Words with S.A. Bolich, author of "The Mask of God"

Can you tell us a little bit about "The Mask of God"?

This is the first book in what turned out to be my all-time favorite series of books that I’ve written (Fate’s Arrow). It’s epic fantasy and SF rolled into one and I had a blast doing the worldbuilding, which is very rich, a blend of elite swordsmen and feudal grudges, warring (and artificial) gods and glimpses of ancient technology left over from the Founders of this lost Earth colony. I wrote it as a stand-alone, but a couple of months after I finished it I had a really intense flash on a scene that logically could have followed from the action in this book. It turned out I had to write a whole book to get up to that scene, and a whole book to resolve it! So, I ended up with a trilogy of three very long books that actually had to be split in half to publish. So now the series is six books instead of three, but the good news is that it’s already written. There will be no endless stretching out of the storyline a la “The Wheel of Time” where the author actually died in the middle of the series. I am currently revising the last two books and when they are delivered they will be coming out on a regular schedule over the next year, year and a half. If you like really layered, immersion-type fantasy, that’s what these are.

I started “The Mask of God” in 1989 with the intention of looking at the whole Middle East mess from a fantasy perspective. This was before bin Laden, before Al Queda, 911, etc. and it was just this neverending conflict spawned by two cultures that refused to understand each other or make peace. So the underlying premise was to examine how the people down the block could be so different that we fail to understand them at all. It’s set on a colony world of Earth that has been cut off for centuries, ever since the galaxy fell to a horde of religious fanatics swarming out from their home planet determined to convert the rest of the universe. My “infidels” are very priest-wary, having survived that fanatical theocracy, which, chillingly, reminds me now, 25 years after I wrote it, a great deal of ISIS. The “heathens” are people who clung to their religions underground throughout the Hadi regime and were disappointed to learn that their victorious fellows who fought the Hadi don’t want any part of priests or gods anymore. So the religious folk fled to the southern desert, the remainder settled into the greener parts...and then somehow accumulated 1000 gods of their own. My agnostic prince, Alarion, doesn’t want to believe in any of them, but is forced to consider the possibility that they have actual power when one of them saves his life. Not to mention the fact that he dreams prophetic dreams that could only come from the goddess Fate. And that the Hadi god and all its priests had strange and well-documented powers... The mystery of how the 1000 gods came to be—and how Alarion tries to disentangle himself from their private war—is the thrust of the first book. The stir he causes trying to do so carries the story forward through the rest of the series.

What's your background with writing?

I won my first writing contest in the sixth grade. Since then I have been an EPIC finalist, gotten to the quarter finals and Honorable Mention phases of Writers of the Future, and had my first published short story earn an Honorable Mention in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. I wrote for fun for years, only occasionally dipping a toe into submissions. I always got personal rejections, which I didn’t realize at the time were good things, and thus went back into my corner and went on writing. It was after the internet came along and I joined a couple of writers’ workshops that I realized maybe my stuff wasn’t so bad. People encouraged me to submit, which I did, and started to sell. Six years ago I quit my day job and have supported myself by writing ever since.

Who are your inspirations/influences?

I actually set out to write historical fiction. Got a degree in history and everything. Then I went in the Army (military intelligence officer), and got seriously sidetracked. So, my influences are not the standard genre folk, but authors like Rosemary Sutcliffe and Mary Stewart, Elleston Trevor and Anton Myrer, Herman Wouk, and other writers of historical or military fiction. However, I also devoured nearly everything written by Andre Norton as a teen, read Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury and a lot of Golden Age SF writers, Tolkien, Anne McCaffrey... I still read widely in both fantasy and SF and lots and lots of non-fiction.

What was it like working with Sky Warrior Books or Hartwood Publishing?

I really like working with small presses. Your books come out faster, the royalties are higher, and you have more freedom to write the books you want to write. Hartwood published my Civil War fantasy/ghost story that agents loved but weren’t sure they could sell because it doesn’t fit into a clearly identifiable niche. Hartwood loved it, and the reviews have been excellent. So, though everyone wants a New York contract, it’s certainly not the only way to get your books in front of readers anymore.

Who was responsible for the cover/book design?

A very fine artist named William R. Warren did the Mask cover. He was wonderful to work with, very enthusiastic about the world, and actually gave me some great ideas that I incorporated into the revisions. Remember that this is a fallen colony, and you see evidence of the Founders everywhere on Ariel, from the building materials they used to the remnants of the spaceport and old broken-down flyers that have been fitted with wooden wheels and are now hauled by oxen. He captured a lot of that feel in the cover, which shows both the trickster Thousandth God rolling his dice across my heroes marching out to war, and the huge signal mirrors that are the foundation of Ariel’s “modern” communication system.

What are you doing in terms of marketing/publicity?

I am active on Facebook and Twitter, do the odd blog tour now and again, try to maintain my own blog and keep people updated with news, etc. Mostly I write, giving people new reasons to like my work.

Do you have any stories from book signings/radio interviews/etc.?

Two years ago George R.R. Martin was the guest of honor at Miscon, in Missoula, Montana. It’s normally a small con, but the best one I’ve ever been to. That year the place was packed to the gills, and when George was signing (seated on the Iron Throne, of course), the lines went down the hall, around a corner, and out the door all the way down to the creek that runs behind the hotel. Meantime, all the rest of us panelists and invited pros are sitting in our little book-signing enclave (and there were some very well-known authors among us), smiling hopefully, watching people shuffle past to get their books signed by George. I think one author signed one book. After a while it got to be pretty funny, actually. We now all have a war story about how GRRM sucks the air out of book signings.

What is the name of your blog and what can readers expect to find there?

My blog is called Words from Thin Air. I do occasionally write about life, the universe, and writing, but its biggest thrust is the Horses in Fiction series I write, which is aimed at helping writers get their fictional equines right. I can’t count the number of times I have rolled my eyes or chucked a book across the room because the writer had clearly never been without shouting distance of a live horse. Assuming that what you see in Hollywood is how real horses are WILL get you laughed at by all the horse-savvy people out there, of whom there are many, many more than you think.

What projects do you have planned for the future?

I was in the middle of a new book when I landed the contract for my “Masters of the Elements” series, which sucked up all my writing time for the past 3 years. Now that the “Fate’s Arrow” series is almost done in revision, I will be able to get back to that. It’s epic fantasy as well, with some very cool elements I’m anxious to explore. I’m also going through my drawer cleaning up some of the many short stories lurking in there. I’ll be chucking those out to fend for themselves in the market, too.

Is there anything else about you we should know?

Aside from the two horses, four cats, and one ancient dog who claim to be pets but are actually masters of the Bolich universe? They say to be sure to tell you to buy my books so I can keep them fed. Yes, masters...

You can catch up with me on Twitter (sabolichwrites), on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/sue.bolich or https://www.facebook.com/s.a.bolich), and of course at my own website (www.sabolichbooks.com). I have a new book in my Masters of the Elements series coming out 1 November, so watch for promo offers toward the end of October. That’s it! Thanks for the interview!  

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