I am a writer and avid reader of romances particularly historical romances. Please join me on my journey through time
Please welcome S. A. Bolich author of In Heavens Shadow.
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In Heaven’s Shadow
by S.A. Bolich
Writing has been a part of me for as long as I can remember. I made up stories in my head before I could write; after I learned to read I remember appending “he said” to TV dialog. J Thereafter I wrote down the stories, and had reams of stuff by the time I hit high school. Some people, seeing a gorgeous sunset, want to rush off and paint it, or grab a camera. I itch for a piece of paper so I can describe it. The words start scrolling through my head and I get a little frantic searching for writing materials. I do remember grabbing a paper plate once!
2. How did you come up with ideas for your books? What expertise did you bring to your writing?
Ideas come from nowhere, landing in my head at random, or sometimes from a writing challenge my workshop hosts. Our Short Story in a Week challenge makes us incorporate a list of five words provided by the membership, and I’ve published many stories arising from those often bizarre words. Sometimes visual imagery will spark something. I remember seeing a flag rippling lazily on the breeze at a rodeo once when I was a teenager. I went home and wrote a very intense battle scene that grew eventually into six books. It just grabbed me at the bone and nerve level and sort of seared itself into my brain.
As far as expertise… I have a degree in history, a lifetime with horses, and a lot of varied job experience and travel on three continents to bring to the table. I love building really rich fantasy worlds that function plausibly. Living and traveling in Europe for six years helps with that, as does my genuine love of research. And because so much historical fiction and fantasy calls for horses, it helps to have two out the back door. I actually write a “Horses in Fiction” blog series to help other writers get their equines right. It really bugs me how badly Hollywood gets horses wrong, and how many writers with no horse experience use what they see on the screen to inform their own writing. Alas, there are only a few mules in “In Heaven’s Shadow”—but they’re correct mules!
3. What would you want your readers to know about you that might not be in your bio?
Eh, that I have a passion for dark chocolate and Peace roses? Both are good for bad moments in life. I’ve had my share, including being told once that I had 3-6 months to live (I’m still here!). I’ve learned not to get too excited about the small stuff. And to appreciate life’s beautiful things.
Cleaning up all the best stuff in my drawer and getting it out for publication. After years of procrastination, it’s time. There’s some really good stuff in there that has taken a back seat to new writing. Once in a while I drag something out, read it, and think, “This is good, you idiot. Send it out!” In and around that exercise, I will be finishing a new dark fantasy currently languishing in my drawer because contracted stuff came first, then…whatever the blank page demands. I have no idea what idea will land next, but I live in anticipation.
“Firedancer” was the first book I wrote around a female protagonist, so I suppose it would be Jetta ak’Kal. She is small but mighty, feisty enough to take on living fire and vulnerable enough to still let love creep back into a very wounded heart. She’s a no-nonsense sort of gal like me, with a bone-deep determination I could use at times. And she dances. An elephant in a closet would dance better than I do, so yeah. Maybe I’ll just slip into her Dance leathers and go for it. Plus, it would really be useful around here in forest fire season.
I am one of the co-founders and moderators of the Other Worlds Writers’ Workshop at www.otherworlds.net. It is one of the oldest genre fiction workshops on the Internet, and it has helped my writing progress to professional standard from my lifelong stick-it-in-the-drawer hobby. None of us can see the flaws in our own work. Having several sets of fresh eyes is invaluable, and trust me, editors are grateful for writers who take the trouble to have their work vetted in advance. Just as important, critiquing others’ work teaches you how to be critical and objective with your own. It’s much easier to kill the darlings!
Members of OWWW encouraged me to finish “In Heaven’s Shadow” after I subbed the first couple of chapters. I thought people would think I was trying to imitate “Ghost” or something, but they uniformly said, “Hunh-uh, I haven’t see this ghost story before.” That pleased and encouraged me a lot, because in actuality my intent was to get as far from “Ghost” (though I like the movie) and the standard endings for ghost stories as possible.
I won my first writing contest in the sixth grade. My eight-grade English teacher tried to get me to sub one of my stories professionally. I did send it to Redbook, and got a very nice rejection, but it sort of discouraged me from sending other stuff out. At that age I did not realize how very stiff the competition is, nor, when I did try again, did I know that all the personal rejections I got from editors were actually really good things. Busy editors don’t often bother.
I was much too sensitive about rejection for far too long. Being in a critique group helped with that a lot, because when multiple people tell you something needs fixing, you’d really better believe it. From that I grew rhino hide of sufficient thickness to start tossing stuff into the real world, and then, amazingly, I started selling short stories and my first novel. I never did sub “In Heaven’s Shadow” to a publisher, though; it sold through the intervention of an impatient friend who went directly to her publisher and told her about it, then told me flatly to get my rear in gear and send it off. So I did, and got an immediate acceptance, and there you are.
I still hate sending stuff out. I’d much rather spend the time writing, but as C.J. Cherryh famously said, “Nothing sells in a drawer.”
I just start writing. One of the most pleasurable sensations I know is looking at a blank page (or white screen) at the start of a new writing project. I almost never know what will appear; I may sit there and stare at it for a good long while before a first sentence pops into my head that is intriguing enough to write down. From there the words will start to flow. If I get two or three pages in and the words start to come like pulling teeth, I know it probably has no legs, but usually one sentence attaches to another and the story just keeps welling up from wherever the words hide out in my head. It is exciting, and fun, because for me it is just like reading a new novel myself. I get to find out as I go what happens next, so I suppose I am satisfying my latent urges as both a reader and a writer all at once. I’ve tried outlining, and all it does is kill my creativity.
In the case of “In Heaven’s Shadow,” the current first line of the book is not the same as the original one I wrote that carried me through to the next page, and the next. That was: “They brought her the news at sunset, just as the sun was exploring the backside of the mountains across the Valley.” That led to a description of the sunset, and looped back to the news arriving.
The hook, of course, is “What news?”, a fact I myself had to figure out, and then Joab appeared, and the rest is history. However, this is a case where the critique group indicated that the hook was too far removed from the arrival of the news. So the actual book opens with “There had been a battle somewhere. Lilith didn’t have to look at the flood of dead boys tramping up to Heaven past her house to know it; her stomach had been in a knot all day.” That way I can ground the reader in the setting for a couple of paragraphs before Lilith sees bad news coming up to her door, without interrupting the flow of the story.
Is this like asking “What book would you take with you to a desert island?” Answer: I’d sink the life raft with my favorite books. If somehow my fellow survivors and I struggled ashore, I would defend to the death my soggy books against those who would steal their pages for fire starter. I think I’m kidding. Maybe not. I do love my books. These three in particular spring to mind, as I reread them now and again just to savor them:
Once an Eagle, by Anton Myrer, which helped me as a very young second lieutenant in the army to figure out how to lead a platoon of 33 people, most of whom were not much older than I was, and the rest of whom expected “the female LT” to fall flat every single second. Thank you, Sam Damon.
War for the Oaks, by Emma Bull, one of the few urban fantasies I’ve read and liked, and which is just an excellent combination of great writing, magic, and rock n’roll.
Red Adam’s Lady, by Grace Ingram, a really great historical romance. I like it for its accuracy, its storytelling, and the fact that the heroine gets her future love’s attention at first acquaintance by bashing him over the head with a stool. None of that fall-at-his-feet swooning stuff for her!
Hmm. I’ll try to do this without giving too much away. Lilith’s father was a very odd duck indeed, so odd that the Reverend Fisk still bears him a grudge Lilith doesn’t understand, especially since Pa died at Bull Run. His elixir, made of pure light and water, can cure almost anything, from Pappy Gallagher’s rheumatism to the phantom pain in Drew Osbourne’s amputated arm. Lilith secretly hopes to use it on Joab after the war, when the army can’t take him back and no one will question him showing up even though he was listed as dead at Gettysburg. Pa left her hundreds and hundreds of bottles of it that she uses to help the neighbors, and she plans to send the bulk of it to the army after she learns how short on medicines they are. She’s hidden it from Joab so it can’t tempt him or drive him crazy with wishing, but it remains the bedrock of her hope for a normal life with him again. So when the Reverend Fisk finds it, his reaction leads to the worst moment of her life, when all her gentle magic turns black. This is a watershed moment for her. A woman who has never meant or done intentional harm to anyone discovers a very dark place within herself, and the fallout drives the rest of the book.
The first series I wrote, “Fate’s Arrow,” was unintentional. Inspired by that flag moment mentioned above, I found that I had to write half a book just to get to that scene, then the rest to resolve it. I then thought I was done with that story, but another intense flash of a scene forced me to write a whole book to get to that scene, and another whole book to resolve it. Those books turned out to be so long (ah, the happy days before I discovered the realities of publishing!) that each of them was split in two. So now it’s a six-book series, of which the third one, “The Heart of God,” comes out in August. That was just a really, really long story that turned into a series.
My second series, “The Masters of the Elements,” was not intended to be a series either. I wrote “Firedancer” as a standalone novel in 1999 and, as usual, stuck it in the drawer until I had time to polish it. Then I met a small press publisher at a convention who wanted to see my work, so I dug out “Firedancer” and sent it off. Not only did she buy it, she wanted a 3-book series set in that world. So, gulp, I then had to figure out a continuing plotline. Since I am not an outliner, that was difficult, and I never did. I just did what I always do: started the next book and let my subconscious figure out the plot. It always works; I have learned to trust it, but I daresay my method would drive some publishers crazy. I also don’t think the resulting books would have been as good if I had been forced to write to an “approved” outline, because each of them incorporates elements that only arose in the previous books during the writing.
Writing fantasy is very different from writing books set in the real world. Details crop up at need and become woven into the fabric of the worldbuilding, unlike the preset stuff that surrounds us in our daily lives. We look out our real-world windows and we know what we’ll see, but when we look out a fantasy window…who knows? So it was an interesting experience to just plunge into a whole series without much of a map. It’s easier to do subsequent books, though, once the firm foundations of the world have been fairly well established in the first one. It’s actually easier than writing historical fiction, because I try to make sure every tiny detail is accurate instead of just making sh—stuff up. That’s the historian in me coming out, living up to that summa cum laude degree in history my folks were so proud of!
Lilith Stark knows from experience that dead doesn’t necessarily mean gone. Gettysburg took Joab’s life, but her husband struck a bargain with Heaven to come home instead. She’s not about to turn away whatever the Yankees have left to her of their all-too-brief marriage. But when she inadvertently lets slip to the neighbors that not only Joab has come home, but one of the neighbor boys as well, she ignites a town already rubbed raw by the endless sorrows of civil war. Joab’s insistence on trying to “do” for her as though he were still alive, and Lilith’s happy penchant for creating unexpected rainbows, only make things worse. A private little war between Lilith and the unrelentingly proper Reverend Fisk leads to a very public confrontation in which Lilith will either get the town to accept her–magic, ghosts, and all–or find herself locked away as a madwoman, deprived of everything that makes her life worthwhile.
She turned to where Joab stood looking so hangdog. “A week! It took you long enough to get home, Joab Stark.” She tried to make a joke out of it, but she heard a quiver in her voice and knew he would too.
He came up the steps, a long, tall ghost with broad shoulders and a face that still looked readier to laugh than frown, with the same short beard and the same unruly lock of brown hair falling over his right eye that he always had. He stopped in front of her, looking down with such regret in his face that Lilith caught her breath in dismay and reached to hold him.
He backed away. “No,” he said, very low. His voice was still the rich, warm tenor that had sung so sweet on Sundays and caressed her ear on so many nights up in that feather bed in the loft. That voice had captured her from the first time he’d smiled at an old maid too shy to poke her nose out of Pa’s cabin and said so low and quiet, “Hey there, Miss Lilith, I’m a’goin’ to come courtin’ you iffen you don’t mind.”
Oh, yes, she’d been a goner from that second on.
She stood very still, looking up at him. Folks expected ha’nts to be pale, wispy things, but Joab looked almost solid, full of colors, and only a little washy-looking. He shone faintly in the gloom, his face clear to her eyes.
“Why can’t I touch you?” she asked, aching with the wanting.
“Reckon you could if you tried, but I ain’t ready.”
“Why’d you come home, then?”
He smiled that crooked smile. “Guess I just ain’t got sense enough to go on to Heaven.” The smile faltered. “This is Heaven, Lil. Right here. I don’t want no other.”
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Social media links
Twitter handle: sabolichwrites
Author page, Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/S.-A.-Bolich/e/B005J7VTWM
Author page, Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/s.-a.-bolich
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