Tuesday, April 17, 2012

GUEST BLOG: Sue Bolich on "Finding Magic in Weeds"

We are, each one of us, full of magic.

Ha! That got your attention, didn't it?

Finding "magical" ideas isn't a matter of sitting in front of the blank page thinking up cool magic systems. I could sit around all day trying to dream up ideas and get absolutely nowhere. Ideas ambush me. They fall out of pine trees on my head during daily walks, hit me while I'm filling the dishwasher, or rise up and scream at me while I'm working on another writing project altogether.

Where do they come from? Why, from our own lives. Finding the magic within is a matter of opening yourself to the possibility of ideas.

Yes, I know, that is much easier said than done. Begin by simply allowing yourself to be inspired. Creative people hear in the wind the lilt of a new melody...or the whisper of ghosts wanting attention. They see in the sunset the finger paints of a playful god...or the ominous portent of prophecy looming at the cusp of fulfillment. It's all in the imagination, which, if you are going to write or paint or make music, must be allowed to romp freely without the deadly inhibitions of reality thrown at you by well-meaning but magic-challenged friends: "That's silly." "It's just moving air. There's no magic in Coriolis forces."

No magic? Balderdash. I found magic in weeds./;;'>>>>/.

It's true. My long-running battle with the noxious and unbelievably tough knapweed in my pasture ended up on the pages of my first book as my heroine Jetta's intense and frustrating battle with an enemy she can never ultimately defeat. Fire—the elemental fire at the heart of Jetta's world—is alive. It thinks. It wants...the freedom of the open air, the fuel in living greenery, the defeat of the Firedancers who were created at the Beginning of all things to fight its encroachment onto the land. But no matter how many battles the Fire Clans fight and win, fire will still exist. Still want. Still hate.

My frustration with knapweed became Jetta's determination to defeat the enemy threatening her entire world, and from there became a story about duty and sacrifice and what we will do to protect the people and places we love.

I am Jetta, as all writers are in some aspect their characters. Knapweed chokes out everything around it, killing all the native plants except for the trees and making a wasteland out of formerly beautiful meadows (and my horse pasture). I did not know, when the first, surprising line of Firedancer popped into my head, that this tale about preventing devastation was really about my fight against knapweed. But "This fire was malicious" pretty much captured many surly suspicions about my enemy as I, hot, sweaty, and thoroughly sick of lugging around my little sprayer, surveyed its malevolent encroachment. I imagined it laughing at all my efforts to get rid of it. I assigned it an evil genius capable of plotting its next move into previously untouched areas. I—well, okay, I have an active imagination and too much time to think whilst hunting out every rotten plant. So?

I daresay writing fantasy beats the heck out of therapy.

There's magic in everything. It informs our lives as fantasy writers and lets us "write what we know" in the grandest sense. Aren’t there daily struggles we all deal with, from getting the kids to the school bus on time to impossible people at work? The children become magical but maddening creatures and the cretins become orcs. Geez, I love fantasy.

My advice to beginning writers: turn off conventional wisdom and find the magic around you, whatever you write. Be observant—but let what you see pass straight through your reality filters to the inner child, the one who still remembers the enormous possibilities in an empty box. Let the spark flare, no matter how silly it seems.

That really is magic.

Sign up to win an autographed copy of Firedancer at Goodreads starting April 15!

Want to know more about Firedancer? Read on...

The Ancient, the strange, living fire imprisoned at the heart of the world, has grown tired of its cage. It is pushing its way up everywhere, defying the magic of the Firedance that has bound it since the Beginning of all things. Jetta ak'Kal, the most talented Firedancer of her generation, has already lost her lifemate, the village she was supposed to protect, and her confidence to its bold attacks. Now, a year later, her clan ignores her insistence that the Ancient is acting strangely and sends her to protect Annam Vale with only the most erratic journeyman in all the Fire Clans for a helper. Poor Settak has only stubbornness going for him—and a long-cherished love for Jetta that she cannot return.

They arrive in Annam to discover the Ancient crawling up through abandoned mine tunnels. Thrown straight into battle with an enemy that still gives her nightmares, Jetta's private little war is complicated by the presence of Windriders, masters of air, the Ancient's most potent fuel. Arrogant and cocksure of their own ability to protect Annam, most of them side with a village faction that thinks Jetta ak'Kal is a greater liability than an asset. Only Sheshan ak’Kal seems reasonable, but his undisguised interest in Jetta sets Settak bristling.

Beset on all sides, Jetta must somehow bring Windriders and Firedancers in an unprecedented alliance to stop the Ancient, for if she fails, Annam Vale and its big, laughing Stone Delvers will be only the first victims of the firestorm that will surely follow.


S. A. Bolich lives in Washington State with 2 horses, 4 cats, and a dog, and is winning against the knapweed, thank you. Her first novel, Firedancer, came out September 2011; the sequel, Windrider, is due out in May 2012. Her short fiction can be found at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, On Spec, Damnation Books, in Defending the Future IV: No Man's Land, and many other places, and is upcoming in The Mystical Cat fantasy anthology and the Gears and Levers steampunk anthology from Sky Warrior Books.

You can find more information about her and her work at her website: www.sabolichbooks.com, follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and subscribe to her blog, Words From Thin Air. You can also download an extensive excerpt of Firedancer at Goodreads.


  1. Talk about making lemonade when life hands you lemons! Great example of finding new ways to look at what we're in the middle of.

  2. I am constantly amazed by what wanders into my writing, Rebecca. Real life is just so full of cool stuff!