Currently, I am reading Beyond Redemption, a hard-hitting epic dark fantasy novel by Michael R. Fletcher. I wanted to do an interview with him to gain more of an understanding of what influenced his novel, and how he operates as an author.
The description for Beyond Redemption reads as follows (from the back cover):
Faith shapes the landscape, defines the laws of physics, and makes a mockery of truth. Common knowledge isn’t an axiom, it’s a force of nature. What the masses believe is. But insanity is a weapon, conviction a shield. Delusions give birth to foul new gods.
Violent and dark, the world is filled with the Geisteskranken–men and women whose delusions manifest, twisting reality. High Priest Konig seeks to create order from chaos. He defines the beliefs of his followers, leading their faith to one end: a young boy, Morgen, must Ascend to become a god. A god they can control.
But there are many who would see this would-be-god in their thrall, including the High Priest’s own Doppels, and a Slaver no one can resist. Three reprobates–The Greatest Swordsman in the World, a murderous Kleptic, and possibly the only sane man left–have their own nefarious plans for the young god.
As these forces converge on the boy, there’s one more obstacle: time is running out. When one’s delusions become more powerful, they become harder to control. The fate of the Geisteskranken is to inevitably find oneself in the Afterdeath. The question, then, is:
Who will rule there?
Brian Barr: Thank you for this interview. I want to start by asking what influenced you to write Beyond Redemption?
Micheal R. Fletcher: Thanks for having me! I do love being had. Though I do wish I’d known you were coming over. I would have put on pants. Okay. Probably not.
For just shy of two decades I worked as an Audio-Engineer doing live sound and recording bands. I did an album, Sage Against the Machine, for a local Toronto band called Dirty Penny. One of the songs was about the interaction between Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish Conquistador, and the Incan Emperor, Atahualpa. In the song the Spanish arrive completely mad from the long voyage. I saw the song as a look at how the confrontation was a clash of ideologies and world views rather than a battle of muskets and spears. I later wrote a short story, Fire and Flesh (which appears in the Arcane II Anthology), where I replaced the Spanish muskets with manifest madness. That was the beginning of the idea. After that I wrote another short story, At the Walls of Sinnlos (which appears in Grimdark Magazine #6) where I further fleshed out the base ideas (Pyromaniacs, Cotardists, Therianthropes, and more) and explored a few characters, some of whom later appeared—though much changed—in Beyond Redemption.
BB: Within the novel, you play with German words to describe certain beings, creations, places, etc. This is part of what gives your novel its own creative flair and identity. How much did you have to research for these words, and why did you want to play with German language for the novel?
MRF: The German has been a pain in my butt. I wrote Beyond Redemption thinking it would never get published and that a half dozen of my close friends were the only folks who would ever read it. I chose German because I liked the way it sounded and looked and because none of my friends speak German and I could hide little Easter eggs in the names.
There were a few problems with this. First, I don’t really plan what I write and so I picked the names based on who/what I thought the characters would be. Many of them turned out quite different than I’d expected and their names no longer fit so well. Second, some of the names really only made sense when you saw the character’s first and last names. But then, when I came to editing the book, I realized the last names were basically never going to make it into the text. So Bedeckt Imblut (Covered in Blood) became just Covered. Which makes little to no sense. And lastly, I don’t speak German. At all. I had no idea how badly I was butchering the translations until actual Germans read the book and got annoyed. Interestingly, Bastei Lübbe are publishing the book in German (Chroniken des Wahns – Blutwerk). A lot of work has gone into changing/fixing the names for that release. The editor has done an amazing job.
BB: Well, that’s still pretty brave and cool to creatively use aspects of a language, even if you do not speak it. You took words and made them your own.
There is also a lot of psychological play in the novel from what I’ve read so far, with powerful beings creating their own doppelgangers and ruling their own domains. What influenced this aspect of your novel?
MRF: Sanity has always been of great interest to me. When I combined that interest with the concept of a reality responsive to the beliefs of humanity I knew I had something different. I had a blast trying to figure out how different mental illnesses would manifest. It was a challenge to make them both useful and powerful, and yet limit them. I loved the idea that the more insane you became the more powerful you were. That was then balanced by the fact you were increasingly unable to make sane decisions. It’s a self-balancing system.
BB: Haha, pretty interesting. Also scary to think of living in a world where people would have such an ability! Who is your favorite character in Beyond Redemption?
MRF: I have two. I love the way Bedeckt desperately clings to his iron sanity in the face of a completely mad world. That sanity plays a huge part in the sequel. Wichtig is based on a sociopath I had a lot of interaction with while working with bands. Much of Wichtig’s dialogue on friendship is taken verbatim from conversations I had with this person.
BB: Scary and intriguing! What are the important themes in Beyond Redemption that you’d like readers to pay attention to?
MRF: I definitely write with themes in mind. I had the title of the book before I wrote the first word. I wanted a book where no one learned (valuable life lessons from their experiences within the novel), and no one came out the end as a better person. It’s possible I might have been in a bit of a dark place at the time. Beyond Redemption didn’t turn out quite as anticipated, but pretty damned close.
That said, I prefer readers find their own meaning. And if I start talking about this, it’ll turn into a rant about religion, politics, and economics, humanity’s three greatest delusions.
BB: On your Amazon Author page, I see you also have a novel called 88. Can you touch on what 88 is about, and if there are any ideas from this novel that you continue to touch on in Beyond Redemption?
MRF: 88 is a cyberpunk story about harvesting children for their brains. It started with the idea that we’d never achieve AI and that eventually our computing needs would out-pace the technology and we’d end up using human brains as computers. I realized children, without the preconceived notions of adults and their superior ability to learn, would make the best computers.
For giggles, here’s the back cover copy:
The dream of Artificial Intelligence is dead and the human mind is now the ultimate processing machine. Demand is high, but few are willing to sacrifice their lives to become computers. Black-market crèches, struggling to meet the ever-increasing demand, deal in the harvested brains of stolen children. But there is a digital snake in that fractally modelled garden; some brains make better computers than others.
88, a brilliant autistic girl, has been genetically engineered and raised from birth to serve one purpose: become a human computer. Plagued by memories of a mother she never knew and a desire for freedom she barely understands, she sets herself against those who would be her masters. Unfortunately for 88, the Cuntrera-Caruana Mafia clan have other plans for her.
Griffin Dickinson, a Special Investigator for the North American Trade Union, has been tasked with shutting down the black market crèches. Joined by Nadia, a state-sanctioned reporter and Abdul, the depressed ghost of a dead Marine inhabiting a combat chassis, Griffin is drawn deep into the shady underbelly of the brain trade. Every lead brings him one step closer to an age-old truth: corruption runs deep.
An army of dead children, brainwashed for loyalty and housed in state of the art military chassis, stand between Griffin and the answers he seeks. But one in particular, Archaeidae, a 14-year old Mafia assassin obsessed with Miyamoto Musashi, Sun Tzu, and Machiavelli, is truly worthy of fear. Archaeidae is the period at the end of a death sentence.
At the time I was playing a lot of Counter-Strike online and regularly getting my ass handed to me by kids with nothing better to do than master first-person-shooters. I realized they’d make amazing killing machines and so in the story the brains of these harvested children end up piloting military and assassin chassis. The book is fast-paced and quite violent.
There are aspects and themes appearing in both books, sanity and how we perceive and interact with reality being two.
BB: Reminds me of the documentary Drone on Netflix. Crazy how much reality can mirror fiction, especially with science fiction… 88 is described as Hard Military Science Fiction on Amazon and Beyond Redemption is listed as an Epic Dark Fantasy. So far, I can definitely see Beyond Redemption fitting into that category as I read it. The psychological aspects and story line make me think of Dune in particular. What genres do you like the most in speculative fiction: fantasy or science fiction?
MRF: 88 is described as Hard Military SF? I had no idea. I just call it cyberpunk. I did do a lot of research on cutting edge military tech (and greatly annoyed a friend who is a physicist) to try and make everything as believable as possible.
I probably have a slight leaning toward fantasy, but I love both. The next book I’m working on is epic fantasy. Less dark than Beyond Redemption, but still a good distance from light and fluffy.
I loved the Dune series and wouldn’t be surprised if it snuck in there as an unconscious influence.
BB: Do you write any horror or general fiction as well?
MRF: Not yet, though I do have a messed up story idea taking place in a gothic mental asylum bouncing around in me.
BB: If I remember quickly, I think I may have first became acquainted with you as a writer in the Facebook group, Grimdark Fiction Readers and Writers. Beyond Redemption definitely has the grimdark feel with ambiguously gray characters, or “badasses” instead of high moral knights in shining armor. Do you mostly focus on gritty characters and dark settings in your fiction, or do you also play with traditional definite good vs. evil type stories as well?
MRF: Ambiguously grey? Damn. I was going for outright black.
Good versus evil just seems juvenile. These things are myths, labels used to manipulate people into doing things they otherwise wouldn’t do. What government will say “Hey, why don’t you cross the ocean to wage war on a bunch of good folks who just want to get by and raise their kids in peace?”
Everyone is the good-guy in their story, even the protagonists. I wanted to capture that idea. In Beyond Redemption the bad-guy is a bad guy, but a good chunk of that is because he’s mentally unbalanced, plagued by delusions and the lack of a moral compass. People will do terrible things while trying to do the right thing.
BB: Who are your favorite authors and books? Any movies that influence you as a writer as well?
MRF: Favorite authors: Mark Lawrence, Michael Moorcock, Richard Morgan, Mick Farren, and I’ve recently added Django Wexler, Jeff Salyards, and Brian Staveley to that list. Any book by any of these writers is worth reading.
I’m not really influence by movies as they pretty much universally lack the subtlety and subtext of the written word. And most of them were either books first, or are obvious rip-offs of a book.
BB: Beyond Redemption was published by Harper Collins. That’s big and commendable. Can you give advice to writers about finding publishers and working as an author?
MRF: Yeah, that was kind of crazy. I certainly never saw it coming.
I’m not sure I’m qualified to give advice on finding a publisher. I landed an agent first (Cameron McClure at the Donald Maass Agency) and she really did all the work. Actually, that might be worth sharing. If you’re going to try and go the traditional publishing route, get an agent. Get a good one, and get one in New York. When I submitted 88 to publishers (without an agent) I was still receiving rejection letters two years after it was published. With an agent (for BR) I heard back from the ten biggest publishers (and had offers from two) within two months.
If you want to work as an author, find yourself an understanding partner. Preferably one with a really good job. And don’t write the sequel until there is demand for it. But I could be wrong about any and all of that.
BB: Once again, thank you for your time, Michael. Any last words for the interview?
I just signed a deal for the next Manifest Delusions novel, but I can’t officially announce anything quite yet so… I’m running out of whiskey and I’ve been wearing the same underwear for five years… Buy Beyond Redemption!
Michael R. Fletcher is a science fiction and fantasy author who lives with his wife and daughter in the endless soulless suburban sprawl north of Toronto, Canada. His hobbies include… uh… he doesn’t really have hobbies. He likes death metal, does that count?
Mike’s second novel, Beyond Redemption, a work of dark fantasy and rampant delusion, was released by Harper Voyager in June of 2015.
The next two Manifest Delusions novels, have been written and are currently in editing.
Mike is represented by Cameron McClure of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.