Author Interview: Melissa Caruso

Author Interview

Meet Melissa Caruso.

Melissa Caruso Author Photo 2

Social media links:

The Interview.


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!


Thank you Melissa for joining us today!


Author Interview: Brian Koscienski & Chris Pisano

Author Interview, Misc.

Meet Brian Koscienski & Chris Pisano.

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The Interview.


Hi Brian & Chris! Thanks for joining us today. Tell us a little about yourselves.
Brian Koscienski & Chris Pisano skulk the realms of south, central Pennsylvania. Brian developed a love of writing from countless hours of reading comic books and losing himself in the worlds and adventures found within their colorful pages. In tenth grade, Chris was discouraged by his English teacher from reading H.P. Lovecraft, and being a naturally disobedient youth he has been a fan ever since. They have logged many hours writing novels, stories, articles, comic books, reviews, and the occasional ridiculous haiku. To find out where they may be skulking next, visit them at If you happen to see them at one of the various conventions they participate in, feel free to stop by their table and say, “Hi.” They’re harmless!

If you could live in any fictional world, where are you headed?
C: The City.
B: The city? Which city?
C: THE City. From “The Tick.”
B: You don’t follow directions well. She asked which world, not city.
C: I think she means “world” as blanket setting containing a specific set of characters and associated confines. I’d love to rub elbows with The Tick and Die Fledermaus. Arthur never wants to be “the bunny guy,” so I figure maybe I can give that a try. Play with Speak, the mangy capybara… teach him a few tricks, possibly even how to walk. The possibilities here are endless! Look out! Here comes Carpeted Man and he’s fully charged with static electricity!
B: You don’t have issues, you have subscriptions.
C: Yeah? What world are you choosing?
B: Star Wars.
C: Star Wars isn’t a world.
B: Following your arbitrary definition, it is. All those planets. All those cities. All those cantinas filled with cool sentient beings. And light sabers! Star Wars has light sabers! And pew-pew guns. I want a pew-pew gun.
C: Rebel scum.

What is your writing origin story?
B: I wish it were more interesting.
C: And more enlightened.
B: That’s true. See, we’re guys and we communicate as such.
C: Meaning we speak to each other with monosyllabic grunts about beer, sports, and movies where stuff gets blowed up.
B: So, we knew each other for literally ten years before either of us knew the other aspired to be a professional writer.
C: Not only that, but it took a third party to tell each of us that the other aspired to be a professional writer.
B: We started working a novel together, but then also discover a mutual appreciation for comic books.
C: And comic book conventions.
B: We started writing scripts for original material as well as a few short stories and a series on online articles. Once we realized that this collaboration was going to be permanent and far reaching, we decided to form a corporation to protect our intellectual property.
C: It makes me laugh every time you say, “intellectual.”
B: Thus, Fortress Publishing, Inc. was born. We started with a graphic novel containing four different books and a few chap books. Even though we’re up to eight novels published through four other publishers, we use Fortress to develop those properties as well as about two dozen more. And we have legal recourse should one of us kill the other in his sleep.
C: Rebel scum.

Favorite genre to write for?
B: Even though I usually like science fiction more as a genre, I like to write fantasy.
C: Weirdo.
B: I feel like science fiction is far more limitless, but to write anything more than “laser-guns and aliens” type science fiction, you really need to have a firm grasp of the particular science you’re writing about. With fantasy, you can run unabashedly with scissors.
C: I like horror.
B: Dare I ask why?
C: Horror delves into the human psyche. What makes us afraid? Are we still human if we’re stripped away of the comforts of humanity? Plus, most horror stories, especially the classics, are allegories. Dracula was an allegory about lust. Werewolves examine what happens when we no longer contain the beast within. Zombie stories reflect upon our fear or becoming another brainless member of a work-only-to-consume post-modern society.
B: Wow. You really like to give your literature degree a workout, don’t you?
C: Each and every day.
Do you have any writing quirks?
B: I lick my computer keyboard.
C: Eeeeew!! You’re disgusting!
B: I’m joking! It’s a joke! I don’t lick my computer keyboard. I lick YOUR computer keyboard.
C: I hate you.
B: I think that might be my writing quirk. Annoying him. Other than that, I think the quirkiest thing I do is write specific scenes of a chapter and then suture them together.
C: I have two writing quirks. I tend to get stuck in inner monologue mode, which often leads me to switch point of view without trying to do so. For this reason I cannot stress enough the importance of re-reading your work and bringing in another set of eyes for editing.
B: Yeah, as his second set of eyes, I sooooooo love that. He mumbled sarcastically.
C: The other quirk I have is searching for the exact word even when it doesn’t immediately come to me. I have to remind myself to move on. I sat down to write and my time to do so is limited, so I have to get better at keeping on task and word searching when I’m re-reading or editing.
B: Of course, for this he never contacts me.
C: We’re guys and communicate as such.

Are you already planning for 2020?

If yes, what does your writing schedule look like?
B: Yep!
C: We’re always planning. We’re like rabid wolverines; we can’t be stopped, most of the times we can’t be contained.
B: Your analogies make me itchy.
C: Then get a cream and quit whining.
B: Anyway… We’re looking to have three or four novels released as writers, and as publishers, we are launching at least one solo-topic magazine and possible the start of a series of novellas.
C: As well as shopping around two novels and develop another series or two and crank out more and more words.
B: After all, we are rabid wolverines, apparently.
C: See, I knew you liked the analogy.
B: Still itches.

What is it like co-authoring?

Do you both have different schedules and deadlines?
C: This is a tricky question. We are completely different in terms of, well, everything. From our writing backgrounds to our styles to our joking styles. When I hand off a work in progress to Brian with some instructional thoughts I rarely get back what I expect… and I think that’s the best part about it. It’s a challenge, but a mind expanding one.
B: The same water flows in the other direction, too. It’ll be his turn to work on a project and I’ll say, “This is point A, get to point B.” He’ll get to point Q via points J, K, and pi, and never even get close to point B.
C: He attacks tricky problems differently than I do. His characters speak in strange tongues. His sentence structure is simplistic… but his characters actually accomplish something, argue their points with validity, and he can advance a plot in wondrously unexpected ways. My characters do NONE of that!
B: Basically, he’s the better writer, but I’m the better story teller.

What has been your greatest author experience so far?
B: I’d have to say getting our first novel published. Getting it accepted by a publisher was an amazing feeling – someone was willing to invest in us! But then to hold the finished product in my hands? Total dream come true!
C: I am humbled and elated every time someone comes up to us at a show and asks about the next book in a series. Please keep doing that. I need more humbling experiences!
B: You just love to be loved.
C: It’s just natural for a human being to appreciate the well wishes that other humans give.
B: Attention whore.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers today?

C: I have a tremendous love of the written word, so I often encourage people to keep reading. Read what interests you, but don’t forget to try new things.
B: I agree. Half the books in my read pile are thrillers and mysteries, which are styles that we don’t write in.
C: Read the classics, particularly some of the brilliant Gothic classics. Ann Radcliffe and Charles Robert Maturin are great examples. If you like Alfred Hitchcock presents, read some of the stories that inspired him – Robert Bloch and Daphne Du Maurier stories, in particular. When we stop reading, we stop learning. And we must never stop learning.
B: I’m going to add, “We love conventions.” And we’re going to suggest going to them if you already don’t. There are so many right now, that I’m sure you can find a couple that not only fit your schedule, but fit your fandom.


Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions!
B: Thank you for taking the time to put up with us!
C: Yes, thank you. And we’re sorry if we broke anything.
B: If we did, just send the bill to Jeff Young. He’ll fix it.

Guest Post: Katharyn Blair

Guest Post, Misc.

Meet Katharyn Blair.


The Guest Post.

I was sitting at my desk at my job as an intern for my city’s Parks and Recreation department when I first saw Vesper Montgomery. She was standing in a cathedral, the multi-hued light of the stained glass on her face. She had long blonde hair that was braided back over her shoulder, and she wore armor.

I stopped what I was doing (probably working on a memo, or something, since I had quit my fancy job working for 20th Century Fox so that I might have any time to write, and that meant taking a job as my city’s parks and recreation intern. It was not like the show.) and sunk into the image swirling around in my mind.

Who the heck are you? I wondered. Because, mind you, I was working on an entirely different novel. I had different people in my head. (That novel is called The Breath of Bones, and it’s the start of a duology that comes out from Penguin in Winter 2020!) I don’t know how many of you have felt this strange phenomena of hearing from a completely different character while working on a separate WIP, but it feels a little like cheating.

But in this case, I was unfaithful. (Sorry, Eerie & Co.)

I jotted down some notes about Vesper, not giving her too much time, since I had just left my first agent and was getting ready to query again with my new WIP. I put her Vesper in a drawer and promised someday.

Turns out, Someday was a lot sooner than I thought. I queried with my book, The Breath of Bones, and signed with Brianne Johnson of Writers House. After some light edits, we went on submission. One of the (brilliant) things my agent does is attach a questionnaire with the submission so that the editor gets an idea of who the author is. One question is… what are two other ideas you’re thinking about writing? So, I wrote down a couple sentences about Vesper’s story.

HarperCollins called a week later. After a lot of back and forth – we landed somewhere awesome and strange. They decided Harper wasn’t the home for Breath of Bones. But, not unlike what happened to me as I sat at my desk in City Hall the year before – they had caught a glimpse of Vesper, and they wanted me to write her story.

I was floored. Confused, and honestly? Stoked.

Vesper had been pacing the back of my mind for months, waiting for me to get to her. I knew she had a backstory, and I knew she’d gone through some rough stuff. I knew she was in love, that it was tearing her apart, and that she was an overall badass.

So I dove in, and that WIP became what is now known as The Beckoning Shadow.

Turns out Vesper doesn’t wear armor, but does wear sparring gloves – she learns MMA fighting in preparation for a deadly tournament where the winner can undo a tragedy in their lives. She has friends, too – and some of them are so much louder than her, and much more demanding.

I thought it would be years before I got to her. I thought I knew exactly how it was all going to pan out, but I’m so thankful that I was surprised by this, because it makes sense. I’ve been nothing but surprised by Vesper since the moment we met.

I hope the readers feel the same way, too.



Guest Post with Kaya Quinsey: “Writing With Time in Mind”

Guest Post, Misc.

Kaya Quinsey - Headshot 6Meet Kaya Quinsey.

Kaya Quinsey holds her undergraduate and master’s degree in psychology. Her first novel, Paris Mends Broken Hearts, was released in April 2018. Her second book, A Coastal Christmas, was released in October 2018. Her books have sold in seven countries. Kaya’s passion for culture, travel, and psychology blend for a reading style that is fun, full of surprises, and easy to read. A romantic at heart, Kaya’s writing offers a contemporary twist to traditional love stories. She hopes to inspire women through her stories to fiercely chase their dreams.

Social Media Links:
Author Central:

Guest Post

Writing With Time in Mind



Here is some advice I’ve found helpful on how to finish your manuscript relatively quickly (and with minimal headaches). Enjoy!



1. Write first, edit later


If you start to painstakingly sift through sentences as soon as they are typed up, it is going to be a long road to get to the finished product. Some writers will type away at a blacked-out screen, so they aren’t even tempted to edit throughout the process. Get the words out, finish your idea, and don’t let yourself get in the way. This leads into my next point



2. Let go of perfectionism


It is difficult to finish writing a book if you are critiquing it the entire time. Remember that the more you practice, the better you will get. So keep practicing.



3. Write every day


I have found that writing on a daily basis has been helpful to maintain a plot driven story line. It takes discipline to stay focused, to keep writing, to have patience with yourself each day. Stick with it.



4. Set a word count


When working on a book, I typically aim for between 1000-2000 words per day. Within a relatively short span of time, you’ll have a first draft of your book.



5. Plan your plot


Having a general overview of what is going to happen in your story can be helpful so that you have a sense of direction when you are meeting your daily word count (see number 4), on a daily basis (see number 3). You don’t necessarily need to have it all figured out, but an overall big-picture idea can be helpful to guide the path.



6. Set hard deadlines for yourself 


When I say “hard headlines”, I don’t mean set difficult deadlines (e.g., “I will write a whole novel by Wednesday!”). What I mean is set goals about when you want to have Chapter 1, 2, 3, etc. done by. Keep those promises to yourself. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time you write it. There will be time to go over it all when you’re done! Which leads me to my final point…



7. Schedule time to revise



Congratulations! You’ve written a book. Now comes the real fun (just kidding).


Good luck with your writing and I wish you all the best.


Rae, thanks for having me on A New Look On Books.



Thank you Kaya for stopping by again!

In case you missed it, check out Kaya’s interview here!




Guest Post: The Power of Mirrors by Betsy Dornbusch

Guest Post

Meet Betsy Dornbusch.

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Betsy Dornbusch is the author of several fantasy short stories, novellas, and five novels, including the BOOKS OF THE SEVEN EYES trilogy and THE SILVER SCAR. She likes writing, reading, snowboarding, punk rock, and the Denver Broncos. Betsy and her family split their time between Boulder and Grand Lake, Colorado.

Social Media Links:


The Guest Post

The Power of Mirrors

I cried during Wonder Woman.

I’m not really a movie person. Except Star Wars, medieval, and select superhero shows, I rarely watch films. I don’t get that feeling of connection from them, not in the way books reach me. I never anticipated watching middle-aged women warriors with grey hair and crows’ feet through my tears.

I like antique mirrors. Unlike regular doors and real windows, old mirrors are windows into the past. I wonder who looked in them. I wonder what they saw. I like looking at myself in the antique mirror over my dressing table. I think I look better reflected there than in any other mirror I own.

Indulge me a quick story. Some years ago I parked my car at the grocery store. A young guy was getting carts nearby. It was a pretty day and I had the windows down, blasting Oingo Boingo into the world.

Cart-Guy stared at me. “You’re listening to Oingo Boingo?”

I was surprised. Guys didn’t notice me much, unless I got in their way. “Sure. I really like them. Do you?”

“Yeah.” Cart-Guy gave me another once over, brows lifted. “Huh. Cool.”

And I waddled my thirty-four-year-old, nine-months-pregnant body into the store.

I write mirrors. In my trilogy Books of the Seven Eyes, a character is basically an actual mirror showing the health of the soul. Some see him as beautiful. Some curl their lip with distaste. Some see him differently depending on how they react to the horrible situations I put them in.

I was never a big Alien fan and I was too young to identify with Sarah Conner. But when I sat in Wonder Woman at the age of fifty and I saw those bad ass ladies appear on horseback, I realized I saw myself. I’d never seen characters on film like me as I am now, not since I was in high school or college. Somehow I’d slipped into invisibility: in the world and in stories and on film. And I was surprised when I did see myself. Do I really look that old?

I was becoming invisible to myself.

Of course we can recognize and identify with traits in characters who don’t look like us. But to ignore that it’s easier to identify with characters who resemble our age, gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion is like ignoring the power of active verbs. When you don’t see yourself in stories it’s easy to quit seeing yourself at all. Even when you’re right there in front of you.

In my latest book, The Silver Scar, the characters dream their way into a silver graveyard with silver sand that heals wounds.

If you pay attention, you can see the mirrors in a cemetery. Your reflection is engraved into every stone. Find a grave with your birthday. Then memorize the death day.

Do you think you will forget when that date passes next time?

The main two characters of The Silver Scar are gay men. One is a soldier. One is a criminal. They have violence and victimization in common, along with a budding love affair and matching silver scars from a blood pact.

It would have been easier to depict them as a man and a woman in a budding affair. With the book taking on religion and a crisis of faith, the last thing I thought it needed was gay characters. But thankfully, the story knew better. There aren’t enough gay men in commercial fiction. Most are destined to sit in side-character territory, or be cannon fodder. I don’t want gay people to look at themselves in the mirror and see cannon fodder.

Worse, I don’t want them to see nothing.

If I can forget to see myself as I am–me, with my whiteness and privilege and love affair of mirrors–think what people see in the mirror if they never see themselves in a story.

Seven billion souls live on our planet. Every single one of us has a reflection. We owe it to our art, to ourselves, to show as many of those reflections as possible.

Reflection is a right. It is everywhere, and it belongs to all of us.



My review for The Silver Scar coming soon!


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