Delly, a fire witch and con artist, joins an elite team of female bodyguards in Waggoner’s The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry (Ace, Jan.).

How did you go about building the world?

Since I was a kid, I’ve been a big reader of novels written in England from around 1820 through WWII, so that’s the basic compost pile. That’s where I started, with all these ridiculous tropes from Jane Austen and P.G. Wodehouse and Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens mixed up together.

Leiscourt feels very lived-in. Tell me about how you created that sense of verisimilitude.

Reading a book is like taking a trip. When I’m in a country where I’ve never been before, there are things I’m super aware of: specific ways of speaking, the foods that people eat or the ways in which they eat them. Those little day-to-day lifestyle and social things are the sorts of things I try to pay attention to when I’m writing a fantasy novel. If you were in an office break room in a different country, what would the people there be gossiping about? It wouldn’t be about the folklore of ten thousand years ago, it would be “What’s everyone shopping for? What’s everyone reading in the media?”

The romance between Delly and fellow bodyguard Winn goes very smoothly. What drove you to keep their relationship so angst-free?

I get tired of romances where the way you’re shown two people are meant to be together is that they treat each other terribly. And when it comes to gay romances, there are so few to start with. Do we really need another where everyone’s miserable the entire time? Della and Winn have enough on their plates! They’re trying to catch a serial killer. So, the fact that they like each other is a given, and now it’s more about what this relationship will look like. The excitement of the relationship comes from them figuring out how they’re going to operate as a couple.

How did you balance the action elements with the comedy of manners?

I feel like, in the real world, horrible stuff always butts up against super banal stuff and accidental comedy. Real lives are never “light romantic comedy” or “grimdark.” Everyone’s living in a grimdark romantic comedy. So that’s my preferred way of mixing stuff together.

Delly is an unusual unreliable narrator, who thinks she’s horrible even when she’s doing good. Tell me about that choice.

Honestly, to me that felt very true to life. There are a lot of unreliable female narrators who are secretly villainous, and I think it’s cool to have these brilliant, wicked ladies. But my style of writing is to throw stuff that feels very real and ordinary into fantastical surroundings. And to me, there’s nothing more commonplace than a really great young woman who thinks she’s a pile of garbage.