Today I’m welcoming back Jeff Salyards, (that’s him, over there <<<< ) author of Veil of the Deserters ~ Bloodsounder’s Arc Book Two. You can read more about Jeff here. In January of last year I sat down and chatted with Jeff after the release of his debut novel Scourge of the Betrayer ~ Bloodsounder’s Arc Book One. You can read that here if you’re interested–the interview, not the book. Now that I’ve devoured Jeff’s second book in this series, I thought it would be nice to invite him back to discuss a few things. Amazingly, he agreed, even after I sent him a personal Facebook message in which I may or may not have used the term ‘jerkface’. In my defense, that was immediately after finishing Veil of the Deserters and I was a bit…emotional. I admit to looking forward to book three with some trepidation in regards to my favorite character.
*awards Jeff the narrowed glare of suspicion*
So, on to the interview! Welcome, Jeff. Make yourself right at home. Ignore the flying monkeys, they like to watch the goings on, but normally don’t cause too much trouble…let’s get right into it, shall we?
JS: Of course, thanks for having me. As long as those flying monkeys don’t throw poop, we should be fine.
kls: Um…well…they haven’t in a while. So, first off, congratulations on another outstanding book. I know it was a bit of a rocky ride over the past year though, and I don’t want to rehash the whole upheaval on the publishing front that you went through. But you mentioned in a recent podcast that you basically took 4 months off from any serious writing on Veil. How hard was it for you to get back into the swing of it once you picked it up again?
JS: I am procrastinator, hailing from a long, poorly-distinguished line of procrastinators, so on the one hand, it felt like I was just putting something off like I am wont to do, which is comfortable and familiar. On the other, I really wanted to keep plowing forward, so it was frustrating. But I knew I would implode if I worked my ass off on it only to see the series lodged in bankruptcy proceedings indefinitely, or sold off piecemeal, with nothing guaranteed.
Still, I compiled notes, did research, and tinkered with the manuscript, mostly revising, so it wasn’t like I went cold turkey. It didn’t take that long to get back into the swing of it once the publisher troubles were settled. A little halting at first, but nothing terrible.
kls: I know I’m not alone in saying that I’m glad everything worked out. Veil was on my Top 10 Most Anticipated Books of 2014 list. And now, book three…does that have a working title?…is on my list for…2015? Late 2014? Next week? After which, we’ll determine which list you wind up on. *cough* Speaking of the next installment, anything you can tell us that’s not to spoilery? Did I just make up a new word there?
JS: I like spoilery. Not being spoilery. I hate that. But the word. Also, spoilerific.
Anyway, the working title is Bane of the Revenger. But mostly just for the sake of keeping myself from developing a tic referring to the book as “Book #3” over and over. It is totally subject to change. And probably will. I went through a thousand different titles for the first two books before settling on the final ones. No matter what, I’ll be keeping the ___ of the ____ pattern I established. “Angst of the Lunch Lady”? “Claws of the Sloth”?
And as for what might happen, I will only say that Killcoin and his crew find themselves in a world of hurt, with more enemies than ever. While the stakes were raised in Veil, and things ramped up considerably in terms of worldbuillding, the magical elements, and intrigue, everything gets turned up to 11 in Bane (or whatever the hell I call it).
kls: Okay, let’s talk about Veil. You expanded Arki’s world quite a bit and, as such, his character. He is so far out of his element, I think even more so than in Scourge. What was one of the most difficult things the two of you went through together?
JS: Writing Arki is always a bit of a trick. I always intended that he would grow the most throughout the series, starting out as a callow, naïve, and sometimes annoying manchild, and becoming more competent, confident, and integral throughout the narrative. But growth isn’t often perfectly linear—you step forward, you stumble and fall, you go forward again, you get lost or doubt yourself, you progress, you get pink eye or leprosy or mauled by a bear, etc.
So I tried to give Arki opportunities to shine, to develop, but also dumped on him pretty hard throughout the first two books. Without getting spoilery at all, even when he tries to do the right thing or talks himself into one course of action, it rarely works out like he expected. But that’s part of his growth as well, realizing that things are rarely simple, and repercussions can be far-reaching and possibly even tragic.
And from a purely logistical standpoint, it was sometimes a challenge figuring out what to have him record as noteworthy or not. That was part of the reason I made him initially an outsider to the Syldoon—I wanted there to be a freshness to the recording, shock and awe and fear and trembling as he comes face to face with all kinds of things far outside his scope at the start, pretty much the same position the readers are in.
kls: Writing in first person is a tricky endeavor. I’ve recently finished my first attempt at it. It seems, at least from my experience, that a writer needs to really sink themselves in their character’s skin in this POV. You write some pretty intense and often dark scenes. Did you ever find it hard to shake that mood once you stopped writing for the day? Or, conversely, was it ever really tough for you to put on that mask and become Arki?
JS: Well, Arki entered into this whole Syldoon arrangement with a very limited idea of what it entailed, and with very little real life experience, having spent most of his years in libraries and scriptoriums. So almost everything he encounters and experiences challenges his sense of right and wrong, justice and mercy—especially in Scourge, he is appalled, disgusted, and dismayed. In Veil, part of his arc or journey is his realization that he has thrown in his lot with these soldiers, and even begun growing to like and appreciate them, and that means coming to grips with some of the vicious things they do. He finds himself, if not growing desensitized or accustomed, accepting some of what the Syldoon do. And as he learns more about different characters, they are humanized more for him. He sees them for what they are: sometimes brutal or ugly, but also smart, and utterly dedicated to their brotherhood, and that is something he grows to respect and admire.
And again, without spoiling much, Arki begins to see that the world and the choices navigating it are rarely easy, and not as black and white as he would have thought before jumping in with this crew. Things are really messy, and doing what he considers to be the right thing proves costly more than once.
kls: You introduce us to some new characters in Veil, Braylar’s sister Soffjian being one of the most noticeable. Did you have any particular inspiration for her character? Anyone you know personally, or perhaps a figure from history?
JS: I knew Soffjian was going to be athletic, strong, lean, and with a dangerous air about her. While Arki admits that she is attractive, she is anything but warm or inviting. I sometimes use composites of people I’ve met or an actor here or there for inspiration for a character; with Soffjian, it was an Olympic track and field athlete who jumped out at me (pardon the pun), Yalena Isinbayeva. She was pretty, but also had a haughty sneer sometimes, and carried herself with a certain arrogance and power that seemed very Soffjianesque.
Who knows, Yalena could be a perfectly lovely person. J But that perceived aloof beauty and tough carriage was what I had in mind. More than anything though, Soffjian is as wicked smart as her brother, and a force to be reckoned with.
kls: Let’s talk about battle scenes. Love me some well-written, realistic confrontations. Arki, and the group of Syldoons he’s with, seem partial to crossbows. Have you ever fired one? And also on the topic of fights and battle scenes, do you ever act them out to see if what you’re putting down on paper is actually viable?
JS: I have fired a couple of replicas of medieval crossbows. They are fun. I’ll probably actually pick one up sometime. Right after I got my first advance, I looked into commissioning one with the devil’s claw built into the stock the way I describe in the books. Maybe someday.
I always try to “block out” the battle and fight scenes, to see if they are practical as well as to keep track of all the players. And I do get up, move through a sequence the way I imagined, to check and make sure it could work. I’ve dabbled in some western martial arts and reenactment, so that helps some, but I’m not expert. Still, I shoot for realism as much as possible.
While making a fight scene exciting and tense is the ultimate goal, I don’t think you have to sacrifice realism or believability to make that happen.
kls: In Veil we get a much more in-depth look at the magic system of your world. Quite frankly, Memoridons scare the crap out of me. Don’t think I’d ever want to meet one, thank you kindly. What were some of the guiding factors when you were choosing the magic in your world?
JS: I’m glad you thought the Memoridons are creepy and scary. That was the effect I was going for. I didn’t codify it like some magic systems out there—I wanted to maintain some mystery and a weird or even alien feeling about how it all works. But at the same time, Arki learns (primarily in piecemeal discussions with Skeelana, another Memoridon accompanying Soffjian) how they do what they do, and there is certainly methodology involved, craft and expertise. There is a stark difference between someone like Lloi, untrained and fumbling through the use of the magic through trial and error and instinct, and a Memoridon who has spent years mastering its use and effects.
It’s not all spelled out, and will always remain somewhat mysterious, especially to a non-initiate like Arki, but I tried to create some underpinning there that explained it to a degree, made it feel plausible on some level. But codified or not, the magic is costly, dangerous, and has limits.
kls: Music is important for me when I’m writing. If you had to pick a theme song for Veil of the Deserters what would it be?
JS: I listen to a lot of Basil Poledouris when writing, so probably “Battle of the Mounds.” Which isn’t nearly as dirty as it sounds.
kls: An unrelated question: I’ve seen some sketches you’ve done for your daughters on Facebook, and I believe I read somewhere that you used to draw some. Was a career in art ever on your radar, or is it just one of your hidden talents?
JS: No, I’m just a dabbler. I took art classes in high school and college, but I was never in danger of seriously pursuing it. My mother was the real artist. She was fantastic in oil painting, watercolor, chalk, charcoal, pencil, pen and ink, you name it. She had a ton of talent.
kls:Are you currently working on anything other than Bane of the Revenger(and the answer better be, “No, because I hate making my readers wait.”)? And what else do you have out there? I know there are a couple of short stories…one in Manifesto.
JS: I am focusing solely on the next book right now, and trying to resist the urge to submit any short stories anywhere. Mostly because I don’t have any written, so would need to write them, so would deprive the next book of valuable words.
kls: I’ve read the first, need to check out the second. But now….the Lightning Round!
Guilty pleasure? Does The Walking Dead count. Wait. That’s not pleasurable at all.
Coffee, tea, or water? Absinthe. OK, water. Or creamer with a splash of coffee.
City or country? Country
All-time favorite movie? Raiders of the Lost Ark
Three words that describe you? Moody, funny, and, uh, indecisive? No, maybe not indecisive. I don’t know.
kls: And we’re done. Unless you have anything else to add?
JS: Only thanks for inviting me to do the interview. And your monkey were remarkably well-behaved.
kls: Thanks so much for stopping by. Again. And about the whole ‘jerkface’ thing…take it as a compliment. You made me care enough about your characters and the story to cause me emotional trauma. Oh, yeah, thanks for that.
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