Today, I’m excited to welcome fantasy author Jesse Teller. This hard working indie author has been kind enough to take a break from creating his delightfully dark, twisted Tales from Perilisc to answer a few questions.
Hey, Jesse, thanks for stopping by! For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
At my most arrogant, I would say that I am a writer who understands fantasy and understands how to create it. At my most humble, I would say that I am a servant of the genre, that my love for fantasy is absolute and pure, and my only desire is to expand the conversation that is being had between all creators in the genre and the public at large. At my most juvenile, I would say that I am a child staring in wonder at the things the genre can do and the people around me who are doing it with me.
What other authors have readers compared your work to and how do you feel about that?
First of all, I’d like to say that I try not to compare the work itself with other famous work that’s out there. There are a lot of people who say things about their work like, “It’s a cross between Harry Potter and Tolkien and the Trojan War.” I’m not interested in comparing my work, and the things I’m doing with it, to any other established fantasy. But I can say that there have been people who have compared me to other authors that have really excited me and humbled me. One of my books was compared to a cross between H.P. Lovecraft and J.M. Barrie. Now, that is the almighty Lovecraft, and Barrie created Peter Pan. To be compared to those guys just blew my mind, and I’m still not okay with it. That was years ago. People have compared me to R. Scott Bakker. People have compared me to Stephen King. I was compared to Greco-Roman myths. All of this really honors me and humbles me because these are magnificent servants of the genre. To be put in the same arena as these writers is exciting and terrifying.
So, you’re here today to talk about your current series, The Manhunters. What are some of the influences that inspired these books?
The biggest influence in the creation of this was not a book, it was a movie. It was a Tommy Lee Jones, Harrison Ford movie called The Fugitive. It created within it the U.S. Marshals. These are a group of people trained to hunt men. They have a dynamic leader with a singular focus who is masterfully portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones. The marshals could walk into any established branch of local government and take it over. There’s a part in the movie, my favorite line in the entire movie, where he tells a guy to go down to the police station and take it over, and he says, “Don’t let them mess with you about your ponytail.” It was the first time I realized that in this particular group, somebody could be so different that they had a ponytail. They could have quirks that other branches of law enforcement couldn’t. You’re never gonna see a cop with a beard. This particular branch could do whatever they wanted to. That leant itself to creating a group of heroes that were unique in every way but still serving the same goal. So as much as the genre of fantasy inspired my wizards, my spies, my witches, The Fugitive inspired the institution of The Manhunters themselves.
Did you plan out the details of each book before you wrote them, or did they develop organically during the writing process?
My books always come out organically. Try to picture a brook or a stream. It flows from a fount uphill that you have never seen, never sought. It flows over rocks and down hills of experiences that shape and bend it to flow. It is in constant movement; nothing can stop it. Nothing can predict the way it will divide to go around an obstacle or a damming branch. It is added to by rain and other tributaries from all sorts of sources you can’t imagine or name. This brook will give nourishment to your work. It will give you your plot. And if you are writing a series or world, it will one day join a different brook and turn into something big and powerful, something that can move earth or flood the world.
What were some of the best moments for you when writing this series? Most difficult challenges?
In the book Hemlock, I use the monster the vampire. I had to do a little research for this, because as much as I wanted to use the creature, I also know that many readers are turned off by the idea because vampires have become so predictable. They all have a certain romanticism to them. Many are beautiful creatures. They are seen more in a tragic light than a monstrous one. There are of course variations from that, some are monstrous. For the most part, you have vampires that are very overdone. I was involved in a conversation on Facebook the other day, the post was an article written by author Charles Phipps on ten tricks to writing a vampire character, and most of the comments said, just don’t. So I had to create a completely unique vampire that was not seen by the modern age. I did a lot of research into the very first incarnations of vampires for my inspiration.
The covers are stunning. How much were you involved in the design process and what was that like?
Oh, I was very involved in the process. My wife and I hired the brilliant cover designer, Jenny Zemanek. Her process is very simple. First she asked us to find other covers that were in the vein of what we’re looking for and to tell her why we like them. Then she asked us to give her a list of elements that we wanted in our cover. There were many drafts. She did a lot of research. She worked with us on every step of the process. We had final say on every element. And I say that not to downplay her own creative fingerprints on the piece, but to highlight the fact that she wanted us involved in the process. Like all great designers, she wanted her client to be represented in the work. Now, had I been traditionally published, I would not have had any control over any of this, but as an indie author, I got to control the final product.
How many writing projects do you juggle at a time? Do you ever catch yourself accidentally using ideas from one story in another without meaning to do so?
I’m almost always writing new material. I write 3,000 words a day, and it helps me get through quite a few books in a single year. On top of that, I have a blog. The blog features an interview with a selected author every other week. On the off weeks, I write shorts that will be used in an autobiography, detailing my life and the crazy things that have happened in it. And every third Wednesday of the month, I put out a blog post that discusses writing in some fashion. At the same time that I am writing new material and the blog, I keep up with revisions and editing the rough drafts that are already written for publication. Sometimes this involves nothing more than grammar changes and clarifications on an idea. And sometimes it involves writing an entirely new point of view character in a book and adding as much as 120 pages to the manuscript. I also have a newsletter that comes out on the 13th of every month. So, I’ve got a lot of things going on. But they never cross-influence each other. I’m always able to keep them in their designated spots because of the way I divide my time.
How do you define success as a writer? Sales? Adoration? Creative satisfaction?
For me, success as a writer is about the reader, and the experience the reader has with the book. Things are getting exciting right now because I have published enough work where people are starting to make connections between books, within the series and without. So when the reader ties together a book from outside the series to something or a character that’s within this series, I get really jazzed about that, because people are starting to see just how big the world is and how many connections have been made. That experience is always really gratifying. But the highest pinnacle that I can reach as a writer is a statement quite like what was said about Hemlock in a recent review. One of my readers said she read the book in 12 hours in one sitting and didn’t regret the sleep she lost. When your book is having that sort of effect on people, you have to call it a success.
Have you felt pressure to be more active on social media to promote your books? How do you establish a presence without over promoting?
This is a very interesting conversation when you’re looking at my career, because I walk down the street with a pit bull. When you walk down the street with a pit bull, there’s a certain experience you have, the looks on everybody’s faces, of awe and fear and envy. I have that going on for me on social media, on every avenue of my work. My pit bull is relentless, aggressive and focused, and cute as a button. She is my wife, and she has taken on the mission of getting my work out to the world. She has her finger on the pulse of all social media, and sees every time somebody is talking about my work. Every time there’s a gap open, she attacks it. She has created a presence on social media that frees me up from having to work at it myself. I don’t have to worry about social media. I just let it ride, because she tells me everything I need to know. This frees me up to focus on nothing but the work, so I am able to take on every project that catches my fancy, because I have a pit bull fighting for me.
What was the best advice you received regarding writing or self-publishing?
In The Novel Writer’s Toolkit by Bob Mayer, he said the best way to learn how to write a novel is to write ten. So, I had to accept the fact that my first nine novels were gonna suck. It was just ground I had to dig at, like digging the foundation of a house. When you dig the foundation of a house, you have to rip up the earth before you can lay the concrete and the stone. The concrete and the stone is your first good book. It’s the foundation of your career. The digging of the hole is the books you have to write in order to lay that foundation. A lot of writers write those books and they call them trunk books, because those first nine are so bad that they never publish them. But all of my work is connected to itself. If I were to pull out one of those “trunk” novels, and not publish it, that would mean people weren’t getting the full story. So what I did was, after I wrote those trunk novels and got good enough to publish, I went back and wrote those novels a second time from the beginning. I call it “from blank document”. I read everything that happened in the trunk novel, pulled up a blank document, and wrote the whole thing again. This is how I built my career.
Favorite fantasy movie ever? Why?
You ask this question a lot, don’t you? I would venture a guess that most of the time you get the Lord of the Rings series, maybe The Hobbit series, these absolutely fantastic works of fantasy, and I mean they are breathtaking. For your old school interviewees, I would say you’ve probably heard The Last Unicorn. For your dragon lovers, maybe Reign of Fire, that’s really good and gritty. You might have heard Dragonheart. All of these things, and they’re all great. But I would have to say that my very favorite fantasy movie is one you maybe haven’t heard a lot of, and that is Peter Jackson’s King Kong. This movie set up the idea that there was an island of monsters, which is impressive enough. You’ve got Kong fighting dinosaurs, you’ve got whole teams of men being attacked by massive insects, you’ve got Kong himself, this god of the wilderness. All of these things are amazing and intriguing and mesmerizing. But that’s not the part I would focus on if I were you. That’s not the part that, if I were to write Peter Jackson’s King Kong, that my book would be built on. In this movie, there is a native culture of humans that actually live on this island. They built a monstrous wall to protect their section of the place. They offer human sacrifices to Kong. They are savage and brutal and horrifying. And the most terrifying thing is, they did not build boats. They should have built boats! Why didn’t they build boats? What you do, if you find yourself and your entire civilization on an island completely populated by monsters, is you build boats! Get the hell off the island! There’s plenty of islands in the sea, it’s like fish. The first time you see Kong, it’s time to pick up stakes and move on. But that is not what these people did, and that’s the thing that fascinates me so much about Peter Jackson’s King Kong.
The magic used in The Manhunters seems almost limitless. How do you portray the characters’ powers and continue to challenge them?
The reason it seems limitless is because the main character who is using it is 12,000 years old. He was trained by an elite group of warrior wizards called the Trimerian Knights and he is massive in his power and its scope. As it seems there is no limit to the magic he is capable of, that assumption is false. He’s like a very gifted writer, only the words he uses are magical. But he’s still working with a language. He’s still working with certain spells that do certain things. This is an arsenal of spells that has been written over time and they are the tools that wizards can use. They’re steeped in tradition, they’re ancient, and the spells a wizard has at his command are like a toolbox he can use. But imagine a group of wizards that wrote their own spells, that were young and inspired and creative. They didn’t look at a hammer and say, “This is a hammer. I can pound things with this.” But instead walked away from the hammer and created a completely unique tool. In Song and Hemlock we are faced with Rayph and his toolbox full of magical spells. In the third book, Crown, we find ourselves walking among wizards young, inspired, and hungry, who can use the elements of magic to completely reinvent the trade. So, if you think magic is wild in Hemlock and Song, wait until I reinvent the rules in the third book, Crown.
Any favorite characters in the series?
This series is really fun because it explores a powerful group of people with all unique talents facing a host of different villains with all unique powers. It’s fun to watch them outwit each other and through conflict, up the stakes. But in each of these books, there is a second point of view, a more minor character, who is living a story that intersects with the story of the Manhunters. Those are the tales I enjoy the most. It’s the side stories that intrigue me. You have a father desperate to earn enough money to pay for the medications to keep his daughter alive in the book Song. In Hemlock, you have a man separated from his king and his brothers, facing torture and execution in a land he does not know, and he is frantic to get back to his king, to get back to his people, without any knowledge as to how he’s going to accomplish that. And in Crown, you have a young wizard who is literally facing the horrors of Hell to accomplish his goal, who is coming to terms with his power, and coming to terms with a brother who is slipping away from him. All three of these stories intrigue me, and it’d be hard to choose a favorite out of those.
What do you hope readers will say when they finish these books?
My hope is that when the reader finishes reading the last line of Crown, and knows that the Manhunters story is over, I hope they are excited to know that I publish a book every six months, and while I have finished this series, there are four more series that are written as rough drafts and sitting in my closet waiting to be published. After you’ve finished Crown, you haven’t heard the last from me. We are just getting started.
What can fans expect from you next?
Well, Crown is coming out October 5th. And I have touched on a couple of things you can expect from it. So let’s move on to what’s next. Next year, on April 15th, I will be releasing a book called Legends of the Exiles. It’s a book that is broken up into four novellas. And while you can read each novella by itself, when you line them up and read them all in a row, they paint a picture of four women living in a barbarian culture, trying to survive and thrive in nations filled with powerful patriarchs. How does a woman make her power known when the men all around her are uber masculine and focused on themselves? How do women thrive in toxic male environments? I’m really excited about this book, so look for it April 15th, 2019. And before that, this October, keep a lookout for the final book of The Manhunters series. You won’t be disappointed.
About the Author
Jesse Teller 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.
He lives with his supportive wife, Rebekah, and his two inspiring children, Rayph and Tobin.
Hemlock is available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.
1st Prize, The 2017 Drunken Druid Book Award
Literary Titan Gold Book Award
Drunken Druid Editor’s Choice, March 2017
Drunken Druid 2016 Book of the Year Short List
Hungry Monster Gold Book Award
Praise for The Manhunters:
“Mr. Teller gives us moral dilemmas, fierce and bloody battles, characters that come alive and the power of the magic of words to take us into another place, another time and another reality.”
—Dii Bylo, Tome Tender Book Blog
“This is one of the more fanciful and almost mythical like settings and storylines I’ve read in a while.”
—The Weatherwax Report
“Teller’s world is stunning in its complexity.”
—M. L. Spencer, Bestselling Author of The Rhenwars Saga
“The characters are interesting, the heroes likable, and the villains hateable.”
“Has all the ingredients of an exciting, dark fantasy epic: ancient and powerful mages, deadly and vengeful enemies, familial strife, malevolent politicking, and jailbroken criminals hell-bent on revenge.”
—Fantasy Book Review
“Jesse Teller only takes his foot off the accelerator to switch to a higher gear.”
—The Fantasy Inn