Today I am interviewing Michael R. Fletcher, author of the new fantasy novel, Swarm of Steel, a stand-alone story in the Manifest Delusions series.
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DJ: Hey Michael! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Michael R. Fletcher: Hi! Thanks for having me. I do love being had. I could tell you about myself but I’d likely lie.
Oh what the hell, let’s give it a go.
After a long career as a wandering door-to-door used grilled-cheese sandwich salesman I decided it was time for a change. I saw four life paths that really appealed to me: Race car driver, rock star, ninja, and writer. Since being a writer seemed like a lot of effort and unlikely to end in the fame, fortune, and worshipful adoration I crave, I decided to focus on being a rock star ninja. For a decade I toured the world with the goth metal band, Sex Without Souls. It really was a great cover for a ninja, what with the goth addiction to black clothing. Eventually, however, the adoration of bajillions of screaming fans grew hollow. I wanted more. Worship wasn’t enough, I needed mindless devotion. With that thought in mind I reevaluated my life-choices. The answer was clear. Only one career path offered the slavish devotion and staggering riches I desired: Science fiction and fantasy author.
DJ: What is Swarm of Steel about?
Michael : After the grit and filth of Beyond Redemption and The Mirror’s Truth, I wanted to write something different. I wanted to write a love story filled with puppies and hugs and the kind of romancey smoochie smoochiness that leaves a warm feeling deep in the cockles of your soul. A cockle, of course, being a small, edible, marine bivalve mollusk. Why you have these in your soul is beyond me. You should prolly see a doctor. Anyway, I totally failed. Instead I somehow ended up with a gritty filthy love story between a cannibal and a dead woman. I don’t understand what went wrong. Surely I am not the problem.
DJ: What were some of your influences for Swarm of Steel?
Michael : I exist in a vacuum of ignorance and wanton stupidity. If something had influence on me, I am blissfully unaware. I do listen to a lot of skull-crushing death metal when I write. That may have flavored things a little.
DJ: What is the Manifest Delusions series about and how does Swarm of Steel fit into the series?
Michael : The base idea for the Manifest Delusions books is that reality is responsive to the beliefs of humanity. While the sane masses define the world, the insane are capable of believing all manner of craziness so absolutely that they can twist reality all on their own. Sociopaths, kleptomaniacs, pyromaniacs, schizophrenics, and the like, these are the ‘wizards’ of my world.
Swarm and Steel is a study on how memory defines us, and how a desperate need for love and belonging can leave us ripe for manipulation. Or it’s the delusional ravings of a madman. Maybe both.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Michael : Hmn. No. I don’t wanna. This is why you read, to learn all this stuff. I don’t want to spoil the discovery. I will say this, the characters are all insane, all suffering from one or more delusions.
I don’t get this whole quirks and habits thing some writers do. To me, that kinda stuff make characters characters instead of people. Does that make sense? Folks aren’t quirks and habits, they’re bundles of insecurity and potential and live the results of their choices, good and bad. Braid tugging makes me want to throw books across the room.
DJ: What is the world and setting of Swarm of Steel like?
Michael : Swarm and Steel is set in the world of Manifest Delusions. So far the stories have all happened in a very small, claustrophobic slice of the world, but it’s much larger. It’s difficult to describe the place in terms of weather and geography because it’s a reality shaped by belief. If enough people believe in a god, that god is real. Convince the population its winter, and it will snow. Where people are happy and prosperous, the grass is green and the crops plentiful. Where they’ve been crushed beneath the thumb of a self-aggrandizing sociopath, the landscape is rocky and barren.
On a political level the world is best defined as a warring collection of city-states. Most are led by sociopaths (sound familiar?). And…uh…crap, I can’t remember what I was talking about. Who am I!? How’d I get in here? Are you going to eat that or….?
DJ: What first drew me to your writing was when I first heard about your magic system. It wasn’t like anything I’d even encountered before! Could you please tell readers what Manifest Delusions series magic is about?
Michael : Oops. I kinda rambled about it in the earlier questions.
It all started when I was thinking about what it would be like if reality was responsive to our beliefs. Even completely normal, so called sane people believe all manner of crazy stuff. Religion. Politics. Hedge funds. The Queen of England. Baltimore. Brantford. Like, who can take any of this insanity seriously?
At some point it occurred to me that in a world defined by belief, the insane would be like wizards, capable of changing reality with their madness. That led down some interesting paths. How would a sociopath manifest? How about a pyromaniac?
Once I started thinking about it in terms of a magic system, the pieces fell into place. The more insane one becomes, the more powerful they are, the more they can bend reality. But embracing one’s delusions isn’t healthy. The crazier they become, the less capable of making sane choices they are. Eventually they reach the Pinnacle, that moment when their delusions overpower them. Eisoptrophobics (someone terrified of their reflection) might get dragged into the mirror or be replaced by their reflection. Those with multiple personalities might be replaced by a Doppel. The pyromaniac will go out if a catastrophic blaze. The magic system came with a built in control.
DJ: Because of Beyond Redemption, your writing gained a style as dark fantasy and “grimdark”. Anytime I have a “grimdark” author, or novel, or fan on the genre on, I have to ask: What is your definition of “grimdark”?
Michael : When I look at grimdark books I see a tendency for authors not to flinch from the kind of topics and scenes that other genres might. Grimdark often gets called more realistic and that I can’t comment on. My own grip on reality is clearly not the strongest. But I think the themes tend to be more realistic. You’re unlikely to see cut and dried heroes and villains in grimdark. The protagonists are flawed. The villains are the heroes of their own story. Ideas like good and evil are juvenile. They’re tools for manipulating the populace. No one is going to go to war against a bunch of people who just want to raise their kids and enjoy a comfortable retirement. But call them evil and suddenly, shit yeah, we’re all on board with killing them.
DJ: Do you consider yourself to be a “grimdark” author?
Michael : I first heard of grimdark when my agent said, of Beyond Redemption, “The grimdark crowd are going to love this.” I went scampering off to google the term. I think of my books as dark fantasy mostly because that’s the terminology I grew up with. That said, it’s become clear to me that what the author thinks (about anything) is completely irrelevant.
Are my books grimdark? Oh fuck yes.
Am I trying to write grimdark books? Nope!
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Swarm of Steel?
Michael : I’m not a planner. I start with an idea, a few thoughts on the main characters, and maybe some themes in mind. Sometimes I kinda know how the book should end, but often it’s a mystery. I love the process. Usually about halfway through writing the first draft I have an ah ha! moment and I suddenly know what the book is about. I don’t mean what the plot is. My plots tend to be pretty simple: Woman decides the religion she created is evil and she must end it. Boom. Done. I mean what the book is about. Did putting it in italics help? No? Damn. I guess I’m talking about themes and motivations. There’s a moment when I suddenly understand what all the characters want and everything clicks in my head. That moment is a huge high. I’m a total junkie.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Michael : A common reaction seems to be: What the hell goes in inside that guy’s head?
DJ: Did you have a particular goal in writing Swarm of Steel? Is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Michael : I don’t do messages, I’m not interested in preaching. People who proselytize are assholes. While I do enjoy exploring themes and ideas, I prefer not discussing them. I’d rather readers draw their own conclusions. Why spoil that with my interpretation? It’s not about me.
DJ: Now that Swarm of Steel is released, what is next for you?
Michael : Write more books!
I’ve just handed City of Sacrifice in to my agent. It’s the first book in a new series. All new world, all new magic system.
I’ve got another book, Obsidian Heart, in the early stages of editing, and I’ve got The Corporate Terrorist half written.
After that, I’ll either write the last book for the Beyond Redemption/Mirror’s Truth series, or write a sequel to Ghosts of Tomorrow, or maybe write the sequel to City of Sacrifice. I dunno. Planning and me don’t get along.
And no, I don’t have a life.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Swarm of Steel and the Manifest Delusions series that we haven’t talked about yet?
Michael : These books were written on a strict diet of grilled cheese sandwiches and Jameson whiskey.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Michael : Thanks for having me! It’s really nice in here. If anything is missing, I didn’t take it!
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*** Swarm of Steel is published by Talos Press and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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To escape the hell she created, a woman must team up with a novice warrior and return to her homeland in this gritty epic fantasy where delusions are literally made real.
Zerfall awakens in an alley, wounded and unable to remember her past. Chased by an assassin out into the endless wastes of the desert, she is caught, disfigured, and left for dead. Her scabbard is empty, but the need for answers—and the pull of her sword—will draw her back to the city-states.
When Jateko, a naïve youth, accidentally kills a member of his own tribe, he finds himself outcast and pursued across the desert for his crimes. Crazed from dehydration, dying of thirst and hunger, he stumbles across Zerfall.
Hunted by assassins and bound by mutual need, both Zerfall and Jateko will confront the Täuschung, an ancient and deranged religion ruled by a broken fragment of Zerfall’s mind. Swarm, the Täuschung hell, seethes with imprisoned souls, but where gods—real or imagined—meddle in the affairs of man, the cost is high.
In Swarm and Steel, the power of belief can manifest and shape reality, and for political and religious leaders, faith becomes a powerful tool. But the insane are capable of twisting reality with their delusions as well, turning increasingly dangerous as their sanity crumbles. It is here that a long prophesied evil will be born, an endless hunger. The All Consuming will rise.
Michael R. Fletcher lives in the endless suburban sprawl north of Toronto. He dreams of trees and seeing the stars at night and being a ninja.
BEYOND REDEMPTION, a work of dark fantasy and rampant delusion, was published by HARPER Voyager and released June 16th, 2015.
THE MIRROR’S TRUTH, the sequel to BEYOND REDEMPTION, was published on December 3rd, 2016.
GHOSTS OF TOMORROW, a Young/New Adult science-fiction novel, was published on March 1st, 2017.
SWARM AND STEEL, epic dark fantasy, will be published by Talos Publishing (an imprint of Skyhorse/Nightshade Books) in August of 2017.
There is also a collection of short stories in the works, but no publication date has been set as of yet.