Author interview with Jeff Salyards

Author interview with Jeff Salyards

Author bio:
Jeff Salyards grew up in a small town north of Chicago. While it wasn't Mayberry, it was quiet and sleepy, so he got started early imagining his way into other worlds that were loud, chaotic, and full of irrepressible characters. While he ultimately moved away, he never lost his fascination for the fantastic. Though his tastes have grown a bit darker and more mature over the years.
Jeff lives near Chicago with his wife and three daughters. By day, he is a book editor for the American Bar Association; by night, he will continue to crank out novels as long as there are readers willing to read them.




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Hi Jeff, welcome over to The Book Plank and for taking your time to answer these few questions for us.


BP: First off, could you give us a short introduction as to who Jeff Salyards is? What are you likes/dislikes and hobbies?
JS: I like naps. And fantasy maps. And cheese. And Ben & Jerry’s frozen yogurt. I like the idea of exercise (less so, the practice). I am fond of movies and books. I love listening to my children laugh. That is better than anything I could ever buy.

I dislike losing a contact lens. And root canals. Most canals in general, really, unless they are in Venice. But only then if the weather isn’t too hot—they get ripe. I also dislike typos (though I commit a ghastly amount of them), and also my ability to rationalize my way out of doing things that I need to do.

BP: Scourge of the Betrayer was your debut fantasy book and kicked off the Bloodsounder’s Arc, how did you come up with the idea of the series?
JS: I’ve always been a history nerd, and especially drawn to the middle ages. A long time ago, I read The Chronicles of Frosissart, about a noble chronicler accompanying knights on campaign during The Hundred Year’s War. I thought the idea of an early “embedded journalist” was fascinating, and filed it away, but decided that if I ever wrote that book I would want the scribe to be young, untested, and not an insider at all—unfamiliar with the company, maybe not trusted completely, and forced to slowly earn a place. Or die trying.    



BP: Do you still know the moment when and where you decided that you wanted to become an author?
JS: I can’t pinpoint an exact moment. I wish I could—that would make for a more interesting answer. But I’ve always loved writing. I was always scribbling out stories and illustrating them. But don’t mistake that for always knowing I wanted to be a published writer, or working hard to achieve that. I am a terrible slacker. Like, epically bad. (See below)

BP: Writing a debut can be a daunting task, how did you went about and start writing it?
JS: I started writing Scourge years before my kids were born. I had a lot more free time then, but ironically, being a procrastinator, I worked on it in fits and starts, so never made consistent progress. I’d work on it hard for a day or two, take a week off. Work on a few sentences, take a month off. Work on it for a month, reward myself with a summer off. I had time for plenty of diversions and allowed myself to enjoy all of them. Writing, while rewarding, wasn’t something I committed myself to, despite having nights and weekends aplenty to do it.

It wasn’t until after having my first kid, and realizing during some sleep-deprived epiphany that my “free time” was now largely gone, that it hit me that if I really wanted to be a writer—as opposed to dabbling and entertaining myself and occasionally investing seriously—I had to dedicate myself to it, and carve out time. And this became even more evident after kids 2 and 3. Free time was a myth. So I have to make time to do it, make sacrifices, or it would never happen. So that’s what I did.

It makes no sense, really. I totally get that.   

BP: Did you gain valuable experience when you were writing Scourge of the Betrayer that you were able to use in Veil of the Deserters?
JS: That’s a tough one to answer, as I wrote Scourge over the course of more years than I like to think about (round up to a decade), whereas I wrote Veil in the span of a little over a year, so the experiences are radically different. So the first thing I learned was, don’t take ten years to write a book.

I also think I have a better handle on pacing the story now, and it goes without saying that it’s easier to build and sustain momentum when working on it regularly, and to identify thickets and quagmires in the text earlier and work my way out of them before sinking neck deep into the sludge.

BP: Veil of the Deserters is formally out June 3rd (though Amazon is selling the hardcover now and the ebook is available everywhere), if you would have to sell your book with a single sentence, how would it go?
JS: Veil of the Deserters improves on Scourge of the Betrayer in every way—there are more character and plot revelations, deeper world-building, bigger battles, greater intrigue, Braylar’s sister shows up and kicks all kinds of ass, and Arki isn’t nearly as clueless, though he is still a bit naïve and clumsy. And the book comes with free cotton candy. OK, it doesn’t, but that would have been more than once sentence anyway, so that’s fine.

BP: Did you encounter any specific problems so far in writing the Bloodsounder’s Arc?
JS: As always, finding the time and energy to write. With a full time job as an editor, over an hour commute each way, and trying to be at least a passably good dad, sometimes it’s really tough to talk myself into writing when the kids finally go to sleep, when all I really want to do is unwind. Writing is rewarding, and I do love it, but it is also work, especially when sessions don’t go all that well and the inspiration tank is empty. So that’s usually the hardest challenge—kicking myself in the tail and not letting myself off the hook. I wish I had a robot to do that—taze me if I started whining or offering pitiful excuses. That would be great.

BP: What has been the hardest part in writing either Scourge of the Betrayer or Veil of the Deserters?
JS: The hardest part with Veil was dealing with the delay, when the original publisher was going under and a whole bunch of writers had no clue what was going to happen with their books or the rights to their books. It was depressing, infuriating, and ultimately just sort of sad—Night Shade Books had a reputation for being the champion of really interesting, challenging, brave books, so no matter how poorly finances were mismanaged, it was still disappointing to think of them disappearing altogether. So there were several months when everything was in limbo, and it made it really difficult to get motivated to write—I kept thinking, “I know I’ll write 60,000 words only to discover this series is dead in the water, and then I’m going to binge eat chocolate chip cookie dough until I die.”

But once things were settled and there was some finality and closure, I got back to work easily enough. Maybe my big delays in writing Scourge prepared me for that. (See, I can rationalize anything!)

BP: Besides the hardest part, which chapter/scene did you enjoy writing about the most?
JS: You and your hard question. Sheesh.

I love choreographing battles, and there are some doozies in this book. I try to actually approach it like a fight choreographer, think of it cinematically. So I really enjoyed working out the logistics of some of those set pieces—they are always a blast to write.

But I also loved the quieter character-driven scenes—crafting dialogue is as much fun as dreaming up the mayhem of fight scenes. And it was nice to provide some new layers to the characters this go around.

There wasn’t really any part of the book that was a chore to write, and that’s probably a good thing—if I’m bored or struggling, you can be sure the reader isn’t faring any better. So I hope it’s a good sign that it’s hard to single out a single scene as a favorite. Or emblematic of my innate gift for waffling.   

BP: If you would be given the chance to retract Veil of the Deserters from publishing and make one final adjustment, would you do so? If yes, which parts and why?
JS: Probably not. I mean, the book’s not perfect by any stretch. While I’m generally happy with all of it, there are tiny things I could tinker with, but if I was allowed to hold the presses and get back under the hood, I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from monkeying around and probably screwing something up. So it’s good I can’t.

I can be my own worst critic—there will always be things I wish I had done differently or better. But overall, I do feel confident this book was about as good as I could make it.

BP: Veil of the Deserters is the second book in the Bloodsounder’s Arc, do you have plans to write more books in the series now that you have found a new publishing house?
JS: There will be a third book for sure in the series. Beyond that, I can’t say at this time.

BP: Next to Scourge of the Betrayer and Veil of the Deserters, you have also featured in two anthologies, do you have any other projects besides the Bloodsounder’s Arc that you wish to pursue in the near future?
JS: I might submit a short story for another anthology this summer. But I really want to focus on Book 3, so maybe not. Even a short takes valuable time away from working on the main manuscript, and since I still have that day job right now, I have to be really careful about picking my spots for other projects.   

After this series is done, I might do some standalones in the same world (stealing a page out of Joe Abercrombie’s approach), or possibly a different series in the same world. But who knows—I could have exhausted myself on it and need a break. I kind of doubt it though—I feel like there’s a lot that can be explored here.

BP: Everyone enjoys science fiction and fantasy in their own way, what do you like most about it?
JS: I love that while science fiction and fantasy *can* be a simple escape route from the grind of daily life in the here and now, the best of it isn’t just a vehicle for getting somewhere outside yourself, but examining something from a different perspective, being exposed to things that challenge your worldview or force you to reevaluate (see the comfort and disturb quote above). Phillip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Octavia Butler, Neal Stephenson, Gene Wolfe, Nora Jemisin, newish writers like Zachary Jernigan, Stina Leicht, Kameron Hurley. . . shoot, the list of fabulous writers is endless.

BP: If you would have to give your top 5 favorite books, which would they be?
JS: I hate this question. No, seriously, I do. So many different books have impacted me over the years, at various stages in my life, meaning different things. For instance, The Road by Cormac McCarthy was so searing, so unafraid to show the harshness of its world, I will probably never read it more than the one time. But it was also a beautiful story about a father and child, and resonates with me in ways many other books don’t. Can I call it a “favorite”? No, probably not. It made we want to curl into a fetal position and weep for a week. But it affected me more than most, and at the end of the day, I think that’s the point of fiction—as a wise professor once told me (and was certainly told to him by his mentor, and his mentor’s mentor, and maybe back to Socrates), fiction should comfort the disturb and disturb the comfortable. So The Road does that—it disturbs. But if “favorite” means the most rereadable books, like I’m stuck on a deserted island, what would I like to read to Wilson the volleyball over and over? Well, no way in hell would The Road make the cut. Because The Road would probably make me slash Wilson and then feed myself to sharks.

So too, I loved Umberto’s The Name of the Rose, but it was a pain in the ass to read, and largely made me feel like an uneducated doorknob as I struggled with all his eruditeness. So I probably won’t reread that sucker again (though I was a glutton for punishment and read it twice, and felt only marginally less stupid on the second go around).

You see my dilemma. I hate leaving wonderfully dense or painful books off the list, but I can’t really justify including them as favorites if I only read them once or twice. Can I? Which is why coming up with a top 5 is nearly impossible for me. There are just too many books, and some that had a powerful sway over me but that I’ll never revisit again. And some that the lens of nostalgia helps a great deal as well, but if I were to reread them now. . .

A Prayer for Owen Meany, Catch-22, Blood Meridian, Jitterbug Perfume. . . but would I read Blood Meridian several times? No. Too bleak. 


See, I just can’t. I’m punting on this one. Sorry. I could spend 10 hours meticulously culling all the books I enjoyed, finally compiling a top five, and then minutes later, I’d scrap it and have to do it again. So if I put one list out here, it would be null and void almost immediately after. 

BP: And just lastly, can you give us a sneak peak as to what will be in store for the readers of Veil of the Deserters and possibly the direction of the third book?
JS: This will probably end up on the marketing copy anyway, so not a huge spoiler I guess, but Arki and Captain Killcoin and his crew find a way to part the Godveil and discover what is on the other side. There is also a lot more politicking, intrigue, relentless battles, crude but inventive cursing, memory magic, and Arki struggling mightily to stay alive.

BP: Thank you for your time Jeff and good luck with your future writing!
JS: Thanks so much for inviting me to do this. It was fun!

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