This week’s #SPFBO Author Interview is with Jesse Teller.
Jesse fell in love with fantasy when he was five years old and played his first game of Dungeons & Dragons. The game gave him the ability to create stories and characters from a young age. He started consuming fantasy in every form and, by nine, was obsessed with the genre. As a young adult, he knew he wanted to make his life about fantasy. From exploring the relationship between man and woman to studying the qualities of a leader or a tyrant, Jesse Teller uses his stories and settings to study real-world themes and issues.
Why did you enter #spfbo?
My wife entered me in the SPFBO. She’s the brains behind the organization. She knows all the right sites, all the right groups, and all the right people. I’m more reclusive. I stay in my office. I write, and that’s pretty much all I do. She guided me to SPFBO because of the quality of people who are in it, because it’s a reputable contest, and because it introduces me to a community of writers and exposes my work to people that otherwise would never see it. I’m excited about SPFBO. I think if I can make myself known there, I’ll be well on my way.
What advice do you have for anyone new to self-publishing?
It’s all about your team. I have two beta readers, my wife and my friend Traci. We discuss at length every word I write, what it means, and where it’s headed. I have a new editor. His name’s Tim. He’s brilliant and very efficient. I appreciate his thorough appraisal of my work. I have a proofreader I work with who combs over my writing with eagle-eye precision. His name is Utkarsh, and he cleans up all my messes. For my next three books, I have found a gifted cover designer, Jenny. She is crazy talented and very proficient at crafting the image you are struggling to meet. I surround myself with good people, talented, hard-working people because the idea of putting out a flawed product keeps me up at night.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Anger. Frustration. Rage. For a long time, I was filled with these emotions when I read fantasy written by my contemporaries. I was hearing one thing from my editor. She was telling me how to write the perfect novel. But when I was reading the things traditionally published and successful, I was finding that those writers were going in a different direction. I was being told what would sell, and I was seeing that everything else was selling. It got to the point where I just couldn’t read modern writing because of the unbridled frustration of it all. In order to break through it, I went back to my basics. I pulled out Wuthering Heights. I read that, came back to myself. I started reading HP Lovecraft again. I read Dante’s Inferno to clear my head, to show myself these men and women had written masterpieces of literature, and they had followed no one’s rules. Now, I’m at the point where I can go back and read. I think part of that has to do with the fact that I have published my own work and it has been very well received. I’ve come to realize that there is no perfect book. There’s no formula for writing success. There’s only the path you choose to walk.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Her name is Lorin Oberweger. I met her at a workshop. It was a week-long intensive that was taught by Donald Maass. The concept was, he was teaching us to write the break-out novel, the novel that comes out of nowhere and just explodes everywhere. So, she was an editor that was working on staff at this workshop. When I finished the second draft of my book, I sent it to her. It was as if she had a blood vendetta with my manuscript, like they had been friends in high school and my manuscript had stolen her boyfriend or something. It was vicious, red ink everywhere. It was a bloody ordeal. My initial reaction was attitude. Nobody understands me. She didn’t get it. She’s jealous even made an appearance. But when all the pettiness was gone, and I was done acting like a child, I read her comments again and learned more from that list of edits than I had learned in every writing book I’d read, and every class in college I had taken. It was an epiphany. Suddenly something clicked in my mind, and I started to understand how to do the job. She’s brilliant. If you can afford her, look her up.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
I’m 9 years old. My grandfather’s had a heart attack, and my family has left Wisconsin and come to Missouri to stand at his deathbed and make peace with his passing. The kids are not allowed to go to the hospital. We are told simply that he looks too terrible for us to gaze upon. So somebody watches the kids, and everyone else goes to the hospital. On this particular day, my uncle, who was at the time in his early 20s, was babysitting us. I was his favorite; there was no confusion about that. He put in a movie for everyone else, and he led me into my grandfather’s bedroom. We turned off the lights, and he told me to lay in the bed, and he pulled out a cassette. He put it in my grandfather’s tape player and pushed play. We laid in that bed, staring up at the ceiling, listening to Eddie Murphy’s Delirious on tape. You cannot listen to Delirious without coming to grips with the true power of language. First of all, do not listen to Delirious with your 9-year-old nephew. But going beyond that, Eddie Murphy, when he wrote Delirious, wrote a masterpiece of language. Every word drips with comedic power. Never laughed that hard before in my life. I remember laughing so hard I passed out and peed a little. My uncle and I laid in that bed and giggled and roared in laughter because every word that man said on that tape was sculpted perfectly. It was a masterpiece of storytelling. If you haven’t listened to Delirious, first of all, do not watch it. Listen to it, free of all the antics, free of the priceless looks on Eddie’s face and his strut and swagger. Just listen to the words he says, and you will understand the raw and bloody power of language.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
I don’t like to call them secrets. I don’t like to call them Easter eggs or breadcrumbs. Even the word hints kind of rubs me wrong. But yeah, there are secrets, easter eggs, bread crumbs, and hints. A lot of my work asks so many questions, and the answers to those questions do not always come in that series. Sometimes, in order to figure out how somebody got a scar, or what this particular conversation is about, you have to read an entirely different series. Each book I’ve written is like an episode in a television series. The episode is entertaining, the story complete in itself, but peppered through the entire episode are things that were explained elsewhere or will be explained elsewhere. Like the book I’m revising right now, there’s a character in the end of the book who appears out of nowhere. His name is Sabrar Maul, and he has very little to do with the rest of the story. But I need him in that book; I need him in that spot, because of a conversation he has, which is relevant in a book that will be published in four years.
How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
OK, I’m a very encouraging writer. I’m like a personal trainer. I meet you where you live, smile, laugh, we joke. We stretch with a good preface and a good prologue. I talk about how amazing our read is gonna be, how much fun we’re gonna have, how better we’re gonna feel after we’ve read. I tell them it’s a perfect day for reading. And then, we start to read. Now we’re moving. There’s no breaks. When you pick up one of my books, you’re gonna read until you’re up way past your bedtime. You’re gonna read until you have to pee so bad you have to run to the bathroom. Things are moving fast. Very little is being explained, and you just have to keep up. You’re gonna get tired. There are times you’re gonna want to stop because somebody dies or we’re coming up on a big hill, but I’m always there to speak encouraging words or shout profanities at you, whatever it is that motivates you. And when you’re done, and the read is over, we’ll stretch it out, and then you can feel free to tell me how diabolical I am and how much you hate me just a little bit. But you’re still gonna pay to see me again. And when I show up at your door with a big smile on my face, and we’re ready for our next read, you’re going to be looking forward to me.
To learn more about Jesse and his upcoming projects, check out the links below: