Jesse Teller — author of Liefdom — is in the virtual studio. Before we sit down with him, let’s take a gander at his novel’s blurb:
A zealous guardian in a peaceful city, Gentry Mandrake is a fairy unlike any other. Cast out and hated for his differences, his violent nature makes him wonder at the purity of his soul. He hunts for belonging while fighting to protect the human child bound to him. Explore the mythical realm of The Veil, the grating torture of the Sulfur Fields, and the biting tension between power and purpose in this wondrous struggle against a demonic wizard and his denizens. Can Mandrake overcome such terrible foes to defend those he loves?
Ladies and gentlemen, here’s Jesse Teller!
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My childhood was pretty dark, I’m not gonna lie. Violence, abuse, survival. Things got better in teenage years, when I found my tribe. There was a writers group in high school. I walked in and kind of took it over. Found like-minded people, mostly outcasts, and I pulled them together. We supported and took care of each other. Things started looking up after that.
2. When did you start writing?
I wrote a lot in college, nothing serious. I was more interested in being seen writing than actually doing the work. I would spend hours writing in restaurants so people could walk up to me and ask me what I was doing, and I could tell them, with a great deal of dramatic flair, that I was writing, that I was a writer. Mostly, I sat around writing short little things, nothing of consequence. Didn’t get serious about it until 2004. By then, I had hammered out most of my issues and could start putting down some real material. Got really serious about it in 2010, and I’ve written almost every day since.
3. Why did you start writing?
I was a middle child with a troubled older sister. Most of my life was about her, and my parents’ drama. I didn’t feel like I was being heard, felt like I had a lot of stories to tell and no one to tell them to. When I found people who would listen, I started building a world. Writing was the next step. If you couple that with the abuse I went through in childhood, and the need for a distraction, what you get is a mind creating fantastical tales and craving people to listen to them. Writing novels just seemed the next step in the evolution.
4. Do you recall the moment you first conceived the idea for your novel?
I’m bipolar, rapid cycling bipolar. So, one night I was up late watching movies. In my manic euphoric state, I ended up watching that movie with Michele Pfeiffer, Hollywood’s take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Stanley Tucci. I think even Christian Bale was in that movie. Everything was happy and funny and great. When the movie ended, I went outside to smoke a cigarette, came back in and my mood had crashed to depression. The next movie I watched was Die Hard. With fairies and violence rushing through my head, I came up with the main character of this book. I wanted to write a fairy that men could get behind, a warrior fairy that pushed the borders of the fey and reach a different level. When I finished the book, it was a bit different than I had originally seen. Things were darker and grittier. It turned out to be more intense than I thought it would be, more serious. Both men and women have given it great reviews. I think it is reading well.
5. Tell us a little bit about your book’s title.
All my titles to this point have been city names. In my world, the cities are very unique and strange. Each book is shaped by the setting it takes place in. I was once told by an agent that every city in the world has two levels: the town the visitor sees and the things the native sees. The trick to creating a setting is showing the second level. The statue takes on a new significance when you watched it being carved. What was a pretty face to a passerby becomes a story to natives. They know which buildings to avoid; they know where the best bend is to swim in the river. My goal is to bring readers into the city right off, make them feel like they are native. My titles prepare them for that.
6. Does your story have a moral?
It does. Liefdom is all about fighting for the things we believe in no matter what that means. Everyone has something they would fight for. I remember in high school, I was in class in the back listening to everyone’s conversations, and I overheard a conversation that still baffles me to this day. A popular kid was talking about fighting. He said he didn’t understand it, why were people so violent, why did the lesser mind feel like it was ok to beat up on another person? He said, “I would never fight someone or hit them. Unless they did something to my clothes, that is.” We all have the one thing, maybe it is our clothing, maybe it is our family. Mandrake, my main character, sees something he cannot take sitting down. So do many other characters in the book. Everyone in that book is fighting for some cause. My goal, when writing it, was to ask the reader: What would you fight for? What is important enough to you to make you strive to protect or push against a thing?
7. Of the characters you’ve created, which one is your favorite?
I have been asked this many times, and every time I think I know what I’m going to say, but I’m always wrong. It seems that every time I think about it, I have a different answer. So for now, let’s talk about Oddy. He is a warrior for the god of children. This god took on the name Boxhead so that kids could remember it and easily draw his symbol in the dirt or anywhere they felt scared. Oddy’s name is Todd. But the kids started calling him Oddy, and he took it as his holy name. He is brought into the story to give sanctuary to a few people who are fighting to protect a child. He does so after resisting at first because he did not want to get his church involved in a fight that might endanger the orphanage he protects. But in the end, he cannot let a child, any child, even one child, be victimized. His devotion to kids and his love of the weak endears him to my heart. He is important to me, and I am very proud of his dedication and his cause.
8. Using five words or less, describe the protagonist in Liefdom.
Violent, Passionate, Obsessed, Loving, Gentle
9. What does a typical writing session look like for you?
I have a few steps. First, it helps if I have taken a shower. Seems to clean off the day before, get me thinking fresh and makes me feel ready for more. Then I come to my office, Email, Facebook, YouTube for music. Once the music has sunk in, then I pull up Scrivener, my word processer. It’s amazing, never write without it. I read what I wrote the day before, then I get started. I write 3,000 words a day, every day that I am working on a book. It’s a breakneck pace. It might sound impossible to get that kind of word count in, but it is quite simple, really. It’s all about training. If you want to, you can work it so that you can heft 300 pounds. To some, that might seem impossible, but it can be done by almost anyone. The trick is consistency. One day after the next, you have to force yourself to write. You might think you have nothing to say, that you need to let the work ferment or percolate. That is fine for editing, but not for rough drafts. Just sit down and pound it out. It will take a long time at first, but you can work it out, one day after the next. And what happens is, the mind is trained. You get used to writing every day. When you sit down, your mind says, “Oh, we are doing this now,” and it just starts producing. It took me about a month to get to where I could produce every time, even when I didn’t think I was ready or had anything to write. Anyway, when I finish my words, I listen to music to cool down. Then I’m done.
10. Do you listen to music as you write?
I don’t listen to music when I write. I want to be in complete silence when I write. I read a car magazine once. Cars are not my thing, but I was bored. And I found this guy had rebuilt a Ford muscle car and had not put in a stereo. He had no music capabilities at all. He was asked about it, and he grinned and said, “If I have music going, I can’t hear the engine.” It is kind of like that for me. If I have music going, I can’t hear the keyboard. I can’t hear the fan. I can’t hear the gears running in my head. I can’t hear the characters talking or the swords clashing. Silence when I’m working, music before and after.
11. How do you feel about outlines? Are you for or against them?
Outlines are too constricting to me. I can’t do it. A friend of mine was in his college class one day and his teacher was talking about writing, and she said no book has ever been written without a plan, without an outline or a detailed set of notes. She said it was impossible to write that way, and it was completely unprofessional. It might be. Maybe I am wrong to write that way, but I need to feel as if anything is possible. I need to feel as if it is fine for me to go off in one direction or the other. I sat down to start a book yesterday, and I had a plan of sorts. I wanted to tell the story of one character meeting another, and I wanted it to be a romance. I had the idea that this story needed to be about that romance. When I sat down to write it, I was shocked to find out that the romance had changed violently. It was not between X and Y at all. This story was going to be the tale of X and Z. It warped the entire book into a completely different animal. I’m still going to write it. I don’t need to take it back to the drawing board. And it will be a much better story. I just have to trust that when I go back, it is there and ready. And I tell you, with all faith, that it will be.
12. What is your favorite book genre?
I love to read fantasy, but it is frustrating. I get into the book and think, “Oh this will be great. It is going to go in this direction.” And it goes off another way. Through the whole book, I’m trying to get it to go back the way I want it to. Over the last few years, I have been going to classic fantasy, Lovecraft and Howard. These guys are the best for me. This is what I’m reading now, trying to find out why they did the things they did and how it could have been different. Somehow, I never second guess these guys.
13. What are you currently reading?
Glen Cook is my guy right now. Black Company is brilliant. He is raw and dark and perfect. I can see him going in his own direction and love it and go along with it. He has a great story, too. He wrote a lot of work, but kept his day job. No matter how much he made through writing, he stayed at the car factory and did his nine-to-five. Two different worlds. One man. It is pretty amazing. He could do a factory job and still find the energy to craft a world beyond. He had balance, man. He could separate himself from his work. I get too caught up in it. I have very little in the way of balance. It is all work for me. It consumes me. I wish I could be like Glen Cook.
14. What is your favorite book?
This changes quite often. When I was a kid, it was Misery. Man gets caught in a snowstorm and nearly fatally wounded. Is picked up and nursed back to health by a fan of his novels. She turns out to be a psycho and traps him in her house and makes him write a book just for her. Scared the crap out of me. I wanted to be a writer when I read that book. Then later, it was The Gunslinger. Both of these by Stephen King. The Gunslinger displayed a world of Stephen’s own creation. It inspired me to start creating my own world. I don’t know if I would be writing fantasy if it wasn’t for that book. As for right now though, my favorite has to be The Physiognomy by Jeffery Ford. It tells the tale of a man with clout in a twisted society. Everything is decided based on pseudoscience called Physiognomy, where a person’s dimensions are measured with calipers. Their dimensions decide their fate, decide their future and everything about their lives. It is quite brilliant, a quick read and terrifying. Anyone wanting to create worlds should check it out.
15. Any project in the works?
I always have a project in the works. I mentioned already that I started a book yesterday. It will be a lot of fun. Rebellion, return of a legendary hero to an oppressed people, sand and desert and nomads and wizards. Gonna be a blast. Can’t wait to get into it.
16. How long does it usually take you to write a book?
I write fast. I need no plan. I can’t stop the ideas from coming, and every time I sit down to write, I can produce. A book rarely takes more than a month right now. They come fast. When I get to a certain point, the book kind of takes over my life. I can’t get it out of my head, and I have to kick it into gear. I go into End Of Book Mode, start writing all the time. My word count doubles or triples. I write mass amounts and things get crazy. I end up staying up until 6 in the morning. I write all day long. My wife and kids barely see me. But when it is over, I always take two weeks off before starting another book. Then we are back at it. I have a lot of story to tell. I have books and books that need to be written. I can’t take my time. Right now, if I publish two books a year, every year, I have enough rough drafts written that I can publish until 2028. But I have a lot more that need to be written after these. I will likely not see all my work in print before I die.
17. In your opinion, what makes a story ‘good’?
A good story makes you feel. It is chock full of emotion and power. The characters should be like a common man put in uncommon situations. Heroes should be scared. Evil should be justified. Good should have a motive. Nothing in the world is just good or evil. It all depends on the circumstances, all depends on how it is viewed. Absolutes should exist, however. Codes and creeds should be impeccable. Gods can be all white or all black. Immortals can be one or the other, an idea, an intention. But common man is flawed, so should be their walk through the world.
18. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Work. Work all the time. Don’t wait for a better time to write. There are no better times. Don’t wait for an idea to grab you. It won’t. Don’t wait for inspiration. It will come while you are working. Treat it like a forest you are clearing to build a house or a city. Chop it all down. Go through and jerk out all the brush. Chop down every tree, one swing at a time. One tree, one pile of wood, then the next. Clear the land. No one else can do it. You love the work. I know you do. So, don’t dread it. Keep chopping. You’ll get there.
And now for a game of “Which Do/Would You Prefer?”
1. Summer or winter?
2. Car or motorcycle?
3. Nights out or nights in?
4. Having telepathy or having telekinesis?
5. Making a phone call or sending a text?
6. Working in a group or working alone?
7. To find true love or to win the lottery?
8. Reading or writing?
9. Being able to speak and understand every language known to humankind or being able to speak and understand every language known to animals?
10. Being drawn into a tornado or being drawn into a whirlpool?
11. To never speak again or to never eat solid food again?
never eat solid food again
12. Misunderstanding everything that is told to you or being misunderstood every time that you speak?
misunderstanding everything told to me, I think I do that all the time anyway
13. Losing your ability to speak or losing your ability to hear?
14. Spending half a day locked in a coffin (there would be a hole for air, of course) or spending two days trapped at the bottom of a well?
15. Finding yourself trapped in the universe of The Walking Dead or finding yourself trapped in a slasher film?
The Walking Dead, although I’d fall apart because I wouldn’t have my bipolar medicine