Today, not just an interview, but an interrogation!
State your name: Jesse Teller.
No.1 Why are you, you? Well, who else is gonna be? I’m holding this down all by myself here. Can’t get any help. Nobody else can raise my kids. Nobody else can love my wife. The world needs a radical, obsessed, foul-mouthed, exuberant, crowd-loving loner. The world always needs another storyteller. I’m like an overpowering spice, like a garlic. Every now and then, you walk into a room, or you’re at a party, where it’s just you and one other guy, or one other girl, you’re at dinner and you think to yourself, “You know what this needs?” Just like when you’re eating a dish, and you think to yourself, “You know what this needs? A little garlic.”
No.2 Where on the political spectrum are you & how did you get there? Tribal. My house is run like a tribe. Everybody’s got a job to do, but everything is given freely. There’s a chief, there’s a shaman. There are unwritten laws. Everybody is responsible for everybody else. Our house is a village. Everybody has their own space but, with the exception of the chief and chieftess’s room, you can enter that space. There’s even wildlife in my house, like in a good tribal village. My house is definitely tribal. My life is tribal.
No.3 In today’s world, why does your book matter? Song is a study in friendship, the power of friendship, the comfort in friendship. The healing nature of a good friend is very apparent in this book. Both of the main characters are steeped generously in friendship and loyalty. I’ve noticed in the world, in my life, people have a hard time with loyalty. There’s a lot of selfishness and apathy. People you consider friends, you find one day that you can’t count on. People you’ve been hanging out with for years, that you’ve known all your life, will abandon you when you need them, and return when you don’t. Song is a study on friendship—good friendship—and how powerful a man or woman can be when armed with one good friend.
No.4 What is the one fear that is always holding you back? In the household I grew up in, the deadliest of the seven sins was pride. It was beat down furiously the moment it reared its head, to the point where you could not say anything flattering about yourself at all. You could not admit that you knew anything, could not admit you were talented at something, because if you did, it was met with instant disdain and violence. So, my great fear is arrogance. I have a tendency to downplay what I’m good at, speak ill of my own accomplishments, and think horribly of myself if I’m proud of anything. I feel as though the only reaction I can show to anyone complimenting me is disbelief and argument. It’s a bit of a problem.
No.5 Finish this sentence “My novel will be remembered in 50 years time because…….” Because it’s got heart. It’s filled with emotion, villainy, and righteousness. It’s about doing the right thing, seeing a need that only you can provide, and not shying away from it. It’s terrifying, heartbreaking, and funny. And there’s more coming. In a year and a half, all the Manhunters books will be released, so the trilogy will be complete. But this is a small part of a larger story, so people will still be reading the rest of the work, and things will still be unfolding.
No.6 How did you feel when you first got married? When I got married, it was the start of something, a foundation to build a life on. There were gonna be kids, careers, relationships, grandkids. There was gonna be a house and a car, a life full of vacations, Christmases, Thanksgivings. Walking down the aisle with her after that ceremony was like walking into the rest of my life. It was taking the first steps into my life. I felt as though everything I’d done up to that point was training, all one long boot camp, all setting up and decorating for a great party that was going to be the rest of my life. That’s how it felt. If I had only known, it was going to be so much more than all that, so much richer. After the first week, it was like I woke up one day and could see color. I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember black and white TVs. There was a feeling you got when you first saw a television show in color. That’s what it was like walking into the rest of my life.
No.7 Rejection is everywhere in the writing world and yet you carry on. Please explain? There’s a movie that was made in the 90s. It was called Fear. It had Reese Witherspoon, Mark Wahlberg, I think Alyssa Milano was in that movie. Mark Wahlberg plays this absolute psycho who’s obsessed with Reese Witherspoon. Takes stalking to a whole new level. Well there’s a part in that movie, when he shows up to the house and her dad goes out to meet him and tell him to leave. But Marky Mark won’t leave, and dad ends up rearing back and punching him. It was a good punch, but it was as if a bungee cord was attached to Mark Wahlberg’s face and her father’s fist, because as soon as he punched him, Mark flew right back in his face as soon as the fist was pulled back. That’s how you’re supposed to take rejection, right? As soon as you take the hit, you laugh in the face of it, and spit blood if you have to, and go back to the fight. It’s not always that easy. A lot of the hits are just impossible to come back from. You wear those hits. You wear those scars, those bruises, for years. I did the agent search thing. Took a lot of rejection. Lot of rejection. If I were to tell you how much, 1) you wouldn’t believe me, and 2) it would soil my reputation as a writer. I only mention it now because maybe somebody’s reading this, and just took a heavy blow from someone speaking ill about their work, maybe a loved one, or a literary professional. Just take the hit, allow yourself to feel it, mourn it, and get back up in the face of it. That’s the best any of us can do.
No.8 Would your book “Song” make a great movie? Why? My book would make a great movie. I try not to think about that when I’m writing the book. It used to be part of my process. I’d design a character, and then cast them, and be like, “OK, Yenna Redfist has to be played by Jeff Bridges.” That sort of thing. But I realized after a while, that it will be such a long time between conceiving character and movie making, that everybody I would cast would be too old to play the character. So I search the faces of the babies of Hollywood, to try to find that person, and after a while, you just have to give up. I think if you think about the movie while you’re writing the book, you have a tendency to think about the book in terms of movie. Inner dialogue suffers. Emotion suffers. You have to ignore the idea of a movie when you write a book. Just work on the product in the media you’re working on it in. But yeah, Manhunters series would make a great movie. There’s action and humor and heartbreak. Yeah. I think you’re right. I think they should make a movie out of this book. Good call.
No.9 Name one thing you have done that you’re not proud of? So, there are a lot of things, right, that I should be saying. I yelled at my kid when he didn’t deserve it, got in a fight with somebody where I was wrong but refused to admit it. There are so many things that can go in this answer. But I think what we’ll talk about is writing. The nightmare scenario’s that you put out a bad product. That you write something subpar; push it out into the world. No reader deserves that. You’ve got people who are looking for entertainment, looking for an escape, an adrenaline rush, an experience. There are a million different places they can go to get it. But they choose to read you’re book to have that experience. They take time out of their day to immerse themselves in a world of your creation. You better come to play. You better put something out there for them that is the best it can possibly be. Well, when I first started writing, when I wrote my first novel, back in 2004, it was terrible. It was absolutely terrible. There was a part of me that knew it was brilliant, but I also knew I had so much more work to do on it, years worth of work to make it a good book, to make it a fantastic book, worth people’s time. But there was a part of me that was too lazy to do that. I wanted the instant gratification of somebody reading my book and telling me it was awesome. So, even though I knew it was still trash, good trash, salvageable trash, the kind of trash where you walk past the dumpster and say, “Hey, that chair would look good in my house.” That kind of trash. It was still trash, and I made everybody read it. Gave it to so many people, and then hounded them about it. It was terrible, and I’m ashamed of it. In a lot of ways, I feel like I burned those bridges, and those people won’t read my books now. I’m still paying for that.
No.10 Name 2 humans you love and why? There’s this guy I know named Matt Underwood. Just a solid all-around guy. If you’re gonna design a guy, you have to at least have studied this blueprint. He’s hilarious, smart. He’s cool. He’s self-assured. But none of that is the reason you want to know Matt Underwood. The reason you want to know Matt Underwood is because he’s loyal. He’s the guy you call when you’re in a jam. The one you know will always be there. The guy that’s gonna make time for you, even if he doesn’t have any, who’s gonna listen to you complain about things, even if he has a bigger problem. If you need a warrior at your back, you want Matt Underwood. He is a solid pillar in my life, absolutely everything you’re looking for in a friend. And there is literally nothing I wouldn’t do for him.
Her name was Volacha. I have no idea what her last name was. I had a really rough childhood that haunted me for a long time. And at one point, I was suicidal. It was coming. I had fought it back for weeks, and my friends and loved ones had helped me, but none of their love, none of their reassurances were saving my life. I had the knife, I had the time, and I had the solitude. I had the plan. I walked out my door into the sunlight. Then she walked by, a beautiful, proud, black woman in a brightly colored sundress with a bag of groceries. Among all the ruin I saw, she was the only beautiful thing. I walked up behind her and tapped her on the shoulder. She spun and snarled at me. I said, “What do you love?” She looked at me like I was trash, because I looked it. I looked like a strung out junkie. I looked dangerous. She asked me what I was on. I told her there was a snarling monster from my past, and when I was done talking to her, I was going to go kill myself. But I didn’t want to take all this darkness into death with me, so I wanted her to tell me about one thing she loved, so I could be thinking about that when I killed myself. She told me about her father’s car. She told me about a sexual encounter she had in the back of her father’s car with her prom date. She laughed and she danced, and I had never seen anything so beautiful. By the time she left, I was a little bit better. She’s the reason I’m here now. I don’t know her last name, and I will never see her again, but I will love her until the day I die.