0 Jeff Salyards | Monthly Archive | April
Archive | April, 2014

Bloody Jacket

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I just got the jacket for the hardcover of Veil of the Deserters. It’s been a long time coming, but I’m thrilled to see this now, as it means I’ll be getting my author copies in May and can do a dopey, awkward, and somewhat frightening happy dance. And it also means readers can get the ebook May 19 or the hardcover June 3.

Veil of the Deserters Jacket2

Just a Taste. . .

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I don’t really know what makes the best excerpt. What is the ideal length? Do readers want something character-driven or a pulse-pounding action sequence? How do you show enough to intrigue or entice someone without getting all spoileriffic? I have no idea. About any of it. I’m not sure how long it would take a monkey tapping away at keys to actually write a good novel, but one could definitely select an excerpt faster than I did, and with a lot less second guessing and doubling back. It would be hyperbole to say I “agonized” over the excerpt choice, but I did go back and forth between several options before finally just saying screw it, this is the one.

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To be fair, I do that at restaurants too. Should I go with the omelet or pancakes? If the omelet, will it be the Mediterranean or the western? Onions mess with my stomach but ham does sound good. But so do pancakes. Maybe whole wheat. That’s healthy, and will make up for my drowning the stack in syrup, right? I could get both. Except my eyes are almost always bigger than my stomach, and I’ll either leave half the omelet on the plate and feel guilty about all the starving people in the world, or I’ll put it away well after actually being full, and then feel guilty about being a glutton. Maybe a healthy scrambler with egg whites and chicken sausage. Mmmm. . . chicken sausage. . .

I digress. Anyway, here is the excerpt from Veil of the Deserters. Bon Appétit!

Veil of the Deserters Excerpt

Terminus

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I have no sense of direction, a lousy sense of time, and very poor navigational skills. If I am on a highway or doing any travel that requires choices, I’m usually doomed. But even something as set, simple, and seemingly straightforward as riding the rails, where all I am required to do is get off at the correct stop, presents challenges I just simply can’t overcome most of the time. I’m just that big of an idiot.

Part One:

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A couple of years ago some work friends were going out for happy hour and invited me. With three young kids at home, I don’t do those nearly as often as I used to. And since my wife was battling a cold at the time, and would be wrangling the circus midgets herself, I assumed it was a no-go. But she was a champ and encouraged me to go blow off steam, just so long as I didn’t come home super late or get too drunk.

I had misgivings. For a hot minute. But I promised myself that I would watch the clock and not let things get out of hand.

Which is what I almost always promise before things get out of hand.

But in this case, oddly enough, I was actually on my best behavior. I went out for a few hours, and did drink pretty fast, but even not in top drinking shape anymore, I had a lot of mass and bloodstream so it still takes a lot to do me in. And I kept my eye on the clock. When 8:15 hit, I told my friends I had to jet. They tried talking me out of it but I had a train to catch, and it was a 15 minute walk and 45 minute ride, and if I missed that one, the next wasn’t for another hour, so I stuck to the plan. I left, head held high, feeling pretty proud of myself.

I timed it just right, and would have made it to the train with a few minutes to spare. If the station doors I normally used were unlocked. Which they weren’t. I ran around the building, trying several other sets, also locked, and when I finally made it through an open door on the far side of the station and got to the platform, the train was gone.

An hour wait. Not ideal, but not the worst thing. I still wasn’t too far off my target.

I knew going back to the bar was certain disaster, so I stayed in the station and just waited it out. However, that also proved to be a deceptively bad choice, as I got sleepier and sleepier just sitting there. When the next train finally pulled up I boarded, but the damage was done. Between the alcohol, the lethargy of sitting, and the lulling motion of the train, I passed out within minutes. Maybe seconds.

When I finally woke up, the train was empty, and the conductor was shaking my shoulder. I’d whizzed past my stop, and another hour’s worth of other stops, and I was at the end of the line. In Elburn. For those of you not familiar with northern Illinois, you’re not missing much. All you really need to know is there is a tiny bunker of a station in Elburn amid a lot of farms and fields, and not much else.

It was 11:30. Not tragically late, but factoring the train ride back towards Chicago, a few hours off the mark. So not great either. I texted my wife to explain and got no reply. I texted again while I was waiting. Nada. Now I was getting uneasy. I hadn’t done anything that doghouse worthy yet. Had I? Then again, being home alone sick with three kids, with a no-show husband, and texts hours late, I couldn’t blame her if she was pissed and ignoring me.

I looked at the schedule in the station, wondering when the return train was going to show up. And lo and behold, the next one was in the morning. Six hours away. All trains were done for the night.

Huh. I did NOT see that coming. I went through my mental list of people I knew, and none were close and nobody owed me a big enough favor to get out of bed at midnight and drive out to nowhere to pick their idiot friend up from the train station.

My wife had turned her cell off, and was likely fuming, so I was on my own. I considered trying to find a hotel, but money was tight, and more importantly, I liked being married. That was out. The only other recourse was a cab ride. Sure, it would still be pricey, maybe more than a hotel, but it would get me home in an hour and a half.

The problem was, I wasn’t getting any WiFi out there in the boondocks, so I resorted to calling the operator and trying to find a cab. There were none in the vicinity. Or the vicinity of the vicinity.

I kept calling places, and they either didn’t serve that area, or would take hours to show up. The shortest wait was 45 minutes, so that was that. I sat and waited and pinched my wrist to stay awake so I didn’t miss my cab.

The cab showed, we hit the deserted roads, and he drove me back to my suburb.

We pulled into the driveway after 1. I gave the guy my credit card. Only he was a contrarian and didn’t take cards. I argued with him, saying I was pretty sure he HAD to accept cards. Wasn’t it a law or something? He insisted cash only, and I was in a pickle. I would have just jumped out and ran, but since we were in front of my house that option was off the table. I cursed, and told him to drive me to the gas station where an ATM was. While the meter continued running.

And wouldn’t you know it, the ATM was out of order. So we drove another mile or so down the road until we found another one.

So, to recap: I left the bar in the eight o’clock hour, patting myself on the back, expecting to be home even earlier than expected, and instead, walked through the door nearly six hours later, $120 lighter for the cab ride alone, but remarkably sober.

I slipped into bed as quietly as I could. My wife didn’t stir a bit. I expected glacial stares in the morning or cat litter in my coffee. Instead, she asked, “What time did you get in last night? I took some Nyquil and totally passed out.”

Though I was tempting to say, “Nine!”, I told the whole story, knowing the ATM charge would rat me out in the long run anyway.

My wife laughed and said, “You should have just gone to a strip club. It would have been cheaper and you still would have been home earlier!”

Now, you might think this would be a learning moment, and that being a grown-ass man with a moderately high IQ, I’d be really unlikely to repeat this kind of mistake ever again. And you would be wrong. Who’s dumb now?

Part Two:

Several months later, on a very cold Thursday sometime in the middle of winter, the work crew invited me out to another happy hour. My wife was in good health, and amazingly enough the kids were too, so there wasn’t a compelling reason not to. Well, except for me. I should have been a compelling reason not to, but I ignored me.

My wife made a joke about the last adventure and not falling asleep this time. Work folk made several more jokes, also about setting my alarm or calling me en route to make sure I didn’t miss my stop. I laughed and drank and drank and laughed.

After a few hours, I headed to the train like the last time, but sure to do some things differently this go around…

1. Build in enough time to walk around the perimeter of the station to go through the only set of unlocked doors? Check.
2. Catch train on time? Check.
3. Set alarm on phone? Check.

Again, I nearly broke my arm patting myself on the back. I was smart! I was responsible! I had fun AND was being a good husband! I rocked!

Until I didn’t.

You see, I set the alarm for A.M. Which wasn’t altogether helpful on that evening train.

Sure enough, I passed out like I’d been hit by a tranquilizer dart set to take down a belligerent and drunken rhinoceros.

When I felt a hand shaking my shoulder, and looked around and saw the train car deserted except for one tiny old lady shuffling for the exit, and stared up into the conductor’s face, I knew with dawning horror I’d done it again. End of the line. No trains going the other way. Middle of winter. And basically broke. I said “Elburn!” with the same venom Seinfeld reserved for Newman.

I texted my wife. She texted back this time. And probably wished she didn’t. “You’re never going to believe it,” I texted. She believed it. And she stopped texting. I reviewed my options. Pay the idiot tax to the taxi driver and blow money we didn’t really have just then, or stay in the station and come back on the morning train.

I chose the latter. It was a bunker, but at least it was enclosed, and there was some heat hissing out a vent as I walked in, so I wouldn’t die. It stopped abruptly and didn’t kick on for another hour or two. Clearly they didn’t expect many people to be as stupid as I was and sleep in the bunker in the middle of nowhere.

I paced until I was too tired, and then sat back down and commenced shivering. I considered the idiot tax again, but I’d made my very cold bed and I was going to lie in it. Like a lot of train stations, this one had some books on a rickety rotating rack. I looked them over. All harlequin romance novels. Fantastic.

It was too damn cold to sleep, so I grabbed one and started reading to try to keep my mind off just how bad this all sucked. The book wasn’t even so awful it was good, it was just horrible. When the heat teased me by going off an hour later, I rushed over to the vent and just finished peeling off my gloves to warm my hands when it shut off again. That was it. A brief blast of hot air to make sure nobody had to remove my corpse in the morning.

I cursed a blue streak, kicked the cement wall and nearly broke my frigid toes, and then sat back down and continued reading about pulsing manhoods, quivering love holes, and stormy hair. Seriously. Stormy. Hair. I remember that one.

Somehow, hours later, despite the constant shivering and painful reading material, I started to nod off. And might have completely, except I noticed some movement right near my feet. Two little mice had discovered the large warm human space heater in their midst and were just about to climb up my pants. I stomped my feet and screamed at them and they ran away. Like mice do. But every time I sat back down for more than a minute, they came creeping back. So we did this dance all night long until the sun came up. They tried to stealthily climb Mt. Jeff, and I flailed and tried to stomp them to death, only I was so cold I moved on wooden legs, so never get within three feet each time they went running for cover and through the cracks in the wall.

If there were any video cameras in the station, the security guards or rail employees would have laughed themselves silly reviewing the tape the next day.

Mercifully, dawn meant the arrival of a train. When it pulled up. I was so angry with myself and filled with impotent rage towards mus musculus that I was wide awake, despite not sleeping a wink.

Of course, once I was on the warm train, I might as well have been hit with chloroform. When I woke up, I hadn’t made it all the way to the city, but had whizzed past my stop several stops ago. I couldn’t go back to work in the same clothes, reeking of alcohol and stupidity, so I got off the train at the next stop and took a cab ride home. That still cost $40.

The wife and kids were dressed and ready for their day when I walked in the door, and all my wife could do was shake her head. I was sorely tempted to call in sick with the brown bottle flu and go directly to bed, but I didn’t really feel I deserved it, so I cleaned up and headed back out to catch the next morning train into work.

Whenever I see a seedy romance novel, I get twitchy and imagine little furry friends trying to run up my pant legs and nestle in with my warm manhood.

If there is ever a Part III to this, I will jump in front of a train.

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