Welcome Jesse Teller to Grimdark Alliance!
First off, tell us a little bit about yourself. When did you decide to be a writer?
A good part of it was defiance. In fifth grade, my teacher gave us the assignment to write a short story. I wrote mine, and was told that it was brilliant, steps beyond what my peers were doing. My teacher, a spectacular man named Mr. Olsen, told me I was talented and he told me I was a writer. So I rushed home, story in fist, and slapped it down in front of my parents. I expected to be lifted up. I expected they would be proud of me. They would read it; they would talk about it. They would tell me I was a brilliant boy, just like Mr. Olsen had. They would have to praise me. They pushed the paper aside, and kept watching their television show. They said they would read it, and shuffled me off to bed. The next day I went into the living room. I was going to take the story back and write some more on it. There was a coffee cup ring on my story. I knew then that I was not a brilliant boy. They did not have to praise me. Standing there, staring at it, for a short time, I was crushed. Then rage, then anger, then defiance. I threw the page away, tossed the story into nothing, and I stomped off. There was a part of me that was broken. It still hasn’t been put back. But something was born that day, a middle finger and a fist in the air, a stomp and a roar. If those people had control, they would harness my writing for their own goals. I’d write neat, little inspiration stories, tales of the things they believe in. I would not be writing this. They would be using my talent to advance their own agendas. My stories would be about politics and Jesus. But they don’t get to decide what I write. I stopped listening to them a long time ago. They ended their influence over my writing with a coffee cup stain.
What inspired you to write fiction in other worlds?
When I was five, or maybe early six, I played my first Dungeons & Dragons game. My head popped like a gourd. There was just pulp and shards of imagination and possibility all over the room. I cleaned it up poorly. It was on everything I touched, smears of it in the way I talked, grains of it in everything I saw. From that moment on, fantasy was my life. It was taken away from me for a long time by my parents, when I was about nine. I ached for it. The lack of it gnawed at me, made me jumpy and itchy. I would stare at pictures of dragons for hours, wanting that element back in my life. Anything remotely fantasy, I would suck the marrow from its bones, cracking and splitting for every lap that I could get. I needed it, had to have it. When I was 13, it erupted back in my life. It was like a quickly spreading sickness. It infected everything I did. I spread that plague, like a leper, to all my friends. We were all obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons. We would play for hours and hours, 21-hour long games. At some point, I got tired of playing other people’s games and other people’s worlds, and I started crafting my own. Nothing that was ever produced by that company was dark enough for me. My games were always haunted. It was my dark childhood that tainted everything, I think. Every story I told and every D&D game I ran had some element of horror to it. At some point, when writing collided with my fantasy world, my novels were born. I guess I’ve only ever written in a twisted world of dark fantasy. Every other scrap I’ve scratched has been in preparation for the books I started writing in 2004.
Who’s your favorite author and what’s your favorite book?
I’m a sucker for the classics. You probably hear this a lot, but H. P. Lovecraft is my favorite writer. We could talk forever about the stories I love. The Music of Erich Zann is amazing. The Rats in the Walls horrified me. I have an irrational fear of mice and rats. When I was young, I lived in a shell of a house, haunted by vermin. At night, I would go to sleep and hear them scratching around me in the dark, quietly padding across the floor, chewing at my possessions. I could feel them thinking, feel their hunger and their need. Hundreds, there were hundreds of them. So when I read The Rats in the Walls for the first time, I was horrified—the way you can only ever get when a writer or a movie producer exploits your worst fear. I think there are two kinds of people in the world. There are those that shield themselves from the things they’re afraid of, those who won’t walk close to a window in a tall building if they’re afraid of heights. Then there are those who lean over. They’re terrified, but they want to feel that. They want to experience that. I think I’m the latter. The Rats in the Walls made me afraid to look up from the book, made me terrified to keep reading. So that’s why H. P. Lovecraft is my favorite writer. He horrifies me. If you haven’t read him, and you really want to, go find The Rats in the Walls, Dagon, and Pickman’s Model. Just buy the completed works and read it all.
For people who may be unfamiliar with your work, where does it land on the spectrum of science fiction to fantasy and would you describe your work as dark?
I don’t really have that many sci-fi elements in my work. There are seven moons, and things going on with the moons, that make the heavens appear to have a sci-fi lean. But for the most part, with the exception of that visual, my work is almost entirely fantasy. I enjoy watching and reading science fiction, but nothing thrills me like fantasy. It’s what I do. It comes out of me when I exhale. Sci-fi doesn’t come as naturally to me. My work is definitely dark. I’ve written 23 books and released three of them. Of those 23, only three of them ring to me as normal, clean books. All the rest are dark. They all explore themes from my abusive past, brutal violence, utter depravity. When I was picking myself up out of the pit of my childhood, I found nightmares locked in my mind, the likes of which I had never heard of before. It took me 15 years to put it all back together, 15 years of therapy. For much of that, I was writing. This flavor of darkness was the only thing that was coming out.
What are your current publications?
I put together a collection of my short stories, tales I had written over the last decade. It’s called Legends of Perilisc. I lined them up in chronological order, and if you read it all, it tells the story of the creation of my world, and the beginning of its destruction. Many people have told me not to hint at this, that this is too much spoiler, but I think here, with this readership, it’s necessary to talk about. For my world, I have close to 70 books planned. Somewhere in there, the world is destroyed. I’m not supposed to be telling people this, but you guys understand the nature of creation and destruction. The last few series will take place in a post-apocalyptic world.
Then there’s Liefdom. Liefdom is dark and bright. It’s about demons and fairies and things that are both. Part of it takes place in Hell, my version of Hell. I think Hell is different for every person. Most civilizations have some understanding of Hell. All of them are different. Such is the way with my Hell. You catch a glimpse of that in Liefdom. I later wrote another book called On the Corpse of Wrath, that I have yet to publish, that takes place in Hell, tells the story of a journey through Hell, but man, are we getting ahead of ourselves now.
Chaste edges past horror into grimdark. It’s the book that slowly dragged itself out of dark fantasy over into this land. Not many can stomach it. Many who have agreed to review it have walked away from it, thinking it too dark. I know it has a place. I know that people will enjoy it. I just have to find those as dark as me. It has one review so far. The person who left it gave it 4.5 stars. From the reading of the review, they seemed excited about the book and a bit traumatized. This book is not for everyone, but it might be for you guys.
Are you currently working on any writing projects?
In 2010, I began the series Tribes of the Mountain. It’s about a barbarian people in the northern mountains in the continent of Perilisc. It was supposed to be a seven-book series. Two books in, there was a spin-off that was five books long. Two books into that, there was a spin-off trilogy. Two books into that, there was another spin-off trilogy. Two books into that, there was another spin-off trilogy. I would bounce back and forth from mountain, to the Madness Wars, to the Manhunters, to the Treefrog, to the Nation of Five, and back, and back, and back. Hopping from one series to the next, I would do a book here, then strafe over to the next. I kept writing. It’s 2016 now, and I have written them all, with the exception of the last two books of the Tribes of the Mountain series. I’m hoping nothing else pops up. I have two books left before I finish what I started in 2010. Before I can write those two books, I have to read all the mountain material that has come before to remind myself what I’ve written in the last six years. I’ll be reading for the next three months. But then I get to finish it out, then a long break.
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
I have a Facebook page called Jesse Teller: A Path to Perilisc. I have a blog called Mumbling to Myself on WordPress. You can also find my blog on my Amazon Author page and my Goodreads Author page. If you like everything you see, you can keep your nose to the air for the scent of burning bodies, and follow it to my work.
Anything else you’d like readers to know?
There’s so much more. My career will be broken down into three acts. The first act is 25 books long. I’ll be done with it by next summer. I’ve started prep and planning for the second act of 24 books, which will come later, and destroy my entire world. After that’s been finished, they’ll be 20 books more, 20 post-apocalyptic fantasy books. Until it’s all told, I will be releasing two books a year, which I’m pretty sure means I’ll be releasing books until I’m 76. I think that’s what the math shakes out to be. There’s so much more. I’m here now. I’ve been working for a long time to get here, and I’ve got a lot to say.
Thank you for your time, Jesse!
Thank you very much for having me. I’m excited about this interview. I’ve heard tales of your success and I’m honored to be a part of it.