Today, Leticia Lara (from the excellent blog Fantástica Ficción) and this humble blogger have the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jeff Salyards, author of Scourge of the Betrayer and Veil of the Deserters. You can read the Spanish translation of the interview at Fantástica Ficción. Hope you enjoy it!
Leticia Lara & Odo: Is there any current writer that you admire?
Jeff Salyards: I don’t read nearly as much as I used to. Between looking at legal books all day for the day job and trying to squeeze in time to write at night, most down time is spent not looking at more words. That said, there are a ton of amazing writers producing terrific stuff. Daniel Abraham is one of those rare double threats, equally adept at cranking out fantastic fantasy or science fiction under the pseudonym. Zachary Jernigan’s debut, No Return, was a great genre bender, fusing elements of both in really interesting, profane, and skillfully crafted ways. Actually, I could add a slew of Night Shaders (which shows my bias, but hey, I’m owning it): Stina Leicht, Kameron Hurley, Courtney Schafer, Betsy Dornbusch. And let’s not leave off the British invasion: Mark Lawrence, Joe Abercrombie, Richard K. Morgan, KJ Parker.
And there are plenty of writers I’ve been meaning to pick up out but haven’t yet, like John Gwynne, Moses Siregar, Patrick Rothfuss (I know, I’m the last person on Earth who hasn’t), Miles Cameron, Brian McClellan, and on and on.
And these are just in the SF/F genre. There are loads outside as well.
Great. Now I am depressed about how little time I have to read.
LL&O: What was different between writing Scourge of the Betrayer and Veil of the Deserters? Is it true that writing the second novel is even more difficult than writing the first one?
JS: For me, writing Veil was actually easier, in part because I had a deadline and people pushing me to get it done. But also, I was so paranoid about avoiding the dreaded sophomore/second book slump that I really was focused trying to make this book better all around. Also, simply by virtue of writing Veil in a year and some change, as opposed to Scourge, which was done in fits and starts over most of a decade, I was able to build and maintain momentum, and I think the book is more cohesive as a result.
LL&O: The battle scenes in Scourge of the Betrayer and, especially, in Veil of the Deserters are extremely vivid and detailed. How do you approach writing this kind of scenes?
JS: Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed them.
Battles are tricky. On the one hand, you want to capture the reader’s imagination, transport them into the thick of it, allow them to see and experience the fight first hand. It’s a battle, so it should be loud, visceral, and get the blood pumping. But at the same time, even if you want the battle to be exciting, terrifying, or pulse-pounding, and to capture the chaos of the moment as people fight for their lives, you have to carefully orchestrate things, block out the scene like a fight choreographer, so the reader can visualize everything without totally getting lost or having to go back and reread to figured out what the heck just happened.
So, in my mind, you need to strike a balance of keeping track of it all, moving the characters through the chaos in a controlled way, but without the seams showing—while it might be choreographed, it shouldn’t feel predictable or mechanical, as that’s clearly the opposite of invigorating or visceral.
I try to include those details that help establish everything and invite the readers’ senses in: they should hear the hooves pounding, feel the characters labored breath, smell the incongruous lilacs even as men are being butchered, see the warriors overlapping the edges of their shields together in a wall. That’s also a balance: too much, and you deflate the tension or draw focus away from the exciting elements; too few details, and again, the reader might be lost or distanced from the moment that is so exciting in your head as a writer.
LL&O: You are father to three daughters. Please, let us know the secret for being capable of this and ALSO write books. Do you have a time machine? Do you use magic? We need to know the way (so we can copy it).
JS: Ha. Good question. I don’t know that there is a secret you can bottle and market (or if there is, Ineed to save up and buy it, or figure out how to reverse engineer it). Some days it can be a real struggle.
It helps that I have a really supportive wife who helps me carve out time to work. The key for me is I just try to force myself to sit down at the computer after the girls drop off to bed and start, even if I’m tired and I would much sooner be heading to bed myself, or reading a book, or watching a dumb movie for the tenth time. So that’s the sad, plain truth: just putting the ass in the seat and not giving myself an out. Though sometimes I bribe myself with chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream or something.
LL&O: How did it affect you the difficult financial situation of Night Shade Books?
JS: When the publisher looked ready to keel over dead, I was a lot more worried about the future of the series than any coin owed me. And there were so many writers, freelance artists, and editors affected, equally uncertain about how things were going to play out for them. It was a pretty lousy and stressful 3-4 months for a lot of people involved. And even when another publisher was poised to jump in and buy the rights to a large number of Night Shade titles, there was still not guarantee things were going to work out.
But ultimately, they did. At least from where I’m sitting. My second book is out, and unless calamity strikes twice, the rest of the series should follow.
LL&O: Translation and its inaccuracies are very important in Veil of the Deserters. Have you been asked to publish your books in other languages? Do you think the author should supervise the translator’s work?
While there are probably some A-list authors out there who manage to have some oversight or at least involvement in the translation process. I wasn’t a part of the French translation of Scourge at all. Which is all for the best, really, as I don’t speak a word of French, and can’t even manage a lousy French accent.
If you are an insanely educated and erudite person like Salman Rushdie or Umberto Eco and speak 24 languages, then I can see why you would push hard to be a part of the process. For me, I would only be a hindrance, even if I did have enough clout to demand to look over the translator’s shoulder.
LL&O: You do seem to prefer big weapons (the bigger, the better). Why so?
Well, I’m not sure if that’s entirely true. I mean, Bloodsounder is a single-handed weapon, as is the falchion Mulldoos uses, and Lloi’s curved sabre, and the surokas and broadswords. But what I did try to do was have a good variety of other weapons, and this includes polearms like hewing spears, ranseurs, halberds, other biggish weapons, etc. The novels take place in a world roughly analogous to the 14th century in terms of arms and armor, with a mix of mail, lamellar, coat of plates, splinted greaves, gambesons, leather, etc. And in that historical time period, there were plenty of forces and armies that relied on two-handed weapons first, and resorted to single-handed sidearms only when necessary. So there was that. I as trying to create some realistic combat, and a lot of the time, that involved big weapons (though not to be confused with unwieldy, clumsy, or overly heavy weapons—even long polearms and greatswords and the like were well-balanced and easier to use than a lot of crappy replicas would have you believe).
Plus, swords and daggers and axes have always gotten the most love in fantasy settings. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I really wanted to have some unusual weapons in the mix, especially for the Syldoon, who draw inspiration from Mamlukes and Byzantine forces. So I went with a big range of weapons.
LL&O: Are social networks important for you relationships with other authors and with your readers?
JS: I’m on Facebook a lot, and pop onto Goodreads, Reddit Fantasy, and Twitter sporadically, and I do engage readers and reviewers and other authors on all of them. But I don’t really have a plan or agenda when I do, and probably don’t make good use of those forums. I see some writers who must have clones or only sleep four minutes a day, because they are ever-present. I always worry about promoting my stuff too much, or not enough, so I’m fairly confident I don’t have the best balance or approach.
LL&O: When can we expect to see the final novel of the Bloodsounder’s Arc published?
JS: Well, that’s difficult to say. There will be a third novel for sure, but there is a possibility for a fourth in the series—this is totally an open question at this point, but the decisions will impact the pace, length of book(s), and timing. If there do end up being four, I hope to have Book 3 out in the second half of 2015. If there ends up only being one more book in the series, it will probably need to be longer than Veil (I know, you thought that was too long already!), as there is still quite a bit of ground left to cover, and I want to do the storyline justice.
LL&O: Other that the final installment of the Bloodsounder’s Arc, are you working on other novels or short stories at the moment? Could you give us a sneak peek on your future projects?
JS: I’m not positive what is in store next. Last year, while working on Veil, I took two small breaks to Neverland’s Library and Manifesto: UF. But I also took longer than I wanted to finish up the novel, and each a solid short is several thousand words that could be dedicated to Book 3, so I’m not sure if I’ll give myself license to do any other shorts right now. After this series is complete, regardless of whether it is 3 or 4 books, I might do another series in the same world, some standalones in the same world, ala Abercrombie, or maybe decide I’m all wrung out and need a change of pace. I don’t even know what I’m in the mood for dinner for tonight, so beyond Bloodsounder seems so far in the future right now I can’t even begin go guess how I’ll feel.submit short stories that appeared in
LL&O: Where can our readers learn more about you and your work?
JS: My website: jeffsalyards.com
My twitter: https://twitter.com/JeffSalyards
My FB page: https://www.facebook.com/jeff.salyards.9
LL&O: Any other thing you’d like to add?
JS: Thank you very much for inviting me to do the interview, and for taking the time to review both books so far. I’m really glad you enjoyed them.
LL&O: Thank you very much for your time and your answers. We are really looking forward to the next book(s) in the series!