Thursday, January 29, 2015

Putting Emotion on the Page

Today's designated topic is on how to put emotion on the page.  But with Thorn of Dentonhill's release just days away, it's just about impossible to talk about HOW to do that.  So, instead, I'll just put some emotion on the page.  Or screen, as it were.
And that emotion is gratitude, because the book would not exist without the assistance of quite a few people.
First of all, there is my amazing and incredibly patient wife, Deidre Kateri Aragon.  She has been an anchor in my life for the past fifteen years, giving me the ability to pound away at a keyboard day after day and making this book happen.  But more importantly, she got me on task in the first place, moving me from being that guy who just talked about “writing a book at some point” to actually making writing a real focus in my life.  She, as well as my son Nicholas, have been a source of constant support and strength through the process of becoming a novelist.
No less important to thank are my parents, Louis and Nancy Maresca, and my mother-in-law, Kateri Aragon.  My mother, especially, read an early draft and gave it a solid critique and line edit. 
Next, there are all the many people who read versions and drafts of Thorn, and gave useful advice that helped shape it into a stronger, better work.  This includes Kimberly Frost and Julie Kenner, as well as Miriam Robinson Gould, and the Bat City Novelocracy crew: Kevin Jewell, Abby Goldsmith, Ellen Van Hensbergen, Leigh Berggren, Nicole Duson and Amanda Downum.
A huge portion of thanks has to go to Stina Leicht, who has been running the ArmadilloCon Writers Workshop for many years, and after I had attended it several times, brought me on board to run it with her.  Stina has been a friend, a mentor, a sympathetic ear, and a good source for the occasional much-needed whap upside the head, which is exactly what every writer needs.
I can’t emphasize enough how much is owed to my agent, Mike Kabongo.  He’s handled with grace and humor the arduous task of dealing with my constant harassment while shopping my work.  He deserves extra accolades for taking an interest in a manuscript that was not ready or sellable, but filled with potential.  He really shepherded that work, which eventually became this novel.
Further thanks are owed to my editor, Sheila Gilbert, as well as everyone else at DAW and Penguin: Josh Starr, Katie Hoffman, Nita Basu, and probably a dozen other people who helped bring this about whose names I never knew.  I am deeply grateful for all the hard work they’ve done to make this the best book it can possibly be.
Finally, there is my dear friend Daniel J. Fawcett, who has been my sounding board and bent ear on everything creative I’ve done since the seventh grade.  Nothing in this book would be what it is without his influence.  I wouldn’t be who I am today without his friendship.

Monday, January 26, 2015


Folks, after what feels like an eternity-- or at least the entirety of 2014-- we are now just EIGHT DAYS from The Thorn of Dentonhill coming out.  I've been busy writing guest blogs and interviews, and in general trying to keep my head from flying off.  
So, if you haven't ordered Thorn yet, here's some links where you can check it out:
Barnes & Noble
And, of course, BookPeople, where you can order a signed copy, and they ship worldwide.  But if you are in the Austin area, on February 20th I'll be appearing at BookPeople doing a reading and signing.  And, of course, I'll be reading at Boskone on the 14th.  I don't have a signing scheduled, but will gladly sign any copy that's put in my hands.
Not convinced yet?  Then here's an excerpt from Thorn

Chapter 1

“THIEF!” a heavy voice shouted from the door.
That’s rich, one of them calling me thief, Veranix Calbert thought. He had arrived only seconds before. He hadn’t had the chance to steal anything yet.
The man at the door was large, a good foot taller than Veranix, all muscle and bone. Gray wool vest, white shirtsleeves, thin rapier at his belt. Pretenses of a man of substance.
Veranix flashed a grin at the man. “If you think there’s a thief, you should call the constables.”
“Oh, no, whelp. We won’t be needing them.” The man drew the sword and edged closer.
There wasn’t supposed to be anyone here. Veranix had scouted the place for the past three days. This of­fice above the fish cannery was used only as a drop spot. No one stayed here, no one kept watch. The point of it was to avoid notice.
“Are you sure?” Veranix asked, tensing his legs. “I hear they are awfully friendly.”
The man charged in, blade swinging. “I’ll show you friendly!”
Veranix jumped out of the way and rolled to the side, landing back on his feet by the desk in the corner. He was grateful that, while the man had a sword, he didn’t know how to use it: all muscle, no finesse. Who­ever this guy was, he wasn’t a guard. Veranix could handle him. Veranix wished he hadn’t left his weapons behind, but he had another advantage over the guy.
“Really, chap, that’s not friendly at all,” he said. His gaze flashed over the desk, taking in the scraps of pa­per and parchment covering it. The room was too dark to know if the information he wanted was there.
“Not to you,” the man said as he turned back around to face Veranix. “But I’ve got friends. Oy!” Three more men, dressed and armed the same as their friend, ap­peared at the door.
“That’s really not fair,” Veranix said. He grabbed a handful of papers blindly and shoved them into the pocket of his cloak.
“You think you’re going to take those?” the first man said. They all stood there, looking quite pleased with themselves.
Veranix conceded they had good reason. They blocked the door and the window, and they were four muscular men with swords. From what they saw, he was an un­armed, scrawny-looking young man, barely fully grown. They certainly thought they had him trapped.
“If you don’t mind terribly,” Veranix said.
“ ’Fraid we do, mate. Either put them back, or we make you.”
“Tempting offer,” Veranix said. As unthreatening as he must have appeared to them, they held back, hands resting on their sheathed swords. They clearly wanted to avoid a fight. That gave him a chance. Even so, with­out weapons, he knew he wasn’t strong enough to last in a fair brawl with one of these guys, let alone four.
Good thing he wasn’t interested in a fair brawl.
With the few seconds he had, Veranix drew as much numina as he could. He didn’t shape it much. He didn’t have time, and he didn’t want them to realize what he was doing. He channeled the magic energy out in a quick, hard blast in front of him. He didn’t give it enough raw force to hurt any of them, that wasn’t the point. The papers on the desk scattered, filling the air. All the men jumped back in surprise, and Veranix darted for the door.
Quick and dirty, he drew in more numina and re­leased it out again. In a flash, the floor under the men was covered in a thin sheen of grease. Veranix braced himself and knocked headfirst into the man in the mid­dle. The man lost his footing and fell over. Veranix slid out into the hallway, overlooking the cannery floor. Not slowing down, he launched himself over the railing.
Right below the railing was a bin filled with dead fish and half-melted ice, too big to avoid. Veranix crashed into it, the cold more jarring than the impact. It wasn’t an ideal landing, but it was good enough to es­cape.
“Get him!” a voice called from above. Doing two bits of fast magic had left Veranix winded and woozy, but he didn’t have time to catch his breath. He rolled for­ward, tossing himself onto the floor of the shop. The men were getting to the top of the stairs, still stumbling and slipping from his grease trick. He tried to push over the bin of ice to block their path, but it was too heavy for him. With a shrug and a grin, he bounded over the cleaning tables toward the door.
“Never leave your gear behind, no matter how small the window,” he muttered to himself as he ran out into the street. If he hadn’t left his weapons on the opposite roof, he could have escaped without resorting to magic.
He didn’t have time to be subtle. With wild desper­ation, he pulled in all the numina he could and chan­neled it to his legs.
He jumped up, leaping high from the dusty cobble­stone road to the top of the roof across the street. He al­most fell short, landing chest-first on the eaves. He scrambled over and fell flat onto the rooftop. His whole body screamed with exhaustion, barely able to move.
He cursed himself for being careless, doing magic badly. The jump was messy, all the magic he just did was messy, using more numina than he needed. That much, all at once, was more than his body could han­dle. Sloppy work. Magic like that made big ripples of numina that other mages would notice, could trace. Someone might start poking his nose around. If that led back to him, still Uncircled, still at school . . . he’d al­most rather take his chances fighting Fenmere’s goons.
“The blazes is he?” he heard a voice in the street be­low.
“Couldn’t have gone far,” another said.
“Anyone get a good look at him?”
“Skinny kid, maroon cloak. That’s about it.”
“What did he take?”
“Don’t know, but Fenmere will hide us if we don’t find him.”
Rapid footsteps went off in different directions. He didn’t hear any of the men go into the building. They probably wouldn’t come up and find him. They’d have no reason to look up, no reason to think he could make it to the roof as fast as he did. Head still spinning from the magic burn, he grabbed his bow, arrows, staff, and pack, right where he had left them. He glanced across the street, back at the office window. From up here, it did look too small to squeeze through with his equipment. In retrospect, he could have done it. He shook his head, deciding not to leave anything behind again unless it was necessary.
If nothing else, with the white moon nearly full and hanging low on the horizon, the view of the city up on the roof was spectacular. The wide sprawl of Mara­daine spread out before him. The thick clusters of gray brick of Dentonhill; past that, the densely packed streets and old white stone of Inemar, the true central neighborhood of the city. Beyond that, the wide stretch of dark water that was the Maradaine River. Lamps from sailed ships dotted the river, as well as lighting up the bridges to the north side of the city. Far across the river, the marble towers of the North Maradaine neigh­borhoods and the gleaming dome of the Parliament shone in the moonlight.
He glanced around the roof. There was a drying line with clothes hung on it, a few chairs and a table, a door giving entry into the building. He tried the door, find­ing it unlocked, a dark staircase leading down. It looked like a hallway, not direct access to an apartment. Sighing, he slunk inside. Normally he would have magicked his way down to the ground, or from roof to roof, to get back home. Right now, he couldn’t muster enough magic to lift a bug.
He wrapped the bow in his cloak, and hid it in his pack with his arrows and the papers he had stolen. He didn’t want to risk the undue attention he would get
walking through the streets armed. The staff he’d have to chance, as there was no way of hiding it. Given how his body ached, he might have to actually use it to walk. Luckily, the thugs hadn’t seen him with it before.
He went down one flight of stairs, leading to a dank, moldy landing with doors for four apartments. He had only taken one step down the next flight when one of the doors opened.
Veranix froze.
A young man, shabby hair and dull eyes, poked his head out the door. It took a moment before his eyes focused on Veranix, but then he smiled and nodded.
“Hey,” he said, calm and friendly.
“Hey,” Veranix returned.
“Who is it?” another man’s voiced hissed from in­side the apartment.
“Just some guy,” the man at the door said.
“Is he buying?”
The man at the door turned back to Veranix. “You here to buy a ‘vi’?”
The words were asked casually, but they hit Veranix hard. They were selling effitte. He knew he should say no. He was spent, head spinning, he needed to get back home. He should just walk away.
“Tell him to roll his own hand if he’s not buying!”
Veranix took a step off the stairs back onto the land­ing. “You’re selling?”
“If you’ve got coin,” the man inside called back. Ve­ranix took a tick out of his pocket, and showed it to the doorman.
“You’re not a stick, are you?”
“Do I look like a stick?”
The skinny guy at the door chuckled. “Nah. Like they come up here anyway, except to buy.”
He let Veranix step into the flop. It was exactly what he expected from an effitte den. A few low-burning lamps sat on cracked wooden tables. A floor riddled with clothes, dirt, and other filth. An iron stove sat in the middle of the room, and a few bedrolls huddled around it. The fishy reek of the cannery filled the air, though Veranix realized that was probably his own scent after falling in the ice bin.
One older man, wearing just a stained vest and ripped pants, crouched by the stove, rubbing black­ened hands together in front of the open grate. “You buying, kid?” He was obviously the boss in here. One other person, a young girl wrapped in a blanket, maybe fourteen or fifteen, sat against the far wall, staring blankly into empty space.
Veranix held up the coin. “If you’ve got it to sell.”
“Half-crown for a vial.”
Veranix nodded. He reached into his pocket, and pushing a small amount of magic through his fingers, made the sound of several coins jingling. “How much for the whole stash?”

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Research, Writing and Worldbuilding

I'm a big believer in research as a key part of writing, regardless of what you write.  It's funny, because I've heard people-- in talking about writing fantasy or sci-fi-- that it's easier since "you can just make stuff up".  But nothing could be further from the truth. Good writing, especially genre writing, requires verisimilitude.  It needs to feel legitimate, and that comes from research. 
Some of that research comes from learning a basic understanding of how the real world works, and applying that to the worlds you build.  For example, in our modern society, it's easy to be divorced from the fundamentals of where our food comes from*-- but that's no excuse for writing a story in which you have a Nordic-style medieval culture where they have fresh subtropical fruits.  Yes, I have seen that.
But research can also be lateral.  I love reading non-fiction books, especially about history, and one thing I loved was The Disappearing Spoon, which was about the history of the periodic table of elements, including bits about the history of each element on the table.  What this gave me was insight into some of the history and methodology of the formal and informal scientists from the 15th to 19th centuries.  I was able to use that to give verisimilitude to the academic environments in Thorn of Dentonhill.  It wasn't research to that end, but it was increasing my general understanding, and I was able to use it.
Research can also be hands-on.  I have a writing friend who, in writing a main character who was a drag-racer and wheel-man for bank robberies, went to drive on a racetrack so she could get a direct sense of the high-speed driving her character would do.  I went to Mexico City and observed how street interactions went in different neighborhoods**, and that went into Thorn and how the folk in the Aventil and Dentonhill neighborhoods behaved. 
The short point is: research makes for better books.  And maybe you'll get to drive a racecar.
*- Yes, I'm often using food as an example.
**- This was especially useful because I was out of my spoken-language comfort zone, since it forced me to really focus on the body-language of interaction. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Navigating Kickstarters and Patronage

There's been some noise lately about writers putting up Kickstarter campaigns, and the ethics of doing such a thing-- whether writers have the right to ask for basic living expenses as part of such a campaign. 
And the answer is, of course they do.  Just like anyone has the right to choose not to fund any Kickstarter that crosses their path.  There is no obligation to kickstart someone, and there is no reason to shame someone just because they decided to do such a thing.
That said, I personally get a bad taste in my mouth at the idea of asking for money so I can write a book.  I'm not saying it's a wrong thing to do, just that is would be wrong for me to do.  I wouldn't be comfortable with it.
Part of that comes from thinking about Neil Gaiman's response to complaints that George R. R. Martin wasn't devoting his life 24/7 to writing the next Game of Thrones book:
George R. R. Martin is not your bitch.
I love this, I really do, as I think it hits exactly on what the writer does and does not owe the audience.  The writer can take the time they need to finish, and the audience can individually decide if that's "too long" for them to still be interested.  But that's it-- demanding the author work at your pace is not part of the contract.
BUT, in requesting patronage in this form, I feel like you're inviting that kind of complaint.  You're telling your audience, "Hey, I'm OK with being your bitch."
That's not a position I'm personally comfortable putting myself in. What other people are comfortable with is their business, and I'm not going to berate them for it.  I'm of the same mind for self-publishing: not for me, but if you're happy with it, have at it.
On the other side, though, if you're blowing a gasket every time someone puts up a Kickstarter that you don't want to support, well, you must have a lot of spare gaskets lying about.  I honestly don't have time to go looking around for that sort of thing.
I've got books to work on.
Speaking of, Thorn of Dentonhill releases in two weeks.  I have an excerpt up on the webpage, so check that out.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Perspective and POV

I'm a pretty die-hard multiple-third-person-limited POV kind of guy.  This is because perspective and POV are tools in the writer's toolkit, and multiple-third-person-limited POVs are, for me, the vice grips of writing. Maximum control and maximum torque.
All right, that metaphor is a little strangled.
I'm not a fan of first-person, because I find it far too limiting.  Also, I come from a background of film and theatre, so I'm used to having some distance between the audience and the characters.  Plus, those are the kind of books I like.  I have very few favorites that are first-person.
I'm also not a fan of third-person omniscient, at least as far as my own writing goes.  I think it can be done very well-- Neil Gaiman is fantastic at it, for example-- and for it to work, I think it needs a distinct narrator's voice-- as if the narrator is a separate character.  I've dabbled with it, but it isn't a good fit for the stories I'm telling.
Here's what I really like about multiple-third-person: I get to jump around and be in the right person's head for any given scene.  I get to give the reader information that the main characters don't have.
I'm not really a big believer in any "rules" for who can be a POV character.  For me, the best POV character is whoever makes the scene most interesting.  Main character, secondary character, or random interloper who happens to be observing the action.
Of course, the real trick is making sure it all works.  Giving a character the POV is giving them power to define the narrative. You need to ensure that it won't disrupt your story. For example, if you're telling a murder mystery, jumping to the POV of a suspect will immediately confirm or exonerate them as the murderer.  You don't want to do that until it's the right time in the story to give that information.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Boskone Schedule

Well, adding to the underlying excitement that is the release of Thorn of Dentonhill, I'll be attending Boskone, February 13th-15th.  I'm quite excited- first of all to attend a con where I'll be able to mention Thorn in conjunction with the phrase, "And you can get it in the dealer's room" or words to that effect.  Moreover, it's looking like a fantastic con all around, with a lot very cool people in attendance. 
Here's my schedule:
Are We Living in the Superhero Renaissance?
Saturday 10:00 - 10:50, Harbor III (Westin)

Marvel and DC heroes and heroines keep ka-powing at us from every screen and page, reviving the comics industry along the way. Why is the superhero biz suddenly so mega-ultra super? Why is this kind of storytelling so compelling? Is it just the special effects — or do we yearn for superheroes to save us from ourselves? Or from something else?
Carrie Vaughn (M), Jack M. Haringa, Daniel M. Kimmel, Marjorie Liu, Marshall Ryan Maresca

Films That Changed Everything
Saturday 12:00 - 12:50, Burroughs (Westin)
Until recently, science fiction and fantasy films were few and far between. Now, SF/F movies have taken over the theater box offices. What changed? More importantly, which films changed everything? Why were these films so important to SF/F, to mainstream cinema, and to the audience?
Bob Devney (M), Daniel M. Kimmel, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Steven Sawicki

SF Theater Renaissance
Saturday 14:00 - 14:50, Burroughs (Westin)
Science fiction theater has been around for a while, but it's just now starting to hit a wider audience. SF theater companies have appeared, SF theater festivals have been produced, and SF plays have been anthologized. Are we in an SF theater renaissance? Panelists discuss some of their favorite plays, what they would still like to see, and what might be next for SF theater.
Marshall Ryan Maresca (M), Andrea Hairston, James Patrick Kelly, A. Vincent Ularich, Jen Gunnels
Boskone's Multi-Author Book Party
Saturday 18:00 - 19:30, (Galleria-Stage)
Fans and readers: come meet the presses who have come to the convention! Join us for Boskone's Multi-Author Book Party, and see what's new from authors you already love, as well as those you have yet to discover.
Reading: Marshall Ryan Maresca
Saturday 20:30 - 20:55, Griffin (Westin)

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Sunday 11:00 - 11:50, Marina 2 (Westin)
From comics to movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has succeeded in keeping comic book fans interested and engaging new ones. With the weekly television show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the reach extends. How does the show expand the storytelling toolkit of comics and/or the movies? Which elements have been successful and which could use some improvement?
Jack M. Haringa (M), LJ Cohen, Jim Mann, Marshall Ryan Maresca, John Langan

On top of that, Thorn of Dentonhill was listed as one of SFF180's "15 in '15: Highly Anticipated SFF".  Not too shabby at all.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Professional Daydreaming

When I was a kid, I was often lost in thought.  I'll admit, there were more than a few times where, say, I had absolutely no idea that homework or some other special project was assigned, because I was just plain somewhere else when the teacher told everyone about it.
I was on other worlds.  I was holding off a horde of orcs at one end of the bridge while my companions escaped across it.  I was leaping into an escape pod before the starship exploded.  I was discovering ruins deep in the heart of a rain forest.
This was one of those things that led teachers to shake their heads at me. 
Except my English teachers, because I was reading plenty, and writing these crazy things.  Doing terrible sketches. Scribbling and scrawling.
There are reams of notebooks and loose paper, still hidden way somewhere, of these daydreams made tangible.  Over time they coalesced into proper descriptions of places, outlines of stories, defined characters.
Over time, I've been able to take those daydreams and get paid to share them with you. I am literally a profession daydreamer, albeit an organized one with charts and notes and pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back.  Still: PROFESSIONAL DAYDREAMER. How awesome is that? 
Hopefully awesome enough that Mr. Stokes can forgive me totally whiffing that "Covered Bridges of the Northeast" project. Sorry, Mr. Stokes.

Monday, January 5, 2015


All right, now where in the home stretch.  The Thorn of Dentonhill comes out in just 29 days.  In other words, when the moon is next in the same phase it is right now, Thorn will be out. 
Of course, this has me excited, as well as busy.  I've got some guest blogs and interviews lined up, and I'll be keeping up with those, as well as updating what's going on over here.  There will be some sort of book release event in Austin, but the details aren't finalized yet.  I'll definitely be posting that here when I know everything. 
Also in February, I'll be at Boskone and Connooga
ARC copies of Thorn have, of course, already been spotted in the wild, including those that were given away through Goodreads and Destination Elsewhere. Thanks to those, there are already a few reviews up on Goodreads, and so far* those have been universally positive.
So, plenty to do, in addition to continuing to write up a storm, so I can keep up with the pace I've set for myself.  After all, A Murder of Mages is only six months away.
See you in the word mines.
*- He says, knocking furious on wood.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Looking Out at 2015

Here we are in the new year, and needless to say, 2015 is a year I'm very excited about.  Mostly for the hoverboards and flying cars, which I'm assured will be available in the next nine months. 
Of course, I'm also excited to have two books coming out in February and July. 
So, what are the plans and goals for 2015, beyond launching two books?  How am I going to push myself?  Because this is far from the time to rest on my laurels.
First, I'm going to finish my space opera novel Banshee.  This one has been a long time coming, and it took me years to figure out what the story needed to be.  Almost everything in my original conception, save the central character, is completely different.  Lt. Kengle is the only constant. With that done, I can officially call myself a fantasy and science fiction novelist.  Plus, I'll finish the rough draft of Murder of Mages II, and we'll get the gears turning on getting Holver Alley Crew and Way of the Shield out in the world.  Because, frankly, now that my foot is in the door, I fully intend to go through, no matter what.
Second, I've been experimenting with an idea for something short-form and serialized.  It's still very much in its nascent stages.  Obviously, this is on the backburner compared to getting the bigger projects done.  (Especially if I'm asked to also do Thorn III and Murder IIIAre they already outlined?  Yes, of course they are.)  But it's a neat idea that I'm starting to crack the spine of.
Thirdly, I want to up my game in terms of paying-it-forward.  Of course, this year I'll be running the ArmadilloCon Writers' Workshop, but I'm contemplating ways to do more beyond that.  Still thinking about what I can do. 
So, here's to 2015 being a fruitful and successful year, and I hope the same for all of you.