Monday, August 24, 2015

Interview with S. A. Bolich, IN HEAVEN'S SHADOW


Can you give us a brief overview of your latest book? Is it part of a series?
 “In Heaven’s Shadow” is one of the few standalone novels I’ve written. It is, at heart, a love story wrapped in magic and heartbreak, a rediscovery of what binds two people together rather than a swirling, passionate fall-in-love romance. When Joab Stark comes home from Gettysburg a ghost, all he wants is to be with his wife, Lilith. He has traded Heaven to be with her, so eager to get home that it’s not until he gets there that he realizes how big an inconvenience being a ghost is going to be. As for Lilith, well, she can make rainbows when she laughs and her pa always had a shaft of light following him around, so seeing ghosts is nothing either new or strange to her. She is willing to seize whatever they can for as long as they can. But of course the neighbors think she’s crazy, or trying to grab attention, or both, and her status in the local society was already shaky even before this. Poor Lilith never had anyone to teach her “real” manners or what is proper or not, so she is constantly butting up against the really rigid mores of the time in ways that seem outright silly to her but scandalize her neighbors. I’ve lived with my foot in my mouth a few times so I can really empathize with her bewilderment! Things only get worse when she tries to share her pa’s magic elixir that he made from sunshine and pure mountain water. And she really puts her foot in it when she gently tells the most respectable woman in town that her dead son is hanging around the farm trying to get his mother’s attention. Who knew that trying to be “respectable” could be so hard?

Do you have a favorite character?
I like all my characters, but I have a real fondness for young Luke Martin in this book, the ghostly neighbor boy. He has a desperate crush on Lilith, the only woman who can actually see him, and he’s just 18. He’s still a kid, a bit gauche at times but unexpectedly wise at others, and so full of laughter and passion that he, even more than Lilith and Joab, reminds us of how much death steals from us, and how important it is to remember to live. And, of course, Joab is sort of a composite of all the best men in my life, the steady, unassuming kind that nevertheless will always be there for you.

Are you currently under a traditional publishing contract for future books or do you have manuscripts that you will self-publish? Are you doing both?
I have finally reached the end of series contracts and am free to write what I want for a while. I find that incredibly liberating. I have always been more about the writing than the selling, though of course I want to do both! But I love the writing process, and I found writing to a contract to be somewhat restrictive. On the one hand it keeps you focused; on the other these ideas come bouncing in wanting attention and you have to tell them “No! Go away for now. I don’t have time.” I’ve always found that ideas forced to the back shelf are never as bright and shiny when you drag them out again as they were when they were fresh and knocking at your brain, pouring plotlines and characters all over you and demanding to be written. I do have stuff in the drawer I might try to clean up and bounce out to a trad publisher, but I experimented in publishing an anthology of fun stories this spring. “Out of the Vaults” taught me a lot about self-pubbing, and I might go that route instead. I haven’t decided. Mostly I want to finish the book that’s been whimpering in my drawer for almost four years now while I worked through all this other stuff.

Do you belong to a critique group? Have they helped improve your writing?
I am one of the co-founders and moderators of the Other Worlds Writers’ Workshop at www.otherworlds.net, one of the oldest genre fiction workshops on the Internet. In 1997 my co-founder and I “met” at a different online workshop that was a lot more mainstream, and decided that we needed a genre workshop filled with people who don’t ask questions like, “I don’t get what a wyrm is.” While a lot of the critiques we got were valuable from the overall perspective of pointing out pacing issues, purple prose, and writing tics, writers also need the perspective of people who read your genre and understand its tropes. Readers in every genre have certain expectations and if you fail to meet them you will likely not attract them back. Ever. So fresh eyes are essential, not just to evaluate the writing and storyline, but to tell you whether it’s been done to death or doesn’t satisfy in some way.

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.

Do you outline your story or just go where your muse takes you?
If I had to outline I’d never write anything. It just kills my creativity. I love staring at a blank page and wondering what will show up. In the case of “In Heaven’s Shadow,” I was in a writing and personal slump after my dad died a few years ago—just could not summon enthusiasm enough to finish anything. Finally I seized upon the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) to challenge myself to write, as it requires at least 50k words be written on a new project in a month. I sat down on the first day and stared at the blank screen, and eventually “They brought her the news just at sunset” emerged as a first line. By the end of the page I had a new-made widow and a ghost and a raft of characters who started talking to me and didn’t stop. The Civil War setting, with all of its grief and change, really matched my mood. I have to hand it to my muse that she usually dredges up just what I need at the moment.

Did you hire an editor to review your manuscript before publishing?
I do have a couple of professional editors I can call upon, but I usually run things through the workshop. I too, edit professionally, so the mechanics of the writing: the spelling, grammar, etc., are not an issue for me. It’s the story itself I always want looked at. Fresh eyes can find the plot holes, the whiny characters, the wandering plotlines and unnecessary scenes, and beta readers can be quite ruthless in saying “you don’t need that” about scenes you know you should cut but can’t bring yourself to kill. I did have an editor friend go through “In Heaven’s Shadow,” and then had to laugh when I sold it and my new editor put everything back the way I had it. She and I are exactly the same age, raised to a particular standard of grammar, and the first editor is much younger, with a different background. All of us are correct, but grammar does evolve to a degree. Standards change and get updated, so fighting over commas is pointless unless the offending punctuation really changes the meaning or makes your prose sound either stilted or sloppy.

Besides Amazon, are there any other sites where your books are for sale?
Oh, everywhere. Putting them up on Smashwords and Amazon automatically gives you access to much wider distribution, including overseas, so you never quite know where your book will show up. Mine are available through literally hundreds of booksellers and distributors, and you can order them at Barnes & Noble or your local bookstore via Ingram or direct from the publisher.

What kinds of marketing [twitter, facebook, blog, forums] are you involved with for promoting your book(s)?
I am active on Facebook, and occasionally drop in at Twitter, but time is always the cruncher for writers. It is a challenge to write several hours a day and have anything left to say on social media. I do blog but it’s usually on horse-related topics, as I write a “Horses in Fiction” series aimed at helping writers get their fictional equines right. Nothing makes me throw a book across the room faster than a scene with horses where it’s obvious the writer has never been near one, or has gotten all of his/her “knowledge” from Hollywood. I suppose I live a bit in social media envy of those writers who can effortlessly chatter away about themselves all day long. I’m not one of them, but I do always answer when fans reach out, and I try to connect often enough on social media that people know a) I’m still alive and b) haven’t forgotten about them. Science fiction and fantasy conventions are a big venue for me. I love meeting fans face to face and sharing knowledge with new writers on panels and workshops.

Besides writing, do you have any other passions?
Horses. Riding in the back country. Dressage. Calligraphy. Cats! You can’t have too many cats. I currently have four. And two horses. As I write this I am sitting here with a gloriously purple leg from mid-thigh to instep (and all the way around) where a horse fell on me. But...it was in a great cause, hauling materials in for the Forest Service in Idaho to rebuild some of the trail system in the panhandle. I grew up on a farm and therefore love the land deeply, both “tamed” fields and wildlands. You will always find a strong element of wild country in any of my books, or a visceral connection to the land. And opinionated horses. There’s a reason I don’t write urban fantasy!

What’s next for you?
I’m going to finally be able to get back to a project called “By Blade Bound” that has been sidetracked for several years by contracts I needed to fulfill first. It’s a bit darker than what I usually write; in fact, it starts with the hero murdering someone seemingly for fun. Then at the end of the chapter you find out why, and you’re like, “Ohhh,” because it’s heartbreaking and you realize that nothing you thought at the beginning of the chapter is what it seems to be. That opening really captured me into wanting to know more about this world and this poor guy’s dilemma.

The story centers around a sudden and inexplicable conflict between a people who have never known war and a race of mutes they did not even know existed in their world. Being mute, with no apparent written language, they have no way to say why they have suddenly taken exception to my hero’s people. Discovering that answer will be a big part of my hero’s journey. Wound all through it is the Reaper magic of knowing the essence of a thing and what lies along the life/deathlines of any living thing. Colors are a big part of it, because the antagonists are colorless in themselves and the hero’s people are all various blends of four primary colors. The contrasts are interesting, as is the magic, and I’m enjoying exploring this culture. I love creating new worlds and making them believable.

I’m also working on overhauling a couple of books in the alternate history series I wrote that uses a lot of the research I did for “In Heaven’s Shadow.”


BLURB:
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.

Buy links

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AUTHOR Bio and Links:
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 www.sabolichbooks.com

Social media links

FB page: https://www.facebook.com/sue.bolich or https://www.facebook.com/s.a.bolich
 Twitter handle: sabolichwrites
 Author page, Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/s.-a.-bolich


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