(Jesse Teller is the author of three books that showcase the stories from Perilisc, a unique fantasy setting. Check them out here on Goodreads!)
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
My sister was an artist for as long as I can remember. She would draw wonderful things. She had a raw talent for it, and I was amazed by that. I had no talent, and I always envied her. My biological father had talent. He talked about it all the time. He was obsessed with his talent. His shtick was acting, and man, he had a flair for the dramatic. In that family, I was treated like a second-class citizen because I had no talent, until Mr. Olsen and fifth grade, when I was given my first assignment to write a short story. It was the tale of a sad boy, of divorced parents, of neglect, and a purple hippopotamus. He said, “Pencils down,” and I kept writing, because I didn’t hear him. He called out my name, and I didn’t hear that, either. He was one of the kindest men I’ve ever met, and he knew what he was looking at. So, very quietly, and very gently, he walked to my desk and touched my hand. When I looked up, I saw recognition in his eyes. He knew then, and he told me, that he was looking at a writer. Suddenly, I had talent.
How important is research to you when writing a book?
Research is always important when you’re a writer, but it’s not always about facts. For me at least, research tends to be more about emotion. Every day before I write, I think about what I’m going to be writing that day, and the prominent emotions I must suffuse into the work. So, I listen to music. Music has always inspired emotion in me. I’ll listen to whatever band, whatever song, summons up that emotion in me. In that way, research is important. I have a base knowledge of the history of the time period I write in. By that I mean, in college I studied medieval history. That’s the time period in which my fantasy takes place. I know a lot about how that time worked. I brush up on certain things every now and then to remind myself. But for the most part, it’s cemented in my brain. I have this uncanny ability to remember details about the things I love, but it comes at the cost of forgetting everyday things. I take medicine every day for my bipolar, and I can never remember to take it. My wife always makes me take my medicine. But I can remember every detail I ever learned about the Battle of Hastings in 1066. I did do research for my book Chaste, however. It takes place in a quarry town. I realized, before I wrote it, that I knew nothing about quarrying stone at all. So, I bought a book, and I studied up. That, and my time in college, is the only factual research I’ve done.
Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?
Oh, I’m a wanderer. You just have to trust that there’s something out there. I hit a panic moment a day or two before I start a book, because I have only a vague idea of what will happen in that book. I get a little freaked out. But it doesn’t last once I start the book. You can train yourself to do anything. Shaolin Monks can lay on spears without puncturing their bodies. I don’t know how they do that, but it has to do with training, a little bit every day, doing the same thing over and over again until your mind and your body has it worked out. My writing is the same way. I’ve trained my mind to create fantasy. Whenever I shake the tree, fruit drops. So, no outlines for me. I follow a wisp of smoke and the hint of a rumor.
Are the characters you create influenced by people you know?
In some ways, yes. A lot of my work is influenced by Dungeons & Dragons games I’ve played in the past. Characters in my books are influenced by those games. And on the rare occasion that I do put a character run by someone else in my book, I do so to honor them. My villains are not bullies from my past. They’re not people I hate that I’m trying to immortalize. My heroes sometimes are influenced by the heroic things that have been said to me and done for me. But for the most part, nobody I know has ever had to face down a dragon or deal with a priest with an infected mind. It’s hard to find the people that I love in situations like that. So, I guess my answer is, yes and no. I would imagine you get that answer a lot.
What kind of atmosphere do you need to write?
Well, I’ve trained myself to write anywhere, on family vacations, at writing workshops in my hotel room. Like I said, you can train yourself to do anything. But I do my best work in my office. If there is, out in the world, a primordial ooze that creates fantasy, I have dipped this room in that ooze. Every picture on the wall, every trinket on a shelf, every tapestry draped from the ceiling, has something to do with fantasy. My desk is regimented and orderly. Everything belongs in a place. The walls are chaotic, the shelves chaotic. It’s an overwhelming whirlwind of ideas and images, and in the center, where my desk sits, is absolute calm. That’s where I do my best work. But like I said, I can work anywhere. I think that’s an important ability for a writer to have. I spoke to Anne Perry’s agent once, and he told me that he would go to her hotel room to pick her up for a function, and she would be writing. Writers have to be able to write on the road, if they’re going to have a real career.
Writers are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?
I’m an extrovert. I have an innate ability to pull people together. I love being in a group of people. I love conversation with people, and celebration. And so, looking from the outside, it would seem that I have no loner vein in my body. But there is within me, a withdrawn soul, comforted by the company I keep, but not of it. It craves the company of very few people, and that soul is a bit of a loner, but it is not the prominent facet of my life. For the most part, I love people. I want to hear everybody’s ideas. I want to hear everybody’s thoughts.
What book has had a strong influence on you or your writing?
The books in the series have all blended together. I can’t remember if it was Storm of Swords or Clash of Kings. I read those books in one large gulp. But in George RR Martin’s developing masterpiece, there is an infamous scene called the red wedding. When I read that scene, my mind exploded. I didn’t know that was possible. I didn’t know you could slaughter characters wholesale and maintain a readership. The thing I learned from that scene, in that series, is that a spectacular writer does not flinch. He does not look away when he shoots. She does not gag when she cuts. A spectacular writer does not flinch at breaking what he’s created. So in my work, no one is safe, no matter how they are loved, by me or the reader. I got that from Martin.
What do your friends and family think of your writing?
I have a lot of friends who are on board. These are people who have known me since I was young, and some that have met me recently, who believe in what I’m doing and want to be a part of it. They are always there to provide support and inspiration. They talk me down from the ledge; they lift me up when needed. But a lot of them can’t stomach my work, especially the darker stuff. I had a very abusive childhood. A lot of my work deals with those themes. I didn’t have any heroes in my childhood, so I create them in my work. A lot of people who love me can’t look at some of the things I write. But I feel their love and their support. There are a number of people in my life who will not read this book, and I can’t hold it against them. It’s not for the faint-of-heart. But there are people like my mother-in-law, who come from happiness and light, who will still go to that dark well. I think it’s because she doesn’t want me to be alone there.
Have you ever read your own writing and tried to see it from the reader’s point of view?
Yes, I do this every day that I write. I write my 3,000-word quota for the day, and then my wife comes in and reads what I’ve written out loud to me. Hearing it on the air has a different effect to me than reading it in my mind. Hearing it on the air makes it real, and I can see it in its faults and its grandeur. There are times when, for days, for one reason or the other, we don’t have time for my wife to read it. After a few days of that, I kind of lose my way. If that time stretches for more than four writing sessions, then I don’t even know what I’m writing, because I can’t see the book as an outsider anymore.
What would you like to tell aspiring writers?
Oh, I’ve got one drum to beat. I’ve got one thing I tell everybody who wants to write, paint, sing, dance—any kind of creative work at all. Work. Work every day. Work all the time. It’s not a game you can play at every now and then. It’s a job. Punch in, put in your time, punch out. Do not rely on passion or inspiration to propel you through your work. Rely on a time card. I have time cards in my office. When a book starts getting troublesome to me, I start punching in and punching out. There’s something magical in that. If you do this job when you feel like it, then you’re a writing enthusiast. You’re a hobbyist. If you do this job every day because it’s what you do, and it’s what you want, then you’re a writer. My best advice to any young, aspiring writer, or artist of any medium, is get to work.
Find Jesse Teller on Amazon, Goodreads, and Facebook. Learn more about the author and the world of Perilisc at his Website.