are in constant battle. Though we shall war until the end of the world, I shall never surrender.
My weapon of choice for gladiatorial combat would be…a geosynchronous orbital death laser. I’m taking out my opponent, whoever put me in the pit, and anybody who opens their eyes at me.
My favourite book is…different today than it was yesterday.
If I were a Geisteskranken I would be…a writer. Or maybe a Getrennt. Or both.
Beyond Redemption is not your first novel. Can you tell us a little bit about your first?
My first book was 88, a little bit of violent cyberpunk. It’s about an autistic girl who is raised in a crèche and harvested so her brain might be used as a biological computer. 88 was published by Five Rivers, a Canadian micropress, and really ought to be made into a movie.
It took several years to write and even longer to find a publisher for it. Then, when I did, they had me rewrite almost the entire novel. It was a fantastic learning experience.
What is your take on the state of speculative fiction at the moment? Do you think we are in a golden period in terms of accessibility and diverseness?
Seeing as I am now part of it, it must be awesome. In all (or at least slightly more) seriousness, there are a lot of great new writers. Mark Lawrence, Anthony Ryan, and Daniel Polansky stand out.
It will be interesting to see what comes of this self-publishing phenomena. Right now I find there’s an awful lot of shit out there—I can’t even get past the plot synopsis of most self-pubbed novels as they’re so badly written—but it’s early days.
What are you working on right now?
In the last year I wrote two more Manifest Delusion novels. The All Consuming I just sent off to my agent. She’ll give it a read and get back to me with her comments and suggestions and I’ll make whatever changes are needed. TAC involves a whole new cast of characters and delusions. The other novel, When Far-Gone Dead Return (a working title which might get dropped for something less clunky) I’m currently editing. WFGDR is a sequel to Beyond Redemption and takes place a few days after that novel ends.
I also have ideas for an SF series and some more stories in the Manifest Delusions world.
Standard cliché question… best tip for aspiring writers?
To be a novelist, the one thing you must do is write novels. Until you’ve finished your first novel everything else (blogging, tweeting, talking about your novel) is just a waste of time.
Stop fucking around.
And finally, will you be attending any events or conventions this year? (I desperately want to chase down a signed copy of this book! Hehe)
Right now there’s nothing planned, but if Beyond Redemption does well I suspect HARPER Voyager might want me to make some appearances. I’m definitely willing. Tell you what, if HARPER Voyager buy my next book, I’ll mail you signed copies of both. Until then I gotta save my pennies for Irish whiskey.
And finally, this Chaos tattoo. Can we see it? (I've got a fair few tats myself by the way!)
Sure, let me go find some pants. Wait, never mind. I’ll just get close enough to the mirror.
On the other arm I’ve got the logo from my old band, Sex Without Souls. That’s it for tats, though if this writing thing takes off I thought I might get a big BEYOND REDEMPTION tattooed on my forehead.
Uh…my wife says no.
Michael R. Fletcher, thank you for chatting to Smash Dragons!
Thanks for having me! It’s been fun!
Beyond Redemption will be available on June 16th (July for the United Kingdom) from all good bookshops and online retailers (see below)... and a heads up, it is one of the most interesting and exciting dark fantasies I've read in ages.
You can find Michael lurking on social media via his website and other platforms (links at his main site).
Pre-order now... trust me... you won't be disappointed!