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[GUEST INTERVIEW] Marshall Ryan Maresca, Author of THE THORN OF DENTONHILL on Characters, Settings and Comparisons to Rowling and Rothfuss

Marshall Ryan Maresca is a fantasy and science fiction author with a lot of arrows in his quiver. Maresca writes 3 series in the same universe: the Thorn of Dentonhill series (of which Kings River Life Magazine raved: “Take the caped avenger of Batman, the teen-age-superhero angst of Spiderman, the street-gang bravado of West Side Story, and toss in the magic of Harry Potter, and what have you got? Marshall Ryan Maresca’s The Thorn of Dentonhill.”), the Maradaine Constable series, and the
Holver Alley Crew series. His forthcoming book (part of the Thorn of Dentonhill series) is Imposters of Aventil.

In this interview, Marshall talks about the main character in his original series, the magic premise of his universe, the street gang setup of his stories, and his experience with DAW editors.

CARL SLAUGHTER: Is Veranix an eager hero or a reluctant hero? Did he dream of becoming a legendary magician and whipping badguys, or was he thinking about passing his final exams and snagging a date with that hot chick he met at the café.

MARSHALL RYAN MARESCA: He’s very much an eager hero. I don’t think he actively dreamed of doing such a thing, but he’s incapable of letting something lie. It’s not just his quest to stop Fenmere— if he sees something wrong, or hears a cry for help, he’s going to jump in, feet first.

CS: Some secret vigilantes have a secret mentor they can turn to for wisdom and protection. How well does Veranix do without such a mentor?

MRM: Well, that depends on what you consider a mentor. Professor Alimen, Veranix’s magic teacher, is very much a mentor when it comes to all things magical, but he doesn’t know of Veranix’s extracurricular activities, nor would he approve. And Colin— Veranix’s cousin in the Rose Street Princes— is his mentor in terms of his knowledge of what’s happening in the neighborhoods. But even with that, he’ll make poor choices.

CS: Does he cultivate a persona to build his reputation or does he let his feats speak for themselves?

MRM: Veranix definitely didn’t seek to cultivate the “Thorn” persona. He was just fighting his own war, and enemies and supporters both took notice of it. A throwaway gibe to one of his enemies (“tell him I’ll be a constant thorn in his side”) brought about the nickname.

CS: Is Veranix a superhero?

MRM: He definitely becomes one, within the context of the fantasy novel. That wasn’t his intention, of course, but that’s what he evolves into. The journey he goes of in The Thorn of Dentonhill is the “with great power” story, and then The Alchemy of Chaos is “comes great responsibility” part.

CS: Who are the key characters that affect Veranix’s life, up close and from a distance, and how does he interact with them?

MRM: The most important is Kaiana. She’s a young woman who works on the grounds staff of the University, and she’s the one who helps him the most in his crusade. She’s of mixed descent, and is thus forced to live near the edge of campus in the old carriage house, and her father was destroyed by the drug that Veranix is fighting against. She hates the drug trade even more than he does. Her isolation and drive makes her the perfect ally for him— she takes care of his gear, dresses his wounds, and tells him when he’s being an idiot. Which is often.

Willem Fenmere, of course, is the other key character to Veranix, though they’ve yet to meet. Fenmere is the drug kingpin who killed Veranix’s father and destroyed his mother, and he’s the target behind everything Veranix is doing.

CS: Do the magicians in these stories have inherent magical powers, do they tap into power of magical objects, or do they harness the power of the cosmos?

MRM: Some people are born with the inherent ability to draw on the magical energy of the world, called lumina. Why some people can, yet most can’t, that’s a mystery that philosophers, mystics and scientists all contemplate. Most people who can do it manifest the ability in their early teens. Minox, the protagonist in A Murder of Mages, is a rare exception, that his ability didn’t manifest until his 20s, when he was already an officer in the city constabulary.

CS: Why use street gangs as a major plot element?

MRM: Part of it was I wanted to highlight a difference between the neighborhoods of Aventil and Dentonhill. Fenmere controls Dentonhill’s underworld completely, but Aventil is fractured. Those fractures had to mean something to the people who live it, they had to have something to be fiercely loyal to. They had to belong to something. Street gangs were the most logical way to show that.

CS: The main character in the first series and both main characters in the second series have major secrets with everything at stake. Why the ultimate vulnerability secret theme?

MRM: For all those characters, there is a balance they have to walk of what they need to do, and what the world around them is going to allow them to do. Satrine Rainey from A Murder of Mages needs to make twenty crowns a week to support her family. She cannot do that honestly. It’s simply not an option the world around gives her. Some of the best drama and tension comes from characters having to navigate that balance– is maintaining the secret worth the price of what they need?

CS: Do you get a lot of comparisons to The Name on the Wind and Harry Potter? Are these comparisons fair?

MRM: I do! I’d say they’re perfectly fair comparisons (and lovely things to be compared to), but those comparisons do tend to be based on things on the surface. Harry, Kvothe and Veranix all might be in academic settings, use magic and have dead parents, but who they are and what they do in those circumstances diverge wildly from that point.

CS: Which of the 2 main magicians gets more social networking/book reviewer buzz, Veranix or Minox?

MRM: That’s a tough call. Right now, Veranix is getting the most, but that’s because The Alchemy of Chaos just came out. When An Import of Intrigue is released, I’m sure Minox will be the one getting the most attention.

CS: Mages, mafiosos, detectives, assassins, prefects, professors, gangs. How do you keep track of all these characters and give them the development, interaction, plot significance, and scene count they warrant?

MRM: I do a fair amount of outlining, and that involves both the structure of the novel and the character arcs. For me, that’s a crucial part of keeping all the balls in the air. Also, I like to think about each character having a full life beyond whatever is occurring in the novel. Even the two random police officers who stumble upon Veranix at an inopportune moment— they’ve got their own backstory. I’ve been a stage actor, and usually I played small parts, so I like to come at it with the mindset that each character should be interesting to play, no matter how brief their appearance is.

CS: Are the stories of the main characters from 2 or 3 of the series going to eventually become intertwined in an epic finale?

MRM: Definitely my long-term plans involve greater integration of the elements and characters here. I’m telling the story of all of Maradaine, filtered through the lens of some of the important players. So yeah, you’re going to be seeing some intertwining.

CS: What’s it like working with DAW editors? How involved does she get in the writing and editing process?

MRM: Sometimes I am just stunned by the faith that Sheila Gilbert and DAW have placed in me. I mean, they bought two books to release in the same year, coming out just months apart. They bought two more before the second one came out. Then four more before the third one. I mean, that last one really astounds me. A lot of other publishers would have been all, “Let’s see how these next books do before we commit to anything.” But DAW committed to me, and because of that, I’m getting to tell the stories I’ve been wanting to tell, in the way I want to tell them. Sheila gets what I’m trying to do, and a large part of her role as editor is to give me ideas how to make that story clearer, stronger and more vibrant. On top of the work we’ve done on the books that have come out and the one’s scheduled to be released, I’ve got two other projects in my to-do pile with notes from her on how to make them better.

CS: Who does that awesome cover art?

MRM: That would be Paul Young. I’ve really been thrilled with what he’s done for me— I think he’s capture the spirit of what I’ve been striving for in my stories. You can check out more of his work here.

CS: You’re scheduled for the ArmadilloCon workshop this summer. What course will you teach?

MRM: The ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop is a one-day intensive, where we run panels in the morning, and small-group critique sessions in the afternoon. I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for people who want to have workshopping experience with professionals, but can’t afford the commitment of something like Clarion. I’ve been working on it for the past few years, and before that I went as a student several times. I found it incredibly valuable experience that I would recommend to anyone. Read here for more information on ArmadilloCon and the workshop.

CS: So when can we expect the sequels for the first and second series and the first installment and sequel of the third series?

MRM: Here’s the schedule as I know it right now:

  • An Import of Intrigue (Maradaine Constabulary #2): November 2016
  • The Holver Alley Crew (Holver Alley #1): Early 2017
  • The Imposters of Aventil (Thorn #3): Late 2017
  • Lady Henterman’s Wardrobe (Holver Alley #2): Early 2018
  • A Parliament of Bodies (Maradaine Constabulary #3): Late 2018

Carl Slaughter wrote many reviews for Tangent before moving to Diabolical Plots as a reviewer and later an interviewer. He conducted 50 plus interviews for Diabolical Plots. For the past 14 years, he has traveled the globe teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) in 6 counties on 3 continents. Carl has traveled to 18 countries and counting. (He’s tired.) In college, Carl studied journalism, broadcasting, advertising, English, speech, and history. For several years, he was a stringer for the Associated Press. His essay on Chinese culture was published in Beijing Review. His essay on Korean culture was published in The Korea Times, as was his expose on the Korean ESL industry. His travel/education reports about Thailand occasionally appear on the Ajarn website. Carl subscribes to the Mike Resnick philosophy of fiction: It’s all about the characters. Check out Carl’s Diabolical Plots interviews, his Facebook photos with his students of all ages from around the world, and a short Youtube video of Carl with some VERY excited Thai kindergarteners.

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