Back with another interview to kick off August! More importantly, it is officially SPFBO season, so arses on seats for everyone who’s entered. It’s going to be a nervous five months, so let’s enjoy it and support everybody as much as possible.
I hope to increase the frequency of these if I can, and today I’m going to officially kick off the SPFBO with an awesome interview with Jesse Teller, author of Song and one of the favourites to win from Kitty G’s group! A nice titbit that in the prediction brackets, Jesse is the guy who is beating me to first place, relegating me into second place in our category. The more you know, eh?
To those who haven’t taken part in my interview round, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. I would like to interview as many people as possible to help as much as I can for this great event.
Check out a selection of past interviews down below:
And now, the interview! It’s a long one!
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?
If you want to know about me, you have to start at my family. I was raised working class, taught from a young age you work often and you work hard. My work ethic was hammered into my head. The man that raised me was a hard-working man, pulling 14-hour shifts at the place he worked. My mother was diligent about raising her family, dogged in her execution as a housewife and a starting point for our lives. Every member of my family was hard working. It’s ingrained in my body. I’m not good unless I’m working on a piece. When I take time off from writing books, it doesn’t go well. It starts to affect my mood and disposition, my self-esteem.
My work has to keep going, it has to keep moving. As far as what I write, I write high fantasy. I think that, with me, I wanna see the spectacular swordsman who cannot be beat, and come up with ingenious ways of defeating him. I wanna see the wizard invoking magics beyond human comprehension and find a way to weaken him. I want the unstoppable assassin. She can kill with little more than a thought, with as much effort as it takes for a deep breath, but other elements tie her up and make her at times helpless. I wanna deal with great forces, humanise them, and make them vulnerable.
How do you develop your plots and characters?
The development is very organic. I don’t really plot out a book. I’ve heard outlines are useful to some. They never have been to me. For me it’s kind of an exercise in trust. I trust that when I reach for it, it’ll be there. When I was a kid, no matter how poor our family was, no matter the money troubles, there was a certain level of trust I had in my family that when I got hungry and I reached for food, it would be there. Not always what I wanted, not always what I planned for, just like in my work, there were times when I reached for an apple and got a beet. But there was always food, just like there’s always story. You gotta learn to trust in your provider.
A child trusts in their parents, and I trust in the force that provides me with story. We could talk for hours about what that force would be like, what the force would be called, what that force would look like. Me at my most mystical says it’s a muse with a fiery whip and a bad attitude making demands. At my most practical, I would say my brain was raised by a working class family and it knows work is the way of life. So when my brain sits down at my computer screen with my keyboard laying out in front of it, it knows to produce. The story is there every time I reach for it.
Tell us about your current project.
Right now I’m working on three, but we’ll stick to one being published next year. The book is called Legends of the Exiles. It’s coming out April 15, 2019. Legends is a series of four novellas all telling the story of four different women and the struggles they go through living in a male-dominated barbarian society. The four main characters are all powerful women in their own right, living in harsh situations for a woman.
There is a bit of romance in each story, but that’s not unique to this book. Romance and love are themes I like to delve into in all my work. So there’s a bit of a romantic flair, but I wouldn’t call it a romance novel. It deals with strong topics like fate and loss, grief and pain. In the writing of the book I fell in love with the characters. They’re very easy to grow attached to. I worry sometimes how Legends will be received, as it is a book about women’s issues written by a man. But when a story needs to be told, it doesn’t matter who tells it if they tell it right. So I’m excited about Legends of the Exiles, excited about readers getting to know four women that I love.
Who would you say is the main character of your novels? And tell me a little bit about them!
Let’s keep our focus on The Manhunters and talk about Rayph Ivoryfist. Rayph comes from a race of longevity. You could say that he’s nearly immortal. Baggage comes with that, pride comes with that, arrogance. Rayph, when he was younger, was being trained to take over a very powerful group of warriors, but a turnabout of fate pulled him away from that. Now he finds himself self-exiled from his home and serving a kingdom of humans.
Rayph is a good man. He tries to do good. His arrogance gets in his way, but he has a lot of friends and loved ones, and he relies on them. Rayph leads a group called The Manhunters, which is sort of a bounty hunting crew that is hunting down criminals escaped from a prison. He’s in over his head, facing enemies just as powerful as him, just as cunning. He’s armed with his understanding of the nation he lives in and the people he has gathered around him. Rayph is an exercise in hope, a force dedicated to light that fights back darkness. My characters often times speak to me, inspire me in ways, and every time I find myself challenged and overwhelmed, I think of Rayph.
What advice would you give new writers on how to delve into creative fiction?
Write all the time. My wife and I read a book when I had decided to become a writer. It’s a Stephen King book called On Writing, the only craft book he ever wrote. She read it out loud to me, and we marvelled at the genius of King. I learned a lot of things from that book, none more important than this: Stephen King writes 2000 words a day every day that he’s writing a book. He does not allow any excuse, no matter how powerful, to get in the way of his word count. He does not allow for any weakness in his will. He is stalwart in his work ethic and his production. So in a moment of mind-blowing arrogance, I said to myself, “If Stephen King can do it, I can do it.” I had just been watching the show West Wing, and a candidate for presidential office was going over the schedule for the last two weeks of his campaign. The schedule was gruelling, with no time for sleep, no time for any kind of rest. And he said, “You can do anything for two weeks. You can hang from your thumbs for two weeks, as long as it comes to an end. You can get used to anything.”
I started thinking about that. I started thinking you can get used to anything. Any experience no matter how extreme can, if done long enough, become commonplace. The human body, mind, and will, is designed to adapt. So I told myself 2000 words a day, every day. My wife has a good job. She supports our family with plenty, freeing me up to explore writing and nothing else. When I first started writing, it took seven hours every day to produce 2000 words. But you can get used to anything, right? Soon, that amount of time started to dwindle. My mind was trained to create the moment I sat down at my computer. And soon, 2000 words wasn’t enough. It changed to three. Years later I dabbled for a little while in 4000, but I found my home in 3000. So I write 3000 words a day every week day. It shakes out to just under 200 pages a month, and I have the theory that work inspires more work. Halfway through a book, the ideas for the next book start coming. Work inspires more work. So if you keep that cycle going, you’ll never run out of ideas.
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your book?
Rayph Ivoryfist is inspired by my son Rayph. When I look into my son’s eyes, I see hope for the future. We are providing him with every tool he will need to live his life. Every bit of confidence, every bit of learning that he will need to succeed in life. He’s a hope for our family and it’s future, and he is a hope for the world at large. My son will one day do great things, of that I have no doubt. He’s an excellent problem solver. I took that and used it when I created this book. He is an honorable child. A deep thread of justice runs through my son. Helping people is a way of life for him. He is fierce and gentle, violently intelligent, and blessed with a kind of gentle wisdom. He was all the inspiration I needed.
What inspires you to write?
I would assume you get this answer a lot, but I’m gonna try to say it in a way you’ve never heard before. Necessity inspires me to write. Storytelling has been a constant in my life, for all of my life. I was obsessed with the stories my family told and obsessed with the stories of my friends. In college I was a history major with a literature minor. So for years, all I did was study stories. My mind will not shut up with this. The creation of tales comes whether I want it to or not. I write to stay sane because, like I’m sure you’ve heard many times before, these characters will not leave me alone. I’m inspired by them to write the stories I write. I asked my colleague ML Spencer why she writes and her answer was, out of love for her characters. She writes so the world will know her characters, know their struggles and their loves, and when she said that, I realised I wasn’t alone, because it was the exact sentiment I’ve been thinking and feeling for years.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
I’m gonna talk about The Manhunters series as a whole. When I first wrote the books, they told the story of Rayph Ivoryfist and Rayph Ivoryfist alone. I wrote them years and years ago, and they’ve just been waiting for production ever since. They were short books, 200 pages, but I knew in some way they were incomplete. I knew I wasn’t capturing all of the story. It bothered me for years, caught in my teeth, like a piece of meat that you pick at and play with with your tongue. The story wasn’t done. There was more to be told. For years it haunted me.
When it came time to revise Song, I knew there was a big chunk of the story missing. It came to me as a challenge. I had an idea for another character that hadn’t appeared in the book to that day. When I got the idea for this, it came so completely and so perfectly that it was as if it had been there all along. I came to my wife and my beta reader, and I said there’s something missing from this book, and they said I was crazy. They said it was fine the way it was, but I knew they were wrong. Another wife would have argued, don’t touch it, leave it alone, it’s perfect.
But my wife has complete faith in my process and my ability, and she just let me go. When I finished writing Konnon into the book, both my wife and my beta reader were amazed that there had ever been a time when he was not part of it. His story added so much depth, and all of their doubt was washed away. When I started working on the second book and I saw the same void, they just waited to see what I would add, to see who I would add, and it came to me to add Aaron. The hardest part about writing The Manhunters series has been finishing the book after it was done, weaving the tale of another point of view character through the story. But now that it’s finished, I can’t imagine the story told any other way.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
There’s a very very humble section of Song. There’s a swordfighter named Konnon. He makes all his money by using his blade and all of his money goes toward medicine for his daughter. He has friends everywhere, and one of his friends is raising her so Konnon can be out earning money to keep her alive. The chapter I love so much is when Konnon goes to visit her. She lives in a farming village and he goes to see her during harvest time. So of course, he hangs up his swords and helps them bring in the harvest. It is a humanizing story of a man working in a community, spending time with his invalid daughter and just existing in a simple kind of life.
When I was writing it, it filled me with a sense of contentment that I feel very rarely in my work. Normally, my work is very intense. It’s harrowing, with constant struggle and high stakes. But this chapter was so humanizing and so fulfilling. I come from a working class family. All my life it was not odd for me to work to the point where I was exhausted beyond mobility. It was not strange for me back then to work until my body just couldn’t work any more. And I found that life very fulfilling and very challenging. Writing this chapter with Konnon was like going back to my roots, and it soothed me in a way I hadn’t felt in decades.
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?
Well writing any book teaches you to trust yourself. People who don’t trust their ability are locked up by it. They accomplish nothing. I find that these people have a tendency to write a chapter and spend months editing that chapter, unable to move forward in the story, and I think it’s in large part because they don’t trust themselves. They don’t trust that they can make mistakes, keep trudging through the work, get it all done, and come back with a greater understanding to clean it up.
And that can be the hardest thing about writing a book, is dealing with the fact that you know it’s not perfect while you’re writing it, and moving forward anyway. But it’s like washing dishes in a dishwasher. When you load a dishwasher, you rinse the dish off, get the caked-on stuff off, but the dish is not clean. Just like when you’re writing a first draft, the draft is not clean. But when you’re done loading the dishwasher, and you start the machine, what you end up with afterwards is a clean dish. Writing a rough draft is like loading a dishwasher. Editing a draft is like starting that dishwasher up. I learned in writing the books I’ve written that I can write something imperfect and come back later with a better understanding of it and polish it to perfection.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
In my life I’ve been blessed to know many sorts of people. I’ve had acquaintences from almost every walk of life. But it’s not this that guides me in getting to know my characters. It’s the basic understanding of how the human mind works. My childhood was very abusive, so I found myself as an adult needing to go to therapy. I went to therapy for seventeen years, and in that time, I studied the people in my life and the way human experience and human minds work. It was a master course in behavior and depth of emotion. And it became very easy for me to understand the people I was writing about.
What are your future project(s)?
My plan is to create a world, destroy the world, and show a post-apocalyptic view of that world. I call them Acts I, II, and III. Act I is completed. The rough drafts have been written. I got an early start and I didn’t publish until I had written for years. So I have a backlog of books waiting to be put out. Act I is five series, spanning 26 books. Act I is done. Act II depicts the rising of four great armies that will collide in a world war and destroy the entire world. They will kill or scare off the gods, burn the essence of magic, destroy the landscape, and the tattered remains of the armies will struggle for survival. By the end of the second act, the world will be destroyed. The third act will be the ramifications of the first two. As plotted out currently, the second act will be five series, spanning 23 books, and I’ve finished the second book of that group. For now, I am concentrating on putting out what has been written and continuing production of what is to come. When I talk about my plan, people begin to roll their eyes. In the end we’re talking about a fantasy world consisting of 58 books. Numbers make a fool of me. And what I’ve decided is that I’m just gonna have to show people it can be done instead of trying to convince them.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
I could be a book critic, but I’d be a crappy one. When I read a book or watch a show or movie, I’m trying to like it. I go in looking for its virtues, blinding myself of its faults. I’d like to say firefighter. That’s my boyhood dream, running into a flaming building to save people’s lives. I’m past the age where that’s possible. If I couldn’t write though, I think my dream job would be working for my family, doing my best to make sure my wife is the happiest woman in the world, dedicating myself completely to my children. That sounds bad, it sounds like because I’m a writer I don’t have to make my family happy, but that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that I have two passions in the world. One is writing fantasy. The other is my kids and my wife.
What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?
Before I became a self-published author, I just wanted to put out books and leave it at that. But after I became a self-published author, I saw an opportunity that traditional authors don’t always have. Talking to a book reviewer recently, I was told they prefer reading self-published books because of the interaction it provides with the writer. Reviewing traditionally published books does not always allow for communication with the writer of the book. So once I realized this opportunity, I started taking full advantage of it, dedicating myself to a web page, dedicating myself to a blog, and freeing myself up for an open dialogue between myself and the reader.
I have always liked the part of the book at the back that says About the Author, but for my favorite traditionally published authors, that section was always the same. My blog allows me to have a continuing, ever-changing section of my work about the author.
My blog, found at jesseteller.com, has stories about my life, intimate things told about my life and how I became the man and the writer that I am. I stay current with my readers by providing them with a Facebook page called Jesse Teller: A Path to Perilisc, where they have only to open a message box and type a thought or word and it immediately comes to me.
In my newsletter I provide a unique look into the inner workings of my world. I believe a newsletter should be more than an ad page. I believe my newsletter should be a way of talking to my readers and providing them with insights into the world they read about. So every newsletter I put out has an article about something that needs to be talked about with my work.
My desire is to become more active on Twitter @JesseTeller. Because I walk around all day long with my work and with thoughts about my work and so my desire is to keep talking about my work through my day and post things I think the reader might be interested in. However, most of my day I walk around thinking about my work and am so engrossed in it that I forget to stop and talk to my fans, so on Twitter I’ve not yet trained myself to engage with people very much. But I hope to get better about that in the future.
What an excellent series of answers, and thanks so much for sharing the time with me Jesse!
I’ll try and get more interviews up in a few days. Keep the responses coming and if you’re up for an interview, just contact me! In the meantime, here are some of my own links:
Facebook Author page: http://bit.ly/2kiNHSk
Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/2kZ4wix
World-building Services: http://bit.ly/2kBMiCB
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B017GDAO3Q
Also, there is a massive SPFBO sale going on. Click the link down below for more!