Writing Journeys – Michael R. Fletcher
Recently, Michael R. Fletcher lit up the fantasy enclaves of the internet with The Mirror’s Truth. Apparently, it’s pretty good. Phrases like ‘best thing I’ve read’ and ‘masterpiece’ have been brandished by reviewers and fellow authors alike. Michael’s journey in his writing is also a bit of a story in itself, and not the yellow-brick-road to authordom many of us would dream about. Despite the hardships, he’s kept at it, showing persistence really is a large part of all of this.
If I have one weakness (oh if ‘twere only one!) it would be that.
I went to university to study philosophy and left after a year to ‘find myself’ which, for reasons I’ve never been clear on, involved being very drunk in Australia for six months. I returned to Canada, took out a small business loan, and launched a gaming company called Alternate Realities with plans to publish a roleplaying game. I spent a year writing the game, drank most of the loan, and then never published it. While writing campaign material for the game, I wrote several short stories as mood pieces that were going to be included. When I realized how much I enjoyed writing them, I decided I’d write a book. It had a drunken elf who was a thief, and some wizardy guy I can’t remember. I didn’t finish it. Next I started a book called Gods’ Game where the gods picked teams of heroes to represent them and the teams all hunted and fought each other and whoever survived won some kind of prize. Didn’t finish it. Next I started a book about a demonologist with a stone heart. After being defeated by the forces of good, he is forced to wander the world collecting the pieces of his shattered heart, with memories and powers returning with each piece found. I never finished that either. Somewhere in there I wrote a half dozen short stories I never submitted or did anything with.
Eventually, I realized it was time to grow up and get a job and so I moved to Toronto to be a rock star. I went to college for Audio-Engineering, dropped out before finishing, and then spent the next seventeen years playing guitar in a metal band and doing sound in shitty clubs for other bands.
Somewhere in there I met my wife. I think she dated me because she thought I was a rock and roll bad boy and then kept me because I wasn’t. In 2008, while she planned our wedding, I decided I was going to write a gawdamn book. I don’t know why it was different this time. It was like I snapped. I knew I was going to finish the book. It took about two years to write 88 and then several more years to find a home for it. So much rejection. Eventually 88 was published by a Canadian micropress and then ignored by the world. I think I made maybe $200.
But I was hooked.
I’d learned a lot during the editing process and wanted to write something new. Having finished one book, I now knew I could finish more. In comparison, the second was easy.
Not ready to once again swim the ocean of rejection, I only sent the second novel to a half dozen agents. I figured I would stomach six rejections and then see if the folks who published 88 were interested. Just as I was about to abandon hope, Cameron McClure at the Donald Maas Literary Agency emailed me. She called my little baby “viscerally disgusting” and said my characters were “repulsive.” Then she offered to represent me.
Within two months we heard back from all the largest publishers and had offers from two. Titan offered a three book deal and a really decent advance for an unknown author. Harper Voyager offered a much larger advance, but only for one book. I gambled they’d be able to sell my book and that there’d be demand for more (they had right of first refusal on my next book) and went with HV.
Woo! I was in! I was going to be a famous writer!
Harper Voyager published Beyond Redemption in June of 2015. The book received rave reviews in the industry magazines (including a starred review in Publishers Weekly) and went on to land on over a dozen Best-of-2015 lists.
I quit my job, lived off the advance, and threw myself into writing more books. With all those amazing reviews, how could it not sell? I dreamed about what the advance would be like for the sequel to this amazing critical success. I wrote that sequel , The Mirror’s Truth, and then wrote Swarm and Steel, another stand-alone novel in the same world with all new characters.
Those were good days. I thought of myself as a writer. I told people that’s what my job was.
Oh hi, I’m Mike. I write science-fiction and fantasy novels. Yeah, you can buy my book anywhere in the world. It’s being translated into German, Polish, and Russian! Yeah, I’m basically George R. R. Martin but with one less R.
Smug bastard. Me, not George.
Then the bomb landed. Harper Voyager passed on the sequel saying sales of Beyond Redemption didn’t warrant investing in the series. They didn’t even look at Swarm and Steel. Zero interest. I was in shock. Luckily I am really good at dealing with adversity. I got really drunk and stayed that way for a month.
Eventually wallowing in self-pity got boring and whiskey costs money and I didn’t have any. I went from thinking I’d be getting two advances that would keep me afloat for another year to looking around my house for stuff to sell so I could make my next mortgage payment. And then I learned another harsh lesson: It turns out publishers aren’t interested in buying the sequel to a book held by another publisher.
The Mirror’s Truth was doomed.
Swarm and Steel, being a stand-alone, had better luck. S&S quickly found a home with Talos Press, an imprint of Skyhorse/Night Shade Books. But a smaller publisher means a smaller advance. It bought me a couple of months, but I needed to find a job.
Cue Montage Music! Dude looks at employment sites, sees a demand for forklift drivers, races out and gets licensed, and within a month has a job in shipping/receiving at a warehouse. /End Montage.
Once I had the job thing sorted I returned my attention to The Mirror’s Truth. I was fairly sure I had a decent book and it seemed like a shame to do nothing with it. I’d heard enough about the hybrid author phenomenon to know it was possible. Funded by my new-found employment, I hired an artist, a typographer, and an editor. I self-published TMT in early December of 2016. Though late in the year, it still managed to sneak onto a few Best-of-2016 lists and broke even before the end of the month.
It’s been a couple years of ups and downs, but I’m still here, still writing. These days I get up at 5am every day to sneak a couple hours of writing in before I go to work. And I’ve started hand-writing another novel during my breaks and lunch time at work. It’s an exciting experiment. Holy hells is my handwriting messy.
Recently I had the rights to 88 reverted to me. I’ve edited it and retooled it as YA science-fiction. John Anthony Di Giovanni, who did the art for TMT, is working on a new cover. It’s all ninja cowboy robots, fast-paced and violent. With any luck I’ll self-publish it some time in February of 2017. It might be called Ablation Cascade now. I haven’t decided yet.
The thing is, it all started when I finished that first book. That’s it. Wanna be a writer? Starting books doesn’t make you a writer. Reading and talking about books doesn’t make you a writer either. You gotta finish what you start. And for all my many faults, I am a stubborn bastard.
Come back tomorrow to hear from Benedict Patrick, author of the creepy fairy tale novel They Mostly Come out At Night.
fantasy authors, michael r fletcher, writing journeys