Luna here again with another author interview. This time the interview is with the author of Beyond Redemption & quite possibly the coolest dude alive.
So I’ve just finished your novel Beyond Redemption. I really love the way you write. It is so dark, I’ll be questioning my sanity for eternity now. What inspired you to write something so dark?
Thanks! So glad you liked it!
I wrote BR while working as an audio-engineer doing live sound for bands in dank and shitty rock clubs in Toronto. I’d been doing it for a long time, damned near twenty years, and it had long since lost its glow. I knew I wanted to get out of the music business, but I had no idea how. It’s not like I’d been accumulating marketable skills.
I also did a lot of studio work, recording albums for bands. I recorded a very strange album for a very strange Toronto band called Dirty Penny. One of the songs was about the interaction between the Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizarro, and Atahualpa, the Incan Emperor. Instead of looking at the conflict as one of muskets versus spears, the song spun it like a war of belief systems. That idea triggered something in me.
Months after we finished the album (Sage Against the Machine, it’s called, and it’s really quite good) the idea still stuck with me. It started with two cultures: One believes reality can be shaped by belief, the other believes reality is immutable. The Spanish, insane from the cruelties of travelling the world on rickety wood ships, arrive in the Incan Empire and run into Atahalupa. That idea became the short story, Fire and Flesh. This was the beginnings of the Manifest Delusions magic system and was me playing around with characters, world building, and story ideas. If anyone is interested, it’s available on Amazon.
After that story I wrote a couple more, still honing the Manifest Delusions system. One of those stories was so bad it remains trunked to this day. The other, At the Walls of Sinnlos was published by Grimdark Magazine.
I’m going to back up a bit. There are two things which shape my writing. First, I don’t plan. I start writing with a vague story in mind and some characters, and whatever happens happens. Second, I tend to write themes rather than plots. The themes for Beyond Redemption was driven by where I was at the time. After watching musicians do the same shit night after night, I’d convinced myself that people were too damned stupid to learn or change their minds on any subject for which they held any kind of belief, rational or otherwise. I saw people as their own worst enemies, failing over and over as they sabotaged their own efforts.
So writer in a dark place = dark book?
The funny thing is I was much happier (met an amazing woman, got married, left the music business, had a daughter who is the world to me) when I wrote The Mirror’s Truth and that book is way fucking darker!
How long did Beyond Redemption take you to write? It has a very complex plot. What made you decide to use madness as power?
Beyond Redemption took about two years to write. The very first novel I ever wrote, 88 (which I later rewrote/edited and re-released as Ghosts of Tomorrow), sold to a small Canadian publisher called Five Rivers. I started writing Beyond Redemption while trying to sell 88. I learned so much working with the Five Rivers editors, I ended up scrapping everything I’d written and starting again. I probably spent the best part of another year editing the book.
In a way, the plot to BR is stone simple. Bad people kidnap child, other bad people try to get child back. Boom, done. Where it gets complicated is the interaction between all the various characters. If I planned all of it, that would indeed be impressive.
But I didn’t. Wait. Maybe I should claim I did. Yes! Ok. I planned everything!
I write by role-playing (which sounds slightly less insane than becoming) every character. I look at the world through their eyes, make decisions based on what they know, filter it through their background, and then write whatever falls out. This means characters will sometimes do insane shit that appears not to make sense. But if you see it from their point of view, it will. Or it will if I did it right. One of the ideas that formed BR was the thought that insane doesn’t mean stupid. I wanted every character’s choices to make sense within the framework of their insanity and back story.
I guess what I’m saying is that the interaction of a whole pile of crazy people seems complex when taken as a whole, but the truth is it’s a lot of very simple decisions all coming together.
Whoops. I think I accidentally answered the last part of that up there in the first question. I can see the future! I knew it! You people seriously need to start paying attention. Bad shit is coming your way.
You kill off a lot of your characters. Do you feel any guilt while killing them?
Why would I feel guilty? I didn’t kill anyone! The characters did all the killing. I was just an innocent witness, a scribe trying to capture the madness as it happened and faithfully transcribe the story so it might be shared.
Can you imagine Stehlen feeling guilt? That would probably make her really angry. Scary thought.
Okay so are any of your characters based on real people? If so who?
Ok. Maybe. It’s possible Wichtig might be slightly based on the singer of a band I knew quite well. It’s possible he shaped my understanding of sociopaths. I can’t go into detail on the one-in-a-billion chance he reads this and comes after me for royalties. But much of Wichtig’s dialogue, and most of his speeches about friendship, are taken verbatim from conversations I had with this individual.
If you could create a playlist for Beyond Redemption what songs would be in it?
Funny you should ask. I’m an unrepentant metalhead. Beyond Redemption was written to a lot of Hypocrisy, Slayer, and Katie Perry. Ok. Maybe not the last one.
I have a lot of studio gear left over from my recording days and my office is the best sound-system in the house. I write to skull-crushing death metal. Apparently it shakes the dishes in the kitchen beneath me.
I am a crazy person, probably the number one reason I loved your book so much. Are you crazy?
I am the last sane man, the only stable, reasonable, logical, functioning human on the entire earth. You people are all just figments of my imagination, and as such are pretty messed up. Each of you represents something dark, twisted and mad, I’ve carved from my soul. Of course you’re crazy! Technically, I suppose, you could blame me for this.
You’d think this would make it a lonely world for me, but I’m pretty good company and absolutely the best drinking partner.
Sure. Maybe there is some slim evidence that I am able to shape reality with my delusions. I wanted to work in the music business and boom, there I was in the music business. I got tired of that and decided I wanted to be a novelist (in spite of having no education and never having written anything) and shortly thereafter I was a novelist with a world-wide publishing deal and translations to various languages. It’s also possible I just totally glossed over almost a decade of really hard work and mountains of rejection letters, but this is my reality gawdammit and I’ll tell it the way I like!
Also, one should never expect truth from a fiction writer. I do try to fit one true thing into each interview though, but I’ll never admit which bit it is.
Did you always aspire to be a writer? What was your job before writing?
See how I kinda answered this one in the question above? Truly my precog powers are growing.
I always wanted to be a writer but it seemed like a lot of work. I thought it was a stupid dream and I was a no-talent-ass-clown and so I didn’t try. I decided being a rock star would be easier and tried that instead. I failed at the rock star thing and wound up in the music biz. I did live sound for bands and studio recording for twenty years. People brag about how many concerts they’ve seen. I mixed over ten thousand bands in that time. Shoot me. I still can’t go to a concert. The thought of seeing a live band fills me with dread.
Anyway. At some point, while I was dating this absolutely stunning woman with flashing dark eyes, I decided to write a novel. I decided I’d finish it. I wrote the book, married the woman, and spent the next three years trying to get it published. That book flopped about in obscurity, but I was hooked, addicted, a junkie for writing. My second book, Beyond Redemption, sold to Harper Voyager.
You have published quite a few novels, which one was the most fun to write and which one was the most hard and challenging?
I have three novels currently published, Ghosts of Tomorrow (an edited and rewritten version of my first novel, 88), Beyond Redemption, and The Mirror’s Truth (sequel to BR). My fourth novel, Swarm and Steel, which I do believe you’re currently reading on the sneak, is being published by Skyhorse and is out August 22nd, 2017.
The Mirror’s Truth was definitely the most fun. All my previous novels took a year or more to write and spent a year or more in editing. I wrote TMT while living off the advance from BR and pretending to be a full-time novelist. I wrote the first draft in three months. The story fell out of me. It was effortless. I knew exactly the story I wanted to tell and how it had to end. What I didn’t know was how it was going to reach that ending. It was a lot of fun finding out, and I learned a lot about my characters along the way.
88 was the most difficult. It’s a fast-paced SF novel. I wanted to write Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson and failed abysmally. The publisher liked the book, saw potential, but said it “needed a little work.”
I changed it from present tense to past tense, and changed the POV from first to tight third. I changed the sex of several characters. Basically, I rewrote the entire novel three times. And then I rewrote the ending five times. It was a crazy amount of work, but I learned so much doing it.
My favourite character was probably Bedeckt in Beyond Redemption. Who is your favourite character in Beyond Redemption and why? Did you purposely make all your characters ugly and despicable?
My favourite changes with mood. Bedeckt was the first character, the one who got it started, the sane man in a crazy world. But Wichtig, the World’s Greatest Swordsman, and Stehlen, the murderous kleptic, both have their moments to shine in the mud. Writing Wichtig was easy because I knew him so well. Stehlen was more of a surprise. There was a lot more to her than I first realized. She gets a lot more stage time in The Mirror’s Truth. In a trio of dangerous bad-asses, she is easily the scariest.
When I was writing BR it seemed like every fantasy book had beautiful people with nice hair and washboard abs on the cover. I was sick of that shit. I wanted shitty people doing shitty things. I wanted dirty people fucking in alleys and murdering for the slightest gain. I’ve always hated the idea of good versus bad. Too damned simple. I like grey. I want the reader to be appalled at what the characters are doing, still root for them, and then be appalled at themselves for loving these terrible humans.
If you could be any fictional character whom would you choose?
I already am my favourite fictional character.
What books inspired your novel Beyond Redemption? Also do you have any book recommendations for your fans?
I can’t really point at any specific books and say ‘that was an inspiration for BR.’ I read a lot and it all kinda bubbles about in there. Too much chaos for me to make sense of.
My current favourite writers are Daniel Polansky (Low Town), Anna Smith Spark (The Court of Broken Knives), Mark Lawrence (The Broken Empire), Robin Hobb (everything), Richard Morgan (Takeshi Kovacs), Anthony Ryan (The Draconis Memoria), Jeff Salyards (Bloodsounders Arc) and Django Wexler (The Shadow Campaigns).
Topping my TBR right now is Nicholas Eames’ Kings of the Wyld. I’ve heard a lot of good things. Can’t wait to get into it.
What do you do in your spare time, when you’re not writing?
I don’t understand the question. Spare time?
Between being a husband and a father and working a full-time job (ninja) and writing, there is no spare time. I guess the closest I get is the half an hour at the end of each day where I sit on the sofa and stare at the TV (sometimes I’ll even turn it on) and bludgeon my brain with a whiskey or three so it’ll shut the fuck up enough for me to sleep.
I used to have hobbies. I used to write and record my own music. I had a gaming console and a huge collection of racing games and First-Person-Shooters. I used to role-play with friends every Monday. I killed them all to carve out writing time. The hobbies, not the friends.
Thanks for answering my questions Michael!
**keep checking our blog for future author interviews