Okay, before I tell you to go dashing across the pond to check out today’s stop on my Blog Tour: Madeline Dyer’s interview with yours truly (which you better do because she asked some great questions), I’d like everyone to welcome Jeff Salyards to my humble blog. <cue massive applause and cat calls> Jeff is the author of Scourge of the Betrayer, (which I reviewed on Amazon and you really need to read — the book that is — and the review, if you really want, but definitely the book — which you can find at here.)Scourge of the Betrayer is a delightful little diddy about a mouse and- <hastily checks notes> No, that’s not right, though there were mice mentioned, and possibly rats as well. Other vermin . . . pestilence . . . <mutters under breath> Cue official book blurb, please:
Many tales are told of the Syldoon Empire and its fearsome soldiers, who are known throughout the world for their treachery and atrocities. Some say that the Syldoon eat virgins and babies — or perhaps their own mothers. Arkamondos, a bookish young scribe, suspects that the Syldoon’s dire reputation may have grown in the retelling, but he’s about to find out for himself. Hired to chronicle the exploits of a band of rugged Syldoon warriors, Arki finds himself both frightened and fascinated by the men’s enigmatic leader, Captain Braylar Killcoin. A secretive, mercurial figure haunted by the memories of those he’s killed with his deadly flail, Braylar has already disposed of at least one impertinent scribe… and Arki might be next. Archiving the mundane doings of millers and merchants was tedious, but at least it was safe. As Arki heads off on a mysterious mission into parts unknown, in the company of the coarse, bloody-minded Syldoon, he is promised a chance to finally record an historic adventure well worth the telling, but first he must survive the experience! A gripping military fantasy in the tradition of Glen Cook, Scourge of the Betrayer explores the brutal politics of Empire-and the searing impact of violence and dark magic on a man’s soul.
There we go! Much better than I could have put it.
kls:So, Jeff, make yourself comfortable. Can I get you anything to drink? Coffee, tea, water? Some of the Canker’s Ale? That was impossible to find, you know, very popular stuff — so I just brewed some of my own.
JS: I’m not surprised—the Canker’s stuff always goes fast. I’d be happy to sample some of yours. Especially if it’s cloudy and tastes like silt.
kls: Here you are, cloudy silt water it is! Well then, let’s start with an easy one. Tell us a little bit about yourself, and when you decided to become a writer?
JS: Wait, did I decide to do that? For real? That’s awful! What a terrible career move! The self-loathing and deep anguish, the cacophony of critical voices in your head, the paralysis in front of a blank page or screen. Why would anyone do that to themselves?! *Shivers*
OK, I actually like it. There. I said it.
A little bit about me: I have three charming (and sometimes barbaric) children, all under the age of six. Which makes me a masochist. Which continues the theme I think we’ve established here.
Some people say things like “As long as I can remember, I’ve written stories” and it usually sounds like disingenuous writer crap, some retroactive narrative designed to bolster the whole “born a writer” mystique. But the truth is I’ve always loved putting stories to paper, and in fourth grade, when we had to write a mini essay about what we wanted to be when we grew up, I scribbled: “Writer, jewel thief, or stuntman.”
Good money was on stuntman. Or convict. But lo and behold, I chose door #3.
kls: Did the idea for Scourge come to you fully formed, or in bits and pieces? And where did it come from? I mean, any outside influences, or did it rise completely from the dark, scary recesses of your brain? Not to imply you have a dark, scary brain. I’ve never seen it, obviously. But I think all of us, especially we writer types, are able to tap into certain parts of our psyche that are off-limits to others.
JS: Nothing comes to me fully formed. And honestly, I’m always a little skeptical when someone says that their ideas showed up perfectly coherent and ready to rock. But that could be because I usually stumble and flounder and “organically” (a polite word for stumbling/floundering) discover where I’m going.
As far as dark scary recesses, oh yeah, I’ve got those. Dank, clammy, with stalactites and bats and troglodytes and Gollum sightings galore. Perfect for spelunking or getting murdered and never found again. I agree, though, that writers tend to give themselves permission to explore those places that give most folks the willies. By day, I’m a boring editor and a dad with three daughters who says “Smurf that!” and “Oh fudge” in place of cursing. But a book like Scourge, filled with foul-mouthed hooligans wading knee-deep in blood (and cursing about it), gives me an opportunity to let my id out a little.
kls: What’s your writing routine? Special socks, certain time of day, have to be wearing a Cat in the Hat hat and listening to soundtracks from the Muppets. . .
JS: Special sock puppets—Braylar, Lloi, Arki. . .
No, no ritual to speak of. Most nights, after the kids go down, I usually sacrifice a couple bottles of beer (nowhere near as good as yours, by the way), offer a clumsy prayer to Crom (and to HELL with him if he doesn’t listen!) and get to it. I’ve gotten better about forcing myself to commit to it, even if I don’t feel like writing, instead of justifying doing something else by telling myself I’m waiting on the muse. The muse is a painted whore (with no heart at all, so forget that “heart of gold” bullshit). She might be wearing a Cat in the Hat hat though.
kls: Glad you’re enjoying the ale. You have a little silt in your mustache, though. *ahem* About Scourge of the Betrayer, interesting title, where did it come from? Did the title lead the story, or did the story create the title? And how long did it take you to write Scourge?
JS: Nothing fully formed, Kathi. Nothing. The original working title was Mercenary Bright. Then Revenger Gray. And then Mercenary Bright again, because that had been the working title so long, I couldn’t move away from it. Even though my wife told her it reminded her of Rainbow Brite. And finally, after landing an agent, I stumbled/floundered onto Scourge of the Betrayer.
kls: *tries not to giggle* Mercenary Bright. Funny. Moving on, you have a very interesting choice of weapons being utilized by the Syldoon. Was there a lot of research involved in choosing them and writing about them? Or is medieval weaponry something you pursue in your free time?
JS: I’ve always loved history, and especially classical and medieval history. So before I ever started writing the book, I had at least an armchair working knowledge of arms and armor. Certainly nothing bordering on expertise—I’ve never forged anything, I’m no museum curator, and only a half-hearted reenactor in years past—but I know just enough to get myself into trouble.
As far as the choices for the character’s weapons, I deliberated over those for a long time. Probably far too long, especially Braylar’s, since Bloodsounder is almost another character in its own right. I made extensive lists of the pros and cons of each choice (e.g., “A Hussite Flail: Pro: Can crush bones into powder/ Con: Really hard to disguise or use in close quarters”). It took a lot of self-arguing before arriving at what I thought were good choices that seemed fitting for the characters in question. I really wanted to include some that deviated from the run-of-the mill.
kls: Did you find yourself doing a lot of research on any aspect of the book?
JS: There were plenty of things that sent me scrambling to the library (or at least Google, damn my lazy ass). Medievalish food, for one. I mean, sure, it’s fantasy not historical fiction, it could be Dragon Eggs Benedict. But I at least tried to approximate some realistic things that might have been on a menu. I looked at recipes from various regions and time periods and figured out what Romans, Byzantines, and Visigoths ate (besides puppies and happy endings), or what kind of fare might have shown up in an inn in 1300.
So, lots of little things like that, to try to add some feeling of authenticity. I’ve read some fantasy or historical fiction writers who are clearly trying to impress the hell out of you with the voluminous research they’ve done, sometimes to the serious detriment of the story. There’s a fine line, I think, between helping a reader get really immersed by judiciously dropping in intriguing and authentic details, and bashing the reader over the head with a costrel and the step-by-step instructions for making one that has nothing at all to do with anything, really, but sound cool, and demonstrates just how many crazy hours you spent researching, and those aren’t going to waste, Cromdamnit, they’re going to appear on the page somewhere, even if that means the reader no longer cares about your character, plot, or especially the twelfth step in making an effing costrel, and flips you off before throwing the book across the room.
kls: Were you always planning on writing from Arki’s viewpoint, or is that something that just happened?
JS: Yeah, that idea was there pretty much early on. I know this seems to run counter to my claim that nothing comes fully-formed, but hear me out. I knew I wanted an archivist to accompany either a spy, a military leader, or an operative that was some kind of hybrid from the start. However, that changed shape quite a bit as I went.
Originally, I had it built in that Arki was going to record not only everything that happened in real time, but quite a bit of Braylar’s backstory as well, with the two storylines interwoven. Only, being my own worst enemy, I also decided that during the sessions when Braylar was narrating his past, in order to give the illusion that Arki was scribbling like mad to keep up, I didn’t include his questions, or observations or asides, only Braylar’s words. And since there was quite a bit of back and forth, usually with Arki being a pain in the ass and interrupting a lot, that left the reader trying to puzzle out from Braylar’s responses what Arki had asked or said.
How clever! How post-modern, and meta-! How so totally frustrating and alienating! While I did have a beta reader or two who actually liked this dynamic, most pointed out that I was a jackass, and this whole thing did nothing to really contribute to the whole, and like gratuitous research, really was pretty masturbatory on my part, as I was just trying to impress in a different way.
kls: Which character in Scourge is most like you? Or perhaps, which character would you most want to be like? I have to say, I don’t know why, but Hewspear is far and away my favorite.
JS: Oooh, good question. I don’t know about you and yours, but most of my characters have a little bit of me in them, even if that ends up getting distorted, amplified, or blown up like something in a fun house mirror. Braylar is far more decisive, vicious, calculating, and unforgiving than I am, but we are both incredibly stubborn and moody. Mulldoos is far more crass and likely to scratch his balls in public, but we share the fiercely loyal and argumentative thing. Arki is far more naïve and willing to please, but we have the bookish curiosity in common. Lloi is definitely more forgiving and Zen about some of the awful stuff I threw her way, but I do try to look on the bright side of things. Oh, who am I kidding, I rarely do that.
Odd that you would mention Hewspear, but in some ways, he’s the character I might be most like (which could be why I didn’t define him as much as some of the others). He’s got this civilized veneer, and is clearly educated, but he’s more than capable of doling out damage when and if necessary, though he takes no great joy in it. And he has a soft spot for Arki and Lloi, which appeals to me (and rubs Mulldoos the wrong way). Of course, he’s older than the rest, which I really don’t want to think about that, as it’s hard enough avoiding my mid-life crisis most days.
kls: Okay, I think that’s all I have. Is there anything you’d like to add?
JS: I’ve probably blathered enough. That’s right up there with stumbling, floundering, and second-guessing. It comes naturally to me. So, thanks for the great questions.
kls: Thanks for coming, Jeff. It was a great pleasure. Now that we’re done here, isn’t there somewhere else you need to be? Like, oh, I don’t know, writing book two? No pressure or anything, understand. But, <taps foot on floor> time’s a’wasting. And, just so I’m not the only one impatiently waiting, here’s a glimpse at the awesome cover and blurb for Veil of the Deserters (and, yes, it’s really hard not to put two ‘s’s in there!)
Bloodsounder’s Arc continues as Captain Braylar Killcoin and his retinue continue to sow chaos amongst the political elite of Alespell. Braylar is still poisoned by the memories of those slain by his unholy flail Bloodsounder, and attempts to counter this sickness have proven ineffectual.
The Syldoonian Emperor Cynead has solidified his power base in unprecedented ways, and demands loyalty from all operatives. Braylar and company are recalled to the capital to swear fealty. Braylar must decide if he can trust his sister, Soffjian, with the secret that is killing him. She has powerful memory magics that might be able to save him from Bloodsounder’s effects, but she has political allegiances that are not his own. Arki and others in the company try to get Soffjian and Braylar to trust one another, but politics in the capital prove to be far more complicated and dangerous than even Killcoin could predict.
Deposed emperor Thumarr plots to remove the repressive Cynead, and Braylar and his sister Soffjian lie at the heart of his plans. The distance between “favored shadow agent of the emperor” and “exiled traitor” is an unsurprisingly short road. But it is a road filled with blind twists and unexpected turns. Before the journey is over, Arki will chronicle the true intentions of Emperor Cynead and Soffjian. And old enemies in Alespell may prove to be surprising allies in a conflict no one could have foreseen.
Now, go check out Madeline’s interview with me. Blog Tour will continue on Monday.