Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Featuring M.L. Spencer

Banner Credit: Beth Tabler

This year, I’m doing a new series: Fantasy Focus. Each month will have a week-long focus on a different fantasy subgenre- fantasy is as varied as its creators’ imaginations! If you’ve missed them, there have been fantasy focuses on comedic fantasy and romantic fantasy. This month, I’m taking a walk on the grittier, darker side of fantasy- grimdark!

Today I’m excited to be talking with M.L. Spencer, author of the Rhenwars Saga and the Chaos Saga. Thank you so much for chatting with me about grimdark and fantasy in general!

Will you introduce yourself and talk a little bit about your work?

Hi my name is ML Spencer, and I am the author of the Rhenwars Saga, The Chaos Cycle, and the Rivenworld series, which so far consists of my best-selling novel Dragon Mage. Of those series only Chaos and Rhenwars could be considered grimdark, although there are some seriously grim and dark moments in Dragon Mage.

What were some obstacles to writing?

Wow. Right now I’m experiencing a ton. My biggest obstacle to writing is my own brain, which gets in the way often. If I grease the wheels it runs smoothly, like a pampered machine. Ungreased, however, and that machine breaks down and starts to falter. Eventually, with enough neglect, it stops working entirely. That’s the slump I’m currently in. After I finished Dragon Mage I entered a period of writers block that was the most excruciating of my life. On top of that, I was also dealing with some physical and mental issues that made writing impossible at the time. Eventually, I fell out of the habit of writing, and now here I am, struggling to pick it back up again, which is not an easy thing.

What are some victories?

I think my biggest victory was the success of Dragon Mage. I had hoped it would be well received, but I had no idea it would achieve the success in accolades it did. I think a lot of that was due to Petrik Leo, a book blogger who gave the novel so much airtime. Because of Petrik’s recommendations, word spread to Reddit, Instagram, and Twitter, I’m pretty soon the sill started coming. I still stand in awe of Petrik’s reach, and to this day I am so incredibly thankful for him.

Grimdark seems to be one of those subgenres that is a little difficult to define. How would you explain grimdark?

For me, the definition of grimdark is easy. In fact, I’m a little confused that there is any debate about it. Grimdark is the opposite of Noble Bright, which is to say the mood is grim and the stakes seem hopeless and probably are. There are no knights in shining armor, but rather ragged or broken main characters with few positive traits that we can cling to. Instead of a happily ever after, all we are promised is a train wreck. It’s like gazing at an auto accident as you drive by. You dread what you’re going to see, but you can’t stop looking. That is the essence of grimdark.

Why do you think it’s so difficult to really “define” grimdark?

I have no idea. I think because there are some high fantasy novels that can include very dark moments and gnarled characters. But to me there still is a difference. There is still hope at the end of the day. We have some security that her favorite characters are not going to be killed off. The world is wholesome and worth saving, and we know that somehow, our characters are going to pull off this elevation.

Not so with grimdark. In grimdark, there is no safety net.

What draws you to grimdark as an author?

I was drawn to grimdark initially because it is a better vehicle for injecting realism into fantasy. It’s hard to truly explore human character and a high fantasy setting, because there are some boundaries where you just can’t go. A great example is swearwords. Readers typically don’t expect them in some won’t stand for them in their high fantasy. And god help the author who kills off a favorite side character, even though that character’s death precipitates a cataclysmic shift in the main characters worldview that is worth exploring.

Which authors are on your must-read list?

There are so many.

Mark Lawrence

Joe Abercrombie

CS Friedman

Andy Peloquin

Ed McDonald

Rob Hayes

Jesse Teller

Ben Galley

Do you have anything on the horizon that you’d like to talk about?

I wish I did.  Just plodding along writing Dragon Mage 2, which is utterly and hopelessly non-grimdark. Perhaps that is why I can’t seem to tame this beast 😊

About the author:

ML Spencer lives in Southern California with her three children and two cats. She has been obsessed with fantasy ever since the days of childhood bedtime stories. She grew up reading and writing fantasy fiction, playing MMORPG games, and living, as mom put it, “in her own worlds.” ML now spends each day working to bring those worlds into reality.

Purchase links:

The Rhenwars Saga

The Chaos Cycle

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