Hi everyone, Petrik from Novel Notions here. Today, I’m bringing you an interview with Michael Sliter, the author behind the incredibly underrated grimdark debut: Solace Lost. You can check out my review of Solace Lost on the blog or Goodreads. If you’re a grimdark enthusiast, try to buy and read it as soon as possible. Plus, the Kindle price is currently set at a massive discount of $0.99 for a week! Now, without further ado, here is my interview with Michael Sliter!
- Hi, Mike! Thank you for doing this interview with me! Firstly, please tell us about yourself and your debut, Solace Lost.
Thanks for having me! So… me. I’m a workplace psychologist by day—I do things like leadership assessment and development, training, and data crunching. I love my job; it’s always something different and new. Nuclear power? I met the person who finds the uranium. Environmental science? I’ve seen endless labs where they quantify how much pollution is too much. Astronauts? I’ve worked with the guys who build the rockets. It’s pretty cool stuff.
Aside from work, which keeps me pretty busy, I have a fantastic, horse-riding psychologist wife, an amazingly hilarious little two-year-old daughter, and a couple of tiny, broken dogs (one missing an eye and one with extreme anxiety). I play racquetball whenever I can, and I own a couple of swords. When not I’m doing any of the above, I’m reading and writing!
Solace Lost is a character-driven grimdark fantasy novel. A civil war is brewing, and the novel explores the lives of four common folk—a former guardsman-turned-criminal, a handmaiden to a great lady, a Wasmer attempting to assimilate into human society, and a young innkeeper’s daughter with a gift—as they are caught up in the plotting and politicking of the powerful. Their stories end up intertwined as they struggle for survival in their own ways. I’m stealing the below from the back of the book because I’ll never be able to say it this well again:
“A story of love lost and family destroyed, of bigotry and belonging, of suffering and strength, and of religion and magic, Solace Lost grows from a character-driven tale to something grand in scale…”
- Wow, I’m glad you met a lot of awesome people there! You debuted with Solace Lost last year. Is writing/becoming an author something you pursued since you were young or is it something that you pursued recently? And why?
I’ve always wanted to write. I minored in writing in college and started a few ‘novels’ (likely derivative dross) without ever having truly committed to the craft. Spending so much time in school and higher ed, coupled with writing scientific papers, sort of drained my creative and imaginative juices.
But, after my daughter was born nearly three years ago (immediately after because I like bad timing), I truly committed to writing. Solace Lost was the product of that commitment. Having a kid changes your life in so many ways, and it forced me from the slothful “I could write a fantasy novel if I tried” to “crap, I’m going to write a fantasy novel!” I didn’t tell my wife until I had written about 200 pages, because it truly didn’t seem real until then.
Along those lines, to answer your ‘why’ question, I partially write for my daughter (though I hope she doesn’t read any of this until she’s old enough!). You’ll notice that Solace Lost has two female POVs and two other plot-critical women, none of your traditional ‘warrior women.’ Part of the messaging in the story is for my daughter. To show that strength comes in many forms, from many sources, and that everyone is more resilient than most believe possible.
The other reason I write is simply because it’s fun. I get to tell the story I want to tell, no matter how light (or dark) it is. I get to explore characters’ reactions to harrowing and sometimes seemingly impossible events. And, I get to discover where the story is going. The characters sometimes drive the progression more than me! I’ll tell you: Wisdom Lost (the sequel) did not end how I planned, and I love it.
- It’s almost always a great thing when the characters ends up driving the plot progression, I look forward to reading that unplanned ending! Solace Lost is without a doubt grimdark fantasy; I don’t think anyone can dispute that. What made you decide to write in this genre? Was there any specific research you undertook?
Personally, I think Solace Lost depicts a happy world full of bunnies!
In seriousness, Grimdark is my favorite genre. There is a place for heroic fantasy, a very important place. I grew up on that stuff. But I’ve always been fascinated with the morally gray. Characters like Logen Ninefingers (First Law), Raistlin Majere (Dragonlance), and Croaker (Black Company) were my favorite to read about. Their flaws were real, believable, and derailing. The stereotypical ‘gritty’ worlds of grimdark always resonated with me, too. Sure, we could talk about pearly towers and straight rows of knights charging toward glory. Or, we could delve into the poverty, the crime, and all of the unfortunate misfortunes that are very much a reality in our own world, though we try to brush them aside.
Part of why I love grimdark is that it forces us to take a deep look at things that make us uncomfortable. Topics like poverty, racism and prejudice, familial hatred, coping with death, sexual assault, misogyny, and abortion and miscarriage (all of which are explored in Solace Lost) are real, terrible things that impact many people. Setting these terrible problems into a fantasy setting and exploring the physical and emotional ramifications can help continue conversations that we would rather not have, or can at least get people thinking about perspective they may not have otherwise considered.
And, might as well toss some magic in there, too. Because magic is awesome.
- Speaking of grimdark, grimdark fantasy tends to feature some darker/heavy themes more explicitly; rape is usually one of them. In your debut, Solace Lost, one of the female characters was raped and that event ended up shaping her character development. Scenes like this, especially prolonged, can be difficult to read for some readers. Did you worry that readers might find that too difficult to read?
Yes, that was certainly a worry of mine. I expected some people would simply put the book down at that point in the story, and many folks who have reviewed the book put very clear trigger warnings up front (including you, Petrik!). I understand that I was more graphic than many people are used to, and I didn’t “fade to black” as early as most fantasy authors.
The fact is, reading about rape should be an uncomfortable experience.
It was certainly fiercely uncomfortable to write those scenes. And rewrite them. And rewrite them again. We’ve all read fantasy where rape is casually tossed around as a hurdle a character has to overcome, and then later has very little impact on the character’s development or the storyline. It ends up being a trope, meaningless and trivializing the impact that such a terrible event can have on someone’s life. I wanted to buck that trope in whatever small way that I could.
To help ensure that I captured the emotional impact, both in the moment and following, I consulted with clinical psychologists (I worked at a university for a time), as well as a survivor of such an event. I took the time to read articles written by other survivors, outlining the experience of sexual assault as well as how they felt afterward. The isolation. The ostracization. The fear. The often constant environmental triggers. I tried to truly capture this in the scenes and those that followed. I tried to capture the ongoing struggles—even in Book 2, Wisdom Lost, the character is still struggling with post-traumatic stress, and her actions are shaped by this terrible experience.
I think that the very real emotional impact, and the realistic (to the best of my understanding as a man) subsequent reactions, is why readers have often said that she is their favorite character. Certainly, she lives through her share of horrific tragedies throughout the book, with the sexual assault being one of several. You will see how many of her decisions and actions are impacted by her abuse and her subsequent struggles, but how there is a core of strength and resilience at her center. Ultimately, one would think that, experiencing what this character experiences, she would break. But she never does.
- She’s certainly my favorite character from the book too! I definitely look forward to reading her journey. On to the next question, which authors or series would you consider as the biggest inspiration to your Pandemonium Rising?
The clear frontrunner would be Joe Abercrombie, probably my favorite author and my first introduction to grimdark. I recall going to a Border’s bookstore with nothing to read and picking up The Blade Itself based on an index card that said “employee recommendation!” I fell in love with all of the characters and the nihilistic story. And… that ending!
Aside from Lord Grimdark, there’s probably a dash of Malazan mixed in with a pinch of Lightbringer.
- You certainly have picked one of the best grimdark fantasy author out there; Joe Abercrombie is one of my favorite authors too! Other than authors or books, were there influences from another medium that heavily affected your storytelling? Video games, movies, or music for example.
That’s a great question, and I don’t have a ready answer. I can say that when I started writing Solace Lost, I was playing a lot of Bloodborne, so maybe that played an impact (at least insomuch as they are both very
dark). Whenever I watch Game of Thrones, I’m hit with a sudden excitement and inspiration to start writing. I love seeing the visual depiction of fantasy writing. It’s why I’ll sometimes commission artists to draw scenes from the various books. There’s no return on the investment, but it makes me happy. Definitely one of the reasons I’m so happy to be working with René Aiger for my book covers!
- Last question. When can we expect the sequel to Solace Lost, Wisdom Lost, to be published and how many books will be in the series?
Wisdom Lost, Book 2 of Pandemonium Rising, is coming out July 1st! It is fully edited and I’m just waiting on the cover and updated map. Faith Lost, the third book, is about 15K words deep (out of 165K, if the past is a predictor of the future). Right now, Pandemonium Rising is set at four books, total. I am a fairly organic writer, so that may change (perhaps to five at most), but I doubt it.
I’m also planning a couple of novellas in the world. One, called Ferl’s Company, explores the mercenary’s exploits against the Oshwon. Wait… No one knows about that yet—I guess you will all have to read Wisdom Lost in July!
Thank you for your time, Mike! I look forward to reading Wisdom Lost and the rest of your series!