Thursday, March 8, 2018

Guest Post with Marshall Ryan Maresca

Photo Content from Marshall Ryan Maresca

Marshall Ryan Maresca grew up in upstate New York and studied film and video production at Penn State. He now lives Austin with his wife and son. His work appeared in Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction and Rick Klaw’s anthology Rayguns Over Texas. He also has had several short plays produced and has worked as a stage actor, a theatrical director and an amateur chef. His novels The Thorn of Dentonhill and A Murder of Mages each begin their own fantasy series, both set in the port city of Maradaine. For more information, visit Marshall’s website at


So, way back in 2000, I was talking a certain amount of talk about the idea of writing novels, and had a number of little snippets of stories. Fits and starts. I also had the starts of worldbuilding– more broad brushstrokes stuff than real details. A world with a handful of nations that could mostly be described with a couple of sentences. But I certainly didn’t have anything concrete that I could consider real writing work, or even anything that was properly on its way to being real something acceptably novel-like.

And then came the strange offer.

Through a friend-of-a-friend, I was brought into a project involving a fledgling gaming company. They were gearing up to release a new RPG system, and a series of rulebooks to go along with it. The game was supposed to be a sort of universal-system, usable in any fantasy setting, but they wanted there to be a “house setting” that they could present, and the worldbuilding I had done was the setting they wanted. And they wanted some tie-in novels to support the setting.

I really was not ready for this.

For one, I needed to get the worldbuilding to a level that was sufficiently organized and comprehensible to someone who wasn’t me. For another, I needed to have something that could at least be a start to these tie-in novels that they wanted.

Except, of course, part of the problem was they weren’t really sure what they wanted. I’m not in any way going to say that I was writing great stuff that they ought to have run with… but they were never able to articulate what it was they were looking for. I never even quite got a straight answer of whether they really wanted novels or something else.

What I did know is that they had 100 ISBNs. I’m not sure if anything ever came about. The project didn’t so much fall apart as peter out. I don’t even know what happened to the people behind it. Communication just stopped after a certain point, and nothing more came of it.

As part of the process of this, I ended up with the beginning of something, a beginning that was for all intents a travelogue-in-discussion. Really. While things happened, what happened was more or less a thin excuse for the main characters to be able to discuss each nation in the world in broad brushstrokes. While it was very rough, a lot of what was in this bit were the beginning seeds of what would eventually become the (deservedly trunked) Crown of Druthal.

It took quite some time, but I did eventually finish that novel. It was not good. Crown had some good bits, but it was mostly a plotless meander, a travelogue novel where events of the story were dictated by where I wanted to take the characters on their tour of the worldbuilding work I did. It was very much, “I have done all this work, and now I must show it to you.”

But as I was finishing Crown, I started to come up with the core ideas that would eventually evolve into those first books in each Maradaine series: Thorn of Dentonhill, A Murder of Mages, Holver Alley Crew and Way of the Shield. Now, these were especially rough core ideas. A sense of the characters, and what kind of stories they would be. I had now figured out that I needed an outline to break a story down before I got started with really writing it. So my next step was figuring out how to properly outline a whole novel.

Frankly, a lot of advice out there on the subject is not a big help. I’ve railed on the flaw in “three act structure” before, and will do so again, but core of it is “Act Two” is usually left to “rising action”, which tends to boil down to “more stuff happens” and it’s not particularly helpful.

So I got to work, instead of looking for advice on outlines or analysis of stories*, analyzing stories myself and figuring out how they were structured, and applying that to developing a structure for myself. I used novels, of course, but also TV series and comic books. These two were actually quite useful in thinking about how to keep hooks in an audience, how to use episodic events in service of a greater story.

And with that, I designed my Twelve-Part Outline Structure**. And from that, I was able to put together a rough draft of Thorn of Dentonhill.

So, as I approached the end of 2009, I had a “polished” 70K draft of Thorn of Dentonhill that I was querying. I had a rough draft of Holver Alley Crew. I still had a delusion that any given project I was working on, I would be able to finish “next month”. I had now gone to the ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop two more times, using the opening chapters of those two projects.

In 2008, the opening chapter of Thorn prompted the pro writer I worked with to tell me, “You’re really close with this.”

In 2009, the opening chapter of Holver Alley prompted an editor from Tor to tell me, “You have a lot of real talent.” Yeah, I floated on that for a while.

Queries for Thorn were getting some hits, but nothing sticking.

And I sold a short story. A REALLY short story. Specifically, to the Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction, and my story was only 21 words long. But it was a sale, in a real book that was going to be in bookstores.

And then I got an email from the man who would, eventually, become my agent. He had read Thorn, and loved it, BUT at 70K, it was too short to sell. I needed to beef it up to the 90-100K zone. You know, novel length. Something I had missed in my process.

I wonder how many agents quickly dismissed my query letter because of the word count.

So, I dove back into Thorn.

This process involves a lot of waiting. And doing more while waiting. The waiting is not a bug, it’s a feature. The slowness of the industry gives you time to work and get better.

When I rail against self-publishing, it’s not because self-publishing is, by definition, bad. It’s because most people do it out of impatience, and thus do it badly. This series has been loaded with stories of doing work that wasn’t good enough and striving to do better.

A friend from my theatre days would say, “Any problem can be solved with money or time.” Time is your friend in this business. Use it.

This is all my way of saying that my re-write of Thorn didn’t immediately lead to my agent signing me on. It took him a while to get back to it, and he waived his claim to exclusivity in the process. I explored other agents, had a few other full-requests, and walked pretty far down the road with one before she passed.

I even went to a conference to pitch to agents. This was a great experience, which I recommend if you can swing it, and here’s why: just about everyone attending is in the same place as you. At a lot of genre conventions, you’ve got fans who are there to be fans, and pros who are there to promote… and there’s not a lot for the aspiring writer. Pitch conferences are for the aspiring writer, so you find a lot of camaraderie.

In fact– at this point I was querying both Thorn and Holver Alley, and had finished a draft of Murder of Mages. Like I said, use the time, keep working. My scheduled pitch was for Sunday morning, and after some vacillating I had decided to pitch Thorn. Saturday at around 5pm, I checked my email and saw I had received a form-letter rejection to my query for Holver Alley.

From the very agent I was pitching to the next morning.

Needless to say, I was a mess. And this is where the camaraderie comes into play. One of the volunteers, who was also pitching her own project, spotted me and immediately realized Something Is Very Wrong. She more or less dragged me over to her table, pried the problem out of me, and then proceeded to shove me in a secluded corner with another agent.

Now, neither said corner shoving nor the following morning’s perfectly fine scheduled pitch resulted in me getting signed– that happened a couple months later with Mike, so it all worked out well in the end– but in that moment, it was exactly what I needed.

And, hey, two months later I had an agent. So that meant I had made it, right?

Yeah… still a ways to go. Thorn and Murder didn’t sell for over two years.

So, I had drafted Thorn of Dentonhill, A Murder of Mages, The Holver Alley Crew and The Way of the Shield. In essence, four “Book Ones” that were able to just be their own books, but also able to launch series, if they sold and that’s what the publisher wanted. Excellent. And they were all set in the same city, so I was able to use all that worldbuilding work together. But, of course, my brain started working on what those series would each look like— rough outlines and long plans.

And then it hit me: a beautiful, absurd, absolutely mad Long Plan where all four series both do their own thing while working together as a greater sequence. To the best of my knowledge, no one had ever tried such a thing. I wrote out these notes and sent them to a dear old friend.

“The only way you could do this,” he said, “Is if you got the right publisher. Someone who would actually let you pull this crazy plan off.”

I got the call from DAW Books in December of 2013. And friends: they were The Right Publisher. Sheila Gilbert, my editor, seems to understand exactly what I’m trying to do and works with me to make it the best that I can make it. And that meant giving each series its own feel, its own vibe. It’s own voice.

And now we’re on Lady Henterman’s Wardrobe, which is the seventh book in the entire Maradaine sequence, but only the second Streets of Maradaine novel. And this is where some of the elements of the Big Crazy Plan really start to kick in. Some of those bits will be subtle, and some will be sledgehammers.

But it’ll be a heck of a ride.

Mixing high fantasy and urban fantasy, the second novel of the Streets of Maradaine series follows the Rynax brothers' crew of outlaws as they attempt their biggest heist yet and restore justice to the common people.

The neighborhood of North Seleth has suffered--and not just the Holver Alley Fire. Poverty and marginalization are forcing people out of the neighborhood, and violence on the streets is getting worse. Only the Rynax brothers--Asti and Verci--and their Holver Alley Crew are fighting for the common people. They've taken care of the people who actually burned down Holver Alley, but they're still looking for the moneyed interests behind the fire.

The trail of breadcrumbs leads the crew to Lord Henterman, and they plan to infiltrate the noble's house on the other side of the city. While the crew tries to penetrate the heart of the house, the worst elements of North Seleth seem to be uniting under a mysterious new leader. With the crew's attention divided, Asti discovers that the secrets behind the fire, including ones from his past, might be found in Lady Henterman's wardrobe.


"Marshall Ryan Maresca is some kind of mad genius…. Not since Terry Pratchett’s Ankh Morpork have we enjoyed exploring every angle of an invented locale quite this much." —B&N Sci-fi & Fantasy Blog

“Veranix is Batman, if Batman were a teenager and magically talented... Action, adventure, and magic in a school setting will appeal to those who love Harry Potter and Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind.” ―Library Journal (starred)
You can purchase Lady Henterman's Wardrobe at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you MARSHALL RYAN MARESCA for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Lady Henterman’s Wardrobe 
(The Streets of Maradaine #2) by Marshall Ryan Maresca.


  1. Depends when the weather warm I like to go for an early morning walk because even in the downtown area it is so quiet. In the winter reading a good book for the day.

  2. "How would you like to spend a Sunday morning?" Alone with my regrets!

  3. Reading and having a late breakfast/brunch.

  4. I'd like to be alone so I can read all day.

  5. Alone with my TV remote in one hand and a book in the other.

  6. I like to sleep in & then read for a few hours.