Jeff Salyards's Blog
March 2, 2016
A Fantastical Librarian was kind enough to invite me to do an interview. Because I know you were just thinking, “I have a good life–the one everyone else knows about, and the rich interior landscape they only suspect. I feel confident with how things are going–I am loved, respected, and fulfilled. No black angst here. Things are really right as rain. But you know what would make it just a little better? Just that much finer? If I knew what Jeff Salyards was thinking right now. That would really just put the cherry on top.”
February 24, 2016
Ragnarok Publications invited me to do a guest post on their site. They left it pretty open-ended, which is usually a mistake with me–I could end up writing about nachos or ninjas or the world’s smallest dog inexplicably named after a pop superstar. So I chose to write about action and first person POV. I know, I know, with license to veer anywhere, that was a pretty pedestrian choice. So my apologies for the absence of nachos or observations about river otters. Maybe next time.
February 11, 2016
K.L. Schwengel was kind enough to invite me to virtually drop by and talk about Chains of the Heretic, flop sweat, lessons learned, and what I’m working on now. She is a hoot, and always fun to chat with.
February 4, 2016
Geek Mom invited me to do a post on what made me geek out as I was writing Bloodsounder’s Arc. So, if you are curious at all about the history that helped kickstart the series, or interested in yet another installment in the ongoing Assclown Saga, this intersection is for you:
February 3, 2016
First off, I’m not dead. Let’s just get that out of the way. I mean, you’re forgiven for thinking so. It’s been a looooong time since I’ve posted on here. In Internet years, it’s been about 10,450, give or take. Even the tumbleweeds have given up and blown away. I never put enough content up here for it to even charitably be called a blog, but you can’t even claim you have a live website if it has no juice at all. Now, I could roll out a bunch of heartfelt excuses about juggling a day job that has gotten crazier by the day over the last year, and being a husband and a dad while trying to wrap up the final book of a trilogy. Except there are plenty of other writers who have similar circumstances who manage to post at least semi-often, so that flies about as well as a paper airplane drenched in cheap beer.
The good news: I actually used the time fairly wisely–Chains of the Heretic is complete and the ebook just launched yesterday, and the hardcover drops 2/16. Which is sort of like having twins a couple of weeks apart. Weird, and disconcerting, and kind of confusing, but still special. In a freakish sort of way. But the important thing is, Chains is out now, which feels just about as fantastic as I thought it would.
I’ve never written the final book in a series before, so I had some pretty weighty anxiety about how the whole thing would turn out. I really, really didn’t want to blow chunks in the big finale. That goes without saying, obviously, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind. I wanted to leave readers satisfied with the conclusion, but still wanting more.
Reviews have just started rolling in, so it’s still early days yet, but I feel like Chains of the Heretic is the best of the three. I’m proud of this book. Nothing is perfect, and there is always room for improvement, but I’m pretty sure It’s the best imperfect thing I’ve written so far. I told the story I intended to tell the way I wanted to tell it.
I really hope readers enjoy the hell out of it, because I absolutely enjoyed writing it.
March 13, 2015
OK, per usual, I’m late to the party. In fact, it’s pretty much over. There are some people passed out on a loveseat, and someone is puking into a potted plant, and a lava lamp is still churning, but the music is off, the alcohol is gone, and it’s mostly just a bunch of empty cups now. Why is there a lava lamp, you ask? Isn’t this 2015? It is, and I don’t know. These things just happen.
Anyway, the last of the “Best Of 2014″ lists rolled out in February and here it is, nearly the Ides of March, and I’m finally compiling any of the ones I saw that I appeared on. My house sigil is the Sloth, after all.
Making someone’s “Best of 2014″ list (or some such related list) is incredibly rewarding and humbling. There are so many fantastic fantasy writers out there, it’s an honor to see Veil of the Deserters on any and all of these blogger’s lists. What’s more, for anyone looking for some good suggestions on what to pick up next, you could do much worse than perusing these. There is some overlap on several lists, but also some eclectic choices too.
Incidentally, Mark Lawrence just ran a blog post about this very thing and the question of how does making lists like these actually impact a book’s sales or popularity.
Best Fantasy Books: Best Grimdark of 2014, Runner up, Best Sequel; Best Action; Best Audiobook; Most Violent Fantasy: http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/best-fantasy-2014-awards/#
Elitist Book Reviews: Best of 2014: http://elitistbookreviews.com/2015/02/03/best-of-2014/
A Fantasy Reader: Best Novel of 2014; runner-up, Best Map: http://afantasyreader.blogspot.com/2015/02/best-of-2014.htm
Grimdark Reader: Best Fantasy of 2014 (Top Spot!): http://grimdark-fantasy-reader.blogspot.com/2014/12/grimdark-reader-best-of-2014.html
Beauty in Ruins: Top 10 of 2014: http://beauty-in-ruins.blogspot.ca/2014/12/best-of-2014-5-star-year-in-ruins.html
Bibliotropic: Top 5 Fantasy Novels of 2014: http://bibliotropic.net/2014/12/16/top-5-fantasy-novels-i-read-in-2014/
Only the Best Sci Fi and Fantasy, Top 7 of the year (#3): http://onlythebestscifi.blogspot.com/2015/01/only-best-of-2014-my-best-reads-this.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+blogspot%2FljYF+%28Only+The+Best+Sci-Fi%2FFantasy%29&m=1
Bibliosanctum: Best of 2014: http://bibliosanctum.com/2014/12/29/mogsy-best-of-2014-and-the-year-in-review/
Best Fantasy Books: Top 25: http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/a-year-in-review-the-top-25-best-fantasy-books-of-2014/
The Passionate Foodie: Best Fiction of 2014 (Top 10 Novels): http://passionatefoodie.blogspot.com/2014/12/my-favorite-fiction-of-2014.html
Stefan Raets, guest blog on The Book Smugglers, honorable mention for best fantasy of 2014: http://thebooksmugglers.com/2014/12/smugglivus-2013-guest-blogger-stefan-raets-of-far-beyond-reality-and-tor-com.html
Timothy C. Ward: Top 5 Books of the Year Runner’s Up: http://www.timothycward.com/2014/12/30/top-5-books-of-2014/
Total Inability to Connect: Top 10 Books of 2014: https://totalinabilitytoconnect.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/2014-year-in-review/
Grimdark Review: Best Fantasy of 2014: http://thegrimdarkreview.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/my-year-in-fantasy-books-2014/ (Scourge)
Beauty in Ruins: Most Anticipated of 2015: http://beautyinruins.booklikes.com/post/1056278/most-anticipated-fantasy-reads-of-2015 (Chains of the Heretic)
Most Anticipated 2015:
Dark Wolf’s Fantasy Reviews: http://darkwolfsfantasyreviews.blogspot.com/2015/01/kicking-off-2015-reading-year.html
(Chains of the Heretic)
SF Signal Mind Meld: Most Anticipated 2015:
(Chains of the Heretic)
February 21, 2015
The publisher asked for an excerpt of Chains of the Heretic for sales material, and I just tweaked a chapter and sent it over. It feels very strange to let some of it out of my hands–this is the first time anyone else has seen more than a snippet. It’s sort of like watching a baby bird step out of the nest, hoping it can fly. And also not get eaten by a hawk or crash into a sliding glass door. Because those are really tricky, even for adult birds.
So, here is a chapter from the WIP. Bear in mind, it’s still rough around the edges, but for those who want an early taste of the next book. . .
February 12, 2015
There’s been a lot of talk about “grimdark” of late in the old blogosphere. Assertions, contentions, defamation, an inability to agree on a definition, all over the map really. Some folks describe grimdark as any fantasy that exhibits rampant nihilism, a miserable setting overflowing with depravity, gratuitous violence, gleeful misogyny, filled with characters that are twelve shades of villain or possibly anti-hero, but no shades of decent human being or “good guy.” Others subscribe to the idea that it’s just a natural counterpoint to over-sanitized high or heroic fantasy—grittier, dirtier, more “real” (whatever the hell that means), and unafraid to explore the ugly side of humanity, but not necessarily gutted and hopeless. I’m sure there are probably other theories besides.
But regardless of how you define grimdark or whether you think it is cathartic, irredeemable, honest, or monstrous—that kind of storytelling isn’t anything radically new. Tales of horror, xenophobia, misery, woe and wrath, vengeance and terror, cynicism and calamity have enjoyed stretches of popularity since the dawn of storytelling.
There are plenty of stories in the Bible that are more gruesome than anything I’ve read in the last twenty years. It’s chock full of genocide, fratricide, rape, mass extinction, fun stuff like that. Leave it to Lego to capture some of the heavy hitters, but that obviously doesn’t do real justice to just how awful and terrifying a lot of biblical stories are. Adam and Eve mucked everything up, begetting Cain and Abel and some other guy, and Cain brained his brother just to show, yep, we’re all damaged goods. There is a whole lot more begetting in there, and some sunshine now and again, but the lesson learned over and over is that humanity excels at sucking and dooming itself, no matter how many chances it gets.
And the grumpy Old Testament God might have been the original grimdark author, but inspired plenty more. Greek tragedies don’t get as much play nowadays as they used to, but there is a very good reason “tragedy” is part of that descriptor, as they cover chilling and lurid events that inspired countless authors and storytellers ever since (well, the depraved ones, of course): there is no shortage of mutilations, mistaken identities leading to awful and brutal murders, dismembered corpses, cannibalism, the Fates grinding down men to bloody stumps, and yes, reference to (gasp!) vulgar language. And it’s not just the wicked getting punished and beat down—there is collateral damage out the wazoo. Sure, plenty happened off stage in original productions, but that doesn’t lessen the lesson of doom.
Fast forwarding a couple of millennia, and wouldn’t you know it, tragedies are still in vogue. There were plenty of playwrights cranking them out, and some bloke named Billy Shakespeare penned a fair number of them, but few as grotesquely violent as Titus Andronicus, with horrific happenings that make Abercrombie and Lawrence look like Jane Austen—a raped woman has her tongue and hands cut off and has to write a message about her rapists in the dirt with a stick in her bloody mouth; a man feeds the bodies of his enemy’s sons to him in pies and then revels in that revelation; more limbs get lopped off; innocents are slain; someone is buried to the neck and left to die of starvation; and there is so much perverse bloodletting the stage crew must have been stained red head to toe.
While nihilism is a fairly modern term, before that they just called it tragedy. Worlds where loyalty, lust, love, hope, treachery, hatred, and ambition are mixed in a blender by the Chorus or Fates or Just Shitty Luck and served to the audience like bloody marys, who slurp it down in delight/transfixed horror, watching the protagonists, antagonists, and unlucky passerbys get offed in obscenely graphic fashion. You think the Red Wedding is bad? That looks like a preschool graduation ceremony compared to Titus.
But that dark spirit pervades storytelling right on up the line. . . Grimm’s fairy tales (before Disney scrubbed them clean and threw glitter on them), gory operas like Elektra that harken back to the Greek roots or invent brand new stories of wretchedness, 20th century fantasists like Howard and Moorcock that excelled at depicting antiheroes, film noir, tons of dystopian science fiction, and finally, most recently, those naughty, naughty “grimdark” authors.
It’s shortsighted or neglectful of narrative history to think of any recent offerings as somehow more hopeless or unconscionable or extreme than everything that has preceded them. There was darker and grimmer stuff long before “grimdark” became so bloody popular.
October 6, 2014
OK, my poor blog has been seriously neglected here. The dust bunnies are armed and dangerous, and they are riding dust rhinos into battle. The summer was madness—both in the manic day job, as that was the busiest time of year, and in trying to crank away at Chains of the Heretic in order to get it out on schedule November 2015. That’s not really an excuse. It’s barely an explanation. But there it is.
Oh yeah, that was the title I decided on for Book 3 and the publisher green lit: Chains of the Heretic.
This is basically just to say I have returned from my hermitage, unshaven, stinky, and in rags. I’d like to affirm that I am wiser and more grounded, but that is crazy talk. Anyway, I’ll try to post something or more substance soon. But in the meantime, for anyone who happens to land here wondering how Veil of the Deserters is doing now that it’s been out for a few months, here are some pretty damn wonderful reviews.
June 7, 2014
NOTE: This originally appeared on A Fantasy Reader.
Memorial Day twenty-eight years ago was unquestionably the most devastating day of my life.
My mother and father had been divorced for years, and my father usually picked me up on Wednesday night for dinner and then had me on the weekends. Right before Memorial Day Weekend, he called and told me has wasn’t feeling great but he still hoped to pick me up on the holiday, since it was probably just a cold.
While my father didn’t exactly partake in what most people call “exercise,” he was still active, working on his old jeep or boat, fixing one thing or another in the house, doing photography shoots, wrangling me. But he also ate what his stomach told him to, and didn’t exactly have the healthiest tastes—he was the kind of guy who liked Velveeta and Spam sandwiches on Wonder Bread. What? That isn’t a type, that was just him? Well. There you go. He also drank fairly regularly, and smoked. Not a great combination.
Still, he was generally (and surprisingly) healthy as a horse, and wouldn’t go to the doctor unless a bone was sticking out of his body or he was bleeding out his ears. And maybe not even then. Stubborn as all get out, and that surely is a type, as I know all too well, as I fall in that camp, and karmically enough, so do my daughters.
And more than anything else, when my dad told me he was going to do something, he did it. So I fully expected he would rebound and get better and pick me up. I didn’t hear from him that morning, and while he was sometimes late, and this was still the era before cell phones (yes, that WAS an era), so I shouldn’t have been worried, I was. I couldn’t explain it, but I had the awful feeling that something was wrong.
I called his house, hoping to get my stepmom, and she didn’t pick up. And for some reason, that’s when I absolutely knew. I told myself it was crazy, he wasn’t that late, everything was probably fine, but somehow I just knew for a certainty that I was lying to myself and that the worst had happened.
When I called my grandmother’s house to see if she knew anything, it was confirmed immediately, as she picked up and couldn’t put two sentences together. I don’t even remember who took the phone and told me the news, my stepsister or stepmom, only that someone was crying when they said that my father had suffered a massive heart attack. He was dead.
The rest is a blur. I dropped the phone, walked aimlessly as I started to cry, and then as the enormity of the news hit, I grabbed my nephew’s baseball bat, ran out of the house, and started bashing nearby trees until my hands were slick with blood as my skin tore open and I collapsed for a time in the bark and broken branches.
I’d lost people before. My grandfather and aunt both died from cancer. But I was young and didn’t comprehend much besides the way those deaths impacted others and made them incredibly sad.
And I would lose people after. My brother died from severe complications due to a rampant case of diabetes when I was 18, my grandmothers and uncle died as the years rolled on, and most recently, my mother a handful of years ago.
But as terrible as they each were in their own way, losing my father at 14 had the most impact on me. It wrecked me for a time. Indiana Jones was the only one who gave him a run for his money in the hero department (I bought the fedora, leather jacket, and a 14 foot bullwhip even), but my father stood above everyone else. I was old enough to know he wasn’t infallible, but he was insanely smart, terribly funny, gentle and patient and strong. My father was and always would be my hero. And losing him right on the cusp of 8th grade graduation, at a time in my life when I probably needed him the most, well, words can’t adequately describe the devastation or the depth of loss.
What does any of this have to do with fiction? Well, a lot right now, as it happens. At least my fiction.
I’m going to try to avoid spoilers, as my immediate reaction to people spilling the beans is the desire to punch them in the nose. But just to be safe, if you haven’t read Scourge of the Betrayer or Veil of the Deserters, you might want to stop reading as I slyly try to allude to aspects of either books without, you know, actually coming right out and spoiling anything. I like my nose.
When I first started Bloodsounder’s Arc, I knew there was going to be violence. Battles, skirmishes, duels, sieges, pitched battles.—they would all appear on the page at some point. And I was committed to presenting those things as realistically as possible. I know not all readers even like battles—some of them fall asleep the first time a sword is drawn, or consider fighting something to be endured until the next great character moment or plot twist arrives. And there are some readers that love action in their novels but prefer it to be the stuff of legend or high fantasy, with heroic champions wading into the mix, dispatching foes by the hundreds, or wizards going mano y mano while riding griffins of the wind itself, hurling eldritch fury at one another, tearing the fabric of the universe asunder in the process.
I get it: realistic battles are absolutely not everyone’s cup of grog. But that was the kind of story I wanted to tell, doing my best to put the readers right there in the middle of the chaos with Arki, feeling arrows whizzing past or thunking into a post right near his head, watching armor fend off blows the way it was intended, but also feeling and seeing the terrible results when it failed to. I wanted it to be as visceral as possible. And even in Veil, where memory magic features prominently, it’s not the stuff of fireballs and lightning storms of even Otto’s Irresistible Dance, but more subdued, even when it is sometimes deadly. My objective was to paint the battles as they actually occur with armored men and women trying desperately to kill each other, even when magic is in the mix.
I didn’t want to revel in the violence or gratuitously heap more terrible details on more terrible details like a pile of severed limbs outside a surgeon’s tent (see, that was unnecessary!). At no point did I try to glamorize it, or escalate it with the intent of turning stomachs. That said, I wanted every bit of combat to feel weighty, real, significant.
But I also knew that if I was going to write about these hardened soldiers and the harsh realities of what it’s like to stab or bludgeon each other to death, I couldn’t shy away from the aftermath of that either. There are wounds, casualties, and deaths of course, and a complete shortage of healing potions or potent clerics wandering the battlefield rescuing anyone. No one is completely safe. But just as important, I wanted to show the emotional wounds. It would feel dishonest to portray combat as realistically as I can and then fail to explore the personal impact this has, both on those who deal in it, and those who lose someone.
Since the narrative funnels though Arki, he of course wrestles with everything he sees, completely out of his depth, not trained for warfare, especially the kind waged by the Syldoon soldiers, who are the ultimate pragmatists. His sensibilities frequently clash with the company he keeps (hopefully in engaging and compelling ways), but more than that, I wanted him to both experience and witness grief.
To paraphrase the good captain, there are a variety of griefs—loss of love, trust, honor, home. It is always about loss, dealing with absence. The most terrible being the loss of life, as it is irrevocable.
One old fiction workshop sawhorse is “write what you know.” But taken literally, that would mean every college freshmen short story would be about hazing, beer bongs, condoms breaking, tests flunked, procrastination, and homesickness. There are plenty of ways to know something—obviously first-hand experience is a primary source, but you can also witness things, research things, and simply imagine your way into situations based on good intuition or instincts. So I don’t presume to be any more equipped to write about grief than any other writer simply because I’ve experienced some. But it has made its way into my writing, and no place more keenly than Bloodsounder’s Arc.
In Scourge, one character loses another, and I tried to capture this as truthfully as possible. But the aperture on everything widens a bit in Veil—worldbuilding, magic, intrigue, characters—and this holds true for grief as well. Much like the portrayal of violence itself, I didn’t want to wallow in grief or let it dominate the narrative or anything. But I tried to capture it as honestly as I could, as several characters have lost people close to them, recently and deep in the past. As Arki gains the trust of the members of the company, becomes more embedded, he is privy to more of their stories, the things that shaped them, damaged them, maybe even strengthened them.
While I never saw a relative murdered in front of me, and I’ve never lost a friend in the middle of combat, there are different ways of “knowing” as mentioned, and I did the best I could to make these moments feel as authentic as possible. But I absolutely know what it means to put loved ones in the ground or scatter their ashes, and I drew on that as much as I could, trying to render it realistically as these characters revealed and shared their own pain in various ways.
And for the first time in my life, I used fiction to directly deal with losing my father, to infuse that loss into something I created. Twenty-eight years is a long time—the absence is no longer sharp and crippling, but I still vividly remember it, and I wanted to use that in my portrayal of characters who also deal with tremendous grief.