Monday, September 7, 2015

Interview with historical fantasy author S.A. Bolich

Today’s special guest is historical fantasy author S. A. Bolich. She’s touring her new novel, In Heaven’s Shadow through Goddess Fish Promotions.

During her virtual book tour, S.A. will be awarding a $15 Amazon or Barnes and Noble (winner’s choice) gift card to a randomly drawn lucky winner. To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below. To increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit her other tour stops and enter there, too!

S. A. Bolich's books often open quietly—but don’t be fooled. By page 10 you may be hooked so thoroughly you’ll forget to get off at your bus stop. Her worlds are lived-in, magical, sometimes mind-bendingly exotic, always historically accurate, and inhabited by people who reach out and grab us by the throat and make us care about their problems. An historian, former military intelligence officer, and lifelong horsewoman, she brings a deep love of wild places and a degree in history to her work, creating enchanting and believable worlds with a sideways slant on reality. She writes everything from “straight” and alternate history to fantasy and science fiction, filled with characters who remain in your heart long after the book is closed. She is also an accomplished rider who helps aspiring writers get their fictional equines right through her “Horses in Fiction” series on her blog. Learn more and find the complete list of her works at

Welcome, S. A. Please tell us about your current release.
In Heaven’s Shadow is a love story entwined in a ghost story, all wrapped up in magic for good measure. Lilith Stark inherited her way of making rainbows when she laughs from her strange and perhaps saintly Pa, and dead folk just naturally come by to say howdy to her. So when her husband, Joab, comes home from Gettysburg a ghost, she is gamely willing to make whatever life she can from what the Civil War has left to them. Unfortunately, the neighbors aren’t quite as enlightened. From them thinking she’s crazy, their reaction to her unintentional announcement that Joab has come home devolves into an outright battle to force her to set aside her Pa’s gentle magic and become “respectable.” To the Reverend Fisk, that would mean her renouncing Joab and her insistence that Joab and the neighbor boy, Luke Martin, have chosen to come home over sensibly going on to Heaven.

This book stemmed from a long-running conversation I had with a member of my writers’ workshop over conventions and who gets to decide when someone is “crazy” and why. It also was, I think, a gentle gift from my subconscious after my father died, a way of helping me think more objectively about death. The only thing I absolutely wanted from it was that it wouldn’t be some retelling of “Ghost.” I got a lot more than I expected! Readers tell me they did, too.

What inspired you to write this book?
I was really down for a year after my dad died, unable to get words to flow onto the page. Finally, in desperation, I took up the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge that November. To “succeed” you must write at least 50,000 words on a new novel. So on November 1st, I started to write, and who should walk onto page one but Joab, coming home to Lilith at sunset on a beautiful summer day in the Shenandoah Valley. Ghosts? Death? Civil War? Oh, yeah, I knew what my subconscious was telling me! In some ways it was a hard book to write, but I’m glad I did. It remains one of my favorites.

Excerpt from In Heaven’s Shadow:
“Lilith!” Joab roared on top of Bert’s, “Miz Stark!”

Bert disappeared from the doorway. Joab stepped toward her; she tried to hush herself up but couldn’t manage it. Her ribs hurt and she couldn’t breathe, and still the giggles just kept bubbling up out of her. Pretty soon she caught a wispy movement in the corner of her eye and saw the giggles turning to little floaty sparks bouncing around her like soap bubbles. The nearside mule snorted at one and bounced it back toward her. It splatted into another one, and they rained light all over the dirt in the barnyard and laid there, glowing sort of silvery gold.

“What in hell…?”

That was Bert, arrived in the yard still clutching his pistol and staring like an owl. Lilith knew she couldn’t explain if she tried all year. She gave up on the notion and just let the giggles take her.


Joab squatted down in the dirt beside her. “Come on now, pull yourself together. Bert thinks you’re loonier than Abe Lincoln. What’s the matter with you?”

Lilith tried to stop but discovered she couldn’t. She fought to take a deep breath and get control of herself. Her lungs seemed locked up somehow, and she just couldn’t stop laughing. “Hysterical,” Joab muttered, sounding so disgusted that Lilith wanted to slap him but couldn’t manage that, either.

She floundered around, trying to get to her feet, and found Bert Cummings waving a hand down in her face. She reached up to take it.

“Lilith Stark! What in the name of God are you doing?”

Even the mules shied from the outrage in the Reverend Fisk’s voice.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I am writing a dark fantasy that got sidetracked three or four years ago when publishers suddenly started asking for series from me. The series are done now and I can go back to this one, which explores the sudden and inexplicable conflict between a people who have never known war and their mute enemies, a race they did not even know existed in their world, and who have no way to tell them why they have risen up to fight. Somehow it all centers around the Reaper magic of knowing the essence of a thing and what lies along its life/deathlines. I’m enjoying exploring this world, which is pure fantasy instead of historical fantasy like In Heaven’s Shadow.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have words running through my head, describing what I saw around me. I grew up scribbling and have never stopped. For me, visual experiences tend to conjure up sentences and paragraphs that demand to be written down on the nearest handy writing surface—envelopes, paper plates, the notebook I finally learned to carry in my pocket... Although I do draw and paint a bit, when I see a gorgeous sunset I don’t rush for the paints; I want to describe it in words that capture the glow and the colors for the reader. If I can put a reader into my world so thoroughly it comes alive, I consider that I’ve done my job as a writer.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I am a full-time writer, but my day is not always full of writing. Lately I have been revising a lot of old stuff in my drawer left over from the days when I was far less interested in selling my work than in simply writing. That was good, in a way, for it gave me time to really learn my craft without the pressure of having to be a commercial success as well. A big part of the last year has gone to revision rather than new writing, but I’m pretty much to the end of that for a while and I can finally focus on new work.

I will typically write for several hours until the words start to sputter a bit. Then I will leave it for the day, knowing what the next sentence will be. That way I can pick it up again the next day without having to stop and think where I was going with it. I’ve had stories go sideways in the middle because I was interrupted for some reason and couldn’t get back to where I was. These days the words come more slowly than they used to, when 6-10k words a day was not unusual. Getting in 5000 is a good day now, but on the other hand, my days are typically split between writing, promoting my work, and maintaining my 20 acres and horses. And research. There’s always a fair amount of research even with the straight-up fantasy stuff. Fortunately, being a geek, I love stalking facts across the internet!

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
The ability to turn it on and off, which fascinates some of my friends. Even when I don’t feel at all like writing, if someone puts a blank page in front of me and says “Write,” I can. Partly this is native and partly honed by my days as a technical and marketing writer with so many deadlines that there was no option but to make it happen, and right now. It is very rare for me to be totally blocked on fiction to the point where I can’t churn out a decent first sentence and continue from there. Challenges are good for me in that regard, as I am highly competitive, even when it’s just with myself.

I do have much more trouble turning it off than turning it on. Like a lot of writers, I sleep with pen and paper beside my bed, and lately, with an old laptop that is so much faster than scribbling stuff by hand.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Hmm. After my mountain man phase, and my space explorer phase, and my time traveler phase (are we detecting a theme here?) I wanted to write, and specifically historical novels. I devoured historicals as a child, waltzing through every era of history and soaking up such background that I seldom had to study for lower-level college courses. I even got a degree in history to facilitate my goal, but then I got sidetracked into the army and then into writing fantasy, and somehow the straight historicals never materialized. But I have written historical fantasy, gaslight fantasy, steampunk, and alternate history, so I guess that degree got used after all!

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
In Heaven’s Shadow is such a blend of history and magic and paranormal that it’s hard to stuff into any one category, but I hope readers will give it a try anyway. I seem unable to write in a box, which is why I am so grateful for my publisher. She fell in love with the book and published it even knowing it was hard to classify and therefore to sell. Lilith’s innocence of the wicked ways of respectability and Joab’s determination to protect her and preserve her magic really caught me up in their love story...but wow, it is sometimes hard to describe for people what this book is about. Love, in the end, and the right to find it in our own way.


Buy links specific to In Heaven’s Shadow:

Thank you, S.A.!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thank you for hosting

Patrick Siu said...

I have enjoyed learning about the book. Thanks for sharing it.

Victoria Alexander said...

Great post! Thank you for sharing the interview, I enjoyed reading it :)

Works of S. A. Bolich said...

Thank you for hosting me!

Unknown said...

Great interview, thank you!

Works of S. A. Bolich said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Karina Fabian said...

Sue is a wonderful writer. Thanks for including the excerpt. Looks like more fun is in store for me!

Works of S. A. Bolich said...

Thank you, Karina. I hope you enjoy it.

Unknown said...

i really enjoyed the interview. Thank you.

indigogarden said...

Great interview! Can't wait to read the book. :)

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed the interview. Thank you.