Years ago, I entered a contest. All the participants were thrown into a Facebook group. Next day I woke up to a Friend Request and a message. “Hey I live right down the road in a tiny town called Kimberling City. I saw your bike. Saw a picture of you with a beer. We should get together. Talk motorcycles and fantasy.”
I got back in touch with him and that was the day I met Arbra Dale Triplett.
He went simply by Dale. Had been in the Army and the Marines. He said that in, I guess it was early in high school, probably his freshman year, he had a teacher. She was pretty hard on him when it came to grammar. Somewhere about three-fourths of the way into that year he started to appreciate her. He came out the other side an editor.
Me and Dale talked a little bit back and forth on Messenger, but it wasn’t until the next day when he called me, after he’d had a few, that we really bonded. I was supposed to be hanging out with my wife, which is my favorite past-time. He gave me a call and we just started talking. Dreamin’ of the day we would get together and hang out. We planned it. I was gonna go to Kimberling City on Thursday. It’s really close to a lake and he was living at a lake house. Thursday came, and I was on my way out the door, when he called me and told me his parents had come unexpected into town.
I was putting out books pretty regularly. I was two books into a trilogy and nearing a release day when I found out my editor at the time was having open heart surgery. There was no way he was going to be able to make his deadline. We got ahold of Dale and he was all in. I told him it was the third book in a series and how many words, and he gave me his quote. He asked how much time he had before the deadline, and I told him two months. He said, “Good, I have to read the other two, the first two in the series.” I offered to send them to him and he said he’d buy them.
He read book one of the series and got back in touch with me, already a fan. It was Song, from The Manhunters series, and he ripped through Hemlock, book two, in a day and a half. He had a lot of good things to say about my work. And he made his deadline by two weeks.
When the time came for the next book to be edited, I asked if he wanted it and he jumped at the chance. This is where things got a little rocky. There’s definitely rocks involved in this part. Let’s just call it over the rocks.
He calls me one day, when he’s been drinking. Dale is fun when he’s been drinking, so I am ready to play along. We talk about all kinds of things. We talk about his book. I had read his book and left a review on it. It was like nothing I’d ever read before. We talked about his book. I told him how much fun I had with it. Of course the topic of the book he was working on with me came up. It was called Legends of the Exiles, and he said, “Oh, I don’t know about this one.” He said, “This book is really rough. I don’t wanna say it’s a bad book, but I find myself cutting really deep. See, it’s the elements that aren’t matching [elements is a term that Dale uses a lot when he talks about all stories]. The elements just aren’t lining up and things are really rough. I don’t see The Manhunters in here. There’s no mention of The Manhunters and there’s no sign of The Manhunters‘ world. This book needs to have elements of The Manhunters. And the dialogue. I don’t wanna say the dialogue is terrible, ’cause you’re a good writer, but the dialogue is really rough. It’s so immature. It’s not as sophisticated as the dialogue was in The Manhunters series. In The Manhunters, the dialogue was, well in this book the dialogue’s just not there. I’ve been workin’ on the book now for 16 and a half hours.” I asked him what page he was on, and he said, “Page 24.”
Well of course I’m devastated. I keep it together for the rest of the conversation. I hang up and Bekah walks into the room and I give her the news. Now, when I say that Bekah exploded, I’m afraid you’re going to think that there was some kind of gore and mess thrown around my office. When I say that Bekah exploded, maybe you’ll picture a red face and curled fingers, growling teeth clamped together as she stares at the ceiling. Veins standing out on her neck and face. I’m afraid that when I say my wife exploded, you’re gonna think something like this. What it actually was was like one of those cartoon things. Tom and Jerry get into a fight. There’s just a big cloud whirling in the middle, and arms and hands are coming out of it. Cleavers and fists and anvils and something like that. I want you to picture something like that. Only one person beating on an imaginary person, and a good-sized, muscled husband cowering in the corner, hoping not to be pulled into the whirling mess.
Bekah was mad.
She grabbed the phone, she called him and he didn’t pick up. She left a voicemail that said, “Stop working on it right now. If you’re sixteen hours in and you’ve just done 24 pages, then you’re not understanding our approach to this book.” She texted him, said much the same. Stop immediately. Send me the changes you’ve made, send me everything. She sent him a Facebook message. In the Facebook message she said, “You do realize that the dialogue in the beginning of Legends of the Exiles is between an eight-year-old and a seven-year-old. There are no Manhunters in this book. It takes place on the other side of the continent. We know what we’re doing. You obviously are not on the same page.” She raged about it for a couple hours, then went to bed for a fitful night’s sleep. I was up late like I always am, chewing on the things he said. I went to bed, woke up, and Bekah started reading the email.
It was all an exaggeration, he had misunderstood, he still wanted to do the book, he was extremely sorry. He’d never do it again. Please don’t fire him. “Give me another chance,” he said.
Bekah’s response was, “You are never allowed to talk to Jesse Teller about his work when you’ve been drinking. Ever again.” Which of course he agreed to. Just about every time we talked, me and him broke that rule. But I never let her know. Dale wasn’t an alcoholic. He was a nightcap guy. One or two at the end of the night, couple times a week. Dale was a nightcap guy.
Two days later, day and a half I think, two days, I don’t know. Let’s go with day and a half. I get a call. It’s a very solemn Dale on my voicemail. “Jesse, if you get the chance, please call me. We need to talk.”
I went downstairs where my wife was hanging out with the boys. I wanted her to be nearby, so I could hand the phone to her if I needed to. Because Bekah is the business mind and the mastermind of my career. I’m just the talent. I called him, and he picked up the phone. He didn’t say hello. With a soft, sacred voice, he read these words:
She did not dance to their rules. Music was not for prancing around in circles with hands up and smiling. It was not about bowing and presenting intention. Dancing was about sweat and exertion. It was about freedom and power. It was a thing for gods and goddesses, the closest men or women truly ever got to divinity beyond the battlefield. While all the others danced in their circles, she spun and slid through the groupings. She flipped her hair and moved her hips. She let the sway of her body and the waving of her arms speak of her power, and she loosed her war cry every time the music lifted her to heights unimaginable.
“I’m yours forever,” Dale said. “It doesn’t matter. None of it matters. I don’t care about the money. I don’t care about the deadlines. Just, I just wanna be part of it. Let me be part of your world. I wanna be a part of something bigger than me. I want to dedicate my life to something that matters. Please don’t cut me out of this.”
I promised him that until the day we finished or the day he died, he would be my editor. He had read to me a section of the book where a young girl is dancing at a party where everything is uniform and everything is the same. And she’s the only one who’s doing it differently. It’s the closest to divinity she can get. Dale understood that. He understood all of it.
The next day, he finished the book. He sent it to me and said it was his favorite book he’s ever read. He said that it matters, that it means things. Dale said he wanted to leave this world and he wanted to go to the Mountain, which was the setting of the book, he wanted to live with the Mountain people. He said he wanted to be a member of one of the seven families. He said he wanted to be a Redfist, but he was almost positive that he was a Stonefist. And he was right. Dale Triplett was a Stonefist.
That’s when we entered into the cycle. Dale would wait until three weeks before the deadline, even though I’d have the book to him four months before. He’d get about 50 pages in and he’d call me. “I don’t know about this one, Jesse. See, when you’re writin’ you have to think about the elements. This tale’s just not working for me.” He’d get into specifics about who needed to do what and how it needed to happen. He didn’t know what I was doing with this element but it just wasn’t working. And I’d listen the entire time, because he was sober. And because I was paying this man for his opinion on my work. By the end of the conversation, I would just say, “Write down all your thoughts. They’re all valuable to me. You are a valuable part of my work.” And I’d tell him just reserve judgment until the end.
Next part of the cycle is that Dale would get in touch with me when he was about halfway through the book. More concerns about the elements. The tale’s just not coming together. There’s too many things moving. You can’t bring it all to a successful conclusion by the end of these pages. I’m starting to worry, Jesse. I don’t know what we’re gonna do.” He’d usually finish about four days later, with a shy little email he’d send to Bekah. “This book is near perfect. I did what I could. This is a great one.”
Dale fell in love twice. He fell in love with Rachel Beastscowl, and he fell in love with Revenge. Both are beautiful and powerful women in my world. And when he made changes about them, he would spend long lines describing their beauty. He was in love with them. I had to cut all that out. Well, not all of it, but I can’t drop in pages and pages of describing a woman. But I could tell by the way that he wrote them, the comments he made about them, Dale loved those women. They had impacted him in a way he would never forget.
“Don’t cut me out,” he said to me, over and over again. “None of it matters. The money, the deadlines, none of it matters. Just don’t cut me out. I believe in what you’re doing. I wanna be a part of it. I am the Scribe of the Mountain.” He said that a lot.
A lot of the stuff that Dale edited had to do with other places in the world besides the Mountain. But he let me know many times, he was there to protect the Mountain, the sanctity of the Mountain, the honor of the Mountain. In my autobiography, I wrote a chapter about Dale. Everybody in my autobiography gets a nickname, and I called him The Gunslinger. He laughed and was honored by everything I’d written.
Dale made it to the barbarian goat drinking party one time. And he came dressed as a Renaissance bard with a very small bottle of whiskey that he and other revelers nipped on during the breaks. There’s a mug contest at all of these parties and Dale won with a massive mug carved from wood, with images of ivy, leaves, trees, and archers.
Dale died last night. You can only be there for them if they let you. I don’t know what circumstances brought Dale to the decision that he made. You can say the same thing you always say about anybody who commits suicide. They were so full of life, I never would’ve guessed. I wish they had reached out to me. You could say all of that about Dale, but in the end, my friend is gone. The guy who cleaned up my mistakes is gone. The guy that I laughed with, talked about fantasy with, the guy who won a trophy with a goat on it is gone. My editor is gone. My brother’s gone. The devastation that’s been wrought to my world will be invisible, but ever constant. I’ll find another, and I’ll never find another. Because he’s gone.
I’m gonna tell you one more story about Dale, and this is how I’m gonna leave it. Dale called me one day from Kimberling City. The local library was having a book fair. He wanted to set up. “The book fair works like this, it’s an eight-foot table, and each writer gets four feet. We could set up together, hang out all day. You can sell The Manhunters and I can sell mine, I can sell Halcyon.” His girlfriend at the time worked at a hotel. I could come down and stay the night, and we could spend the whole… well that was in early October. Maybe mid-September, and Bekah was very patient with me. She asked me every now and then, maybe once a week, once every week and a half. “Have you decided about Kimberling? Are you gonna go?” Because I had told myself that I would never sit at a booth at a con, or any book signing event. I talked about being hard core, and spending all my time writing, puffed up my chest a lot and told everybody it was never gonna happen. Vanity was a word I used a lot. Fake, I threw around that one, too. Bekah never pressed me. Dale called me once. He had a big win and wanted to toast. He asked me if I was coming and I skillfully, deftly dodged that question. But then I said I was. I don’t know why. Maybe because Dale was gonna be there. I don’t know why I agreed.
The book fair was early in February. Mid-January he told me he wasn’t gonna make it. He called me. Said that he was going out to Phoenix. I said, “We never got together, we never talked, we never hung out.”
He said, “I know.”
I said, “Are you comin’ back?”
He said, “Hopefully I’m never comin’ back.”
“Let’s get together one time,” I said, “before you leave.”
“Nope. I’m hittin’ the road this afternoon. It’s a long drive.” And he got in his car and he took off into the sunset, and he didn’t take me with him.
I did manage to get out to Phoenix. It’s funny how chance works. Me and him lived about fifty minutes away from each other for two years. Didn’t see each other. Drove over 800 miles and we bumped into each other.
He’s gone out west again. Can’t go with him. He’s not coming back. Last night The Gunslinger rode off for the horizon. I hope he found his perfect sunset out there. My friend is gone. He knew all my bad habits. And he fixed them all quietly. My books will still go through three rounds of edits. But I’m never gonna have an editor fall in love with one of my characters again. If anybody is ever talking to me about my work, and they start talking about the elements of the tale, I’ll just crumble inside.
I woke up to this news. I’m gonna wake up to it over and over again. Today, me and my wife went for a ride. I had a piece of pizza at a gas station. We were laughing and joking, and when we finished, I woke up to it again. Took a nap. As I was falling asleep, I woke up to it again. I’m just gonna keep waking up to the fact that my friend is gone. The Scribe of the Mountain is no more. The Mountain’s protector is gone. He’s just gone.