It’s a huge honour to interview one of the most well-known dark fantasy authors ANYWHERE, award-winning writer Michael R. Fletcher!
Michael’s currently published works are numerous, and thus need to be noted in terms of series, as opposed to individual books. These works include: The Manifest Delusions Books, The City of Sacrifice Series, The Obsidian Path, Ghosts of Tomorrow, Swarm and Steel, Fire and Flesh, The Millennial Manifesto, A Tithe of Bone, and a plethora of short stories, including those as part of anthologies with other authors, and also co-authored books such as Norylska Groans (with Clayton Snyder).
P.L.: Such a privilege to be able to interview you, Michael! Welcome to Six Elementals Interviews!
Michael: Thanks for having me! I do love being had.
You are widely acknowledged as one of the top grimdark authors and one of the most “grimdark”, as noted in the now infamous post by another famous grimdark author, Mark Lawrence, according to a poll that Mark conducted.
Grimdark. We’re nailing it down! Blog Post
What do you think about the whole grimdark topic? Do you consider yourself a grimdark author? Does attempting to define the sub-genre matter? Why do so many people seem so intrigued about the subject?
Michael: Grimdark is something I stumbled into. I started writing Beyond Redemption back in 2009 and thought of it as dark fantasy. The first time I heard the term was in 2013 when my agent at the time said, “The grimdark crowd are going to love this.” I had to google it because I hadn’t a clue what she was talking about.
When writing, I don’t give much thought to genre. For me, it’s all about the characters and the story. In the end, the genre (or sub-genre) really isn’t up to the writer. I can think Oh, I’m writing a dark fantasy all I want, but if the readers call it grimdark that’s what it is. Labels can be useful in helping you finding the things you enjoy, but they can also stop folks from trying new things. All too often I see comments like, “I’m not going to pick up book X because I don’t like grimdark.”
The thing is, if you look at the books getting labelled as grimdark, there’s a huge spread in tone. Joe Abercrombie is not Anna Smith Spark is not Mark Lawrence is not M. L. Spencer is not Richard Nell is not Anna Stephens. Seems a shame to miss all these amazing authors because of a vague and largely misunderstood label.
Call it what you want, I still think of my stuff as dark fantasy. I don’t write for children. There are mature themes and situations, and sometimes life gets grim. And dark.
Crap. Fine, I write grimdark.
Michael: Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it. The path to Manifest Delusions is a convoluted one. I used to work as an audio-engineer doing live shows for bands and recording albums/CDs/whatever the hell kids call these things now. I was recording an album for a Toronto band called Dirty Penny in some dingy basement studio. One of the songs, Atahualpa (https://dirtypenny.bandcamp.com/track/atahualpa) was about the interaction between the Incan Emperor Atahualpa and the Spanish Conquistador, Francisco Pizarro.
The song framed the meeting in terms of clashing ideologies and belief systems. It sparked this idea of these Spaniards, deranged from months at sea, landing in the new world and doing war with the (relatively) sane locals. That birthed the concept of a reality shaped by faith and belief and became the first short story exploring the idea, Fire and Flesh, which is in A Collection of Obsessions.
After that, things kinda got out of control.
The idea took on a life of its own and steamrollered all other plans. In a world where belief shaped reality, the insane became powerful “magic-users.” Faith became a weapon, wielded by the sociopaths in control. Looking at the real world, seeing the filth and corruption rampant in politics, religion, law-enforcement, and pretty much any position of power, there was no way the story wouldn’t get dark.
And grim. Gawdamnit!
Michael: Yikes! If I gotta pick one of my babies as a favourite, it has to be Black Stone Heart. It was the first story I ever tried to tell, way back in the 90s. I still have that early attempt, though none of it made it into the final release. I wrote about 30,000 words and then realized that writing was hard work.
Promptly giving up, I focussed instead on my career as a rock star. You can probably guess how well that went.
The book is loosely based on a Stormbringer TTRPG campaign I ran off and on for about a decade. I love that the very first scene of the book is lifted directly from that campaign. Sufficed to say, we didn’t do your typical dungeon crawls.
P.L.: Another book by you that’s high on my TBR! Who are some of the authors who have influenced your writing?
Michael: I’m less aware of influences on my prose than influences on the kinds of stories I want to tell, and the way I want to tell them. Michael Moorcock’s Stormbringer books were massively influential on a young Fletch. Elric was my first real anti-hero and I fell in love. Simplistic stories of good guys versus bad guys, heroic quests by people with washboard abs and great hair, began to look childish. Life is more complex than that. Everyone has reasons for their choices, whether or not you agree with them.
Neil Stephenson’s Snow Crash showed me it was okay to write something that was both gratuitously cool and filled with interesting ideas. Previously, I’d thought more in terms of “this is a pulp book” and “this is an idea book.” I loved both, but there was something freeing about realizing you could have it all in one.
And Joseph Heller because Catch-22 forever changed me. An entertaining and insane story that also said something important. I guess this has always been my goal. I want folks to be entertained, but it’d be nice if my books stuck with them beyond the last page.
Michael: A quickie history: I started writing seriously—well, as seriously as I do anything—in 2008. I wrote some short stories I submitted to magazines and an SF novel called 88. Back then, many agents, publishers, and magazines wouldn’t accept emailed submissions. I spent a fortune on stamps, envelopes, SASEs, and paper submitting stories. I received hundreds of rejections and after three years managed to sell a couple of short stories. A much rewritten 88 sold to a Canadian micro-press in 2013, and Beyond Redemption sold to Harper Voyager maybe a year later.
Though self-publishing existed back then, I was unaware of it as an option. It wasn’t until Harper Voyager passed on the sequel to BR in 2015 that I began to pay attention. As I’d already written The Mirror’s Truth, I figured I might as well self-publish it. My expectations were nonexistent, but I also had nothing to lose.
TMT sold better than expected, though to be fair my expectations were incredibly low. It won a STABBY over at r/Fantasy and a few other awards and garnered for me some early (and much needed) attention.
It’s hard to comment on the changes in the self-publishing industry because I wasn’t there at the beginning. It was already flourishing and had its share of stars long before I knew what was going on. I can say that in recent years much of the stigma attached to self-pub books seems to have fallen away.
I think it’s an interesting time on both sides of the publishing world. In the coming years we’re going to see folks leap the proverbial fence in both directions. Writers who have built a solid fanbase being traditionally published are going to look at per book profits self-published authors are making and want to try that. Self-pubbed authors will rise to the notice of publishers and be lured over with advances (oh, to dream!), editing, cover art, and the promise of seeing your books in real stores.
P.L.: To what do you attribute your popularity as a writer? Why do you think so many readers love to read Michael R. Fletcher? What is it about your work that you think captivates your audience?
Stubbornness: I received over 100 rejections before I sold my first short story to Interzone in the UK. Since then, publishers have passed on everything I’ve written (including Black Stone Heart). And yet here I am, still chugging away. Oh, cool, just made the mistake of reading a review from someone who was disappointed with my book. Awesome. Slightly depressed now. But that’s just it: the pain will fade and I will return to the trenches.
SPFBO: The impact of Mark Lawrence’s Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog-Off can not be overstated. The community that’s grown up around the competition is amazing.
Those two are easy. Now, we’re into the hand-wavy I have no fucking idea stuff.
Originality: My goal is always to write something you haven’t seen a million times. Maybe it’s an old idea twisted into some new shape. Maybe it’s a funky magic system or strange world or telling a story from an unusual point of view.
In the end, I’m trying to write stories like the ones that first grabbed my attention as a child…but for adults. If I can capture even a little of that sense of awe and discovery, I’ve done my job.
P.L.: Michael, it has been an honour to speak to you for Six Elementals Interviews! Thank you so much!
Michael: My pleasure!
Buy An End to Sorrow here
Buy She Dreams in Blood here
Buy Black Stone Heart here
Buy Beyond Redemption here
Buy Mirror’s Truth here
Buy Norlyska Groans here
Buy Smoke and Stone here
Buy Ghosts of Tomorrow here
Buy Ash of Bones here
Buy A Tithe of Bone here
Buy A Collection of Obsessions here
Buy Swarm and Steel here