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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Interviewing fantasy author S.A. Bolich about her book Firedancer

I'm pleased to be able to bring my readers a wonderful interview with fantasy author S.A. Bolich. She has a fascinating series in progress, Masters of the Elements. The first two books are available: Firedancer and Windrider. I was captivated by her answers and this series is definitely on my to-read list! Please welcome her today.
 
In your book Firedancer, Jetta ak'Kal is a Firedancer who has failed to protect her assigned village from an assault by living flame. How does Jetta accomplish this protection? Why did she fail?

Jetta is an exceptionally talented Dancer who is able to sense the presence of fire and the rise of living flame from below, which has always given her the advantage in getting to where it will appear before it can actually burst into the open. On the night of the disaster in Setham Village, she was ill and slept through its rise and the first alarm. The Ancient arrived before she could prevent it. Many things contributed to this situation, but Jetta blames herself, because her ability had never failed her before, and this one time it led to so much grief. Only much later does it occur to her that the Dance itself does not seem to be acting upon fire as it should, that certain movements have lost their potency, and that the Ancient is refusing to obey its strictures as laid down by Earth Mother in the Beginning.

Jetta had once been the most talented Dancer of her generation. What unique abilities did she possess that made her so successful?

Only the Dancers with the greatest affinity for fire can sense its coming as Jetta does. There are many degrees of flame, from the hesitant infant fire to the white, consuming fire of the Ancient, and only Dancers with an exceptionally strong will and talent for the Dance can force back the Ancient itself once it breaks free. Dancers are ranked from beginners in First Rank to the most proficient Fifth Rank masters able to face down the Ancient. Jetta was the youngest Third Rank ever when she faced the Ancient at Setham and failed to stop it. Technically she should not have been able to do anything with it anyway, but half of a Dancer’s success comes from believing in herself.

The Ancient—the strange, elemental fire imprisoned at the heart of the world— took Jetta’s lifemate and her famed reputation. Why?

Fire usually grows through several stages before the Ancient itself breaks to the surface. The Ancient itself wants nothing but endless fuel and it takes joy in destroying everything in its path. Most Dancers can cope with the lesser stages of flame, but if they allow a hysth to form they’re in trouble. The hysth is a column of fire that is like the Ancient’s grown-up child: half alive, hot, cunning, and its only purpose is to burrow into the ground and open a doorway for its terrible parent. By the time Jetta arrived on the scene in Setham, hysths had already formed and were out of control. This in itself is a shameful thing to a Dancer. Even worse, because a Dancer’s greatest purpose is to stop flame in its tracks, very village on Metrenna depends on them for its very existence. No one trusts a Dancer who has failed to keep his or her assigned village safe. Setham was a rather spectacular disaster, and Jetta did not die with it, so she is stuck with her reputation as the one who let it burn.

The residents of the village that Jetta is assigned to protect want her to redeem herself and contain the Ancient. What might happen if she is unsuccessful? 

Annam village sits amid endless leagues of forest, quite isolated and far from the help of other Dancers. If the Ancient should rise and get out of control in those green expanses, the resulting firestorm will be almost impossible to stop. Not only will it completely destroy the village itself and likely everyone in it; very likely it will spread far and wide to more populated areas that already have their own problems with recalcitrant fire.

Now that Jetta’s lifemate is gone, she is assigned a new partner, Settak. She doesn’t seem to want him. Why not? Does he like Jetta? Is he able to help her contain the Ancient or is he just another problem for her to deal with?

Settak has long been in love with Jetta, unbeknownst to her. She is still grieving for her lifemate and doesn’t want entanglements. And, he is the least adept journeyman in the whole Fire Clan. She doesn’t at first understand why the Fire Circle assigned him to her, and assumes that they have both become expendable.

A group of hostile beings called the Windriders complicates Jetta’s task. It seems logical that wind would spread fire. Do the Windriders have an alliance with the Ancient or do they operate on their own?

The Windriders are concerned with their own element, friendly Wind and her much less tractable sister, the stormy Hag. They fear fire but they love Annam and its people and want to keep it safe. They think they are best suited to do that by simply blowing the fire out. While Windriders and Firedancers have in the past formed alliance to battle major incursions by the Ancient, there have never been permanent ties between these talented clans. The ignorance and distrust on both sides is a real complication.

This story sounds fascinating with plenty of avenues for more books. Will Firedancers be included in the next book of Master of the Elements? Or will there be a different element as your focus?

Yes to both! I love these characters, so you will see them in all the books of the series. However, I do shift the point of view to a Windrider in Book 2 (Windrider) and to a Water Clan girl in Book 3 (Seaborn) so that readers can experience the magic each clan wields from the inside, so to speak. The clans must work together to solve the greater mystery of why Fire seems to have launched a rebellion against Earth Mother and where the other elements stand on the issue. 

Briefly describe the magical systems of your world. How do those who are empowered gain their abilities?

The four talented clans—Firedancers, Windriders, Water Clans, and Delvers—have 
inborn abilities suited to controlling one of Earth Mother’s children: Fire, Wind, and Water, or the quaking of the Mother herself. Not all members of each clan attain the highest rank. They must study from childhood to master the strictures of the Dance or of Wind and Water, and they must apply for higher rank and prove it in a trial before the elders of their clan. Very few make it to Fifth Rank, and fewer still into the ruling councils of each clan. You can tell the greatest masters among Dancers and Riders by the intense color of their eyes, which change to reflect victories: black for defeating flame, blue for mastering the Hag.


The Firedance itself is the means by which Dancers control fire, for each movement provides protection to the Dancer and limits the flames in some way. Windriders have an inborn song by which they hear and control the movement of air, and when their song meshes with the song of Wind herself, powerful things happen. The Water Clans are connected to Water and to each other, able to hear and sense what is happening wherever water flows, and plant themselves like a seawall against its fury. The huge, gentle Delvers can literally move mountains when they choose.

Firedancer
S. A. Bolich
Masters of the Elements, Book 1

Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Sky Warrior Books

ISBN: 978-0615592916
ASIN: B005JMXIMG

Number of pages: 394
Word Count: 133,000

Book Description:

What do you suppose that fire thinks about as it cooks your dinner behind its cage of containment stone? Jetta ak'Kal knows—but no one listens to a Firedancer who has failed to protect her assigned village from an assault by living flame.

The Ancient, the strange, elemental fire imprisoned at the heart of the world, took her lifemate, her reputation as the most talented Dancer of her generation, and nearly her life. Now her clan demands she redeem herself, yet seem strangely indifferent to her insistence that the Dance itself that has always bound the Ancient seems to be failing. Assigned to Annam, a village with no previous experience of fire, Jetta and her new partner, Settak, find themselves battling the naive ignorance of the villagers, the hostility of arrogant Windriders whose mastery of air could kill them both with the flick of a finger, and occasionally each other as they struggle to find new and more powerful forms of the Dance.

Pursued by fire crawling up through every crack, by a new love she does not want, and a nagging suspicion that there is more to her assignment than her clan bothered to tell her, Jetta must forge unprecedented alliances in this high and beautiful place before the Ancient breaks free—for if it does, there will no longer be anything left to fight for.

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Excerpt:

Fire rose that night. Jetta jerked awake to a deep booming horn shivering the glass in the windows and Nuurn's voice shouting, "Fire, Jetta ak'Kal! Fire at the storehouses!"

She scrambled out of bed, throwing a harried look out the window. She could not see the fire but she saw a glow, the size of which turned her stomach to knots. Ruthlessly she suppressed it and charged down the hill. Clouds had rolled in since sunset; it was black as the inside of Wind Point between the houses, forcing Jetta to slow down on the uneven streets. Then a huge shadow loomed out of the night and Rununn said breathlessly, "Follow me, ak'Kal!"

His great hand caught hers and tugged; she followed, trusting his night vision as he wove around hummocks and ruts. Her feet were wet and numb from the chill dew on the ankle-deep grass by the time they dashed over the slight rise and came to the first of the storehouses. Delvers with shovels, with buckets and picks, some half dressed, others barefoot, milled around between her and the fire, determined to catch any spark.

"Let me through!" she shouted, pounding both fists on the first broad back. Rununn cleared a path with indelicate shoves of a broad shoulder and many a, "Pardon, master. Please step aside." that would have set Jetta giggling at any other time. One Delver turned with a sharp, angry protest, planting himself in Rununn's path. Jetta almost shrieked at sight of Burrood.

"Remember yourself, a'Kam!" he snapped at Rununn.

"B--ak'Kal--"

Jetta, trapped amid a towering forest of giant Delver bodies, lost all diplomacy. "Move!" she screamed at Burrood. "The fire--"

Burrood opened his mouth, but what he might have said, Jetta never found out. Rununn wrapped both strong young arms around the older Delver and simply lifted him out of the way, his face averted from Burrood's astonished outrage. Jetta darted through that convenient hole and halted, appalled.

Not one, but three separate fires burned on the road and in the spring grass on the uphill verge. Settak faced the largest, an inferno in the middle of the road roaring shoulder high with a yellow-white core. The other two were spinning threads into the damp and verdant grass, finding it tough going but racing to combine arms of knee-high reddish flame.

"Dancer, what do we do?" a panicked Delver shouted at her.

Jetta gathered her wits. "Clear a line around those two!" She pointed at the lesser fires, which would not spread quickly in that lush grass. "And stay back!"

She ran to join Settak. Outmatched, still he bravely stood his ground. As she came up beside him he thrust his hands out in the move that had worked so well yesterday. The fire shied back but none of its flickering branches sank or died. Jetta saw the failure hit him like a blow to the gut and shouted, "Show no fear, Dancer! Take position on the other side!"

He turned his head and saw her. Relief washed into his face. He nodded and spun away, terrified but still game. Jetta stepped instinctively into the Dance, straight to the fifth movement.

No retreat.

The fire roared at her, malicious to its core. She felt its hostility as she had felt it at Firehome, at Setham. Heat blasted toward her and recoiled; she saw it withering the grass even where fire had not yet taken hold. Sweat glistened on Delver faces at the edge of the light. She set them from her mind, concentrating on the ground underfoot, reaching for the pulsing power under Earth Mother's skin. She planted both feet in the dying heat of ruined grass, uncomfortably warm for a terrifying, endless instant in which she could not feel the run of the fire even with it towering in front of her. And then it came, the sweet, staggering relief of the Dance connecting her to...everything. Everything worth protecting.

The heat faded. The searing brightness dimmed as the air seemed to thicken into a shield around her. The acrid bite of smoke and scorched grass no longer afflicted her nose. Jetta scarcely noticed, for the center of the fire faded to palest yellow and then to white, and a hysth burned there, cunning vanguard of the Ancient, defying the Dance, the Mother. Her. Jetta set her jaw and began to dance.

The hysth roared at her, divided itself and tried to advance on her flanks; she stopped it with an improbable leap and twist that took her level with shocked Delver eyes. On the edge of her awareness danced Settak in brief glimpses of random movements, out of step with her own, disconnected, though she saw that somehow he was keeping the fire from spreading on his side. He was not Kori; she could not expect his efforts to lock smoothly with hers, but still it distracted her on levels she barely sensed save in tiny jolts to the smooth flow of the energy pouring through her.

Then a malevolent intelligence assaulted her, a driving need deep underground. The Ancient. The hysth lunged at her, breaking out of its circle to attack the ground at her feet, burning downward, striving to dump her into the arms of the Ancient. Dimly she heard Settak's frenzied "Jetta!"...


Author Bio:

S. A. Bolich is a full-time freelancer who writes on a wide range of topics ranging from travel to horses to web design—and of course, fantasy and science fiction.  A native of Washington state, she resides there again after serving six years in Germany as an army military intelligence officer. She graduated summa cum laude from college with a degree in history, which she confesses was greatly aided by devouring historical fiction of every era and kind through her formative years.  She is also a lifelong horsewoman and shares her knowledge in the popular "Horses in Fiction" blog series at blog.sabolichbooks.com, in which she helps writers keep their equines from falling into the trap of Hollywood clich├ęs.

Her first novel, Firedancer, Book 1 of the Masters of the Elements series, was released in September 2011 by Sky Warrior Books, with Book 2, Windrider, appearing in May 2012.  Her short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, On Spec, Damnation Books, and many other print magazines and ezines, as well as the steampunk anthology Gears and Levers 1, the military SF anthology Defending the Future IV: No Man’s Land, and the wolf-themed fantasy collection, Wolfsongs 2.  Currently she is working on Seaborn, Book 3 of Masters of the Elements.



Twitter: sabolichwrites


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Marsha A. Moore is a writer of fantasy romance. The magic of art and nature spark life into her writing. Read her ENCHANTED BOOKSTORE LEGENDS for adventurous epic fantasy romance: Book One, SEEKING A SCRIBE, and Book Two, HERITAGE AVENGED. She has also authored the Ciel's Legacy series, with fast action mermaid/pirate storylines: TEARS ON A TRANQUIL LAKE and TORTUGA TREASURE.  For a FREE ebook download, read her historic fantasy, LE CIRQUE DE MAGIE, available at Amazon and Smashwords.

2 comments:

Works of S. A. Bolich said...

Hi, Marsha,

Thanks so much for the shout-out. I feel I'm in good company on this site!

S. A. (Sue) Bolich

Marsha A. Moore said...

Sue, you're very welcome! I'm really looking forward to reading your books. Best of luck to you!