Please welcome Melissa Caruso to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Tethered Mage is published on October 24th by Orbit.
Please join The Qwillery in wishing Melissa a Happy Publication Day!
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Melissa: I’ve been writing for my entire life. Before I could actually write words, I dictated stories for my dad to type, or drew them in pictures. When I was a little kid and had insomnia, one of my parents suggested telling myself a story in my head to fall asleep, which was the worst advice ever because then I would lie awake in bed composing a serial epic fantasy novel in my brain instead of sleeping. The stories have always been there.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Melissa: Definitely a plotter. I have long, detailed outlines and pages of notes for each major draft of a novel. But I don’t bind myself strictly to the outline—if inspiration strikes or the story or characters seem to want to go in another direction, I roll with it and then update the remaining outline to adjust.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Melissa: Transitions! Getting into and out of a scene that doesn’t have a natural dramatic start or finish built in is the worst. I’ll know I have to write a scene where one character tells another a shocking revelation, for instance, but where are they having this conversation? What were they doing before the conversation got to that point? And once I’ve delivered the revelation, how do I end the scene on a sufficiently riveting note that will make the readers keep turning pages, rather than just tailing off lamely? I spend more time trying to figure this stuff out than I do writing the actual scene, sometimes.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Melissa: Everything I read, every place I visit, every person I meet. It all goes in a big funnel at the top of a wacky Dr. Seuss machine in my brain and gets spat out the other end as stories. That said, whenever I read something by an author where some aspect of their craft really blows me away—say, the way Neil Gaiman immerses you in a world and makes it feel like a familiar story someone has been telling you since you were a tiny child, or how J. K. Rowling builds plot clues into the very first Harry Potter books for major twists that don’t happen until the last one, or the rhythms of Roger Zelazny’s dialogue, or how Hiromu Arakawa can deliver a huge emotional punch in a scene through the subtlest little details—I try to figure out how they did it and learn a small piece of their magic.
TQ: Describe The Tethered Mage in 140 characters or less.
Melissa: When bookish aristocrat Amalia binds thief Zaira’s fire magic, the reluctant partners must thwart a deadly intrigue before it incites a war.
TQ: Tell us something about The Tethered Mage that is not found in the book description.
Melissa: Amalia’s mother, La Contessa, is one of my favorite characters, and her presence looms over Amalia throughout the whole book. She’s a powerful political force in the Serene Empire, and in Amalia’s life—but she cares deeply about her daughter, even when she’s at her most manipulative and domineering. Their relationship is complicated, and an important thread throughout the story.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Tethered Mage? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?
Melissa: I got the idea for The Tethered Mage on a long car ride with my husband, when we were talking about how the presence of mages in history would have affected the structure of society. The idea for the Falcon/Falconer system popped into my head— a non-mage linked to a mage, with the ability to bind or loose the mage’s power—and I immediately wanted to write characters negotiating that difficult relationship.
As for what appeals to me about writing fantasy, I’d love to say something deep and profound, but honestly? Because it’s awesome. Magic, dragons, swordfights, fancy clothes—what’s not to love? I also love the freedom to make up an entire world that will support and enhance the story I want to tell.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Tethered Mage?
Melissa: I’ve traveled to Venice twice, and I always wanted to set a book there (though The Tethered Mage is set in an original world, the setting is heavily influenced by Venice). I looked up all sorts of details from the late 17th century period I wanted to evoke—boats, military ranks and units, courtship customs, firearms, dance and music, fashion, you name it—but it all kept coming back to Googling delicious Italian food, somehow. I got so hungry researching this book.
TQ: Please tell us about cover for The Tethered Mage.
Melissa: I LOVE MY COVER SO MUCH!!!! The design is by Lisa Marie Pompillo, and the art is by Crystal Ben & Arcangel. The bird silhouette is a symbol of the Falcons (the mage military unit into which Zaira is conscripted), and you can see shadowy details inside it evoking characters, scenes, and settings from the book. I love that the initial impression of the raptor silhouette is so striking, but the closer you look, the more you see inside it. It’s SO PRETTY!
TQ: In The Tethered Mage who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Melissa: The easiest might have been Istrella, who is a side character (teen mad scientist artificer, basically)—I love her, and she’s really fun. The hardest was probably La Contessa, because everything she said had to be brilliant. I kept going back and making her dialogue sharper and smarter.
TQ: Why have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Tethered Mage?
Melissa: I think all speculative fiction at least touches on some social issues, since it’s part of worldbuilding to determine what social issues your imaginary society faces. Sometimes it’s more central to the plot or theme of the book than others, of course. In THE TETHERED MAGE, the biggest social issues impacting the characters and plot are how mages fit into society (and the empire’s current policy of mandatory conscription), class differences between the main characters, and political conflicts over how independent the empire’s client states should be. As for issues I chose NOT to include, the world of THE TETHERED MAGE has gender and racial equality and same-sex marriage, because I wanted my characters who are female, gay, and/or PoC to be able to just be their awesome selves in this fantasy world without weighing them down with real-world prejudices to struggle against. I think we need books that show that struggle, but we also need fantasy that shows, say, girls with swords kissing each other without anyone trying to be like “STOP THAT, IT’S TOO AWESOME TO BE ALLOWED!"
TQ: Which question about The Tethered Mage do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Melissa: My favorite questions are ones that pull out fun little details in the answers, so maybe the question I wish someone would ask is “Tell me a random cool piece of Tethered Mage trivia!” Of course, then I have to pick one. Hmm… Here’s one: the general aesthetic of wirework artifice (one of the types of magic in the world of THE TETHERED MAGE) is loosely based on the work of my friend Kendra Tornheim’s jewelry studio, Silver Owl Creations. She does some gorgeous stuff with wire and beads, and is also a computer programmer, and I was thinking of her when I designed this type of magic where the twists in the wire and the position of the beads act a bit like a magical circuit board, forming a logical spatial language that dictates the terms of the spell.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Tethered Mage.
Melissa: Amalia frequently calls to mind her Machiavellian mother’s advice, so I’ll give you a couple of those:
“Power wields a light touch, because a light touch suffices.”
“Tell them nothing, and they will fill the meaninglessness of your words with exactly what they want to hear."
TQ: What's next?
Melissa: Right now I’m working on editing the second book in the Swords & Fire series, THE DEFIANT HEIR. It continues Amalia and Zaira’s story, and introduces some new characters and settings I really can’t wait for readers to meet!
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Melissa: Thank you! My pleasure.
The Tethered Mage
Swords and Fire 1
Orbit, October 24, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages
In the Raverran Empire, magic is scarce and those born with power are strictly controlled — taken as children and conscripted into the Falcon Army.
Zaira has lived her life on the streets to avoid this fate, hiding her mage-mark and thieving to survive. But hers is a rare and dangerous magic, one that threatens the entire empire.
Lady Amalia Cornaro was never meant to be a Falconer. Heiress and scholar, she was born into a treacherous world of political machinations.
But fate has bound the heir and the mage. And as war looms on the horizon, a single spark could turn their city into a pyre.
The Tethered Mage is the first novel in a spellbinding new fantasy series.