Whem did you first consider yourself a writer?
I was a freshman in high school—this was many, many years ago. My English teacher gave me an assignment to write a short story in class. It was around Halloween, and she wanted us to write a creepy story for her. Well, I wrote mine from the point of view of a jack o’ lantern. She hated us, so she made us read our stories out loud. Okay, maybe she didn’t hate us. But I was sure that she did. When I read mine out loud, she gave me a standing ovation. She pulled me aside after class and asked me how long I had been writing.
I told her I had been writing since fifth grade. When she asked to read my work, I told her it didn’t exist. I had a process where I read the work three times, after writing it, before burning it. She nearly screamed. Over the next four years, she made me feel like a writer. She is a dear woman to me. She is in two of my writer’s groups to this day.
Are you a full-time or part-time writer and how does that affect your writing?
I consider myself a full-time writer. My wife does very well for us and it frees me up to do this and nothing else. I know how lucky I am, and I use the opportunity to get as much done as possible. I write every day.
Part-timers are amazing to me. Having the discipline to sit down after a hard day’s work and get your words in is inspiring. Anyone who writes a book while holding down a full- or part-time job is awesome.
I do 3,000 words a day of new material when I am writing a book. When I am revising, that number goes up to 6,000 at least. I shine when I am doing both at the same time. I will pull two shifts, one of new material and one of revisions.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
Well, I used to have to work pretty hard for my stories. I would only get bitten by an idea once every few months. I would get into the story and get bored with it. I would tell about half and set it aside. My work came slowly because I believed I needed to figure it out before I wrote it down. I don’t mess with that kind of thing anymore.
I shoot from the hip. The idea doesn’t have to be fully formed or formed at all. I don’t need a nub of a thought. I need almost nothing. I sit down and just start typing. You can train yourself to do almost anything, can teach yourself any trick that you work on consistently. For me, it is story creation. I just sit down and start typing. The sound of my loud keyboard tells my mind that it is time to work. Story just comes out.
What have you written so far?
I have been busy. With the quota I set up for myself, I have been able to get a lot done. I have written 18 books so far, most rough drafts. They are a blend of trilogies and other series that range from 3 to 8 books long. Not all of them are finished. I am currently writing four series. But as I bounce between them, I am getting them knocked out slowly. This year I finished my first epic series. It was five books long.
All my work is fantasy and all my work is set in the same world. So far, it all takes place on the same continent, although I have ideas for more that are set elsewhere. The stories all weave through each other. Books cross each other’s paths and circle around to intersect with one another and all that sort of thing.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start writing this book?
Liefdom is special to me. I was raised in an unhealthy environment. My people were kind of dark. When I married into my wife’s family, it was a real shock. The supportive and loving atmosphere I found myself surrounded by was almost toxic to me. I had to make sense of my place in that world. My main character, Gentry Mandrake, is a warrior in a peaceful society. He is of blood and bone. He is fire in a land of soft glow. Mandrake helped me make peace with my new family and find my place in it.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
This book is set in three worlds. One is my world. The majority of my work comes from here. It is extensive and populated with warriors, wizards, and other powerful and mundane folk. It has landmarks and mighty societies, and all of that is great—it is my bread and butter. But Liefdom is also set in The Veil.
The Veil is the land of mythical creatures. Fairies and satyrs live here. Gryphons and sphinxes people this land. With every one of these creatures, I had to do research. I had to figure out how they had been portrayed in the past and how they would work in my world.
The book also has a few scenes that take place in Hell, but not many.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
If I could choose any writer at all, it would be Robert E. Howard. He is passed on now, but in his day he was a beast. He was a pulp writer in the 30s, created important characters that shaped my genre. He penned Conan the Cimmerian. He wrote Bran Mok Morn and Solomon Kane. These characters shaped fantasy as we see it today. His books are some of the foundation stones of fantasy.
If I could just sit for an hour and listen to him talk about one of his characters, I would learn so much about the things I want to do and the things the fantasy genre needs.
What do you like to read in your free time?
Lately, I have been tied up in classics. I mentioned Robert E. Howard, but H.P. Lovecraft is big for me right now. I have almost chopped my way through his complete works. He is not a classic yet, but Steven Erikson will be. I’m circling around and reading his Book of the Fallen series again. Glen Cook is teaching me quite a bit right now. His Black Company is beefing up my work immensely.
For me, reading is like a college course. When I read a master’s work, I learn how to do it myself. I’m constantly studying Stephen King. I think more people should. He already has half the readers in the world, but the other half need to come around. Say what you want about him, but the man is brilliant.
I’m reading more indie authors now. Currently, I’m in the depths of Talindor’s Guest by Charles McGarry. I’m pretty excited about it.
Who or what inspires your writing?
I think we are all inspired by our loved ones. I have some good ones. People are varied and rich. Trying to create a character that is beyond human never really works out. Characters that are extremely good or evil just turn out to be cardboard. I like to make my characters like the people in my life. Not all good, not all bad.
Music inspires me a lot. Music, good and bad, brings with it emotion I can work with. I try to keep my musical palate eclectic as I write a book. Pop, rap, metal, country and indie all have something to say to me. You can’t write a positive, upbeat, even cheerleader, character while listening to death metal. If I am to write characters that run the spectrum of human existence, I can’t just jam out to Eminem.
I find a certain amount of inspiration in movies and videos. I recently watched a YouTube video about a book found among the Dead Sea Scrolls called the Book of Giants. Scared me to death. I have been seeing giants peeking out over buildings and trees ever since. You have to watch out with that kind of thing, though. Visual media is powerful. It can carry you to awe instead of stimulating your creativity.
If you couldn’t be an author, what would your ideal career be?
Man, this is a tough one. If I couldn’t be an author, I guess I would have to be a therapist. That is what I am most suited to, I think. I am a student of human nature. I went to 15 years of therapy myself, so I know how the mind works. I learned to recognize certain pitfalls in thought and action. I learned to read people very well. This has helped me create characters that are very real and layered. Everyone has a villain inside of them. Everyone is a hero. It’s the old adage of the dog that you feed. If I were to try to form a life outside of my writing, I think it would be in mental health. Lots of school, though. I think I’m just going to stick to writing.
How can you connect with Jesse?
Book Links for Liefdom: