Michael R. Fletcher used to be in a rock band. Now he writes fantasy novels, but that doesn’t mean that rock n’ roll still doesn’t shape his life. We chatted about his new book Beyond Redemption and how much his musical career has influenced his writing style at New York Comic Con 2015.
More about Beyond Redemption:
A darkly imaginative writer in the tradition of Joe Abercrombie, Peter V. Brett, and Neil Gaiman conjures a gritty mind-bending fantasy, set in a world where delusion becomes reality . . . and the fulfillment of humanity’s desires may well prove to be its undoing.
When belief defines reality, those with the strongest convictions—the crazy, the obsessive, the delusional—have the power to shape the world.
And someone is just mad enough to believe he can create a god . . .
Violent and dark, the world is filled with the Geistrekranken—men and women whose delusions manifest. Sustained by their own belief—and the beliefs of those around them—they can manipulate their surroundings. For the High Priest Konig, that means creating order out of the chaos in his city-state, leading his believers to focus on one thing: helping a young man, Morgen, ascend to become a god. A god they can control.
Trouble is, there are many who would see a god in their thrall, including the High Priest’s own doppelgangers, a Slaver no one can resist, and three slaves led by possibly the only sane man left.
As these forces converge on the boy, there’s one more obstacle: time is running out. Because as the delusions become more powerful, the also become harder to control. The fate of the Geistrekranken is to inevitably find oneself in the Afterdeath. The question, then, is:
Who will rule there?
You were a musician for a while, right?
Correct. I played guitar in a goth metal band called Sex Without Souls for about 15 years, and we had a massive following of about eight people on one street in Toronto.
What I was most curious in your book is that the Greatest Swordsman has kind of an ego. Is this a reflection of a specific kind of musician? The sword and guitar analogue was there for me. Is that a mistake on my part.
No, it’s actually one very specific person who is that character. Much of the Greatest Swordsman’s dialogue is verbatim quotes of stuff actually said to me by this one person who can remain nameless. It’s very much a musician thing. I mean, a lot of Beyond Redemption mirrors stuff that went on in the music industry.
There are a lot of ways that people describe dark fantasy. One way is “grimdark”. Would you describe the book as grimdark? Have you heard that term before?
Yeah, absolutely. I actually had not heard of grimdark until Beyond Redemption was being published. It wasn’t difficult to figure out, but Beyond Redemption is extremely grim and extremely dark. I think it fits quite neatly in that niche.
I sometimes see an analogue between grimdark and goth music, actually.
Definitely. Even though, personally, I’m a happy person, somehow everything that comes out of me is dark and grim.
That might be the reason you’re so happy.
Could be! I’ve got to balance it somehow—there must be balance in the universe!
What can you tell me about the plot of your book?
At heart, it’s a really, really stupidly simple story: It’s a kidnapping story. A theocrat, a head of a religion, has decided he can make gods and he’s got an experiment where he’s trying to do this. Since belief defines reality in these books, if he can convince enough people into believing into his god, then his god will actually be. Some reprobates get wind of this, kidnap the child who everyone is trying to turn into a god with the idea of selling him back to this religion and everything goes massively downhill from there.
It reminds me a little bit of… well, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the history of the Theosophists and J. Krishnamurti. Of course, there’s been other “chosen” children who were groomed for guru status. Were there any real-life examples that influenced your story?
Again, actually, strangely enough, this relates back to the music. When you have enough people telling you how awesome you are, and that you’re going to be amazing and that you’ve got all of this potential, especially in children, it’s hard for that not to go to someone’s head. This is a little child who has, from birth, told that he’s going to be a god when he grows up. He can’t possibly be sane: His entire reality is a mess from the beginning.
Like a child star.
Exactly, like a child star from TV.
How do other people deal with his ego? Is he insufferable to have around if you’re the kidnapper?
The child starts off very innocent, because he’s been so sheltered and protected. He’s not actually insufferable to begin with, but he spends time with these three thieves who have taken him and he starts learning from them by watching them because he’s a little kid. He starts learning how to lie, how to cheat, and eventually he learns how to kill. That’s where things go badly for everyone.
Is it just the chosen child who could become a god or could any child become a god in your world?
The potential is for anyone to become a god, but the trick is advertising: How are you going to convince enough people to believe that you’re a god if you don’t have something to back it up? In this case, you’ve got a theocrat who holds sway over a large population and is telling everyone for decades that a child will be born who will be a god. He’s shaped the population for years to achieve this.
So this element of consensual reality—the more that people believe something the truer it is—is this just with gods or are there other elements of this world that operate the same way?
This is very much consensual reality, and the angle that I took is that people can shape reality with their beliefs, but the crazy, the insane, the delusional, have the power to shape reality on their own. The crazier someone is the more powerful they are and the more they can twist reality on their own. Conversely, because I like playing with balance, a large crowd of sane people can counteract the beliefs of one crazy person.
When I heard about the theocrat, the gods, and how reality melds itself, I wondered if it could create magic, diving powers, or monsters. Are there things like that in this world, or are there just people battling people?
It’s just people being bad. There are no real gods. The backstory is that the gods were sickened with this reality they had created and left humanity to its devices. There are no real monsters, what you have are delusional monsters. All of your monsters can be traced back to a person somewhere. Werewolves—therianthropes are people who think that they’re werewolves. There are no monsters: just people.
I understand that in some cultures there are strong connections between mental illness and shamanism: that the shaman is touched and has a special connection to the gods. Did this idea play into this at all?
In the first book, that is backstory—it’s hinted at. In book two or there, that becomes much more front and center-stage. You have tribal shamans and local spirits: people trapped or connected with a small locality under a small force or something like that. It’s very much a part of the world.
Spoiler alert! There’s more books coming down the pipeline.
I certainly hope so. Fingers crossed!