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Monday, April 15, 2019

Guest Post: Writing About Difficult Topics by Jesse Teller


During the process of creating Legends of the Exiles, I had several beta readers and advance readers take a close look at the book. Some were supportive of the storylines within, and some readers thought I crossed a line in my depiction of child sexual abuse.

I do feel their concerns were genuine, but in all honesty, such scenes are intended to be disturbing. I do not agree that this is inappropriate. When I wrote this book, I was very careful. I knew it would trigger a lot of readers if I handled this wrong. I am one of those readers. I was molested as a child, and I would not approach this topic without being very deliberate about my actions.

There is precedent for this sort of storytelling. Maya Angelou wrote a book called I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. In this book she describes herself as a child being molested. She does not describe the act of sex, as I do not describe the act when it takes place in the story. She describes the feelings she had during the event and the things that were running through her mind. She does not flinch in telling the way she felt or the way her attacker made her feel. I did the same thing in Exiles.

In light of such feedback, I looked at the scene very carefully. There are very few things I would do to change it. I do not want to smooth it over at all. It implies the sheer brutality of the event without explicit descriptions.


This sort of horrible crime happens unfortunately to boys and girls all over the world. It needs to be talked about. It needs to be looked at and it needs to be done in a tasteful way. And in doing so, we need to take a hard look at what that child experienced if we are going to help them heal.

I hope you will see this is a book about a survivor who has experienced a traumatic event and is too strong and too smart to let it break her. When I wrote Ellen’s story, I wrote who I wanted to be. I wrote who I wished I had been after my abuse. I wrote a character who inspires me to protect the weak and let them heal in their own way.

I have done much to help the victims of abuse in my own life. Helping the other victims of my abuser along with others I have seen being hurt. I can stop the act from continuing and I have on a few occasions. That is a pristine act. Saving a person, be it a man, woman, or child, from being brutalized is noble but it cannot stop there. When a person survives such abuse, they need a way to go on. They need to find the thing that can drive them into the next day and give them hope they can find peace, can find happiness and find love. My greatest desire is that this book does that.

In Ellen’s novella, we see the tale of a person who came through this trauma and battles the crushing horror of it. When I was growing up and trying to figure out how to be a man after what happened to me, I had nothing to hold me up. Nothing to make me feel as if I was not alone. No role model to help me pull myself out of the darkness. After 17 years of intensive therapy, I told myself I was going to use my work to give people hope. I have spent my career using my books to discuss the themes of Hope vs Despair. The novella Dead Girl is in that regard my greatest achievement.

I hope you read this book and see what it is and what it is meant to be. But my truest hope is that you be gentle with yourself. If reading this book makes you uncomfortable to a point where you feel it is doing damage to your peace of mind, then please put it down. Write your review and warn everyone. But if you can look past the horror of that scene and see the power of a little girl surviving the most horrible thing that can happen to her and finding strength beyond it, then I hope you do finish it and I hope you find a way to tell possible readers.

No matter what you do, please know your opinion is valuable to me and I learn from every review and every conversation I have about the things I have written. I learn every day what my work means and I do not take for granted the time people give me or the emotional journey they are willing to make with me.

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Official Author Website

Official Author Information: Jesse Teller has loved fantasy since the age of five. It has gone from love to hobby to professional life. He now spends his time writing novels and short stories in a fantasy world of his creation. Here you can find his thoughts on the genre, samplings of his work, and his process in creating it. Jesse Teller lives in Missouri. He hasn’t always, but like storytelling, it snuck into his bones. He fell in love with fantasy when he 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. His books explore violent issues without flinching.



Order The Book HERE

Official Book Blurb: The isolated barbarians of Neather have deep ancestry and strict traditions. Four resilient women defy tribal customs as they fight to overcome their own tragedies. Abuse. Addiction. Assault. Grief. What struggles can they endure to defend their hopes and their hearts?

Helena seeks a love as bold as she, yet finds the men of her village lacking.

Jocelyn fears her strange visions and sacrifices a life with the man she loves for the one her destiny demands.

Torn apart by abuse and grief, Ellen is a brilliant woman who must focus her intellect on finding reasons to persevere.

Rachel, a brash girl of noble heritage, dares all men to challenge her and longs for one who will.

In this set of four interwoven novellas, award-winning author Jesse Teller challenges assumptions and showcases the strength of feminine resolve.

NOTE: Author picture courtesy of the author himself.

2 comments:

Adam Weller said...

Jesse,

Just finishing Legends of the Exiles last night, and enjoyed it very much. After learning some of your history in this post, it helped to give me new perspective on the story. I now see why Ellen has created her own language and hasn't stopped writing ever since.

I can't begin to imagine the pain you've been through, and what it must have taken to get these words on the page, but I think you handled the subject material very well. It made me sad and uncomfortable (as it should) but at no point did I feel that it was off-tone or exploitive or anything else untoward.

Thanks for sharing your story.

J Teller said...

Thanks, Adam, for your words. It was not an easy story to write. It brought up a lot of memories and emotions that have always been difficult. I went through 17 years of intensive therapy to help get me to the point where I could tackle subjects like this in my work. I never just wanted to tell a story. My goal from the beginning was to tell stories that matter and tackle issues that are often left unspoken.

I'm glad you enjoyed Exiles and look forward to hearing more of your thoughts. I'm very grateful to all of my readers and I learn from every review how to be a better writer.

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