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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Interview with Michael J. Fletcher (interviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)

Official Author Website
Order Smoke and Stone over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, tell us a little bit about yourself. Feel free to brag.

Bragging isn’t really my thing. I mean, sure, I’m totally fucking awesome, but everyone already knows that.

Let’s gloss over the past. Small towns. Goats. Chickens. University. Alcohol and hallucinogenics. Guitarist in a metal band. Audio-engineer. Hey, I wanna write a book. Write a dark and cynical fantasy and sell it to a Big-5 publisher. HUGE FLOP! Get told that no one wants dark and cynical fantasy anymore. Keep writing dark and cynical fantasy because that’s me and I’m a dumbass.

Sweet. That was less painful than expected.

When and why have you decided to become an author?

I always wanted to be an author, but it seemed like a lot of effort. One day, while my future-wife was planning our wedding, I realized I’d either have to help out or find some stupidly huge project that would keep me too busy to look at table arrangements. Boom! I wrote a book! Amazing what the right incentive will do for you.

After that, it was all downhill. I became addicted to reviews, to seeing people’s reactions to the mad stories I played out in my head. And oh my gods the money! Like, what am I supposed to do with all these phat stax? One man can only own so many Bugatti Veyrons before it becomes silly.

You’re a hybrid author at the moment. It seems self-publishing wasn’t your first choice but here we are. What do you like about being a hybrid? What’s cool about self-publishing and what’s not so cool about it?

Traditional publishing requires a great deal of patience and the strength of character not to fall prey to crushing depression while waiting on rejections. I have neither.

Even if you do manage to sell a novel, it won’t see print for another year to two years. The whole machine moves at a glacial pace.

Self-publishing is very different. You can have your insane crayon scribbles published and for sale a day after you complete them. I mean, you shouldn’t, but you can.

My favourite part of self-publishing is the control. I hire the artist and typographer. I choose the cover. I decide what editor to work with. I do the internal layout for the print version. I write the back-cover copy. If the book doesn’t look amazing, it’s all my fault.

The downside is that I also have to pay all those folks. It’s a hefty outlay of funds on what is, let’s face it, a terrible risk.

One of the big challenges with self-publishing is finding readers. Was that your experience? Or has your (relative) success in traditional publishing helped you to gain faithful readers who don’t care how you publish books as long as you do it?

Beyond Redemption (Harper Voyager, 2015) earned me a small but dedicated fan-base. Without those folks, I’d be an utter unknown. I am crap at promoting because it doesn’t interest me. I want to write books, not be a publicist/promoter.

Serious writing takes not only a story to tell, but the craft of writing to tell it well—can you comment on your journey as a writer?

I was lucky enough to find a truly brutal editor early on. She gutted my first book. I learned a lot. Some folks are born talented. The rest of us work hard at it. Keep writing. Keep trying to get better. Listen to your editor. Try to make different mistakes each time. Stop trying to write someone else’s book. Tell your story the way you think it should be told. Find your voice by not searching for your voice. Shut off your brain and sit the fuck down and write the fucking book. Don’t talk about it until AFTER it’s written.

Woops. Rant.

Tell us a little bit about your writing process. When and where do you write? Do you start with a character, an image, or an idea? Talk a little bit about how a novel “grows” for you.

I have a day job and a wife and an eight-year-old daughter and so I write wherever and whenever I can. I write in the morning before work. I write during breaks at work. I write at the dining room table. Sometimes I even get to write in my office, though that’s pretty rare. Pop in some earbuds, crank the death metal, and I’m good to go.

Each book has its own process, so in a way, I can’t answer that question; they’re all different. City of Sacrifice started with two ideas: bending reality with hallucinations, and a caste system based on the divides of the real world.

I tend not to do a tone of work defining characters beyond some basic physical characteristics and maybe a vague idea of what kind of person they are. They form as I write. Then, after the book is written and I know exactly who they are, I go back and fix everything so it looks like I planned it all. Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone.

Do you give yourself mini-deadlines (e.g. must have chapters x-y written by January 1st) or do you progress with an ultimate deadline in mind?

I used to do this, but have now decided that writing must be fun. I write when I feel like it. I take days or even weeks away. I don’t have a deadline and so there’s no stress. I’ll finish it when I finish it.

Once the book is written and edited, deadlines become a thing. For City of Sacrifice I’m releasing it November 1st to give everyone plenty of time. The artist is working on the cover. Reviewers have early review copies and months to get to it. But that deadline was chosen knowing I could release the book tomorrow if I wanted. Zero stress.

What was your initial inspiration for City of Sacrifice series?

Years ago I read Carlos Castaneda’s A Separate Reality (and a couple of the follow-up books). I loved the philosophy inherent in Don Jaun’s teachings, but I also loved the magical aspect, sorcery through narcotics. I always thought it would make a great magic system.

Please, tell our readers what do your characters have to overcome in Smoke and Stone? What challenges did you set before them?

Fuck no. Read the book.

What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?

The City of Sacrifice series is a trilogy. Book one was written in about three months. I knew the story and how I wanted the first book to end. The first draft had four POV characters. It was too many and diluted the story. I picked two characters and did a complete rewrite.

That’s pretty much par for the course for me.

The real challenge came when I started writing book two, Ash and Bone. I had nothing planned, no ending for the series. For the past couple of months, I’ve been planning the last two novels. This is a first, as I’ve always been a Pantser. Gotta say, I’m liking it. I know how book two ends, and have the conclusion for the entire series planned. Can’t wait to get there!

Smoke and Stone is an engaging and dark book with plenty of twisted reveals and cool ideas. Tell us about magic systems (both Crystal Magic and the one that uses hallucinogenic substances). Which one is more powerful? Which one would you rather master?

Why had one magic system when you can have two?!

Actually, I’m not going to answer this because the whole fun with magic systems is learning them as you read. Talking about them would ruin that.

Another thing that impressed me was the way religion and holy books (Book of Bastion and The Loa Book of The Invisibles) twist people’s minds and give them an excuse to commit atrocities. Not unlike in real life. Any comment or is it too political? 

Too political? The entire city of Bastion was planned out as political commentary.

The cool thing with writing a book is realizing you don’t matter. The book isn’t about what the writer thinks it’s about, it’s about what the reader gains. And so City of Sacrifice definitely comments on religion and politics, but what I think it says is irrelevant.

And now the question I’m afraid to ask and hear the answer to. The fact that we’re on different continents gives me at least some sense of safety. So, the main characters in any book are commonly considered a reflection of the author. Is this true in any of your books? If yes, should Canada start to evacuate?

Aspects of my personality find their way into a great many characters. No one character is me. I’m a little of Stehlen’s fear of relationships. I am some of Bedekt’s insistence that he is sane. I have Wichtig’s need to be the greatest. I cling to my tribe like Nuru clings to her friends, and I understand Efra’s selfishness.

I really like Efra and her grey morality leaning toward blackish. Would you consider giving us a glimpse of her thinking process?

Efra… She knows there is something wrong with her. She knows she is not like other people, that she can do things most would hesitate to even consider. But she’s not crazy, and she’s not stupid. She sees the advantages of working with people but also understands the inherent weakness on relying on others.

Morality is a weird invention. It’s something applied to our decisions and actions after the fact. I don’t write about morality or with morality in mind. The only thing that matters is that the characters are true to themselves. There is no black and white, good and evil. All people are shades of grey.

You’ve created an intriguing, quite complex world with unique creatures, beliefs, and magic. What challenges did you face not just in making it accessible, but in incorporating all the information that needed to be conveyed to make the story work?

What? I’m supposed to put thought into that stuff? Nah. I’d rather assume that the reader will be smart enough to figure things out. And if they can’t, it’s probably because I failed them as a writer. My one goal is to avoid info-dumps. Sprinkle the information the reader needs throughout the story. Feed it to ‘em slow. Tease them with hints.

Would you say that City of Sacrifice series follows tropes or kicks them?

Not a fucking clue. Is it wholly original and totally unlike anything anyone has ever read in the history of the world? Nope. And so I guess there’s some tropiness in there. Is it about a grumpy old axe-man, a thief, and a swaggering Swordsman? Nope. I think all this talk of tropes is a handy way for people to ignore or discount books without actually putting any real thought into them.

I have a story I want to tell, and then I tell that story. If someone sees tropes, cool.

What can we expect after Smoke and Stone? What’s your publishing Schedule for 2019/2020?

The dates are all approximate, and subject to change, but here goes…

November, 2019: Smoke and Stone (City of Sacrifice #1)
February, 2020: The Millennial Manifesto
June, 2020: Black Stone Heart (The Obsidian Path #1)
September, 2020: Ash and Bone (City of Sacrifice #2)
Early 2021: She Dreams in Blood (The Obsidian Path #2)

After that, it’s a little more up in the air. I’ll try and release at least one book a year until the two series are finished.

The City of Sacrifice series will be three books, as will The Obsidian Path.

Do you have any other authorial goals that you are striving towards that you want to talk about?

Have fun. Stay sane. Sell enough books to pay for the art and editing of the next book. Tell engaging stories that, if I get really lucky, resonate with a reader or two.

Can you name three books you adore as a reader, but that make you feel inadequate as a writer?

Stormbringer. Catch-22. Snowcrash. All for very different reasons. The first is literally genre-defining. The second is a brilliant and brutal social commentary. The ideas of the third opened my eyes to the possibilities of genre fiction.

Let’s settle this once and for all - will you ever give the pants back to Dyrk Ashton?

No. Not ever. They are mine. In a way, they always were. He was just wearing my pants that he bought for me but hadn’t yet thought to hand over.

Thank you so much for agreeing to this conversation, Michael! We greatly appreciate your time and thoughts.


Sam F said...

Really enjoyed the interview! Looking forward to reading this book.

Łukasz said...

We hope you'll enjoy it.

Mike E said...

Almost done with Collection of Obsessions, and will then dive into the Manifesto, pre-purchased whatever is on the horizon. Keep em coming Michael!


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