Marshall Ryan Maresca Talks Worldbuilding and Intrigue

marshall-ryan-marescaWelcome back! It’s been a while, I admit — I’ve had more paying gigs and day-job drama that have taken up most of my time.

But what better way to reopen the blog than with a visit from Marshall Ryan Maresca?

I’ve been a fan since his debut early last year with The Thorn of Dentonhill, a comic book-inspired adventure about a teenage magical vigilante protecting the slums of the sprawling city of Maradaine from drug dealers. A sequel, The Alchemy of Chaos, came out earlier this year.

He has also started building Maradaine into a sandbox of stories, filling in the city’s rich history with a diverse cast of distinct characters throughout its numerous boroughs, like Minox and Satrine, a pair of outcast detectives with mysterious backgrounds. The two star in Maresca’s “Maradaine Constabulary” series, which started last Fall with A Murder of Mages.

intrigueMaresca is currently on a blog tour promoting the second “Constabulary” novel, An Import of Intrigue. The novel, which hits shelves on Tuesday, Nov. 1, follows Minox and Satrine as they investigate a murder with global diplomatic implications in the “Little East” section of Maradaine.

Maresca graciously agreed to stop by to chat about the new novel and share some thoughts on worldbuilding.

So first off, where did you get your idea for Maradaine from? Did it start as something other than a setting for your novels (like a game setting or such?)

I started with the world, which did have its origins as a game setting, but the more I built it the more I wanted to write in it. So I started with the world, and then found the stories within it.

While the two series have been unrelated, you’ve started laying the groundwork for the series’ to weave together, will there be a full “crossover” story, to use a comic term? I guess I’m kind of picturing a sort of”MCU” with interlocking stories and cameos throughout.

Yes. Without going into details — keep your eye out for The Imposters of Aventil in 2017.

alchemyThe two series seem aimed at different audiences, but they both hit respective nostalgic spots for me. The “Thorn” books appeal to the comic-book kid in me, while the “Constabulary” books remind me of the Randall Garrett’s “Lord Darcy” stories. Who were some of your inspirations/influences?

Comics are a huge influence, of course. I spent the late eighties and early nineties buying most everything with an X in the title. I also was a big fan of David Eddings, who, even though he was writing this grand epic tale, made everything very grounded and human at the same time.

Coming from a theater background, how did you get started in writing fantasy?

Just about everyone in theatre is, at their heart, a fantasist. It’s all about making magic and mystery happen. Heck, several of Shakespeare’s classics are straight-up fantasies. Macbeth has witches, prophecies, sword fights and an epic plot to save the throne from an usurper. Hamlet has a ghost show up and say, “Hey, I was murdered, avenge me.” Our genre has deep theatre roots.

You recently announced a third Maradaine series as well. What can you tell us about it?

The first “Streets of Maradaine” book is The Holver Alley Crew, which comes out March of 2017. It focuses on two brothers who used to be thieves who are now trying to live a straight life… until a fire burns down everything they own, so they have to go back to their old life to cover their debts. And along the way, they learn that the fire wasn’t an accident, so they decide they need to do something about that…

Any plans for more beyond that?

Beyond that, I do have a fourth Maradaine series planned, but it’s still being worked on. I don’t have a name for that whole series yet, but the first book is tentatively The Way of the Shield. And that one is very different from the others, as it focuses on the politics and upper classes of Maradaine.

What else do you have in the works?

I’ve got a space opera novel that’s still very much in the rough draft stage. I’ve also started planning a couple novellas set in and around Maradaine. Plus in 2018 there are two more Maradaine books coming out: the second Streets novel, Lady Henterman’s Wardrobe and the third Constabulary novel A Parliament of Bodies.

Any recent books you’d like to recommend?

I’m a big fan of Stina Leicht’s Malorum Gates books—Cold Iron is the first one so far. I really enjoyed Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant.

Thanks again, I’m looking forward to more Maradaine and your guest post!

Thank you for having me!

Marshall Ryan Maresca on Worldbuilding

thorn of dentonhillWorldbuilding is a major part of any genre writer’s task in crafting a believable setting for their work. Even if the setting is “modern day Chicago, but with vampires”, there is worldbuilding work to be done. Worldbuilding can go from the cosmic scope of gods and galaxies, or down as small as the details of one family’s history.

I have a potentially bad habit when I’m worldbuilding, in that I have hard time not filling in all the corners. What’s over that next hill? Who are those people over there? And what’s on the other side of them?

This created a problem when I first tried writing novels. I had done all this worldbuilding, and thus my instinct in writing was to share all of it. So I have two trunked manuscripts that will never see the light of day, and both of them have that fundamental problem: they were all about showing the world, and not about telling an interesting story.

My problem boiled down to this: I wanted to tell a single story that showed the whole world, but the world I had built wasn’t designed to tell a single story. There are plenty of worlds that are built to tell a single story, of course, and there is nothing wrong with that. The worldbuilding is done in service of the story being told.

But what I had realized—what I needed to embrace—was that my worldbuilding work was a sandbox to play in. So I needed to play in it in different ways.

It’s fascinating how these should-be-obvious insights feel revelatory.

So I looked at the world, and specifically the city of Maradaine, to see what kinds of stories could be told there. I turned on the worldbuilding engine again, this time putting all that energy into the city itself, to make the city as real and complex and vibrant as any metropolis.

murder of magesThe main decision I made—and again, this is another should-be-obvious thing that felt like a revelation—was to name and define everything. Neighborhoods, streets, shops. I had to shatter my preconceptions of what a “fantasy city” was. I needed to know Maradaine like I was born there. I had to think about, on a grand and personal level, the history of the city.

Part of that building process meant thinking like a city planner. Maradaine needed infrastructure, and that meant a standing constabulary force, complete with its own history and hierarchy. Maradaine needed a justice system—true justice, which meant I needed constables with checks and limits on their behavior. A legal system that at least gave the appearance of fairness.

That process helped me discover the different possible stories the city held. Rather than figuring out how to make all those stories into one, grand door-stopping epic, I decided to draw out each of those stories separately.

I had a world big enough to let each of them live and breathe on their own, after all.

An Import of Intrigue is available Tuesday, Nov. 1. For more information and the latest news, visit Marshall at

About Michael Senft

I am a freelance writer and critic from Phoenix Arizona. I spent 10 years covering music, the arts and pop culture for the “Arizona Republic” before life circumstances took me away from newspaper. But I never lost my joy at writing. Or reading.
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