Hello, folks! It is Friday, October 13th, and when this month and this day and this day of the week came together like this, something strange and supernatural happened in my office. There was a knock on my door. I opened it and a funny looking guy stood out in the hallway. I’d seen this face before. I’d shaved this face before. He said he came for his interview, and I was obliged to let him sit and talk to him for awhile. I happen to know his favorite beer, even had a few. So we sat down, we two, and discussed writing, and other such nonsense. Here’s what we said. Here’s my interview with Jesse Teller, fantasy author.
1.What character from your book fills you with hope?
His name is Konnon Crillian. He’s an orphan who suffered a violent and traumatic past that, at a very young age, turned him into a savage animal. But he was loved and cared for. He was adopted, brought into the home of a healthy family and a doting father. Nothing will ever make Konnon whole again. He’s seen too much darkness. He’s done too many appalling things. But what was at one point a violent criminal is now something more. He has friends he’s devoted to all over the world. He is loyal and stalwart. He has a daughter. And despite all the pain and everything he’s suffered through, he can still be a loving and supportive father. Konnon has a destiny, and this is the part that gives me hope. He has a destiny to become a guardian and supporter of lost children. During the book, he does not see this destiny for himself, but is moving towards it with everything he does. Somebody reached out and plucked Konnon from the very brink of darkness. That speaks to me.
2.Your main character walks into a bar. What happens?
Well, Rayph Ivoryfist isn’t from our world. So when I take him to my favorite biker bar, he’s a bit out of place. The man’s never seen a motorcycle before. He’s never drank a Pabst. Never seen a pool table. But he knows wild. And he knows rambunctious. And he knows this particular biker bar is filled with a rambunctious sort of man. I claim a pool table and I teach Rayph, very, very briefly, the rules of pool. I don’t often beat people at pool, so I figure this is my chance to be a champion. See, it’s the mathematics of pool that I don’t understand, the geometry of it. The physics. But, though I think I have the upper hand, Rayph Ivoryfist is brilliant, and I lose interest in playing pool with him very quickly. We drink. We listen to the jukebox. This music we’re playing, he’s never heard anything like it. David Allan Coe, You Never Even Call Me by My Name. Metallica, One. Papa Was a Rolling Stone. None of these things make sense to him. But Rayph can adapt to anything. So, the third time we play David Allan Coe, because who can listen to that song once, on the third time, on his 12th beer, I’ve got my arm wrapped around him, the whole bar is singing, and Rayph will never be the same.
3.If I were stuck in a room with your main character, what would we be doing?
Rayph can handle most anything. He’s good at anything he puts his mind to. In truth, you could be doing anything at all. But most likely, you’d be engaged in conversation. Rayph is a student of people, and he’d want to get to know you. The questions he would ask would seem harmless. But they would pierce right to the heart of your personality. You would feel safe with Rayph. You would feel challenged by Rayph. And when you left, you would have a friend.
4.Everyone has at least one specific challenge that holds them back. What is that challenge in your work and how do you overcome it?
You could say that my challenge is physical. I’ve got a bad back. Sitting at a computer for hours on end puts me in quite a bit of pain. I’ve got bad shoulders. I get headaches when I’m writing. You could say a lot of things like this, if I wanted to hide behind the physicality of the job. I might even use words like carpal tunnel. But I don’t have that. I believe one day I will. I believe one day I will be physically unable to work at a desk at a keyboard. When that day comes I’ll turn to Dragon software or something like it, a voice recognition software. It’ll take discipline to work without, um, and, um, but after the first couple of months I’ll work it out. I could say that’s my shortcoming, but I won’t. What I will say is I’m a bad typist. I just never took the time to learn properly, and I don’t have the discipline or the confidence to type blind while looking at the screen. I have a tendency to look down at my fingers as I type, which only invites errors. If I had the confidence and the discipline, I could write even faster than I do now. It would be easier on my back, shoulders, and wrists. But after all the words and all the pages I’ve written, I still doubt my typing ability. So I continue to look down and litter my work with mistakes.
5.You’re going to go back and visit yourself when you first started writing, at whatever age it was, and you can give yourself one piece of advice. What would it be?
What you’re doing is permanent. As long as you can keep ahold of it, and you’re responsible with it, your work will never go away. Unlike telling a story verbally. When you tell a story verbally, it can be remembered for a long time by the person you’ve told. It can change that person’s life. It can change your relationship with that person. But in the end, as soon as it crosses your lips, it’s in the ether. People remember a few sparse details of a story, and the main gist, but a verbal story captures a mood more than anything fact. A story that’s told to someone, they remember the emotions they experienced during that telling more than they remember the story itself. This is not the way with the written word. The written word is permanent. It’s immortal. If people want to experience that written word again, they can always go back to it. Their memory of it is never lost because they can always return. A verbal story is experienced by the person that hears it. A written story has the ability to cross time and be shared forever. The reason I tell you this is because for many, many years, you will be telling stories verbally without writing them down. Those stories will be lost to time. If you have the option, do both.
6.Let’s talk about tools. Do you have a word processor that you would tell us to use? Is there a certain computer that has become your favorite? What do you look for in a keyboard? What would you absolutely have to have if you were to sit down and write your next book?
As far as computers, I go Apple. They’re immune to diseases, and reliable. If I get a story idea, or it’s time to write, I need to be able to walk into my office at any time of day, push a button, and my computer come on. Every time. I need to be able to write 2,099 words and know that by the time I get the 3,000th word down, my computer is not going to crash. Apple gives me that assurance. When I’m writing a book, I don’t have time to think about the tools. The tools have to work every time.
I use Scrivener. It’s a word processing system that is versatile and has some meat on its bones. This system has formatting templates for every kind of writing you can engage in. If you want to write a novel, you choose the novel format and it pops up, with a place for each book and each chapter in a series. Gives you the option to move those chapters around in less than a second and restructure the entire story. Everything is fluid. Everything is streamlined. If you wish to write a poem, and you click the poetry button, it’s the same thing only the poetry format. So, nonfiction papers, poetry, screenplays, all of these formats are a click away. You don’t have to know how many times you have to tab to get the dialogue right in a screen play. It’s already figured in. Scrivener is the god of word processors.
7.Describe your muse.
My muse is an angry bitch. I picture her hair wreathed in fire. The hem of her dress issues black smoke. She’s got tusks, not fangs. Tusks. She carries a spear. Her eyes are black. She’s got talons, and she is demanding. When she has an idea of something she wants me to put on a piece of paper, she is relentless and violent. She accepts no excuses. She’s not a demon. She is an agent of light, but a ruthless one.
8.Describe your workplace.
I call this room the Underworld. Not because it’s evil. But because it is a place of rest. It is a place of toil. It is a place of refuge. I am the Hades of this place, complete ruler in complete control. I have plastered the walls with fantasy. Shelves full of trinkets of fantasy and story. My desk is dedicated to work. But the room is also built for discussion and fellowship. I have chairs for people to sit and talk about art, and talk about life, talk about inspiration and dedication. The art of writing is about commitment. You commit to a novel and live with it until it’s finished. Then you see it out into the world and care for it while it’s with the readers. This room is about commitment. Nothing is halfway done in this room. Everything that is begun here is seen through to fruition.
9.What piece of art, that is not writing, moves you?
Have you seen Zhi Lin’s Five Capital Punishments in China? They are large pieces, painted and realistic, that depict the violence and horror of execution, and the joy and beauty of the Chinese culture, side by side, and unflinching. It is a thing you can stare at for hours. It transports you into the greatest pieces of man’s soul, and to the abject horror of capital execution. When he painted these pieces, he knew there was a possibility that if he ever went back to China, he would be incarcerated for life. Yet he did it anyway. This was not paint slapped on a canvas. Every detail is perfectly rendered. It took years of planning, sketches, research, study, and execution, to create this piece. It is everything I hope to do with my world. It is the inspiration that fuels me and the goal I work towards. If you haven’t seen it, go look for it.
10.If we wanted a good story—book, show or movie—one that you didn’t write, where would you send us?
The easy answer is Shakespeare, right? You can watch Shakespeare or read Shakespeare and be pulled into a whirlwind of words, symbolism, perfect phrasing and description, that is relentless and magnificent. The easy answer here is Shakespeare. But that place that I go to, whenever I want a story, is Robert E. Howard. When you’re reading Robert E. Howard, you can smell the sweat. You’re breathing the damp air of the jungle. You can feel the real fear that’s evoked in the piece. Robert E. Howard was a pulp writer in the 1920s & 30s. He is, in my opinion, the father of fantasy. Maybe not the grandfather, but the father of fantasy. His level of quality and commitment is my goal when writing. He has created characters and a character that will exist for all time. If you need a good story, absolutely have to have one, go look for Robert E. Howard. Open his complete works to any page and read.
11.What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?
I’ll give you three. There’s a picture on my desk of my wife on our wedding day. It’s a profile shot of her standing before a window in the sunlight, in her dress and beaded headdress, looking out, her eyes intent on something. I have no idea what she was looking at. It might have been a cobweb. It might have been a rose planted outside the window. But I can tell you what I imagine it was, and that is a life with me as her husband. It was taken before the wedding, before she walked down the aisle. I picture that when she was standing in front of that window, she was thinking about the life we would build together, she was thinking about living day in and out with me. And she walked down the aisle anyway. It is one of the three most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
When my son Rayph was born, he was gray. I’d never seen that before. Babies are supposed to be pink or red. Rayph was gray like a ghost. He opened his eyes and he looked at me and he recognized me. It was beautiful. Tobin was born with blood in his hair. I told everybody he had red hair. Nobody believed me. They told me it was just the blood. When they washed it, Daddy was right. Upon looking at him, I realized I was looking at the most powerful, most primal thing I’d ever seen before. It was like looking into the roar of a saber tooth tiger. He was tiny. Some might say helpless. But he scared the shit out of me.
I grew up on the streets of Milwaukee. It was a violent place to be. Working class neighborhood. I won’t say slums, but definitely ghetto. It was wild, chaotic. Me and my friend Dougie got into a lot of fights. One day, we were cornered in the playground of an abandoned school. The school was crumbling and rotting, boarded up and lifeless. A corpse in the middle of my neighborhood, and its playground was a wilderness of crime and violence. We were there I think because a ball had been kicked over the fence, or we saw a bottle in the playground that we could shatter against the wall. Maybe a dollar bill had blown out of our hands and onto the playground. I don’t know. Pick your scenario or make one up. We ended up in there. And we were cornered by four bigger kids, members of a gang. We got in a fight. I got hit with a chain, and I was down. Dougie was lined up against four boys. And he was defending me. I couldn’t help him. He could have run. He should have run. Should have left me to get beaten and stomped on. But he didn’t. I remember the look on his face as he charged them. I’ll never forget it. It was beautiful and terrible. Dougie ended up getting beat into the ground. But he did it defending me. When it was over, we both limped home and I never looked at him the same again.
12.You have a chance to hang out with any literary character for one day. Who would it be and what would you do?
It wouldn’t be Conan. I’m intense, but I’m not ready for Conan. It wouldn’t be Sherlock Holmes. Trying to hold a conversation with him would be humiliating. I’m thinking Scrooge the next morning. This is a man experiencing pure happiness. He is freed of a life of surly bitterness. He is in the mood to give, to experience other people’s happiness. To greet the world with open arms and give it everything he can. This is a man with unlimited wealth, ready to be generous. I would love to travel around the city with him, to party at all the places he would stop, to watch him change the life of everyone he came in contact with. Hanging out with Ebenezer Scrooge would be a life-changing experience.
13.A publishing house gets ahold of you and wants you to take over writing an established character. For instance, DC Comics calls you and tells you they want you to take over writing Batman. What is the dream? What established character would you love to write?
Peter Pan! This answer will always be Peter Pan. This is the quintessential wild child. He can inspire joy, excitement, recklessness, and fear, the kind of fear that makes you stop in your tracks and ask yourself, “Is this a good idea?” and know without a doubt that it is not, yet plunge in with him anyway. He is infectious. He is boisterous. He is innocent and he is feral. Writing Peter Pan would be an experience the likes of which I would never come back from. My imagination tells me that once you’ve stepped into that personality, and you’ve written that character, felt what he felt, and planned what he planned, you could never come back the same person. Writing Peter Pan would be a life-changing experience.
If you’re interested in hearing more from this guy, here’s where you can find him: