I have the pleasure of having a guest post from author S.A. Bolich, who answers the following question...
ELF: What do you think is the strongest attraction about the genre(s) you like to write in?
Writer, Take Me Away!
by S. A. Bolich
I’m a geek. I freely admit it. I love history and fantasy and science fiction, and researching what sort of bristles were in a lady’s hairbrush circa 1850 (boar, thank you) may be ridiculously detail-oriented but I find it fun. And, I think, readers appreciate the effort, judging by the fiery broadsides that attend books whose authors get it wrong. “It” might be anything from the speed of orbit for one of Jupiter’s moons to the correct sort of pistol the hero would carry in 1777. For some readers, vetting the science or the history is a big and pleasurable part of reading these genres. Others simply want the experience of going somewhere else. Somewhere that’s not here. Somewhere that looks, feels, smells, and acts differently from everything and everyone we see out our mundane and modern windows.
Mine hostess here at The Reading Addict asked me what I think the strongest attraction to the genres I write in may be, and for me, as both a reader and a writer, it is this simple (not!) ability to step into a different world that is so alive you can all but smell the horse dung in the streets.
Okay, perhaps I could pick on a better smell (perhaps the somnolent, dusty-hot scent of sun-warmed pines on a summer’s day?). But you get the idea. As a true history geek (with a degree and everything), I used to yearn for time travel so I could step back into the past and see for myself what it was really like. Corsets! Privies! Fleas! Eek! Fortunately, historical fiction lets us experience life in another century without all the discomforts. Fantasy lets us wield magic of every sort, and science fiction peeks into the art of the possible somewhere Out There. The better the job the author does in building a fully rounded and believable world, the likelier it is that we, as readers, will feel like we’re a part of it, and won’t want to leave.
A lot of my favorite Civil War fiction focuses on the battlefield, but “In Heaven’s Shadow,” I found myself writing about the aftermath of battle on the unglamorous home front. Like most of my ancestors, I grew up on a farm, so Lilith is a farmer’s wife, not a grand lady. Her daily chores are drawn from my own childhood as a farmer’s kid, and extensive research into the period. I wanted to know what it was like for Lilith to manage a farm by herself when her man is off at war (and when he comes home a ghost, for that matter). For both of them, one of the most frustrating aspects of Joab’s new state of being is that he can’t just pitch in with hoe and scythe and axe to take the burden of “manly” chores off her. How they cope is sometimes poignant, sometimes funny, but always true to their circumstances.
In my opinion, that dedication to truth is the underpinning of really good genre fiction. Reality lurks in the details. I love creating plausible worlds of fantasy that have real depth beyond the action. I love working out the magic systems and their limitations and costs for the practitioners, and I adore weaving details into the scenery like that boar-bristle brush. I want my readers to experience in their hearts the passion and heartbreak of real events. I want them to feel the mothlike touch of Joab’s hand in Lilith’s and visualize the tree out the front door as an oak, not a pine. When I make up a world like Ariel in my Fate’s Arrow series, I want them to wonder at the sad and mysterious remnants of Founder tech and hear the kak-kak-kak of a circling blue vulture overhead. Such is the stuff of the worlds we escape to. I hope I’ve made mine good ones.
In Heaven's Shadow
by S.A. Bolich
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.”
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