Hey there, everyone! Today I’m thrilled to be sharing with you all the shiny new cover for Michael R. Fletcher’s Grimdark Fantasy caper Smoke and Stone. I was lucky enough to get early access to this glorious book prior to its release last year, and I absolutely loved it. So, when I was asked to help out with the re-reveal for this, I may have squeed a bit, not gonna lie. Keep scrolling to see the cover in all its gloriousness, and a little Q&A I had with Michael about his dark tale of vengeful gods, his need to give it a bit of a facelift, and the evil mastermind known to most as Felix Ortiz.
You can read my review of Smoke and Stone here.
A couple weeks ago the fine folks over at Grimdark Magazine revealed the cover for Fletcher’s upcoming Ash and Bones, the second installment in his City of Sacrifice series. It’s stunning, so be sure to check that out here.
And last week artist Felix Ortiz visited my friends over at FanFiAddict to speak more about the process of designing these incredible covers. This is one you don’t want to miss – check out the guest post here.
Without further ado, may I present
Smoke and Stone
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What do you think?!
After a cataclysmic war of the gods, the last of humanity huddles in Bastion, a colossal ringed city. Beyond the outermost wall lies endless desert haunted by the souls of all the world’s dead.
Trapped in a rigid caste system, Nuru, a young street sorcerer, lives in the outer ring. She dreams of escape and freedom. When something contacts her from beyond the wall, she risks everything and leaps at the opportunity. Mother Death, a banished god seeking to reclaim her place in Bastion’s patchwork pantheon, has found her way back into the city.
Akachi, born to the wealth and splendour of Bastion’s inner rings, is a priest of Cloud Serpent, Lord of the Hunt. A temple-trained sorcerer, he is tasked with bringing peace to the troublesome outer ring. Drawn into a dark and violent world of assassins, gangs, and street sorcerers, he battles the spreading influence of Mother Death in a desperate attempt to save Bastion.
The gods are once again at war.
Michael R. Fletcher lives in the endless suburban sprawl north of Toronto. He dreams of trees and seeing the stars at night and being a ninja. He is an unrepentant whiskey-swilling reprobate of the tallest order and thinks grilled cheese sandwiches are a food group.
His novels include BEYOND REDEMPTION (Manifest Delusions #1), THE MIRROR’S TRUTH (Manifest Delusions #2), GHOSTS OF TOMORROW, SWARM AND STEEL, SMOKE AND STONE (City of Sacrifice #1), BLACK STONE HEART (The Obsidian Path #1), THE MILLENNIAL MANIFESTO, and A COLLECTION OF OBSESSIONS (a short story collection).
ASH AND BONE (City of Sacrifice #2) will be released summer 2020.
SHE DREAMS IN BLOOD (The Obsidian Path #2) will be released late 2020.
Thanks so much for joining me for a chat, Michael. Since we already have your official bio, care to describe yourself in ten words or less?
Dark as fuck heavy metal teddy bear who loves hugs.
For those who are not familiar with Smoke and Stone, tell us about this story you have created.
I’ve always hated stories with good guys and bad guys. Not that there aren’t bad people, but most of the time everyone is doing what they think is right. In Smoke and Stone we have a priest, part of the establishment, who is fighting to save the city he loves. Opposite him with have a street-sorcerer battling an oppressive caste system. Mix in a narcotics-based magic system based on the writings of Carlos Castaneda, insane gods, twisted Mesoamerican influences, and you’ve got your typical Fletcher story.
What happens when you’ll do the right thing no matter the cost?
What sparked the desire to give Smoke and Stone a facelift?
Evil. Purest evil.
Felix, who on the surface seems like a sweet dude and talented artist, is actually an evil mastermind and insanely talented artist.
I did the original typography for Smoke and Stone. Maybe it wasn’t amazing, but it was fine, and I don’t have to pay myself so the price was right.
I hired Felix to do the cover for Ash and Bones (he also did Smoke and Stone, and Black Stone Heart) and this time when I started mucking about with the typography he said in that gentle and subtle way that artists have, “Why don’t you focus on writing and have me do the typography?” There was something about that ‘focus on writing’ bit. Anyway. I was having a fuck of a time. Everything I did looked like a 14-year-old trying to design the cover for a heavy metal album. Long story slightly less long, Felix did an absolutely bang up job, and when I looked at the two covers—Smoke and Stone, and Ash and Bones—I REALLY wanted them to look good together. In fact, I suddenly realized I wanted the whole series to have a tight unified look. Duh, in hindsight.
Basically, Felix tricked me into hiring him to redo the typography. And since I want the last book in the series (out next year) to fit the look, I’m gonna hafta hire him to do the art and typography for that as well.
See? Evil genius.
I’ve had the pleasure of having the extremely talented Felix Ortiz here on Whispers & Wonder for an artist spotlight. What made you decide to enlist his help with creating the covers for your City of Sacrifice series?
This is gonna turn into more ranting about Felix being an evil genius. I stumbled across a link to his artstation page (https://www.artstation.com/felixortiz) and was impressed. I sent him a short message basically saying, ‘amazing work dude.’ We ended up chatting, and he casually (HA!) mentioned he wanted to try doing a fantasy cityscape. This was exactly what I’d been thinking for the Smoke and Stone cover. We started talking details, bouncing ideas and influences back and forth and before you knew it, I’d suddenly hired an artist. Still not sure how that happened. I think he tricked me.
Smoke and Stone has an incredible lyrical flow, and I’ve always said authors are artists with words. Have you always had an affinity for creative avenues?
Music and words have always been an escape for me. I’m utter crap at reality. Losing myself in a project absolutely jimmies the shit out of the pleasure centres in my brain. I’m basically a junkie.
You’ve written some of the most original and unique Grimdark stories I’ve ever read (Smoke and Stone definitely being one of them)–what about this subgenre appeals to you most?
Thanks! Honestly, I put no thought into genre when writing. I have themes I want to pick at, worlds I want to explore, and characters I want to get to know. That they all turn out kinda dark prolly says something about me, but I have no idea what. I don’t even know what grimdark is! Morally grey characters? The folks in the City of Sacrifice books are doing their best to do the right thing! There’s no grey there. Cool thing, but noble people trying to do the right thing can still be on opposite side. I suspect there’s a lesson there.
Writing can be a stressful pursuit. Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
The best writing advice I ever got was ‘don’t taking advice from writers.’ Otherwise, I’d suggest marrying someone with real-world skills and a good job.
Thank you again for stopping by, Michael. Do you have anything coming up in the future that you’d like the world to know about?
Ash and Bones (City of Sacrifice #2) releases in ebook and print on August 1st, 2020. The audiobook will be out sometime after that.
She Dreams in Blood (The Obsidian Path #2) should be out by the end of 2020.
Anna Smith Spark and I are writing some serial fiction (basically a novella) for Grimdark Magazine that should be out later in the year. I think it’s gonna be called, In the Shadows of Their Dying. Anna writes the best demonic POV ever. She’s so freaking talented. She makes me feel clumsy in comparison.
Next year will see the release of the last books of both the City of Sacrifice and Obsidian Path series, and possibly a secret project I’m working on with another author.
Gonna be busy!