Guest post: Melissa Olson, author of Trail of Dead

ToD_CoverHello, and welcome to my Trail of Dead blog tour! A big thank you to Rob for letting me commandeer his blog for the day to do this. Trail of Dead is available in stores and on Amazon NOW, and it is the sequel to my first novel, Dead Spots. Both books fall into the urban fantasy subgenre, and they both follow a young woman with an unusual ability: Scarlett Bernard is a null, a rare human who cancels out any and all magic in a given area around her. As you can imagine, Scarlett has a complicated relationship with the supernatural community.

If you’re interested in reading more about me and my work, please visit my website, You can also find links to the other blogs I’m putting out this week in honor of Trail of Dead’s release yesterday. There are going to be exclusive excerpts, book giveaways, and much more. Each blog will be different, except for these first two paragraphs, which you’ll see in all of them.

For the next couple of days, I’m going to be doing something kind of fun with the blog tour: I’m posting an exclusive excerpt from the new book, and giving you a little “behind the scenes” explanation of how it came about.  This passage one of my favorite moments in Trail of Dead, simply because it’s (hopefully) a very short section that goes a long way toward explaining how magic works in my world. Worldbuilding is probably the most fun, challenging, frustrating part of writing fantasy, and I spent a lot of time working on my universe and how it affects Scarlett.


In her world, there are witches, vampires and werewolves, and Trail of Dead really focuses in on the witch population, which created a challenge for me. I think most readers have a general understanding about what a vampire does, and what happens to a werewolf, so for those creatures all I really have to do is explain my specific “rules” (ie vampires “die” when the sun is up, werewolves are forced to change during the full moon, etc). Witches, however, are kind of a wild card in this kind of fantasy. In fact, one of the things that’s always bothered me as a reader is that there are so many versions of witchcraft, both in fiction and our sense of witchcraft in the real world.

No, I’m not suggesting witchcraft is real, but the idea of witches and spellcraft has pervaded many, many cultures through history, and it always works differently. Sometimes witches use ancient spells, and sometimes they make up a chant on the spot. Some need ingredients to get things done, and some have to have a wand or wave their arms around. In most of the urban fantasies I’ve read, however, only one kind of spellcraft creates magic, and that always bothered me a bit. So I had to find a way to reconcile the many ideas about witchcraft that float around out there, and then I had to communicate that to the reader. The passage below is part of a conversation between Jesse, a human homicide detective, and Kirsten, the most powerful witch in the city of Los Angeles.

“But…” Jesse sputtered. “If I’m getting this, you’re suggesting that a witch in California can say abracadabra and a flame shoots out of her finger, but a witch in Japan can, I don’t know, click her heels together and the same thing will happen?”

She held up her hand again, in a wait, stop gesture. “You’re looking at this wrong. Magic isn’t a single trick. It isn’t finite at all.” She tilted her head and took another sip of the soda, thinking. “Okay, look. If I go to the beach with a gallon bucket and fill the bucket with ocean water, I can do lots of things with that water. I can use it to splash someone who’s hot, to build a sand castle, to soak my feet. Now, will that bucket of water that I took make a difference to the ocean, in the grand scheme of things?”

“No, not really.”

“What if I brought a hundred of my friends, and we each took a gallon of water?”

“No. The ocean is still too big.”

“Right. Now, I have a bucket, but maybe one of my friends has a pitcher, and one has a big plastic baggie, and one has a giant seashell, and so on. It doesn’t really matter what we use to transport the water, and it doesn’t matter if we wade in and scoop it up, get in a boat and skim the surface, or wait for the tide to come to us. We all have our own methods, passed down from ancestors or completely made up. What matters is what we do with the gallon of water.”

He thought about that, and glanced over at Kirsten. She was perfectly composed, sitting with her hands folded and her legs crossed at the ankle. They might have been discussing the Napoleonic Wars or the price of gasoline. “I can see why you’re their leader,” he said, impressed.

She laughed, a low musical sound. “Well, thank you.”

In this scene Jesse serves as sort of a reader surrogate: like us, he doesn’t understand the world that the supernatural characters live in, and Kirsten is explaining to us as much as Jesse. It took me a long time to get this just right, but I was really pleased with how it turned out: in fact, I can honestly say, in the three books and one masters thesis I’ve completed, the ocean thing is the analogy that I’m most proud of.

Please join me on tomorrow’s leg of the blog tour as we look at another exclusive excerpt and its history. Thanks!