Chains of the Heretic is the final book in Jeff Salyards’ Bloodsounder’s Arc trilogy and it is out now. When the first book in the series, Scourge of the Betrayer came out I was taken completely by surprise as to how much I liked the book. It’s sequel Veil of the Deserters was equally good, but this time I knew what I was getting into when I started it. Due to publishing shenanigans it has taken a while for this series to reach its conclusion but Chains is finally here and I can’t wait to see how this story spins out for Arki, Braylar and the rest of the Syldoon. Jeff was kind enough to answer some questions for me and I present you with his Author Query below.
Let’s start with the basics. Who is Jeff Salyards?
Jeff is a giant manchild who infrequently measures before cutting anything. Best-case scenario, he measures once and cuts twice. On those extremely rare occasions when he measures twice before cutting once, the measurements are almost never the same, so he has to measure a third time to be sure, which often proves maddening, as that sometimes still doesn’t net a measurement match, even if he isn’t drinking and is moderately well-rested, which rarely happens (the well-rested part). Wait, what was the question?
How would you introduce people to Bloodsounder’s Arc?
While the trilogy has its share of battles (both small scale and by the third book, pretty damn epic), betrayals and twists, creepy magic, and deliberate world building, at its heart it’s the story of a lowly scribe trying to find his place in the world. He just happens to try to do that while chronicling the exploits of a hardened company of soldiers who belong to the most devious military caste around and are engineering political chaos while trying to return a deposed emperor to the throne. So, yeah, super bad timing on his part.
What is it like to know that the final book in the trilogy is now out and that Arki and Braylar’s story is done?
Weird. Really weird. These characters have been in my head a loooooong time, well before I started writing Scourge of the Betrayer, and that first book took ages to write because I am in insanely gifted procrastinator and wasn’t under contract. So it’s bizarre to be working on something else as I wait for Chains of the Heretic to come out, because it’s occupied my bandwidth for so long, it’s strange to get my head around something else.
Overall, I feel really good about how the series wrapped up—I told the story I wanted to tell, the way I wanted to tell it. I love these characters, even the nutjobs and brutal bastards, and plenty of them grew on me in unexpected ways over the course of the series. So it’s sort of a mixed-emotions kind of dealio right now. I’m proud of how everything turned out, but there are melancholy pangs, too. Maybe I’ll circle back and revisit the characters someday, but if not, parting is such sweet sorrow and all that.
Did the overall scope and feel of the story change a lot from what you’d originally envisioned it to be when you started Scourge of the Betrayer, the first book in the series?
When I first came up with the idea, I imagined it would essentially be two intertwined narratives, one told in flashback as Braylar recounts his first exposure to the Syldoon as a child and all the ensuing familial chaos, and one in “real time” as Arki witnesses the shenanigans the captain and his company get into and, uh, all that ensuing military chaos. But during the agent hunt, it became clear that the pacing just wasn’t going to work, so I decided to scrap a lot of the backstory. Some of those elements still show up in Veil and Chains–there’s some brambly thorny history between Braylar and his sister Soffjian that directly impacts the present narrative–but still, a lot less than I originally had in mind. Once I chose to construct it differently and lop a lot of that backstory off, the scope definitely changed.
Still, the main character arcs played out pretty much the way I envisioned, even if the journey there was different than I imagined.
What have the past four years taught you about the craft of writing and the business of publishing?
I don’t have any delusions of grandeur about being the best writer in the world, but writing is the thing I’m best at. With three books under my belt now, I’ve developed a decent sense of what I do well, and what I really need to work on. I feel like each book in the trilogy got better, so I’m moving in the right direction, which is good, but I also know I need to continue pressing to improve every time I string some words together. You play to your strengths, right, but you also need to be honest when you critique your weaknesses.
As a for-instance, writing dialogue and action sequences are sort of my load bearing walls—I feel like even when other things are cracked or poorly painted or I measured three times and came up with three different numbers, I can usually depend on dialogue and action to see me through. But even so, you can always get better, even with those things you feel confident doing. Always. You can tighten things up, employ your skills in new ways, challenge yourself to try something that makes you uneasy. I try to write dialogue from unusual characters, or in scenarios I haven’t before, or to convey something I’ve shied away from; with action, I try to choreograph each set piece to distinguish it from the ones I’ve done previously, to avoid replicating or echoing too much.
And as far as weaknesses go, I could catalog a bunch, but chief among them is plotting things out to ensure brisk and engaging pacing. In Chains of the Heretic, I tried hard to balance the character-driven or more reflective moments with the explosive ones. It remains to be seen how well it worked.
And as far as publishing goes, it’s a crazy business, and if there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that you only have complete control over one thing: the quality of your manuscript. The rest of it—the production process, cover, marketing, audiobook narration, reception, whatever—is largely or entirely out of your hands. Sure, you can promote your work, but even that is an inexact science, and not easy to calculate what effect you are having. But your work, your satisfaction with the pages you hand over, that’s all you, baby, all day, every day. I sweat the small stuff and I sweat the big stuff—I’m a sweaty guy—but I try not to perseverate (perspirate?) too much over the things outside my control. Mostly unsuccessfully, but I try.
Bloodsounder’s Arc is definitely a grim and gritty fantasy series. Will you keep writing in this vein or do you want to stretch your writerly legs and explore other types of speculative fiction?
Having already established the setting, the magic system, and a lot of the history, it was tempting to start another series set in the same world, even if it didn’t center on these characters. But I also felt like I needed to try something radically different. Not because I’d exhausted that world or grown bored with it—there are still plenty of cool stories that could be told there, and part of me had reservations about leaving—but because I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could do something outside my comfort zone. Like, way outside.
I’ve got a solid start on the first book in a new series, and I think I can safely say it will probably surprise some readers. It surprised me. It’s a kind of urban (suburban?) fantasy/science fiction mashup, set a few decades in the future, focusing on four main POV characters: a snarky shadowmancer with a phase sloth for a pet; a narcoleptic drone pilot who looks like Owen Meany and owns a boarding axe flintlock that fires microbots; a sophisticated snooty necromancer with disdain for practically everyone; and a nurse with a healing ability that comes with a hefty price tag.
I’m about 35k words into Book 1, and it’s zany, wacky, weird, and a ton of fun. And just in case anyone is worried, there is a lot of sarcastic dialogue and plenty of high octane action.
I might return to BA territory at some point, but for now, I’m really energized and excited to be working on something totally new. Also a wee bit terrified. But hey, if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball. Wait. That advice doesn’t apply here. Nix that.
What’s next for you? Any appearances or conventions planned?
Unfortunately, I have a day job that already requires a fair bit of travel, and a wife and three kids who aren’t super crazy about me being on the road more, so I haven’t had much chance to do conventions. I’m hoping to change that this year. In the meantime, I’ll have a signing or three after Chains comes out.
Is there something else you’re passionate about other than writing and books?
My aforementioned wife and three kids.
Boom. Nailed it. I mean, seriously, could I have answered this one any better? No. No is the answer to my rhetorical question. Why? I’ll tell you. Because I NAILED it.
(Also: history, movies, and sports. And cereal. And beer. But not cereal and beer. Which is funny, really, as grains play such an important part in both.)
As a book reviewer, I’m all about the book enabling; I can’t help but want to make people read all the good books out there. But I can always use help. What are your top recommendations of books we should look out for in the coming months?
I barely have enough time to juggle the day job, being a husband and dad, and writing at night, so I’m going to be a terrible resource on this one. I’ve read some books this year, but as for what’s coming out soon? Most of this is gleaned from various sites I stumbled across, and several didn’t have my book listed, so really, how trustworthy could they be?
It’s a safe bet Mark Lawrence will have something out. I think Scott Lynch has a book in the works, though that could be hearsay. Brent Weeks, Robin Hobb, Brian Staveley, Wesley Chu, NK Jemisin, Myke Cole, Daniel Abraham, Anne Bishop, and Jim Butcher have some new ones expected I think. But don’t take my word for any of those.
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
“System”? What is this word, “system” you speak of? *Looks it up*. Oh, yeah, I totally don’t have one of those. I am only OCD about one thing, and that is doing dishes. Seriously, if I walk by a sink full of dirty dishes, I feel compelled to roll my sleeves up, slather them with dish sauce, and clean them, even if I’m at someone else’s house and they have a dishwasher. My shelves would drive a librarian bonkers. No rhyme or reason at all.
Bio: Jeff Salyards had his nose in one book or another for as long as he can remember, and he knew early on that he wanted to create worlds that drew others in just as much. Combine that with a love of the pageantry, violence, and contradictions of all things medieval, and it’s no surprise that his debut was a dark and gritty fantasy novel. Chains of the Heretic is his third book and completes the trilogy. Jeff lives in the burbs of Chicago with his wonderful wife, three precocious daughters, a senile Pekingese, a manic Jack Russell, and two sly cats.