Talking Delusions: An Interview with Michael R. Fletcher
Today I am thrilled to welcome back Michael R. Fletcher to The BiblioSanctum for a chat about his new novel The Mirror’s Truth, book two in the Manifest Delusions series which is out now on Amazon and Kindle. Be sure to check out my review of the book in case you missed how much I loved it! And if you happen to be a fan of grimdark who hasn’t read the first book Beyond Redemption yet, you need to run not walk to your nearest bookstore to join the insanity! Hope you enjoy our Q&A!
Hi Michael, thanks for the interview. It’s always great to have you join us!
Hi Mogsy! Thanks for having me! I like what you’ve done with the place. Those medieval torture devices are new, right? Um…they’re not for me, are they?
Dang it! I thought I told them to move all that stuff into the garage. Er, I mean, oops, let’s just pretend you didn’t see anything, shall we? By the way, congratulations on releasing The Mirror’s Truth! I have lots of questions to ask you about the series today, but first can you give prospective readers a description of what it’s about? Hopefully without scaring them too much! *grin*
Thanks! The base idea for the series is that belief defines reality. Nothing new there. The more you believe something, the more real it becomes. But add into the mix the insane, those who are capable of believing impossibilities with utter conviction. And then look at the sane folks around you and contemplate all the absolutely insane things they believe. Religion. Politics. Economics. Elvis is dead. Grilled cheese sandwiches aren’t health food. Your daily whiskey intake should be limited to three large glasses. Madness! If sane people can so easily be convinced to believe, what will this mean in a reality that is responsive to the beliefs of humanity? All of a sudden it becomes possible to make our own gods!
Did I just manage to totally not answer your question?
Ha, that’s a great teaser, actually! Do you remember how the first seeds for Manifest Delusions came to you? Looking back now that you’ve written several books set in this world, have those ideas evolved over time, or have there been any huge changes and surprises since their inception?
The very first seeds came from looking at the meeting between the Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro and Atahualpa, the Incan Emperor. I saw it as a clash of world-views. They both lived in realities defined by different belief systems and the group with the stronger beliefs won. I envisioned the Spanish as deranged from months being cooped up on a little ship crossing the ocean and I saw that madness as instrumental to the encounter. Most of this is in my head and not the history books, but that’s ok. My delusions define reality.
The idea grew. I began contemplating insanity in a world where reality was responsive to belief. How would various delusions manifest? How would a pyromaniac twist reality? What would a kleptomaniac be capable of? I did a fair amount of research into a number of less common delusions (Fregoli delusions, Cotard’s syndrome, etc.) and in each case imagined how reality might react to such a belief.
Lately I’ve been asking myself how those imbibing large quantities of hallucinogenics might alter realty. And what happens around people who are becoming senile or suffering from Alzheimer’s? Don’t visit Grandma, she thinks you’re her ex-husband from fifty years ago! Well, if she believes it strongly enough…
Many reviewers including myself have remarked upon the extreme “grimdarkness” of Beyond Redemption and The Mirror’s Truth. What is it about grimdark that appeals to you, and what do you hope Manifest Delusions will bring to the genre?
I didn’t actually set out to write a dark book, but once I had the world built I couldn’t see any other way for the story to go.
My goal with the Manifest Delusions novels is to pull no punches. I don’t write for shock value, that holds no interest for me. But if I think a scene should play out in a particularly brutal manner, I’m not going to flinch from it. I think grimdark readers are perhaps more okay with that than someone looking for epic fantasy where everyone is attractive and has great hair.
I didn’t set out to change the genre or bring something new to it. Truth be told, I never expected the first book to get published. But a couple of folks have said things like, “after reading Beyond Redemption I suddenly feel like you can write anything in fantasy.” And that’s pretty cool. Even if it wasn’t intentional. You know, almost nothing I do is intentional. I’ll pretend it is, but I stumble through life, a bear of very little brain.
That really is amazing, what folks have said. Even if you didn’t set out to do it, which I think makes it even cooler. With regards to your characters, they’re…well, insane. It’s part of the whole premise. What did you find was the greatest challenge when you were writing them? How did you put yourself into their heads?
I write by role-playing. Every time I write a Stehlen scene I become Stehlen. I see the world through her vicious yellow eyes, filter it through her terrible past, and take into account what she knows and what she thinks she knows. Half the fun is the juxtaposition of POVs. Different characters know different things and everyone must make their choices based on the information available to them. Not only that, but they must make choices true to who they are. Given exactly the same situation, Stehlen will act and react differently than Wichtig. Where he’d convince someone to buy everyone a round of drinks and be everyone’s best friend by the end, Stehlen would…well…probably just kill them all.
It was easy. Probably too easy. That’s bad, right? I’m one character. Click, I’m someone completely different. Click, I’m someone new. So easy. I understand them all. Each one is a fragment of me. The Stehlen fragment…shudder.
Ha! Well, that should make this next question fun. Okay, you have to spend a full day with one of your three main characters Bedeckt, Stehlen, or Wichtig. Who would you choose to hang out with, what activity would you guys do, and why?
Are you mad!? I’d run screaming. These people are dangerous!
Ok. If I had to, I’d probably spend the day drinking with Bedeckt. He’s the least likely to randomly kill me and he’s got so many great stories about his past. Also, I kinda love his grumpy old man philosophy.
Aw, not Stehlen? Heh, well…guess I can’t blame you. Anyway, you once mentioned in one of our conversations that you don’t really “plan” your books. Can you tell us a little more about that and your writing process?
Place crayons on desk.
Scream at crayons.
I’m still new to this writing thing and so my process changes for every book. For Beyond Redemption I did all my world building and had a few themes I wanted to explore and then threw myself into it. My plot was laughable: It’s a kidnapping! I didn’t know how it would end or who would survive.
I wrote Swarm and Steel next. I wanted to write something in the world of Manifest Delusions, but needed a break from the characters of Beyond Redemption. This time I knew the ending and had a few plot points I wanted to hit. My agent read the book, told me my ending was shit, and made a few suggestions. She’s awesome and pulls no punches. I ended up rewriting quite a bit of it whereas there was almost no rewriting with BR (though I did rewrite the ending). I’m still kinda stunned at how it turned out. Something clicked during the rewriting process and the story evolved somewhere unexpected.
With S&S out of the way I finally felt ready to return to the characters of BR. I wrote The Mirror’s Truth very differently. I didn’t have an ending in mind, but would plot out three chapters in advance. So…plan three chapters, write three chapters. Plan the next three chapters, write them. And so on. It made a world of difference. Where BR took me the best part of two years to write, the first draft of TMT (148,000 words) was finished in three months. That’s just shy of three Nanowrimos in a row. It helped that I was mostly self-unemployed at the time.
You went through quite a journey to bring The Mirror’s Truth into readers’ hands and I for one am grateful; I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when I learned you had decided to self-publish. Can you tell us a bit about the experience?
Beyond Redemption met fantastic critical success. The reviews were amazing and the book made over a dozen Best-Of-2015 lists. It never occurred to me that the publisher might pass on the sequel. Well, it turns out glowing reviews does not equal sales. The book was selling, but nowhere near the numbers Harper Voyager expected. They passed on The Mirror’s Truth without even looking at it. Overnight I went from thinking I might have a career as a fantasy novelist to thinking I’d better find a damned job.
My agent shopped the book around, but no publisher is interested in a sequel to a book held by another publisher.
I’d never given self-publishing much thought, but now I had this finished novel I really liked and no one interested in buying it. I had two choices, curl up and quit, or keep going. While I wallowed in self-pity, my agent sold Swarm and Steel to Talos (an imprint of Skyhorse/Night Shade Books). That gave me the kick in the ass I needed. I wasn’t finished. Sure, I might not have instant fame and fortune, but I’m a stubborn bastard.
Once I decided I was going to self-publish The Mirror’s Truth, an unbelievable number of people stepped forward and offered their help. It was truly humbling. The fantasy/grimdark community is amazing. It took longer than I expected (no more grumbling about how long it takes publishers to release a book) but it’s finally real!
My delusions have once again manifest!
And hooray for that! Are there any other projects you have in the works right now, or coming up soon, that you can share with readers?
I mentioned Swarm and Steel. It is slated for release in August of 2017. It’s the same world as BR and TMT, but with an entirely new cast of characters. For this one we venture into the Basamortuan Desert.
I’m currently working on a new dark fantasy series, but it’s too early to talk about in any detail. I can say I’m really liking how the world is coming together. So much potential for cutting social commentary.
Aaaaaaaand last week I turned in a nasty little science fiction novel to my agent. I’m waiting on her feedback.
Wishing you luck with all of that! Do you have other creative outlets besides writing? What hobbies do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I had hobbies. I gave them all up to write. I realized they were all distractions and any time spent playing guitar or First Person Shooters (I’m a junkie) was time I should spend writing. I might be a little driven.
I keep telling myself that I’ll get my hobbies back when my writing earns me a living.
Buy my books so I can shoot something!
It’s been great talking with you, Michael! To wrap things ups, tell us three things we might be surprised to learn about you!
Ok. Er…mostly I’m not surprising. Hmm. Trying to decide what people’s expectations of me might be.
1) I have no formal education. In anything. I misspent my youth drinking, experimenting with hallucinogenics, wandering the world, and eventually working in the music biz.
2) I don’t actually know anything about writing. I’ve never taken a single writing class or worked with a writing group. I’ve just read so much I kinda know how the words are supposed to be used.
3) I’m not a straight white male. Actually, I am none of those things. The guy in the pictures is my step-brother. He does any public appearances for me cuz he’s read my books and is occasionally funny. I figured I’d do better as a fantasy writer as a white guy instead of a brown lesbian.
4) I can’t count.
5) Am I at three yet?
6) Nothing I say can be trusted.
Thank you so much again for stopping by! Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
Thank you! It’s been a pleasure being random.
Here are some places you can find me:
Web site: http://michaelrfletcher.com/