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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Interview with Jesse Teller (interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order Onslaught Of Madness over HERE

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic Jesse and thank you for your time. To start with, you self-published your debut in 2016 and since then have published 10 books including an omnibus and have participated in a couple of short story collections. You seem to have quite the writing speed. Pray tell us about how you managed to write so many books in such a small amount of time.

JT: When I started writing books, one thing I realized early on was that I wasn't any good at it. I needed to train myself on how to do the job before showing it to the world. So I just focused on writing. I set up a schedule of writing 3,000 words a day, and I just got to work. 3,000 words a day shakes out to be about nine and a half pages. And so, nine and a half pages at a time, I started building my world. It took a couple of short novels, and a couple of really long ones, before I was confident that I knew how to write. And then I went back and rewrote the books I was unsatisfied with to get them where I wanted them. In doing that I had trained myself how to write a book and get the desired effect. But I kept writing, refusing to publish, until I had written for twelve years, 3,000 words a day.

Back then I would finish a book, put it in a box, and mail it to myself. This is a poor man's way of copyrighting his own work. It's under an official date stamp. So I would just write one and put it in a closet, get started on the next. I did this for 12 years. Every book I created, I tied in to the ones before it. And before long, I had crafted a pretty huge world. In 2016, I started publishing. I published my first book, got a few reviews, things were going really well. A couple months later I published my first short story collection. When I published my third book that October, I realized that six months was a pace I could keep up. I could pull a book out that had already been written, send it through two editors while designing a cover for it, and get it out by the end of six months. I got to write for twelve years before adding the pressure of any deadlines. Twelve years of just setting it aside. If I stopped writing books right now, and just published the ones I had in the closet, I could publish books until 2031 at a pace of two books a year, which includes five completed series.

Q] Onslaught Of Madness is a special book for you. One can call it a capstone to your previous books and short stories. Why was this such a special thing for you?

JT: My world is set up on a timeline that, until a couple of days ago, did not make sense to anybody reading my books. Every book, every story, is headed with a number of years before "The Escape" or a number of years after. Everything is built around this one event that changes history forever, and those years and that heading have been included in every book I've published for the last three and a half years. Anybody reading those books would have to face the mystery of what The Escape is. With the release of Onslaught Of Madness, I have shown what The Escape is. Its full ramifications are not known yet, but Onslaught, depicting the Escape, becomes the central event all the other books can be arranged by. Everything I've written now falls on a timeline that either happened before Onslaught or after Onslaught.

Reading Onslaught gives you a starting point for all of my work. But there's this real interesting thing I've noticed happening because of the release schedule I have chosen. You can start this world at any entry point currently out there. You can walk in through any of the standalones, through the trilogy, or through Onslaught. And eventually it all makes sense. However, if you enter through the trilogy, meeting those characters first changes your interpretation of the rest of the work. If you come in through Liefdom first, you'll feel completely different, and have a completely different experience than if you enter through The Manhunters.

Also, with each series, and each standalone telling a single story, you can read just those pieces and walk away. If you read Liefdom, there's no mandate insisting that you read everything else. Any reader looking for short stories will be satisfied with Legends of Perilisc. Anyone looking for a standalone will be satisfied with the standalones I've released. If you're looking for a trilogy, or if you're looking for a massive world, each one of those can be found. The reader decides their level of involvement. This is why Onslaught is so important, because it places everything on its timeline.


Q] Since all of your books are set in the same world, a lot of planning must have gone in creating a detailed world with history, geography and magic system. How did it all begin for you?

JT: I played a lot of DnD. Started playing Dungeons and Dragons at six or seven. My junior year of high school, the idea was introduced to me of creating my own world in which to play the game, so that I was not relying on the creators of Dungeons and Dragons to dictate maps to me, or races, or cultures. That was in 1994. So in 1994 I started putting together my own world. I told hundreds of stories, creating different nations, political systems, and characters. Testing out what worked and what didn't. When I started writing the books, I had an idea of what characters I wanted to use as inspiration to create new stories in that world.

In 1998, my wife was in college for graphic design, and we sat down and created the first map of Perilisc in her computer. We were then able to print it out, make notes on it, adding cities, lakes, rivers. We were able to draw new nation lines. Every new map drawn, every new city created, was entered into the master map in the computer. In this way I was able to create, over the span of my life since I was seven, hundreds of characters, hundreds of storylines, and one complete world to draw inspiration from in creating my work.

Now some things were there and some things weren't. The world of man was pretty well detailed. The world of the fey was one big question mark. None of that existed before I started writing Liefdom. A lot of my work takes place in Hell. And although I did run a Dungeons and Dragons game in Hell, very little of that game was used when creating the actual landscape and intricacies of the Hell that's in my books. This works really well because, when I enter a book, it provides me with a baseline to start with while also giving me room to discover new things.

Q] The Series title is the Madness Wars and certainly is an intriguing one. Can you tell us why you chose this title and what you think it encapsulates?

JT: The title works on two levels. The first is, all war is an exercise in madness. So, it touches on that. But even more so, the main character of the book is named Rextur Cherlot. He is a warlord for a nation called Drine. Drine is bent on world domination and all of its warlords are given horrifying names to strike fear into the hearts of the entire world. The name Rextur was given, when he earned his first legion, was The Madness. In this series, Rextur encapsulates the madness of this nation, its pure lunacy displayed by its endeavor to enslave everyone, conquer everything, and destroy all that does not fit into its plan.

Rextur is the most powerful warlord in that nation, and he is the very madness of Drine. The series starts off with the opening of one war, but by the end, he finds himself embroiled in two. I didn't have any idea what to call it for a long time, but finally, after writing three of the books and the companion book, and having many long discussions with my wife, the series name came to us. And after settling on its name, we realized that it was the only thing we ever could have called it.

Q] Speaking a bit more about war, Pope Francis has said, “War is madness… war destroys… War ruins… War is irrational”. What do you make of it and the many wars that you will unleash via this saga?

JT: The concept behind war is, I'm going to build as many weapons that do as much damage as possible, and with these weapons, I am going to slaughter as many people as I possibly can. I'm going to get hundreds of thousands of people involved, whether they want to be or not. In forcing them to kill their enemy I will create within them a crippling amount of hate and hunger for destruction. I have a reason for this, however the people that I force to fight this war usually do not. The foot soldiers on the ground, in most cases, do not understand the true motives behind the war itself, and if they do, very few times do they actually care.

So I have created a force of people hundreds of thousands strong, who are using devastating weapons to slaughter as many people as they can for a cause they may or may not believe in. That is war. It is the absolute definition of madness. That's the reason why I named the greatest warlord the Madness. I call him many times in the book the Madness of Drine.

Q] How did the inception of The Madness Wars occur? What were some of the inspirations for you during its writing?

JT: Part of it was trying to understand why war existed. Once I got in, a good part of it was to show the change in motive that war brings about. You can go into a war with a pure motive, but once the killing starts, that motive is usually gone and it just becomes about death. You can go into war one kind of man, and come out another. I wanted to explore all of these factors. I wanted to understand the soldiers I have met, and that I hear about all the time. Because when you talk to a soldier who has been in a war, you realize very quickly from the things they say that your understanding of war is completely different from theirs. Most of the time, the common civilian is ready to talk about a war, and the soldier is not.

I wanted to understand. I had been through a number of military history classes in college. I knew how wars were carried out, but I didn't understand the emotion of them, and how they changed people. And so, I wanted to write this book to understand that. Of course, I had run the game in Dungeons and Dragons, a couple of times, with a couple of different gaming groups, from a couple of different entry points. So, I had the inspiration of those characters and those stories. But when I got to the actual writing, and I was deep into the emotion of the characters I was writing, I realized the stories I had told in the DnD games were not sufficient. They were not accurate. And I needed to start all over. Almost nothing from the games survived. There were characters that were played that inspired characters in the book, but for the most part, when we were running those games, we didn't understand war.

Q] Let’s talk about the stunning cover that you unveiled over at Fantasy Inn. Please tell us about the designer and how you collaborated to come up with that striking piece.

JT: Well, let's talk about Jenny Zemanek. The covers of my first four books were designed by my wife and I. My wife's a graphic designer, we were happy with them. We had ideas for what we wanted them to look like. We captured those ideas perfectly. However, when we decided to work The Manhunters covers, we did not have a driving vision. And my wife had fallen in love. See, she had been watching, by this time very carefully, the self-published fantasy world, and she had begun to see what Benedict Patrick was putting out. His covers were breathtaking, and she couldn't stop talking about them. She did her research. Through trick and by quick, she found out who his cover designer was. Very sly, very shady process, I think she asked him. Either way, we decided Jenny was our girl.

She had us fill out a form that she had created, asking questions about the book's content, major themes, characters, images, something that could get her started. She wanted examples of book covers we liked and then she took over. She took all that information and came back to us with what she calls inspiration boards. These are a collection of images she has found that inspire her to create a cover that she thinks suits all of our needs. We were instantly excited to be working with her. We loved the direction she was going. And that's how we came up with The Manhunters covers.

When we were done working with all three of them, we knew we wanted her to be our cover designer from that point on. She's never let us down. We created the cover for Legends of the Exiles, getting her mother involved, as Jenny's mother is an illustrator. She illustrated the women on the cover, and I couldn't have been happier with the end product. That only solidified in our mind that we wanted to keep working with her.

Q] What were your main pointers for your cover artist/designer as you went through the process of finalizing it? What were the main things that you wished to focus on in it?

JT: Ever since I started working on the book, I associated the color purple with Rextur Cherlot. So, I decided the first book would be drenched in that color. In The Madness Wars, there is a nemesis relationship between Rextur and another character named Peter Redfist. Peter is king chief of a nation called the Nation of Three. It's him and two other boys. That's his entire nation. We decided we would create an image portraying that nemesis relationship on this cover. So we showed the Nation of Three in opposition to a great bull, the bull being the symbol of Rextur. We wanted to show a lot of landscape to signify how big the world was there.

There was a certain effect with the light we were going for. I really left a lot of the design of this cover to my team, my wife and my cover designer. Pretty much as long as I had my bull, my three boys, and my lighting, I would let them do whatever they wanted. This is what we came up with. I couldn't be happier with it, and I'm excited to see the direction we're going with the other books. We have the cover finished for the next book in the series, and I find it even more dynamic than this one, if that's possible. That cover reveal is not for quite a while, but here in the Jesse Teller camp, we try to get as big a head start on our releases as possible.

Q] You are aiming for a rapid 6-month release with this saga. How much planning and effort did go in making such a schedule. Can you give the readers an insight into this entire process?

JT: Well, all five books of the story itself were written and the tale was finished in 2017. I took a year off. I believe that when you write a rough draft, you need distance from it before you can revise it, so that when you come back you can see what you have actually written versus what you think you have written, because in a lot of cases there's a big difference. Last year, I divided my work time up, and during the day I did revisions to The Madness Wars and used my nighttime hours to write new material. Dividing my time up like this, I was able to edit all five books side-by-side in one year. This meant that the story for Onslaught was still well-seated in my head when I was revising the last book in the series. I used this method so that I could have more control and have better continuity in the story itself.

A Jesse Teller book goes through nine drafts, with a focus through all of them on continuity and accuracy and grammar. So I knew I needed to get started as soon as possible if I was going to make this release date, but I had already finished two of the drafts myself. So we got started. This first book was a real strain on my editors, not because they lack ability, but simply the time management aspect. Neither one of them had ever edited a book of this length before. So both underestimated how long it would take. But we had about a year to play with, so we had enough time. It was just a matter of staying focused and keeping the pedal down.

We started to overlap books immediately. As soon as an editor was done with one book, we'd get him the next in the series. I did the best I could to make sure there were no hold ups on my end, getting my post-edit drafts done as quickly and efficiently as possible. And where we sit now is: Onslaught is done, the second book in the series is all but done, next October's release has been through one editor, and is being prepared to hand off to the next. At this pace, we will have extra time by the end of the series. We will have books waiting for their release day, and all we'll have to do is push the publish button. I can tell you with all certainty that unless there is an unforeseen disaster, I can meet my deadlines. And even if there is some unforeseen disaster, we have built enough time into our schedule that we will still be able to make it. It's all a matter of time management. And that is something we specialize in here at the Teller camp.

Q] So what can readers expect from this book & series and what should they be looking forward to according to you?

JT: My work is full of very serious themes. The overarching theme in everything I've ever written is hope vs. despair, but you can also expect themes like leadership, parenting, gender roles, love. I pride myself in understanding human character. After the childhood I experienced, I went to therapy for 17 years. I studied my behavior and the behavior of everyone around me. I became an expert, after 17 years of study, on the things that make people tick. Motives and emotions. I am able to use that knowledge to create well-rounded characters that are believable and full of depth.

I've got a close friend who's an art teacher for middle school. In his classroom, he says there is one overarching rule, one rule that should be considered at the beginning, during, and end of each project, and that rule is Make it Cool. He wants to see from his students the kind of wild things that go on in their minds. That is also the goal in my work. I want to see the kind of things in my world and in my work that you can't get anywhere else, things you dream of seeing, things that lift you off the couch when you read them, things that have you cheering out loud. That's what I'm going for in my work. That's what you can look forward to.

Q] In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?

JT: I will tell you the same thing I tell everyone. Everyone I talk to about my work, everyone who reads my work, they all hear the same thing. My wife has said it countless times to everyone she interacts with. There is more coming, and you will not have to wait long to get it. I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere.

Note: Jesse Teller book feature pic courtesy of The Fantasy Hive. Author pic and Onslaught Of Madness art courtesy of the author himself.

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