Meet Melissa Caruso.
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Hi Melissa! Thanks for joining us today. Tell us a little about yourself.
Sure! I’m the author of the Swords & Fire series from Orbit Books, including THE TETHERED MAGE (2017), THE DEFIANT HEIR (2018), and THE UNBOUND EMPIRE (2019). I’ve got a new book coming out in June 2020, THE OBSIDIAN TOWER, which is the first book of a new trilogy set in the same world as Swords & Fire, but with new characters and 150 years later.
My books tend to feature intrigue, magic, murder, betrayal, twisty plots, and explosions. THE TETHRED MAGE was shortlisted for a Gemmell Morningstar Award, and THE UNBOUND EMPIRE received a Kirkus Star.
As for me, in addition to being a fantasy writer, I’m a larper, tea drinker, mom, and all-around geek. I’m married to a video game designer and have two amazing daughters, and I live in Massachusetts with a wonderful old Labrador and assorted cats.
What are your top three favorite things to geek over?
Oooh, that’s a tough one! I’d say Fullmetal Alchemist (especially the manga by Hiromu Arakawa! MOST PERFECT MANGA EVER), larping, and writing craft. Birds come in a close fourth, but the rabbit hole of bird geekery goes very deep and I barely have my toes in it!
If you had to choose one of your books to live in, which would you pick?
Well, they all take place in the same world, so if we’re talking about the specific locations and events visited in the books…Hmm, I might have to say THE DEFIANT HEIR. There are some pretty good parties in that one, the outfits are fantastic, and I get to visit more places and meet more characters than in THE TETHERED MAGE (especially Kathe). THE UNBOUND EMPIRE is just too plain dangerous!
Did you ever create yourself, a family member, or a friend as a character in any of your story drafts?
I’ve never based a character directly on a real life person. Some of my family think La Contessa is based on my mom, but my mom is much nicer than La Contessa! There are certain aspects of real people I may have drawn on with certain characters—like I might think sometimes of someone’s voice or way of standing or general energy. And sometimes I think of which of my friends I’d cast as a particular character if I ever ran a larp based on my books! But for me each character is their own unique person, without a direct real life model.
How did you start your world building for the Swords & Fire trilogy?
In early drafts of THE TETHERED MAGE, it was a historical fantasy, based in an extremely alternate Venice. It kept getting more and more alternate, though, so it was a relief to revise it into an original world and to be free to really expand the worldbuilding! I thought a lot in doing my worldbuilding about how the magic in my world would have shaped history—how it would have affected who was in power, what conflicts arose, how it would have shaped the development of science. The history of the world and a lot of the core conflicts in the trilogy arose naturally from that thought process.
As a reader, what keeps you intrigued in a book?
I love books with well-crafted plot twists, great pacing, and really fun characters I’d want to hang out with (or love to hate, in the case of villains). And a cool magic system! I’m always extra excited when there’s some mystery or secret I can speculate about, or some source of tension that keeps me on the edge of my chair.
Are you a plotter or do you write as you go?
A bit of both, but leaning toward plotter! I always have an outline and many pages of notes where I figure things out in advance, but I also inevitably diverge from that outline as I get a better understanding of the story as I write it. I tend to update my outline as I go to reflect my new direction, and I don’t feel like I need to have EVERY SINGLE THING figured out before I write. So I guess a flexible plotter!
What was the hardest scene you ever had to work on?
The hardest scene emotionally for me to write was this one about halfway through THE UNBOUND EMPIRE where Amalia has to walk away from a certain situation, with heartbreaking consequences. I knew what was happening in that scene, and what would happen after it, and it broke my heart to write it.
The hardest scenes for me in terms of sheer bang-my-head-against-the-wall factor are always transitions! Getting my characters from one location to another (or passing time) without it feeling clunky or grinding the story’s momentum to a halt is like trying to push my face through the holes of a cheese grater, I swear.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers?
I’m really excited about my new trilogy, Rooks and Ruin, which begins with THE OBSIDIAN TOWER, out this June! It’s about a young woman with deadly, broken magic who lives in a rambling, magical castle with an ancient secret at its heart, locked behind a forbidden door. And about what happens when she makes one terrible mistake that could change her world forever.
It’s got all new characters and takes the worldbuilding in a new direction, and I can’t wait to share it with everyone!