Saturday, July 28, 2012


Sadly, things have been pretty quiet around here lately.  All for a good reason though, as I am moving out of my current living situation across town to a new apartment.  The BIG change is that I am switching up room mates in the process.  My epic bro, who I've lived with for long enough to rate a common law marriage, is heading to the Mid-West for grad school, and I'm sticking it out here in Seattle in a cool little apartment with my lovely lady.

One would think that I'd have anticipated this move long ago, and prepared for it by storing up lots of good blog posts to tide things over while I get settled in. The truth is, the search for this new dwelling took up so much of my precious free time, that I have barely blogged in the past month, let alone blogged EXTRA in order to keep up a regular blogging schedule.

So, things may be a little quiet around here while I get settled in, get steady internet, and all that jazz.  Fear not, I'll still be reading my eyes out in my spare time, so there will plenty for me to talk about in the near future.  Stay tuned! And thanks to everyone who takes the time out of their busy lives to read the things I write about.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Batman-Snow

Snow is a Batman story set during the dawn of Batman's career, and the Caped Crusader is feeling a little bit overwhelmed with the task of safeguarding Gotham City.  To help aid his war on crime, Batman puts together a team of specialists to help him.  These clandestine allies, recruited for their skills in electronic gadgetry, research, crime scene investigation, recon, and tactics, are supposed to help Batman do his job more efficiently, but will they be enough when Batman squares off against his first super-powered villain?

Snow is not only a retelling of Batman's early days, but also gives a new look at the origin of Mr. Freeze.  This story thread follows a brilliant scientist, Dr. Fries, who has been developing a new cryo-technology.  However, his beloved wife is terminally ill, and his attempts to save her using his new, and unproven technology goes tragically wrong.  This might sound like origin story ground that has been covered over and over, but the writing team of Dan Curtis Johnson and J.H. Williams III infuse this origin tale with a soft touch that makes it feel all too real and altogether heart-wrenchingly tragic.  I felt legitimately sad when all the pieces of this origin story came together.  The way they depict Fries' mental unraveling is quite impressive as well.

Overall, I found the story to be one of the best, if not the very best Batman story I've ever read.  A big reason is that the character of Batman is still very human and easy to relate to.

Nowadays, writers like to have Batman as this incredibly hardcore, intense, ultra organized, high-tech, crime fighting bad ass.  That's all well and good, and fun to read, but the Batman in Snow is still very much a still-learning-the ropes crime fighter who is learning how to best go about his business on the fly.  He isn't great buds with Jim Gordon yet, the D.A. doesn't fully trust him, and his whole operation has a very homespun feel to it.

This is a Batman that takes an occasional whoopin', the occasional fall, and the occasional gunshot wound from low-life criminals.  All this comes together to make this version of Batman a lot of fun to read, because he isn't gonna be perfect and he is gonna make, perfect is boring anyway.

In addition to what is some really great writing is the wonderful artwork of Seth Fisher.  Sadly, Seth Fisher is no longer with us, but his amazing talent lives on in this work and some other DC projects.  Fisher's art style is not what you typically see on superhero books, let alone a Bat-title, but his art here is nothing short of fantastic.  His style is hard to put a finger on but I'd say his stuff reminds me a bit of Frank Quitely but there's other influences mixed in there that I can't totally put my finger on.  I could see how some fans might not like his Batman character design, who is not exactly rippling with muscles or rocking facial features that appear chiseled out of granite, but that all serves to make the character seem more human.

I really enjoyed how Fisher chose to depict the story in such a way that can only be achieved via the comics medium.  Take the above picture, which depicts a cut-away, top down view of Batman's highly cluttered, and disorganized home/batcave. A picture is truly worth a thousand words here as you can tell just from this how Batman is still in the early stages of his crime fighting career, and running a low-tech, "home-brew" style operation.  Not to mention, the cut-away allows the reader to see so much more than you could get in any other story telling medium, allow while being details the reader takes in peripherally and tacitly.  There are many other moments too where Fisher shows the story in such a way that can only be achieved in comics.

Not one to sit on his laurels, Fisher is also capable of delivering some great action and motion art.  He can deliver a great cinematic feel to these moments and create that larger-than-life feel, yet never making things seem too over the top or cheesy.

This is personal thing that I'm a fan of and maybe of no interest to other folks, but I love it when artists draw in their own sound effects and make them part of the art. It's sorta a thing that has gone away in this age of photoshop, as most sound effects are added in during the final stages of comic production, but not so here.  Fisher does his own, and they are a great blend of spot on perfect for the moment, and down-right silly.  I was a fan.

As I said earlier, this is probably the best Batman story I've ever read.  This one has that much sought after combo of great writing and great art that combine to work extremely well together.  The story you get is quite good, and even provides some touching and tragic moments.  Not your standard superhero fare, just a story that is about 100 notches above the standard.  So, yeah, highly recommended, and one of the best graphic novels I've read so far this year.

Grade: A+

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Book Review: Blackbirds

Now, I'm not usually an Urban Fantasy guy, but I gotta admit, the sub-genre is starting to grow on me, ever so slowly.  So I thought I'd get a bit more Urban Fantasy seasoning with Chuck Wendig's Blackbirds.

Blackbirds is a straight forward, fast-paced novel that stars one of the most abrasive protagonists I've ever experienced.  Her name is Miriam, and she can tell when you are going to die.  All it takes is a single touch, and boom, she knows the exact time, and date of your demise, and can even see the event play out in her mind's eye.

Not the greatest of special abilities to acquire, not even close.

As you might imagine, given the nature of her ability, she isn't the kind of gal who seeks out the company of others.  She isn't a recluse though, more of a drifter; never staying in one place long enough to get to know names, let alone recognize faces.  That said, she doesn't go the Rouge, a la X-Men, route and wear gloves and avoid all human contact either.  On the occasions when she does make contact with another person she accepts their death for what it is, (after all, everyone dies eventually) and goes about her business.  That is until she meets Louis.

Louis seemed like just another trucker she was hitching a ride from but when she accidentally makes contact with him and sees his death, and hears him call out her name while he dies she knows his death is due to his association with Miriam...and chances are, she'll be the killer's next victim. Now, if she wants to stay alive, Miriam must find a way to thwart fate itself.

Blackbirds is a book that is, for better or worse, driven by the personality of Miriam. Thanks to her special ability, Miriam tends to fend off human contact by the sheer force of her abrasive personality.  She's very quick to drive people away with venomous words and put downs, which on the one hand, makes her tough to like, but pretty fun to read.  I found myself evenly torn between like and dislike.  Still, the fact the Wendig is able to make me feel strongly about Miriam shows that he is capable of writing a story with a memorable character.

Once you move away from Miriam, the other characters seem to pale in comparison.  This might haven been a deliberate thing done by Wendig to ensure that Miriam stands out as the driving force in the story, but it also means that the other characters that populate this tale seem to embody a specific, one-dimensional personality type and not much else.

On the pacing front, this is a story that zips right along. Wendig is economic in his ability to deliver the story, pertinent background info, and character development all while tying it into the narrative so that the reader never feels like they are getting information dropped on their heads. A nice skill to say the least.

In addition to this being a book that flows along like a raging river, it's also a damn quick read.  Blackbirds is one of those books that could easily be consumed in one fell swoop. I read this one on my Kindle, so it was hard to gauge length, but when I cross referenced where I was in the story with a hard copy of the book at a bookstore, I was surprised to see how much of the book I was able to devour in the small moments I carve out for reading.

So, in the end you get a book with an interesting premise, an engaging lead character, and an easily devoured, fast-paced read.  If I were to liken reading this novel to eating, I'd say it's a lot like eating a doughnut; Initially tasty, and easily consumed, but not exactly something that will provide the best sustenance.  Though Blackbirds is an enjoyable read, it is easy come, easy go, and not a book that I foresee living long in my memory.  It's hard to put my finger on what exactly it is missing, but it doesn't quite toggle all my switches.  Worth checking out, but not a must-read.

Grade: C+

Monday, July 16, 2012

SDCC News Round-Up!

In case you didn't know, San Diego Comicon, the most epic of all the comic conventions happened this past July 12th-15th.  As usual, there were lots of announcements being made, some cool and interesting some, not so much.  Here's the stuff I found be honest, there wasn't a ton of stuff that was all that exciting to me.

First and foremost, the Eisner Awards were handed out.  I apparently have poor taste in comics, because out of all the things that won awards, I read a grand total of two and a half winners.  In truth it's only one and a half because I read the "Best Single Issue" award winner (Daredevil #7) and the "Best Continuing Series " winner, (Daredevil).  So, by reading a few issues of Daredevil, I managed to read two Eisner Award winners.  I got the "half" score because I've read a few of the Dark Horse Presents issues which won "Best Anthology", but not all of them.

I do hope to read Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' Criminal series, which won "Best Limited Series", as well as Green River Killer which won "Best Reality Based Work".  I've heard good things about that one.

Congrats to all the winners. For a list of all the winners, and pics of the actual work, check out this sweet Comics Alliance post.

In some publication news that I actually care about, Image, the comics publisher that seems to put out 90% of the comics I actually want to read, delivered a laundry list of future publications and the list looks to be pretty sweet.

Most notable among said list is Pretty Deadly, a western tale about an assassin with a scarred face. The story features a female lead, and promises western action, so I'm in.  Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Emma Rios are the creators for that one, and I'm excited to see what they have to offer. I'm completely unfamiliar with either of these creators, but an all-female creative team is a very rare thing in comics and I'm all for supporting their efforts. My issues with gender inequality in the field of comics aside, the concept seems pretty cool, so I'm excited to check out Pretty Deadly.  The cover looks pretty awesome too.

There's also a new Greg Rucka project they mentioned coming in 2013 and another Brandon Graham project, Multiple Warheads which will hopefully be as amazing as Prophet has been.  Multiple Warheads  looks to be hitting shelves in October, so I wont have to wait too long to get my hands on that one.  Check out the cover:

Looks pretty awesome to me!

Lastly, Neil Gaiman will be returning to his much loved comics series, The Sandman (which I haven't read...shame on me!) with an amazing partner in crime handling the art...Battle Hymns' favorite, J.H. Williams III!  The duo will be putting out a mini-series which will hit stores in 2013.  No word in how many issues, or an actual title, but I'm sure details will surface as the publication date draws near.  The JHW3 art they tease with the announcement looks to be pretty incredible.  

I guess this means I'll need to get off my ass and finally get around to reading The Sandman.

That seems like a pretty awesome way to wrap up a links post.  I know that doesn't seem like a lot to be excited about, but as I scoured the various comics blogs for SDCC news coverage, I honestly didn't find much else to be excited about.  There were TONS of other announcements, so which ones did you find the most interesting?

****Special THANKS to my two favorite comics websites, MULTIVERSITY COMICS and COMICS ALLIANCE for their awesome coverage of SDCC.  This post wouldn't be possible without their coverage, news, links, pics, and all that good stuff!  Cheers!****

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Music Review: Red Fang- Murder the Mountains

Murder the Mountains, an aptly named album title if there ever was one, because Red Fang has created an album here that will topple the mightiest of snowy peaked mountains.

I've dabbled in Red Fang's music before, mostly via Pandora, and have been craving one of their albums for a while now.  When I'm exploring a new band I usually like to start at the beginning, but I haven't been able to track down Red Fang's self-titled debut album here in Seattle.  So I did the next best thing; I bought their second album.  And boy, is it good.

Allow me to describe Red Fang's sound via analogy: If music was a drug and Queens of the Stoneage and Mastodon were two varieties of a powerful stimulant, and they got combined into one wonder-drug, then had the purity of said wonder-drug cut for street consumption, you'd get a wonderful, highly addictive thing called Red Fang.  These Red Fang fellahs take the rock n' roll catchy-ness of QOTSA the heavy metal progginess of Mastdon and meld it into one absolutely fantastic album that is not quite metal, but  far too prickly and heavy to be called rock.

This is an album that starts out strong with the opening track, Malverde and builds up momentum and brutal-ness as it progresses towards the mid-way point and my personal favorite song of the album, Throw Up, a song that works in some awesome changes that go in exactly all the right places.

This is a band that can write a catchy riff, lyrics you want to sing/snarl/mumble along with and instrumentals that are guaranteed to rock the socks off any listener.  Throw Up is a song that has all of the above in epic abundance. The second half of the album has more of a rock n' roll feel than the first half, and though it shows a different side of the band's sound, is equally strong and impressive.  

It has been a long time since I've explored a new band and have it be one that I take an instant liking to. I like their no-nonsense approach to making great music.  I like their straight forward songs that are tightly composed and incredibly catchy. And I like that they are a heavy band from the Pacific Northwest, a region once known for turning out great music that has sadly deteriorated into a breeding ground for shitty emo and indie-rock bands.  Thankfully, Red Fang is neither.  They're just a kick-ass hard-rock/metal band that is making great music.  

One thing is for sure, as I age, I haven't lost my taste for heavy music.  However, I have noticed that I have a great appreciation for other (less heavy) varieties of music these days, and Red Fang is the perfect band to bridge that gap.  

Make no mistake, Murder the Mountains is a great album, but the crazy thing is, It gets increasingly better the more I listen to it.  It started out very good, and is well on it's way to great.  This is easily one of the best albums I've bought in the past few years, and it keeps growing on me.

For those who aren't total metal heads, but like to head-bang on occasion, or enjoy hearing some great guitar this is a great place to explore.  For metal lovers like me, who have been looking for their next new favorite band, well, Red Fang is where it's at.  With only two albums under their belts, this is a band that appears to be on the track towards great things.  I can't wait until their next album.  Until then, you'll find me listening to and loving Murder the Mountains.

Grade: A

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Locke & Key Vol. 3 Crown of Shadows

Since I read the first volume in the Locke & Key series, Welcome to Lovecraft last September, I have been head over heels for this fantastic comic.  Each of the previous two volumes were special enough to rate a tie for second place on my 2011 Graphic Novels of the Year list.  Locke & Key is a comic series that's still in progress, so I've been trying to spread out my reading of the series so that I don't over-indulge, then wind up having to wait impatiently for the new collected editions to come out.  I guess I've done alright with the whole rationing bit since I've managed to hold out since last November.

This time around the Locke children must face not only Dodge, the malevolent spirit that plagues their home, an army of shadows under Dodge's command, but also their mother who is unraveling right before their eyes.

After the previous two volumes which were pretty much mind blowing comics of epic proportions, I'd have to say Crown of Shadows is a slight step back, but still, quite fantastic.  More so than the previous two volumes, I would have to say that Gabriel Rodriguez' art really shines through as the star in this one.  He's called upon to draw some really fantastical, unreal and even tragic things in this volume, from semi-substantial ghosts, to shadows that can take on any form, to the mental breakdown of a grown woman.  That's a lot of variety, but Rodriguez not only pulls it off, but he manages to make it look astounding as well.

I've become really attached to Rodriguez' style and I can't imagine this series with anyone else at the art helm.  Rodriguez is really good at adding little bits of detail to his panels.  These details serve to make the world really come to life, but on top of that, there are often little clues and plot details hidden in plain sight.  Hill and Rodriguez will often use this hidden-treasures technique to clue the reader into things that some of the characters may not be privy to just yet, or to hint at things that will be important in the future.  It is a cool little technique that I haven't seen used too often in other comics, and it can offer some rewarding moments to the reader when they discover cool hidden gems...though it does make me wonder how many of the buggers I've missed!

Once again, Joe Hill is at the top of his writing game.  The guy continues to impress me each and every time I read one of his works.  With the Locke & Key series, Hill is working magic with the ol' hidden cards technique.  Hill has been masterfully revealing crucial plot elements and story events (and magical keys) at just the right moments so far, and from what I can tell, there are many more great reveals to be had in the future. The man might just be playing with a dozen or so aces up his sleeves, but that's fine by me because I'm enthralled, and I want to see what's in store for this poor beleaguered family.  This might sound like the ravings of a fan-boy, but Hill's writing, scripting, and plot development in the Locke & Key series is some of the very best I've ever seen in comics.

So while I'm still wiping up drool and going through withdrawal from this last Locke & Key reading experience, I strongly urge those who haven't yet started in on this series to do so immediately.  This is one of the most rewarding, powerful, and downright entertaining reads out there comics or otherwise, and should not be missed.  We'll see how long I can hold out until volume four.

Grade: A

Monday, July 9, 2012

News: John Layman to write Detective Comics!

So the other day, while I was recovering from my July 4th celebrations, DC announced that they had selected their new writer and artist team for Detective Comics.  Much to my surprise, they went and named John Layman of Chew fame as the Dark Knight's new writer...Holy fucking wild card choice Batman!

Layman takes over with issue #13 and follows up writer/artist Tony S. Daniel whose run on the DCnU Detective Comics I could only tolerate about three issues of.  So, even though this is Layman's first real crack at mainstream big two comics, I'm thinking it's a positive turn of events.

Layman had this to say about the announcement:

"Obviously, this is a happily surreal and exciting turn-of-events for my career. Not only is this my first work within the DC Universe, but I get to work on one of DC’s undisputedly coolest and highest-profile characters. I’m going to take a look at the role of criminal organizations within Gotham City, hopefully from a perspective that does not get considered very often (if at all). From the symbiotic relationship a master criminal must have with Gotham in order to survive, to the lowly, often faceless criminal underling hoping to rise up the ranks. All that, plus Batman’s gonna play with a bunch of crazy new toys and kick all kinds of butt."
Joining him on the art front will be Jason Fabok, who I'm pretty sure has done some Batman art before, but I'm not positive, and I'm too lazy to look it up.  Either way, judging from that sweet cover, which features one of my favorite bat-villains, The Penguin, he looks like an improvement over Daniel's 90's style art which I wasn't a fan of.  

I gotta say, John Layman as the new Detective Comics writer seems like a total wild-card choice, but I think there's a very good chance he'll infuse some much needed life into a character who, though I love him, can be mishandled at the best of times.  I'm looking forward to seeing what Layman has in store for Batman.

Sources: John Layman's Facebook Page and DC Comics.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Author Event: George R.R. Martin

The other night, July 3rd to be exact, I went to George R.R. Martin's author reading at Town Hall here in Seattle.  I've been to a few other author events in the past, but this was, by far, the most well attended event I've been to yet and serves as a testament to GRRM's soaring fame.  

When I arrived on the scene, about 30 minutes prior to the event, SOLD OUT signs were posted up around the venue and there was a line of about 60-75 hopefuls waiting to see if there would be extra space for their "didn't-think-it-would-be-this-crazy" asses. Thankfully, I had bought my ticket ahead of time and didn't fall into that camp.

I met my fantasy readin' friend and fellow blogger, Justin outside and we headed in to grab seats. The main hall, where the event was held seemed packed when we got in there, but it continued to steadily fill up as the time for GRRM to hit the stage drew near.  On multiple occasions the crowd was asked to squeeze in so more people could have seats.  By the time things began, I'd say the venue was pretty much full to capacity.

George hit the stage and kicked things off by reading not one, but two chapters from The Winds of Winter; a Victarion chapter and a Tyrion chapter.  He lead into the readings with the caveat that though the chapters were "complete" there was a good chance they could change or be heavily edited by the time the book was published, thirteen years from now.  (A really good joke if you ask me!)  Both chapters were quite good, and it was pretty flippin' amazing to hear them read by GRRM, who is a great live reader.

After the reading, he opened things up for a Q&A, and curtailed some obvious questions by stating that the book would be done when it is done, no promises, and that the HBO show is doing really well.  As I've typically experienced from these author events, the fans asked a variety of questions ranging from really dumb ones like "Can you tell us if Jon is still alive?" (Read and find out) to "Will we find out what Howland Reed knows about Ned Stark?" (Read and find out) to some that were actually interesting and yielded interesting answers that are far too long to recap here.

One woman actually had the gall (and poor taste) to ask if GRRM died before the series was finished, does he have in mind anyone who would be able to carry on for him and see the series through.  George related how his departed friend and author Roger Zelazny, who passed away at the relatively young age of 59 had more Amber books  planned, but felt such a strong attachment to the world and the characters that he didn't want anyone else to write the stories.  Martin said he felt the same way about Westeros and his characters, then paused, and said: "You are basically asking me if I think I'm going to die soon, and if that is the case, I have more serious concerns than the fucking series."  The perfect answer in my opinion.  I hope that woman felt ashamed.

Martin stayed on stage long enough to take all the questions from the people that were lined up, and also provided a few hundred signed editions of his various works, which were for sale in the lobby.

Overall, I would say that it was one of the best if not the best author events I've been to in my life.  Martin was lively, engaging and quite funny too.  He made fun of his writing pace, and made jokes about the "porn" in his books, and gave witty and thoughtful answers to the questions people had for him.  The only drawback to the whole thing was that my anticipation and excitement for The Winds of Winter went from level 2 all the way up to about a 7 or an 8...*sigh* it could be a long wait.  Still, my whining aside, it was an awesome author event with an even more awesome writer.  Thumbs up for GRRM.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Author Interview: Jeff Salyards PART 2

Back for round two, today is the second half of the Battle Hymns/Jeff Salyards interview.  On the docket today are some rapid fire questions and answers.  Enjoy!

Battle Hymns: Name three things you couldn’t live without.

Jeff Salyards: My wife, my kids, my friends. If we’re excluding the living, since they aren’t “things,” then beer, beer, and then maybe a beer chaser. 

BH: Own up to a guilty pleasure.

JS: One of the below is absolutely true: 

1.      I actually love the Wiggles. Their zany shenanigans are hilarious, contagious, and just fantastic, and their songs do not burrow into my brain and lay eggs. At all.

2.      My wife has to hide any sweet thing in the house, because if it’s out and plainly visible, I’m eating it. I have the willpower not to actively look for it, sometimes, but if it’s in front of me, forget about it. Even the crumbs.

3.   I have a collection of koala paraphernalia: mugs, t-shirts, Pez dispensers, underwear (with and without fur). They’re just so dang cute.   

(Editor's Note: My money is on #2.) 

BH: What music are you listening to these days?

JS: Carly Rae Jepsen. Wait, I’m not a 15-year old girl. I got into Arcade Fire not too long ago, when I was up with a crying kid in the middle of the night (maybe it was me who was crying) and happened to catch one of their concerts. I couldn’t get them out of my head, but in a good way. Gotye is pretty cool—I mean, he’s Belgian-Australian, so he gets bonus points for originality. I keep hoping Audioslave will give it another go, but in the meantime, listening to their last album.   

Best Album Ever? 

BH: What’s your all-time favorite album/record/CD?

JS: You mean, after the Bears’ Superbowl Shuffle? Wow, that’s a tough one. It just depends on my mood too much to narrow it to all-time favorite: Springsteen’s Born to Run, Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Radiohead’s Amnesiac, Guns ‘N Roses’ Appetite for Destruction, Nirvana’s Nevermind.   

As you can see, I suck at coming up with an all-time favorite anything. 

BH: What was the last concert you went to?

JS: Gaelic Storm a few years ago. But a more interesting story is the first concert I went to. Aerosmith, in high school. And while I look much different now, Steven Tyler must have access to some top-secret anti-aging serum or his drug cocktails over the years synthesized into a formaldehyde proxy, because he hasn’t changed a bit.

My brother, Chris, was supposed to go the concert. Because Chris had a severe case of diabetes, had to undergo dialysis, had numerous operations, he had the handicap sticker and got special seating at events like that. But Chris couldn’t go this time, and his buddy who always went with him was going to have to sit in the cheap seats with the rest of the plebes unless there was a stand-in. Or sit-in, as it were. So he asked me. After thinking about it for all of five seconds, I borrowed the wheel chair and my brother’s buddy and I headed to the concert. We got the primo seating, close enough to make ear drums bleed.

Anyway, I had to pretend to be paraplegic the whole time, and lie through my teeth to the genuinely handicapped folks around me. I blamed my devastating “injuries” on a motorcycle accident. Yes, I am going to hell, thanks for asking.

Hmmm, maybe that wasn’t the best story to tell. . .   

BH: Are you a comics reader? If so, what’s something you read recently that you enjoyed? Who’s an artist you love?

JS: I haven’t read nearly as many comics as I used to. As a kid and teen, I collected a bunch of them: X-Men, Batman, Punisher, Avengers, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Jonah Hex. As you can see, I was mostly a Marvel guy. But having said that, I was always partial to Frank Miller—he’s amazing at creating atmosphere and a film-noir kind of sensibility/tone. I loved his Dark Knight and Sin City stuff. Brilliant. And he’s one of those guys who goes where the project is: Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, whatever. 

BH: What book or books have you read lately that you thought were especially good?

JS: Perfect segue, as I just finished Prepare to Die! by Paul Tobin, a book about supercharged villains/heroes. Paul’s day job is writing comics, and his love of the topic comes through on every page of his debut novel. I heartily recommend this to anyone who likes their heroes deeply flawed and very human. While there are plenty of frenetic fights with superpowers aplenty—cars being chucked around, lasers blasting, giant rats—a large portion of the book is quieter, introspective, character-driven, which always appeals to me. 

BH: If you found yourself in a typical fantasy setting, what would be your weapon of choice?

JS: Definitely not a cursed flail that bombards me with the stolen memories of foes I strike down. Braylar has one of those, and that doesn’t look like any kind of fun at all.

I suppose the answer would depend on what I’d likely be doing in that world. A farm boy whisked off by a mysterious mentor and likely possessing innate powers or the heritage that will save the world? No weapon, please—I deserve to die a gruesome death. A soldier? If so, part of a shield wall, a hobelar, heavy cavalry, an arbalest? A grave robber, a caravan guard, a thug? I’ve always believe that weapons are just tools, and you need to pick the right one for the job.

If you’re looking for the generalist answer, a choice that could serve me in the widest range of circumstances, in a city or on campaign, exploring ruins, or running from the law, there’s are a lot of reasons swords are so ubiquitous in fantasy, but one is that they had a lot of utility. As impressive and wicked cool as the later big two-handers are, I would probably go with a longsword from the 14th century (and I mean that in the Oakeshott sense of the word, not D&D—probably type XVI or XVII, for those keeping track at home). A blade I could use with a shield or with two hands if necessary, still exceptionally balanced, light, and fluid.   

But if I’m not overly worried about scampering up a siege ladder, spelunking, or fighting my way through dense underbrush, a big Danish axe is all kinds of scary. It says, “The guy holding me is more concerned with splitting you in two than in any damage you might do to him. In fact, I’m betting I’ll cleave you apart and be on to the guy behind you before your weapon even comes close to the crazy bastard swinging me around.”  

BH: What would you like to see change or see more of in the Fantasy genre?

JS: Good question. I like books that take risks, that try new paths or search for a new perspective. (Editor's Note: Me too!) While there are some smaller indie publishers who actively support fantasy that’s more challenging or outside most readers’ comfort zones (Night Shade Books, Pyr, Angry Robot), you don’t see these kinds of offering as much from The Big Six. I’m not suggesting the bigs only publish derivative crap, only that their titles tend to be a little safer on the whole. Regardless of the publisher, though, I’d like to see more willingness to push things a bit. 

BH: What does the future hold for you? Any new projects you can spill some beans on?

JS: I’m getting rolling on Book 2 in the Bloodsounder’s Arc series. I don’t even have a good non-working title at the moment, so Book 2 it is. The series will be three books for sure, possibly more, depending on how things shape up. So this will keep me busy for the immediate future. Regarding Book 2, I can say that for those readers who were clamoring for more world building, they’ll get it—more about the Syldoon themselves,  Bloodsounder, the mysterious Memoridons, the Godveil, the Deserter Gods, political factions, etc. While the narrator, Arki, was generally clueless though Scourge, he’ll be a bit more in the know for Book 2, and the plot revelations will come a lot faster. I like the dynamic of Arki being an outsider, and what it brings to the narrative, so that won’t disappear altogether—he isn’t welcomed with open arms into the Syldoon order going forward, but he will learn a great deal more and at a much faster clip.

Also, for those looking for another strong female character, while I only alluded to Braylar’s sister in the first book, she definitely shows up in Book 2. And she gives her brother a run for it in the badass department (though in a much different way).   

BH: Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers and fans?

JS: Thank you so much for taking a risk by picking up a book by a debut author. Maybe you read a pretty good review somewhere. Maybe you were browsing in Barnes & Noble and the cover grabbed your attention. Maybe Amazon sent you a notice recommending a new juice maker, a book on kites, and Scourge of the Betrayer. Maybe your last name is Salyards. Whatever the reason, I’m equal parts thrilled and grateful that you did, and I really hope you enjoyed Scourge. I appreciate your support more than I can express. Which is why I sent a singing clown-o-gram. He should be there shortly. I apologize in advance for the pie, but it was part of the package deal.  


Big THANKS to Jeff Salyards for taking the time to be part of this interview. If it was just me asking the questions with no one answering it would be REALLY boring.  Jeff really spiced things up!  Seriously, it was an awesome experience.  If you still aren't convinced, you really should check out Scourge of the Betrayer it is most definitely worth the read.  

Monday, July 2, 2012

Author Interview: Jeff Salyards PART 1

Welcome everybody to my second ever author interview here at Battle Hymns.  This time around, I'm very pleased to have Jeff Salyards on board to answer some questions.  If you haven't yet had a chance to read his debut novel, Scourge of the Betrayer, you are forgiven, since it's only been out since early May, but I strongly urge you get out there and read it. 

Not only was Jeff kind enough to take the time out of his busy schedule to answer questions, but he answered them with aplomb.  Say one thing about Jeff Salyards, say that he's thorough.  SO thorough in fact that his fantastic answers need to be doled out in parts.  So I give you PART ONE of the Battle Hymns/Jeff Salyards interview:

Battle Hymns: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Jeff Salyards: I grew up in Fox Lake, a small town north of Chicago that still boasts that Al Capone used to resort there during the summers, most notably at the Mineola Hotel. My dad was a newspaper photographer and got the chance to tour the upper floors of the hotel before they closed them to the public, and he claimed to have spotted some bullet holes in the walls and weathered blood stains on the floors. But that’s hearsay, he was prone to storytelling, and none of these details are directly about me anyway. Maybe I’m deflecting. Or stalling. I’ve been known to do both. (See, there’s something about myself.)

I’m married with three kids, all girls, which I’m sure if karmic payback of some sort. By day, I’m an editor for the American Bar Association; by night, I’m a masked vengeful vigilante called Strikethrough writer. On a good night, anyway.

BH: For folks who haven’t had the chance to read it yet, can you tell us about Scourge of the Betrayer?

JS: Scourge is a hard-boiled, character-driven fantasy novel. There are no dark lords, grand prophecies, or wondrous artifacts; there are some brutal battles and scraps, lots of biting rejoinders and sarcastic jabs, a nasty cursed weapon, and some profane (but still oddly endearing) characters.  

BH: What did you learn as a writer from writing Scourge of the Betrayer?

JS: Not to quit. There were a few times, both in writing the book and then in soliciting agents, that I almost gave up on the project. And that’s the tricky thing about writing—no matter how much support or encouragement you get, at the end of the day it’s a solitary effort, and you have to be your own sustainable energy source. I almost lost the motivation to continue on this one, but luckily I’m a stubborn son of a bitch (actually, that’s figurative—my mother was a wonderful lady, devout and zealous), so I pressed on. And I’m obviously glad I did. Otherwise, instead of doing this interview right now, I’d probably be sitting in a dark room muttering to myself and eating Nutter Butters.

BH: What challenges did you face, if any, in writing Scourge of the Betrayer?

JS: My own tendency to procrastinate, for one. Seriously, I’m far too good at rationalizing and justifying for my own good. Second, carving out time when I was motivated. With three little cherubs/demons at home, it’s always a challenge to find the opportunity and energy to write, especially for any long, uninterrupted stretches. Given that I haven’t utterly reformed or sold the kids on Craigslist, I will still face these challenges as I crank out the rest of the books in the series.  

BH: Who is the biggest influence on your work?

JS: Judging by the early reviews, you’d think the answer would have to be some combination of Glen Cook, Joe Abercrombie, and possibly Michael Moorcock. Which, while I’m delighted to be mentioned in the same breath as any of those writers, is a little funny to me. I read the first few Black Company books back in high school (which is longer ago than I care to think about). Ditto for Moorcock. And I didn’t even start reading any Abercrombie until I was nearly done with the manuscript.

It’s really difficult for me to pinpoint “biggest” influence, as there have been so many writers who have inspired and shaped me at different stages along the way. On the fantasy and science fiction side, Richard K. Morgan, Raymond Feist, Urusla K. Le Guin, Tad Williams, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Neal Stephenson, K.J. Parker, William Gibson, Octavia Butler. In other genres, Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, Tom Robbins, Bernard Cornwell, Lee Child, David Foster Wallace. Playwrights like Edward Albee and Tom Stoppard, movie directors like Quentin Tarantino and Sam Peckinpah, TV directors like David Milch, and. . .   

OK, epic fail on this question—I haven’t even winnowed the influence list down to a handful. Sorry. 

BH: What inspired you to become a writer?

JS: My brother and sister were much older than me and moved out when I was three or four, so in a lot of ways I grew up like an only child. So I figured out how to entertain myself pretty early on. And as far back as I can remember, reading was one of these diversions. I could fall into a book and disappear down the rabbit hole after Alice for hours. I loved how books could transport you, allow you access to places you’d never seen or maybe even imagined, entry into lives and experiences that could be so distant from your own (or comforting in their closeness and relevance). My mom loved reading, writing, theatre, painting, pottery, you name it, so she certainly encouraged me down that track.

So, from an early age, I decided that I wanted to write stories that provided someone else the same kind of journey into an imaginary place.  

BH: What’s the best part of your job? What’s the worst part of your job?

JS: Well, there’s the day job, and the night job doling out cold justice to criminal  masterminds writing, so I’m guessing you’re asking about the latter. There are a lot of great parts—finally seeing my book in print on a shelf at Barnes & Noble, a lifelong dream come true. I kept expecting Ashton Kutcher to jump out of an aisle with a camera and mock me for falling for the joke. Hearing from readers (and I mean strangers here, not the biased friends and family) who loved the characters, dialogue, or the book as a whole is incredibly rewarding. But those are post-writing greats. The best part of the writing process itself is when, after countless revisions, second-guessing, revisiting earlier drafts to see if maybe I had it right then and drifted away from where I really wanted to be, grudgingly admitting that those first drafts sucked, revising some more, and finally at long last hitting the sweet spot. Producing something on the page that actually resembles the kickass idea I originally had in my head that prompted me to give it a go in the first place.

The worst part? The frustration when I begin to wonder if I’ll ever hit that sweet spot again.  

BH: For you as a writer and/or reader, what qualities make for a good read?

JS: It’s said by those who like to say things and hear themselves say it, that most books generally fall into one of three camps: primarily idea-driven (e.g., Atlas Shrugged, 1984), plot-driven (a lot of thrillers/mysteries), or character-driven (e.g., A Prayer for Owen Meany).

Obviously, this is an artificial or academic classification, as most books are hybrids, or have elements of all three categories pretty well balanced. But it can be useful at least as a launch pad for discussing literature. While I like books that do all of these things well and are too slippery to pin down, if I had to pick between a primarily idea-, character-, or plot-driven book, I’d pick up the character-centered one first.  

Idea-driven books can be stimulating or mesmerizing, but they can also get stuck in the clouds or come across as pedantic or proselytizing, and if the characters aren’t interesting, my attention wanes. Plot-driven books can be taut or even thrilling, but again, pretty flat and more of a summer read if the characters aren’t fleshed out. A character-driven book might be slow or meandering, but if the characters are well-drawn, nuanced, and feel real, I’m willing to forgive a lot. Fascinating or repulsive (sometimes both), slick or broken, intellectual or brutes, full of hubris or painfully shy, just give me some good characters to latch onto. 

Even if the pace, plot points, and structure are all handled masterfully, the ideas or world building rich, the prose wonderful, if I don’t give a damn about the characters involved, I’ll walk away admiring the craftsmanship but pretty dissatisfied on the whole.    

BH: What is a day in the life of Jeff Salyards like?

JS: I’ll start at midnight—while most folks without young kids are sleeping soundly, dreaming of exotic vacations, winning the lottery, or threesomes, I’m usually waking up at least once or twice before six to change a diaper, console a kid who just had a nightmare, or because I got kicked in the face by the middle girl who sneaks into our bed a lot but seems physically incapable of sleeping parallel (I think it’s a disorder). So, I rarely get up feeling refreshed. I usually hear the alarm and wake up cursing, though I have to be careful because if Little Miss Perpendicular is right there, she’ll parrot it right back.

I don’t say this to elicit sympathy. I didn’t contract kids, or inherit them, or take them in as strays in a moment of weakness—obviously, big choices were made, and it’s great being a dad. Just giving you the lay of the land here.

So, after a ridiculous sitcom-esque morning (albeit with more mumbled profanity) of trying to get three kids and two adults dressed, fed, reasonably clean, and out the door before noon, it’s a train ride to downtown Chicago for me.

Then a day at work herding cats with my editor hat on. . . following up on authors to check on status of their manuscripts, get contracts signed, answer project queries. Meetings/calls with various book boards to help them develop their publishing portfolios. Budgeting for the next fiscal year. Internal meetings with other staff to brainstorm about better methods of herding cats.

After a train back home, it’s time to put the dad/hubby hat back on (it’s reversible) for a couple of hours.

Then, assuming I’m not in slackass mode and can muster the energy/will, it’s time to get some book work done. Writing the novel, or as is recently the case, promoting it and neurotically tracking its progress, and finally falling into bed. Praying to the fickle gods of slumber that they will grant me one night of solid sleep, knowing that it’s far more likely they will cackle at my desperate plea and smite me. That’s how they roll. 


Stay tuned for PART 2 coming at you later this week!