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Monday, July 5, 2021

Interview with Michael R. Fletcher & Clayton Snyder (interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Michael R. Fletcher Website

Official Clayton Snyder Website

Order Norylska Groans over HERE

Today we have the dual pleasure of welcoming Clayton Snyder and Michael R. Fletcher as part of the Norylska Groans blog tour organized by Storytellers On Tour. Be sure to checkout all the other spots highlighted below and grab a copy of this standalone story. I’ll be reviewing Norylska as part of my SPFBO lot in a few weeks. So be sure to check that out as the book is an excellent combination of low fantasy, crime & ultra-violent action.


Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic to you both. Thank for your time, can you tell us among the both of you who came up with the title of this book?  

Mike: I guess technically I did as we lifted the title from a line of text in Katyushka’s section. We’d been keeping a page of possible title ideas, and in the end, this was the one that best captured the feel. Hell, for shits and giggles, here’s the list. There are several cool titles that could have worked. I particularly liked The Way Men Do as it touched on some of what Kat faced in her struggles.

Gadyuka (viper)

Rise of the Gadyuka

Rise of the Viper

Iskusstvo Veneficum  (The Art of the Veneficum)
 Red Winter

Norylska Groans

Gulag Resurrection

Terrible Creature of Fear and Insecurity

The Way Men Do

Hollowed Ghosts

Into the Filth

A Viper Born
Victory from Defeat

The Kievan Way/Kievan Way

Q] Michael, this question is for you. I believe you had the original idea of writing a low fantasy/crime story within a Russian setting. How did the germ of this story take root?

Mike: I stole the idea from something that was itself stolen.

Waaaaay back in the mid-nineties I read George Alec Effinger’s insanely amazing MarĂ®d Audran series. It’s cyberpunk, and had neural plugs people could wear to tweak their personalities – make them braver, more outgoing, etc. I took that idea and went in a different direction, writing several short stories based around the idea of memory plugs. The basic premise was that any memory created while the plug was worn would be stored on that plug. When you removed the plug, it was gone. Pop the plug back in, and you once again had access to the memories stored there.

Skip ahead to 2020, and I started playing around with the idea of porting the memory and personality plugs into a fantasy setting. I sketched out the bones of the magic system (the veneficum) and did some early world-building with the idea the story would be set in something like Russia circa 1910.

Much as I loved the idea, at that point I was nipples-deep in writing She Dreams in Blood. Being impatient, I decided it might be cool to try and trick another author into writing half the book for me. Having just read Clayton’s Obsidian Psalm, I reached out with, “I have a really terrible idea...”

Never being one to allow wisdom or reason stand in the way, Clayton immediately agreed to the project.

Q] Following on from that, what made you want to write this as a collaboration and why did you seek out Clayton for this specific story?

Mike: Shit. I kinda answered that already. I will add that I was looking for an author with a very different voice from my own. Clayton, who writes DARK AS FUCK fantasy, seemed a good choice because I thought we might hit on some sensitive topics needing a deft touch with a mighty sledgehammer. Actually, as soon as he fleshed out his character—the war vet suffering PTSD—I knew I’d made the right choice.

Q] Clayton what was your initial thoughts when you first heard about this idea? Why did you decide to say yes to it? 

Clayton: My initial thought was frankly, Christ this is going to be hard. Add my typical anxiety level to but why me, and don’t fuck this up, you moron, I was excited but terrified. But Mike had already approached me, and I’d agreed, as mentioned, because I have no impulse control. But in all, I decided to say yes because I’d have to be an idiot to say no. Mike’s a genius, and him reaching out and pulling me along for the ride is the sort of thing that comes along once in almost no one’s lifetime. I’m glad I did. I learned a ton about storytelling and working with others, and we made a thing I’m really proud of.


Q] I really enjoyed the crime aspects infused within the story. It’s very rare within the fantasy genre to have such a fusion (Daniel Polansky, Peter McLean, HL Tinsley) remain the few outliers). Have either of you any fondness for this genre? If yes, which books and authors are your favourites?

Mike: You know, I never really gave the crime aspect much thought. For the vast majority of the novel, I was so focused on getting Katyushka’s personality and story-arc right, I couldn’t see the bigger picture at all. It wasn’t until we paused to plot out the ending that I began to understand the crime/mystery theme we’d woven in. I’m pretty sure it was much more intentional on Clayton’s part. I remember him shouting at me about noir detective novels and whatnot and not really having a clue what he was on about.

Clayton: Yeah, I set out to lay down Gen’s path in a noir vein. I wanted to write someone who wasn’t necessarily a hero, but was simply a product of the time, and then see how he reacted when thrust into a shitty situation. I’ve read everything from Chandler to Lehane and on, and felt it would really fit this post-war mid-industrial world we were building. As far as favorites, I’d say as mentioned – Chandler (The Big Sleep), Lehane (Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island, etc etc), Polansky (Low Town), and McClean (War for the Rose Throne).


Q] Clayton, the Dripping Bucket makes an appearance within this story. I believe Michael was one of the first proponents of this multi-universe spanning chain of pubs appearing in various books. Has it made an appearance in any of your solo works?

Mike: One of?!?!

Clayton: I believe it shows up in both River of Thieves and is referenced in Psalm as well. In addition, it’s popped up in various short stories over the years.

Q] The magic system is definitely a low-key one and the world settings are incredibly vivid. What sort of research did you both have to do to write a story within an early 19th/20th century framework of a secondary fantasy world? What were things which you focused upon and any fascinating things that you found amidst your research?

Clayton: I think most of my research was done in and around post-war Russia, though admittedly, that was mostly superficial. I dug more deeply into mafia structure. In addition, at the time, I was reading Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time, a book about the fall of the USSR. Of all the things I’d read I’d say that was the most fascinating. People held captive by Stalin’s terror, who, after it had passed and Glasnost had arrived, pined for those days again. A sort of political Stockholm Syndrome.

Mike: Don’t tell anyone, but this isn’t actually a secondary world fantasy at all. It’s actually an Alternate Historical Fantasy set around 1910. The Tsars rule Russia, The Turkish Empire (Altin Ordu) have conquered all Europe, North American is Comancheria, the Atzecs rule Central America, South America is controlled by the Tawantinsuyu, the Aztec Empire, and then off in the far get the idea. We did some silly world building that never got close to making it into the books. Wait. What was the question? Ah! There was a fair amount of research into the state of tech in Russia circa 1910. I also reached out to Sarah Chorn for a suggested reading list on related atrocities because, well, because Sarah.


Q] The Altin Ordu are very much hated within this world by most inhabitants of the lands of Keivan. However we don’t get much of a viewpoint within the Altin Ordu and everything we hear about them is pretty much rumours and legends. Who are the Altin Ordu truly and why are they hated so much by the Kievan people?

Clayton: The Altin Ordu are an aggressively expansionist Ottoman Empire. They’re ruled by a theocracy, and as such, adhere to the adage of convert or die. While Kievan might be a dark and grimy place, they value what freedom they have, and refuse to be subjugated in such a way where the Kievan leadership espouses reason and science over myth. Throw some toxic masculinity and rugged individualism in there, and the Altin are their diametric opposites.

Mike: For me they were really about being everything the Kievan are not. Where the Kieven are grey and dour, possessing a dry sense of humour, the Ordu are flamboyant and flashy and boisterous. We also did a bunch of world-building on how their national character was reflected in their approach to the veneficum’s art, which they refer to as stone sorcery. But that’s another story...

Q] Let’s talk about the main antagonist. We do not truly get a look into the reasoning behind their actions. Would either of you be able to offer an explanation about their reasoning and how come they came to possess so many meat puppets? Who are they originally?

Mike: This gets into hardcore spoiler territory. I’m not sure how much I can say without ruining the story. I will, however, cryptically say that we were very careful with the timing of who was where when. Low-key as the magic system is, it is rigorously defined. This is very much a “hard” magic system.


Q] Norylska Groans definitely stands alone but I hear that you folks are writing another story set within this world. Could you offer any details about that book and are there any plans more books within this world? 

Mike: We’re currently working on another story with Krystle Matar (Legacy of the Brightwash) taking on the third POV character. If you’ve read LotB, it’s immediately obvious why we wanted to work with her. It’s slow going because we all have other projects demanding our attention. Current working title is Harvester of Sorrow, and it’s (maybe) about a veneficum who has fucked up and lost the ability to have emotions of her own.

Clayton and I also have two or three other story ideas we may get to should this book turn out to sell well.


Q] You are including Krystle Matar as a third collaborator within your next book. What lead you both to induct a new voice? What is it about Krystle’s writing that made you both excited to have her join this world? 

Clayton: Her debut, Legacy of the Brightwash was simply put, brilliant, and her character work second to none. There really was no way we could pass up the opportunity to bring in a voice like that.

Mike: What he said.


Q] By this exponential writing method, does this mean that if a third book ever is written, that there will be four writers?

Clayton: *has logistics nightmares*

Mike: Oh fuck no.

Q] Please tell us about the books and authors who have captured your imagination and inspired you to become a wordsmith in your own right. Similarly, are there any current authors you would like to give a shout out to?

Clayton: I think my formative writing years were really influenced by King, Zelazny, Hobb, and Blackmoore. Outside of fantasy, probably H.G. Wells , Dickens, and a staggering number of poets. As far as other authors I really love for a variety of reasons: Smith Spark, Blackmoore, Fletcher, Matar, Larssen, Shel—it’s really a huge list, and we could be here forever. I’ve found a shitload of talent in indie authors, and there’s no way I have the page space for everyone who’s written a book that’s made me even a little envious.

Mike: I think Michael Moorcock’s Stormbringer books were probably what really hooked me. I want to write anti-heroes, and I want to see how far I can push the reader into nodding along with all the terrible things they do thinking, Yeah, I might do that in the same situation. 

And a huge tip-of-the-hat to Mick Farren, who had a knack for writing gratuitously cool stories with gratuitously cool characters. I still wanna write The Last Stand of the DNA Cowboys fanfic.

Q] Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?

Clayton: Thanks for reading so far. Be kind.

Mike: Be good to one another, and party on dudes.




Here’s all the previous spots in the blog tour:

JUNE 30thWhispers & Wonder 

JULY 1ST Out of This World SFF

JULY 2ND FanFiAddict

JULY 3RD Beneath A Thousand Skies

JULY 4TH @chapter.mjthomas

JULY 5TH @danthewandererboy & FBC

JULY 6TH – Queen’s Book Asylum



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