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Monday 14 September 2015

ℚ In Heaven’s Shadow - S. A. Bolich

Today we have the pleasure of meeting up with author to talk about In Heaven’s Shadow (, Hartwood Publishing Group, 348 pages) a Historical Fantasy.

Author Q&A | Synopsis | Teaser | About the Author | Giveaway & Tour Stops

A big welcome to S.A. Bolich, thank you for joining us on BooksChatter.

What was the inspiration for In Heaven’s Shadow?

"After my dad died my writing died a bit, too. I had just recovered from fighting cancer the year before, and wham! Dad’s lack of energy turned out to be leukaemia.  We fought that for two months without success.  He was the heart of our whole extended family and it knocked all of us for a loop.

For most of a year afterward I was unable to get words to flow onto the page.  Finally, in desperation, I took up the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge, which comes around every November.  To satisfy the challenge you must write at least 50,000 words on a new novel.  On November 1 I started to write, with no idea what the book would be about.  I just enjoy a blank page and looking for a great first sentence that pulls me into the story.  In that case, it was “They brought her the news just at sunset.”  And there came Joab walking up behind the bad-news bearers on page one, a hangdog ghost who doesn’t want to go sensibly along to Heaven.  The Civil War setting just seemed to flow naturally onto the page. It wasn’t too hard to figure out what my subconscious was telling me!  In some ways it was a hard book to write; I got the 50k required for NaNo and quit again for a while, but I kept coming back to it.  I’m glad I did, because it turned out to be one of my favorites."
How much of yourself is reflected in this book, and how?
"One of the things that made it hard to write was that Lilith is very close to how I was when I was younger.  I was always such an introverted farm kid with my nose buried in a book that I might as well have been brought up in a mountain cabin like her for all that I knew about the proper thing to do in any social situation.  There’s nothing quite as guaranteed to make you feel gawky and gauche than a flock of people who all know the “rules” and you don’t.  For Lilith, it’s like being in high school permanently!  That was painful to watch, because I had grown out of it but she never got a chance to.  The conflict between her instincts and what “respectable folk” expect drives a lot of the action.  On the other hand, parts of it were really fun to write because I, too, can be really blunt and just say what I think, which gets her in trouble.  I sort of liked watching the reactions of people around her to whatever falls out of her mouth. "
The first thing that draws me to a book is its cover. Can you tell us about your cover for In Heaven’s Shadow - why you chose that concept and who the artist is.
"Georgia Woods did the cover, and we went back and forth on several ideas.  The book is hard to classify, which made it even harder to capture.  It’s a blend of history and fantasy and paranormal, so what should you emphasize to try and attract the sort of reader who will love it?  She started with an old cabin done in sepia tones, but to me that looked too much like a horror novel (spooky, abandoned, eek), so we both pondered for a couple of days.  I had envisioned Lilith embracing a ghostly Confederate soldier against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge, and Georgia independently came up with the same sort of background.  We did play with the ghost sitting on the porch with Lilith, but that didn’t work either.  So finally Georgia had a brainstorm and came up with the ghostly soldiers marching across the beautiful full-color Blue Ridge.  You can tell it’s Civil War, and somewhat of a romance from the fonts in the title, but we couldn’t, no matter how we tried, capture the full scope of the book in one simple image."
Why should we read In Heaven’s Shadow and what sets it apart from the rest?  What makes your book unique?
"I seldom start a book with a clear idea of how it will end.  Somewhere along the way the writing will tell me how it will come out, and from that point on it’s easy.  This one began with a character so acceptant of ghosts and death that she seemed unreal to many beta readers, like she wasn’t really grieving.  Of course she was, but she knows for certain that a person doesn’t die when the body does, so her grief is different from that of her poor neighbors who have lost sons and husbands to the war.  For that reason also they think she is odd and cold and outright stupid.

The one thing I wanted from this book was that it not be “Ghost” in any form.  That’s a great story and a terrific movie but it does have a fairly standard plot about the ghost hanging around for resolution to a problem and then moving on.  Joab’s only problem is that he’s dead, and if Lilith is willing to spend the rest of her life with a ghost instead of a living man, well, that’s her choice, and if they’re happy, why should anyone else object?  But in a culture so primly proper as the “respectable” side of antebellum society, the neighbors all believe they have the right to dictate how Lilith should feel and think and act.  And, of course, she must be crazy to believe Joab came home at all.  So my challenge was to craft a story that went somewhere else, with its own unique and believable resolution.  From the feedback I’ve gotten, I managed it!"
Can you tell us something quirky about In Heaven’s Shadow, its story and characters?
"I always liked the names Lilith and Joab.  His name is very much in keeping with 19th-century Americans’ habit of naming children for Biblical characters, but Lilith’s I chose deliberately because it carries other connotations for some ultra-religious folk.  The Biblical Lilith was a female demon that by the 19th century had acquired all sorts of nasty, seductive qualities among the literary crowd, a bit of a witchlike figure wreaking evil wherever she goes.  Of course, the King James Bible known in Lilith’s time outright forbids witchcraft.  So, her name is one strike against her from the get.  At one point the Reverend Fisk does revile her name to her face, partly as justification to himself for his own hatred for her father.  Being a geek, I like that sort of in-joke in my books.  And because I also like flipping tropes on their head, my Lilith is the exact opposite of darkness in her ability to make rainbows and iridescent bubbles just by laughing."
Who would you recommend In Heaven’s Shadow to and what should readers be aware of (any warnings or disclaimers)?
"Frankly, anyone who likes history, fantasy, Civil War settings, or ghost stories would probably like this, as well as anyone looking for a little “literary” introspection.

Because the Reverend Fisk is concerned with saving Lilith’s soul, some readers might be turned off by a couple of the scenes where he quotes the Bible at her; others will likely find her bewildered responses delightfully obtuse and dead on the money.

There is no ghostly sex (sorry, erotica folks), but that doesn’t mean that both Lilith and Joab aren’t still passionate about each other.  If you like deep love stories rather than sexy flings, this one might be for you."
If you could / wished to turn In Heaven’s Shadow into a movie, who would be your dream team?
"Jude Law would make a good Joab.  So would Viggo Mortensen except that, alas, he might be getting a little too old for the part.  I don’t keep up with Hollywood enough to know the younger actors coming along who could do the parts justice.  The younger men especially are all starting to look a bit interchangeable to me.  But I do like Guillermo del Toro’s work as a director, and if I could get William Goldman to do the screenplay it would be terrific.

Of course, it would have to be filmed in the Shenandoah, there in the Luray Valley where mythical Brown’s Corners sits tucked up against the toes of the Blue Ridge."
I can think of one suggestion for a younger Viggo: Josh Holloway.

What do you like to write and read about?  Do you stick to a particular genre or do you like to explore different ones?

"I write whatever lands on the page that day.  If, facing a blank page at the start of a new project, I have nothing at all in mind, I just mull until an interesting first line pops into my head.  From there the story progresses as it will. I’m just along for the ride.  Mostly I stick to fantasy and SF.  Both of those, fortunately, lend themselves to weaving in strong historical elements, so I can satisfy my craving for history yet layer in fantastical elements to explore the settings in ways you don’t get to if you play it completely straight.

“In Heaven’s Shadow” incorporates history exactly the way it was—every detail of her daily life was meticulously researched, as were the events in the Valley immediately following Gettysburg.  I don’t cheat with “real’ history, and when I incorporate historical figures into a story I try not to alter their character (no Abe Lincoln vampire hunters).  I feel it’s unfair to the dead to go making them caricatures when they’re not around to defend themselves.  When writing alternate history, I do try hard to extrapolate from real history plausible changes to the timeline and build my plot and setting accordingly rather than trying to rewrite history to accommodate the change I want to bring about.

For instance, I envisioned a Salem in which the accusers, not the accused, had all the arcane power, and created the Dominion of Salem, which eventually leads to a civil war among the magical families allied with commoners on both sides.  That meant understanding the whole history of North America to get to my mythical Dominion, and understanding how the “Darkbloods” wielded power and what its limitations were to understand what sort of society the rest of the continent might have developed.

I do read widely, from hard SF to military thrillers, but the majority of what I read these days is non-fiction research, or fiction related to my chosen markets to see what everyone else is doing."
What is your writing process?
"Process?  There’s a process to writing?  Oh, my, who knew?  I have no process except to write. I tried outlining once and all it did was kill my creativity.  The best part of writing is not knowing what happens next and discovering it from day to day as I go along.  It’s exciting and keeps me grinding along, because I can’t just refer to the outline and go, “Oh, yeah, now they’re here and doing this.”  I have to make the scene I just wrote flow logically into the next action, and then make sure all the actions form a coherent plot with a plausible and satisfying ending.  So that intellectual challenge helps keep me focused and fresh and looking forward to every day at the keyboard."
What is in store next?
"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 sort of a dark fantasy 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 suddenly taken exception to my hero’s people.  It centers around the Reaper magic of knowing the essence of a thing and what lies along its life/deathlines.  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 world, which is pure fantasy.  I love making stuff up and making it 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.”"
And as a final quirky thing, to get to know you a little bit better... do you have a pet or something that is special to you that you could share with us?
"I do have four cats and two horses (my old dog died last year). Does that count for pets? :)"

:-)  Indeed!  Gosh, what a picture... I am definitely jealous ;-)
Thank you again for chatting to us and sharing so much with us. 

In Heaven’s Shadow - available NOW!

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Works of S. A. Bolich said...

I tried to post this morning and it didn't go through. Thanks so much for hosting me! I'm actually in the UK today, staying in Stratford tonight!

BooksChatter said...

Hi, I just saw your message! Thank you for popping by. I hope you are enjoying your time here. I love Stratford - did you catch a show?

Works of S. A. Bolich said...

We didn't get the show, but we did get a delightful walkaround. Such a pretty little town.