Today, I have the pure delight of welcoming Jeff Salyards back to my blog. He, in turn, has the dubious honor of being the first interview of the year. Technically, my first blog post of the year, as well,
*round of applause*
Jeff is the author of the much-acclaimed Bloodsounder’s Arc Trilogy, the final installment of which Chains of the Heretic is now available. Jeff was gracious enough to provide me an Arc of the Arc (see what I did there?), you can read my review on Goodreads, or on Amazon (where you can also purchase the trilogy).
But enough of that. Jeff’s been waiting outside in the unheated foyer long enough. Let’s bring him in and see how long it takes him to thaw.
*goes to door, rolls Jeff in strapped to dolly, props him up by fire*
Welcome, Jeff! Let’s get right to it, shall we? Instead of asking you to tell us a bit about the man behind the words, I’m recommending everyone read this. After the interview, of course. Then stay to poke around and glance at the other pages and links. He’s got some good stuff there.
So. Congratulations on an engrossing, maddening, infuriating, entertaining, sometimes downright hysterical series of books. Job well done, I say. How’s it feel to have wrapped up the Arc?
JS: First, an unheated foyer? What is this, the Unabomber Hostel?
Second, thanks. I think. I mean, it’s better to be infuriating than somniferous, right?
It feels really good to have wrapped it up. A little surreal—it’s sort of hard to believe it’s over now, like I’m punking myself. But I finished a trilogy mostly on time, so that’s something, and I like the way it turned out, so that is also something. (See, it’s acute specificity and nimble wordsmithing like this that makes me a writer. Or something.)
kls: Or something. Exactly. When you wrote Scourge of the Betrayer did you know where you were going with it? Was the entire trilogy mapped out, or did you make it up on the fly?
JS: As my agent will attest, I hate writing synopses and outlines. I really do. Brings me as much pleasure as shooting my foot with a nail gun or getting a paper cut on the inside of my nostril and then doing lines of lemon juice and Pop Rocks. Which is not as fun as it sounds.
kls: I’ll take your word on that.
JS: While I had a general map in place for Scourge, I didn’t have much in the way of an outline, but I had to prepare a synopsis for the rest of the series to pitch to publishers. I did it, but grumbled and growled and howled the entire way.
Even after that, I still allowed myself to veer off the synopsis when it made sense or a better idea presented itself. And, because it was so painful to write, I remembered the synopsis being ridiculously detailed, but there were certain parts I got to (e.g., most of the ending to Veil of the Deserters), and it was totally vague, so I basically had to invent on the fly with the clock winding down and the publisher knocking on my door (and any other mixed metaphors you want to throw in there).
I’ve always been sort of masochistic like that, craving the 11th hour pressure and doing some of my best work, but I prefer it in small manageable doses now—if I pantsed the entire book like that, I doubt the trilogy would be done. Or if done, it would read more like Dr. Seuss cowrote.
kls: Oh, something like, “We should not go into the veil, not in sun, or snow, or hail!” That could be sort of entertaining. Anyhow, you’ve got some amazing characters in Bloodsounder’s Arc. Several that I came to really care about. Were any of them based on someone you know, are they a blend, or are they strictly the conjuring of your indescribable brain?
JS: I love my characters, one and all. Even the bit or throwaway characters. I tried to give each enough personality that they were fun to write, even if they were only in one scene. If it’s not fun, what’s the point, right?
A lot of the characters grew on me the more they were around, sometimes in surprising ways. And saying goodbye was more difficult than I expected. I can see why Sylvester Stallone has done like 31 Rocky movies. Tough to let go.
While there were a few characters that were really inspired from people I met (Commander Darzaak bears some striking similarities to an old wrestling coach I had in high school), for the most part, the main characters in BA were composites. I cherry picked different traits that struck me from people I’d known over the years, or characteristics I thought might just be intriguing, and then built up from there. And, in a lot of cases, nuances I hadn’t anticipated at all showed up as the series went along. For me, that’s probably the best part of writing—the joy of discovery as you go.
kls: Trust me, as a reader I experienced that same joy.
How much have you changed as a writer from first beginning to pen Scourge to handing over the final edits on Chains?
JS: I’d like to think I’ve gotten better. It certainly feels like I have, so even if it’s just delusion, it’s a lovely one. I have a better handle on pacing and structure (though I still have a ton of room for improvement there), and I’ve improved at establishing an entertaining and compelling rhythm, I think. I felt more comfortable with each book, more in command of the story and characters, the balance and flow.
Even feeling more confident, there are always struggles and challenges and bad days, lousy dead ends and amusing but pointless cul de sacs. And sometimes, even writing you feel really good about ends up not contributing the way you want, so you have to be brutal and slaughter those darlings without remorse. But even my worst day writing is better than my best day doing any other kind of work.
kls: I agree with you on so many of those points. What would you say is the biggest lesson you’re taking away from writing Bloodsounder’s Arc?
JS: Don’t piss off a Syldoon or Memoridon?
Oh, you meant like real life or writerly lessons, huh? Well then, I suppose one of the biggest takeaways is just to keep writing. The longer you stare at a blank page or screen, the more intimidating it can be, at least for me. Just crank some words out—wandering, malformed, repetitive, hot garbage, anything, just to break ground and get moving. Everyone has a different process and approach, but for me, giving myself permission to suck, knowing that it’s better to have really rough raw material full of impurities than no material at all, was a tough lesson to learn.
I used to be the kind of writer that had to polish and refine each sentence and paragraph before moving on. Some days that resulted in some really sharp stuff, but more often than not, it led to frustration and a decided lack of output, or uneven work. So, once I got published and had deadlines for Veil and Chains, I had to change my approach and retrain myself. That was difficult, and it’s still ongoing, but that first part was key—not trying to make the first draft perfect; giving permission to crank out bad prose and trust that I could figure it out during revisions and make it better.
kls: Some great insight there. I call that ‘polishing/refining before moving on’ problem, rewriteritess. It’s a recurring issue. But this isn’t about me, is it. So, tell the readers, what was the most terrifying thing during the entire process?
JS: Terror is too strong a word, but as far as anxiety goes, it’s always stressful handing the manuscript over to the publisher for the last time, knowing no more tweaks are allowed, and just waiting for it to hit the shelves, hoping that readers respond to it in a good way, knowing those first reviews are still a ways off, and you just have to sit on your hands and wait. Even when I feel really good about work I did, there’s always the nagging suspicion: “Maybe you ought not to trust that feeling, hoss. It could be you are just too close to it to realize how clunky and crappy it is. It’s happened before, right? You hand something in, feel really solid, and then, BAM! reader response, and it’s brutal, right? I hope that doesn’t happen. But it could. You have to admit it could. It might even be probable. Statistics. Just keeping it real.”
To which I reply, “Bite me. I hate you. Seriously, bite my hairy ass.”
But it doesn’t totally dispel that worry, and then I start second guessing choices I made, wondering if maybe I should have done something differently, and the anxiety heats up, because it’s too late. I turned it in, signed off, the publisher is running with it, done and dusted. So then the sweat starts to really pour, the panic attack builds, and that annoying self-doubt gremlin on my shoulder starts crowing louder, doing a jig, ramping up with the side remarks and insults, and I wish I could just put him in a wood chipper, but. . .
OK, so maybe it is terror.
kls: Are you going to miss the boys and the world you created? Or are you looking forward to moving on?
JS: While I will miss the boys (and girls, don’t forget the girls!) I created, I am excited about working on something brand new. It was sort of disorienting to move onto a new project, especially since Chains isn’t out quite yet. I’m trying hard to look ahead, to focus on writing, but part of me is just dying for folks to read the conclusion to the trilogy.
kls: What can your fans look for next?
JS: I’m working on something brand new, and it’s a pretty big departure from Bloodsounder’s Arc. I’m close to a third of the way through the first draft of the manuscript, and while it’s still raw and really messy, I’m really enjoying it, and I like where it’s headed.
The series will be urban fantasy (suburban, really), but also have some science fiction/cyberpunk elements to it, told in four main third-person POVs. The tone will be irreverent, wacky, and hopefully funny as hell, but not too cutesy or self-referential/winking.
As far as worldbuilding goes, the series is set in the US about thirty or so years in the future. So there will be some more advanced tech (nanotech, molecular engineering, genetic programming, drone warfare, etc.), but also a very fantastic element.
A decade or so before Book 1 begins, some really weird shit starts to happen. A small segment of the human and animal population begins developing freakish abilities or undergoing bizarre transformations, most of which are twisted or warped and not immediately helpful (one of the main characters has a phase-sloth—it can shift slightly, but moves so slowly, it just occasionally shimmers and goes back to eating plantains.)
There is no rational or scientific explanation for any of the Emergents or Nascents (as they are sometimes charitably called, though more usually just “freaks”)—they aren’t standard mutations or the result of exposure to radioactive anything, and can’t be modified by genetic engineering or medicine. They just sort of happen, randomly affecting a percentage of all births, and mostly just freak the “normals” out and lead to ridicule, prejudice, and sour feelings all around (though not as overt as anything in, say, X-Men). Without giving too much away, it’s weird, wacky stuff, but I think it’s a blast.
This probably isn’t a shocker, but the book is character-driven. And I have to say, I love these characters—they’re a hoot. Funny and I think pretty engaging and intriguing. I’m biased, but I’m really enjoying writing their dynamics and interactions. And without giving too much away, they all have some pretty interesting powers, even though they misfire and go haywire.
So, while the setting, world, characters and tone will all be different from BA, you can rest assured, there will be oodles (oodles, I say!) of dialogue, and there’s no shortage of sarcasm and snark here. While the comedic relief in BA was more the gallows kind, here it isn’t quite as black, and it’s more frequent. I’m getting to stretch a bit, but so far I feel like the results are pretty solid.
And while I don’t want to spoil more of the plot right now, I can guarantee that there are some serious conflicts, a lot of action, and plenty of twists.
kls: It sounds fascinating. I, for one, can’t wait to read it. Now, let’s wrap things up with a Lightning Round!!
Sword or automatic weapon? Sword.
Steak or hamburger? Steak! No, burger! No, steak! Steakburger? No, no, steak. Final answer, steak.
Rock or country? Rock.
Beer or tea? Sweet tea or Long Island Ice Tea? If the first, then beer; if the second, tough call, but probably still beer.
Abercrombrie or Fitch? I’m not sure who this Fitch character is, so going with Joe Abercrombie.
kls: I think that about does it for my questions. Anything you’d like to add?
JS: Thanks for inviting me to do this. Even if you left me out in the cold for too long. After I thawed out, it was fun.