An Interview with Melissa Caruso

Thanks very much for taking the time for this interview, and congratulations on the recent(ish) release of The Quicksilver Court! Have you taken some downtime to yourself, or is it back to the grindstone for The Ivory Tomb?

Thank you very much! I had a lovely break at the beginning of the year while The Ivory Tomb was with my editor—the first significant stretch of downtime I’d had in a long time, so I really needed it—and I’ve been working hard on line edits, which I just turned in. With me, the challenge with line edits is that it always looks like it’s not going to be that much work, but then I keep finding more ways to make the book better or realizing that a comment from my editor that looked simple has far-reaching implications, so it’s always a scramble to get them done to my satisfaction before deadline!

Ryx, from the Rooks and Ruin trilogy (containing The Obsidian Tower and The Quicksilver Court so far), has had a hell of a journey so far. Is it difficult writing extreme challenges for beloved characters?

It is, actually! I often catch myself going too soft on them in early drafts and have to get meaner in edits. Which is weird because often the scenes where the most horrible things happen are the most fun to write, but when I’m not focused on a big epic “OH NO!” event sometimes I tend to default to being nicer than I should be, and I have to make myself be more ruthless.

What has been your hardest scene to write?

The hardest scenes to write technically speaking tend to be the most boring! When not much happens and I have to just drop some info or get the characters from point A to point B, it’s a huge challenge doing that in a way that’s either interesting or invisible. The hardest scene to write emotionally for me was a scene in The Unbound Empire where Amalia makes a smart-at-the-time choice to leave a bad situation and then something really terrible happens. Of course as the author I knew what was going on, and somehow it was much harder writing this scene when I knew it was a pivotal moment and my character didn’t yet. It felt extra cruel!

What was the catalyst for you to start your writing career?

I’ve wanted to be an author since I was a tiny kid, so it’s hard to say! There was a moment when I was about 4 years old and sat down to make my first stapled-together picture book with crayons (it was a sort of dragon field guide, and I still have it). There was the time when my dad got me my first copy of Writer’s Market when I was about 10 years old, and I first read up on the publishing process and started seriously thinking about submitting my work. (He’s amazing and has always been incredibly supportive.) There was a writers group that brought me closer to a friend and fellow author (Deva Fagan, who writes great middle grade fantasy), before either of us were published, that let me see how hard she was working and how seriously she took her career and helped inspire me to do the same. And of course getting my agent, the amazing Naomi Davis, who was the actual catalyst who made getting traditionally published possible in the first place!

Has the experience of being a writer been as you expected?

Not at all, to be honest! Early on I bought into this myth that writers sit down and spew forth a brilliant first draft in one big compulsive burst that is perfect and only needs a few commas fixed, and that once you get published a rainbow appears over your head and the credits roll and you live happily ever after. As it turns out, there is a LOT more work and editing and sweating and rewriting involved in the actual writing process than younger me could have dreamed of. And it turns out that what actually happens when you get published is you now have a job, and your hobby is suddenly work, including a lot of things that aren’t writing like paperwork and business emails and website maintenance and the whole publicity can of worms. I still absolutely love it, and it sure beats any other job I’ve ever had, but I wish I could go back in time and tell younger me that a writing career is in fact a career and I should prepare accordingly!

Have you written anyone you know into one of your novels?

I’ve never based a character directly on a real person, but of course various personality traits from real life people get mixed up in the blender when I’m creating characters. I also named a bunch of countries and cities after my friends’ larp characters when I needed a whole bunch of place names really fast for the map artist (mixing up the spelling a bit). Oh, and come to think of it I did put one of my cats in a little cameo at the end of The Defiant Heir, and at the end of The Unbound Empire there’s a background character with one line who is loosely inspired by my younger daughter (the one saying she wants to make a flying bunny chimera, but they won’t let her).

I see that you are involved in Live Action Role Playing. Which class is your favourite?

I always play fighters in larps! (Two blades by preference, but I also sometimes fight with a shield.) In TTRPGs I love playing characters with flexible utility powers like shapechanging or illusion, but in larps I just really enjoy swordfighting. Ideally with a little bit of healing on the side for those big hero moments where you rescue your downed companions.

What recent minor inconvenience are you wanting to get off your chest? (Mine is the fact that they have discontinued the brand of deodorant that I have used for the last 15 years. It’s a travesty!)

Having worked in software, any online form (or series of forms from the same entity, like my kids’ schools) you need to fill out that keeps asking you for your contact info over and over! I KNOW it’s in your database! The minute I give you any unique identifying information, you should autofill all this stuff! Why do I have to type it again and again?!

Which author is criminally unrecognised in your eyes?

Ooooh, well, I wouldn’t say UNrecognized, but I would love to see even more love for Tasha Suri, whose books are all AMAZING! I absolutely loved her atmospheric, compelling The Jasmine Throne, and her debut Empire of Sand was also incredible! She does amazing worldbuilding, and her magic always has this dangerously dreamlike quality that feels raw and haunting, and her characters and their arcs are absolutely incredible. She drags them through some dark places, but in the end her characters seize hope and power and love.

What is next for you?

I’ve got the third and final book of Rooks and Ruin, THE IVORY TOMB, coming out in December, which I can’t wait to share with the world! I’m also working on a Secret Mystery Project that I can’t talk about yet, but I’m VERY excited about it.

Thank you so much for your time!

The Tethered Mage, and The Obsidian Tower can be bought from the Hatchette website, or from

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