Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A few moments with Jeff Salyards

The Bloodsounder's Arc (your first trilogy) was amazing dark military fantasy; are you looking to return to that universe?  Or can we expect something new?
Thanks for the compliment; I’m really glad you enjoyed the series. I could see returning to that universe someday. I’m sure there is a lot left untapped, and I obviously left the door open at the conclusion of Chains of the Heretic. There are certainly other stories that could happen there, either with some of the existing characters, or wholly new ones. But in the meantime, you can expect something else. I worked on a novel the last couple of years that might end up getting picked up, or might end up in ashes in colossal dumpster fire. Since its future is totally uncertain (and if it does end up torched, I’m going to have some serious red-faced regrets about blabbering about it), I’ll tell you about a new project I’m embarking on instead. A beaten down snarky investigator, a soilipsistic priest, a sutler’s widow trying to keep the business afloat and her kids out of harm’s way (spoiler alert: she doesn’t); a dangerous, addictive, and crippling magic system run a Fume Lord (think mafia boss) in a bustling sooty city-state; some primitive firearms (hand cannons and matchlock arquebuses) but plenty of blunt and sharp instruments. It might be another trilogy or extended series, or possibly a series of connected but conclusive and self-contained novels—still not sure about that. But it is dark fantasy—I am sure about that part. It’s in the early stages—just working on worldbuilding, character sketches, developing the storylines—but I’m excited by the prospect. So it will be similar to Bloodsounder. Only, you know, different. (How’s that for a compelling elevator speech?).

As a book review site, we are always looking for new reads, what is currently in your to-be-read pile? What are you reading that is so good, you can't put it down?
 My to-be-read pile is monstrous. Mountainous. Though mountains don’t usually grow, so we’ll stick with monstrous. I want to check out Red Sister by Mark Lawrence, the new fantasy series by Myke Cole, been meaning to read City of Stairs, a bunch of Kameron Hurley books on the list. John Gwynne, N.K. Jemisin, Miles Cameron, Martha Wells, and on and on. And this is just in the science fiction/fantasy genre. So, basically, yeah, I need about ten more hours in the day. Or a clone giving me book reports. As for recommendations, I just finished Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan, which was great. I’ll definitely be reading the rest of that series. And I have a copy of Red Country by Joe Abercrombie in my backpack for a long flight coming up this weekend which I have every confidence I’ll love.

I am a huge gamer, are you a gamer?  If so, what are you currently enjoying?
 I used to game like a maniac in my wildly misspent youth. Bask in the day, I grew up on single player classics like Fallout, Baldur’s Gate, Diablo, etc. But these days, with overscheduled daughters, a relentless day job, and trying to get this writing gig off the ground, I sadly don’t have as many free hours as I used to. That said, I still managed to play a couple of games the last few years. I really enjoyed Pillars of Eternity—it was a beautiful homage to a lot of the old school CRPGs I loved and lost hundreds of hours in, but still offered some interesting twists and takes on the familiar tropes. A real hoot. I also got a big kick out of Divinity Original Sin 2, which again tugged on all the nostalgia strings while still offering some new wrinkles and enhancements.

What advice would you give young writers today?
 Write. A lot. Crazy amounts. Ditto on reading. There is no surer way to improve your craft than to sit your ass in the chair and do it over and over, and to check out what other writers are cranking out (not as a reader not for pleasure, but as a student trying to glean new techniques or solutions, as someone willing to analyze and reverse engineer your craft). Sure, it’s fun to talk about writing, think about writing, to go down the Reddit rabbit hole or endless argue on forums, to sit in a coffee shop brainstorming wild new worlds and dreaming up fantastic horizons. But words don’t write themselves—you have to invest, really throw yourself into it, and not let yourself off the hook to do a million other things instead. So that’s the first thing: create some raw material. Get the words down. And allow yourself permission to suck, because unless you’re the rarest of the rare, that first draft is going to have tons of suckage. Then when you have the raw material, you have to be critical, sometimes vicious with it. Maybe get some solid beta readers to give you a fresh perspective, or join a writer’s workshop or take some classes, if for no other reason than to develop some thick skin and refine your own antennae about what works or doesn’t work on the page/screen. But however you get there, you have to be willing and able to take a ruthless look at what you have, identify those things that don’t work, maybe cry a little, and then kill your darlings and make the manuscript better. And better. And still better. Revision is what separates a great book, even a moderately good book, from all the other crap out there. You’re going to need to roll those sleeves up and be prepared to get filthy, no matter how long it takes or what the scope. Maybe it means gutting entire chapters or sections, or maneuvering them around a lot to reshape the contours of the story, the flow. Maybe it means adding a lot more detail to flesh something out or ground the reader properly. That’s the big stuff, but you have to sweat the small stuff, too—the line editing, the language parsing, the consideration of a thousand choices for a given sentence or scene and the recognition that different choices could well improve the quality or strength of the text. Basically, be prepared to work your tail off, and don’t be too precious with your material. (Note: I often fail doing one or both of these.)

What inspired your books in the Bloodsounder's arc?
 I read Froissart’s Chronicles a hundred years ago, about a chronicler accompanying a military company in the Hundred Year’s War. And I thought, what would happen if a chronicler wasn’t a respected member of the party, had no idea what the real agenda or stakes involved were, and still went along for the ride. I liked the idea of a callow, painfully curious, and sometimes totally incompetent scribe trying to figure out what the hell was going on without getting himself or anyone else killed in the process. So that was the initial inspiration, born of the tried and true tradition of the “What if. . . ?” game. Thanks for inviting me to do the interview!

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